Model Me

It’s Day One of a three-day modeling job — my first paid gig in over a year and a half.  I’m working the floor of Harley Davidson’s annual trade show, wearing clothes that won’t even be in stores for an additional year.  No one from the public is allowed in.  We had to sign confidentiality agreements beforehand — no pictures, no sharing, no nothing.  We need laminated credentials on a lanyard just to get through the door.

The floor of the trade show is massive.  I understand intellectually that it’s a big name at a big venue, but I’m not ready for the scene when the coordinator brings us through the glass doors.  The landscape can’t be taken in with just one glance around.  The sites and the sounds, the lights and production and special effects.  Motorcycles and tables and aisles and rows and columns.  A gigantic Harley decal on the glass corridor suspended from the ceiling.  Beautiful and intriguing excess that makes it easy to go blind to the types of hardships that are going on in the world around us.

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I’m surrounded by strangers that I gladly go up to and shake hands with.  I’m full of smiles and a few jokes.  I’m Model Me: an aspect of myself that used to shine only in modeling situations.  It’s as close to an alternate persona as you can get.  The Sasha Fierce to the Beyonce.  Only I don’t believe in alternate personas — only situations where we feel freer to let certain sides of ourselves out.

Model Me is given her main outfit — black tank top, black skinny jeans, take-no-bullshit biker boots.  I station myself by the row of clothes I’ve been assigned to that day, just a stone’s throw from a gray mannequin.  I look over at the mannequin and smirk.  I’m not blind to what my job is, especially on a day like today; the only difference between the mannequin and me is that I move and talk and put the clothes on all by myself.

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The trade show begins with a mass of people streaming through the aisles.  I stand in my current outfit — now with a Harley Davidson t-shirt over my tank top — with my hands on my hips, my chin up, my eyes decidedly not on the ground.  Model posture.  One that exudes confidence and poise.  I meet people’s eye contact and greet everyone.

Representatives from over 82 countries make their way around everything Harley Davidson has to offer.  It is an outright tour of the world as people approach my area of the trade show.  People browsing through the samples, accents from all corners of the globe.  Talking to each other in fast foreign languages before turning to me and asking me in broken English to do a turn in my outfit, or try on a different outfit.  I change outfits and offer to try on outfits and remind people that I’m here for exactly that.  I smile broadly at people from cultures where broad smiles are indicative of fools and morons.

At one point I find myself next to a full-length mirror, leather jacket now adorning my skinny jeans and take-no-bullshit boots attire.  Off in the distance, “Back in Black” is playing.  There are few things in the world quite as badass-feeling as standing akimbo wearing a leather jacket and boots, with AC/DC in the background.  I desperately wish I could take a picture of this, if only to capture the moment.  Instead, I steal glimpses into the mirror.  Badass Model Me, at your service.

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Working the floor as a model leaves a lot of time to get lost in your thoughts.  I bounce around all sorts of things — song lyrics, ideas for the manuscript I’m currently shin-deep in, memories that sing sweetly & hauntingly, random streams of consciousness & thought exercises — as I stand there and offer to try on another coat, another shirt, another blouse.

I think about the idea of Model Me — a concept that is almost as old as my modeling career.  I think about how Model Me and “Real” Me were so different for so long, as if I took the phrases “mild mannered” and “Superman” a little too much to heart.  For so long, there was a meek, shy, small & unassuming version of me — and then there was the exuberant, confident, strides-across-the-room-and-smiles-broadly-at-anyone version of me.  For so, so long, those two never really existed in the same place.

And why?  Was it because modeling gave me a confidence boost?  Now that one, I know is bullshit. This industry is not in the business of self-esteem boosting.  There had been far too many times where I was taken down a notch, sometimes from direct comments, and sometimes from just being in a room where I knew I was the oldest, the least-skinniest, certainly not the most gorgeous.  Plenty of reason to resort back to old ways, even in the modeling world.

Was it because it was a different environment?  I think we’re on to something there.  The modeling world removed me from my usual context and placed me square in the middle of one where being outgoing and social and confident was expected.  Far from any context where — if it even hinted at the idea that me staying small and unassuming would be in my best interest — I dove headfirst into old habits.

And now I’m a decade into my modeling career — and who knows how many years in removing the “Model” variable from Model Me.  I know I’m not that meek 19-year-old anymore.  Hell, I’m not even the meek 24-year-old anymore.  Or the meek 27-year-old.  In many ways, I’ve grown more into Actual Me (not Model Me, not quote-unquote “Real” Me) in the last two years than I have in the previous 27.  But, still, I know I can revert.  Become small, unassuming, meek.  Prove that I can take a 5’11” girl with broad shoulders & muscular arms & gargantuan legs and make her the smallest person in the room.

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I crack jokes with the model who is stationed across the aisle from me.  I watch a man in a blue polo shirt walk the aisles with a black lab dog — the words “Bomb Detection K9” on his collar.  A reminder even in this opulence of the type of hardships that are going on in the world around us.

The day wears on and I lose energy — fast.  After nearly 9 hours on the floor — and with one hour left to go — I’m exceptionally silent.  I find myself engaging less and observing more.  Making noncommittal noises in response to smalltalk.  Exhaustion strips away layers and I’m reminded what rests at the core of Actual Me.  It starts taking more and more work to interact, to be both in the world and of it, not just the former.

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At the end of Day One, we return to our street clothes and I hit the streets.  I fish out my headphones and open up the music on my phone and wander the streets of Boston.  Even after all that time on my feet, what I need most is yet more time on my feet.  I need a walk.  I need to be a pedestrian and talk to no one and observe everyone.  It recharges me, gets me ready for a long drive home — a drive spent alone, with yet more music, weirdly content on the road, even in the midst of the traffic.

Again, a reminder of what rests at the core of Actual Me.  That I can shift the things that need shifting — demolish old defenses and fortify what feels good & proper & right — but, at the core of it all, I know I am Most Me when my feet hit the pavement, when not a word needs to be spoken, when I can watch the world unfold around me with nothing more than the wind in my hair and music in my ears.

*since no pictures are allowed of the trade show, I included a smattering of modeling pictures from throughout the years, almost all from the years 2007 – 2010.

Through the Radio

I.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in the heart of autumn.  I’m driving farther and farther north.  I just need away.

Away from what?  That’s a bit of a story.  And maybe someday I’ll tell that story in full.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I’ve finished teaching for the day.  Three yoga classes, and not a single student caught on to the fact that I was a burning ball of anxiety and dread.  Or, if they did, they were too kind to say anything.

I’m thinking of one of my regulars telling me that she comes as much for my positive, smiling face as she does for the yoga.  I’m thinking of the night before, teaching a Monday evening class, my mind so clearly not where it needed to be that I end up locking myself out of the studio with nothing but my yoga mat and cell phone in hand — and as I scramble to find someone with a key, I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t tell if this is rock bottom or if I’m just banging off one of the sides again.”

I leave behind all the major cities of New Hampshire for the great, wide wilderness.  I’m desperately hoping the sight of mountaintops and foliage and open road will do something for the soul.  The car’s FM radio is on and I’m desperately hoping to find a song on the radio to reassure me, to lull me, to give me something.  I’m desperately hoping to find something to sing to me.

Always, always desperately hoping.

I’m desperately hoping for a moment to breathe because hot damn I don’t know if I have it in me for yet another hit.  I’m exhausted and weary and anxious and none of the little gold stars I’ve been collecting in my professional life will mean anything if I can’t catch a break in my personal life.

I’m desperately hoping for a break.

I drive and I detour.  I take lefts when I feel like taking lefts.  I turn around to see something whenever something catches my eye.  The weather is cloudy and I can’t see the sun, but — for a moment — I’m at ease.

I pull onto a familiar road — the road that brings me back to my neighborhood — a Top 40 country music station left haphazardly on my radio.  For all my escapism into the realm of music, I forget the station is even on.  I’m lost in my thoughts as I return, the murk of it all muffling my hearing.  It takes the next song to snap me back to reality.

It takes a song that has absolutely no business being on a Top 40 Country Station to snap me back to reality.

It takes a song that I haven’t heard in nearly 20 years to snap me back to reality.

A nearly 40-year-old Canadian pop song.

My parents’ wedding song.

I’m going to get into a car accident.  I’m going to throw up.  I’m going to pass out.

Before Anne Murray can even say, “Dreaming.  I must be dreaming…” I am hysterical.  The road blurs as I attempt to get into my neighborhood, my street, my house.  The tears well up from a place so immensely and frighteningly deep that I am reminded of just how many protective layers I put up just to survive the day.  I think of the last time I heard that song: in the back seat of my father’s truck, the look of simple joy on my mother’s face when the song came on the easy listening radio station, the gentle peck of a kiss they gave each other in commemoration; one of those precious, fragile memories I scoop up like porcelain figurines and cradle close because without them I’ll completely harden up; a naïve little elementary school girl who — despite already having a handful of memories no 8-year-old should have — still saw her family in only the best of lights.

Now, over 20 years later, the song is the very last song I hear on a very long car ride.  I stay in the garage after the song ends — a song so perfectly timed that it plays in full just as I get to my driveway.  I sit there like a survivor after a natural disaster.  I numbly take in what’s in front of me.  I’m not even half sure it happened.  It takes a moment for me to even register that an outdated pop song has just played on a country music station that plays only the latest hits.  It takes a moment for the timing of it all to really sink in.  And, for a moment, I am reassured.  I am filled with light.

This is a sign.  I know it is.

The next morning, barely past 6 a.m., I get the call from my mother.

He’s gone.

A week after they had removed the feeding tube.  Four years after he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  Decades after the body had started its decline.  More than a half century after the start of one of the most common social activities out there that had at some point mutated into one of the most devastating addictions.

My father has passed away.

II.

At this point, I know it’s “Man in the Mirror” from the first two notes.  Possibly even just the first.

When he — our mentor, our teacher, our friend — first recommended it, I had never heard of it before.  Even though I was 15 at the time, I was still — in many ways — as naïve and deaf to the world as that 8-year-old.  I knew the major Michael Jackson hits, but that was basically it.

And that’s all it was: a brief discussion about music, a simple recommendation.  But he had that type of effortless leadership over those teenagers that a solid chunk of us then scrambled after school to hear this song.  In a time before smartphones or fast internet — when music sharing was in its supreme infancy — we became super sleuths to find this song we had never heard before.

Because that’s just the type of person he was.  He spoke and you listened — not out of submission to authority, not out of fear, but because you simply wanted to hear what he had to say.

To hear what he had to say.  That’s all we wanted when, less than a year later, we found out one cold, January morning that he had lost his battle with depression.

It was a battle we had no idea was even being waged.  A battle the adults were so painfully and frustratingly slow and hesitant to talk about.  A battle we’d desperately retrace our steps over in order to see if there had been any sign of it the last time we all had respectively seen him.  All we wanted then was to hear what he had to say.  We thought of every discussion that was now nothing more than a set of memories, and we desperately wished it wasn’t the case.  When we went to war with Iraq, when the Red Sox broke the curse, when life would twist and curve the way life always does, so many of us wanted to do just that: file into a room and hear his thoughts on the world around us.  To listen to what he had to say one last time.

That’s when “Man in the Mirror” took on new life.  That’s when every school dance had a “Man in the Mirror” moment — now as much of a staple as the Electric Slide and Stairway to Heaven — and those of us who had him as our teacher & mentor would huddle around and cry or laugh or just hug each other.  That’s when listening to the song brought a well of emotions that no 16-year-old is or should be equipped to handle.

That’s when I wrote to Casey Kasem and the American Top 40 to do a long-distance dedication.  That’s when, a few Saturdays later, as I’m driving my mom and my brother back from some type of event, I turn on the radio at just the right time.

(The timing of all things.)

That’s when I pull into the closest neighborhood and park the car and hear Casey Kasem read my words out loud and play the very song I requested.

To this day, there is no channel-changing when “Man in the Mirror” comes on.  The song is played in full, always.  Bare minimum, a time for reflection — but, because I’m crazy enough to believe in the timing of all things, I pay close attention to when I hear it.  What times the song comes on the radio, and when there’s an uptick of that song on the radio.

And there are upticks — across all receivable stations –sometimes.  I channel surf the radio enough and spend enough time next to my car’s radio enough to notice trends across the dial.  And since I’m crazy enough to believe in the timing of all things, I’m crazy enough to believe it means something.  Crazy enough to notice that the upticks always seem to coincide with when I’m most at a loss.  When this 29-year-old old — 13 years removed from the tragedy and already 2 years older than he’ll ever be in this lifetime — is the most desperate for reassurance that she’s on the right path, that’s she’s not just shooting blindly in the dark and praying nothing ricochets back.

Sometimes the song comes on the radio when I’m way too deep in unhealthy, unhelpful thought patterns — thinking patterns that I know are leading me down a no-good path, are going to put me in the wrong headspace, are going to do more harm than good — and the song snaps me out of my reverie.  It always feels like a gentle chastising.  A reminder to keep your head on straight, from a mentor who’ll never be as old as you are now.

I can think of two psychological phenomena off the bat to pragmatically explain that timing of all things, but it’s not enough to sway my faith — that what’s coming through the radio is preordained and meaningful and exactly what I’m supposed to be hearing.

III.

We sang before we spoke.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve defended the vital need for music with that statement.  We communicated in tones long before complicated syllables.  We sang while sitting around our fires. Before written word, we communicated and transmitted vital information by singing it to the younger generations.  We sang the stories of our ancestors.  It’s the same reason we’ll sing out a little diddy in order to remember a phone number.  The reason singing has a long history of lifting spirits when they were truly at their lowest

Because music connects us.  Because it gets under the skin and strikes cleanly at the soul in a way the monotone never could.  Because there are few things as reassuring as hearing someone sing out your experience or your emotions — as if reminding us better than paintings or sculptures or even the written word that, if art can be created from such a jagged crevasse in the human condition, then the suffering is not completely for naught.

And because I’m crazy enough to believe in the timing of all things, I deliberately leave the car radio on during the countless hours I spend on the road — both for voluntarily and for work.  I deliberately channel surf, throwing it out there to the universe and the powers that be, “Okay.  Tell me what I need to hear.”  — as if I’m two steps away from waiting on the microwave to give me the next set of directions.

There are countless phenomena — exhausting, scientific, psychological, statistical reasons — to explain away hearing the right song at the right time.  That song you swear was written about you, or to reassure you, or to mock you.  A song that pops up at just the right/wrong time and makes you want to go, “Oh, shut the fuck up, radio,” before checking your own insanity (and checking your own mindset that would cause such an easy derailment in the first place).

And the radio gives me exactly that.  Gives me the beat to free my soul when I need it.  Reminds me to be brave when I need that reminding.  Calls out my bullshit when I apparently need to call myself out on my own bullshit.  Reminds me that these feelings, these emotions, these experiences, are completely, 100% valid.  Reminds me that there is life outside of these feelings.  Reminds me that there will always be a reason to dance.

I live a bit through the radio.  I’m nutso enough to believe I’m hearing what I need to hear through the radio.  I am reassured through the radio.  I am reminded what it is to be alive through the radio.

And sometimes the radio goes off and the deliberate playlists — the songs saved to my phone or the Cloud or wherever — come on, because sometimes I’m not waiting on the universe to tell me what I need to hear.  Sometimes I’ll seek out exactly what I want to hear and drift into the cadence, the melody, the lyrics.  Swim inside a world where even the most nuanced experience and complicated heartbreak can be explained in quarter beats and refrains and choruses.  Find that momentary stay against the confusion.  Sort out the world one note at a time.

And dance.  Always, always the chance to dance.

The Perfect Type of Failing

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If a tree falls on an Abby and she definitely makes a noise — how far is the closest ER?

The joke pops into my brain as I’m clipping the smaller branches.  A sign that I’m in a better headspace.  A usual rule of thumb: if I can joke, I’m gonna be okay.

For the first couple of minutes after the incident, I speak in shaky, clipped statements, adrenaline rushing through my system as I attempt to discuss the failed tree cutting — as I attempt to sound calm and collected and my husband eventually asks, “Are you okay?  Because it sounds like you’re on the verge of having emotions.”

(Code for: having an emotional breakdown.)

For the next couple of minutes after, I force myself into the present moment.  The weight of the branch cutters in hand.  The smell of the mint that has proliferated by the side of our back porch.  The leaves on the downed tree that are vibrant green with a pastel underbelly.  The task at hand.  Cut this branch.  Cut this other branch.  Bring them over to this pile.  Repeat.  I notice the warm sun.  The slight breeze.  The sound of the branch cutters against bark.

I do that because, until I can start joking, I’m in a bad headspace — now that the adrenaline has subsided and I’m no longer on the verge of having emotions.  Because I’m replaying the events and I’m frustratingly unhappy with myself.  Because there’s a side of me, reminiscent of the Old Me, that is desperate to pop up, and I refuse to give it a platform.

I refuse to give it a platform because that side of me is like Donald Trump: give it even the smallest chance to grab the mic and nothing good will come of it.  But, regardless, that side relentlessly persists, like a toddler bent on getting my attention, a little voice on constant rotation, desperate for me to actually listen in.

You saw the angle was a little off and you didn’t say anything.  You saw the angle and you knew it was off and you just assumed you didn’t know what you were talking about.  You saw the angle and you said nothing and the tree went off path and maybe that wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t assume you were wrong and stayed silent.

(I can hear my counselor say, “You’re incredibly quick to invalidate yourself.”)

Before all that — before the smell of mint in the warm sun and the persistent sound of a negative voice and the surge of adrenaline — I was standing by one of the paracord, next to our chicken coop.  One end of the cord was tied to a chain around the tree, the other to a post by our chicken coop.  I was standing about 30 feet away from a large tree that had been hanging precariously over the roof of our house — a tree that was probably one large blizzard away from damaging said roof, said house.  I was standing guard, watching the first notch be cut.  A notch that seemed to be facing 20 or 30 degrees closer in my direction than it should be.

It’ll be fine. I had reasoned. I’m probably just seeing things.  No reason to say anything.

Within minutes, we hear the distinctive crack that lets us know the tree’s about to fall over.  The paracord by me goes slack — far too quickly and far too early.  The paracord dips towards the ground instead of sloping to the side.  I look up to watch the tree start to loom over me.

Apparently my husband shouts, “Run!”  I don’t hear it.  I’ve already bolted.  I get tunnel vision as I dart away from the chicken coop, down our gravel path, down our stone steps.  I run like hell and don’t even look back until the tree has hit the ground.

When I took back, I’m expecting nothing and everything at once.  I both prepare and don’t prepare for a damaged roof.  Collapsed porch.  Collapsed chicken co-op.  Broken swingset.

What I see is a sea of green.

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There is a very tiny alley of space between the chicken coop & the swingset and our house.  Not including the untamed garden by our porch, the space is 10, 15 feet on the outside.

And that is exactly where the tree fell.

None of the structures are even scratched.  The baby peach tree — a delicate little creation that has been propped up just to survive strong winds and bad winters — is completely untouched.  The felled tree missed it by inches.

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“If the tree cutting was going to go wrong, that was exactly where the tree should’ve fallen,” remarks my husband.

The trunk of the tree hit out ladder — and crushed it like it had been made of cardboard.  Our little reminder of what this tree would have been capable of doing.  But the tree fell in a way that even the little wooden border around the swingset is unscathed.

Five feet one way or the other, it would’ve been a different story.

It was miracle.  I even note how much of a miracle it is — in my jolted, terse voice, the one that apparently gives away my actual emotional state.  It was a perfect failed fall.

It was the perfect type of failing.

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I do yet another exhaustive and exhausting personal inquiry. I analyze my reluctance to say anything.  I analyze that terrible, negative voice that — just like when Trump finds his way onto my TV screen — I hit mute on, knowing that this bag of empty hate and hot air will eventually fade.  I recognize that both come from the same place that I’m trying to chop down as well.  The one I want to uproot and replace with something a little more assertive, a little more sure, a little less passive — grow something that gives me a fricken break from time to time (cue counselor: “You have infinite understanding for everyone around you, and yet you’re not allowed to mess up.”)

The tree was supposed to fall along the path into the woods.  Instead it veered 90 degrees — way farther over my direction than the notch ever was.  Despite being chained and tethered, despite careful cutting, the tree cutting went wildly against plans.

But when it failed, it failed in a miraculous way.

It failed in a way that made me perversely grateful for the way it went down.  It failed in a way that made the dust settle fast — that, after the adrenaline rush and the fight to keep negative self-talk at bay, we were able to focus more on what we could do different next time (as opposed to scrambling to clean up the mess).  It failed in a way that reminded me how bad it could’ve been and how weirdly lucky I am that everything fell into place the way that it did.  It failed in a way we could only hope to fail, ourselves.

Because, if you’re going to fail, fail miraculously.

If you’re going to fail — and you’re going to fail, eventually, inevitably — fail in a way that shows how weirdly beautiful, if not predestined, that failure seems to be.  A failure that exposes what needs to be exposed without bringing the whole house down.  Fail in a way that, as the dust settles, you can see what you can do differently going forward.

Fail in ways that get your adrenaline surging, that make you want to break down over it, that make you wonder why you can’t just get into your readily-available time machine and change things.  Fail and then marvel at how — now that the major moment has passed and you’re not scrambling the way you just did — there was no other way to fail than this.

Fail in a way that makes you perversely grateful for the way it all went down.  Grateful that everything fell into place the way that it did.

Let it be the perfect type of failing.

If things are not going to go to plan, make sure it collapses in a way that makes you think it was the plan all along.

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Let Me Tell You About My Monkey

Let me tell you a tale about my monkey.

Well, technically it first starts off as a tale about a teddy bear keychain.

(Bear with me. Ba dum ching.)

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Sometime in 2008, when visiting Florida for the very first time, I got this little teddy bear keychain.  He was metallic, with movable limbs and a little sun with the words “Florida” printed on his belly.  I named him Teddy Bayer, and I spent the rest of the trip positioning him in various ways and taking pictures of him wherever we went.  This spawned into taking Teddy Bayer with me on every trip, getting his picture taken at tourist destinations and restaurants — and this would eventually spawn a souvenir collection of nearly 30 teddy bears from different states and provinces (and countries) — but that’s a story for another day.

Because this is a tale about my monkey.

My monkey came into my life at the Colorado Zoo, hanging (ba dum ching) with his fellow monkey buddies in the gift shop.  Since I am a sucker for the soft and cuddly, he was purchased and given the name Wesley — in honor of Wes Welker, who had just been traded from the Pats.

He was brought back with us from the zoo and placed on our hotel bed, where I promptly took a picture of him.  And when we checked out, I took a picture of him in the car.

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Soon enough, I was taking pictures of him and Teddy Bayer during my travels.  And — because such is the way of things — there was only room for one traveling toy in my life.  So Teddy Bayer became the protector of my yoga studio keys, staying home while I went off on my adventures.

And thus Wes the Traveling Monkey flourished.

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Wes attracts a bit of attention.  When a grown woman — a 5’11” grown woman, mind you — is taking pictures with a stuffed monkey, people kind of pay attention.  Little kids especially love him, and hikers get a kick when they see him peaking out of my backpack.  Eventually he got his own hashtag and a corner of my instagram account, which only garnered more attention.  And, through that attention, he’d built a weird following — to the point that, when friends would hear that I was going off on whatever trip, I am told to, “Take lots of pics…of Wes!”

This past weekend was no different.  As I brought my bags in to a yoga retreat in Vermont, one of my friends asked, “Did you bring Wes?”

“Of course I brought Wes!” I replied, pulling the stuffed monkey out of my purse as evidence.

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It wasn’t long until Wes started taking on a life of his own that weekend.  It was first a fun suggestion — as we were gearing up the stand up paddleboards, one friend said, “Put Wes on one of the boards and take a picture!”  And — to the enthusiasm of the rest of the group — I did.  Pretty soon, he was being posed on towels and over the baby bump of one of the teachers… and back on the paddleboard.

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Soon enough, Wes became the unofficial 15th member of the yoga retreat.  Every event involved some impromptu photoshoot with Wes in some way.  Everyone had suggestions for Wes — posing him this way and that, over this item, with these items in hand.  He became as much of a staple of the trip as yoga every morning and night, healthy meals, and hearty belly laughs.

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It’s not surprising that something like Wes the Traveling Monkey would be as popular as it is.  And it has nothing to do with my one liners on instagram or social media saturation.  It is just pure, simple, child-like joy.  It is a chance to be a little imaginative and a little silly.  And life is far too short, and far too hard, and far too tragic to not constantly and consistently allow the silly and the child-like to enter in.  It’s gonna be a long uphill walk if you have no place in your heart for a little imagination and simplistic wonder.

I originally justified taking pictures of Teddy Bayer and Wes the Traveling Monkey by saying pictures of these inanimate objects were more interesting than yet another shot of a tourist spot that had been photographed a thousand times over in the exact same way.  That the little guys made a fairly generic travel photo album become a cohesive story.  But the reality is that I never did it to make my posts more interesting (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t post so much online if I were worried about keeping it interesting).  I did it because posing Teddy Bayer next to a restaurant menu or buckling Wes into our back seat tapped into a vital and beautiful joy.

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For now, Wes is resting.  There’s a family reunion and a wedding happening over the next 3 or so months that’ll take me out of state once again, but, for now, I’m back at home base.  My nomadic heart (and love of posting Wes pictures online) will have to make due with the occasional (and local) hiking trip.

But enough about my monkey.

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Notes On the Road: Accents, Longing, Belonging

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“Really?  You don’t have an accent.”

That is probably the number one response I get from people when they find out I’m from Boston.  I don’t have an accent.  It can come out if I’m really tired (er — tye-yihd) and there are a few words I had to teach myself to say properly (what’s up, phah-mih-cee), but, for the most part, I’m sans accent.  Didn’t matter that my father had one of the thickest working-class-Medford accents out there — or that my family tree is dripping with variations of the accent — no one hears me talk and suspects I’m from Boston.

But people have expected southern California.  Multiple times.

“My mom did grow up in Palo Alto,” I’d say, ignoring the part where Palo Alto is unambiguously not a part of SoCal.

Prologue 1: New Hampshire

I’m at an event about a year or so ago.  A lady is giving free card readings and I spend a solid chunk of the afternoon eyeing her table until there’s an empty seat.  I’ve loved getting my cards read since college, and I’ll admit that I can lean on them a little too much when the world gets a bit heavy.

It takes a while, but eventually her chair is free and I sit down.  I forget exactly when she said it — for dramatic effect, let’s say it was as soon as I sat down — but she looks at me and says point blank, “You’re not supposed to be in New Hampshire.”

“It’s not that New Hampshire is a bad place, or that it would be bad for you to live here,” she goes on. “But you’re not supposed to be here.”

About half a year later — after a slew of synchronicitous events keeps bringing this particular lady’s name into my peripheral — I end up going to her for a full reading.  She doesn’t remember anything that we talked about previously and apologizes for not even recognizing me in the first place.

It’s not immediate, but shortly after she starts laying out the cards, she looks at me and goes, “Now…if you could live anywhere, anywhere in the world, where would it be?  I just keep getting the feeling that you might be meant for someplace other than New Hampshire…”

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Prologue 2: Accents
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An Ode To Hiking

“Man I HATE white people vacations!” a white college-aged boy shouts from up the trail.  I laugh so hard my voice echoes.

We were on our way down from the Chimney Tops trail in the Smokey Mountains.  The college-aged kid and his two other friends were on their way up and had stopped to ask us how far to the summit.

It would be a statement I’d repeat throughout the day to make myself laugh, especially when my legs were fatiguing or I’d lose my step or a swarm of bugs would decided I was their best buddy despite the bug spray.  One of those silly statements that tickles you pink and you do yourself a disservice not to return to it as often as you can to get as much laughter out of it as you can.

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Yesterday we toed along the Appalachian Trail.  We detoured through the Chimney Tops trail, scaling the rocks at the summit until I was at my literal edge – until I felt actual, real fear, which is a completely different drug than the synthetic fear of roller coasters and other thrill rides.  We then followed the AT as it danced along the North Carolina/Tennessee border, bouncing from one state to the other as we walked across a ridge line, pausing to rest and eventually turn around at a shelter, meeting people who’d been out on the AT for weeks, possibly months.

I went to bed bone-tired, asleep before my brain could even ponder the question, “Will this is be one of those nights where you don’t fall asleep?”  And I slept a glorious, deep sleep, dead to the world, until I was undeniably awake before the sun and my husband and basically anyone who wasn’t the night staff at the hotel was up.

And so, I blog.

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Hiking is in my blood.  My parents were Appalachian Mountain Club members and actually met while carpooling to a hike.  I was on the trails before I could walk, lugged along in one of those baby backpacks.  To this day, the smell of a stream passing over rocks on a hot, humid day pings at the most innocent, pure, unadulteratedly happy part of me. A completely different drug than the adrenaline jolt from scaling rocksides.

If you asked me to name the biggest, best, most positive thing my parents instilled upon me, I would unequivocally answer, “A deep, passionate love of nature.”  For all the things I might be sorting out as an adult – and for all the ways my parents’ marriage spiraled and unraveled as the decades went on – I was given the gift of day hikes and campfires and mornings on the lake and there’s nothing in this world I would trade that seed in for.

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There is nothing like a hike.  I’ve learned it’s outstandingly difficult to have a bad one.  The conversations you have with other people are unlike any other.  The conversations you have with yourself are unlike any other.

It’s a renewing force, even when you’re exhausted and your legs are fatiguing and you’re shouting, “Man I HATE white people vacations!” to keep yourself from turning around early.  Especially when you’re exhausted and your legs are fatiguing and you’re shouting, “Man I HATE white people vacations!” to keep yourself from turning around early.

It goes beyond being around fresh air and nature and likeminded individuals (or by yourself).  There are few things that will help reset the Superego and Ego quite like going into Id mode for a day.  To care about the absolute basics as you carry onwards.  Food.  Water.  Shelter from the elements.  Sustenance.  Rest.  Onwards.  And all of modern man’s thinking and anxiety is forced to take a backseat.

It’s a chance to play the, “Guess again,” game with your mind.  Your mind is tiring out and ready to quit and you get to say, “Guess again.”  Your mind continues to try to trick the body into calling it in and you get to say, “Guess again,” ad infinitum – or until you reach the summit and you then get to turn around and say,

“Told ya.”

It’s a forced focus on the present moment.  When you’re on the trails for hours – days, possibly – there’s nothing that would wear you out faster than attaching yourself to reaching the summit, reaching the next checkpoint, etc.  It’s actually why I loved mid-distance running until I tore a hamstring tendon (unfortunately, the, “guess again,” portion – which is also quite prevalent in mid-distance running – is how I got injured in the first place, but that’s for another day).  After a while, you have no choice but to focus on the here-and-now.  This step.  This view.  It’s like going into Id mode, without shunning the Ego/Superego.

It’s meditation.  And I built an entire career around all the ways you can trick yourself into getting that.

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Throughout the day, I talked with my husband about growing up by the ocean, but loving the mountains.  How I spent my formative years just south of Boston, my summers in the mountains of New Hampshire, and how, the older I get, the more the mountains call to me.

Both are symbolic of the vast and overwhelming wildness around us, but in polar opposite ways.  The ocean is wild in a way that mankind can’t be a part of.  We can skim the surface and we stand along the shore, but it is truly a beast that lives separately.  The mountains are a more steadfast type of wildness.  A wildness that reminds you that you are part of that vast, overwhelming beauty.

Both represent the unstoppable, untamable, unfathomable expanse of the universe.  Only one really reminds us of our place in it.

As much as the ocean air pings at a wonderful, unadulterated, pure place, I’m happy that, at the end of the day, I prefer the mountains.

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Updates, Steven Tyler, and Prana & Apana

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Firstly, an update on my brother, since it actually was getting under my skin that I never updated my blog about how everything was going (and it’s a monstrous pet peeve of mine, when people are quick to communicate tragedy/bad news, but feel zero impetus to communicate the resolution):

He’s doing better.  Surgery went well and he’s home resting.  His mouth is wired shut for a little while longer and there are a few other health complications we’re taking into consideration, but he’s on the mend and I still am so amazingly grateful that he got out of the accident the way that he did.

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Secondly, an update in general, because I think that’s what blogs are actually for: self-indulgent platforms to just talk about your life.  And I want to talk first about the one thing I never expected to have happen: getting cheered on by Steven Tyler while doing aerial silks.

I practice and train at Bare Knuckle Murphy’s/Go Ninja, a combination boxing and aerial circus gym (and, if you haven’t been there, and live in the Manchester area, get on that, because where else will you get that combo).  Last night, Murphy’s and Go Ninja provided entertainment at Best of NH, held at a baseball stadium in Manchester.  Us aerial people got to do our thing on the silks on the greens while the boxing portion stationed themselves at the front gate.

Eventually it was my time to go up on said silks.  And, for some reason, I was genuinely nervous.  This wasn’t my first time performing on the silks, but definitely the first time in the middle of a baseball diamond and with no crash mat underneath me.  I started my routine and slowly got into the swing of things when suddenly I heard:

“WAHOO!  YEAH!”

Now, Steven Tyler’s voice is not exactly nondescript.  And he had actually been hanging around the Best of NH festivities (something us aerial peeps really didn’t get to indulge in, being on the baseball diamond and away from the main festivities).  I looked over to the balcony area and saw him hollering and waving and cheering me on.  I immediately started waving back (thank God I was in a pose where I could let go with one hand).  He started blowing kisses.  I started blowing kisses back.  And then I spent the rest of my routine going, “That just happened.  That.  Just.  Happened.”

I have a lot of weird and circuitous lame claims to fame, and now that is one of them.

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The night in general was incredible.  My Murphy’s/Go Ninja people are like family to me.  My fellow weirdo, energetic, rag-tag team of misfit toys.

Oh, also I got a free pie.  An entire pie.  Once the night was over, a pie vendor just handed out boxes to those who were still there.  It pays to be part of the event.

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It has definitely been an exciting and bittersweet and busy time for me.  One of the first studios I taught regularly at is closing down.  Since nothing ever slows down for me, I’m in talks with people regarding starting up new classes at some new locations.  Through this, I learned two of the people whom I reached out to (or who reached out to me) had already taken my classes and had not even realized it until we were already knee deep in discussion.

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It’s also a busy time on the creative side.  I continue writing for websites like the Huffington Post and Thought Catalog.  My poetry collection was just released through Thought Catalog, and an essay I wrote on Thought Catalog regarding the Brock Turner case ended up in a collection of essays about the Brock Turner case.  Ironically, by the time the book was out and in print and I received my copy, America was already two tragedies removed from Brock Turner.  At some point I’ll write an essay for HuffPo (or whoever will take me) about America’s addiction to high-intensity tragedy (without pausing for resolution), but that’s for another time.

I enjoyed a brief (albeit short-lived) stay writing for Bustle Magazine, and I’m starting up a long-term position writing about yoga for Higher Self Yoga, starting in July.  And now I’m wading into the waters of my fourth manuscript — a YA novel, if you can believe it — while I try to get the chutzpah to re-up the agency search for the third manuscript (while the second one can stay languishing in its cell until I have the patience to gut it and rewrite it from start to finish).

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I’m also getting ready to host my first retreat.  Ever.  There had been a lot of bumps and detours getting this puppy together and getting it out there, but somehow we were able to get this beauty off the ground.  Tomorrow, I’ll be spending the weekend with two lovely ladies who will be co-hosting alongside me.  The whole event is about grounding and letting go — and using spirituality to tap into the creative side of us.  I get to combine my two passions in order to help students tap into the artist within, let go of whatever it is that’s holding them back, and become the creative they are meant to be.

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Speaking of letting go, I figure I’d round out this incredibly ineloquent blog post with a similarly ineloquent ramble about prana and apana.

(And to those who don’t study yoga, Hindu philosophy, or are just really bored — thanks for stopping by!)

To put it into offensively simple forms, Capital P Prana is life force; as subsets, prana is the inward moving energy, and apana is the outward moving energy.  Our breath is a perfect example of prana & apana.  We inhale vital oxygen.  We exhale no-longer-useful carbon dioxide.

Sometimes I talk about apana in my classes.  I talk about how our exhales are a type of apana.  And sometimes I’ll go further and use it to talk about what serves and what doesn’t serve.

Our lungs don’t hate carbon dioxide.  There is just no use for it.  And our lungs don’t expel it out of malice.  They just do it.  They need oxygen to function and they don’t need carbon dioxide.  If we attempt to interrupt said prana/apana, we’ll be in trouble & our bodies will fight tooth & nail to get the cycle started again, but for the most part it is done on neutral ground.

In fact, the idea of being angry at our exhales seems a little silly.  It’s just the natural ebb and flow of things.  Of everything.

It’s something I remind myself, a lot.  To be frank: it’s been a rough year.  It’s been a rough couple of years.  I’ve yet to shy away from that truth, on here or anywhere.  And while I’m incredibly grateful for all the good that has come my way (and there has been a lot of good), I can’t exactly use it to invalidate the tough.

But then again, it’s been the type of tough that wakes up you to your own BS.  The type that goes, “You really need to stop holding onto that,” — and when you fight back, life counters harder, downright prying each and every individual finger off from whatever it was you were clinging to.  Fighting tooth & nail to get the cycle started again.

Sometimes it really is a simple as how we breathe.  We take in what serves and sustains.  We let go of what doesn’t — or doesn’t anymore.  Old thinking patterns.  Old routines.  Toxic personalities — or toxic ideologies.  Frameworks that we never really fit into in the first place.  And it’s eventually replaced.  And eventually we repeat the cycle all over again.  And it’s a constant, overlapping ebb & flow; things are released in one aspect of our lives while something new comes in from a completely different angle.  We seek out while simultaneously letting go and we let go while simultaneously seeking out.

And sometimes we throw our hands up and go, “I don’t know WTF to seek out or let go of!”

In which case, we breathe.  Because, at least on the most basic level, we already know what we’re supposed to be doing.

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And, lastly — because I live for adventure, or at least being really, really busy — I’ll be taking off the Tuesday after my retreat on a road trip journey to the Grand Canyon, with stop-offs in Memphis, New Orleans, Austen, and a few other resting places.  Road trips — especially road trips through states I’ve yet to travel through — ease my nomadic heart, and I’m looking forward to two and a half weeks of the open air.

I’m also looking forward to a little rest.  I was doing the math, and I haven’t had an actual day off in about 3 months (and that’s not including anything writing-related, which is kind of a constant job and always has been).  I’ve taught at least one class every single day since about late February, early March.  And it’s starting to weigh on me.  As much as I adore my profession, it will be nice to take some time to focus on that inwards-moving energy — take some time to fill up my own life force.

(…see what I did there?)