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Lent 2017: 40 days without Facebook

Lent 2017: 40 days without Facebook

I love the Lenten season. A season of suffering, followed by joy and rediscovery fills my heart with hope–a sometimes absent friend other times of the year. Lent reminds me that life can suck sometimes and despite what our friends on Facebook want us to believe, it’s not full of rainbows and unicorns 24/7. Lent reminds me that Jesus suffered–and yes, I do too, even if on the surface I appear fine trotting through foreign lands alone.

This year, instead of wine, beer or meat, I decided that if Jesus could live without Facebook, I could too. After all, it’s a vice that many of us deem a necessity–what if I miss something rattles on in our brains– tempting us that life will stop, cease to exist if we don’t know what our “friends” are doing every hour?

I’ll admit it, I am curious creature, I like to be in the know, I want to know if my ex-boyfriend is married, has kids or recently divorced–even if it hurts me to know the truth–I call it emotional cutting and Facebook feeds that need. But this year, I wanted to feel, experience a life without Facebook, I wanted to “suffer” in the first-world, 21st-century way, I wanted be reminded that living without Facebook for 40 days was trite, trivial compared to what Jesus did on the cross . And yes, the mere thought of comparing the cross to Facebook could border on sacrilegious gives me pause, however, Facebook without restraint can be a demon that needs exorcising, and so I determined that for 40 days I would exorcise it. Here’s what I learned when I said, “No, Facebook, you’re not part of my life, right now…” 

  1. Sorry, folks, I didn’t miss your daily updates of random thoughts or photos of your kids from their overproduced birthday parties–and in turn, I’m sure you didn’t miss mine either–frankly, you probably haven’t thought of me until I posted this–and that’s okay, I’m not offended.
  2. Family and friends will call you or text you if something serious happens. My Uncle Doug had heart surgery and like we did back in 2005, my mom called to tell me when he was in the hospital–he did great and is now at home–never once did I need Facebook for an update–family connects through 20th-century ways (e.g. phone and in-real-life) when it matters most!
  3. Other channels exist where you feel more a part of a tribe–and at the same time connected to the larger world who will let you know if it’s blown up or not. I’ve always preferred Twitter over Facebook, mainly because I don’t follow family and friends and I can be real and random without the baggage of people judging or misinterpreting my 140 character posts–it gives me space to be myself–and I can follow Donald Trump without condemnation that I’m a racist.
  4. And finally, life goes on…yep, I lived 40 days without Facebook, and life is the same as it was when I was checking in a couple of times a day. Actually, I’d probably say it’s better because I’m living my life, warts and all, in peace without the daily reminders that either I’m underachieving or looking at others, grateful that’s not me, that I dodged a bullet…my life is okay–and whether I like it or not, I’m doing or not doing what I’m supposed to do right now. I move forward, sometimes backwards, sometimes sideways with what I know without the influence, pressure of what would make a good Facebook post or what will others think if I do, x, y or z. I live in the present for the good or bad, I just go with it…and for me, in this moment, that’s a 21st-century, 40-day blessing…
What I learned in 2016…life sucks sometimes

What I learned in 2016…life sucks sometimes

A quick read of my Facebook and Twitter feed, a common theme permeates: 2016 sucked!  From the untimely deaths of Prince, George Michael and Carrie Fisher, to the defeat of Hillary Clinton, many believed 2016 more catastrophic than a Shakespeare tragedy. But for me, 2016 was more a tale of adventure and self-discovery where I began to see my future not as what my younger self believed it should be, but for what my older self could finally see it could be without the constraints of conformity and tradition.

This was the year, I fully embraced my singleness. I gave myself permission to never marry and started to believe a long-term companion is a better fit for me—but in the short-term, a boy-toy is a good option.

After years of struggle, I envisioned my life free of children. Finally, my biological clock had run out of batteries and any maternal instincts I may have had, died along with them too. I thought I would be sad not to have the kid experience, not to be a mother, but now I just look at kids as a drain on my lifestyle, and overall, they just annoy me.

In April, I moved back to an apartment after living in a rental house for 16 months giving me the opportunity to evaluate everything I was moving with and determining if it was worth moving again—a first step to embracing a minimalistic lifestyle.

I purged things I had held on to for 20 years, finally realizing that after dragging serving dishes, bowls, fondue pots, up and down the East Coast for the first 10 years and then carefully storing them in my 800 square foot DC apartment for the next 10 years, I don’t like to entertain. And so with one, then two, and then three and four trips to Good Will, I gave away all that stuff that was supposed to make me the world’s best hostess. I was free with just a waffle iron and over 20 wine glasses!

The Great Purge of 2016 was a pivotal moment—as I began to shed the stuff around me that no longer had purpose or meaning, I began to shed the part of me that had hoped for a different life, a different outcome—it no longer appealed to me—new, more exciting options floated to the surface and the desire to reach out and touch them outweighed those that were being dragged under.

I moved to the new apartment and cut my living size by nearly half. I had lived small before, but this time it wasn’t about just living small, it was living for the now—my new question had become, how do I live today, not how I want to live or how I hope to live? With this question, I began to focus on simplicity, needs rather than wants, experiences over stuff. Shopping became a chore and I avoided it as much as humanly possible, often times leaving just minutes after entering the store. I preferred to spend my time in endless searches of new travel destinations, outlining my itinerary and stalking airlines for good fares to Europe or anywhere outside the US.

It was a big year for travel. In May, I marked my two-year accident anniversary with a trip to London, which bumped NYC to the #2 spot of favorite world cities as London stole my heart. Over Labor Day, I ventured to Iceland, and snorkeled between the North America and Euroasia tectonic plates. And while I missed the Blue Lagoon, with just a six-hour flight from DC, Iceland is definitely on my must-go back country list. And then over Thanksgiving, I ventured to Budapest where I was enthralled with communism-era history and shared vodka shots with a fellow traveler at a communist-themed bar, Red Ruins. And finally, it was supposed to be Ecuador for Christmas, but Mother Nature had other plans and United couldn’t get me where I needed to go when I needed to get there, so rather than running from Christmas, I ran into the eye of the storm and spent Christmas weekend in the heart of New York City. Christmas morning was nothing short of magical—with my coffee in hand from the corner store, I walked across the street to Bryant Park where I had a rink side seat watching people of all ages, and from all countries skate the frozen circle as Christmas carols played on the loud speaker, the tree glistened and the Empire State Building peaked out from the bundle of skyscrapers surrounding it. The present of that moment was enough for a lifetime of Christmases—truly magical!

So as I look to 2017, I am more hopeful than I’ve been in some time. This doesn’t mean I see rainbows and unicorns in 2017, but I have a bit more direction than I did on January 1, and for that I am hopeful. Not every day is going to be a “high on you” kind of day, and yes, I’ll still wish I had a video editor to edit out the crappy days, the boring days, the lonely days, the sad days, the I suck days, so I can be as awesome as everybody else on Facebook. But if 2016 taught me anything, life is going to suck a little bit, sometimes a lot, and it doesn’t always turn out the way it’s supposed to be—but then someday, it doesn’t suck as bad as it once did and you think, I’m going to be okay, it’s not perfect, it’s not what I thought it would be, but it’s going to be okay.  

Passing the bowl

Passing the bowl

It’s just a bowl, 2016-02-27 16.18.41I tell myself as I pull it down from the comfort of its home on the second shelf of the storage cabinet where it’s been out of sight for the past year. It’s heavy, a sign it’s a good piece, not that crap you buy at Home Goods and ditch a year later. I should probably keep it, I think, but no, maybe I should sell it—at least get some money for it. I vacillate.

My head knows it’s just a stupid bowl, but my heart isn’t as easily fooled. I stare at it. It’s surrounded by two fondue pots, one that’s still in the original multi-colored gift bag. Why do I still have those fondue pots? I’ve never once made fondue—it’s too complicated for someone who turns the page on a recipe that has more than five ingredients. 

I look back at the bowl— a beautiful silver Wilton/Armor salad bowl with a set of matching tongs—something every southern bride in 2000 would have selected for her registry at the local Belk. Instead, I chose it as my holiday gift from the Pfizer holiday gift catalog the year when smoke was still brewing from where the Twin Towers once stood in downtown Manhattan.

At the time, I didn’t have a need for it, but I was looking ahead—I knew that in the not so distant future, I’d host Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthday parties, and I would want to have that bowl. I thought, it’s one less thing I would need to register for when I too, would be setting up house in favor of a corporate cubicle.

With each move to Michigan, to Tennessee, DC and back to NC, I carefully wrapped the bowl in brown packing paper and placed it in a tall U-Haul kitchen box, alongside the fondue pots and corning wear. Silently, I’d say, I am going to need this someday, I am going to want to serve a fresh tossed salad in this bowl to accompany the lasagna I’ll make for Christmas dinner.  

Today as I prepare for another move, I look at the bowl, and the voice that used to say, you’ll need me someday, no longer has an opinion—it’s gone silent. The girl who dreamed of family holidays and tablescapes of colorful serving dishes now dreams of holiday travels to places that take two days of airtime to finally arrive at your bucket list destination.

The bowl is now just a bowl—finally—a future no longer predicated on a vision of what I thought my life would be, but on what I am today. I don’t engage in idle chatter with the voices of the past, but simply place the bowl in the box set aside for Good Will donations—there’s someone out there who will use this for their Thanksgiving Day feast, but for me, I will choose to traipse across Southeast Asia in search of the perfect Mi Quang.

So for the first time in 13 years, I decided to embrace what my life has become—solo dinners and holiday travel getaways, and accept that it’s ok my life didn’t’ turn out the way I thought—large dinner parties and family Christmases. Serving bowls, tongs and fondue pots are a no longer a prerequisite for me entering adulthood—but just a symbol of a path not chosen. And well, if at some point, I want to go down that path, I can just buy a new bowl.

Lady Edith, I’m betting on you

Lady Edith, I’m betting on you

I refuse to be defeated by an overweight tyrant.“–Lady Edith Crawley

At last, the final season of Downton Abbey is getting it right. Since its debut season, Lady Edith has been my favorite sister–a classic middle child overshadowed by her spoiled, self-absorbed, overindulged, older sister, Mary, and free-spirited younger sister, Cybil. But in the final season, the writers are finally showing that Edith has the potential to out shine her sisters.

For five seasons, Edith’s been cast as a cautionary tale of what not to be–a middle-age, never-married woman, suffering heartbreak after heartbreak, while waiting for a man that appears will never come. But often overlooked, Edith’s a survivor—she continues to get up each day and face a world that doesn’t understand her. In season three, she’s left at the altar, but instead of hiding in her room, she gets up the next morning and claims “spinsters get up for breakfast.”   

Edith is the underdog that no bookie will bet on. While Mary is portrayed as the strong one, she was born with it, it’s Edith who channels the British Army for the inner strength to keep her head held high and to fight off the naysayers who believe she has nothing to offer. It’s Edith who is her own champion and support group, and though sometimes shaky, believes in herself, because no one (aside from Aunt Rosamund) does.

Edith’s life has been less than what she desired, less than what she dreamed it to be. Remember, she loved Patrick (the dude who died on the Titanic in season 1), but had to push her feelings aside for the good of the estate and bow out to Mary, because Mary is the family savior and Mary gets what Mary wants. And while that dude died, Mary grieved for a nanosecond before Matthew showed up to rescue her. Life is easy for Mary, she has her own ladies maid and when she loses one man, another one comes calling faster than winks on Match.com. 

Then baby sister, Cybil, has a 1920-something girls gone wild moment and falls in love and marries the chauffer, further pushing Edith into a life tittering on the edge of tragic. 

Enter Michael Gregson. Ah, finally, it’s Edith’s turn, I exclaim! She’s waited so long. All she wants is the affection of another, to be desired. She loves Gregson, and I think, he loves her, but there are complications–he’s married to a crazy woman who lives in a psych ward in Germany. Edith has a choice: Follow protocol, the neat, prescribed order of life of which she has been raised to believe, or abandon her notions of what was supposed to be and follow her heart. Her heart wins and she sleeps with Gregson.

At this point in the story, I am completely devoted to Edith–she accepts that her life may not be what she had hoped and dreamed of as a girl, but no matter the consequences, she’s going to make the best of it. And oh were there consequences–an illegitimate daughter, a dead lover, a judgmental older sister, and no suitors calling. Edith is down, and she hates that at every turn, nothing goes her way, yet she keeps going.

Throughout the series, Edith doesn’t know it, but in all her struggles, her disappointments, heartbreaks, she’s blazing a trail of her own. She’s saying to the establishment, I can do it, and if I have to, I’ll do it alone. And in season six, she’s speaking up, even embracing her middle-age spinsterhood, telling Granny, “I’m middle-age, I think I can stay alone.”  She does an all-nighter to meet the deadline for the magazine publisher and inspires a young secretary when she fires the “overweight tyrant” editor. Edith does what she has to do to survive, and for this, I can relate.

I do hope however, love will come to Edith before the series ends–it’s the one thing that has been so firmly out of her grasp, yet something she so desperately desires. But Edith is complex and it won’t be so easy. She needs someone who adores her, desires her, but most importantly strong enough for her–someone who can prop her up when she thinks she can’t go on another day–someone whose ego can withstand the fact that she doesn’t always need him—someone who can see that beneath the surface she just wants to be loved.

Edith is tired from years of doing it alone, the years of hoping that this one or the next one will be the one that sees how unique, how different she is from all the rest, and truly gets her, wants her, and can’t imagine his life without her in it. Edith knows she can do it alone, and sometimes prefers it, but doesn’t always want to. How do I know this? I know, because I am Edith.

 

 

Holding Out for a Hero

Holding Out for a Hero

Today I got overwhelmed thinking of all the possibilities. I haven’t been this untethered since I was a newly minted college graduate waiting tables (poorly as I recall) and living night to night, hangover to hangover, until I got tired of living with three other people and the only way I could live on my own was to get an adult job that required me to get up before noon and wear shoes with a leather sole.

I go to the gym to work it out and contemplate it all. Maybe a good 80’s playlist will inspire me to climb Mt. Everest, then I reconsider, maybe Machu Picchu(I am a realist after all). Thirty minutes into my cardio I’m ready to call it and get the hell out of there because I hate the gym despite going five times a week–my mind is still spinning contemplating all the options, the decisions, the dilemmas: should I go to the Peace Corps, am I saving enough money for retirement, should I stay where I am, get a new place with a pool, I really want a job in London or Paris, maybe Frankfurt, how can I make that happen and do I really want to live in CLT for the rest of my life? Ugh, so many questions and no answers–the only clear thing in my mind is that I can drink wine tonight because I’ve had a good workout.

But then my iPod shuffles to the Footloose soundtrack–cue in, Holding out for a Hero. Hell yes, this is it–this is the possibility that I most desire, the one that keeps me up at night.

Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I sing the words with the conviction of an innocent man on death row:

I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life

And so dear friends, I have endless possibilities in front of me, some scare me, some excite me and somehow I’m gonna figure out how to live overseas at some point in my life, but the possibility of a hero, now that’s something to hold out for.