Sunday, September 30, 2012

Piecing Puzzling Pieces

I’ve always enjoyed puzzles. The mindlessly simple ones, to the ones that make you think, to the ones that blow your mind – I like them all. I thoroughly enjoy the concept of taking lots of little images and seeing how they all come together to create the big picture. Some obviously take longer than others, but the fix I get from the “voila” moment when clarity strikes always makes it worth it. There is only one problem with my puzzling habit – I am a chronic user of the box. I want to know what I’m looking for, I want to see the big picture before it’s created, and I want to know – more than anything else – that I’m headed in the right direction. Simple, right? Sure – if only it were actual puzzles I was referencing.

Rule number one – nothing is ever as easy as you hope it will be… especially when there are no instructions. There are not many things about my life that I would go back and change – I mean that. I have learned a lot from where I’ve been and I’m not sure that going back to re-hash or re-do anything would be worth the risk of losing what I know now that I didn’t know then. I firmly believe there is a reason your windshield is bigger than your rearview mirror - however comma there are days where I really wish I could look further ahead… and this is one of them.

I have a lot of ambitions. I always have, I suspect I always will. They are ever-changing as I progress in life and again, they always have and I suspect they always will. I have wanted to be a forensic investigator, a veterinarian, a psychologist, a massage therapist, a writer, an artist, a head chef at a 5 star restaurant, a photographer, an interior designer, a band director, a public relations guru – but the one thing I’ve unwaveringly wanted to be for longer than I can remember is a Mom.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I have fought tooth and nail for this right for more years than I’d like to think about. I have been a case study, a cutting board, a mystery, a lecture topic… you name it. I have been treated extensively for endometriosis, and five years and four surgeries later, have found myself, yet again, back at square one. There is nothing more depressing than the moment the pain returns… the pain that is indicative of the imminent downward spiral you’re headed for. There is nothing to be done about it – its cyclic and it doesn’t go away… unless you have a baby, or a hysterectomy… and those, my friends, are the two choices I am rapidly approaching as my only options.

As you can imagine, that went over about like a led balloon. I mean, could continue to have relatively minor surgeries that impose substantial damage to my body for minimal relief, but approaching the fifth surgery, one has to be a realist - at what point is enough, enough? There are a lot of risks associated with not taking conclusive steps in making this go away, but for the same reasons I am nowhere near ready to be married, I am not ready for a baby. Granted, odds are I won’t be able to have one anyways, but I am 100% less than ready to give up on that permanently… It is physically painful to watch parents of kids who so obviously don’t want to be bothered by raising them knowing that I may never have what they never wanted.

But what if there is a flipside to all of this? If I take a giant step back and take an objective look at my life there is one subliminal message that is blatantly obvious. The last thing family is defined by is DNA. The times when I have had less than desirable relationships with my biological family cultivated a deep appreciation for people who so effortlessly became the family I was in desperate need of. I celebrate more people each Mother’s day than the average person celebrates in a lifetime – the most beautiful part of that statement is that half of them are mothers, the others are not. They are each incredible women who have shone a motherly light in my life whether they held the title or not… I am eternally grateful for their light because it is in these moments that their illumination permeates the darkness of probable reality with hope.

What if all of these people who have stood in front of me, beside me, and behind me through thick and thin were lighthouses amongst a sea of people who will need someone to do the same for them? Come to think of it, so many of the people I love and care deeply about have fought their own battles in this arena and/or have adopted children who would have been in the world of parents who simply couldn’t be bothered to care. There is no black and white here. I am trying to solve the puzzle without giving the bigger picture a chance. Don’t get me wrong - if push comes to shove and biology fails me, there will we a deep sadness in the crater where the bottom of my world used to be… it is inevitable - but this isn't the end of the road. It is the letting go of a lifelong dream, but it’s not letting go of THE dream. I have witnessed love withstand the war that family cannot… and I have seen family cultivated where love was not.

It’s painfully obvious that there is no box to look at, no instructions, no dimensions – nothing. I don’t know how this will end up and I don't know what I'll do because I don't know what to do. I wish I could see ahead here, but I cant. I don’t have to make any decisions today - but I can’t not think about it. Instead I’m going to choose to think about it in a way that allows love to come from wherever it may. Mother’s day may never be a holiday I see the other side of, but I’m going to hope, fiercely, that I may be a light for others that so many have been for me. I am not looking forward to what appears to be inevitable, but I am going to try my best to take a backseat to the bigger picture – because the only way to piece the puzzling pieces is to be at peace with every piece. I'm not yet, but I am trying. I always feel like the beginnings of this downward spiral are like taking a step into a dark tunnel… but I think its time for me to start taking the advice I’ve been giving to everyone else.

“Never lose sight of the light that it always at the end of the tunnel. Follow the light to wherever it may lead you – let the rest of the pieces fall into place where they may.”

Saturday, September 1, 2012

101 things I learned from Route 101

      The road from Tucsan, Arizona to Novato, California is long but so breathtakingly beautiful. A lot of that drive takes place on or near US Route 101, a road I found to be particularly loaded with inspiration. So, in an effort to give pause to the many things I learned along the way, here are 101 observations, lessons, experiences & thoughts that I gleaned on my journey from the East to the West.
1)     Desert Storms are simply indescribable.
2)     Juxtaposition is the 8th wonder of the world.
3)     Even if you only bloom for a day, it’s worth waiting for your whole life.
4)     Beauty is everywhere. Find it in everything and everyone – including yourself.
5)     The desert is a place of survival – any human could stand to learn a thing or two from the things that survive.
6)     Find a passion and pursue it wholeheartedly – inspired by a 12 year old tiny dancer. 
Photo by Stephanie Koehler
7)     Good people forgive accidents, really good people forgive accidentally dumping Dr. Pepper all over their entire house.
8)     Each of us has something to offer one another.
9)     Read the newspaper, but question everything you read.
10)  Drink coffee, for the love of God, drink coffee – and drink coffee with others.
11)  Initiate inquisitive small talk over coffee – you may find it to be more awakening than the caffeine it’s loaded with.
12)  Breathe deeply in the presence of good air. You need more oxygen than you think.
13)  Be flexible. 
14)  Appreciate your body. Treat it well. Push your limits, but accept your limitations.
15)  “Wear Sunscreen”:
16)  Eat at In and Out burger at least once in your life… more if possible.
17)  Seek out Whole Foods and eat better than you usually do when you’re able.
18)  Screw the box of chocolates: Life is like a bag of onions, so are people. You can’t see what’s inside unless you peel away the layers.
19)  Don’t be afraid of peeling said layers, especially your own.
20)  Wear your seatbelt. Life is a bumpy ride with lots of blind turns.
21)  Sometimes good people let you down, but sometimes, good people are actually great people.
22)  Appreciate the times in your life when you find yourself in really good company. “The world will give you that once in awhile, a brief timeout; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life.” –The Secret Life of Bees
23)  Buy a map – figure out how to use it.
24)  Play in the sand, even if you aren’t dressed appropriately.
25)  Take time to smell the flowers – especially lavender.
26)  Shoot out of the sunroof – you really do miss 100% of the shots you never take.
27)  Always, always, always say thank you. Showing gratitude is so important.
28)  Cursive is a lost art form, embrace it.
29)  Observe with your ears.
30)  Learn with your eyes.
31)  Listen with your heart.
32)  Work with your hands – help with them too.
33)  Love with your soul.
34)  Live fearlessly – no regrets.
35)  Respect large bodies of water. 
36)  Cross bridges, but always look both ways…
37)  Stop for pedestrians, they’re going somewhere too.
38)  Pull up your pants, you don’t want to be put on someone’s team. ;)
39)  Do one thing every day that scares you.
40)  Greet new places with enthusiasm and release any expectations upon arrival.
41)  Turn off your screens at least once a day – while you’re sleeping doesn’t count.
42)  Be where you are when you’re there. Be present. 
43)  Thou shall not lament for where you are not.
44)  Sometimes you have to disengage to engage – let it go & let it be.
45)  Tides come and go – let them wash away what they came for.  
46)  Don’t apologize for re-charging your batteries.
47)  In order to be good to others you must first be good to yourself.
48)  Listen to new music and embrace it.
49)  At new restaurants, find something on the menu that looks vaguely familiar then take a risk.
50)  Give pause to tragedy other than your own. It breaks and binds us all. 
51)  Tell stories, but more importantly, listen to them.
52)  Preserve the relationships you have with good people – they will be your pillars.
53)  Take a lesson from the Redwoods. They grow in a circle. Stick together.
54)  Don’t criticize others, empathize. You have no idea what you would have done in their shoes, so don’t be a fool by trying to fool yourself.
55)  Be kind to animals.  
56)  Focus on the things that matter, forget the things that don’t.
57)  Always be prepared. You never know who you’re going to run into…
58)  If you have the ability to make someone else’s life easier, do it. Why wouldn’t you?
59)  Support local businesses.
60)  Appreciate genuinely good food.
61)  Eat food where it comes from whenever you can. 
62)  Take pictures. Lots of them. You can’t get the moment back, but you can look back fondly.
63)  Read the signs.
64)  Break stereotypes.
65)  Always carry cash.
66)  Work hard, play hard, party harder.
67)  Hand-write letters. It’s becoming such a rarity.
68)  You get what you pay for.
69)  Take red eyes home – they’re worth the time.
70)  Carpe Diem – all day, every day.
71)  Learn from previous generations every chance you get.
72)  You don’t need as much of anything as you think you do.
73)  Center yourself. Finding a balance is more important than you think.
74)  Everyone needs something to believe in.
75)  Look for inspiration in unexpected places. 
76)  Always travel with your pillow.
77)  When you feel like your head is in the clouds walk barefoot – its always good to know whether or not you’re feet are on the ground.
78)  Good news is best received when totally unexpected.
79)  Home is wherever you find it.
80)  Drink water… seriously.
81)  Secret Beauty Tip: Blow-dry your eyelash curler – it’s better than any mascara.
82)  Time is precious. Respect everyone’s – including your own.
83)  Chai tea is the secret nectar of Gods.
84)  Famous people are people too.
85)  Over appreciate the people in your life who are constantly underappreciated.
86)  The healing process is exactly what it sounds like – a process.
87)  Nothing about life is black and white – see it in color.
88)  Some music needs air, roll down the windows.
89)  No matter what the occasion, the view is always better from the high road. 
90)  Yoga by the ocean is an unparalleled peace.
91)  There is nothing wrong with being a wanderer, just be aware of the general direction in which you are headed.
92)  Sometimes, you just have to look at things… and when you do, look closely.
93)  Stop, turn around, and look at just how far you’ve come.
94)  Carry what you believe in with you wherever you go.
95)  Always stop at flea markets… its an opportunity to dig for buried treasure.
96)  Let your hair down – its okay to stop caring what you look like. 
97)  Go the scenic route at least once – it’s not always about crossing the finish line first.
98)  Have faith in something.
99)  There is never a testimony without a test – don’t lose sight of the light that is always at the end of the tunnel.

100) When bad rains down on good people, be an arc, not an anchor… the last thing anyone needs is someone else bringing them down. 

101) Wander along the path less traveled by, it really does make all the difference. 

A Keen Observation of the Obvious

The desert is a funny place. It is hotter than hell but quite the unexpected heavenly haven of beauty and wonder. Within only a couple of hours of being in Arizona I experienced the awe-inspiring phenomenon that is a desert storm. You know - the kind that comes out of nowhere, rages relentlessly, and somehow, through a strange turn of events, leaves everything renewed and restored – not unlike life.

I’m a wanderer at heart and I do my best to seize each and every opportunity I have to immerse myself in the newness of wherever life takes me – this was no exception. I am an observer who’s always looking for more. I suppose going to the heart of the desert was more appealing to me than it would be to some people, but I saw it as an opportunity for a journey of sorts and was thrilled to be there.

You could say I’m in Arizona with my boss ‘on business’ but I say I’m in Arizona getting a complimentary crash course in life from one of the smartest people I know. You learn a lot about people when you travel with them. You hear their stories, you share your own, and you throw some ink on the pages of new ones along the way. I am grateful for the opportunity to have spent time doing just that over the course of the past several days. She's a writer and I’m a wannabe so I’ve invested a lot of time into reading what she’s written – time that has been, without question, nothing short of well spent. Though I have many ‘favorite’ columns of hers and honestly believe they could all be bound into an overnight bestseller, “Disappointment and Magic” is today’s homerun.

The column begins like this: “I seem to spend a lot of time being disappointed. Disappointed in myself and the people around me. Disappointed in the ways of the world and the attitudes therein. Disappointed in what I have accomplished and what I have not. And so on…” And so on indeed. I am the poster child for irrational disappointment. I tend to hold people to high standards, but I hold myself to higher. Disappointment – be it in myself, in others, or to others – exists as an unforgivably crippling word in my vocabulary.

At first glance, everything in the desert looks the same, but also not unlike life, first glances are deceiving. I experienced a desert mirage for the first time the other day, and had to give pause to the wonder that couldn’t help but seep from the experience.

There has been something missing in my life. I’ve experienced, been a product of, or instigated some relatively major changes in the past year both intentionally and unexpectedly in search of that ever-present missing link. I have searched and searched and without fail always wound up empty handed and disappointed. I've looked and I've looked and I must have looked right at it, through it, up and over it, but guess what?

I found it in the desert: Freedom.

I have been a wide variety of willingly, circumstantially, hopelessly, hopefully, consciously and unconsciously tied down for as long as I can remember. I am a planner. I always have a plan. Even if the plan is to make a plan. I am a chronic list maker. If I don’t write a to-do list in the morning, you can forget about it. I am admittedly a self-imposed box dweller – never ever have I ever allowed myself the freedom to really think outside the imaginary box I’ve placed myself in – until now.

In the middle of the desert, though my feet may get burned, I am fearlessly taking a step outside the box. I am coloring outside the lines, I am embracing the freedom of possibility, and for once in my life, I’m being selfish. There, I said it – and I’ll say this too – I’m not sorry. There are too many things I haven’t done yet, too many places to go, people to meet, lessons to learn, pages to turn… Freedom is free, and I’m cashing it in - because I can, and because I need to. There is a sweet sense of liberation that comes from allowing yourself to just let things be – Paul McCartney was really onto something there.

I looked at this cactus my last morning in Arizona and spent a moment acknowledging and appreciating just how much we are the same. The desert is a place of survival, and at the end of the day, I’m a survivalist. I have no problem gritting my teeth and pushing through droughts, although I do occasionally find myself wishing it was merely water I thirst for. I will continuously wait patiently, weather the storm, find restoration in the downpour, and sustain myself until the next storm blows through without complaint or need. The odds are not often in my favor, so self-preservation is second nature. There are a lot of things about me that act as armor. I am well aware I’ve spurred people along the way - for that I am deeply sorry. But, on the days that I’m able, I really do try to branch out and give a little bit of whatever it is I have to offer this world and the people in it.

Her column closes brilliantly with this: “Sometimes flowers grow in the cracks of the sidewalk and a grain of sand becomes a pearl. Sometimes people really do “walk the talk” and care about the “greater good”. Sometimes people survive the un-survivable and conquer the un-conquerable. Sometimes the painting turns out to be a Picasso and the rock is really a diamond. Sometimes the underdog wins. As it is with many things – disappointment comes down to attitude. So every day I try to remember: hope for the best, be prepared for the worst and look for the magic.” – Stephanie Anne Koehler

I always look for inspiration in unexpected places, but this time, inspiration unexpectedly found me. To me the magic is in the mirage. What if what I’ve been looking for isn’t something that can be obtained? What if I spend my whole life so focused on the destination that I disregard the journey? Therein lies displaced disappointment. Real disappointment happens – its unavoidable - but I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to waste being unjustly disappointed. Instead, I will be a believer in the flower, the grain of sand, the rock, and the underdog - and perhaps most importantly - I will give myself the freedom to look for the magic in what's in front of me instead of being disappointed in what's not.