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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