Date Yourself.

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I went to a training on addiction at work today that was one of the best trainings that I’ve been to in a long time, with one of the most well-spoken, knowledgeable, and engaging trainers that I’ve seen in a long time. While he was talking, I thought back to a conversation that I had over this past weekend with a friend, in which I said, “There just aren’t that many really intelligent people in the world,” and he responded, “And even fewer that are doing something with their intelligence.” Truth. I have long held the belief that intelligence is a gift, and that gifts – much like privilege and influence – come with responsibility, and must be used wisely. That is why we must read and write; we cannot waste our gift. And this trainer: He was using his gift wisely. I left the training feeling super fired up.

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So, get this: After work, I went on a hike to think about how I was going to “do something” with my intelligence. I thought that if I was dating a person like that trainer – somebody smarter than me, more accomplished than me, more hardworking than me –  I would feel super inspired and motivated, and then I would use the intelligence that I have better. So then, I started thinking about where I could meet somebody who had those qualities. I thought that maybe I should start attending interesting lectures in the Bay Area, because intelligent people probably hang out there. Or maybe I should start taking some classes, because smart people take classes. Or *maybe*, I should go back to school to get a ph.d., because I’d definitely meet some really bright people in a ph.d. program. Right?

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Let’s review: my brain determined that the best way for me to “do something” with my intelligence was to find places to meet someone else using their intelligence well, and then follow their lead. Fucking brilliant. 🤦🏻‍♀️🤦🏻‍♀️🤦🏻‍♀️

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At this point, I realized just how ridiculous this train of thought was. What on earth do I need this other person for? I could just go to lectures, or take classes, or get a ph.d. – not to meet someone smart – but to GET SMARTER MYSELF. I can work hard myself. I can motivate myself to accomplish whatever the heck I want to accomplish. I could be the person that I want to be inspired by. I don’t do things to attract other people to me; I do things to make me like myself.

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And then I remembered, “Oh, right, you’re supposed to be dating yourself right now.” Dating yourself is an idea that my sponsor taught me awhile back. Rather than saying that I’m not dating – which implies the absence of a relationship – I say that I am dating myself. Which is a damn good idea, given how little I know about myself after spending so much of my life hiding. I have been learning what I like, how to take care of myself, how to adult, what my priorities are, and what my values and beliefs are. The hope being that by the time I am ready to date someone else again, I will know and like and trust myself so much that I won’t lose or betray myself again.

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And while we’re on the subject: I am aware that people think that I should start dating. I’ve never before thought about dating as a thing to pursue. (Granted, I’ve been in relationships almost nonstop since I was 15 or 16, which didn’t leave much time to consider the idea of dating from the outside, because I was always in it.) But when you are in your 30s and you’re single (and you’re a woman? Does this happen with men?), people expect you to be actively dating. And, in these modern times, “actively dating” means that you have profiles on the dating websites and have the “apps.” I recently made a list of all the reasons that I was not ready to start dating. Then I told my roommate about my list and she asked how I physically feel when I think about dating. “Nauseated.” “So maybe you don’t need a list. Maybe that’s enough of a reason.” Then I told another friend about that conversation, and she said, “You don’t actually need any reason at all.” Right. The only person that we need to answer to is ourselves in the stillness. (Thank you, Glennon.) So then I threw out the list and went back to dating myself.

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And so, here is what we learned about Emma today: 1. I am easily and deeply inspired by people who are doing good work in the world. 2. I want to do good work, too. 3. I don’t like dating apps (and am discerning about apps, in general). 4. I want (need?) to keep dating myself. 

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5. I’m so freaking lucky and grateful that I can walk to DeLaveaga Park from my house to hike there after work, which is where all of these pictures were taken. 🙏🏼

And now, I’m gonna go read all about love by bell hooks. Because I’m making my brain bigger and not wasting the gift. All by myself. 🤓

Goodnight, y’all. ♥️

As I Am.

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Last week, I found myself telling a friend that I was worried someone else would see me as irresponsible. “Do you think that you’re being irresponsible?” he asked. I thought about it, and decided that I didn’t. “But I am still worried that she might.” “I think that she might see you as you are, Emma.” Arrrrrrrrrrrgh. 

This is a condensed version of the conversation with the details removed (because, this is the Internet), but there are still a few Truths About Emma that we can glean from this exchange. Let’s review:

  1. I am forever concerned with what other people think of me.
  2. I am forever concerned with whether other people think that I am good.
  3. I am far more concerned with what other people think of me and my behavior than with what I think of me and my behavior.

In short, I am terrified of people seeing me as I am, which plays out in my life as what is essentially an addiction to controlling the way that people see me. I am so deeply afraid that if people really see me – with all of my insecurities, and imperfections, and human-ness – they will not love me. Which probably means that, on some deep level, I am not quite sure that I am lovable, that I believe that there’s a possibility that I might not be. Eek.

Let’s refresh: I believe that there is a possibility that I might not be lovable as I really am. And so I am afraid to let people see me as I really am because then maybe they will confirm that I am not lovable. And that sounds awful. 

So instead, I hustle. I hustle for my worth, for my value as a human. I hustle to convince people that I am good, that I am lovable, that I matter. This is why I people-please. This is why I pause for so fucking long before I answer a question about myself. This is why I hide. I am forever trying to figure out how other people want me to be, so that I can give that to them, and earn their approval. Earn their love.

This is an exhausting way to live.

It also works, at least for awhile. I’ve been using this ‘skill’ for most of my life and been mostly successful at earning people’s love. The only problem is that hiding my real self for so long and performing so hard for the world tore my soul in half. This is why I am one of the lucky ones that ended up in recovery. (I say “lucky” because, once you are in recovery, there is, at least, the hope of healing.)

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I feared that I might be unlovable, and so I hid myself for protection. And in hiding myself, I reinforced the belief that I deserved to be hidden. That there was something wrong with me that needed to be hidden. Self-loathing – which seems like a strong word, but I think is what I am describing – is an intensely lonely and vicious cycle. Hiding – not surprisingly – is the behavior of someone who does not love themselves, who thinks that they might be inherently bad in some way. 

And I didn’t just hide myself a little bit. I fucking buried myself under decades of pretending. The excavation process can be long and hard and brutal. And I didn’t just hide myself from others; I hid myself from myself. When I first came into recovery, I wasn’t really sure who I was. What I liked was often determined by what the person I was with at that moment liked. The way that I behaved was often determined by how I thought the person that I was with wanted me to behave. My personality was shaped by how I thought people wanted to see me. My real likes, my real values, my real character did not matter, and so they were hidden until I didn’t even know what they were anymore. I think that this is what people mean when they say that they “lost themselves.” I told myself that I didn’t matter so often, in so many ways, that I believed it. And so now, I have to teach myself that I do.

Self-love is not easy, and it’s not all manicures and spa days; for me, it is work. [I know that I talk about The Work a lot, and that is simply because there is a lot of work to do.] Because the fear and the hiding feed each other, I have to work at both sides of that equation at the same time. One side is the work of “finding myself,” of getting to know myself and accept my human-ness. This work seems to be comprised of a lot of unstructured free time and a lot of writing. The other side is the work of “loving myself,” of learning to treat myself with care. And treating myself with care means that I don’t get to hide, because hiding hurts, and because we don’t shove people that we love into dark closets for indefinite periods of time. 

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Not hiding is really hard for me, but I am practicing. This is why recovery rooms are invaluable to me: They are a safe space to practice being vulnerable. This is really important, actually. If you are going to practice being vulnerable, you need to find the right people with which to practice. They need to be safe and nonjudgmental and kind. I am so freaking lucky to have these spaces and these incredibly beautiful, inspiring, real human beings in my life. I sit in meetings sometimes and feel such immense joy and freedom and gratitude that I want to cry.

I’ve also found some equally incredible, authentic, compassionate, beautiful friends to practice with outside of meetings. Which is really lucky, because practicing outside of recovery spaces is harder. Scarier. In recovery rooms, the space is intended for people to practice being vulnerable, and that practice is applauded, even when the authentic parts of ourselves that we share are ugly. Especially then. This is the purpose of these spaces and everyone is there for the same thing. But in outside life, you have to create that space to practice on your own, and then you have to keep sitting with the people in a bunch of other spaces – in a work meeting, at dinner, driving together in the car – after the practice has finished. And then you probably have to practice some more. For me, there is a higher risk of rejection when I practice in the outside world. After I share something with one of my people (and, actually, this sometimes happens in recovery rooms, too, because let’s be honest: It’s all scary), I have this feeling of my real self shrinking, as if I am hiding behind a tree, peeking around the sides to see if I am safe, if I am still lovable.

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I don’t really like the practicing that much. Being vulnerable is very uncomfortable for me. Uncomfortable and scary. I know that that’s true for a lot of people, and I think that it’s extra true for me, which is why I ended up in recovery and most people don’t. Some days, I think that it’d be much easier to just keep hiding. Some days, the fear is so big that I think that maybe I can figure out a way to keep hiding without self-destructing. As though that is the work that I want to be doing with this precious Life. 🙄

Valuing courage helps. Faith helps. Meditating helps. Practicing, in and of itself, helps. Mostly because I have found some really exceptional and patient humans who not only let me practice, they encourage it, and are willing to wade through the wreckage with me. (Thank you, Friends. 🙏🏼) I told my friend a few days after that conversation that I want at least some people in this life to know me as I am, and that is true. And I want to be one of them.

As Glennon says, we can choose to be admired for how we perform for the world, or loved for who we really are. And, really, most of my motivation comes from just wanting to be loved. Really loved. Deeply, imperfectly, authentically loved, for my real self. I am actually fairly certain that we all do, that the need to love and be loved is part of the human experience, that it is why we are all wired for connection and how we are all inextricably linked. I want to love myself well, and love others well, and I want to be brave enough to give other people the opportunity to know and love me. 

Because, actually, I am learning that… I’m kind of great. ☺️

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😍

Love Wins. ♥️

Hiding.

I am a hider.

I used to say that I was a liar, which I am. I lie and I keep secrets and I “gloss over” things and I “keep things surface” sometimes. But the word ‘liar’ has such a negative connotation, and makes me feel bad. And the truthier truth is that I am not so much trying to trick YOU; I’m trying to hide ME.

I have been hiding myself for as far back as I can remember. At some point early on in this Life, I started believing that people wouldn’t love me if they knew all of the bad parts, the unattractive parts, the less shiny parts. I said earlier today that I didn’t trust other people to be able to handle me – all of me – but, again, the truthier truth is that I didn’t trust in my own worthiness. I thought that the “bad” parts – my selfishness, my self-righteousness, my greed, my desire, my enormous ego – meant that I was broken, and so I better hide those things away if I wanted people to love me.

I’m writing in the past tense, but I still carry this belief now. In fact, this belief is the deepest wound that I have and undoubtedly causes me the most suffering. Hiding is suffering. Being afraid all of the time of the truth of myself is suffering. Hustling for my worth is suffering. I am tired of suffering.

Changing a behavior is hard, and changing the belief that fuels that behavior is even harder. There is no easy button in which you “just stop.” Trust that every addict and overeater and bulimic and hoarder and obsessive worrier and gambler and shopaholic wishes that there was.

Change is hard work. Change is overcoming resistance and doubt, and plunging straight into vulnerability and fear. Change is giving up the things that give me a sense of safety and comfort, for things that scare me and make me extremely uncomfortable. Change requires sitting in our pain, long enough to realize that we can survive it, and then even longer to realize that we can grow from it. Change requires courage that I don’t always have, and faith that I am desperately trying to find. Change means that I have to keep showing up, relentlessly showing up, and doing the next right thing for as long as I get in this Life. Change is exhausting, and terrifying, and *hard fucking work.* Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Change is the work of the warrior.

Sometimes, I hate it. Sometimes, the work feels overwhelming and insurmountable, and I just want to escape. I want to gather my maladapted beliefs and behaviors around me like a goddamn ironclad security blanket and block everyone else out. The world is so scary and this Life is so hard and I am so tired.

I sometimes don’t know if this work is worth the struggle. But my strongest belief of all is that Love Wins, always. It must because I just haven’t found any compelling alternatives. And when I’m feeling particularly disheartened or broken or experiencing a strong vulnerability hangover (as I am today, from practicing this whole ‘not hiding’ stuff), the belief that love – real, genuine, authentic, imperfect love – is worth struggling for and showing up for and coming out of hiding for is the thing that helps me sleep, so that I can get up and try again tomorrow. 

♥️

*Photo and idea credit: Glennon Doyle.

All Things Can Be Mended.

Hello Loves,

I had a GNARLY work week. (“Gnarly” and “stoked” are Santa Cruz words that I’m slowly incorporating into my vocabulary. Like I did with “y’all” and “ma’am” in Austin.) For two days, all of the big-hearted people in my office kept checking in on how I was doing because everyone understood how hard my job had been on Tuesday night. I also pretty much gave up on working by early on Friday afternoon because I was just done.

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My favorite rose bush, in our garden.

People often ask how we do the work that we do, and I often just smile and shrug. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Because the answer is complex and multi-faceted and not easily fit into a conversation. But two parts of that answer particularly shone through this week: 1) I know what’s mine and what isn’t. The tragedy that occurred this week wasn’t mine. I had to tell people about it and bear witness to it and hold space for other’s feelings about it, but, at the end of the day, my life rolled on without great impact. This approach could be misinterpreted as callous or heartless or cold, but it may just be a realistic way to do this job and to live in this world. We cannot take on every other person’s personal tragedy as our own; nor should we, actually. As Glennon says, pain is holy, and it’s not my job to steal other’s pain. They earned it – I didn’t – and they might need that pain to do their work and to grow in this life. 2) I work with some really solid, really compassionate, really loving people. As Mr. Rogers’ mother said, when tragedy strikes and we feel panicked, look for the helpers; they will be rushing in. They rush towards the pain and they help. And I work with an office filled with helpers. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the love and consideration that came pouring at me this week. People are so good; their goodness never ceases to amaze me and fill my heart. Go Team Humanity. 🖤❤️🧡💛💚💙💜

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Also! The littles help. When I’m having a hard time processing all of my adult problems, all I want is to hug babies and be around children. Their innocence restores hope. So, I spent Wednesday night with my friends’ kiddo – for whom I have earned “auntie” status in the past few months – playing and doing an improvisational ballet-inspired dance to Lionel Richie’s “Ballerina Girl.” And then I was gifted with the below hand-drawn picture from another friend’s kiddo on Wednesday morning, which basically made my week. The kids are alright.

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In other news, last weekend, I started a “Heartsong Journal,” an idea created by my friend, Rachel (the person from whom I get literally all of my writing and journaling projects). I have been contemplating starting one since she wrote about it, but couldn’t quite commit; I mean, I have a lot of journals. 🤓 But then I woke up last Saturday morning with zero plans and realized that I absolutely had to start one of these that day.

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Why yes, I did steal the title of this journal from a stunningly beautiful memoir by Ann Patchett. I prefer to think of it as paying tribute to a much beloved book.

I spent so much of my three-day weekend in my room writing in this journal that even my roommate – who has been known to lose herself in hours of craft projects – commented that it might be “getting weird.”

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I also picked up three new Tombow pens. I let myself buy three for each new season.

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When my friends showed up – because I do also have a social life, I swear – they found me practicing calligraphy (because I wasn’t super thrilled with how the title of this poem came out and realized that I needed to practice). They also graciously complimented my work because they are sweet and generous like that. 🙂

This journal is also great practice in not losing my shit because I made a mistake. I kind of love handwriting and calligraphy, and I also love for my journals to look beautiful in my own minimalist way. (I say minimalist because if you follow some of the bullet/dot journal-ers in the world, you will see that they are true works of art. I just have nice handwriting, colorful pens, and washi tape.) But, that’s just not the way my journal or my life goes. I make mistakes. I’m human, as it turns out. And I can’t just throw a fit every time something doesn’t turn out the way that I had hoped because that is both unskillful and unproductive. And besides, I don’t even believe in perfection; it’s a fantasy, and we cannot try to force our very real, very human lives into a very unreal fantasy. We must learn to let it go.

I kicked off this weekend on Friday night by cleaning my room, including refolding all of my clothes, putting my hanging clothes in order of color, and hanging my house plant with the macrame cord that my mama sent me. Saturday morning, I woke up and did some morning pages, and then started writing a short essay on why I’m not ready to start dating (that I will probably finish later this week and maybe post here). Then, my friend and I went hiking at the Quail Hollow Preserve, and both the hike and the company were quite beautiful. 💞 We accidentally walked about 3-4 times more than we meant to, but we got smoothies afterwards, so it all worked out. After I dropped her off, I ran some errands and had lunch with another friend, then came home and laid on my bed for 40 solid minutes because I was so tired from the heat and the dehydration. When I got up, I made some tea and lived my best life, reading in the garden for a bit.

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I actually got a TAN LINE from our hike. This almost never happens for me, and will fade probably by Monday, but still! (And yes, Mom, I was wearing sunblock.) 

And then I came inside to write to all of you. 😘Tomorrow, I am heading to the Redwood Mountain Faire with a friend and her family, and I’m pretty excited about it. Despite all the tragedy this week and the brokenness in the world, I live a pretty freaking lovely life, and I (almost) never forget it. ♥️

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Happy Saturday, Loves!

Adulting.

Hello Loves,

I want to lighten things back up around here, as I know that I’ve been posting some heavier stuff (on the heels of being MIA for a few months). My Grandma’s death has made me sadder than I expected to be for longer than I expected to be. I miss her, and I miss the farm, and reckoning with the reality of death is kind of a bitch. And because I am more comfortable being joyful and ‘fiiiiiiine’ all the time, sitting with sadness is challenging, and I mostly want to ‘fix’ it. But I can’t. And trying to force myself to feel better just made me feel anxious and unsettled.

SO, last week, my therapist asked me how I could get grounded again, and I made a decision to not make any new plans for three weeks. The plans that I already had could stay, but the rest of my schedule would be ‘spacious,’ to use a word that my sponsor loves. And it has been glorious, and helped tremendously. I’m still sad, but I do feel more grounded. And I stopped trying to fix my feelings because…they aren’t broken! Being sad is part of the human experience, and this is yet another growth opportunity on the journey towards accepting (and celebrating) my humanity. 🙏🏼

Anyway, here’s some things that I’ve been up to: My roommate was out of town all last week, so I was responsible for keeping the garden and the cats alive. I watered every morning, which cut into my meditation time, but I decided that tending to a garden was meditative enough. On Thursday, I hosted two friends for dinner at my house for the first time in…seven years? I can’t even remember. We had bread and crackers and cheeses, and I made a frittata with potatoes and broccoli, and a chopped salad. We talked and laughed and drank wine, and it was very lovely. 💞 On Friday night, another friend and I had dinner out. We talked about relationships and our childhoods and our worth and our spiritual growth, and I marveled at the level of vulnerability I can have with my friends and how rich those connections can be as a result. After dinner, I drove home on West Cliff, and the light was so pretty that I parked and sat and listened to the ocean for awhile, and thought about how freaking lucky I am to live here. Saturday morning, I took another early-rising friend for a hike in Henry Cowell park that I’d been on once before. Early morning hikes are special because there aren’t many other people, so it sort of feels like all of the beauty is just for you. After the hike, I came home and ate Thursday night’s leftovers in our garden. It felt so indulgent, and I felt pretty smug about my level of adulting for the week. And THEN, I spontaneously went plant shopping with another friend, and I bought a houseplant!!!! The pinnacle of adulting was achieved. Except… I bought a hanging plant because I remembered there was a hook on my ceiling. And there is; you can see it in the above picture, wayyyyyy at the top of my very high ceiling, where my new plant looked absolutely ridiculous. So, for now, the plant is living on my window ledge or on my easel. (My mom offered to send me some macrame cord to use, so that it’ll hang a bit lower.)

Saturday night, I paid $2.99 to rent The Matrix, which I watched for the first time several months ago, and loved. I don’t normally think of myself as a sci-fi fan, but I really enjoy the explorations of reality and consciousness and humanity and whatnot. (I love Westworld for the same reason.) I also worked on my puzzle while I watched.

I broke my book-buying ban (and my rule against buying hardcovers) to order this one, and feel pretty solid about that choice. I love Austin Channing Brown’s work, I love memoirs, and all of my love leaders were vouching for it. (Also – I actually break my book-buying ban all the time. I did it a few weeks ago because I was sad and wanted to feel better, and buying books makes me happy. There are worse vices. 🤓)

I did a little bit more adulting on Monday, making two doctors appts that I’ve been putting off, increasing my contribution to deferred comp and setting up another thing for savings, and hanging some pictures in my room. AND, my roommate’s birthday is on Friday and I already got the perfect card AND a little gift to leave for her in the morning, two days early. I mean, who am I? (I haven’t actually written the card yet, so there’s that. Progress not perfection, people!)

In conversations with my roommate, we also figured out two important and simple truths this week:

1. The work of Life = reckoning with what to believe (about yourself, humanity, this world, this Life) + continuous practice in living in accordance with those beliefs.

2. Happiness = do more of what feels good and less of what feels bad.

So, what I’m saying is, I made more time in my schedule and used that extra time to basically solve all of the problems in my life and this world. Go team!

Love yous.

I Grew It Myself.

I was walking around my neighborhood today, and a guy leaned out his car window and said, ‘Mmm! Thank you, Beautiful. Thank you!’

This is not an unusual occurrence. In fact, it’s an extremely usual occurrence. Allow me to explain why I hate it so much.

One: While I exert some minimal amount of effort to take care of my body – I don’t eat as much sugar or junk food as my monkey mind wants to, I move regularly, I eat a lot of vegetables – I don’t have a lot of control over how my body looks. It’s basic shape was out of my hands; my face was not my creation. Mostly, I have nothing to do with how I look. I know that I’m expected to say, ‘Thank you’ when someone compliments my body or my face, but that seems disingenuous, as though I’m accepting credit for something that I have nothing to do with. (I’m kind of fond of facetiously saying, ‘Thanks? I grew it myself.’) And frankly, I don’t want that credit. Because my body won’t always have the somewhat aesthetically-pleasing shape that it has now, and I don’t want to also have to accept responsibility – or, blame, depending on how harsh the critic is – for how my body will look as it ages.

Two: Because I have zero control over my looks, I feel really, really anxious that they matter so fucking much. And do not fool yourself: they matter SO. Fucking. Much. Image – and looks are a part of image – is a core value in this American culture.*

Three: Because my looks matter so much in this culture – and because I live in this culture – I fucking like it when people compliment my body. And I HATE that I like it. I hate that when a friend says, ‘She looks good for 50,’ my first thought is, ‘I hope that I look good at 50.’ I hate that when people compliment my looks, I feel like I’m earning my worth. I’m a goddamn ‘hardcore’ feminist: I don’t want to fucking like having societally-accepted looks. I don’t want to hold this value, to be indoctrinated into this value. Self-hatred is vicious, and every time someone compliments the way I look, I am involuntarily pulled into a spiral of shame for liking it. So… THANKS.

Four: This toxic value serves no one, except advertising companies (whose entire job is to get us to buy things we don’t need). We starve ourselves to be thin. We spend insane amounts of money on makeup / skin creams / diet programs / hair products. We undergo surgical procedures to change our bodies. These are not the behaviors of people who feel good.

Five: We are SO MUCH MORE than the way we look. We all know this. We are minds, we are hearts, we are souls. How did the shape of the vessel that we use to carry these precious parts of us through this Life become more important than what the vessel holds? Why did we decide that the body matters more than our character, our love, our wisdom, our creativity? Because, make no mistake: we did. One glance at our current president or the number of followers a Kardashian has confirms that we are living in a country that has forgotten what matters.

I don’t want to forget.

*Image + money + convenience = America’s value system. And it’s making us all so fucking happy. (see: addiction epidemic, obesity epidemic, rates of depression/anxiety) Deep sigh. 😣

Snow, Sweat, and Tears.

[This post is kind of a disconnected mess. Which is actually a pretty solid reflection of how I am right now. So… enjoy! 🤪]

On the morning after my Grandma died, before I knew she was gone, it snowed at Breitenbush. I woke up early to take a 7AM yoga class, and when I arrived, exclaimed excitedly – as though no one else could see for themselves – ‘it’s snowing!’ I remember when I was in elementary school the way our teacher would lose control of the class once it started snowing, all of our eyes glued in wonder to the snowflakes falling outside. Twenty-five years later and I am still that kid with her nose pressed to the window.

After I found out my Grandma died, I cried for two hours and then went back to my workshop, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do and because I didn’t want to drive down a mountain through the snow and my tears. I considered not telling anyone what had happened. After all, I had only known these people for a few days, and telling them sounded awkward. I didn’t want to bum people out, or – worse – have them think that I was being dramatic over my 97 year-old grandmother’s extremely timely death. But, I was at a workshop based on mindfulness and sitting with our feelings and being an authentic human, so I marched up to my two new friends and told them. We hugged, and I didn’t even have to make them feel better about me being sad.

That afternoon was pretty special. We had a sweat lodge – the first that I’d ever been in – and I was nervous. Someone had told us that it can be hard for claustrophobic people, a fact that I immediately glommed on to as evidence that I would most likely die in there. Or get badly burned falling on the coals in a panic-driven attempt to escape. My new friends and I adopted the mantra, ‘Just breathe and don’t freak out,’ and decided that that was a pretty good mantra for both the sweat lodge and life. We held hands when it went dark inside, and I dug my toes into the cool earth. Our teacher dedicated our sweat lodge to my Grandma, Mayme Rose, and I held my friends’ hands and my tears mixed with my sweat as I cried into the darkness and the heat.

After the sweat lodge, we stripped out of our muddy, sweat-drenched clothes and immediately got in the hot springs tubs. To my immense delight, the snow started falling again while we were in the tubs. I was in awe. ‘I’ve never been naked, outside, while it’s snowing!’ Our hair and eyelashes were white with snow, while our bodies remained warm, submerged in the hot springs. We talked for hours while we soaked and the snow fell, and I was pretty sure that I’d made some lifelong friends by the time we got out. The whole experience was magical, and we all felt so lucky to be there, together.

That night, at our evening meeting, I shared that I had found out that my Grandma died that morning, which was devastating, and then I had the BEST day. I had wanted to leave that morning – I had told my friend in Santa Cruz, ‘I just want to go HOME,’ though, I have no idea where I was imagining ‘home’ was at that moment – and had stayed, and instead had a day that I will not soon forget.

I’m not sure what the point of this story is. It’s just a memorable day because there was so much hard and so much good smooshed together into one twelve-hour period. In retrospect, that day was the calm before the storm. I was still wrapped in a cocoon of retreat, nature, community, and whole-heartedness, and the grief that would settle in to my heart the next day hadn’t yet arrived.

It’s been nearly five weeks, and I surprised myself by crying in my therapist’s office this morning at the mention of my Grandma’s death. I was trying to figure out why I have been feeling so unsettled, so off center, so untethered. My Grandma died and I wanted to go home, and five weeks later, I’m still not quite sure where home is. And also, I don’t believe that I am entitled to this sadness. She was my Grandma and she was old, and this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. It’s not like I talked to her everyday or even every month. How can I feel such a big loss when she took up such a small amount of space in my daily life?

I sort of know the answer: With nearly every other person in my life, I hustle for my worth; I think that I need to earn their love. But with my Grandma, I truly believed that her love for me was unconditional. Nobody else will ever look at me the way my Grandma did; I see that same love in the way my own mom looks at my niece. There is no responsibility, no exhaustion, no expectations. That Grandma Love is so special, and I am so lucky to have had it, and I am also so greedy because I just want more. I miss my Grandma so much.

The day that I found out she died is just a microcosm of Life, right? So much hard and so much good smooshed into one Life experience. It’s a mess (much like me. And this post). If you’re lucky, you find more good than hard. But for sure, you will get both. I’ve known that, on an intellectual level, but this is the first time that I’ve felt it so deeply. And it’s fucking uncomfortable. I want to ‘fix’ my sad, to question it’s validity, to escape and distract from it, to think my way out of feeling. But, apparently, that’s not how things work. Apparently, I have to ‘feel my feelings.’ I love Buddhism and therapy and meditation right up until they become fucking uncomfortable for me. But I’m gonna keep sitting with these feelings. Because I know the alternative all too well, and it’s worse. So…

Right now, it’s like this.

🙏🏼♥️

My Grandma.

It has been three weeks since my Grandma died. I’m surprised by how sad I still am. After all, she was ninety-seven, and – even though I had sort of convinced myself that she would live for at least five more years – I knew that she could die at any time. But as it turns out, the lack of tragedy around her death does not make me any less sad. And I am so, so sad.

My Grandma died while I was on retreat in Oregon, taking a meditation workshop and soaking in the hot springs and enjoying the respite from cell service. On the day that she died, we had a grief ceremony as part of the workshop, and people were talking about loved ones that had died. I was thinking how lucky I was that I am thirty-three and didn’t have anything to contribute, and also thinking about my Grandma, and how painful her eventual death would be for me. She died that night. I found out the next morning when someone in the workshop gave me a note stating that my mom was trying to reach me. I blinked, said, “That’s alarming,” and left the workshop. The five minutes that it took me to walk from there to the main office were excruciating. I knew that my mother wouldn’t be calling me at the retreat unless someone had died or something equally serious had happened, and my imagination ran wild with the unknown. When she told me that Grandma had died the previous night, I felt a mixture of relief (that it was, at least, an expected death) and immense pain. I cried for the next two hours, and then returned to the workshop. We had a sweat lodge that afternoon that our teacher dedicated to my Grandma. My sangha held me, and I felt so lucky to be where I was. 🙏🏼

The eleven hour drive home after the workshop ended was too long. I was too emotionally raw to listen to music, and so I half-listened to podcasts to distract myself. The following four days were a blur. On one of them, I decided that I could not wait any longer to get to Wisconsin, to my family, to my mom, and desperately tried to change my flight, to no avail. I went to my office for two of the days – I had already been out the previous week at the retreat, so I had a lot of work to do, and thought it would be a good distraction – and quickly remembered that I do not have the kind of job that can be done halfway. Some people didn’t know about my Grandma, so I had several conversations that started with an enthusiastic question about how my vacation was and ended with me totally bumming the other person out. Other people who knew about my Grandma came by to offer condolences, which warmed my heart. I left early both days, and was overwhelmed with gratitude for my co-supervisors, who kept checking on me, took me to lunch, encouraged me to take time, and covered my work while I was gone. People are so, so good. 💞

During the last twenty minutes of my travels, as I was en route to our family farm – my Grandma’s farm – I wondered if this would be my last trip to Wisconsin, if this would be the last time that I came to the farm. My Grandma dying is one loss; my connection to the farm and to Wisconsin is another. I sobbed in my rental car.

The two full days that I was in Wisconsin included the wake and the funeral. The open casket made me uncomfortable, and I dealt with my discomfort by talking about what a weird practice open caskets are, and repeatedly stating, “It’s not really her.” But when they closed her casket and lowered her into the ground, my heart wrenched with the thought that I’d never see her again.

So many people came to see my Grandma. She used to worry that she had lived so long that there would be no one left to come to her funeral. She was wrong. She was so loved, more than she even knew. The wake lasted for four hours, and there was no more than one five-minute window in which there was no one coming in. My dad and his siblings were champs, standing and greeting each person that came through, while my cousins and I sat around eating snacks, talking, and taking turns holding my brother’s baby.

People – including my cousins, who wrote and gave her eulogy – spoke beautifully about my Grandma. Everyone – everyone – talked about how much she loved her family, how much she talked about all of us, how proud she was. One of my cousins commented that she made everyone feel like her favorite, which must be true, as – up until that moment – I had secretly believed that I was her favorite. When I walked into her room, her face would genuinely light up, and when I left, she would whisper in my ear, repeatedly, ‘I love you so, so much.’

My Grandma was a devout Catholic, but her faith was bigger than her religion; her faith was deeply rooted in the goodness of humans. She loved people, and so they loved her. She took her time with them, and had a gift for making others feel like they were the only person that mattered. Because when they were with her, they were. My Grandma is the person that taught me how to love with my whole heart.

At her funeral, I held my cousins’ hands, and held my niece tightly as my Grandma was lowered into the ground. My dad was holding my nephew and I caught him wiping away tears. Later that night, back at the farm, my cousins and I crowded into my grandparents’ bedroom to watch video interviews with members of our family from my grandparents’ 50th anniversary celebration in 1990, spliced together with interviews from my cousin’s 2006 wedding. We laughed and cried, and felt the weight of time passing, and knew how precious this time together was. I left the farm the next day accompanied by the greatest heartbreak I have ever experienced.

C.S. Lewis said, ‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.’ This is my first experience with real grief and I find his observation to be extremely true. My Grandma was the glue that held our very special family together. In the 2006 video interviews, everyone is asked their favorite part of being a Ledvina, and nearly everyone gives a variation of the answer, ‘the Ledvinas just love being together so much.’ I am so afraid of losing my family. I am afraid that I’ve lost my connection to Wisconsin, to the place where I was born, to cheese curds, to my family’s past, to a farmhouse wrapped in sweet nostalgia. I am afraid of the knowledge that my family will keep growing older, that my grandma was not young and so neither are her children, that there will be more loss. Logically, I have always known that death is a part of life, that if I hoped to live a long life, I’d have to live through other’s deaths. But logic is blissfully devoid of emotion, and the pain of reality is a bitch. The first several days after I came home, I woke up and immediately started counting down the hours until I could get back in bed.

Last week, I woke up one day and laughed with my roommate, and then felt guilty. ‘How can I be feeling joy already when my Grandma is dead?’ I texted my cousins, who easily reassured me that my Grandma would want me to feel joy and to embrace my life. In her eulogy, my cousins told the story of my grandparents being on a cruise ship, shaking hands with the captain, and my grandma laughing in amazement that two farmers from the Midwest were eating shrimp while sailing across the ocean to a foreign country. My Grandma lived her life in awe of the gift that she had been given, spreading her love and her gratitude and her joy wherever she went. This Life is so precious, and all I want for mine is to live in a way that would make my Grandma proud. ♥️

Hippie Hair.

Last week, I chopped my hair off.

When I was eight years-old, my mom made me cut off my long hair. She was tired of me screaming in pain when she tried to comb through my incredibly thick long hair. (As an adult, I totally understand my mom’s position on this, as the dread associated with combing my hair resulted in the stretching of days between hair washings from three to four to sometimes five days.) I cried in the chair while the poor hairdresser did what the person paying her told her to do, and then spent hours moping and crying in my room when I got home. (Then, THEN, the next day, my 3rd grade teacher started the day by saying, “Awwww, what happened to your hair?” and making a sad face. That was SUPER helpful.) Ironically? I ended up really liking it, and eventually abashedly admitted this fact to my mom and apologized to the sweet hairdresser. This incident taught me some of the facts of life: Nothing – including the length of your hair – is permanent. And that’s okay because sometimes change brings new beauty.

Since then, I’ve gone back and forth between short and long hair, with a bias toward the long hair (because it just takes so long to grow long hair; once it’s long, I want to enjoy it for a minute…or a couple of years). But, I think that this is the longest time period that I’ve had my hair long in my life. Danny liked it long, and once I got to California, I immediately developed an affinity for the long “California girl” hair, and I liked that people could recognize that I was a “hippie” – and all the socio-political views that being a “hippie” entails – just from my hair. Over time, I grew attached to that image.

🎶…We don’t want to live like kooks

Just want to live in-between

Not square, not hippie, and not like you

Good American kids with dreams…🎵

When I told my friend, Amber, that I wanted to cut my hair because I was “too attached” to it, and wanted to – literally – cut the attachment, she laughed and said something like, “So you want to cut your hair because you like it too much?” Yes, yes, I do.

But it’s also deeper than that. (Not much deeper because, we are still talking about hair.) In my dabblings into Buddhism, I’ve re-learned about impermanence. Almost nothing in this Life is permanent. Relationships change and grow; people and plants and pets die; jobs don’t last; resources get depleted; objects break; we move; we create new people; managers retire; the atmosphere is affected by humans’ short-sighted use of fossil fuels; trees fall down or burn up. Everything changes. And our human denial of that simple fact – our attachment to things staying the way they are, particularly when things are pleasant – creates a lot of unnecessary suffering. We do our best to keep things the way we want them, and then we feel sad / betrayed / lost / angry / unsettled when they change anyway.

In Al-Anon, too, we learn about the dangers of attachment – to people, to outcomes, to places, to all the things that we have no control over. At the beginning of every meeting, we recite The Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” And you know what? Most of the time, the “things I can” change boil down to my perspective and my own behavior. That’s about it.

And so, what I’m saying is, cutting off my hair was actually a deeply symbolic gesture of my cutting off attachment. Of my detachment. Of my acceptance that nothing is permanent, and that does not have to be scary or bad. Of my realizing how ridiculous being attached to “hippie hair” is, which is actually just an attachment to – or an attempt to control – how other people see me.

Or, you know, it was just a freaking haircut.

Thirty-three.

I am turning thirty-three tomorrow.* When I write out “thirty-three,” I realize that I’ve lived three decades plus three years, and that seems older than I feel in my head.

I know plenty of people that are super reflective on their birthdays. I remember having a conversation with Brother on one of his last three birthdays (30, 29, 28), in which he shared that he expected to have accomplished far more by that age. I was equally amused and confused; my Brother is fairly accomplished and, by some standard measures, much more so than his two-years-older sister.

I want to be reflective on my birthday, but I’m generally working too hard at insisting that it’s just an average Tuesday and age doesn’t mean a thing to entertain any kind of introspection. But as I was walking by the ocean at sunset, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy (sunsets and oceans almost always have that effect), and had the desire to give some reflection a try.

Last year on my birthday, I was, to some degree, suffering. Danny and I weren’t in a great place, but I wasn’t telling anyone that, and so I spent the day happy and incredibly grateful for my friends and for Danny’s efforts to make it a good day despite everything, but also alone. Nobody knew what was happening in my head or what was really going on in my life, and I wanted it that way, but it was lonely. Loneliness is the cost of valuing image more than authenticity, of valuing what things look like instead of the beautiful humanity of how things are. I didn’t even know that I was lonely.

This year, I am alone, physically, in my apartment, and I think that this will be the first year that I’ve ever spent a birthday sleeping alone in my home. Am I where I thought that I would be when I was thirty-three? If I really focus on what my younger self imagined for my 30s, I can vaguely remember thinking that I would probably have a Ph.D. by now and be ready to start having kids. My mom had me – her first kid – when she was thirty-three.

But as I try to remember what I imagined for thirty-three when I was younger, I realize how irrelevant it is. What difference does it make what my eighteen year-old self thought thirty-three looked like? I mean, seriously: What did she even know about how this whole life thing works? [It’s worth noting, too, that my eighteen year-old self rebelled hard against the idea that her life would be linear and neat and square and just like The Jones. And when my twenty-two year-old self got into her dream graduate school, she literally cried on the phone with her then-boyfriend, telling him about her secret fear that everything in her life was lining up too neatly and that she was going to wake up when she was forty with a white picket fence and two kids and realize she had given in to the mainstream. So, really, if my eighteen year-old self had been introspective back then, she might have realized that that version of what thirty-three looks like wasn’t even something that she wanted.]

Some better questions, I think, are Am I where my thirty-three year-old, present day self wants to be, doing what I want to do, with the people I want in my life? Am I content? Am I striving to live in accordance with my values? The answer to all of these is an easy yes. My life now is filled in ways that I could not have predicted when I was eighteen because I didn’t even know these options existed. I didn’t know that I could choose joy, by most of the time doing things that I love with people that I love. I didn’t know that I could choose gratitude, by seeing around the horror and disbelief at our country’s elected method to execute our inevitable fall from World Superpower, to the people rushing in to help, and by going outside often enough to love my neighbors and smell the roses. I didn’t know that I could choose my own god damn worthiness. I can scarcely believe how long I have spent hustling, in a million different ways, for my worth. This is the year I learned that I can literally choose how I want to live and how I want to see the world and this life and myself each day.

I learned a lot of things in the last year, actually. I think that is a natural byproduct of change, or of life not going as planned or anticipated. And I am so deeply good with that. The thing is, Life didn’t promise me anything, other than maybe an adventure. There are no guarantees that it will be easy – in fact, if anything, Life is pretty much guaranteed to have hard parts – and I’m starting to suspect that maybe that’s part of the actual plan, a plan that is much bigger than anything that I could come up with on my own. Who knows?

What I do know is that I am exceedingly grateful to be getting older (as I am fond of saying: It’s certainly better than the alternative), to be garnering wisdom, to be becoming more myself, to be getting healthier and more joyful and freer, to be living where my feet are. Thirty-three looks pretty damn good from right here.

*I wrote this last night. So, I’m actually turning thirty-three today.