What Is Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

Just me.

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

 

***

 

IMG_3365

Joseph Francis Pancheri 5.24.19-10.30.15

***

 

 

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

Running To Stand Still

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going to the wrong location for yoga

Forgetting a friend’s birthday

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

Booking a vacation rental for the wrong dates

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

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

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

This wasn’t one instance of calendar mishandling.

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

 

****

I wanted to write something perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*****

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

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

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

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

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

And this is where the writing begins.

 

danishapiro

 

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.

note

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

A Letter of Closure

“Wow, she’s gained so much weight.”

“She really looks terrible.”

“I can’t believe how big she is.”

This is what I imagine people say about me when I walk out of a room.

When I get up from the table to go to the bathroom. When I go to get my car from the valet. When I walk to the bar to grab another round of drinks. Even when I am still sitting right there in front of them, the words run in a scroll through my mind, a news ticker only I can see that broadcasts what I am so certain everyone must be thinking.

I stopped into my New York office before leaving for a two week trip to Italy. I obsessed for weeks in advance about how I would face colleagues I hadn’t seen in six months, and what they would surely think of me once they saw me now.  I anticipated conversations where I could plead with them, “Remember, I didn’t always look this way?! Remember, I used to be thin?!? Please, remember???”

The lingering rational part of my mind reasons that most likely no one is talking about me. And if they are, it’s probably not about the pounds I have gained.  But still the thoughts cut through rhyme and reason and stick there, adhered to my brain and seared into my heart.

I arrived in Tuscany last week for my second yoga retreat, this time with my extra literal and figurative baggage. Set amongst rolling hills, with a view of the Monteriggioni castle, Ebbio is an 800-year old farmhouse complete with roosters who function as alarm clocks, wild horses who nuzzle your hand looking for food, and a tree-covered trellis that is suspended above the communal table where all food is served. It is, in a word, picturesque. It is, in a feeling, home.

It is also, as I settled in, the place where I would fully face the demons that have become my daily companions of late.

The fears from New York remained; multiplied perhaps. This group would see beyond even what those in my office saw.

I couldn’t hide a fuller stomach under a blousy dress, just as I couldn’t hide my shame with self-deprecating jokes. Here, it all shows. Amidst the yoga pants and the bikinis, the massages and the acupuncture, the tears and the laughter, everything here demands to be seen and felt. Here, you wear your heart on the outside.

It took me until the last day on my first retreat to say the words: I have an eating disorder. They came out on the first day at Ebbio. I surrendered. I can’t trust that what I see in myself is real. It is time to let others show me the truth.

When we wrote our 5 Most Beautiful Things about each other, none of the letters from my friends mentioned weight or pants size. When we were asked to describe ourselves as others see us, the words “fat” and “gross” were not among those used. It is time to remove those words from my vocabulary. It is time to end this book, finally, and begin another. It is time to say goodbye.

On our second class, on a Sunday evening in the middle of asanas and flowing and opening up and crying and sharing came the directive, “Write a letter of closure.”

And so it follows, the beginning of the end.  

Dear Eating Disorder,

This is a Dear John letter. The time has come for us to say goodbye. You have been a loyal companion since my teenage years. We were high school sweethearts I guess. Though at times I made attempts as finding love elsewhere, I could never forget you. I always returned. You worked your way into my heart and my soul back when they were still discovering what should actually be there, and you convinced me that I could not live without you. And naively, I believed you. You tricked me. You lied to me. You made me hate me. Sometimes I even hated you. But I was never ready to close the proverbial door on you.

It is time. It was time. It was never time. How did you ever even get here in the first place? It doesn’t really matter now.

You will be moving out soon. You can take the flat screen tv and the fancy chandelier and even the complicated wine opener. You can take it all. You don’t deserve any of it, of course, but I will give them to you in order to ensure your leaving.

I don’t wish you well. I don’t hope you will find a soulmate in someone else one day. I don’t pray for your future happiness. I’m sure you understand. Or maybe not. That’s fine too. It doesn’t matter anymore, as long as you are gone.

Please leave the keys when you go. I am still going to change the locks, because I don’t trust that you didn’t make copies, and I suspect you will show up and try to let yourself in again.  But it’s symbolic, so leave them behind on the counter with the garage door opener and my heart. 

It’s over. This is your eviction notice. Your contract will not be renewed. We are done. 

Do not call. Do not write.  Do not text me for a booty call at 1am on a lonely Saturday night. Don’t tweet me. Don’t tag me in your Instagram pictures, attempting to make me nostalgic. Just go, and stay gone.

It. Is. Over. É Finita in Italy.

PS—I know it’s customary to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But it IS you. It’s NOT ME. And that’s why this must end now.

xx,

Katie

Letting Go in a field of sunflowers in Tuscany.

Letting Go in a field of sunflowers in Tuscany. “May you always be this happy. May you always be this free.”

 

 

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 Am A Lazy Perfectionist

laziness2

I didn’t leave my house today.

 
meant to meet my friend at yoga.
meant to clean my closet.
meant to give up sugar.
meant to be productive.
 
And yet here I am again, sitting on the couch at 10:00 at night, my body imprinted onto the beige couch, eating cookie dough. Un-yoga’d, un-showered, un-moved, un-motivated. Chastising myself about my perpetual laziness, which seems to rear its ugly head all too frequently. Wanting everything in my life to be perfect, wanting to check off every item on my to-do list until there is nothing left to do, until I can say to anyone who will listen, “just look at everything I did!”
The only things on my calendar today were “yoga” and “spring clean the closets” and I didn’t do either of them. Instead, I stayed home. Instead, I shoved more shirts into my dresser drawers, forcing them closed even when they resisted, clothing all bunched up and not even folded. Instead, I hid things underneath the bathroom sink, and loaded dirty dishes into the dishwasher half-full of clean dishes to avoid putting them away. Instead, I tossed the laundry into the linen closet and slammed the door so I wouldn’t see it anymore. See, now it looks perfect even when it’s not.
 
It’s a pattern you see, and patterns don’t really like to break themselves.
 
During my sophomore year of high school, we performed the musical Peter Pan. I was cast as the mom, a cameo role given to me in part because I was talker than most of my classmates. Since the character only appears in the beginning and end of the show, I was given the opportunity to play a “Lost Boy” as well. I declined, citing my need to “stay in character”for the entire show. In reality, I just didn’t want to learn the choreography involved in the other scenes. I already had to sing, while tying Mr. Darling’s bowtie in under a minute in a ball gown, while comforting my “children” who were actually older than I was. I didn’t need to learn anything else. I took the easy way out and hung out backstage every night in my elaborate updo and makeup designed to make me look older and waited for the finale while those Lost Boys sang and danced for the crowd.
 
Taking the easy way comes naturally to me it seems.
 
(Scene fades; cut to twenty years later)
 
This week I considered quitting yoga.
 
It has been so difficult for me in class lately. Showing up is not the hardest part as I had previously thought; making it through an hour is. My hamstrings again refuse to stretch, my triceps quiver after just one plank pose, my core wants nothing to do with those crunches. It’s so ridiculously hard. Maybe yoga is always going to be this hard for my body; maybe my body has already quit even.
 
Or maybe it’s because my mind does not want to open. It wants to stay as shut as those dresser drawers, keeping all of the mess and chaos and secrets inside where no one can see them. It refuses to let those overstuffed, full of shit drawers stay closed. It tries desperately to pry them open, those drawers with their sweaters mixed with tank tops, and socks and bras all tangled up with tights. It begs, “look at me, all of your crap in this drawer and deal with me.”
 
Or just maybe it is the self-acceptance that you are expected to bring to the mat with you, that is supposed to sit down beside you while you move through your tree poses and crow poses and child’s poses. That is supposed to tell you just in case the teacher forgets, “Listen to your body. If you need a break, take one. No one is judging you. There is no perfect. Just honor your truth.” I think I forget to bring that voice with me, like I sometimes forget my water bottle. Or it’s talking to someone else. Or it’s speaking a different language. Or I just can’t hear it. Maybe that’s it.
 
I just want everything to be easy.
 
I want someone else to do the work. I want the drawers to clean themselves, I want the handstand without the practice, I want the jeans to miraculously be loose and I want to just be open without all of the pain of getting there.
 
If only life were actually easy.
 
But it never is, is it? So we do whatever we do to keep going.
 
I fill up my calendar. I make my to-do lists. I keep showing up for yoga, and I give up sugar (again). Knowing that one day, one time, I’ll work all the way through the list, where maybe the perfection is waiting for me and has been all along if I had only worked harder before to find it.
 
I’ll keep going and going like this, until one day I’ll finally let go of the notion that perfection only comes when every box has been ticked. That notion that perfect exists when there is an Xin front of handstand, and skinny, and organized. That notion that perfection exists at all.
 
I will then let go of it and all that will be left is a shadowy reminder of this long held belief. It will be washed away like the pollen after a rainstorm, flowing down into the gutters and only leaving behind a faint yellow tinge to the earth and a memory of a sneeze now almost forgotten. All that will be left is just life, wrapped up in all of its imperfect perfection, that can never be erased with the rain.

Be Present

Driving south on I-75 outside of Atlanta on Sunday, the skies opened up and unleashed a downpour unlike anything I’ve seen since living in New York and LA for the last decade. As I struggled to see through the rain that exploded against the windshield, I remembered being stuck in summer storms in Miami, where you couldn’t see the car in front of you, or even the road sometimes. I thought about all of the precautions I would take then–slowing down, pumping the brakes, leaving extra space between my car and the car in front of me. If I could pull from all of my driving experience and knowledge, I could do this.

I felt safer for a wonderful instant…until I started seeing cars piled up, accordion-style on the shoulder next to me. Seeing the trucks that had floated past the shoulder and were turned backwards or upside down on the grassy median. Seeing police cars and ambulances and fire trucks flying past me. How many of those drivers also did everything they were supposed to do to ensure their safety, and still ended up being slammed from behind, or hydroplaning right off the expressway? At some point while you are white-knuckling it through the rain, you realize that any real sense of control is false and imagined. At some point it seems you have to accept that you are doing everything you are able to do and pray for the best result.

I spent the weekend in Georgia with my friend Rachel , a mother of two special needs children, rambunctious boys who are six and four. I could only liken her to some kind of superhero as I watched her being thrown challenge after challenge everyday, usually with no recovery time in between. As I was driving, struggling to navigate and stay, quite literally, above water in this massive storm, it struck me that so many of her days must be spent in this same manner–white-knuckling it through each moment, using all of her knowledge and skills and love to prevent slips and slides and collisions, but still often just getting rear-ended by life. Control over these situations? Not likely. I wonder how she can continue to have faith, that today everything will work out, that tonight everyone will be happy, that tomorrow it will be easier.

I’ve been feeling stuck for a few weeks since coming down from the high of vacation. Stuck in my own stuff, the everyday annoyances and setbacks and life stuff. Unable (or unwilling) to sit down and explore it, I’ve just been going through the motions. I watch it happening almost as though it’s happening to someone else entirely. I see the tightly clenched jaw and the furrowed brow. I hear the clipped tone, the voice that gets shorter throughout the day. I feel it in the seizing stomach and pounding of the blood through veins.

I’m getting worse at yoga, too tense and preoccupied to relax into the asanas. I’m getting worse at my job, too impatient and overwhelmed to be at my best. I’m getting worse at writing, too anxious and stressed to focus completely. I’m getting worse at relationships, too tired and distracted to give the people I love the attention they deserve.

I’m getting worse at life.

I hear the words that come out of my mouth, and wonder who this person is speaking. I hear the same things repeated over and over and over.

“Once I get through this, I’ll be fine.”
“After this, things will be so much better.”
“As soon as this passes, I’ll be happy.”

Until it finally hits me, hits me like the hail pounding the roof of the car in that Atlanta storm: this is my life. And I’m spending all of my time wishing it away.

How did that happen? This is surely not how it was meant to be, this “getting by” instead of really living. I know I’ve done it before, really lived. So how could I have so easily forgotten? Forgotten like it was just one of those times where I walked into a room to get something only to have no clue what it was once I got there. I forgot how live life, like it was a sweater or a pair of earrings I didn’t remember to retrieve from my bedroom.

One of the best lessons you can learn from a parent of special needs children is how to be present. It has been a theme in many of my yoga classes over the past year, but seeing it in action, in real life, through someone else, really illustrated what it means. Being present means you are in fully engaged in each minute of each day-not just the good ones. Being present means you are dealing with the mess and the dirt and the crap that often accompany those days. Being present means you savor every sweet moment, holding onto it as though you know it’s fleeting but you will still relish every second until it’s gone. Being present means not waiting to get through it, through life, before allowing yourself to be happy.

Being present means, if I may borrow the lyrics from one of my favorite Rent songs, “There’s only us. There’s only this. Forget regret. Or life is yours to miss.”

Be present. Show up. Listen to your heart and your body. Breathe. Pay attention. Do whatever makes you happy. Relinquish control. Laugh. Love. Live.

“No other road. No other way. No day but today.”

PS-for a glimpse of what Rachel’s extraordinary life is like, check out her appearance on The Doctors in the below clip, and follow I am a Fan of Somebody With Prader Willi Syndrome on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-am-a-Fan-of-Somebody-with-Prader-Willi-Syndrome/410689235692

Blaise on The Doctors

That Time A Five-Year-Old Called Me The F-Word

Recently a five-year-old dropped an F-bomb on me.

We were hanging out while her mom was running errands. She curled up on my lap, drawing on a notepad and telling me she liked my manicure. She showed me a game she liked to play on her iPod. She asked me if I was flexible, or if I could do a headstand. I was wearing a skirt but kicked myself up into a headstand in the middle of the floor anyway, my skirt shifting to reveal my black Spanx shorts underneath. She giggled at the sight of them for a moment, at my skirt floating over my head, before she dropped the F-word on me, exploding like an actual bomb right in front of me.

“You have very fat legs.”

No judgment, no malice, just matter of fact. “Your legs are fat,” she repeated, like I could have somehow missed it the first time around. I explained that it wasn’t a very nice thing for her to say, but she simply said it one more time, for good measure. “But you DO have very fat legs.”

I lowered myself out of the headstand, my face beet red from more than just being upside down. She looked at me, wide-eyed, waiting for what I would say next. I was speechless. So she moved on, unaware of the effect her words had on me, and went skipping away from me to practice her splits and backbends. I turned my head and blinked back tears.

For the rest of the day, her words haunted me, fueling my inner dialogue with myself. I heard those words repeating, over and over, in her high-pitched voice.

You shouldn’t wear that skirt again. You have very fat legs. Don’t eat that piece of chocolate. You have very fat legs. You need to wear the long yoga pants, not the short ones. You have very fat legs. Why are you even taking yoga? You should be on a treadmill. You have very fat legs.

How could I hear anything else over that refrain?

What happens when a five-year-old sees exactly what you fear everyone sees, what you, in fact, see yourself? What happens when a five-year-old becomes your personal dressing room mirror, with its bad fluorescent lighting and unflattering angles, reflecting back the image you dread?

It knocks you down from your headstand, panting and out of breath, and rattles you to the core. It makes you want to hide somewhere no one can see this flaw, until it maybe somehow magically disappears.

I looked for the teaching moment with my little friend and came up empty. How could I make sense of this moment and come away with anything other than hurt?

I couldn’t. It sunk its teeth into me like a dog does with its chew toy, gripping even harder the more you try to shake it off.

It took a week, and a trip 8,000 miles away for me to take anything good away from this experience. The voice followed me, strong as ever as I boarded the plane to take me far, far away. Somewhere over the Pacific, it dulled to a soft whisper. But somehow, between Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City, it started to lift, and that voice finally, finally, quieted.

Knee-deep in my own exhaustion, outside a closed airport in Vietnam at 2 a.m., I realized I couldn’t hear it anymore. It was gone, and I now understood that the teaching moment here wasn’t for my five-year-old buddy. It was for me. I was the one who needed to learn the lesson.

It doesn’t matter.

That’s right, it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if a five-year-old thinks you have very fat legs. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t perfect. It doesn’t matter if you’re too old, too young, too fat, too skinny, too short, too tall, too anything.

What matters is that you live your life.

You don’t hide. You don’t keep plotting what will happen when you are thinner. You don’t avoid the things you love because you’re worried you don’t look good enough. You don’t save all of your best moments for some imagined time in the future when you’re sure you’ll be more perfect.

And you certainly don’t waste your thoughts on some silly thing a five-year-old said about your very normal-sized legs. Of this I am sure.

I’m not going to say that it doesn’t suck when anyone, even a five-year-old, in her infinite five-year-old wisdom, calls you fat. It does suck, even with all of your reasoning and rationalizing of it. And sometimes you forget that it really doesn’t matter. But then, you convince yourself to remember. You remind yourself about this life lesson.

Because life is not about fat legs, or skinny legs, or being perfect. Life is simply meant to be lived.