Chapter One - The peak
Once upon a time there were these two weeks in the month of October when everything was working out. I was calm and collected, organised and energized. Motivation was high like a kite in the sky and everything made sense. I was soaking up Tim Ferris’s podcasts and somehow ended up listening to exactly the ones that “I needed to”. I began taking swimming lessons once a week and set a new every-day activity: walking. Why would I add that to a board and have to check it everyday? Because it’s what the walk represents, people.
I was listening to the “Tara Brach - On meditation and fear of missing out” episode while cleaning. At one point she starts telling the story of our brother bear, Buddha, who was - as you know - sitting under a tree trying to achieve enlightenment. That night before he caught enlightenment by the tail, he fought a great battle with the Demon God Mara. We’ll call her Mara, because demon god is too long and kind of hurtful. Also, it appears that it was a “he” but I feel differently, so in my version of this story, it’s a she. So she, Mara, attacked that night with everything she had in her pouch: fear, doubt, greed, anger, lust, etc - you name it, she used it. The Buddha successfully managed to turn the water into wine - wait, no, that was Jesus, scratch that - he managed to transform the arrows into flower petals and Siddhartha Gautama into The Buddha. Mara failed that night and left all passive aggressive and pissed. That didn’t stop her from showing up every now and again. Buddha’s loyal attendant, Ananda, always on the lookout for any harm that might come to his teacher, would freak out and announce non-subtlely that the “Evil One” had again returned. Then, the Buddha, all chill would calm Ananda - who was borderline hysterical - “Bro, I got this”. Then, instead of ignoring Mara or being a biatch to her, he would simply say “I see you, Mara. Come, let’s have tea”. Aaaand this is the point where I began to weep like a baby.
Because we all have a Mara, Mara is in all of us, she is a part of us and the way we treat her is the way we treat ourselves. In this case it’s with acknowledgement, compassion, patience and at the end of the day, love. So, it moved me and it taught me to approach my Mara emotions differently. This story combined with the fact that this woman apparently wakes up every morning at 5, eats nothing, drinks nothing, grabs her dog and goes for a walk no matter the weather made me want to do something similar. Except the 5 o'clock in the morning extravaganza. My approach has less discipline. It’s based on the fact that I don’t get up and go for a walk whenever I feel like it, either because I’m lazy, either because I’m busy, I postpone or plainly deny myself something that always makes me feel better. After hours of writing at a computer, I often get headaches, backaches, all sort of aches and a walk would be a nice treat/fix. I decided to do it everyday, no matter the weather to bring some resilience up in this biatch (me being the biatch). The point is three-fold:
- To have the outside wake me up, breathe some fresh air and pretend that it’s coffee
- To get un-stuck and face the world through it all: sunny, stormy, cold as fuck, etc.
- To take Mara to tea. If I feel restless, uneasy, have to make a decision, I go for that walk.
The second you stop and get out of the shower, your body will start this amazing process of heating itself up from your magical inside and that is the moment you start feeling awesome. Your mind is awake and crisp as a motherfucking winter morning and your body is cranking up the heat and puttin’ some gas in the tank.
That night, for a brief 30 min or so I could do anything! - and 30 min suddenly feels like forever when you’ve gone forever without feeling like you could do anything. I was officially hooked.
Doing something I thought I could never do - and on a daily basis! - made me feel like a winner. I was facing a fear, I was putting myself in a uncomfortable situation and then, after having struggled I would meet myself on the victorious side. If that’s not life, I don’t know what is.
Chapter Two - Snow globes, sex toys and hummus
Right before said life started to crumble like fine french pastry, I had quite a memorable day. Thinking back, I should’ve known the universe was just trying to tell me shit was about to come my way, but sometimes you just resist the signs because you really don’t wanna believe them. I don’t remember how the day started, which means it doesn’t really matter. I had the second part all planned out: first, I would do some shopping on my own, then I’d meet Nuc and go to a sex shop, have a bite to eat and go to our first blues dance class.
There I was, surfing the shops for individual pie dishes in pastel colours (particular, I know) - also, spoiler alert: didn’t happen - but I shouldn’t know this at this point of the story. I am still starry-eyed and hopeful like a naive orphan.
I was roaming the TK Maxx shop, trying very hard not to get distracted by the Halloween merchandise AND the Christmas decorations! No, guys, the 17th of october is not too early, not at all! Hey, I’ll tell ya’ hwhat: bring the freaking Easter bunnies with their colourful eggs in their wicker baskets and fuck common sense, seasons and all that silly stuff! Let’s celebrate them all at the same time and get it over with! BRING ON AAAAALL THE CANDY! We’ll all be fucking dead before those sleigh bells start “jingling, ring-ting-tingling, too” but that’s a different conversation.
They didn’t have pie dishes to suit my needs, so on my way out I was just looking at the Christmas stuff thinking half angry, half nostalgic thoughts when I magically reach the snow globes area. Ah, snow globes, always magical. Even mid-October! Omg, guys, I take it back, I’m so sorry! Now I understand everything!
In the pile of Santa Claus-globes, reindeer and nutcracker-globes, there sat the globe of my existence. It had a simple white base with a metalic little key and inside the globe, sitting on the snow were two bears - transparent, translucent, crystal-like bears. It was like they were made of tears. My tears, the ones I started crying then and there surrounded by snow globes, pumpkins and witches costumes. I lifted it and I turned the key. It started snowing to “Joy to the world” which was the official song that every Christmas lights played in the 90’s. Or maybe it wasn’t, but it sure seemed like that. My childhood flashed before my eyes with images of my dad aka my main bear, on winter time (which this is not, ‘cause it’s OCTOBER and if stores wouldn’t pull this shit I wouldn’t be sitting here, crying real tears that are especially reserved for Christmas time, this close to my freaking birthday! Each tear for its precise time of the year!). I wiped said tears from my face and decided that I have to buy it. Screw individual pie dishes, I’ll just eat my feelings from a regular sized dish. I put my new precious possession in my backpack and left the building like Elvis in the good days!
I was late, so I started moving my legs like fettuccini in a boiling pot - chaotically and not necessarily efficiently. (I would have used “spaghetti” but who am I kidding? Just grateful they’re not cannelloni). Half way there, Nuc said he was still on the bus so I got the weird feeling that I had all the time in the world so I chilled. I chilled so much that my brain went on vacation and I took the wrong way and then got freaking lost and walked around in circles like Moses. The most frustrating part is that it was right there! It could’ve been easy breezy. Instead, I walked double the distance, panting and sweating like a truffle hog. Halfway there I realized I had a gigantic poop on my jacket because some damn seagull wanker decided that he could improve upon my day by completing my outfit with some white and green, leaky shit. I was pissed. I was finally there, late, pissed and covered in poop. I’m ready for the sex shop experience now, honey! It just feels right!
Looking back at all the times that a bird shat on me, it was never on a good day! It always came as the final flourish to a crap sandwich, like a poop cherry standing proudly on top, declaring you a loser in the eyes of the world. Wear that poop, baby! YEAH! You’ve earned it!
Fortunately, my fake leather jacket is relatively easy to clean (if I were wearing suede I would have killed some seagulls that day). We stopped for a cup of whatever so I could get a grip on life for a minute, clean my jacket and drink some water. You need to prepare yourself for the sex shop experience. Can’t just walk in there miserable, feeling like the world is out to get you, you’ll end up hating everything. I assume, I’ve never been to a sex shop before. Naturally, I assumed it’s like going to the theatre: you gotta look your best, be silent and take it all in. Aaah, dirty jokes, how they enrich our lives.
First impression? Yo, there’s a lot of stuff out there. Most of it kitchy. I don’t understand why they can’t be prettier and more tasteful. God dammit, a lil’ class never killed anybody.
I could get graphic on you and share my shopping list but I just made a big deal out of being classy and I don’t want the contrast to confuse you. I’ll just say it like a lady would. Or how I think a lady would, which implies that I am not one. Oh well. I got one “everybody needs one of these in their drawer”, one “uh, that’s sounds naughty” and one “ok, I’ll try anything once”.
Apparently, we took our sweet ol’ time because there was no way in hell we were gonna make it to the blues dance class. Disappointed? Yes. Hungry? Hell yeah!
I’ve been hearing about this place called Brother Hubbard and been wanting to eat for a while now. Since we didn’t have to rush anywhere anymore, we decided to head on there and see what they have to offer. Long story short? Delicious hummus, great lamb and some decent huge meatballs (not a euphemism, guys). Lovely autumn arrangement and great service. Also, I stole a tiny pumpkin. Thank you, goodnight! I gave him a home, ok?! Stop judging me. Jeez.
With snow globe, sex toys, stolen pumpkin, hummus to-go and cheap baloney and pufuleti (from the romanian shop) in my backpack, we proudly headed home. It had been a full day, that’s fo’ sure.
Chapter Three - Ricky Nelson has a song about you
At around this time I welcomed into my life Mary-Lou. My 76 year old amazing friend, Maurice, gave me his late wife’s bicycle so that I could get to my swimming lessons better and to my cleaning bookings faster. I named this burgundy beauty after his wife Louise, added a Mary ‘cause she seemed like a sassy gal and turned Louise into Lou without knowing, at the time, that Maurice used to call her Lou too. It was all in the name of love. The bike was happy to be ridden again, it made Maurice dip into a pool of lovely memories that he then shared with me and I...I was flying. Just me and this gal cruising. I got a lovely feeling of freedom and independence and a great sense of possibility. After a whole week of bike bliss I got knocked off of my high horse by back pain. Serious, undeniable back pain. After trying to make it go away pill-free, I caved. For the first time ever in my back pain history, I started taking anti-inflammatories. It was not looking good. I was now sitting on the floor, obviously unable to ride my bike. Good news was the pills worked, I was pain free about 4 hours later. Bad news was that I suspected Mary Lou was not good for me. I put a metaphorical pin in that cause my birthday was knocking on the door.
Chapter Four - Life is shitty after the 3rd sentence
I don’t know what it is about birthdays. Could it be the high expectations, the pressure to have it be a special day, the fact that another year has gone by and we inevitably take stock and are inevitably disappointed? I always tend to feel empty as soon as the clock transforms the regular day into the feared birthday.
Because of that, I need the events of the day or the people in my life to fill me up until I feel whole again. If it’s not full enough at the end of the day, I feel disappointed. It’s not fair, I know, but it’s how I feel. It does happen at times, that my cup runneth over and that is truly precious.
I felt the blues sneaking up on me even before the clock hit 12am that night. I caught myself and I thought I’d try to receive it differently this time. It was harder this year, though. It was the first one that my dad wouldn’t say “Happy birthday” to me. Because he can’t. Because he’s dead. And he was a big guy, so he left a lot of room in that cup.
I woke up in the morning and despite all my rationalising I felt… off. I put my clothes on and I went for a walk. It was gloomy - proper gloomy - and very still. I walked and I went through all my thoughts, expectations and fears. I addressed all my emptied corners and tried to fill at least some of them myself. Then I came home, put some scones in the oven and had a lovely breakfast. Also, my grandma called to cheer me up. You know how it goes:
“Hey, happy birthday! May you be happy and wealthy! Cause if you don’t have money you can’t be happy! Ah, life is so shitty.”
Ladies and gentlemen, my grandma: the professional picker-upper, the life of the party, the light in a pitch-dark room! You should imagine my blank expression at this point. That call went well. Of course, she later called to apologise because she’d thought it over and feared that she might have upset me. Upset me? Where would you get that idea?! Thank God for my sense of humour!
I turned to yoga and yoga did not disappoint. Adriene had a birthday yoga video in which she celebrated being alive and being herself. Hmm, a celebration of me, of being who I am. What an unfamiliar concept. It sure would be great. It’s not often that I get to celebrate that. I think none of us do. We spend most of our time wanting to be someone else, or be more of this and less of the other, more like July or Jim or my cat (really, who could blame me for that?). How great would it be to just celebrate that you are who you are? We should make it our birthday more often.
After the magical yoga, I was brought a big glass of wine and received specific instructions about entering the kitchen. Meaning that I was to not, under any circumstances, enter the kitchen. Nuc was cooking for lil’ ol’ me. I had wine on the couch and re-watched Ratatouille while sniffing the air in an attempt to guess what’s cookin’, good lookin’?
When I was eventually beckoned in the kitchen, a big plate of spaghetti all’ amatriciana awaited. Awh, you made me food, you do love me! I wiped that baby clean, ‘cause it was delicious! After a bit more wine and a bit more time, we got ready for an evening on the town aka dinner (at my fav japanese restaurant) and a show in the form of stand-up comedy because a girl needs to laugh on her birthday.
Then we went to a house party where I ate lots of Doritos, talked about gay sex way too much and drank Futyulos Palinka (a hungarian treat that gets you wasted). If it’s not clear, it was a good time. A gal laughed a lot on her birthday. Mission accomplished. My cup was full.
Chapter Five- I think she’s broken, Jim!
When pain hit the second time, she was not as willing to go away. Pills took 4 days to make a difference and I was still unable to walk without triggering it. My bike days seemed long gone, so were my cleaning days. I struggled to make the final decision. Partly because I had grown accustomed to the people and I actually felt helpful and partly because I was clinging to the smear of independence. The one thing that made me feel better about not carrying my own heavyweight in the world, the one thing that made my shame bearable.
I’ve been planning an autumn day in the park ever since the leaves started falling to the ground. Nuc was in LA. It was a Sunday. I treated myself to a day in the park. I would make my decision on this walk, I thought. I learned that I could only walk for 20 min at a time without pain, after which I had to sit. I was battling the actual pain and the pain of making a decision when it suddenly dawned on me that I have no decision to make. It has been made for me and all I can do is listen. I called my customers and the company the second day and quit. I also quit riding Mary Lou. She sits there, awaiting the day that she’s gonna get back on the road - and so do I.
Chapter Six - Sieving polenta from the sky
One night, I was lying in bed, left side of my face down on my warm pillow, knees bent and hands gripped around Fernando, my bear. I took a “and now I will sleep” breath and I shut my eyes. Suddenly, from the pitch dark a bubble of light formed itself effortlessly and I was instantly transported to that very familiar picture. It was summer in my backyard. Under our cherry tree, that is now no more, there was my grandpa, that is now no more, there was my dad, that is now no more and there was this little brown eyed girl that is still in here somewhere. I gasped for air like waking up from a shocking dream. There was a feeling of warmth inside my chest and one devastating question on my mind. What if we could go back on a day? Any day - that day. Just for a minute. Just enough to hold my dad’s hand, to graze my grandad’s stubble, to bask in the summer light while sucking on a black cherry that I picked myself. I’ll never forget that light - this yellow, almost glittery fog that moved imperceptibly. Someone must have been sifting golden flour from the sky and it was dissipating and floating around inside this glass ball that appeared to have been my life for a moment. Every time that image comes to mind, I get a sense of warmth and bliss. Then that question emerges and with it, a strong pang in my solar plexus. That is the pain of an impossible desire and it strikes in my core with an initial twinge, followed by the impression that I’m running out of air. It’s not a desperate act, it’s resigned, exhausted and powerless. The light of my bubble begins to dim, slowly fading into the darkness that it came from.
Maybe that’s why the snow globe meant so much to me. Different season, same warmth.