The Very Thing You Crave.

I spent some time today listening to a recording about an Arbonne nutrition boot camp. One statement in the recording really made me think.  The woman speaking said, “The very thing you crave is likely what’s killing you.” She was talking about food – gluten or carbs or sugar – but isn’t that true more generally?

It got me thinking about what I crave, not in terms of food, but in life. For a couple of years now, I’ve paid close attention to the Enneagram line of thought. In that system, I’m a Peacemaker.  According to the book I read, a Peacemaker’s basic fear is loss and separation, and a Peacemaker’s basic desire is inner stability and peace of mind. I think those things are absolutely true about me.

I put a great deal of effort towards avoiding loss and separation. For much of the last few years, I’ve been torn between Austin and Portland. My life was in Austin, but my heart was in Portland. I tried living between the two. When I was in Austin, I felt far from Portland and all that it offered. When I was in Portland, I felt far from Austin and all that it offered. I had a hard time separating entirely from one to embrace fully the other, and my heart hurt most of the time because I was angry that the separation was required of me to make either work. Couldn’t I have both lives? Shouldn’t that have been possible? In the end, my efforts to keep a foot, and effectively the peace, in both places got me nowhere.

I’m not in Portland. The life I wanted there doesn’t await me anymore. I’m not in Austin. The life I’ve built here doesn’t feel like me anymore. Both lives are gone.

I have moments when I feel overwhelmed by the loss of both lives. But as I spent time last weekend with people from my childhood, it occurred to me that, in this place of complete uncertainty, every opportunity stands before me. I’ve always said that I wished I could go back to my youth and do things over again. I’m almost forty, so I can’t go back to my youth exactly, but I’m effectively in a place of asking myself the same questions I was asking in college.

Who am I? What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? What kind of person do I want to spend my life with?

The kid I was let others influence those answers. The adult that kid became allowed her deepest cravings to immobilize and slowly kill her. In this place of starting over, what will the person I am now do? I don’t know yet. My next steps aren’t clear, but I’m smarter, stronger and more adventurous than I have been. So I think it’s gonna be good.

Murky Waters.

Last night, I met Elizabeth at Deep Eddy for a swim. She’d really heard me earlier when I said that I missed my tradition of going for a swim and then having dinner at Magnolia, so when we were making plans to connect, she suggested it.

We got there right after work. The water was green and more cloudy than it had been the last time I was there. I think the last time was sometime in the spring of 2012, but honestly, I’m not sure. It’s been a long time. The water was also less cold than I remembered. I got in fairly comfortably and didn’t shake at all, even when I paused my swim for a few moments at a time. I also didn’t count laps or worry about doing a particular workout. I just swam.

At the pool, Elizabeth and I ran into a friend of a friend, someone I met last fall and really liked but hadn’t seen since. He ended up joining us for dinner, which was also really lovely. The three of us talked until almost 9:30.

I walked away from dinner with a worked out body, a happy belly, a warm heart, and the realization that I’m not stuck. For months, I’ve been waiting to see what choices someone else would make. I felt like my future was totally in the hands of another. That’s a pretty helpless place to be. In the meantime, I’ve been doing what I could to make the most of the time. I’ve been training, racing, simplifying my life, and trying to learn new things. In that helplessness, I’ve also been isolating myself and feeling unsure about my next steps. Would I have to figure things out from scratch again? Would everything fall back into place and work itself out? Well, it didn’t.

It’s not clear to me where I go from here, but I need to go somewhere. And last night, while I was swimming in the pool that felt so different, spending time with people I’m looking forward to getting to know better, and thinking about how rich my life is with friends and opportunities, I realized that my path may not be clear, but that’s okay. I can swim in murky waters just fine. And eventually, the murkiness will clear.

A Borrow From Elizabeth.

My friend Elizabeth posts quotes on Fridays. This one from last week spoke to me.

buddha quoteEach is these three things poses its own challenges. Each one is tested at different times. Right now, I feel like I’m being tested in all three. I have my moments of failure, but generally speaking, I think I’m doing pretty well.

Africa Is Happening.

In mid-June, I started thinking about a trip to Africa. Africa had never been on my list of places I wanted to go, but as I thought about turning 40 and doing so alone, I knew I wanted to do something grand for my birthday. I also knew that I did not want to spend New Years at home alone, so I started looking at REI’s website for adventure trips in late December. Almost immediately, I felt drawn to the thought of hiking up the highest mountain in Africa.

So what if it takes forever to travel to Africa and I’ll be travelling alone? So what if the foreignness of Africa scares me? So what if I’ve never been in altitude? So what if I have to get injections or take drugs to keep from getting sick? So what if I’m sleeping in a tent and not showering every day? I can do this. More than that, I need to do this. I need to know that I can put myself in any unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable situation and, not just survive, but enjoy it.

Someone recently told me that I’m not capable of change, and I cannot let that be true.

It’s true that I’ve lived in the same town for more than twenty years, that I’ve been in one line of work, mostly with one firm, the entire time, and that I’m a person who takes comfort in routine and familiarity. It’s also true that I hold tight to my family and friends. I have friends I’ve had since elementary school, middle school, and high school because I value people. Once I love them, I don’t let go easily. I email. I phone. I reach out regularly. If I cause hurt, I ask forgiveness, even when walking away would be easier. If I am hurt, I offer forgiveness where I think forgiveness is genuinely sought. I have a history of dedication and commitment to my work and the people I love. I think all of that is good and that to reframe all of that as a condemnation of me as unable to adapt is a mistake.

Then I worry. Is it true that I can’t change? I talked for three or four years about moving out of Austin proper into the country before I actually did it. It took years of thinking about writing before I made any externally visible efforts to actually write for magazines or other people. It takes me months to move myself mentally from the I’m-getting-to-know-you phase into the we’re-dating phase. I’m slow to make decisions, whether the decisions involve a major life change or buying a blender. I consider and debate and coax myself into action, big and little. And sometimes that means long periods of uncertainty and what appears to be inaction to the outside observer. Does my slowness mean I’m not moving towards change or that I’m incapable of it? I don’t think so.

So this Africa thing is about climbing Kilimanjaro about as much as my Ironman thing is about earning the M-dot status. It’s really about my life, who I want to be, and what I need to know is true about me.

I bought my plane ticket today. It took me almost two months, but I did it. I’m in. The plans are made, and the money is spent. I’m going to Africa.

Wednesday List #21 – Quotes That Recently Made Me Think

It’s been a rich week, in large part because I’ve spent sweet time in the company of old friends. I’ve also been thinking a lot about writing and words and the impact words have on me. Here are some words that recently struck a chord with me.

  1. I watched Wish Me Away, a documentary about singer Chely Wright. In it, someone said, “Wherever there’s a broken heart, the heart that usually follows is raw.” That was said in the context of wanting to see what songs Chely would write in her state of rawness and fully anticipating that they would be rich and powerful. If there’s an upside to a broken heart, I think that might be it.
  2. Also from Wish Me Away, “There’s nobody quite as mean as people being mean for Jesus.” I believe that. I’ve experienced that. But I also believe and have experienced that the truest, sweetest love offered comes from people who live and offer the love of Jesus.
  3. In Searching for Sugarman, a documentary about a musician from Detroit who became a huge hit in South Africa, I heard the line, “Home is acceptance.” I’ve always thought of home as my alone space, my place of refuge from everything and even everyone. What would it be like for home to be a place I shared with someone who offered acceptance – total acceptance?
  4. On an early season of The Voice (maybe even the first), I met and totally fell for Vicci Martinez. I loved her battle with Nikki Dawson, and I’ve loved her music so much that I even went to see her by myself in concert in Portland last summer. I just heard a song by her called Hold Me Darlin’ that contains the line, “But I said I’m sorry. Are you giving up?” Those words took my breath away. I realized that no matter where we are or what we’re feeling, someone has been there before and has felt just exactly the same way.

As a kid, I used to keep a quote book. I think it’s time to do it again.

JBA Forever.

In 1987, I got invited to travel to England to play tennis as part of some kind of U.S. national team. I was thrilled. My mom was thrilled that I was good enough to be invited, but she didn’t like the idea of sending me overseas at thirteen years of age. Rather than send me, she came up with an alternative – nerd camp in Kirksville, Missouri. At the time, I didn’t think the two opportunities were in any way comparable, but I was thirteen and had no say, so off to Kirksville I went. “Thanks for nothing, Mother,” I thought as I hopped a flight for the Joseph Baldwin Academy. But in no time at all, I was so glad I went. In fact, I loved it so much that I returned in 1988 and 1989.

In the summer 1988 I met and fell in love with John, Kate and Andy, three people who hold a special place in my heart even today.


Taline and John


Kate and Andy

At nerd camp, we were in class from 9 to 12 and 1 to 4:30. Then we were in study hall from 6 to 7:30. (I might have those times slightly wrong, but you get the gist of our schedule.) We lived in the dorms together. We shared meals together. And we hung out. I took Shakespeare in 1987, Writing in 1988 and Logic in 1989. I know I learned things those summers, but mostly I remember loving the people and feeling loved by them. I remember wanting to write as well as Kate did, wanting to be smart and funny enough that someone like John would want me around, and wanting to believe that all guys were as kind and decent as I believed Andy to be. I remember waking up early in the mornings and hurrying downstairs to the dorm’s lobby, anxious to start my day with my friends. I remember staying up as late as I possibly could, not wanting to miss a moment of the laughter or antics in the dorm. I remember believing that I had found the best friends ever. At JBA, I felt known and understood. And I was.

After leaving JBA, we wrote one another letters, and I waited for the mail with anxious anticipation for a missive from one of my friends. Over the years, we stayed in contact most of the time. Kate and I went to John’s wedding together. Andy and John both visited me during college. John went to Atlanta with me to be my date to the wedding of some dear friends of mine. We emailed. We called. And eventually we connected on Facebook. Before Andy was on Facebook, he told me to look up his wife because she would have lots of pictures of their kids. So I did. For years, I’ve been observing their lives. With each call, email and post, I’ve fallen more and more in love with my friends and their families.

Early last October, it occurred to me that this summer would mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of our meeting, so I rallied my friends to attend a reunion, not in Kirksville, but in Cambridge, Iowa, on Andy’s farm. This past weekend, I went to the farm to meet Andy, his wife Laura Lynn, and their six children, John and his two children, and Kate and her two children. I knew it would be a special time. Kate was apparently somewhat skeptical, but I was completely confident we would enjoy one another. What I didn’t know was how much the weekend would matter to me.

This has been a tough year for me. I have felt loss. I have felt lost. I have felt old and unsure of my place in the world. I have felt lonely. But this weekend, I felt the joy of being in the company of friends. In their company, I was reminded of the younger version of myself that once existed. She was smart, determined, kind and incredibly hopeful in all things. I realized that I haven’t changed all that much, except perhaps in the hopefulness.

Not one of us has really changed. I’m still the quietest of the group. John’s still the most bold and funny. Kate’s still the most feeling and creative. And Andy still has a smile that makes me think he knows something the rest of us don’t. We are very much our kid selves in grown up form. Most importantly, we listened and loved just as we did when we were kids. John still challenged me to take risks. Kate still challenged me to embrace emotion and be vulnerable. Andy still challenged me to look outside myself and to receive grace. I even felt challenged by Laura Lynn. She is a fascinating combination of soft and strong, and she has an unwavering belief that she can figure anything out – how to make something, how to fix something, how to get something done. And she can.

As I returned to that place in my mind where I am fourteen and fifteen years old, my heart broke for the kid I once was, for the adult I thought I’d be, and the future I want to believe I still can have. Risk. Emotion. Vulnerability. Grace. Confidence that I will find my way. My friends mirrored for me the kid who went to Kirksville and fell deeply for the people she met there. It was good to see her again.

It was good to see all of my friends again and to make new ones. After this sweet and much needed weekend in the company of my friends, I look forward to what’s to come in all of our lives, including mine.


John, Taline, Andy and Kate