Tag Archives: travel

Worth Being Won

27 Feb

Couer_BriseLiterature always feels the most sorry for women like me. Years of their lives lost on a love never to be requited. Narratives are built to leave these women alone in rooms with cobwebs, or sitting helplessly by while the man they love struggles with whether or not he is gay. There is a very slight tone of mockery, and heaps of sympathy for one so lost as to perpetually let love for another remain unfulfilled.

Earlier tonight I was on script and said, “I have a sickness, and it takes the form of him.” (Classic daddy issues, never good enough to gain his love, yadda yadda.) But after a few more hours wandering my 700 square feet of hardwood floor over the earth, I was telling my kitchen cabinets, “It is the great romance of my lifetime, loving this man and his sons.” I would say that on my deathbed. (I watch too many really silly, not at all violent, pseudo-dramatic murder mysteries.)

It’s really not that tragic to love and not be loved in return. Certainly my own true New York Friend would attest that Unrequited is a genius for keeping us in the first flush of love for ten years. Maybe I don’t mind being held in suspension. Clearly I’ve chosen this simulacrum of affection over any truth that will flicker and fade.

Because I actually know what was written for me, and it doesn’t involve a fulfilling love. Or at least, not any more of those. I was so lucky to have so many. Maybe it’s okay if I let my mind manifest the script in which I know I’m already riding along. Sitting on a bus, looking out the window, I’m connecting my isolated self to each of the crazy, old eccentric ladies walking by on the sidewalk, usually pulling laundry carts full of random bags. I psychically high-five them. Yes, hey hey, you were loved and lost. Then you loved and lost and decided never to pick it up again. You started believing in some impossible unattainable love, or forever mourned the loss of a great one, to occupy that part of your mind, and then gradually filled in all the empty bits of your life with despair-deflecting activities and routines.

At worst, the patterns slip and your apartment gets messy and people see your lunacy in unkempt hair. But if you can keep it tidy, like my own loneliest mother did, then no one has to know the hollow echo of so many chambers of life left unfilled. Laundry done again and again, meals made and eaten, dishes washed. Motions are to be gone through, and they provide built-in comfort through the reward of endorphin release when each box is ticked.

Everybody on the outside reassures me that my story has a different ending, and that I’m beautiful and, oh, I’ll find someone. But what if I’m Jane Austen minus some novels. What if I’m noble and brave and just decide that the best love on offer for me is an impossible love. Would I really be so much better if I hadn’t ever met this person and we locked in to an eagle-talon-clinging platonic tumble through space? Would I be in a functional romantic relationship? Or would I be in a terrible situation with someone who added little color to my life while I erased his, until we both faded to a pair of patterns clicking along a set track.

I know there is a third option there, an in-between, but I don’t think in-betweenness suits me. You really have to make me laugh and think hard, as often as possible. That’s not in between. I think I’ll take the amplitude of hearing from Unrequited and feeling some happiness that he’ll visit New York, and later sink a bit in wonder about the guy he mentioned who lives here now.

Will I be supporting him in a big, new life? Will that be what finally releases us from this strange death grip of pseudo-romantic love? Thereby completing our terms using each other for whatever healing distraction or suspended animation we needed to repair deepest damage. Because the older I get, the more I know it’s damage that holds me here. And I may be the most enlightened, meditating, self-aware version of myself, but I can’t for the life of me see one tiny sliver of a path that will coincide with another.

I resent the fact that the Beatles are in my head right now. But it proves my mind has a sense of humor even when it’s spinning the oldest piano reel of my disconsolate viewpoint.

You see, honestly, as my teachers and practitioners tell me, love is about how you are together. Not about some list of things in common. But what if the best I am together is with this person who elevates every thing. I cannot feel low in our suspension. We look ever upward for some gesture we can make for others or one another. We hold doors, we make jokes, we return people’s dropped slips of paper, we make up silly narratives for bad pieces of architecture, we carry bags up stairs for strangers, and we never stop adding to the moment while being in it. There isn’t a story like ours. One where I am so clearly a better, more open and generous person for knowing him. And where we honestly have constructed the best humorous devices and philosophical enquirers of this epoch.

I need him. And I would never say that he needs me. But I know in my heart that this gentleman sees the world differently when he’s saving bits to share with me. Sure, I’m a fool, and I am that literary figure who waits and hopes for what she is told to be impossible time and time again. But Tame Impala says it: People change. And hopefully you have a chance in this lifetime to hear that song with your Unrequited while riding in a tiny Fiat Cinquecento over the limestone hills of southern France, only the dashboard light to keep  you company when the engine gets overwhelmed and you have to pull over and hope the car will find the spirit to move on.

And on that dark winter night hillside, you laugh and are calm together, because you operate on this very placid level and you love the story while you’re in it. You’ve both seen things shatter and you’ve both done a bit of that breaking, and now you just want to love every chance you get, no matter what form it takes. Because maybe, just maybe, your script hasn’t been written, and you’re fumbling through the greatest love story of all time. Too many times, you don’t recognize a good love story until you’ve crossed some preordained threshold, or it’s all over. So maybe hang on to whatever this is that’s unfolding around you, because it feels like an intimacy you haven’t known before, and you can’t predict the ending. Or every time you think it’s really over, the engine kicks back on and the music starts and you find you really can lean on this person for gradually more and more things. Maybe it is just a lifelong, beautiful friendship. That tortures you with its perfection never to be fulfilled.

So, maybe you see why I’m stuck. Until someone is bold enough to take the very slight risk of guessing my affection for them (I show it pretty clearly, and you’d have to be a moron or simply a modern-age, “infinite choices are available to me so why should I bother with this intellectually thrilling but sub-par on the attractiveness scale selection” love-resistor not to feel it), and asks me to follow through on a mutual feeling, then I’ll just maintain the status quo. Because I used to be a little too willing to try other narratives that might bring the feeling of this trophy heart… and too often I pushed them most of the way there myself before I realized it’s not the real thing. So, alright, no pushing. I’ll just wait patiently to see what arrives, and in the meantime keep my trophy heart in its glass case, where it’s well cared for and gets a good amount of laughs. 

A Stitch in Time

26 Feb

patchwork_quiltAll these years of wanting the same thing.

Because there we were, perched on a sagging cot that served as a makeshift sofa in the tiny flat he chose in the 18th arrondissement. Dusk-blue light tinted darker the denim I was sewing near the window, and a little bit of kitchen incandescence filtered around the shape of his profile to my right. Thus framed, my travel sewing kit needle guided thread through pocket and trim, back and forth, zig-zagging with the conversation around a quilt of previous patch jobs.

This darling pair of trousers, the long legs flopping over stumpy femurs bent beneath me, bore the sewing of our tailor in Utah and the stitchwork of our denim knight’s mother. We had all tried to hold together the edges of pockets he himself had tried to reseal with cut-outs of iron-on fabric patches.

I felt tremendously important as I sewed between all that shared handiwork. I knew our tailor would see my haphazard field repair and wonder who could be so erratic, and with dark blue thread on white cotton pocket, too. But the truth is, I had every intention of making a mark. And the sewing gave me a good place to fix my attention when I continued a point I’d made just a bit previously over a late lunch in the south of Pigalle.

“You know, I meant what I said. And I guess you know because I said it years ago. But I do still love you.”

A low level of gravely assent lumbered from his side of the cot.

“And I guess I am probably still quite obsessed with you. But I do keep it in check.”

Then I emitted one of my newly perfected pauses, to let someone else think and speak, instead of speaking for them to fill the gap. Pushed the pause out there, let it sit while I sewed.

There was some stretching and extension of long limbs, long so long I measured the distance from hip to knee when first we boarded the plane to Barcelona, and touching the bone at each joint, I held and said, “Do you realize that the length of your femur is the same as my entire torso?” Admittedly, I have a freakishly long torso, but I did want to point out how I sympathized with the discomfort that would be inevitable on the long flight from New York.

The limbs settled and seat shifted. “I do. And I feel the same way. And I would do just about anything for you.”

He said more and more, and I kept stitching. I’d sealed the gap that was setting coins free to roll down his skyscraper legs to the pavement below, and now my needle was going back and forth, worrying the thread against a worn connection that would break quite soon, too. This was preventative maintenance, and I made my future-seeing strokes quite evident against the white cotton.

This is where I thought of you first. This is where I put extra care in attendance to our future.

I wouldn’t touch the subject again other than in teasing, until some six days later we were stood in customs at JFK and I tucked a hand down the edge of the reinforced pocket and turned up the inner edge to show him the darning. “See, I did a little bit extra, too, so it won’t tear again right away.”

Then lifted my gaze and artificially adhered it to some far off bit of intrigue, and felt how still he was beside me.

Let Yourself Be That

30 Dec

IMG_1982

I apparently make it a habit to rarely be at home, and this year was no exception. Some months, I was only in my own bed four nights out of the calendar 30 or 31 for which I pay precious, precious Brooklyn rent. I don’t regret living (actually, just leave it there: I don’t regret living, full stop) in the many different experiments I put myself through this year. I let myself live in the mountains of Utah and on the beach in Southern California, I tried roaming free in Alabama shortly after returning home from Assen. I was in crummy places like Washington, DC and Baltimore, and I took up temporary residence in my childhood hometown of Minneapolis. There was time in Amsterdam and Barcelona (actually, three trips to Barcelona) and France. And there was more, much more. So much more that I’d have to consult my trusty Moleskine calendar to track it.

Oh! What a natural segue. Moleskine calendar, you say? Well, that must be precious, and since its rear pocket carries the folded poems you must carry with you at all times, you never let it out of your sight, of course.

Of course.

Except for the day in October when I actually lived my worst, most persistent recurring nightmare. I’m talking about the dream that I’m sure I’ve written about here, the one where I endlessly pack my bags and never, ever go to the airport. Or if I’m at the airport, I somehow never get to my gate, whilst losing articles that tumble from my over-filled bags.

The dream v. life metaphors are obvious, but the point is, I never make a flight in my dreams. But in real life, I’ve never missed a flight. Until October 8th, 2015. (Dramatic chord!)

I was in Minneapolis, and I was at the peak of my self-loathing for a terrible habit that was only getting worse as I aged. I was becoming one of those people who begin to pack for a trip at the precise time when they should actually be going to the airport. This was not my dream self, mind you. This was the awake version of the girl who had just arisen from her slumber packing session and was at present dawdling through the newspaper, some coffee, room service breakfast, some lying around and moping… you get the drift.

So, I loathed this girl. But I took her rumpled self down the escalator of the fancy modernist hotel where I’d indulged in an extra night because my friends’ daughter had taken ill and I was already at this conference anyway, so Overburdened Charge Card picked it up. Like I said, I loathed this irresponsible, hapless person that had taken over while my restless soul wandered elsewhere, trying to find itself.

Ahem. My hotel was 15 minutes away from the airport, which helped but also hindered me, because I abused that fact. I glanced at the free airport shuttle, filled with hapless tourists lugging those gigantic bags that only tourists carry, and checked the time. No, I had to take my own transportation, direct to my own concourse, with no stops for Sally Six Bags along the way. I summoned an Uber, smug that I was such a fancy traveler girl that I had to get a car while a van was still being loaded with more girth-testing bags and people beside me. And then I opened my Delta app to check the time of my flight.

To my horror, I saw what I’ve never seen before in my life. It said, “Information is no longer available for this flight.” Which prompted me to wonder, why, wait, what time does it leave?

It left five minutes ago.

You thought it left an hour from now, because for the first time in your life, you let your Calendar app store the flight info, and that app pretended we were on East Coast time, and we are, in fact, in the Central time zone.

A very, very quiet little thunderstorm began in my brain as I smiled at the driver who opened a door in front of me. I was living my recurring nightmare. Well, let’s see what it’s meant to teach me, I told myself in an attempt to soothe the very recently Zoloft-deprived brain in my skull.

The details of what lengths the universe went to in order to demonstrate how far I’d fallen are actually, seriously, too painful to relate here. Let’s just say I cried in the airport, in a ridiculously overpriced Uber Black Car that took me away from the airport so I could kill six hours elsewhere, at a random diner that only took cash, at a shitty bar possessing the only ATM for miles and it was out of money, on the sidewalk in front of the bar, in the stunningly proximate office of my friend’s husband, and then in a Tumi luggage store at the airport, where I let a luggage therapist try to piece me back together again in the form of needlessly overpriced bags that are nowhere near the quality of those made by my own brother. (Sigh.)

I finally did arrive home, with lots of that “kindness of strangers” stuff cheering me along the way, but little did I know that somewhere in all of that Tumi shuffling, another very small thunderstorm was erupting, and it would be two months before it was over.

I’d left my Moleskine calendar, filled with more personal details than anyone should ever put on paper, in one of the many overwrought pockets in one of the many overpriced Tumi bags in a store 1500 miles away from my home.

I didn’t realize this until I’d turned my apartment upside-down and inside-out every night for two weeks. (Sheesh, I look back on this now with true horror at how low I was a the time. You should have seen the wreck my living room was then. Unrecognizable!)

Finally, dust settling on piles of unsettled detritus all around me, I told Unrequited about my lost calendar drama one night while we planned our trip to Spain. His clenched cowboy voice rumbled across cellular transmitters from Utah: “Well. Maybe it was something that you had to let go.”

Gulp.

It’s like he knew that one of the poems in that calendar was the Irish blessing I’d read to try to convince him to love me way back in 1972 (translation, 2011). Ughhhhh… okay, yeah, I should let it go. I get it!

But the universe had other ideas. The night before our flight to Barcelona, I received a phone call from Ohio. Someone, some very lovely one, had found my calendar in a bag they’d bought in the Minneapolis airport! And in the most charming phone call I’ve ever experienced, that someone’s husband cheerily told me how yes, he’d found the poems in the back pocket when he was looking for any means of identification in the calendar. This was the one time I hadn’t written my contact information in the front of a Moleskine notebook and promised a reward of fresh-baked cookies to anyone who found it. The ONE time. Fortunately, he’d found a receipt from my tailor (whuh huh huh, I use a tailor).

Anyway. Profound gratitude pulsed my heart and filled my soul. He was going to mail the calendar back to me, and it would be waiting when I came home from Europe. I promised to send him his rightful reward of freshly baked chocolate sea-salt cookies.

“I’m not one to refuse freshly baked anything,” he said.

Except, when I came home from more Unrequited adventures with Unrequited, the calendar wasn’t there. It was not there in my mailbox, nor there on my doorstep, nor in the hands of any of my kind neighbors. It was clearly in the hands of nefarious agents of the internet-posting world where they were surely going to scan the trembly drivel on my calendar pages and share them with readers of “Found” magazine or whatever it was called. I was going to be a laughingstock. A meme. An animated .gif.

More letting go. Letttttting go. Apparently I was never meant to have this calendar again. I get it. I get it!

But do I get it? Do I have any idea why I let this completely implausible fantasy persist? No, because if I did, I would let it be the beautiful idea that it actually is—and that is, if I let go of trying to control every step that anyone makes toward my heart, someone will actually walk right up to it and embrace me (see previously mentioned Lao Tzu mantra).

Here’s what it’s all about. You see, there’s a meditation that I rarely let myself indulge in doing. It’s effect is blissfully powerful, and it leaves me feeling exactly as I did when I was a giddy little girl who still thought she could do anything in the world, because her golden, pure heart loved everyone, so why wouldn’t that love be reflected back toward her?

The meditation is called “Follow a Desire into Fulfillment.” And people, it’s a magic spell. At the end of its very short ten minutes, when you’re so elated you think you might float away, the very lovely Sally Kempton says, in the kindest, most sincere imperative ever: “Let yourself be that.”

Except she says it with all the right pauses between the words. “Let yourself (pause) be (longer pause, just a slight bit of extra emphasis ahead) that.”

If we could all let the controlled steps of the calendar go, let the missteps of lost love go, and be unafraid to follow the true desire of our hearts (ironically, that’s what the Irish Blessing that I carry is all about), we could let ourselves be that. And I reckon we’d be pretty elated.

By the way, the calendar came to me two months after I lost it, and one month after it was returned-to-sender to the kind people in Ohio. I sent them their well-deserved chocolate sea-salt cookies and I hope those confections made their Christmas as lovely as their kindness made mine. 

 

Music to Have Feelings By

28 Dec
Very_Merry_Mixup

My most favorite Hallmark Channel holiday movie this year!

There have been at least 107 Christmas trees in my living room since October. Or maybe even more. It’s hard to get an estimate, because some of them are the same tree twice or thrice or… multiple times. Cuz, like, I love to watch holiday movies, okay? And they’re definitely NOT of the cinematic classic variety. They’re absolutely the most low-budget, thrillingly flawed Hallmark Channel productions imaginable.

But don’t be mistaken, I don’t have an actual tree in my living room. Because I don’t celebrate Christmas. Well, at least, not at the moment.

(That’s called a cliffhanger, movie fans.)

Here, let me cue some slow but sweet instrumental music to set the tone for my heartbreaking and yet hopeful story…

I am a girl who loves love. All forms and expressions of love are welcome here. And I’ll tell ya, some of the best, most upbeat, least conflicted love stories are found in holiday movies. In these delightful romps through the full spectrum of new love, old love, found love, lost love and imaginary love, amidst the clumsy continuity errors, extremely fake New York City sets and inexplicable Canadian accents (almost all Hallmark movies are evidently filmed north of the border), if there happens to fall a tense moment, it’s only a super brief one. Maybe for approximately ten minutes, our heroine believes that her love interest might not be the man she imagined. But that’s quickly forgotten in a hail of other love subplots involving unexpected revelations from family members, emerging affection from new friends and/or the children of the hero in question, and maybe some appropriately cuddly moments with domesticated animals, too.

So, I guess I’m admitting that the reason I watched even more holiday movies than usual this year (after I ran out of free streaming movies, I actually BOUGHT several Hallmark productions on Amazon Prime), is because I needed to keep cataloging all the best moments of seeing family and friends and finding love even when it seems impossible. I used the movies as instruction manuals in addition to their very successful provision of tinselly distraction.

You see, this was the year I paused Christmas before I start it again the way I like to see it best. It’s only the second time I’ve celebrated the holiday without my mother, and in the first year, I made a valiant effort to go to a friend’s house and celebrate with her. But this year I owned the truth of how much I miss the one true Christmas lover in my family. I stayed home, I declined plans, and instead I went to lunch and saw the new Quentin Tarantino film with some of my Jewish friends.

In response to that choice, even without any soundtrack music to tell me how to feel, I can actually hear my mom sighing a woeful “ohhhhhh,” in her Minnesota accent. Yes, it sounds so sad, the inevitable life-changing happy ending could write itself. And in fact, it did. (Cue upbeat, hopeful music.)

My ideal version of Christmas is just an amplified version of how I endeavor to live all year long. I love seeing friends and connecting with family as often as possible. I try to move with joy and compassion in my heart, and from the depths of the most average (or below average) day, I try to smile at fellow sidewalk travelers and subway riders even when it’s 100 degrees outside and we don’t have any Christmas music to tell us to cheer up. I really try to be that Hallmark movie girl, even though I’m secretly also feeling like an extremely whiny girl who doesn’t believe her own script.

So. Here we are in the last six minutes. (My mom and I loved watching Hallmark movies, and we analyzed the scripts constantly, loving the guarantee of an endorphin rush during those final six minutes of the movie, when everything seems like it couldn’t get worse and then it all comes together for the payoff.) Holiday cheer arrived in my house in a whole bunch of scripted and unscripted ways this Christmas, all of which I cherished. And I have to say that my mother would be very happy to see how well I am doing.

But the endorphin rush came tonight. When my one true love, my Unrequited always-gonna-be-a-friend friend, sent me a photo of his two sons each holding a copy of the “Pocket Pema Chödrön” book that I carried with me on our trip to Spain and France last month. (Yes! I went to Europe with him! And he also sent me a really great book for Christmas!) He borrowed the Pema book from me while we traveled from one scenic locale to the next, and I knew it made an impression on him. But tonight, to see those two boys, whom I have known for ten years, grinning in front of the Christmas tree and holding their book for a photo they knew was being sent to me… that was enough to make me utter my own Minnesota-accented “Ohhhhhhhhh”—but in the “sooooo cuuuute” way.

I am loved. And I love. So the magic of the season worked after all, even if I didn’t go through the old familiar motions this year. I am going to keep building new annual traditions that are founded in my everyday heart. If by loving without expectation I receive those amazing six minutes of happy ending, then I’m going to keep watching!

Overwintering Your Heart

24 Dec

IMG_1556All summer long, I watched my fuchsia plant react to sunlight and heat the way I do, shriveling up and running for the shade. Except the poor fuchsia couldn’t run. It doesn’t “have agency,” to put it the way I heard someone on the radio describe the imbuing of inanimate objects or ideas with motility.

There wasn’t much I could do for the fuchsia’s placement, given the limitations of my south-facing, 50-square-foot (extremely wobbly) deck. But because I was working at home this summer, I provided the fuchsia with agency. I went outside several times a day and picked up its planter and moved it to the rotating pockets of shade cast by the slotted railing throughout the day. It wasn’t enough, though, because it was just too hot for the poor thing. (Next year I will finally get a canvas sail shade!)

So my fuchsia went dormant. Summer dormant. And when the autumn came, I repotted it with a plan to bring it indoors for overwintering in my building’s basement. Everyone online says fuchsia’s have to be the basement, because the house is too warm to let the plant know it’s winter. But honestly, I hate the idea of putting the plant in this building’s particularly grim basement, so I put off the move until the first frost.

…Which never, never came in this El Niño winter. It’s 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now. So, since September the fuchsia has remained where I left it outside. I peeked at it every morning, just to see how it was doing, wondering how dormant versus dead it was. Then, a few weeks ago, right around the time my Christmas cactus was in full, vibrant bloom indoors, I noticed bright, new pink bulbs forming at the end of the fuchsia’s healthiest branch. It was loving life, getting ready to bloom again.

I know I should be horrified, I know I should feel bad that the plant is confused in our weird climate pattern. But I am so happy to see that it’s living, and it actually obviously just needed me to leave it alone for a while cooler temperatures so it would recuperate.

Meanwhile, the plants I brought in for the winter, my kitchen herbs, have died. I researched this move, too, but fearing a sudden drop in temperature during a two-week trip abroad that I was taking in November, I skipped the step of repotting outdoors and letting the plants adjust to the new confines outside before dragging them inside. Well, that was a mistake.

And this mistake was something I was lamenting this morning while I did yoga in the presence of a withering rosemary plant on the window sill. I’d moved it inside, then closer to the heater when the window got drafty and cold, then again closer to the window for more sunlight when it was warmer, trying to help it weather the ups and downs of temperature fluctuations, and yet there it was, regretfully having to make its exit because it preferred to roam free outdoors. The soil was wrong, the pot was wrong, the depth was wrong, the poor plant, which never really got established this summer outdoors, was now overwatered, over-coddled and overcome.

So I googled “saving a rosemary plant brought indoors for overwintering” and found a helpful website that basically told me I did it all wrong (but in a very polite fashion), and I frowned. To lose a plant life is not something that happens often in this apartment. I am the plant rescuer! I am a hero! How could I accept this defeat?

Then I saw a helpful and very relevant quote in a column next to the overwintering article:

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.
—May Sarton

And I exhaled. Okay. Yeahhh… even though a plant loss feels far more severe than discovering that a skirt no longer fits (even immobile, plants are alive, of course), I guess it’s something that happens, even to the best gardener.

I was sort of not really accepting this truth, promising myself and the universe that I’d have all the right overwintering materials and practices in place next year (this is only my second year of having a real garden), when some more fortuitous words leapt into my frame of vision.

It was my new mantra, one I’ve written about on this site previously, but not one I was ready to actually live out until my return from Spain and France a month ago:

“Stop leaving, and you will arrive. Stop searching, and you will see. Stop running away, and you will be found.” 
—Lao Tzu

I moved the plants around frantically, just like I move myself around frantically, but they only really flourished when I could let them rest in one place. Given the right conditions and a little time to take root, plants are pretty resilient.

Already, only one month into my new practice of not flying away from New York the minute I get antsy or a little to close to getting what I want at work, I can tell that I’m getting stronger, and new work ideas are arriving. If I want all my big career moves to happen, I have to stop moving. If I want to enjoy all that I have, I need to stop looking elsewhere. And if I want to be discovered as the whole person that I can be when I just sit still and let myself be whole, then I need to stop running to the airport. Constantly. Although I’ll definitely enjoy my Delta Gold status next year!

 

And Again

3 Jan

againThe train tracks of the Northeastern corridor know me by now. I’ve been traversing them since 1998, rolling on quaking metal between New York City and Providence to go to a place where I can be still with the people I love. I make my temporary home in the attic room of my friend’s gigantic Victorian house, and day by day, after wandering the woods and beaches of mostly coastal Rhode Island, we come home and have tea by the fire and retire early to read books. Unless we’re going out to have cocktails.

I am the most fortunate of humans, because I have long embraced my nomadic instincts. But now, as the wetlands roll by and I suddenly see a cluster of at least ten wild turkeys (what?!? did anyone else see that?) on a golf course, I gotta be honest with myself. Do I keep moving so I never finish anything? Never keep anything except the new, new conversations, people, sights, sensations, passions brought to you by wanderlust.

Somewhere in one of my notebooks piled high on my desk at home is a quote that I wrote down while visiting the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. An early 20th-century painter said that artists must recalibrate periodically by visiting the mountains and the sea. I can’t remember if he said anything abut the plains or stuff in between. But I agree with him completely, and I feel ridiculously fortunate that I can indulge my starving senses on a nearly weekly basis.

Why stay still? Because then I would be done with getting ready for a trip or catching up after a trip, and I’d be in that functional limbo where I could actually be at peace and write pages and pages of the novel. Don’t you love how I call it “limbo”? Yeah, because being home is a kind of purgatory, apparently, no matter where I live. I guess it’s my Viking genetic code, seeking to plunder and possess more, more, more.

It makes me feel lost. But apparently I never want to be found.

Secret Garden

12 Feb

fair prospectI was running, running down and along each of the stepped paths in the deeply seated garden behind a mansion on the Isle of Islay. The sun was out (in Scotland!), the mansion was closed, and the place was entirely devoid of people, so I behaved like a mad person and shouted the opening stanzas of Prufrock as I ran. Each time I wound a corner and plopped feet into various squishinesses of mud and moss, I laughed. I’d just come down from running atop a sheep-dotted hill and I was still giddy. This entire garden was for me! I was on the beautiful, amazing Island where all my favorite single malt scotches are distilled. I’d worked so hard to earn this trip. I was there, I was gulping air. I was going to pack full and keep every second for all my life.

Just as I was slowing my steps to navigate around a swampily impossible patch, I looked up and saw a man standing in a greenhouse, eating a sandwich and looking at me like I might actually be from another planet. He was tall and ridiculously handsome. Maintaining my magnanimous momentum, I waved with both arms and shouted “Hello! Just visiting!” And then I took one step away from the scene and then another lurch back… and he and I cautiously approached one another.

“Are you having your lunch break?” I asked, as if I’d known this guy forever.

He was indeed having his lunch break.

I told him I was ridiculously excited to be in his beautiful garden, and I was on Islay for the weekend, and this was my dream trip, and I was running and shouting. In case he missed it.

There were jokes and banter aplenty. His name was Tom and he told me that everyone who lives on Islay has an interesting reason for being there.

“You had some time in prison?” I asked.

“Hah! I may have the face for it, but no, I was never in prison.”

The farm where he worked in Kent was unable to support the three families living there, so he was the one who courageously set out for a new life. “It would have been much easier to move to France, which was just across the channel, but I moved here, 690 miles away,” he laughed.

His garden, I kept saying with big, loud joy, was beautiful. He made free to share it with me. Pointing to a palm tree, he told me about the gulf stream and how the west coast of Scotland was strangely warm. Currents from South America, he said. No snow here ever. Just storms, wild storms. 

ribbon treeThen he pointed to another tree behind me. It was a New Zealand Ribbon Tree, one of only three in the U.K.

“Oh wow, so that’s a rare tree?”

“Well there are plenty of them in New Zealand, I would expect, but there are only three in the U.K. You should look at it more closely.” He went back to his shed and returned with the other half of his sandwich, chomping with big gardener bites but still looking quite dignified to match his genteel accent.

“Will you walk with me to look at it?”

“Sure.”

Then I did what I never do. I just asked. “Are you married, Tom?”

Breath caught in his throat and he held a pause before he said on an exhale, “I am.”

“Oh, that’s a shame, because I would move to Scotland.”

It was so breezy, so light. We were entranced in sunlight and blossoming snow drops and I didn’t scare him with my sudden devotion. It was just a wonderful exchange of all that matters. Work and life and beauty and poetry and talking to strangers and smiling a lot. Tom, you cultivate your garden and I’ll keep memories of it in my mind forever.

door

One-Way Mirror

27 Jan

mirrorLittle, tiny streets clogged on both sides with cars bundled bumper to bumper as if to keep warm in the blizzard’s remnants, sunlight bouncing off all the white and jumping into each window of the black car. A slide and then a stop at an empty intersection.

“My wife and I, we’re going to Miami next week to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary,” a look left and then right. Gentle persuasion of the gas pedal to nudge us forward another block.

“Miami! Well that’s going to be a perfect escape.”

We’d already covered the important questions of happiness, generosity, compassion, and how to move with kindness through the world. Those are the first topics you address when a driver is late on the day after a blizzard and you’ve allowed yourself four hours to get to your delayed flight departure. You let the guy know that you don’t blame him for the delay, and you certainly aren’t in a hurry. You make a quip about those honking horns around his double-parked car: “They must be important.” And then comes the banter about people trying to make themselves feel bigger, better by berating a stranger.

We were smiling, gliding our way through to my departure lounge. He mentioned his wife as a highlight of his life and conversation early, and I already knew he loved her and their daughters. An upstanding citizen who used to work in real estate and mining development, with African adventures dissolving his finances and leaving him adrift in transportation, he didn’t consider himself down on his luck. Just waiting for the next batch of good things to come.

Then we got to the hard-hitting stuff.

“I hope he doesn’t forget me while I’m gone.”

“He won’t forget you. You’re—” he tilted the rearview mirror rakishly to verify, “yeah—you’re beautiful. Men don’t forget beautiful women.”

Sinking sheepishly deeper into faux leather interior, I looked upward at the crumbling gable of a porch roof and squinted at the snow that pushed it further earthward. “I hope not.”

Heart Strong

19 Mar

texasToo often, when I opt for the group shuttle ride to the airport, I am confronted with the ugliness of all the other “strong, independent women” who don’t need a man to take them to the airport… but they also don’t want to take themselves to the airport. Oh lawd, how those women are all the same, no matter what their age. Too loud, too opinionated, and too openly lamenting missed opportunities at love. And there I am, caught on a bench seat with them, trying to maintain some semblance of hope that I will soon be lifted from this purgatory of “no one left behind at home, no one to hug in the departures lane, no one to call at night from the hotel.”

The reason I continue to make reservations with Profound Personal Confrontation Transportation, Inc. is because I see parts of Fort Worth I might not otherwise ever see. And this sometimes pays off. Like the other week, on one of two meandering journeys to and from the airport in the same day (canceled flight, due to a “blizzard” that never happened in New York), I saw these words, writ large on curved granite:

“There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth.”

Damn straight, I thought, I wonder who said that… Oh, John F. Kennedy. A monument to America’s lost hero, who spent his last night on Earth in Fort Worth. I was briefly distracted by the question of whether you can really have an assassinated president’s monument be a tourist testimonial, but then I got back to the matter of the quote.

I am in Fort Worth. And I certainly do not have a faint heart. I am therefore proud to be in Fort Worth, where there are no faint hearts.

A little bit of research informs me that Kennedy spoke those words because the throngs who awaited him outside the Hotel Texas on what would be his last morning had in fact waited for quite a long time in the pouring rain. That certainly does represent a particular kind of devotion, and one that is evident in the photographs of enthusiastic Texans reaching out to greet the president that day.

Only a true and strong admiration can fortify a long wait in the rain. And my heart has kept a hopeful eye on the stage ahead, awaiting the entrance of the one who will dazzle and captivate.

Passport Control

4 Feb

 

 

brusselsDear Heart, I can feel you closing down, squeezing just a bit tighter around what fraction of comfort you still carry. It’s protection mode again, as we pack up our things for another flight home.

“You travel to where?”

“Texas,” with a question mark and raised-brow eye contact in the rearview mirror.

“Ah, Texas.”

“Yeah, I’m not from there, but it’s where I live now.”

“What’s the weather like in Texas?”

“It’s warm!” with sudden enthusiasm. “I don’t know the Celcius but it’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“Oh. Not like here,” and a little shiver of his shoulders to indicate what the old stone streets offer now.

The taxi is unabashedly loud, rattling those hazy bystanders glued to bus stops built on cobblestones and tram tracks. My shoulders rise in just a bit of wish that I could tiptoe past postcard buildings that somehow always stay standing. Long, window-lined passages reflect cloaked footsteps from earliest governments.

This is where I feel my heart clench. After three days spent with a dear friend who knows my every eyelash flicker, I return to anonymity. Away from clouds on gray stone and toward sunlight on red-brick streets in cowtown, facades hollow with only recent history.

“It was fast!” the driver exclaims, having turned all the way around to look right at me and smile with his childhood self.

It was fast, and after briefly heaving my bag up another curb, I am culled from the crumbling masses and sent through “the fast lane” of security and redistributed to the British Airways lounge. Now surrounded by HVAC noise, endless coffee making and toast crunching, I relax just a little bit more. This I have built for myself. I don’t dwell in any one place, and I’m not from where I live, but like a less beautiful Clooney, I travel well.

It’s 3.00am where I live, and I picture dark wrapped around a soul in time zone one hour earlier. He has difficulty sleeping through the night and I wonder if he feels the slight tug of my distant hope for a text reply. This is what we long for today. Just a few words cut and pasted together as on a telegram.

Derailed. I’ve got stuff booked. I’ve got calendar plans. I am on a timeline. There is a gentleman waiting to have whisky with me in cowtown, there is a gentleman visiting Dallas on Valentine’s Day who wants sofa time with me, but two weeks after that is the man I want to see.

☽ Of Wildest Heart

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