La pura vida

Not too long ago, probably back in November, I was at the gym doing some kettlebell swings, when I felt an unfamiliar crack and unsettling destabilization in my right knee and right ankle. I’m no stranger to knee injuries, but that one seemed relatively harmless, as it just felt like my joints cracked when I was standing up. For about 6 weeks afterward though, things didn’t feel right. I had pain all the way down into my foot, and my hip/IT band were tight, offsetting the instability in my knee and ankle. I’m just now getting to a point where there is less pain. The worst was the cold making everything stiff, especially in the middle of the night when I just needed to make my way to the loo with no lights on, but walking was a feat in itself.

I went to the physical therapist (PT) a few days after my injury, and every two weeks since. I call him a PT because that’s his job, but I really chose this place and him due to his credentials in chiropractic care. I had a chiropractor in San Francisco with certification in active release techniques (ART), and found a chain of gyms with professionals with this same designation upon moving to Seattle. For those that don’t know, ART is a soft tissue/movement based massage technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. Once those are loosened, often the movement-constricting issue is resolved, but sometimes a chiropractic adjustment is still needed. Rather than just going in to crack a back or neck with little to no prep work or stretching, the treatment of the soft tissues around the site of constricted movement usually resolves whatever is causing us pain or stiffness. It’s easier on your system and your soft tissue with these techniques. And hey, free mini massages in targeted spots when you go to the chiropractor!

However, the place I found in Seattle near me has a more holistic approach rather than a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am chiropractic adjustment. They provide half an hour of chiro-care time, and half an hour of physical therapy with exercise focused on body areas wherever little nagging pains or tightness happens to be. I have been going every two weeks, 1) because my insurance covers these sessions, and 2) preventive ongoing maintenance means fewer and further between major breakdowns/pains.

In the session just after Christmas, before New Year’s, after my mother and aunt left from spending the holidays with me, something funny happened at the PT. Dr. Donuts, as his name was in school for eating donuts in class, was working out some of my tightness and making adjustments, as he normally does. My body’s response was anything but normal that day.

Maybe it was the stress of entertaining family for the holidays, or the stress of the impending doom scheduled to take over the White House. All of his adjustments tickled, and I giggled. Everywhere he touched me, the stress relief came in the form of laughter. Normally, I crack jokes and make general embarrassing deep, guttural utterances when he adjusts me. That day, my released tension took the form of giggles (much to my dismay.) So much more embarrassing, but very telling about the stress I was holding.

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Luckily, I’ve redeemed myself since, and Dr. Donuts and I continue to have amusing and lighthearted appointments. I’ve noticed many differences for the better just by making sure I go every two weeks. Plus, I feel better about my body when I can move it the way I need to and the way I like. Everybody wins.

I’ve also since been focusing on diet and exercise to build my strength back up after my injury.

Translation:
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I booked a holiday in Costa Rica at a yoga and spa retreat for a week, and I don’t want to embarrass myself in the 2x-a-day yoga classes. There are half day and full day excursions, as well as 3 healthy meals a day sourced with local ingredients. The package also comes with one massage that week, and my room has a sweet view of the central valley. I plan to hit up Poas Volcano, local hot springs, do a coffee tour through the fields that surround the resort, walk through a cloud forest (skywalk) and maybe zipline between trees, and check out the waterfall gardens and butterfly observatory. Factor in to this that I used airline miles I’ve accumulated to cover airfare, and this is an all-inclusive fairly cheap adventure for me. I’m planning to go by myself at this point, which I’m eagerly anticipating.

It feels good having more travel booked this year, since I didn’t quite make it out and about last year. It was a big year, purchasing a home, moving cities, starting a new job, and all of it required my attention on the homefront. But now that I’ve nested sufficiently, it’s time to get out there and have more adventures, take more pictures, and live la pura vida (the pure life).

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Orrery

Last night I watched an astronomy documentary on Netflix, Secrets of the Solar System. I loved astronomy documentaries, and the show Cosmos, but after a while, the same old information gets stale. I feel like I heard it all before in my astronomy courses at school, and no new information has really been added to the wealth that is already there, when it comes to publicly available media.

So it was to my surprise last night that I’d never heard the information in that show. It was all new. I devoured it voraciously, of course. As astronomers are learning more studying distant solar systems, they are able to piece together more information on our own solar system.

The documentary postulated which planets were formed first after the birth of the sun as a star. It even brought up a concept of hot versions of Jupiter that are out there, orbiting stars in other solar systems. It hypothesized that at one point, Jupiter was closing in on the sun, but then the formation of Saturn kept the Jupiter orbit from approaching closer and closer to the sun: a wandering Jupiter. It was all really interesting.

Perhaps the a-ha moment for me though, was the discovery of something called Kepler’s orrery. Now, an orrery is one of those mechanical models (with clockwork mechanisms) which intends to keep the planets, their orbits, and the distance from the sun to scale.

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However, if we did that, the planets would literally wind up kilometers away from our model sun, in some cases. Accurate scaling is not practical due to the large distances/ratios. So, they usually end up not to scale so we can keep them all in one tidy, little place.

Orreries can illustrate and predict where the planets are on any given date, past, present or future. You’ve seen them before, if you’ve seen the movie the Dark Crystal (pictured below), or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. They can be used to predict when eclipses will occur, when planets are aligned, and all kinds of important futuristic events written in the stars.

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Johannes Kepler was the mathematician and astronomer best known for his laws of planetary motion. He deduced planets orbit the sun in ellipses. His work formed the foundation for Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity.

Now, Kepler’s orrery is a little different. It’s a virtual display that shows the relative sizes of the orbits and planets in the multi-transiting planetary systems discovered by Kepler up to Nov. 2013. All the planetary systems discovered through 2013 are illustrated in a virtual collection of orreries. Planetary systems can vary so much – and our solar system is just as unique in its own formation. In Kepler’s orrery, the colors simply go by order from the star (the most colorful is the 7-planet system KOI-351). The terrestrial planets of the Solar System are shown in gray.

What I gathered from this collection of various solar systems we’ve observed is that each solar system is unique, like a snowflake, or a fingerprint. Some systems have two stars instead of just one; some have one central star like our sun, but contain only gaseous planets without terrestrial planets. Some stars rotate clockwise and have planets which run counterclockwise. Some are densely packed solar systems; some span great distances. The possibilities really are endless for what kinds of systems are out there, not just in our Milky Way galaxy, but in other galaxies too. It made me realize that had Saturn not been created from remnants further out in our solar system, Jupiter may have actually crashed into the sun, and we may not have Mercury, Venus, Earth, or Mars in our solar system at all. Our solar system may not have planets which sustain life, human life, at all. And even that came with time, and was a slow evolution within conditions that made it happen.

Our lives hinge on events that happened by chance, and hang in a delicate balance. It’s realistic (some say optimistic) to believe there has to be life out there on other planets. The problem is, maybe those planets will have life in millions of years, they’re just not there yet. They are all at different points along their journey, moving at different speeds, with different foci. All these planetary systems observed by Kepler hundreds of years ago have been studied by scientists at NASA in particular to aid in the search for habitable planets. However, there may be no escape hatch, no easy button, to continue the human race on other planets. That is the most conservative view. We have one planet, one chance.

We are all made up from various circumstances, too, just as solar systems are. Some we can control, but many we can’t. Things just happened. They’re a part of how we got here, though. Is it random? Is the variation planned through fractals or other mathematical concepts? Is there a master plan, or a higher power controlling all of this? Depends who you ask. It boggles my mind because I have to expand it wide for all the possibilities in this universe, but scale it down to focus on one or two small things to make a point. I don’t want to be on record as doubting intelligent life in space, thus that is where I must make my point. It must be out there. Given the variety of just the tiny sample humans have observed over our brief blink of an eye, it’s hard to believe. But I believe.

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Maybe I have a little hope after all. It’s little, and it’s been beaten and bruised, kicked around and left for dead. 

Valar morghulis

Translated: “All men must die,” in High Valyrian from the fantastic book and HBO series, Game of Thrones. The customary response to this greeting is “Valar dohaeris (all men must serve.)” They are two sides of the same coin.

I only think of this because I received my amazon pre-order I placed yonks ago of Game of Thrones Season 5 recently. I’m watching the season that portrays the book I was reading exactly 2 years ago while I was on holiday in Singapore and the Philippines. I still remember not being able to leave my hotel room in Quezon City in Manila because I was trying to finish A Dance with Dragons, despite being in a new city with so much to explore.

On March 13, my cousin Larry was admitted to the hospital for symtpoms that eventually led to a diabetes diagnosis. Just to be safe, as any doctor would have done, they ordered cat scans to rule out what they could. Those brain scans showed multiple tumors on my cousin’s brain, growing at an aggressive rate. On March 22, he had surgery to remove the two largest tumors on his brain forming one large one, basically.

Today, as he has the past couple days, he’s sleeping most of the time. There is a large amount of water in his brain. He’s supposed to be healing and rehabbing to get strong for a course of chemotherapy and radiation 4 weeks after his surgery. We wanted him to be strong to continue the fight, so he could have begun treatment as early as 2 weeks, but the doctors recommended 4 weeks.

Tonight, the outlook that he’ll make it another 2 weeks is bleak. I’ve been prepared by two separate family members that he’s on his way out. My cousin is dying.

Since I came back from Australia, I’ve flown back to Rome, NY, where most of my mom’s side of the family lives twice: once in June of 2014, when I first came back, and again in December 2015, for the holidays. Both times, I hung out with my cousin Larry the most out of anyone, besides my mother with whom I was staying. He made an effort to spend quality time with me, after all, he told me I’m the only cousin he really hung out with. My generation in my mom’s family has 6 kids, so I have 5 cousins. To some that’s a lot; to others, that is so very few. I was only close to Larry and his younger brother in that group of us. They were older than me, but I always hung out with them when I’d go back to New York for family trips. I went back once at 8, and again at 16, then perhaps not again til I was 32. Exponential family time, here…

I remember being 8, in a shed in back of the house where my cousins lived. They were probably 13 and 17. They were playing Dungeons and Dragons with other teenage boys, and my mom had sent me out to go hang out with them in the un-air-conditioned hothouse that was that shed. They were smoking cigarettes, but I didn’t tell. I channel that moment in Donnie Darko where Donnie asks his sister what’ll happen if she tells mom he’s smoking. “You’ll put Ariel in the garbage disposal,” she replies. “Goddamn right, I will…”

Both times I was back in Rome recently, I shared laughs and memories with my cousin. This was one of the best photos I showed him while we were shooting the shit at the dining room table, and he laughed so hard, and still said it nearly everytime I talked to him.

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Here he is, clowning around at the dining room table in a wig I found lying around the house he lived in with his mom and dad, my aunt and uncle.

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The last two times I’ve been back to visit family in 2014 and 2015, we’ve gone to the Outback Steakhouse. Everyone orders prime rib but his daughter (2nd row from the front, to the right of him) and me. He ordered prime rib and crab or lobster. Surf and turf.

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And this is a great photo of my cousin probably making a crass comment, his younger brother Steven laughing, and his father and namesake (my uncle Larry) folding his arms in pretend discontent but real happiness being surrounded by his sons sharing a moment.

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This has all progressed so quickly. The cancer is aggressive, and he may not make it to the 4-week mark for the all-clear post surgery to begin chemo and radiation treatment. He’s fighting for his life right now. I don’t know if he stands a chance or not.

My heart is heavy with the weight of many more memories I haven’t shared here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my family is small, but it is mine. It’s not perfect. And when something happens to someone I’m related to and with whom I’m also close, it penetrates all walls and invades, no matter the armor I wear.

I sit here, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. I feel like so many others, he too will become lost in the chasm of all the other statistics, with words like “Fuck cancer,” and “It’s not fair,” swirling in my head.

I don’t know that he ever boarded a plane and left his hometown. He had a day job, and it was hard work. The pay was crap, but he found meaningful ways to contribute. He lived with his mom and dad, and contributed to this world via a daughter he loved with all his heart. He never asked for much, and he was someone content to be part of the garden, but never the star.

A friend of mine unexpectedly lost her mother on March 25. She’d had some seizures, then the doctors told her it was an infection and it’d gotten too far, and the next thing she knew, her mother was gone. True, that moved a lot quicker than my cousin’s demise, but it still seems so fast. My family is made of people built like brick shithouses. They rarely get sick. Nothing ever happens. We’re as boring and normal as can be. This has thrown everyone for a loop, and we’re all coping the best we can. For some, that’s not very well. Up until today, for me, I was utilizing the pure art of distraction. There is no distracting myself anymore.

Valar morghulis. Valar dohaeris.

Mistress of none

So in an effort to distract my thoughts, lighten my mood and lift my spirits given recent developments in my cousin’s health since the last blog post, I indulged in some Netflix binge-watching in between furniture assembly and cleaning all weekend. I settled on Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. I was delightfully surprised at the depth of the final episode of this series.

Spoiler alert: the last episode of his Neflix series is refreshingly profound. He has been traveling a road with his girlfriend, and becoming ever more terrified of where it’s going after attending the wedding of friends who were on the top step of the figured-it-all-out-ladder. He sees love scores of 100 for a couple, and his current situation maybe hits a 70 or an 80. He worries that it’s all figured out from that point on. Marriage, kids, and the spiral into predictability terrify him. He runs from safety, as does his girlfriend, and they pursue new roads in life.

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I’ve been known to do this more than once. For having such a stable childhood in a single family 3-bedroom home in the suburbs of San Jose, California, I sure have moved around a lot. I left home at the ripe young age of 17, for college in Chico, California. It was a 4-hour drive from where I grew up, so it was both far enough away and close enough to home to suffice. College in Chico became a 5 year affair, because 2 majors and a minor had my name on them. Every year, I lived somewhere different. I mixed it up. I got my crazy out. I lived.

Freshman year, I lived in the dorms. I grew up an only child far away from most of my family, with three legs on my stool of life: my father, my mother, and me. This was the first time I ever lived with anybody new, and in such close quarters, like sharing a room. 2 XL twin beds, 2 desks, closet, and a fridge/microwave combo. The second year, I moved to an apartment complex off campus, with 3 girls I befriended in the dorms. We all had nicknames – Shorty, Piggy, Hoochie, and Deemoney. Sounds like the Golden Girls, right? Guess which one I was. The accounting and finance major. Dorothy. Mmmmhmmmmmmm. Other friends who just moved from the dorms lived in the small 40-unit apartment complex, so it was sort of like being in the dorms still, but still being a little more grown up. We had our own rooms with community living.

The third year, I moved down the same road from the second year place. Nord Avenue was a major road in Chico, and it housed a burrito place for 2am munchies, a Safeway nearby, a sandwich shop, and bike paths that led to campus in less than 5 minutes. This was the year I lived with a quiet girl I’d known from high school and middle school. She was an English major, mostly kept to herself, wrote in her spare time, and was just leaving San Jose after 2 years at community college. This was her first year of living away from home, and by then, I had morphed into a wholly new creature. I still wasn’t out of the closet yet, at the beginning of my third year. I had been to many frat parties, house parties, impromptu BBQ’s with the music turned up and the beers flowing like water. I partied. We won’t get specific, but I gained invaluable life experiences that would forever brand me as me. What she saw, with her eyes leaving home for the first time, was no doubt no less than a crazy person. There, I said it.

My 4th apartment was with the same girl from 3rd year, with another girl I’d known in the dorms first year, but hadn’t previously lived with. She lived in the 2nd year complex, in another apartment. This new place was in the Aves, a different part than where I’d previously lived. Chico was organized on a grid. The streets downtown actually have the names Chestnut, Hazel, Ivy, Cherry, and Orange to make the acronym, “C.H.I.C.O.”, which makes it easy to learn downtown. I was on the opposite side of campus from the C.H.I.C.O. streets. I rode my bike to campus, yet it was quiet and not where all the frat houses and party houses were. I was still a mere 5 minutes from campus. Perhaps that is what spawns my disdain for daily commutes. It should not be that hard to get to a place you have to be every day. There are days you don’t want to be there at all – making it difficult does not help the situation. It was in this apartment I took a big step. I met someone online, a woman, and began dating her. She moved out to Chico from Tennessee, and I came out as gay that year – to my parents, friends, hell, anybody who would listen. Life wasn’t so predictable when that happened. I mean, every day was unlike the previous and I was soaking up information and Bud Light like a sponge. I think I should have put myself on the liver transplant list this year, if I hadn’t in all my previous years. I had a full course load, a job, and an unpaid internship that year. I also started a non-profit student organization on campus this year, the Women’s Center for Financial Information.

My 5th and final year at Chico State, I moved in with my girlfriend, in an apartment overlooking a farm and a baseball field on someone’s personal property, far away from campus, in the suburbs. The complex had a laundry facility, a pool, a clubhouse, and was close to bike trails that led to my gym and eventually to campus.

After Chico, I moved to San Francisco, on a whim and after a series of unplanned and fortunate events. I’d been gearing up to work with a financial advisor at which I interned, when I found that she was closing her business down and I was out a plan. I had a friend who knew a recruiter at one of the Big 4 accounting firms, and a very short time later, I had a job starting with them in San Francisco. It happened so quickly.

My girlfriend and I lived apart that year, as I moved to San Francisco for work and she continued studying architecture at Chico State. It was my idea for her to keep herself occupied. I wanted her to push herself if she was going to move to be closer to me. It couldn’t be for me – it had to be for her. I found a very new life in San Francisco. I had a tiny 3rd room in an apartment in Haight Ashbury, where the famous homes of Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix can be found. I found my roommates online 2 weeks before I moved down. The rent for the smallest room in the first floor flat with laundry in it in San Francisco in 2004 was $750. The cheapest rent I ever paid in San Francisco. Don’t even get me started on this tangent. But I digress…

Then I moved in with my girlfriend from Chico less than 1 block down the street from that first apartment on Waller Street to another apartment on Waller Street. From there, we ventured into my first foray into home ownership and bought a place in Lower Haight, where we lived the year after that. The year we broke up.

I then moved to my very first apartment of my own, on the corner of Pink and Pearl Streets near Duboce Triangle in San Francisco. Most. Lesbian. Location. Ever. The Pink Pearl. From this apartment, a couple years later, I got the itch again and moved to Sydney, Australia. I lived in the same apartment there for my whole 3 years abroad.

My point (and I do have one – thanks Ellen for the fabulous book title), in relaying the almost annual turnover in my address since moving out of my parents’ house, is this:

I like to believe that life doesn’t get stale – if you’re doing it right. What Aziz Ansari felt, that fear creeping in of the mundane and safe, doesn’t have to be. You do have the power to change your life. Anytime you don’t like it. I refer you, dear reader, back to a quote from a fantastic film, Benjamin Button’s letter for his daughter, which reads:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early, to be whoever you want to be.

There’s no time limit, start whenever you want.

You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.

We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it.

And I hope you see things that startle you.

I hope you feel things you never felt before.

I hope you meet people with a different point of view.

I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

I truly believe this with all my heart and being. I have succeeded so many times in picking up the pieces that lay broken and piecing myself together in a new way that lets me put one foot in front of the other every day. I left home. I made mistakes, I travelled to far away places, even lived there. I loved. Hard. I opened myself up and met new people. I not only ventured outside my comfort zone but I lived there for 3 years. I was a foreigner who had a noticeable accent and was horribly out of place. I mastered the arts of being awkward and super smooth in social situations. I came home when I never thought I would. I fell down really hard a couple of years ago. I’ve picked myself back up and gritted my teeth and kept going. I adopted a sweet little kitten, lost sight of the shore, quit my job, moved to a new city and bought a condo to call home for more than one year.

Life isn’t stale to me right now. I’m exactly where I need to be, where I want to be. I’m right here. I had to go to all those places, fall apart, and glue myself back together. I had to be the person I am today. I am no one’s cup of tea. I don’t wake up and feel stale. I feel alive. I had a choice in the matter. I’ve used my voice regardless of who hears. I don’t care if I’m too loud, still awkward, and not perfect. The imperfection is the best part.

I didn’t follow a straight path (insert a fan attending the Rocky Horror Picture Show screaming at this crucial point, “No, you followed a gay path!” and throwing toilet paper across the audience.) I tried new things. I’ve been places 90% of my friends haven’t been. I’ve killed so many brain cells in college, hell, I can’t remember some of the best memories, but I know they’re there.

When I look back on my glory days, hopefully as I’m zooming down the bike lane of a 4 lane road on my Rascal at top speeds of 25 mph, when I’m old, I’ll have memories resurface I’d long forgotten existed. Or hallucinations, depending on my dosage.

I hope I see the laughs I had. I hope I see the people whose lives I had a positive impact on again. I hope I meet my own 5 people in Heaven, if there is one, like the made-for-TV special starring Jon Voight “The 5 People You Meet in Heaven.” I hope I see that, despite not having children, not being CEO of a company, not doing a lot of things actually, I’m satisfied. I hope I see that in my vast experience there are still some things l haven’t done, and I better love that. I hope I’m satisfied. I don’t think I’ll get to do everything in just one life. But I sure as hell can knock a lot off my list.

Life is unwritten, everything after today, anyway. Parts of today are still unwritten. I write this, in the closest thing I’ve had to happy place in what feels like forever: at my recently delivered dining room table. The first I’ve had in two years. I’m in a new home, in a new city now. San Jose, Chico, San Francisco, Sydney, Seattle… what looks like fun with a “Choose Your Own Adventure” in the S volume of the encyclopedia (with a little hiccup in the key of C mixed in there) has actually led me to just the place that feels right to put down a few roots for a while. It’s anything but stale, because I chose this. I needed this. I want this. Have wanted this. For a long time.

I didn’t let myself get too attached these last two years in San Francisco, after repatriating back from Australia. Now I feel my roots taking hold in fertile soil. I’m ready to grow. Buds are forming. I’m shooting forward every single day.

Even on good days, many relationships don’t get above 60. Sometimes, when times are really tough, it could be a 20 or a 30. It’s never 100 every day. You would hate it if it was, if you were to be honest with yourself. It’s true. You need the 20 days to make you appreciate the 50 days. You need the 50 days to appreciate the 80 days. We need all those days to feel like we lived a life well spent. Even the 10 days were a blessing, even if in disguise to your blind eyes. We need our fill of drunken, stoned college pool parties to appreciate that those days are behind us, and with them, our abilities to rally the day after such a party with a massive hangover. We want to be in a hospital waiting room, wanting any news, even if it isn’t good, to remind us how short life is and how much we really do love without even knowing we do. The bitter is bitter but the sweet is so much sweeter. I think I read that somewhere in Einstein’s theory of relativity. Write that down.

It gets better

Surreal is the perfect word to describe my life right now. I’m absorbing moments like a sponge, and if I don’t react, it’s no insult to the moment. It’s just a lot to take in.

I just checked out of my airport-adjacent Doubletree hotel, which was only booked for its attractive low rate for my two-day jaunt up to Seattle to secure housing. Not entirely unpleasant. But that could be the remnants of a celebratory bottle of prosecco talking, that I cradled lovingly under my arm, back to my room just after checking in last night, before putting my bag down.

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I sit in again, in the same African themed bar (which still, in no way resembles African cuisine or libations) as I did approximately 1 month ago (see a previous post here), awaiting my flight back to San Francisco, with time to spare before I board my flight. Surreal is this moment. It’s every moment since last night, when my offer on a condo in Lower Queen Anne was accepted.

I think back, to the last 6 years of my life, when it didn’t feel like my own. I didn’t exactly feel in control of it. I was sort of riding along in my own side car, when I was supposed to be driving. I don’t think I was. If I was, I was lost. I had no idea where I was going, or what I was doing. That all changed recently, after a series of most unexpected events.

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I was reminded today, in a subtle way, “Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.” For someone who was so lost, who felt adrift and out of touch with everyone for a long time, my message to anyone who feels like this now, is that if you steer your ship, even if your navigation system seems broken, just keep going. It’s ok to lose your way sometimes. It happens to everyone, at one point or another. You will come out the other side. And you’ll be okay.

Life isn’t always a smooth ride, it doesn’t always offer complimentary peanuts and soft drinks. Some roads are not yet forged, and the trail you blaze may be bumpy and rough. But it is yours. Own it; love it. It is you.

I never thought I’d have my own “success story.” I’m a bloody train wreck sometimes, with scattered moments of clarity and common sense. Yet somehow, I managed to land a challenging job that leaves me hopeful for the next chapter in my life. I made choices and moves that end up with me moving to Seattle, buying a home, and still breathing. I’m above water.

Here is my message of hope to you: it’ll be your turn next. Help things along. But keep going. Don’t give up. Sometimes, it gets shittier. But depending where you end the story, it does get better.

Time to leave the capsule, if you dare

It’s not just because today, the world is mourning the loss of David Bowie that, “the stars look very different today,” like the lyrics in one of his great works, Space Oddity.

Today is the third most surreal day in a row I’ve had. I am writing to officially share that I have been offered a job in Seattle. It would be a step up from where I currently am, so it’s a challenge and also a good fit. I haven’t accepted the offer yet, but that is merely a formality. I will be accepting it.

The details are inconsequential. But front of mind right now very much is all things transition. I’ll be leaving my little apartment I’ve been renting in San Francisco, with my 10 month old kitten, Cheddar. I have less than a month to sort out movers, give notice on my apartment, find a new place in Seattle, and then begin work. Making it ever more complicated is that I will be looking to purchase my home in Seattle, since the market is much more comfortable for what I can afford than San Francisco.

I’ve run through the gamut of emotions since the offer was received Saturday afternoon. I’d had brunch with a friend in town for the weekend, consisting of bottomless mimosas, so that of course led to incessant tears the moment the email came through with the offer. After I could breathe and see and stand again, it was shock that took over. Then it was RELIEF. Then happiness, tinged with sadness at seeing a definite end in sight of my time in San Francisco. There was hope.

There was also apprehension and dread. I knew that come Monday, I’d have to make a lot of uncomfortable phone calls to let my current employer and my many bosses there for my different client commitments know what was happening. It doesn’t help that it’s my busy season, and people leaving now can very easily burn bridges if the transition is not handled appropriately. I wanted to minimize the bridge burning, if I could, just to maintain professionalism. While my inner punk rock teenager is walking around sticking out her tongue and flipping everyone off with an endless stream of cuss words coming out her mouth, I’m more than just that person. I genuinely feel bad for teams I’m leaving at the most inopportune of times. I have been wanting to be in a position to give notice for many years, and I have finally found a path that is right for me, to take going forward. This has been a long time coming and I ask only for your continued friendship and support.

However, I don’t feel bad for me. I’m really looking forward to a new start in a new city, making new friends, learning new things, picking up new skills, and making new discoveries.

How I feel can best be described by the words of Zach Braff’s character in the final episode of the long-running show, Scrubs: “Even though it felt warm and safe, I knew it had to end. It’s never good to live in the past too long, and the future wasn’t so scary anymore. It could be whatever I wanted it to be.”

I’m comforted by thoughts like, “What you do next doesn’t have to be the rest of your life.” But maybe I’ll want to. I don’t know yet. But it’s the next step. And it’s a good one. “It’s my turn, finally.” I have nothing but gratitude for the last 11.5 years of my career with my firm, and nothing but respect for my colleagues, past and present. I’m overflowing with appreciation, recognition, and acknowledgement.

I’ve been on a journey to find myself and what I need, what I define as success, and what would make me happy. Here is a diagram that fully depicts how I’d been feeling, except it wasn’t just couples on that step. Everyone else seemed to be up there too, looking down on me from Know-it-all-ville.

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But I’m having a bit of a Dorothy Gale complex from the Wizard of Oz. Maybe the right words were there all along. Maybe it was in me all along. Friends. Family. Love. Support. Camaraderie. Patience. Respect. Journey. Learn. Faith. Trust. Reward.

I was waiting for the day that I could truly identify with this, and I think that day is today:

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Obstacles as real life

I’ve just spent the last 3 days in Atlanta for a conference. I initially signed up before Cheddar came into my life, and I was hesitant to go on my first trip, leaving him home without me for 4 days. My best friend did me a solid and looked in on him while I was gone, played with him, and spoiled him in my absence.

That freed me up to open myself to the experience of a work conference. In my state of mind of late, this could have been hit or miss. Many of my colleagues would be there too. I was apprehensive, because I’m not one to drink the work koolaid. In fact, I’m struggling to keep a positive outlook when it comes to work. Everyone goes through it, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I departed San Francisco airport Tuesday, allowing myself a full day of travel ahead of the Wednesday start of the conference. I’d hoped to arrive at a decent hour Tuesday, maybe hit the gym, order room service, take a bath, and have a good night’s sleep before the full-on agenda kicked in.

That was not to be. Unfortunately, the flight to Atlanta Tuesday ended up being a total clusterfuck. Thanks, United. I had a connection in Houston, which should have been no problem. Bad idea, as it turns out. I have 14 emails notifying me of the various delays we experienced, as well as 10 text messages. Clearly, consistency of communications is not United’s forte.

“You see, what had happened was…” (one of my favorite phrases, by the by) we were notified the original aircraft was unflyable due to maintenance that couldn’t be fixed in the short amount of time we had until take-off. A new aircraft had to be located in a nearby hangar, and transported to a gate nearby for us to board instead. That accounted for about 4 of the delay notifications, each approximately 15-30 minutes in length. Dangle that carrot, United. By some miracle, a new aircraft was located within an hour, so our flight was not cancelled. We boarded the plane, and got onto the runway, and I was so ready to make up for lost time.

Then, news from the cockpit: this aircraft had a maintenance deadline by midnight, and there was no crew on the ground in Atlanta to perform it, so that meant the maintenance had to be performed before we could depart. We left our place in line for take-off, and headed back to the gate. Defeat. More delay notifications.

Back at the gate, we remained on the plane while the maintenance was performed, and we finally received the announcement that we were ready to hit the runway. Joy. However, one small hitch. A tow truck had to pull us out of the gate, to be able to get to the runway. That tow truck had broken down, in the path of our plane. So a tow truck had to be called to tow the original tow truck out of our way. More delay notifications.

I should have arrived in Atlanta around 8:30pm. I checked into the hotel at 1:30am. Add to the mix that I was sicker than I’d been in over a year. My eyes wouldn’t stop watering, I was sneezy and leaking through my nose. By the time we finally got into the air, my ears had popped and plugged so many times I do believe I was underwater, while I was in fact in the air. Painful and uncomfortable do not even begin to describe the entire experience.

The conference itself saturated my mind with great ideas and food for thought which would help me on my client work in the upcoming busy season. If one has no choice but to go forth into the fray, it’s best to bring a gun to a gunfight, rather than a knife.

I was pleasantly surprised. I’m no joiner. I don’t get asked to present anymore at these events, since I’ve come back from Australia. While having the opportunity to travel abroad enriched me personally, the US doesn’t seem to appreciate my unique experience, and I slipped down the ladder a few rungs. Fine by me, I didn’t want to have responsibility anyway.

I enjoyed myself with coworkers, and had a good time. I caught up with an old friend the first night of the conference at a local gay bar and an old reliable Mexican food joint, on what little sleep I had. The second night, we had a huge offsite event – a block party closed off to the general public across a row of 4 restaurants: American, Italian, BBQ, and German food. The bar in each restaurant was open with no money exchanged by attendees, and no one was counting. The buffets were out with insane amounts of food which could probably feed one of the “Stan” countries for a week (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc.)

I write this on the plane headed back to San Francisco, after one of the funnest afternoons I’ve had in a while. Many coworkers from the San Francisco office are on the same flight as me. There is a sense of connection. The plane is not full of strangers, but of colleagues. We’re friendly and tipsy thanks to the airport bar next to our gate which we took over in advance of boarding, and it’s had an amazing impact on the remaining passengers. There is no ill will, crankiness, or general rudeness. There is safety. There is friendship. It’s actually kinda fun. This has never happened to me before. I’ve maybe known one or two people on previous flights before – but never nearly half the plane. These flight attendants won’t know what hit ’em.

However, my heart weighs heavy, as the news breaking in Paris was blowing up my phone via CNN alerts as we boarded. My safety, my comfort, comes at a huge cost for those on the other side of the world, going through a horrible tragedy I cannot even fathom.

I had the opportunity to visit Paris for the first time 6 months ago. It came as a surprise, how much I enjoyed myself and liked it there. I had fully anticipated to like Rome, Italy, infinitely more. That was not to be. I stayed at an Airbnb in Republiqué, and visited the statue at Republiqué where the Charlie Hebdo vigil was held.

Tonight’s events hit me hard, despite my jovial surroundings, and bring a low hanging despondent fog across what was the most cheerful workday I’ve had in a long time. Tomorrow morning, families will receive the worst of news. Some will wake up in hospitals, forever changed, only to learn of the horrific occurrences of November 13, 2015. Some won’t wake up at all.

All I can express is gratitude for what I have and have not, that my loved ones are safe, and a yearning to express concern for those affected in the Paris attacks. I had a most inconvenient trip out here. But I’m ok.

I hope you and yours, dear reader, were not affected, and that you take those small moments of joy that surprise you in a good way, and cherish them.

All too often in life, we think we just need to get through this or that, and then we’ll be free to enjoy life. Obstacle after obstacle presents itself, and we distance ourselves from the end goal of happiness, thinking if we can just overcome that obstacle, we can then enjoy life. But life is funny that way – it IS the obstacles. It is the work conference. It’s the delayed flight. It’s missing your newly adopted kitten, wondering if he misses you at home, if he thinks of you, even if it’s only in relation to your ability to open that bag of treats.

Take life for what it is, obstacles and all, because you never know when it won’t be yours to live anymore. Peace to all on this day of mourning for what happened Paris, and how some people still engage in attacks like these. It is the city of love, and love will prevail. That is the only way to truly conquer hate. Love.

Closed doors and dead ends

Today was one of those days when I really wish I had just stayed in bed. However, given how loud my apartment has become most mornings, there really was no point. This morning, an irate (I assume homeless but could not be bothered to leave my bed burrito to find out for sure) man could be heard yelling at the top of his lungs on the street 4 floors below, through my earplugs and mostly closed windows. *closes eyes harder and groans, gives up and looks at phone* Yup, 5am.

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I haven’t been sleeping well in recent weeks, though I don’t know why. Stress? Yeah. In the audit world, my job world, I’ve been going through a restatement. It’s a dirty word, which means the client’s financial statements had an error in them, deemed significant enough to be material, which warrants restating the previously issued financial statements. The restated financials went out today, and like Frodo throwing the ring into Mount Doom to be lost forever, I’m relieved and exhausted to have that weight off my chest. I also had other financial statements go out the door today for an unexpected piece of work that took over my August and September. I’ve driven 25 miles to Google in Sunnyvale multiple times in the last two weeks, to my non-profit client in Novato multiple times per week, and all over the bay area in between this month. I’ve sat in more traffic than I ever want to admit. Once I get out of traffic, I open up my laptop at home and keep working.

 photo stars.gifI’ve taken a lot of unnecessary crap from people lately, while I remain quiet. It’s exhausting. Why does everyone else get to be thoughtless and insensitive, not me? I think I’d get ripped a new one if I put one toe out of line. Or I’m so hard on myself, because of things like standards and being a good person, it’s not an option. I know what I look like; I can’t afford to be a bitch because I’m not good looking enough to get away with it. It hardly seems fair. I’d love to a be a member of the non-self-aware club, demanding the extremely impossible yesterday, like Miranda Priestly in Devil Wears Prada. But I am not, unfortunately.

I haven’t been eating much either. Partly because I’ve been on a diet, but partly because that diet is a direct result of a massively decreased appetite. I’ve also been putting cleaner fuel (translation: food) into my body, as it makes me feel better. I’ve been very diligent about going to the gym ever since I got back from Iceland in June. That’s a whole fiscal quarter of trying. I’m doing what I can to tire out my body, but alas, sleep evades me. Part of a daily regimen of mental health is adequate sleep. I delve into the benefits of sleep in this blog post. In an ideal world, I’d have no reason to not be sleeping well right now.

There is construction happening on the building next to mine, which has been vacant and derelict for years. Because San Francisco is trying to increase supply of housing to meet demand (check out my blog post on what venture capital funding is doing to San Francisco living), construction is happening on every other block now. It affects not only noise levels, but traffic flow, sidewalk traffic, and even lines at local eateries where workers take their breaks.

The crew begins every morning, arriving at the site at 6:30am, slamming doors, moving heavy equipment loudly, backing up trucks that beep loudly when in reverse, and then the crews begin grinding metal or power washing in an echo chamber promptly at 7am. I feel for them having to be there that early, I really do, but they are getting paid. I’m not getting paid, and worse, no one checked with me or any of the other tenants of my building when construction on that empty building was approved. If I had known when I signed my lease that construction would begin shortly after I moved in with an indefinite end time, I’d have thought twice about my chosen location.

San Francisco is more abrasive than ever, and it’s wearing me down again. I need a vacation. I need to move. I got an email from HR last week that I have so much vacation time accrued that I actually just lost some hours because I didn’t take them. Well, I didn’t know they were there! I have never been a person to waste one single hour of vacation! In Australia, I’d let HR garnish my paycheck to purchase additional annual leave so I could take extra vacations while I was in that part of the world. In recent weeks, I’ve thought of Egypt, Petra, Canada, Africa, and all the other places I’d love to be rather than where I am. I need to find some time to have a break because my work schedule is looking pretty bleak from here on out. Sigh.

When you get split ends in your hair, it’s usually time for a haircut. It renews the hair and allows it to grow again. I recently got a haircut and it felt great. Nothing fancy, just cleaning up around the ears and neck.

Sometimes life has a seemingly never ending series of dead ends. That person wasn’t meant for you; that job wasn’t meant for you either. All the doors are closed. That opportunity didn’t work out. That friendship faded away. No. Not yours.

When life hands you dead ends, to move forward, sometimes you need to cut away those dead ends. They’re doing nothing for you. So, get a haircut. Select all and archive. That’s what I’d like to do with the last 3 months, possibly further back in time. Archive. Never to be opened again.

It can be a full time job, to keep your fragile flame from the wind and driving rain. I chose not to sit idly by, when I returned from my sabbatical, as the life I wanted passed me by. I knocked on metaphorical doors and took chance after chance. I made myself vulnerable, and hurt because of it. Stupid girl.

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I’m actively searching, which means I’ve been running into one dead end after another. So much rejection can leave one feeling worthless and unappreciated for being just who they are. Going door to metaphorical door, silently asking, “Are you my missing puzzle piece?” with a hopeful look and finding out time and again she was not leaves one feeling too tired to keep trying. Being brave in interviews and putting oneself out there, only to hear you’re overqualified, or just don’t have the right skill set, leaves one feeling trapped in their current job. Trapped in their current life they’re actively trying to make better.

I’ve written a post before about the concept of being malleable. I must be malleable, because I’m still here. But it certainly doesn’t look like a pretty picture from where I am standing.

To an outsider, it would appear I have a stable job, a place to live, and a Facebook full of friends. That’s not enough for me, though. People ask how I’m doing or what’s new, and I’m fine or nothing much. However, the absence of activity is not the measure of success. I don’t just want the status quo. I want real change. But all the doors I’m trying are closed, locked, and not meant for me. When will it be time for the door that’s right for me to open? I feel like I’ve been waiting forever. I’m in the prime of my life, and I want it now. Life is too short to have to wait for it. I’m chasing it, and it just keeps losing me. Any day, now. Please? Am I reaching for the stars here?

Yeah yeah yeah. The sun’ll come out tomorrow, so I gotta hang on til tomorrow. Come what may…

What’s coming better involve the second season of How to Get Away with Murder on Netflix stat (even though the first season just came out), and a pizza. That’s all I’m saying…

Thestrals

In two previous blog posts, I’ve mentioned the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (The art of getting by and One sigma).

There is a particular quote from that film that, unfortunately, has made its way back across my path again tonight, and I’m not pleased to see it so soon. “We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.”

Tonight, I tried my best but managed to awkwardly comfort an old friend who had been on the phone with his father in South Africa, while he remained helpless in New York City. His father did not make it past that telephone call. Life has taken away again. No matter how prepared one might be for that call, one is never prepared for Life After It Happens.

Tonight, I was Luna Lovegood soothing Harry Potter upon seeing, for the very first time with disbelief in his eyes, the thestral he never knew was there. I tried my best to not say the wrong thing to my friend as he, too, was introduced to the thestral he didn’t know was there. Thestrals are fictional winged horses with skeletal bodies, with faces like reptiles, and are a bad omen according to the Ministry of Magic. These beasts were used mainly to pull the carriages that take experienced Hogwarts students from the train stop at Hogsmeade to the Hogwarts grounds/castle. More importantly, thestrals can only be seen by people who’ve witnessed death at least once. Harry had never seen them before that moment until he did, due to one thing or another upon arriving to Hogwarts.

I don’t want to be the one who sees the thestrals, too. Ignorance can be bliss. I’ve had the grave task of welcoming a friend to this horrible club no one tells you about when you hit your 30’s. True, people lose parents at all ages, but it begins happening with much more frequency in this stage of our lives, but with no less impact. I’m not the only one of my friends who has lost a parent in the last 3 years. I know friends who lost both parents before that, too. It’s not a competition. The hurt is massive. The emptiness, confronting. I don’t take comfort that my friends have lost parents, too. But it helps to know that others sort of know, in their own way, what it feels like. It’s not wished on anyone. But it’s somehow comforting when someone else has been through it, too.

Don’t panic. I see them, too. They won’t hurt you. It’s a little frightening, now that we know they exist. Yeah, this means we’ve seen some shit.

To my friend and newest member, may your heart ride with winged horses, above the deep, low valleys of sadness that exist between you now, and you years from now, when it hurts a little less. I love you.

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Or life is yours to miss

The out of office notification has been set on my work email (not quite the blunt “Don’t bother me; I’m living.”) All appraisals for my staff are in, as are all appraisals for myself. All client work has been issued and completed. I’ve managed to make it to the beginning of my 2 month sabbatical from work in one piece. It’s glorious.

Rather than the usual anti-climactic dissatisfaction of completing a project in the midst of 5 other projects running simultaneously, I have managed somehow to orchestrate a crescendo of sweet release all at once. The conductor encourages the silence to play its instrument and it has its moment in the symphony. And it, too, makes a glorious sound.

The sun is shining on this Saturday morning. The weekend and the next two months hold such potential of sheer life enjoyment. I’m enjoying my last weekend in San Francisco for a long time. Fresh coffee just the way I like it in a mug from my alma mater, Chico State. The logo has faded off the mug with time but it still remains with me after 15 years.

Many who know me know I have a coffee cup collection. Most are additions from the Starbucks city mug collection. I like to have mugs from places my friends and I have travelled. This Chico State mug is from the beginnings of my collection, before all my travels, before it was even a collection. College was my first real adventure on my own. Before all of the city mugs, there was this one. It’s one of a kind – the original. The first. It’s been with me a long time, through many apartments and even multiple continents. I am going back to my roots through a seemingly meaningless detail of my coffee routine this morning.

I read an article this morning which struck a chord within me, because I am sort of doing the same thing. Here’s the article, if you’re interested:
http://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/money/a34685/dream-job-move-to-caribbean-and-scoop-ice-cream/

This line in particular resonated: “The hardest part was convincing myself it was OK to do something for no other reason than to change the narrative of my life.”

That is, in a nutshell, my biggest challenge. For a fairly selfless person, I need to give myself permission to be selfish. To take time off for me. To spend my hard earned money on a collection of experiences and future stories in Europe during the summer of 2015. I don’t want to be too old to enjoy the time I finally take off, sometime in my 60’s when I retire. These are the days. Now is the time – when I can still walk, after my multiple knee surgeries, before I have bionic legs or an electric wheelchair. While I’m still relatively young and can still make money to re-save what I spend. Most importantly: when I want to do it. My life. My rules. I need no one’s approval but my own, now.

Some say I’m brave, other’s insist I’m stupid. I smugly retort, “I am both.”

I’m enjoying the silence of a Saturday morning, the morning sun in my apartment, which I will miss dearly on this 2 month adventure. I love you, bed. You complete me, couch. Stop looking at me, rubber duckies in the shower. I am on a precipice of a new adventure, readying myself to jump. It thrills me and scares me, all at once. But most of all, it makes me happy. That’s all I need to focus on right now.

I have a life to live. No day but today.

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