Death, Airplanes, Internet and a Proper Hug; What’s the Connection?

I didn’t sleep at all last night. I was haunted in the night by the spirit of a young woman I observed, dead, earlier in the day.

I’d spent my day running with my running club. We are weeks away from our first full marathon of the season and the mileage is mounting. We ran eighteen miles. The parched state of California received some much needed rain the night before, and whether it was the mileage, the prospect of running in the rain, or the combination, turnout for our long, autumn run was very light. In my pace group, where there are often a dozen or more people, only five of us assembled. Of the five, two stated they’d only be running four of the eighteen miles before turning back. The three of us that persevered consisted of a coach, myself, and one other young female team member. It was perfect running weather; cool and a little damp, the dust of summer washed away with the rain from the previous night. Leaves were plastered to the asphalt pedestrian trail as though decoupaged there and clouds littered the otherwise sunny, blue, sky, allowing the sun to warm the morning just enough to take off the chill and to penetrate the damp.

We were just over halfway through our eighteen miles; the plan was to run upstream seven miles, back and past our origination point two miles further downstream, then return to the park. We were running, keeping a steady and comfortable pace, and commiserating about the amount of will it would take to run past where our cars were parked after fourteen full miles for the last four. I could hear sirens in the distance, which is certainly not uncommon. The parkway we run along nearly every Saturday morning parallels the American River, for dozens of miles, winding through the greater Sacramento metropolitan area, which now boasts a population of well over a million people. Sirens are common in such high concentrations of suburbia. The sirens did seem very close, though, at the moment, this didn’t really register. A man approached us, opposing us, a runner, on the other side of the trail, per proper trail etiquette. He spoke to us, half shouting something about the sirens and directing the police in the direction from whence he came. I thought he was joking, at first, making light of the sirens, as though he were running to flee some feigned crime, but then he mentioned a runner, ahead, in cardiac arrest. My heart nearly stopped, cold, at the thought. Cardiac arrest. That’s what that means; the sudden cessation of heartbeat, of blood flow, of circulation, of oxygen to the brain. Of life.

We continued to run, the three of us, at first with a few forgotten words of acknowledgement, then in silence, in shock, then in dreaded speculation. Our running club, though with a low turnout today, has over five hundred members. Our membership, especially after the impressive lightning, thunder and rain the night before, accounted for most of the athletic activity on the trail this early, Saturday morning. What were the chances the fallen was one of our friends, our teammates, maybe even one of our coaches?

We rounded a corner to find a crowd of team members around the form of a fairly young, female figure, prone, on the dirt, next to the paved trail. Our coaches are all trained in CPR, and, so, CPR was being administered by people familiar to us. I’ve been certified numerous times in CPR, in first aid, in wilderness first aid. I’ve had to employ some of my wilderness first aid skills, but, never, gratefully, have I had to actually employ CPR. In fact, I’ve never actually witnessed CPR being administered on anything but those peculiar, somewhat other worldly, vaguely androgynous, mannequins, used in practice. To see CPR in real life is shocking. The young woman’s head was, correctly, tilted back, enabling the opening of the air passage in the throat. It is an extremely artificial posture, though, and just added to the horror of the scene. Another team member was rhythmically pushing down on the victim’s chest with the force and violence required to artificially pump the blood, from a still heart, to the brain, but the force and violence required, you knew, especially with this woman’s very tiny frame, left every rib and the sternum fractured. Her face was visible, distorted by the grasp of the hands of the rescuer tilting her head back, her pallor was an alarming and very unnatural shade of blue-gray. Everyone standing nearby, the entire pace group ahead of us and a sprinkling of others, wore grim expressions and looked on from an encircling crowd, like a crowd that gathers around a particularly gifted street performer, everyone positioned themselves to better see. I didn’t want to see. I’d seen enough. Cardiac arrest. She was, medically speaking, dead. Her life force, the flow of blood and oxygen, was mechanical, artificial, and temporary, at this point.

Other than the well made up, embalmed figure of my deceased grandmother at her “viewing”, prior to her funeral, expertly made up like a Broadway star, closed eyes, lips, and rosy cheeks accentuated colorfully, I’ve only ever purposefully looked at one dead person; my father. And, really, I wish I could unsee that, it was horrid, it was dreadful, and as hard as I try, I will never forget that final glimpse. I’d said goodbye to him several days before he finally passed. I recognized the moment his true spirit left his body, some other quasi-dad-spirit inhabited him for the last couple of days; angry, confused, disoriented, surreal. I’d arrived at the hospital as quickly as I could when told “it was time”, driving nearly eighty miles, but I arrived too late. A dear and helpful cousin was there with my, somehow, disbelieving mom. I was encouraged to “take a last look”. The form behind the curtain with the twisted face and the grotesque, gaping mouth was not my father. Someone had shoved his dentures in, post mortem, giving him the look of a low budget horror film skeleton. I have no regrets in life, but for that one. That is not how I wanted to remember him, I find it horrifyingly unforgettable.

The scene along the running trail was as horrifyingly unforgettable. I wasn’t sure if I recognized her, the fallen runner, or not. I remember the absurdity of noticing how cute her argyle running skirt and hot pink compression socks were. The mind is a freaky thing. The ambulance arrived as we did, and the paramedics leapt into action, wheeling the gurney across the running trail in front of me, at precisely the moment I attempted to pass. In some almost comically awkward and inappropriate moment, I blocked the gurney and the gurney blocked me. With reflexes like frozen molasses, I realized the situation and stepped quickly around the paramedics and the gurney, allowing them access to the victim and me to access to the open trail ahead. Our coach remained behind to assist, if needed. The remaining team member and I ran on. A few minutes later, the ambulance passed us up, quickly, silently, with lights flashing. I never know how to interpret these things.

We ran on. And on and on. We chatted a little, about the incident, what else? We managed to keep a reasonable pace, coaching ourselves, timing ourselves, for nearly eight miles. We found the fortitude to pass the parking lot and run downstream the additional two miles, as planned, to turn at precisely the appropriate point and begin the final, excruciating two miles back to our originating and finishing point. A mile and a half from our destination, we met our coach, going the opposite direction, finishing out her mileage. We cheered her on, she cheered us on. Runners are awesome like that. She mentioned that the downed runner was not a part of our club. What did I say? I said, “Good.” Then quickly added an appropriate disclaimer, that it was still, all, terrible, whoever she was, but I was glad it wasn’t someone we knew. Still, it didn’t sound right, seemed vulgar and crude, but I didn’t have the faculties to articulate anything more appropriate. A hundred yards further on and my running partner gave up; she was too tired to go on at a run. I was stiff and sore from activities earlier in the week, my knee was ablaze with pain and walking was far worse than running. I couldn’t continue at a walk. I just wanted to run, she just wanted to walk. We parted ways; I ran in alone, she walked in alone. I wouldn’t have left her, alone, especially in light of the day’s events, but I knew another pace team from our club was shortly behind us and would catch up to her in moments. I kept running. I ran faster. I ran a lot faster, the last mile and a half, my speed increasing the closer I got to the end. I couldn’t make all of this end fast enough. And though, now, the run is over, and the day is over, and the fitful night of restlessness is over, I don’t think the memory will ever escape me. I have been touched by this person’s experience with death, fleeting or final. I still don’t know whether she was resuscitated, or whether she passed, nor do I have a way to find out. I don’t know if she had a known, pre-existing condition, or if she was smote down by some unknown, congenital flaw. Or was it as a result of some risky behavior? Things I’ll never know and will always wonder, if only for selfish reasons, to prevent such a fate in my own future. My brush with death. My brush with mortality. My brush with someone else’s mortality.

My brush with someone else’s mortality kept me awake. All night, every time I closed my eyes, I kept seeing her form on the ground, a crowd around her, her alarmingly blue face, smashed and distorted between the caring hands of one of her rescuers, her thin, tanned, fit legs sticking out from the adorable, argyle, running skirt and peeking, again, behind the fabric of her hot pink compression socks. Her shoes, small, bright, colorful, still laced perfectly. The ambulance, large, red, obnoxious and obscene, on the pedestrian only trail. Running almost into the gurney as it was wheeled across the paved path. The shocked look on the paramedics face, mirroring, I’m sure, the shocked and horrified expression of realization on mine as I scuttled out of the way like an unwelcomed rodent on a crowded city sidewalk. The thought that kept me awake more than any other was the connection I felt to this complete stranger, the intimacy of seeing someone’s face in the first moments of their death. I’ve only ever glimpsed my own father in such a compromised state, and that, unwillingly, hauntingly, regrettably.

It was the thought of connection that occupied my mind for much of my sleepless night, the connections we have with those in our lives we consider large, important, crucial, vital; our parents, our lover, our children, our friends, our relatives, and then the tiny connections we have with others, fleeting, momentary, mostly unrecognized or unnoticed; people we pass on crowded sidewalks, or a running path, even those miniscule connections where we make brief eye contact with another soul, or someone we smile at for some imperceptible reason, or greet, never to be seen again, strangers in passing cars whom we acknowledge in a brief moment of passing, people on a crowded subway, pushing like hungry lions towards the kill, into the car, then out again, only to disappear into the crowd, forever, on the platform at some station.

I once wrote a piece, though I’ll be damned if I can find it, about connection. I wrote it from an airplane, in the dead of night, from 38,000 feet above what I assumed was the Midwest, below. I flew in the dark of night, often, for work, and I would usually pass the time by looking at the tiny pinpoint sized dots of light below. Each dot perhaps the light of a car, maybe a window in a home, a light illuminating some moment of life for some other person. I often wondered if, perhaps, one of those people associated with some dot of light below, might just be gazing up, at me, within a tiny pinpoint of light, blinking across the darkened sky. Did we unknowingly connect in some very abstract manner? And, like some sort of synapse, would this tiny, unknown connection foster some cosmic reconnection at some point in our shared futures?

As sleep eluded me last night and my mind was filled with thoughts of a young, dead woman in a short argyle skirt and a smashed, blue face, my man slept more soundly, in my presence, than he has in a very long time. So as not to disturb his well-deserved slumber, I quietly sat and stared out the window. I stared at the dark shape that is Mt. Tamalpais, a sight that entrances me any time of the day or night. I have a strong connection to that mountain I can’t quite justify. I stared at the stars, though few, in the inky sky. There, too were clouds, or a fog, creeping along the edges of the sky. And, every few minutes or so, on ascent out of San Francisco International Airport, northward at first, to a point, then the course altered according to carefully calculated plans, to some other destination on this globe, an airplane, a small, blinking, pinpoint of light. Is it possible, that within one of those aircrafts, sat, by the window, a sleepless creature, peering down at a random dot of light on the earth’s crust, speculating some remote and tenuous connection with a soul associated with that dot of illumination? With, perhaps, even, me? Did we connect on some infinitesimal level, a future synapse set to fire?

We all have millions more connections with others than we can ever begin to count, or realize, or even begin to imagine. But what of the connections we have to those we have occasion to care about, those that “matter”. The big, orbs of bright light within our cosmic view, the swinging, swirling, searchlights that seek to draw our attention to them, constantly, incessantly. Are we nurturing those connections? Caring for them? Fostering them? Cultivating them? Or are they just a bright and annoying nuisance we wish we could block or shield from view? This is what really deprived me of sleep; am I connecting with those I’m connected to? No. That’s the true thief in the night for me; thinking that, perhaps, I am not connecting, at a level I’d like to, with just about everyone in my life. Are you? I suddenly felt very, very alone, not too unlike the downed runner in the argyle skirt, my connections suddenly and unexpectedly felt fragile, tenuous, distant, and sometimes, even, forced. Like dial-up internet.

Are we paying the appropriate amount of due to those we cherish in our life? Parents, children, lover, friends, relatives? Likely not, we are overcommitted, distracted, and overwhelmed. Though I’m certain some of our connections get more bandwidth than others, connectivity to those we love parallels the basic ISP we pay for; well-intentioned but somewhat sporadic and not nearly adequate to serve all connected. So, if we were to suddenly become “premium cable”, what would that be, how would that differ?

While money may buy you a better level of quality of internet connectivity, with our relationships, time is more important than money. With that being said, we need to make more time for those we love and, if as a result, accept making less money. Every now and then, we see something on social media that reminds us that our loved ones will be much more likely to remember the time we spent with them than the money we spent on them. Physical human needs are basic, and, really, the simpler these are met, the better, that we realize this early enough in life to make a difference is a blessing. One of the most critical human needs, next to air to breathe, water and food, is love, and, my friends, love, in its purest and most true sense, is free. It costs us nothing to hug, to touch, to kiss, to hold hands, to listen, to share stories and engage in conversation, or just, simply, to be present, and these actions are, by far, the most valuable. And like all things of great value, there are varying degrees of quality, and, quality matters.

Connection as a value vs. connection as a duty; connection is a two-way relationship. It takes two for there to be a connection; very simply, you cannot connect two dots with a straight line if there are not two dots. If one party bases their connections on value, and the other out of duty or obligation, the connection will be an effort, there will be a strain, a sense of obligation on one side and a sense of lack on the other. This is where feelings of resentment and corresponding feelings of being taken for granted arise from.

When both parties connect based on values, the connection is fulfilling and nurturing for both parties, it grows and is strengthened, it is solid and more lasting. If both parties connect out of duty or obligation, it is little more than a transaction; temporary, momentarily necessary, empty, minimally gratifying, purposeful, but only briefly, and, if not distasteful, then certainly not memorable.

After a long, haunted, sleepless night, I remembered what I’ve always known; life would be more joyful if we didn’t take for granted the deep connections we have with our lover, our parents, our children, and our friends. If we approached these vital connections from a sense of value rather than a sense of obligation or duty, they would be far more fulfilling to all involved. Why would we ever consider anything less than that? If we nurture our connections with those who matter to us most, meaningfully, on every level possible, we’d find more peace, joy and fulfillment, and so, too, would they. We simply need to touch, to hug for longer than a second, to kiss deeply, to press cheeks together, to feel one another’s skin, to hold hands, to caress. We only need to connect more holistically, to listen wholly, make eye contact, smile, ask, do, surprise. Cherish. Adore. We need to prioritize that which is most important, in the moment, and minimize that which is not; put the cell phone aside, be so engrossed in conversation that no one dares interrupt, embrace, put the past behind and future away, live only in the moment. Find joy. Life is uncertain, but certainly short, we need to connect our dots with the straightest of lines.

I watched a movie the other night, a French film featuring eighteen, five minute short stories about love, in Paris. One of the stories was about a man who was married to a woman for a long period of time. In that time, everything she did that he once found endearing, became irksome. He took a lover. He planned to meet his wife to tell her of his love, of his affair, and of his intent to leave her. His wife, instead, told him of her leukemia and that she would die. In this moment, he knew, out of duty and responsibility, he must rise to the occasion. He ended his affair and focused his energy and focus on his ailing wife. He rose to the occasion by connecting with her as he once had, he acted as though he didn’t just love her out of duty, but that he loved her as he once had, that he was “in love” with her. He found himself, shortly, as in love with her as he been when they’d first fallen in love. But, alas, she died, and he was sad and tortured and saw the things that reminded him of her, those things he once found endearing, then irksome, everywhere he looked. He became haunted by them. Yes, a tragic story, but what I took away from it is that love, relationship, connection, can migrate from endearing to irksome if we do not nurture it, always, as we do when it first sprouts. Like a plant, we water it and care for it and sing to it when it is a seedling, but after a season or two, it will no longer flower or thrive unless we continue to care for it. Such are our connections.

As an example, when you kiss your lover, on an “ordinary day”, assuming you kiss every day, is it  a  quick tapping together of the lips, with closed lips and eyes, like second graders in a school play, made to kiss by some cruel story plot, like the conciliatory kiss of a numb and bored couple after thirty years of bland matrimony, or the type of kiss you’d concede to applying on the lips of your great aunt, with her bad fitting, slippery, yellowed, dentures, or to someone a bit too well acquainted, recently, with onions, or not well acquainted, recently (or ever), with dental floss. I was the recipient of the best kind of kiss, just today, after my haunted, sleepless and very thoughtful night. It was warm, sweet, lingering, and loving, and what every kiss between lovers deserves to be.

What is an embrace? A hug? It is not the quick draping of limp arms about ones shoulders with an even quicker retraction, like the lifeless arms of a marionette on strings, thrust up, then dropped, with zero feeling. Do we embrace others as we would a fitful toddler, not our own, covered in snot and the remnants of chewed up graham crackers, or like a congratulatory embrace of an athlete having just finished a very sweaty feat, or of that thrifty uncle who saves money on both water and soap by only imbibing in their application weekly, or so?  A meaningful embrace, a quality hug, is not too loose, not too tight, one that says “you’re welcomed within these arms, but you aren’t being controlled or forced to stay.” An embrace that is long enough in duration for nearly every sense to be engaged and nourished (though I don’t always lick people while they hug me, so the sense of taste may be optional in a “good” hug). A nourishing hug is a hug that is long enough in duration to compliment the level of intimacy of the relationship; a few comforting moments for the snotty, food encrusted, non-related toddler, and the stinky uncle, but perhaps the better portion of half a minute, at least, for your lover. While I don’t whip out a slide rule or my calculator app on my smart phone, some term of time in between is apropos for other special people in our lives.

I had the best embrace, ever, today. A Sunday morning where no one was rushed to be anywhere, me after a poor night’s sleep, and him having an unusually restful night. In the bright morning light, a mutual embrace of uncertain extent, minutes maybe, perhaps an hour, or more. Sweet, loving, wholesome, nurturing, tender, comforting and fortifying. I fell asleep in this perfect hug, four arms enwrapped, and I slept like a child after a long, nightmarish, night and woke feeling completely loved, more rested, and restored. Nearly restored.

Don’t impede opportunities for chance connections to occur; smile at strangers, say hello, hold a door open, shake hands, guide, help carry something for someone overburdened, wave at benevolent drivers, or offer someone the spot in front of you in traffic. Every connection, whether a pinpoint of light or a beacon, has some impact on your life, to acknowledge this, to recognize this and to make as many of these connections as purposefully positive as possible is the path to joy, for you, and for the other dot at the end of the line.

Life is short. Life is uncertain. Life is certainly short. I believe we are so connected with our world, with “the universe”, that things happen for a reason. I believe it is through some level of individual effort and consciousness, through contemplation, that we attempt to discern some of those reasons, those lessons. From this experience, from this story, I have become more aware of the fact that life is fleeting, life is tenuous, and life is what we make of it. Make joy. Through this experience, I realize that many of my connections, my relationships, aren’t receiving as much of my positive energy as they should. Lessons I’ve learned in the past have been fortified; I am grateful for each and every moment as they arrive and as they pass, I am grateful for the people I cherish in my life now, for the connections we have, the connections we will accentuate, I am grateful for the connections I will make in the future, both brief and lasting, and I will make every effort to focus on them, to acknowledge them and to keep practicing drawing the straightest line between two dots I can.

Scarlette Letter – September 11, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I am grateful for good companionship

Affirmation – I am moderate

Attitude – Weary

Activity – Existence

Nurture – Meditation

Enrichment – Quote – “Good health begins in the mind”

Nourishment –

Quick breakfast before work.
Quick breakfast before work.
Great lunch; tart apples, brie, gouda and blackberry balsamic vinegar
Great lunch; tart apples, brie, gouda and blackberry balsamic vinegar
Dinner salad
Dinner salad
Soba and Sunday Sauce for dinner
Soba and Sunday Sauce for dinner

Giving – Good thoughts

Connection – It was a solitary day of work

Simplifying – Simply didn’t further this any today

Journaling – A tail, I mean tale:

Don’t Be Such an Ass

I work with a man. He acts like an ass.

My co-worker is funny and witty and clever. He often says exactly what is on his mind, and, on occasion, he offends someone in so doing, but he isn’t unkind, on the contrary, he is actually quite nice. He just doesn’t know when not to say something. He often says far too much. On conference calls he will talk far too long, or ask too many questions, or in some other way make a brief meeting turn into something much more than brief. And he acts like an ass.  (Continue Reading)

Ups and Downs

I signed up for a half marathon this coming weekend. I hesitated, but finally just did it. Why the hesitation? The course is hilly. Running uphill is hard, and running downhill is jarring. One cannot become a better runner, and we should always be striving to become better, if we don’t overcome our challenges. Or at least attempt to!

If we aren’t improving, we are falling behind. This is true for running, and for all things in life. We are meant to continually seek to improve in every facet of our lives in order to fulfill our potential. It’s this constant drive to grow, learn, and improve that helps us discover our passions, our potential, and our joy.

I went for a hike yesterday, and it was hilly. There were other challenges, like the heat, which made the hills far more intense than normal, for me. I made it back to the car no worse for the wear, and am proud of my accomplishment.

Scarlette Begonia

In hiking and in running, there will always be ups and downs. And, for every up, there is a down, for every down, there is an up. You cannot get back to the car, or home, or whatever your place of origin, without experiencing equal ups and downs.

Life has its ups and downs, too, and while perhaps not quite as equal as in running and hiking, they do tend to cycle fairly regularly, both in short periods of time, say within a single day, or over an extended period, say, oh, life. In life, we can’t simply decide not to register for the race because there are ups and downs, they are there and they must be dealt with. While running up a hill, sure, I can tell myself it isn’t there, try to trick myself, but my legs still work harder, my breath comes faster, my heart pounds harder. The hill is real and nothing I can do will make it go away, that is where the race course has led me.

Interestingly, in hiking and in running, and other pursuits, it is at the very top of the hill and the very bottom of the valley, that we often discover the most amazing views, the most awesome features. Life is not dissimilar, it is in the challenges and the triumphs, the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs, that we find the most growth and reward.

Don’t be afraid of the race, don’t shy away from the hills. Ups and downs are part of the course. Ups and downs are part of life. The more we practice, the better we become at meeting and conquering the challenge. Race on.

Insecurity Blanket

I remember a time when all I wanted was to be secure. I wanted to be certain, to the degree possible, that everything would be perfect, now, and in the future. I remember wishing for security, hoping for security, praying for security, planning for security. I’d go so far as to wish on stars, to hold my breath while driving through tunnels, and beg the universe for security. Security was the word I used to describe my resistance to change, my fear of change. Oddly, though, I wanted some change, but only on my terms, according to my overall plan for lasting security; the bigger house, the acreage, the newer car, a bigger paycheck, better performing investments, more clothes, more shoes, a bigger boat, horses, more pets. Happiness. Security.

Scarlette Begonia

And I was a prisoner. I was a slave. And I was insecure in my quest, my driving desire, for security. Things went according to plan for so very long, but I wasn’t completely happy, and I didn’t feel secure. There was always a sense of unease, uncertainty, at times, feelings of dread and doom.

As the economy worsened several years ago, my empire fell. The worst I could imagine, happened. Everything was lost. Everything material I’d worked for, for my entire adulthood, lost. The real estate, the acreage, the pets, the horses, the boat, my security, and the means to a secure future. But, in that precise moment when I knew it was all gone, I experienced a sense of peace, of calm, of, dare I say, joy. The burden had been lifted, I was no longer a prisoner, I was no longer a slave. I was, for the first time in my life, free. The shackles of security fell to the ground and I ran. I ran, I danced, I sang, my quest for security replaced with a quest for growth, adventure, uncertainty, and joy.

Scarlette Begonia

Since that time, not even a decade later, I’ve left my marriage, I’ve lost a lover, I’ve lost family, I’ve lost friends, children have grown and moved far, far away. Loss is change, and change, is part of life. There is comfort in being comfortable with change, loss, and with insecurity. Life is tenuous, life is exciting, life is not meant to be secure.

Security meant comfort. Comfort meant complacency. Complacency meant a headlong spiral into disaster. Life, now, is moment to moment. Life now is edgy. Life now is adventure and risk. Life now is real. And blissfully insecure. I am happy, almost always.

Oh, sure, I still find myself fretting over potential loss, thinking about “what could go wrong”, what could change in a manner I’m not cool with. And it is only at these moments that unhappiness and discontent seep into my world.

Scarlette Begonia

There is something very liberating in losing all the stuff. I look now, with pity, at people burdened with “all the things”, and ever in anguish about not having more. I’ve found so much freedom and joy in being “stuffless”, I often go through my remaining belongings, pulling things off shelves, out of drawers, bundling them up, and sending them away to become other people’s stuff. The sense of relief, with each and every purge, is indescribable.

Yes, there are “things” I want. I want a stand up paddle board right now. Does my life, my happiness, my sense of success, of purpose, depend on it? No. I can rent one any time. And, sure, I’d love for my current relationship to endure, but this is never a certainty. Do I let the uncertainty of permanence poison the beauty and joy I have right now? God, I try not to, I’m wonderfully imperfect, but I try.

In security, we are hopeless. In insecurity, once we understand it and embrace it, we are free and joyful. Security is imperfect. Security is a myth. Insecurity is growth, it is reality, and insecurity, like many good things in life, requires practice and thought, to understand, to embrace. In a blanket of insecurity, we find ourselves, our true selves; our passion, our joy, life. In a blanket of insecurity, we learn to take risks, to accept the present moment, each as they come, with gratitude. We learn to forsake the past, gleaning only the lessons we’ve learned along the way. We learn not to fret about the future, what will come will be right, in that future moment. We are not in control, and we lose control in our attempt. In insecurity, we have the chance to learn to be youthful, adventurous, and joyful. We learn to actually live.

Scarlette Begonia

So, like a small child with a ratty, old, blanket, required for comfort, for sleep, for security, there comes a time where it must be tossed into the trash. It must be discarded. When we embrace insecurity, blanket ourselves, instead, with the joy and opportunity in insecurity, we learn to live and we find joy.

On Point

I grew up in a typical, suburban, curb and gutters neighborhood, in a cookie cutter house, with manicured lawn, in a small Northern California town. A couple of years ago, I moved back home. Same bedroom, same house, same street, same neighborhood, same town. Though much has changed. There are only a very small handful of “original neighbors”, those people who moved here when the houses were first built nearly fifty years ago. My mom is an original neighbor, now, so am I.

Scarlette Begonia

I took ballet lessons, like most young girls in my neighborhood, from the lady around the corner. An original neighbor, still in the original house. She was a bit strict, but she was passionate about ballet. Her strictness intimidated me some, but I respected her. I needed that strictness, I needed the structure and the discipline of ballet. I was chaos in pink tights and a black leotard, otherwise. She would pick us up from school in her big station wagon. I thought it was so cool to have a station wagon, she had five children, and a flat tummy, strong slender arms, and long, thin, legs. She wore her hair long, tied back in a ponytail, or up in a bun. She looked the part. I was an only child, so the dreamy thought of being part of her family, with so many brothers and sisters, was almost more than I could bear. And they all danced. In the station wagon, after school, every seat was filled with a tiny, young, dancer. After ballet lessons, she’d drive us all home, one by one, around the block, all the neighborhood children. There were other children who attended her ballet school, many other children. They came from other neighborhoods and went to different schools. Ballet school was one of the few places where I made friends with children from other schools and neighborhoods; ballet, Sunday school, honor band, and, in later years, at the stables where I kept my horse.

Scarlette Begonia

I have always been motivated, when interested, and a little bit competitive. I really wanted to move quickly from beginning ballet class, which was held in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the old, repurposed white and pink Victorian house, to the next level. Eventually, I’d be promoted to “the living room”, downstairs, where the real ballet dancers, the “big kids”, practiced, all I wanted in life was to go up “on toe” or “on point”. Being ready to wear toe shoes, that meant you were a “real” ballerina. You attended a different class and got to learn the things the ballerinas who danced in the Nutcracker performed. Once you were up “on point” you got to wear “toe shoes”, which required all kinds of special care and had ribbons that laced up your legs. Once you made it up “on point”, the next thing to aspire for, was to be chosen to be part of the “troupe”. Each summer the ballet troupe got to travel to a faraway place, like Japan, and perform.

Scarlette Begonia

That was all I wanted. No, it wasn’t. There was one thing I wanted slightly more; a horse. A horse of my own. When my eleventh birthday rolled around, I was, I felt confidently, close to going up “on point”. But, as I’d been begging for a horse for as long as I can remember, it may have, in fact, been the first phrase I constructed, “I want a horse”, when I was given the chance to empty my savings account and buy a horse, I jumped at the chance. The only caveat was, since I was purchasing the beast, but lived in a curb and gutters, cookie cutter, suburban, neighborhood, the horse would require boarding. Mom and Dad were going to pay for that. Which, as I was told, meant I could not also have ballet lessons. It was dance, or a horse. I traded in my ballet slippers for cowboy boots. And while I won’t say I ever regretted the decision, I did regret the situation, being made to choose.

In college, after selling my horse, I enrolled, again, in ballet, as a P.E. class, for college credit. It was fun, but I remember nothing about my instructor. He, or she, (I meant it, I don’t remember anything about the instructor) just kind of was there, fulfilling some sort of job description. I don’t remember any passion, or taking away any life lessons. Perhaps I was just beyond my impressionable stage.

To this day, I love dance, and I wish I were better at it. I will often seek out and participate in the new barre fitness classes, they are rooted in the concepts of ballet, but are more contemporary, so, it’s like ballet moves to Zumba loud music, and with instructors I doubt ever trained in ballet, classically speaking. Still a good workout, but no chance to go up “on point” or to perform in Japan.

The youngest of my ballet teacher’s five children was a couple of years younger than me. The next oldest child was in my class in school, from kindergarten clear through high school. Grown up and married and with two sons of her own, she ended up settling, teaching school, and raising her boys, not far from where I raised my family. We connected from time to time when our kids were very young, and met up at class reunions thereafter. Once Facebook became the platform for staying in touch, while she doesn’t have a profile, her husband, also a local boy, does. News is shared.

Scarlette Begonia

The next oldest child is only a year older than me. She, too, is on Facebook. The other two, a bit older, and, in fact, the next oldest, the second oldest of the five, was my first, beginning ballet teacher in the bedroom, upstairs in the repurposed, pink and white Victorian house, downtown.

Scarlette Begonia

I remember being very young, probably even before kindergarten, and the three youngest children would come over to play. While I don’t specifically remember, my mom often tells a tale of the youngest of the five, still in diapers, requiring some attendance with said diaper. We go back that far. He, too, is on Facebook.

Down the street from my ballet teacher lived a family with three kids, one boy a year older than me, a girl, a year behind me in school, and another boy, a couple of years younger than me. Grown now, of course, the youngest is on Facebook, and is, and has always been, best friends with my ballet teacher’s youngest son.

I have been, somewhat purposely, not paying Facebook all that much attention. I go on daily, dole out birthday wishes, quickly scroll through the New Feed, and, truthfully, kind of fed up with the same old, same old, I close out and turn my attention to other more interesting and entertaining social media platforms.

Scarlette Begonia

I recently noticed a few posts about the ballet school, still in the repurposed, white and pink, Victorian house, downtown; they have their own Facebook page, with I began following not too long ago. I often see posts from the two friends, my ballet teacher’s youngest son and the youngest boy from the family a bit further down the block, now, if not fifty years old, darned close. And, they remain close, living not far from one another, sharing activities, and Facebook posts. I enjoy their contributions to the social media platform, more than many. I also saw, fairly recently, a picture of my ballet teacher, her husband, and their two small dogs. All smiles and the picture of familiar vibrancy and joy, my ballet teacher, apparently, was in the hospital and the dogs were “snuck in” for a visit. She looked bright, happy, and, really, quite healthy, so I assumed it was something minor, nothing serious. I did, however, in the weeks that followed, notice old family photos being posted, and photos of her as a performer. Still, I thought little of it. She was several years younger than my own mother, only in her early eighties. The ballet school celebrated its fiftieth year this year, I related the photos to that, and perhaps that was their purpose.

Scarlette Begonia

After a week of self-absorption, with work, and my birthday, and sneaking away for an adventure in celebration of my own dance towards old age, I returned home, and to Facebook, and, partially out of boredom, caught up after checking all the likes and comments on my own, self-indulgent posts of my, recent, “me-centered” life, I scrolled through the News Feed, a little further than I have been, as of late. I was shocked, but not totally surprised, when I saw a post from the best friend, to the youngest son of my ballet teacher. It was lengthy. Lengthy posts are usually a rant, a tirade, or something like that, or, they are really important, meaningful, worthy. As it was authored by someone with a history of worthy posts, I deemed it important enough to stop scrolling and actually read.

She died.

The Facebook post was a lovely, heartfelt tribute to this woman who touched and shaped this man’s life, from the earliest of memory. I immediately clicked through to her youngest son’s profile and Timeline. There were many such posts, and more photos of my ballet teacher, throughout the years; dancing, performing, teaching, some more recently, at the ballet school, in celebration of the fifty years, with family, pictures spanning decades. A woman with five children she gave birth to, and a whole community of children, for generations, that she taught, helped raise.

Scarlette Begonia

I quickly drafted a tribute of my own, then wrote a second one to her daughter’s Timeline. In writing, I reflected and discovered, perhaps for the first time, that I too, was really shaped by the lessons offered by this teacher. That’s what teachers, good teachers, do; they offer lessons. As students, it is entirely up to us to accept them or reject them. A truly good teacher finds a way to deliver lessons in a more acceptable manner. That way, the only way, is through passion.

Scarlette Begonia

In my tributes, both, I told of how I only allowed a handful of people, in my young life, to actually teach me. The rest, I tolerated, and performed at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding the expectation, only for a few did I excel, only for a few did I feel like it mattered. Passion made that difference, perhaps flavored with kindness, sincerity, generosity, and compassion. I can count, on my fingers, the teachers that made that kind of impression, that kind of difference for me, throughout my life, to date. On one hand, I can count the teachers, from my youth, who I still quote often, their voices I hear as clearly as if still speaking, those who offered the lessons I allowed to shape me, to define me, to make me the person I am, and the person I still strive to become. The teachers in whose steps I sought to follow, still seek to follow; my first grade teacher, my third grade teacher, my Girl Scout leader, one of my 4-H leaders, and my ballet teacher. It is in their footsteps, whether in practical loafers, pretty pumps, hiking boots, cowboy boots, or point shoes, I aimed to follow, in raising my own family, in being a youth leader, that I still try to follow, in writing, and in sharing my little stories.

The unspoken lesson these great teachers taught me, I now recognize; it is about passion. A fulfilling and joyful life is based on finding our passion, living our passion, working our passion, and sharing our passion. Without passion as our purpose, we are merely performing at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding expectation. We are going through motions, but we aren’t dancing.

I faithfully follow a YouTube artist and vlogger, I am totally inspired by his talent, but more by his passion, and the example he sets in following his passion. He exudes it. He tells stories, and one in particular, of the person in his life he most admires; his nana. She was a dancer in New York City. She danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall during World War II, and she was absolutely passionate about dance. Her father died of cancer a month before her first Rockettes recital, this shaped her life, her purpose, and her passion. When she married and raised her family, she began to teach tap dancing lessons in the attic of her house. She had seventy students and taught six days a week. Every year, she would hold a recital and the proceeds were all donated to cancer research in honor of her father, in hopes that a cure will be found and there will be no more missed, first, recitals. Out of passion, she taught tap dance, in her attic, six days a week, for 45 years, until she was 92 years old. She taught until the day before she died. That is passion, “on point”.

Scarlette Begonia

The point, I think, is to listen to your heart, to find your passion, that which moves you, causes you to feel like dancing, and then to just keep dancing. In living your passion, you inspire others to seek out and live their passion, that one by one, example by example, we may all someday learn to be “on point”.

Swimming Lessons – Part I

When I was a child, beginning at a very early age, I was enrolled, each and every summer in “Red Cross certified” swimming lessons. My mother was adamant about it, I remember well. I grew up in Napa, north of San Francisco forty or so miles. Perched on the northern most edge of the bay, summer mornings here are usually cold, gray, foggy and overcast. Did I mention cold? About noon, the sun manages to burn through the fog and it actually feels like summer should. I’ve been colder on summer mornings here than I have on winter nights on the east coast, or even the farthest northern reaches of Alaska. It’s a damp, penetrating cold, and there I was, a tiny, skinny, child, in a swim suit, tossed into a pool that couldn’t be heated enough to dispel the chill. Summer after summer, year after year, I learned to swim. I learned to float, I learned to kick, I learned to use my arms effectively. Most importantly, I learned to breathe.

Scarlette Begonia

And I swam. There was a neighborhood pool up the street. The adults on our block all pooled their money, no pun intended, and bought the lot up by the dead end. They formed an association, obtained financing, and built a fabulous pool, complete with a springy diving board. They sold memberships with a nominal monthly fee which paid off the loan, covered operation, maintenance and even provided for a lifeguard all summer long. The lifeguard taught swimming lessons in the morning, and kept us all supervised and out of our parents’ hair each and every afternoon. I swam. I swam every day, every summer.

With all those lessons, and all the swimming I did every summer, when I got to middle school and swimming was a P.E. class activity, I excelled. There were a few P.E. teachers at my middle school, Miss Harlow was my favorite, I thought she looked like Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, but more than that, Miss Harlow was always especially nice to me, she knew my name and encouraged me to learn gymnastics, modern dance and to run hurdles on the track. The other P.E. teachers didn’t even know I existed.

It was in the eighth grade that Qwen arrived, an immigrant from Vietnam. I remember my home room teacher wanted me to sit with Qwen and, I guess, tutor her, that she may learn English and History more quickly. I had no idea how to make that happen! Qwen was in my French class, too, and, again, I was put on task to help Qwen. So, when Miss Harlow asked me to teach Qwen to swim, I wasn’t too shocked, and, more than English, History, and French, I felt like I could actually teach her something! I taught Qwen to float, to kick, to use her arms effectively, and, most importantly, to breathe. The school pool was slightly deeper at one end than the other. We worked in the shallower end for a few days, Qwen was short, I was short and super skinny, the shallow end was appropriate, we could touch the bottom comfortably flat-footed. I remember that our goal was for Qwen to be able to swim across the width of the pool, then the length of the pool, meaning we’d have to traverse the deeper water, where neither of us would be able to touch the bottom of the pool with our tippy toes. Within a week or so, Qwen was swimming across the width of the pool in the shallower end quite confidently. Miss Harlow really wanted to see her progress to swimming the length of the pool. I remember taking Qwen to the deeper end of the pool and trying to explain to her that she didn’t have to do anything different, just swim, just like in the shallow end. We slid into the water and hung onto the ledge. We both set off across the pool, in the deep end. I swam next to Qwen, it just seemed the thing to do. We got about a quarter of the way across, well out of grasp of the ledge. Qwen stopped, for some reason, Qwen stopped. She tried to find the bottom of the pool with her foot and couldn’t. She went under, then flailed wildly, her outstretched hand landed on my shoulder and in a moment, she was climbing on me, trying to get out of the water. I couldn’t touch the bottom, and though short, Qwen was larger and stronger than me. I’d had “junior lifesaving”, I knew you were never to jump in to save a drowning person because they’d pull you under trying to get to the surface. But, here I was. The pool was crowded with other kids, and I don’t think our plight was evident to anyone who mattered. All I could think to do was to flip over on my back and float and hope Qwen would calm down enough to do the same. Still she flailed and pushed me under, trying to stay on the surface. What I ended up doing, was bouncing, going under, hitting the bottom of the pool, and pushing off up and towards the ledge. After what seemed an impossible period of time, I managed to get us both within reach of the ledge.

We all feel like we’re drowning, at some point in our lives. Some of us more frequently than others. Some of us actually do, the waves of life crash into us until we can no longer hold our head above the water, and we slip under. This can manifest in health, both physical and emotional, it can impact all facets of our lives; family, career, friendships, relationships, longevity and quality of life.

If we can apply to life the basics we learn in swimming lessons, we stand a much better chance of floating right through the unavoidable challenges we face. The basics:

  1. Get in the water.
  2. Stay calm. Don’t be afraid. Don’t panic.
  3. Float.
  4. Kick and paddle.
  5. Build confidence.
  6. Breathe.
  7. Be aware. Have respect.

You absolutely cannot learn how to swim until you get in the water. Life is no different. You absolutely cannot learn how to live until you get out there and experience life. Jump in, don’t sit on the edge in fear and watch everyone else from the safety of the shore. Life, like swimming is far more enjoyable for the participants than for the spectators. Life is not a spectator sport, get off the lounge chair and get in the water!

As with most experiences in life, especially new ones, fear can be debilitating. Fear limits us. Like learning to swim in deep water, where you cannot touch the bottom of the pool, life has its risks, uncertainties and perils. Often in life we don’t feel like we can “touch the bottom”, and here, as in swimming, remaining calm is absolutely imperative. Qwen had the skills to swim in the deeper water, but because she panicked, she lost confidence and became fearful.

Learning to float is probably the most important lesson for a beginning swimmer. When you discover you can’t touch the bottom of the pool, when you grow too tired to tread water or kick and paddle, knowing you can float on your back, calmly, atop the water, is a great comfort. I remember the lifeguard who taught me my very first swimming lessons telling me, as I attempted to swim clear across the pool, “if you get tired, flip over on your back and float”. In life, when things get overwhelming, you can take a break and just float for a few moments, until you regain some strength, some energy, some clarity, and continue. For some of us, this may just mean a quiet night at home, a good night’s sleep, meditation, exercise, listening to soothing music, or spending time with friends and family. Whatever it is we do to stop kicking and paddling, to stop treading water, we must do when the time calls for it.

To get anywhere in the water you’ve got to kick and paddle. In a large body of water there may be a current that carries you for a ways, but at some point, the current will cease, or will take you in a direction you do not wish to go. In a pool, without kicking and paddling, you just bob. Or you sink. Life, like swimming, requires forward motion, propulsion, effort, if we are to make any progress.

From the very first swim lesson until the day we master every stroke, we build confidence. Without confidence, in swimming, fear sets in, we either fail to try new strokes, new skills, out of fear, or we panic and try to find a way out of the water. Life, living life, necessitates confidence. It is confidence we rely on when we face a new day, get out of bed, leave the house, and all the very basic things we do. It, too, is confidence we require to learn, to grow, to achieve, and to prosper. Confidence is gained through experience, both in swimming and in life. Confidence is gained in overcoming fear, in calmly pressing on, and with more confidence gained with each lesson, with each new experience, we become masters.

Breathe. In swimming, in most sports, as in life, breathing is critical. How often do we see folks in the water, paddling and kicking, with their face out of the water? Sure, they are making progress, slowly, but it’s the swimmer who breathes rhythmically with his strokes that covers great distances with efficiency and grace. By breathing, in life, I’m not referring to the involuntary inhalations we make that sustain us physically. I’m talking about the deliberate practice of breathing, deeply, rhythmically, calming the mind and awakening the heart. Whether you call this meditation, or practice this walking, standing, sitting, lying down, or during physical exertion, breathing is probably the most basic and beneficial life skill we can adopt.

Swimming, like many active pursuits, requires awareness and respect. Water is dangerous, awareness and respect are necessary. Swimmers need to be aware and respectful of the water itself, the depth, the temperature, the current. Swimmers need to be aware and respectful of their abilities, of the dangers, and of the consequences. In life, too, we have to be aware and respectful of ourselves, of others in our lives, of those around us. We need to be aware and respectful of our surroundings, our physical being, even of the thoughts that cross our mind. Everything influences our well-being, whether it is external or internal. Bringing awareness to all that influences us and building respect for ourselves is second only to breathing.

With swimming lessons we learn to swim, but there really isn’t a “Red Cross certified” series of life lessons we can enroll in. Much of life is by trial and error, by observation, by following examples, or advice, or muddling through and just trying to figure it all out on our own. Like swimming, or other things we are taught, by breaking our activities down, thoughtfully, into “lessons”, or skills, we can achieve the same level of success. So, go on, get in the water, don’t be afraid, don’t panic, kick and paddle, float when you need to, build confidence, and most importantly, breathe, be aware and have respect. Whether you’re in the shallow part of the pool or swimming in the surf, the skills you master from these very basic lessons will ensure your safety and survival. So, too, in life. Dive in.

What’s the Difference?

I know. It’s been a while. Right?  I’ve been busy.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve been sliding down a slippery slope of deteriorating self-respect and climbing the mountain of self-destructive behaviors. I’ve been having fun, and, at the same time, feeling like shit in every imaginable way.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve been overindulging and, in the process, undermining everything I’ve worked for and everything I value and believe in, leaving me to question, all over again, my self-worth.

An Effort to Evolve

Why do I feel so out of sorts, why do I feel so negative, why am I having feelings of self-loathing? I catch myself, several times a day, at every turn, thinking, or saying out loud, “I really don’t care.” What’s the difference, anyway?

An Effort to Evolve

  Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic. Things aren’t that bad. I’m just heading down the wrong  path.

An Effort to Evolve

I went hiking a week or so ago with a friend I met in Alaska. She recently relocated to Northern California, a couple of hours away from where I live, and we’ve been trying to stay connected. She has similar interests in hiking and outdoor pursuits as I do. Other than my kids, there are only a handful of folks I know who are willing to hike as hard, as long, or as far as I. She is one in that very small handful. She is also twenty years younger than I. As I often say, “there just aren’t any young people my age.”

An Effort to Evolve

We hiked about twelve miles on a very narrow, single track trail, in the hills east of the town of Calistoga, overlooking the Napa Valley. We encountered four snakes in our travels. I was in the lead and, being a Northern California girl, I am well-schooled in keeping an eye on the trail immediately in front of me, watching the ground exactly where my foot is going to land.

An Effort to Evolve

There are no snakes in Alaska, and my hiking partner’s only experience with snakes, while hiking, was in Peru, where the snakes tend to be overhead, dangling from tree limbs. Snakes on the path that resemble sticks across the trail were a whole new experience for her. We were both glad I lead. Three of the four snakes I spotted, politely exited the trail as we approached. The first we encountered, though, stubbornly stretched across the trail, with a steep incline to our right, masked in poison oak, and a steep drop to our left, also festooned with poison oak. I tossed a couple of pebbles at the snake, but it didn’t take the hint. We considered climbing up and around, or scrambling down and around, enduring the wrath of the rash over the possibility of a snakebite.  Earlier in the week, on a solo hike, I encountered a snake that behaved in much the same manner. I ended up backing up a distance, sprinting and doing an Olympic long jump over the snake. Today’s trail really didn’t allow for such athletic feats. Ultimately, I found a stick nearby and gently lifted the snake off the trail, tossing the stick and the snake down into the ravine a few yards so we could safely pass.

An Effort to Evolve

Other than snakes, the only other trouble we encountered was losing the trail back to the car. After six hours and nearly ten miles of rugged trail, and having not eaten since breakfast, as late afternoon began to turn to evening, we found ourselves on a trail that just seemed to be heading in the wrong general direction. We retraced our steps a couple of times, tried to pick up an alternate trail, and reasoned that, perhaps, we were on the right path afterall, unfamiliar though it seemed. We’d encountered very few hikers during the course of our day, and none were about presently. As we retraced our steps a few times over, we remained calm, applied some reason, a bit of logic, and, surveyed the hills that rose around us several different times. There was a scar on a hill that appeared to either be the result of water runoff and erosion, or an unusually steep trail. We’d discounted the scarred patch of earth earlier, as it, too, seemed to head in a direction we weren’t entirely comfortable with, but, we decided to reconsider, as other options didn’t manifest. Upon reaching the scarred patch of earth, we could see it was littered with footprints, far more than the other trails we’d been picking up in our attempt to get back to the car. We followed the steep path up the hill, leaving, now, our own set of footprints, and, after cresting the hill found ourselves on the familiar, wide path leading directly back to the parking lot.

An Effort to Evolve

It was the wisdom we’d acquired through experience, and our ability to remain calm, apply reason, and logic, and our willingness to try several options, admit our error, and try more options, that ultimately led to our success. We tried different things and found the right path.

An Effort to Evolve

So, I recognize now, that I’m headed down the wrong path, metaphorically. The path is easy, like a straight, flat, paved sidewalk, but I know, it will lead to misery. I could stumble along, endlessly, effortlessly, still moving along, but really, just going through the motions. Or, I could stop, remain calm, apply some reason and logic, and change my course to reach greater heights, majestic views, journeying impressive distances and experiencing challenges, triumphs and adventures that few realize. This is the path I’ve always desired, this is the path I’ve travelled before. Before taking a wrong turn. I’m choosing the narrow, steep, serpent strewn trail less traveled, now, over the straight, paved, sidewalk. The adventure begins. The adventure continues. Today. If you want things to be different, then things have to be different.

That’s the difference.

Got Baggage?

baggage

I travel quite a bit for both work and pleasure. I am a frequent flier, complete with award miles to spend, TSA Pre-Check benefits, priority boarding with three different airlines, and free checked bags. I have travelled for work for almost seven years, now, and have evolved in my preferences over that time. Originally, I did all “carry-on”. For a few years, I compromised style and comfort for the total inconvenience and sheer hell of dragging my miniscule suitcase everywhere with me. On more than one occasion, I ran from airport gate to gate at a clip so desperate, my roller board didn’t roll so well, and because I was in such a hurry and already burdened with my overstuffed computer bag (backpack), I simply drug it along, on its side behind me. Once, my carry on suitcase teetered off the escalator step, and, failing to simply let go of it, to avoid taking out the folks on the steps below me, I clenched the handle and, ever so slowly, lost my balance until it pulled me down several steps into a heap on the floor. I landed atop my suitcase, at the foot of the escalator, in some airport, somewhere. Seattle, I think. But, because I was all “carry-on”, I never lost my bags. My bags and I always arrived at the same airport at the same time. But, I had to deal with jockeying my way on to the airplane at the earliest point in time in order to secure adequate space in the overhead bins for my “as large as permissible and wholly over packed” roller board bag. Talk about stress! And I made no friends in the boarding area when it came time for my boarding zone to be called.

luggage stuffing

I was at a company meeting in Chicago a few years back, arriving late, exhausted, bags in tow. I met a couple of late arriving co-workers in the elevator and one such co-worker had with him, the largest, orangest, suitcase I have ever seen in my life, accompanied by another orange suitcase, nearly as large, one I would have considered “the largest ever”, before this encounter. Our company meeting was to be only three days. I couldn’t help but comment. My co-worker, a larger than life gay man with a particular way of doing everything, who is oft quoted as saying “sounds like a you problem”, filled me in on his big baggage policy. In his behemoth, orange suitcases, he has room to bring his favorite, down, pillow, from home and all the other creature comforts he cherishes (I didn’t ask for any more details). Life on the road should not equate to compromise, he stated. I nodded. True. How true! Another co-worker, also an adorable gay man, always checks his bag, though more reasonable in size, because he likes to bring “full-size” bottles of shampoo and contact lens solution. “I hate refilling little plastic bottles all the time.” I nodded. Right. How right! Yet another co-worker always checks her bags because she distrusts hotel linens, and, so, packs her own Egyptian cotton linens of an absurd thread count, whenever/wherever she goes. And finally, the shoe diva, a co-worker with an insatiable appetite for very expensive shoes, had an impressively sized, auxiliary, suitcase, checked, of course, for “just shoes”. Suddenly, my life seemed so inadequate, so dismal, so sparse, so compromised; jostling tiny little plastic refillable bottles in their entirely too small quart sized 3-1-1 bag, one pair of “practical shoes” (a synonym for “ugly” in the language of footwear), no work-out clothes, only one bra, no satin pillow case, no favorite bottle of wine, all TSA compliant and a pain in the ass to drag around from gate to gate, terminal to terminal, airplane to airplane, overhead storage bin to overhead storage bin. It was then and there that I began my baggage evolution.

Staff members try to move huge trolley case during Chinese Export Commodities Fair in Guangzhou

I am now the proud owner of my second set of matchy-matchy, wine colored, Samsonites, one slightly smaller than the other, but both, in combination, in volume, close to the largest suitcase I’ve ever seen! Yes, I have already worn one set of suitcases out, we can actually thank a TSA agent in BFE, Montana, for finally busting the zipper on my road-worn suitcase. Why he felt he “had” to search it, I don’t know. What, the next massive terror attack is going to originate at a Tuff Shed size airport in BFE, Montana? I digress.

thanks TSA

In my suitcases, I carry with me, now, every creature comfort I desire; a bottle of wine for every two days I will be away from my wine cellar (which, truthfully, consists of a single, cardboard, box in my garage), corkscrew, and squishable, plastic, stemless, wine glasses, a champagne/large format beer bottle closure, a bar of exquisite dark chocolate, a bag of my favorite cereal, dried apricots, almonds, a cutting board and paring knife, a couple of really cute, plastic bowls, for my cereal yogurt, a coffee-press-coffee-mug, satin pillow cases, fuzzy wuzzy slippers, every pair of shoes/boots I feel I may be in the mood for, multiple sweaters and jackets, work out clothes, athletic shoes and a yoga mat. Once, I even brought dumb bells, when I knew I was going to be in a hotel sans a fitness center and away from home for three consecutive weeks. And I am now, feverishly, on a quest for a small, battery operated, coffee bean grinder.

IMG_3079

For years, like two, I never suffered from the plague called “lost bags”. Every time I got off the plane and headed for the baggage carousel, there were my two wine colored Samsonites with their “Priority” tags affixed, spinning slowly, around the conveyer. In the past year, though, I have arrived a day or so before my luggage on more occasions than I can count. Knock wood, I have not, yet, had my treasured wine-colored bags and cherished contents permanently lost. Does that actually happen?

baggage 4

You may be thinking I have too much stuff, she who supposedly embraces minimalism, and while that may seem the case, I do have everything I need, and plenty of options, too. On too many occasions, when traveling more sparsely packed, I have had to purchase a pair of shoes, tights, slacks, a sweater, toiletries, wine, purses, scarves, and, yes, on more than one occasion, an extra suitcase to haul the new loot home. Now that I am habitually over packed, I am ready for anything. I love spontaneity, and one must be prepared for spontaneity! One must be adequately prepared for spontaneity! You can’t go out target practicing in the boonies in heels and a skirt, you can’t go on an impromptu airboat ride in a business suit, and you can’t go to a fine dining establishment in soiled, holy jeans and a wife-beater. I pack for all occasions. On all occasions.

baggage 2

In a further attempt to avoid arriving with full bags, but minus some, one, critical item, I have taken to buying triplicate of toiletries, hair styling appliances, corkscrews and bottle closures, and such; home use, suitcase, gym bag. I keep little bags of organic, whole, raw almonds EVERYWHERE! My computer bag, my running pack, my suitcases (both), my purse, my gym bag, my desk drawer, my cupboard, of course, in the glove box of my car, and, I believe I saw a bag in the center console of my car, too. I was a Boy Scout leader for over a decade; I embrace preparedness beyond reason. My bags, now, are never quite unpacked. I do immediately remove my clothes, no matter the time of day I return from my trip, and dutifully launder them. I’m not one to keep smelly, dirty clothes, festering in my suitcase. I may need them again, soon, and I’d like them clean and ready to go. Besides, who wants to open a suitcase full of stinky, dirty, clothes three weeks, three months, or three years after they arrived home? I never put my bags in storage, they are always rolling about in my room, always at the ready, always in the way, a constant reminder of the lifestyle I lead.

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Yes, I check my bags, as many as I can, as full as I can possibly pack them. Yes, they have been temporarily lost, but, I still say, it’s all worth the risk. More often than not, I am all comfy at my destination in my fuzzy slippers, sipping a fine glass of wine, or walking about wearing a lovely pair of shoes and an adorable sweater, after a great workout and a hot shower with all my favorite potions and lotions, my industrial quality blow dryer, straightening iron, and curling iron infused with Moroccan argan oil. It’s totally worth the risk. It’s totally worth the effort. It’s totally worth the expense. I finally got tired of a compromised experience, travelling from, living from, a tiny suitcase, week after week, month after month, limiting my risk, limiting my quality of life, while on the road.

baggage 3

I almost always arrive to spend some quality time with someone special to me, only to be greeted with something like, “shit, girl”. Yes, this is my shit. Yes, I’m a girl.

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I have baggage. In the literal sense and in the figurative sense. And don’t we all. For what it’s worth, I manage by baggage pretty well. I can pack my suitcases to precisely fifty pounds, and not an ounce more, I lift them in and out of the trunk of the car by myself, on and off the shuttle bus, and up and down stairs both at home and at some hotels where the elevator is of questionable mechanical integrity. I’d like to say the same about my figurative baggage. I manage. Though it may look as large, bold, and unwieldy as my large, purple suitcases, with the zippers barely holding shit in, but likewise, I’ve got it all handled. Like the Samsonite gorilla.

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The “baggage” we are carry, often, is a result of taking risks in life, in love, in employment, in experiences. The “baggage” we carry almost always provides us with the catalyst to learn, to grow, to become greater that we once were. Hurt, perhaps, lost, a for a little bit, like a misplaced suitcase, but whole, again, with a little time and the right attitude. And, like a suitcase, the baggage we carry, can be unpacked, laundered, and put away when we’re ready. Living life without taking risks is much like trying to live for a week out of a puny piece of luggage; a fairly unenjoyable experience. Risk is to reward what caution is to compromise. And, usually, baggage.

baggage 5

Too often I hear people dismiss people, acquaintances, would be dates or lovers, job applicants or friends, because they “have too much baggage”. May I just say, if you think you don’t have baggage, you are a) incorrect b) tempting fate c) in for big trouble d) in denial. Baggage, in life, equates to “troubles”, of course, “trials”, “problems”. Please, really, tell me, who is completely free of troubles, trials, or problems, ever, in their whole life? Only fibbers, braggarts, and liars. And, perhaps, like beauty, those troubles, trials and problems are merely in the eye of the beholder. We all have scars, we all have baggage. To be so closed minded as to label someone as having too many troubles, trials, problems to be worthy of friendship, of acquaintance, of employment, of companionship, is really, quite cruel. And limiting. And foolish. For, in my experience, from my own experience, and in observation of many, people of admirable wisdom, people with the most self-worth, self-confidence, and, by far, the best stories, are those who’ve handled the most “baggage”. So, “shit, girl”, you bet!

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May You Never Realize Your Dreams

As 2014 passes into history later this eve, I, as always, look ahead with hope, joy and a sense of adventure. In the half light of dawn, snuggled in my cozy bed, without the worry of an imminent alarm clock, vague, dreamy thoughts become compelling and from this, much of what I write about is born. And so it was this morning, as I drafted, in my mind, a thank you note I am going to write today.

I received a very unexpected and thoughtful Christmas gift from the man I loved for the past few years, the man I parted ways with a few months ago. I offered, I promised, on our parting, my enduring friendship and respect and hoped for the same in return. A gift, I did not expect, but it confirms, now, for me, the dream of a friendship is real. Today I will write my customary “thank you” note, as I always do, as an expression of gratitude and appreciation. With this particular thank you note, though, will be included a wish for the new year, and, hopefully, for every new year thereafter.

The gift; a fly-fishing reel and a couple of books about fly-fishing.

I’ve never considered myself patient enough to fish, and, in particular, fly fish. During the adventures of our relationship, I was introduced to the sport and found it to be exciting, exhilarating even. Fly fishing requires a great deal of thought, strategy, and action which stimulates the mind, set in a pristine, natural environment, which nurtures the soul. I began to dream of becoming a more accomplished fly fisherperson. The gift made me realize that dreams, though they may change shape and form, unexpectedly, endure. The gift also made me realize that I know many people who dream, but only a few who dare to pursue their dreams. The gift struck me, in this respect, because one of the fundamental differences between the bearer of the gift, and myself, is my commitment to lofty, impractical, dreams and his practical abandonment of anything impractical and unrealistic.

Dreams. As I first began to draft the thank you note in my sleepy mind, I planned to say something like, “May this be the year you realize your dreams”. But, on reflection, from my own experience, I recanted. Realizing our dreams isn’t what a joyful life is about. A joyous life is about pursuing our dreams, joy is in the journey, not the acquisition. So, after some reflection, I’ve decided my thank you note will read something more like this;

“May this new year be the year you begin to follow your dreams. Dreams do not depend on time or money, but on the imagination for conception, on a quiet and open mind for discernment, on a grateful and courageous heart for the pursuit, and on a joyful and adventurous soul for the journey. Dreams are not about possessions or accomplishments, but about the pursuit, the journey, the thrill, the joy, the adventure, and the love we experience, the lessons we learn, and the life we live, along the way. May you never realize your dreams, but instead, relish in every step of your journey in following them.”

I’ll probably continue to tweak the words, here and there, but it is this sentiment that I want to bestow, not just to the bearer of gifts, but to all of you! Happy New Year! May you never realize your dreams!

 

Amazeballs

I believe in love. I believe in great love. I believe in amazeballs love.

I’ve been through periods of cynicism regarding love, and relationships, after a long, lifeless, loveless marriage, which, truthfully, is still in the death throes of divorce proceedings. Through a subsequent friendship, a long, flirtatious, friendship and much, much, convincing, not on my part, I found love again. The kind of love that overcame objections, a number of large obstacles; timing, money, distance, family, career, and so, was a great love.  It had amazeballs potential.

But now, even as that love withers and dies, trapped behind the very obstacles it once surpassed, I find myself only bitter in momentary fits. Only when alone, without music, and a project to occupy my mind. Across several thousand miles, I manage to feel the void, tangibly. I have  grown, matured, evolved. Maybe. Or I am delusional. Not. Perhaps I have overcome some personal obstacles and, now, find I still have faith and hope that love is pure, that it is possible and, maybe even, in the right conditions, lasting. And that love can be amazeballs.

Funny to come to the conclusion that love has the potential to last in the face of yet, another relationship, dying a young and tragic death. Perhaps it is in the autopsy, the forensic exhumation and dissection of that corpse that I discover my hope spring.

Obstacles.

Obstacles
Obstacles

I’m on a plane, now, near the back. I just made it. Moments ago, I was on another plane, near the back. As we landed in Minneapolis and started to deplane, I observed the obstacles ahead of me. My connecting flight to Chicago was already boarding. My flight to MSP landed in the far reaches of the C terminal, my flight to Chicago was departing from the G terminal. The Moment the chime sounded, everyone leapt to their feet and into the aisles of the aircraft, all anxious to deplane. Even the elderly woman who, earlier, required assistance just to stand, sprang to her feet with shocking agility, ahead of me. Not that I would push aside anyone, I just kind of thought she’d require assistance, a wheelchair, an attendant, maybe, to make her way to, and then up the jet bridge. As the passengers slowly, oh so slowly, gathered their belongings and filed towards the door, I, again, glanced at the time. The elderly woman was finally able to move forward and apparently, the energy she expended in jumping to her feet was all she had. She crept. Crept, crept towards the door. I am sympathetic, in the most anxious manner, but, still, sympathetic. Once, finally, at the door of the aircraft, more obstacles; a child seat in the midst of the path, the elderly woman stopped abruptly for the wheelchair that had been brought. Three attendants were assisting her, straddling the random child seat and wholly blocking the jet bridge. I went all “track and field” and hurdled the baby seat. And ran. Well, no, walked briskly.

Obstacles
Obstacles

I began my very long journey from arriving gate to departing gate. Sign after sign, moving walkway after moving walkway. Obstacle after obstacle. Passengers milling about, dazed, confused, drunk, I don’t know, but they were in my way! The moving walkways have a code, implied or expressed; stand to the right, walk to the left. Here, it is expressed, a sign hangs over each of the numerous, and I do mean numerous, moving walkways. The moving walkway itself is divided by a yellow line, not unlike a roadway, with “stand” and “walk” painted at intervals. The walkers, today, were leisurely strollers. First, could there be a “run” lane? And, second, what is the protocol for passing? Passing these obstacles. The only time I have ever missed a connecting flight, solely because of the distance between gates, was as this very airport. The only time, ever, in nearly seven years of frequent travel. I made it, of course, just as my boarding group was called, and, per my modus operandi, I was the first of my boarding group to board. I am skilled at this maneuver, not always proud of my tactics, but skilled, and somewhat insistent. More obstacles, overcome.

This not a smiley face, this is the MSP marathon I ran today. So many obstacles!
This not a smiley face, this is the MSP marathon I ran today. So many obstacles!

Obstacles. If only we were all masters, all so committed to overcoming them, littering our path with obstacles to whatever it is we’ve set our sights on, whatever it is we hope to achieve.

Obstacles kill love. Obstacles killed my own amazeballs potential love. Hey, don’t look at me, I was going all “track and field” on those obstacles, too! But obstacles, also, once made it great. So, per my examination, in my coroner’s report, I shall claim that obstacles were both the cause of death, and the cause of life, for this newly deceased love. I shall attempt to explain my hypothesis.

I believe that love, without challenges, without resistance, without obstacles, is doomed to a brief and fleeting existence. A flash in the pan. Not much more than an infatuation, requited, for a period. There is nothing to cause the love to grow, to overcome, it was created in perfection, in an idyllic setting, and had nowhere to go, nowhere to evolve, no reason to grow. Similar to the vineyards I live near that produce great wines; if the vines struggle, the fruit is superior. Weather, poor soil, other climatic hostilities, all cause the vine challenges and it’s these types of challenges that make the best fruit and therefore, the best wine. At the end of two years of severe drought, a devastating earthquake, a horrendous hail storm, the grapes just harvested this year are reported to be very, very good. In the face of adversity, growth and great success.

When Love is Greater than Obstacles, love can be AMAZEBALLS!
When Love is Greater than Obstacles, love can be AMAZEBALLS!

If obstacles can both cause love to flourish, and to die, then how does one survive when the other fails?

I believe it has to do with the ability of the lovers to take on the obstacles before them, between them. To adapt to change, to accept the circumstances before them, between them, and to persevere. Overcome. And bear amazeballs fruit. When love is put before the obstacle, ahead of the obstacle, as the reason to persevere, then, in that struggle, the climatic hostilities, the love struggles, flourishes, and then thrives. It amasses greater strength and resiliency, becomes hardier and far sweeter. It’s when the obstacles are put in front of the love, by one lover, the other, or both, as an obstacle to growth, an obstacle to perseverance, that love is blocked, like a dam in a stream, or a barricade in a road, blocking one lover from the other, cutting off the circulation, like a blockage in an artery. And then the death.

Why, then, does a couple, once capable of putting their love before the obstacles, then, change, and allow the very same obstacles to destroy the energy and hope in love they once shared? Why do people turn from challengers of obstacles to prisoners? Conquerors to victims? Trapped, helpless, hopeless, pathetic. This, I’m afraid, is the mystery I can’t yet solve. Why the change of heart? Like a man digging a tunnel to the richest vein of gold, and giving up an inch too soon. Maddening, tragic, incomprehensible. But, human, I suppose. Tragically, tragically human.

We were so close. It was right there. The richest vein of gold.

Diamonds from coal. It isn’t instant. It isn’t just a little while. But, wow, is it ever worth the wait!

The ability to tackle obstacles, really, is the key to all success, not just the success of love. No one ever achieved greatness with ease. Ever. Without exception. In every account of phenomenal success, the trail has been littered with obstacles, obstacles that were overcome, obstacles that others shrunk away from, cowered before, withered at the sight of. The great, the mighty, the successful, and the wise, challenge those obstacles with great effort, intensity and tenacity.

Every failure, large and small, is the result of an obstacle meeting an unwilling opponent. Without exception. Without exception.

Lottery winners, in more instances than not, end up worse off than before their great fortune. Fortune is only, truly, a fortune, I believe, when the result of toil, trial, tribulation and tragedy. Obstacles. A great many obstacles.

Seekers of amazeballs, lasting and lustrous love, those of us willing and able to tackle an Everest, a K2, a Mt. McKinley, to cross an ocean, a frozen tundra, a continent, Canada, a time zone, for the sake of the sweetest most divine fruit, how do we find one another? How do we identify each other? Is there a code word, a secret handshake? Or do we just continue to suffer with the weak, the meek and the timid of heart. Is that our challenge? And what fruit will be borne of it? Will we either find that other great conqueror, or become lonely, half crazed, prophetic, poets?

When Obstacles are Greater than Love, it dies
When Obstacles are Greater than Love, it dies

Are we, “adventurers in love”, then, if we are willing to challenge obstacles to sweeten the fruit? Are we more amenable to change, to challenge, to adversity, generally speaking, than those willing to let a great love die, repeatedly bashing it against the same little rock?  What sets us apart?

Am I alone in begging for change? I crave change? It is a fact that I sat on my “tuffet” the other night, meditating, or praying, some may say, for change. I prayed over and over and over, “change everything.” I guess I got what I asked for. And I can’t exactly go back and say, “no, wait, let me rephrase that! That’s not what I meant.” Ah, but, I shall be stronger, and wiser, and perhaps more successful for it, though. Perhaps? No, I am certain.

And as I shake my head in disbelief, fighting off those occasional fits of bitterness, and anger, loneliness, longing, and emptiness, I seek solace, solace in knowing that being dumped by someone so weakened by the passage of time, like I have an expiration date or something, and the perceived “insurmountability” of a few, wee, obstacles, obstacles I have been wailing at with pick, axe and shovel, and making huge progress towards obliterating, is probably a blessing. Such limitations may have prevented me adventures I crave, my wanderlust, compromised my passion to spread my wings, to experience, to see, to do, to be. To be in amazeballs love, someday!