Friday, June 26, 2015

To my mother on the day love won

I often joke or tell people that I had the fortune to grow up with more than one mother - my stepmother, my parent's close women friends who were a part of my upbringing, the mothers of my own close friends. But of course, I truly have only one mother. One mother who conceived me and carried me and birthed me. One mother who I have this incredible life to thank for.

Today, more than any other day in a long while, on the day love won, words are not enough for how grateful I am to her... Her or the other millions of anonymous heroes that our president so appropriately thanked in his address earlier today.

Because of my mother, I was born into and lived a childhood in which I did not question or doubt the love between people that shared the same gender. Because of my mother, I never once felt confusion, disgust, hatred, discomfort or any other atypical reaction to a man kissing a man or a woman kissing a woman, that I would not have had to a man and woman.

Because of my mother, I had no inkling that the woman we lived with until I was in middle school - who shared a room with my mother, who loved my sister and me like her own, who celebrated special occasions sitting next to my father, who taught me to fish and make onion soup - was breaking some sort of societal norm. I knew her as my mother's best friend, someone she loved who made her happy, and someone who loved her back the way I thought my mother deserved. Because of my mother, and her love for this woman, I was lucky enough to have more than one incredible person to looks up to in my life during some of my most formative years. It took until I was in fourth grade for me to wonder even once whether it was unusual for my mother to live with another woman. And it was because of my mother, carefully wording a subtle warning when we moved to rural Georgia for just over a year, "It would be better not to tell too many people that we share a room", that I wondered and learned a little more about the world around me.

Because of my mother, I had one very big reason to break up with my first boyfriend. After spending middle school nervous that others might treat me differently if they found out my mother was a lesbian, I had decided that was no way to live my life in high school. My closest friends and family knew, and I began trusting more and more people with my mother's "secret", wanting to stand by my own unwavering inner knowledge that this was nothing to hide. I remember the first time I told new friends about my mother and how wonderful it felt to say it with pride in our family. I remember the first time I told a boy I was "dating" that my mother was a lesbian. I remember how he used this knowledge I entrusted him with when, hurt by something I said in a fight, he wanted to hurt me back. He did indeed hurt me. I never trusted him again. Because of my mother - and this boy - I learned that who I choose to love may not always respect and accept the differences in my family, and I learned that I am strong enough to walk away from those people.

Because of my mother, I have always felt loved. Truly and dearly loved. I have always known that I will always have a home, a safe haven, wherever she is. Because of my mother, I have never once doubted that a single person or a same sex couple would be able to raise a baby to become a badass human being. Just ask me about my older brother and twin sister, in my opinion two of the most awesome human beings on this planet, in large part thanks to my mother.

Because of my mother, I have never once doubted that I can love whomever I choose and that my love will be supported. I can bring home those I love to meet her and I know she will welcome them with open arms and an open heart - no matter their gender, race, or any other biological character they could not possibly have had a choice in. Even if they have chosen different beliefs politically, spiritually, or of any other kind, I know they will be respected and treated with an open mind - given that they are treating me and my family with that same respect. Because of my mother, I know what that respect looks like. Because of my mother, the world of people I can meet and care for is bigger and filled with more possibilities.

Because of my mother, I have and always will believe that there are basic civil rights that every human should have. Because of my mother, I have been motivated to talk, argue, write, and work in the ways that I can to help others understand and see this. Nothing is taken away from the majority when we strive to ensure every person is given equal opportunities, privileges and rights. Many people taught me this, but because of my mother - watching closemindedness attempt to limit her life and seeing her never letting it do so - I have a passion to help others also live a life without unnecessary and unfair limits. Because of my mother, and her own struggles and inspiring life, I am a better person.

Today, love won. Because of my mother I know what that truly means for millions of Americans - adults and children alike. Today, there are millions of heroes that deserve our gratitude for their battles, both big and small. Because of my mother, I was lucky enough to have known one my entire life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Do or do not. There is no try.

"To live in hearts we live behind is not to die." Thomas Campbell

"Do you know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?" Terry Pratchett

"There's doubt in trying. Just do it or stop thinking." Toba Beta

On December 1st, 2010, I sat down to write about one of the most influential people in my young life. He passed away just a few days earlier, unexpectedly, rocking the world of my friends and family and creating a strange hole in my own life. It was as if there was suddenly a missing piece of something I had never realized was such a huge part of who I was, that is, until it was gone. Today is that person's birthday. As I "see" others thinking and talking about him, I find myself wanting to share again what an amazing impact he had on me, my family and everyone around him. I wrote these words five years ago, and they are still just as true today.

I used to be a very lazy, selfish girl. No, really. I was a complete and utter brat. I didn’t like to work hard and I didn’t like to be criticized. I was young and acted as if the world owed me something, though even now, I’m not sure what. Anyone who knew me at the time will willingly tell you, I definitely had some difficult preteen years.

This happened to be the time I began training with Sifu in an after school program at Inman Middle School. To be honest, I think I mainly joined because my twin sister Jessica was doing it. I remember often feeling like I didn’t want to be there. Actually, I remember often saying it (boy, was I a whiner). There were these two girls, one in high school, who sort of (really) scared me because they were so intimidating… and Sifu! He was so tough on us! He always wanted us to hold our stances longer or lower. He always pushed us to work harder and he would tell us these crazy stories. Being a brat, I didn’t appreciate much of it… and I even talked back to him. I remember him laughing and making jokes when I whined, which made me think, “I’ll show him!”

But even though I never stuck with anything back then, I kept going to kung-fu. I wanted to prove to Sifu how strong I was. I’d act like it was so I could show off after him teasing me about my stances or comparing me to Jessica. I wanted a sort of, “Anything you can do, I can do better” kind of moment. You never would have gotten me to admit it back then, but I really just wanted to be strong enough so that Sifu would tell me how good I was doing. I didn’t want to show it, and I didn’t even realize it, but I cared what Sifu thought, even when I was fighting him every step of my training.

Eventually Sifu opened the Ying Jow Pai school in Midtown. By that time, I was already good friend with the girls who used to scare me, Alice and Jessie. Along with Jessica and a few other training brothers, these were the best and closest friends I had growing up. We’d walk to the kung fu school stopping by Winn Dixie to pick up a half gallon of ice cream or a bag of oreos, and then eat it all while Sifu shook his head at us. He’d get his laughs in by making us run laps after consuming a giant Hershey’s kiss or 100 of each kick when we downed a cookies and cream pie.

I was still a lazy brat, but I went to kung fu everyday, just to mouth off to Sifu when he teased me. No matter what a bad kid I was, Sifu always kept laughing and smiling. Sometimes I did go too far, and I disrupted class to the point that Sifu would get serious and I would be in trouble. On the surface, I’d be mad at Sifu for not going along with all my jokes, but underneath it all I was mad at myself. I’d think, “He’ll never like me as much as Alice or Jessica or Jessie if I keep making him mad.” I’d never apologize, because I was so proud, but nothing made me happier when Sifu would laugh his laugh again with me. I’d act annoyed at his teasings, but inside I was shining from the attention. To be the butt of Sifu’s jokes was like getting a hug from him.

Still, Sifu was my kung-fu instructor and he always expected the best, because that’s what he gave. I don’t think I ever met with so much will in a person, and it was hard to measure up to. Sometimes I’d get so frustrated, I’d quit doing kung-fu for a few weeks or sometimes months. I’d swear to myself I’d never do stances again. But I still went to the school and watched Sifu train my friends and family. I still joked around with Sifu. And when everyone was focused, quietly training hard, I’d watch them and listen to Sifu and I’d miss it with every fiber of my being. He always drew me back in.

My proudest moment was when Sifu decided to teach me Wan Sin - the fan form. I don’t know how to express how special I felt, how happy I was. It was suddenly so much more important to work hard, to be perfect. I wanted to make Sifu proud he had chosen Wan Sin for me. I hadn’t given up on all my wild child ways yet, but that was when my training with Sifu really changed.

I thought I’d be doing pretty good, but Sifu always knew that there was more in me. I remember when Sifu would be coming down on me hard, and I would say, “I’m trying.” And he’d get that look (you know the one) and say, “Well stop trying and just do it!” I’d get so angry and say some smart ass comment right back, or stomp off angrily (he’d probably tell you the story about when I threw my fan at him). Afterwards I’d just do it, and you know what, he was always right. Trying always got in the way of doing. Even now, I don’t use the word “try” and tell people Sifu’s motto with him in mind, “Just do it.”

This is just a little bit about my story with Sifu, but I’m not sure how to explain exactly who Sifu was to me.

He was my kung-fu teacher, but not just that. Even if I told someone that I spent half my day, five days a week, for seven years with Sifu in his school, it’s not enough. Even if I told them he taught me about Stevie Wonder and Flo Jo and dozens of other heroes for me to idolize, it wouldn’t tell you anything. If I said, he is the reason I met some of my closest friends, or had the most beautiful sister-in-law, or have the sweetest step-mother and baby siblings a person could ask for, it would barely scratch the surface.

Sifu was my teacher in all things. He taught me about strength and willpower. He taught me grace. Sifu opened a door into his heart and his greatest passion and brought together so many strangers and made a family out of them. Sifu showed me how to laugh at myself, and this gift has helped me go through some of my hardest moments without losing my smile.

There aren’t enough words to describe who Sifu was to me.

Sifu, we were your kids. We weren’t always good kids, but I know you always loved us anyways. I know it’s been too long since I saw you last, and I know it’s been even longer since I stopped training, but I hope I still make you proud. Please keep teasing me and pushing me to work harder from wherever you are, because I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t keeping me on my toes. I hope you know how much I miss you and I love you.

My kung-fu family at a national competition in St. Pete, Florida. Sifu is pictured in blue, and I'm the munchkin to his right. Everyone is here, always, with love.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Paris, Pouilly, and the Rock of Solitude

If the first day of travel and our first hours in France were perfect, then our first few days will need a new word… Heavenly? Surreal?

I had the thought sometime during our first week, probably at one of our three hour meals with Robert’s extended family and their friends, that I was actually on the set of some French version of an Almodovar film – complex, beautiful characters with layers of personality and charm unfolding before me as each person talked over the next, teasing and philosophizing, sipping 100 year old wine and munching on ratatouille. It was inexplicably fascinating - I have my own loud mouth family, it is nothing new, yet it felt fresh and exciting – and unbelievably fatiguing.

Our first full day in France, however, Robert and I were on our own. Enthusiastic about the coming adventure, but still feeling rough from our red-eye flight. We decided to take advantage of our delightful hotel and sleep in, just until the very end of the breakfast hour. We had a brief moment of indecision of whether we should venture out for baguette, pastries, and see more of the Vincennes area, or order breakfast up to our room – the latter choice winning, and winningly good in the end. The Don Jon, a 2 star boutique hotel I would recommend to anyone traveling to Paris, serves up the most delicious platter of coffee, carbs, yogurt and cheese. No, it wasn't necessarily all natural and fresh from the local boulangerie, but after more than twelve hours of sleep and hunger, it was perfect. We couldn't finish it all, but I smartly stuffed the two plastic wrapped pancakes in my bag for later – just in case hunger might strike while in transit or out of reach of a baguette.

When we finally managed to pack up our things and make our way to check out, we had a solid five hours until our train departure to Macon where we planned to meet Robert’s aunt and uncle. Our first order of business was purchasing a fresh baguette to carry with us - from which point we would not be found without baguette on hand for the rest of our travel. Since the majority of our trip had been dedicated to visiting different pockets of family all over France, Robert and I decided we better take advantage of what might be our only “significant” chunk of time in Paris and see its most well-known monument, the Eiffel tower.

I can’t decide what was most impressive about the Eiffel tower. It wasn’t as tall as I’d imagined, but compared to the surrounding buildings and parks, it was quite a sight. The quantity and variety of people visiting the site was maybe the most astounding (although the number of people seen our day spent in Paris at the end of the trip would far surpass this). Silly as it may be, I realized, before visiting, I hadn’t really known about the park or walkway that surrounded the tower, or imagined that one of the world’s most recognizable structures would attract this many tourists. The line to climb the tower’s stairs or ride to the top was unfathomably long (again, our last day in Paris I would be even more amazed by the lines for other sites) – Robert and I passed on the experience and chose instead to enjoy the ground view. I cannot think of a single tourist site I’ve visited in the US that attracts as many visitors as I saw our first day in Paris. Not the empire state building or the statue of liberty. Not the World of Coca Cola. Not the Golden gate bridge.

Maybe times square… on New Years Eve...

After shooting about five hundred photos between the two of us, Robert and I moseyed back to the Vincennes area with hopes of checking out the Chateau de Vincennes, the enormous castle we had only glimpsed the outside of the evening before.

Of course, we stopped for an espresso fuel up – accompanied by pastries and ice cream. The streets in Vincennes were emptied of people, presumably because it was Sunday and any tourists in the area were at the Chateau. Robert and I sat side by side, quietly talking and watching the one or two couples that walked by, a group of French teenagers, and eventually just sitting in silence and taking in the beauty of the quiet cobblestone streets framed by the beautiful apartments and boutiques that one usually imagines when picturing France. By the end of the trip, I came to appreciate moments like those the most – Robert and I together, enjoying something simple, with nowhere we needed to be and nothing we needed to do.

Except that we did actually need to be somewhere. We needed to be at the Gare de Lyon in less than two hours, and still hadn’t seen the castle or retrieved our luggage from where we’d stowed it away at the hotel. Two blocks from our ice cream stop, standing on the drawbridge over the Chateau’s moat (yes, an actual drawbridge over an actual moat), we gave ourselves ten minutes to view, photograph and leave the castle if we were going to make it to the hotel, metro and station in time to catch our train.

I think, once when I was living in Spain, I traveled with my friends to a castle with actual walls and a moat - but I don’t remember being inside it. So, I counted this as my first time crossing a moat and drawbridge. My first time standing completely surrounded by castle walls. My first time realizing that, along with a castle, there was an actual town hidden away here, complete with a gorgeous church, several long three story buildings with varying degrees of beauty and ornateness, ANOTHER moat and tinier castle (or prison perhaps?), and some sort of official building that I figured was where the rules had been made. Sadly, we barely had time to take it all in, much less do a wiki search or find the information center to learn the history of this place. I made a mental note to look it up later as we snapped some photos and booked it back to our stuff.

(I still haven’t looked up the Chateau de Vincennes, but just added it to my reading/research list...)

By this time, Robert and I were pushing the envelope on time. We probably didn't look out of place in tourist trodden Paris speed walking down side streets towards the metro or running through the Gare de Lyon with our suitcases flying behind us. I was so incredibly grateful not to be making this connection on my own, as I was too overwhelmed to figure out my way around the station and we certainly didn't have time for me to practice asking for help in French. Robert seemed to magically know the correct voie and where it was located within the massive station - he didn't stop once as he kept looking back at me, running and yelling, “This way!” or pointing indeterminably in the direction of what looked like a wall, “It’s over there!”

Laughing as we gasped for breath, we made it to our car with a few minutes to spare and I rewarded Robert with a Merci Kiss. Inside the TGV high speed train, I was inclined to reward him with more – Robert had booked us first class seats on the fast, fast train. It was cushiony, air conditioned heaven after sweating in the sun for the afternoon. I curled up next to my Mi Amor and enjoyed the smooth ride towards another kind of heaven…

Macon is a French town just an hour by high speed train from Paris. Our destination, however, was on the outskirts of Macon – one of the many surrounding vineyards known for its grapes which make a unique white wine called Pouilly Fusse. Robert’s aunt and uncle were the owner and operators of said vineyard, a fortunate connection that I was sure would provide me with a unique experience unlike any other France first timer, not to mention the chance to get to know Robert’s incredible family.

Well, the chance to do my best.

Considering the most French I had studied previously were four two hour classes at my company (in which I sort of learned to count and tell time) and several different podcasts I had listened to while commuting to my office – I was definitely on uneven footing when it came to communication with the family. But I was insistent on sticking to my personal challenge and forcing myself to speak as much butchered French as possible, hoping to gain far more than I could from any two hour class or podcast.

Robert’s uncle, the Winemaker, met us at the train station where I proudly told him how pleased I was to meet him (with an impeccable accent if I do say so myself). My pride vanished, however, as the conversation progressed past hellos into actual questions and comments – it was if I knew no French at all! I gave it my best effort, but at this point, Robert, the walking French-English dictionary, was pretty much speaking for me as I parroted his French. Unless, of course, the Winemaker addressed me directly in English. Still, I do feel good that I continued to try to respond in French...

Arriving at the Winemaker’s chateau was like stepping into the pages of the best French guidebook I would ever be able to get my hands on - you know, the kind with photos so beautiful, you're sure there is no way the place could actually exist in reality. Here on your left is a scenic country road. There on your right are the fields and fields of lush, green vines. Over that hill you’ll see a line of quaint homes belonging to the workers and their families. Oh, and this? This is where we sleep – a 500 year old chateau passed down from generation to generation in our family, filled with centuries old furniture and art that will take your breath away.

We spent the evening talking, eating, drinking, and generally being merry with the Winemaker's family and friends that were visiting for a weekend event and national holiday. I spent most of that time cooing at the Winemaker's grandson, a handsome baby boy, sensing that he and I were on the same level - neither of us were that sure we knew what was going on, not that we could communicate very well if we did. Actually, the Winemaker's wife, sister (whom we'll call the Singer based on her angelic singing voice I was fortunate enough to hear during the evening and later on in the trip), son, and the Winemaker himself spoke pretty darn good English, but I was obstinate in my effort to communicate in French. It pained me every time someone automatically spoke to me in English, though I tried not to be embarrassed and recognized it as everyone being kind. I knew that if I didn't really force myself and continuously ask for others to switch back into French, I would begin justifying slipping into English even when I was sure of how to say something.

The food was delectable. The baby was adorable. The view was outstanding. The singing (a family past time at meals it seems) was heart stopping. The family was warm, inquisitive, and funny. By the end of the night, Robert and I were feeling fat, sassy, and lulled into a peaceful euphoria. We also had invites to the homes of the Artist, a Lyonnaise friend of the Winemaker who was part of the dinner, and the Singer, Robert's aunt from Paris.

What more can I say? Heavenly.

The bed, as ancient as the chateau I am sure, was back-breakingly stiff, but that did not deter Robert and I from sleeping until the sun was well over our heads. When we finally made our way to the patio where we had enjoyed dinner the night before, we found it decked out with a delicious breakfast of fresh baguette and pastries, homemade jams, fruit and more. A few more friends arrived and the baby returned to my lap. At some point the breakfast moved from the patio into the living room for a respite from the sun, only to meld into another meal on the patio - the Winemakers had made us a local dish, usually reserved for winter, savory sausage and potato that was absolutely to die for. I'm not sure when we stopped eating and talking, but at some point Robert took a look at me and suggested to his family that it might be my nap time.

The Winemaker led me to a part of the Chateau I had not received a tour of yet, a private garden with a gorgeous view of the area, cherry trees, and the perfect little lounge chair to take a nap in. Robert sat and talked with me holding my hand, I'm guessing until I fell asleep, as I woke up some time later to the sound of Chopin. Robert had left his phone in his chair with nocturnes streaming from the spot. It was a bit confusing, waking up to that magnificent view with the perfect piano accompaniment.

What is this place? is all I could manage to muster.

Still full from our six hour morning meal and anticipating another lavish dining experience that evening, Robert and I decided to take a hike to the Roche de Solutre to work up an appetite. I couldn't help but think of it as the "Rock of Solitude." Solutre is actually a proper noun for the town surrounding the massive slab of limestone rising into the sky, a solitary piece of rock - and thus the Rock of Solitude.

As Robert and I walked down the winding road and through the picturesque towns towards the cliff, we found ourselves falling into a wonderful discussion about life and the work we wanted to do. I'm not sure what it is about walking or hiking that gets me so motivated, but I always feel ready to take on the world after a foray through the countryside. Its one of the things I miss most about living in Washington - all of the hikes and countryside.

At the roche, I was reminded even more of Washington as we encountered climbers loaded down with ropes, helmets and shoes, ready to scale the face of this limestone beast. It was certainly an enticing bit of rock for any level of climber - not too tall, but highly exposed sitting up on a gradual scramble. Surely the view from the very top must have been something to see, because even the vantage point Robert and I had was marvelous. I declared to Robert that for our next trip to France, I'd be bringing a pack of climbing gear as my carry on - a sentiment I repeated many times by the end of our two weeks.

After scaling the roche, Robert and I returned to the chateau. We managed to get just a bit lost navigating the roads, but enjoyed photographing all that we saw - a classic Mercedes parked in an ancient driveway, churches surrounded by rosebushes, even the exploits of a vicious neighborhood cat who we watched stalk, stun, and start gnawing on a baby rabbit not more than five feet away from us - all without once caring about whether we were moving in the right direction.

The Winemaker and his wife were ready with plush chairs to rest our weary feet and my first ever ratatouille to fill our (somewhat) empty bellies. With just us as guests that evening, the conversation turned towards close family, Robert's experiences growing up, and each person's philosophies on parenting and childhood. Eventually my effort to keep up became too taxing so late in the evening, and I found myself instead trying to ingrain every detail of the surrounding beauty vivdly into my mind. It was the end of our only full day in Pouilly, we would be leaving in the morning, and I knew I would miss this place as soon as we left.

It was almost impossible for me to believe that we had only been in France two full days. That we had been in Pouilly just two nights. I couldn't believe that I'd already had the pleasure of meeting such generous and fascinating people, seen some of the most beautiful landscapes I could imagine, and had already eaten my weight in deliciousness. It seemed we had just spent a month gabbing away the hours with Robert's family - in the best possible way.

Robert and I woke up with the sun one and only one morning - the morning we left Pouilly.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

La vie se pass.

Robert is sleeping like the dead in our tiny hotel room. Meanwhile, I am wide eyed and unable to drift off.
We have just had, in my opinion, the most wonderful day of travel and most perfect first hours in France. I still cannot believe I am here, or that I get to spend the next 15 days enjoying moment after moment of relaxation and fun with Robert. I feel a bit as if it is my first time outside of the US all over again - and it feels magical.

We left Boston around nine Friday evening. After having stayed up until 3 am the night before packing and preparing, not to mention a full day of work, I was lucky enough to uncomfortably sleep through our red eye to Dublin, afterwards killing our five hour layover with more napping, window shopping, and of course, food. Robert was not so lucky, and despite his fancy noise cancelling headphones, had a much worse time of it - hence his current corpse like slumber.

I'm not quite sure when it hit, perhaps in the few days before our departure. Or maybe in the airport as I people watched and waited for Robert to meet me there. Certainly long before we touched down in Dublin or boarded our connection to Paris. But, already, I am overcome with the familiar child like glee that I find so difficult to harness and maintain in day to day life, but comes so easily when I find myself adventuring. None of the waiting, tiny rubs, bigger bothers, and frustrating details seem to affect me the way they normally do. Whats more, every small kindness and pleasure seems magnified ten fold. The only things I don't seem to have patience for are others who won't take part in the joy of the little things and find only the negative in travel - that and the cold. My Achilles heel, my nemesis, being cold will always sour my mood. And though the flight was freezing, luckily it seems France has welcomed us with true summer weather I have been longing for during the past winter months.

It is so exciting to be traveling on this big adventure, my first overseas trip in four or five years, with Robert. Aside from the fact that I love hearing his stories about family and traveling here, and that I love his speaking French, getting away like this is something I think will be so good for us to do together. We have both had a tough time, a lot of changes and ups and downs in the last year, and we have both been working so hard - we definitely deserve this vacation. I'm very curious to see how our travel selves will mix together in our first long trip - as our day to day selves have already found habits and routines around each others - sometimes not always in the best ways. I think its thrilling - and healthy - to shake things up for ourselves.

Already Robert seems pretty entertained by my oohing and awing over everything, my childish impulses, and my questioning how to say every single word and phrase in French. He declared how adorable I was to ask the customs officer in Dublin for a passport stamp, although we weren't meant to have one. But nothing feels better than attempting a phrase or butchering a question in French, only to see his eyes light up and a big handsome smile spread across his face. Even if I must seem very silly, Robert has given me free reign to be so as much as I want and never seems bothered - already a good start to seeing how we handle traveling together. I think he has even begun looking for little curiosities and unique niceties to point out - for example, the orange juice label in Dublin which advertiseed it as "Smooth, no bits".

I am so happy my happiness is bringing Robert happiness!

I am not entirely sure if Robert hopes to get anything more out of our vacation then, well, vacation - time with family and me, and of course time once again in France. He doesn't seem to have too much on his mind, unlike me, always becoming a bit reflective and thoughtful during travel (especially during plane and train rides). Then again, we have both been thinking and talking quite a bit about the work we do, the work we want to do... For me, I only hope to enjoy myself and recharge after all that has happened this year, since our move, and even before.

That, and, I am going to speak lots and lots of French. Today, I have, I am proud to say, talked to every stranger I have met in French - even if I say things wrong or have to ask for Robert's help. He and I have also been speaking French more with each other. Usually, it starts by me saying something quite simple, then moving on to something a bit more challenging, stopping every other word to ask Robert (in French of course) how to say it, then repeating the entire sentence (several times) to him, or the stranger who is patiently waiting.

Our little system worked quite well on the train and with the hotel concierge, but was really put to the test at dinner.

After sleeping off our travel for a couple of hours, Robert and I wandered around the Vincent area where our hotel is - passing the MASSIVE castle I am hoping to see the inside of tomorrow - and found our way to a funky little pizza place. We sat outside next to a couple of older men and a really odd French couple - the man dressed completely in neon athletic gear and the woman in all black. Our waiters, and the men next to us, all seemed to be from the country - or at least that was Robert's impression, as their accents were strong and the men were discussing stories of tractors and crazy spider bite infections. Actually, I am not sure that the spider bite story was an indicator of whether or not the men were from the country, it was just the most distinctive story Robert translated for me. The waiter had trouble understanding me AND Robert, but we managed to order a delicious pizza with prosciutto and egg, as well as escalote au marsala avec frites (veal with fries). It was our neighbors dessert which turned our evening into the magical kind of little moment that cannot be planned.

As the apparent owner of the restaurant delivered two martini styled glasses heaping full of strawberries to the older gentlemen, I honestly couldn't help but stare. Hungry or not, I knew I would have that dessert, and the men noticed. Laughing and friendly, they made a comment to Robert, who also made a joke back. As Robert and I finished dinner, Robert asked the owner over to see if we could order our own glass full of strawberries. The elder gentleman chimed in with the owner and Robert, all discussing how I might like it best. Apparently, strawberries are quite delicious with a liqueur the gentleman had tried, which I kindly refused, as I don't drink anymore. Robert, seizing the moment, made his favorite joke about having a baby on board (absolutely not true!), leading into a spiral of excitement, laughter, and more jokes. Finally, my strawberries were brought out, covered in what might have been the richest whip cream I've had in ages. Our neighbors instructed me on the perfect amount of sugar to pour over the dish (as if it weren't sweet enough) and continued to joke with Robert. The owner and several waiters joined in the merriment. I must say, it was absolutely wonderful to feel my cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so hard.

Lost in savoring my strawberry treat and the mind-blowing espresso I proudly had ordered all on my own, I admittedly missed a bit of the conversation, unable to focus on dessert and figuring out the French.  One way or another, shots of sweet liqeurs were being offered all around as jesting and conversation continued - my broken French making the gentlemen and waiters laugh, egging them on more. Robert, responsibly at first, politely refused the shots, having already worked his way through several glasses of wine. The men would not be dissuaded - a toast was in order for this little group!

As we all finished up, I couldn't help but feel in awe of this unique, little encounter. This is what is so wonderful about travel. Not just wandering around a beautiful city like Paris, not just the breathtaking sites like the castle we were sitting across from, not the food or sweets or shopping and beaches. I just love the people. I love going somewhere knowing that for the next two weeks, every person I meet will be someone new, someone who I would never have met otherwise, someone who has yet to make a mark on me and I have yet to make a mark on - but now, because I am taking this trip, all of that is possible. Ooh, I just love the idea of it, and even more, I love the reality of it - being in the middle of a group of strangers, laughing and carrying on.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Here's to 2014...

"Tonight I will raise my glass to a year gone, full of unexpected and often wonderful changes, with a handful of good friends, in a gorgeous city that will be my home again soon enough. I’ll greet 2013 with smiles, laughter and, of course, dancing - ready for all that I couldn’t possibly imagine in the year to come."

This is what I wrote on the eve of 2013 as I donned my red dress, downed champagne and dove head first with a few of my closest friends into one of my wildest New Year's Eves since the second or third year of college. I predicted everything with such accuracy - the smiles, the laughter, the dancing - but above all, that which I couldn't possibly guess would happen.

During that same night I would flirt with rejection, only to discover the start of a friendship and romance I could not have begun to imagine for myself. That same week I would suffer the unexpected and utterly devastating first rejection of my career when I was told "no" to six months of research, only to be inspired by an even more meaningful project a month later. The year that followed, I would lose a contract after four year, I would be hired and fired to a new job within a week, and struggle to find work that mattered for months. I would struggle financially, with my health, with friends and family, with relationships past and present, and with the demons of my depression. But I would also gain unexpected friends who brought me joy and comfort, unexpected work that challenged me and helped me grow, and a deeper understanding of my strengths and weaknesses.

Entering 2013 with reckless abandon, I had no idea what was in store, but I was ready for whatever came my way. Good or bad, I was gonna go for it.

And I did...

That's exactly what I am taking with me into 2014. I want to take every challenge head on, I want to treasure rejection for the lessons it teaches me, and I want to see each risk as an opportunity that I am brave enough to take. It's this attitude that I am most proud of as I reflect on my 2013 and all that I've gained - a loving and caring partner, a job that motivates and inspires me, and a more complete understanding of myself as I grow, continue to make mistakes, and learn.

When pinpointing the things I want to change and accomplish in 2014, I realize that I need to narrow my focus from the big picture - what I am often so fond of looking at - to the little things. My biggest struggle in this last year has been the day to day. There is so much I want to do, so much I feel I should do, so much I am aware I need to do, that I become ridiculously overwhelmed and I end up doing nothing.

I've spent a lot of time making plans, making back up plans, making to do lists, etc. etc. I spend far too much thinking about plans and how to accomplish what it is I want to accomplish that I never accomplish it. I've spent hundreds and hundreds of hours planning out my day to be the most productive it can possibly be - then looking at the list and not doing a damned thing on it. I have to admit, I'm one of those people who says, "I'll start tomorrow" or "I'll do it next week" or "It's best to start these things on a Sunday" or "I couldn't possibly start something like this at 8:00 at night." Even now, I spend my commute home writing short to do lists for my evening with all the to dos I expect from myself - then find myself incapable of meeting a single one of those expectations.

It is exhausting!

The worst thing about this behavior is that it contributes to my self-guilt, self-shaming, and, to be completely honest, my depression. I make these outlandish plans or these simple to do lists and, when I can barely check off one or two items on the list, I end up dissapointed and beating myself up. Let me tell you, it's not a good way to treat yourself.

So, I'm giving up crazy, outlandish plans for 2014 and I'm giving into the day to day.

Interestingly, I made this decision AFTER I made my 2014 bucket list (located here). The thing is, when I sat down and reconsidered the items on my bucket list, I realized I don't need a big plan to accomplish them - I just need to do them. I want to learn French, so I'll study French. I want to go to Puerto Rico with my Dad, so as soon as I have the money for the ticket, I'll request the time off and buy the ticket. I want to finish my Masters, so I'll sit down, make myself write and see how far I get each day.

Then I thought about the rest of what makes up my life and I wondered how I would manage the day to day without planning everything out, as I usually do. I realized I don't really need some master plan to be successful in the other areas of my life either... I don't need a plan to love and respect my boyfriend, I just have to do it - be grateful, be caring, be patient, and love. I don't need a plan to do my job well, I just need to do it - in fact, its generally the kind of job that requires a whole lot of flexibility and creativity at the click of the send button in my e-mail. I don't need a plan to become a better friend or daughter, I just need to do it - call, text, write and skype.

And aren't those the things that matter, the things everyone hopes to improve on and makes resolutions about? Caring more, loving more, working harder?  It seems everyone wants to accomplish these things, but it really doesn't take much to make it happen.

I guess, to put it simply, the lesson I learned from 2013 and want to implement in 2014 is... just do it.

(Here's looking at you Sifu - or Nike, who I think stole their slogan from Sifu)

So, just doing what I know I need to do to be the best person I can be is my first major resolution of 2014. When my alarm goes off at 5 am, I am going to get out of bed. If I feel like writing, I'll write. When it comes to my thesis, I'll make myself write. If I feel like doing yoga, I'll do yoga. No more - "I should but I'll start tomorrow" or "I'll have time later" - I'm just going to do it.

To accompany that, and I must say it fits quite perfectly, my second resolution is to love myself more (or better?).

Although 2013 was a year of come backs and risks that paid off, it was also, I realize, a year of self-depreciation.

Many of the things that have helped me to gain confidence in my mid-twenties were taken away or out of easy reach, including incredibly supportive friends, rock climbing and outdoor adventuring, jobs (although I did get that back), financial security, modeling, and - hard to admit - some unbelievably unhealthy crutches that I didn't realize I had depended on.

I talk down to myself a lot. I tell myself I'm gaining too much weight, no longer as pretty as I once was, that if I am not pretty others won't value me. I tell myself I can't make new friends on my own, I'm too odd, too awkward, not funny enough, not easygoing enough. I tell myself I am no good at my job, that others are better, that I don't belong there, that it's crazy that I got it. I tell myself I'm lazy, that I don't do enough for others, that I don't do enough at all.

This is not how I would motivate my friends. This is not how I would inspire my students. This is certainly not how I would talk to anyone I love. Yet, I've used this kind of talk to motivate myself  and "improve" for a long time.

Luckily, I've had two very important people in my life who've helped me realize that I speak this way about myself, but more importantly, that it is not fair, kind or a right. The first is my boyfriend, who wouldn't dream of ever speaking to me the way I do, and won't tolerate anyone else speaking to me that way - even if it is myself. The second, is actually a group of people who I'll refer to as a unit, the women who I've come to know and love (my sister, my thesis advisor, my climbing friends, my family) who continue to help me realize this about myself through the work they do, the conversations they have, the things they write and read, and the news they share.

I think I'm through with talking down to myself. It's exhausting and depressing and it didn't help me meet the three main goals I had for 2013 - financial security, understanding and command of my health, and my masters. In fact, the breakthroughs I did make towards these goals were only after I started ignoring my own self-depreciation and listening to the positivity of the other people in my life.

That's it. Just do it. Love myself. That's all I want for myself in 2014.

2013 was an incredible year. From driving across the country (twice!) to moving to a city I'd never visited, I experienced some huge changes and accomplished a lot I can be proud of. Just reflecting on it - and all that I've learned - now makes me thrilled about all the unexpected adventures and experiences I'm sure to have in 2014.

So here's to charging full speed ahead, ready to do whatever it takes and make the best of whatever comes my way. Here's to really loving myself, and in turn, being able to give more of myself, love more wholly, and succeed in ways I may not have been able to before. Here's to 2014!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Leap

Note: This post was started nearly four months ago shortly after I moved to Boston for a new job and to start a new life with my boyfriend. I'm just now finally getting around to posting it so I can get on with this writing business on a regular basis...

Although this past Wednesday marked just two weeks since I arrived in Boston, it feels more like I've been here a month...

I do mean that in the best possible way.

So much has happened since I arrived - and even before, leading up to my move - its quite a blur. When my family and I returned to Atlanta from our 18 hour road trip returning from my grandfather's memorial service in San Antonio, I literally turned around, jumped into my own car, and hit the road. I managed to squeeze in a few hours with my mi amor, get some laundry done, and rest my eyes in between, but there wasn't even 24 hours to separate the family adventure from the beginning of my own.

Luckily, I had a short drive the first night, as Robert's aunt and uncle were kind enough to put me up in their Charlotte home for one night, thus cutting my drive down by a few hours the next day. These were the same lovely family members who had given both Robert and I quarters as we prepared to fly to Boston for my original interview just a couple of weeks before. In hindsight, I'm very happy I accepted this sweet offer instead of trying to superhero my way through the whole drive in one shot... day two was hard enough as it was.

After staying up much too late talking the ears off of Robert's family in a coffee + five hour energy induced hyperness, I snuck out of Charlotte around 5 am, managing to avoid any city traffic. Unfortunately, I had really given no thought to what cities I would have to drive through on the way to Boston, and hadn't realized that in my north bound journey I would be lucky enough to see practically every major east coast city... and about half of them at peak traffic hours.

Yes - I even drove through the Bronx at rush hour.

This timing issue plus the insane amount of traffic and a couple of turnaround put my predicted 11-12 hour trip time at somewhere around 15 hours. Doesn't sound pleasant, I know, but there was one major result of that drive that I will be forever grateful for. In that 15 hours I discovered  Pandora radio's comedy station and, despite having already gone about 3 gigs over my data usage, enjoyed the likes of Jim Gaffian, Dane Cook and CK Lewis for about straight hours. There is nothing like laughing in your car alone while other drivers pass you wondering what the hell is going on.

Side note - This is also when I discovered my deep disdain for Daniel Tosh and his crappy, classless, uncreative humor. He is offensive. He is obnoxious. I cannot believe that asshole has his own show. I even heard recently that he doesn't actually write his own material - but that he spews that garbage and calls it comedy is an offense to others in his profession.


I arrived in Waltham, a neighborhood of Boston, to the open arms of my incredible friend Emma's parents (those who have read my previous posts may remember that Emma herself kindly put me up during my cross country road trip in February - so unbelievably kind). It's clear where Emma gets her sweetness, generosity and beautiful smile. She is her parents daughter. The graciously opened their home to me for the two/three weeks prior to Robert's arrival, asking nothing of me, save that I feed their cuddly cats. And while the quite large, beautiful felines Teddy and Irving may be quite a pair of needy animals, it was an above and beyond generous arrangement. I am honest when I say one of my greatest pleasures in these last two weeks has been getting to know Emma's family.

I arrived in Waltham around 10 or 11, got into bed and woke up at 6 anxious and excited for my first day of work. Though like a grade schooler on their first day of kindergarten I had picked out an outfit, planned my route to work and where to park, and had expected to have about thirty extra minutes before I was meant to arrive, I of course somehow took to long getting ready, left later than expected, got lost on the way to Cambridge, couldn't find the right parking lot and instead had to settle for the $20 a day parking deck - plus, to put a cherry on top of an already stressful morning, I managed to maim a brand new Honda Civic as I was parking.

Yes - that's right - in a hurry I tried to squeeze my Subaru into a spot that was way too narrow scraping away silver paint and putting a nice little nick in the rear panel of some stranger's car. I barely had time to frantically scrawl a somewhat legible note that read, "I'm so sorry I'll pay for it all *my phone number* I get off work at 5:30" then practically jogged to my building nearly hyperventilating. My sweet wonderful boyfriend calmed me down on the phone, reassuring me that there was a reason car insurance existed and that I wouldn't be late. He was right as I managed to arrive five minutes early and my new supervisor was ten minutes late coming to meet me in the lobby. (FYI, that's the perfect amount of time to chew a piece of gum for good breath, wash your face off and check a mirror to be sure you aren't profusely sweating nervousness all over your carefully picked first day of work outfit).

The first days of working involved a whole lot of training and information intake. I'm not sure I have ever nodded more in my life. Not only was I meeting new people practically every hour for training in a different area of my job, but the office was abuzz with the excitement of wrapping up one of our busiest seasons with a historic goal just within reach. The biggest thing was that, from the moment I stepped in the building, I truly loved every moment and bit of it. The location, the people, the enthusiasm, the work itself. A few people stood out to me as people I  should watch and learn from. I saw potential new friends and future career moves. I could already tell, as I learned the different departments and the different aspects of my day to day, that this is a job I am going to love coming to each day.

I'm sure, now that training is over and I get to start the real deal learning through experience I will have some more interesting stories to share... For now, however, I'm preparing for yet another major trip. I'm using my non accrued vacation days and the incredible gift of a ticket Robert bought me to travel to Hawaii so I can be a part of the marriage of two of the people I hold most dear.

No big deal :)

It's been a surreal couple of months. Heck, it's been a surreal year so far. I'm tired, but I'm grateful. I'm scared, but I'm proud I've taken this leap. Now, let's see where I land...

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Scene of a Rosary

Tonight, as I sat at my grandfather's rosary, I couldn't help but feel I was outside of my own body, watching bits of a film from someone else's life. In fact, since loading into the car Thursday morning with my five siblings, ranging in age from 7 to 32, my stepmother, and my father, then driving 18 hours in one day to San Antonio, spending the morning in one home playing and laughing, and spending the evening in another, praying and crying, I realize the majority of this trip feels like something out of a movie...

Here is the scene:

The widow, an elderly woman of 88 years, is seated in a rocking chair by the fireplace. The fireplace is unimportant and, without a doubt, unnecessary, as it is the middle of August and the temperature reached over 100 degrees this day. She is peaceful, quiet, watching as people move about the room. This is my grandmother, in all her beauty and wisdom, experiencing a goodbye to the man she has loved since she was 16.

When her son-in-law and one of her thirteen grandchildren approach with two of her youngest great grandchildren, she comes alive, cooing and purring at them in Spanish. When my father, sister and brother sit by her, her hands move about, animatedly telling stories and asking questions. When I come over to kiss her, I can smell her perfume, which always reminds me of holy water and the church we attended during the summers we stayed in San Antonio. I can feel one of her hands softly rest on my shoulder, the other squeezing my fingers. Despite kissing my Grandma's cheeks, I am reminded of Grandpa instantly. Where is he for my kiss? Where is his hand on mine?

The house has filled with strangers. Strangers to me. I've met many of them once or twice, but couldn't tell you their names. If they recognize me, its because they remember Grandpa Joe's twin grand daughters, even if they met me when I was still only four feet tall.

I wish I were still only four feet tall.

If I were still a child, I could innocently hide away in the playroom, watching movies and sleeping until this foreign experience was over. I want more than anything to honor my grandfather's memory, to hear stories about his incredible life, to share in my family's joy in him and grief in his passing. But the rosary is not something I have ever experienced. I'm worried about the ceremony of it. I am worried about the emotion behind it. My tears have come and gone randomly since I heard the news of Grandpa's passing early Sunday, but I know that seeing my family cry will undoubtedly bring all of those tears and feelings to the surface again.

One of my aunts gathers all of the guests in the living room. It must have been Titi Gloria, it is her home after all, but I honestly can't say. I'm anxious and distracted. I didn't bring the rosary my grandmother gave me years ago, nor the one my best friend Chris gave me. I didn't know I needed to. Should  I ask for one from Grandma? But she is seated, so comfortable in her rocking chair by the fireplace, her friends and family surrounding her as they catch up.

Now I feel like I am still four years old, unable to go to Grandma and ask her for a rosary, afraid of being scolded or embarrassed in front of all these strange faces. If Grandpa were here, I would ask him. I decide to take a seat on the stairs with a young girl I do not know, my little sister Shoshana, my twin sister Jessica, and Emma Grace, one of my younger second cousins. I am immediately at ease when I notice from across the room that one of my older cousins and her husband also do not have rosaries, though they may be excused by the presence of their baby and a rosary around his tiny neck.

I cannot see my aunt's faces during the rosary. Nor can I see my father's. I can see my grandmother's though. I realize her expression, whether she is happy or sad, or even in prayer, never seems to change. I wonder if my own perception of her face has been so deeply engrained in my mind, that I can only see now always what I picture when I am not near her.

The rosary continues. I picture Grandpa in my mind. The image is him, sitting across from me in the den of Titi Gloria's home, more serious than he has ever been in my entire life, although Titi Gloria and he himself have assured me that he is 89 going on 13. It's February, and I've stopped in San Antonio on a break from my cross country road trip. Grandpa is telling me about the day he met Grandma, and about how he came to study engineering, and about his friends that are long gone. He doesn't know it, but I've begun recording him telling stories on my phone. I record him saying "90 years old" to himself, as if I am not even there, as if he can't believe it.

The day he passed away, I listened to all of my recordings of Grandpa from that short visit. It was the last time I saw him in person. It was the last time I kissed his cheeks and felt his hands holding mine. I wanted to see him again before his birthday, but I let money and work and other things get in the way. But my own last moments with Grandpa, I have them saved.

I am brought back to the rosary by my little sister's head on my shoulder. She is fighting exhaustion, having woken up early after spending all day in the car, with no nap and a day playing with her young cousins and at the pool. She is fighting tears too. She is a sensitive and intelligent girl, and at almost 10 years old, Grandpa's passing is not something that is over her head. I laid down with her and my stepmom Tamara after my Daddy told her the news, unable to hold back my own tears as she sobbed. Tamara and I held her, kissed her, tried to comfort her. "I wish he was immortal. I wish he didn't have to die." She cried to us.

I wish he was immortal. I wish he didn't have to die.

During the rosary Sho is sweet and calm. She holds my hands. When the group begins singing,there is all at once both a feeling of lightness in the room, yet also an overwhelming sense that the damn may break at any moment. I can't see many of my family's faces, but I have the idea that they are struggling to fight back tears, if not already letting them flow. Maybe its in my head, but the singing seems to channel everything everyone is feeling, making it stronger.

Sho figures out where Daddy is in the room and moves to his side. I see her curl on the floor next to him, and Tamara moves to them both. My brother is close, meditating or praying, I am not sure which. I am alone on the stairs as the rosary ends.

The man leading it tell us that he has heard there are two deaths. The first is when your body gives up. The second is when the last person who remembers you dies. He tells us, I think Grandpa Joe will live a long time.