Italian lessons

Walking toward to the enormous aqueduct in Spoletto, feeling the sunshine warm on my skin and with the scent of olive trees in my nostrils, I thought, we’re doing it all wrong. Some of us, we’re doing life wrong, and we could really stand to learn from our Italian friends; the greatest of these lessons for me was to take the time to pause and enjoy. Enjoy a meal, a conversation, a view. Slow down, stop. Find my own rhythm, and make my own space for what matters most in my life. The people and experiences that make me happy, and make me hum. 

Taking time, so far away from home, gave me the space to reflect on what makes me hum, and how can I carve out a better space for it. Better space, for me.

I see now that I create the busy in my life. The noise that interferes…I let it in, let it overwhelm me. It’s a matter of choice, really, deciding, prioritizing. Doing the laundry, or sitting on the patio with my daughter, enjoy the evening light together. Leaving my phone on the kitchen counter when I take the dog for a walk; putting the phone in another room when my children and I sit down for a meal together. Do you eat standing up in the kitchen? I do, often…well, usually. There’s no good reason not to sit down; I just tell myself I am too busy and can’t waste time.

There is no such thing as wasting time for a meal. Sit, eat, nourish, pause. Taste your food: you will enjoy it more, and probably eat less of it. Italians take hours for meals, and hurrying the process is rude. When you have dinner at a restaurant, the assumption is that the table is yours for the night. Why not? Where else would you rather be, than here, enjoying the company of the person you made plans to share dinner with? And that whole paper cup of coffee thing? Honestly, it’s kind of gross and definitely unnecessary. Do you know how delicious coffee is out of a real ceramic cup? Do you remember? Have your coffee before work instead of in the car. If your mouth is free you can use it for wonderful things, like singing along to the radio, or smiling.

What makes you happy, and what makes you hum?

Focus on the present, be right here, and live. Notice the sunshine, suck on an olive pit, laugh with a child. What matters more than right here, now? Contentment is a ripe, low-hanging fruit, and it’s ours for the taking; we simply have to pause, and let it in.

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Mala beads and good intentions

A few years ago, a friend asked me what I was looking for, and I gave him a list. It started with “tall, and not-blue eyes”. I then went on to describe nice table manners, an appreciation of wine and good food, someone who skis and has straight teeth…honestly, it was utterly riculous, and I am embarrassed that I said any of it out loud. My friend chuckled and patted my arm, and told me something that has stuck: that I would meet someone who I would fall in love with, someone with a firm sense of who he is and what he wants, and that this man would break my heart. And after that, I would pick myself up, and be changed. Though heartbreak, would grow stronger, and finally, finally be ready for a real partnership.

Mala necklaces are strands of 109 beads—typically stones, crystals, sandalwood or rudraksha beads that carry certain energy – traditionally used during japa meditation, where a mantra is quietly repeated 108 times. Wearing the mala as a necklace or as a bracelet throughout the day helps you manifest the power of the stone. And much like a rosary, the beads help the practitioner keep track of their place as they move through a meditation practice with the beads in between their thumb and forefinger (never letting the beads touch the middle finger, a sign of disrespect). At the 109th bead, it is customary to give gratitude to teachers and the most important people in your life. (quoted from Yoga Journal)

The beads that I chose are a traditional rosewood strand, with a large smoky Quartz teardrop. Their description reads, “leave behind things that no longer serve you. We are talking about the difficult stuff: toxic relationships, the uninspiring job, or maybe a destructive belief. When you let go you create space for the new and wonderful to come in and fill your life. Smokey Quartz’s healing energy transforms negativity into positivity and inspires you to take the steps in the directions of your dreams. Labradorite is said to enhance one’s magical powers. It is believed to calm the overactive mind and return joy and spontaneity back to one’s life. Amethyst is a calming stone that works in the emotional, spiritual, and physical to provide balance, patience + peace.” (from Tiny Devotions)

I chose them with the intention of letting go of my last relationship; letting go of the pain, and the blame, and the sorrow. But in that meditation, and in that space, I have found quite a different letting go: it’s a letting go of shallow assumptions about what I want from a partner, and an embrace of something far deeper and more meaningful; an understanding of what I need. In that space I have found grace and compassion, for myself. I have found peace, and softness, and an opening to the possibility of life, the gift that will unfold organically when the time is right. What I have let go of is this feeling that I need a man to validate me, to keep me company, take care of me. What I have let go of is the need to search, and what I have found, is patience. So going back to my friend’s question, about what I am looking for? Finally, I can answer that I am not looking. I am finding. I am discovering me, and taking good care, and treating myself with love. I am being my own best partner, and I am perfectly content.

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The magic of the mundane

Whoops, I did it again: met a man who lives in another city, too far away. I did not mean for it to happen;  we met, we started talking, and things escalated to planning a visit. And then I panicked. I don’t want another long distance relationship, ever. I want somebody here, and real. I want everyday, ordinary…because I have come to learn that it’s in those simple moments where the magic lives. The magic lies in the mundane.

My last relationship knocked my socks off. He was exciting, and I wanted to be with him all the time. And, the time in between the times we were together almost crushed me. 

I think that perhaps I have been disingenuous in some ways, giving the impression that being single is exciting,  full of wonderful adventures and wide open possibilities. So often, friends have confided about their marriages, about how they’re boring, and the connection that was once strong is now hanging on by a thread. And every time, I give the same advice: you still have a thread. That’s everything. Fix the rest. Try. Just, try.

When I first got divorced, I had great plans. So much romance, right around the corner! But that’s not the way it is. The parts I tend not to share are the parts that many people find difficult to hear: the loneliness, the challenge of co-parenting with an ex-spouse, the financial worries. The constant nagging suspicion, usually quiet but never quite gone, that there is a very real possibility that I may not find this perfect match, the man who, I was so sure five years ago, was just aound the corner. And you know, it’s true, I won’t. Because I have changed, what I want has changed, and I no longer want perfect; I want messy, and imperfect, and mundane. I want challenging and supportive, funny and earnest, crazy smart and very silly, and mostly, I want kind. I want a man who is my friend first, to make out with pretty much always. And I want quiet Sunday afternoons at home, eating bagged salads and going to bed early. I want help making the bed, and someone else to poke the fire when it dies down, a lover to make a extra cup of coffee for and read cookbooks with. Yes, these past few years have offered incredible adventures, and I have had my share of romance. I have learned, and my heart has been opened and also squished, and I would not trade a moment. We are the sum total of our experiences, and my experiences have lead me here: to finally see the gifts offered by the ordinary.

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Leave it on the mat

That’s a yogi thing, to leave it on the mat. To practice with purpose and intention, and leave behind all that no longer serves you. Tonight, there were puddles on my mat, so many that I had to keep adjusting for them, stopping to wipe down. I was leaving it all behind; all, and then some extra for good measure.

Yesterday, I downloaded software to save text messages. I wanted them off my phone and out of my life, but I know that I will also need to remind myself at some point why I made the choices that I did, and why I was right to leave. Because you know, the mind plays tricks sometimes, and it becomes easy to only remember the happy times; my heart wants to only remember the happy times, because the rest just hurts so much. But that’s a defense mechanism, and if I am to learn and grow and evolve, I have to embrace the hurt, and let it incorporate itself into the rest of me. To become one more part of my personal history.

So I downloaded the messages, and then I deleted them all from my phone. I deleted him, and blocked him as well. Then I began to read, and read our messages from when we first fell in love. I remember how my heart raced, and of how I thought of him all the time, couldn’t wait to touch him, to wake up beside him. I saw the pictures, too – the funny goats that we fed strawberries, and the breakfast he made me the first time I visited; eggs and avocado forming a smiley face. Pictures from a life together, so many happy pictures, so many happy times. And then I skipped forward, and I saw things begin to shift. I saw his frustration with me, and I saw that transition into anger, and then I saw it transition into abuse. I saw his rage grow, and I saw myself closing down. I saw the first messages where he told me I was weak, and then told me to fuck off. He liked to tell me to fuck off, it seems, because he did it a lot. And then he would be sorry, and we would stay up late talking, and things would be better for a while…until they weren’t.

A few days ago, I woke up to a series of angry messages. They were ugly, and threatening, and mean; and, they were wrong. He has made up his version of what happened, and drawn himself as a victim, and he is wrong. I wanted to correct him, but I didn’t, and I won’t. It’s time to move on, and time to release myself. It’s time to leave it on the mat.

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Burn the whole thing down

I am trying to wash the scent of woodsmoke out of my jacket. One wash, two…it’s lying in the sun now. Usually I love the memories that scent evokes, but this time, it’s only sadness. It’s loss, and disappointment, and hurt. It reminds me of the love I had, and lost; it reminds me of the hope I had, and lost. It reminds me of terrible conflict, both around me and inside of me. Of feeling off balance and torn. Of looking at the man I loved and not knowing him anymore.

Looking over the tarot reading I had, funnily enough, almost exactly one year ago, I see themes that now make sense. Eight of Swords: a blindfolded, bound woman in a jail of her own making. Three of Swords inverted: healing from heartbreak. My foundation card was the Moon: deception, by self or another. The tarot reader urged me to pay especially close attention to this, as it was linked to all the rest.

But this isn’t about Tarot; not at all. It’s about trusting yourself, and following your instincts. I knew something was wrong a year ago – that’s why I got the reading – and I talked myself into believing I was wrong. I KNEW.

On our very last good day together, we went to the amusement park in Glenwood Canyon. It sits up on the mountainside, overlooking the town. Years ago, there was a devasting fire in the canyon. It started on one side, then jumped the river, then the highway. So much was lost. Up on the observation deck, the forest service has erected educational signs about the fire, so you can look across the landscape and visualize the extent of the damage. I learned that the fire was so bad, in part, because there had been no controlled burns; the brush and other debris were thick under trees, which were too close together. I read about how the fire service learned from this, and how they now routinely do controlled burns so the fires have less to hold on to. And I read about regrowth. About how the land is healthier now than it was before the fire, because all the junk had been incinerated. New shoots popped up, and the trees that survived were the strongest. And I looked over at this man I loved so much, and my heart hurt, because I knew.

What an enormous love we had. Wonderful adventures, and so much laughter, and so many moments that I will treasure always. But I ignored the debris. His extreme critism and anger. My reaction to both – shutting down and quietly imploding – and my doubts. Knowing that our lives are so different because of the people that we are, and because of the choices we have made. Knowing that I will probably never have the kind of freedom that he has, and that I am okay with that; I choose that. And finally, knowing that, as much as he wanted to, he could never choose me. He could never accept me the way I am, because what he needs is something different. Does that excuse all the awful things he said to me, and the way he behaved? Absolutely not. But it’s context, for me, because I knew.

I knew.

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I have not been myself lately.

Last year, I had a tarot reading. I’m not a big one for stuff like that, but I had questions, and needed confirmation. I asked her about my relationship, and she told me he wasn’t the one. She told me that our time together would be filled with ups and downs and fights and deception, and I decided she was wrong. I wanted her to be wrong because I was full of hope. But, a piece of me heard her, and knew she was right.

Things began to get slippery early, a few months before the tarot reading. I found out he was on Tinder while he was living with me, five months after we met. He was surprised I found out, and defensive, and tried to blame my friend who told me for being meddlesome. When I told him I knew he was active on the site, just a few hours earlier, he told me I simply didn’t understand; that he used it to make friends, and that it was just entertainment. He told me Tinder was just like Facebook, and that I shouldn’t be so judgmental. That was the first red flag. Many more followed.

Fast forward to last week. I am not going to go into all the details of what led up to the ugliest of the ugly, but last week he called me a fucking bitch, and spineless, and selfish, and lazy and mentally unstable and incompetent…and, and, and. He did this with my daughter nearby, and she heard everything. She didn’t hear him grab me, or shove me, or push me to the ground, but he did those things. He told me that it was all my fault. That I did things to make him angry. That I made him feel so bad that he could not control himself, because he loves me so much. And because of the months leading up to last week, I believed him, and believed it was my fault.

It was not my fault.

I am sad and embarrassed. This is not something I want to admit about myself, but I let it happen. I ignored all the red flags, the controlling behaviors, the minor insults that escalated to major insults. I loved him, and thought that if I could just change the things he didn’t like about me, we would be fine; after all, he loved me, too. But what really happened was that I gave my self away.

So I’m left wondering, how? I am strong and smart and know better. I have my wits about me and a great career and a loving family and a fabulous circle of friends. How was it that I began to doubt myself so deeply that I questioned every word I uttered, every emoticon I texted, every phone call I initiated. I’d hear the edge to his tone when I got it wrong, and knew the insults were close behind…and they’d start with “honey”. He’d test me to see if I was paying attention, and berate me if I got a detail wrong. He’d tell me how hard he was trying, and that I wasn’t trying at all, and I believed him, and tried harder; I wanted to please him, and to not trigger the anger. But you know, the anger was unavoidable.

I loved this man, so much. He was smart and witty and fun. He was kind to my children and challenged me in new and exciting ways, he has beautiful brown eyes and long curly lashes, and he danced with me in the kitchen when there was no music playing. We kissed, and I would be lost in his kisses, in his arms, and felt safe and loved and beautiful. I thought we would grow old together, and I wanted that; I wanted a life with him. And along the way, a shift happened, and I stopped being the woman he fell in love with. I don’t know how this happened, how I lost my center. Sure, some of it was him and what he was doing and saying, but a bigger part of it was me, and wanting to please him so badly. He would yell at me that he wanted me to be strong, to push back, to fight, to tell him what I wanted; and then he would tell me I was useless.

At the beginning, we felt that we were the luckiest two people around. We lived 1200 miles apart, and yet we met, and fell in love, and were happy. I was so happy. The change was insidious, and I cannot blame him, because if I do, I will allow it to happen again in a future relationship. I take responsibility for what happened. I saw the red flags and chose to ignore them. I chose not to push back, and until last week, I chose not to leave. But then, it happened in front of my children, and I heard what they were hearing, and that was too much. Nobody talks to their mother like that, and their mother is me. I am the strong independent woman that they believe I am, and I was not going to allow that to be be shattered for them. My daughters at 12 and 13 now, young women, and they look to me as an example; I was setting a lousy example. So, no more. I pushed back, and I left. And while my heart is broken, it will heal. I know this about myself: I am resilient and worthy of love, and one day I will meet a man who loves me just as I am. And I will stand firm, and stay, just as I am.

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Swiping through Instagram, this stopped me: “You attract what you believe you deserve”. And it made me think, what parts of my life am I dissatisfied with, and what am I doing to change that? I work hard at things, like in an all-out, balls-to-the-wall way. I am very intentional about every choice in my life, and have a clear picture of what a want, both for myself and for my children. But there are things that just aren’t working for me, and so I have to ask myself, do I truly believe that I deserve what I want? And how can I change my mindset, my belief in myself and my own value, to create the change that I need in my life? Because it all starts in your head, right? In having a clear focus, and then manifesting that which matters most to you.

I know what I want most, I know I deserve it, and there is no room for compromise. I have been given a second shot at getting things right, and I’m going to do that.

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I know how empty rings can be

Will I ever get married again? Truly, I love the thought of it – making that commitment to another, saying to someone, “I choose you, always”. Weddings are all about our best intentions and hope for the future, public declarations of gratitude and fortitude and hope. But marriages; marriages are much more complicated. The marriage is what’s left when the first blush of falling in love passes, and the last of the wedding cake has been eaten, the rice swept away. The marriage is the day-to-day, here-I-am, leaving socks on the floor, finishing the last of the milk…and the arm that hugs you tight in the middle of the night. Marriages are a public statement about a private life; a legally binding obligation. It’s so beautiful when two people decide to tie themselves together, but I think it’s equally beautiful when a couple simply decides that they are a couple by their own definition. When every day, they wake up, look at the other, and decide to stay. When each day is an active choice to maintain the partnership because they want to be together; when walking away is an option and they choose not to take it. I was in a long marriage with a good man who I loved and who loved me, and I was so lonely. We married because we thought we were a good fit, because we had common goals and ideals, and because we wanted a family. And we were a good fit, and we still share common goals and ideals, and we created a wonderful family. But what we lacked was the waking up and choosing each other all over again. We became invisible to each other. We took each other for granted, and we became disconnected. From the outside, we looked perfect, functional, happy. On the inside, we were empty, left with the shell of what we had hoped for. It’s the saddest thing, when a marriage fails, and long after the pain of the tearing apart has passed, there’s still a scar; there always will be.

I know how empty rings can be. I also believe in commitment, and love, and choosing one another every day, forever. Does that mean I’ll get married again? Honestly, I don’t know, and only time will tell. I would like to say yes, but for right now, I’ll just keep choosing to stay.

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Wish come true 

Fairytales and handsome princes and wishes that come true – so many of us little girls grow up dreaming of that. It’s fantastical and magical and for many of us completely unrealistic, luckily, because who wants a fairytale when you can have something real? You know my story. I’ve talked about it a lot, and I’ve talked about starting over, and trying to balance dreams and reality and hope. I’ve told you about how I want goosebumps and partnership, and really good fights. But you know, I’m not sure I ever really thought that that was possible; I think a part of me might’ve thought that I was asking for too much. Then one night, when I was out with friends on vacation doing everything that I usually do, I stumbled upon somebody who changed all of that for me. I wasn’t looking for him, and he wasn’t looking for me, but there we were. And we started talking, and we didn’t stop, and the fact that we live 1200 miles apart didn’t really seem to matter; we just chatted, and took our time, and got to know each other. To me, who gets scared so easily, it felt safe and easy. So safe, in fact, that when he suggested a month later that we see each other, I felt comfortable saying yes. And so he got on a plane, and flew east, and we had our first date. And the next month, I got on a plane, and flew west, and we had our second date. We have now had three dates. Adding it up, it’s less than twelve days that we’ve had together since Thanksgiving, and I give thanks for every one of them. And you know, it’s not a fairytale at all. It’s hard work, and I’m often frustrated, and often lonely, and it’s totally worth it. It’s real, and it challenges me. It challenges me to trust, and to lean in, and to face my demons and tell myself they’re mine; they’re the voices in my head, and they’re my obstacles to overcome. Every day, I notice how difficult this is, and also how easy. He’s not a handsome prince, and he’s not here to save me from some malicious dragon, and this is not a fairytale; it’s better, because it’s real. He’s beautiful and flawed and funny, and we are kind to each other. We have difficult conversations that we don’t walk away from, and we each appreciate the other’s sticking it out. It’s not easy, and it’s not a fairytale: it’s better.

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A love story, and a parallel

My sister and I joke that our parents have ruined us for love. This is their story. Before I tell it, though, I have to say that my sister and I are not ruined at all; just the opposite, in fact – what we want is rare, and possible, and we know this to be true because we grew up with daily proof.

My parents met in Cape Town, South Africa in the early 1970’s, at a going away party. My mom was newly divorced, and I was very little, maybe 3 or 4 years old. At the party, they started talking, and then talked some more. She thought he was super sexy, in his tight bell bottom jeans, and interesting, and she loved his warmth. However, the going away party was his, and he was moving to Canada the next day. They exchanged addresses and agreed to write to each other, but she wasn’t hopeful; Canada is a very long way from South Africa, and was even further away in 1973, with no Internet and poor phone service. But then, the letters started arriving, and they were wonderful. Filled with stories, and drawings, and descriptions of the people he was meeting and all the new things he was seeing…all of which was completely foreign to my mom. Our life was very different from his. We left Cape Town and moved to a small university town in the Eastern Cape, near where my mom grew up. She needed to go back to school, and as a single mother, needed the support of my grandparents. I was happy as a clam, living a in a tiny pretty house with my pretty mom with a pretty garden, with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby. I was oblivious to the fact that we had no money, and that my mom was lonely. But, you know, we got by. I helped my grandmother organize her sewing desk and pick avocados in her garden, and played in my grandfather’s wordworking shop while he carved all kinds of beautiful toys, and clocks, and bowls. I’d make toys out of the wood scraps, and go home with wood shavings stuck to my socks and treats in my pockets. And still, the letters came, fat. Every time a new one arrived, my mom would light up, and I would see her savor the words, re-reading, tucking away for safekeeping. She would write back, telling him about our life, her studies, and hopes, and the books she was reading, and about the politics that were shifting in our country.

I don’t know how long this went on for. As I said, I was happy in my own bubble of sunshine, and oblivious. But the day came that they decided that they needed to see each other, and so my mom packed up her warmest sweaters and flew to Canada. And these two people who had spent mere hours together, realized that they were in love. All those long months of nothing but words had brought them from sunny Cape Town to Vancouver, and then down the coast to San Francisco, where by mom bought herself a multicolored Afghan dress and he bought her a red enameled ring with tiny white daisies painted on it, and they climbed the steps of the courthouse and married each other.

That’s how their story started, and how it continues. Today, they live in Connecticut, where they recently installed a hot tub on their back patio, and where they have a small couch in the TV room because they want to sit close to each other. Of course it’s not always easy, and they’ve had their rough patches. And they also still have all those letters, tied with a ribbon, and tucked away.

The New York Times recently published the article To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. At the core of it is this idea of taking the time to know someone. To share, and be receptive to their sharing. To pause, and listen, and appreciate. That’s what my parents did. And knowing that, it helps me see things in a new, brighter light. Distance is only a logistical problem, and no more; feeling connected to someone is so much greater than how often you’re able to touch them. And so here I am, repeating my parents’ story for you, and telling you that everything is possible. Just, love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.


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