It is a grey, rainy morning in New Orleans. It looks like it’s recovering from my weekend. I am staying at a friend’s house Uptown and have taken up residence in their sunroom for a couple of days. Like many Uptown homes here, the sunroom is filled wall-to-wall with windows– perfect little glimpses of the diverse lives of old and young people going about their days. It isn’t as action packed as say a window room looking down on the streets of New York City. It’s quieter, more stationary. But just as perfect as it gets to lay and read or write or think about things both heavy and light. I love days like this, in rooms like these. It’s a perfect do-nothing day. And I know what you’re thinking, aren’t most days of your sick, sedentary, jobless life do-nothing days? And yes, many are. Incidentally, do nothing days make for the best writing days. As though both were designed specifically for the other.
I’m surrounded by three animals; a black cat named Elvis that if I’m being honest strikes me more as a Stanley or a Todd. A domesticated wolfdog named Jax, and Monty of course. The cat has stayed near me all morning, and Monty is curious about the cat and Jax is curious about Monty, so we’re an entourage in every room I go including the bathroom. Undoubtedly the sporadic rumblings of thunder worry the dogs and they shuffle nervously when it comes, then drift back to their dog naps. The cat doesn’t move at all. This is the kind of weather I love and New Orleans I love. Maybe it’s that it reinforces the idea that it’s OK to stay inside all day. Doesn’t make you feel bad about never putting real pants on. And I always like things that slow us down. Life is fast. People move so quickly. I often feel like I can’t keep up and I’ll never have the energy to. Today is my pace and I am soaking it in.
I like staying at friends houses and perusing their bookshelves. I’m ever on the hunt for my next good read and right now I can’t decide between two: Merrick by Anne Rice–a New Orleans author I’ve been recommended for years now or In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I saw the movie which I did love but the book is always something different altogether and so I’ve been going back and forth between both all morning. Dare I try reading two at once. Isn’t there some rule against it? I’ve never done it before but life is crazy and maybe I’ll do something super daring and go for two at once! Woah!
My life-long best friend Kaitlin (aka Matt Damon) was married this weekend and I was the maid-of-honor. Turns out that’s a helluva job! The official festivities started Thursday evening and I had to pace myself to ensure I’d survive until Saturday night, and store some energy for dancing late. With a lot of protein, drinking a lot of electrolytes, and the help of my respective 25 pills, I survived. Not only that, I had a blast. It was a beautiful wedding, and the reception had the three necessary components for a success: Open Bar, Amazing band, Awesome people. I must say dancing to “I’m Sexy and I Know It” with my parents, the brides parents, and the entire entourage was one of my favorite parts. It was a long day. The ceremony didn’t begin until 7 but hair and makeup people showed up at 9 am. Men will never know what we go through or how long it actually takes for women to prepare for events. Well maybe they do know, but they’ll probably never understand. At times it became stressful or overwhelming because it’s just such a huge day in so many ways and a strict schedule a million little logistical things to work out. Also doing anything in large groups is quite literally like herding cattle but harder. And it required some stealthy maneuvering taking photos at the hotel beforehand so that the groom wouldn’t run into the bride before seeing her walk down the aisle at Church. Things went quickly and the two hours before the ceremony became a little stressful just due to the number of things to do and timing and zippers that wouldn’t zip yada yada yada. (Not to mention that sad little Saints game we glanced between things)
One of my favorite moments of the night was when Kaitlin, her dad, and I snuck away and took five minutes to relax in the hotel suite before leaving for the ceremony. I forced food on Kaitlin because I’ve seen enough brides faint and I was not about to let that happen. We also watched a few minutes of the very unfortunate Saints game. Mostly we all just sort of caught our breath–Took in everything with some ease and some calm. There’s not a lot of calm on the day. I remember thinking I’d want to remember these five minutes we got to share. I knew it’d be the last of the night, not to mention, our last few moments with Kaitlin Pastorek the girl and not Kaitlin Pastorek Gambino the woman, the wife!
To me we are still kids playing mermaids in the pool. But in writing my speech the night before, I had to acknowledge that we were in fact growing up. And that doesn’t have to be sad. I love that our friendship has lasted and grown. I guess that’s a beautiful part of having a best friend–life is constant change, but together things feel solid, impervious to time. Maybe when we’re 80 I’ll still feel like we’re girls in our twenties jumping on the bed in our bath robes. Speaking of which..this was us in the hotel suite the night before the wedding.
See? Kids. But alas, kids get married too. And maybe just because people start referring to you as an adult and you start partaking in adult activities doesn’t mean you necessarily feel like one. Maybe that’s what everyone’s doing and just not talking about–playing the part, going through the motions. Or maybe some people actually feel like adults and I’m just really struggling to grow up here. Who knows. Life is funny. Weddings are fun. Best friends weddings are really fun. And as I’ve always said, New Orleans weddings are the best.
I spent last Spring in a playground called New York City. My brother and sister-in-law had this great apartment in TriBeCa with huge windows and a doorman. As newly jobless, apartment-less, boyfriend-less- New York City felt like the perfect place to spend some time and get to know myself again. I had lost all of my “identifiers ” and it was time to get in touch and adapt. It was truly a treat staying there while I reconfigured what my life was going to look like. My brother spent most the week in Boston teaching at MIT and Estee worked full-time, so I had this great little cube in the city to myself a lot.
My only responsibility as a guest there was to walk the dog, Lilly. Lilly was cool. Sweet and low maintenance, she was happy to spend day after day sitting on top of the heater with me and looking out the window to life below. I wrote, read, and occasionally played music super loud and danced alone in the living room. (One day I danced “the Dougie” too hard and exhausted myself for a week) If anyone were watching from the building across the street, it would have been quite a show. Lilly sometimes barked at a dog below or a UPS man unloading boxes, but mostly we just watched. It was a perfect, small existence for me at that window. New York City had a way of making me feel intricately connected to the pulse of life, even though I was sick and on the outskirts, and my only participation was mostly observation from the 4th floor. I never felt isolated in New York. Sometimes I ended the day feeling like I had interacted with so many people and in fact I hadn’t actually talked to anyone. There’s something so involved there, that even as a spectator I felt implicitly a part. I would watch the people walking their dogs or babies in strollers, laughing or yelling on their cell phones, entering restaurants and hugging friends hello, and it all made me feel incredibly human again. I could watch life from that window all day and never get tired of the sights. And most days, that’s all I did.
I really had to get used to the “free time.” I know that sounds like an illegitimate complaint, but going from working to not was hard to navigate. To strangers it sounds fun..”You’re so lucky! You don’t have to work.!” But that’s kind of like telling someone in a wheelchair “You’re so lucky, you don’t have to walk!” Truthfully it can be extremely lonely and isolating having absolutely nothing but time on your hands, but possessing none of the means in which to do the things you used to. It took me a long time to adjust to not having a typical day schedule to follow. Such is life. We notice things more once they go missing.
It was surprising how responsible I had to be with my free time. You can’t just do nothing. Nothing is the gift you give yourself after you’ve done something. But if you’re not actually doing anything, the nothing part becomes completely sad. You have to be responsible. It occurs to me now how much security and diligence there was in my fulltime job. A schedule is basically simple. Follow the rules 5 days a week, get paid, go home. There are things you say in an office and things you don’t say. Wear and don’t wear. I worked at that gallery because that was the progressive step after college. It was safe there. I knew exactly what was expected of me and I was good at what I did. And on the 1st and 15th of every month I was paid 1,060 dollars for following the rules and doing my work dutifully. There was a time work began and ended. And there were two entire days a week you had to yourself. It didn’t matter what you did on those days. It only mattered that you showed up on the right days and were on time if not early. Then all that was left was following the rules. Performing tasks. I do miss the stability of that old life. The one where at least I felt like I knew what I was doing and where I was headed and what was coming my way. Now there is none of that routine or structure. There isn’t really anything expected of me now. No tasks to check off, no paycheck twice a month. There’s no real order, and it’s a strange thing to very quickly lose something like that. There is ease in order.
As easy as it is to complain about work, to dislike your boss or co-workers, there is something very essential in human beings that gets fulfilled in just getting dressed and going to work every day; contributing to the “whole” some way and getting paid to do it. Even if the work is mundane or repetitive. Even if your co-workers are punks or your boss is a turd-sandwich, there’s something gratifying about good old fashioned compensated labor. Life becomes pretty different without it.
Part of my biggest adjustment in getting sick has been surrendering to a schedule that I can’t control. I don’t know how I’ll feel one day to the next, what I’ll be capable of. I don’t know if Ill sleep at night for 12 hours or 10 minutes. (Or if I’ll be up at 2 am writing this blog like I am now) So in a very bizarre way, the illness has literally forced me to live one day at a time. One moment at a time. What am I capable of right now? OK, I’ll do that. It has become that specific. And I think after nearly two years of no “real” job and crashing my siblings couches, I am finally understanding and accepting life without schedule, rules, tasks, and order. Or what I was perceiving to be order. The funny thing is now I see that even in my highly organized, scheduled life, I still wasn’t in total control. It only felt that way. It looked that way. I still got sick. Life still “got to me.” My life is no more or less in control now than two years ago. It is truly, just perspective.
My brother Nick encouraged me to read while I had so much downtime, and that was good advice. Here I was writing all the time, but never reading what was done before me. And you need context in everything, especially literature. I still have a ton of reading to do, but I’m really glad I discovered the real joy of it. Growing up it always felt like labor– a requirement that didn’t interest me. Now I find real freedom in it. There is nothing like getting lost in a story. I admit it’s more fun to read than to write. There is anxiety in me sitting down to write. But there is total surrender in sitting down and investing in a story.
Anyway now that I didn’t have a schedule to adhere to or specific tasks to perform every day, I was now up to my own devices. I realize that sounds like a really spicy thing to say. But mostly it was me in and out of dreamworld on the couch or sitting on the heater, looking out that window, and drinking coffee with Lilly. Every once in a while we mixed it up. Like when I dressed her up in my hat.
Or put her in my laundry basket.
Or if it was a healthy day we’d walk to the piers and watch the joggers and boats.
As nice as our walks were, I think I was most content at that window. In general, I am happiest by windows. I gravitate in every house to the room with the most light. I like to see outside. Hopefully one day, I won’t be the girl at the window, but the participant outside. The subject of someone else’s observation. But truly, I ‘ve become happy with this spectator form of my life. I don’t think it will always be this way, but it has granted me a unique perspective. It has made me step back and examine. It’s given me stillness in a very fast world. Even sick in bed, I can still examine life, ask my questions, read and write for the answers. None of this could happen in my old busy life. There was simply no time for it. There was work during the week, and sick recovery on the weekends. Now I have a new kind of work. It doesn’t pay well (as in, it doesn’t pay) but my boss is cool (that’s me) and every day is “Bring Your Dog to Work” day. Maybe the best part is, I am never too far from a window. For me, for now, that is enough.
“Participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.” -J Campbell
Health, Happiness, Windows
My friend Gabe took this picture of me at the NY window at night. Thanks Gabe!
At one time, each and every human being on the planet was a tiny baby in a mothers arms. In front of him lay a pristine and untouched future, where anything was possible. One thing will shape the direction and vibrancy of that future more than any of other thing; love. From whom he learns it, from whom he does not, how he is taught it, and that he experiences it in its most authentic and pure form- unconditionally. Money is no matter, health is no matter, religion, beauty or brains. Without the message that love sends- the gentle reminder that who you are matters- all of these things are fine but rendered useless if they are anything but anecdotes to a love-filled life. There are many ways to measure a life, and many definitions to the word success. You don’t have to go far to find the richest people, the famous people, or the ones deemed very important. And they will often gladly share their secrets to what we call success. But behind numbers and cameras and curtains is a very basic human need- not desire- that we all share no matter what characteristics separate us. We have to have love to evolve. And we have to give it to surrender. And we have to lose it, at least once, to really know who we are. And when we find and learn to love ourselves wholly, then might we love others the best possible way. If we haven’t used it to fill holes, if we haven’t given it to get control, then what we’ve done with love, we’ve probably done it right.
Here is the truth; you’re not missing out on anything if you don’t get on Facebook today. I’ll fill you in: Someone got engaged. Someone had a baby. Someone is angry at Obama. Someone cooked spaghetti. And someone is hung-over after going out big last night. But if you spend the day on Facebook, you’re missing out on all the rest. You know, like on life. So now here’s 10 things you can do instead of get on Facebook, that might actually make you feel better.
1. Forgive somebody. There is probably someone or something from your past that needs to be let go of, moved on from, and it might even be you. Letting go of things in the past opens up room for good stuff in the future. Go!
2. Appreciate who and what ya got. Having a gratitude journal sounds super cheesy I know, but once you start writing down everything you’re thankful for everyday, you’ll see very subtly your whole perception change for the better.
3. Create. Make art! Or a sweater! Or music.Or dinner! You’ll be surprised at what you end up making. And have someone in mind when you create. The best gifts are home-made.
4.Exercise. Even if it’s just a walk outside or 15 minutes of yoga… exercise releases serotonin and adds years to your life. Imagine if you did 10 sit-ups/push-ups for every 10 minutes you spent on Facebook. Everyone would be all muscley and stuff.
5. Bake a cake for someone. Anyone. Just because you love em. It’ll make their day! Let us eat cake.
6.Organize your closet, dresser, room, or junk drawer. Cleaning things out just feels good, it’s free, and the end result will make you breathe easier.
7. Occupy Wal-Street. Just kidding. Couldn’t think of a good O verb. Uh, organize your second closet!
8. Kidnap someone and bring them on an awesome adventure. Dont actually blindfold them and throw them in the backseat of your car or anything..just bring them to lunch or something. And then maybe antiquing.
9. Read a book. Remember books? Instead of getting lost in an anonymous persons wedding album on Facebook, (ahem, yeah that’s me) get lost in a book. It’s such an awesome feeling. And you don’t feel like a creeper by the end.
10. Write and send a letter. Not an email, not a text. A real letter, written in your own special handwriting. Old school mail dude, it’s the best! (May take 2 weeks to arrive though. The post office has had a rough year.)
Health, Happiness, Lifebook. (See what I did there?)
You know, you’d think as someone who takes 25 pills a day, I would have a pill for everything. And when it comes to aches and pains, muscle spasms, migraines, restless legs, or insomnia..it’s true. I’ve got a pill for most things. I carry around my pharmacy in a medium-sized black bag with birds on it. It’s like my second purse, but probably more important. But in the depths of that entire bag, among all the bottles of pills of every color and every shape, there is no pill for crying. Sometime’s life is really hard, and you just have to feel it. In two words; it sucks. It’s tiring and seemingly unrelenting and comes and goes in waves but just like everything else, it won’t last. It isn’t forever. And sometimes that’s the only thing to get you past the moment.
Sorry about being all depressing, but I’m going through some hardships right now and I told myself I’d write good, bad or ugly, so here’s sticking to goals. I won’t get into all the details but I am going through a breakup, thus the random waves of crying that come on like sudden nausea. It’s awful! It’s also funny, because truthfully, I was never much of a crier. If I felt the urge to cry I held it back, and I especially didn’t like to do it in front of people. I didn’t cry at my dads funeral. Maybe it’s because I was 12 or maybe it’s because seriously, his funeral was somehow a joyous occasion and I don’t really know how to explain that except that we sang happy music and felt proud that his life filled up an entire church. It wasn’t until my step-dad died, unexpectedly in the middle of college, that I turned into a crier. There was no holding it back anymore. It was tragic and it happened fast and left the family a little lost, especially my mom. It’s funny because my mom was never much of a crier either, but after Roger died, the same thing happened to her too. Sometimes we’d sit in the office, trying to tackle another post-death obstacle like canceling Roger’s phone (which somehow took FOUR MONTHS) and we’d sit there just sniffling and wiping tears away. Truthfully, there wasn’t always something wise to say. A quote about God’s plan or everything happening for a reason really falls short when you’re in the very raw place of grief. Sometimes all there is to do is cry or be a shoulder to cry on and remember that it won’t last. But what I’m trying to get at is this; it’s OK to cry.
I don’t know how our society or culture became this way, but it feels like somehow we view crying as a weakness. And when someone begins to cry our first impulse is to try to get them to stop. “Don’t cry,” we’ll say. Or “It’s OK” or some other vague comment that is usually untrue. The problem is crying makes other people uncomfortable–we’re a people of solutions, and crying means that someone is in pain or hurting some way, and we want them to stop. That’s the nice thing about dogs, they let you cry and cry and they don’t judge you for it. The thing is though, crying is not only natural, it’s good for you. It’s acknowledgment and acceptance that yes, this moment or time is rough. It’s challenging or painful. And the truth is, you just have to feel it. You have to exist in the grit of it. It hurts. But it also means you’re awake. I thought after 2011 that I would literally run out of tears. There was one day that I cried on and off most of the day and finally by 9 I thought wow, I think I’m all cried out! Then a commercial about abandoned dogs in New Orleans came on and I burst into tears. Nope, wasn’t all out after all!
My point is, that instead of telling someone to stop crying or to be strong or to move on, we should try the opposite. We should encourage them to cry. Tell them to go ahead and sob it out. Hold their hand or offer your shoulder or pass the whole stupid box of kleenex if that’s what it’s going to take. But don’t try to stop the process. Sometimes life is sad, and it’s OK to acknowledge that and it’s OK to cry about it. Babies do it. Women do it. Men do it. Even elephants do it. Just like laughter is an expression of something funny or entertaining, crying is an expression of sadness or loss, it is honest, and to repress it is only going to make it hurt more later. Simply put–let it out. Shakespeare said “To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” That being said…Waahhhhhhhh.
Kidding. I’m not crying right now. I’m watching the Golden Girls with Monty and accepting that this is a tough time but I’m going to survive. If I could recommend a new class for college it would be called Breaking Up 101. I have thought this for a long time, because breaking up is one of the hardest experiences and worst pains you can feel, even if it is the right thing to do. But we’re conditioned to think that if you feel this bad, then something’s not right–you shouldn’t do it. So then it follows, if you’re miserable from a breakup, then maybe you made the wrong decision? The truth is, there is never a good time to break up, it hurts like hell whenever it happens, and it’s going to screw with your life for a while. Aka…you might burst into tears while watching Say Yes to the Dress or you might suffer an identity crisis and start wearing brightly colored wigs like Kim Kardashian did. But that’s kind of how it goes. It’s tough, but it won’t last.
Anyway, that’s what’s going on in my life…how are you? Haha. I hope this doesn’t sound too tragic. Everything and everyone will be OK. I am assured. Mostly. But I still get waves of tears and random things that set them off, like an old photo from college or coming across my old business card from when I used to have a real job and my life was more..clear. Sometimes I feel like I’m floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean and am just drifting in no particular direction at all. It’s living in the “grey” of things. But it’s OK. I’m going to cry and then I’m going to stop and then I’m going to pick up the pieces and keep going. Because that’s the thing about life..it goes on.
Yesterday was a tough day. It was one of those days that you sit in a room by yourself in silence and then out of nowhere this question makes itself known; Who am I and what am I doing?
This isn’t such a rare thought for me to sit on, but spend too much time sitting on it and you’ll be no one and do nothing. The question arose in me because this week has been rough for me health-wise. And when it’s your fourth day in pajamas- no matter how awesome your pajama pants are- it makes you consider your existence in that essential kind of way. I’m like, dude, why am I here? And feeling like a human wasteland is just not a good feeling. But also, it’s more a thought derived from our egos and it is mostly untrue. In a clearer head I know that my existence matters and everyone who is alive matters. That is true. One of the shitty goals of the ego is to make you feel separate– from earth, from society, and from God. The truth is that we’re connected to all of these things and that our existence matters.
So there I was feeling all down on myself and I’m like you know what? This is crap. I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself. I’m going to do something happy. And strangely I felt this weird desire to run. Strange because mostly I hate running. But if I had energy, I would have put on those professional looking running clothes that my sister and brother wear when they go jogging and feel the wind in my face. But the truth is, I’d probably tire myself out getting dressed before even getting out the door. Plus it’s so hilly here, I’d probably vomit after the first hill. My fatigue level has been rough this week, which I think contributes to those existential crisis moments of Who Am I and What Am I Doing and Am I Going to Live on my Siblings Couches Forever? But you have to cut life into slices. Sometimes you take it by the week. Sometimes by the day. And yesterday, by the hour.
Sometimes you have to reach out for help, so I texted Gabe “Life is hard!” and he texted back, “Yeah, it is!” And I remembered, oh yeah, everyone’s life is hard. Haha. Then I was like, OK, I need to bring some happy energy into this room. And the quickest way I know how to do that is through music. So I started looking for energetic happy music to start. I was g-chatting with my friend Emily and I was like ‘Dude, I need some good music. Happy stuff. What movie has a great soundtrack?” And Emily responded “Beauty and the Beast.” Which made me 1. Laugh out loud. 2. Play that song “There must be more than this provincial life! and 3. Remember why I love Emily so much. So then I was like OK, more music. And I kept listening to different things and put together a playlist of upbeat stuff. And I don’t know how, but somehow Tom Jones “It’s Not Unusual” made its way onto the playlist, and if you can imagine a scrawny girl in her pajamas blaring the one and only Tom Jones and dancing like an idiot to that weirdly catchy tune, well then, maybe I’ve made you smile. Because soon I was laughing at myself and what a hilariously tragic day it was.
Next, I took out my favorite sharpie pen and decided to do arts and crafts, because it’s fun and, well that’s the only reason. The thing is, I’m pretty terrible at drawing and painting. But, I enjoy the process of creating. And in the last two years there is one thing I discovered I’m decent at; drawing straight lines. So I have all these pictures at my mom’s house, a few in frames and a few in a folder, of white paper with black vertical lines. Mostly because it’s all I can do and also it requires focus and patience and time, not unlike actual good artwork. And there’s something fulfilling about it. The more lines you draw, the more disorienting it becomes on the page as you continue. Like the lines in your peripheral vision become blurry and then start to move on their own. It’s weird. And fun. I show you.
And that is the art of drawing straight lines. If you’re thinking ‘What is this hippie shit?” I hear that. It’s mostly meaningless. But I like how long it takes. And that it’s simple and looks that way but also requires patience and focus and something about it makes me usually feel a little better. SO LAY OFF ME AND MY LINES OKAY?! Jokes. This one is for sale for 1 dollar and is titled “Welcome to America.”
After that, I received an email from a stranger who told me she reads my blog and that it makes her laugh and she felt the need to reach out and tell me that. I was like dude, the Universe works quickly! I was doubting myself and then this stranger writes me and tells me to keep it up? Cray cray. Thank you for that email Annie wherever you are. Whatever convinced you to write me, pay attention to it, because that just happened to be something I needed to hear at the time that you sent it. Yay for serendipitous universal connections!
And then after that, I came across a video of a rather large dog riding a bicycle and I was like, holy cow, dogs are incredible. And if this doesn’t make you smile you may want to check yourself because there is a very real possibility that you are a robot. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just good information to know about yourself. Just watch.
And if that didn’t do it for you, then maybe you’ll appreciate this dog that dances better than you.
And if THAT didn’t make you smile, maybe this picture of a really cute baby I know will.
Something about this photo just makes me happy every time I look at it and I’m pretty sure it’s her feet. But who can say. Anyway, after the drawing, and Tom Jonesing, and dog cycling and baby photos, I felt a little better. Then I thought of the many ways this day could have unfolded; it’s very easy to fall into a sad day and stay that way. It has happened to me countless times. But I am realizing just how big our role is in the outcome of our days. I had a friend in high school say to me once: “Do you the know the difference between a good day and a bad day? ATTITUDE!” And I remember wanting to punch something when I heard that, but also, it’s kind of true isn’t it? Perception plays a huge role in our lives. If we look at life as against us, we’ll find opposition. If we look at life as for us, we’ll find peace. There will be good and bad days for the rest of our lives. There will be reasons to laugh and reasons to cry. But when given the choice on mediocre days, and we do have a choice, choose the laughter. It’s more fun that way. And most importantly, pay attention! The universe gives us signs and symbols all the time. It is up to us to piece it all together.
I’m told that you learn how to love from your parents. So on this International day of love and cheap Walgreens chocolates, I’m going to share the lessons of someone whose influence has been huge and far reaching- My mom. Here is a part of her story.
My mom and dad met on a blind date set up by their two best friends. It was only meant to be “friendly” and an innocent night of fun. Neither my mom or dad were fully on board with the idea of it, but they were told “It’s just dinner. What’s the harm in that?.” What was promised to be just dinner, ended up being the first night of a journey that would lead to marriage and four kids. Bam! In 1993 my dad was diagnosed with cancer. There was a lump underneath his belly button which had been there a while. It hadn’t really grown or changed but to be on the safe side they went in and removed it. Upon opening him up, they saw that not only did he have cancer, but that is was so widespread they couldn’t even locate the origin. So we were never told he had “lung cancer” or “stomach cancer.” He had whole body cancer! He was given six months.
We were also told the cancer was too far spread for chemo or radiation treatments to be effective. My dad wasn’t thrilled with this prognosis, so he devoted himself to getting well through a hollistic approach. He cut out white sugar, white flower, meat, artificial everything, and drank so much homemade carrot juice that his palms turned orange. He lived in great health for three and a half more years to the surprise of all his doctors. But ultimately he lost the battle. After he died, I remember my mom saying “I could never love someone the way I loved your dad.” And it was pretty well understood and accepted that she wouldn’t marry again.
But four years later, she was set up on another blind date which she again resisted strongly and almost bailed out on minutes before. This time it was a different set of friends who set her up, but the promise was the same. “It’s just dinner. And we’ll be there the whole time.” Well wouldn’t you know it, sparks flew that night too with Roger. (We liked to call him Roger Dodger) And six months later, they married. I remember my mom saying, “When you get to be my age, you just know these things. There’s no reason to wait!” He had two kids from a previous marriage, so now altogether there were three boys and three girls. We were literally the Brady Bunch, just far more dysfunctional. But it was a really incredible thing to see my mom so re-energized again. Roger was very different from my dad, but it didn’t seem to matter. He brought her back to life.
Five years later, I was a junior in college at LSU. I remember this Tuesday morning distinctly. I was brushing my teeth and going over a case in my mind for my Media Law class that I was running late for. My cell phone started ringing and I saw it was my house. When I answered, I heard the horror in my moms voice. She could hardly get the words out, but she does. “Roger died last night.” He was in Florida on business and died in his sleep at his hotel room the night before. He was never late, so when he didn’t show up to work the next day, they knew something was up. The autopsy revealed it was a heart attack. I kind of gasped for air when I heard my moms words. In a moment it felt unreal and disgustingly real simultaneously. I was trying to process what she had told me as I packed a bag when it hit me- the icing on the cake of this surprising and sudden tragedy–my sister was getting married in two weeks. And here’s the cherry on top– they were getting married in the very same Hall that my mom and Roger were married in. As my sister Amelie so eloquently put it, Are you fucking kidding me?! It was unbelievable. I hopped in the car and made the hour and a half drive home, in shock. It felt like a 10 second drive. Doug, Nick and Amelie were all in by that night as well. Roger’s kids were in the next day and we all put our heads together and began the “making arrangements” process. Sometimes I still look back at all that and think, did that really happen?
So we Gelpi’s do two things really well: Weddings and funerals. For one thing, we’ve had a lot of practice. We planned and executed the funeral, and then prepared for my sisters wedding a week later. Somehow, the funeral was beautiful and seemed just how Roger would’ve wanted it. A lot of people spoke, including his son who’s words were poised and beautiful. The service took place outside in the 3 acre garden he created. As depressing as it was, somehow it still felt right. The next weekend, it was time for my sisters wedding. And it was a blast. Still one of the best weddings I’ve been to! Everyone smiled, laughed, and danced, including my mom. Sometimes I think we should start a business where we plan both weddings and funerals. I must say, there’s not SUCH a difference. Each involve an absurd amount of flowers, a lot of drinking, and usually someone saying something inappropriate. There’s just more dancing at a wedding! Anyway, the next year involved a lot of cursing and yelling at God. A lot of questioning life and existence and the universe and a lot of crying and flipping off the sky. But in very quiet moments, in stillness, I felt reassurance. I could feel that this was not how the story would end. It wasn’t over; not yet.
Just over a year later, my mom was at a bar-b-que at some of our best friends house, the Pastoreks. Paul Pastorek was one of my dads best friends. They were the family we’d take ridiculous annual vacations with in the summers. We were extensions of each others families. Anyway, while at the bar-b-que, my mom met Paul’s brother, Marc. Somehow, in their more than 20 years of friendship, my mom had never once met Paul’s brother, until today. You can go ahead and guess where this is leading. Yep! They ended up falling in love, too. Just over a year later, they were married on a mountain in Colorado. We joked about who was crazier; my mom for taking another chance and marrying again. Or Marc, for taking a chance and marrying a woman with two dead husbands! The first song we danced to at the wedding was “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. It was both irreverent and inappropriate, just like all of us. Once again, we danced all night. It was perfect.
So now, the lesson. Only marry men with strong genes. Just kidding. I think the biggest lesson I have gathered from my moms story, is that choosing to love someone involves incredible risk. There are no guarantees in life and certainly none in love. I think it would have been very easy for my mom to clam up after the first loss. And then to disengage completely after the second loss. Excuse my Jewelry commercial sappiness, but I think by keeping her heart open to even the idea of loving again, she was able to both give and receive it in spite of the track record. At Roger’s funeral, she stood up to speak to everyone’s surprise, including her own. But she said something came over her, and the first thing she said was “To love is to be vulnerable to loss.” This is true for everyone. And that’s a scary thought if you harp on it too long. But the alternative, which is safety, bears no reward. And that doesn’t sound like much fun, at all. Most everyone I’ve talked to who has been in love, whether it worked out or not, says it was well worth it. A few nights after Roger died, a lot of people were over at our house. We were eating, drinking, and remembering, telling stories. At one point my mom was talking about their first date and how hesitant she was. At the end of the story she said “What can I say, given the chance, I’d do it all over again.” That’s what you call courage! I was in awe of her. And as I watched her marry a third time, change her name a third time, ‘do it all over again,’ take another plunge into the unknown, I knew I was bearing witness to a model for not only how to live, but how to love too. Get busy livin or get busy dyin! Am I right? So here’s to you mom, for doing it all over again, picking up the pieces and moving forward, and teaching everyone around you that love, while it is a gift, is not random. You have taught us well.
I arrived in Miami on Friday to spend a few days here. This is partially the reason I’ve been so crashed. I never do exceptionally well when I travel, and this time was no exception. But it’s nice to be sick in a beautiful place. I mean if you’re gonna be a human waste-land, might as well be a human waste-land on a beautiful beach. My brother and sister-in-law had a baby shower this Saturday (she’s due in March)and we decided to make a Gelpi Power Hour weekend out of it. I am staying at a hotel on South Beach and I dreamt all night of heavy base techno music. Wait, that was not a dream. I was actually up all night listening to heavy base techno music ricocheting off the walls. At around 2 am I kid you not, Club Mango played that song “What is love? Baby don’thurt me…” and it was like a real-life Night at the Roxbury!
Truthfully it wasn’t the music keeping me up, though it didn’t help. My legs were on fire, cramped up and emitting heat like they do. So I read more of my book as the base and noise of drunk people bounced around below. At first I was agitated but then I grew to like the sounds. It added to the authenticity of my Miami stay. It reminded me of what the noise of being alive is like. Also they played a lot of Rihanna so, you know. That was cool.
Every now and then they’d play a song I liked and out of the corner of my eye I’d find my foot tapping to the beat of the song without knowing I was doing it. The interesting part of it was that as I noticed this, I started reading a chapter in Marc Nepo’s book called Questions Put to the Sick: When was the last time you danced? I think this is what Carl Jung would refer to as Synchronicity. But that’s another story.
Allow me to say some things about dancing. 1. I love to do it. 2. I’m kind of terrible at it. 3. I don’t care. 4. OK I kind of care. 5. After a few beers I don’t care anymore. And I’ve been told my skills have improved. Anyway, I love dancing. I actually crave dancing. If there is a span of time where I don’t dance, I get the dancing itch, and the only cure is to rock out somewhere with loud music and move my body in any deformed way it feels that communicates physically the fun I’m having in my brain. It can be alone in my car, or at a bar, in the shower, or a wedding. Ooooh weddings. Those are the best. I think that’s why Dane Cook’s standup about girls saying “I just need to dance,” rings so hilariously true to so many people. Sometimes I’ll feel ansy and I know it’s because I need to just dance it out. I swear I’ll wake up the next morning after dancing and feel better, as though it was a bug I had to get out of my system. I’d argue it’s just as important as your dentist appointment or annual colonoscopy. You just have to do it. You’ll feel better once you do.
Or you’ll feel worse. Wah Wah. (Debbie Downer tone) Being sick and constantly walking a fine line between functioning and non-functioning, there’s always the possibility of over-doing it and paying a price. Like last year in March, I danced the Dougie way too hard one night and I was crashed the next day. All because of the Dougie. But I need to say this: it was worth it. Sometimes you pay a price, and sometimes it’s worth your while. “What happened to Mary?” “She Dougie’d too hard last night.” “Poor thing. I’ll make us some sandwiches.”
Here’s what Nepo writes about dancing:
The ongoing effort to dance, to give gesture to what we feel and experience, is ultimately healing because, as riverbeds are continually shaped by the water that moves through them, living beings are continually shaped by the feelings and experiences that move through them. If there is no water moving through, the riverbed dries up and crumbles. Likewise, if there is no feeling moving through the body, the being at the center of that body will crumble.
More often though, there is too much to give gesture to, and we fail to move these feelings through our bodies. In truth, much of our inner sickness comes from the buildup and pressure of all that is kept in. The ongoing act of releasing that inner buildup is what spiritual practices call embodiment. …Once unblocked, giving gesture to our inwardness not only frees us from becoming pressurized, but the gestures, once allowed out, teach us how to dance further into our own lives.”
Pretty cool right? I know some people think it’s just psycho-babel and the idea of someone shaking their ass in the club to Lil Wayne and calling it spiritual embodiment is just a joke. Understandable. But pay attention to the music you hear and the subconscious urge you feel to move. It’s not a calculated choice we make. Even babies and toddlers begin to dance (sometimes better than me) when music is played for them. Sometimes, we should be still, but sometimes we should MOVE BABY. And don’t let your thoughts get the best of you. Don’t try to analyze it or over think it. The best kind of dancing is unrestrained, uninhibited, belting at the top of your lungs-holding a pretend microphone-singing to a pretend audience, unrepressed, uncontrolled dancing. It doesn’t matter if you’re bad. If you’re having that much fun, you’re far from bad. You’re the best!
So the next time you’re out, or in, and you feel the hunger, satisfy it. It is actually good for you, for your body and your soul. If someone asks you why you’re dancing alone in the kitchen, tell them you’re moving your life experiences through your body so you can dance further into your existence. They’ll like that. Here’s one last anecdote about dancing. After my step-dad died in 2006 the house was oddly empty and the family was pretty down. My mom told me later she would turn on Ellen in the afternoons and dance along with her, by herself in the living room. Sometimes it was the only thing she achieved that day. But guess what? It made a difference. It changed the energy of the room. It changed her energy–Made her smile, even for 30 seconds. And in times like that, you’ll grab hold of anything to get you past the moment of pain. So I love that part of Ellen’s job is to get up every day and dance, and to get other people to dance along with her. I love that my mom got up and did it, even when she felt devastated and lost. These are small, small things that in the end can shape large parts of our lives. I haven’t danced in a while, so maybe I’ll give the Dougie another go tomorrow and just cut myself off a little earlier. For now, my legs are cramped and I’ll do some research on fatigue-friendly dance. Perhaps I’ll head down to the nursing home and see if there are any classes there. They’ll be more on my pace. Maybe I’ll even meet somebody special.