The Massage

Last weekend, I had my massage V Card taken.

My cousin recently started Massage Therapy school and apparently, the students are asked to find “clients” to bring in to their “clinical environment” so that they may practice on new pieces of flesh for a certain number of hours. My family, as you might imagine, is thrilled with my cousin’s choice of academic pursuits (especially because two years ago I, by contrast, chose to learn the masterful art of phlebotomy in an off-brand program in the civic center).

As the story goes, I was in Arizona for the weekend for my youngest sister’s 13th birthday and voila, the opportunity for a FREE massage fell right into my lap and despite my relentless anxiety, I accepted. I sat with my mother and my aunt in the Zen-Wannabe lobby of a small building in an absolutely terrifying part of town. The minimalist decor, clad with bamboo planters and soft chimey music on repeat playing overhead did little to squelch my preexisting awareness of the imminent crime lying just outside the simple glass door. It seemed oddly humorous to me at the time that I was about to get naked and let a stranger touch me in such a horrible neighborhood.

I’m led back to a small curtained space by a large, warm, nervous looking woman named Christina. Christina struck me as warm in the softness in her chocolate brown eyes and also in the sense that she was red faced and wearing a sweat band. I took a mental oath not to read to much into it, to treat the next 50 minutes of my life “as a sociological experiment,” which is what I sometimes tell myself to distance my busy brain from my actual physical environment (ie-turbulence on an airplane, waiting for my uber on the only rainy day of the year, when my nose bleeds in yoga class). We walk into the 6×6 makeshift curtain “room” and Christina tells me, in her best “zen, comforting, new massage therapist student” voice to “undress to my comfort level.” I almost laughed. I found it interesting that she did not offer me additional layers of clothing, which would, of course, been my honest comfort level. I thought of how much I could F**k poor, nervous Christina’s day up (and possibly the future of her education as a massage therapist) if she returned to the curtain to find me wearing a secret parka, smuggled into the space in my very large purse, declaring that I had reached my comfort level, thank you.

As one would expect, the massage commenced and the next 50 minutes of my life flew by in an uneventful, warm, blissful haze. Other than my periodic instances of unwanted mental commentary about why they choose white sheets, which are sooo very see-through, and trying to ignore the festering giggle inside that I sometimes get when people touch my hands – I was relaxed.

As the massage finished, Christina left the curtain to allow me to re-dress to my comfort level. She walked me back to the lobby and I thanked her, declaring that I would like to bring her home with me and bake her cookies. She laughed uncomfortably, as many people do when they don’t quite know how to respond to whatever shenanigans have just left my mouth. Honestly, it’s all a little fuzzy at this point, but I’m sure I meant something grandmotherly by it that implied that I would like to receive her massages on the regular.

 

…And then I walked back out the glass door onto the crime-riddled streets, as if none of it had ever happened. Maybe that’s for the best.

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Confessions of a Middle Schooler

I’m sitting here watching the tiny learners, tiny explorers, tiny dreamers mindlessly copying notes about Ancient Egypt. A few of them are present but most of them, it seems, are letting their brain tell their highly trained writing hand to mimic the precise curvatures they practiced years ago and now execute on autopilot. They’re rehearsing a dance of muscle memory while their focus is elsewhere.

What I don’t think they know is that I’m sitting up here – trying to figure out adulthood and life the same exact way they’re trying to figure out middle school and life. I’ve been learning social cues longer and I’m the one with the laminated name tag and bathroom key hanging from my neck, so they think we’re different. They’re sitting right there copying down words they’ll never remember and I’m up here copying down their little faces, trying to open my heart enough to tell their little hearts that we’re the same, them and I.

 

And most days, I’m pretty sure they’re teaching me a lot more than I teach them.

No Place like MY OWN Home for the Holidays

I’ve decided to stay home for Christmas this year.

I’ve decided that traveling 300 miles to see my immediate and extended family is not the deepest longing of my heart. I’ve decided to sleep in my own bed on the night Santa may or may not be coming through my chimney. I’ve decided to walk and read at the beach on Christmas Eve instead of participating in the loud antics of White Elephant with my family. I’ve decided to spend the holiday with my Fr-amily 10 minutes from my own front door. I’ve decided to listen to the quiet voice inside me that tells me how to take care of myself, the one I’ve spent so long silencing so that I could be sure other people were happy.

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Don’t get me wrong – I believe in kindness and doing all that you can to spread joy to others. I believe in family, sacrifice, and commitment. I just also happen to believe that you can’t pour from an empty cup and sometimes when I visit my family, my cup feels really freakin empty.. like bone dry to the point where the ceramic is chipping and the cup is starting to crack. I love them very much, they’re just a loooot for several days at a time (with no space to call my own).

This process of making the decision to stay home and then communicating it to my family with love, respect, and clarity has been a big one for me. I had to dig deep to make the pro-con list that helped me look analytically at what that nagging feeling in my gut really was. I talked it out with a few people I trust, people who know me really well and understand the emotional implications of the situation for me. [Side note: it’s taken me a long time to find these people, the real ones, and they are the most important people in my life. I’m grateful for their love, their wisdom, and perspective every second that I am breathing.] I also know myself enough to know that it was important to be clear with my family when a conclusion (which I was about 80% confident about) had been reached because I will change my mind if I perceive that someone is disappointed in me. I have always felt drawn to caring for the needs of others and if I had a Native American name indicative of my fundamental nature, it would probably be: “The-One-Who-Does-Not-Rock-The-Boat.” So, the bottom line here is that this decision was uncomfortable. Initially, people griped and I received many messages dripping with the hot, molten lava of guilt pleading with me to change my mind. I let them come and didn’t feel the need to over-console my family or over-explain my reasons for deciding to stay home. I just let it happen and something lifted for me. Guilt and the “should haves” are heavy, people; they are also a choice, I’m learning (slowly and arduously). Eventually the messages stopped coming, but truthfully, the letting go on my part had already been done when I decided that my self-care was bigger than my guilt or my FOMO.

This whole thing was a huge, beautiful, uncomfortable, enlightening experience for me. Yes, it seems like a simple one, a decision that all people have to learn how to make at some point in their lives and I missed the boat on the “learning how to piss your parents off and not care about it” seminar in high school or college or whenever they offered it on a day I was clearly absent… Because I definitely still care.

I’ve decided that that’s okay. What’s no longer okay with me is ignoring the voice that reminds me what I need to do to care for myself at the expense of disappointing someone. As I’ve made this choice, I’m learning that I am more proud to be the person who sets boundaries and honors them by communicating her limits clearly, lovingly, and respectfully to those she shares her time with than the one who shows up and goes through the motions, letting resentment and social fatigue infiltrate opportunities for connection. I’m really lucky because my people understand that and want to help me continue practicing and growing my “showing up for myself” muscle. I’m pretty sure these people know who they are and hopefully also know that I am deeply grateful for the way they love me and teach me, patiently, how to become the best version of myself. But in case you didn’t already, thank you.

 

Buckle Up, Kids.

Once again, the universe has given me some sort of cheap ticket to one of the most raw and intensive storytelling retreats ever created. It’s not for the faint of heart; it’s not for most people, I imagine. Its sense of adventure lives in the uniqueness and unpredictability of every day, every hour. It’s challenging and scary, particularly for an introvert who needs to know nearly everything in advance, thinks about germs too much, and only likes to be touched a maximum of five times per day – preferably on the hand, which can be easily sanitized.

Its name is substitute teaching.

I’ve learned that sixth graders respond with the same amount of respect that you show them, but that they can also smell your fear. Respect and fear can coexist, but they are not interchangeable.

I’ve learned that keeping a trash can near the teacher’s desk is a subtle comfort item for me, in case my anxious disposition doesn’t agree with my brain’s plan for the day.

I’ve learned that if you stand up in front of the classroom, looking moderately put together and adult-ish and tell the students that you are their teacher for the day, they will believe you. I imagine it helps if you believe it yourself, but it seems to work either way.

I’ve learned that if a boy takes off his shoe and you think to yourself, “no way is he going to throw the shoe,” that you should always expect him to throw the shoe.

I’ve learned that I have always taken for granted that learning and processing comes easily to me (and that I’m even more fortunate to have loved school) because it simply does not come easily to every child.

I’ve learned that most of this game is improv and there is no legitimate way to prepare or anticipate what each day may bring.

I’ve learned that these days are a great lesson for life: my job is to show up and do my best to support whatever environment I’m thrown into. The day is going to go how it’s going to go with or without my consent or my attempt to control it and it’s better for everyone involved if I sit down, shut up, and enjoy the ride. (And a sense of humor is a mandatory prerequisite for survival here).

I’ve learned that every child has a gift. Some kids are gifted in the classroom, some are gifted on an athletic field, others in the music room. It takes a lot of work, patience, diligence, and grace to help children find their gifts so that they can share them. It’s a worthwhile endeavor.

I’ve learned that it’s really exciting when you spend several hours trying to get a student to understand his assignment and then at the end of the day, he thanks you.

I’ve learned that there is at least one know-it-all (usually somewhere in the front) in every class and if you get stuck or unsure, going to this kid is your golden ticket. He/She will tell you exactly how their teacher does it, in tremendous detail, and will often offer to “show you”. MY GOD, ALWAYS LET THEM SHOW YOU. It’s basically fool proof – you’re getting the child to do a small part of your job for you and making him/her feel empowered at the very same time. Literally everyone wins, except for the Know-Some-Of-It in the second row that is angry and jealous towards know-it-all number one and probably always will be. But you’re only there for a day, you can’t be expected to solve all their problems.

I’ve learned that teachers are superheroes (along with the parents who have to deal with each of the tiny, nose picking miracles when they go home for the day). Teachers of special education classes (and those parents) are extra special superheroes that should be allowed to cut everyone else in the line at Costco for the rest of eternity.

 

Your Story

I’m in the midst of wrapping up writing my submission piece for a retreat scholarship. The experience of writing it has been enlightening, healing, creatively exhilarating, and also quite taxing. You see, I love rules and clear-cut expectations and this assignment has tortured me because it has none.

They told us to share our story.

It took me a long time to even decide where to start; which parts of my life, my identity, my history and my present do I choose to share? Obviously, it’s a pretty big project because I’m essentially asking myself who I am and how I got here. Am I choosing to talk about events, indisputable facts of my life thus far, or am I choosing to detail an internal narrative, a colorful interpretation of my perception and theories of the way my world works? Who are the main characters that have made my story something worth telling? Am I even one of those main characters, or am I deciding to paint my life as something that has happened to me?

So now, it’s my turn to pass the buck and invite you to ask the tough questions – whether you choose to write your full story, post it anywhere, share with a loved one, or simply reflect quietly between yourself and whatever higher power you may or may not believe in. What you choose do with whatever comes out is much less important than the fact that you have a version of your story.

Go. Now. Reflect. Listen. Write…Edit later, or don’t edit at all. It doesn’t matter.

And if you finish and you feel like you’re ready to share, that you need someone to hear your voice or read your words tell the story of your life as you know it, I’m right here.

Love Still Wins

I avoid certain neighborhoods mere miles from my own front door because they’re the last places I saw you.

Time and experience have the strange ability to turn me into a tourist in the neighborhood I grew up in. These old familiar streets, their feel and their smells aren’t mine anymore, not really. There are small pieces and big pieces of you and us and our life sprinkled all over this town.

My days of In N Out milkshakes are over.

I don’t walk through that janky old Dollar Store you loved so much without a knot forming in my stomach or my mouth turning to cotton.

Our old, worn down field is sharp on my insides because I still see you and my eight year old self running drills an hour before any of the other kids showed up.

I know that our house on the corner, where you taught me to drive in the front lawn when Mom wasn’t home, will always smell like the big tree that hugged the treehouse we spent hours together building in the back.

I don’t ever hear Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and not wonder, with a burning throat and empty chest, whether you and I will dance to it at my wedding the way we always promised we would.

I drove past my high school inadvertently yesterday. I scanned the big, ostentatious concrete buildings, but my eyes landed where I knew they would. When I looked at that field, I could have seen the hours I spent growing up there. I could have seen my teammates, I could have even cried for the one we tragically lost. I could have seen so many of my own personal trials and tribulations and instead I saw you climbing the fence at midnight to poke cups through the holes to spell out my initials the day before my senior game. I saw you sitting in the outfield, quietly drinking in the sounds of your favorite pastime away from the frenzy of obnoxious parents. I saw you explode from your chair, fists flying above your head the first time the ball off my bat cleared the fence. I saw the day I realized how much you believed in me.

I’ve driven through that winding road behind the house for the last time because the image of you standing, waiting for me to find you and pick you up, with our dog by your side and that backpack that lived in our garage for a decade is stamped permanently on my heart. Without the backpack and our dog, your bearded face and dirty skin would have been unrecognizable.

So much joy lived in these streets with us and most days, I’m pretty good at remembering that too. But love and loss and mourning and healing are strange, inexplicable processes. They’re not linear or fair and they don’t apologize for what they’ve done. Honestly, I never intended to publish something that came out so deliberately dark and sad, but maybe sad is honest and honest is pure. I believe that the places that are dark are also full of healing, learning, hope, and love. Mostly Love.

I listened to my girl, Glenon Doyle, in a podcast recently and she was asked: “if you were lying on your death bed, unable to speak, and all of your writing had been somehow erased and you were given a sheet of paper to write down three truths to leave behind for your family, your children, what would they be?”

She obviously said something sharp and sassy about the injustice of the question and then replied plainly, “Well, I’d tell my kids what I’ve always told them, the thing we’ve had posted on the wall of our home since they were born. Our mantra is:

  1. We can do hard things.
  2. We belong to each other, and
  3. Love wins.”

Copy that, Glennon. A lot of things hurt. But Love Wins.

Let Them Change

Fall is my season of gratitude.

Yes, they should all be seasons of gratitude (and this is something I’m working on all of the time), but for honesty’s sake: they are not. The winter holidays make me feel stressed and poor, spring is just fine, and I am forever overheated and overextroverted during the summer months.

Fall is my soul time.

I am captivated by the change of seasons; it’s what filled my childhood imagination and drove my dream to attend college somewhere that was not Southern California. I love how trees, the air, and the sky look and smell as the year progresses into autumn. The smell in particular reminds me that I am alive in a way that no other season does.

The day I physically arrived on the planet is in the fall. Football is in the fall. Wearing oversized clothing is in the fall. Earlier evenings and longer sleeps are in the fall. Starchy vegetables are in the fall… All things I’m passionate about.

Recently, a friend/soul sister sent me a daily ritual list that she found. At the top, you’re asked to identify your emotional/spiritual intention and then outline a ritual that will guide you towards living in this intention. I love the idea and yet, as I sat down with it, I could only think of a single word. Grateful.

Acknowledging that for today, my only intention is to live and love in gratitude, feels like a gift in and of itself. I haven’t gotten around to filling out the rest of the worksheet. That strong voice inside me that I can hear when I’m genuinely quiet is reminding me that grateful is a state of mind – it corresponds closely with byproducts of serenity, love, etc. etc. Honestly, I don’t know what the tools are to finding that place other than continuing to practice being there. Like learning to swim, there are drills and techniques – skills to hone. But none of the real work starts to unfold until you’re in the water… And then you practice.

Living with the intention of gratitude is cliche, I get that. It’s something that that hippy dippy yoga teacher you had once mused at you right before she lit a weird candle and stood on her head. I used to think it was woo-woo too…until I felt it. And here’s the thing: gratitude feels really effin good. I’ve done the critical thinking, black and white, needing concrete answers to every foreseeable outcome thing, believing that this was how respectable, intelligent people who take things seriously analyzed the world. I encourage you to do your own experiments with it, but here’s my spoiler: my life was not more organized, more clear or more productive when I ran around looking for problems to solve and criticized myself for not being and doing more all. of. the. time. I wasn’t smarter, more articulate, or more professionally esteemed. I was chronically anxious and I was exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping through the night and used copious amounts of caffeine to make it through each day. I didn’t laugh very often, I had an unfulfilling social life and my face broke out every other day. As it turns out, it’s also a lot more fun to walk around challenging myself to find a way to live in gratitude in spite of supposed evidence of the world’s imperfection. Maybe it is exactly as it is supposed to be and it is only my job to find a way to be in sync with the flow of everything else. I’ll never know.

So, for now, I’m going to continue to love the shit out of my favorite season.

Someday it will change and the trees will let go of the things that no longer serve them. But until then, you’ll catch me just peepin dem leaves.

I wholeheartedly invite you to join me.

“I believe that…

What we regret most are failures of courage, whether it’s the courage to be kinder, to show up, to say how we feel, to set boundaries, to be good to ourselves. For that reason, regret can be the birthplace of empathy.”

-Brene Brown. Rising Strong