Sunday, July 17, 2016

Still Unraveling...

There I was, standing below the giant rainbow flag on Normal Street, at the San Diego Pride Festival, one speck in a sea of colorful revelers celebrating diversity and inclusion, when out of nowhere it happened.  I spotted the next group in line to march their way down University Avenue during the hours-long annual parade.  It wasn't a float with boom-boom-booming dance music, three-quarters-naked buff men, or a surprising corporate entry (Wal-Mart?!) that got to me.  That would have been too obvious.  Instead, it was the sight of the San Diego Police Department awaiting their turn to march--probably two dozen men and women in blue smiling, laughing, waving small rainbow flags--that sent a happy shiver down my spine and cued the waterworks from my eyes.

My first Pride in San Diego after moving here a month ago was not expected to be much of an emotional experience, at least not by me.  After all, having been out and about for 18 years now, I was not new to this scene.  It was not my first gay rodeo.  That happened in Atlanta nearly two decades prior, and as I recall I needed to be dragged kicking and screaming to the festivities.  At 25, newly minted in the community, I did not know what Pride really meant.  Truth be told, I wasn't really even sure I wanted to.  But I opened to the experience.  I saw men and men, women and women, all holding hands.  Being joyful. Being themselves.  It really touched me.  No, it overwhelmed me.  Those folks had (or seemed to have) exactly what I always wanted.  They were free to be whomever they were, to love whomever they wanted.  The Pride Festival gave them a home, a spot to congregate outside of bars, to come out from the shadows and see that they were not alone.  I saw them.  I understood them.  Suddenly--happily--I was not alone anymore, either. 

Back to 2016. 

I hear a lot of people talking about how the world is coming unglued, that things are falling apart faster than you can say "Make America Great Again".  The general consensus seems to be that we are going to hell in a handbasket.  Or maybe, just maybe, we are already there.  I cannot abide by such gloomy forecasts.  This does not mean that I do not have moments of believing those doomsday scenarios are absolutely true.  In those times I am scared, sad, heartbroken, shattered to my core.  Crying for hours and days because some sicko shot up a bar full of gay people, or another innocent black man was gunned down, or families enjoying a holiday in France are brutalized by an insane truck driver, or cops who are trying to protect and serve are hunted down like animals.  I check Facebook.  It tells me there is no more love in the world, that perhaps it is every man for him/herself.  I see the reactions of my friends and family to these daily disasters.  I get hurt and angry and disappointed when some of them react differently than I do.  I start to wonder what the hell the answer is, or if there even is one.  I keep searching, searching, searching out there for some semblance of true decency in the world.  I never seem to find it.  It is only then that I remember:  It's not out there.  I won't find it on Facebook, or television, or anywhere outside of myself.  The thought that anyone can fix this broken world is an egoic pipe dream. 

So where does that leave me?

Yesterday, it left me standing amidst hundreds of thousands of strangers who were not quite so strange after all.  I saw people--all kinds of people--united together.  I basked in the joy on the streets, saw the smiles, heard the laughter, felt the hugs, cried the tears.  All of it was so far beyond being gay, or being proud, or being anything at all, really.  It was a distinctly human thing.  And it is something so much bigger than me.  It is bigger than any cause.  It is bigger than any hate.  It is bigger than any potential President.  It is a simple fact of being alive and connected, and I do not mean "connected" to a cell phone, or Pok√©mon game, or a Facebook news feed.  There is no life in any of those things.  This connection starts in the heart.  It resides and flourishes there.  It is not subject to opinions or biases, or hateful rhetoric, or ignorance.  It does not even look upon those things with the slightest bit of contempt.  It doesn't need to.  It is a spirit of truth and a celebration of what being alive really means.  It is laughter and love.  It is acceptance and tolerance, completely free of controversy.  It is real forgiveness.  It is letting go of the past, not holding on to hurt but releasing it.  It is seeing a police officer holding a rainbow flag and understanding just how insignificant those descriptors are in relation to the depth of connection that lies beneath every label we can ever come up with.

It is times like these that make me dig in to what I know deep down.  Life is not worth living if it means being afraid of everything.  That is not life, at least not for me.  I do not want to accept that things are going to hell.  I won't accept it.  If I focus my attention on that, I am done for.  What a waste of life.  I have to keep looking at my own issues, my own prejudices, the places where I hold back or get tripped up.   I must always do better.  I can do better.  In my heart of hearts, I know what being a human means.  It means I have a choice of perspective.  When I can feel the power and innocence and purity of love for myself, only then can I distribute it to others.  There is nothing more important to strive for here on Earth than peace within.  That is truly being home.

I do not have all the answers.  I am one person, living the best way I know how.  But I know now that I want more for myself than to be fearful and separated.  I have to want more if I proclaim to love myself.  Perhaps I oversimplify things.  I don't care.  I just know that I want more of what I felt yesterday, or am feeling as I type these words.  In the innocence and vulnerability of real love there is strength beyond limits.  The more time I spend cradled in the arms of this tremendous love, the more I want.  Selfish?  Yes.  But we can all benefit from such selfishness.

It's been a long while since I have written on this blog.  Sometimes it takes a monumental dose of the truth to get the wheels turning again.  I am still here, and life--with all its warts and bumps and bruises--is still unraveling.  And right now, in this moment, I cannot be more proud to be a part of it. 



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sitting Still

I've been reflecting back a lot lately, more so than usual.  Maybe it is the Mercury retrograde, or that I just have too much time on my hands, but I can't help but want to take closer note of where I have been.  Life as it has transpired during these past several months, even years, feels more like a random collection of moments than a linear journey with some clearly established, finite goal at the finish line.  Amazingly, this feels like progress. 

I don't look at things the same way anymore.  I can see how the pieces all fit together, how they make up the me that I know and love, and yet the individual episodes don't quite flow together into one coherent series.  Instead, it's incredibly choppy, beset with fits and starts, stockpiled with joys and sorrows, rife with depression and elation.  It's sort of like one minute I am traveling the world, exalting in each snapshot of newness I encounter, and the next minute I would prefer to sit quietly in my home and never get off of my old blue futon except to relieve myself.  One week I work over fifty-five hours, then I don't work at all for several weeks.  One minute I fret over my finances, and seconds later I don't have a care in the world, least of all with money.  I can see how the life I appear to be living is nothing more than this eclectic bag of different experiences, a winding road of emotional bumps and bruises, highs and lows, and that the only thing underlying the whole is that I have chosen each and every step.  There is nothing and nobody to blame, not as if I would dare assign blame at this point anyway.  These experiences make up my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  I would not change a thing.

I feel thankful for who I am.  I love the way I learn about myself, how I maneuver my way through this world, and though it can sometimes leave me feeling emotionally and physically bankrupt and weary to the core, I don't think I could have written a better script to follow.  I love how when I am convicted through and through about anything, be it any next step that I want to take or new experience I want to have, that I always seem able to summon up the courage and will to make it a reality, and typically can do so in a flash.

I even have to love how sometimes I get convicted in the belief that I am just not good enough, or that I may never find real love, or that I should be doing something other than what I am doing, or that I just know that life is utterly devoid of meaning, or that I am not living up to some lofty, imaginary standards that I never wanted to establish for myself in the first place.  I have to love those times, too.  They are full of some serious discomfort and sadness, and yet have invariably served as the fertilizer for new growth, pushing me on to ever greater heights.  Feeling those things, facing them down, has led me to right here.

The other day it occurred to me that the only real cause of suffering is the presence of change and its accompanying reaction.  I tried to think of every time I have recently felt sad or depressed, and whether it had its roots in change.  Every single one of them did.  I either wanted something I did not have, or had something I did not want, wanted to be somewhere other than where I was, wanted someone to behave in a way they did not, etc etc.  It reads like a never-ending story of wanting.  Consequently, I am learning to appreciate how my life's dreams have changed and are never static, and also how long it can sometimes take to catch up with yourself, to acknowledge the brand new program that has already taken hold without your awareness.  When the dust clears, this is what I think I know:  That living in the past is most certainly the cause of great suffering.

Today I woke up to the sunshine of a new day in Hawaii.  The gusty winds of yesterday have been replaced by a gentle hint of a breeze.  I watered my plants, spending my usual fifteen to twenty minutes tending to my garden of containers housing tomatoes, zucchini, basil and carrots.  I love those plants as if they were my babies.  I talk to them, and some days I swear they can hear me.  Yesterday, I bought seeds to plant hot peppers; perhaps I will plant them today if the mood strikes.  I had my mug of coffee, which was actually three long-pulled shots of espresso made with love on my little black Nespresso machine.  It is my current favorite possession, maybe the only one besides my bike that I find myself thinking about regularly.

After a quick shower, I contemplated what to do today, and instead of overthinking it, I sat down and started writing this.  It is quiet in the neighborhood right now, with barely a rustle.  A moment to be still and savor.  Soon enough I will be working again, and these quiet, reflective mornings will be replaced by the workaday grind.  After nearly a year off, that sounds like a lovely change of pace.  I never thought I would say that, but there you go.  Things change.  Priorities shift.  Sometimes, life's next great adventure is the one you never considered, right there in front of you, right exactly where you are.






 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Walking the Path

I have been on the road for a month as of today and it is time to break the silence. A few highlights:

I walked 220 miles in 2 weeks. I did so without much prior knowledge of the Camino de Santiago, the historic trail that runs across northern Spain. I thought I had the right shoes for such a trek, but the opposite soon became apparent. I got blisters. Lots and lots of painful blisters, mainly on my left foot. It was not always fun, and very often it was tiring, but it never failed to be interesting or thought-provoking, and I can say with certainty that I am glad to have had such an experience and would not have had it any other way.

I slept in rooms with as many as 12 other people, even resting for a night in a dark, ominous cave that became known as "The Death Chamber". I ate bread. Lots and lots of delicious European bread, sometimes crusty, occasionally dense, and always shoved down my throat at record pace. I fell in love with bocadillos, the Spanish sandwiches that can often be as big as your forearm. I never met one I didn't like. I drank tons of coffee, deciding that walking 15-20 miles a day was enough of a reason to have that second (and third) caffe americano or con leche every afternoon. I briefly contemplated incorporating Serrano ham, all chewy and thin and delicious, into every meal for the rest of my life. I stopped eating chocolate, started eating arroz con leche (rice with sweet milk, dusted with cinnamon) and flushed down whatever sustenance I happened to get while walking each day with a glass of red wine and a smile.

I had great walking partners in Lynn and Jodie, whose presence on the trail was always welcomed and appreciated. We talked a lot, laughed a lot, farted a lot, and laughed at the farts (a lot). Or, you could just say we bonded--a lot. We came up with our own language, our own unique style of looking at the Camino and our journey together. Jodie popped my ugly foot blisters with a needle until I had nerve enough to take care of them myself, sometimes sitting in awe that so much fluid could be contained in such a small area. We held daily "Compeed Conferences", which entailed deciding how and where to apply those European lifesaving bandages to the tender areas of our feet. Jodie came up with the "Compeed Cross", which was two bandages forming a cross on the sole of the foot, providing relief for days on end. As part of the daily routine, the three of us developed our own pilgrim morning talk show after breakfast. Highlights included the review of the previous night's accommodations ("I loved the hot shower, but why does the water have to shut off every 30 seconds?"), the morning pilgrim traffic report ("watch out for the pilgrim bottleneck up ahead at Sarria"), a pollution index that warned of the pungent and occasionally overwhelming smell of manure as we galavanted through farm after farm in the middle of nowhere (the most dangerous level--and most frequent--was code purple), and of course, a warm and fuzzy human interest story to end the whole thing. One morning it featured a cute, mangy little dog that followed us three miles to the next hostel, whom I named Hollywood, while another saw us reminiscing over the bull that kept trying to mount the cow in the pasture during the previous days' walk. It is always good form to end the news with a funny.

I have been meeting people from all over the world. There was Josh, a chatty and sarcastic 21-year old from Pennsylvania with wild, curly brown locks who had just come from the Ukraine and who kept a running count of his blisters, just in case anyone wanted to know the tally. There was Isabel, a lovely young Catalan woman with an infectious smile, deep brown eyes and a penchant for running into us in the most random of spots. I liked her immediately, as did most everyone else who was lucky enough to engage with her. She taught me some Spanish, I taught her some English slang, and eventually I spent a long weekend at her home outside of Barcelona, taking a tapas tour with her friends (during which I coherently strung together some drunken Spanish sentences, confirming that it is easier to speak and understand a foreign language when your guard has been let down by copious amounts of wine) and getting delicious home-cooking and non-stop laundry service from her wonderfully energetic mother, who would patiently wait for Isabel to leave home before entering and scooping up all the dirty laundry she could get her hands on, mine included. There was Janis (Yanis) from Latvia, the only person whom I have ever met from that country, and who (like Isabel) kept popping up all over. He introduced me to Latvian disco music, which is light and sugary and just as vacuous as American disco, maybe even more so. There was a Canadian woman whose name escapes me at the moment--maybe it was Debbie, I can't say for sure--but whom I met while sitting at a bus stop waiting to head back to Santiago on the last day after the whole walking thing was over. In the midst of our conversation she told me about a program called Diverbo, in which you speak English for a week at a posh hotel in exchange for free room and board. Next Friday I will be heading to Salamanca to do this. Whatever her name was, I am grateful for the message, and even more grateful that I paid attention to the curiously interested feeling inside that kept urging me to apply.

I have been thinking a lot about my life, my home, wherever that may be, what I want to be, who I am now, what makes me happy. I have seen how I do things my own way, how I learn lessons in my own time. I have felt nothing but extreme gratitude for my way of doing things. MY path. I am happy to be this person, doing these things, learning these lessons. I walked the last 100 miles of the Camino in my black Reef flip flops. People were stunned. One man told me I was courageous. Another Spanish woman, I think she yelled at me about it although I couldn't be 100% sure. I let go of what the book says, what everyone else says, and put the flip flops on, doing it my way, navigating with relative ease and certainly with far less pain than in my La Sportiva trail shoes.

I have felt both lost and found. There were yellow arrows to direct us all along the Camino. There are no arrows now. I have to follow my own arrows again, and I am. Before embarking on this journey I declared that anything was fair game, and I am surprised to know that this means everything. I have ups and downs. I cried during the Camino, thinking about some unhealed past relationships and how there is still work to do to release them fully. I cried after the walk was over, tears of joy from way down deep, realizing that what I really want has always been here--right here--and is not out there. I have sensed that traveling is wonderful, but so is being home. I have felt the terror and loneliness of being in Madrid, the biggest city in Spain, with no real plan or sense of anything, hot on the heels of 15 days of walking and introspection and a sort of comfort that came from having my course all charted out for me. I have also felt the joy of communicating with someone in a foreign tongue, courtesy of Google Translate and a willingness to go with it and get over myself. I have thought a lot about Hawaii, the place where I just came from, what made it so special, and then remember that I have to live now--in this moment--and that no matter what place I call home in the future, there will never be a place to actually "end up". It is all in motion, never quite stopping until it's all over, and there is something truly exquisite in all of that, no mistakes for sure.

I have made some other observations. On the Camino I heard a cricket's chirp and realized that I was hearing the sound of all crickets, everywhere. I don't know how or why, I just knew that it was. One night I couldn't stop laughing at the absurdity of the Camino and what we all were doing, how we were following yellow arrows all over Spain, and the fact that this was totally meaningless in and of itself. I have had the revelation that farting is always hilarious and that appreciating such a disgusting bodily function is actually no less a spiritual experience than walking 220 miles across a dirt trail is. I have rediscovered a burning desire to learn another language, picking up some Spanish with relative ease and longing to be able to communicate with the people here through more than just pointing and a single word or two. I have thought about the future, the near-future, and then tossed those thoughts into the garbage bin once they started to deliver their obligatory and inevitable stress. Today, I felt a little homesick so I ate a burger and fries at a small, half-empty restaurant called "La Vespa Burger House" and then came back to the hostel and typed all of this out, never feeling for one second that I was missing out on a thing. There is as much wisdom in that as in anything else I have seen or done in the past month. It is peaceful to not fight with yourself, to do nothing if that is what you really want to do. I forgot how much peace there is in just sitting still. I'm sure I will forget again, but for now, I am content.

So that is where I have been during the past month. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings. Thank you for listening.

- Posted using BlogPress from Ipad











Saturday, April 5, 2014

Aloha and Beyond

Leaving places has become a bit of a standard for me throughout my adulthood.  Part of the fun (if it can be called that) of growing older is noticing the patterns of behavior that wind through the colorful threads of story that make up life as we know it.  For me, moving places and then leaving at a certain point is one of them.  Doing so on a whim, or with trust, or with whatever you choose to call it, is another.  Wringing all the juice out of each spot along the way and then setting sail for another land, another port of call, a new spot on the map: been there, done that.  It's a thing for me I suppose, and I would say I am as comfortable doing it as anyone else I know.  Dare I also say, I may have even gotten pretty good at it.

As I prepare to leave Hawaii in the morning, I can see how this pattern, this restless thread, has run through my life since before I can remember.  I have always had the wanderlust.  I never used to know what it was called.  Now I know.  I have been called many names in reference to this particular trait.  Free spirit.  Wanderer.  Nomad.  Adventurer.  Crazy Bastard.  I have heard every one of them.  Perhaps they all even apply, I don't know.  Such names are not up to me, existing totally outside of my realm of control.  The only thing resting in the palms of my medium-sized hands is me.  My dreams.  My goals.  My choices.  My happiness. In the end, these are what count.  These are my responsibilities.  These are what people commonly refer to as "my life".  I have systematically, and even a bit unconsciously, set my version of "my life" up this way.  The details and circumstances have varied from home to home, city to city, and yet a spirit has always been there in full force.  It has propelled everything, this spirit, and is most certainly alive and well as I type this tonight.  That spirit is where I hang my hat at the end of the day.  It exists, often times, without my knowledge.  I can't say for sure, but I'm thinking these kinds of things just are.

As a kid, I remember never knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I could never settle on a desired profession.  My dreams as a young child were to, I don't know--just kind of figure it out as I went along.  I knew I wanted to be free, whatever that meant at any point in my development.  I often visualized myself just going wherever I wanted, checking out this and that, and doing it with eyes wide open.  I knew I wanted to move around.  I wanted to travel, to see the country.  I wanted to live at the beach.  I remember the first time I ever saw a palm tree.  It was a spring break trip with my fellow collegians, heading from frigid central New York in mid-March to balmy Panama City Beach to party like an underage rockstar for a week.  When we crossed the Florida border, I teared up from joy.  When we got out of the bus to relieve our bladders and buy a final snack for the stretch run, one crazy bastard bolted for the nearest palm tree and gave it a big old hug.  I can still feel the initial kiss of warm Floridian breeze on my skin as I bolted from that crowded, smelly bus.  And there is that throwback photo of Paul the tree hugger that is still so clear in my mind's eye.  The giddy smile on my face said it all:  Once I graduate, I'm getting the hell out of dodge!  There are places to see, man!  Warm places even!  Let's do this!  It wasn't actually Florida that lit me up.  It was the idea that a world full of places unknown was out there, waiting to be discovered.  I guess it was the first real indulgence of the wanderlust, the spark that lit the fire, and it was powerful.

Moving to Hawaii was never my dream.  I know that it is the dream of many others to at least visit these islands, and now I know exactly why they would want to.   Me, I don't think I ever had that particular goal.  The thought of such an excursion to Hawaii never really crossed my mind as a possibility until midway through a five-day Carnival cruise to Mexico with three of my friends while I was still living in California.  As we sat on top of the boat soaking in the rays, I was completely intoxicated by the expanse of blue water all around us.  In every direction--nothing but water.  It arrested my senses, and before I knew it I was declaring that I was moving to Hawaii.  Everyone laughed.  I was serious.  I knew it.  Having been only to Maui the year before (on a weeklong vacation), I somehow decided that this time I would go to Oahu.  It just seemed right, although I didn't know why.  I never have to know.  What started as a five-month sabbatical turned into a five-year residency.  That is just how it goes sometimes.

How to describe what it is like to live in Hawaii, the paradise of all paradises?  As I prepare to leave, I will only say that it has been an honor to live here for as long as I have.  Oddly enough, I will add that it is not as easy to live on one of these lovely rocks as it is to visit as a tourist for a few days or weeks.  Things can be ridiculously expensive here, as in $7 for a box of imported Frosted Flakes expensive.  Yes, that is a sale price. There is a culture here that can be tough to crack for outsiders (that means you, haole boy), and probably more than anything else, life here just is what it is.  You have two choices:  Get over it, or leave.  It is not going to change because of you.  Honestly, I kind of liked that about living here.  And yes, it is a small island, which I am sure gives some people a tad bit of claustrophobia.  I don't think I ever experienced full-blown "island fever", that so-called disease of transplants who move here from the mainland or other foreign soils which feeds signals to the brain to escape or flee to a larger land mass, and to do it now or else.  Personally, I loved living on this tiny green dot in the middle of the Pacific.  Landing in Honolulu after going anyplace was always a thrill.  Sure, the weather was always welcoming.  Actually, the climate here is pretty close to perfect and I can say with nary a doubt that it will never be better anywhere else.  But the best part of landing back home in Honolulu, in my eyes, was looking down and seeing that little strip of land totally bordered on every side by the ocean.  Far, far away from everyone and everything else--the most isolated land mass in the world, in fact.  Every idea of paradise stems from such isolation.  Paradise is the place in our dreams where we can escape, get as far away from the rest of the world as is humanly possible.  Coming back to Oahu always, and I mean always, produced such a feeling for me.

So why leave?  Well, I'm not sure exactly.  I had a love affair with this green dot that lasted for quite awhile.  Upon arrival, and knowing nobody, I did what I always do.  I made friends. Created bonds. I reinvented myself, or rather, discovered different aspects of my being that I never knew about or thought I would want to know.  I did pretty much every outdoor activity I could have dreamed of doing while living here--hiking, swimming, kayaking, biking, beaching (is that a word?).  Been to every other major island in the chain several times over (excluding smaller-kine Molokai and Lanai and of course, Niihau).  During the last few weeks I have been asked by so many here what I planned on doing before I left the island.  What was on my bucket list, they wondered?  After much contemplation, I had an answer.  Nothing.  Nada.  I did everything I wanted to do. No desire to hike the Stairway to Heaven again, or swim to the flag one last time at my favorite beach, or slurp down one more bowl of tan tan ramen.  And so I leave feeling no sense of regret.  I still love this place.  How could I not?  But there is something else stirring.  I have known it for a good long while, probably since returning in September 2012 from yet another "long sabbattical", that time over in Europe.  Sound familiar?  Seems I like to dip my toe in the pond before deciding if I really want to dive in for a swim.  Another day, another pattern revealed.

I have referred to the upcoming changes as my 'new adventure'.  Truthfully, it is just the way things are playing out.  In the story threads of my life, adventure is another name for living.  Each place I go is just a backdrop for a new chapter.  I don't feel like I am leaving paradise because I am fairly certain that such a place does not exist in the outside world.  It is a mindset--an inside job.  Adventure is that way, too.  Living is the best kind of adventure.  There are no guarantees.  It is all trial and error, and right now the thought of that excites me to no end.   Yet going out on faith-- really trusting--can still be a frightening prospect.  Back in January, I wrote about committing to practicing what I know and understand to be true this year.  I am determined to keep that commitment.  There is a load of uncertainty, but when during our time on Earth is that not a true statement?  It can all go in so many different directions.  Sounds like my kind of adventure.  Let's explore, shall we?

Aloha, mahalo, and see you in California. 









 





 

    


















 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Portlandia

Portland is my kind of city. To start, it isn't just bike-friendly. Oh no--it has something approaching bike worship going on. The residents of this cozy little part of the Northwestern US take great pride in motoring around sans motor, with bike lanes in every direction and a surplus of signage (a la Amsterdam) directing you here and there on your two wheels. There is even a cycle path alongside a major freeway: Why should gas-guzzlers be the only ones able to escape the city life and head to the mountains on a whim?

But truly, escaping is not something top of mind for Portland's inhabitants. There is a palpable sense of enjoyment permeating the air, a Portlandia joie de vivre if you will, that is easy to acknowledge and even easier to get swept up in. Life here is quirky and simple and exactly what Portlanders want. You know this not because everyone is rushing in with glowing testimonials, but because they actually don't have to say a word. The smiles, the eye contact, the friendly hellos tumbling from the mouths of strangers, the way every single person behind the counter of coffee shop after bookstore after restaurant wants to strike up a conversation with you without being prodded to do so. It is all quite endearing and inviting, even folksy but without crossing over into Sarah Palin hockey-mom territory.

And then there's the food. Oh, the food. This morning I stopped by the Waffle Window with my friend Joey and ate something called a Bananarumba, which can only be described as sugar-baked heaven on a plate. Fresh bananas, house made caramel, a pile of whipped cream, and sweet crunchy pecan thingies strewn haphazardly over the top of a warm, sugar-crisped waffle, served up quick and with a smile. It was enough to make me believe that every building erected from this day forward should have a Waffle Window carved into its facade. Genius, I tell you. During this visit I have also dabbled in some fried cheese curds (whoa), a "salt slab" (a literal 8" x 10" slab of airy, chewy, crusty fresh bread sprinkled with salt and spread with butter), and ice cream. Yes, in the chill of a Northwest winter I cannot seem to get enough of the cold stuff. Where? Salt and Straw. Why? Let's just say a split scoop of sea salt with caramel ribbon plus rich, creamy olive oil ice cream--don't knock it till you try it--stacked in a waffle cone made approximately five minutes ago. OMG. Let's also say that I might have to repeat that order again later to someone who can actually deliver me the goods once more.

As for that Northwestern winter, to my surprise I have been handling it all in stride. I know that I grew up in Buffalo, but with nearly two decades of warm-weather living causing my blood to be thinner than the sheen of sweat that normally covers my forehead on a daily basis in Hawaii, I sort of feared going back into the cold again. Armed with beanies, sweatshirts and a scarf that has become part of my anatomy, I have survived the chill so far, even enjoyed it. There is something stimulating about the cold air that I have heretofore not acknowledged. It's different than what I am used to, sure, yet I don't mind any of it. Of course, there are coffee shops on every corner with mustachioed hipster baristas ready to warm you up with some locally-roasted java just in case the gray skies and nip in the Portland air get to be a bit much. Truthfully, I am still not sure what a hipster is but I think I may have seen a few, though I can say with a certainty that I have seen some impressive displays of facial hair around town.

Sitting at Stumptown Coffee while typing this, I glance up in time to notice something strange happening outside the large plate glass window at the front of the store. It has started to snow! I want to panic a little, but then I remember: This is Bridgetown in winter. I have a bike, reasonably warm clothing and caffeine pulsing through my veins. Simple, yet more than enough to enjoy another day of cruising around Portland.










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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Another Year of Practice

I have not officially gone on record with any New Year's resolutions this year.  That itself is something of a first--I typically love to start fresh, wipe the slate clean and plot a new course no matter what area of my life I feel needs some sprucing up--but I just cannot come up with anything in particular for 2014.  Focusing on one little aspect of daily existence doesn't seem enough.  Instead, I have been been examining what it is that I am committed to in my life.  What do I spend my time doing every day?  Are those commitments making me happy?  Am I making time for things that lift me up or am I frowningly trudging through too many lost minutes, days, and months?  In taking on this little science project, I have been trying to be as honest with myself as I possibly can.  That is no easy task.  I imagine nobody wants to admit that they don't particularly care about what they are doing for a living, or that they seem to be repeating past lessons over and over again that they never actually learned on the first or second or tenth go-round.  And I am fairly confident that no one really wants to raise their hands in the air and surrender once they realize that the life they have going doesn't seem to fit them any longer.  But this is where I am now.  Like it or not, that white flag of surrender is firmly in my grasp.

I have thought long and hard about the images of 2013 that float through my head, carried along on the swirling breeze of my selective memory, and those flashes that are unafraid to reveal themselves are very telling.  They are also very familiar, almost strangely repetitive.  I have certainly lived through them before in one scenario or another, and I am sure that I have also assumed that I would never have to do so again.  But one idea loomed large over my year-that-was:  That no relationship, no job, no lifestyle, no way of thinking, no beliefs or dogma, no line of bullshit you are feeding yourself, no set of rules that someone else told you you should be living by, that none of it is ever done until it is really done.  And how do we know when that is?  Do we just make our best guesses and hope for some mercy?  I would say it takes some real work.  You can't fake it. I have employed a metric ton of delusional tactics during my forty years to convince myself that I am at a certain point in my development, that I will never to have to return to the "old ways" and seeming "mistakes" of my past, and that I am anywhere but right here, right now.  I can still find myself wrapped in that delusion from time to time.  I have wasted precious energy jumping over, circling around or attempting to float above the much more real state of my own affairs that seemed too messy, too sad, too complicated and altogether too human to even attempt to deal with.  In school, we are taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Yet we are never ever taught that in life, the quickest way to heal from pain is to move through it--to just stop, drop and accept, not to skirt around it.  Nobody ever taught me that one.  Or it could be that I wasn't ready for that particular lesson.  In the past year I think I at least found the classroom, even sitting down long enough to take notes from time to time. 

As years go, 2013 was neither the best nor worst I have ever had.  It played out more like a series of schizophrenic moments--quitting jobs/returning to jobs, having lots of money/being broke, feeling depressed/waxing ecstatic, taking charge of things/losing control of everything, thinking I am on the right track/worried that I am completely lost in space.  It was a time of seeing a glimpse of what works best for me but then ignoring it simply because it was not what I had always known or because it didn't measure up to someone else's view of what I should be or how I should act.  It was a time of asking myself what made me happy and coming up with nothing (that can be really frightening), and then a time of speculating that life is neither beautiful nor ugly nor anything in between, but rather that life is really nothing at all except for what you think it is (that can be really liberating!).  It was a year of taking responsibility for the messes I found myself in, of breaking ties and letting go and doing so with more honor and respect for myself and the other involved parties than I have ever been able to muster previously. 

More than anything, 2013 was the year of going back to the tried and trues that never actually begged to be tried again and that were never really so true to begin with.  I started the year at Starbucks (again) and ended it at an office job (again).  But the moments in-between are what really caught my attention, namely this past summer when I took one month to go off the grid and take care of myself over on the Big Island.  I was in desperate need of some clarity and even though I knew I would be taking a month off without pay, I somehow knew it was the only right thing for me to do.  And so I did it.  I spent four weeks in contemplation--meditation and service, sometimes both--but always in the quiet.   I even doubted my own decision to do so right up until about the third or fourth day, when I finally relaxed enough to see what was happening.  I realized that I finally found something that I believed in, a cause that was truly worth my time.  I couldn't imagine what else I could be doing that was more important than being right there.  It was a noticeable shift, probably more like a rollicking jolt.  I had made the commitment to be there--there's that word again, commitment--and was so very happy I did.  I stopped worrying about the money I wasn't making or what I was going to do when I got home to make back the money I didn't make while I was off having such an experience.  I gave up the recording in my head that kept telling me to be productive and get back to "work" or "reality".  This was my reality.  I sat still.  I listened.  I trusted that the other stuff would work out later, on its own and in its own time.  It did.  I got scared, but I survived.  No--I thrived.  Maybe not in such worldly ways, but in every one of the ways most meaningful to me.  All of this resulted in what was easily my most inspired, joyous and soul-centered collection of moments during the past year.    

So what about 2014?  Here is what I know so far:  I want to be committed to things that light me up inside rather than those that make me feel obligated or desensitized.  I want to laugh more.  I want to wake up smiling, curious as to what the day has in store for me.  I want to recognize when and where I am stuck and summon up the courage to move through it.  I only want to be wherever I am and not where I think I should be.  I want to give myself space, space, and more space to be who and what I need to be, to make mistakes and be vulnerable and be alright with that.  I want to give everyone the right to like or dislike me. I want to be honest with myself whether I am doing these things or not, and be grateful for however it turns out.  More than anything, I want to do more than just want these things.  I want to practice them all.  I am committing to practice. And so it is:  2014 will be another year of practice.  It's all I can do.  Resolutions be damned. 




Thursday, September 12, 2013

Throwback Thursday, European-Style

Snaking my way across Spain on a leisurely, half-empty passenger train bound for Madrid, I am shocked just how quickly the hours can pass without one single thought of boredom entering my mind. I pass a good portion of the time staring out the large square window to my right, taking note of the endless expanses of green and brown land, dotted with nothing more than farms here and there and the occasional small city or town popping up rather infrequently. The sky is blazing blue, clear and stunning. I'm feeling it. I like Spain. And having spent three days exploring (and slowly falling in love with) Barcelona, I can say with confidence that five total days in this country will likely serve as nothing more than a sneak preview of a longer visit that will happen at some point in the future.

As for Madrid, for so long now the capital of Spain has served as an important benchmark in my discussions about Europe, a giant "X" marking the spot of the last stop on this epic journey of mine. And taking this one final train ride has me reeling a little. I keep hearing the announcement over the intercom, at least in my imagination, proclaiming arrival at this train's final destination.

"Proxima Estacion: Madrid." Next stop, Madrid. Or more appropriately for me, The End.

I am struggling to decipher what this all means, never mind weeding through the swirl of emotions that arises whenever I start to contemplate the closure of this adventurous little chapter of my life. So I will just start with what I do know. I am relaxed. Really, really relaxed. At times in the past few months I have often joked that my blood pressure might be too low to register, the biggest culprit of the slow flow naturally being that I haven't worked in three and a half months. I can hardly wrap my mind around that concept. Somehow this feels like an accomplishment quite worthy of celebration. I have completely forgotten what it feels like to have to turn that alarm off, roll out of bed, wipe the sleep from the corners of my eyes well before the crack of dawn, and then proceed to eight hours of imprisonment just to be able to pay my way in the world. I just don't get it anymore. Hell, I can barely remember what day it is at this point. Days don't matter when you are traveling for months at a time. Weekdays, weekends--who cares. Just be careful in Europe not to travel on Sundays if you can help it, I learned early on, as many places here shut down on the Sabbath, rendering long treks across some countries more difficult. OK, so Sundays must be on the radar. Fine. The rest of the days can still fly under.

And what about time? Just another concept whose stranglehold gets very, very loosened when the number one priority of any day is simply to see where the day takes you. To quote Jimmy Buffet's infamous line, it is indeed five o'clock somewhere, anywhere, when you are on the road. Time has no meaning, except to help direct you to the nearest plane, train, automobile or boat en route to the next stop along the way. Long trips are common yet never to be feared. For the record, today I took a nearly nine hour train ride. And also for the record, I was far from bored. Sitting still is such a blessing. Darting from place to place all these weeks has really helped me to appreciate the chunks of down time that come between destinations. Time just keeps chugging along regardless of how I choose to spend it. Sometimes I end up talking to a fellow passenger for hours on end. Other times, I read. I stare out the window. I nap. I listen to music. I do all of the above at once. It just depends, and never on how much time I have to indulge any of those whims, but rather on whatever I feel like doing in that particular second of my existence.

This freedom from the binds of time is downright intoxicating, addictive even. Living in the present moment can be a wondrous byproduct of this perceived timelessness. It seems to happen so effortlessly that you don't even know you are doing it until you begin reflecting back on it all, effectively ending your orgiastic wallow in the "now". Maybe that's the reason I have not written as much during my travels as I originally figured I would. To be sure, it's not for lack of things to say, stories to share or thoughts to ponder; I have taken lots of notes and started many blog posts that have yet to find their endings. I suppose maybe I just never wanted to be the first one to leave the orgy. Who does, right? Wallowing always just seemed logical, in whatever way logic can be applied to such decisions.

Let me be clear here. I am in no way implying that I can keep this up forever. Not even I am that delusional, after taking such a fantasy ride around Europe all summer, to think that I will never again have to set my alarm clock for work or do what it takes to get the cash flowing again. It's just that, well, the road ahead is officially wide open. Throw out the old rule book. None of it applies, not that it ever did anyway. And traveling the globe is not necessary to discover such a "secret", but it has certainly driven the point home loud and clear for me. All of this has been at my fingertips the whole time, but that is the beauty in having our own individual life experiences. We all may reach the same conclusions eventually, but how we get there is part of the fabric of who we think we are in this world. Again, another concept that is always in flux-- Who we think we are. I'm sure I have come up with several thousand different titles, descriptions or pure fantasies of who I have thought I was during the course of my 39 years on this lovely planet. Dare I say, there will probably be thousands more before it's all over with. And who knows, there could even be a few hundred next week alone. I wouldn't doubt it.

So who do I think I am right now? I honestly can't say. Instead, I will just check in with my feelings, which seems to work a little better for me on most days. Let's start with hugely, indescribably grateful for this entire experience and go from there. Happy. Content. Tender. Alive. Full of wonder. A little melancholy to see this whole journey wind down, but way more than a little excited to see what comes next. Awestruck at just how limitless the possibilities are. Ecstatic that no matter what, I have myself to rely on. Feeling the love inside. My heart is full and open. I have acknowledged its overwhelming presence and can fully admit that its place in the scheme of my life is extraordinarily meaningful.

And so everything goes. On and on, round and round. Joyfully, the adventure continues.


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