It’s hard for me to believe it’s been so long since I’ve posted to this blog, though I have a draft folder full of false starts. There have been so many moments I’ve wanted to share along the way, but the moments backed up on and nearly paralyzed me. For real.

An alternate title for this post could have been “The Road to Hell is Paved,” because mine sure seems to be paved with good intentions, but then I realized that there is actually a word for this and it’s as old as the Ancient Greeks: Akrasia.

Akrasia could be easily reduced to procrastination or lack of follow-through, but it’s more than that. More specifically it’s “lacking command over oneself,” so it has a bit to do with self-control, but through a bit of research I’ve come to define it as knowing what the best course of action is but choosing something else.

I’m quite sure nobody can relate.

But here’s the thing: I might not have kept up with my writing projects and I certainly let this blog go by the wayside a bit, but the place deep in my heart and gut knows that falling into an akratic state has actually been a really good thing for me. I had to just “be” in my life for a minute, and save the writing and processing for a later date. It’s hard to have perspective on your life while you’re full-on deep into living it and ocassionally wandering out of your depths.

It took me a minute to get back—at least to the writing part—because I’d left a cliffhanger for myself and didn’t know what to say or how to follow-up. During the interim I resorted to pictures and quick updates on Facebook and Instagram, but it was the reflective aspect that eluded me, and because I’m a writer that scared the crap out of me. Had I lost the ability to see myself from a distance? Possibly. But the silver lining of that situation is that I became more present than I’d ever been.

Living with and taking care of my grandmother brought me smack-dab into the present because for a person with dementia there’s no other place to be. The present is the only moment that exists, and for a family in crisis it’s one-day-at-a-time until you wade through it. There were moments that my mother and I thought we would not get through it, that we wouldn’t get my grandmother into a safer living situation, or get out from under the rubble inside the house, or get the house remodeled. But we somehow managed to do it all, by both breathing deeply and occasionally holding our breath, and now I’m both proud and happy to report that everyone is doing well.

In many ways it feels like I blinked my eyes and am suddenly playing an exciting part in my newly-improved life in Missoula and I’ve been given an extraordinary takeaway gift: the present.


When I loaded up my Subaru and pulled away from NYC I didn’t know how Lucky’s health would fare as we took the long trip west, or how Missoula would pan out for my fourth try, or what would happen with the love affair I’d started in Spain, which would turn out to be just another eye-opening, heart-expanding marker on my path, albeit a pivotal one.

I wanted to share pictures of my last weeks in New York with my mother and Mimi, of my friend Robert’s visit where he ran the NYC marathon. If you find a friend who kicks up his heels (literally and metaphorically) you keep him.

kicking heels

We all had so much fun talking nonstop and cruising around like tourists. We even took a pre-Broadway show photo in Times friggin’ Square!

times square

I had intentions of sharing in real-time my visit with old friends in Connecticut and then visiting other friends and accidentally stumbling upon the beach near a house my grandparents had when I was a kid. That trip to my home state was full of healing conversations and a couple of runs and walks along the beach that had more restorative power than a year of talk therapy ever has.


beach 2

beach 3

My grandparents’ house had a musty smell and newsprint wallpaper in the bathroom. It had a hill, a hammock and shade trees. The years they had that house coincided with the years I was obsessed with the Little House books, and I had an evening ritual where I ran down the hill at dusk in my nightgown, eyes closed, pretending I was a farm girl like Laura.

I awoke at dawn while I was there, and as I walked to the beach with a steaming, ceramic mug of coffee I saw a morning-dew heart in the road. And in case anyone hasn’t noticed, I’m a sucker for that shit; give me a sign and I’ll run with it.

morning dew

It was all a reminder that you can take the girl out of the places but you can never take the places out of the girl.

I wanted to share about meeting my dad near my mother’s house for a couple of hours because sometimes a couple of hours is all we get. We walked Lucky, had a quick sandwich, and then took a picture in the park he played at when he was a boy. It’s only now that I realize we were dressed as twins that day.

dad twins

I really wanted to share photos from the drive Lucky and I took, and the friends and sights we saw along the way because we saw some incredible things, but better than what we saw was what happened within: my old dog perked up like a puppy and I returned to a rhythm that made me feel like me again. Which was an enormous relief.

There are few things more powerful than a collective surge in energy to make a person feel she made the right choice. It was hard leaving Maureen behind, but Lucky and I hit the road and neither of us could stop smiling. This is how we looked most of the way.

on our way

Luck made himself at home everywhere we went! Even if we’d never met the people before! He’s perceptive enough to know his people when he meets them.


athome 3


More than in times past (and there have been many) I enjoyed driving through the middle of the country. Getting TOGO fried catfish from restaurants that announce they ARE a smoking establishment so deal with it is a treat because it’s the closest thing to time travel I’ve ever found.

smoking facility

roadside catfish

I also saw things along the way that both broke my heart and made me think.

heart break

I drove with a destination but not a route, and as I zigzagged across the country I immersed myself for a few days in the simplicity of the heartland. It’s not a place I want to live, but I sure love to visit. I saw so many of my favorite things in the middle of the country. I saw old hardware stores, public art, and different ways of living. I confirmed my suspicion that there’s beauty everywhere and the surprise of finding it where you don’t think you will is better than seeking and expecting it.

public art



cafe lunch

different ways of living



I wanted to write about all of it, share words and images, but with akrasia set into my bones I didn’t. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the will and had only a bit of desire though clearly it was not enough. I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to the fact that I’d gotten in my own way (again) and I knew (pretty much) why I went dark in this space: I’d broken one of my own rules in my last three blog posts; I’d shared about my love life.

What the hell was I thinking?

Sure. It’s not a big deal. It’s a blog, not a TEDtalk, but it felt untrue. I worried about my authenticity and desire to speak the truth even (and especially) when it’s wavering and on the ugly side. Worse yet, I felt like I was contributing to my least favorite aspect of the news—the sensationalism and then the sudden drop-off. Sure, my life and travels aren’t exactly news, so I didn’t think it mattered.

But people wrote to me, “So…what’s going on?” they said, and we played a little cat and mouse until I conceded, “Oh. That. Well…Yeah…” When I returned to Missoula people stopped me on the street, the trail, the breakroom at work, the supermarket aisle, “So?” they asked, and I said, “So…”

I acted as if I didn’t know what they were talking about. I acted so coy, and I acted like someone I wouldn’t tolerate.

They got specific, warmed me up. They asked about Mimi, Maureen, leaving New York, my travels, Lucky’s post rat-poison health. Then they asked about that guy from Spain. Ugh.

I had to admit I’d been wrong about that last bit. That I’d possibly definitely shared publicly something that had never had a fighting chance of fully launching. I shared before I was sure. It was so unlike me, which, in the end, has been a good thing.

Others didn’t care so much about my failed romance—I’m human after all, and humans can get a bit prematurely wrapped up—but they worried because I wasn’t writing. Sure love doesn’t work out all the time, but art? You can’t give up your art. My friends had good reason to wonder if I’d given up, because—let’s face it—book writing is an endeavor that doesn’t always result with the desired outcome.

It’s a little bit like love.

My akratic state wasn’t great for writing though it was good for thinking and pondering. It enabled me to realize that taking all that time and effort to write a book and then not publish it (yet. yes, i still say yet) wasn’t the worst thing to happen, though I sure had to fake it until I made it on that one.

It was okay, wasn’t it? Sort of. Some days it was and some days it wasn’t. That I didn’t know how I felt about it was the most perplexing part. Was I okay with it or wasn’t I? How or when would I know?

Then I found myself talking about it to a new friend who wasn’t around for all the remote-cabin-living/writing/sitting/rewriting/angsting etc. I jokingly and confidently talked about my “unpublished book” and I felt a marked absence of shame and justifying as I said it. That was new and different and felt damn good.

I explained that writing is absolutely essential to my happiness and well-being, and how in many ways it’s both my valium and my ambien. I copped also to the fact that I’d simply not made the time. I’d been so busy working, socializing, and settling back into Missoula life that I’d hardly written a word in three months. There are always going to be dishes to do and walks to take and my return to Missoula had been littered with excuses for not writing. But somehow, even in my not-writing, I was happy. I hadn’t given up, but rather I’d given in.

Then I realized something crucial—dare I say pivotal—about myself: I needed to write that book; I needed to have written it for reasons far more important than the obvious ones of seeing my words in print, making a difference in the world, or talking to Oprah. With some distance from the book (that I gave my blood to) I’d arrived in a place of not only feeling but also fully believing that everything I’ve done—every awesome, rotten, risky, insane, loving thing I’ve ever done—had a supremely important purpose.

And that’s where the magical thing happened, the thing that happens so that every other thing that came before seems one-hundred-million percent worth it. Right around the time I crossed the halfway point of forty I had one of the most crazy, insane thoughts I’ve ever had:

I’ve finally become who I always wanted to be.

I mean, not completely, but enough. And that’s where the real magic is: I don’t want to be perfect; I just want to be me. And enough is so damn good.

So I won’t can’t say my time not writing has been wasted, but I will say that I’m really happy there’s a word for what’s been happening with me, because so often there isn’t. Perspective is squirrely and lack is a critical component to appreciating abundance.

One of the reasons I love this blog (and other forms of social media) is because I love sharing pictures, and pictures help to pick up the slack of words. I love sharing pictures of what I’ve seen in my travels, and sometimes it’s jaw-dropping and other times it’s the beauty that occurs in the simple and even in the mundane. A few friends commented that while I was in New Mexico, New York City, and Europe that I was where I was supposed to be, which was true: I was. They saw me seeing things differently both through my iPhone’s lens and through my increasing perspective of my place in the world.

It’s hard to believe this was me four months ago:

four months ago

Now my traveling days have slowed down to a crawl, but this I love: I’m seeing interesting things where I am. This is good because where we are is where we are. There’s no other place to be.

And this: we made it home to Missoula.


Love in the Time of Love

Because reading is at the absolute top of my favorite-things-to-do list, I needed to do some rudimentary math to calculate how many books I needed to bring with me for three months on Ibiza. I use the Kindle app on my iPad—so I knew that I’d have infinite books available for airplanes and indoor/night reading—but I needed to know I’d have enough books for beach reading.

My suitcase has four pockets that seem made for books (or dirty laundry), so that was the number I gave myself to work with. It was hard to pass up some of the unread titles already on my shelf—The House of Sand and Fog, Just Kids, Sister Water—but after an absurd amount of toiling I hammered out my summer reading list.

I started with Beautiful Ruins, a story that takes place over fifty years mainly in Italy and Los Angeles, but—like a sneak-attack preview of my future—an area of Idaho not far from Missoula makes a cameo appearance toward the end. Beautiful Ruins is a clever book. It bridges small village life with big-city dreams, and weaves together stories over entire lifetimes. The common thread is love in various forms: lost, reclaimed, misdirected, selfish, silly, self-defeating, desperate, undeserved, etc.

Thinking of love in it’s various forms made me think of this:


There are so many ways to love.

Beautiful Ruins is poignant but really funny too. I marked many pages with stars, hearts, and underlinings, and in the back made a list of page numbers that include images so good I need to share them withy a friend. I always write my name in my books as well as the place and date when I read it. I can usually look at that and be thrust instantly back to the place I was in (both physically and emotionally) when I first read the book. My markings serve the same purpose, and for Beautiful Ruins it will always take me to the time I lived in a rustic pagoda-style hut tucked into a hill previously burned by fire. It also happened to be the place where my book matched my bedding:


Jess Walter wrote about wishes that get upgraded to prayers, and how “Words and emotions are simple currencies. If we inflate them they lose their value, just like money.” He wrote about how foreigners view Americans, “It had such an open quality, was such a clearly American face…He believed he could spot an American anywhere by that quality—that openness, that stubborn belief in possibility…” I marked that line as interesting though it would be another couple of months before I really understood both the truth and gravity of  that statement.

I finished Beautiful Ruins, but wasn’t quite ready to let Jess Walter out of my sight, so I read every word on those pages including an interview with the author in the back where he says,

“The story itself was pretty simple, reflecting a question I had asked myself: what might cause a man to go looking for a woman he hasn’t seen in years? I wonder if the truth we know from physics—that an object has the most stored energy right before it acts (think of a drawn bow)—was true of romance too, if potential wasn’t, in some way, love’s most powerful form.”

Holy Crap. This sentence was how I started my summer, and it became the self-fulfilling, bottomless, occasionally painful thesis for my time spent in Europe.

The next book I dug into was Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I’m not even into thrillers, but this one is psychological and got me thinking about things I didn’t even know I cared to think about. I even cheated one night and read a few pages in bed. By the time I started it I’d made friends I enjoyed taking to and laughing with, so often toted the book to the beach but never even poised my pen over the open pages.

The Secret History is an upfront book. In the very first paragraph we know someone has died and we even know who, then in the second paragraph we’re told it was a murder yet it takes three hundred pages before the act happens, and then almost that many more pages to flush it all out. I also chose to read this very long book with deliberate slowness—I’d read a chapter and then assimilate the pages with a good, long swim—so I wound up carried The Secret History around in my beach bag for so many weeks that it needed several rounds of surgical taping to make it through.

The end of The Secret History was a pisser because I hated to say goodbye to it (even after 558 pages) and because I wasn’t sure what to read next. One of the books I brought with me is a book I’ve wanted to want to read for over a decade, but although I’ve held the book in my hands like it’s a treasure (and it is) I’ve never been able to sink my heart into it the way I’ve hoped.

I think I can officially say the stars may never align for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and me, though I’ll never say never. Even though it’s core is autobiographical, it’s not quite rooted in reality enough for me. Without any attachment to the pages, I left it behind knowing that finding it on the yoga retreat’s bookshelves would be total score for someone.

I have a male friend I’ve known for a while now. One summer when I was particularly overwhelmed and self-punishing he’d twist my arm into doing fun stuff I swore I didn’t have time for. Sometimes he’d announce we were going to float the river or go out to dinner and I’d say, “I can’t. I have to get my act together.” He’d sigh, look at me, and say, “No you don’t, Jaime, it’s just an act anyway.” One evening right before I moved away, we lounged on twin couches watching something funny on television, and he turned to me and said, “Isn’t unrequited love the best?”

Both Beautiful Ruins and The Secret History feature unrequited love as a character, and a strong character at that. If my summer thesis was about the potential of love, then my closing statement comes from a book that is the unofficial bible of unrequited love, Love in the Time of Cholera, AKA as the last beach-read that I started (and enjoyed) but didn’t finish. The truth is that I enjoyed the book, but barely got into it, ending at the spot where Fermina’s husband dies and she’s about to give it a go with a man who’s waited fifty years for her. But I got this, and this I needed:

“Think of love as a state of grace; not the means to anything but the alpha and omega, an end in itself.”

Maybe love isn’t about anything beyond the moment we are in it? What if….

There’s no actual cholera in the book that I know of, but it’s a punchy metaphor for lovesickness, which shares a lot of the same symptoms. There’s even an adjective—choleric—that refers to a disposition that’s at its worst is irritable and bad-tempered, but at it’s best is ambitious, passionate, and strong-willed. Choleric people like to get a job done and they like to do it ASAP. They’re good at planning but are also impulsive and restless. The element associated with this element is fire. Folks, I think I might be choleric.

I don’t think I’m choleric ALL of the time, but it’s one of my default settings in love for sure. In my last blog post I wrote about how grateful I was when a man I started seeing at the end of the summer called me out on some bullshit behavior. We’d had our first disagreement and I acted like the word choleric was invented for me. The worst part about it was that I’d let a little thing become a bigger thing, and all day the poor guy tried to help me let it go, but I was having an absurdly hard time doing that.


Finally he called a spade a spade, and made it clear he knew what I was up to: I was behaving badly because I loved him and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. I hadn’t felt that way about anyone in a long time, and even as I was falling in love I future-tripped about all of the (quite realistic) roadblocks that stood in between a summer fling (flirty and trendy) and something with staying power (boots for inclement weather).

I left Ibiza for Rome, but I found the middle ground between Forever 21 and L.L. Bean, and arranged to spend ten days with Mario in Barcelona before I returned to New York. I knew there’d be a lot of joy in that time together, but I also knew that it would be emotionally with the reality that we had no idea when we might see each other again. I wasn’t exactly sure how choleric I would be…..

At some point I’d had a delusion of recharging my visa and spending ninety days in the USA before going back to Barcelona to live happily ever after, but a different love-related reality hit me the closer I got to it: there was no way in hell I was going to voluntarily spend any more time without Lucky. The summer had a unique set of family circumstances, but that was over and Lucky and I need to be together. He is hands down the number one person who’s taught me about the kind of love that’s as far from unrequited as it gets—the unconditional kind of love.

Somehow I was able to get my old job back, find friends who’ll take me in, and cobble together a plan for a road trip that involves visiting family and friends en route to Missoula. When I mapped all of my stops together it turns out that the shape of my trip is a slightly crooked smile, turned up and curled a little on the Northwest side. It even kinda sorta looks like a smirk, or the mirror image of a question mark depending on how you see it.

I’m beyond thrilled to be taking my old man on what is bound to be his last major road trip. A cross-country trip is enough for most people, but I’m basically doing everything BUT the part of the drive that’s a direct shot between NYC and Missoula.

Lucky has been traveling with me since day 1, and it’s really no big deal for him. Plus, we thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. But, at 12 ½ , is Lucky too old for a big trip? I suppose that’s possible, but he’s going to have a comfy area in the backseat and plenty of time to do what old dogs do best: sleep. If it doesn’t agree with him I’ll figure something out, take a more direct route, slow the pace, whatever he needs. In the meantime I know a few things to be true.

This is a dog who loves to travel:

happy traveler

When he’s tired he can cozy up:


He can get some space from his mama if he needs it:

He knows that there will always be something that makes it worth the trip:

worth it

In some rapid time-elapsed version of my current life I’d have an ending to the story I’m entrenched in. The passage of time would be apparent when the reel zips forward to Mario and I living in a sunbeam-filled cottage on a tree-lined street near a town that’s charming but still has a bit of grit. There will be a garden and one or both of us writing books. Soup simmering, tea brewing, even from a photo you can tell the place smells out of this world.

The aesthetic would be a mix of old and new with beautiful colors and textiles, heavy on the house plants. In the final frame one of us would turn to the camera with the surprise being a baby with the gentle eyes of a Labrador. These images will come as the credits roll, but there will be no more dialogue. Townes Van Zant singing “If I Needed You” will play, and people who cry during romantic comedies will cry.

But the thing is, I’m not one of those people who cries at the end of sappy love stories when everything goes right. I can barely sit through a Rom-Com unless I have the flu or five loads of laundry to fold. I’m just too realistic for those story lines, so when I find myself in a live version of one I hardly trust it and feel miscast in a role not appropriate for my range. But we all know that life’s best adventures begin outside our comfort zones.

As if it wasn’t bad enough leaving, I had one of those hideous, terrible, good-for-nothing departure times so my airport taxi picked me up at 5:00am. When we (still) weren’t sleeping at two in the morning Mario decided to hard boil some eggs for my snack bag that also included two cheese sandwiches, granola bars, breadsticks and a plum. He wrapped most of it in aluminum foil, and I overlooked the environmental impact of this to focus instead on the fact that he wrapped my sustenance in something so resistant to corrosion.

When I arrived home I was pretty battered, but I had more than a few things to look forward to and some surprises too. One of the surprises was a package from a friend I made at surf camp a few years ago. It was great timing, because in addition to being a nice treat, it was also a reminder that with a little effort we can stay in touch with the friends we meet traveling. I knew Tracy was sending me something because she asked for my address, but I wasn’t prepared to be so touched by it.

Tracy had sent me a mint-condition, vintage copy of The Mentor from 1919 that she came across while rummaging around in an antique store in Minnesota. “It made me think of you,” she said, and signed her note, “Blessings.” The Mentor is an obscure, defunct periodical, but an interesting one. Its purpose was to present information in an accessible way so that people might “learn one thing every day,” which is also inscribed on the cover.

The issue that Tracy sent was about fiction writing with a focus on women authors. It profiles a few writers and then gives some great writing advice that’s just as relevant today as it was ninety-five years ago, but the best advice is the very last thing printed on those pages:

Make The Spare Moment Count.

I’m starting to believe it’s the spare moments that matter most, the time that feels half-borrowed, half-stolen, like the cash you find in the pocket of a winter coat. It’s the time that suspends and contracts without warning, time that’s separate from limitations. It’s everything that exists beyond the outer limits of possibility.


Loving the World All Over Again

love1It came to my attention after my last blog post that my friends really believe in love, and they believe in the possibility of love for me even more than I do for myself. It’s not that I don’t believe in love or haven’t kept my eyes open for it, but I’ve gotten used to being content by myself, for myself, with myself.

Some of the friends who gave me public and private shout outs are deeply in love themselves, and others are on the blade side of searching. Some know this love thing firsthand and want me to have something similar, and others, like me, are on the serrated edge of (still) believing (still….) in the possibility of a thing that feels more like herding cats than cuddling on the sofa with one.

These friends said “Happy for you!” and “Cheers , Mario and Jaime!” They said “perfection,” “Thanks for the inspiration,” and “Worth the long wait.” One sent an essay about a deep love that didn’t last forever, and I appreciated that too because it’s good to prepare for everything.

I’m trying to be realistic here, but I’m also not trying to blow it or coerce something innocent into failure.

I’m struggling to simply stay present.

“Worth the long wait” confused me. Did she mean worth the long wait for the blog post, for love to arrive, or for me to finally soften to allow some love into my life? It’s hard to say, but likely it was some of each. Friends congratulated me on something hot-off-the-press brand new, something it was technically premature for me to share— but I couldn’t help myself. What I was experiencing felt so solid and secure—yet simple—that I couldn’t help but say, “I’m choosing love. I’m making a statement about what I want.”

I’ve been busy being independent, capable, and strong. I’ve been busy making plans for myself outside of a relationship because inside my last two relationships I lost my direction. In the wake of my last heartbreak I made a conscious decision to not allow the dissolution of self to happen again, but I’d also made that decision in the previous breakup so I wasn’t confident in my sketchy track record.

The line between protection and building impenetrable walls is as fine as lines come.

It’s not to say my last two relationships were bad—because in a lot of ways they were so good, and just exactly what I needed at the time—but in both I focused on the needs of my partners and neglected my own. As one of my friends said, in the midst of both, “You’re acting like someone you wouldn’t tolerate.” I love when friends are so spot on, and when they are astute enough to assess a situation and know when and how to deliver the truth not so it stings but so it guides away from inertia, the goddess of thwarted progress.

It’s natural to lose yourself in something you love. I’ve seen my friends lose themselves not only in romantic relationships, but also in their children, their work, their remodeling projects. We become unrecognizable to each other and sometimes even to ourselves. When the mirrors show up it can be hard to look so we look away, sometimes we even say “I don’t know what you’re talking about” and sometimes we say “I don’t know who you are,” but what we mean is, “Where did I go?”

I went to a palm reader once in a shopping center next to the spa I worked at. I drove to work that morning in San Francisco rush-hour traffic with a gut feeling that my first appointment wouldn’t show, and I said that if she didn’t I’d go next door and have my palm read.

I had a lot of questions about my current relationship which was filled to the brim with love, but complicated by the fact that my partner’s life contained a myriad of moving parts and I always had one foot out the door. The reader asked me to close my eyes and picture myself with my boyfriend.

We were standing in the Marin Headlands with the Golden Gate bridge as the backdrop. It was one of those days with weather so perfect you want to cry, and I nearly was crying in that photo in my mind—a replica of one we took in real life—because I knew as well as he did that what was captured with the lens wasn’t actually real. Or was it?

I had that picture in my head, as the palm reader held my exposed, naked palm and asked me to just focus on it and see what happened. It didn’t take long before the photo pixilated and I began to dissolve from the top down. First my brain, then my eyes, mouth, throat and heart, fairly slowly at first, then quicker as the momentum of my disappearing built speed. In the end I went as quickly as a stepped upon sand castle.

We think it’s the wave we need to look out for when in reality it’s the loss of balance and a misplaced foot.

In those things in which we lose ourselves it’s just as possible to find ourselves though the process can be a bit longer. Losing oneself and finding oneself aren’t the same, though one often leads to the other.

If a person finds herself, if she really sees and owns and embraces her flaws then she allows herself to be found as well. Without the seeing, owning and embracing trying to find love (I’m stealing these words from my soul sister Emily Walter) is “like trying to find cashmere at Target. Sure, it says cashmere, but doesn’t feel like cashmere.”

We’re not looking for short-strand love, people. We’re look for top-notch, authentic, real-deal love. We’re looking for the cashmere–the love–that comes from the belly, from the gut, from the place that doesn’t lie.

In the past couple of years that I’ve been mostly single a few friends (and also a few strangers) have pointed out that I’m a decent package and it shocks them that I’m “alone.” I finally came up with a way to answer this question that often feels like an inquisition: I’ve figured out what questions to ask. I know what will break a relationship for me, and I know what I require in a partner. I’ve also retired from trying to fix people and I’ve turned in my badge on being a mommy to any man full-grown enough to require a razor in his dopp kitt. I’ll add that if he doesn’t have a dopp kit we probably have another set of problems, but I add that last bit only because I like to end most of my spiels with a touch of humor, and because so much seriousness is said in jest.

As the final curtains dropped on those last two relationships, one thing was irrefutably clear: We didn’t want the same things. When we each pictured a life together we pictured different things, leading to the conclusion that there was, in fact, no “together.”

I sought therapy in both cases, wondering where I’d gone wrong, why I repeated the same mistakes and how I might achieve a different result in the future. Both therapists came up with a similar assessment: I need to choose. Being chosen is great, but it might behoove me to do some choosing.

I need to feel like I’m choosing not only the partner but also the partnership, and not dodging my own wants and needs to make room for someone else’s. Not only does that behavior not make a healthy relationship, but it’s also an unwieldy tool for distraction. When our focus is on others then we can avoid focusing on ourselves. Ouch. It’s my legacy to love like this, but it’s something I strive to change.

But here’s the rub: why is it so damn hard to break a pattern?

Ellen Glasgow was a complicated woman, but also a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist who wrote mostly fiction though one autobiographical work was published posthumously. I was introduced to Ellen Glasgow a few years ago when I discovered this quote and since then I’ve worn it on my heart like a tattoo:


So I’ve taken a break, a big, two-year break to offer myself a return to myself. In that time I’ve moved a lot. I’ve always changed houses a lot, but this time I was in actual motion (not some static excuse for progression) and in two years I’ve had addresses in four states along with several other temporary posts including a couple outside the United States. I even moved into the house with my mother and grandmother to rise to an occasion I didn’t know I was capable of but which I capably and courageously handled when faced with the inevitable.

I’ve paid close attention to what feels right and what feels like struggle; I’ve paid extra close attention to where those things overlap. I’ve sat with all of it—the joy, the discomfort, the unease, the hope—to see what my future might look like both alone and in a partnership. I came to few conclusions except, as has been the case for most of my life, I was pretty much up for anything.

I experimented with a few men, but kept enough distance so that I could bow out gracefully from what was wrong as opposed to my former pattern of blazing ahead with blinders on. I also revisited a few old relationships to see how those felt right or wrong, and what it was in them that I craved and what simply wouldn’t work. In the end it was a feeling, more than a concrete thing to put a finger on.

It’s not, in the end, about if a man is tall, handsome, or rich. It’s not about what he does for work or if he gets along with his mother. It’s not about all the stuff that I thought maybe it was about. It goes beyond the superficial to the core: how do I feel with this person? Do I feel safe, secure and like myself, or do I fashion myself and cherry-pick my beliefs to fit someone else’s ideal?

I met a woman on Ibiza about a month ago who’s been married by way of arrangement for twenty-five years. She told me that her husband is a nice guy, but she wouldn’t call it love. She travels alone and sleeps alone, but they’ve parented together and there’s no way around the fact that they will stay married. She observed me and my independence, telling me that I don’t need a man, that I’m clearly taking care of myself, and that if she were me…..

Then I met a couple—last week in Rome—who met in college and who got engaged three weeks after graduation. I asked if Mindie knew that Cory was going to ask her to marry him, and Cory said, “She told me to do it! A diamond dealer friend brought stones to graduation and then she picked out her setting!”

They were in Italy celebrating twenty years of marriage, and in all those years they’ve only spent a few nights away from each other. Other than the fact that they’re American and we started talking because of problems in Italy with Verizon, our cellular provider from home, we didn’t have a lot in common, at least not on paper, but the time they hopped in a taxi Mindie Coopersmith Jacobs and I were frantically waving goodbye like old friends.

Later that night she messaged me about how good it was to meet me and how much fun lunch was because of me, I was asking if I could write about them in a blog post, and then she was inviting me to their home in New Jersey whenever I find myself passing through. These are good people. They’re honest, they like to laugh, and the genuinely care about other people. On the surface we might live our lives very differently, but at the core I believe we share a lot of the same values.

Mindi and her husband Cory are practicing Jews, and although I was first Greek Orthodox and then Catholic I approach religion more like a buffet (but not like a potluck). I take a little from here and a little from there, but I don’t actually bring much to the table. Maybe the lasagna isn’t supposed to sit on a plate so close to the borscht, but I’m not afraid to mix and match. My gut is lined with iron.

The Jacobs had a guide plan their trip for them down to train tickets and tours, and on my second day in Rome I still hadn’t picked up a map and hadn’t booked a ticket to anywhere either within Italy or out of it. He works and she takes care of the three kids. They have a house in the suburbs and a house at the shore. They spent three years planning their anniversary trip. They’ve traveled mostly to all-inclusive resorts and even when abroad they prefer to eat American food.

Mindie and Cory would never take a risk with street food or stay abroad in a non-chain hotel. I look for where the locals eat and rent rooms—sight unseen— in strangers’ homes. He wore a money belt; I’ll drink the tap water.

They had as many questions about my life as I did about theirs, but my big question was “What’s the secret to your love?”

It’s not that I want their life—I could have had it, and actually had one step in that door when I was a bride a month after my 24th birthday—but I wanted to understand that kind of love, the kind where a woman can’t imagine why other women take girls’ trips and the only argument they had in ten days traveling together was when he couldn’t get the picture she wanted in front of Pisa where it looks like she’s propping up the leaning tower. He eventually got the shot she wanted, and the “fight” became a good story.

Cory wished Mindie wouldn’t wear so many dresses while they were traveling, because he didn’t want to feel obliged to wear collared shirts while on his holiday from his lawyer job, but it wasn’t an actual problem between them: it was something to laugh about.

I like to laugh in relationships, but I’m also a boat rocker and have a genetically inherited skill for making a problem where there isn’t one. It’s as if I’m egging on my partner(s) to agree or disagree, and in the cartoon version of that image I’m wearing pads and a helmet, dancing on my toes, fingers beckoning my opponent forward while he juggles balls from every sport but the one we’re playing.

Love is not a contact sport.

When I’m sifting through the legions of photos I take I often stop at this one, that I took in Barcelona my first time there.


Back in May I spent nine days in Barcelona, divided between the beginning and end of my trip and two other time I passed through en route to somewhere else. I was a bit of a homing pigeon for the city where my feet touched European soil for the first time. I thought maybe it was just Europe, but although I love the other places I’ve visited, Barcelona was the one and only place where I felt, without a doubt, “I could need to must live here.”

After a night flying over the ocean and not sleeping I felt awake and alive upon arrival in Barcelona. I got disoriented a couple times in the first few hours, but never completely lost. I quickly got my bearings and a metro card and I hit that ground running. I loved:

the architecture


the aesthetic


the street art

love5 love16 love17 the markets

love8 love6 love7

the philosophy


the dogs (and the tea)


the city beach


the people

love12 love13

the little bodegas that remind me on NYC, AKA home base


the old women who remind me of Mimi

love 15

the humor


the (not so) secret messages that seem to be everywhere




love 22


But that was then, and there’s a present moment to deal with and a sweet man I’m going to see in a few days in Barcelona. I spent seven weeks working at a yoga retreat on the north coast of Ibiza, then ten nights in the south—in the historical center—before leaving the island. I met Mario on the street about an hour after I arrived in town, and although he was working at night we spent ten of the eleven days I was there together. The only day I skipped was number two, when I asked myself, “Am I really going to spend every day with this guy? For what?”

I had to shift my thinking and urge myself to realign the question. The answer was a resounding yes. In those days of brilliant sunshine where I (mostly) followed my heart with the trust of a child I kept thinking of this passage from Marianne Williamson:

 “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I focused on the lines: “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”

I altered it a bit to fit my circumstances: Who am I to believe in this love? Who am I not to?

Mario and I think each other is something special, though I’m aware this could be just a “summer camp thing,” and taken to a new location the connection might not hold. Mario believes that “everything is possible” so he isn’t afraid—not even after five days—to talk about what a future might look like together. He talks about a simple, cozy home filled with beautiful things. He said we’ll cook together. When he said he wants to have a biblioteca (library) in the house my heart nearly exploded.

Mario says we should have two Labradors (he prefers black) so that when we have a disagreement we each have a dog to hold. He loves my expressive face and is naturally skilled at reading it, so after he said that about us disagreeing he squeezed my hand and said, “We will disagree sometimes. It’s normal. It’s okay.”

I don’t know if it was a premonition or a dare, but that afternoon we had our first stupid fight. It was actually a series of fights that had an eye of the storm, and then a sucker punch that had me wondering exactly how much of a self-sabotaging animal I really am.

In the eye of the storm Mario had a revelation. “I know why you’re acting like this,” he said, “You love me.” I just crumbled and sobbed because of course he was right. I was trying to ruin the love between us because I wasn’t sure what to do with it, or if I am ready or if I have the stamina for it.

I cried and then he cried and then I cried more. We spoke slowly and used our words carefully. In the midst of it I took this picture so I would always remember what it felt like to be cracked open and still feel safe.


In order to make room for this relationship I was going to have to let go of a few things. We made a plan to make a little ritual the next day so I could do just that. Mario took me to a place at the top of Dalt Vila, built in the sixth century and the oldest city in the Balearic Islands, which has views of the whole bay and walls around it that protected it from the Greeks and Romans.

Mario told me to get a padlock, and I had a small one so I brought that. When he saw it he worried that it might not be big enough to go around the iron post in the wall, and when we got to the spot we saw that not only he was correct, but also that the shank of mine was just big enough to go around his, already in place on the wall. He left me alone on the wall to think about what I really need to get rid of in this life, and I put all of those thoughts into the lock, clamped it to Mario’s and tossed the keys into the sea.

Perhaps I’m supposed to keep it a secret, but I’m not much for secrets these days. I said, “I don’t need to do everything alone. Being independent doesn’t have to mean being alone. Being in a partnership doesn’t have to mean given up freedom.

Back in May, Emily and I took nine days in Portugal together to celebrate both of our birthdays but mostly it was to celebrate us. We fell in love with the Portuguese light, wine, seafood, and wind. It was a restorative, amazing time where we worked through the past and paved the way to the future. You could say our future might be paved a bit like the Portuguese streets—rough but with love—but Em and I are simply not afraid. If something seems scary we just downshift and grind through it, never thinking to shift into reverse, or worse: risk stalling.

I’ve already posted this photo in a blog about that birthday trip and it might be cheesy as hell to say this, but it’s true: the road can be both rough and full of love simultaneously.

love24Yes: rough and full of love at the same time. These things do not have to be mutually exclusive, and YES, I feel like I might finally have woken the fuck up from some fog where I was confused as hell about what romantic love is and isn’t. I’ve gotten friend-love down pat, but the romantic love: man that’s a squirrely little bastard.

Anyway. Emily and I are born four days apart. My birthday was toward the beginning of the trip and Emily’s was toward the end. We had full days, and I think only once or twice did we stay awake past midnight. The night of Em’s birthday eve we stumbled on a tiny pub with fun, live music. It was the kind of music you want to sing along to, and sing, smile and seat-dance we did.

We didn’t want to be wiped out for her birthday and our journey to Sagres—the place formerly known as the end of the earth— so we walked back to our apartment just after midnight and snuggled into our twin-sized beds in the upstairs bedroom. I fell asleep quickly and had a dream that I told Emily to “take my hand.” In real-time my arm was flung out of the bed and she took my hand.

I awoke startled—it’s always a shocker when the dream world intersects with the real world—and I heard Emily’s voice whispering to me, “Soph, I’m scared. Someone is trying to break in.”

My first thought was to say “that’s impossible,” but what I did was listen. Emily and I held hands in the dark and I didn’t hear anything, but then I heard what scared her: bang, bang, bang.

It was the sound of a body flinging itself against a heavy wooden door that was set in concrete. I thought about the door to the roof deck and didn’t hear noise up there, but downstairs there was definitely a door ruckus going on. It happened again and my skin prickled.

Our apartment had no cell or internet service. We had no phone to SOS the front desk. What the hell were we going to do? We’d both traveled alone extensively long before cell service, but it was 2014 and other than continue to hold hands I really didn’t know what we’d do besides turn over our passports, American Express cards, and iphones.

It turns out we really just needed to keep holding hands.

Every hair on my body stood up as Em squeezed my hand tighter. I heard voices. I heard laughing. I heard the noise again. I knew she was really scared, and I knew that it was my turn to be the brave one. After what felt like forever I figured it out.

“It’s okay, Soph,” I told her softly, “That’s not the sound of a door opening. It’s the sound of a door closing.”

I realized that the people in the apartment next to ours must have been going in and out of their front door, and their door, like ours, was probably heavy and difficult to jam into the ancient doorframe. Like ours, it seemed to requirer a few solid hip checks before it latched closed. The banging noise we heard was the sound of our neighbors getting their door closed, not the sound of someone breaking ours down.

Love is scary. The feeling of a new door opening to the possibility of new love can be just as disorienting as the feeling when a door closes on a love that once held hope and promise. As Emily and I witnessed, they can even sound the same.

The reason that Sagres was once known as the end of the earth is because although the early navigators knew the earth was round it seemed like Sagres—with its intense wind, dodgy current, and strong tides—might be a decent place to stick a flag in the earth and declare it: THE END.

Even when things feel like the end, they’re just a hair away from a beginning. It can be confusing and disorienting when figuring out if the fear comes from what has passed or what’s to come. A door closing can sound almost exactly like a door opening because—in the blink of an eye—that’s almost exactly what it is.

And when in doubt, eyes open and on the horizon is always a safe bet.









What’s Love Got to Do With (it)?

I really want to write about love. This post comes after the longest hiatus between posts in the history of this blog, and somehow I got into my crazy head I was going to write about love, but somehow it’s been more challenging than expected. Go figure.

It’s not from lack of experience or motivation, but I guess lack of direction. I kept having false starts, then realizing that a blog post is not a journal entry, and really…what exactly was I trying to say?

I want to write about how love hurts but how it also heals. I want to write about how sometimes when I’m involved with matters of the heart I feel like I’m operating without a learner’s permit, but other times I feel I’ve already earned my doctorate in all things hopeful and heartbreak as well as the line that’s sometimes fine between the two. Kind of like “been there, done that” in the worst possible way.

Although this post isn’t exactly the one intended, it’s the one I’m capable of writing right now. Today. Today I’m writing not exactly about love, but if you believe—as I do—that love is a part of everything, then I’m absolutely writing about love. Love has everything to do with it.

Today was one of those days that’s precious because I worked through a wide range of emotions. I started with feeling both tired and grateful for the four nights I spent sleeping with my bedroom doors open to a two thousand year old cobbled alley just off the port, at the tip of the island. The sea breezes were great, but the street noise that goes until dawn was not so great, making that landing spot both a blessing and a curse.

The fact that I got to stay in an apartment in a fantastic location for 40 Euros/night more than made up for any and all downsides, and it was thrilling simply to sleep in a town that existed several hundred years B.C. The old town section of Eivissa Town is downright magical.

Joy and love are the predominant emotions running wild, and people feel really free here to just be who they are. Judgment (of self and others) seems neither invited nor tolerated here. There’s inevitable heartbreak too, and the irrefutable signs of post-party depression, but for the most part love is the winner around here.

There’s going to have to be another post about how there’s so much more to Ibiza than clubbing, but for now a few photos of the magic that is old town where abandoned buildings mingle with carefree people (of all ages) doing whatever blows their hair back. Where overloaded clotheslines dangle a few feet from some of the world’s priciest yachts. Anything and everything goes here.


ibiza4 ibiza3 ibiza1

The biggest downside of the airbnb apartment that I stayed at was that it was only available until today, the 9th of September, and my flight to Rome isn’t until the 16th. Astrid, my incredible hostess who felt like an angel on earth, said, “Problem? No problem.”

When I landed at Astrid’s place last Friday I was slightly in tatters, which she could tell from my somewhat frenzied booking, but within moments we were chit chatting and she invited me to join her and a friend for a night on the town. I considered going, but when I saw the stilettos come out I said, “It’s going to be a stretch for me to even get out of my leggings, so I think I’ll just wander around the neighborhood a bit and make it an early night.”

Astrid got it. She got me. She understood my need to be independent after seven weeks living with and waiting on others. She totally got it. She really got it, and man did we laugh when we both got home around 3:00am.

I had wrestled myself out of my leggings (granted just to get into a skirt made of the same material as leggings) and I wore a non-jogging bra, some jewelry and cute—albeit non-stiletto— shoes not dusted with sand or encrusted with dirt. I walked out the door and up the alley, the one in the fourth picture with the girls on the balcony, and although every spot looked appealing I felt I needed to walk a bit more before I settled on a place for what I knew would be an extraordinary evening of people watching.



I would’ve walked further, but as I was passing by the cutest, sweetest man stopped me (it’s his job) and asked me to have a drink. Granted, it was a good spot—just on the edge of the really busy section, but not quite in it—that would only be enhanced by this adorable man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Pitbull, the rapper, who also happens to be one of my all-time faves.

Within minutes Mario and I were giggling together and teasing each other in that bizarre way that forces me think, “Who were we to each other in our past lives?” Sometimes we encounter people and it feels likes axes are grinding from injuries incurred several millennia ago, and other times it’s different, even with faces we’ve never seen before, our souls say, “Oh there you are! I’ve been looking for you.”

That’s how it was with Mario. I sat there through his entire shift, and at the end he walked me home with a promise to bring me coffee in the morning and make us a picnic for the beach. “Sure,” I said without expectation, because in this land of pleasure and fun, things don’t always go as planned, which is, of course, part of the fun. You can’t have expectations and you have to embrace the unexpected, those doors swinging, as doors, do in both directions.

I woke up the next morning for a jog, and realized partway through that I didn’t have my phone’s cellular feature turned on, so I did that and saw that I’d missed a call from Mario. I called him back (huffing up a hill) and it turned out he was having coffee just a couple of blocks away. He’d already bought the picnic stuff, and because it was already lunchtime we had a coffee and then he made me a sandwich right there on the street. {delish}

He sent me home to hustle into a bathing suit while he patiently waited while I tore through my hastily packed suitcase for the few bits I needed. We weaved our way through the streets to the beach, where we set up our camp like we’d done it a million times before, but the part that nailed me in the gut was when we got in the water together and played like two kids. We played, splashed and wrestled exactly the way I play in the water with my first love, a man I’m lucky enough to have on my team as a friend until the end.


For three nights I’ve sat at least part of the night while Mario works and confused some people who think I might be on the payroll. I’ve met some amazing people sitting there, most of them gay men, many of them crushing on adorable Mario, so it was natural that conversations swayed to everyone’s favorite topic: boys.

Keith and Steve are an adorable couple, married eleven years, which, then tell me in gay marriage years is at least fifty. They’re awesome and honest. They told me their coming out stories, some family stories and told me I’m not nearly as saccharine as they find most Americans to be. I responded with an enthusiastic, “thanks!!!!” that nearly made them recall their assessment. Keith told me that the first time he went to America it was to New York and he was scared that everyone was going to be too eager to wish him a “have a great day” and “thank for stopping by!” for his liking, but he rode the subway in NYC and was delighted to find some really grumpy people.

Despite our shared love for boys, Keith told me he thinks a tragedy that women are still fighting for equality with men because that’s like shooting for the bottom rung when you know you deserve to be swinging from the rafters. “You’re superior in every way, my dear,” he told me, but he also said that it’s important for us first-class creatures to give the downmarket blokes a few breaks. “Embrace a few flaws,” Keith advised, “Flaws are a good thing.

I thought about it all night.

It made me think of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, which makes it more beautiful than it would be had it never been broken. “As a philosophy it speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.” (Wikipedia)

Here’s a beautiful example from Lakeside Pottery in Connecticut, my home state, and a pinterest link to dozens of examples, some professional some amateur.


Leonard Cohen says it best, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I feel like I’ve already forced enough metaphors in this post, but I’m telling you, this old town is full of cracks.


Mario sounds (and looks) Spanish, but he’s Romanian and his real name is Marius. His English is great, though not perfect, but we communicate fairly well considering, and share the common language of belly laughing. Since the beginning Mario and I have been trying to figure out why we met, beyond the fact that he’s reminded me a few times of the obvious, that I’m forty and haven’t had a baby yet, and (I simply cannot believe this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this in the past year) that he’d “like to mix genes with me.”

So anyway. Mario is a web designer and club promoter, but he’d also like to write a book about his life. “Really?” I said, “Tell me more. Tell me everything.”

Mario wasn’t blessed in the parents department, and this fact shocked me enough that I asked ask him again, just to be sure I’d heard him right the first time, “You left home when you were nine? To live on the streets with your eleven year old brother?” It’s true. His parents were alcoholics and physically abusive. Mario’s father punched him in the nose so hard that he still has a bit of nerve damage in his head, neck, and shoulder. He’s planning to have surgery soon because he doesn’t need the constant physical pain to remind him of the emotional pain he escaped, though we both know that healing fully from what he’s been through, he’s giving it his best shot. Despite it all he believes in his core something he told me the first night I met him: everything is possible. not anything. EVERYTHING.

Mario is deep and insightful, but, despite his rough start to life, he’s something else: he’s HAPPY. He’s an absolute pleasure to be around, and in the beginning I fought it—fought getting to know him, spending time with him, risking a heartbreak—because I’m leaving, but Astrid the airbnb angel gave me a few pieces of advice that she repeated until she was satisfied they were sinking in:

Get out of your head.
Follow your heart.
Don’t worry so much.
Let things unfold naturally.
Have fun.

She had to repeat “get out of your head” quite a few times. Thank god for Astrid. Thank god for Mario. Thank god for this summer and everything I’m learning about myself, the world, and my place in it.

Astrid was right—finding another place wasn’t a problem—and I moved today into the lovely home of her friend Fabienne. The house is in an area of town I was unfamiliar with, and I literally got in a taxi, handed over and address and hoped. I knew Astrid wouldn’t lead me astray (see above), but still… {sigh}

The house is amazing. It’s spare and simple, Zen and clean. My room is basic, but perfect. It has an armoire and a writing desk (WRITING DESK!), but even more exciting is that it contains two other things I haven’t had in two months: a fan and blinds. Darkness and cool. At one time. Amen. OMG I’m absolutely dying with excitement over this.

It also has a clean floor, abundant outlets, a nightstand, and more than one source of light that doesn’t include a headlamp. The house has a well-stocked kitchen, a great bathroom with killer water pressure, and an outdoor area with several gorgeous lounging places. Let’s just say that all things considered it’s a good thing I’ve already booked that ticket to Rome…

Fabienne is French, but lived in Bali for years and she’s a jewelry designer. Let’s just say that girlfriend has it going on.



I moved this morning, and then met Mario at the beach, as planned, which is very close to my new place. I found the stairs that allow a bypass of the serpentine streets, and within a couple of blocks I was nearly in front of the hotel I stayed at back in the beginning of May, my first time to Ibiza, before I went as a guest to the yoga retreat where I’d spend the last week of my thirties. Of course I didn’t know then and could never have predicted that I’d be spending my forty-first summer working at the same yoga retreat, and that after that was finished I’d be—woah—back where I started.

I mean, we never go back exactly where we started and I feel a world away from the woman I was in May, but I find it curious that the last place I’m staying this time is basically the first place I stayed and it happened unintentionally. That’s the kicker. We can plan for things to be a certain way, and we can hope to revisit something with a new perspective, but when the opportunity just happens it’s a whole new league of awesome.

Today was our third beach day together, and Mario consistently shows up with a bag of sandwich fixins, bottles of water, and the outstanding offer to get me an ice cream whenever I want one, so I left the beach well-watered and full, but in the mood for a late afternoon coffee. When Mario and I parted ways so he could head back toward work I told him that it was unlikely I’d be posting up in my usual spot tonight—I have a writing desk!—but that I’d look forward to seeing him tomorrow.
And I am. This sweet man with a tough exterior makes me smile, laugh and check my assumptions at the door.


He likes my silly faces too. He’s gotten to where he’ll say something just to see if my face reacts the way he thinks it will, and when it does he throws his head back and laughs. Which leads to another “face” on me.


It’s also a testament to Mario’s awesome character and resilience that because his suitcase was stolen almost immediately after he arrived on the island last month (from his current permanent post in Barcelona), he bought most of the clothes he’s been wearing from second hand shops in town. He even got those designer glasses (that make him look even more like Pitbull) from a second hand shop for one euro.

On my way back to my new landing pad I decided to stop for coffee at this little bar (that I visited twice because I couldn’t not go back) and which I said on Facebook back in May, “I’ve not been to Cuba, but the feel of this little bar, where I just had one of the best cafe con leches I’ve ever had, is what I imagine it would feel like.”


I walked the street, observing all the things I saw four months ago with a very different perspective. I walked further than I had before, and wondered, “Was it really this far? All the way around that bend?” I checked my memory. It was on the water side of the street, it was east of both minisupers, but where was it? Eventually I realized I had to turn around, and then I saw the thing that made my previously sailing heart sink: SE ALQUILA. For rent.


Yes, there’s a rainbow in the reflection, making the whole thing even more bittersweet, but I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the old man at the end of the bar and the woman who’d made my amazing coffees. Where were they? What happens to old men at the end of the bar when the bar closes?

Maybe it’s okay. Maybe they retired. I was glad the place wasn’t for sale, because my family has a building in New York where my grandfather worked behind the bar until he was into his seventies, and it’s not necessarily a sad thing when a business is passed on to be managed by a new family, but still my heart ached to peek inside and see only the espresso machine and a few bar stools in the place.


To steal Joan Didion’s sentiment, I don’t think I’ve stayed too long at the fair, but it’s always shocking to stay long enough enough in a place—especially when it’s a relatively short time—to miss something that used to be. The exact line from Didion, in her essay “Goodbye to All That,” is “I… began to understand the lesson in that story, which was that it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair.”

Of course it’s possible; everything is possible. We can only hope to nail it (and by it I mean life) by leaving any of the proverbial fairs in that luscious, elusive grey area of “perfect timing.” The thing is, if we’re thinking positively and in the right direction, is that even when we blow it we’re still nailing it. Everything is perfect timing. And if a man who was a boy on the streets in Bucharest believes that everything is possible then you can to.

{good luck to us all. this isn’t easy.}

At the end I think this post is about love, perhaps even more so than the post I originally intended which is saved and bookmarked for some later time. It’s about love of a place, and the loss that is inevitable when a place has razor-sharp teeth into your heart.

It’s also about being open to love in all its forms, and to doing some things that are necessary, to me anyway, in order to be happy: trust, accept, and my new favorite: to embrace a few flaws. What it really comes down to is choice. Everything is a choice. We can love or we can hide. We can camouflage our imperfections or we can flaunt them proudly, inviting others to do the same.

Glennon Doyle Melton, one of my new favorite heros, says this:

something to do

Love is just something to do. It’s a choice. We can choose love. Love has absolutely everything to do with it.

The First Trimester of Forty: Intriguing


I often say I feel like the luckiest girl in the world, and it’s true: I have much to be grateful for. I say this about the small, simple things: witnessing a spectacular sunset, the perfect poached egg, a serendipitous meeting. Now that I think of it, most of the things that prompt me to refer to myself as the luckiest girl in the world probably cost less than fifty cents. In fact, the majority of them are gratis which is precisely what elevates their values to priceless.

One of the many things I’m grateful for is simply that one of my favorite people on the planet, Miss Emily Ann Walter, has nearly the same birthday as I do, and we were even born in the same year. As far as the world goes, we were even born fairly close to each other—just five hundred miles apart—which, as the world’s circumference would have it, is technically within hand-holding distance. {My next blog post will be a collaborative effort with Emily, about an epic hand holding…}

Emily and I have actually been friends for less than three years, which blows my mind with all we’ve done, said, conquered, planned together—but it’s as if we were destined to find each other. This year we turned forty together, in Portugal. It wasn’t so much my birthday or her birthday, but rather it was our birthWEEK; it was a celebration of us. It was amazing.

We were more or less lost the entire time, and on my birthday eve in Lisbon we humped our asses uphill only to find the restaurant we sought was closed, and we were in a peculiar residential area for a restaurant to have ever been. On our way home, nearly all the way, we happened upon a place where I sat with a tremendous snarl of exposed wiring over my head but where we had the best octopus salad of the trip.

Our way home was no easier, and although we were a stone’s throw from it, we found our way back to the apartment via a serpentine, circuitous route on the Alfama district’s unmarked paths and alleyways. We eventually identified our apartment because of my ten days worth of laundry squeezed onto the wire line, which we spotted at the same time, pointing “there!” like a modern, feminine version of Lewis and Clark. We laughed so hard, and in that glowing light I instructed Em to have a seat so I could take her picture. Like her, it’s a keeper.

p[icture 1

Post Portugal people asked me what I saw there, and as they rattle off their lists of sights and not-to-be-misseds, I hesitate to tell them that I saw exactly what I wanted to see: my friend with an incredible backdrop. Yep, laundry can make a hulluva a view.

Sure, I talk about the colored tiles against that impossible blue sky. I talk about the light, because you can’t begin to discuss Portugal without considering how the place is illuminated, even at night. I talk about how the most destroyed looking paintjobs and bricked over windows are somehow spectacular in Portugal.

picture 2

I talk about the streets that are cracked deeper than even the deepest heart break, but how sometimes the streets break clean into the shape of a heart. It’s safe to say this one appeared when we were temporarily off-track, because that was our usual state, but if two people are laughing, smiling, telling stories and living in the present I beg to state with complete confidence that that is about as ON track as a people might ever be.

picture 3

I talk about the eleven-foot waves we watched from a safe distance in Lagos, and how we wondered why most everyone else had their backs clear against the rock wall, as far from the sea as possible. A couple of wet books later we realized that the sea rises fast out there on the former edge of the earth.

picture 4

I talk about the many ways we ate octopus. The olives, the wine, the cheese, and the fact that they only mediocre meal we had was around the corner from the bus stop so it’s hard to tell if it wasn’t good, or if it just tasted a slightly sour due to the fact that we’d just purchased our bus tickets, and when we returned to the station we’d be going in different directions.

If people still care at that point, I continue via a backtrack about how the bus ride that Emily and I took together, between Lisbon and Sagos, was not only an all-time bus ride, but also an all-time journey. It occurred in the days between our birthdays, that bridge period of time where there was no more attention on either of us, though truth be told, the line was always slim. It wasn’t me or she: it was us; it is always us.

Our departure from Lisbon was sweaty. I had to get up early after a late-ish night (#thisis40) to run a load of tile and other extras to the post office (an elusive bugger in Lisbon, let me tell you), while Emily tidied the apartment for checkout. The gal we rented from was long-winded (yes, that speaks volumes coming from me…), and told us about her cousin’s place in Sagres after we had to explain how and why and for what we’d spent my birthday afternoon in the decidedly non-touristic village where she grew up. (I’ll get back to that in a moment…)

Once extracted from our enthusiastic host, we took the metro to the bus station that would take us out of town, but they seemed to hide the thing and we walked several hot circles until a sweet University student guided us there. We thought he was the highlight of our day, but we really had no clue.

We went from being in old, craggy, beaten-down-and-built-back-up Lisbon to a smooth, paved highway with few cars. The bus had wifi and a sweet woman bringing miniature cups of Nescafe for a single euro. Emily and I chose the front seats, right behind the driver, and had a fabulous panoramic view through that enormous windshield. We spent that time having a fairly serious talk, but the kind that’s pivotal and transportive. The kind that, despite its seriousness, invites giggles.

Nearly everything in Portugal made us giggle and smile, so I guess it’s safe to say that in Portugal I saw Emily giggling. I saw her smiling. I saw myself reflected in her, and she reflected in me. If I was given the opportunity to change anything about the trip I might say, “Sure, I suppose it would’ve been nice to have a convertible to drive around in,” but then we would have missed the loveliest bus ride or all bus rides. I guess it would have been nice to get daily massages, or to have found fabulous pairs of boots or hand-woven cashmere shawls with reasonable price points, but maybe those “luxuries” would have taken away from our simple joys. Maybe we had everything we needed. Maybe definitely this luckiest gal wouldn’t have changed a thing. Not. A. Thing.

On my birthday morning Emily came upstairs to my roost in our awesome, wee apartment and we opened the cards my mother and Lucky had sent, listened to some of my favorite songs, even on repeat…Em’s that kind of trouper…

We lounged in jammies and drank an iffy pot of coffee without milk until we were so hungry we absolutely had to move on to the next location, which included some of Portugal’s knock-your-socks-off pastries and a walk to a flea market.

picture 5

The flea market was a bit of a bust, though I Emily and I both bought tiles to do something not yet determined with. We’d been hunting for days, and it was one of our missions for the market, so when I spied thirteen of one type I knew, what with my May 13th birthday and all, that those were the ones with my name on them. I even got one for free, and only two broke enroute to NYC.

Em and I had nine days together, which is a fair amount of time, but it went lightening fast, and before we knew it we were ejected out of a wonderful passage to live out forty separately, though we’re in constant contact, so separate is relative. If I had to describe the sensation it was like taking when the training wheels come off and having your parent (in my case one who can’t ride a bike herself, which was awfully brave of her) let go of the back of your banana seat. That first, free glide down the street left me so excited at what I was doing that I nearly forgot how to operate the brakes.

The more things change the more they stay they same…

Friendships, like life, aren’t perfect, and Emily and I had a short lapse in communication shortly after my return from Spain, where I’d spent another ten days on my own before heading home to New York. It was a stressful time for both of us, with things happening (and not happening) that were difficult (god, that’s an understatement) to process.

We rode without our training wheels.

And we survived.

As we hashed it all out in real-time it felt like we might never get caught up on al the bits, and then Emily brilliantly described this time in our lives: we’re in the first trimester of forty. First trimesters of anything are tough, and I should know because my college operated on a trimester system, and it seriously took the rest of my four years at William Smith for my GPA to recover from my first trimester. I learned time management the hard way.

I believe the first trimester can be summed up to growing pains.

Perhaps because I hated the way math seemed to work against me in my efforts to become an honors student, I was pushed to work that much harder which had a lovely side effect of learning more and getting a better education as a result. Hard is hard, but it isn’t always bad. In fact, it can sometimes serve us well. I wrote about it at a time where life seemed very, very hard.

I haven’t been pregnant, but the first trimester of a pregnancy brings growing pains: morning sickness, bloating, back pain, feeling fat without looking pregnant, though what happens next, and I’ve witnessed this in my friends, is a terrific glow, amazing hair, and strangers smiling at you because even in an outfit that tests spandex’s resiliency pregnant women are simply adorable.

My very first best friend, Debbie, has four kids, and she has not so subtly suggested over the years that I become a mother. She thinks I’d be a good one and she doesn’t want me to miss out. I love her for her faith in me. Five years ago Deb suggested I freeze some eggs, but I 1) didn’t want to pay for that, and 2) have always felt like if it’s meant to happen it will. Deb and I have known each other for thirty six years, hers was one of the first hands I held outside of my family, and her encouragement doesn’t feel like pressure so much as a stamp of approval: you’d be a great mom.

Right before I left for this run through Spain Deb sent me a text that said:

I have an assignment for you. Go out and buy the July issue of Real Simple magazine and read the article that starts on page 47. Ever since I read your last blog post I have been thinking that you really should get pregnant this year. What do you think? (Here’s a link to that p.47 article.)

I loved this for a number of reasons. I loved Debbie’s honesty and willingness to tell me this. I loved her belief in my potential. I loved how sometimes often our friends can see things in us that we can’t see in ourselves.

I’m currently working as the chef at a yoga retreat that I attended in May, the last week of my last decade, which was right before I met Emily in Portugal. A few of the girls I befriended back in May had a little chat behind my back and on the last night, as we ate heart-shaped, rocket-topped pizzas, one told me: we think you’d be an amazing mom.

picture 6

{If anyone is either worried or excited that I might be pregnant, I’ll spoil it and let you know right now that I am not. I mean, not yet. I never, never ever say never. Sometimes I even say yes.}

Emily had this reoccurring thought while we were in Portugal that, despite my lack of partner, I’d be pregnant next May. When she spoke of it I watched her face and imagined that in her mind’s eye she saw me in a bikini with a big, round belly. We already decided that a holiday with your bestie in the middle of one of the years’ finest traveling months does not have to be “just for turning forty.” Who knows where it will be (Em has her eye on Turkey…), or if it will ever live up to the ease and bliss of Portugal, but next year we’ll be giving it another go. But we’re not going to compare it, because it will be different. It will be new, we’ll be different, our lenses will have altered in a year’s time so that nothing will ever look quite the same.

Sunday morning I wandered a fabulous market in the small town of San Joan on the north side of Ibiza with my new mate Trevor (he’s British) when he suggested tarot card readings. He said, “You know…just for fun…” and I said, “Yeah…” because we both knew that while it surely had the potential for fun, we’d known each other long enough (a week is sometimes enough) to know that we both had a few truckloads of burning questions.

Like any memorable time, the birthday-week trip to Portugal had a few catch phrases that stuck. When Emily and I got caught in a rainstorm it was “We love getting soaked to our skin! We love wind!” Getting lost led to “We love walking!” and “We love hills!”

Basically, in short, we loved. As Em says, “Choose love.”

Another one was, “Remember the time Aunt Jaime/Emily….blah-blah-blah…” It was a way of both capturing the moment in the present and also preserving it for the future. We did this with the confidence that, despite being already over-ripe, we believe that we’ll have families and play Auntie to each other’s children. We imagine in another decade or so we’ll tell our travel stories until the kids can mime the words behind our backs.

Em’s recent one was, “Remember the time Aunt Jaime went to Spain for a month that turned into a decade?”

So. About the tarot card reader…

…to be continued…

Until then, here are a few pictures that tell a bit of the story, though the truth is I won’t know it until it plays out. I just have a few clues. It’s all we ever really have.

8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Huh. I added these images in the opposite order than how they appear, but as it turns out the story is nearly the same forward or reverse. Huh.





#likeagirl is how we do it

Three weeks ago I drove to Maine, on a whim, to see about a sternwoman position on a lobster boat. It made sense, but it didn’t. I’d fallen in love with Maine last year, but wasn’t sure how to go about living there. I was torn between my desire and the part of me that has a PhD in overthinking, overanalyzing, overquestioning. I wasn’t sure if it made sense, if it was worth pursuing, if Maine and I were even a good fit for each other.

I had a conversation with my mother on the beach that led to my options opening up just moments before I saw the sternwoman position on craigslist. I hadn’t considered commercial fishing an option, because who would want a woman on a lobster boat?

The situation was rife with unknowns—a state of being I gravitate toward—though there was one big question that couldn’t be answered until I was on the boat: could I swing eighty-five pound lobsters traps over the rail? I dug my heavy-duty, rubber boots out of storage, and pointed my car north to go find out.

This wasn’t a one-time thing—not like ringing the bell at a carnival strongman game for a Made in China prize—but something I’d need to sustain all day long, day after day, for several months. I first wondered if I could do it at all—the traps are not only heavy, but also a cumbersome four feet long—and then I wondered if I could do it then would I do it #likeagirl. I’m asking myself now, especially in light of the recent release of this awesome video, why anyone ever decided it was okay to slap a negative spin on doing something #likeagirl.

Not that I think what the boys do is bad or less-than what girls do, but I do some badass shit like a girl and I know some boys who also do some badass, loving, caring shit #likeagirl. Even as I wrote those words I feel silly. Can only girls be caring? Can only boys be strong? Answer: no.

I’m not exactly striving to do things the way boys do because that’s just silly. I am a girl, so everything I do is done #likeagirl whether I want to or not. As the video states, “That is not something that I should be ashamed of.”

Commercial fishing is one of the toughest, dirtiest, most dangerous jobs, and not an industry where women are commonly found. I had abundant support from friends on Facebook and in real-time as I headed up to Maine to do something slightly out of character (I enjoy manicures) and nothing I could even have predicted for myself (I don’t even flyfish). The draw wasn’t the fishing so much as spending a summer on the water, being out there in the elements where the only place to be is in the present. I fell in love with the idea of living on the eastern edge of America and being one of the first in this country to witness the sunrise.

It wasn’t until I was driving home that I saw a few Facebook comments asking questions I’d barely sideswiped in my thinking process because I was so myopic in my desire to go to Maine that I refused to let a few pesky details get in my way. A couple of those details were: why does this guy specifically want a woman on his boat? And if he’s any good why is he hiring via craigslist.

These were good questions, but not ones that would’ve made much of a difference if I’d asked them as I headed north. I was in trouble anyway, because I drove up to Maine with the decked stacked slightly for one reason that trumps all others: I had something to prove. The thing was, I didn’t seem to know exactly what I was proving.

The expectation I had for myself was physical—could I swing eighty-five pound lobster traps over the rail?—and as it turned out: I could. But my physical ability wasn’t my biggest problem, and it was actually the last thing I should have been worried about. What I needed to worry about more, and what I’d completely forgotten to consider, was pretty much every other thing about lobstering that had nothing to do with me.

The Lobsterman (TL) wasn’t terrible, but he managed to throw a few red flags into the mix before I’d even arrived. He was all business before my departure, but started flirting when I was slightly farther than halfway. I interpreted the first couple of passes as kindness (e.g., taking me for to dinner when I arrived), and didn’t acknowledge them as sleazy for one reason that’s both simple and complicated: I didn’t want to.

When I was a toddler I started telling my mother “I can’t want to.” She’d ask me to clean my playroom or put my books back on the shelves, and I’d very seriously tell her, “I would if I wanted to, Mommy, but I just can’t want to.” I get it. I totally get it. It can really be hard to do things we don’t want to do especially when they involve that which happens on an internal level. It’s hard to fake feelings. It’s hard to fake want.

For years I only went forward and if I wanted to get out of something I had to go through, which was usually not the most direct route but it was as if the path of my life was lined with spike strips that would puncture my tires if I changed direction. I’ve recently upgraded my gears and now have a reverse position, though at this point it’s reserved only for emergencies.

I spent the majority of the drive to Maine gabbing to girlfriends and sharing the bulk of what TL was texting me {Disclaimer: I read most of them while stopped for coffee, gas and walking Lucky.} I read the messages aloud to my friends, and as the words hit the air I started feeling more like I was going on a blind date and less like I was going to see about a job.

I got an uneasy feeling when TL asked me if he should shower and shave before dinner. I didn’t know how to respond, but after some deliberation I just told him the truth, which was that I’d just driven seven hours and had been wearing the same clothes for two days. That’s what I said, but what I was thinking was, “I don’t give a crap what you look like, but I’m starting to think we don’t share this point of view.”

TL’s stock had already plummeted and I had little remaining faith in his understanding of boundaries or social mores when he said, “Maybe we’ll go for a swim in the lake later….” In an effort to diffuse the situation I asked TL if the lake was heated, and he said “It’ll be hot if I’m in there with you.” Ew, right? I mean…beyond ew.

I was on the phone with a good friend who I can say pretty much anything to, but I didn’t tell her this because 1) I didn’t want her to worry, and 2) I didn’t want her to insist I turn around.

I can be a very rational person, but not when I can’t want to, and at that moment I couldn’t want to. I knew that most people would have bailed at that point and gone to have a laugh with one of half a dozen friends within spitting distance. But I didn’t want to turn around; I really wanted to find out if I could swing eighty-five pounds over the rail. My determination was absurd.

After some consideration I wrote back to TL, and told him to, “Keep it classy.” He apologized, but it felt obligatory more than it felt sincere.

I’ll be honest: when I arrived it felt like meeting someone for a date, but I made it extremely clear that I wasn’t there for that. I considered leaving a few times that first night, but wanted to locate the fine line between bailing prematurely and staying too long at the fair.

I stuck around long enough to learn that TL has lost his lobstering license twice, which (for him) included jail time and several years probation before he could put a boat back in the water. I learned that his legal troubles were a result of molesting gear and though that seems to be an activity that many (if not most) lobsterman take part in, TL seemed to be the one pushing limits, the one taking the retaliation too far.

TL bragged about the Harbor Master having it out for him and that he loves a foggy day because “they can’t see you and you can’t see them.” I wasn’t impressed. I told him he reminded me a lot of guys I dated in my twenties and thirties and that I wasn’t interested in working for someone whose emotionally fractured self is permanently stuck at twenty-seven. TL told me he needed someone like me to keep him in line, and I told him that’s what they all say, but I’m seeking full retirement from playing mommy to grown men.

I felt tested. I felt like the universe was playing a damn good joke on me. I felt like I was talking to someone who wasn’t hearing me and i knew that regardless of my desire to live in Maine, playing sternwoman for a goofball wasn’t my ticket.

There’s a lot more to lobstering that being about to swing some weight, stomach the smell of bait, and stay upright in rough water. A lot more. There’s a downright turf war going on out there, and the pirates are playing dirty. I told TL I wasn’t going to break the law, I wasn’t going to mess with anyone’s traps, and if he pulled that shit with me on the boat I’d hand in my oilskins as soon as we hit land.

He thought I was messing, playing hard to get, but I told him I wasn’t going to Maine to keep a grown man in line, and I certainly wasn’t going there for drama.

Despite it all, TL took a quick liking to me, and said that if I stayed a year my percentage of the catch would go up 30%. I told him I really had no interest in lobstering past the summer, but he didn’t hear me and said we could get an engine for his bigger boat and take it down to Puerto Rico for the winter. I told him there was no “we,” and that I was getting really tired of the fact that he hadn’t heard me when I’d told him very clearly, over and over, “There will be no romance between us.”

It had the makings of a solid rom-com, which might have been fine except that 1) I’ve never been a fan of comedies with plots that are either predictable, preposterous, or the odd combination of both, and 2) I decided a few weeks prior that romantic comedies aren’t a genre my life should aim to mimic at this point.

I’m old enough to know that romance isn’t really as light and goofy as those movies depict it, and I think that naivete in a storyline is best reserved for millenials. But the truth is that rom-com has never really been for me. I’ve always preferred a saga or an epic. I like a healthy dose of mystery, satire, and suspense with my romance. Rom-com is just so predictable, but even as I stood on the edges of my own I couldn’t see where it was headed until suddenly i was desperate to get off that boat.

It happened in a way that should be familiar to me by now—fast and innocent—but I missed the familiar cues. I could say my brain was muddy from a month following my heart around Europe’s Iberian peninsula, but that’s not true; I was simply moving too fast to have any perspective on what I was actually doing.

What exactly was I doing?

When author Ray Bradbury died last month I spent a bunch of time reading obits and essays about him and his impressive (eight million copies in 35 languages!) writing career that spanned seventy years. Despite the fact that I prefer reality over science fiction or fantasy, I appreciated Bradbury’s commitment to craft and willingness to push mainstream literary boundaries.

Right before I left for Maine I read something that couldn’t have been more carefully cherry-picked for my circumstances:

“I’m a Zen Buddhist if I would describe myself. I don’t think about what I do. I do it. That’s Buddhism. I jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down.”

Yep, that’s me; I’m always ready to build my wings on the way down.

I didn’t fail—or fall—when I went to Maine, but I had a hard time digesting the experience. I proved to myself that I was physically able to handle the work, but after gathering additional information I did something major: I made a well-informed adult decision to not do the thing I’d just a few days earlier wanted more than anything. In short: I turned myself around.

I wasn’t afraid to use my brand-new reverse gear, and I didn’t equate backing out with failing. I was disappointed that I (still) had to go so deep to get the answers I could see clearly from the edge looking in, but we’re all works in progress.

The aftermath was the hard part. I had to dig deeper and ask: What (the heck) is it I want to do?

New York is one of the hardest places to get a massage license, and transferring my license from Montana would be a cumbersome process that might not even work. And it would take time. I thought about getting a job-job, and spent countless hours scouring ads until I had an aha! moment and remembered that there was a good reason I abandoned desk jobs well over a decade ago.

I found out that MOFGA (The Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association) has apprenticeships and then I found out that it wasn’t too late to apply. I got excited again. I spent a day on my application, a day researching farms, and another day contacting farms. I read about the County of Waldo that is mostly agrarian and that has towns named Liberty, Unity and Freedom. An adjacent county has towns named Friendship and Hope. It just seemed so welcoming. The farms up there have equally incredible names: New Leaf, Old Crow. Fail Better. Laughing Stock. New Beat, Black Kettle, Good Karma, Rebel Hill.

Apprenticing on a farm started to seem far better than lobstering because I’d have more flexibility. I’d told myself that if the lobstering opportunity was good enough I’d sacrifice spending the summer with Lucky (because he and his grandmother have grown so close), but it clearly wasn’t. I decided only to consider farms that allow dogs. I felt like I was getting closer.

I patiently waited for the farms to get back to me, but the news wasn’t great. One farmer wrote to tell me that he actually lost the lease for his farm and was gypsy farming this summer. Another said they couldn’t take any more dogs. Another said I sounded great but they’re in a rebuilding stage and only looking for people with construction experience.

Although I really enjoy all that New York has to offer, and know it’s one of the top places on the planet for diversity and stimulation, it wears me down especially when I don’t feel like I have a purpose here. If I had to pick one or the other, it’s nature I crave far more than culture, though if you stuck me in the boonies for too long I have no doubt I’d be singing a different tune. I suppose, like a lot of people, I’m shooting for balance.

I left the city last weekend for Connecticut, where I spent forty-eight hours with an old friend literally talking nonstop. We talked about hopes, dreams, disappointments, and frustrations but never stopped laughing our asses off. A seagull pooped on me at the beach while I was there, a sign (if you’re a believer) that good things are on the way. It wasn’t like I’ve had the worst luck, but life has been one brick wall after another since I flew back from Barcelona a month ago. It was if the air deflated from my sails upon repatriation. When asked about my trip, my standard response became, “I’d have stayed if it wasn’t for Lucky.”

While waiting on the platform for the train back to Grand Central, I checked in with Facebook and saw that one of the women who worked at the yoga retreat I attended on Ibiza was looking for a ticket to Burning Man. I immediate wrote to ask if her volunteer position (work in exchange for room, board and some yoga) was available, and she said she thought they were covered but I should email. I emailed and found out that not only was the retreat needing for a volunteer for a few weeks, but they also need a chef for the majority of the season.

A few email exchanges later, The folks at Ibiza Yoga invited me to join them at Benirras Beach for the summer and early fall. First I got really excited about this new, unexpected adventure, and then I choked up over leaving Lucky. I begged him to give me an answer, and I realized that in a lot of ways he’s been telling me it’s okay to go.

Lucky has his grandmother wrapped around his finger. They got along perfectly for the month I was gone, and in our everyday lives around here he actually spends more time with her than he does with me. “Grandma’s bed” has become his absolute favorite spot in the house. She lets him up on the pillows, and she lets him hog more than his fair share of the space. She never stays out late, and gets up at the same time every morning. She’s incredibly reliable, which is what an old dog needs.

I was twenty-eight when I fell in love with Lucky after he picked me out at a party. We’ve been on many amazing adventures together, both close to and far from home, and when things have gone south he’s always been there while I picked up the pieces. My dog has been one of the most patient, reliable people I’ve ever known.

Twelve years ago I gave little (to no) thought to what our life might be like when I was forty and Luck had white whiskers and paws. Over the years I’ve declined so many things (overnight river trips, National Park visits, travel abroad, biking) because I prioritized Lucky over anything else. That level of attachment might not have been the healthiest, but it’s how we lived. I never could have imagined I’d have the opportunity to travel like this while Lucky is still alive. But here’s the thing: I’m not the only one who loves him.

I’ll go so far as to say that I think my mother and Lucky need each other right now, and what they definitely don’t need is me moping around the house wondering what to do with myself. Even though I pursued the opportunity to go back to Spain, I hesitated when I reached the threshold. I worried my leaving was selfish, wrong or irresponsible.

I wondered if my wings would open on the way down.

When I told my mother she immediately encouraged me to go without any hesitation. She assured me that Lucky wasn’t any inconvenience for her, which was my biggest concern, and she said, “I want to see you happy, and you’re not happy here.”

In less than two weeks I’ll be off to live and work on Ibiza’s piney north shore that smells better than any place I’ve ever smelled before. I’m looking forward to all of the people I’m going to meet, and to doing simple, important work so that others can have a lovely yoga retreat.

I felt connected to Benirras Beach as soon as I arrived, and about 90 seconds after I arrived I announced to one of the owners that he was going to have a hard time getting rid of me. It’s an absolute dream that I have this opportunity to return as a volunteer and that I’ll have lots of free time to swim in the clear bay, run among the fruit trees, inhale the pines, read, write, and revise whatever isn’t working.

I took this picture the day I left, and hashtagged it #lastday #benirrasbeach #fornow

cap bernat

It’s as if I knew I’d be back, and I suppose I did. Don’t we always know?



A couple of weeks ago I turned forty, and the word on the street is that I made it look good. I made it look painless, easy, and maybe even enjoyable. At the very least I guess I made it look fine and not some terrible thing to be feared or lied about.

Friends tell me they want me to join them on their trips when they turn forty. They say they’re going to call me for advice and that maybe I should write a guidebook about how to turn forty.

But friends, I have a confession: I don’t know what I’m doing.

True story. I don’t. I make a few plans and then I leap. I like to have a skeleton of an outline but not so much of a plan that there’s no room for spontaneity. Sometimes I mess up and have to reconsider; sometimes I mess up and keep going. It’s a mater of perspective; is it an ordeal or an adventure?

Sometimes I even nail it, and that’s where the grit of this is…even when I mess up I believe I’ve nailed it in some way, and will convince myself that what I got was exactly what I needed. Taking the long way, getting lost, eating something iffy, overpaying for something….these are the lessons we need. These are the stories that we tell forever.

I definitely kicked off on the right foot, which was not by chance or coincidence. I spent a few days alone in Barcelona completely in awe of it and taking deep breaths after a long year, then I met up with a terrific group for a week of yoga at Benirras Beach on the island of Ibiza. It coudn’t have been more perfect. Hot days and cool nights. Yoga and beach by day,and pizza, rose and laughing by night.

I witnessed extraordinary beauty and kindness, but more than that I closed the door on a decade. I stood on my head without a wall for backup; I stood on my hands with a friend standing by for backup. That was just for starters; I had a couple days left.

I flew to Portugal and met up with a true friend of the heart so we could celebrate our fortieth birthdays together, just four days apart. It wasn’t my birthday or her birthday; it was our birthday-week. It was the first time we did it like this, but we’re smelling a hot tradition. Every year is special. Every day. Not just 40.

Emily and I celebrated my birthday in Lisbon, then after a glorious bus ride (yes, a glorious BUS ride) south to the Algarve where we celebrated her birthday. Ahem, our birthday…

From the crooked, cragged streets of Lisbon to the wind-blasted Atlantic coast we talked, walked and laughed nearly nonstop. We drank coffee in bed, giggling as if we had nowhere to be and, well, we didn’t. Sure we could be taking in these new cities and beaches, but why rush? Where’s the fun in rushing?

In the Algarve we huddled on the beach and watched twelve foot waves. We laughed when all of our stuff got soaked (two? three? times), and finally moved our camp above the seaweed line.

We watched a lone surfer attempt getting on top of one of those beats, and we held our breath when a tourist built like a beach-ball bobbed around and got a proper beating. It’s different on the Europe side of the Atlantic where the waves crash rough like they do on the opposite side of my home.

I asked Emily for a poetry lesson, and she gave me one right on the beach. I took notes in my little notebook, then she went for a walk and I wrote a poem. I scanned the waterline for her, but she wasn’t in sight so I wrote another. And then half of another. I’m letting them sit for a minute, but then lookout: I’m going to start posting poems, yo. I might even start a new tab on this blog for my “experimental poetry.”

Eating is also fun, and Emily and I ate incredible morsels. I had great meals on my own, and although I enjoy traveling alone (and generally don’t mind being alone), meals are significantly better when shared. Em and I exchanged wide open eyes and “wows” and “wait until you taste this” and “I want to cry this is so delicious” over and over and over again.

One olive was better than the last. Each octopus salad more tear-inducing than the next. Sardines, mussels, and bacalhau…oh my. These meals were both foreign and familiar, but probably the most impressive thing was the freshness.

The whole time we were together, Emily and I had two mediocre meals: one on the beach (though the setting was top-notch), and the other saying goodbye (because our options were limited near the bus station). Our last meal wasn’t actually bad, it was just that the quiche was cold and to call the lemonade tart is a pretty dramatic understatement. I’m surprised either of us has any enamel on our teeth, and I’m pretty sure we drank warm lemon juice with a splash of water and no evidence of sweetener. Luckily the drink portions are small in Portugal.

Emily and I didn’t plan the end of our time together, but because she had a plane ticket home we knew eventually we’d board buses in different directions. I didn’t think I was at risk for crying when we said goodbye, but as my bus pulled away I steamed the window with both my face and palms. I even considered being the person who asks the bus driver to stop, please, I have to do something. (I’m still trying to figure out how forty-year olds are supposed to act…)

Life is fucking fragile. We all know this, but the older we get the more apparent it becomes. Things happen on buses and planes. Things happen in cars, on subways, at work, at home. Things happen. You never know. It’s nothing to be afraid of, just good to know, that at any moment this could be it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that because the future is uncertain it’s probably best to be prudent and choose happiness. Right. Choose. See holes or see hearts? Choose.

Emily and I said goodbye to a lot of things in Portugal, but to each other we really just said what my grandfather always said because he hated goodbyes: we said, “See you later.”

I had ten unplanned days to myself, and I knew I wanted more time in Barcelona, but beyond that I didn’t know what I wanted. Uh, oh. Had forty (and fear) snuck up on me? Sort of yes, but I also sort of invited it. I’d planned the end of one decade, but not the beginning of the next. There was a clutch moment when I thought I might stall, but as a friend in California said of New Yorkers, “Out here people slow down when they don’t know where they’re going, but where you’re from that’s when folks floor it.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Sevilla felt disorienting, and after Lisbon that’s saying a lot because walking Lisbon is challenging. Not because of the seven hills or the holes in the sidewalk (some of which go to god knows where) but because many of the neighborhoods (including the one we stayed in) don’t even have marked maps.

It could have something to do with the fact that Emily and I talked so much we didn’t pay close attention. It’s hard to say, but I do know this…other than to/from the airport or bus we didn’t take a single metro, trolley, or famous outdoor escalator. We walked everywhere, and yes I’m bragging a little bit, but the truth is: we love walking.

To be fair, I don’t actually think it was Sevilla; I think it was me. I decided to set a simple goal for my time there: walk around and see the city without an agenda beyond finding a book (that I actually wanted to read) in English. As it turns out this is actually an enormous agenda. The most popular book in English that I found on the share shelves around Spain and Portugal was…Fifty Shades of Motherfucking Grey. No thank you; I’ll pass. I can hardly stand that this book is all over the place and to simplify things I’m blaming the British. {wink} I finally found a book called Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?

I was ready to leave Sevilla after two nights. It felt unfriendly. Maybe even a little hostile. I wasready to go when the time came, and I flew to Barcelona not to stay there but to head to I was ready to leave Sevilla after one full day. It felt unfriendly. Maybe even a little hostile. I enjoyed a few things (definitely the flamenco show), but overall I was ready to go when the time came. I was even early for my flight to Barcelona, not to stay there but to head to Cadaqués, a place I knew little about.

I knew that Salvador Dali had lived and painted there for fifty years. I knew that other artists (Matisse, Picasso, Magritte) had also worked in town and that Mick Jagger occasionally hid out in the hills. I heard that the light was something special.

I knew Cadaqués had a rugged coastline and that it was hard, but not impossible to get to, which keeps out a lot of the riffraff. I was all in, but I really had no idea what for. I trusted a hunch.

It was an achingly long day, almost ten hours in total, between Sevilla and Cadaques and included a plane, an aerobus, two metros, a train, and a bus. I almost wanted to hire a boat to round it out.

Cadaqués had me by the jugular upon arrival, and reminded me of the last place I fell hard for, Stonington, Maine. It didn’t occur to me until just now as I was writing this to check the coordinates:

Cadaqués: 42.2833° N
Stonington: 41.3650° N

Maybe there’s something to that. I seriously don’t know, but I do know that the coastline feels similar and so does the air. I know that it’s damn special when a place can be simultaneously stormy and bright.

What I know for sure is that upon arrival in Cadaques I felt like I was taking the biggest, deepest breath of my life but at the same time on the verge of suffocating. It felt a lot like falling in love, which I seem to do with places more often than people these days. And the parting. Oh, the parting. Heartbreak.

If my love affair with Cadaqués had been a relationship with an actual person we wouldn’t even have had to break up and could’ve just let the fling fizzle out. If we’d left anything behind (a hat, a pair of earrings, spare change) we’d just sacrifice it to the hook-up gods and call it good.

But instead I find myself wanting to sing it a Rolling Stones song.

Emily told me over email probably the best thing I’ve heard in a long time: we all need a place we’re so in love with that we’d be willing to go there to sell candles. Or yarn. Or bracelets. Anything, really, because being there and doing something silly would be better than not being there at all

I found myself sick in my blood and holding my camera flat against the bus window to take photos from the mountains that protect Cadaqués from the back. It’s a safe place. The whole town feels like sitting at the table in the back of the restaurant with a view of the door and everything inside. The town is like having a solid oak tree at your back. Or a dear friend. Or a bottomless cup of a future.

The road is precarious, and the curves so round that the bus takes up both lanes on certain corners. I thought of my mother, and bringing her there, and I wasn’t sure she could handle either being on the bus or having me behind the wheel of a car. The bus driver seemed less capable than the one who brought me in….. Or he stopped so I could capture the place that had captured me.

But that assumes so much. Of course he didn’t slow the bus so the girl with her camera flat against the glass like the town was giving her life could get her pictures; he slowed the bus because it was the only way to get around the corners.

I kept thinking I’d seen Cadaqués for the last time, but then the driver pulled us around another corner and I’d get a higher, more distant vantage point. Both more and less at the same time, and finally there was nothing besides an empty place in my gut and a fast beating heart.

My thoughts went wild on that bus. It was complicated. I’d left Cadaques as planned, after five nights, but it wasn’t an easy decision. Did I need four nights in Barcelona? I’d made new friends who offered me not only a place to stay but a ride back to Barcelona. But not when I’d planned, so I’d have to change my plans.

Honestly, if Lucky wasn’t waiting on the other side of my trans-Atlantic flight I’d have been looking for summer work in Cadaqués. Like, theres’s no question I’d be doing that. It’s not big-city like Barcelona, but it’s also not teeny-tiny like Stonington. You could say it’s just right, and I bet a person gets used to the road in and out. But for now that’s neither here nor there, which is not a coordinate I tend to enjoy.

But like I said, I don’t know what I’m doing, but this is how we do it.




The 40 Train’s Leaving the Station

At the beginning of April my friend Robert came to New York for a very quick trip. He asked me weeks in advance if I could meet him for breakfast before his friend arrived and they embarked on a spree of three Broadway shows in 24 hours. I didn’t hesitate to say “Yes, of course, I’ll crawl there if I have to.”

One of my favorite things about living in NYC is that I get to see so many people. Not only do a lot of my old and new friends live there, but scads of people pass through. Because I love Robert like a brother, I planned my week around having two precious hours eating overpriced eggs in midtown and talking as if no one was around. Our booth was an oasis.

After Robert and I said goodbye and made umpteen tentative plans to see each other soon, I headed off to do a few errands. I sold some coins and a ring in a creepy diamond district office, and then headed off on a hunt to find a simple nylon band for my grandfather’s Timex. The diamond district guys offered to sell me an embossed faux-crocodile for a good price, but I had my heart set on nylon. My Poppy wouldn’t have worn nylon, but it’s what I wanted.

The watch doesn’t even keep good time. It’s a wind-up, and requires winding more than once a day. It’s unreliable and high maintenance. At first I wondered about my sanity, wearing a watch that doesn’t keep time, but I like the multi-day reminder of him, though I don’t need a watch for that.

My father gave me a classy watch for my college graduation, but it’s not waterproof or practical for every day wear. I wear it when I need a confidence boost, like for an interview, because of the inscription on the inside, “Jaime, Keep on Believing. Love, Dad.” The poignancy of his words keeps increasing as time marches on, and as keeping faith becomes more important, crucial even to surviving.

Finding a nylon watch band proved to be a major project, even in NYC, but finally I remembered the old-timey shop in Grand Central and knew they would have loads of striped, preppy bands and hopefully a few solids, but I couldn’t remember where the shop was. I knew it was in one of the passages, but which one?

I got sweaty. Frustrated. Impatient. I used Google to get the shop’s name and called, but reached a recording to call a different number that I couldn’t remember every after three redials. Eventually I had to go to a bank’s deposit station and ballpoint the number on my hand, which felt like a throwback to a different era. I found out that the hole-in-the-wall shop (literally it is a hole in a wall) was located between tracks 38 and 39, so I hunted down that area of the terminal. I was not going home without an eight-dollar watch band.

On my way there I walked by the entrance to tracks 39 and 40. I peered down the ramp and saw that there was one train, the 40 train, and it was leaving the station. The passengers had boarded and I reached the platform in just enough time to catch this picture before the train pulled away.

I haven’t had a particularly tough time with turning 40, but then again I planned a few months ago to spend the entire month of May in Spain and Portugal, so there wasn’t a whole lot to be lamenting. Except a few things. There are always (kind of) a few things. Life is not a work of art, but good god the world sure is.

I finally finished writing a book (an accomplishment I thought at times I’d never see) but I don’t have an agent or a publisher. Yet. I keep telling myself that the key word is yet. A week at a yoga retreat taught me a lot about so many things, but one that we kept repeating is that things are just as they’re supposed to be. Patience. Stick with the uncomfortable moments, the pain, the delayed reward. Sit with it.

I had such a good time in Barcelona that I didn’t want to leave, but Ibiza welcomed me like a big hug. After about an hour alone at the pool, I met four British guys who after chatting with me for a short bit invited me to dinner with them. Nazed, Abi, Gully and Azeem are all first generation Brits with roots in India and Africa, and I think all of them speak five languages. Some of their fathers were friends back home, and these boys have all been friends since they were small.

I hesitated only for a moment about going to dinner with them. My gut said it was okay, and I knew with a few euros in my pocket I could get myself home. But why? Why would they want me to join their boys’ weekend away? It didn’t feel right to question their motives, which as it turns out are as pure as pure gets.

The boys are Muslim and I discovered at dinner that they don’t drink, which reassured me because I knew that although they might get hopped up on sugary, fizzy drinks, they wouldn’t have alcohol muddling their decision making. I felt safe. They’re all about my age, and we thought we should check out the famous Ibiza “club scene” though we were early in the season (it kicks off in June) and early to the club at 10:30. Geezers.

We ended up having tea and dessert back near the hotel where I snapped this picture of them that I coined their “boy band picture.” They’re well-dressed and refined, and unlike the majority of American men they don’t throw on a hoodie or fleece when it gets cold; they wear cardigans. Their boy band name was easy to come up with: THE CARDIGANS.

I spent the next day with The Cardigans poolside, laughing and joking like old friends. These are good men. They are patient, kind, and generous. They share. We had several round of food, beverages, ice cream and chocolate and I don’t think anything hit the table that we didn’t all offer each other a taste of.

I’m already pretty blessed in the faith department, but these are the kind of men you meet who restore faith. Faith can be easily lost or misplaced, but with time it always returns. My twelve days in Spain were extraordinary for faith boosting. The kindness of the Catalayunos (a population that doesn’t accept outsiders easily) blew me away. The kindness of a group of married men who simply thought I was funny and clever, shocked and surprised me in a way I hope I never fully recover from.

It was hard to leave The Cardigans, and I stayed several hours past my intended departure time because I could and because one of my favorite things about getting older is the ease with which I identify what I want. I enjoyed the south side of Ibiza because of the company of my new brothers, but the hectic club-scene isn’t my thing; I was ready to head over to Benirras, and I told the guys I’d let them know what it was like and if anything interesting was going on.

Benirras is special. It’s the only beach on Ibiza that doesn’t have a hotel. The yoga retreat is at a couple of villas and pagodas scattered about the hillside. Down on the beach there are a few restaurants including an elegant one, a pizzeria, a juice bar and two places for paella and typical Spanish food. They recently opened a spa, juice bar, and two small boutiques. Lounge chairs and umbrellas can be rented, and that’s it. It’s perfect in its minimalism. It happens to have everything I need.

I wasn’t sure it was enough to warrant The Cardigans coming over, but then I found out that the next night (Sunday) is the night of drumming in Benirras, which started as a protest against the first Iraq war and hasn’t stopped. I emailed Gully about it, and he wrote back, “We will come. We are missing you.” I melted. He also asked if they should wear beach gear or evening wear and I said it was kind of a hippie thing and it would be chilly so they should bring their cardigans.

I told a few of the yoga girls I’d met that my friends were coming over and that at least half of them would be wearing pressed button downs. They laughed and didn’t quite believe me. They also didn’t buy that The Cardigans intentions were pure with nothing ulterior, but you only need to be around them for a few minutes to see that The Cardigans are no-joke awesome.

They are direct, which I find relaxing because it’s exhausting to try to figure out what another person wants and/or if they’re the type who even knows how to express needs and wants. They’re also dead-pan funny with spot-on delivery. In short: The Cardigans are a delight.

The drumming intensifies as the sun goes down, and the crew of us took an “Ellen-style” selfie with the addition of Lucy, who lived across the hall from me in the villa and who must be the sweetest girl in all of London, if not the world.

I think everyone feels a touch of hesitation when they’re going into a group where they’ll be living, eating, and practicing yoga with a bunch of strangers from around the world, and then an enormous relief when it’s discovered they’re not all loons. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single person on my Ibiza Yoga retreat. I got closer to some than to others, which is only natural; we were far too big a pack to roam everywhere together.

I spent most of my time with Lucy, Lisa (Ireland) and Sarah (Chicago, but had just finished a semester abroad in Barcelona) as well as Maija (the teacher) and Leonie from Holland. I blew out my first birthday candle with Lucy and Lisa (a full week early), and then another one a couple days later at the truly awesome Bambuddha Grove (google it) with the whole group. And it’s not even my birthday yet.

I’m telling 40 loud and clear that i’m not afraid of it. I might even be taunting 40 a little bit, “Oh yeah? What you got? I can almost do a handstand by myself…”

Maija, Leonia and I went to the hippie market one afternoon and we each bought a few things they we were individually drawn to, but we also bought friendship bracelets, friendship rings, and friendship shawls. We drank friendship beers and then friendship aperol spritzes. We drew the line at friendship caricatures and friendship piercings.

Lucy gave me a bracelet from the shop in Benirras for my birthday, and I’ve layered it on with the others and have a wrist full of metal, which symbolizes the raw self and the capacity to be transformed into a higher, incorruptible self. Yes,please.

Sure, I’m tanned and happy with a bunch of things wrapped around my arms so I look exactly like someone who just came from a yoga retreat on Ibiza. I do not care. I’m nearly 40. It’s time to stop caring for real. Why not look like exactly what we are?

A lot of people don’t tell you how terrific and liberating it is to turn 40. Maybe they don’t want to brag? I don’t know. I can let you know tomorrow. Maybe there’s a hesitance to admitting they’re happy to be aging gracefully without all the silly worries and imagined problems of the twenties and thirties bogging a person down. That stuff is heavy, weighty, and cumbersome.

It’s kind of like the opposite of how nobody tells you how hard it is to be married and to parent, because if they did nobody would do it. We don’t warn each other about the tough stuff, but act all blasé about the good stuff? C’mon, folks, let’s get it together. I’m on the edge of 40 and I’ve never felt happier. True story.

I wasn’t completely sad to be leaving Barcelona because I had Ibiza to look forward to, and I couldn’t be completely crushed leaving Ibiza because I was headed to meet my Soph (will explain in a different post) in Lisbon where I’m turning 40 with one of my dearest friends whose birthday follows mine by 4 days. It’s not just a birthDAY for each of us, it’s a birthWEEK.

Our 40 train is leaving the station. Together.


Mano a Mano

My last day in Barcelona was just too beautiful to go inside, so I went to the Park Guell for my cultural attraction del dia. The park was designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona’s famous architect and it’s as much a park as it is a display of creative architecture.

People told me it was too far to walk there from my hotel, but I hoofed it up the hill early for the opening of the gate. I powered around the park, and got to the top where some ladies had their dogs running around off leash and nobody cared. Dogs are everywhere here, and often walk the city streets without leashes. It’s lovely, and says a lot to me about a place, the way they treat their animals.

I was about to leave the top of the hill, when an older man took my hand and took me through some trees. It sounds scarier than it was. He just wanted to point out a few landmarks. Tibidabo Mountain, across the city with both a church and an amusement park, was lit by the morning sun, and I actually gasped when I saw it, then laughed when he said Tibidabo.

Mano a Mano we went to the other side for a bird’s eye view of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, which I’ll visit when I come back here at the end of the month. All I really know about it now is that the church has been under construction for over one hundred years.

Antonio and I held hands and he walked me all around the park. He only tried to get fresh a couple of times, but listened when I said, “No, Antonio. Dame el mano.”

I took a bunch of pictures (that are stuck on my camera until i get home), but below is an iPhone shot of Antonio.

Catalan is the official language of Barcelona, and though everyone also learns Spanish in school most Catalayunos are loyal to their region, their language, and their customs that the Spanish have tried to brutalize out of them. I’ve learned a lot about the history, but also what is going on right now politically (the Catalayunos don’t currently have a political vote) and how this region differentiates from the rest of the country.

Many people seem to speak a mix of Spanish and Catalan, even if it’s just inserting Catalan words or expressions into a Spanish sentence. Sometimes one sentence is Catalan, then the next Spanish. My Spanish is limited anyway, but boy does that make my head spin. And no, the two languages are not similar. I’ve had more than a few conversations that were limited because of language barriers, and although it’s frustrating at times, it’s refreshing to just communicate the basics and enjoy some silence. Which is curious coming from someone like me who hardly ever shuts up….

I learned a lot from a sweet woman named Angels, who works for a national music program for children and speaks several languages, including English. We sat together at a small tapas bar when she stepped in to save me from a man who was talking only Catalan to me and wanted to take me salsa dancing. Angels gave me her number and we might meet up again before I go home.

I ate at the same place two night in a row because it’s in my neighborhood, and I liked it so much the first time. It’s just perfect.

The first night I had a cheese plate that the bartender didn’t think I could finish (I did), and the next I was so hungry after a day of walking the park, walking miles along the beach, and having no lunch, so I ordered the local potato dish and an Iberian ham sampler. The only person who had faith I could finish it was Angels, and I didn’t disappoint. YUM.

Now I’m on Ibiza, where I met four British guys my age on holiday. They’re all my age, and although we went to one of Ibiza’s infamous beach parties (we were early, so it was quiet…), we unanimously decided that we’d end our night with tea and dessert at a wee Thai bistro near our hotel.

One of my favorite things about getting older: knowing what you want and doing it.

The 40-train leaves the station next week….





Today: Let the Reason Find You

I’ve stayed in some terrible motel rooms. I’ve stayed in rooms where if you came back after hours (guilty) you had to shout at a padlocked gate to be let in, and then wait for a man to come open the gate. He let my friend Shellan and me in one night in what looked to be a hand towel. There was no floor space in that room, but there were two beds, so Shellan and I slept with our suitcases. And we laughed. In the morning we laughed harder when the water pressure in the shower was so strong it removed skin.

I’ve stayed in rooms without hot water, rooms without heat, rooms without air conditioning, and rooms without electricity. I’ve stayed in rooms in oil-boom towns where I was the only one not working on the rig and the entire motel smelled of men far from home.

I’ve stayed in rooms where it felt dangerous to go outside after dark, and rooms where I convinced myself people were letting off fireworks because believing in that was the only way to make it through the night.

There was the room in Billings, Montana that had a pair of underpants large enough to catch wind on a small sailboat hanging over the shower curtain rod. Okay, truth: I didn’t stay in that room; I ran like hell and drove the five hours home.

Tonight I’m in a room on the eastern end of long island. It might be considered a non-smoking room only because no one was actively smoking in it when I arrived, but the stench (despite the open window) spoke otherwise. I came out here because I needed a respite from the city and some space to write and think. I am staying at this particular motel because it’s the only dog friendly motel around and because I wanted to needed to bring my best friend and loyal partner in crime, Luckydog.

Lucky turned twelve a few weeks ago and our traveling days are on the numbered end. Lucky’s twelfth year was a big one. He turned eleven in New Mexico. It was Easter Sunday and we spent some time around the farm where we lived. I made him pose with a cookie.  He didn’t know it yet, but we’d be leaving that place a week later and so when I took him for a birthday run past the fork in the road I knew it was one of the last times, but he didn’t. He has no way of knowing these things, and he simply has to trust me.


The trust between a dog and his owner is amazing. They rely on us for everything, and oftentimes humans fail them, but when a dog is lucky, like Lucky, he knows it. Lucky had a hunch when he picked me, and our story is a love story, perhaps the greatest love story I’ve known.

Almost two years ago I got on a stage in Missoula (where my heart lives) and I told the story about how Lucky and I met. You can read about my experience HERE and at the end there’s a link to the podcast of me telling my story with no notes or anything—just a heart full of love for my boy and a story I adore.

This motel has a laminate floor, which is odd for a motel but probably cleaner than any carpet would be. I’m glad I have flip-flops. The bed sheets are mismatched and I wouldn’t dare take a black light to the bedspread. I’m glad I have my travel survival kit of my own pillows and sleeping bag. There’s no phone or coffee pot. There aren’t even cups. I was given a remote for the television when I checked in.

The towels are rough, small and transparent, but because I never fully unpacked my car from last year’s traveling extravaganza I have my own towels too. I found a French press in my car and I stopped to buy an “emergency” electric kettle (thank you Tanger factory outlets for having a Williams-Sonoma with 20% off electrics, and please god keep me out of the rest of the stores…)

Lucky and I rolled down the windows and took a drive along the North Fork’s wineries and farmland and I smiled and cried because despite how well Lucky and I’ve been making out in the city, exploring uncharted territory is where and how we thrive. We drove without a destination, but I owed him a walk, so we stopped in the village of Greenport for a stroll.

Greenport has everything I like in a town: a hardware store, an old-fashioned soda fountain, a locally owned department store, and a waterfront.




 We found a pet store, where Luck picked something out, and then I bought a dress (at a different shop). “He can come in so long as he doesn’t lift his leg,” the owner said. I stopped at a health food store and bought soap, air freshener and a candle. They had coffee beans but no grinder, so the hunt continued.

I popped into a place called D’Latte, and while the owner made drinks for some other customers I snapped a photo of his gelato sign, and he said, “Please don’t take pictures.”


“I’m sorry,” I said, “I like that you use local ingredients and was going to Yelp or Instagram it… But I won’t…” Despite not getting off to a great start, Frank wanted to make sure I got coffee I like and in order to determine my preference he gave me a scoop of made-by-him coffee gelato. It was a hit and I told Frank I was sure I’d be happy with whatever beans he ground for me.

He spoke in Italian to his friend who walked through the shop, while I stood there eating my gelato. “I just told him I love you,” Frank said, and I said, “But the picture…..” We decided to just let it go.

Frank told me I should stay for open-mike at his restaurant, which is attached to the coffee/gelato shop and I said I had to get back to the motel to work on a book I’ve been writing for too long already, and he said, “come with me….”

We squeezed through the shop into a back room that he uses for private events because he wanted to show me his antique typewriter that still works. The room reeks of writing, art and parties. The light was amazing. I asked if we could make a party when I publish my book and he said of course then pointed to the piano and told me Billy Joel had played it. I asked if I could take a picture.

He said I could take a picture.


Frank had some new employees to train, so we had to get going. He asked where I was staying and then told me he could make a few phone calls and get me a better place to stay—for free—but I told him I have a dog. He tried and said, “I could get you a cottage…all to yourself…on the water, except for the dog.”

“Yeah,” I said, “But it is for the dog.”

Before I left Frank gave me a bottle of wine called Spaghetti Red because he also has a vineyard. I mean, of course he does. I told him I was going to save it, because finishing this book is special to me and I’m silly and sentimental. “Ahhh…..go ahead and drink it; I’ll give ya anothah one.”

I stopped for a couple slices of brick-oven pizza on my way back, and then tried to make a cup of tea but the kettle doesn’t work. Maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe I’m supposed to drink the wine. Maybe I’m supposed to walk out for coffee in the morning because there’s a deli just up the road that appears to be in a converted garage at somebody’s house. As I drove by with all my fixins for morning coffee I worried I might be missing out and would have to figure out a reason to go there, like for an egg and cheese sandwich or lottery ticket. But that white-girl problem took care of itself. 

Sometimes it makes no sense to look for the reasons and just relax and let the reasons find you.


Now: air freshener and regulating the unit that is both an air conditioner and a heater, and before sleep: taking my luckydog for a walk, because this dumpy motel is on a river and I bet it’s gorgeous out there. 




Taking Care of My Grandmother—My Messy, Beautiful Life

This blog post is an updated and edited post from a few months ago. I decided to participate in the Messy, Beautiful Warriors Project, which I wouldn’t have heard about if I hadn’t helped my friend Bridges launch her messy, beautiful blog Shitshow Bridges. I’m constantly reminded that giving and receiving are the same. Constantly. 

Bridges told me about the project, and despite the fact that I have a todo list with umpteen items on it, I said, “Yeah, me too,” which are also (thanks to Brene Brown for pointing this out) among the most powerful words we can say to each other. It’s so simple: me too.

It’s funny, because although I’ve read a few Momastery blog posts and though they were clever and sharp, I didn’t really think it was “for me” for one single, stupid, myopic reason: I’m not a mother. I was wrong, and not just because I’m a mother to Luckydog or a nurturer by nature; Glennon and her mission are so for me. As she said, “the most revolutionary thing you can do is introduce people to each other.” I love this. And now: my messy, beautiful life of taking care of my grandmother….



The last place I ever expected to rediscover my grace was living under one roof with my mother and grandmother. My grandmother, Mimi, is physically fit but lost her mind to dementia, leaving her with is a dicey skillset. On top of that she has a hoarding problem that made her home unfit for habitation. My mother and I are both only children, and it doesn’t require complicated math to see where the responsibility card falls.

When Mimi’s memory deteriorated and the situation escalated I knew that despite what other plans I had for myself—writing my memoir, living on the remote coast of Maine, following the breeze—I was going to have to change those plans. It also became clear I was probably going to have to change myself—or at least make a few modifications—in order to fit into the lives of my family, a family I’d intentionally moved away from.

My mother and I love each other, but for over twenty years we’ve been unable to spend more than a few days together without one of us triggering some sort of eruption. Then, suddenly, we were sharing toothpaste, stocking the kitchen, and formulating a plan for our family’s future. I moved into my mother’s tidy upstairs apartment, while Mimi lived in the downstairs apartment that even she admitted looked like a cyclone had hit it.

Then, under one roof, my mother and I did something I had no confidence we were capable of doing: we cooperated. It could be said that we didn’t have a choice, but we did. There’s always a choice; you either show up or you don’t. My mother and I showed up for my grandmother and we showed up for each other.


My mother and I have lived together in the same apartment for seven months and counting. I wouldn’t say we’re thriving under the circumstances, but we’re certainly surviving. Thus far no blood has been shed. Five percent of the time we’re yelling, slamming things and one of us is storming out of the house, but ninety-five percent of that time we’re doing a bang-up coordinating our efforts.

Caring for someone with dementia is challenging under any conditions, but my mother and I had the added attraction of cleaning up the consequences of Mimi’s hoarding, the tangible, labor-intensive evidence of what happens when issues are repressed. Putting on a face while refusing to talk about what’s underneath is not a mask that can be worn forever. It’s messy. It’s beautiful. It’s life.

My mother’s shame over her mother’s hoarding was pervasive and paralyzing, but together we did what we’d been dreading for years but what was an inevitable reality: we cleaned out the house. We pulled up floors and tore down walls. We dug deep into the recesses of cupboards and cabinets. We shined a light in the dark corners and we unearthed the remnants of several long lives. We found things we wished we hadn’t. We opened the curtains. We did it together.

At one point, a couple of months before I moved into my family’s house, my mother erupted and her lava flowed directly toward me. She needed my help but didn’t know how to ask for it. She’d been trying to protect me from the gravity of my grandmother’s disease, but couldn’t find the gumption to ask me to come and stay because neither one of us would’ve entertained that as a viable option. We didn’t say it but we both thought the same thing, “No way. We’d kill each other.”

I’d been popping in and out all summer, helping with some long overlooked tasks around the house but sticking to my timeline and my intentionally fortified boundaries. I had a wonderful summer, and the friends who hosted me around New England offered me so much more than respite, fresh flowers, and a pillow for my head: they offered connection; they offered themselves. But as the season turned to autumn I knew what I had to do: I had to go home.


For most of my life Mimi has always been on the verge of “getting the house together,” because she didn’t want me to visit and have to figure out a place to sit or have to hunt for something clean to drink out of. She’d hear I was coming for a visit and promise that in the coming weeks she’d get things squared away. “It’s good motivation,” she’d tell me, but I’d be disappointed when I arrived to discover that the most she’d done was move some things from one side of the room to the other or stacked a few pieces to make it easier to turn a circle.

As I got older I turned my disappointment into a stimulus and I offered to help. I told her I was strong to move anything, but if I tried to move so much as a shopping bag of VHS tapes Mimi grew fierce and protective despite the lack of a working player for those videos. Mimi told me she didn’t want me to louse up my vacation on account of her and that she “could handle it.” But she couldn’t.

When I moved into the upstairs apartment with my mother I told her I’d stay as long as we were being productive but I wasn’t going to be an enabler. I knew that the way of thinking that got us into this mess wouldn’t get us out, and refused to be part of the problem. Mimi’s splintered short-term memory enabled us to make progress cleaning out, but as we removed the rubble—dozens of blown-out light bulbs; a plastic whiskey barrel full of mop handles and curtain rods; boxes of small, useless, metal parts—we revealed deeper layers and the truth became clear: the emotional and physical burden of my grandmother’s disease was bringing down the house and it was taking her with it. My mother and I were next on the list.

There were two broken televisions, furniture you couldn’t give away and orphaned lampshades stacked like miniature versions of Pisa. The first month I was there we filled two dump trucks and dropped off twenty carloads of stuff to the thrift store. My mother and I shredded a dozen thirty-gallon bags worth of decades-old bank statements, and recycled just as many bags of long-expired coupons, discount-store circulars and random scraps of paper. There were enough envelopes, blank greeting cards and paper clips to open an office supply store. My proposed departure date came and went; I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Several defunct light switches were taped over, and most of the outlets were inaccessible. Those that could be reached were overloaded with tangles of outdated extension cords that snarled in corners and ran like track marks across the parquet floors. Before we started emptying the apartment, a person had to shimmy sideways to get from one end to the other. We threatened to call the fire department or insurance company, and Mimi’s response was to slam a door in my mother’s face or tell me to pack my bags. She lost her ability to reason, but one truth was as clear as ever: she didn’t want anyone going inside her house.


 With the courage my mother lacks, I matched my grandmother’s fierceness and told her, “I’m making the decisions around here, and I will not letting you die in that filthy apartment.” What started as a threat escalated into me in a mask and rubber gloves, stuffing two black contractor bags full of moldy clothes from her bathtub. I choked on fumes and tears and worked for four hours in that bathroom. Mimi wasn’t mad for long, but she also didn’t notice that I’d done anything.

Another day I removed fifty percent of the living room’s contents, and when Mimi returned from an outing with my mother she stood and moved her eyes from one side of the room to the other as if watching a tennis match. My mother and I held our breath waiting for Mimi’s reaction, and then finally she said, “It looks good. Did you dust?”

One Sunday my mother took Mimi out and I stayed behind to tackle her bedroom, a hideaway tucked in the back. I started by bagging up and dragging out everything belonging to those we’ve waked and buried. It felt callous, but we can’t keep it all. I reminded myself that what got us into this mess won’t get us out, and that’s the mantra I repeat.

After my grandfather died, Mimi starting sleeping under a throw blanket in his broken-down recliner—getting a new one would’ve meant allowing someone inside the house—although she had two beds and a cedar hope chest full of enough bed linens to outfit most of the block. I bagged most of the bedding for Goodwill, but kept a few sets, and erring toward hope, I decided to freshen up the bed I’d only recently cleared of debris.

I pulled back the musty comforter and discovered that my grandmother had made art on her bedsheet with a ballpoint pen. I crawled up there and kneeled over the hand-drawn faces for more intimate inspection. Some sported sideways smiles while other had simple, straight lines where mouths should be. Some had bold eyelashes, others slits. She signed her autograph a few times, and penned a note to me, “Hi Jaime, Hope all is well with you, Love ya.” Swallowing around the impossible lump in my throat, I reversed my crawl and stripped that bed.

I’ve always loved that verb for changing a bed: strip. I made it naked. I left nothing to the imagination. The bare mattress’ satin cover looked like it had been sliced with a mandoline, and a ruptured side seam revealed compressed innards. Even without a body sleeping on it the mattress had come undone from the weight of what was piled on it. I located a mattress cover, a set of soft sheets and a wool, brocade coverlet my parents brought back from their honeymoon in Greece.

I pulled sheets taut, tucked tight hospital corners and jammed stained, clumpy pillows into cases and decorative shams. I made that bed as if it mattered, and then I stood back, admired my work, and burst into tears. The day we moved Mimi into a secure, dementia unit in an assisted living I unmade that bed she’d appreciated but not slept in. Once again I stripped it of its clothes.

When I’m with my mother I keep it together, but alone I let it rip. My cleaning wasn’t going to mend my grandmother’s brain or heart, but yet I continued. I dug through rubble, scrubbed surfaces and humped bags to the curb in part because it needed to get done, but also because I hoped that an organized exterior might calm some of the interior agitation not only for Mimi, but for all three of us. I had faith in that possibility, but that’s not why I did it: I did it for love.


When my mother and I drifted out of our depths, I hired two geriatric care consultants to guide us back, assess the situation and help formulate a strategy. My lathered up grandmother was furious that I invited strangers into our private business though I assured her I’d made the choice out of love. “If this is the way you show love I’d rather you hate me,” she hissed, then asked with a straight face who died and left me boss. She told me I should be ashamed of myself and ordered me to leave her alone, but minutes later she forgot she was mad and agreed with the consultants who told her she’s lucky to have a granddaughter who cares so much. At the end of my rope I asked my grandmother, “Which is it?”

“I love you when you’re not giving me a hard time,” she said with a snicker, attempting to neutralize the tension with humor. My mother held her breath and I shocked even myself when I replied, “Are you telling me that your love is conditional?” Among the underlying causes of OCD and compulsive hoarding are fears of not being loved and a desire to receive love through control. My grandmother has always diffused complicated situations by saying, “Everything is under control, baby,” but I realize now that when she’s said that it’s a sign that things are wildly out of control. It’s an outdated dogma that repetition validates myth, and I no longer buy into my grandmother’s pithy expressions. The woman I’d always viewed as rock solid became transparent to me

I showed up to help my mother and to provide my grandmother with some of the tenderness my mother is unable to show, but on some level I did that physically and emotionally challenging work for myself. Loving someone when it’s difficult is one of life’s greatest challenges and rewards.

It’s amazing what we’re capable of when choice is removed from the equation.

We have a responsibility to care for our young and our old, though often the work is terrible. I had to remind my grandmother to shower and eat, and when she soiled her pants I was the default bearer of bad news. My mother said, “I don’t know how you do it,” and the truth was: I didn’t either.

When I did Mimi’s laundry I discretely discarded what wasn’t salvageable, and I handled those delicate scenarios with as much compassion and grace as possible. Mimi told me she admires my candor. She tells me I’m strong and we both know I get it from her.

Every day Mimi held my hands and begged me to never leave her because she doesn’t know how she ever managed without me. She assured me that someday I’ll leave and have a life of my own, and I tried to explain that I’d already been doing that for fifteen years but to her I’m always going to be nineteen and a college sophomore. Which isn’t the worst place to be as I creep up on forty. 

Mimi’s pleas felt viselike to a tumbleweed like myself, though occasionally my old grandmother showed up and reminded me that I shouldn’t change my life on account of her. Together we cried, and she’d beg me, “Don’t tell Mommy.” I was encouraged when my grandmother cried because she was expressing her emotions without resorting to rage or compulsion. She was that much closer to acceptance. Every day new truths manifest from the dregs and sometimes they are messy and beautiful but that’s okay.  It’s the truth that will get us through this.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!





Fear and Bravery: Best Friends

It’s been almost a month since I had a snake in my garage. I spent two weeks in Florida and saw five different groups of friends (incredible), and near the end I had a couple of days to myself. Of course it was on one of my solo days that a sixish-foot long snake slithered into my garage.

The garage door was open because I was bringing the garbage bins inside. As I rolled up from the curb I saw the big, black snake enter the garage. That would have been bad enough, but then a scarier thing: he disappeared. I mean I know he was in there—I saw him—but then he was gone. If I hadn’t seen him enter I wouldn’t have known he was there. It’s tricky to wrap a head around.

If I didn’t know he was there I wouldn’t have had anything to fear, except we all seem hard-wired to fear what we don’t know, so does that mean fear is our default setting? It wrinkles my face to think about it, and I’m almost forty now so I’ll pass on unnecessary wrinkling, thank you very much. {It reminds me of this post I wrote a few months about the magic show that blew my mind.}

Snakes are not my favorite. I’ll gladly take a rodent or spider over a snake. I get that prickly-all-over feeling when even a small, non-poisonous snake crosses my path. My breath hushes for things that might be snakes, things like sticks, dried roots or palm fronds. Hell, I’ve leaped for objects slightly more nefarious than a straw wrapper. (Ok. I’ve jumped over a straw wrapper.)

In college I dated a guy who had a pet Python. I didn’t believe him at first, and the first time I went to his room (at approximately four in the morning) “to see his snake” I jumped on the radiator and split my jeans when his laundry bag bucked. The following summer I shared a house with that snake, and in lieu of passing by the snake’s area of the house (behind a glassed in fireplace, but still….) in the middle of the night to reach the bathroom I opted to go out the back door and pee in the yard.

When Lucky and I lived in Marin County we stayed in the Terra Linda section of San Rafael, which is a dead-end neighborhood with trails on three sides. Steep switchbacks from just behind my house lead to a ridgeline fire-road, and from there we could connect to the rest of the county on a pretty elaborate trail system.

I moved into my Terra Linda apartment in January, and I was thrilled to discover that in the rainy months I had the local trails to myself. Up there Lucky could go off leash. Up there I could sing, scream, cry. If it was sunny I journaled; if it was raining I let the rain wash my face. Up there on that ridge I experienced all of the elements and with them a broad range of emotion. It was a good year, but not an easy year. Hell: it was a damn tough year. It was one of those years I’m glad I had because I’m better/stronger/wiser for it, but I’d pull the comforter over my head if I had to do it again.

Winter ended and the weather (and my mood) improved. I was able to ditch the rain boots that went up to my knee and the raincoat that went down to my knees. I no longer had to wrap my iPod in a Ziploc. I graduated from the sad songs I’d listened to all winter to my go-to spring soundtrack: reggae. {Amen.}

I showed some skin, earned sunburned shoulders and a few freckles. I packed water for the dog and myself. It shocked me that even in the nice weather people weren’t showing up on “my trail.” I supposed they were sticking to the well-worn trails around Mount Tamalpais, to trails with reviews in guidebooks and maps both to and of the trail.

It was true: with the sun and light came the tall grass, and the trail behind my house became overgrown and hard to see. It’s not exactly a destination hike. It’s not in the guidebooks, but some of the best things aren’t. There’s a single (4-star) yelp review for the area, and a few listings on various websites, but none list the trail I started on as a launching point which little more than a game-trail. I get it. It makes sense to favor instead the wider trails with gates, trash cans, posted rules and parking areas. This was fine by me; I knew “my” trail’s bends by heart and didn’t need to a map to find my way to the ridge. I liked the fact that 90% of the time I was the only one there.

One day some non-English speaking Japanese folks were leaving the trailhead as I arrived, saying things I couldn’t understand. They made zigzagging motions with their hands and I though they meant the switchbacks so I gave them thumbs up and nodded like a lunatic. They were dressed in loafers and church clothes and eventually they walked away. I figured they’d decided their footwear wasn’t going to cut it on the steep trail.

A couple of days later I was heading up the hill and a woman above me on the train waved her wide-brimmed hat and walking stick in the air. I paused the Madonna song I’d just queued up for the uphill grind and removed my headphones from my ears. “Are you okay?” I asked, “Do you need water?”

“There are SNAKES up here! So many snakes! Snakes everywhere! Do you live here? Hold your dog!She was frantic. I found out she was visiting the area, and had taken it upon herself to go up the ridge without asking her hosts, who were at work. I realized that the Japanese folks’ had probably been warning me about snakes they’d just seen on the trail, and I enthusiastically kept going because I had an imaginary music video to shoot.

The woman with the hat and the stick made her way down to me with reluctant, leery steps. She parted the grass as she went and let me know when she found holes. “For rodents?” I suggested, but she was unwavering, “Snake dens,” she said, “Snakes.”

I know a gopher hole when I see one, but was polite and didn’t say anything.

She looked at me as if I smelled bad.

Once I was up on the ridge, I saw in the distance two older men who’d accessed the fire-road from a neighborhood on the other side of the hill. Both looked like retired park rangers in monochromatic beige and heavy-duty, leather, hiking boots more suited for backpacking than a morning stroll. As we got closer to each other I stopped my singing-dancing-hiking routine, and tried to appear more like a normal person and less like a wannabe gospel-singing, backup dancer for Madonna.

I saw that the men had tucked their pants into their boots, most likely to protect from ticks, and I suddenly felt naked (and idiotic) in my miniature spandex shorts, tank top, running shoes and ankle socks. It was a hot, sunny morning, and truth be told: I was thinking about tan lines. But still.

The guys let me know that all winter the rattlesnakes had been denned up, but now that it was warm and dry they were out. “That hill you just came up is south facing and loaded with snake dens,” they told me, and then they said something else about wearing foot and ankle protection. Maybe something about wearing clothes. I dunno, it’s hard to say because I sort of blacked out for a minute.

Right. Gopher holes.

I don’t have an irrational fear of snakes, but they’re not my favorite. (See above: peeing in the yard.) I was concerned when the snake slithered into my garage in Florida, but I didn’t freak out. I really just wanted to know if the snake was in or out, and in order to know that I’d have to see it leave. I closed the garage door while I was at the pool, and when I got back the snake had looped itself around one of the garage door rails. That poor snake must have been terrified when the door came to life, and somehow it survived getting sliced by it.

I was just  running inside for a quick five-minute changeover, so decided to leave the door open. When I came out the snake was gone from its perch and on the driveway: success. I considered the possibility that snake #1 was hiding in a cardboard box, behind the recycling bin, or around my ski stuff (Everyone has skis and snowshoes in Florida garages, right?), and that the snake on the driveway was snake #2. The theory about two snakes was short-lived, and I quickly aborted any worrying about “maybes” because that’s pretty much the best way for a person to drive herself crazy.

The snake on the driveway had to be the snake that had been in my garage. Period.

During the time I was upstairs changing I posted a photo to Facebook. I guess I did this to garner some support (Facebook speak for sympathy), and also just in case the snake was poisonous and struck my ankle on the way out the door. If that happened I’d need to know what kind it was.

In short: just in case I didn’t answer the phone (ever) my demise could be tracked back to the snake. It seemed practical.

My mother skipped Facebook and sent me a direct text, “I would call 911!” I thought it was pretty crazy dramatic until I read the other Facebook posts and private messages:


Eeek! (x3)

That is a big fucking snake.


What the hell! Put the for sale sign up!!!! (My mother, again. She got six likes for this.)

I’d never sleep in that house again! (private)

The general consensus was “No bueno,” but I wasn’t surprised to see that my friend Karine Aigner went against the grain and said, “Snakes are misunderstood and quite fabulous creatures!” I wanted to talk to Karine about it. She was a Senior Photo Editor at National Geographic, and is now a freelance wildlife photographer. She spent a lot of her childhood overseas, but we had some years growing up together in Connecticut. She was one of my first Facebook friends, and her photos continue to be one of my favorite things in the newsfeed. They’re amazing. She gets up close to lions and tigers, but she also loves high heels and good wine and cheese (on which she could live). You should check out her portfolio HERE.

I asked Karine if she’d be willing to contribute a snake photo to this blog post (that I was supposed to intended to write on the plane ride home three weeks ago…), and she said yes and we decided that “glamour shots” would be better than eating or action shots. (You’re welcome.)The conversation sparked some ideas for future collaboration of my words and her images, and also sparked an interesting dialogue between us.

What does it mean to take chances? What does it mean to do what you love?

My heart definitely beat a little faster with that snake in the garage, but I knew I could handle it. My senses were heightened, but I wasn’t paralyzed. Most of my scariest life’s experiences have been alone, and I’ve learned to trust myself. I’ve learned that when I need to know what to do I should just ask myself; I actually have all of the answers I need. (You do too.)

People tell me I’m brave and adventurous. Some say I’m lucky, and I agree that I am, but most of the people who think I’m “lucky” are the ones who wouldn’t give up their comfortable houses with walk-in closets, commercial gas ranges, linen closets, built-in bookshelves, etc. So I guess I’m lucky that I’m okay being myself even if it’s not always the most comfortable. I much more at ease when I’m taking chances than when I’m not. {Yes, that is my final answer.}

I move about, I quit jobs, I say yes. I talk to strangers. I go places with strangers. I do things I might think better of doing if I thought for an extra minute, but I stop myself from over-thinking and just go. A lot of what I do I do simply for the experience. I don’t do it so I have something to write about, but I often end up with a lot to write about.

I thought about interviewing Karine about her life as a wildlife photographer, but then she told me she’s going to revive her blog so I figured she could tell you herself about her experiences shooting snakes or whatever it is she wants to share with you about her life as a professional photographer.

Here are a few of Karine’s photos of snakes. They are 1) an upright Eastern Diamondback 2) a Burmese Python crossing the road (this is the type I lived with!), 3) a Texas Rat Snake, and 4) a Copperhead in leaves.





Here’s a blog post of Karine’s from four years ago that’s terrific. It’s called “Far for a Week?” and I think it’s just as timely now as it was then. In fact: It’s timeless.

Karine told me that she hears variations on the things I hear, things like, “I wish I had your job” and “You have an amazing life.” She sure does, but I might add that there’s probably a direct correlation between having an amazing life and living a brave life despite fear. It’s about acknowledging and accepting what might get complicated, but trusting that in the end everything will be okay.


Because here’s the thing: we’re all afraid. If we say we’re not afraid then we’re lying. Fear is natural. It lets us know when we’ve reached our edge, and if we want to grow and expand we have to go to the edge and at least look over it. Maybe we leap, but maybe we don’t. We owe it to ourselves to at least take a peek at what might be out there.

Dr. Brené Brown (my fave) said, “I drive by big trucks sometimes in Texas and they have that sticker on the back that says, ‘Ain’t Scared’ or something, and I think, Love and light to you. You’re in so much fear. Because when you put ‘Ain’t Scared’ on your car, you’re scared.” She goes on to say, “”We’re all afraid. We just have to get to the point where we understand it doesn’t mean that we can’t also be brave.”

We all have doubts. Every single one of us doubts something. Sometimes it’s big: Should I stay in this relationship? Should I move? Should I find a new career? Sometimes it’s esoteric or abstract: What am I here for? Am I good enough? Do I matter?

It can be exhausting to doubt without an action plan, but without bravery an action plan can be hard to come by. Fear and doubt aren’t mutually exclusive, but they can be best friends.

Speaking of best friends:

Lucky turns twelve on Monday. When we first came to NYC I worried that he’d be freaked out by all the noise. He might’ve been (a little) but he didn’t show it, and he dove nose-first into life as a city dog. He started with the gateway foods: bagels, pizza, tacos and now he’s graduated to guacamole, cole slaw and egg rolls. He sometimes inhales a piece of paper or a bag that used to have food on/in it. His digestive system is ironclad.

Mimi moved into assisted living a week ago and is thriving. Within the first hour she got her nails done. She’s socializing and showering. She’s participating in activities, eating meals with new friends, and inviting people to see her room. It’s amazing. If you’ve followed Mimi’s story here or on Facebook you know that my mother and I’ve been struggling to keep her happy and safe despite worsening dementia. We’ve been struggling to keep ourselves sane in the process, but it’s not a two-person job. There will be more on Mimi to come, but for right now I wanted to let her fan club know that she’s doing great.