Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Me of Here and Now

I have a heart arrhythmia that is induced by exercise. It bothers me less when I’m in better shape, but I always have to be careful that I don’t overdo it. If my heart starts racing – even if I get it to stop –- it is more likely to start racing again.
Although in many ways I’ve felt that this hinders me, in a lot of ways it helps me make sure I don’t overdo it: if I push myself too hard, I know that there’s a chance I won’t be able to go any further. In that sense, I don’t do things a lot of people do: I don’t try running a half marathon without training, I don’t go on long hikes unless I’ve been getting exercise on a regular basis. Sometimes I have to stop immediately if I feel it coming on – like when I recently did the Quetzales Trail with a friend and I plunked myself down 25 feet from a rest spot in the middle of the trail and refused to move until I was sure that my heartbeat wasn’t going to start racing up to 220 beats a minute.
I should add that more than one doctor and cardiologist has told that my arrhythmia will not hurt me. It is benign, they say: it is uncomfortable, it makes it hard to continue doing what I’m doing, it makes me light headed and dizzy and makes it hard to keep up with friends, but it will not hurt me.
My body is really good at telling me when I’m at the same point emotionally, but I’m not as good at listening. Apparently, it sometimes takes a feeling of dizziness in order to get me to slow down, but that’s exactly what I need to learn to do: know my limits, my pace, and stick to them.
I realized today that there’s a voice in my head that tells me that I am not strong enough. This voice – amongst many others – looks at an opportunity, a person or a situation, and when my body screams, “No, please don’t! It’s outside of my capacity; it’s asking too much!” this voice says, “You don’t want to do it because you are weak. If you were stronger, we could handle this and everything else. If you were stronger, this wouldn’t be a problem.”
Jesus H., invisible audience. No wonder I struggle so much. Can you imagine? Every time you cry out for rest, someone hands you a baton and tells you to keep running? Of course you probably can. This can’t be a problem just I have, and yet the same voice tells me that I alone don’t have the strength to do all and be all to everyone.
I wish I were a lot of things. I wish I were stronger; that I had more energy; that I were one of those people who could live on 5 hours of sleep, who could sit up one day and decide to run a half marathon without wondering if it would kill them. I wish I found it easier to make decisions based solely on what I want, without including all the other voices and people in my head.
I wish all these things, but they aren’t true yet. It doesn’t mean I won’t get there with some of them, but it does mean that I need to stop making decisions based on what I wish I was and start making them based on who I actually am.  
I have realized that I am at a point where I have been before. It’s the point where I have been slowly but surely working to realize my dream, then I break through into an extra layer of fear. This fear tells me that I’ll never make it; that there’s no money in what I’m trying to do; that I’m CRAZY for thinking my life could be different. When I have arrived at this point before, I changed the plan. I started writing cookbooks; I got part-time jobs. I told myself that I should still be able to write what I want to write while doing all these other things to; things that will lead to financial stability; that give me benefits, that feel safer to explain to others.
The truth is, when I made these decisions before, it never turned out well. It killed my creativity, and I didn’t have the capability to both create and work for someone else. Call me weak, call inefficient, call me whatever you want, invisible audience, but having done it more than once, I now know that I am at a crossroads, and it’s time to make a different decision. It’s time to let the fear wash over me, acknowledge it, and go forward, not with who I want to be or how I wish I was, with mountains of energy and creative genius aplenty, but with who I am: scared, hopeful, and knowing that I have to guard my time and energy as if it were all I had, because really, it is.
I don’t know how it’s going to work out. All I know is that I want something different, and to get it, I have to make different decisions than I’ve made in the past. I have to choose me: the me that’s here now, so that I can take the small daily steps to make me what I want to be.

Love and today’s me kisses

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Asking for Permission

Not long ago, I sent an email to a friend, and referred to her as a writer. She replied and said she was flattered; that she doesn’t consider herself one yet. I replied back, telling her that of COURSE she was a writer. Of COURSE.

What she may not remember was a moment in 2010 when she and I had the same conversation, but I was on the opposite end. I was just about to publish my first cookbook, and I was trying to decide if I had done enough of the work – after all, I just compiled the recipes, most of them weren’t mine – to be called an author. And, if I wasn’t the author, what would I say on the last page about me? “About the Compiler”?
She did a search on Amazon, and came back with her results. I was an author. I may not remember correctly, but I believe that what she said was something along the lines of “You’re an author, toots.”

It took a lot to get there, but I now call myself a writer. I put it on foreign customs information; in profiles I fill out; I even put it down as my occupation when I got an eye exam before I left the States and ended up selling a book because of it. It took me a long time to get here, but it’s not the only thing that I am, and there are many things that don’t feel comfortable to call myself yet; one of them is author. It may feel like splitting hairs, but for me it has felt like an important one to split. I realized why not long ago: I am waiting for permission.

Permission. I have a degree in print journalism, I have written two books that are published and several more that are not. I write every day, and yet some part of me is waiting until I have published something wildly popular – like a bestselling novel – before I call myself an author. It’s a moving target, you see: no matter how much I strive toward a goal, I always find myself only halfway there, waiting for someone else to tell me what I already know I am.

This isn’t my only example. I don’t call myself a chef because I’ve never gone to school. I don’t call myself a Spanish teacher because I don’t have a teaching degree. I don’t call myself an expert in how to create the life of your dreams, because there’s no degree for that, and because I haven’t quite figured it out myself yet, even if I have started to compile the steps through years of trying to figure it out. I am waiting for permission, you see, and I have just stumbled upon a realization: I’ve been waiting for permission from the wrong people.

It all has to come from me, you see. I cannot wait for someone else to tell me what I am. I cannot wait for all the markers that apply to doctors or lawyers to be applied to writers, authors, life coaches, or adventurers. Even if I do all these things well, I have been shying away from calling myself anything that would cause someone to say, “Wait a minute, what school did you get your degree in travel addiction from?” and I would have to defend myself. No more.

My friend is a writer. I am an author, because I say I am, and because in the end, it’s me that has to believe it. I am also an inner voice coach, an adventure coach, a life of your dreams cheerleader, a Spanish coach, and a damn good cook. I am none of these things because someone gave me a certificate that said them; I am all of these things because I say I am, and I’m the only one I need to ask for permission to call me whatever I am, and whatever I want to be.

Love and authored kisses,

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Four Stages of Change

“I had a gall bladder attack today – the worst one I’ve had in a really long time.”
I was sitting in a hotel lobby talking to my new friend Judy, a naturopath from the States who I was just about to make some phone calls to Colombia for. We trade a fair amount of things between us: Judy gives me advice on how to monetize my books and my website, and in return I give her Spanish lessons. I help translate for her, and she tells me the fastest way to get over the flu (lots of sunshine, rest and Vitamin C on the hour). I asked her about my gall bladder because I needed help: it wasn’t the first time I’ve had pain, but it was the first time in a long time, and it seemed to have come out of nowhere and taken me by surprise.
“Ok,” she said. “Do you agree that physical pain has emotional components?”
I thought back to the 40 pounds I gained without an ability to stop while I dated a man who sucked the life out me; I thought about the cough I had for 9 months while dating the same man. More recently, I thought about the stomachaches that had told me under no uncertain terms that I was in the wrong place, that had ultimately led me to where I was today, in a beautiful little house in the mountains that I love.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I agree.”
The gall bladder, Judy said, is tied to bitterness. It is also closely tied to the liver, which is tied to anger. An important part of healing, she went on, is to figure out what I have been bitter and angry about, either in the past or now, and work through it. Although she also gave me advice on how to treat the symptoms – lemon juice in my water, cutting back on high fat and greasy foods, etc. – it was her advice about processing emotions that really got to me, because it was something I had never heard before – related to my gall bladder, anyway.
I write in my journal every morning, so not long after that I sat down and thought about what was happening when I first started having gall bladder attacks. It was almost a year into my year of trying to get published; I had picked up a part-time job, and I was thinking a lot about whether I wanted to write my wine-pairing cookbooks. The money I had saved was dwindling, and my friends were telling me I didn’t have a job, even if I wrote, researched publishing and otherwise did something related to writing every single day. Bitter? I’ll say I was bitter. At the time when most of my friends were settling into career tracks and thinking about starting families, I was poor, struggling to follow my dream and yet unable to see where it would lead me. Sometimes I seemed to be the only one who believed in me, and even that wasn’t a guarantee.
I wrote about all this, and realized how deep it went; how many things I was angry and bitter about at that point. Unfortunately, though, the bitterness and anger didn’t stop there. I thought I had processed it, and within a week my gall bladder pain started to disappear, but in its place came something else: a huge wave of anger.
I suppose in retrospect it is inevitable. Before I came to Panama, I thought a lot about how to explain my need to be here, and lamented the fact that no one understood. Once I got here, I stopped worrying so much about it, and instead began to realize how wonderful my life could be when I followed my heart. Third, I started to focus on making major changes to the decisions I made so I would attract the kind of people who would lift me up instead of bring me down.
Really, I should have seen the next phase coming: the phase where I get absolutely pissed at anyone who’s standing in my way.
This doesn’t even need to be someone who is physically blocking the aisle to the grocery store, standing between me and the chocolate. I have found myself angry at anyone who doesn’t understand me, who doesn’t seem to hear me, who acts on my behalf when I have not asked for their help; the internet when it doesn’t cooperate; the men who want to date me despite their wives and girlfriends; the people who want me to volunteer, to translate for them, who don’t smile at me, or the men who whistle at me. Most of all, though, I am angry at myself.
I can recognize that it’s just a phase, but it’s just a phase the same way that you can assure a woman that the pain of childbirth will end, but that knowledge will not necessarily help in the middle of a contraction. I know in a logical part of my brain that one day I will not be as angry, and yet for now, it seems important to acknowledge this anger for what it is, and what it is supposed to be: a lowering of the bullshit bar; a sudden inability to take anymore shit from anyone.
Yes, I am over-swinging on the anger meter, but I refuse to try to talk myself down. I have done it for too long: placated, accepted, acquiesced, submitted. Although I am sure that some of you would not agree, believe me when I say that I have walked away from encounters countless times in my life, cursing my inability to speak up on my own behalf, and trying to quell my impotent rage.
I can’t do it anymore.
I cannot give anymore. I cannot give away all my energy, all my needs, because someone else has decided they need them. I cannot make excuses for others, and I cannot excuse them when they are rude to me, or thoughtless. After I put down the feeling I had that I must put everyone else’s needs before my own, I have found my own needs rising to the surface at lightning speed, spilling over the sides and flooding the room. It may not look different from the outside, but from the inside I am boiling, and I’m glad.
After my relationship with Mr. Add-40-Pounds ended, I wrote a blog post about how I wished that someone would stand up for me. I didn’t mention it there, but it was my ex-boyfriend that I wished would have acted on my behalf instead of his. Now, I am incensed that anyone would assume to know what I want more than I do; I am outraged at the thought that anyone else could make up my own mind for me. It may be just a phase, but it’s an important one: after all the grief, the fear, the questioning of whether I had enough strength to do it myself, I have found the answer: I do, I can, I will.
Don’t worry, invisible audience. I am sure that soon I will get my equilibrium back; that I will have less moments of envisioning I am slapping someone upside the head. What I hope as well, though, is that I keep a little bit of this edge, specifically the part that absolutely will not accept less than I deserve anymore. First I longed for it, then I found what it was, and now I am willing to fight anyone who will not let me have it. I don’t need to keep the archers on the castle walls, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m going to let just anyone into my fortress anymore. Instead, I’m going to choose more carefully; create a vetting process, and trust myself: if I know it won’t wholeheartedly serve me, then why on earth would I let it in?

Love and anger phase kisses

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sex, or Something Better

Author's note: I could write a whole blog post on the process it took to decide to actually post this on my blog. At first I just sent it out to a handful of people via email, but somehow it didn't feel right to do that, for a few reasons: 1) Like most humans, sexuality is an important part of who I am, and I know the struggle I reference in this post is not something that only I have dealt with. 2) I have found that the fastest and easiest way to realize that I am not alone is to voice the reasons that I feel alone, and therefore open myself up to the possibility of hearing others tell me that they feel the same way. 3) There is nothing authentic in hiding this part of me. If I'm going to write a book that is all about me and my life, I have to practice showing all parts of myself, including the most vulnerable parts. It's a practice, and I'm practicing. 

All that being said, WARNING: Adult Content. If you prefer not to think of me as a sexual being, I suggest you don't read any further.

“Morgan, can you please take off your sunglasses and look at me?”
I shook my head, snapped my wallet shut and got out of the taxi. I busied myself pulling my groceries out of the back seat, but I made the mistake of looking in as I did – right into the liquid brown eyes of Irving, a young cute Panamanian who had just asked me on the bumpy ride down my driveway how long it had been since I last had sex.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I had said, staring out the window at the mountains surrounding my home in the mountains of Panama. I was uncomfortable, and yet I was the one who had brought up the conversation.
The last time I called Irving to drive me home, he showed up with a woman in his front seat – a possessive, jealous woman who had her arm across the back of his seat, creating a wall. She didn’t say a thing to me or my friend Jemma, and Irving, usually so talkative, said nothing to me either. We rode in silence until I started up a half distracted conversation with Jemma, and tried to pretend that there wasn’t enough tension in the car to cut with a knife, or perhaps, more appropriately, with a Panamanian machete.
I had just finished telling Jemma about the Panamanian taxi driver who had a crush on me and had recently asked me if he could bring over a pizza sometime to eat on my deck. When he showed up to pick up Jemma and I with a woman in his front seat, I wanted to laugh. It made me feel better, actually, because I really thought he was a cute "kid" – he’s 24, I’m 31 – and I enjoyed getting cheap rides and talking to him, but there was nothing more I wanted. I thought that would be the end of it – that this woman, whoever she was, would put the kibosh on him giving me rides for discounted prices. She was definitely possessive, and he was cowed in her presence.
The next day I got a text, that for fault of the Panamanian cell service, arrived 12 hours late.
“Hey, I can still give you a ride, but I wanted to let you know that I have to pick up the mother of my daughter (read: baby mama) and take her home.”
Aha. I wrote back.
“Just got your message. She seems to be a lot more than just the mother of your daughter. Thanks anyway for the ride.”
He never got it, so he says. Even if he had replied, I didn’t figure out for a week that my message inbox was full and that I wasn’t receiving new messages. Then, yesterday, he sent me a message.
“Why haven’t I heard from you? You don’t need rides anymore?”
So I called him to take me home after a grocery run. I brought up the subject of the woman in his car.
“That’s why you haven’t called me? Because of her?”
“I figured it would be a bad idea. She seemed incredibly jealous.”
The conversation progressed. I told him that either she didn’t know they were only friends, or that he was still sleeping with her. He assured me that the latter wasn’t the case. He asked if I would act the same way in her situation, and I said no; that it showed a lack of trust. She obviously didn’t trust him, and that if they really were just friends and co-parents, that she didn’t know that.
What I should have said more clearly is that she seemed the type that would blame the woman and not Irving if something occurred that she was not ok with...even something as simple as regular rides home in his taxi.
Somehow the subject of friends with benefits came up, or, as they call them here, “friends with rights.”
And of course, the conversation turned to sex from there.
“How can you stand it, living up here all by yourself? Don’t you miss it?” he asked.
“Miss what?”
“Of COURSE I miss it.”
“So what do you do?”
I gave him a look, that in retrospect he probably couldn’t see through my sunglasses.
“What do you think I do?”
At first I didn’t understand what he said, although the word is basically the same in Spanish. Perhaps I didn’t want to. Suddenly we had crossed a line I wasn't sure I wanted to cross.
“You masturbate?”
“Yes. Yes I do. Don’t you?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Well congratulations,” I said.
“It’s normal, everybody does it,” he said.
“I’m glad that’s true in Panama, too.” I said.
By then we were bumping down my driveway, and he asked The Question.
“When is the last time you had sex?”
Oh God, I thought. It’s been so long. I tried not to wail. I tried to pretend it wasn’t an important question; tried to pretend that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t lay in bed at night, wanting not just sex but for someone to hold me; to run their hands down my bare arms and take up some of my space in the bed. I tried not to think about it, and I answered as breezily as I could.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“A long time, huh?”
“Yes. Too long.”
A pause.
“Why are we even talking about this?” I asked.
“I know. Talking about sex turns me on.”
“Exactly. Let’s stop talking about it.”
He pulled to a stop in front of my house. He asked me something else about sex, I don’t remember what, but suddenly I realized I was really close to inviting him in. I realized it at the same time that I realized that I didn’t want to, for no reason I could fathom in the moment. I handed him his money and he gave me change.
“Morgan, what’s the matter? Will you take off your sunglasses and look at me, please?”
I got out of the car. I stood with the back passenger door open, and talked to him through it.
“I can’t be that woman.” I said.
I had to stop and look away. He was looking at me with something more than naked need. He was looking at me like he really saw me for what I was: a mature woman, with needs, damn it. A woman who needed someone to LOVE her, for crying out loud.
I looked back at him.
“You have things that you need to figure out with your ex-girlfriend. You are either more than you say you are, or at the very least you are still sleeping with her.”
“No,” he said. “No, I’m not.”
“There’s something.” I said.
By this time I had grabbed all my bags out of that side of the car. Instead of reaching in further to grab my backpack and risking the chance he would touch me, I went around to the other side and opened the door behind him. He reached back and held it open for me.
“There’s something you need to figure out with her. I don’t want to be that woman – I can’t be that woman.”
He interrupted me.
“Can I come inside so we can talk about this?”
“No, because I know the real reason why you want to come inside.”
“You don’t want to have sex?”
Of course I do. Of course. I didn’t say it out loud. I didn’t even really allow myself to think it. Of course I want your skin sliding over mine, the rasp of your tongue on me. Of course I need this, of course I am not built to be an island.
Of course I want this, I thought, but not with you.
“I can’t be that woman,” I said again. “I don’t want to be that woman.”
He stopped twice to yell something at me as he backed out of the driveway. He sent me three texts in succession: all this talk has made me horny; I hope you won’t stop calling me because of this; I’m sorry. I didn’t answer any of them.
Instead, I tried to decide why I had said no. It took awhile, but I realized the truth in what I had said to him, and that I had left out one part of the sentence: I don’t want to be that woman anymore.
As far as I know, I have never dated a married man, although there was one who might have gone back to his ex-wife before he officially broke up with me. I have never been a mistress, and yet I have often picked someone who offered me less than what I was worth. As much as my skin was crying out for a man’s touch, as much as I was thinking of booking a second session with a local massage therapist/acupuncturist purely because it felt so good to have a man’s strong hands on my back; as much as I took the bus sometimes simply because the money taker’s feline grace made me want to take my clothes off and he called me his “queen,” I am no longer ok with accepting less than I deserve. I am no longer ok with taking what’s there instead of waiting for what’s better. I am no longer interested in what will suffice, I am interested in what will make me sing…or scream in ecstasy.
I was sitting outside in the mist after he left, and I finally realized what had stopped me.
“Something better,” I said out loud, to my little quiet yard, my casita, the thunderclouds, the chirping birds.
“My choices are this, or something better.
I got up and went inside, aware that I had just made a choice, and my choice was different than any choice I had made about men so far. I chose to wait for something better.

Love and better than sex kisses,