The secret of life? Get used to it.

I’m about to move again. One of the most stressful events in life, right next to death of a loved one, divorce and job loss. Yup.

I just did this, didn’t I? 13 months ago, I moved into the middle of downtown Boston. My view of the skyline was my consolation prize to the mountain horizon I had planned on (with a last minute turnabout from moving to Colorado.) I did it for an amazing job opportunity. I did it for convenience. And I pretty much resisted it as my home for the entire last year.  I am not a City Girl. (Unless the city is Paris.) Left the job. Leaving the cityscape. Onward and, literally, upward.

Next month, I’m moving up to the what locals call the “North Shore.” A lovely, quintessential New England town near the water and nature that I crave. It’s a short 25-minute drive to my new job. I can run down back roads and to the beach. I can paint the antique barn across the street. I can walk to the farmer’s market every week. Or garden, I could garden! It’s the picture of my life I created in my head. And then, I made it happen. I materialized an ad agency job in a small town. I found a place to live in an even smaller town. And it’s all coming together in a way that once didn’t seem possible but yet, it suddenly is. I made this life.

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And now, I’m scared shitless.

I moving away from everyone I know. I don’t own enough (small-city, apartment) furniture to fill my spacious small town home. The town is so small, I’ll have to physically drive my trash to a pay transfer station. There will not be a Starbucks on the corner. After many crying spells. Many. After much scurrying about in my apartment trying, and failing miserably, to get my old life in order so I can move on to my new one. I figured something out.

I just. Have to. Get used to it. This is that Pema-Chodronesque-groundlessness of living. I’m in the middle again. Between the Next and the Is. I’m not quite anywhere but in transition, and it’s unsettling. Epiphany. (For the millionth time.)

Most of life we’re trying to get used to things. Until we do. And then we’re bored. Or unchallenged. Or just restless. And then we shake things up again. I tell myself this fabulous theory because it’s the only thing that makes sense. Today, anyway.

An old friend of mine said to me recently, “You are not your feelings. Their transient. Feel them. Then move on to the next one.” Genius, right? I thought so. I think to myself, if I am not my feelings, why can’t I look them square in the eye and tell them to F off? There are holes in my good friend’s argument.

It’s hard to get used to the shifting. It’s not fun to roll with the punches. Life change is like that joke you think is funny and want to laugh at but have a sneaking suspicion the joke is on you. The uneasiness will pass. Right? Right.

This I am sure of. There will be a day when I’m running back from the salt marsh. A night when I’m watching a meteor shower from the dark coastal skies. A morning when I’m happy there isn’t a traffic light to wait for when I’m crossing the street. And, then, the uncertainty will have become the norm. The What If will have become the Is. The shifting will come from the sea breeze and the sand dunes.

That’s the idea. Get used to it.

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Wherever you go, there you are.

IMG_3041I have a double-sided pendant I wear often. On one side is a picture of my elusive life’s dream. There’s a photo of the Eiffel Tower on it that represents my yearning to live abroad. The other side is that saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Written in plain type. Plainly stated. This necklace dangles the fantasy of what if with the rationality of what is…and never the ‘twain shall meet.

Story of my life, as they say. I have this “unicorn” idea (as a friend said to me) that includes this magical place of where I want to live. It would be near mountains that energize me. It would be near an ocean that brings me peace. It would be near a small city where I can thrive professionally but also close to an international airport where I can throw caution to the wind. That’s the “what if.” And, truthfully, it looks a lot like the place where I live now. Except where I live now has never felt like home though I have lived here for just about half my life.

Knowing the “what if” may never materialize, I have to accept the “what is.”

I am an adult survivor of child abuse and neglect. I say it out loud as I type to concretize the thought and validate my experience. And so flash forward to my search for a home. TIMG_3040he idea doesn’t exist. I never had the safety of a home in which a child is supposed to be raised. In a good world, our kids grow up safe, protected and full of promise. In a real world, some do but a lot don’t come close. That idea of place where I belong will never be. The search for it is useless. Because the concept is entirely foreign.

I know this in my rational, pensive mind. I understand it clearly. And yet, my emotions propel the mad cycle of the search for my unicorn. I continue to yearn for a feeling of home that I have never experienced and so cannot replicate. It’s maddening. Just like the  double-sided pendant and its two different stories that hang together but never rest on either.

 

A String Around My Finger

Someone reminded me today that I haven’t written in a while. Thank you, Reader, for the nudge. One of the wonderful things about a blog–aside from the therapeutic act of sounding out your thoughts into the Internet void–is it keeps a record of the past, sticking a bookmark in a moment in time you may want to return to for a little while.

I’m so grateful for having started “30 Days of Me Time” and working my way through some challenging thoughts that to this day serve me well. I spent a month sabbatical working through uncertainty, nothingness and gray space. And every now and then as life throws me for a loop, I remember. That was a time I wholly embraced to teach myself to let life unfold as it does. To learn that motion sometimes springs from stillness. And that no push or pull is too great when we learn to hold tight regardless of what’s happening around us.

2016 was a tough year. I went from planning a move to Colorado to joining a startup in Boston with this bursting enthusiasm for finally landing in a place I thought I belonged. Six months in, I realized I didn’t. And worse–it was the most grueling and unwelcoming experience in my career. I failed. I hit the pavement at top speed from a 12-story building–my spirits crushed to oblivion. Sounds awfully dramatic,  I know. But if I could put those feelings on paper–it would burn. Angry, unruly, contemptuous, uncontrolled…burn.

Flashforward to a brand new 2017. I’ve moving in yet another direction. One filled with nervous excitement and fear of uncertainty. But motion sprung from months of restless spinning in circles.

 

 

A Humbling Trip to South Africa

I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to South Africa. Beautiful, intriguing and, unexpectedly, saddening.2016-05-14 16.02.11

Of all the things I thought about: Would it be safe?  Would it be cold? Would it be tiring to drive so much (as we traversed the Western to Eastern Cape in a whirlwind)?  Of all these pre-travel concerns, I did not once give thought to the culture of post-Apartheid. It just wasn’t on my radar.

I did not immediately feel how xenophobia was a topic of daily conversation. I did not expect the palpable economic divide. I was not prepared for the sharp contrast of beauty and struggle, of a country so bountiful in natural richness and yet so starved for a way to improve its future. There is still much I do not know or understand–but it left me grateful for the freedom and opportunity I enjoy and saddened at the idea of millions of South Africans just trying to live a basic life without much mobility or resources.

2016-05-22 21.09.27Though Apartheid has officially ended, every town or city has a township in the shadows. Township–a place where blacks, coloureds (a race, not an adjective) and poor were “shipped” away to separate them from the ruling white European (Dutch) class. Even in the most rural of areas, like Rhodes (population 26,) the system of Apartheid persists. Separate from the town of Rhodes, is the township of roughly 300 blacks living in mostly tin shacks with their own school, church and impoverished way of life that is so far removed from the quaint, little mountain town meters next door. My friend and I asked ourselves, how do 300 (black) people work for a town made up of 26 (whites)? How do they get food without access to modern transport and with harsh winters that make farming difficult for these months. How do they build community where there is little opportunity? We talked to the locals–the white business owners and black workers, alike. They all seem to make it “work.” One post office, one police department and a few farms–even a craft brewery that produces 226 bottles of beer per month. They have soccer games and marching bands. They have cell phones and wear hoodies that say things like “Dope Shit.” They survive. 2016-05-20 16.37.26

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And then there’s Joburg. Johannesburg–home to 12 million. Four million of which live in the township of Soweto, made famous by it’s one-time resident, Nelson Mandela. Soweto is so big that, even as a township, it has a lower, middle and upper class peppered with government housing projects and squatter camps off the electric grid. The people here must live on roughly the equivalent of UD$1.25 per day. Even if some get educated–as our Uber driver explained–the opportunity for work is so difficult to find that schooling doesn’t necessarily open any doors. With a degree in Accounting, he was more than willing to consider jobs as a cleaner, driver, and cruiseship staff member with the lure of access to other countries with better possibilities than home. Any job sounds better than none.

But there is still hope in education. In Lesotho, (an enclave within South Africa,) a hotel worker at our lodge sent her 13 year-old son to the capital of Maseru to live alone in an apartment while he studied at a more rigorous school than this more rural, agrarian community of Semongkong had. It was a familiar story–a mother struggling to give her children a better future through a better education–at any cost, including separating the family at long distance for a long time.

Educated or not, in many rural towns or urban townships, there is literally nowhere to go. Not that they’d necessarily want to leave as many South Africans and Basothos (people of Lesotho) are proud of their land and culture, happy to live and work in the place of their birth. But without jobs and economics resources, the idea of travel is unheard of. Many had never left their home towns or ventured further than a car ride or more commonly, horseride, away. Our hotel manager in Paterson where we went on safari had never even made a phone call outside of her country.

In America where we travelers frown upon others who have no curiosity to see the world, it’s different here. Economic hardships limit the imagination. You cannot dream of globe trotting if you cannot envision a life outside of your village.

As I travel around the world as a luxury of experience, I feel a twinge of guilt. I have paid for the insight into third-world living. I wanted to be taught about a way of life I doubt I’ll ever have to face. I walked through the simple stone and mud houses wondering how they stayed warm in the winter, where their produce came from in times of drought or bad weather, whether their traditional boiled wool blankets worn like cloaks was enough protection from the elements like my REI primaloft jacket and North Face water and wind proof shell.

Then I went back to my own mud hut rondavel, outfitted with a modern fireplace and comfy beds for tourists with hot water and electricity I didn’t have to worry about paying for. I could eat when I wanted from a menu of options. I drank wine and ate dessert–not far from homes not even equipped with running clean water…

I wanted to learn more. But felt then as I do now–helpless.

2016-05-25 16.03.30When I spent money on a tour ticket to see Soweto, I felt conflicted at the idea of commericializing poverty and the history thereof. I got on a tour bus because traveling alongside the locals didn’t feel safe. I was entertained with stories and jokes by the guide who grew up in the township. He taught us words in Sesotho, Zulu and a street language only spoken in the township that blended at least seven different Bantu dialects. This was a presentation his life, received through the lens of a tourist. He lifted the shades and cracked open dark doors to help people from around the world see his reality and hopefully feel touched enough to do something, say something, change something. Even if it’s just in themselves.

I’ve returned happy to be home in my own bed, to make meals from a big trip to the grocery store stocked with everything I need and to spend the holiday weekend resettling into my first-world life.

Travel should change you. Challenge you. Open your eyes to things you couldn’t imagine. And when it does, it’s up to you to do something meaningful with that privilege. I’m thinking of you South Africa. Just figuring out where to go from here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary, I miss you.

Remember journals? Hand written on paper-bound books–sometimes with silly little locks on them to keep our parents’ and siblings’ prying eyes out? After I wrote my last post (mostly stream-of-consciousness thought, mind you), I walked home and snapped a photo of a spring flower coming up from a lawn. In that moment, I remembered that as a geeky and introverted child, I wrote in my diary about the crocuses coming up when I observed that spring was near. (I also wrote in it that my sister was perfect. Insert cringe emoticon here.) I wrote about silly girl things for myself, to sort my expanding view of the world.

Suddenly, I connected that memory with the thought that the purest form of sincere writing is actually gone. Does anyone journal anymore? On paper, in private, without any interest or fear of having their words read by another someday. Blogs, tweets and public posts replace that innermost random thinking we used to scribble furiously on pages we’d tuck away under our mattresses. At least, I did. Continue reading

The Death of Sincerity

Sarcasm is a trait people actually find attractive in the Northeast. Men list it as a part of their ISO criteria on dating profiles. Women flaunt sharp tongues as proud as their sharp stilettos–not necessarily in that order.

No one is straight up anymore–or were we ever? I’ve even taken personality tests for employers (disguised as work style assessments) that give you 50 shades of nice to choose from. Pick from a list of adjectives that describe you from congenial to neighborly and a few levels in between. Why? Because we must perfect how we organize perfectly imperfect people?

Worse, I have built my career on the art of nuance. My challenge is how to communicate that positioning statement but not in those words. I take that company POV and create “consumer facing”language. My craft is to write for an age, a gender and a mindset so specific the products they buy must’ve been hand-crafted by their personal lifestyle managers. There. I just layered that with an insincere tone. Continue reading

Tiny act of kindness. Big deal. 

I let a woman go in front of me at the checkout lane today. She had one item to my 12 so I said, “Is that all you have? Why don’t you go ahead.” She flashed the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my neighborhood grocery store–and trust me, I’m there often enough to know cheerful produce shopping is highly uncommon. She thanked me more out loud than she needed to, announcing to everyone in earshot, “how kind!” She paid for her item and, again, expressed her overwhelming thanks before heading off.

Two things come to mind… Really, that’s it? Give someone a little courtesy and spread a tiny bit of happiness just like that. So simple, so…of course! Second, I think why is this tiny act of kindness so surprising? And isn’t that actually sad?

I challenge you to go outside tomorrow and hold open a door, let someone with bags take your subway seat or, for goodness sake, simply smile at whoever comes your way.

These teeny tiny acts of kindness should not be so rare that they stand out on any given day. We’re not talking about buying the person in line behind you a cup of coffee or feeding the homeless guy you always pass on your way to work. Those are bonified acts of kindness and should be recognized as such. I’m talking about plain common courtesy. How bout we make it common again?

 

My birthday tradition

My birthday is coming. I have a tradition. Since I turned 18, I decided to celebrate every birthday doing something I’ve never done before but always wanted to do. It couldn’t be about luxury or any material thing–just something fun to mark a day in the life and express my gratitude for being able to live it. It was my bucket list before anyone had a name for that sort of thing. Before I was any age to even be thinking about a bucket list. Continue reading