Alone

I’ve been single for eight years. Up until I decided to spend some time alone, I chose the wrong men. Unavailable men. Selfish men. Cruel men. Over and over, I made bad decisions. Until the day I decided I was incapable of making a good one. So I chose to be alone.

Achingly alone.

Since that day, I’ve lived life fast and hard. I go out too much, spend too much, drink too much. I run. Like I still have the fire and frenetic energy of the fourteen-year old runaway I once was. Like I’m being chased by a predator. If I stop, if I breathe, I feel. So I keep running.

Last night, I saw a photo of an infinity pool overlooking a beach, with two beers in a bucket in the foreground. The photo shattered me for what it implied. Two people will share that view of the beach. Two people will meld their bodies and drink a beer together. Two people. The image triggered the kind of deep, empty sadness that makes it hard to breathe.

I’ve been thinking a lot about solitude; what it feels like to be solely responsible for every household or life decision, every hardship, and every joy. To feel the vacuum of a joke without an audience. Does a solitary path still feel solid under my feet? The walls I have built to protect myself have become a prison, and I’m starting to believe they no longer serve me. I can’t run fast enough to escape my history. There are remnants of my past that push the notion that I am not good enough, or pretty enough, or worthy of a healthy relationship. It’s hard work to counter those thoughts. But I’m trying.

This time of year is predictably more difficult than the long, warm days of summer. For me, the expansive hours of darkness feel oppressive, and the loneliness cuts deep. I have no need to be rescued. For years, I’ve proven to myself that I am strong and capable. But I feel a growing yearning to share my life, to share adventures. And tell someone my damn jokes. My resolve is softening; my commitment to living a solo life is slowly crumbling. There are good men out there. Kind men. Compassionate, ethical, honest men. I know there are, because I know some of them.

These thoughts scare me. A lot. So … baby steps. Beginning with saying out loud what my heart has been whispering. To quote Forrest Gump, “And just like that, my runnin’ days was over.”

The seed of an idea …

The seed of an idea, to move from being a sporadic, informal storyteller to putting my thoughts on a more formal platform, took root long ago. The birth of that idea will take me another step further. I’ve gotten past the first stage, where I didn’t speak it out loud. It was too fragile. I lacked confidence. I wasn’t sure my voice had that much value. Now, I’m in my first trimester. I’m settling in to the idea. I’m getting excited about it. Some of the stories I’ve told have encouraged meaningful conversations … with my friends, with my family. But it still feels tenuous.

There are details in the evolution … the business side of it, the marketing; getting the word out. I created a new Instagram account. Added a link to my blog. And I’m on Twitter! But I have not mastered that. This will continue to be an interesting learning process.

But it’s not the heart or soul of my journey.

I’ve thought a lot about inspiration recently. Things need to happen in order to have something to write about. They can be little things … the beauty of the season’s first snowfall. Or they can be epic, like sailing around the Antarctic Peninsula. But mostly, they’re somewhere in between. For me, inspiration can come in many forms. But, travel. Wanderlust. When I’m planning a trip, remembering a place, reminiscing over photos, talking about where I’m going, or where I’ve been, I can feel the vibration in my bones.

Four years ago yesterday, I was with my sister on a trip to Thailand and China. Two years later, I buckled up and headed to Africa. Yesterday, I got my pre-departure briefing for Antarctica. In between, I felt the sand in my toes in the Galapagos Islands. I kissed the Blarney Stone.

914068_10201692773015906_447329782_o

I often wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t tiptoed along the edge of the brink. If I’d never felt an invasive ventilator pumping life-giving air in to my lungs. What if I never observed the relief and joy of my family as I responded after a night of being told I wasn’t going survive? Would I have tried to see so much of the world? Maybe, but likely not with the same sense of urgency. Those things did happen, though, and it gave my life fire. Turns out, the chance to start over was the very best kind of gift. One I won’t ever take for granted.

The seed of an idea … I think there’s a book in that.

17038751_10210482647237268_8809932894075554365_o

Dreams and crossroads …

My mom and I had lunch with an old friend yesterday. One we hadn’t seen for a very long time. Sylvia had been cleaning out her house, and came across a couple of old memories. It was so fun to dust them off, and remember …

One of the things she had was a design board I made for her when she bought her home. Along with the design board was a folder that held concepts for color, furniture, and seating. We were sitting in the room I had helped her design. I looked around, looked back at the folder, and looked around the room again. The layout, color, and texture of the room reflected so many of the ideas I had presented to her more than a decade before. Her room was lovely, and it withstood the test of time.

IMG_8284

Just before I worked with Sylvia on the room, I had been working at a telecom company for seven years. I was the thirty-third employee in ‘96, and rode the wave as the company grew, went public, and eventually failed. The late 90s were a wild ride as the dot-com bubble grew and grew, and finally burst. My career had evolved from a temporary receptionist to an executive assistant, and eventually a business manager. The company was closing, though, and I didn’t want to do that anymore.

So I went to design school.

My mind was on fire. My homework kept me awake at night in the best possible way. I dreamed about color and form, and I had never felt so alive. I spent hours with drawings and textiles and flooring and color. I didn’t want to sleep. I wanted to immerse myself in ideas and innovation. I wanted to create.

And then, I got a call.

My previous boss had joined a new company, and offered me a job. It was a good offer. I was a single mom; a responsible mom. I was standing at a crossroad. I loved what I was doing. But it was risky. Being a business manager was reliable. Sensible. Being a designer inspired passion, but felt frivolous against the safety of the known. I felt heavy as I accepted the offer.

Since then, I’ve been a business manager, a logistics manager, a project manager, and a business analyst. I have a lot to be thankful for. My career has paid the bills. I was able to raise my boy in reasonable comfort. It has allowed travel to places I might never have been able to afford. But what if I would have rolled the dice and stuck with my passion? Seeing that design board brought my hunger for creativity back in a rush.

IMG_8285

I feel like I’m standing at a crossroad again. Create. My dream at this juncture in the road is to travel, photograph, and write. But this time, there is a lesser sense of urgency. I have time to plan. In the meantime, I will be reliable. I will be sensible. And I will prepare to be frivolous.

Because this time, it’s gonna stick.

IMG_8286

Platelets!

I donated blood a couple of days ago. Once the bloodletting was complete, I did my obligatory time at the cookie and juice table. Per standard protocol, I was temporarily incarcerated by the snack lady.

This particular volunteer was so enthusiastic about human blood, I was fairly certain she was part vampire. And platelets! Oh, what there was to learn about platelets. She held me hostage for about twenty minutes educating me about platelets. Apparently, they’re important because of their short shelf life, and how frequently they’re needed by cancer patients, particularly children with leukemia.

She asked why I donated. It’s funny how a well-timed, simple question can bring intense memories to the fore. Certain events can be resurrected and remembered like they happened yesterday. Why do I donate? Because my son nearly bled out following a near-fatal car accident. Because I watched him visibly come back to life as the doctors filled his depleted veins with bags of blood. Bags of blood that were filled by people like me. Like you.

I kind of hate doing it. It’s hard to spend thirty minutes or so, wide awake, lying down. I’m not crazy about the needle stick, either. Plus, bags of blood are a little gross. The colorful wrap you get to sport all day is kind of cool, though … a badge of honor. I usually pick pink. I think a lot about Justin as I recline, squeezing the stress ball every ten seconds. The dull ache in my arm is nothing compared to what he went through that day.

So, I’ll keep donating every couple of months. It’s not every day you get to do something that may save someone’s life. And hey … go platelets! The snack lady says so.

A wild retirement ride …

I turn 55 next year. All of a sudden, my future plans seem not so distant. I’m ready to construct the foundation for what I hope is going to be a wild retirement ride. So I made a list. The list had two columns: “what makes you feel good?” and “what makes you feel bad?”. Walking outside with a good camera feels good. Playing games on my phone feels bad. Yoga feels good. Drinking too much wine feels bad. Hiking feels good. To become immersed in the comment section of a political Facebook post feels bad. And so on. To do more of the former and less of the latter will, inch by inch, get me closer to my goals. It will bring me closer to being the person I want to be.

Travel, write, photograph, repeat.

That’s what I want retirement to look like. To do this, I need to be financially sound. I need to be healthy; to be able to move my body with ease. I need to be strong; to be able to hoist my kayak and make good use of my hiking boots. Balance, strength, and stamina came without effort in my twenties, thirties, and forties. The fifties? Not so much. It’s gonna take some work.

So, I tackled the feel bad line item “too much TV” this week. Often, I don’t fully engage in a program when it is on. It’s just background noise. A distraction. So I approached “too much TV” in the same way I approached my list. What feels good? What feels bad? “This is Us” feels good. “Real Housewives of Orange County” feels bad. So I pulled up the Scheduled tab On Demand, and started deleting. Instead of “The Voice”, I will prepare a good meal. Instead of “Chicago Fire”, I will go to a yoga class. Instead of “Below Deck”, I will go photograph some fall color. I’ll call a friend. I’ll explore an idea by writing about it. I’ll investigate some local hikes and lace up my hiking boots. The possibilities are endless.

Do more of what feels good. Do less of what feels bad. Now, this is something I can get behind.

21272944_10212209328403218_2283694437364984380_o

Extreme Adventure … 99 Days

Let the countdown begin. There is something special about being less than one hundred days from the start of an epic adventure; for me, it marks the beginning of active anticipation. Chile, Torres del Paine, Antarctica, and finally, a return to Argentina. This expedition is sure to inspire abundant awe and wonder, and I feel a tightening in my gut. Butterflies. A grin that will likely last for months.

When I first discovered this particular itinerary for Antarctica, I resolved to see the continent as described on Natural Habitat Adventure’s website: by sailboat. Our small group of seven will fly from Punta Arenas, Chile, to an airstrip on King George Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. From there, we board the S/V Australis. I’ll spend the next two weeks aboard, with six other audacious travelers and five experienced crew. We’ll see penguins and seals and whales and albatrosses. We’ll see immense sculptures of blue and white ice. We’ll kayak in survival suits, and spend up to three nights camping in tents on the ice. I’ll cross the Drake Passage, which has been described as the world’s most unforgettable sea crossing. Did I mention we’ll be in a sailboat?

The Physical Rating of this journey is “Extreme Adventure”. As is typical for me, I am a little bit afraid, and a whole lotta excited.

Before we leave for Antarctica, I’m going to spend a couple of days in Patagonia, hiking and horseback riding among the Paine Massif. The inn where I’m staying faces an unobstructed view of the Torres del Paine granite peaks. I’ve seen photos of this grand range, and felt immediately, spiritually connected. I cannot begin to imagine what it will feel like to stand before it.

Ninety-nine days. Continent number six … here I come!

12771967_10207279601763133_2261234917343044323_o

#nathab #naturalhabitatadventures #rioserrano #chile #patagonia #antarctica

Won’t you be lonely?

IMG_8060

I’ve imagined what my plan to travel North America will look like. I will take my home with me and traverse the paths less traveled. I will wind through the country on iconic roads, like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Route 66. I’ll hike in Banff and see the northern lights in Yellowknife. I’ll try to visit every national park and monument; Acadia, Pinnacles … Rocky Mountains. Maybe I’ll go horseback riding in the Dakota Badlands or photograph the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

I had a friend ask, “But won’t you be lonely?”

Maybe. Today, I see this as a solo adventure. It’s a little bit scary, traveling alone. The unfamiliar puts a heaviness in my step; a reluctance in my ability to move forward. But the rewards of pushing through that trepidation are great. I feel more open to starting a conversation with a stranger who sometimes becomes a friend. Those conversations have steered me to sublime places only the locals know. On a cool morning, I can fully absorb the stillness, with birdsong adding musicality to the peaceful silence. I can read, uninterrupted. I can go whichever direction I feel the pull.

So I’m afraid, and yes, I might occasionally be lonely. But like so many times before, I have a bold inner voice that insistently pushes … just go. Just. Go. And that inner voice has never let me down.