By The Numbers: A European Adventure

15,852:          Number of miles flown

12,000:          Number of gravestones visible at the Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov, Prague, where as many as 100,000 people are buried, 12 layers deep, from the 15th to 18th century

8,800:            Hungarian Forint still in my wallet (about $37)

7,445:             Number of words I edited, over and over, in Budapest

5,000:            Number of people on the Charles Bridge at any given time in Prague (please note this number is in no way factual, but represents how unbelievably crowded Prague was)

1943:              Date seen most frequently as the year of death on the pictures of prisoners lining the hallways at Auschwitz; later arrivals and deaths were not documented with photos but with numbered tattoos instead

19:00:            Time that Rusalka, the Czech opera by Dvorák, started in Prague; also the time we arrived and begged them to sell us tickets

1,000:            Number of hippies living in a commune in Copenhagen called Christiania

120:                Turkish Lira spent visiting the major historical sites of Istanbul

108:                Dollars spent on a meal in Stockholm

97.3:               MB of data used, mostly on Google Maps to help get me un-lost, most of those times in Istanbul

33:                  Estimated number of miles walked or biked throughout the trip

30:                  Ballpark number of eye rolls and/or exaggerated sighs at the tourist groups blindly following their umbrella-wielding leaders and blocking paths at every popular tourist attraction

26:                  Combined number of churches, synagogues and mosques I visited and photographed

25:                  Approximate number of times I said, “Bye-bye Förbifarten”, a political slogan I saw almost that many times on posters in the subway in Stockholm

21:                  Number of languages spoken at Auschwitz-Birkenau; also, the number of plaques, in those various languages, inscribed:

FOREVER LET THIS PLACE BE

A CRY OF DESPAIR

AND A WARNING TO HUMANITY,

WHERE THE NAZIS MURDERED

ABOUT ONE AND A HALF

MILLION

MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN

MAINLY JEWS

FROM THE VARIOUS COUNTIRES

OF EUROPE.

19:                  Number of days overseas

18:                  Estimated number of Tinder messages received across all cities, not one resulting in a meet-up

14:                  Dollars spent, total, on two meals in Krakow

13:                  Number of times I was sure I was going to crash while biking around Copenhagen in the rain

12:                  Number of castles and palaces visited or photographed

11:                  Number of flights taken

10:                 Approximate number of times I got lost in Cihangir, Istanbul; also, approximate number of tantrums thrown after getting lost

9:                     Times I cried, most of them at Auschwitz

8:                     Movies watched on flights throughout the trip

7:                     Number of countries visited; also, number of countries it rained in while I was there

6:                     Number of books brought with me, plus one purchased in Prague

5:                     Number of books actually read

4:                     Number of cemeteries visited

3:                     Number of naps taken in Budapest, where I crashed after a writing deadline and a morning of walking in the rain

2:                     Number of Turkish yoga classes attended; one with “elbow” and “low lunge” the only English words spoken in 75 minutes

1:                     Suitcase, carry-on;

Also:

1:                      Night, spent visiting friends in London

1:                      Birthday celebrated, my friend’s, in Stockholm

1:                      Mermaid viewed in Copenhagen

1:                      Shot of absinthe drank in Prague

1:                      Nun, photographed, and invisible in the resulting picture, in Krakow

1:                      Apartment of my European dreams, a penthouse with views of Parliament in Budapest

1:                      Underground cistern, whose definition I learned while there, in Istanbul

 

0:                     Part of me that is left unchanged by this trip

 

In a trip made up of moments, here are a few of the most memorable:

Taking off

Taking off

 

Beautiful Stockholm at sunset

Beautiful Stockholm at sunset

 

The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

 

The stunning State Opera in Prague

The stunning State Opera in Prague

 

Auschwitz

Auschwitz, Poland

 

The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest

The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest

 

Sunlight entering the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul

Sunlight entering the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul

My Christmas In Exile

harrodsgreen2

Harrods During Christmas. Photo courtesy of anee.baba via Flickr.

The undoing occurred at the gourmet cheese counter at Harrods.

It was Christmas Eve afternoon, not quite dark enough yet to see the elaborate lights display all around the exterior of the store, though that didn’t stop the throngs of tourists outside from taking picture after picture of the barely visible illuminations. Inside, in the cavernous Food Hall where the sound echoed at a deafening volume, I shuffled through the nearly solid mass of people, past the bakery, the charcuterie, the Middle Eastern prepared foods. I had also come to see the holiday decorations, and was wasting time until sundown, when I came upon the cheese counter.

A piece of Gouda with black truffle caught my eye, and then its scent filled my nose, so I took a number and made my way to the front to order a piece for the next evening’s dinner. Just enough for a single sandwich, I told the girl. “Is this for you, for Christmas?” she asked me.

It’s the simple question that stops you in your tracks, that causes your breath to hitch and your heart to clench. That undoes you.

Because if you have to admit to the British girl working at the cheese counter that this single piece of truffled Gouda is for the grilled cheese sandwich you will eat alone, for Christmas dinner, you have to admit it to yourself.

You completely screwed up.

******

I used to love Christmas.

The rituals, mostly.

Digging into the heap of presents beneath a huge, fragrant tree we had decorated as a family, my mom directing the placement of the lights (only white ones!) and the ornaments, the ones we had made over the years in school, and the glass ones my dad received annually from work. My grandparents, always sipping their coffee, smiling indulgently as I exclaimed, “Just what I always wanted” into the video camera in my dad’s hand. My mom, making waffles from scratch that we could smell from the living room, and heating the plates in the oven so the waffles stayed warm.

Later, in a new house, where I insisted earnestly that New Kids on the Block had the best Christmas album, and our new kitten ran crazily from the dining room to the living room any time the doorbell rang, sliding through the foyer and climbing up the decorated tree. My grandfather there to hear my big solo in O Holy Night in the winter choral concert, and my grandmother closing her eyes when we sang her favorite carol, A Welsh Lullaby. My mother, making the special chocolate Christmas cookies, that I could sometimes convince her to undercook just the way I liked them, and my father trying to put together a Barbie Dream house for my sister.

My family, together. My family, in love.  My family, happy.

Every year I’ve recalled these memories, these ghosts of Christmases past, these portraits of a family that I think once existed. The family in those home videos, forever immortalized on tapes too small for our VCR, that we could play back and watch through the camera’s viewfinder. I could make believe that all of our Christmases were perfect, that our family was perfect, as long as I could call up those images.

Until this year, when I finally couldn’t recognize those people any longer.

The splintering happened gradually, with little pieces of wood breaking off from the whole every year, until what remained was cracked and sharp-edged and just a fraction of what once was. Yelling. Hospitals. Criticism. Age. Dismissal. Death. Divorce. Lies. Addictions. Letdowns. Estrangement. The things that happen to families, I guess, over time. The things that, eventually, break them.

This year, I couldn’t bear it. The going through of motions, the pretending.

So I fled.

To London, and a friend I had met exactly once. To one I hadn’t seen in 20 years. To one I had worked with, sort of, at some point in time. To one I had loved once, who didn’t ask me to come. To one who was friends with my boss, a yoga teacher, who chastised me for “holding back”.

I fled to ones with whom I shared no past: no hurt, no pain, no guilt, no regret.

The trip began encouragingly, with cozy dinners in pubs and happy trips to the theatre. Kindness was the saving grace of those days, and I was met with it everywhere I turned, in everyone who tried to save me from myself. The friend who planned things she knew I would like, who listened and provided thoughtful guidance, and whose daughter climbed in my lap to brush my hair and asked me every morning to play with her. The friend who met me despite my scheduling changes, and the yoga classes that welcomed me into their fold, giving me comfort in something familiar. Even the taxi drivers, with their chirpy commentary and pointing out of sights, tried to keep me smiling.

It wasn’t enough to stave off the loneliness though, which crept in slowly. It tiptoed into the yoga class and rested in child’s pose next to my mat. It sat behind me at the theatre, kicking my seat and begging to be acknowledged. It hopped onto the train at Oxford Circus with me, covering my hand as I held onto a pole, although I lost it when switching to the Northern line at Stockwell. I thought I could outrun it, or outsmart it, or just outmaneuver it.

But it finally found me, forcing its way through the crowd at Harrods to catch me at the cheese counter, and it would not let me go. There was no more running, no more outsmarting, no more outmaneuvering.

It was the loneliest I’ve ever been, it seems. Sitting alone on a couch in my self-imposed exile, with a grilled cheese sandwich for Christmas dinner, 3,500 miles away from my family, the loneliness finally settled upon my shoulders and around my neck, like a cloak that threatened to choke me. So this is what it feels like to break your own heart, I thought. This was my punishment, I assumed, for leaving my family and ruining Christmas. I was meant to accept it gravely and stoically, while telling everyone I was having a jolly old time in England.

Except I found that I couldn’t. This time I couldn’t pretend that things were fine. I couldn’t continue to post pretty Instagram pictures and wrap up this trip with a bow and say, “Just what I always wanted”. I couldn’t act as though I was having the trip of a lifetime. I couldn’t get on yet another flight, to go to yet another city, alone. I couldn’t even leave the flat. I didn’t know how to rescue myself from this situation I had created.

I didn’t know how to undo what I had done.

Kindness, it turns out, saved me again. Kindness from the friends who said it was okay to simply give up on this trip, cut my losses and go home. Kindness from the father who answered his phone at 6am, and picked me up at the airport later that night without question. Kindness from the mother who changed the sheets to the ones I like, and tucked me in to sleep like I hadn’t abandoned her. Kindness from the grandfather who never mentioned my Christmas absence, and just hugged me a little longer instead.

Kindness taught me that you can go home again. Maybe not to that perfect family, or that perfect Christmas, frozen for all time in those old videotapes. But to the family that remains, who loved you through New Kids on the Block albums, and long holiday concerts in an overheated auditorium, and lies, and judgments and all of your other screw-ups. The family who plucks you from your loneliness and reminds you that you are never really alone.

They are your real Christmas.

Confession: I Learn Most Of My Life Lessons In Airports

It happened again.

I’m sitting in the lounge at the airport in Panama City, Panama, waiting for my flight to Ecuador. It’s very hard for me to concentrate on writing, because my ears are straining to hear and understand every conversation going on around me. With my high school Spanish, I struggle to piece together stories. A couple traveling on to Brazil. A woman who works for Proctor & Gamble in Albany, Georgia. A group of businessmen who don’t care for Rihanna’s music. The cacophony of voices seems so much louder than usual, my sense of hearing heightened to a new level.

I realize how often I walk around hearing nothing.

When I travel within the US, it is so easy for me to tune out what people near me are saying. Their words altogether too familiar to me,  I just don’t pay any attention. Similarly, I can ignore the chatter in cities where I don’t have any knowledge of the language spoken. In Bangkok, or Brussels, the conversations become just a vague buzzing noise, like that of bees flying around nearby in a swarm, too far away to cause any alarm or require any action. I can stay in my head, alone; no one else makes their way in.

But toss in a few words I actually understand, followed by many, many more that I don’t, and my brain does not know how to proceed as planned. It allows everyone in, crowding out my thoughts and trying to process theirs instead. Suddenly I’m present in a way I didn’t realize that I hadn’t been before. And now I see it, my eyes functioning at once as well as my ears now do.

I learn many of my most valuable life lessons in airports.

In Los Angeles, I learned how to be less judgmental.

In Newark, I learned about how to pay attention, when I carelessly tied up a handicapped bathroom stall, changing my clothes, for five minutes, only to emerge and see a woman in a wheelchair being forced to wait because I had been on my phone, and not noticed the sign on the door. I also learned how important a genuine apology and a little humility are, when I was seated across the aisle from said woman minutes later for six hours on our cross-country flight.

In Vegas, I learned about love.

In Albuquerque, I learned about kindness and compassion when I watched a mother struggle to travel on her own with two young, ill children, and resisted the previously typical urge to pray that I would not be seated near them. I learned that offering to help rather than just saying, “not my problem” is one of the most rewarding things we can do.

In Ho Chi Minh City, I learned that asking for help (oh, and a little preparation), can aid you in being less terrified in the middle of the night outside a closed airport halfway across the world.

In Tokyo (well, in the air above Tokyo), I learned that a person can watch a flight map on their personal television for nearly ten hours straight. Okay, that’s not really the lesson. I learned that what makes us happy is a deeply personal choice, and sometimes involves staring at an image of a small virtual plane flying over a static map for hours.

And tonight, in Panama, I learned how to hear–rather, to listen–and be present.

As I make my way to the flight that will join me with my friends in Ecuador, before we head together to a week-long Thanksgiving adventure in the Galapagos Islands, I am grateful for this particularly timely lesson in Panama.

My ears are open, attuned to any language I may overhear. Ready to make sense of the symphony of sounds that nature and animals always provide–or to appreciate its beauty if I cannot really understand it. Excited at the music of laughter, and tears, and awe, and gratitude that awaits me.

Determined to stay present.

Signing off from Panama!

Katie

airplane_takeoff

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

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

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

Life Lessons from Canyon Ranch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CanyonRanch

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

https://www.facebook.com/katiedevinewriter

xx,

Katie 

Speak Your Truth

 “No, it’s fine.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And since your history of silence 

Won’t do you any good.

Did you think it would?

Let your words be anything but empty.

Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say,

And let the words fall out, honestly.

I wanna see you be brave.

And I knew: it was time.

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

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

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

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Thought It Mattered

I thought it mattered.

 

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

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

But, I forgot, as we sometimes do.

 

Once more, I thought it mattered.

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

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

But, still, I forgot.

 

Yet again, I thought it mattered.

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

If they thought I was perfect.

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

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

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

 

 

xx,
Katie

Confession: I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

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

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

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

Dear 16-year-old Katie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

35-year-old Katie

 

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

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

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Confession: I Miss My Security Blanket

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

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

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

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

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

When I stopped feeling safe.

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

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

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

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

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

I made myself irrelevant and unimportant and then I was.

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

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

Confession: I Am A Lazy Perfectionist

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I didn’t leave my house today.

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

Be Present

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

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

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

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

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

I’m getting worse at life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blaise on The Doctors