Saturday, December 28, 2013

Becoming Visible

 Awhile back, This American Life did a podcast where they asked people which super power they’d rather have, the ability to fly, or to become invisible. 

I didn’t even have to think about my answer. I wanted to be able to fly. I already know how to be invisible, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

On second thought, maybe it would have been a little different if I was better able to harness this supposed super power, but it always seemed that I had a faulty invisibility cloak. Sometimes I would get unwanted attention in the shape of being made fun of, or called out on something in front of people, or having to defend my beliefs, thoughts, actions or emotions in the moment, and I suddenly felt like I wanted to fade into the wall, but the damn invisibility cloak wouldn’t switch on, no matter how hard I tried. Other times, I would feel like I was standing in front of someone, screaming at them that I was there, I was real, can you see me? and the invisibility would not turn off. I would be left in a corner of a room, feeling insignificant and see through, wanting to insist that I was just as interesting or intelligent or worthwhile as everyone else there, but I had my own invisibility to contend with that made it seem that wasn’t so. If no one could see me, what on earth could I have to offer?

I am sure that this came about as a defense mechanism. I know I am not making it up that I think that, to some extent, women are taught to fade into the wallpaper, and to think the only way they can stand out is by wearing low tops, lots of makeup and pretending that they have less intelligence than a man so as not to scare or intimidate him. On the other hand, I also think that we are all taught to not actually to stand out at all, unless we can stand out as having all our shit together. I thought that I was supposed to be perfect, and therefore would only present the “perfect” parts of myself. This left out the parts of me that were hurting, the parts that truly needed the human interaction, and anything that couldn’t be listed on a resume. If I wanted to be seen, I thought, I would have had to pipe up and mention fluency in two languages, a full ride academic scholarship, two degrees, two cookbooks, 20 countries visited, but if I did that in a room full of people who didn’t know me I would actually alienate myself further -- pretty much guaranteeing the invisibility cloak would turn on with a remote switch from everyone else's blank looks. If I didn’t slowly dole out that information, I would be seen as bragging; trying to show that I was better than someone else, when in reality I simply wanted to show that I was worth more than the shadow on the wall that people seemed to be able to see through.

Without meaning to, I have stumbled onto the answer of my faulty invisibility cloak. It is not to lose it completely; there are people out there that I would much prefer didn’t notice me, either because they’re douche bags, assholes, want to suck the life out of me or simply do not get where I’m coming from. For them, I need that invisibility cloak to work. The rest of the time, however, there’s been something standing in the way of my being seen, and it was me.

The answer is to say it, out loud: what I really think and feel, not what the group is agreeing on. It is to take off the cloak when I feel safe, and let the utter fear of vulnerability wash over me as I show the sensitive, tender hearted person that is afraid to give of herself because it might hurt, but wants to anyway. It is working on leaving the cloak at home sometimes so that I can’t run to a corner and put it on, and it is not trying to ride the invisible/visible line, because it doesn’t work that way for me anymore: I can’t show up and expect others to see me if I’m not actually willing to show myself.

It also has nothing to do with listing my accomplishments. It has more to do with talking about how I feel, what makes me tick, what makes me smile; letting myself laugh out loud. It is disregarding the people who tell me I talk too loud, too much, too often, when in reality I have something to say; a voice that needs to be heard, and a need to state my case. It’s not always pretty. I can’t always do it right. I can’t know how much a situation will hurt by trying to predict any possible outcome and waiting for the perfect moment to show myself. I have to simply show up without the cloak and know that the people who are meant to will see me. Anyone else who doesn’t notice or doesn’t appreciate what I’m offering up – myself, in all my imperfect human glory – is probably best to forget anyway. 

Love and visible kisses,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rescuing Myself: A New Approach to Finding Validation

“Go easy on yourself,” she said. “What you’re taking on is a really big shift in thinking.”

Or at least that’s what I think my counselor said when I think back on our conversation now, probably three weeks later, as I struggle to go easy on myself in the midst of a mind-blowing revelation that is changing everything.

Like all of them, it surfaced one small piece at a time. I wrote a piece about firing Prince Charming and had a conversation with my counselor, after all, so it’s not like this revelation came completely out of nowhere. Suddenly, however, as I was sitting on a beach in Costa Rica, it fully hit me: I’ve been waiting for someone to rescue me.

At that moment I looked back on my life and finally saw them: the holes that I had been keeping open, like portals to another dimension where the Disney princes lived. Despite being able to accurately describe myself as fiercely independent, I have also been buying into the idea that if I just hang on for long enough, eventually someone – some man – will swoop in and take care of me. He will look at these holes I have left in my existence, smile gently – albeit somewhat condescendingly – and get to work fixing the parts of me that are broken; the parts that I have left broken so that he would have something to fix.

I have been waiting for someone to rescue me. I’ve been waiting for someone to come along and convince me that I am worthwhile; that I am beautiful, that I am a good writer. I have (wince) been waiting for someone to come to me and say, “I believe so much in your writing that I will support you so that you can dedicate yourself to your writing without deadlines or worrying about how to make a living.”

This person would also convince me to take a day off when I needed it, sit down at my desk and write when I needed to, negotiate salaries, freelance work rates, and with the taxi driver that’s trying to rip us off. His job, essentially, would be to take care of me so that I wouldn’t have to take care of myself.


This may have been what I have been unconsciously waiting for, and yet when I have spent time with people who try even a little bit to tell me what is right for me, I have a desire to punch them for thinking that they could possibly know better than I do what I need.

It’s another Catch 22, you see. It’s a rock and a hard place, but more than that, it is a realization that all this time, all my life, I thought relationships were something that they are not: validation. Certainly there is validation in being in a relationship with someone you love, but if I seek my personal validation in someone else’s view of me, it is only a band aid over a gaping open wound that needs not just stitches but reconstructive surgery; if I find my validation in another’s opinion of me, that means I can just as easily lose that validation when they are no longer willing to give it.

Every situation I’ve been in since this revelation, I have caught myself seeking external kudos: for years and still today, I have been aching for connection and for someone to put me first, instead of being able to do it for myself. In any connection I've had, however, it's never felt like enough. I have fallen into a trap that I don’t think has caught only me: it’s called “If I just suffer soundlessly and give all I have, eventually someone will notice and treat me the way I deserve to be treated.” This is instead of a much healthier thought, which would be “If I let myself have what I deserve and don’t settle for less than that, I will get it.” In the second scenario, there’s no need to wait for others to come along: feeling good about myself would no longer depend on the good graces of my friends, family members or a significant other, all of whom have their own lives and their own validation to find. It would not depend on anything outside of my own control, and therefore my confidence would not ebb and flow with the tide of others’ opinions, but rather look more like a foundation of solid rock.

I am trying to go easy on myself here, but it’s a tough go. It’s like being handed the script of my life and suddenly noticing all the glaring inconsistencies and corrections that need to be made. Not only am I now recognizing what needs to change, but I’m also grappling with just how the hell to change it: if I break out of these age-old patterns, what do I rebuild with instead? If a relationship isn’t about giving me value, then what is a relationship about? The walls may have toppled quickly, but rebuilding them in a new, better and more sustainable way is going to take time.

Love and self-validating kisses,

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Don't Date a Girl Who Travels

Don’t date a traveler. If you know what’s good for you and you like your little corner of the world, don’t date a traveler, because she’ll want to pull you out of it.

Don’t date a traveler, because she’ll get antsy when you play video games. She craves real conversations instead of text messaging across a table, even if one of her “must haves” in hostel amenities is free wifi. Don’t date a traveler because she’ll constantly be converting the amount of money you spent on flowers for her into nights of stay at a hostel; she’ll have problems sitting still through sporting events that don’t teach her something she doesn’t already know, and she’ll ask you not if you had fun at a friend’s house, but if you met anyone interesting.

Don’t date a traveler, especially if you’re hoping to tame her. Don’t date a traveler if you’re hoping that by dating her you will give her roots, when in reality she is more likely to want to use her wings. Don’t date a traveler because even outside of traveling she will assess her shoes and yours by their ability to stay on during river crossings; withstand rusty nails found sole-first in the street, and whether they’re breathable in tropical climates.

Don’t date a traveler if your idea of excitement is signing a five-year lease, or taking out a mortgage, because a traveler has seen people with bigger, brighter smiles sweeping the dirt floors in their houses; she has swum with dolphins and listened to coral crackle like Rice Krispies in warm oceans, and she is not impressed by matching sheets or new towels.

Don’t date a traveler, especially if you find yourself saying to her, “When we get married you’ll stop traveling, right?” because that means you never really understood your traveler; you never really listened to the stories she told you about all the stars she could see from the top of the mountain in the Alps, or the way she wished she could cry at the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef but couldn’t stop breathing into her scuba mask long enough to get the sob out. Don’t date a traveler if you aren’t at least willing to let her continue traveling, because it means that you don’t notice that nothing lights up her face or her demeanor like meeting another fellow traveler and swapping notes on the most terrible bathrooms, the worst cases of Monteczuma’s Revenge, which country produces the best lovers and which tiny surf village in Costa Rica boasts the best Mexican food.

If you want to date a traveler, buy a backpack. Be willing to hike in the dark – albeit slowly; she’s adventurous, but not necessarily superwoman – to a hidden hot springs, an untouched powder field, or a clearing where you can lay out and look at the stars outside the city lights. If you want to date a traveler, don’t buy her foot cream when her feet start to get itchy, check your bank account and look for tickets with her. If you love a traveler, be prepared to love someone who can always tell you another way to see a problem – the way they would see it in the Amazon, for instance – and to be reminded that the world is much bigger than the little corner you call home.

If you love a traveler, it’s best if you travel with her, because then you can finally see the world through her eyes: a world full of wonder, of new chances for connection, sunsets from new beaches and mountain tops, new birdsongs, and new cultures that show that the way to happiness is not through something you can buy, but through things you can walk through: rivers, valleys, over mountain passes, amongst the crowds at an Independence Day parade, or weaving in and out of the masked and costumed at a Day of the Dead celebration in a small mountain village in Mexico.

Love and travel addict kisses,

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Small Uncomfortable Space Between The Rock and The Hard Place

Revelations never come to me on the day that I have blocked out on the calendar under “personal enlightenment appointment.” They don’t come to me when I’m sitting at a waterfall, looking up at the water coming off the ledge above me and thinking, “You know, now would be the perfect time to have a soul-altering realization.”

No, instead they come in the midst of a head cold, on the first day of my period, after two weeks of sharing my very small and sacred space with my brother, after I’ve had to wait an hour in line at the bank to pay my rent, with a food hangover from Thanksgiving, when all I want to do is lay down and sleep despite the fact that sleep won’t come.

Revelations come to me like a bucket of cold water to a deep-sleeping child in a bed. Despite the fact that I should expect them by now, as a younger sibling doused repeatedly by an older one, they leave me startled, shivering and crying, and not quite sure what the joke is.

The latest revelation is at once large and yet rather subtle and has been drifting toward the surface for awhile. It is multi-faceted. It is about the small uncomfortable space between a rock and a hard place where I have wedged myself; about the Catch 22 that I’ve found myself in. Here’s the deal: I have been limiting myself to finite possibilities.

I have been seeing the answers to all my questions as black and white: either he loves me completely and romantically or his even liking me is a lie; I either hate this person or I love them completely and wholeheartedly; you are – as Bush so famously said – with me or against me. In this black and white world, all the gray is removed and anything that does not fall on the “either or” scale is absolutely unthinkable: it does not exist, it cannot be there, it cannot be.

When I think about thinking outside the box, I still think in a square. I don’t draw anything that cannot encompass the box; it does not involve flowers nor are there jewels attached. It is not anything, actually, more than a larger box, or a circle around the box, or some other “primary shape” outside of a box.

In reality, life is nothing like this, and the blow my ego took this week was pretty large when I realized that all this time I have been struggling with reality because reality isn’t about the box at all: I can be large and beautiful, brave and a coward, a victim and not a victim, all wrapped in the same person, and get this: all of that is ok. Here I’ve been trying to fix me, and completely missing the point of what needed to be fixed. I do not need to be less me in any way, I need to accept all of me and understand that the way through is not by trying to break me apart, but accept all parts of me equally; accept where I am and use the skills I already have to keep moving forward. It is not about trying to cut off the parts that don’t work; it’s about developing the new parts of me that DO work and letting them slowly but surely take up so much space that the parts that don’t work as well fall to the wayside.

Am I being vague? It certainly feels like it.  Let me see if I can be clearer: I have thought that there was not enough. Not enough of me to go around, so I had to keep myself TO myself. Not enough of someone else so that they could be my friend and also friends with others. Not enough talent that I could read an amazing book and KNOW that it didn’t mean that there wasn’t enough talent in the world so that I, too, could someday write an amazing book about my own story and have it be considered life-altering to someone. I thought there wasn’t enough money. I thought you either made money or enjoyed your life. I thought you were either happy or sad. I thought you either loved someone unconditionally all the time or you simply were incapable of real love.  I thought I would either “make it big” or never make it. I thought I would push through all of these damn revelations, life changes and spiritual discoveries in one fell swoop, cry, gnash my teeth, wail, get them out of the way, and then live happily ever after, my perfectly enlightened partner at my side, who could read my mind, wash the dishes and show up the minute all my enlightenment was complete.

And that’s what the problem has been, invisible audience: it’s been me, thinking that there was just one way to figure all this shit out; that there was ONE answer; that, despite the fact that I have claimed to enjoy this introspection and soul searching, I have been expecting it to end with a party to celebrate my newfound spirituality, after which people would flock to me and children would sing my praises.

There is a Buddhist saying that goes something like this: “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” Although I am not claiming enlightenment, I have found myself in a deep setback the last week or so, for several different reasons, and it has thrown me, because I thought I was farther along than this: farther along than having simply found my bliss in a foreign place, in a secluded casita with only the social interactions that I chose. I stumbled backward to the point that I found it hard to see ahead again, to a place I have already been, one full of bliss and self love, a place where I knew my place, and I liked it.

All of this, but it is not an all or nothing existence. I have not forgotten what the last year has taught me. I cannot unwrite the thousands of words I have written in my own defense, and I cannot unsee what I have seen – both the good and the bad. I know all this, and yet on the days of the big ego-killing realizations, I feel untethered, like a child that once again cannot make herself heard, like someone screaming into a wind machine, her voice and her breath sucked away from her even as they leave her throat.

It is not all or nothing. I am just as tired but more confident, less sure, more alive, less docile and more sensitive than I was before. When I confront situations that were always comfortably anything – painful, normal, expected – they rub a different way now, a new way: they are abrasive against a new skin I have grown that is not near as scaly and yet is in many ways tougher than it was before. I am different, and yet I am the same: I have a new skin, but it has grown over my old body. I am not black or white, but shades of gray, and all of the shades deserve to see daylight: to see the light through their eyelids and feel the warmth on their face.

Love and gray kisses,