Friday, November 10, 2006

Lesson 14: If Wishes Were Fishes, Monkeys Would Drive

So I 've been pretty insecure lately. Worried.

Worried that I can't or won't keep my new job. Worried that my roommates are going to kick me out. Worried that this shitty rumor that's going around my hometown about me is going to ruin my reputation. Worried that I'll never be a published author. Worried that I'm blowing it somehow.

And it hit me today. I really don't have anything to worry about. I am loved and wanted and needed by the people I love and want and need, and the rest of them can go to hell.

Worrying -- which is simply another aspect of wanting what you haven't got -- is such a waste of time.

Taking what you want, making what you have into what you want ... that's the key. I got overwhelmed for a minute by all the big changes in my life. But only for a minute.

That's simply because I forgot what I truly am:

A godless bonobo with a party hat on.

Anyone wanna play?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Lesson 13: Beware the Demon Tequila

Everyone has their tequila story. Mine begins with me and a boyfriend sitting on the livingroom floor in front of the fireplace with a cutting board, some limes and a bottle of Jose Cuervo between us, and ends with me waking up still sitting upright on the livingroom floor with an empty bottle, some lime rinds and one last, undrunk shot between us.

That was years ago. I don't drink tequila all that often because of that night. Sure, I love a margarita now and then. But two or three maggies and I'm done.

So why I can't remember any of this when someone breaks out a bottle and asks "Wanna do some shots?", I have no idea.

Because, like the dumb ass that I am, I inevitably will respond with: "Sure! What can it hurt?"

What it comes down to is that I hate being left out of the fun. I'll participate in just about anything at any time, even if it comes close to killing me. That's not necessarily a winning trait.

I guess what I'm saying is: Don't be surprised if someday you read about my demise on the annual Darwin awards list.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lesson 12: Money Can't Buy Me Love

When I think about the times I was truly happy, they're often associated with times I was subjected to abject poverty.

That's not to say that I love being poor. Stuffing bags of rice and oatmeal and jars of honey into a baby stroller and walking out of the supermarket so my kids could eat wasn't necessarily fun. Exciting, sure, but not fun.

I've had to steal to survive. But I've also lived on the other end of the financial spectrum. I've broken in a new car. I've been approved for a mortgage. I've squirreled money away in a 401K.

But oddly, living a middle-class lifestyle didn't make me happy. And it should have. I struggled and fought hard to climb the social strata. I spent years buried in text books pursuing a degree I thought for sure would give me the edge I needed to be financially successful.

And here I am, years later, looking back at the things that have made me happy, and it's not the money or the status or the lifestyle that did it.

It's the people.

When I have money, I'm usually working a 10-hour day to get it. I sit alone in my car commuting. I sit alone in my cubicle staring at a silent computer screen. I keep commuting and sitting each day because each hour brings just a little more cash to the bank.

But what I really yearn for is relationships. When you're poor, relationships are all you've got.

I never stole alone. I went with my equally destitute sister-in-law, my best friend, my brother. We ate meagerly together. We commiserated together. We made the best of our situation together.

Without money to pay for cable, buy gas for the car or go out to eat, I spent time with my family. I spent time reading with my sons, acting out stories in impromptu living room plays, listening to music or family musicians play guitar and piano, hiking, tending a garden ... living with others.

There's no time for that in a world governed by 9-to-5 calendars, long commutes and papers to push. There's no time for people. There's no time for love.

So I'm calling one of my best friends tonight on the way home. And I'm telling my roommates how much I appreciate them when I get home. And I'm curling up in bed with my youngest son and reading him to sleep tonight.

Sure, it's nice to have money in the bank to cover the bills. But when you really need help, people are worth a lot more than a savings account.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lesson 11: Never Take the Little Things for Granted

It's easy to forget that there are things that make life so much nicer until and unless you are forced to go without them.

For me, those things are simple. "To Do" notepads for my cubicle. Taco truck tacos. Pizza made with real provolone. Curbs and gutters and street lamps.

And toilet seat covers.

One of the first things I noticed when I crossed the Mississippi was the lack of toilet seat covers in public restrooms. I may not care for the flat, brown, smog-ridden state that is California.

But I do love the fact that every public restroom has toilet seat covers.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Lesson 10: If the Box Fits, Quit Bitching About It

I’m back in a cubicle again – after a few years of believing I’d never crawl back into the corporate clutch. Yet here I am typing away at business jargon completely amazed at myself for being so flexible and selling out so easily. Yeah, I'm copywriting and editing for a living, so I'm happy, but damn, I never thought I'd be staring at four cubicle walls again.

It’s funny the things an empty bank account will make you do.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lesson 9: Wherever You Go, There You Are

I went back to the ranch a couple of weeks ago.

I lived there once, ten years ago, as a hippy, part of a commune of hippies who attempted to grow their own food and make a living off the land. It never worked out that way (too many weeds, if you know what I mean).

It was a tough time for me. I was pregnant with my youngest son, and had no idea where my life was heading. But I grew close to the other hippies in the commune and I learned many lessons then: How to throw rune stones; How to live without electricity; How to cook falafel; How to load a bowl; How to separate recyclable plastics by grade; How to grow long leg hair.

When I left, I left that life behind. I started eating meat again. I quit smoking. I divorced my hippy husband and went back to college. I tried to forget my life there. It was painful to live there, and just as painful to leave.

So a couple of weeks ago, when I went back to visit, I prepared myself. I took reinforcements. I took a case of beer (to soften the blow). I took a hardened heart.

It was exactly as I remembered it. My ex-husband and his brother were still there, sitting underneath a big oak tree near the field where they were still attempting to grow vegetables and make a living off the land (now the deer are interrupting their plans, though). Nothing had changed.

Nothing, but me. I'm a writer now, not just a dreamer. I'm a college graduate (well, sort of), with a career and a closet full of suits and heels.

But more than that, I am a woman grown, with a son in high school and a five-year plan (that changes as the seasons change, but we don't need to talk about that right now). And I'm happy.

Finally. Happy. To live in the moment. To be where I am, doing what I am doing. Living. Changing. Thriving.

The ranch is beautiful. It will always be. But the world is so much wider than that place. And I am so grateful to have left the ranch, to have seen some small part of the world.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lesson 8: You Will Never Feel the Thrill of the Crest if You Never Climb the Mountain

I've been talking about doing this for months. I told my old coworkers I wanted to do it. I told my friends and family here in California I wanted to do it. I researched it. I trained for it. I went to the gym every day for two months to whip my ass in shape to do it.

I wanted to climb a mountain for my 30th birthday.

And then I got sick. I rolled around in bed -- miserable -- for days. The landmark day crept closer. By Monday I was feeling better. So on Tuesday -- my birthday -- I hopped on the back of my friend's motorcycle and we headed up into the mountains.

We didn't have any intention of climbing anything. I was only recently recovering, still a little weak, so we decided just to ride and see where we ended up. We stopped every hour or so to grab a beer at some small-town bar or other along the way. We picked establishments with history -- This is one where we bought beer at 6 a.m. the day after an especially memorable three-day New Years' party ten years ago; This is the one his ex-wife started a fight in the parking lot while he was still dancing on the dance floor and my ex-husband left me there to find my way home ; This is the one where the effeminate male bartender wouldn't stop commenting on my friend's "sexy" build and served me liquor even when I couldn't produce an ID just because I was with him (I love gay men).

We made it up to the high country around noon, found a little meadow with a rolling brook amid a thick spattering of Douglas Firs, and stopped. I took off my shoes, hiked up my pants, crossed the stream and tripped up a hill on the other side, barefoot. It's the sort of thing I used to do, when I was a little girl. My brother and I would run around the foothills with no shoes on, imagine we were kings and queens and build fairy forts in the woods. It had been years since I thought of that. I found a tall rock with flat top and pulled myself onto it. Then I lay back and watched the clouds slip by.

Later, we climbed higher up the mountain road on the motorcycle until we found a 2,000-foot granite dome popping out of the side of the mountain. "This is it," my friend said, as he pulled the bike off the road and immediately dumped it in the soft dirt on the shoulder. The bike landed on top of me (somehow he had the foresight to leap off the bike before it hit). I was stunned, but laughing. The dirt was so soft that my leg sank into it -- if it hadn't been soft, I probably would have crushed my leg.

We parked the bike and looked up at the dome. The base of it was a mix of granite boulders and some low, spiky growth -- some plant I couldn't identify. We picked out a trail and started up the dome, scrambling over the rock and pulling ourselves up hand over foot through the brush that grew in the cracks.

By the time we reached the top we were both out of breath and a little dizzy as we surveyed the scenery. The Sierras stretched out, undulating in its grandeur, in every direction.

We were on top of the world.

I did it. I climbed the mountain. Sure, I fell on my ass more than once doing it (once on the way back down I fell backwards, we weren't using ropes like the dumasses we are, and I thought for sure, "This is it. I'm dead," but I landed on my ass in a pile of brambles, thank god).

I did what I set out to do. I'm still alive. And I'll hold that memory forever.

And I'm ready to climb the next mountain. I sure as hell am not waiting another 30 years to do it, either.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lesson 7: Happiness is a Journey, Not a Destination and Sometimes It's a Long-Ass Road

So I quit this job that I had for, like, four days. It was my dream job in a cute little town in the mountains, writing for the community daily.

But I wasn't happy.

My car broke the second day on the job and I was forking out $25 a day to drive a rental car an hour and a half up the hill from where I'm living now to the office, and I was miserable.

It was a nice drive. I'd leave at 6 a.m. and watch the sun rise over the mountain range -- the sun's rays casting orange spikes over the peaks -- the sky changing from midnight blue to gray to azure.

But I need more than a beautiful sunrise. I need hope. And I felt hopeless after four days on the job in a little hick town that shut down at 9 p.m.

So I quit and created chaos. The ridiculous thing is that I'm so happy to be freefalling again. Who knows where I'm headed now. My options are now severely limited -- there are no other newspapers within driving distance that I want to work at -- but to me, all that means is that my future is limitless. No more community newspapers. I'm headed for something new -- a destination unknown.

And that's fine by me. I am an adventurer at heart, after all.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lesson 6: You Can Take the Girl Out of the Mountains, But You Can't Take the Mountains Out of the Girl

It's strange to come home. Strange to be climbing the golden, rolling California hills in my little Protege, watching the golden oaks slip by and the mazanita creep up the hillside. Sliding higher until the ponderosas take over and the scent of bear clover wafts through the open window.

I packed a bottle of red wine and a blanket and took my little, silver touring car four-wheeling a couple of weeks ago. I bumped down an old logging road past the last of the late-spring lupin and tumbled granite -- high up on the side of a mountain where I could look out over the undulating pine-covered range and breathe real, fresh air and just -- be. Sure there's scratches all over my new car's doors from the overgrowth along the trail's edge, but it was worth it.

A few days ago I tagged along with a friend to a little mountain town where they hold a world-famous annual frog-jumping contest. We visited some friends of his and drank a few beers. And it hit me. I haven't climbed an oak tree in at least 10 years.

So I stripped off my sandles, saddled my skirt up around my thighs and mobbed the first tree I found with a crotch low enough for me to hop into. My friend said I couldn't do it. Thirty feet up, I looked down at him and asked if he still thought I wasn't strong enough.

Don't ever come between a mountain girl and her oak tree.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Lesson 5: Old Habits Die Hard, and Beating Them to Death Doesn't Always Guarantee Their Demise

So I'm living with my two best friends now. Just like the old days. Just like in college when we had that special "smoking" room out in the garage and my brother was crashing on my couch after they released him from jail in Montana and he rode Amtrak all the way to California and we built that obscene magazine picture montage on the wall and my landlord kept eyeing me suspiciously because he knew that something wasn't quite right about our living situation but he couldn't quite figure out what that was.

We don't have a smoking room anymore, and my brother is now a happily settled 25 year old living with his beautiful wife and three kids in Arizona. But here I am, chasing 30, and living in my best friends' spare room as she heads off to her job working for a state agency a county over and he heads off to the gym to widen and thicken his already gargantuan shoulders and talk shop to the other body builder/cage fighters.

And I sit here at home (when I'm not at the gym with him), sipping coffee and outlining my busy day (knowing I may only knock off one or two things on my growing to-do list despite my best intentions) wondering what the hell I did with my life to end up here. I'm not 18 anymore and this behavior is ridiculous.

But sometimes it's good to move in retrograde and let the future come up behind you as you ponder your past. I think it makes for a more well-rounded personality. Or so I keep telling myself.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lesson 4: Reality Is Tough, So Be Sure to Train Hard Before It Hits You

People sometimes look at me funny when I tell them I used to train to be a kickboxer (muay thai, if you must know). Of course, this was 15 years ago, back before reality hit and I got married and had kids and discovered that most dreams fail to materialize.

I'm in the worst shape of my life now. Having trained in professional dojos and sweat-soaked gyms, atop bloody wrestling mats and in the musty garages of backyard si-fus, I should know better than to let myself go the way that I have. But for years there hasn't been anything threatening me to get in shape. No upcoming fight or even a sparring match to look forward to. And so my fitness suffered.

I'm talking more than just physical fitness here, folks. When you're subjected to years upon years of complacency, your brain grows soft from a lack of challenge, a lack of adversity. I've overloaded myself in adversity in the last few weeks and it's showing. My brain aches from an influx of new experiences and stress, my muscles are screaming from overuse.

But it feels good. I'd forgotten how good.

And so, I'm thinking it might be time to start training again. Good thing I'm back home, where my old dojo (and my old trainer) happen to be. Funny how life leads you in circles sometimes, isn't it?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lesson 3: Shave Your Legs Before You Stay at a Motel 6

Sure they leave their light on for you, and they probably still have a room available even when all the other inns are full. But their freestanding stall shower is a bitch to maneuver around in, especially when you have a sharp object like a shaving razor in your hand and you’re standing on one leg trying to find a perch for the other leg.

Any yoga or ballet experience you might have comes in handy here.

Lesson 2: Everything Is Always About Sex

When traveling cross-country with pre-pubescent and pubescent boys, the conversation inevitably digresses into discussions about why most sexually transmitted diseases have funny names, the female anatomy and nocturnal emissions. Ignore this if you can, or use it as an opportunity to offer a little sex education if you have the stomach for it.

Subset A to Lesson 2

Burps and farts are also prevalent during road trips with boys. Be sure to bring some sort of spray to mask the odor. Perfume is not a good idea as spraying lots of it in an attempt to cover up the odor from the emissions of a 13-year-old boy who just ate a whole pizza can result in fits of gagging and sneezing.

Subset B to Lesson 2

Head slaps are common on long trips with boys. They often originate from the child in the backseat and leave lumps on the head of the child in the front seat. If the child in the front seat screams like a goat every time someone touches him, be sure to place him in the backseat for the duration of the trip.

Use bribes to alleviate the problem, if you must. A point system in which points are taken off for bad behavior and dessert is rewarded at the end of the day to any child with points remaining works well, too. But this could also be considered a bribe (and results in hyper children in the car at the end of the day).

If bribing children pricks at your conscious, be prepared to leave your parental guilt at your town of origin and pick it up again at your final destination. God will forgive you.

Lesson 1: For Every Ending There is an Equal and Opposite Beginning

As I begin this blog, I prepare to leave my home, my family and everything I have known for the last three years to begin a new life on another coast.

Sure, this isn't the first time I've done this: I moved to the East Coast three years ago from California -- but recognizing a pattern in my behavior brings to mind a lesson. The first lesson I ever learned. A lesson I'm still learning.

Endings in my life are always abrupt and devastating. This current bout includes more than one ending, in fact. My second marriage is ending as we speak. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's certainly a struggle.

I am quitting a job I like a lot in a gamble to make a life I'll love.

And I'm dragging my three kids cross country, whether they like it or not, from their home in South Carolina back to my native California where the familiar and the unknown await us.

But I realized something -- just today in fact as I stood outside my beloved southern brick home and watched a Carolina thunderstorm roll in, face upturned to the turbulent sky, thunder broiling through a darkened heaven, thick drops richoteting off my face and pummeling the green canopy around the yard. I never feel more alive than I do during a thunderstorm, with the Carolina pines whipping overhead and frogs crooning in the shrubbery underfoot. Life is in the spark, the bright lightning, the growling thunder. It scares the hell out of me, to stand underneath that ethereal battle, beneath the flailing limbs of white oaks and crepe myrtles, which in good weather are rooted so strong it takes a machine to yank them out of the ground. The lesson to learn from a storm is that a strong one can upturn a centuries-old oak. Storms bring change, bring new life and set fire to the old. They wreak havoc and set fire engine sirens to roaring. They can roil a calm sea, but they can also set birds to singing and children to dancing.

This move of mine is a storm of my own making, and I recognize this. But I also see the life in it, despite the death of my current way of living. I don't know what I'll see on the other side, what job I'll get or house I'll live in. I don't know whether I'll bounce when I hit land or crash and burn and like lightning striking a tall, overgrown pine.

But if I do catch fire, at least I'll know all the clutter of my old underbrush will be cleared away. The view after the storm is always the clearest, after all.