Running

At half time, during a college football game, a jewelry store sponsored a competition for a free ring. Two couples competed. The man would run to the woman with a large cardboard ring around his waist. When he approached his mate, he was supposed to take off the ring, put it around her, and don another round cardboard ring around himself. Then they would run to the finish line together in their large cardboard rings.

One man booked it across the field. When he reached his partner, he flung the ring off him. It flew away and she had to run to catch it and put it on. He took off without her. When he realized she was not by his side, he reached out and pulled her to him. Her ring fell off, but they kept running, his eye hard on the finish line.

The other couple was slower. They stayed together, helped each other, and ran across the finish line, second, but both complete.

The couple that came in second won the actual ring, because they both crossed the finish line wearing the cardboard representations. The man that wanted to get there first, who wanted a specific result so badly that he sacrificed the experience, did not get what he wanted so desperately.

What a lesson in relationships for me:

It’s not about speed or reaching an outcome quickly.

It’s about slowing down, being mindful, and taking care of each other. It’s about enjoying the run – together.

Three Weddings and a Beach

My boyfriend and I pulled into White Rock Beach on the southside of Maui, toting a cardboard box of Coors Light, a bag of ice, a few bright white hotel towels, and our vacation koozies.

We finally made it – to a beach – to sit and listen and be. To watch memories and unrehearse our future. To accept the ocean breaking, and the tide rolling, and the sun drifting behind clouds. Somewhere sunny and 75, drinking a beer.

Just before sunset a preacher or a priest or a pastor walked out on the beach with his Aloha shirt, followed by a groom dressed all in white. A friend rested rose petals on the sand, and a mother held up a laptop that likely Skyped with family and friends.

The bride appeared from behind a green hedge, although the groom had already seen her soft white dress as she tried to hide behind the hedge in the first place. A boom box recited some song, and they stood next to each other on the edge of the ocean, on the edge of sunset, on the edge of a day.

He placed a purple lei over her head, and she draped a green one across his shoulders. They kissed. They smiled for pictures. They walked across a damp sand leaving footprints. The gentle water reached up to her dress, wrapping it with sand and salty ocean.

The best man and bridesmaid threw a bottle with a note into the ocean. They left, just as another wedding dress appeared on the beach.

In Maui, weddings on public beaches are not uncommon. White Rock, though, is not the most popular beach for marriage ceremonies. That late afternoon, we witnessed three.

We finished our Coors Lights and swam in the ocean. We watched the weddings and tried to duck out of the pictures. We felt the island – in the shape of an infinity sign surrounded by water – reach around and under and through.

We noticed love swirling into infinity. We saw a bottle bobbing in the ocean.

Nuts and Bolts

A baby squirrel runs the length of the fence, watching us from the outside. Small but not a newborn, his legs are already strong and defined. But he looks scared.

We get him some nuts and dog food and flax seed, and place a tiny squirrel-sized glass bowl with water outside. Instead of exploring the easy winnings, he follows us back to the front of the house. He bounces behind my boyfriend, like a dog, or a Disney movie, or someone who just needs to be with someone else so he isn’t alone.

Scampering up the wood pile, he clings to a tree. Squeal squeal squeaaaaalll. Silence. He listens, but doesn’t hear anything. He shivers. Then, as we sit on the stoop not wanting to leave him alone, another squirrel the same age leaps into the frame across the lawn. They briefly misconnect running the wrong way around the tree, but eventually spot each other. The first squirrel lays his body on the other.

Primal emotions – fear, loneliness, relief – connect us all.

Hello Goodbye

A skip. A jump. A catch. The elongated hug as she wraps her legs around his torso, the blue snowflakes on her knitted sweater distorting in as she clings to him. Eventually releasing her, the veins in his arm strain as he holds a bag in one hand and blond woman in his other hand. Reflexively he dares not drop his bag – or her.

Everyone has watched the airport greeting-farewell. Clinging hugs or awkward pats, it is hello and goodbye, releasing and holding, separating and connecting.

It is the same thing. It is the same love. It is the same hug. When she wraps her body around his in goodbye, the snowflakes would have stretched the same way. A hello, and a goodbye.

 

Fifty Shades of Something

Seventy million copies of the trilogy sold worldwide. The motion picture will be released in 2014. I have been involved in numerous discussions about the plot, the “bad” writing, and the romanticization of control and abuse.

So, I finally read the book.

Surprisingly, it hit me on unexpected levels. After participating in a destructive relationship of my own in the past, I had to put the book down for days or weeks until returning to it. Here are a few pull quotes that made me pause (and apologies for getting a little soap-boxy here…)

“So you want to possess things?” You are a control freak

“I want to deserve to possess them, but yes, bottom line, I do.” Pg. 12

It falls back to self-worth; we reach to external answers to mask our internal holes. Things are not our identity, and more things collected for that reason begets more holes. Traveling in Jordan years ago, one of the girls in the tour group bought two paintings that hit her heart. After leaving the Roman ruins and dusty gladiator show at Jerash, she noticed the paintings were not on the bus. Understandably she was upset, but then someone commented, “It’s ok. Easy come, easy go.” True. We are gifted things and people in our lives, and when they leave it’s because we don’t need them anymore. It’s rather freeing, to release the fear of control and impermanence. As my boyfriend commented the other night, we can just hold on tighter somewhere else. We can be grateful instead of wanting – that might really close those holes.

 

“My worst fears have been realized. And strangely, it’s liberating.” Pg. 510

Right now, for some reason, my worst fear is death. I worry about it. In my 20s, I thought I could die happy at any time – I have been lucky to lead an amazing life full of love and dreams coming true. But, at 30, I notice that there is a whole new level of living I’m just beginning to touch on. I have more to lose now – a future that is not just mine anymore. Maybe I am worried about this transition, the death of my old self and reaching into the unknown again. Hmmm…that is rather liberating.

 

“All those decisions – all the wearying thought processes behind them. The ‘is this the right thing to do? Should this happen here? Can it happen now?’ You wouldn’t have to worry about any of that detail.” Pg. 224

Free will is the basis of America, Christianity, the human condition. It is sometimes a relief not to have so many options, not to think there is always something else that is better. I totally get that. But I found my answer about it (thanks mom – I know you’re reading this): It is the right thing to happen, because it is happening right now.

Bottom Line? When we tap into our true nature – devoid of ego or want or stories or man-made suffering – then we don’t have anything to question.

 

 

(Just a gratuitous picture here of a gladiator and I)

Brokenhearted in Antigua

I would much rather be in love in Kansas than brokenhearted in Antigua. I realized that last night eating pizza across from my boyfriend, talking about Des’s heart-rendering rejection in paradise. Just a few weeks before, she had said:

“If you want great love you have to take great risks.” Well, she did.

Once, I wrote a pitch about why I watch ‘The Bachelor’ for someone collecting essay ideas about life in our 20s. Here it is, because I think it might make a good blog post instead:

I was crushed when Brad Womack did not kneel down on one knee to ask Jenni, or DeAnna for that matter, to marry him. What?!? The carelessly handsome bachelor had rejected both women after months of seductively romantic courtships. It was the first time in The Bachelor’s history that this had happened.

I was crushed, but more than that, I loved it.

I loved it that both women had fallen madly in love with one man, that they both had been rejected, and that they were now in tearful anguish in the back of a limousine wondering “what went wrong.” I loved it because, at that moment, I felt the same way.

After ending a four-year relationship, I was also a crying heap on the floor. The Bachelor helped me – it helped me accept that I wasn’t alone.

When I admit that I watch The Bachelor friends will react with “That’s horrible!,” or some variance on the same phrase. I always respond with “I know!”

Because I do know – I know that it’s “horrible,” that it’s unrealistic, and that it’s dramatic crack for some women (like me). But while I don’t watch The Real Housewives or Gossip Girl, I am addicted to The Bachelor because the show embellishes underlying process of human attraction, romantic attachment, and intense communication. Watching the show every Monday night, I can always find a nugget of helpful empathy to bring to my own life and my own relationships

As a 20-something woman I love The Bachelor. The women are my age, they feel the devastating emotions I have felt, and they are on this continual journey (if you are a Bachelor fan, you must drink at that word) that I am also on. My journey, though, is not on TV – but I feel it all just the same.

The Cracker Barrel-ing Experience

Kansas has been an experience of firsts: first NFL game, first time watching Space Balls, first gun show, first country fried steak (CFS), and first time at a restaurant that has the word Cracker in it.

Fascinated by the name, and the common expressions of comfort that glide over people’s faces when I reference the Cracker Barrel restaurant in conversations, I simply could not miss the opportunity for this “first” experience.

It did not disappoint.

I devoured my first CFS and all the sides: mashed potatoes, carrots, hash brown casserole, biscuits, cornbread. All concern about ordering that much food – especially when the waitress kept forcing me to make so many decisions – dissipated after dinner as I stared at my clean plate. It was worth every bite.

The southern-comfort-style restaurant chain sealed my quest of CFS exploration during my time in Kansas – wondering if there was another CFS that could equal that self-revelatory experience of the first.

The search continued at Weller’s – one of Topeka’s many sports bars. Here I began to notice the back of my elbows rubbed raw from spending so much time laughing and resting on the beer-filmed tables. Dinner appeared with broccoli covered in Velveeta, the highlight of the meal, but the steak was thicker, fattier, and slightly too unpredictable.

We returned to Cracker Barrel for breakfast – replacing the hash brown casserole with creamy grits. The CFS was good, but still did not compare to that first experience. The intruding presence of the egg added a layer of guilt since I wasn’t eating all of it, so that may have also compromised meal’s integrity.

But then, unexpectedly, something blew our hypothesis apart. We thought that humanity often searches to return and recreate the feelings associated with “first time” events: first beer, first drag, first kiss, first chicken fried steak.

At Blind Tiger, Topeka’s microbrewery, I found the CFS that was meant to complete that part of my soul that was gaping open and yearning for the perfect CFS. The homemade breading melted in my mouth, covering an honest and thick steak.

That was the CFS that was right for me. The Cracker Barrel experience, though, will always remain so dear in my heart – it was the first impression, the first taste, the first foray, the first experience. Without that first chicken fried steak, I could never have known what was possible, I could never have found the one that was meant to be.

(See Chicken Fried, Zac Brown Band)

I Forgot How Wonderful Italian Men are for the Ego

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Upon my first look at the David, in 2002, all I needed in life at that moment was to reach up and curl my fingers into his oversized hand.

Ten years ago I studied in Florence, living down the alley from the Ponte Vecchio that glimmered with gold jewellery for sale, eating gelato at least once a day, and feeling history with my own two hands.

My first boyfriend/love/etc. had broken up with me a few days before I embarked on a semester abroad in Italy. I lived with such heartbreak in those few months, healing through the support of friends – late nights at bars drinking the rum and pear special, walking an hour to get to a restaurant and peeing in an alleyway on the return – and healing through the support of time – centuries of color, revolution, renaissance, marble, dualities, brilliance, enlightenment, struggle. To live in Florence was to live in art – stepping from one painting into another.

In those days, I built a self-image in the wake of what I thought was rejection of my raw truth. And, to cope, I built stories into my identity, to justify everything I felt that I needed to justify, to hang onto some kind of arbitrary ground under my feet.

And returning to Florence ten years later, I unexpectedly recognized the places where I had sunk into blurred and meaningful conversations with friends, passed over the misjudged cobblestones leading to my apartment, and rounded the corners where I turned into memory.

On the second visit, traversing the same streets, I noticed different details than I did previously – the way the light sprawls against Florentine walls and the rhythmic movement of rooted statues – and I acknowledged that I am deconstructing the self-image that I tried so hard to build ten years before. I know, for now at least, that I actually don’t want to have ground under my feet. To have no ground and no image is to be free – accepting – intentional – loving.

Looking at the David, now, I still cannot will my eyes away from him.

Instead of needing to reach out to his hand, though, my eyes gravitate around his body to recognize his adam’s apple, his curving hip bone, or new feeling from the look in his eyes. We view the same image years apart, connecting to different details at different times – whatever we need to notice in that infinite moment – and it is exactly what we need to see.

Michelangelo, in the early 16th century, sculpted David disproportionately – an elongated torso, an oversized hand, a shifty left eye. He is acknowledged as a perfect image of man, and perhaps his misproportions are man’s truths. Our truths that we create, fondle, change, reform are each perfect in their time and place. They are an oversized hand we want to hold. Or they are a new look that we recognize in our own eyes.

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{See Cloud Cult, You’ll Be Bright (Invocation Part 1)}

Farting: Enough of this emotional talk – here’s one for some of the boys

(Spoiler: It’s still about feelings)

I’m farting and drinking wine.

I appreciate the fact that I know my own gaseous smell and – this is a big confession – I actually kind of enjoy the scent. I think I like it because I recognize its familiarity, because it’s mine, because it’s comforting.

But, I also feel privileged to breathe in the bodily smells of others  – whether from sweat or desire or hotboxing – of those whom I have made myself romantically vulnerable to (i.e., the men I have loved, “loved,” or those whose roots have in some way intertwined with mine). Those ruddy, dusty, sincere smells without the Old Spice, or sometimes because of the Old Spice, have literally raised every pore and emotion in my being.

It’s sharing that intimacy and exposedness on the most basic level. Of knowing and loving and appreciating someone in a moment when there is no control, when there is no filter.

So thank you for that, boys.

Thank you for your farts.

My Wedding and/or Funeral Recipe

One long, open bar – (best with Bulleit, Oregon microbrews, PBR, and a selection of fine wines)

One fiddle player

Two memory cards full of candid photographs

A handful of beauty

A pinch of sarcasm

A lot of truth – seasoned to taste

Something read or played that means something (anything) to everybody

A few dozen flowers – but only ones that represent random meanings

Use sincerity and humor as needed (i.e., like butter in the Midwest)

Enough sugar for a transparent coating

Sprinkled generously with open hearts

Mix it all up – however you want and however it moves you – because no matter how it connects this time, it will produce love. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for nine months. Let sit for 30 plus years.

Feeds as many as needed. Best served with an array of sauces (hot and sweet) on the side.