Tuesday, November 5, 2019

My Yearning to Belong

Hello, Invisible Audience.

Excuse my absence. I have no excuse, except that I have not felt the call to write out loud lately, until the last couple days.

The last couple days, I have been weepy and tired. I’ve been sleeping 10 hours a night and find my legs shaky without a boost of caffeine. Fortunately, I have created an arsenal of tools over the years to help with such times: yoga classes, Al Anon meetings, women’s groups, journaling, and yes: writing to you.

A couple weekends ago I went to an all-weekend women’s retreat held here in Leavenworth. It was so close to my house I actually walked to it most days, although the majority of the participants stayed on-site. 

In theory, it should have been an uplifting experience, but I have to admit it wasn’t. Spending from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon with 25 other people in any capacity is almost guaranteed to put me on overload. This was especially true after an entire month with something going on every weekend, plus teaching six kids’ classes a week, plus a three-week cold that left me on the couch for a lot of the time I wasn’t teaching and drained me of my strength. Let’s just say that I was already exhausted, and regardless of the type of company, company is exhausting to me, and this retreat was no different.

BUT. A realization came out of the weekend that was wholly unexpected and very well may be life changing. It was about belonging. 

My life trajectory is different than most people’s. Until a couple years ago, I had not spent more than a year in any single residence since I went to college at 18. I have traveled extensively, mostly by myself. I have lived for at least short periods of time on various continents and a couple different states. Although all these experiences have been rich and well worth the time, energy and money that took me there, they have also made it more of a challenge to find a group that I consider my tribe. Even more important, however, was the realization that I have been using all of these experiences as proof that I don’t belong to anyone or anywhere.

During the retreat, we worked on discovering the values we consider most important in our lives. One of my most important values was adventure – I sense you’re not surprised, Invisible Audience – but the other one that presented itself loud and clear was belonging. With that realization, my entire life and all my struggles came into focus in a way I’d never put together before.

I have yearned to feel like I belonged for as long as I can remember, even if I never realized it. At the same time, I have spent A LOT of mental energy convincing myself that I did not belong for various reasons.

·      I felt too fat to belong in high school.
·      I felt isolated and alone living in Spain during the year after 9/11 because I was away from my country and could only communicate what I needed in simple terms in Spanish.
·      I felt isolated and alone when I returned from Spain because my viewpoint was different from those who had never left.
·      I felt too responsible and serious (and not into drugs enough) to belong to the skiers at Winter Park when I worked there.
·      I felt different from many of my friends who seemingly settled easily into relationships, jobs and stable lives while I traipsed around the world.
·      I spent a summer at an ashram in Canada, and didn’t feel like I belonged there because I didn’t resonate with most of their teachings. 
·      I sometimes feel too sedentary to really fit in in Leavenworth, where four-year-olds can ski, mountain bike and rock climb better than I can.
·      I have felt separate from others because I spend so much time trying to feel better. I have worked for myself for years because I don’t have the energy it takes to work a 40-hour-a-week job. I don’t tell most people how much time I spend on the couch, trying to muster the energy to work, or how a hike in the morning will mean I spend the rest of the day on the couch.
·      I feel different because I cut off ties with my dysfunctional family. I often lie about how I’m spending holidays so people don’t feel sorry for me, when really I enjoy not having to spend a day in other peoples’ dysfunctional family dynamics because they think it would be better for me to be with anyone versus being alone.
·      I have convinced myself I am too different – too serious, introspective, busy, broken, neurotic – to belong to another in a romantic relationship.

Do you see, Invisible Audience? Whether it was true or not, I have been collecting proof of my “unbelonging” and using it to keep myself siloed. Despite the fact that what I have wanted more than anything was to belong to a tribe of people who get me, I have been keeping a running list of reasons why I don’t and will never belong.

At the same time, a lot of what I do on a day-to-day basis is meant to help people feel like they belong.

·      I teach Spanish classes to kids and adults so they can reach out to Spanish-speaking community members to help them feel more like they belong.
·      I smile at tourists in Leavenworth so they feel welcome in town, even right after I’ve yelled at them in the safety of my car for driving like idiots.
·      I am involved in a lot of community events and organizations because I want to help people feel like they belong, including immigrants.

Even as I hold myself apart, I am trying to help others to feel the belonging that I don’t. So here’s the question that has come up: how do I let myself feel like I belong? I am not without friends. I have plenty of people who love and value me and would not toss me to the side because I admit all these things about myself. The real issue is not whether I actually belong,it is whether I feel like I belong.

That whole weekend at the retreat, I was creating a story in my head. Because I didn’t find it relaxing and rejuvenating, I didn’t belong. Because I was irritable and exhausted, I had to keep myself separate. I was trying to convince myself that I couldn’t be authentically me and still belong.

And that, Invisible Audience is why I’m writing to you today. I need to be authentic, and remind myself that it makes me MORE loveable, not less. That the people who love me do it BECAUSE of who I am, not because I am hiding the most tender, messy and chaotic parts of myself. Because, ultimately, if I can’t belong as myself, I’m even lonelier than if I belong as a pared down version of me.

Love and belonging kisses,


Monday, June 24, 2019

Building the Building Blocks

Hello Invisible Audience,

I am using my 30 minutes of writing this morning to write to you. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, giving myself this new writing time. It sometimes feels like I’m trying to smash it in between two rocks and a hard place, but here I am.

I’ve been thinking about all the advice I’ve heard about how to start a writing practice; about all the habits I’ve tried to pick up that will stick and won’t stick. I’ve realized that giving myself this half hour in the morning to write has taken many more steps than I would have thought. 

It seems I have a specific way that I would ideally like to do things. I yearn for large swaths of time: hours and days to dedicate to a specific task. In the past, I have given myself that time and yet somehow it never feels quite as productive as I would have hoped. Life gets in the way, money runs out, but also I find I am intimidated by those large blocks. I pace and flutter and cook and make other plans. 

I’ve been feeling that way lately, but about other things. I have started swimming at the local pool in the mornings, but I also want to ride my bike to work downtown, but I also want to write in the morning, but I also need enough sleep, but I also want to make my lunch before I go…you see? Are you already intimidated by my day? Because I am.

At the end of each week, I print out next week’s calendar and write out all the things I need to get done for work during that week in a list on the side. When I reach any particular day, I write down two or three things I want to get done. If I don’t finish them, they move to the next day.

The system works best when I schedule things an hour or two at a time. When I try to block out a whole day for one task – balancing my books, for example – I get overwhelmed and don’t end up doing it at all.

The lesson seems pretty obvious at this point: small chunks of time build up to finished tasks and projects. Small chunks of time don’t seem as intimidating and require less extended concentration.

It’s true with the writing, too. What’s also true is that many pieces had to come first before 30 minutes of writing felt ok. 

1)   I had to establish a journaling habit that is separate from my writing habit, where I empty out all my worries and fears and to dos.
2)   I had to go to 12 sessions with a rolfing specialist to help me realign my bone structure and fascia so I wasn’t in pain sitting or writing
3)   I had to create a morning exercise routine at home that included building strength in my neck and shoulder to prevent the sitting/writing pain from coming back
4)   I had to spend several years working with my doctor to figure out what foods I was allergic to and stop eating them so the inflammation would diminish so I could sleep better and wouldn’t have an overpowering need to sleep during the day
5)   I had to change a lot of relationships and let go of some toxic ones to make room mentally and emotionally 
6)   I had to start going to bed earlier
7)   I’ve had to teach myself that 30 minutes of time for this in the morning is not going to lead to homelessness just because I’m not spending that time working for money

Now, this goes directly against all the things I hear, Invisible Audience. Even some of my favorite writers would scoff at the list of “excuses” I have for not writing. Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) wrote in a book that engineers don’t get caught up in their heads about their work, so why should writers? Then again, she also said the first step to writing any book is to organize the spice drawer.

I don’t know why it takes so much for me to write. It trips on some DANGER – CLIFF AHEAD wire in my brain and makes me want to veer away, even as I yearn for it. Maybe it’s precisely because it’s a cliff that I’m scared – because it will lead me off the edge of what I’m sure is the only way and into an entirely different world.

So here’s to anyone who is seeking their path and beating themselves up for not yet accomplishing what they think should be easy or straightforward. I’ve personally found that few things in life actually are. 

Love and block by block kisses,


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Moving Beyond Black and White

Hello, Invisible Audience,

At the end of last week, I got home from a 10-day vacation in Northern California. It was a much-needed rest after a year of building my Spanish teaching business in Leavenworth. I have to admit, I’ve been absolutely fried. I spent a lot of time reading books, cooking for pleasure, wandering along rivers and near waterfalls and eating in new places where no one knew me. It was blissful.

In case you don’t know, Invisible Audience, emotional growth is not for the weak. I have found it difficult to both try to grow a business and also give myself the space I need to deal with the ever-peeling layers of the onion of – what would you call it? I used to think it was something like, “healing,” but I actually think it’s something more like “living.” Certainly there are people out there who are don’t feel constantly bombarded by the need to look at what’s not working in their lives and try to dig up the courage to face it and perhaps change it, but I am not one of those people. For better or for worse, I am incapable of sitting in discomfort for long – something that has led me in the past to leave jobs, people and situations the way some people change their wardrobes for the season. 

I’ve lived in Leavenworth for four years now, Invisible Audience. This is a personal record. I’ve lived in the same house for two years in August, something I have not done since I went to college when I was 18. That in itself is a major feat for me: to keep myself stationary while my mind, my heart and my ideas grow and stretch and change and sometimes howl at me in discomfort. Before, this discomfort would prompt me to seek a new landscape to drown in: new people to meet; new restaurants; adventures; and tiny fun little roadblocks that would keep me occupied and challenged so I wouldn’t have to address the pain I was feeling.

Of course, that’s not a completely true statement. My travel was not all escapism – I have a genuine need to see new things to be reminded that there are other options than living the so-called elusive American Dream. And just as the world is not black and white in terms of my desire to travel, neither is my life black and white. The difference now is that I am seeking ways to lean into the gray area instead of trying to hold everything to the simpler black and white picture I had subscribed to for so long.

Maybe I’m new to a concept that others have had forever, I don’t know. I certainly feel like the world has been trying to make itself more decidedly divisive in recent years. But despite the pull I feel, I am actually becoming much more of a centrist than previously. I have stopped looking for friends that can play all roles and enjoy more friends who only play one role that they play well. I have started to see how sometimes disagreeable situations can teach me something helpful, even if I never want to have that situation occur again. I have gained wisdom from those whose teachings I don’t agree with, and leaned into discomfort instead of shying away from it.

I think there’s a specific reason this is working, Invisible Audience: it’s because I get to pick.It’s because I’m starting to trust myself that Iam the one who knows best when to lean in and when to back away; whose disagreeableness I am willing to put up with and listen past and whose I prefer to let go of. I can sit with some discomfort if Iam in charge of what that means and how deep it goes. 

The day after I got back from my trip, I sat down to write for 30 minutes. This is different from other writing I already do on a regular basis. This was the kind of writing that was both honest and vulnerable but also has an intention of perhaps being publishable one day. The feeling about it is different. 

Each time I’ve done it now, I have finished the half hour I set for myself freezing cold – so cold I’ve had to immediately get into a hot shower. There’s something that feels so dangerous about it that it’s literally pulling the blood from my extremities and into my core to keep me alive. 

It doesn’t feel good, Invisible Audience, but it feels necessary. I can’t say I’m going to be able to keep it up forever, but I no longer think in those kinds of black and white terms: that either I’m writing every day or not writing at all. Instead, I think in terms of one day at a time. I wake up and say, “Today, I will write.” And that’s what I do. The goal now is to continue to say that every day; to do it as many days as I can; to continue to do it even after a missing a day, or two, or a week, or a month, or years.

I am lucky that I have writing. I have always known that I am here on earth to write; it has never been a question. What they don’t tell you in the American dream narrative or in most other narratives I’ve heard is that it does not matter how much you love a thing. It does not matter how many days you have committed to love a thing. To do it again today, you must commit to it again today. 

I have written and published several books. I have written in a journal daily for probably 7 years now. I write food blogs and articles and for websites and for many other things. I make money off my writing. But the writing that counts, the writing that I love, that shows me, that completes me and heals me, that scares me: that I have picked up and dropped, run away from and yearned for, over and over and over again. If I were looking at this in the same black and white landscape I used to operate in, I would see this as a failure, but it’s not true, Invisible Audience. I have not failed myself or my writing just because I have not been able to commit every day to it. Life is much more nuanced than that. And always there will be something new that I could not have written previously because I didn’t know then what I know now. So the goal is not to beat myself up for all the time I have lost, but to be grateful for all the lessons I have gained while my pen was idle. 

Love and gray kisses

Sunday, May 26, 2019

You Get What You Deserve...Right?

I can't remember the first time I heard the actual definition of an introvert vs. an extrovert: the first one gains energy from being alone; the second from being with others. However, I can remember having a conversation with a long-time friend once who told me she thought I probably only really needed human interaction about once a week. Although that might be a bit extreme, it's true that I need a fair amount of alone time.

I've known for a long time that I am an introvert -- I can remember friends in middle school being flummoxed because I would constantly disappear at parties to be by myself for awhile. My introversion has become more pronounced over the years, and I think now that I teach after school Spanish classes a lot of the energy I have for social interactions is used up for work.

Over the winter -- when my introversion seems to get ever more pronounced and I hibernate like it feels like we're supposed to -- I started to think about dating. It's been a long time since I seriously dated anyone, and I decided to give it a go again. I set up a couple online profiles, then immediately started to stress out about the messages I got. I found I didn't much want to reply to these men who were writing to me; I found that I had enough going on and plenty of meaningful friendships. Trying to make room for a romantic partner felt like a huge burden instead of a joy.

Then I stopped a looked at that feeling. Why, exactly, was I trying so hard? What did I hope to gain? Certainly there are many things that a partner brings that I was missing...but was I actually missing those things? I am rarely if ever lonely -- in fact, I am much more likely to be excited to have a night to myself than I am by a lot of plans that other people get excited about. Intimacy? I have been working hard to have intimate relationships with a handful of people; I do not feel like I'm lacking in that department. Intellectual conversations? Same as the previous question. A need to care for another? I have a 13-year-old geriatric cat who loves to cuddle, plus nine classes a week of kids in my classes. I get plenty of caring in. Sex? Well, yes, having a regular sex partner would be great. I cannot argue with that, but it is only one of the many facets people seek in a romantic relationship.

When I really started to look at it, Invisible Audience, I realized something profound: I actually feel quite content. Certainly I have worries and fears and stresses, but when it came to deciding whether I wanted a partner, I discovered that the main reason I felt like I needed one was because people told me that I either needed one or that I deserved one.

Deserve. What a strange concept. I feel like I've lived most of my life following the rules, with the idea that if I did so I would deserve all the things I could possibly want: the perfect partner; a great job that you adore, that pays a huge salary and is meaningful; an effortlessly beautiful body; all the energy in the world; perfect children; financial stability; a happily ever after. I have spent many, many years resenting the fact that I have played by the rules and yet seem no further ahead than anyone else. In fact, if you're measuring my life by what I just named, I have been handed a shit sandwich instead. But life is not fair in the way that it has been laid out to us, is it Invisible Audience? I realized this winter that I had found a choice I didn't know I had: to resent that I hadn't found what I "deserved," or to step fully into a life that, actually, I enjoyed more than I ever thought I would.

As soon as I let go of the idea that I should have a partner, things got easier, Invisible Audience. I stopped being afraid I was missing a chance to meet someone. I stopped worrying about whether I was missing my one and only chance at happiness, wrapped up in another body that I had not yet met. And then something strange happened: I stopped wanting to socialize as much at all. I realized that, unconsciously, many of my interactions with others were based in the hope that through them -- or through being out and about, or meeting other people -- I would meet my invisible partner and my life could finally start. I stopped fearing that I was going to miss something and started enjoying what I didn't want to miss: blissful sunny afternoons in my hammock with a book; the sound of my feet on dirt paths climbing the sides of mountains; curling up with my cat for a long Sunday afternoon nap. It made my interactions with the people I did see even better, because I wasn't always looking around for that deserving man I had yet to meet.

Suddenly, I realized that I deserved to be happy, without it being wrapped up in anyone else but me.

Love and deserving kisses

Thursday, May 16, 2019

7 Truths and a Lie

Hello Invisible Audience,

I woke up in the middle of the night with such a deep desire to write that I found myself crying. I find it interesting: I write all the time, and can now say it’s my legit part-time gig that I use help cover the bills, but deep down in my soul I know the truth: the writing I’ve been doing doesn’t count. I mean, sure it counts in that it pays and it’s enjoyable. But it doesn’t count on a soul level; on an artistic level; on that fulfilling, earth-shattering level that it has in the past; that I want it to count for again.

So why haven’t I been writing? That’s a long story, but I’m going to try to condense it for you. I’ve already told you one truth; here are six more that perhaps explain my reticence.

1)   I’m afraid.
I’m afraid to write what really speaks to me: to bare my soul and write out loud. It has felt more difficult in the past several years than it did before, and that has stopped me. 
What am I afraid of? Oh gracious, so many things: that I will sound like a whiner, like a victim, like an ego maniac. That I will be flayed alive for what makes me feel the most vulnerable. Also, that unleashing myself could upset the delicate, hushed balance I have been trying to create and make life more complicated if I realize I don’t like this life I’ve built at all. 

2)   I want to be in control.
I want to control the responses to my writing, Invisible Audience: I want to control YOU. I want you to reach out and tell me how brave I am, but I don’t want you to advise me. I want a certain type of response, and that has stopped me from writing because once I’ve let it out into the ether I know that I have no control over what happens to my writing. If you decide to pity me because of what I write, or hate me or berate me, that is your choice, not mine. That knowledge has stopped me, despite a deep need to write. It has stopped me, despite the knowledge that there are always those you touch, and always those you don’t. It has stopped me, despite knowing, above all, that I need to write out loud for it to count.

3)   I want to look like I have my shit together.
I think every day about writing. I think about what I would write about; how I would present it; how I would state my case about the things that I think about and touch me every day. Then I think about how admitting some of those things will make it clear that I do not have it all figured out: that I struggle to feel like I have enough money, even if I always manage to pay my bills; that I battle with myself over whether I am justified to take the time, the money, the space that I need for my own self care. In this day of the curated social media profile, I struggle with admitting it’s not as pretty as it looks from my sparse postings.

4)   I don’t want to sound like a Negative Nancy
I recently learned a term I was in desperate need of: toxic positivity. This explains something I’ve long felt and haven’t been able to put my finger on. Every time I have a legitimate concern, struggle or distress, I get a voice in my head – through years of reading self-help books, I’m sure – that tells me that {sing song voice} I have to be positive if I want to have a positive life. This both enrages me and sucks the life out of me simultaneously. It has become yet another whipping stick to beat myself with. Life sucks sometimes. Change often comes to me as a result of taking a good, hard, honest look at what’s not working and making a change, not through Polly-Anna-ing around it and trying to live with it when it hurts. 

5)   I’m not saying this because I want to be fixed.
I’ve become weary of people offering up advice about how I can feel better when perhaps all I need was someone to witness my journey with me for a minute. I am not writing out loud because I’m seeking help. I have become very good at asking for what I need, and someone’s opinions on what I should do differently are not what I need when I write out loud. I do it for the same reason musicians decide to play and artists decide to draw or paint. It’s an art, and I want it out there. Maybe it will find and touch the right people, but mostly because it is not supposed to stay locked inside of me.

6)   Today’s world feels like sandpaper on my soul.
With all the things that are happening nationally and globally, today’s world feels hostile and hurtful. I am tired of feeling heartbroken, Invisible Audience. However, I’ve realized that closing off actually increases the heartbreak instead of decreasing it. Finding those that are willing to be vulnerable makes me feel better. The thing is, I need to show up as vulnerable in return to fully enjoy the exchange.

7)   I’m dropping everything that doesn’t speak directly to me.
To some extent, it feels like I’ve lost my own voice as I throw out messages and messengers whose words make no sense to me. I have been cutting out more than I’ve been adding in lately: I no longer believe everyone who speaks with conviction. It’s made my world smaller, although much more authentic.

So there are the truths; now here’s the lie that I am now trying to recognize and break through: the idea that I need to have a meaningful message before I can write. The idea that I have to be any different than I am to write to you, Invisible Audience. The idea that there’s anything wrong with me, or that there’s anywhere else I’m supposed to be standing, besides right here, right now, with you.

Love and truthful kisses,

Sunday, February 17, 2019

It's Gotta Come From Me

It’ been a rough ride getting here, Invisible Audience. There have been a lot of twists and turns, ups and downs and detours to get to where I am today. For better or for worse, I’ve realized something important: all the major changes I’ve made in my life have only come after I let go of what others thought I should do. They came when I did what felt like the right thing for me.


It’s exhausting sometimes trying to keep up with all the messages handed to me on a regular basis, although I have to admit it used to be a lot worse. Not all that long ago, I found it hard to discount someone’s opinion or idea if they shared it with conviction, even if it didn’t ring true for me. If they were willing to argue vehemently about their opinion, I’d simply shut down, unable to find my way to my own truth in the moment. Well, actually that part hasn’t changed, but the way I look at it is a bit different. I have learned that I’m not great at coming to terms with what I think in the moment, and especially not during an argument. I want time to mull over what I think first; I also need some time by myself to decide whether or not what I heard makes sense to me. And ultimately, when it comes to my self-care, it has to come from me or it’s just not gonna take in any kind of lasting way.

I’m not saying I don’t seek advice or find it helpful. I’m not saying I have it all figured out. But I’ve figured out that just because someone raves that something worked for them doesn’t mean it’s going to work for me, and – this is really important, Invisible Audience – that’s ok. I am not less of a person if that one diet, religion, healing modality, mindfulness practice, friend, pet, skin cream, exercise routine, sex position or whatever other possible thing does not become my thing.

I used to think I’d write a self-help book one day. In fact, I think one of the reasons I’ve found it so hard to write these past several years was because I thought I was supposed to take all the things I’ve learned and share them with others in a way that would make them feel better: that I needed to make a bulleted list of things I did and tell readers how doing those things has made my life better. Well, I finally came to terms with something, Invisible Audience: most self-help books make me feel like they can only help me if I follow them to the letter, and following anythingto the letter has never worked for me. It’s because whatever author hasn’t lived my situations, or dealt with my own personal phobias and idiosyncrasies.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who told me that there’s now some research that suggests that religious people are more likely to have religious children, and not just because they’re exposed to religion as they’re growing up. It was more that some people are better with/get more from/find solace in/enjoy the rituals related to dogma. I started to think about it.  I realized that I know a lot of people that are very dogmatic about something in their lives, even if it’s not religion. I live in a mountain town, and there are plenty of people here dogmatic about outdoor recreation. I have a lot of friends in the healing arts, and many of them are dogmatic about the healing modalities that work for them. I know several people dogmatic about their eating habits. Even though there are several things that I could probably call my own personal dogma, I’ve also realized that in general dogma is a scary thing to me. Mostly, I’ve realized that I get uneasy anytime anyonesuggests that their way is the right way, regardless of what that thing actually is, and especially if amazing results would be available to me if I could just do xyz within a certain timeframe that they’ve decided on.

It’s gotta work for me, personally, Invisible Audience, and let’s be real: most of it doesn’t. For a long time, I would use the fact that the Acme Magic Life Changer I had just tried had failed as a sign that I had failed, too. I wasn’t dedicated enough; disciplined enough; strong enough; I didn’t want it badly enough. Well, it’s not true. I am actually a pretty dedicated person; I can and have made lasting changes in my life. And when I take the idea out of it that I have to follow someone else’s rules to get there, suddenly it’s not so painful anymore. Suddenly, I can make more headway than if I were following someone else’s agenda.

Now, I treat anything new like a new piece of food someone slipped onto my plate. I get to study it; sniff it; take a taste if I’m interested. If I don’t feel like eating it, I don’t have to. If I take a bite and don’t want anymore, that’s ok too. If I gobble it down, but then feel sick, I get to make a choice on whether I ever want to eat it again. If it takes several more tries to decide either way, that’s ok, too.

Love From Me Kisses,