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)

Speak Your Truth

 “No, it’s fine.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And since your history of silence 

Won’t do you any good.

Did you think it would?

Let your words be anything but empty.

Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say,

And let the words fall out, honestly.

I wanna see you be brave.

And I knew: it was time.

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

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

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

xx,

Katie

Confession: I 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.

Lost & Found in Vietnam

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

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

LOST:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOUND:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Bad Days. Sunset, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

No Bad Days.
Sunset, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Take Things Too Personally

“It had nothing to do with me.

I created an entire story around her dislike for me, which didn’t actually exist. It wasn’t about me.

How often do we tell ourselves these stories about why we perceive someone is acting a certain way towards us? How often can we not see past ourselves and our own judgments and neuroses to what is real?

It’s tiring really, taking everything so personally.”

Except from my MindBodyGreen essay today. Please read if you also have trouble taking things too personally. I would love to hear your feedback!

“I’m Beginning to Learn Not to Take Everything Personally”

xx,

Katie

Three Months

Before we were dating, back when we were just friends, my ex once told me that I had “perfect skin”. I don’t remember how it came up as we were driving in my car, or what we could have been talking about that led to that lovely, albeit somewhat unbelievable, compliment. But it stays with me. At the time it was just one of those nice things that someone says that you don’t particularly agree with, but are happy to hear anyway. No, you deflect, no I don’t at all. But secretly you’re pleased. You want to believe it is true.

When we started dating a bit later, I remembered that passing comment, so insignificant at the time, but now, with the attached meaning that hindsight provides, hanging like a sort of albatross around my neck. He thought that I had perfect skin. What if he saw this blemish on my chin, or these lines on my forehead? He must expect that he will always see perfect skin, and what if someday he can see that I most definitely do not have perfect skin? If he thought my skin was perfect, what else needed to be perfect? My hair, my clothes, my body?

So I tried to give him what I thought he wanted to see. Makeup-covered, cutest outfit-wearing, blown-out-hair me. Beyond that, I attempted to BE who I thought he might want to see, might want to love. I tried to be casual (I’m not), I tried to play it cool (nope, not that either) and I tried to seem like the most perfect, has-it-all-together girl he could have ever met (not even a little).

It didn’t take very long for that to crack. There was the time I got a stomach bug on our first trip together. That splintered the image a little. The time I drank too much and cried drunk tears in front of him. That didn’t help the façade. Or when I finally admitted that I really cared, that I wasn’t casual or cool or any of those things he may have thought I was. The crack became an actual break.

Three months. That’s how long I could sustain this persona I had created for myself. That’s how long it took for the real Katie to make an appearance. That’s how long it took for him to realize that the real Katie was not what he signed up for, and not really what, or who, he wanted at all.

When that relationship imploded for the second time, about three months in again for the second time (as so many before it had as well), it broke me. 

The heartbreak, certainly. The pressure of starting over, again, absolutely. But mostly it was the idea that maybe no one would ever be able to be with me for longer than this trial period. That no would decide to keep me for longer than the standard 90-day return policy.

That no one could actually love the real Katie.

It was a dark moment in time, full of confusion and doubt, despair and fear. After so much pretending, I didn’t know who I was anymore. Or how to be someone who somebody would want. I didn’t know if that was even possible.

But from this breakdown came the breakthrough.

Something clearly wasn’t working for me in relationships. Some pattern seemed to be repeating for me regardless of what “type” of guy I dated. Somehow I wasn’t achieving that real, true, lasting connection with anyone. Someone was preventing me from making it past the three month mark.

Me.

Or the “trying-to-be-the-perfect girl” version of me at least. That version was always destined to crack. It would always come up short. It was always doomed to fail. Because it wasn’t real.

The real Katie is very sensitive, and very clumsy, and gets pimples, and has frizzy hair and cares too much most of the time. The real Katie does weird Rain Man-esque things like separate candy by color and only eat the orange ones and memorize numbers and check United miles obsessively. The real Katie likes classical music and Lifetime movies and so many other things that no exes ever knew about.

Maybe if the real Katie showed up at the beginning things would be different. Maybe if there was no façade, if there was nothing to crack, things wouldn’t break. Maybe someone wouldn’t return this real version after three months.

And maybe, just maybe, someone WOULD love real Katie.

beyourself

Confession: I Am Cleansed OUT

greenjuice

I’m currently on Day Six of a Seven Day, self-imposed cleanse. I’ve done them before. Almost everyone I know has done one. We even did them as a team when I worked in our New York office (otherwise known as the last time I will ever eat avocado).  I should have been completely prepared for what this week would be like. 

People rave about the benefits of cleanses.

“I feel so energized!”

“I feel so light!”

“I feel so clearheaded!”

“I love life!!!”

THIS IS NOT ME.

I feel utterly exhausted.

I feel like I’m dragging myself around with weights tied to my appendages.

I feel foggy and confused.

I hate life.

I hate life right now. I hate this cleanse. I hate everyone who is euphoric on this cleanse. I hate everyone who is not on this cleanse. I hate everyone who can eat sugar, or fat, or any food more than once a day.  

Instead of the elated feelings, I’m at my worst. Why on earth have I done this to myself again?

I am punishing myself.

For a few months, since the holidays really, I have been eating with complete lack of discernment about what I’m putting into my mouth. With a complete lack of regard for what I’m doing to my body.

Bacon for breakfast (and lunch, maybe dinner too)? Yes, please!

Dessert after every meal? Of course!

Three glasses of wine? Better than two!

Candy, just because? Obviously!!

It caught up with me. My yoga practice has suffered. My skin has suffered. My sleep has suffered. And my poor clothes have suffered the worst of all. When I nearly ripped my jeans trying to squeeze into them last weekend in Santa Fe, and certainly stretched them past the point where jeans should ever go, I knew it had to stop.

It probably would have been a good idea to just start eating cleanly again, or to just cut back on the excessive fat and sugar. But I don’t always, or usually, like to do what’s good for me. I like to do what works quickly. It’s what I know. Thus the cleanse.

For the indulgences, for the lack of willpower, for the out of control eating…I punish myself.

I drink my shakes. I choke down my green juices. I force myself to keep eating my daily meal of spinach and protein. Each sip, each bite reminds me that I deserve this punishment. I have tried, convicted and sentenced myself.

So I sit here on my couch, alone, on a Saturday night. Going out seems pointless. I can’t eat. I can’t drink. I have no energy. I am hypersensitive and frequently on the verge of tears. It’s better that I stay here. I’m resigned to serving out this sentence.

This is a slippery slope for me. It only takes one cleanse for me to start monitoring every morsel of food, every calorie. One cleanse to set me on the road to obsession. One cleanse to be my gateway drug.

I think about what it would be like instead to stop this Draconian punishment. I think about what it would be like to be eating dinner, drinking wine like normal people. I think about what fun these normal people must be out having tonight.

I think, there must be more than this.

I know there is.

That logical part of my brain continues to hang on, despite being starved, and tells me, You don’t have to do this. Just eat healthy! Everything in moderation! Even, I think you look great! Sometimes it starts to sound just like my mom, encouraging and supporting and believing and loving, even when the other part of me fights back. I’m relieved when I hear it though, knowing I haven’t totally given over to the other, darker voice. Knowing I can still find my way out of the darkness. 

So screw Day Seven.

I’m done with this cleanse on Day Six, and I’m climbing out of the darkness and taking my life back. I want to be strong and present in my yoga class tomorrow. I want to be able to meet up with friends, and laugh and share and enjoy. For one day at least, I want to stop punishing myself, and accept my imperfect, sugar-loving, over-indulging self.

There is more than this. And I’m ready for it. With a side of chocolate.

xx,

Katie

 

 

Confession: I Am Enchanted

I landed in Albuquerque amid a descending sun, the sky a spectrum of golden colors so unlike those I see in my usual Santa Monica sunsets. Everything around me is brown, brown for miles. It’s 50 shades of brown. I don’t particularly like the color in general, but it’s fitting here, and changes before my eyes to become more beautiful, more meaningful.

I’m surprised to be caught in traffic on my drive to Santa Fe. In my mind, New Mexico isn’t supposed to have traffic. It’s supposed to be more…untouched. But no, there’s regular rush hour here, with everyone in a rush to get somewhere other than where they are. It’s not unlike Santa Monica in that way.

Of course in Santa Monica, I don’t see three men riding horses on the service road that runs parallel to the highway, each with one of those big bucket cowboy hats. I don’t drive through an Indian Reservation, with my car swaying from side to side, caught in a windstorm. I don’t get gunned down by a state trooper’s radar.

I chose this visit to New Mexico mostly because it was a state I had never been to. I could ski, I could visit a sanctuary, I could go to a Japanese spa. But mostly so I could check another state off my travel list.

It’s a game I play with myself: how many new places can I go every year? How many passport stamps can I collect this trip? How many United miles will I get? The game fails me sometimes, or I fail it. Sometimes I am ready to go home almost as soon as I arrive, having picked a place I “should go” but didn’t even want to, except to get ahead in this ridiculous game.

New state: I WIN!

But, I lose also, because I’ve lost all focus of what traveling is for. That eye-opening, mind-expanding, culture-absorbing wonder that travel brings.

I worried that New Mexico might be one of those “failure” trips. It was almost arbitrarily chosen. My pre-trip research consisted of a Travel & Leisure article about Santa Fe, and a conversation I had on a chairlift with some snowboarders who lived there. I even considered changing my return flight to come back earlier—before I even got there. I anticipated that I would possibly, probably, want to leave early.

As I drive the long stretch between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, post-police run-in scare, I contemplate whether this trip was another impulsive, poor decision. I’ve certainly made plenty of them. And then I notice it, on the license plates all around me:

New Mexico

Land of Enchantment

That word, enchantment, is so evocative and magical. And it’s just the message I need to see now on this drive, to remind me that if I keep my eyes open to it, I can find the beauty everywhere. 

A Katy Perry song starts playing on the radio, and before I can change the station, I listen to the refrain.

I’m wide awake.

I’m wide awake

It’s funny how sometimes songs can pick us like that. It’s funny how the universe chooses to speak to us.

A license plate slogan and a Katy Perry song remind me why I love to travel, and what I need to be throughout this trip: wide awake, open to the enchantment. 

The beauty is all around me, if I just open my eyes to it.

New Mexico

New Mexico

My lovely room at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

My lovely room at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

My favorite spot in my room

My favorite spot in my room

Ski Santa Fe view

Ski Santa Fe view

Road to Chimayó

Road to Chimayó

El Sanctuario de Chimayó

El Sanctuario de Chimayó

El Sanctuario de Chimayó

El Sanctuario de Chimayó

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Asisi

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Asisi

Love One Another Constantly

Love One Another Constantly

The Oldest House in the USA

The Oldest House in the USA c. 1610

Oldest Church in the US-San Miguel Mission c. 1610

Oldest Church in the USA-San Miguel Mission c. 1610

My Five Most Beautiful Things about Santa Fe: history, culture, spirituality, food, people

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Did Nothing

On my second day of skiing in Aspen, I’m coasting easily down a green slope, practicing the subtle turns that keep my speed down, able to focus on the beauty of the landscape around me. I’m feeling good until I hit a steep connecting trail that is less groomed than the one I was previously on. Maintaining my speed becomes increasingly difficult, maintaining control even more so. 

I’m not alone here. I see ahead on the hill a girl go down hard, her poles flying and one of her skis popping off. She stays down, sitting and looking around her as if she has no idea how she has gotten there. She looks lost and possibly scared.

I think about pulling up next to her, asking how she is, offering to get her pole for her. I consider assisting in getting her back into her skis. I want to help her. Instead, I hesitate. My fear gets the better of me, my thoughts rushing at me, faster and faster, gaining speed as I barrel down this hill.

“What if I try to stop to help her and I fall? What if I get hurt? What if I crash into her while I am trying to help? What if I make the situation worse?

What if I can’t do anything at all?”

Instead, I ski past. I know immediately it is not the right decision. I pause a distance below her, and from this vantage point I realize I have invoked that same mantra that I have used time and time again when the Universe throws me a curve ball that I refuse to hit, or to catch, or to even acknowledge:

Someone else will do it.

Someone else will invite the new person to join our lunch. Someone else will move to another seat on the plane so that the family can sit together. Someone else will shift their yoga mat to the side to accommodate the person who rushed in late. Someone else will help the lost elderly woman find her way home.

Someone else, someone else, someone else.

I look the other way.

I put my head down, pretend I cannot see what is going on as if this will somehow lessen my accountability. Making myself unavailable before I’m even asked for help. Before anyone can call upon me to act.

But I do see you struggling with your three children and your luggage and your strollers and your passports. I do see you trying to put on your skis without dropping your poles and your gloves but they keep falling down into the snow. I do see you cleaning up the hot coffee you spilled all over the table and floor in Starbucks, making three trips back up to the counter for more napkins to be able to mop up that venti coffee.

And yet I look away.

“Not me,” I seem to be saying. “Not my problem,” I intimate. “Not my responsibility,” I rationalize.

I’m wrong, of course. It is me, it is my problem and it IS my responsibility. To be present, to be mindful, to be helpful. To do something.

Because what if, one day, there is no someone else?

I was lucky with regard to my fallen comrade on the slopes. Someone else did risk falling to help her. Someone else did get her back on her feet, back into her skis. Someone else did care enough to stop. She was okay. But it doesn’t really let me off the hook, does it?

 

I want to be the someone.

 

So that is the new mantra that I need to repeat, over and over, until it happens without any hesitation, so that I can’t possibly ski on past: Do Something. That is my refrain: Do Something.

Drop your poles, spill your coffee, ask me to move, fall in my path.

This time, I will not look away. 

 

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Cried Today

I cried today.

I woke up too early. I called my dad. I went to work. I took conference calls and did a presentation for clients. I went to the grocery store. I skipped yoga. I packed for a ski trip.

And in between, I cried.

A beautiful little boy, I don’t actually know him, is slowly dying. I see his sweet face when I go on Facebook.  His picture pops up in my newsfeed, sometimes in the form of people asking for prayers for him, sometimes as a profile pic. I can see his huge eyes, focused on something past the viewfinder of the camera. Focused on something we can’t see, that probably only he can, in spite of his blindness (or possibly because of it). The light that shines on him seems otherworldly.

I don’t know this baby and yet I cried for him today. I cried first for him, and then for everything else. For my mom and my grandfather, facing the anniversary of my beloved grandmother’s passing this week. For the 4 year old girl we dedicated yoga to last week in New Jersey, just diagnosed with brain cancer. For the one I never talk about, the one who would have been 23 this year, the one whose name I don’t say.

Sometimes it’s just too hard.

M was 2 when I met him during my freshman year of high school. He had a host of medical problems; it was apparent in the way he looked, in his development. I don’t know if I ever understood exactly what he was dealing with medically, or if I’m just not remembering now. But I knew it was serious.

The light that radiated off this kid was blinding. He was universally adored by anyone who spent time with him. If he said your name, you melted. You felt like a chosen one. He didn’t look like everyone else, and I think now, of course not. He was too special to look the same. He was the best of all of us.

He was my idol’s son. I can call her that, because I actually worshipped her. She was the one I put on a pedestal, the one whose opinion mattered most. If she asked, the answer was always yes. I believed my every success was due to her. When I was 17, and M was 5, she asked me to babysit for him over the summer. I knew this meant that I was special. The answer, of course, was yes.

We did a trial run or two, making sure I was strong enough to lift him, knew how to feed him and clean his trach after lunch. He was comfortable with me. She made a recording of him asking “Katie coming tomorrow?” the weekend before my first day.

I babysat once, on a Monday. That’s all I can remember, though maybe there were more times. We read books, we taped ourselves laughing, we wrote stories in a journal, we talked about Elmo and how silly Elmo was. He loved Elmo. He loved being silly. I repeated the same jokes over and over again until they were ours, just for us.

The next day he died.

His heart just slowed down and stopped beating in the bathroom that night. When his mother, my idol, called and woke me with the news the following morning, nothing made sense. My mom handed me the cordless phone and I knew, even in my sleepy haze, that something had happened. But not that.

The summer was a blur. The school year started again and it was all the same but everything was different. The ones who loved him were all different.

The distance happened after I left for college. Distance would have been natural anyway, as 1200 miles will do to people. I didn’t realize until after it happened that I had been written out of the end of this story. There would be no tearful reunions, no coffee dates to catch up after a semester away. There would be nothing, just an end; not even acknowledged, just observed.

I tried. I attempted to write myself back in. I begged really. Please don’t cut me out of your life. Please still love me. How could someone I loved as a mentor for 5 years just walk away? How could the person I picked up off the floor and propped up for a year of hell see through me as if I wasn’t even there?

What I didn’t know then was that I had been written out of the beginning of the story too. There could be no happy ending because I didn’t exist in the beginning anymore. I was simply erased from the record books, stripped of the medals earned loving this child and his mother. When I got a blank stare, it’s because she really didn’t see me anymore. I wasn’t there.

I don’t know if I will ever understand why my part was eliminated, why I got killed off like a character leaving the tv show before the end of the season, easily disposed. Maybe she thinks it is my fault. Maybe I do too. For 15 years I have wondered, and no answers ever materialize. I am resigned to this. As my friend would say, “And so it is.”

I stopped grieving back then. How could I grieve a little boy who I loved when it didn’t feel like I was allowed to have loved him anymore?

So I shut down.

I stopped visiting his grave, I stopped acknowledging the anniversary of his death, I stopped reaching out to my idol. I accepted this new story that was written.

I don’t anymore. I can’t write myself back into the end of this story, but I can claim my part in the beginning. It’s time.

Today I cry for Ronan, and pray for his family. I cry for my mom, and my grandfather, and that little girl in NJ.

And I cry for M. I loved you. I’ve never forgotten.

You will always be part of my story.

xx,
Katie