Let the Right One(s) In

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When you reach a certain age, it seems that you’ve somewhat figured out how “life” works.  You know how to support yourself, you’ve figured out how to pay your bills, and (unlike me), to file your taxes.  You’ve created your patterns of what works for you; settled like sediment into the nooks and crannies of your idiosyncrasies.  You know whether you prefer creamy or crunchy, white or red, and have been through enough relationships to have maybe given up on the possibility that it will ever happen to you and…consequently, found solace in the fact that peanut butter and Netflix is a perfectly acceptable way to spend a Friday night.

And the really deep needs.  The ones you’ve been harboring for years, since childhood, maybe, but have tucked into the dark recesses of your psyche, memory and recall….those are the unmentionables.  Those don’t fit into the category of “vulnerable” that you are willing to entertain.

We create these justifications in our minds—these pre-packaged stories that form safe, little barriers around our soft parts that indicate what we are capable of…what we are worthy of.  We’ve figured out the bare minimum of what we require to sustain some semblance of control around our emotions and reactions, until ultimately you reach a breaking point that reminds you that that precious little shroud you’ve created is as thin as blown, Venetian glass.

That’s the funny thing about life:  just when you think you’ve figured it out, the proverbial rug gets pulled out from underneath you and you are free-falling into a shit-storm of unfamiliar territory.

My most recent life epiphany started with a cold sore.

This was no ordinary cold sore.  Unordinary because I never get cold sores. A cold sore of epic proportions.  Golf. Ball. Proportions.  Forget the fact that four days from the appearance of said cold sore, I had a date, with a guy I really, REALLY liked.  Which was of no importance at this point—because this was not a vanity cold sore. This was an I-can’t-speak-because-my-upper-lip-resembles-goat-balls-kinda-cold-sore. This was also the week when as the owner of a new yoga studio, I had two teachers to fill the schedule.

One was me.

Every moment was planned, every meeting, every class…every photo shoot.  

(Humility is a really good concept to wrap your head around from time to time…)

My sister, nine months pregnant, filled in for classes, brought me liquids I could drink through a straw, and the other teacher stepped up to the plate to fill in the gaps. And at the end of the week, this guy…he took me out to a mountain-top to watch a meteor shower (thank god for all that darkness), but still, he held my hand and held me close and when the sun rose, he looked me in the eyes and past the superficial flaws, even when I wanted to bury my face and disappear.

When a baby followed the cold sore, two weeks early, that was a life epiphany of a completely different color.

Sleepless nights in a hospital, only to go back to the studio to teach because again, you’re short-staffed, and then immediately back to the hospital, because you’re so in love with this tiny thing that you can barely stand time apart, and goddammit, why did you miss her first bath?

The fucking truth of the matter is that when you let go of your need to control; to bear the weight of it all on your single, shaky shoulders, you create all of this space to need each other. My family has rallied to support this baby and my sister. Teachers have rallied to be here for this studio, simply because they care, and the students have been so supportive even when things…(maybe?) don’t run like a well-oiled machine.

This man made me breakfast in bed, for seemingly, no apparent reason, and I almost barfed/bawled into my eggs, not necessarily because of the gesture, but the inherent sadness that NO ONE has ever done this for me before. In 37 years of life.  I crumble under his kindness, question its longevity, and barely believe that I am enough.

But the most ironic thing of all, is when you let down all of your protective barriers, and you allow people to be there for you, to love you, it magnifies ten thousand-fold in your safe-guarded little heart, until you are skipping down the street, and your cheeks hurt because you smile so hard, and all you want to do is nice things for people all of the time because it feels goddamn good.

The hardest, most vulnerable thing we can do is to let love in.

To receive.

 

Mincing Love

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What is a word but merely a definition of terms as explained by association to objects or ideas; conditioned over time through repeated exposure and experience? What is a definition but merely a gathering of terms collectively agreed upon to infer meaning and imbue characteristics to words?

When we are children we are shown round objects and told “ball”, blocks are “square” and when looking at a clear summer’s day sky, we marvel in the “blueness” of the atmosphere.  But if grass was purple and the ocean was gold, would we inherently experience them differently? Would wavelengths of light suddenly refract or absorb differently off blades of grass to suit our definition of “purple”?

Probably not.

The grass would look as grass always does, and we would think nothing of describing the grass as purple because that’s what we have always been told the color of grass to be.

For the longest time, I was looking for “Love”. Love as defined by conquers-all slogans and happily-ever-after epitaphs. Love as defined by grand romantic gestures, passionate embraces; rom-coms, stories and fairy tales.

I never found it, of course.  Sure, there was innocence and magic, high-hopes and butterflies but always the rose-tinted veneer soon faded and I was inevitably left a little disenchanted.

If we imbue meaning into words with repeated conditioning and exposure, then “Love” by that rationale included a divorce before I was two, followed by a custody battle that was ugly and tense years after the judge finally slammed down his gavel. Both my parents’ second marriages failed, and even though my mom knocked it out of the ballpark with the third, still in love after 26 years, the groove had already been carved; the etch honed and definition ingrained.

“Love” was not all it was cracked up to be.

And now, having been in a relationship for just over a year, I find myself having to reexamine definitions. Because I feel more regarded, listened to and cared for than in any other relationship I have ever been. And yet, we don’t talk about love.

Like, EVER.

He doesn’t hold my face in his hands or gaze dreamily into my eyes while whispering sweet nothings of adoration into my ears, but he puts lasers on the walls and plays punk-rock to set the mood. He doesn’t weep with gratitude or tremble in anticipation at the sight of me, but he does my laundry and he spoons me when I can’t sleep.  And though he may never blast Peter Gabriel out of a boom box over his head outside my bedroom window, he did once play music through the door of a Porta-Potty while I peed at a rock concert.

I know that I will probably never get a love-letter, or even a hand-written card for that matter, but I get his sense of humor when not everyone else does and it is dry, witty, hilarious and just enough raunchy.  He upholds a moral code that is refreshingly innocent in its ideals, although he is certainly no saint, and I’m not sure I’ve seen anything sexier than watching him make popcorn.

We don’t talk about the future, but still we like to build things like furniture, zip-lines and comfortable places in which to call home. He makes no demands and is patient when I struggle, supportive when I am insecure and kind even when I am ugly. He is honest and sometimes brutally so, and though there are a lot of previously acquired, deeply ingrained “man grooves” that usually play a tune of abandonment and infidelity; against all odds, I trust him.

Sometimes, when I cannot find a better substitute, or the emotion wells up to a breaking point, I blurt out “I love you.” It makes him uncomfortable and he usually deflects with a joke or a fart or an incredulous “really?”  Rarely will he reply, “love you too” but never preceded with the pronoun “I”. As if he cannot posses or own his emotion, but allows it to exist somewhere outside himself.

And almost never does this bother me. For I am so happy to finally bask in action instead of longing in pools of false promises. But occasionally, in the absence of words, I wonder what actually exists? Is love there even if it lacks definition in vernacular form?

Definitions confine us.  Words trap us into expectation and disappointment.  And when I sometimes contemplate whether Harry and Sally are out there frolicking in greener (or purple-er) grasses, I remind myself that I would rather be wrapped up in his arms than stuck in semantic squares.

Letters in Time


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There are times when my 36-something self wonders what she would say to my adolescent-teenaged-twenty-something-self if only she could mail a letter through a worm-hole back into time.

Would I tell myself to have not succumbed to “cool”; to have walked down mall hallways side-by-side with my parents without shame or fear that peers would see me as reliant, dependent and even perhaps, loving in the context of my family unit?

Would I tell myself to have only sought after friendships that are fun, easy, full of party and never with turmoil because somewhere along the line, we are taught that mostly “pleasant” is what we deserve?

Would I have wished upon myself a more focused path from an early age so that self-definitions about who I am, what I am doing or where I am headed are more palatable to societies’ definitions of “norm” in the context of now? How tiring does it get to constantly explain, “Nope. 36. Single and figuring it out. But I’m okay with that—are you?”

Would I have told myself to be patient with this crazy thing called growing up? To cherish innocence while it still exists; to believe in magic while your heart isn’t soured by cynicism and weathered and warped with time? To have fun and date lots of men that are “right for right now” instead of getting entangled in this nutty notion of “The One” before I was barely even mature or self-aware?

Would I tell myself to have avoided the relationships that wounded my heart, left gashes from deep betrayal, and rejected me from unrequited emotion? Would I have told myself to love more conservatively; with restrain and caution because pain is an emotion that easily gets caught in your throat; tears up the lining in your esophagus as you dryly attempt to swallow and no good can come from that jagged little pill?

I have spent my whole life up until now living under the mantra of “No Regrets.” And that mentality has allowed me to try many things, to titillate many guises, to live under many roofs and to try on many hats. Without mentioning that “No Regrets” is also carte blanche to be wishy-washy and move on without ever sticking things through to the bitter end.

The truth is, I have regrets. Plenty of them. But in all of the mistakes that I’ve made along the way, I think I might be learning a few things:

I’ve learned that honesty is not a gift that you give or a favor that you do for someone. Honesty is something that you believe in.  That you try to uphold no matter what.

I’ve learned that trust is not flexible. There is no grey zone. No conditions. It either is or it isn’t and you make the choice of where trust stands.  That one, for me, is the hardest. The jury is still out, folks.  But I’m working on it.

Forgiveness makes us recognize our foibles and our shortcomings; the innate truth that to err is human. Forgiveness gives us the ability to heal, because in our capacity to hurt or be hurt and yet, still find the hubris and compassion to move forward, we discover strength and the remarkable resilience of the human spirit.

So, I’m giving up the mantra of “No Regrets” because “No Regrets” implies no mistakes. And I want to fuck things up.

Would I tell myself to do things differently?

Nah….Jen, you did it exactly right.

An Un-Love Story

Memoirs of a Downward Facing Dog

Every day in my in my Facebook feed I am being told why, how, when, where and with whom I should be having a relationship.

“5 Signs He’s Not Committed.”
“How Do You Know You’ve Found the One?”
“8 Signs You’re Ready for Real Love.”
“The One Skill to Save Your Relationship.”

Who are these people who deem to dictate there is one way to love? How do they have the audacity to categorize the nuances, the intricacies and all of the beautiful subtleties of the human heart into one condensed and dumbed-down word?

So, I’m kyboshing “Love.”

We’ve been taught, over time, that there is supposed to be this someone out there. Someone who washes away all of your loneliness and fear. One person, (oftentimes wears jodhpurs, rides a white horse and has a full head of hair) who waltzes in and transforms your life into sunbeams and serenades. We become disenchanted when our relationships don’t change us into shinier, better versions of ourselves. When our lovers lose their rose-tinted hues, we internalize our failure; thinking perhaps our heart chakra is simply broken and always will be.

I feel as if “Love” has become this vapid word; tossed around so carelessly that it has lost all substance. Like heart-shaped foie gras, we are force fed this story of what love is supposed to look like. This recipe that is tired and untrue of first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage, then comes divorce, custody battles, alimony checks and another round of failure that only adds fuel to this perpetual notion that we are unlovable. As if Love is a measuring stick of worth and happiness that defines every romance, affair, affection, attraction, or connection that ever existed between people, and only True Love is graced upon those who fall within its prescribed parameters.

There is no word, ring, vow or offspring that guarantees permanence. The language of love is not universal. And the way love is expressed or understood is as varied as the spattering of freckle patterns on all of our lovers’ skins. Lovers leave. They might meet someone new. They might decide to move to Africa to find the cure for Ebola. Knowing that the bottom could drop out at any moment, does it not make you just so grateful for every day they choose to show up?

What if we recognized that love is not a carpet to sweep our shit under? What if we might be in love and still be scared and lonely? And then realize that it is no ones’ responsibility save but our own to assuage our feelings of inadequacy. Might we love a little more freely, with more acceptance of another human simply trying to be?

And if we took Love out of the equation, with all of its implied assumptions, and removed our lovers from the boxes of expectation, might we be able to listen to a language of action, which is delicate and patient; one that stems from appreciation, understanding, respect, admiration and compassion?

So, I’m rewriting my story. I’m making my own definitions. In the absence of “Love”, I feel this ever-expanding space in my chest that is filled with tenderness, gratitude and joy.

Maybe my heart chakra isn’t broken after all.

 

 

 

The Straight and Narrow

Memoirs of a Downward Facing Dog

When was the last time you went bumper bowling? Can’t remember? Ya, me neither. But every writer is allowed their literary meataphors, and bumper bowling will suffice for now.

You see, without those inflatable bumpers lining the bowling lane, your ball might end up right in the gutter. With the help of those blown-up lane frames, however, your ball might meander back and forth, careening from side to side but inevitably it keeps its course and continues forward to knock out a pin or two.

I started a life in Portland, but I left a life in Montreal. And for all the potential that Portland holds, the “life” there has not yet developed. What is lacking is bumper bowling. Or rather, my friends. Because my friends are my bumpers.

There are some people in life that are touchstones. People that immediately ground you. A common denominator to which everything else is a fraction. When life pulls you off course, like a compass, they are the ones who magnetically draw you back.  When you are blubbering, and slobbering and basically a mess and they are the ones that say, “Sit up straight, man! Pull up your boots and strap on your face!”

Where would we be without the feedback from our friends? Like a mirror, they provide that gentle reflection that only those who know your soul can. Truthful. Supportive. And sometimes, brutally honest. When life has you swerving to and fro, they are the ones that bump you back into your lane to continue rolling forward. They are the people that remind you of who you are, where you’re headed and what you’re worth. With whom you are real and with whom bullshit need not apply.

The older I get the more I realize that good friends are a rare commodity. You are lucky if you can count them on one hand. I am lucky that my fingers are full, and though for now, they all live far away, I am loved across the miles.

This is dedicated to my people. You keep me smiling. You keep me moving forward. You keep me real. And without you, I might just be a gutter ball.

Step Right Up

Memoirs of a Downward Dog
Why does heartbreak hurt your heart? I mean, it’s just a muscle. Valves, fibrous tissue and fat; beating underneath my ribcage. Pumping blood through my veins. Heartbreak doesn’t hurt your biceps or your rhomboids, it doesn’t hurt my psoas or the veins that the blood runs through or the ribcage that it beats behind. But it hurts, right deep in my chest, like a vice grip squeezing, clamping and cutting off vital blood supply.

Life can be a mean sumnofabitch. Just like that. One minute you’re sailing high, like the steep incline of a roller coaster track…crank, crank, cranking until you reach that exhilarating apex of ascension and then next minute you’re plummeting. Fast.  Did a screw come loose? Did the track operator forget to grease the wheels? What just happened??

You try to make sense of it all amidst the rubble, but all you feel is the weight of the debris. You come up with all of the stock consolations: “Everything happens for a reason.” “It’s not meant to be.” “Life goes on.” And though somewhere inside you might know this to be true, it doesn’t alleviate the heaviness.

I’m trying to trust that buried beneath the rubble pile is a wide-open space. A weightless space that speaks of a truth to who I am. An authentic place that bears witness to the inherent radiance and worthiness of me. I know it’s there. I feel it floating. Gimmie a sec, I just have to remove a few rocks.

What fun would roller coasters be if they simply sped on a flat track? Would we still pay our ticket fare if they didn’t make us dizzy, or flip upside-down, or sick? Would we agree to that awesome agony of the upward climb, maintaining our belief that roller coasters are better with arms up, knowing full well that a nosedive is inevitable? In normal circumstances, I’d scream “hell YES!” but for now, I can only manage a meek “maybe”.

Each consecutive round in this battle we call love has me questioning: just how many times in the ring can the human heart take before the man slams the mat eight times and shouts “K.O!”? If it hurts in my chest, do the muscle fibers weaken, get bruised, or even scarred? With each beating, does the heart get Punch Drunk Syndrome and we’re left dazed, wobbling and slurring our speech?

There’s no two ways about it: it simply fucking sucks. But for now, I’m trying to remind myself that I LOVE roller coasters. And I’m trying to find the grace to bow in gratitude and say, “Thank you for the ride.”

 

 

Turning a Black Thumb Green

Memoirs of a Downward Facing Dog

If there is anything to be marveled at in Portland as Spring unfurls her shoots, buds and blossoms, it is the magnitude of flora and fauna that lines every craftsman rancher home, sidewalk, porch (or basically any viable, grow-able surface).  Portland is a gardener’s paradise.  And as the cherry blossoms explode into puffballs of pink and white cotton candy, the rhododendrons snap open in a firework display of color, and the tulips and the daffodils are already on their way out even as my east coast counterparts are still buried in feet of snow, I can’t help but wonder about all of the weeding I’ve been doing in these last few years.

Every gardener knows that the quality of your garden depends on the quality of your beds.  Gardeners prepare months and even years to enrich their soil; filling their compost bins with buckets of kitchen nastiness, giddy with the prospect of nutrient-rich dirt and this years’ crop of über-behemoth cukes.  If there is one thing a green-thumb is attuned to, it is the tenderness of their plants:  the mulching to protect from the cold, the exact right amount of south-facing light, the perfect mixture of sand, soil and shit, and less we not forget about the weeds.  All of that plucking and pulling so their garden has the space to breathe, grow and thrive.

So you see, I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of weeding over the last few years. Spending countless hours on a yoga mat is like building an internal trowel that has helped me root out the habits of self-deprecating thought, notice the repetitive patterns in my relationships and begin the process of replacing all that is unhealthy with all that is colorful and vibrant and nourishing.  I’ve tried to till my soil so that one day I might have a garden (aka—a life, in case you haven’t caught onto the metaphor by now) that is rich and abundant.  Sowing the seeds of love.

Or so I thought.

The truth is, love gives me anxiety.  In the familiarity of solidarity, there’s a lot of stuff that you can comfortably suppress in the routine of your habits, preferences and modes of thought.  Like seeds that lie dormant until only a raging forest fire sets them free.  As soon as the L-bomb gets dropped into the mix, however, and I can’t figure out whether it’s Game-On or Game-Over.

Game-On, because suddenly I feel like I’m doing battle with the creepers I thought I had previously eradicated with years of breath, yoga, introspection and a heavy dose of Spiritual Round-Up.  Unexpectedly, I feel like I’m attacking Maleficent’s briar patch of thorns with a Weed-Whacker.

And Game-Over because all of that anxiety is almost enough to have me waving the white flag of surrender and sending me running and screaming in the exact, opposite direction.

But I know where that leads and it’s a long road back to loneliness, eating dinners solo, (standing up and straight out of the fridge) and too much wine.

Clearly, what I failed to realize is that a gardener’s work is never done.  The weeds will continue to clamber for space and attention; choking your tender shoots and stealing your precious light.  It’s my job to keep plucking with steadfast diligence and dedication. To allow the dirt to cake underneath my fingernails and grow calloused from the efforts of my endeavours; tilling the soil to prepare for all that is fresh and new.  This time I want flowers.  This time I’m hoping for a sustainable harvest.

And so I say to you, Mister Ned Stark, you have it all wrong:  Spring is coming.

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