There is No Such Thing as Lost

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Once upon a time, a lifetime ago, I was walking in the wrong direction from my intended destination on a Paris street when the phrase that became my life motto popped into my head:

There’s no such thing as lost. You can always get where you’re going from where you are, it just might take a little longer than you’d intended.

I am a cautious person. I don’t like to travel without having accommodation booked in advance. I leave the house well before I need to and always arrive early. I stock back-ups for most household necessities in the pantry. And I really, really hate feeling lost.

I have a vivid memory of hot panic swelling from my stomach into my throat after taking too many wrong turns out of an unfamiliar parking lot once, until I couldn’t even find my starting point anymore. I pulled into another parking lot, breathing fast, and dug my Thomas Guide (remember those?) from under the passenger seat, frantically scanning the pages for the name of the street sign I could see.

Clearly, I made it home.

It took a few awful minutes before I started to calm down, finding the street on the map that would take me back to familiar territory – and remembering my old motto.

I can’t count the number of times since that circuitous route in Paris that “there’s no such thing as lost” has calmed me down (long before getting a leg-up from Lexapro), and it occurs to me now, closing out this shitstorm of a year, that perhaps the saying ought to apply to causes, too.

This past year has been hard on me personally in ways that pale in comparison to the grand scheme of things, but that personal difficulty has been amplified by the ugly that comes at us right now from all sides. John Scalzi wrote an insightful piece in October about how his writing process had slowed this year, and why, and it resonates with me something fierce. My friend Pam Mandel wrote about her foggy 2017, a combination of personal things and “existential crisis about America,” and that resonates, too. The cautious me is having a hard time being overly optimistic about much right now, and I know I have to try. The alternatives are too bleak to consider.

So, here goes.

There is no such thing as lost.

This work slump? It, too, shall pass. I’m fortunate to have a wee cushion, plenty of supportive family and friends who would never let it get so bad that I’m living under a bridge, and the aforementioned Lexapro. Sure, I worry about how long it’ll take for work to pick up again, for me to find new clients, for my former drive to plug away at my own projects to return. And?

There is no such thing as lost.

This overwhelmed feeling? It’s heavy. It’s easy to peer into the abyss at everything and everyone crying out for our much-needed attention and decide the only rational thing is to just crawl back into bed. It’s a frenzied game of whack-a-mole, and – yeah – it can feel pretty hopeless.

I spent a couple days after last year’s election more depressed than I had been in years, before I poked a few buttons on my computer to set up a recurring monthly donation to the ACLU. That small act made me feel better. It was the bottom rung of the ladder I hadn’t even known was there. I’ve been slowly climbing it since, partly by knitting (to date) 24 pussyhats for people in exchange for more than $800 in donations to places like Planned Parenthood, ACLU, NRDC, Southern Poverty Law Center, and more. I’ve made more of an effort to get the hell out of my house more often, getting to know my community (my guiding word these days).

Yes, the barrage of bad news is heartbreaking. There’s too much for any one of us to carry the weight alone. There have been so many times in the past year that I’ve felt like there’s no way I’m making a difference to any of the causes I believe in. And?

There is no such thing as lost.

This national mess? We got ourselves here, and we can get ourselves out. This is a cause worth fighting for, and a battle I remain confident we’ll eventually win. This will be painful, yes, and there will be setbacks. Wrong turns. Panicked moments when we don’t know where we are and we have to pull into a weird parking lot to scan the map with our index finger until we see a way out. And?

There is no such thing as lost.

Good riddance, 2017. You set up road blocks, but we’ll get around them. It’ll take longer than most of us intended, but we’ll get where we’re going.

Say it with me.

There is no such thing as lost.

45 || creative commons photo by Seth Tisue

Happy About Nothing

Personal
45 || creative commons photo by Seth Tisue

45 || creative commons photo by Seth Tisue

I have long since given up on the idea of posting regular updates here, on my personal blog. I’m busy enough with client work and keeping up with Italy Explained, and – let’s be honest, here – I’m not good enough at time management to get all my work done quickly and use that leftover time to write something on this blog.

(Lately, I’m using that time for knitting.)

And yet? Every year, on my birthday, it’s a thing that I do. And, before I sit down to write said birthday blog post, I review the past few years’ worth of birthday blog posts to see what I said back then. It has become one of my favorite parts of my birthday which, if you know me at all, is basically my favorite holiday after Thanksgiving.

(A whole day dedicated to wishing me well? Oh, yeah, I’m in.)

This year – 45! – seems momentous. Any multiple of five seems momentous, for reasons maybe only mathemeticians could explain, and I certainly don’t expect to live past 90, which means my mid-life was probably a few years ago. Still, 45? It feels like it should be a big deal.

And yet? I banished the word “should” from my vocabulary years ago, encouraged by my mother, who sagely warned it’s a bad word that only serves to make us feel bad.

Which is why I’m telling myself – and you, since you’re here, I mean, and can I get you something to drink? – that if 45 continues on basically like 44 then I’m good. That’s fine. I don’t need momentous. I’m not really sure I want momentous. I had momentous a few years ago, and that might just be enough for me for one lifetime, thankyouverymuch.

I liked 44. I mean, 43 was a big deal – it felt like a big deal, back then, to be honestly, genuinely, optimistically happy – and then 44 was a sort of stasis. Which was… Fine, really. Desirable, in fact.

When you get to a place you like, doesn’t it make sense to just, I don’t know, stay there?

I am in an exceptionally sweet and comfortable relationship with a man I love deeply. I feel like I’ve been in this cozy spot my whole life, rather than just the past few years, but it helps that we’ve known one another for more than two decades.

I have settled into the role of being a step-parent to an incredible kid, a kid who loves food (even the weird stuff) as much as I do, which makes her a pretty kick-ass travel companion, especially for someone who’s only 11.

I’m still never going to get rich doing what I do, and – one of the hazards of being a freelancer – I lost a big client just last month. And overall I’m still doing just fine, loving my day-to-day work and not missing a full-time office job in the least.

I’m saying “yes” to more suggested outings, when before I might have stayed in because I didn’t feel like showering or putting on outside pants. (It’s a thing, ask anyone who works at home.)

I have started reaching out more in my community (thanks, agonizingly depressing 2016 election!) so as to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of being too isolationist, and it feels way more energizing than I expected it to. (Bring an apple pie to your neighbors, you guys, it does your heart a world of good.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if nothing much changes in my life this year, I’m really okay with that. One could say that’s a bit boring as far as mid-life crises go, but it turns out “boring” might have been my ambition the whole time.

Back in 2014, when my pal Casey and I were in Pittsburgh, we spent a couple hours in the fabulous Andy Warhol Museum. I left with two souvenirs that, it occurs to me only now – some two-plus years later – not only beautifully capture the same concept, but that also speak to this place I am currently in. It is not where I was in 2014 when I chose a mug and a photo (both with Warhol quotes) from the gift shop, but evidently a part of me knew that this was my aspirational goal. I present the quotes to you now, without further comment.

warhol happy about nothing

warhol little things

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

Forty-four. Fancy, that.

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Every year for the past few I have written a blog post for my birthday. A few of those years were pretty grim, so last year’s was a welcome change.

On the eve of my 44th birthday, I’m wanting very much to put together one of my annual blog posts while simultaneously feeling extremely guilty that – sitting in front of my computer – I am not working. See, I leave for Italy in less than two weeks, I’ll be gone for a month, and I’m doing as little work as possible during that time… Which means I’m cramming undergrad-style right now.

(Okay, not quite undergrad-style. I’m actually sleeping. Or trying to, at any rate.)

So, in brief…

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

Work is going very well, I got to travel quite a bit last year, and I’m looking forward to even more stateside jaunts after the Italy trip (which I am crazy excited about). I now have two ebooks published in conjunction with my Italy travel guide, and more in the works.

I remain happy, and even a little more settled than I was last year. I’m no longer in my transitional apartment. I am building a home and future with a wonderful man and his fabulous daughter. We aren’t a normal family, but it’s a sort of family. I never pictured myself as a family person, but now that I’m here there’s much about it that I genuinely love.

Fancy that.

A little anecdote from the other night demonstrates a bit of how much my life has changed, I think.

At dinner, the boyfriend was talking to the 10-year-old about impending adolescence, and how it’s almost her job to be surly due to body and brain changes, but that he hopes she’ll buck the trend and still be nice to her parents.

“And me,” I chimed in, as a joke.

“You’re a parent,” she said, not as a joke.

Years ago, that comment might have given me hives. The other night, it made my heart swell.

Once upon a time I lived in a town surrounded by wealthy families, and thought the only way I’d be happy was to have an entire Esprit or Benetton wardrobe like my classmates did. Once upon a time I sang in a struggling rock band, and thought the only thing that would make me happy was to be signed to a record deal. Once upon a time I was thisclose to living in Italy, and the achievement of that goal seemed the only thing that would make me happy.

Turns out there are many roads to happiness, and some of them might start out looking like that weird back alley your mother told you never to take even though they may open up onto a glorious field of flowers just around that corner.

Life takes us in funny directions sometimes, you guys. And I’m finally learning to not only follow that weird back alley, but listen more closely when life is practically yelling directions in my ear.

(44 and still learning. They say learning new things is good for the brain. That’s my excuse this year, anyway.)

A Note from Tallulah Underfoot

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I drove back to Animal Aid this morning to drop Tallulah off. It wasn’t an easy decision. Here’s what I just posted on her Instagram photo… (And shaddup, of course the cats have an Instagram profile.)

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I’m a sweetheart, but I’m shy. I’ve got anxiety issues. I like the humans in this house just fine, but even they scare me sometimes. And it doesn’t matter that Aloysius is just trying to be playful – when he “stalks” me, it really freaks me out.

I was *trying* to adjust to my new life. But it’s been *really* hard, you guys.

I peed in a couple of places that aren’t litterboxes a few weeks ago, but the humans thought it was just a transition issue. So when they went away for a weekend and had a friend staying in the house, I decided to let them know in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t working out: I used their bed as a toilet. Three times.

The humans made sure I wasn’t sick, which I suppose they had to do, except I really hate being shoved in that tiny little carrier box thingie. (The humans didn’t know how strong a little cat could be until they tried to get me in there, hoo boy.) The shelter said I should probably come back, so this morning I got manhandled into that stupid carrier box again and I’m now back at Animal Aid.

I know my humans are sad. One of them cried a lot the other night. (I tried to tell her it was okay, that it was for the best, by being super cuddly and purring more than normal. I hope she got the message.) They *really* tried to make me happy. I know this is best for me, though. I need a home where there isn’t an abnormally large and rambunctious cat around. I need a home where I can be the princess. I really need peace and quiet.

If you’re the right human for me, I’d love to meet you. And I wish my humans (and even that big oaf Aloysius) all the best.

Mark & I will look for another cat when I’m back from Italy. We’ll need one with a big personality like Aloysius, but not so big that they antagonize one another. It could be a challenge. He was adopted once before we got him, & had to be returned to Animal Aid for sort of stalking one of the existing cats in that house, so he’s got a history…

We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, we’re hoping our little girl finds the perfect home.

creative commons photo by Matthias Ripp

Building My Own Fire

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creative commons photo by Matthias Ripp

creative commons photo by Matthias Ripp

When I was a young professional, just a few years out of college, I checked into what seemed at the time an impossibly swanky lodge during a work trip. We each had our own cabins (mine was larger than my basement apartment at the time), complete with a fireplace. A real fireplace.

I was 26, and I had never built a fire.

After two failed attempts, using up all the kindling supplied, I flagged down a passing worker who started a fire for me. I’m sure he got a good laugh out of that, though I’m guessing he isn’t still thinking of that evening nearly two decades later.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

In 2013, I began a long process of pivoting from the direction in which I had been going for years – of shifting the earth around me so I could really move.

I was 41, and I had never built a fire.

I had been living in a shiny new house with a gas fireplace, lit with the flick of a switch. I had settled into a life that, at one time, suited me partly because it coddled me. I don’t know when exactly I stopped needing the coddling, but by the time I noticed it was too late. There was nothing for it but to move.

In 2015, I began the process of settling into a new life – one with a 100-year-old house that has no insulation, a dirt-floor basement, and fragile plumbing and wiring that both could use updates.

And a real fireplace.

I am 43, and I can now build fires.

I begin with the easy stuff, the paper, and work my way up to the hard stuff, coaxing little wisps of flame on the edges of newsprint into the crackles and pops that tell me it’s going to take. I crouch in front of the stove’s open mouth, blowing steady streams of oxygen to resuscitate flagging coals when I’ve neglected them for too long. I pull on work gloves and haul wood in the rusted wheelbarrow from the shed out back to restock the wood pile on the porch.

I can keep my fires burning all day long, until the gorgeous coals glow with a bright orange light that shifts and moves like the fire itself.

Like me.

I am 43, and I have built my own fire.

creative commons photo by William W. Ward

Dear Guy Who Called Out to Me During My Morning Walk

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creative commons photo by William W. Ward

creative commons photo by William W. Ward

Dear Guy Who Called Out to Me During My Morning Walk:

I know you meant it as a compliment. I know you were trying to be nice, to be neighborly, to make conversation. I applaud that, in this country of driving right into garages and rarely acknowledging the people who live around us. I appreciate the smile, too, the friendly way you waved so I would know to take out my headphones and be able to hear what you said. Once, a guy at the bus stop thought I was being a bitch because I didn’t reply to him, but he never saw my headphones. So, I like the gesture. Really, I do.

But no, I do not go for walks to “make America more beautiful.”

I walk so I can eat whatever the hell I want without feeling guilty. I walk so I can enjoy a cocktail or two, or the occasional beer, without even thinking that beverages, too, have calories. I walk so I can still fit into my damned pants and only go shopping for new clothes because I feel like buying something new and not because I’ve outgrown my old jeans. I walk so I might live well into my 80s, a feat my father certainly didn’t accomplish.

Do I want to feel pretty? Sure. I’m human. Hell, I’m human female, and I live in America. I’ve been brainwashed from the age of consciousness. I get it. But I am not window dressing. I am not scenery.

I am out for my morning walk, face unwashed, hair greasy, sports bra sweat-stained. I am not focused on beauty. I am simply focused.

And I laughed it off, not replying, because – again – I’ve been brainwashed into thinking I should actually say thank you to such a bizarre comment, and while I won’t say thank you I also can’t quite bring myself to confront the well-meaning guy in his front yard at 7:30 on a Monday morning who was just trying to call out to a neighbor and (in his misguided way) offer a word of praise.

I may, however, choose a different walking route from now on.