So much of my effort this year has been about taking care of myself. I hope it hasn’t been selfish. I don’t think it has. I just feel like there is so much aggression out in the world that I have to be extra diligent about both preparing myself for it and shielding myself from it. For me, that’s meant really looking at what improves my life and what doesn’t. Continue reading
Dave was on a business trip last week when I flew out to Boston. He returned while I was gone, and then left again before I came back. When I arrived home on Sunday evening, I saw evidence of his having been here – a polished kitchen sink, the washer dial turned to hot, and tongs in the salad bowl in the refrigerator. Initially, I felt a tinge of sadness knowing he wouldn’t be home for another five days. But now, on Wednesday, still two full days away from his return, I’m having to be intentional to avoid being downright despondent. Continue reading
I ran out of gas today. I don’t mean that my energy fizzled and I took a nap or that I went running and couldn’t take another step. I mean that I ran out of gas driving down the highway. After a fun Green Bean Casserole Run and a lovely visit with two of my Kilimanjaro friends, I was driving home, and my car suddenly lost power. I could feel it coasting, so I turned on my hazards and navigated over to the right in the hopes that I could get to the shoulder before the car died completely. I did, but just barely. My driver side tires were pretty much on the line on the side of the road, so I crawled out the passenger side door and called for help. Then I waited. For over an hour, I waited. Continue reading
This week, I made the decision to join a masters swim program. I swam in different programs years ago when I lived in Austin, and I did really well in them. I became a strong swimmer, especially during my years training at the Courtyard when I would swim four days a week. It wasn’t the frequent swimming, but the swimming with others that really made me strong. When I moved from far northwest Austin to the country far southwest of town, I abandoned my masters program because my old facility was miles and miles away, and there was no good option nearby. That’s now changed.
This weekend, Dave and I went to a marriage seminar organized by some friends of mine from the Church at Lake Travis. A pastor friend of theirs from Alabama spoke about marriage. It’s hard to summarize all that he said, but what I walked away with is that marriage is an opportunity and an obligation to love another unconditionally. Marriages work when people decide to stick with them. That second statement seems obvious, but it’s true, right? If people quit, the marriage is done. But if they stick with it, even when it’s hard, then there’s a chance that things will get better. This workshop really hit home with me in a way that convicted me to apologize to Dave about various things I’d said and done or not done in the last month. Continue reading
Dave’s been in town for just over a month. It’s lovely – absolutely lovely – to have him here, but I can’t pretend that it’s all easy. It’s not. It’s been a long time since I did anything other than have a long-distance relationship. Long-distance is easy. You have wonderful visits when you’re together, and you get regular life and lots of alone time when you aren’t. That always worked well for me. Life with someone – really with someone – is very different and much harder. Continue reading
Last night, I had a girlfriend over for dinner. I live out in the country, exactly 23 miles from downtown Austin. One of my dear friends jokes that I live so far out that she needs a passport to come visit. It’s obviously not that far, but the drive does keep people from just stopping by and often even from coming over at all. But this friend wanted to come. I think she has a thing for Bread, which I totally understand! He is a handsome little guy.
For nearly four hours, we talked at my kitchen table, nibbling on food much of the time. For the last hour, we began the process of saying goodnight and wandered my house and talked about different things. Alison admired my vast collection of books. I got to show her the Christmas cards from friends around the country that cover my refrigerator. I got to show her the blinds that Bread or Butter or perhaps both mutilated. As I showed her my piano room, she noticed a picture of my friend Jeff, who died in 2006, and that gave me an opportunity to tell her about what a special guy he was and what a beautiful relationship he had with a woman who loved him long before he realized it (though it was clear as day to me, silly boy) and who continues to love him more and more with each passing day. She even noticed the little Saint Gertrude statue that my friend Catherine gave me years ago. Saint Gertrude is, among other things, the patron saint of cats, so she lives high up on a shelf in my living room where she can keep a watchful eye on Bread and Butter for me.
I got to have conversations with Alison that could only happen in my space. And I loved every minute of it. I think Alison had fun too, at least in part because Bread warmed up to her incredibly quickly and even sat on her lap for a bit. That’s unusual for him. He’s a total love bug with me but incredibly shy around strangers.
When she left, not because we ran out of things to say but because it was nearly midnight, I walked back into my house, started to do the dishes, and caught myself smiling. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed having someone in my home.
I’ve spent much of the last year telling myself that I’m better off alone than with someone who is able to walk away from me – someone who is willing to do life without me. That’s true, I think. But I also think I’d started to warp my own message. I’d started to tell myself that I should be alone.
Last night, I was reminded how much I enjoy the company of another, how much I enjoy sharing space with another, and how much I do not desire to be alone, even if it’s easier than dealing with disappointment, even if it’s safer than trusting another completely, even if it’s less scary than trying again.
I’m grateful to Alison for making the drive, for being genuinely interested in who I am and how I am, and for helping me remember how wonderful it feels to share my home with another person. I needed that reminder.
In three months, I’ll be getting on a flight to Tanzania for my Kilimanjaro climb and safari adventure. That feels so strange to say because Africa was never on my list of things to do. The idea just came to me one day in mid June as I was thinking about possible ways to spend new years, and I decided to follow my heart even though I thought my heart might be crazy.
The first thing I did was mention the idea to my friend Matt who has done the climb. This was Sunday, June 16, days before I was leaving to race Ironman Coeur d’Alene. My thought was to set up a lunch for when I got back, but Matt was so excited that he responded to my e-mail on Monday with, “You have lunch plans today?” I didn’t, so we had lunch, and his enthusiasm was so complete that I walked away from that lunch committed in my own mind about the effort. I got back to my office and immediately requested information from the outfitter that Matt had used. When I got back from Coeur d’Alene, I reviewed the information they sent me and, on June 29, I put down my deposit. Acting in 13 days is record time for me, as I am perhaps the slowest decision-maker on the planet. I suppose I could have walked away from the deposit, but on August 7, I bought my ticket. Then I was in for sure. On September 3, the outfitter charged my credit card for the balance of what I owed. Then I was in for damn sure.
Now I’m buying travel insurance, rescue insurance, and health insurance for the trip. I’m looking at immunization lists and gear lists. I’m trying to figure out what I have and what I need and what I want for this trip. How will I charge my phone and camera on the climb? What will I carry in my day pack? Will I take paper books or an e-reader? How much can I pack in the duffel bag that porters will carry for me? What do I need to buy and what can I borrow from friends?
My Grand Canyon trip has helped because I now have a day pack, sleeping bag, hat and gloves. Hood to Coast helped me because I now have a compact pillow and small travel towels. Matt has helped by loaning me his trekking poles, which have been up the mountain before. He assures me that they know the way! But I need to figure out the clothes, especially because most of what I own no longer fits me. I’ve lost almost 19 pounds since January, so I’m having to buy new pants all around. Even the pants I bought in July with Rey are getting loose. At some point, I’ll do a big REI trip to buy a bunch of clothes and gear. That will be a fun effort.
But logistics aside, it’s hitting me that I’m going to Africa, and I’m going alone. My first international trip (to Italy and Greece) was with a girlfriend and her family. My second (to Spain) was to meet my friend Erin, who was studying there for a semester. My third (England and Germany) was for an extended family reunion on my dad’s side. This will be only my fourth big trip, and I’m flying for over 24 hours alone to climb a mountain in Africa with five other people I’ve never met. The me of two years ago before I’d done any international travel would never have done this.
Who have I become?
I’m someone who is turning forty in less than three months and doesn’t want being forty and alone to feel like…well, the way I expect forty and alone to feel. I want to appreciate that I have a wonderful job that allows me travel. I want to take advantage of not having kids and not being responsible for anyone but myself. I want to enjoy being able to book a trip on a whim – or as close to a whim as I’ve ever come – and seeing it through. I love people and want someone by my side, but I also want to be completely okay with being just me.
Africa is about me doing something I never thought I would do. It’s about proving to myself that I can adapt to a different and challenging environment, that I can enter a foreign territory with no one holding my hand, and that I can battle my way up to any finish line I choose to face. It’s about me trying something new and having fun. Africa is about me enjoying being forty and being forty the best way I know how.
I’m excited. And a little scared. But mostly, I’m excited. I can’t wait to get on the plane. This experience will be all my own, and I have a feeling I will come back changed somehow. I don’t know how, but I suspect it’ll be for the better.
Africa, I have high hopes for you and for me. I can’t wait for us to meet.
A number of my friends who have kids use the term “sleeps” to count the number of days. If they are going to Disneyland in four days, they say, “Only four more sleeps to Disney!” If they are going to Grandma’s in two days, “Only two more sleeps to Grandma’s!” It’s not always just fun. Sometimes when a kid in a divorced family is having to head to her mom’s and she’d really rather not, her dad might say, “Only four sleeps before you come back here.” Sleeps are a way of counting the passage of time in terms a kid can understand.
Obviously, I understand days, but the thought of sleeps has resonated with me. I’ve caught myself using that language for myself.
I don’t think getting through nights is any easier than getting through days sometimes, but I do take comfort in measuring time by the nights. Nights are my time at home, and home is my safe place, where I am most relaxed. Home is where I hang out with Bread and Butter. Home is where I sit on the couch reading a book or sit on my bed watching television or sit in my chair writing. Home is my space to rest in alone or occasionally with the trusted friend.
Days are harder. Days are about getting out and doing and training and working. They are about running errands and dealing with people and meeting deadlines and, to some extent, putting on a show, though I’m working hard at acting less and being more real. Days can be really good or really bad. Days are a gamble each and every time I set foot out of my home.
100 days to something fun sounds…dreadfully long. 100 sleeps? That sounds delightful.
It’s a busy day at the office. There are lots of suits around today, which always makes it feel more stressful. I’ve got lots going on and a list that is growing rather than shrinking. My space is a bit more cluttered than I’m used to because I have my hands in multiple projects today, all of which are moving forward but none of which are coming to a close. And I’m trying to eat well, which is hard when the days are stressful. (Almonds, anyone?)
After work, I’m hanging out with some really great girls I don’t get to see often enough. We’re gathering at a bar I’ve never been to and discussing a book I actually managed to finish. (We’ve joked that we are a drinking club with a book problem.) I didn’t love the book, but I enjoyed it, and I love the girls, so I’m really excited to see them all again.
When we’re done, I’ll head home to Bread and Butter, to my safe place, for another sleep. Maybe I’ll start the next book. (It’s going to be Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris, for next week’s book club – a different club with another group of wonderful people.) Maybe I will catch up on some shows I’ve recorded. (I have many, including General Hospital, Ellen, Today, Girls, Nashville, and The Newsroom.) Maybe I’ll read through the magazines that are piling up. (Again, I have many – Texas Monthly, Portland Monthly, The New Yorker, Women’s Health, Experience Life, and Runner’s World.) Maybe I’ll write. Maybe I’ll go right to bed and just nestle with Bread and Butter, sort of like this:
All of that sounds really delightful. I can handle just about anything when I think about getting home at the end of the day.
I like my home. I like my sleeps.
I’m a master at the “selfie.” For years, I’ve been taking pictures of myself with my friends. I like my selfies. I tend to look best in my selfies because I know exactly when I’m going to push the button to take the picture. I like my pictures so much that I’ve used selfies I’ve taken on this blog again and again and again.
At Hood to Coast, someone on my team caught me in the act. Here’s the picture I was taking:
And here’s the picture of me taking the picture:
I like this photo – not just because I think I look lean in it – but because its existence affirms for me that, in those few days in Portland, I was not alone. I was surrounded by incredible teammates who made my first return to Portland since October of last year warm and memorable.
It also makes me realize that I acted, to some extent, as though I was alone, when in reality, I wasn’t.
There I was on the beach with eleven teammates, many of whom were just a few feet away, and it didn’t occur to me to ask one of them to take our picture. I just did what I always do and took it myself. I do that. I like the independence and the control of a selfie, but I also tend to function in a self contained manner because I’m used to being alone and I don’t like being a bother. It wouldn’t bother me one bit to take a picture for someone else but to ask someone to take a picture for me? That feels like an imposition. Why take up their time? Why take them away from what they are doing and risk interrupting a moment or a thought?
I worry about that sort of thing a lot. Even in relationships, I’m cautious about imposing myself on others. I love having people I love in my space, in my home. I’m super relaxed and never worry about things being used or moved or broken or stained. I just love having someone with me. But in their homes, I worry that I’m in the way or crowding them or putting something where it doesn’t belong or where it might annoy them.
Last summer, I took Bread and Butter to Portland for some months with me. Now I love my children, but they make lots of noise at night when they are hungry, and they need litter boxes, which always stink, even if I clean them daily. I know we were welcomed there and wanted, but it was stressful to try to be in that space without being disruptive and smelly – or perhaps more accurately, without feeling disruptive and smelly. It was just hard.
I’m at my best, at my most relaxed, in my own space. In my own home, I can’t be in the way. Independent, I can’t be a bother. I can’t be a nuisance. I can’t get in anyone’s way.
I’m realizing that the way I am sometimes isn’t good for me or the people I’m around. I wouldn’t want any of my friends to think that they shouldn’t tap me on the shoulder and ask me to take a picture. And I know that my friends similarly wouldn’t feel bothered, but would be saddened to know that I felt uneasy asking for their help. And I know no one who invites me into his or her home wants me to feel uncomfortable. So why not just go and relax?
It would be good for me to relinquish some of the independence, the control, and the fear of putting people out – to recognize and acknowledge that there are people around me who can and want to help and who want me in their space and maybe even who want to create a space that is shared. I’m just not used to thinking that way or having that level of comfort with others, even people I love.
And I do love every person who was with me in Portland. Very much.