Thursday, February 24, 2011

Woman on the Verge

This has been one of those weeks when I have spent every idle moment on the verge of tears. If I'm not actively thinking about or doing something else, my mind drifts to my current source(s) of unhappiness, stalls out there, and then I tear up. I've been lucky to have a somewhat busy week so far - dinner with a friend on Monday and traveling for work all day Tuesday - but Wednesday brought the straw that broke the camel's back. I sent an email to a colleague asking about a particular project's progress and got the response, "Call me ASAP." I did, and I heard exactly what I expected: bad news. I hung up the phone, sent a couple emails (one for damage control, the other seeking my boss's advice), and promptly burst into tears.

It's not that the problem was unmanageable. It's not that I was handling it poorly or making it worse. It's that it was just one more thing that's going wrong and that I can't entirely control right now. I am angry, and frustrated, and most of all, tired. The last two weeks have been a barrage of challenges and bad news, and right now all I want is for one thing to be easy. I want someone to look at me and say, "Don't worry, it's all fixed. It's taken care of." I want a fairy godmother, or a genie with three wishes to grant. Heck, I'd even take a member of the Geek Squad or one of those ladies who answers the Butterball hotline on Thanksgiving and tells you how to make your turkey disaster right. Anyone with the potential to take one of these things off my plate and my mind.

I've known for a long time that I view my life on a macro setting; it's the same lack of perspective that I've mentioned before. I get so hyper-focused, so zoomed in on my immediate circumstances that I often forget the big picture. I know that it's why I feel so miserably overwhelmed right now. I know that if I could pull back and see the forest for the trees, I'd feel better. But right now, the trees seem to be those big giant sequoias you find in California, and the forest is lost to me.

Monday, February 21, 2011


“I did then what I knew how to do. 
Now that I know better, I do better.”
                                                                                  - Maya Angelou

Life is a series of moments, all lined up like pearls on a strand. Each is beautiful and unique and fragile on its own, but when they're put together they form something greater as a whole. In each of these individual moments, we make choices. Some are big and some are small, but most of us make the best possible choices we can in those moments. Given our circumstances, our resources, our life experiences, our states of mind, we do the very best we can at the time. Sometimes things turn out well, but sometimes the results are disastrous. Hopefully we learn, so that in the next moment we do better.

All of this sounds great, but my problem is always perspective. I always forget that I will have more moments, that in all likelihood, no matter how awful my choices and no matter how terrible the consequences, there will be another moment. There will be another chance to pick myself up, dust myself off, and do a little better. This moment is one of many, and it doesn't define my life as a whole. It doesn't even necessarily influence my life from now on. But what will influence the rest of my moments is what I learn from this one. 

Today, I learned that no matter how sincere or accommodating or truly wonderful I am, I cannot make someone else love me. The only person I can make love me is me, and that is what I need to do first.

Tomorrow, I will do better.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Book Goes Best with This Shade of Bronze?

I don't know if you've heard, but I'm going on vacation soon. Well, in six weeks, but that's close enough for me to think about it non-freakin'-stop. Right now, I'm concentrating on fleshing out my reading list. The only book that I'm 100% sure is going on the plane with me is Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," since the author will be speaking at a conference I'm attending in May and I still haven't read it. And the only book I'm 100% sure is not going on the plane with me is "Eat, Pray, Love" because, seriously, I'm not going on vacation to be made jealous of some woman who got a divorce and then got a book contract to travel the world and "find herself" for a year. Bitch.

[On a related note...

Attention book publishers: I also got a divorce and then entered into a series of misguided "relationships" (and I use that term very loosely). I could also stand to "find myself" in Italy, India, and Indonesia. And - conveniently for all of us! -  I'm willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to travel the world for a year and then write a book about it. I'm just sayin'.]

So, anyway... I'm looking for reading suggestions for my Mexican beach time. There are plenty of places to lounge where I'm going, but the ones I plan to spend the most time in are hammocks. Here are two actual photos* from the place I will be staying:

This is the private patio right outside my room. Oh, and that on the left? Just my own personal hammock surrounded by palms and other tropical plants.

And this is the hotel's private beach, with at least three - yes, three! - hammocks. I'm sure I'll be able to claim at least one for my ass.
Now that you're good and jealous, I want you to tell me what I should be reading while I'm swaying in those hammocks, soaking up some much-needed UV rays and generally getting happy. I've heard the Thursday Next series is good, but I'm hoping to get a lot of reading (and writing, and photographing, and napping, and wandering) in while I'm there, so bring on the suggestions! Fiction, non-fiction, audiobooks - you name it, I want to know about it. Leave a comment, tell me why it's perfect vacation reading, and I'll compile all the recommendations here in a future post - and let you know what I decide to take with me on the plane, too!

*I'll provide the credits for these photos after I return, lest any wannabe stalkers decide to follow me on my trip. You know who you are.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Suck It, Cupid

I've never really been a big fan of Valentine's Day. When I was married, my ex and I would always go to dinner a couple days before, to avoid the crowds, and then I'd cook a special meal at home on the actual day. Now that I'm not in a relationship, I don't really care about the holiday one way or the other. I'm not anti-Valentine's Day. I just don't want to hear or think about it, lest I be reminded once again that yes, I'm single. And 30. And my ovaries are shriveling up like sad little barren prunes right as we speak.

I also don't like questions from strangers that pry into my personal life, nor do I like indulging the people who ask them. Unfortunately, the Hallmark calendar collided with my personality and led to this little interaction with the bank teller, Jinger (yes, with a J), the other day:

Jinger: "What are you doing for Valentine's Day?"

Me (slowly looking up from endorsing my check): "Sitting at home and drinking a bottle of wine because I don't have a husband anymore."

Jinger (nodding slowly and doing a very good job of not looking horror-stricken): "Oh... me and my boyfriend are going to Pluckers!"*

Me (half smile): "That'll be nice."

Poor Jinger never saw me coming. Hopefully she learned an important lesson: don't assume that strangers will respond to your polite chit-chat in kind. Also: beware divorcées with an axe to grind.

(Just realized: those two lessons rhyme! We could make them into a little jingle to help all customer service workers avoid similarly awkward encounters. If anyone has any suggestions for music, let me know!)

The truth is that I will not be sitting at home and drinking a bottle of wine because I don't have a husband anymore. I will be sitting at home and drinking a bottle of wine because that's what I like to do on weeknights. Well, probably not an entire bottle - probably half a bottle. But that's beside the point. The point is that Valentine's Day is going to be like any other day for me, as it should be for every other single person out there. Instead of wallowing, I'm going to use the evening to appreciate how nice my everyday single girl life is, complete with wine, a bubble bath, my kitty, and a jar of Nutella. 

Because quite honestly, if celebrating Valentine's Day means making googly eyes at some guy 0ver a plate of hot wings and a pitcher of beer, then I want no part of it. None at all.

Note: I wrote this several days ago. I am feeling decidedly more curmudgeonly about Valentine's Day now that it has actually arrived.

*In Jinger's defense, it wasn't until I did some googling that I discovered that Plucker's is planning an Anti-Valentine's Day for that evening. So she might have been trying to relate to me, I don't know. Regardless, I'd avoid asking that question in the future, Jinger. But that's just me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Me n' My One Big Thing

I've honed in on my One Big Thing for 2011, and I think it's going to be a series of travels, both in the US and abroad.* One of the things I wish I did more of in my twenties is traveling. Instead, I did very grown-up (and expensive) things, like earning a master's degree, buying a house and getting married. I don't regret any of these - some set me up for where I am now in my life, others taught me a lot about who I am and what I want - but now I want to do something more, too.

I love to travel. I first got the travel bug in college, when I lived in Oaxaca, México, in July 2001. It was honestly one of the most amazing and formative experiences of my life. For one month, I lived with an incredibly hospitable family that showed me around the area, made sure I sampled the local delicacies (including chapulines - yes, little grasshoppers roasted in garlic, lime and salt) and generally treated me like a member of the family. Every day after class - which only went from 9am to noon each day - my friends and I wandered the streets of Oaxaca, exploring shops and churches and alleyways. We did things that I'm sure would have given our parents heart attacks. One day, six of us piled into a beat-up old Toyota Camry taxi and rode out to a tiny little town, Zaachila, because we heard there was a pyramid there, then let a total stranger lead us into the town's local cemetery - yes, the cemetery, because apparently none of us had ever seen any horror movies - and give us a tour. It was amazing. And don't get me started about the time we went out to the Lagunas de Chacahua and had our bus boarded by some federales who checked my purse for smuggled narcotics by using the muzzles of their automatic machine guns to prod open my bag. (Welcome to México, gringa) If the travel bug doesn't bite you after that, it never will.

Permit me a little stroll down memory lane...

The entrance to the cemetery in Zaachila. "Here... eternity begins!" The cheery colors really lighten the tone of the otherwise ominous message, though, don't you think?

Did I mention that the window of the bus that took us to the Lagunas de Chacahua had a bullet hole in the it? No? Well, it did.
I'm just including this as evidence that I used to be damn cute.
And now that that's out of the way...

Like most people, I'm a bunch of contradictions. On the one hand, I crave adventure, but on the other hand, I need stability. This is going to be the year when I begin to reconcile those two sides of myself and see how I can fulfill each of them. I'm not going to quit my job and travel the world, but I am going to have a few adventures. Alone.

Yes, alone. Not with you, not with anyone else - just me. I want the space to explore on my own. I want to be lazy and nap in a hammock without worrying that I'm holding anyone else back from seeing the sights, or get up and go check out whatever strikes my fancy at a moment's notice. I want to read books and write in my journal and explore, all on my own terms. So, yes, I'm going alone.

And I need this break. I didn't get to go home for the holidays last year, and I haven't traveled anywhere - except around Texas for work - in almost a year. And really, if it's for work, it doesn't count in my book.

First, I'm planning a trip to Sayulita, México. Sayulita is about 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific coast. It started out as a surfer's mecca, then drew tourists looking for something off the beaten track. Luckily, it's not yet dominated by the mega-resorts, and still seems to retain a bit of funky charm. The particular hotel I'm eying is a complex of one-of-a-kind little units tucked away in the jungle. They have yoga on the beach, hammocks strung over the sand and oceanside massages. You can rent a bicycle and ride into town, hike around the jungle or walk down the beach 20 minutes and explore the restaurants lining the sand. And did you notice my mention of hammocks? I'm a sucker for a hammock. You could string up a hammock in East L.A. and I'd plant my ass there with a book and an umbrella drink.

The day my love affair with hammocks began. It's a grainy photo and I'm partially obscured by shadows, but clearly you can see how happy I am.
I have a few other places I'd like to go in 2011. A good friend from college, who lives with his wife in Southern California, had a baby 16 months ago and I still haven't met the sweet child. I'd really like to visit them for a long weekend. And if I can afford it, I'd love to go a little further abroad, too. I hear Spain and Portugal are lovely in September and October.

I told someone recently, "I'm 30, not dead," and I intend to spend this year proving it. Time to get busy living again.

* I know, I know - technically, a series of travels is A Few Big Things, not One Big Thing. But really, are you going to deny me this based on a technicality? I thought not.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Has Anyone Seen My Real Life?

Sometimes, a song says what I'm feeling far better than I'm able to. This is one of those times.

P.S. - Ignore the interpretive dance going on in the background. That's what I did.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Native is Restless

I know when I'm getting restless because I start to crave things that are totally out of character for me. Leading up to my 30th birthday, I wanted a tattoo. I went so far as to research local tattoo artists who had a style I liked, and to find samples of work similar to what I wanted. The year before, in the months before my ex and I separated, I was convinced I wanted - no, needed, for mental health reasons - a motorcycle. I looked into classes to get my license, I talked to a coworker who owned one, I even priced them. And I was infuriated when my ex said he didn't like the idea and didn't want me to do it. His concern for my safety felt suffocating.

In retrospect, I didn't really want a tattoo (what if I hated it in 10 years? Or 2 years? Or 2 months?), nor did I really want a motorcycle (they're dangerous!). I wanted what these things represented for me: excitement, freedom, and most of all, something new and different.

And yet, I don't think it's news to anyone that I'm actually a total control freak and pretty risk averse. The reality is that even when I crave motorcycles and tattoos, I'm most comfortable leading a pretty quiet life. I don't pick up and move across the country for a change of pace, I don't sell all my things and travel the world for a year, I don't get tattoos, and I definitely don't ride motorcycles. Those are all things that are far outside my comfort zone. I like the safety of predictability and routine, and I need the restoration offered by solitude.

But I hate those things about myself too. I feel boring. I'm embarrassed that I'd rather spend Saturday night at home than partying downtown until 4am. I feel silly for spending my 20s going to grad school and buying a home instead of traveling the world. I wish I had done and seen more when I was young and unencumbered by a mortgage and the other trappings of adulthood. Sometimes I feel so suffocated by my little life that I want to scream. But I don't know any other way to be.

I try incorporating little bits of "excitement" into my life in the hope that it will be enough to make me happy with it. Still, I find myself yearning for something different, what I perceive to be "more" and "better." I don't know what that is exactly or what it really looks like. And worst of all, I don't think I'd be happy if I actually had it, because it's not really who I am.

Someone once told me that yes, the grass is always greener on the other side, because there's more shit over there (shit = manure = fertilizer = greener grass, get it? ha!). Rationally, I know that life is a series of trade-offs, and that I should accept myself as I am. The life I have is a pretty good one, better than what most people in the world have, and I should just be thankful for that. But I can't avoid the nagging idea that crops up periodically that I should be doing something more, even if I don't know what that is.