You’ve come to know the fortunate and the inauspicious stars, but you don’t know whether you yourself are fortunate or lucky. — Rumi
I’ve been thinking about luck lately. About being lucky or unlucky, rolling the dice, the concept of fate. About looking at life with a sense of good fortune or looking at life and seeing everything that is wrong with it. How much is up to us? How much is out of our hands?
I was in Las Vegas for a long weekend this month, where luck, in one form or another, is on nearly everyone’s minds. Las Vegas, the land of lights and booze, noise and shiny surfaces. Short days and long nights. Jackpots and empty pockets. It was quite the experience, to say the least.
I thought about luck as I walked through the casino and heard the shouts and laughter when someone won. I thought about luck as I walked down the strip at night and saw huddled figures in doorways and on cold, concrete steps. How much of this was luck?
I didn’t know if luck was on our side or not when my friends and I missed our initial flight to Las Vegas. Or when we drove through a pothole late one night on the way home and got a punctured tire and didn’t get back to the hotel until 6:30am. But then I saw people sleeping in the freezing cold, while I got to go back to a warm room.
Vegas unexpectedly shifted my perspective. Of course I had fun, dancing until 4am, seeing what there was to see. But it was all so… empty. The glittering lights looked gaudy in the light of day. The music in the club would eventually stop and the lights would come on and the moment was over. I felt lucky that I got to go home on Sunday, that this was not my life. I felt lucky for the life I do have.
Before Vegas, I wasn’t feeling so lucky. I was looking forward to the trip, to getting out of dodge, to shaking it up and letting loose. I had been working a lot, it’s a busy time in the industry I work in, and I felt burned out. I wasn’t feeling grateful or lucky when I woke up in the morning. I just felt tired. So Vegas, where I’d never been before, was beckoning.
But after the dizzying lights and smoke, the juxtaposition of Teslas and cardboard structures on the strip, I felt lucky to return home, where life feels… full. Real. Overwhelming at times, stressful yes, but real. And I realized that escaping from reality never works. But at least it can serve as a reminder. That we’re lucky.
We’re lucky to live, even if we’re stressed or overwhelmed. And I’m lucky to live in a place that’s more than shiny surfaces and loud noises. Where I look out the window and can see trees, not skyscrapers and billboards. I’m lucky that I’m not sleeping in a doorway in freezing temperatures. I also consider myself lucky that I’m not gambling all my money away on an intangible dream. But what’s luck, anyway? Did I get here because of luck or something else?
That’s what keeps me thinking. Why some of us are sleeping in doorways and others are driving Teslas down Las Vegas Boulevard. Why some of us look out and see trees and others wake up and see trash in the gutter. How much is luck? Bad luck? I don’t know.
But what I do know is that I don’t want to take any of it for granted. And I also know that trying to escape my reality never works for me. Yes, it’s fun to dance all night, and I am a wholehearted advocate of doing so, but eventually the music stops. And then what? Next time I take a vacation, I’m sure I’ll dance, but next time I want to see the stars.
It’s that time of year when we all (hopefully) take a moment to think about all we are grateful for. It’s a time of year when we pause and take stock of what brings a smile to our face, what gives us sustenance in one form or another, what keeps us going. I hope that we all came up with many things to be thankful for. I hope that we not only recognized, but truly appreciated, all that has been bestowed upon us.
I wish that we did this more than once a year, and perhaps some of us do, but I know that I don’t. I do go through spurts of appreciation, moments of gratitude. I try to look on the bright side, to see the silver lining. This isn’t always possible, but I know that it is possible to focus our attention on what matters more than what doesn’t. This long weekend reminded me of this, to focus my attention on the present, to hone in on the brightness and the light.
Though I don’t want kids (which many of you know; or you can read about it here), they are a great reminder to be present, to laugh and play, to just simply stand in wonder. Spending time with my niece and nephew on Thanksgiving reminded me of this, of the simple beauty in this world. These two little people gave me pause, made me stop and think about not only how miraculous they are, but how miraculous life in and of itself is.
It’s miraculous that my one-year-old niece says “Auntie” and “Love you” now. It’s miraculous how funny my three-year-old nephew is. They just say whatever it is that’s on their minds. They are kind, crazy, sweet. I could listen to them all day. They both have so much personality, so much curiosity and wonder for the world. Their wonder revives my own, shifts my perspective, gives me clarity. The simple fact that we are here is wonder enough, not to mention that I get to be an auntie to these little humans, these pockets of giggles and tears.
Not only do I get to be an auntie, but I also get to be a sister and a daughter. As we held hands around the table to give thanks, I looked around me and smiled. My sister, who makes me so very proud, who makes me want to be a better person, was on my left. My brother-in-law, who works so hard to provide for his family, and his son, the class president at his school, to my right. My niece chatting with herself in her highchair beside my sister. Laughter coming from the living room where my mom, who reminds me to pursue my passions, who has always placed value in language and art, was playing with my nephew. I was so grateful.
The wonder of it all continued to strike me after my day with my family. The day after Thanksgiving I did yoga in my living room in the morning light before going out to the coast with a friend. The drive was beautiful, winding wet roads and rolling green hills. Redwood trees and glimmering water. I remarked how amazing it is that we live in a place this gorgeous. After we parked we got coffee and sat outside amid the frigid beauty, the water glinting silver and gray, black birds hopping across the lush wet grass. When it got too cold we went back inside the cafe to find a corner where we could continue talking.
We talked about life and death, friendship and loss, relationships, school, family. I had never spoken with this friend in this way before; we had never really had the opportunity to talk as we did in that moment, just the two of us. It was a moment. A moment where I paused and was grateful. I was grateful for the warmth of the cafe, the coffee I was drinking, the company of this friend I suddenly knew. I felt like she let me know her more than before, and I appreciated it. She reminded me that vulnerability is a kind of strength.
Then yesterday I found myself pausing in another moment of gratitude. I was thankful for a different friend of mine, and not just because she cooked me breakfast and drove us to San Francisco (she’s amazing). I was grateful for her no-nonsense sweetness, how she does not mince words but is still inherently thoughtful. I was thankful for her companionship and our friendship, which has just grown and grown over the years. She’s the kind of friend where you can sit without talking and it’s not awkward. That’s pretty rare. I appreciated how opinionated she is without being rude; she knows who she is and what she likes and doesn’t like and will let you know. She reminded me of the beauty in just being yourself.
There is beauty in just being yourself, in being vulnerable, in being childlike with wonder. Some may see these actions as weak, but I know that these actions make you more resilient. If you are fully yourself, you become your own anchor in a chaotic sea. If you are vulnerable, you create stronger relationships, including with yourself. If you are silly with glee, you make the world a brighter place to live. I am grateful for these actions. And I am even more grateful for the friends and family who remind me of this, of the brightness and the light.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dark days lie ahead. It is a time of uncertainty. A time of disbelief, shock, confusion, disappointment. It is a time I did not see coming. Perhaps I was naive, but my faith in humanity prevented me from believing this moment would come. A moment where a bigoted, racist, sexist, homophobic man would become the president of the United States. I thought we had come further than this. I thought we had come further as Americans, humans, people. We are all people. So why would we elect someone who denigrates and separates people? Us?
I know that it is very easy to say we are all one and the same, that we should all be able to get along. I know that we are the same as human beings but that we all have different backgrounds, experiences, upbringings. So why not learn about one another’s differences? Why not seek to understand what we can’t comprehend? Instead of shunning or shutting out, why can’t we ask and aim to be open?
We are frightened of what we don’t understand. So I would say, obviously, the remedy is to try to understand. Killing, dividing, hating; what does this grant us? When we see our brothers and sisters as strangers, when we see our great family as the enemy, we lose our humanity. When we let our insecurity, our fear, manifest and take control of our lives, we lose our chance to become great, to honor this bewildering, beautiful existence. We falter.
We falter as a people, as a human race, when we uphold false idols, when we take comfort in words of hate. We falter as Americans when we see ourselves reflected back in the face of a pathetic man with no morals, values, integrity. It’s not about which political party we identify with. It’s about what kind of person we identify with. It’s about what and who we stand for and behind. It’s about supporting a campaign of disrespect and disregard rather than honor and inclusion. It’s about hate.
My heart is breaking that my fellow Americans, my fellow human beings, would want someone like this in a position of power. That they would agree with what he says, what he believes in. That they would find logic in the emptiness of his words and actions. I am saddened by the lack of integrity, the separatism, the shallowness. I thought more of us. I believe in open minds and open hearts, curiosity and compassion. I wanted to believe that we all did. That we still do.
My heart is breaking as a woman, as a person of color, as a hardworking citizen, as a human being. My heart is breaking as a person on this planet, a simultaneous drop in the bucket and a voice that will be heard. I am numb with the sadness of it all, I am angry, I am.
I am. I am still here, I am still breathing, my heart is still beating. I remind myself of this as I turn off the radio, as I attempt to do something, anything, than dwell on this darkness. I am here, I am alive, my voice, like your voice, matters. I will not give up, I will not despair. I will grieve, I will be angry. But then I will fight.
I will not fight with hate in my heart. I will not let hate win. I will fight with love, for love, because of love. I will even love those I do not see eye to eye with, those who believe in words of hate and madness. I will even try to love this orange man who hates so openly and freely. He hates those who are different from him, us, because he is ignorant, entitled, arrogant. His bluster does not hide the truth from me: he has hate in his heart because he is insecure and frightened. So I will send some love his way. We could all use more if it right now.
I don’t know why, and I know I’m not alone, but sometimes it’s so difficult to focus on the positive, that it’s easier to get bogged down in the negative. Instead of appreciating the beauty, the growth, the fun, even the stillness, it’s much easier to highlight the ugliness, the stagnancy, the boredom, the silence. Why? I am actively trying to disengage from this kind of behavior, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But it does happen. And to remember what time, patience, and a little gratitude will grant you, I’ve decided to look back five years.
Ever wish you could go back in time and talk to yourself, to dissuade yourself from some of the decisions, mistakes, outfits? What if instead of trying to turn back time, we met ourselves where we are? What if we gave our past selves a hug and told them it was going to get better? Would our past selves even believe it?
Dear Me Five Years Ago,
You don’t know this, and it’s probably for the best, but in five years you’re going to feel so much better. You’re going to look back on this time and you won’t even recognize yourself. You’ll wonder how you could have been so lost, so out of touch with your own self. You’ll wonder how you got to that point. And you’ll actually know. You’ll know how and why. This will give you power.
In five years you’re going to not only know why you were the way you are right now, but you’ll have empathy for yourself. Whereas now, five years ago, you can barely look at yourself in the mirror. In five years you will be on your way to finally becoming the person who you’ve always been meant to be. In five years life will not magically be better or easier, but it kinda will, actually. Life will be the same but different. You will be different. And this will change everything.
You think you have it all figured out now, but you don’t. And in five years you’ll know that you never will, that no one ever does. The secret is to try, to be authentic, to explore, to stay grounded, to remain conscious even when it hurts. What you’re doing right now is the only way you know how to be in this world, but you know it’s not working. The good news is, you’ll find out what will work on your own. You’ll figure it out and you’ll do what you think you’ve always done: work hard. You’ll just work differently, more efficiently, with purpose.
You don’t know this now, but you are going to be okay. Life will always have its ups and downs, but you will learn to deal with this. You will recognize that it’s not about what life throws at you, but how you decide to react to what has been thrown. You will see that you have options. You will see that you are not stuck, that you’ve never been stuck. You can evolve. You can grow.
Now, here in the future, things are very different, more different than you can imagine right now, there, five years in the past. Your whole world has recently been turned upside down, but you’re okay. You won’t believe this, but you don’t work at the restaurant anymore. You’ve finally graduated college, and with honors. You’ve gotten a 9-5 job in a field you are passionate about. You and your boyfriend aren’t together anymore, you live somewhere new, but you’re okay. You’ve gone on your first business trip, and alone. You’ve met new people, you’ve become addicted to yoga. You’ve quit sugar and gluten (for the most part anyway, you’re still only human) and lost 30 pounds. You’re you but not.
What you really won’t believe, my friend from five years ago, is that it will be two years in February since you gave up booze. Right now you’re in your first semester of college, you’re just trying to keep your head above water. You’re doing it but you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re going to miss some classes because you’re hungover. You’re going to half-ass your way through some stuff just to get by. You’re going to make some epic mistakes in the next few years. But it’s all going to lead you to here. It’s going to be worth it.
At first I wished that I could tell you to get your shit together right now, right then and there, five years ago. I wished that you, that I, hadn’t waited for so long. That you would see the error of your ways and avoid a lot of the heartache. But it doesn’t work that way. If you weren’t going through what you’re going through right now, I wouldn’t be where I am in this moment. You wouldn’t be starting a new life, you wouldn’t be tackling a new set of “problems” with a clear mind and less ego. You’re not perfect then, and you’re definitely not perfect now, but you’re better now than you are then.
What is so scary for you right now is going to dissipate. What is holding you back will pretty much disappear. You will continue to work on yourself, for it is necessary and it is the work we do all of our lives, but you will face the world with… you will face the world. What you can’t seem to do five years ago, you will be able to do now. Because you will realize that the world will mirror back what is inside of you. The world will mirror your hurt and your fear. It will hand you what you’re thinking of. You will realize that worry and anxiety will not fix what is wrong. You will realize that you worry too much.
Dear me five years ago: I’m sorry you’re hurting. I wish I could take the pain away, but you’re going to figure it out. You’re going to be okay. You’re going to see that pain is a part of life, but also that a lot of your pain is self-inflicted, self-created. You’re going to see that there are other ways to live, that you can release what no longer serves a purpose. You’re going to see that all of it has served a purpose. You’re going to live. Wildly, freely. You’re going to live.
I can’t believe it, but I’ve been writing A Wild, Free Life for over a year now. And I realized that I still don’t have a mission statement, a manifesto. What’s it all about? Why do I write (almost) every week?
Do you ever mean to write yourself reminders so you don’t forget what seems true and important and real? I do. And I always somehow seem to forget. Not just the reminder, but the writing down part (and I’m a writer!). So on this rainy day I thought, Why not now? And, Why don’t you write it A-Z so you don’t overthink it? Here’s what I came up with:
A: Ask yourself. Ask what? Everything. What’s your motive? Why do you feel this way? Or, my current favorite: Why not?
B: Baffle yourself. What’s the scariest thing you can think of? Got it? Now go do it. Whether it’s driving into San Francisco by yourself or bungee jumping, the fear won’t go away unless you try it. And once you do try it, you’ll wonder what you had been so scared of in the first place.
C: Care for yourself. After jumping off that cliff or parallel parking in the mean streets of the city, care for yourself. Get yourself a cup of tea or go for a walk. Curl up in a puddle of sunshine on your bed in the middle of the afternoon and take a nap (I just did this; amazing).
D: Don’t forget who’s in charge. And that’s you. You’re in charge. Of yourself and your life. You’re not happy with something? Change it. You’ve always wanted to do something? Do it. No one’s stopping you but yourself. Get out of your own way.
E: Evolve everything everyday. The only constant in this life is change. Lean into it, embrace it, go with it. It’s unsettling, but it’s also the only way. And like Cheryl Strayed said, “Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.” Who you were yesterday is different from who you are right now. How cool is that?
F: Forget it. Forget that past idea you had about yourself. Forget the walls you built that had a purpose last year but serve no purpose now. Forget the openness you thought you had to maintain when it leaves you too bare. Forget the notions and the judgements. Just be yourself.
G: Go for it. Go for it with gusto. Go for the “weird” or “stupid” idea. Go for the “wrong” person. Go for whatever it is that you’ve been wanting to try but have put off because of laziness, fear, insecurity, inertia. The person who doesn’t look good on paper could be a kindred spirit. The weird idea, that poetry slam or the skateboard, could be your calling. Or it could just give you plain old silly joy. Either way.
H: Help out. Help out when you can, where you can. Help your mom on a Sunday even if you’d rather be eating brunch. Help your friend plant her garden even if your thumb is more black than green (like mine is. I somehow manage to kill every plant I touch). And the motive can be selfless or even a little selfish: so you feel better about yourself. It doesn’t matter as long as you do it with good intentions. Altruism for the win.
I: Imagine more. More than you first imagined. More than you thought you deserved. Imagine that you deserve everything and nothing. Imagine world peace. Imagine a friend. Just don’t let your imagination die.
J: Joke around. We all take ourselves way too seriously. What, are we curing cancer? And even if we are (props to you, you’re amazing!), life is silly and crazy and hysterical. Joke about yourself, tell stupid knock-knock jokes (just no racist jokes. I don’t care if you make them about everyone. We don’t need anymore of those).
K: Kill it. Kill the doubt, kill the fear. Kill it at your job. Kill it at life. Kill it = put your best effort in all the time, every time. Kill it = like you mean it. No half-assing. No wishy-washy. No maybe/maybe not. Just kill it.
L: Love. Love it all the way. Love something every day. Love your sneakers that no one else likes. Love that woman who just cut you off on the road. Love whatever seems like it doesn’t get enough love. Love that hateful guy spewing utter nonsense on TV because the world needs more love, less hate. Love the rain, love the sun, love the moon and the stars. Why not?
M: Meet. Meet someone halfway. Meet yourself where you are. Meet friends for coffee. Meet a new person whom you’ve never met and may not like. Meet the neighbor down the road who plays the loud annoying music. Meet someone new, meet someone old. The point is to connect. It’s why we’re here.
N: Nope. Say it more, say it when you’d say yes and regret it. A party when you want to sleep? Nope. A date with someone you’re not feeling? Nope. Say it soon and say it with integrity and respect. But say it if you’re feeling it.
O: Open-mouthed wonder. Shock and awe. Cultivate it, nurture it. The wonder and the curiosity we innately have as children seems to dissolve as we age; reverse it. Get more awe-ful, more excited, more imaginative. This planet is a magical, awe-inspiring thing. So why pretend like it’s boring? Why be too cool for school? That’s what’s boring.
P: Please. Say it. And Thank You. To your server or yourself or make your kid say it. People don’t say it enough. Please.
Q: Quit. Quit frowning all the time. If you’re pissed off, fine, but otherwise I don’t get it. Quit faking. Quit whatever no longer serves. Quit if you’re over it. Quit if you gave it your all and you’re tired of trying. Quit it if it hurts too much. Just give it 100% before you do or you’ll regret it. Or quit quitting everything. Quit quitting sugar and coffee and meat and dairy and cheese — unless you have medical issues (see this; I feel your pain). But if you don’t? Ask yourself why you’re quitting so many things.
R: Rest. Rest up. Rest easy. Rest. I’m sure you could go all night like the Energizer bunny. I’m sure you can hang, you can handle it. But burnout is real. And burning out is not fun, pretty, cool, practical. You burn out and you get sick. You get sad. You struggle. So get some sleep!
S: Simplify. Simplify your life, streamline the process. Clean out your closet or your car if that helps. Cut out the needless stuff that exhausts you, the people who sap your energy. Perhaps reconsider some of the “it’s complicated” relationships. Complicated does not equal stimulating. The drama and the arguments, the clutter and the mess; it’s gone. Doesn’t that feel better?
T: Tread lightly. It’s easy to get caught up. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re purging the closet, cutting out the a-holes, sweeping up the dust. Tread lightly when it comes to people’s feelings. Say what you mean and mean what you say, but don’t become an a-hole yourself. Being straightforward does not give you license to beat someone down. Including yourself. Would you ever call a friend fat? No? Then why would you say that to yourself?
U: Understanding. Attempt to understand what seems completely different or wrong or weird. Understand the motive behind your actions. Understand that even though you might not understand, you’re trying. Understand that everyone is the same but different. Understand that your experience is not necessarily mine or hers or his. Understand that this is okay.
V: Verify. Verify the validity of what that “guru” is saying. Verify the voices in your head and if what they’re saying is true. Verify yourself and your self. You feel like what you say doesn’t matter? Why? You feel like you know everything? Verify that. Is it true? Says who?
W: Wing it. Quit over-thinking everything and just wing it. Wing it with intention but wing it. Scrap the outline, toss the notes. There’s no blueprint for life. You plan and the outcome might disappoint you. You plan and pursue and then you get what you want and it looks completely different from what you thought it would look like. Loosen the reins a little bit.
X: X = 10. Think of ten things you’re thankful for. Doesn’t have to be every day. But think about it. Maybe you can only think of one thing right now. That’s something. But shoot for ten, roman numeral X. The first double-digit number. There’s something about the symmetry of the symbol that is perfectly complete, even. Round out your thankfulness.
Y: Yes. See letter N. Now think about what you always say no to. What you deny or avoid or put off because you’re scared or stubborn or judgemental. Now say yes and see what happens. Could be awful. Could be awesome. Try it and see.
Z: Zest. Zest for life. Hell, zest your salad while you’re at it. Add some flavor to your food, some excitement to your life. Enjoy what you can, where you can, when you can. Because life is fleeting. Because we’re here to feel. Because why the hell not? And how cool would it be to be remembered as the little old lady who “always had such zest for life”? I want that on my tombstone.
As the saying goes: when one door closes, another door opens. Lately it does seem that way, that when a door slams closed in my face or another clicks softly closed behind me, a hidden door will suddenly spring open a moment later. When an era ends, a new era always begins. I’ve been noticing this cyclical nature of life more and more lately, the endings coinciding with the beginnings, the sadness and the joy that seems to exist on the very same plane.
Last week I didn’t write because I was at a celebration of life. One of my dear friends experienced a sudden loss in the family, a loss that rocked our group of friends deeply. We have experienced a lot of loss lately it seems. We gathered last Sunday to share our stories and honor the beloved person we all lost in our own way. It was a sad but sweet day, a day of laughter and tears, of remembrance and of looking to the future.
Then yesterday I attended a close friend’s baby shower. A celebration of life as well, only of a different variety. This celebration was a welcoming of an unknown but already loved little being. We gathered to share our favorite children’s books and honor the person whom we are all excited to meet. Last weekend was about loss, this weekend was about an addition to the family. Needless to say, the emotions have been quite varied from day to day.
How can we be so disheartened one moment and then so excited the next? How can life be so cruel and yet so kind? I suppose that’s just the nature of the beast. The sooner we (I) can accept that, the better off we will be. Life doesn’t always make sense. It rarely does. But just as it can seem cold, it can also be warm and inviting. What we don’t know, what we can never know, is how it will be from one day to the next.
How can we live with such uncertainty? The not knowing if we will lose someone so suddenly? I suppose because we must, because there is no other option. Even if we lock ourselves in our homes and turn our backs on the world, the world will keep on spinning. Even if we fiercely guard the ones we love, what we hold dear, we can still lose it all in the blink of an eye. There are no guarantees.
But you know what is guaranteed? That we will suffer heartbreak and we will also experience wild joy. We will lose it all only to start over and rebuild. Does this hurt? Like hell. But it happens and then, just when we’ve given up hope, a secret door, one that was invisible to our eyes only moments before, sighs open. Or blows wide open, compelling us to act and act quickly. We don’t know when this will happen, we can’t plan for it, we can’t hide from it.
I believe that we cannot dictate our future, that we cannot control the outcome. This does not mean that we shouldn’t try to orchestrate the life we wish to see, not by any means. But it does mean that when things don’t make sense, when we’re mired down, the only way out is to feel the fear and surrender to the experience. Surrendering not in the sense of giving up, but of relinquishing some of our white-knuckled attempt to control everything. The harder we bear down, the tighter we clutch and grasp, the more likely we are to miss the secret doors whispering open. The more we try to make sense of what is right in front of us, the less we are able to see the light off in the distance.
I’ve been sad and blindsided by my friend’s loss, by what life has thrown my way. But I have also been excited for the impending birth of a new person, created by two lovely people I am happy to know. I’ve been stressed and overwhelmed with tackling all of the aspects of my new life, but I’ve also been exhilarated and renewed. I just have to ride the wave, I guess. I have to trust that it will all turn out how it is supposed to. Life very rarely makes sense, but man, is it a beautiful, wild ride nonetheless.
San Francisco. The city where I was born. Home to artists, lovers, dreamers… and tech. The city has changed so much since I was born there almost 30 years ago, especially in the past few years or so. Yes, it is wildly overpriced now. Yes, many people are moving to where I live because they can’t afford to live in the city. But. Though it has changed, though it is becoming more of a playground for the rich than a space for dreamers, it is still magical.
Yesterday my friend and I went to San Francisco for Hardly Strictly, a free (!) music festival in Golden Gate Park. Though I had heard of it countless times over the years, I had never been able to go in the past because I would always be working. Now that I have the weekends free, I feel like I get to be a part of so much more than I used to.
The park was teeming with people, six different stages with six different experiences all going at the same time, humans of all different walks of life coming together at once. The energy was palpable, almost overwhelming. There were those who were there just to get drunk and party, but there were also those who were there for a shared love of music. That’s music festivals for you. There’s a sense of humanity or depravity or both. It’s intense, wild, freeing, energizing. I felt like a component of something greater than me. And I like that.
As my friend and I settled onto a small patch of grass amidst the crowd, I took a moment to take it all in. The sun seemed to be perched in a tree, the weather was perfect, which is rare in San Francisco, and everyone seemed to be smiling. I felt the breeze kiss my skin, felt the dampness of the grass through our blanket, felt the energy of the masses. I was in San Francisco on a Saturday surrounded by people, listening to free, live music, the sun peeking through the trees, the air warm and inviting. It was magic.
I will admit that my friend and I had gone to the festival without even looking at the lineup. It was free and in Golden Gate Park; we had nothing to lose. We just wanted to get out-of-town, to experience what the city had to offer, to deviate from the norm. Because of our desire to break free, to explore and get out there, we were beyond pleasantly surprised to discover that Cyndi Lauper was playing right when we got to the park. We danced to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” swayed and sang along to “Time After Time.” I explained the meaning behind the lyrics to “She Bop.” And then Chris Isaak was onstage next!
Even if we hadn’t heard these artists, the experience alone was worth it. It might not seem like much to some, to go to a music festival on a Saturday, but it’s exciting for me. Exciting to be out in the world on the weekend instead of going into work. Exciting to go to the city on a whim, just because. My friend and I talked about how if we were still in our old relationships, we probably wouldn’t have gone to Hardly Strictly. We’d be doing something else with our ex-boyfriends, or if we had gone with them, it would’ve been a different experience altogether. We were free. In the moment, just the two of us, dancing and singing and laughing.
After the show we were swirled into the crowd of people leaving the park, swept up in the movement, wondering where the night would take us. Feeling like we were dying from thirst, we stopped at a cafe and sipped our drinks on a couch, watching as a man produced three white balls from his backpack and began to juggle. A trio across from us discussed Burning Man and what it was like to live out of their van. Suddenly a woman who had quietly been reading the paper on the other couch leapt up and began screaming at everyone about conspiracy theories. Only in San Francisco.
After the cafe we walked back to where we had parked the car, in Sea Cliff, one of the ritziest neighborhoods in the city. It’s astonishing to see how the one percent lives, to peek into the lives of the extremely wealthy. The houses, or mansions, are beyond belief. Though feeling a little rueful, we were once again pleasantly surprised when we decided to go to the closest beach and found the secluded beauty of China Beach. Maybe during the day it’s crowded or not as eerily beautiful, but at that time of night it was epic.
We walked down a dark pathway to find a stretch of sand, the sound of the ocean crashing beside us, and right in front of us a sparkling view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The night air was unbelievably warm as we stood atop a lookout point, marveling at the beauty we had stumbled upon. We laughed at how romantic the setting was, but agreed that we had been awesome dates nonetheless.
Though we saw the disparity between the rich and the rest of us, we also saw so much more. We saw people of all creeds and classes coming together because of music. We saw the sun setting over the lights on the horizon as we walked up the notorious hills of San Francisco. We saw the raw beauty of the sea juxtaposed against the man-made beauty of sparkling cliff side mansions. We saw.
And that’s what I want to do. See. See and do and be. I want to feel the atmosphere that I am a part of, I want to appreciate the beauty amidst the filth, I want to dance and walk till I get blisters. I want to keep circling for a half hour and somehow end up in Sea Cliff when I can’t find a parking space, rather than bemoaning the parking situation in San Francisco and giving up. I want to eat festival food on the grass with the sun on my face and enjoy it, instead of complaining how much it costs or how crowded the park is. I want to do it all. And maybe these days San Francisco doesn’t always feel like a place where you can do it all, but it can. On a sunny Saturday in Golden Gate Park, it can.
I started writing today and abandoned the draft. I probably won’t finish it. It didn’t feel… real.
I’m having an off day, where the past and the future are looming on either side of me, where it’s difficult to sit in the present moment and just be. What is authentic: today I am down with a head cold and feeling listless. It doesn’t help that I went out this weekend, that I stayed up late and ate food that’s not the best for me. In the moment it was worth it, to be with friends and feel like I was a part of the world. But today I am tired.
I see that though I have been having fun, I have been trying to distract myself. Distract myself from the waves of awareness: my relationship is over. My new life, the life I have been working the past five years for, has begun. The low and the high, in stark relief, can be overwhelming at times. To not be able to share the excitement with the one person who knows how hard I’ve worked for it is strange. To miss the person when you just want to be angry is hard. But everything has an end. Just as everything has a beginning.
Thinking about this today, feeling sick and a little glum, prompted me to find and re-read a poem that has been with me for a long time. My mother shared this book of poetry with me years ago called Picnic, Lighting, by Billy Collins. Though I don’t remember many of the other poems, this specific one has seemed to accompany me on my many journeys, through my trying moments and my hard days. It’s just so… honest, sad, beautiful. It’s like life. I thought it appropriate to share it today.
Rather than write more when I am feeling depleted, rather than slap something together because I feel like I should, I would prefer to send something out into the void that has beauty and meaning. That has soothed my soul by reminding me, in a beautiful, truthful way, that everything ends. That it’s okay that everything ends. That life is cyclical, wondrous, unadulterated even amongst the confusion and the grime. I hope it is a balm for you, as well.
by Billy Collins
This is the beginning. Almost anything can happen. This is where you find the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land, the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page. Think of an egg, the letter A, a woman ironing on a bare stage as the heavy curtain rises. This is the very beginning. The first-person narrator introduces himself, tells us about his lineage. The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings. Here the climbers are studying a map or pulling on their long woolen socks. This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn. The profile of an animal is being smeared on the wall of a cave, and you have not yet learned to crawl. This is the opening, the gambit, a pawn moving forward an inch. This is your first night with her, your first night without her. This is the first part where the wheels begin to turn, where the elevator begins its ascent, before the doors lurch apart. This is the middle. Things have had time to get complicated, messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore. Cities have sprouted up along the rivers teeming with people at cross-purposes— a million schemes, a million wild looks. Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack here and pitches his ragged tent. This is the sticky part where the plot congeals, where the action suddenly reverses or swerves off in an outrageous direction. Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph to why Miriam does not want Edward’s child. Someone hides a letter under a pillow. Here the aria rises to a pitch, a song of betrayal, salted with revenge. And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge halfway up the mountain. This is the bridge, the painful modulation. This is the thick of things. So much is crowded into the middle— the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados, Russian uniforms, noisy parties, lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall— too much to name, too much to think about. And this is the end, the car running out of road, the river losing its name in an ocean, the long nose of the photographed horse touching the white electronic line. This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade, the empty wheelchair, and pigeons floating down in the evening. Here the stage is littered with bodies, the narrator leads the characters to their cells, and the climbers are in their graves. It is me hitting the period and you closing the book. It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck. This is the final bit thinning away to nothing. This is the end, according to Aristotle, what we have all been waiting for, what everything comes down to, the destination we cannot help imagining, a streak of light in the sky, a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.
It’s been awhile. Been awhile since I sat down to write my weekly post. Been awhile since I began the process of living a wild, free life. It’s been quite the journey since I started writing this blog a year ago (almost exactly!). I have changed my life in numerous ways, thought I had it all figured out (now I know that we never do), only to start again once more. I haven’t written because I’ve been adjusting to my new life, lifestyle, career, home, experiences. I haven’t written because I have had to allow myself the space and time to rediscover how I wish to be in this world.
When I began my journey of aiming to live a wilder, freer life, I opened myself up in a way I never had before. Not only through sharing my experiences here, but also out in the world. I slowly but surely began to break down many walls that I hadn’t even known existed. I shed an old skin and began to fill out a new one, to grow into a different kind of person. Though I was and remain the same at my core, I became a person who forged connections with myself and others, where before I had shied away from them.
I do not regret this transformation, this opening up and expanding; I welcomed it then as a new way to be, and I have much appreciation for it now. My growth allowed me to gain more than I have lost. But now, now that I have experienced the recent and blindsiding experience of losing all that I thought I would have forever, I find that I am retracting slightly.
These past two weeks of not writing, I have found myself once again shifting and changing shape. My arms and mind are open, but I find that my heart is another story. I am not closing myself off from the world like I have been known to do in the past, but I seem to have built a structure around the tenderest part of me. Not necessarily a wall… perhaps more of a partition.
This partition is not to keep people out, but to keep myself protected. I know we get hurt in this life, it’s unavoidable, but I also know now that I can keep some of my heart to myself, for myself. I have bounded from one end of the spectrum to the other, from closed to wide open, and now I seem to be settling somewhere in the middle. It feels… right.
I was so excited about the seemingly endless possibilities that appeared when I started my new way of living that I can see, in hindsight, I got swept up. I didn’t realize that my willingness to be vulnerable would not always be reciprocated by those closest to me. I didn’t embrace the idea that I could and can be in collaboration with the world while still being my sarcastic, skeptical self. I can wish to believe but still question, I can maintain a spiritual practice and still read trashy magazines. I don’t have to become a yoga teacher or go to an ashram for a month to live truthfully.
I can see that the events that have led me to here, to this moment, have coincided to bring me more awareness. While before I thought I was completely aware, I know that I am more conscious now. I have been brought back down to earth. I did not welcome this descension, the thud and the pain that accompanies such a fall, but I am grateful for it now.
I have always considered myself a grounded person, practical and pragmatic, almost to a fault. My practicality limited me in a way for some time, preventing me from believing in alternate routes that I could take. Luckily, when I removed my old blocks from view I started to see that there’s more out there. But somewhere along the way of living with more freedom, more abandon, I got a little lost. I disdained the ideas of having security or stability, I disregarded my intuition, telling myself that everything would work out, that it always does. I felt that to truly live wild and free, I wouldn’t work a “traditional” job or live a “traditional” life. This was an error on my part.
My error led me to being too caught up in potentials, in appearances, than concerning myself with what was and always has been inside. Whether I work a traditional job or not, I am me. Whether I am in a relationship or not, I am me. And me, myself, is someone who deserves to be taken care of, by me and me alone, at least for now. I made the mistake of trusting too much in others. I made the mistake of linking awareness with a path that doesn’t seem to fit.
Don’t get me wrong, I will keep the faith and the trust, but on a more pragmatic scale. I will trust myself first and foremost. I will remember that I can live truthfully and freely while working a 9-5. I will not beat myself up if I say something that Gandhi wouldn’t approve of. I am human, frail but also much stronger than I give myself credit for. Flawed yet determined. Sweet and sour. Bratty and kind. I am not perfect and I never will be.
What matters is that I am trying. Trying to be more than a sleepwalker, someone who just floats through life, who lets life happen to them. Trying to live openly and authentically. Trying to rearrange and realign, to pick myself back up after I stumble. Trying to protect myself while I continue to try making connections. Trying to reach for the stars with my feet planted firmly on the ground. I don’t have it all figured out, but no one does. We figure it out along the way.
“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” — Anais Nin
The day has arrived. Tonight is my last night at the restaurant where I’ve worked for the past 12 years of my life. My first and only job that I’ve ever had! It’s the end of an era, the beginning of a new chapter. As one door closes, another door opens.
I knew that this day would come when I began college five years ago, when I finally took the plunge after a long hiatus from school. I knew that this day would come when I graduated school last year, when I interned at a publishing house and then interned again at a nonprofit. I was ready, have been ready. But I don’t think I have necessarily been prepared. I have looked back on my days at the restaurant that is like my second home, which you can read here if you missed it, but I have not really prepared myself for this final day.
Though I am eager to begin the next phase, the phase where I work Monday-Friday, 9-5:30, where I have weekends off like most everyone else, I am also nervous. Like palms-sweating kind of nervous. I am nervous because after yearning for this kind of existence, I do not really know what it will be like. It will be a transition, that much I know for sure. To go from working nights and weekends for the past 12 years to working a 5-days-a-week-in-a-row schedule will be new for me.
Yes, I have interned twice, so I’m not a stranger to this kind of grind, but I have also never been fully of the workaday world. I have been inhabiting two different worlds simultaneously for a long time. When I was in school, reading the Romantics and learning theory, I would still be at the busy restaurant at night, working fast and hard. When I was interning, arriving at the office by 7:30am in the attempt to avoid commuter traffic, I was also back at the restaurant at night, a participant in an endless flurry of activity, subject to the kind of frenetic energy only restaurant workers understand.
Now, beginning next month, I will be embarking on a journey to a new kind of life. A life where my evenings and weekends are mine and mine alone. A life where I go to bed early and rise early, where I sit at a desk, where I break for lunch. Though it sounds normal to so many, it’s completely foreign to me. Foreign and therefore exciting/frightening. But I will go into this new experience with an open mind, heart, and arms, ready and willing to try everything, to do my best, to give it my all. I may fail, but there’s no failure when you show up and try.
Of course I have done my best and given my all to the restaurant that I call home, where I have the utmost respect for my fellow coworkers and the establishment itself, but after 12 years the shifts tend to blur together, to become more of the same. Every night is different at a restaurant, where there’s no predicting what will happen and when, but when you’ve lit the same candles and walked the same aisles for so many years, it comes to seem like you could do your job in your sleep.
I used to be afraid of challenges, preferring to stay in the shallow end, to keep things safe, but when I started college five years ago, and especially over the past year and a half since I quit drinking, I began to relish challenges. Challenges keep life interesting, exciting. Challenges give you the opportunity to see what you’re made of, to become more flexible, to imagine different scenarios for your life, for everything.
Life is challenging by definition, an unknowable experience of trials and tribulations, and the avoidance of challenge itself, or the attempt to control the outcome, is fruitless. But knowing this does not keep us from trying to do so. But challenges force us out of our precious comfort zones, sweep our feet out from beneath us, throw us curveballs and taunt us into ducking or swinging. After ducking for most of my life, I want to be known as the girl who comes out swinging. I could swing and miss, it’s more likely than hitting a home run, but who cares?
I want to know that I tried, that I tested my resolve, that I stretched the boundaries of my life to accommodate new experiences, people, places, things. And though I will forever value the restaurant and my experiences working there, I know that if I continued to work there I would not be stretching my boundaries. I would definitely be testing my resolve, for that seems to be the definition of restaurant work, but I would not be stretching, growing, seeking. I would not be forcing myself out of my comfort zone. I wouldn’t be continuing in my unofficial pursuit to discover what it is that I am truly made of.
Our work, whether in an office or a restaurant, has value and meaning, and it must be meaningful to us on a personal level. It doesn’t matter if people think working in a restaurant is equivalent to being a servant. It doesn’t matter if people think working in an office is equivalent to being a slave. What matters is what we think of our work, if our work fulfills us in some or many ways. What matters is that we forge connections with ourselves and others, if we shake it up and shake it loose, if we keep ourselves on our toes so we feel alive.
This life may seem long at times, but it is also over much too soon. How we make money has meaning in this stretch of time. Whether we are clearing tables or entering data on a computer, we are working to afford ourselves necessities or, if we’re lucky, comforts. We are working to accumulate the money to pay our bills, or to go on vacation, to spend more time with our loved ones, to see more of the world. We are working because we have to, but we are also working because to work is to define our lives. Not all of us are working our dream jobs, but I’ve learned that even a dream job is just a stepping stone to the next goal, the next dream.
In our endless pursuit to find meaning in our lives, to put food on our tables, to live freely, to be happy, our work is an integral part of who we are. So we must work with integrity, with gladness, with gratitude and humility. We must work with the aim of bettering the experience, whether for ourselves or others or a combination of both. Because if we’re just “working for the weekend,” if we’re just working trying to get from point A to point B, we’re missing all of the beauty that accompanies us on the ride.
The beauty is the relationships we build with our coworkers, fellow employees who become friends or family members, who know us in ways that even our spouses do not. The beauty is the ability to discover new aspects of our very own selves, to be exposed to new situations and new people, which always shifts our staid world views. The beauty is to be.
With all of my searching and yearning for a new job, I’ve come to appreciate the one that was already before me, the one that has been with me through breakups, mistakes, triumphs, failures. As my final days drew near, bittersweet and surreal, I knew that I would miss the frenetic energy, the ups and downs. I already knew that I would miss my friends, my other family, my “work wives,” but I didn’t think that I would ever miss the controlled chaos of working “front of the house.”
Though I see that I will miss it, I am also looking forward to joining society out on a Saturday night, to seeing concerts and plays, to getting brunch without having to go home and get ready for work while everyone continues on with the fun. I am looking forward to seeing who I am in this new light, this new life, this next stage.
Though I know that I will be the same person, that my true self is unwavering and constant, I know that my customs and habits, my comforts and desires, will change shape in the light of this new world I will become a part of. I will be part of the 9-5 crew, I will dress differently, I will do new things and go to new places. Though unknown and therefore somewhat disconcerting, I am excited to see this new world. I am excited to see who I will become.
And with this becoming, I am gratified to know that I have a community of beautiful, funny, crazy, caring, insightful, surprising, well-known souls who have my back. And I only have to call or pop into the restaurant to see them. I think in my new life I might be the restaurant’s resident barfly who doesn’t drink, who comes in every week to shoot the breeze and catch up on the latest gossip or drama. I just can’t imagine my life without these people. I don’t want to.