So Much For Fireworks

The sky was full of smoke. Lighters flickered at the end of the driveway, and adolescents let out a whoop and sprinted off, the universal signal that more explosions were on the way. “We’ll go to couples’ counseling,” I whispered, “this will all work out.” You smiled down at me for a second, then put your arm around my shoulder the way I hated, pulling me into an awkward, possessive hug, the kind that defined me as the little woman, the lesser half. I took a deep breath, an even deeper swig of beer. Your family gathered around me. They were my family then. I loved them as much as I loved fireworks – the bright colors; the cacophony of laughter; the genuine smiles, the kind that dazzle you into a chain reaction. Fire lit the sky. It was too hard to talk, so I just gave up and settled in.

In response to today’s Daily Post prompt, Autonomy

Return To The Road

Hello there, readers. It’s been awhile – sorry to keep you waiting so long for an update. In late March, I decided to take a little break from blogging here while I sorted out my life and considered whether walking The Camino was still in my cards. It actually didn’t take me too long to figure out that it was still what I wanted, but somewhere in the midst of my breakup, move, and life reshaping I ended up forgetting my WP password. Once I got that figured out, I started having technical difficulties with my Google Authenticator. From there, I just bumbled around, forgetting other passwords left and right and leaving a swath of abandoned social media accounts in my wake. Luckily, WP has these amazing Happiness Engineers that spend their days helping forgetful folks like yours truly, and the amazing David W. not only came to my rescue, but managed to not make me feel like an idiot while he went about getting me back into my WP account. Thanks again, David!!!

So now that I’m back in, what do I do? There’s so much to say to you all. Since my other blog, Compass & Quill, isn’t on the WP.com platform, I just kept writing over there. You can catch up with a selection of topics regarding my private life over there, if you’d like. I’ve been saving all talk of Santiago de Compostela for this page, though. Especially one specific thought that came to me at some point over the past couple of months, then was (strangely) reiterated by a friend the other day:

The Camino comes to you.

It makes sense, obviously, given that all pilgrimage routes are meant to be physical representations of journeys of the heart and mind towards some kind of spiritual Truth. When we walk, we’re looking to become part of something. We’re not just looking for the thing that will make us whole, that will complete us and give our lives meaning. We’re also looking to become part of the whole, to have our lives be meaningful to others.

When I first set upon the idea of walking to Santiago de Compostela, I looked at it from an academic standpoint. I was a wayward soul back then (and still today, but the film of time somehow makes me feel a little more tethered than I did at 22). I wasn’t looking at walking across the Pyrenees as a spiritual undertaking, but rather more as an adventure where I’d have the chance to visit and catalog a host of medieval religious sites over the course of a long period of exercising. After awhile, once it sunk in that I’d never be a medieval historian, I gave up on the idea of using the trip for research…which meant that I basically gave up on the idea.

The Camino had other intentions for me; it stuck around in my psyche, popping up every few years to remind me that it was waiting, to see if I was ready to take the plunge. Over the years, it also somehow boiled itself down into something more pure. The Camino would be a chance to walk, meet new friends, see things I’d never seen before, and most importantly, to start listening more closely to what the Universe was trying to tell me. It was going to be my time to find myself and become what I’d always been meant to be…whatever that was.

Over the last year or so, The Camino started meaning something else to me, something that I never realized clearly enough to be able to put it into words: escape. The act of becoming truer to myself and the Universe meant leaving behind what I knew and didn’t like about myself. Mostly, that was my relationship, and who I was within its confines. But I couldn’t say this out loud. I didn’t have the vocabulary for it. Instead, I’d think of going on the road, and how happy I’d be out there, alone. How maybe I’d meet people who’d get me, people with whom I’d be able to talk about religion, drink some wine, share some stories about traveling in Europe. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized all of these things were things I wasn’t getting in my relationship. My spirit was burdened by the now, and I was attempting to hide that from myself by daydreaming about a journey far in the future.

So the breakup came, after years of dawdling about on my part, but still not without a serious push from the Universe. Against my better judgment, I started to find feelings for someone else. Over the sound of a beloved band, conversation on the essence of St. Francis and how he will forever be part of my heart, musings on the meaning of The Camino…and a thousand other ideas and dreams that have passed their way between us in the last few months, my heart began to open back up in a way that had only been happening when I talked about my future plans to walk through Spain. I started to understand what it meant to feel genuine romantic love and concern for another human being, in a way I had only imagined I’d known anything about. And with that came this renewed sense of self-reliance, and a trust that I am actually walking in the right direction, after all.

All this time, I didn’t have faith. I lost it somewhere, years ago. But it’s back now. Yes, there’s so much farther to go. I’m just a child, blind to the wonders that are stretched out before me. But in the end, The Camino came to me…and now I know that I’m strong enough to go to it.

The only question now is where to find the funding.

A Life Built On Caution

In yoga class, our teachers speak of being calm and centered. We’re told to close our eyes, breathe deeply, empty our minds of stray thoughts, focus on the now. For awhile there, I could fool myself into thinking that I was doing it properly. Surely no one could really shed all of the layers, sink so far into themselves that they could fall through and out the other side. Giving way to that is like coming to terms with allowing space to reach down and pluck you up into the sky. To fall up into that vast airlessness with joy? Insane. Impossible. Why think on it?

So I took those breaths, felt my diaphragm expand, explored the thrumming of my heart in my rib cage, tried to quiet the moths-in-a-jar brain, sought to expel the never-ending question: “What do you want out of life? What do you want out of life? What do you want out of life? What do you want…?” In the end, though, I always lost the battle. The questions, the worry, the sadness – everything fell back into place the moment I opened my eyes. The moths threatened to fly me where I wouldn’t let myself float – but being dragged is not the same as volunteering. At times I felt like I was watching myself go mad by the inch.

I had a good idea of my biggest problem, the thing I’d need to change to open a path to every other thing that needed fixing. I’d known for years. But my life was nothing if not built on caution. So many missed chances, all to avoid confrontation.

Back during my undergrad days, I went to a music festival with a big group of friends. Someone suggested that we scale a fence to sneak in – a move that meant a fortune in savings for broke college students. One by one, each friend shimmied over, then stood on the other side, waiting for me, the last man across. With one hand clutching the chain link and both feet safely planted on the grass, I realized I just couldn’t do it. What if someone caught us? What if I got my dress caught in the fence and had to be cut down by firemen? What if a cop came up just as I was climbing, and took me to jail? What if I fell to my death and then my friends got arrested for trespassing and my mom had to come identify my body, but while my friends were in Orleans Parish Prison one of them got shanked and…you get the picture. In the end, the friends got tired of waiting and pooled together to buy my ticket.

Years went by. The festival was just one tiny swell in a sea of avoidance. No confrontation for me, please. I’ll do almost anything to get out of getting a stern talking to, or having to give one. Still, I knew that this would lead to my downfall. Words must be said. Left to their own devices, they become moths. They create their own dank wind, and push you around in it. They must be freed. I knew that parts of my life needed to be adjusted – conversations must be had. I was only sipping at life, while I yearned to breathe it in freely. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The moths became frantic.

Then something happened. Someone happened. It wasn’t all at once – there were years of glimpses, hours of overheard conversations, not just a few minutes of idle daydreams. He was just a person that I admired, innocently, from afar. He was a creator, a man of brooding intensity. He had a way with words that intimidated me. I stood outside, looking at him through the fence, hoping (with little faith) that maybe he’d notice me and climb over to my side. It took awhile, but one day I caught him gazing back at me through the wire mesh. Grinning, he held up a pair of wire cutters.

In most stories, this moment of recognition would be the death knell. After all, real life is never as good as fantasy. Men held high in estimation soon crumble beneath the stark lens of reality. But not here. Not in my story. Because once he entered my realm, once my mind finally had permission to encounter him from all dimensions, not as a symbol, but a flesh and blood man, things fell into place. He was even better from up close. Next to him, I found I could breathe again.

We were friends, and nothing more. But still, I felt the moths start to straggle away, one by one. I gingerly explored this new feeling of empty fullness. From the first true conversation, there was never another day where my brain got snagged in a loop of “What do you want out of life?” I was becoming free. I was terrified. I was ecstatic. Only one (large) puzzle piece remained. How would I find the courage to finally take a chance?

Here I’ll be honest, though it pains me to say it. For awhile, I thought I’d have to give up on this new hope. I was so scared to make a move that I almost didn’t make one. After almost eight years in a relationship, especially one where your significant other professes to adore you, heart and soul, not being able to return the feeling is still just a small problem. There are other things to consider – so many. Shared movie collections, bank accounts, bill payments, furniture…I had grown accustomed to being taken care of, and I didn’t have faith that I knew how to take care of myself anymore. I had been made to feel small, less, and my once wild nature had long since stopped raging, laying limp at the bottom of its cage. A life without passion was draining my soul dry, but I was almost willing to let it happen, just to avoid confrontation.

Before, I was resigned to living a lie to save myself from having to make my partner upset. It seemed messy. Why not put it off? I kept telling myself that maybe I’d change my mind, that maybe I just didn’t understand what “love” meant. Maybe this was all there was, and my dreamer’s heart was just inventing new ways to cause itself grief. Then there were the other issues – my credit is shot, my debt is insurmountable, my career aspirations are not panning out, apartments are expensive, the city is dangerous, what will my parents say, I’m getting old – what about children, and so on, and so on. And now we’re years down the path, and I’m fading away, and he hasn’t seen me or talked to me or laughed at my jokes or heard me cry at night after he falls asleep for years on end.

Without intending it, my new friendship blossomed into more. For awhile I endeavored to avoid him, especially when I knew in my heart that I was too weak and broken for change, that I’d never make a move, and I’d end up breaking myself and my friend in one fell swoop. Nothing untoward occurred. There were no whispered secrets, no stolen kisses, nothing at all that would lead anyone – especially me – to realize that we were becoming our own new entity. Then one night, there was a concert. Conversation. Laughter. Not-so-secret tears. A smile that made his eyes glow like tidal pools, bathed in the light of a full moon. He became my beacon, calling me home. Later, he called me beautiful. How could I explain that it was because I was reflecting him? I told him to wait. I was on my way.

To my surprise, breaking up was quite easy. I’d expected some form of heartache, but it turns out that when you’ve spent the last five plus years alone inside of a faulty relationship, the pain has already come and gone. The Man took it badly, and it did hurt to see him in pain and know that I’d caused it. He was still dear to me, in a way, despite the issues plaguing our relationship. For me, though, once the words were out, the hard part was over. However, for a few days, he questioned my decision, promised change, asked me to reconsider, and I was frightened I’d give in. I struggled to hold my ground. I mulled over the thought that I should stop fighting the current and just go back to the bleak existence I knew, rather than taking a gamble and crossing the fence for good.

Had I not had a prize to keep my eye on, this promise of love as it actually exists, not just as I’d mistakenly come to define it, I might have sunk back into old habits. Throughout it all, my friend – my lover – stood resolutely by, took it all in, gave me courage without saying a word to influence my decision. And somewhere in there, as I packed up my boxes and emptied my bank account and prepared to move into my new life, I realized that I was breathing deeply. I was focusing on the now. And what now was telling me was that I was not small, after all. I was not less. I was much, much more.

There is not much so satisfying as the sound of chain link as it snaps under the pressure of two sharp blades.

 

Advancement

Some people think of advancement solely as something you do at work, like “advancing to a higher position.” I’m trying to think about advancement as something I’m doing with my life, not just my career. If I concentrate solely on advancing at my career, where does that leave me as a person? Sure, I might have a nicer desk or a packed social calendar, but it doesn’t make me a better person.

For me, a large part of advancing is becoming a happier person. I want to enjoy every day of my life like it’s my last. Sure, that might not be entirely possible, since I’ll have to choose between short term and long term happiness-inducers in some cases. For instance, if I couldn’t get fat, constipated or hung over (all of which make me supremely unhappy), I’d eat a wedge of brie and drink a bottle of red wine every single day from now until the bitter end. So in that case, I’ll have to make the choice to treat my body with love, instead of falling in love with food. But that’s OK – perhaps splurging now and then will punctuate my happiness more fully.

Things that I LOVE doing that I don’t do anymore:

1) Watch girly movies, foreign flicks, and documentaries

2) Go to art museums and study every.single.description without caring how long it’s going to take

3) Dancing

4) Listening to live Afrobeat, Latin Fusion, and Kirtan music

5) Reading until way past my bedtime

6) Singing out loud in my own home

7) Filling my fridge with delicious vegetarian meal options

8) Putting on sexy outfits and feeling like a millon dollars

9) Visiting graveyards and just enjoying being there

10) Going to cultural festivals

11) Traveling

12) Practicing/learning about my spiritual path

13) Having the house to myself for days at a time

14) Taking weekend road trips to the beach

15) Going outdoors with loved ones during the summer

16) Learning about wine & winemaking techniques

17) Going out to a new restaurant every week

18) Doing physical activities with my significant other (gym, dancing, running, biking, camping, etc.)

19) Camping

20) Laughing every single day

I had a serious talk with The Man last night about where I want to be in my life, and what the holdup might be. Our world views have become so different over the six years we’ve been together, and I’m not sure if I’m going to get through to him. He’s so very unhappy about where he is in life right now, and that he can’t afford a house or kids. Meanwhile, I’m unhappy that I’m stuck with someone who’s so focused on the future that he can’t see what he’s missing in the present. I don’t want to get old waiting to have fun, especially being a woman and realizing that the kind of fun I want will essentially be over once we have kids. I want someone to go on adventures with, and he’s so busy waiting for the train that he can’t see the beauty in walking. I’m having  a hard enough time being positive and forward-thinking on my own, and I just don’t have the energy to brush off his attitude anymore.

So we’ll see. It just feels like it’s time for me to make the call. I’ve been waiting for close to two years for him to snap out of it and realize he can’t spend all of his time focusing on things that he can’t control. But I don’t think he’s going to. I don’t think his belief system allows him any flexibility to believe that better experiences are possible just through making a concerted effort to create those experiences. And I don’t feel like getting dragged down with the ship, honestly.

This is something I’ve been examining from all angles for years now, and the only thing I can do now is just start living my life the way I want and hope that he catches up. Otherwise, maybe our paths will have to diverge. We’ll see. I don’t want to break up, though I can’t say I’d mind being alone again. I like alone – it fits me well. I’ll miss the way he makes me laugh every now and then, and the moments when he’s happy and it feels a little like the old days. Those moments are so very few and far between, though.

Now I just feel heartbroken thinking about how lackluster my life has become; I wish I had made the choice to say something years ago. Maybe I could have fixed us. Or maybe not.