Dear #SnowflakeGeneration

To all the “millenials” (and “liberals”) in my life who are seeing yourselves constantly berated lately as #snowflake and #snowflakegeneration on social media, I saw someone call you that this morning and I didn’t like it.  And it made me want to offer you (and me) a new perspective…

16441016362_88b2e8b6ea_zSnowflakes cannot help that they became snowflakes.  A drop of water doesn’t one day make a conscious decision to freeze and turn into an ice crystal that falls to the ground.  The environment and the atmosphere that drop of water “lives” in forms and shapes it.

(For those of you that need some help better understanding the metaphor, please watch this.)

Snowflakes are pretty f-ing badass if you really think about it. Have you ever seen one? Really looked at it?  They’re one of the most intricate and beautiful phenomenon in nature (imho) and when they band together they form a new kind of beauty that covers mountain ranges and entire cities in not too much time at all.

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Snowflakes are individual.  Not one of them looks exactly like another.  So it’s an oxymoronic insult for someone to use #snowflake to refer to a group of people as exactly the same.

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Snowflakes are fun.

You can build snowmen with them.384814496_66df770b6e_z

You can clump them into a little ball and throw them it at your friend (or your enemy).

Snowflakes have given us sledding and skiing and snowboarding.  They’re the reason for fireplaces and hot chocolate and songs like Jingle Bells.

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Snowflakes are important.

Snowflakes insulate the ground in winter so roots don’t freeze in fields and gardens when temperatures get cold…so living creatures can have food to eat.

Snowflakes eventually melt and run down mountains and soak into the ground so fields can be green and living creatures can have replenished water supplies.

Every year, groups of snowflakes that band together become strong enough to affect business as usual in cities, schools, business and government.

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Without snowflakes, winter would just be grey and cold and not very interesting.  And I don’t care what anyone says, snow days are awesome!

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People all over the world get excited when they see the first snowflakes of the year begin to fill the air and blanket the earth…trust me, I have Instagram and Twitter.  #snow

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So, dear SNOWFLAKES,

Wear that “insulting” moniker with pride.  Reclaim it as your own because when you do, it won’t be an insult anymore.  (See #nastywoman.)

They call you #snowflakes because they think you are too delicate and too precious.  And you are…because all humans are delicate and precious.

Don’t get mad.  Respond by being better than what they say you are.  Be beautiful individuals but also be stronger together (and no, I didn’t mean to just quote HRC but there you go) and make the world a better more beautiful place.  You do it all the time already.

I have some confessions and some advice for you:

#1 – You drive me (and your parents and your bosses) crazy sometimes.  But so does everyone.  Some of the things that get said about you are true about some of you some of the time…just like some of the things they say about some of the people in my generation are true about some of us some of the time…so listen to some of the things that the people that you trust say about you.

#2 – You’re different than I am and I don’t always understand you and I often forget that first point I made about you not forming yourself.  It’s not your fault that you got a trophy for showing up to the game, but it’s your job now, as an adult, to process through how that might have affected your way of seeing the world.  You are the #snowflakegeneration and I am an X-er right smack dab in the middle of the #neglectedmiddlechild generation.  We come from pretty different starting positions from which to view the world, so we have to choose to listen to each other.

#3 – Sometimes I think you act like you know everything.  And you don’t.  But every young (and old) person on the face of the earth who ever lived, including the one who is typing these words right now, has at one point in their life thought that they knew everything.

Also, I see that you often feel lost and have fears and uncertainties but that it’s harder for you to say that out loud than it was for me because you grew up with a public Facebook face that feels awfully important to maintain.  And I’m sorry that’s true for you.

#4 – I do learn things from you.  Like what Netflix & chill means.  (Also, other more important things.)

#5 – I believe I have things that I can teach you because I’ve lived a little longer than you have…and I love and care about those of you who need and want help to navigate the world.  And I believe that this is true of 98-99% of you.  We all need the wisdom of what has gone before us and the vision of what’s coming behind…and that’s hard for people to accept sometimes because we live in a world where we all want to be right and where change is difficult.

You’re not perfect and neither is any other generation that’s ever gone before you, but we need you and I’m cheering you on.  Be careful of getting too offended and blaming things on other people…even when you feel like people are doing that to you.  Keep getting smart(er) about the world.  Don’t exclusively read your news on Facebook or get your stories from YouTube.  Don’t let them bait you on Twitter.

Travel…across the world or across your city or across the “wrong side of the tracks”.  Learn from others.  Talk to people you disagree with and get their perspective…and then figure out how to stay in relationship with them.

Listen to Van Jones when he says that same thing that I just said and when he tells you that the work is not done and it is not okay to give up.  Remember that most people who change the world for good don’t get to see the final fruits of their labor.  Social media has retrained your brains (and mine) to expect immediate results, feedback and gratification but good things in life almost always involve the long haul.

Start making decisions now about how you will spend the millions of dollars you will make over the course of your life.  If you care about the environment, be conscious about what you consume and what you throw away.  If you care about ethical business practices, do your research and buy from and invest your retirement plans in those companies whose values align with your own.  If you care about people, simply be kind – with your words on social media, with your actions in real life.  Choose not to honk and keep the bird to yourself when they cut you off on the 405.

You are the future and you have more power to positively affect the world around you than you think you do.

Get outside your comfort zone because this is how you will grow.

You make the world a more beautiful place, you’re pretty fun, you are important and when you come together, you are strong.

With all my love,

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#snowflake #snowflakegeneration #snowflakepride

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Photo creds: “Beauty is in the small things – 35:365” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by susivinh, “Snowflake” (CC BY 2.0) by mel5545, “Snowball” (CC BY 2.0) by kamshots, “Snowstorm!” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Chris Kantos

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Learning to be a Monk – Reflections of a Pilgrim

Students at the Australian Studies Centre (where I’m spending much of my time lately) start the semester by reading a thought-provoking essay by William T. Cavanaugh titled Migrant, Tourist, Pilgrim, Monk: Mobility and Identity in the Global Age.

Cavanaugh looks at the ramifications of globalization and what it means to live in a world less divided by borders…though he would argue that the idea that we’re not still divided by national identity is silly.  (My word, not his…this guy doesn’t use words like “silly”.)

My interpretation of how he defines the terms is this:

Migrant – Refugees, workers and others who have “spilled across borders in all parts of the globe.”  People in this category often (but not always) end up falling under the umbrella of those who are a “readily exploitable source of cheap labor.”

Tourist – One (likely a Westerner with means) who travels for business or pleasure, generally seeking escape, whose presence does more to affect the culture which they enter than the culture does to change them.  Someone who views another culture as something to be observed or consumed but not necessarily engaged.

Pilgrim – Someone who enters a new culture with humility and is willing to embrace differences in others while moving towards a transformed self, more grounded in God.  (In the essay, he explores the idea of Christian pilgrimage but points out that other traditions have elements of pilgrimage as well.)  One who “sees all as potential brothers and sisters on a common journey” and chooses to rely on others and God.

Monk – “Those on whom the pilgrim [and migrant] depend….those who remain in place in order to offer hospitality to those who journey.”

Not quite what I mean.
               Not quite what I mean.

Our students (and therefore I) have been challenged through these last almost three months (and in the weeks left on our journey) to see our time Down Under as Pilgrimage, to operate in such a way that we enter into the land and the culture, trying to understand the whole of the national story, rather than viewing it as a removed third party.  We want them to grow in their understanding of others and themselves rather than operate in a typical Tourist mindset.  And now we’re challenging them to take what they’re learning about cultural difference and apply it back to parts of their own country’s way of seeing the world…in essence, to become Monks for others.

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This is no easy task!  It requires self-reflection and admission of issues within one’s own country, state and city.  It requires sometimes saying the wrong things or asking the wrong questions and the humility to accept correction.  It can be an emotional journey that leaves a person asking “Great.  But what do I do now?”

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Part of Pilgrimage is fitting into a culture rather than imposing your own ideas of culture upon the place where you’re standing.  One might think that to culture cross from the United States to Australia isn’t that big of a deal.  The language is the same, the culture is western, there are McDonald’s (aka Macca’s) everywhere.

But even in our “similar” countries, there are differences.  The Australians I’ve met have been generally more physically active and more laid back.  They typically ask less questions and have a bit of a different way of conversing.  They aren’t into individualism and being the best…and they’re happy to dissuade others from being so.

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And yes, there is a small language gap. I can mostly understand the words of my house mate, but I often have to stop her to ask what a word means…and when I have to do that, it can be uncomfortable…especially in the moments she looks at me like I have two heads for not knowing what she’s talking about.  (I generally do know but different words for similar things.)

One of our students, in the first week of the program, was told she could help herself to the “bikkies” on the “bench” and almost ended up missing out on having one of the cookies that had been sitting out on the kitchen counter because she had no idea what she had been offered.

Don’t believe me?  Click here to see what Australians have to say about that.

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Elder lessons on Aboriginal land, culture and history

There are differences in our cultures, but there are also similarities, some of which are not pretty.  I’ve learned about darker things like Australia’s convict history, and treatment of Aboriginal people, and Australian current refugee practices.  And I can’t come away from that without reflecting on the dark parts of my own cultural past and present.

I feel like I can see things a little more clearly because I am watching the US from afar instead of being in the middle of what’s going on now with the election cycle and #BlackLivesMatter and various other issues of race and national identity that are bubbling up in my own country.  I’m seeing us through an Aussie filter that is bewildered by our current political theatre and literally assuming that Donald Trump reflects true American values.

Being here has reinforced what I already knew… The world is watching and they’re not necessarily liking what they see.

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So how do we get to Monk-hood…those of us who want to be a welcoming presence to the outsider?

One of the concluding ideas in Cavanaugh’s essay is that if we are willing to enter the world as Pilgrims, we can earn the right and the ability…and the centeredness…to be Monks to others.  How can we become Monks who help others to feel at home without first understanding what it is like to be a Pilgrim or listening to the stories of the Migrant?

In my current Pilgrimage, I’ve been “Monked” by colleagues who have taught me about the nuances of culture – both white Australian and Indigenous and the people like our students’ host families (and my house mate) who invite Americans into their homes to live as Aussies do.

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   Aboriginal sand art – recovering the old ways

I’ve been “Monked” by Aboriginal elders and teachers and artists who have kindly explained to “Whitefellas” the wounding and long-lasting effects of institutional racism and unconscious bias and who have taught us how dance and story and art connects them to the land and to each other…and how those things are also bringing healing to hurting people.  Their stories have illuminated not only their own culture but have given me a deeper understanding of the wounds to people within my own.

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                A “green” Outback experience

I’ve been “Monked” by a sweet cattle rancher named Grace who welcomed into the Outback so we could experience a land that is harsh, difficult to manage and often drought stricken (though it’s quite green this season because of unusual rain).  I understand better now the plight of farmers and ranchers who often know what’s best for the land but have to deal with government officials and policies that go against their better instincts, and I’ve heard more stories of Divine intervention in times of greatest need.

Grace (back. L) shows us around the property.
           Grace (back. L) shows us around the property.

And I’ve heard the stories of some Migrants, so I understand better now the difference between coming to a country as a welcome guest who is deemed acceptable vs. coming to a country as a person seeking asylum.  And how important Monk-types were in shaping the Migrant experience into a more positive one in spite of what they might be feeling from the culture at large.

I hold all of these people and their stories now.  They have helped me to understand the culture I am standing in and in turn have made me more keen to provide that sense of welcome to others when I’m standing in my own country.

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I believe that at least 50% of the travel I’ve done has majorly shaped who I am as a human…how I see myself and how I see the world.  I love to journey.  I probably always will.

I have also always been someone who deeply about welcoming others even though I’ve not always been good at it.  I’m very grateful that my current Pilgrimage in a new country has given me a larger framework of welcome; that my experience Down Under has left me more equipped to be a Monk for others.

We need more Monks than Tourists in our world of Migrants and Refugees.  We need more Monks in our world of people who have not been offered an equal seat at the table. And that is a need I want to meet in whatever ways I can.

 

Blowing Up Your Life, An American Fairytale, Part 2 (or How I Ended Up in Australia)

There once was a gal who wanted to ‘blow-up’ her life.  She packed a bag and headed to a distant land to experience all it had to offer and in the process, she found herself…(and she also found a prince) ~ Me – March 5, 2016

 

I182268677_7e5cbd5b1fn March, I blogged about the new American fairytale – “stories of women whose life is not what they want it to be, [who] pull up their roots, take a major leap that no one else understands and go on a journey towards wholeness.”

I didn’t say this then, but for months (years) before I wrote that, I had struggled on and off with a need to get away from a life that has felt directionless and lost because it hasn’t turned out like I expected.  I’ve been dying for a reboot.  I said on that day in March that if I could, I’d move to Australia for a year.  A month later, that desire had morphed into a reality.  Now, almost halfway through my adventure, I figured I’d tell you how that came to be.

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dscn1705In June of 2014 I was hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, by myself a good amount of the time, struggling with my lungs and with my inability to get a good night’s sleep or put food in my belly without wanting to hurl, and learning a difficult life lesson of taking just one step at a time. (I can’t seem to go on a trip without learning some deep truth about life.) Somewhere along that path, in the green vastness of the Andes, I pulled a Chris.  In the midst of great difficulty and also great beauty I jumped out of the present moment and into the future and asked, “so where do we want to go next?”  I asked it out loud and I believe I asked it not only of myself but of God.

The answer was almost immediate and came straight from my guts.

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Or London.

(Immediate but a bit indecisive…and a bit out of nowhere.)

In the weeks and months and years that followed, the idea of traveling to Australia in honor of my 40th birthday stuck to me like glue and my imagination ran wild with what kind of trip it would be.  At one point, a large group of my dear friends was in on the plan to come along but things change and I didn’t plan or save and by the summer of 2015, I started to tell myself that it was too late and other people started to say that they wouldn’t be able to go after all, so I tried to pretend that I didn’t care and that it was no big deal.

But that wasn’t the truth, so I spent some time silently beating myself up for not planning ahead.

By October I still couldn’t shake the desire to travel Down Under, so I reached out to a friend who runs the Australian study abroad program under the same organization for which I work. I told her I wanted to travel to Australia and asked what the possibility was that I would be able to come and work with her for a month to alleviate some of the costs of travel.

About 10 days later, I got a response saying that she would love that and would keep it in mind, but then I didn’t hear anything more.

I still really wanted to go to Australia (or London) but tried to pretend some more.

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In early December, I had lunch with a friend and mentioned how sad I was that I hadn’t set myself up for this thing I wanted and that I hadn’t heard back about the work possibility and that I really, really wanted to go but was trying to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to because flying to Australia is so darn expensive and no money and blah blah blah.  And she said…maybe my friend who’s a pilot can get us cheaper standby tickets.

I had said what I wanted, and my Australian dreams came alive again.

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In mid-January, the two of us got together to talk about making plans…and she mentioned possibly going to Italy instead of Australia and I said…after much hemming and hawing…okay.  (Because I am sometimes a people pleaser and I thought that maybe I could kill the Australian dream.)

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I was excited about Italy.  But I was extremely sad…grieving really…about not going to Australia.  I kept having the feeling that Australia “had something for me” and that I was going to miss out on it if I didn’t go this year.  I told myself that this was silly and that Australia would still be there the next time I wanted to travel, but the thought of not going left me anxious and I couldn’t shake the feeling.  I tried to convince myself that Italy was fine…that I was feeling fine…

On February 11th, I wrote another email to my friend in Brisbane.

“Okay.  So it’s me again.  Still pondering the Australia thing…”

No response this time.

Three weeks later, I wrote the aforementioned blog post about blowing up your life…because deep down that was what I desperately wanted to happen for myself.

(Side note: Between my October email and my February email, my desires had gotten extra jumbled because that whole prince thing that I mentioned in said blog post was coming into play. I had met and was getting along famously with a prince who was moving to the country I had been wanting to visit for two years (Australia) while simultaneously being from the other country I had wanted to visit for two years (England) and I have this habit of believing that everything happens for a reason even though I know that sometimes things just happen.  The prince issue has since been alleviated due to reality checks about life circumstances.  Not all life blowing up scenarios can turn out like they do in other people’s memoirs.)

On March 13th, I got a reply that indicated there wasn’t really a need for me to travel to the program in Brisbane.

I promptly burst into tears.

Something in my heart was telling me to press on, but I also couldn’t figure out why I wanted this so desperately; why I felt that I would be missing out on something that I needed if I didn’t go.

Confession: This is the type of situation in which I usually give up.

When I want something badly and I get an ambivalent response, my M.O. is to act like I don’t care…to say “it’s fine” and move on.  This is a habit, a defense mechanism to keep me from disappointment, that I picked up early in my life. It’s a pattern that has been very hard for me to break.

The problem with defense mechanisms that keep you safe, however, is that they generally also lead to being disappointed anyway.

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Slowly, painstakingly, tenderly over the past couple of years, I have seen God move in this area of my life.  The work has been slow but He’s been healing and working through remnants of pain and mistrust and a sense of fatalism that have been hard for me to shake. My confidence has grown, my understanding of Love and being loved has grown, and in this particular moment, some small voice inside me – a voice that I have been working to recognize – felt strong and clear and said,

“Don’t do the thing you usually do.  Ask for what you want.”

So I did.  And this time the response from Brisbane was “let me think about it.”

That moment of bravery was one that’s been in the making for a long time.  I didn’t hide my face and pretend that I didn’t want something that I knew would make me happy.  I knocked on the door and it opened just a little bit further. And then on the Friday before my 40th birthday (the one I wanted to celebrate in Australia), I heard that I would find out if it was a real possibility in a couple of days.  And then it was a real possibility.  And then my boss said yes.  And then her boss said yes.  (And then the government said hold up for a second…but that’s another story.)  And suddenly I was on my way…I was on my way to blowing up my life…(just a little because I didn’t necessarily want to blow it up completely).

I felt like God had given me a birthday present that was two years in the making, and it was more extravagant than any gift I would have thought to ask for myself.  I wasn’t going to Australia for a vacation.  I wasn’t going to Australia for a month.  I was going for four.  (And if this post wasn’t already way too long I’d tell you more about how I ended up in London too.)

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img_0424It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses since I’ve been here (though there has been a lot of sunshine and they grow roses here too).  There have been some really hard days.  I’ve had to come face to face with expectations I didn’t know were as strong as they were…those expectations of the new American fairytale.  Expectations like clarity about life and finding a prince (influenced in part by the 99.5% of you who told me I was probably going to find my husband here…thanks for that, you nerds).I’ve had none of the desired epiphanies. In fact, it turns out I’m still learning the lessons from the Andes mountains two years ago about taking one step at a time.

I have, however, been able to walk alongside some great college students who have deep questions about life and faith.  I’m learning about a culture that is causing me to reflect more on my own.  I’m enjoying the quiet pace of life, the sea and the land. I am learning how to be here wherever I am, to be in the moment, though I still struggle with looking too far into the future.  I have loved almost every minute except the ones when I’ve been homesick for my people on the other side of the world.  I’m packing in as much experience as I can, and I am very thankful for this mini explosion that is now woven into the tapestry of my life.

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Flag” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Tamsin Slater, “Union Flag” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Federhirn,  “Italian Flag” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by ShinyPhotoScotland

Place. Land. Beauty.

“In the century since Galileo’s explosive new understanding of the cosmos first rattled our cage, humans have never quite managed to give up the idea that we are at the centre of the universe and masters of all we survey.

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We’re used to seeing ourselves as the pinnacle of reality.

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But traveling deep into landscapes, paying attention to the natural world, we’re reminded of our true position in the scheme of things.” 

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“I think people everywhere yearn for connection,

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 to be overwhelmed by beauty…
img_0508…Perhaps in the face of grandeur we silently acknowledge our smallness, 

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our bit part in majesty.”

Quotes from Island Home by Tim Winton, Hamish Hamilton AU, 2015.

On The Inadequacy of Words

Dear Readers,

I haven’t been writing since I’ve been in Australia.  (To be fair, I haven’t been writing since April.)  You might not even know I’m in Australia.  (I am.)  You might not know that I’m in Australia for four months.  (Well, three months now.)

The time is flying by.

I haven’t been writing because I’ve been busy.  I haven’t been writing because I’ve been overwhelmed at times…by homesickness, by history, by beauty.  I haven’t been writing because, honestly, there’s so much I could say that I don’t know where to start.

People have been asking me to write and  to share more photos and I’ve had a hard time doing that because I’ve had a difficult time knowing how to communicate what it feels like for me here.  It feels like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and also totally displaced.  It feels like parts of me are dying sometimes but also that other parts might be coming alive. I can’t put accurate words to the parts though.  And that’s really frustrating because I like words.

This last month has been SO fun and sometimes also hard.

I haven’t known how to write about all of that.

For those of you who don’t know the story of how I got here or why I’m here, I’ll share that in another post.  I promise.  For those who haven’t seen an update in a month, I’ll try to start writing more about what life is like, what I’m learning, etc.  I have some pictures to show you.  I have some words to teach you.  I’ll set up my slide show soon.  I promise that too.

But right now, I’m just going to tell you a story of today.

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Today, I was feeling overwhelmed by both the coming alive and the dying thing.

That probably sounds more dramatic than I mean it to.  Anytime you use the word dying it sounds dramatic.

I guess maybe it is.

Today was the beginning of a weekend away from Brisbane, seeing the Gold Coast for the first time.  I stood in the highest building getting a birds eye view of the coast and later I stood in the ocean feeling the wash of the waves over my feet.  There are times when this place is overwhelmingly beautiful to me.  Several times today I could only stare and a couple of times I could only sing.

After I spent a little time in Surfer’s Paradise, I started to head back to my adorable Airbnb but felt the urge to take a detour when I saw a sign pointing to “The Spit”.  I had no idea what The Spit was except that my quick glance at a map indicated that it was a spit of land slash harbor thingy.

When I got there, I parked and noticed a short set of stairs that went down into the water. I descended, and sat, and then – for reasons I couldn’t put into words –  I started crying.  It was partly because I had just read an email from a friend and I was missing my community.  It was partly because this has been an odd week and is hitting right around a typical new culture crash time.  It was partly because I suddenly felt incredibly lonely and simultaneously felt like I might never leave.

Whatever the reason, I started to cry.

Not loudly.  There were people, people.

I cried anyway.  Full on wet faced tears streaming down my cheeks.  And I couldn’t put words to it.  I just felt that thing that I mentioned before.  The dying…and the coming alive.

When the tears subsided, I noticed that The Spit was walkable.  It’s a jetty of sorts that goes out into the ocean and the presence of it creates a little cove of waves for the myriad of surfers that were still on the water at 3pm.  So I started walking.  I didn’t have my camera with me.  Or my phone.  I left them behind on purpose because I’ve been carrying them around for work and I just wanted to take things in without a lens in front of my eyes.

I watched the surfers for a while.

Surfers amaze me.  A) because surfing looks hard but B) mostly because I’m afraid of getting eaten by a shark and they just hang out in the ocean with nary a care in the world.

I walked a little more.

I got far enough past the surfers that I could turn around to watch them from behind (I know what you’re thinking and no, that’s not what I mean) and noticed that I was also seeing the waves from behind.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the back of a wave before.  It’s weird.  Not that different but different.  You know…hard to put into words.

As most of you know, I believe in God, and I’m often impressed by his attention to detail. (I’m also spending a lot of time lately blaming  giving him credit for that coming alive/dying a little thing.)   I mean, how many people ever see the back of a wave?  It’s like those ancient artists in Greece and Rome who carved the backs (and butts) of the statues that were on the high front porticos of buildings.  How did they know that anyone would ever see them in museums?  What gave them the artistic drive to create something that they thought no one would ever see?  Why did they design both the coming and the going?

How many people ever A) find themselves in backwards vicinity to a wave and B) if they do, happen to notice that said wave is beautiful and powerful in a slightly different way than it is from the front?  How many people ever see the push of a wave instead of just the fall?  How many people see both the coming and the going?  They’re both part of the same wave.  The wave needs a push and a pull to move.

I felt like I was getting this little gift of seeing a piece of art from behind.  And maybe as I write about it now, I’m getting a bit of a lesson.

Suddenly, while I was sitting there minding my own business watching the surfers and the backwards waves, the sky started to spit on me.  Just a little.  So I looked up and wondered where in the world a little rain could be coming from because the sun was out and the clouds above me were white and fluffy and happy.

Weird, I thought.

And then I turned around.

The clouds a little further out over the sea were dark and the five other people that were within shouting distance from me were freaking out (the joyful kind of freaking out) and taking pictures of each other on their smart phones.

They were taking photos of each other under the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen.

It was raining over the ocean and what can only be described as a huge ass rainbow seemed to rise out and then arc back into the deepest part of the ocean.  It was breathtaking.

Did I mention that I didn’t have my camera?

I couldn’t take a photo so, instead, I thought…hey…I should write about that…But the words will be completely inadequate.

Coming alive and dying.  Front and back.  Push and pull.  Dark and light.

And thus, my first Australian blog post was born.

Here’s the thing, my dear readers…

All I really have to share with you are some words and some photos that might give you a small glimpse into things I see and conversations I have and the ways in which any somewhat uncomfortable prolonged experience affects a person…specifically me.

I wish you were here with me.  Well, I wish some of you were here with me.  Strangers read this blog sometimes.

The truth is that even if you were here, even if you were by my side for this entire four month journey, you and I wouldn’t see the same things.  We wouldn’t hear things the same way.  We wouldn’t have the same feels.  We wouldn’t have the same coming to life and dying, the same pushes and pulls, the same fronts and backs, the same darkness and light. And there wouldn’t ever truly be words for us to fully know what the other was thinking, feeling and experiencing.

The words are never quite adequate.

So there we go.  Blog post #1 from the land down under where women glow and men plunder (sadly a little too true).  Also, you’re welcome.  The dream of 80’s and 90’s music is still definitely alive in Australia.

Now, excuse me while I go eat my freshly baked kale chips, wine and scrumptious munchy meal that I’ve put together for myself over a book and classical music while sitting outside on a huge balcony in the middle of winter because winter is 65 degrees at night today.  (See…you don’t really want me to tell you everything.)

xo,

Chris K

This is [my] 40 (4 days after)

I felt the need to do a bit of a wrap up post following my 40 days before 40.  (In case you’ve been following and wondering, no secret admirer has yet revealed himself…)

The last two weeks leading up to my birthday were such a blast.  I have so many amazing people in my life that celebrated me in a myriad of unexpected ways.  They took me to theme parks, restaurants, and museums.  They bought me pedicures, massages and gifts. They hugged my neck, they showed up in force (which is by far the best gift someone could give me), they watched me blow out 40 candles…in two big puffs.

Even Downtown Los Angeles decorated for my birthday.

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Let’s just say that Monday was a bit of a let down!

It’s not like I was curled up in a ball on my floor or something but on Monday morning, after the festivities and friends that had spanned the previous two weeks slowed back to the normal pace of life, I found myself feeling really lonely for a moment.  And little details that I hadn’t even been thinking about all weekend were suddenly looming as unmet expectations.  I had to face the realization that there was a small part of me that had built up some unconscious expectations in the weeks before my birthday.  (Having a very public countdown on my blog probably didn’t help that.)  And I had the choice to let a few tiny things get in the way of all of the joy I had been feeling 24 hours earlier.  So I gave myself 30 minutes to be sad on the way to work…and it mostly worked itself out.

The thing is, life has been feeling a little magical the past few months and for a second there I thought the magic went away.  Things that I’ve asked for or spoken out loud have sort of materialized or, in some cases, seem like there’s a good chance they might. There are some big things I’ve been hoping for that I can actually see possibility in.  I know that’s cryptic.  I guess I’m afraid I might jinx some stuff (but I’ll keep you posted).

The reality is that the “magic” has been about learning to say what I want.  Out loud. To people.  The “magic” is that people have responded because they love me or because they respect me or because of a mix of both.  I think a little part of me was worried that the responses would stop once the birthday did.

But they didn’t.  They continue.  There are new things on the horizon.

The “magic” of the past few months has also been about learning to do what I want.  Right now.  With people. Instead of telling myself all the ways that something won’t work before I even get started or waiting for someone else to give me permission.

This is my 40.  This is my magic.  I claim it as mine.  And if it goes away tomorrow, I’ll know I’ve embraced it today.

 

Once Upon A Time (16 hrs + 2 mins before 40)

(16 hours + 2 mins before because I’m posting at 10am west coast time and I was born at 4:02am central time.  4:02 on 4/02.  I did the math.  Also, this post is brought to you by another friend’s writing prompt.  Off we go…)

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Once upon a time there was a 12 year old girl who wished on her birthday candles that a boy would like her, but her wish didn’t come true.

Birthday cupcake

I distinctly remember it and can picture the flames going out on the candles of that cake. I actually wished for a boyfriend on my birthday candles for many years after that. In fact, sometimes I still have the thought right before I blow out my candles because it amuses me. It’s almost a tradition. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.

***

My massage therapist, Anne Waters, is one of the more insightful/intuitive women I know. A week ago, she was doing her usual thing figuring out what was going on in my life by what’s been going on in my body and we started talking about relationships. I told her how content I was feeling, about to hit the new decade and enjoying my singleness and not worrying about it…I told her that I didn’t really care that much.  (Yes, we talk during my massage.)

She looked right at me and said, “I don’t believe that.”

9348370358_e7b3ec513f_zGeez, Anne.

Here’s the thing…I really do love my life. I really do love things about being single. Sometimes I even have thoughts like: What if I was married and stopped being able to eat popcorn for dinner sometimes?!

I mean, I don’t know, maybe he won’t like popcorn.

***

Confession: I’ve dated a lot of people but I’ve never been in love.

Let me rephrase that.

I’ve been “in love” with a number of men who weren’t interested for various reasons but I’ve never been in love with someone who loved me back.

Anne Waters can not understand this.

Neither can my kooky neighbor across the street or my friends or the number of men who have sat across me at dinner tables asking how this could be true while simultaneously not being interested in dating me. (Yes, this has happened more times than I can count on one hand…not at all confusing.)

I’ve had a lot of years to cycle through a lot of theories as to why this might be true. (See 12 year old birthday wish.). Said theories include: It’s just not the right time; I’ve had a lot of crap to work through in my life; I was depressed for awhile; only old guys like red hair; I’m too tall; maybe I’m just better single; I really only meet 20 year olds at work; I’m too picky; I’m not picky enough; I’m too opinionated, too difficult, too blah, blah, blah…you can see where this is going. Think about it too long and it becomes all about what’s wrong with me myself and I.

Except there’s nothing wrong with me. Well…that might be an overstatement…we all have faults.  But there’s nothing so “wrong” with me that it would keep me from relationship.  Redheads, tall girls and depressed people have been getting into relationships for all of time.  The truth is that it simply hasn’t happened yet, and let me just tell you that I’m so thankful I’ve had a chance to become who I am now before it did…because I’ve been attracted to some messes of dudes that haven’t treated me all that kindly and I’m not okay with that anymore.

Maybe it won’t happen.  If it doesn’t, I’ll live.  But I still want it to. I still think I’m the kind of person who is built to share her life with another. In the meantime, I’m incredibly thankful for all the “others” who ARE in my life. Seriously. I can’t imagine that another human being has as many amazing people as I do! I have learned to be so grateful for that.

So I’ve had some theories.  Anne Waters has a theory too.

***

She has a theory that I have a secret admirer who is reading this blog post right now.

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I laughed at her when she said it, but Anne Waters, in my experience, is never wrong.

I mentioned that many of the posts I was writing for the 40 days (minus a few, ahem) before I turned 40 included a clause that said I would write about anything someone asked me to write about. (Sorry to the one of you who gave me a prompt that I haven’t come through on yet.) So Anne Waters told me I needed to write a post about why someone should want to date me and also what I’m looking for.  After all, she said, some of your posts have been seen by hundreds of people all over the world…surely…

This makes me very uncomfortable. (Notice how many words I’ve used so far in the hopes that many of you have already stopped reading.)

I think her theory on me also includes the understanding and belief that if you want something you have to put it out there, which has been quite the theme of my life in the past 6-9 months. I’ve been putting it out there recently by telling all my friends “no…really…set me up.”  I’m not feeling desperate. I’m just trying to find new ways to meet people because the old ways aren’t working anymore.

Oh my gosh. I’m procrastinating.

I’m nervous and I don’t really want to do this.

I’m nervous because one of you might be a whackadoo.

I’m nervous because you might think I’m crazy or desperate or worse.  You might think I’m vain.

I’m nervous because this part of life is really important to me.

I’m nervous because there actually might be a secret admirer that I wouldn’t admire back and I hate to make people feel bad.

I’m nervous because some of you might be really supportive and tell me how great you think I am, and having people say nice things about me makes me really uncomfortable most of the time.

I’m nervous because Anne Waters might be right and this might actually work.

I’m also nervous that it won’t.  And then I’ll just feel silly.

But here goes.  Diving in.  Taking the leap.  Choosing risk.

***

Me in LAI think I’m a genuinely kind person.  I’m also highly empathetic so I can see how others might disagree.  I care immensely about the people in my life and spend most of my time with them.  I don’t care as much about activities as the people I do them with…though I really like to do fun things and will try (almost) anything once.  I love travel and adventure.  I’m a Christian who believes that God is love and love is God and that we are all connected by his image within every human being.  I care about people’s stories.  I want to know about other humans and what makes them tick.  I care about telling stories too.

I am extremely loyal but can also see both sides of almost every argument.  I’m a defender of those I feel are in need of defense.  I’m a fan of deep meaningful conversation.  I give pretty damn good advice.  I’ve had to be very self sufficient but I really want a partner.  I make a mean pecan salmon.

I’ve gotten feedback on my cuddling and smooching skills and apparently I’m very good at both.  How one can be bad at cuddling, I can’t understand but I’ve been informed that it’s possible.  I’ve also been informed that if you are an approximately 6’2″ man, I’m a good height for walking next to with your arm around me.  5’9″ girls know that this is true but most 6’2″ men don’t.  One time, on a date, a guy who had been married to a tiny girl tested me out and said the fit was better.  So there you go.  Call it a focus group.

Sometimes, I crack jokes when I’m uncomfortable or when things are getting too serious. I also smile when I don’t mean to because it keeps me from crying when I feel like tears might come and don’t want them to.  But I’ve been told that’s confusing so I’m learning to stop.

I respond to feedback.  😉

I laugh at a lot of the things that 12 year old boys do.  I have a theory that we all have a 12 year old boy on the inside.

Winnie the Pooh is my favorite ride at Disneyland.

Also, I’m really good at parallel parking.  Apparently that’s also something ladies brag about on dating sites.

How do I even scratch the surface of explaining who I am?  Is that enough to get me started, Anne?

***

And the guy?  Honestly, the jury is kind of out.  I’ve had a type but that doesn’t so much exist anymore.  But I do know that a good start would be someone who can hang with both the seriousness and silliness above.  Someone who also believes in trying to live the way Jesus did and that we are all connected through love.  Someone who doesn’t believe the exact same way I do about everything who can challenge me and doesn’t mind being challenged in return.  Someone who can have deep, meaningful conversation but can also talk about weirdo things that catch me by surprise and make me laugh.  Someone who I can be completely honest with and trust that they’ll stick around.  Someone who has a job (hopefully that they love) and who lives in or wants to live in LA (you know…or Europe…or…). Someone who I can spend hours with and not notice that I have. Someone who is first and foremost my friend. Single, divorced, kids, no kids.  I can hang.

***

So, this post is dedicated to my secret admirer.  And to Anne Waters, who believes he exists.

***

I feel like I’m going to throw up a little when I post this.

***

Today is the last day I will ever be in my 30s.  Here’s to more wishes, grand adventures and things just getting better from here.  I trust all of you who have ever told me they do.

***

Photo creds: “Happy Birthday!” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  mgstanton , “popcorn” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  HunterxMoore , “Lamb+Lamp’s doing” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by  Mindsay Mohan 

If 40 Were a Dessert (3 before 40)

This post brought to you by the writing prompt of Karen Schumacher.  “i want to hear about if 40 is/was a dessert – what would it be? why?”

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I’m just going to go with my gut here…because, frankly, I like a lot of yummy things.

Rich dark chocolate cake with chocolate ganache icing and some sort of salted caramel guts between the layers.

I don’t always even like chocolate cake but when my party planners and I were chatting about the cake element of the 40th, I said…I want chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I’ve never asked for a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for my birthday ever in my life.  Almost all of my young life, there was a consistent request for cherry chip with cherry icing.  (You can barely even find cherry chip cake anymore…and the thought of that sweetness in my mouth right now is not appetizing.)  But there’s something about chocolate cake and this birthday.  The truth is that I’m hoping for some rich gooey birthday deliciousness.

11234471975_edfd4dffeaIf 40 was a chocolate cake, the cake couldn’t be any old chocolate.  It would have to be dark chocolate layer cake.  A little bitter but not so much that it’s overwhelming.  And there’d have to be salted caramel in between the layers because life is a little salty sometimes.  Bitter and salty alone can be really unappetizing but mix either with a little sweet caramel and all you want to do is eat it up.  Every possible flavor combination contained in one gloriously decadent taste offering.

Life feels good right now.  Sometimes it feels so rich that the only thing I can do is take one little bite at a time.  I’ve had many days, though, when it’s felt so bitter that one little bite was too much to even consider.  But as 40 draws nigh, I’m finding myself able to look back at all the layers and flavors that have come in my life thus far and am more and more aware (and accepting) of how all of them come together to make one fantastic whole.

Also…there would definitely be enough candles to set off the smoke alarms.  Why hide it? Let’s do this thing.

Ask me again tomorrow when I’m two days from 40 but I think I’ll give you the same answer.

***

Photo cred: “Chocolate cake with salted caramel” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  EvasSvammel 

Eat At Pink’s! (6 – gulp – days before 40)

Some of you may have missed that when I started this series, I mentioned that if anyone had a blog prompt for me, I’d take it.  Someone (see photos below) was being a little cheeky and said “maybe you can blog about it”, so I’m doing that (see also, below).  (I still owe two people posts from blog prompts and I’ve got 5 days to get ‘er done…so look out for a short story and a list of reasons why you should tell your friends to date me…yup…someone asked me to blog about that.)

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I’ve been pretty open on this blog about my propensity to procrastinate and/or not follow through on things I say I want to do.  I’m growing leaps and bounds in this area of my life, but this is a story of of one of those things.  It’s a story of how easy it is to let simple things slip by that you mean to do.  It’s also a story about how simple things get done when you say things out loud.

***

The first time I ever visited Los Angeles was in grad school in 1999.

Seriously.  How old am I?!  (See previous posts.)

A little movie called Fools Rush In had gotten me and a friend to Gray’s Papaya for hotdogs in New York City the year before and somehow I had heard that Pink’s hotdogs was the hotdog joint for Los Angelenos, but a professor assured us that Carnie’s was a better option so I didn’t get my Pink’s that trip.

Then I moved to Los Angeles in 2002 and thought…I must eat at Pink’s.  It’s a thing.  It’s something you’re supposed to do when you live in LA.  It’s a hotdog stand that’s been around for 62 years!  I must!  But I didn’t…

In 2005, the school I worked at moved to a new location and I had to drive past Pink’s nearly every day and thought…I must eat at Pink’s.  It’s a thing.  It’s something you’re supposed to do when you live in LA.  It’s a hotdog stand that’s been around for 65 years!  I must!  But I didn’t…

In 2013, I made a list of 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40 and eating at Pink’s was #2 (Confession: I’ve only crossed about 5 things off that list but climbing to Maccu Picchu and doing foster care were the two biggest ones and I did those, so I’m feeling pretty solid) because I thought…I must eat at Pink’s.  It’s a thing.  It’s something you’re supposed to do when you live in LA.  It’s a hotdog stand that’s been around for 73 years!  I must!  But (you guessed it) I didn’t…

In 2015, I did a play and through a random conversation in the dressing room realized that at least one of my other cast mates had also never eaten at Pink’s and I thought…We must eat at Pink’s!  It’s a thing!  It’s something you’re supposed to do when you live in LA.  It’s a hotdog stand that’s been around for 75 years!  We must!  But we didn’t…

And then, two weeks ago, after a year of randomly mentioning that we should go to Pink’s I got an email that said this…

Pink’s?!

To which (three days later) I replied…

When?!

To which (six days later) he replied…

Pick a day!!

Five days after that we picked one.  And two days after that we went.  And I thought…I have eaten at Pink’s!  It’s a thing!  It’s something you’re supposed to do when you live in LA.  It’s a hotdog stand that’s been around for 75 years!  I must!  And I did…

And then I found out it was ALSO a birthday present…and I love birthday presents…so that was fun!  And then he said “maybe you’ll blog about it”, so I blogged about it.

Here’s what I know.  Pink’s hotdogs are pretty good.  Friendships are better.  Doing things you’ve been wanting to for awhile with friends is the best.  So figure out what your “Eat at Pink’s” thing is…even if you think it’s small or silly.  (I can’t be the only one who has one.)  Then say it out loud, preferably not while in an empty room, and see who comes along to join you.

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Pink’s!
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A sampling of the overwhelming number of choices on the menu.
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Emeril Legasse Bam Dog, Planet Hollywood Dog and Pink(s) Lemonade.  (AKA These might give me a heart attack dogs.)
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Sharing is caring but tiny plastic knives are no match for polish sausage.
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It only took 17 years.

***

Here’s that little disclaimer I mentioned at the top: (This post is part of a series called 40 Before 40.  40 random thoughts on the 40 days before I turn 40 years old.  If you have a post suggestion, send it on.  Creativity is collaborative and I’ll take any writing prompts you want to send my way. I’ve got a few slots left to fill.)

If These Walls Could Talk (8 before 40)

I’ve lived in a couple of homes and many apartments in lo these many years, but there’s one place that’s been a constant in my life through almost the entirety of my 30s.

Sometime in late 2006 or early 2007, I moved in with Mary Ann Clark, a friend from graduate school whose roommate had just moved on to another place. I had coveted this huge two bedroom, two bath with cheap rent for almost an entire year and was stoked to be able to take up the master bedroom.  When Mary Ann decided to move out about six years ago, Naphtali Wall took up her spot.  When Naphtali Wall decided to go and marry Chris Roberts, I moved out and they stayed.  But I only moved half a block away so I’ve spent a whole lot of time in my old apartment since then.

***

Today, my friends the Robertses moved into a new home and out of the apartment that I once lived in and loved. This apartment has been continuously occupied since 1999, though our friend group’s memories of it only go back to 2006.  When the Robertses told me that they were moving into a new place, I actually cried a little.  To be fair, Naph did too.

December 2009 009

Known affectionately to some who live in the building as “the 536”, apartment 104 has seen it’s fair share of amazing people and memories over the past decade.  It has played host to birthday parties – my 32nd, 33rd, 34th and 35th and Naphtali’s 29th…or was it 30th?  It has been the place that has welcomed Naphtali’s boys into the world.  It has seen friendships formed and solidified through church small groups and Christmas cookie making parties where there was much female bonding over my Grandfather’s gingersnap recipe that calls for rolling the dough into balls and then sugaring those balls. (Sorry Grandpa.  Everyone has a 12 year old on the inside.)

These walls have heard some of the deepest secrets held by women who chose to reveal themselves in that space for the first time.  536-104 has seen a couple come together (Chris and Naphtali), a bride-to-be celebrated (Sara) and babies born and raised (Josh and Eli).  It was host to a plethora of movie nights, including a fair food themed Xanadu extravaganza and game nights and plain old hang out times.  It has been a place of refuge for me while dealing with foster kids who needed to get out of my little space.  It has been a place of celebration, violent tears and once, the sound of an accordion.

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It might be a random coincidence that as I’m turning 40 and feel like I’m moving into a whole new life space, the apartment I loved will no longer be occupied by people who have meaning in my life.  It might be coincidence that the new place Chris and Naphtali moved into today is the place where people will gather in 8 days to celebrate the beginning of my new decade.  In reality, their move has nothing to do with me but some of my favorite things in life are the gifts of “random” events that are actually symbolically significant.

I left a lot of ghosts behind in that apartment.  By the time I moved out, I was a much freer woman than the one who moved in, and much of that freedom arose out of events that took place and relationships that were formed while I lived there.  When I moved out, I was afraid that I would miss it, and I did.  But five years later, I’m a much freer woman than the one that moved out.

Life is about moving forward.  It’s about moving out of the places that used to hold us but don’t have room for us anymore.

I think if the walls of 536-104 could talk, they’d tell us that our band of misfits has had a pretty great run these last ten years.  I think they’d tell us they’ll remember us.  I think they’d thank us for the good times and raise a glass as they wish us well and send us on our way to find new spaces in which to make our memories.100_1217