Dirt in a Glass: The Beginning of a Meaningful Love Story

In my last post about not moving to Salida, I left out a fairly critical thing—quite intentionally. I chose not to mention that a couple weeks before I hit the snag with my loan, I’d met a woman.

She’s breathtakingly gorgeous, vibrant, smart, hilarious, athletic, sweet, and playful (among 80 other things I could say about her). Basically, she’s dreamy. And we’re courting—like, legit old-school courting. She’s masterful at it…and I’m smitten. At this point we’ve been dating for about 6 weeks and I’m just now to the point of ALMOST being able to concentrate on a task for 30 seconds without thinking about her and swooning.

swoon

When I was in the throes of making the to-Salida-or-not-to-Salida choice, she was insistent that I NOT be influenced by her sudden presence in my life. As far as she was concerned, it was all good either way and I should make the best choice for me. While I can’t quantify how successful I was at honoring her wish, I did my best—and that’s why I didn’t mention her in my previous post.

Another reason I didn’t mention her was because, while I’m not generally superstitious, somewhere in my brain there’s a gem of a thought that says, “Don’t write about her!! If you do, it’ll all be over!”

Looking at this in the light of day, I recognize it to be a totally ridiculous thought. And as a thought chaser, I’m intrigued. Where does this come from?

First of all, there’s the obvious: If I pour my heart out about her and then it all goes to hell, I’ll feel like an ass and there will forever be a commemoration of my adoration of her on my blog. Meh, I can live with that. There are worse things than being smitten with a phenomenal woman (such as, for example, being smitten with an a-hole woman, which has also happened).

Beyond the fear of making an ass of myself (a fear which I’m happy to report is falling more and more by the wayside as I near the big 4-0), I realize that it’s simply more vulnerable to write in the present tense because I.don’t.know.the.ending. How can I wrap meaning around circumstance to form cute little giftable bundles of story if I have no idea what’s going to happen?! It’s much easier to look back on situations and read into the signs and circumstances whatever meaning I can glean/craft in hindsight. (I think I was unduly influenced by shows like The Wonder Years and Doogie Howser, M.D.)

For example, if I HAD moved to Salida, the signs would have meant that I was called there—and that would have been true and made for a great story. If things had worked out with the woman I was dating in Salida, it would have been so much fun to tell everyone about the time when we were first dating and both had a katydid (an insect that looks like a green leaf) on our front doors on the same day (and neither of us had seen a katydid in years until that day)! Of course that would have meant that we were meant to be!

sign

I’m mocking myself and the joy I find in making meaning of things to underscore the point of discomfort I’ve achieved by realizing that nothing necessarily means anything. My current woman (I’ll call her Goddess) and I have the START of a beautiful love story—which is SUCH a fun place to be: with the flirting, the verbal banter, the playfulness, the competence of Goddess to return ANYTHING I volley into her court. And with all that, there’s the simultaneous awareness that all I can do to give this the best shot at success—whatever that will come to be—is to be present.

I am being called to be present. I am being called not to make anything mean anything.

The check returning my earnest money on the house in Salida was written with my last name as the combination of mine and Goddess’s. As it turns out, our last names are only one letter off from each other’s. The check writer obviously wasn’t sure which was correct, so she wrote the check to accommodate both our last names. The one letter of divergence was written as a W (mine) overwritten with an R. Or perhaps it was an R overwritten with a W. It was both hers and mine—almost as if to have invented a new letter altogether. And do I want to make that mean all kinds of things about our future together? Hells YES! Will doing that be helpful? Hells NO! Doing that will project me both into the future and into romantic delusion—neither of which is ideal.

I am being called to be present. I am being called not to make anything mean anything. I am being called to sit in the discomfort that being in romantic relationship can create and to allow it and to be aware of it and to use it as a chance to release that which no longer serves me.

Being single is easy. I’ve mastered being single. I’ve mastered doing what I want, when I want, with whom I want. Though I’ve grown a lot in my singlehood—which those friends know who witnessed me in the years just after my nine-plus-year relationship ended six years ago—it’s now time for new growth.

I attended a training this weekend in which one of the leaders likened being in relationship to water filling a glass that has dirt at the bottom of it. As the water pours in, the dirt is disturbed and starts to churn and rise up in the glass. If enough water is poured into the glass, the water will eventually run clear—but first the dirt needs to churn and rise.

I’m in the thick of the rising, churning dirt storm. And it’s okay.

Dirty water

Every insecurity I have is being churned up. And it’s okay.

If I can see myself through to clear water, with the help of lots of love from all around pouring into the glass, I will be that much more present and that much clearer to share all of me. And then, regardless of what happens in the plot line of this love story, love will have won. And I’ll be right there to assign it all meaning…from the future…in hindsight.

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The Move I Almost Made

I’m pretty sure my lot in life is to learn the most obvious things in the most difficult ways. And of course by “most difficult” I mean “really not that difficult, but because I have a blog and I LOVE to exaggerate, I’ll make it sound difficult.”

While you might assume this post to be about dating, it’s actually about the move I almost made to Salida, Colorado.

Salida is a rural town located two-and-a-half hours southwest of Denver. It’s a small Mayberryish town filled with incredibly interesting people. The landscape is stunning; the town is situated on the Arkansas River in a bowl that’s surrounded by mountains.

downtown-salida-colorado

Here’s what the Colorful Colorado website has to say about Salida (these photos are from their site as well):

Salida is the county seat of Chaffee County and its largest city, with a population of approximately 5,300. The city is the service, supply, and tourism center for the Upper Arkansas Valley. Salida is a REAL Colorado mountain town. Beautifully nestled between the Sangre de Cristo and Sawatch Mountain ranges, this central Colorado Historic downtown at 7,000 feet elevation boasts a liveliness driven by artistic minds and outdoor enthusiasts.

People here wear smiles, the sun shines almost all the time, and you can bike, raft, hike, fish, climb, chill, whenever you want, any time of year. The townspeople are diverse so you don’t get just mountain bikers, skiers, and kayakers, you also experience Colorado ranchers and old miners, artists, and farmers, so just about everyone fits into this Colorado lifestyle.

salida-colorado-aerial

I’ll point out that the Spanish word salida translates to “exit” in English…and that certainly was an element of what I hoped to achieve by moving there. Certainly I was looking forward to escaping the cockroachy invasion of 100,000 people each year to the Denver metro area (and that might be a low estimate). Annoyingly, I really like all the recent transplants I’ve met, which melts my bitter native stance a bit. (I’ve learned to have audio books and/or podcasts in my car at all times and to work odd hours in order to avoid the worst of the traffic.)

More than running from anything, however, I was running toward something. I was excited about the lifestyle I would have in Salida: the dog walks up S Mountain (not its real name, but what locals call it), the clean air to breathe, all that room for my spirit to expand and roam free.

My soul-family friend and muse/spirit animal, Jenn, was going to sell me her house. I love this house. It might be considered small by most people’s standards but it seemed HUGE to me (being someone who dwells in a less-than-500-square-foot place now). What I could do with another 300 square feet and a back yard! I had plans to make raised beds so I could grow some of my own food; I would create a nook where I would start every day by sipping my homemade latte and writing; I had a vague idea of colors to add to the walls, and I imagined all my books nestled into the built-in bookshelves. I was fairly sure I would add a pedestal sink to the bathroom along with some wainscoting. I would check for hardwoods under the carpet. Having spent many nights in the house, I knew exactly what it would be like to wake up in the morning and lumber to the bathroom and then to the kitchen to let the dogs out.

Here’s the sketch I made of the house to help me figure out how to arrange furniture (clearly, I was not messing around):

IMG_2389

I imagined what it would be like to work from home. I imagined the few friends I have in Salida popping over unannounced just to say hi. I knew it would take time for my nervous system to adjust to the slower pace. I loved that I’d be able to walk everywhere. I loved that I would prepare most of my own meals, rather than being tempted to drive thru any of the 80,000 fast-food places I pass on my way to and from work every day now. I imagined the inspiration I would get from the landscape. For months I had been living parallel lives: my current life here (in my body) and my future life in Salida (in my mind).

There were many months from when I was under contract to buy the house until the time I knew I could occupy it. This large amount of time was a tricky thing for my mind. It gave me lots of time to worry about whether my choice was a smart one. On the macro level: “Will I miss everyone in Denver and find myself living in Salida but wishing I were in Denver?” “Despite the home being an amazing long-term investment, will buying it make me house poor and how will I feel about that?” “Will my 18-year-old car hold out for all the trips I’ll be making to and from Denver (for work and to see people)?” “If for some reason I needed to find a new job, could I find anything in Salida that would pay what I require to make ends meet?” “Am I committing relationship suicide by moving there?” (I had dated the one lesbian I knew in the area and that hadn’t worked…so who else might there be to date? What were the odds of importing someone?)

I found the doubts creeping in. My enthusiasm for the idea slowly and very subtly started to wane. I could hear it in the way I was or wasn’t telling people that I was planning to move soon. By then I was committed, though. I was under contract, I’d had the house inspected, my boss had given me permission to work remotely, I’d mentioned to my landlord that I might be leaving, I had my mom on board to put me and the dogs up whenever I was in Denver…

And then about 60 days from close, as I was in the process of locking my loan rate, the process hit a glitch. Not a totally insurmountable glitch, but one that could pose danger to my friend’s ability to buy her next place if I couldn’t overcome it. And the most telling thing for me—the information I most required from my own soul—was the full-body sense of relief I got when I heard I might not get the loan. It was the weight of the world lifting off my shoulders. It’s exactly the feeling I got when my ex and I finally decided to call it quits on our relationship. It’s a feeling that unmistakably means this is the right thing.

And this is where the hard part came in: letting that feeling of relief be all I needed to know. My mind felt left out! It chimed in very loudly about many things—mostly with worry about how to tell Jenn that I’d changed my mind. On the positive side, I knew that she’d make way more on the house by putting it on the market than by selling it to me, and I knew that telling her right away would give her plenty of time to find a new buyer. I also knew that telling her would be the end of the dream—one that she and I had co-created together.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. She took the news like a champ, because a) she never ceases to amaze me, and b) she’s an Aquarius and can roll with literally anything life throws at her. I mean, she runs a circus for a living!

It took a couple weeks to stop waking up every morning in Salida and to stop walking my dogs up S Mountain on my lunch break. I had to let my future life in Salida slowly recede from my mind.

Here’s what my heart had to say about the choice NOT to move there:

You can draw on the energy of Salida any time; it is a supportive energy for you… Change is good and moving is not necessarily required. You could do a major purge of your apartment, a deep clean, maybe get a new desk to write at… Your apartment is a blessing until the next EASY thing comes along. That which you imagined creating for yourself in Salida you can do from where you are. Cooking your meals, maybe doing yoga, long walks with the dogs, writing…

Ahhh, so here was the obvious-not-obvious wisdom in all this: I can be NOW everything I projected into the future Salida Erin. I can be Salida Erin in Denver. I can create a space and a ritual in my daily life for writing. I can draw on the inspiration of the energy of Salida at any moment I choose. I can merge the parallel lives (current Denver Erin and future Salida Erin) back into Erin-Being-Present-in-Her-Life Erin.

And the other huge lesson: I came to be even more grateful for what I currently have in my life. I have an apartment where I’m allowed to have my animals. I have an apartment I can afford. It’s near one of the most beautiful parks in Denver. I have a job working with great people I’ll still get to see every work day. I’ll still get to have weekly date nights with my bestie Michelle to watch crap television. I’ll still be near my other bestie, Katie, whose existence in my life has shaped my life more than I’ll ever truly know (and who I dislike the idea of being far from).

And most importantly, I still have Salida. I can go there whenever I desire. And when I’m there, I’ll get to spend time with my muse/spirit animal, Jenn, soaking in everything about her that inspires me and helps me live a more authentically creative life.

So thank you, Project Move Erin to Salida, for being everything I needed you to be.

It’s Okay to Loosen Your Grip

In my mid-twenties I worked for a brief six-month stint on the graveyard shift at the local blood center. Two things remain with me from that time.

First of all, I still cringe when I stumble across Public Radio International’s The World on Colorado Public Radio. I was awakened for every shift by its theme song:

This music inspires within me a wave of adrenaline and a wave of dread—simultaneously. It wasn’t my favorite job and the overnight shift took some getting used to. Waking up at 10:00 pm to go to work? Ugh!

But there was this one night…

The back doorbell buzzed, indicating a delivery. It was common for couriers to deliver body parts at all hours of the night in little coolers (usually eyeballs, as I recall). One night while I was signing in a cooler, the courier observed, “Wow! You hold your pen really tightly when you write. It looks like you’re actually cutting off circulation to your fingers.” I said, “Oh…yeah, I do have a tight grip. That’s just how I learned to write, I guess.”

Before

Before

This launched us into a conversation about graphology and I learned that this sweet white-haired man was trained in handwriting analysis. He didn’t need to analyze my handwriting, though, because he knew everything he needed to know about me from watching me hold the pen. He left me with [something approximating] these words: “I promise that your life will change when you learn to hold the pen more loosely.”

When he said this, I had that thing happen that happens when I’m hearing deep truth. It’s a split second of time standing still with a bit of fuzzy eye focus and lightheadedness. This means, “Erin, pay attention!”

I heard him. I heard his gentle implication that my tight grip on the pen was a manifestation of my mistrust of life. (That liberal arts degree pays off when attempting to discern subtle implications!)

I didn’t yet know that I don’t have to be in control of everything—that I CAN’T be in control of everything.

I won’t lie. It took me a long time to re-learn to hold a pen after almost twenty years of using a death grip.

After

After

My handwriting suffered greatly for years but has finally found its way back to being legible. I still resort to the old way if I’m holding a crappy pen that won’t write, though I’m quick to notice it. I’m also now a pen snob and eschew any pen that’s not gel. I assume that as I grow more eccentric, I’ll one day be using an ink bottle and quill.

So why am I sharing this? Because during a recent coffee and coloring date with friends I realized I was using my old strangle-hold technique. My friends were holding their colored pencils oh so gently as we chatted, their arms and hands and shoulders relaxed…while I was overexerting and muscling and bullying. (Coloring loses a bit of its therapeutic effect when doing it the way I was doing it.) I became aware that I‘ve worked to write differently but not to color differently, which lit my mind up with questions.

In what areas of my life am I exerting too much control?

In what areas of my life am I in total allowance, trusting that I am fully supported?

Which areas of my life are in color? Which are in black and white?

What am I holding onto too tightly that I need to release (literally or figuratively)?

And, in case you’re wondering, the courier driver/graphologist was correct. There has been a pretty significant shift in my life since learning to lighten up my grip. It has lightened me up in other ways and it allows a greater flow of goodness into my life. I’ve been blessed with numerous situations in which letting go and trusting allowed just the right job/person/animal to enter my life…exactly on time.

And now for a quick coloring break…to practice lightening up.

A Lesson in Shame…from Bugs

Since delving deeply into the work of Brené Brown—a brilliant and delightful academic who studies shame, vulnerability, authenticity, and courage—I now have a greater understanding of what’s happening when something or someone pushes my shame button(s).

Here’s the TED talk she gave on shame, which currently has over 6 million views. Watch it when you have 20 minutes because this is an uncomfortable subject that is of extreme importance.

Brené defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”

I can identify a shame attack by its accompanying physiological symptoms: my heart races, my eyesight blanks out for a second, time stands still, tears fill my eyes, and my pits sweat like crazy. I often can’t speak for a few seconds because of the lump in my throat. And then my mind alights on the belief or old story that has been triggered, almost always related to unworthiness and unloveability.

So, looking through this lens of shame, I’ll tell you a little story that happened a few months back.

One night I was tidying my apartment, specifically the table beside the front door on which I feed the cat (so the dogs can’t eat his food) and compile towering mounds of junk mail, random paper, and books.

On this table was also a beautiful hand-woven basket from Central or South America given to me by my friend Katie. It is small, shallow, oval-shaped, dark brown, and pliable, with a handle running along its length. I love this basket and have moved it from place to place for well over 15 years. It has been where I store spare keys, pens, paper clips, buttons, and whatever else I have no other place for.

Now we all know how it is to do mindless straightening, right? My thoughts were wandering and I was chill and relaxed, heading to bed soon, just decluttering as part of my nightly wind down. I was discarding junk mail, reducing and reforming piles of paper, and wiping down the table. Whereas I typically slide the basket to clean under it, on this particular night I chose to LIFT it.

What I discovered beneath the basket caused me to simultaneously squeak (or scream, who can remember?), vomit in my mouth (or at least feel the need to), and possibly do the “Oh my god that’s disgusting!!!” full-body vibratory shake.

For there, underneath the beloved and sacred basket, was a NEST of baby cockroaches. Forty or fifty of them were crawling all over each other in panic. AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!! So. Effing. Disgusting.

(This is where I would insert a picture…but that would be gross. I’ll let you imagine.)

Fortunately my “calm in times of emergency” mode kicked in and I very slowly (despite the screaming in my head) lowered the basket back onto the table and ran into my bedroom to fetch my handheld vacuum—the one with the wand.

OreckI turned it on and sucked up all those baby cockroaches—every.single.one—even though they were running for their lives in every direction possible.

Knowing that these are quite possibly the most resilient creatures on the planet, I knew I couldn’t just turn off the vacuum and think everything would be fine. Sucking their little bodies into the vacuum bag wouldn’t kill them—and I couldn’t handle the vision of an angry mob of baby roaches emerging from the vacuum tube to hunt me down in my sleep—so I kept the machine running while I grabbed packing tape. (The advantage of a tiny apartment is that everything is only a few steps away.)

As quickly as I could, I stopped the vacuum, opened it up, and slammed some tape over the opening of the tiny bag before removing the bag entirely from the vacuum. Unfortunately the tape was clear, so I could see the panicked roaches crawling all over themselves in an attempt to escape. I swallowed a bit of bile and asked forgiveness for what I was doing. Then I ran the bag out of my apartment and threw it in the trash receptacle behind my building.

I took a deep breath, physically shook off my disgust, and then headed back inside for Roach Murder Part II: Momma Roach. I knew that everyone I’d sucked up with the wand was a baby (“please forgive me, please forgive me”), so I knew Momma was likely IN THE BASKET. (I have heebie-jeebies even retelling this story—full-body goosebumps.)

I picked up the basket gingerly by the handle, made sure my iPhone was in my pocket, and headed out into the frigid black night (it was probably around 10pm when this waking nightmare went down). I headed straight for the alley, where I commenced to set the basket on the pavement and illuminate its contents with the flashlight feature of my phone. All I could see was my stuff. So item by item, very slowly and deliberately—and as though a coiled snake might attack my hand at any moment from the shadows within —I emptied the basket. Once the last item had been removed, I flashed the light all around the inside of the basket and saw panicked Momma running in circles around the inside walls like a tiny NASCAR driver.

Feeling like my actions were already damning me to hell, I dumped her out and crushed her under the sole of my shoe. No more Momma. Again I pleaded for forgiveness (I don’t take killing lightly) and did the shakeoff dance of disgust. (I also threw away the basket, which I now regret and which Katie understands is not a reflection of any lack of love for her.)

Once my adrenaline rush subsided, the shame attack began. I felt all the aforementioned physical symptoms of shame and then I became aware of the thought that was front and center in my mind: “I am a slob. I am a horrifically disgusting excuse for a human being to have cockroaches in my apartment.”

To give context for this thought I’ll explain that I live in Colorado, where roaches aren’t super common (or so I thought). Sure, maybe in restaurants, maybe downtown, maybe wherever—but NOT IN PEOPLE’S HOMES!! I’d heard of some of the older apartment buildings in Capitol Hill becoming overrun with roaches, but to my knowledge Denver isn’t a roachy kind of place (except for the marijuana kind)—unless people are absolutely filthy. Meaning that I must be a filthy slob and roaches are clear evidence of that. I mean, I do leave the dishes unwashed sometimes for a couple days too many and my tiny place gets cluttered easily…

As Brené says, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” She talks about how if you were to put shame in a Petri dish with secrecy, silence, and judgment, it would grow into every crevice and crack of your life and influence every thought you have and every choice you make.

So what was my initial reaction to the roach situation? Secrecy: “I can’t tell anyone!!” Silence: (see secrecy). Judgment: “People [in Colorado] with roaches in their homes are slobs and I have roaches in my home.”

Brené again: “Shame depends on [you] buying into the belief that [you are] alone.” I bought into being alone—hook, line, and sinker. I immediately googled “how to eliminate cockroaches” and settled into my usual pattern of solo problem-solving (using the collective wisdom found on the interwebs).

Do you know the antidote to shame? As Brené has learned from her research, “The antidote to shame is empathy.” Put shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy and it will have zero chance of survival. (I’m loosely quoting Brené there.)

I ended up telling my friend Michelle about the incident (a few days later?). She responded with empathy and indeed my shame diminished. (Brené knows what she’s talking about!)

One weekday morning a couple weeks later I was gifted what I consider to be a miracle (I allow them to come in all shapes and sizes). As I was leaving for work I noticed a van parked on the street. The picture on the side of the van? It was a cockroach lying on its back, dead. My adjoining neighbor’s door was open and I could hear men talking, so I hollered into the apartment, “Hey! What are you here for?” The main guy rushed out of the apartment and said in a lowered voice, “Why do you ask? Have you had any roach problems?”

Hallelujah!! The proverbial light went on and I realized how immensely self-absorbed and ridiculous I had been to assume that the roaches proved something horrible about me. Turns out this exterminator had treated two of the five units in my building not once but TWICE for roaches—and the first time he used the method of making them scatter. He said that because I shared a wall with the neighbor he assumed was the originator of the problem, it was likely that I would get some, too.

So I laughed at myself for my shame attack, I laughed at myself for my self-absorption, and I laughed at myself for NOT ONCE thinking that having roaches in my apartment was a reason to call the landlord.

(By the way, no more roaches have been spotted in my place…)

So much gratitude to Brené Brown. Check out her website HERE. She’s given TED talks, she’s written books, she teaches online courses, and (in my humble opinion) her work should be taught as part of the public school curriculum. The class could be called, “How To Be a Better Human” or “A Big Chunk of the Operating Manual for Life That Nobody Ever Shared with You.”

The Move-In Day Miracle

If You Don't Believe Miracles Happen

 

 

 

 

I see my life as a series of miracles. It’s hard not to, really. Some are bread crumbs guiding me forward, some are life saving, some make me belly laugh…and all are awe inspiring. Here’s the story of one that changed my life forever:

Sometime in late 1993 or early 1994, my mom took me to visit Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.

Whitman Logo Walla Walla

A group of prospective students and their parents were guided around campus on an official tour. I remember nothing about the tour except for one particular girl (surprise, surprise, right?). She had a friendly demeanor and we kinda’ smiled back and forth at each other, nodding and oohing and aaahing at appropriate times for the tour guide. If we spoke, it was probably only to exchange names. She reminded me of my favorite actress, Annabeth Gish. She had dark hair and brown intelligent eyes—she seemed like the girl-next-door…with surprises up her sleeve.

After the tour each child/parent unit moseyed in different directions. About an hour later my mom and I were eating snacks at the student center, sitting across from each other and gazing out the huge windows overlooking the street. Students were coming and going, greeting each other happily, lugging heavy backpacks. And then I saw the girl from the tour and her dad—they were walking along the sidewalk outside the student center. My mom and I simultaneously waved in greeting and soon they were sharing our table.

Her name was Amy and she was from the Bay Area of California. As we were both spending the night in Walla Walla with nothing to do, she and I made plans to see a movie that evening. We chose Threesome, starring Lara Flynn Boyle and a Baldwin brother.

ThreesomeAmy’s dad, Pat, took us to the movie and then wisely chose to see something different. Before the movie started we were jabbering like life-long best friends and when the movie was over all we could talk about was how mortifying it would have been if her dad had stayed in the theater with us (due to the, um, obviously sexual nature of the movie).

Neither of us knew if Whitman would be where we ended up. Amy had other schools to tour and I (meaning my parents) had logistics to work out (financial aid and the like). Amy and I exchanged addresses and phone numbers, though I don’t recall that either of us wrote to or called the other. Remember, this was before Facebook, cell phones, and the internet…

Whitman ended up being my choice for college. I’d known it was home from the moment I laid eyes on it.

A view of Mem from Jewett Hall

In the late summer of 1994, my mom drove me from Denver to Walla Walla. Leaving home and everyone I knew to go to a place with nobody I knew was as scary as it was exciting. My head was filled with the promises that college would be the best time of my life and that I would meet the friends I would have for the rest of my life. I really wanted that to be true.

I showed up at Whitman 9 days before the other freshmen because I had signed up for a “scramble.” Mine was 4 days of backpacking and 4 days of kayaking in the Cascade Mountains. It was a way to get a jump on the year, have a self-esteem building adventure, and meet some classmates. I was so grateful for the experience—it was challenging and breathtakingly beautiful. I had blisters on every surface of my feet. I’d never smelled so bad. And I learned that not all cheese needs to be refrigerated ((mind blown)).

I don’t think the scramble made official move-in day any easier, though.

move-in day

While I had been on my wilderness adventure, my mom had continued on to Sequim, WA, to visit her parents. On move-in day she came back to Walla Walla with all my stuff still tightly packed in the car and helped me drag it all up to my room in 3-West of Jewett Hall. I arrived before my roommate, so I took my pick of bed and started unpacking. My mom needed to get on the road for her long drive back to Denver. She maybe didn’t have to be in such a hurry, but I could tell she was fighting back tears…and my mom does NOT like to be seen crying.

Before I knew it, I was alone…watching out my window as my mom got into the car and drove away. It physically tore at my heart to see her drive away—like taffy being stretched to its max and then breaking. I lost it. I sat down on my bare mattress and sobbed. I’d never felt so alone. I could hear other kids and their families carrying things through the hallways, bumping into walls, bumping into each other, laughing, talking loudly. I didn’t know what to do so I continued unpacking.

About 5 minutes later I walked out of my room to see what was happening in the hallway. Towering there before me was the happy and familiar face of Pat Vallely—Amy’s dad.

My face lit up and with open arms I almost tackled him as I yelled, “Paaaaaattttt!!!” We hugged and I panted, “Where’s Amy?” He said, “Just a couple doors down! Follow me, I’ll take you there.” No joke, she was 4 doors down on the opposite side of the hall from my room. Given that there are at least 3 dorms on campus where freshmen might end up—and multiple floors in each of those dorms—the odds of being near each other had not been in our favor (nor was it a given we’d both end up at Whitman).

With the tiniest flick of its wand, the universe assured me at a time of intense fear and loneliness that everything was going to be okay. Amy was just down the hall.

—————-

Amy ended up leaving Whitman after sophomore year to move to Alabama to be near family. The distance has never been an issue—over twenty years later, she’s one of my closest friends. Our lives have tracked very similarly, in a macro and micro way. No matter what’s going on, she’s always there with love, support, words of wisdom, and a book recommendation. Here we are at her wedding, a long time ago:

wedding

I could write 80 posts about how much I adore this woman and about the serendipity that nips at our heels. There are so many memories: that time freshman year when we were studying for Spanish and she realized I didn’t understand what it meant to conjugate a verb; the time we mistook the clock on Mem for a full moon; spending Thanksgiving with her family in California and experiencing her mom’s yummy southern diabetes-inducing sweet potato casserole; meeting in Columbus, OH, for a weekend to get caught up and being surprised by how much we liked it; meeting both of her children as babies and watching them grow up; the thrill of seeing her name on my caller ID when she’s calling from her “phone booth” (aka car)—especially when I can take the call; the gift of having witnessed her as a mother and a wife and a daughter and the rock-star employee of the ages…

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Early 2015 in Denver, CO

I knew the immediate impact of the miracle I experienced on that move-in day, but I had no concept of how much fuller the rest of my life would be because of this amazing woman. To have a friend who has seen the best of you, the worst of you, and everything in between…and loves you no matter what…that’s the miracle that Amy and I have in each other.

Although I missed it by a few minutes with this post–Happy Birthday, my friend. May our 40s be exquisite. I love you.

A Transformational Tool for 2016 and Beyond

I paid roughly $12,000 for massage school (give or take a couple thousand) and I can’t tell you the last time I gave a massage. Despite having zero desire to be a professional in this field (except for maybe reflexology), I gained so much more than the legal right to touch people therapeutically in a nonsexual way. I also walked away with the following:

  • Lifelong friendships. Massage therapy school is like quick-drying superglue for friendships. Those of us who tracked together through the program shared laughter, energy work, insecurities, laughter, awkwardness, nervousness, laughter, physiology notes, and so much touch. Did I mention laughter? The level of comfort we developed with each other was amazing. Disrobing anytime anywhere became no big thing. I only have to think about a massage-school friend to feel relaxed…and want to get naked.
  • Many thousands of dollars’ worth of massages. I never did the math, but given how many hours of massage we each received, school was almost worth its weight in massages. And it’s safe to say that we all needed to touch and be touched as much as we were. There is little as powerful as the loving (therapeutic) touch of another person.
  • The love and wisdom of one of my favorite teachers ever: Judy Harper. She had the pleasure and responsibility of teaching the night students their first hands-on massage class. She got to cover logistics like how to get undressed privately in a room of ten other people, how to properly undrape different areas of the body while keeping the private parts private, and what to do when a client farts on the table.

Judy and Eric

This sweet goddess of a teacher was infamous for renaming people. I was Eric (instead of my given female name, Erin). In addition to Judy being oblivious to my real name, the squirms it sent through my classmates was hilarious!

Aside from points 1 and 2 above, I could have quit massage school after Judy’s class and been quite content with what I’d learned. Her class was better than any expensive self-help seminar I’ve been to (and I’ve been to many).

Here’s one golden nugget from Judy that will stick with me always:

“Cancel, clear, forgive me.”

Any time Judy thought or said something that was not supportive of herself or someone else, she would say, “Cancel, clear, forgive me.”

This is a very self-loving and self-affirming practice. It brings awareness to our thoughts and words and acts as a prompt to help us think something different when our thoughts are hurtful to ourselves or others.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can have the biggest impact. Don’t let the simplicity fool you!! This is pure genius.


My intention for 2016 is that it be a year of transformational self-love (transformation by means of self-love). I will be using “cancel, clear, forgive me” to cancel, clear, and forgive the words of my inner trash-talker and to stop it in its tracks.

And if I choose not to stop it, I’ll choose to love the part of me that likes to trash-talk myself and I’ll find out what that part of me needs that it’s not getting. Befriending the shadow? Feeling my feelings? Whoa!! Stay tuned!!

When the Obvious Is Too Obvious

Hello again, my friends!!

I have not written a post in many a moon and none have suffered as much as I.

Ugh. See what happens when I get rusty? I start channeling some past incarnation of myself…or something.

I’ve attempted this very post—the big I’M BACK!! post—about four times over the past couple weeks. All crap. All lacked flow. And that might be true of this one as well. Damn it, though, I’ve gotta’ get back on that horse somehow.

The good news is that I’ve had many comfort-stretching adventures in the time of neglecting this blog. For starters: I joined the circus, I attended workshops in two different styles of clowning, and I made a valiant and flawed attempt at dating. I will write more in depth about these endeavors later but for the moment I’ll just say that I had many opportunities to witness myself writhing in anxiety and discomfort. And we all know how much I enjoy observing myself squirm.

I’ve also come to learn something so terribly obvious about myself that I’m embarrassed to admit it to the people who read my blog. I hope you’re sitting down for this because it’s pretty shocking.

I learned that I MUST WRITE.

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My life works better when I’m writing. I am happier when I’m writing. Writing is not superfluous. Writing is not optional. Writing is essential to my health and well-being. Writing is an act of self love.

From every direction for the past few months I’ve been hearing the same message loud and clear: Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write.

So I started writing again in November—for myself. I reignited my journaling practice as a way to process the plethora of uncomfortable situations I was choosing. Each experience left me a little more open, a little more vulnerable, and a little more confused. Writing created a sense of peace I couldn’t find any other way.

And when I didn’t process an intense experience on the page? Ah, yes. That was when I found trouble. That was when I felt so uncomfortable I wanted to crawl out of my skin. That was when something as simple as making eye contact with people was difficult. That was when the A-Bomb (as in Awkward Bomb) fell on my fledgling relationship and blew it to bits before it even had a chance to get on its feet.

So this year I will focus on consistency. I will build systems into my life that encourage writing. And I will share with you both recent and past adventures…in whatever order they demand.

Thanks for hanging with me after many months of absence. If you’ve seen me around and asked after my blog and said you missed it…thank you. Sometimes we all just need a little nudge to get us moving again in the right direction.

What’s the thing you do that feeds your soul, glues your pieces back together, and gives you immense joy? If you’re not doing it, consider this your nudge.