The Year Of Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

She asks me if I have brothers or sisters.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s nearly time for me to leave.

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

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

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

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

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

*

This is the year I turn 37.

This is the year that will remain largely unplanned.

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

This is the year of ordinary and extraordinary miracles.

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

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

This is the year of love.

 

This is the Year of Us.

 

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

Mis nuevos amigos

Mis nuevos amigos

Un-Grounded (as seen originally on The Manifest-Station)

Every night, at an interval of approximately ten minutes, the bed shakes violently. The first time it happens, I think it’s an earthquake. I lie in bed, roused from near sleep by the jarring movement, and have trouble remembering where I am. I don’t think Cape Cod has earthquakes, but I allow for the possibility. Or the other possibility that someone has run up the stairs to the patio outside the bedroom, powerfully enough to move the furniture. I never feel safe sleeping in rooms with doors that lead to the outside, and I hate that through the sheer-curtain-covered windowpane I can see shadows moving slowly. I don’t know if they are from leaves, or from the heavy-footed man who tromped up the steps to look in at me. The house next-door, with its menacing cracked window and abandoned sheets on the clothesline only fuels this fantasy. I turn my back to the door; what I can’t see can’t hurt me. And then the rocking begins again.

In Iceland last month, I felt similarly uneasy. I woke from a dreamless sleep at three o’clock one morning to find light streaming through the blackout shades that I had neglected to close all the way. A local had asked me earlier that evening to go on a sunset stroll at midnight, but there was no actual sunset. There was never a sunset. In the week I spent there, it was as bright at midnight as it was at five in the evening or five in the morning. Instead of it feeling like I was there for a week, it felt like I was there for one endlessly long day, or perhaps year. Time lost all relevance. I was always exhausted, always restless. I could not find the ground while standing on jagged lava rocks in unending daylight.

These nights in Provincetown, like those nights in Reykjavik, are un-grounding me…


 

To read the rest of the above piece, please click on the link to The Manifest-Station below!

http://themanifeststation.net/2014/09/05/un-grounded/

And follow Jen Pastiloff’s incredible site if you aren’t already!

xx,
Katie

A Letter of Closure: Part Two

(One Year Later)

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

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

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

(One Month Later)

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

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

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

Not as much anyway.

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

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

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

So you jump.

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

You wonder, who will I be now?

(One Day Later)

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

“You do not have to be good.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

(One Minute Later)

A bug committed suicide in my bed.

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

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

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

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

 

Under The Tuscan Sun

Under The Tuscan Sun

 

photo 2 (33)

Girasole=happiness

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

Finding My Religion

Every Sunday morning, when I’m at home in Los Angeles, I get up by 8:00 and travel 13 miles to Manhattan Beach to participate in my favorite weekly yoga class with Jennifer Pastiloff. There are closer classes, sure, and ones that don’t leave me cursing the alarm clock, but I always return to this one. It’s the class we lovingly refer to as “yoga church”. I don’t know who coined the term, and I never gave too much thought to it previously, beyond knowing that I usually enter class a little tired, sometimes a little cranky as well, and always emerge renewed, grateful and at peace.

While traveling to Dallas for business, my dear friend and hostess for the weekend, Cherry, invited me to join her at her “yoga church” here in Dallas; her words, not mine. I didn’t know anyone else felt this way about a yoga class, but I readily agreed, trusting my Bali sister’s opinion that this experience would be special. When two other yogi friends of mine also raved about the teacher, Janie Montague, nothing could have kept me away.

I settled in at 9:00am on my borrowed mat, anticipation building, and looked down to see there was writing scribbled across the top: Open To Grace. What an inspiring message to start your Sunday service. What a beautiful mantra for life.

As we began to flow through the sun salutations and heart-opening asanas, my eyes kept returning, almost as if magnetized, to the writing on my mat. Open to Grace.

Janie nimbly guided us through poses as life lessons, reminding us to trust, to give thanks, to be kind, to love. But it was towards the end of the class that she really sunk the hook into me, with a moment so perfect and so serendipitous that it gutted me.

“Reach one hand to the ground, and one hand to grace, and realize that what is exactly in between is you, the combination of both.”

These are the moments, though small, that change your life.

I grew up going to church sporadically, mostly on holidays or as part of the requirements for a sacrament. I dutifully attended CCD classes on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings through eighth grade, because that’s just what you did. When I was in high school, I sang in the church choir, the closest I ever came to being a devout Catholic, attending church every Sunday to sing the Word of the Lord. If I’m being honest, it was always more about the music for me than the message. The music WAS the message. I came home humming the melodies rather than spreading the Word.

At no point do I remember having an epiphany about myself, or about humanity, or about life, while I was at mass. I enjoyed the ritual, I exalted in the songs, but when I stopped going to services regularly, I forgot to miss them.

Then I discovered yoga, and our so-called “yoga church”, which inspires me to spread the message all day long. Which has left an imprint on my heart that I could never forget to miss.

Nowhere am I more in tune with myself, with who I am and who I want to be. Nowhere am I more in tune with other people, hearing their collective breath, the inhaling and the exhaling, and feeling their heartbeats echoing in my own. Nowhere am I more in tune with the Universe, both hearing and understanding the lessons it is presenting me. Trust, gratitude, kindness.

My religion is yoga.

My religion is grace.

My religion is love.

Namaste.

PS-Please consider donating to a wonderful event that both Cherry and Janie are actively participating in…One Love Dallas will benefit Off The Mat, Into The World ‘s Legacy Project in India, an organization that works to rescue, rehabilitate and empower those affected by the sex trafficking industry. A great cause supported by great people! You can find more info and donate here.

Open To Grace

Open To Grace

xx,

Katie

Follow Your Excitement

I looked up from my seat in row seven when I heard the gruff, “Excuse me.”  I started to get up so my seatmate could pass by me to get to his seat, but he just pushed past me without making eye contact. My heart sank a bit about having to be in such close proximity to this seemingly rude man for the next six hours—until I saw his fingers gripping the armrest and knew that I wasn’t next to a rude man, but a very nervous flyer.

He hadn’t flown in five years, he explained, but he couldn’t pass up this trip. He was flying cross-country for a work project that he took specifically because it would bring him to New Jersey, where he would be able to visit the largest model railroad in the world. His passion was toy trains, and he was invited to come to New Jersey to visit this railroad and repair some remote control problem that only he knew how to fix. I remarked that he was very dedicated to this group, arranging this extensive trip, especially with his aversion to flying. He looked me in the eye, paused so that I leaned in, expectant, and told me:

“You have to follow your excitement.”

And it hit me, in that way that the thing you need to hear always does, like a ton of bricks. Follow your excitement.

For over ten years, I lived in New York City, arguably one of the most exciting cities in the world. Theater, bars, art, shopping, restaurants…all mere steps from my front door. Yet when I describe my time in New York, “exciting” is never one of the words I use.  My associations with New York are much different.

Hard

Chaotic

Intense

Draining

Overwhelming

Never once have I used the word exciting, because for me, the word didn’t fit.

I knew within a year of living in Manhattan that it wasn’t the right place for me. I was living by myself for the first time in a brownstone studio on the Upper West Side, working in my first sales job, determined to take the publishing industry by storm and live the perfect, glamorous urban life I had imagined for myself. I understood that I didn’t hold this city in the same regard as most of my friends, but I figured this would eventually change. Eventually, I would surely discover what made this place and this life so exciting.

Instead, it continued to elude me.

So I ignored my own instincts and took cues from my friends, who seemed to easily find excitement in New York. I went to the newest, best restaurants with my foodie friends and pretended to be thrilled by culinary concoctions I did not understand and could not pronounce. I went shopping with my fashionista friends, buying clothing I couldn’t afford and collecting designer accessories like some people collect stamps. I happy-houred and pub-crawled and wine-tasted with my nightlife-loving friends, feigning interest in the late nights and the crazy stories they produced, pretending I belonged.

I ended up completely broke, and totally broken down. Following others’ excitement left me with $20,000 of debt and an empty place in my soul that no amount of exotic sushi or expensive Chanel or VIP parties could fill.

I chased happiness, running after it like I would run after a cab in a rainstorm, wishing desperately that I could catch it. But of course I never could. It always escaped me.

How can you discover excitement when you’ve forgotten what excites you?

You start to listen. You start to pay attention. You start to trust yourself.

Things began to change when I finally acknowledged that I was not happy in New York, and that it was unlikely that I ever would be. When the right opportunity finally arose, I leapt on it without hesitation and moved across the country to Los Angeles. It felt right, immediately, in a way that New York never did. Slowly, gradually, I started discovering the things that truly excited me. Yoga, reading on the beach, outdoor concerts, sunsets over the ocean, writing. This time, I didn’t follow my friends into hikes I didn’t enjoy, or force myself to eat avocado on everything like so many Angelenos. This time, I tried new things, listened to my gut about what made me happy, and tossed the rest.

And I get it now. I found my excitement. I found my happiness.

It doesn’t mean that everything in my life is perfect now, or that I don’t have bad days still. It’s not, and I absolutely do. It’s still real life, though some of the incredible ocean view pictures might suggest otherwise, with all of its crazy ups and downs. But there is a level of contentedness that never existed for me in New York. Every single day that I wake up in Santa Monica, regardless of my mood, or the often-thick summer marine layer, or anything else going on in my life, I am excited and happy to live here. I am where I am meant to be.

Following my excitement simply meant listening to, and following, my heart. Following my heart meant finding real happiness.

Sunset: Hermosa Beach

Sunset: Hermosa Beach ; This IS real life.

 

xx,

Katie

 

Confession: I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

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

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

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

Dear 16-year-old Katie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

35-year-old Katie

 

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

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

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Confession: I Am Beginning To Let Go

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

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

I’m good at letting go of things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Coming of My Orchid

The Second Coming of My Orchid

xx,

Katie