A Gift for Me? Why–Thank You!

The most popular question I get these days is, “Where are you?” The short answer: Schroon Lake, New York. Learning, yet again, to accept the generosity of others. In this case, a rent-free home with more bedrooms than I have holes in my head (visitors are very welcome!).

I know many of you marvel at my ability to seemingly “stumble” into such things. In this case, however, I stumbled into generous parents. My own. Accepting their generosity, however, has had its ups and downs.

1999: Parent as ATM 

“Where do you want to go next?” my father asked as we walked down Church Street in Burlington, Vermont, my mother window shopping not far behind us.

“Well, I need to go to an ATM machine.”

“What? Why? You don’t have any money?”

“I do have money, I just need to get it from the ATM.”

“No, don’t do that. Here,” he said, pulling a wad of cash from his pocket. “What do you need?”

“I don’t need your money Dad. I have my own. Just not on me.”

“You don’t have any cash on you right now?” he asked, sounding incredulous. I took offense.

“No. Nobody my age carries cash anymore.” His brows scrunched together as he tried to figure this out. How could I explain the convenience of ATM machines to a man who has never in his life used one?

My mother piped in, “Lou, leave her alone. Just let her do what she wants.” She could see my frustration rising.

“Well, I can just give you some money,” my father said. “Then you don’t have to get any.”

“I don’t need your money!” I yelled and stomped off ahead of them to find an ATM machine.

Now I’m not complaining that my father likes to give his children money. But as a twenty-something finally out on her own, I wanted to  prove I could support myself. Which meant not taking money from Dad. My mother understood this. My father did not.

“I just wanted to help you out,” my father said when I returned with cash in my pocket. I looked at my mother. She must have tried to help him understand. Couldn’t he just let this go?

“I don’t need your help.” I said with a growl.

“Lou, just drop it,” said my mother. But my father was never good at that.

2011: Love and Money

Years later a friend told me about the Love Languages.”You’ve never heard of this?” he said.

“No. What is it?”

“Well, this therapist has studied lots of people in relationships. He says there are five ways people express love. You can take a test to find what your top two are. The idea is that you and your partner have to know how to speak each other’s languages.”

“Give me an example,” I said.

“Okay. So one of them is physical touch. So let’s say that’s how I like to give and receive love. If you don’t like to hold hands in public, then there may be some conflict there. We have to learn to speak the other person’s language once in a while for it to work.”

That night I googled “Love Languages.” And read and re-read the language called “Receiving Gifts”. That wasn’t me. I lived quite simply and got rid of stuff any chance I got. But you know who liked receiving gifts? My father. Whereas my mother has determined she doesn’t need anything and loves when we give donations in her name for Christmas, my father still likes getting gifts. I read on and learned the way you like to receive affection is also the way you like to give it. And that, right there, explained my father trying to give me money. It wasn’t that he felt I was helpless without him. It was how he showed he loved me. I cried. And here I was pushing away his love all the time. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky to have a dad who shows his affection this way?

I told my mother about the book. “So the next time he offers me money, I’m just going to bite my tongue, and say thank you, and take it.” And that’s just what I did. And what I continue to do to this day.

2013: A New Approach

Dad, to his credit, has also changed his approach. When he gives me a fifty before I leave to go back home after a holiday visit he’ll say, “Now, I know you don’t need this . . . ” Or he’ll give it a purpose, “Here. The gas is on me.” Or “Get yourself a snack at the airport.” To which my mother says, “Or a couple drinks,” with a smile.

Then Dad avoided talking to me about it altogether:  after a three day visit to my home, I walked into the bathroom to find a bill sitting on the ledge below the mirror. He once hid a bill in the case for my iPad. Message received. No words needed.

2014: The Price is Right

And so it is that I’ve accepted Dad (and Mom)’s gift of a place to stay for a couple months. Or longer, if we so choose. I will get back Asheville eventually. But if Dad has his way, not too soon. He loves having all five children living in the same state.  I marvel at the irony of it all: I left New York three years ago saying I would never again live in a place that requires a person wear fleece in May. Yet here I am. Showing Dad how much I love him. 😉

An Update and a Thank You

“I thought maybe I got off your e-mail list somehow,” my former piano teacher told me today. “But then I went on your blog and saw you just haven’t written anything in a while. ”

This is true. I’m not sure why I haven’t written. Not for lack of adventures–that’s for sure. So here’s a little taste of what we’ve been up to:

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Bastille Day in Vannes

Since leaving our respective homes back in May, Michael and I have shared five apartments, two houses, one cruise ship cabin, and three hotel rooms–in six countries, three US states, and on one body of water:

 

Our Saturday view in Ceret

  • We hung our underwear out to dry over the streets of Aix-en-Provence (that’s where the drying rack was).
  • Michael stuck his trumpet out our window to play for the tourists in Vannes (but as we were on the third floor, no one saw where it was coming from, which suited him just fine).
  • We peered down from our windows in Ceret every Saturday to see the market being set up (and of course ventured out into it).
  • We learned to keep a closer eye on our bags in Barcelona (you read about that one).
  • We hosted a dinner party in Asheville (in a lovely house bigger than any I ever hope to own).
  • And just last weekend we watched my brother (finally) marry the wonderful woman he’s been dating for a very long time.
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My niece and my new sister-in-law.

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The view from the porch at my writing retreat

For those of you thinking that my days of solo travel are over, I beg to differ. Over the last four months, Michael and I have spent six weeks apart. To the aforementioned tallies, I can personally add ten different hostels, one hotel, one house, and one farm–and an additional two countries.

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On the Camino . . . Again

  • Just two weeks after we arrived in France, I flew to Portugal to spend ten days on the Portuguese Camino to Santiago.
  • I spent a couple days in Paris to meet a friend from NY whose travels happened to coincide with mine.
  • I left Michael in Vannes and hopped a boat to a goat farm on an island for a week of volunteer work.
  • Less than twenty-four hours after returning to the US, I drove up to New York for some family time. Four days in New York turned into ten. Because I was enjoying it. And because I can.
  • I spent a few days with Michael before leaving him again for two weeks on my twice-yearly writing retreat.
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Michael and I on Schroon Lake

So what’s next? This month, Michael will be in Asheville and California. I’ll be in New York and Montreal. And we’ll meet again in a house that stands just thirty seconds away from the shores of Schroon Lake–whose waters will be frozen over by the time we leave there in December.

Summing it all up like this, I’m a bit speechless–and I’m a writer, so that’s saying a lot.

During these times–when I look in awe at the wonderful life I am blessed with–all I can think to do is give thanks.

I’d like to thank you all, dear readers. You who have said, “Go!”. You who have read this blog–some for many years. Thank you for subscribing. For telling your friends about this blog, or about me, in hopes of inspiring someone else. Thank you to those who have posted a comment or contacted me personally. Thank you for asking me to speak to you, your friends, your students. Thank you to those of you who have made a change in your life and shared your fears and excitement with me. If you’re one of those people, stop right now and be damn proud of yourself. I’m sure proud of you.

My first public reading–John C. Campbell Folk School, March, 2008

I don’t know if or how my life would be different if I didn’t start this blog. But I can tell you this: my life is so much better for having done so. And for that I thank my first writing class: our teacher, Glenda Beall, who gently coaxed our stories out of us, my classmates who listened to those stories and laughed or cried and told me to keep writing, the classmate who showed me what a blog was when I had no intention of ever starting one, the classmates who started the on-line writing group and eventually our twice-yearly retreats, and to all my successive writing teachers and classmates.

And to all of you. I now know I like to write for an audience, and I thank you for showing up to my performance.

Luck? I think not.

I should take showers more often. Not for hygiene reasons (I think life is entirely too short to waste so much of it on such a silly daily ritual). I’d take them more often for this reason only: it’s under that flow of water that I come up with some of my best writing ideas. Tonight, it was this (with apologies for all the hot water wasted because I wanted to keep working on the idea):

Since graduating high school, I have never lived in the same home (or town) more than two years.  I’ve never lived in the same state more  than four. Never held a full-time job longer than sixteen months, a part-time job longer than five years. And this was all by choice.

Long have I wondered if I would ever find “it”: the place, the job, (or, for that matter the spouse) with which I would have a lasting love affair. Conversations with friends  have often centered on this very topic: my (at times exhausting) search for “it.” Ideas about what “it” could be. Where “it” could be. What I’d learned “it” certainly wasn’t.

And then one day I realized (or maybe I read it in a book, or heard it from a friend) that THIS is who I am. Right now, in this moment. It may or may not be my future. But really, who cares dear Rebecca? So what if I never find work I want to do for any length of time. I am, in this moment, someone who finds the idea a little boring. So what if I move every few years? Frankly, the idea often excites me (though my mother will tell you it also very often drives me insane). Because think about it: after just seven months of living in Asheville, I found myself exploring new territory less and less. I had found the places I loved to watched live music, to linger over a good meal with friends, to curl up with a good book. And I didn’t care to search anymore.

But as they (i.e. my mother) say, “The grass is always greener.” When I’m on the road, I often wish for the comfort of knowing exactly the place to go for that perfect meal, that soul-searching conversation, that hip-swaying music. But when I’m in place where I have all of that, my soul starts to whisper, “It’s time.” Time for a trip. Maybe to a new town ten minutes away. Or a country a plane ride away. Or maybe it’s time to move. Or take a sabbatical. 

I have lived a wonderful life, filled with incredible experiences, unforgettable people, some of whom passed through my life for just a moment, others who stuck around a bit longer, and every variation in between. I am damn lucky. Actually, no. As my minister said the other day, “Luck has nothing to do with it.” And a light bulb came on. “You bring into your life that which you put out there.” Oh. My. God.

  • I thought back to the conversation with my mother that very day about the new potential job I seemingly ran into. “Why is it that wherever you go people want to give you jobs?”
  • I remember the time I called a financial planner for advice. In between my contacting him and us having our phone call, his wife read my blog. When I asked his rates he said, “Oh – sorry I didn’t mention this earlier. My wife is completely enamored by you and the way you live your life, and so am I, so we’ve decided to take you on pro bono.” I recalled a friend’s reaction upon hearing this. “How is it you always manage to fall bass-ackwards into these things?”
  • Yes, I’m the girl that had two nights of couchsurfing turn into seven months of rent-free living in a town I loved. Oh, and did I mention my hosts were not only fascinating people, but also had a love of cooking and sharing it with me?

This may all seem lucky to you. Indeed long-time friends, upon hearing what I just “stumbled” into, often say, “Well, I’m surprised, but not really, because it is you after all. Of course it would happen to you.” And maybe that’s just it. Remember the film “It Could Happen to You”? I don’t either, but I remember the title. And silly me, I believed it.

But it turns out it wasn’t silly at all.

  • I’m working thirty-two hours per week these days. I can take those eight hours off whenever I so please. Luck? Nope. When I first took the job, it’s what I said I would do: make myself so indispensable that they couldn’t turn down my request.
  • That free housing in Asheville? Nope. That wasn’t “luck” either. I first of all believed that the world is full of good people, and found a whole community of them at couchsurfing.org. Then I put out to the universe (my friends, strangers) that I’d like to live in Asheville. I didn’t need to know how. I just had to put the idea out there. And the opportunity came to me in a way I never could have imagined.

Don’t limit your possibilities by telling the universe exactly what you want,” my minister said a few weeks ago. “Don’t say you want a million dollars. Because honestly, would you turn down the person who offered you a hundred million? Instead, put the idea of abundance out there. And watch what happens. There’s more out there than you ever imagined.”

Huh. This woman knew me. I’m the girl that thinks the question “Where do you want to be in five years” is so silly for this very reason. “There is no way I could know that,” I say. “Do you have any idea how many things exist now that none of us imagined five years ago? And you want me to limit my thinking to only what I know, only what I can envision? Five years from now I’ll be doing things none of us could have never predicted.” But they’ll be things someone put out to the universe at some point. And “by luck,” they showed up.

—–

Go ahead. Try it. I dare you. Put some outrageous idea out there. No need to figure out how it will happen. That’s not necessary. Just believe in the idea. Write it down. Tell a few people. Or not. Make a collage about it. Or not. Just put it out there, then hide it away or tell the world. And watch what happens.

Monday Night (Asheville Style)

I lay on the chaise lounge of my screened-in porch reading a book while waiting for my friend Amanda to pick me up. We were headed to a fashion show and I was clad in jeans and sandals. The only “fashionable” thing I donned was a silky spaghetti strap top. I wondered if it was enough.

I live in Asheville–where jeans and flip-flops can be worn most anywhere. But I realized this might be my one chance to dress up and not be the only one. So I put the book down, and headed inside to see what my closet held. A short black skirt replaced my jeans. I slid my feet into heeled Mary Jane’s and looked in the mirror. Completely out of place for a  Monday night in Asheville, I thought. But then nothing is really “out of place” in a town where bumper sticks implore us to please “Keep Asheville Weird.”

Amanda arrived dressed in her business casual. We drove the two miles into town, parked and started our walk toward the venue, my feet reminding me that the shoes I wore are a pair I consider “sitting shoes”: they’re not ideal for walking down bricked sidewalks, or for walking period.

As we walked down Broadway, a car pulled up beside us. The driver, a guy in his thirties with tousled hair, said, “Excuse me. Do you know of anyplace around here to get fresh vegetable juice?” Pause here just a moment. Take in the scene. A man. My age. Asking where he can get vegetable juice. I’m sure there are other places on this earth where this might happen, but I have never lived in one.

Amanda and I sputtered through some answers. “Green Sage?”

“They’re closed,” he said.

I racked my brain. I’d seen places around town whose menus included home-made concoctions like this, but none came to mind.

“Maybe Rosetta’s–all their food is vegan,” said Amanda.

“And if they don’t have it, they’ll know someplace that does,” I added. With that, we sent him off.

Upon entering the fashion show I was floored by how many women donned dresses and heels. I’d never seen so many well dressed Ashevillians in one place.

Those of you that know me may wonder what possessed me to attend a fashion show–me, the girl who rarely shops and, if she does, does so in consignment stores. Well, this wasn’t just any fashion show. It was a benefit for the Asheville Community Theater. In true Asheville style, the four categories were: paper, light, nature, and upcycled/recycled. Mind you, I’d never heard the word “upcycled” until I moved to Asheville.  There’s an entire shop here dedicated to such things: items made from something else. Purses made of old seat belts caught my eye last I stopped in there.

The winner in the upcycled/recycled category was 11-year-old Luc Clerici, who fashioned a dress out of labels from plastic water bottles and Campbell’s soup cans. In the nature category? A dress made with plenty of fresh flowers all of which I imagined would be composted after the show. Composting is the norm here, after all.

After the show, we chatted with friends as designers walked by carrying their fashions to their cars: outfits crafted from playing cards, DVD covers, and socks.

The night wound down and Amanda and I headed back to the car. And I made a mental note to find out who in town makes vegetable juice, because I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll be asked that question.

Falling

I’d done this once before: hooked myself up to ropes and carabiners and attempted to scale an indoor rock climbing wall. After that first class I thought perhaps I’d do it again–not for exercise mind you, but for the sculpted arms and flat stomach I’d always dreamed of.

Unfortunately, rock climbing requires two people. And I had nary a soul to join me.

Fast forward ten plus years. My friend Ben, who goes on a regular basis, tells me it would be a great way to meet men. This peaks my interest, as it would any warm-blooded, single, thirty-something heterosexual woman.

“I have no arm strength,” I tell him.

“Doesn’t matter–you use your legs.” I know for a fact that one can’t climb a wall without the use of ones arms. “Your arms just to hold you to the wall.  You don’t pull yourself up with your arms, you push yourself up with your legs.” This was all starting to come back to me. The arms don’t get sculpted because you’re pulling your entire body weight up with them; they get sculpted because your using them to hold on for dear life.

But that’s where the ropes come in. As long as you trust the person you’re climbing with, falling off the wall is not a problem.  Your partner, through some easy moves with the ropes around his own waist (which are the same ones attached to you), can stop you mid-air and lower you gently.

So last Tuesday night, I planned to meet three friends at the indoor rock-climbing place downtown. I signed the paper that outlined the various ways I could be injured or killed. “My boss would be thrilled you actually read it before you signed it,” the guy behind the desk told me. Maybe I shouldn’t have. 

I was the first to show up and while looking around I noticed something odd: no one was using ropes.

I recalled Katie, who would be joining me that night, telling me her least favorite part was falling off the wall. At the time, I was a bit mystified. “I don’t have a problem with that as long as I trust the person spotting me,” I said. I didn’t realize we were talking about two different experiences. The image in my mind included ropes and a person that kept me from free-falling. Her image, I now realized, did not.

Unlike my skydiving adventure, I didn’t have the time to shoot out e-mails to my family telling them how much I loved them. So I guessed I’d just have to survive. 

My three friends showed up and Ben dutifully explained how the place worked. Double arrows next to a “rock” indicated it was the one on which I would place both my hands to start. Then, I’d follow the color-coded arrows up the wall to the red line. “You can’t climb higher than the red line without ropes.” Regardless, that red line was entirely too far above my head for my comfort.

After a few tries, I made it up to the red line. “Now what?” I asked Ben.

“Jump!” he said.

“Uhhh. . . no,” I said, my arms clinging to the wall. I started climbing back down the way I came up, and jumped when I was just a few feet off the ground. I am, after all, the girl that to this day, when I go play on swing sets, does not feel comfortable jumping off until the swing has nearly stopped.

“But you jumped out of a plane!”  you might say.  Well, yes. Yes, I did. But there was a large Russian man strapped to my back. And in his control was not one, but two parachutes. And we had a good few minutes to get them up before we hit the ground.

At one point Ben pointed out some of the men of which he had spoken: glistening chiseled arms, six-pack abs. “That’s what this place does for you,” he said. That’s what this place does for THEM, I thought. Me? I’m going back to banking on my good looks and sparkling personality.

The Chinese Dragon

When I set out that morning, I didn’t expect my day would include a Chinese dragon looking up my skirt. But this is Asheville.  One day, such things will come as no surprise at all.

The idea, from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, is to have a weekly date with yourself. It had been months since I had deliberately made such plans, but when I found myself with a completely free weekend I figured I was long overdue.

I walked to town to check out “Stories from Asheville’s Front Porch.”  Now if that doesn’t sound relaxing, you’re entirely too busy. Stories? Porches? What’s not to love?

As I walked through Pack Square on my way to the performance I saw artists unpacking boxes and putting up tents, setting out tables to display their wares. For what, I wasn’t sure, but now I knew what I’d do after the storytelling.

I crossed the street and that’s when the ruckus began. A gong being struck over and over, cymbals sounding, and a multi-colored Chinese Dragon weaving among the tents. I stood to watch, then took out my camera.

SAMSUNG

The dragon seemed to be attracted to cameras. I watched from across the street as he zoomed right up to those taking pictures, blinking his eyes demurely. Then it was determined he would cross the street, and I knew he was coming for me next:

At the end of the video, you’ll see that I lose focus, the camera staring not at the dragon, but at the sqaure.  That was when the dragon attempted to look up my skirt.  I, at first, was a little flustered that he was getting so close to me, and once I realized what he was doing, I stepped away, letting out a surprised laugh, at one point catching the eye of the guy inside who was responsible for maneuvering the dragon’s head. After shutting off my camera, I walked quickly toward my intended destination. I didn’t know what to make of the whole thing. I suppose, when in costume, men do things they wouldn’t do otherwise?

As I walked, I realized the dragon following me. It clicked just then that he was part of the storytelling event to which I was headed–as opposed to a very unusual stalker.

I saw the men come out of their costume for a rest before the event started and I got the feeling the front runner of the duo was a bit embarrassed by his actions–not thinking he’d actually see me again, and not looking like the type who would normally attempt to look up women’s skirts.

And all of this was before my artist date even officially started. It was going to be an interesting day.

Control Issues

The music stopped and he let out a sigh, obviously not happy with his performance.”Have you done this before?” he asked.

“No.” This was, in fact, my first-ever official waltzing lesson.

“But you’ve danced before…”

“Well, yes.”

“I can tell,” he said. Was he complimenting me on my skills on a dance floor? My seventh-grade self would never have imagined such a thing in my future. Nor my 27-year-old self for that matter. But there I was in my first waltzing lesson appearing to my partner as an experienced dancer. Ha!

Before I could reassure him that I, too, had once been is his position of exasperation, the instructor directed us to take up our positions again as he started the music. I rested my hands on my partner’s shoulders, wanting to offer words of encouragement but not wanting to disrupt his attempt at counting to the music. One two three, four five six. One two three, four five six.

When the music stopped, I smiled and murmured some positive words before moving on to the next partner as instructed.  I took a few missteps, but gone was the anxiety I once felt about looking foolish on a dance floor.  Don’t get me wrong – I still look foolish plenty, I just no longer care. I smiled recalling my last year of high school. I was the girl who skipped out on the senior prom – instead joining three friends in a father/daughter dinner at the nearby Culinary Institute of America. There are pictures of me and my best friend Carly on her front lawn in our evening finery looking every bit like we were off to the prom.  I think my smile is so big because I knew I would not have dance that night.

Of course, the type of dancing that happened at a high school prom was nothing like what I imagined myself one day being able to do. I had illusions of gliding across a dance floor ballroom style, or maybe swing dancing.  I tried both at various times in my twenties only to find I was unable to let a man be in control.  Years later, giving it another go, I realized that if my partner showed confidence in what he was doing I was fine letting him take over.  It was the ones whose hands felt tentative in mine that led to my difficulties trusting them to take the lead. A parallel to other things in life? Absolutely.

But now-a-days, the dance floor is one of the few places in my life where I don’t have to make any decisions – where someone else tells me what to do with a push of his hand or a twist of his body. I don’t glide by any stretch – and I fumble my fair share. But what I love is that there’s no debate about which move to make – I have no say, nor time to protest. I simply follow, happy to secede control.

I know many women fought for my right to live my life however I choose. For that I am appreciative.  However, there are plenty of days where I just want someone else to point me in the right direction and I, with no time to argue, just go.  And like magic it all turns out beautifully.