The city sweeps out below us. I am foggy from the sounds of rumbling trucks that blew in through the open balcony door all night. 19 stories up the fragrance of caramelized onions, earthy mushrooms and toasted sesame carbs float from the kitchen to my morning perch. Hints of the care and effort being made to delight me, to show appreciation for my being, fill the sun-dappled grey-blue apartment like whispers.
Cat-like on the dark grey wool couch, my hot pink sweater striking a contrast, I am curled up and content, watchful, observant, but lazy.
I feel a tingle of energy in my toes. The desire to write, to capture this happy moment, wraps around me like the blanket I’m buried under. Outside, my October view begins its annual lesson. The city made of trees reminds me that nothing lasts, so best to enjoy it while you notice it, while it’s here. Best not to get caught up in trying to hang on to what can never be guaranteed to begin with. Just enjoy the sight of yellows, ambers and ochres, the occasional flame of red or orange against the sour greens that remain. Just enjoy the handsome, dark-haired man in the kitchen, humbly making me breakfast because he adores me.
Soon they’ll all be bare and grey and brittle. At present, there are still hints of summer in my heart. I am warm, but falling softly until grounded. One needs unshakable faith that spring will come again, in order to fully let go. I witness the beauty of the fall, nerve-wracking yet graceful at times. Swirling, spinning, rising up by following the flow, until it’s right up by this window, where I clearly see what is.
Oh to freeze this moment, this hazy dreamlike feeling, the deep appreciation of what unfolds before my eyes. And then release it to the universe, trusting that something always sprouts from nothing if we leave life to its regularly scheduled programming. Just watch.
In the bathroom my deodorant, face wipes and ear plugs sit in a drawer and I’m amazed that I’ve resisted taking out a full page in the newspaper to let the world know. Little roots, maybe, but I must also accept that these sprouts might not survive the harsh winter. Best to stay rooted to the now.
I catch his eyes, catch him stealing a glimpse before his brow once again furrows in concentration as he stirs. They match my coffee, deep and bold, breaking the soft-focus and snapping me crisply to attention. I take a breath and shed a few more leaves.
Good evening, Maria lovers. It’s the final night of the past decade. The decade in which we all grew up together and shit got real. The decade when we learned how horrible human beings could be, but also how kind and how much we need each other.
I don’t have a definitive song for this post, which is odd. My mental jukebox is playing loops and nothing seems to convey the optimism, hope and inspiration I feel going into the new decade.
I’ve mostly been off social media, but popped in today to find everyone is posting notes on their decades. So oblige me a bit as I reflect.
Dr. X reminded me yesterday that just over a decade ago I was freaking out about a job interview, worrying that I wouldn’t be any good at the job. I thought about that woman, the one who didn’t know her own mind at all, the one who was riddled with anxiety and panic attacks. A decade ago I had a two-year-old and a five-year-old. I was somewhat happily married, though the seeds that would grow into the weeds which choked out our Eden were starting to take root.
I was STRUGGLING. I had so little self-confidence that I gave all my power to a garden-variety narcissistic white man, one who espoused “I’m one of the good guys,” but gaslit every single experience of sexism I was starting to flag as a burgeoning feminist. And in that experience, I also became an angry, ugly, horrible person. In trying to make myself fit his ever-changing demands to make our marriage better, I tarnished my heart of gold. In trying to accept his pessimistic view of the world as my reality, I became monstrous.
In fairness to him, I was also a bit entitled. Like him, I was sold a bill of goods about what a marriage and a life were meant to be. And when we began to have fundamentally differing opinions on what that life should look like, we grew resentful of each other. I kept lowering my bar and asking if he could perhaps start moving up a bit so we could meet in the middle. Nope. My expectations were also all over the place. You can only grit your teeth and say, “Fine, fine” for so long when you don’t actually mean it.
In 2012 his depression really began. He was drinking and smoking a lot of pot. He was struggling to hold down a job. And we were spiralling down fast. Sometimes I wish that I knew about thought work then, about the kind of mindset that could have maybe turned our trajectory around. But I didn’t and maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.
We each own our own behaviours. I know now that I was an enabler, rushing in to fix everything rather than letting him learn from his own mistakes. He asked for space and I gave him a wide berth. I made my own life outside the marriage and he resented that, although when I would scale back to give him my attention, he resented that too. I could not win. I loved him though. Seriously. Still do.
Then our child grew gravely ill, was diagnosed with a rare, progressive and deadly disease, survived a major surgery and the complications that go with it. We walked through fire together and came out the other side, but as different people. The years of triggers and processing that trauma… well we only just figured that one out this past year, thanks to the help of some key friends who read this blog. The journey to healing was long and tough, emotionally more so than physically. Tough love helped us in the end. So has compassion. But I’d also like to commend myself on providing a strong foundation and surrounding us with a community of caregivers and people who love us dearly. It’s only in this past decade that I really learned how to be a good mum.
The aforementioned wide berth given to my partner of the time meant getting into debt so he could go back to school. I was proud of him when he graduated. I know how hard he worked. I was hopeful it was a new start for us. But alas, he decided his new profession was not for him. While all this was happening, I was taking on more and more at work, pushing myself into uncomfortable places so that I could get a foothold or grab the next rung on the ladder.
If I’m honest, I was also pacing myself, holding myself back a bit. I was worried I was surpassing him by a mile. I knew his “pride” did not like how any of this was going down. If you watch my fave show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, my ex is a bit of a Joel, but without the family backing to make his dreams come true. His “pride” kept him from truly supporting and helping to fuel the one career in our household that was taking off. Misogyny fucks with us all.
Halfway through the decade, my ex-partner moved to another city for space and a possible job opportunity, eventually came back to try and work things out, but found he still resented me. When I think of me during that time, I feel pathetic. I feel sorry for that woman who listened to the man she loved (but was always furious with) tell her he didn’t love her anymore. I think of her going on a summer island vacation with friends and kids and how she still tried to work on it, because he was too cowardly to end it and she was still trying to be a good wife. In sickness and in health, she thought. He’s just sick with depression and taking it out on me. I can be stronger than that. Each time he broke a piece of the marriage bond, she changed, until she barely recognized herself.
Eventually, through therapy and homeopathy and journaling and meditating and all those things, I woke up. It took YEARS, but I am so grateful to the past decade for that eventual alarm bell. The one that said, “It’s OK to say, ‘enough.’ Being kind to yourself and ending your suffering is OK.” The one that said, “You are not the horrible person your brain is telling you that you are.” Accepting the death of my marriage gave me new life. Accepting 100% responsibility for my part in it forced me to push myself harder to examine my self! To learn who I am, what I want, that I’m worthy of love and good things.
Despite this story of woe, I’ve never been more grateful for my ex. Much like Midge and Joel on Mrs. Maisel, Theo and I have a mostly solid co-parenting relationship. It’s evolving all the time. As I learn to let go of my control freak ways and let him take on more, even if it means he screws things up, he takes on more responsibility, easing my load. Watching him grow as a person, alongside our children, has been rewarding. He’s getting better. He’s finally learning to have compassion for others, how to consider others before himself. It’s not something that comes naturally for him. He comes from a family of self-obsessed individuals, where I come from a family of loving, but co-dependent abusers. His weaknesses forced me to be stronger, and we are learning how to be better people, together-apart, as really good friends.
I am pushing myself harder and higher. More kindness, more compassion, more forgiveness, starting with myself. I am starting to believe in my birthright, that I am someone who can make a difference and makes a difference in people’s lives regularly. I’m openly embracing my gift instead of downplaying it. I am good with people. I have the kind of heart that can love the world. My career is an important one to the well-being of humanity. I am learning to make it count, all of it, to monitor my energy but to use it wisely. As the Christmas card from my deeply introverted employee wrote, “Your enthusiasm and energy are infectious.” I’m owning that!
I’m a hype girl. I rally. I get people to feel and to share and to care. I believe this will be an important gift in the next decade, as we need to rally together to stop the horrors we’ve been facing in the past decade — the decimation of the environment that sustains human life and the subjugation and marginalization of groups of people that are not rich white men.
In the past decade, I’ve raised two children into the double digits. I cannot be more proud of the absolutely kind, compassionate, caring, funny and smart human beings they are blossoming into. I know the next decade could see them outgrowing the family home. It’s already changed once as we know it and we survived and are closer than ever. I’m not worried. It will all be beautiful in its own way. Every phase of parenting has been the best (although I never want to live through 2013 again).
In the past decade I met my business partner, but only built our business this past year. I can’t tell you the feeling of how she loves me. It’s inspiring. It gives me the power and the courage to do great things for others, to love freely and openly. I’m looking forward to how we will grow together and help our community of clients grow too. We are candles who light other candles. Sometimes we drip wax on the birthday cake, but we light up the room together nonetheless.
In the past decade I built my village with my bestie. What an amazing village, seriously. My people love me and take care of me, and boy do we make each other laugh. She is the centre of it all, that round middle part of a kid’s drawing of a flower, from which all the petals emanate. She has supported me through my DARKEST days. She’s had a shit year, I’m sending her so much love. I want good things for her, that hardworking badass queen that she is. She is the first person who taught me true, unconditional love. There is nothing I can throw at her that makes her love me less. I am blessed to have her.
In the past decade, my bestie and I (along with a friend) ran a secret feminist Facebook group for 3300 women around the globe and that became the Women’s Studies education that I never got. I learned about White Feminism vs. Intersectional Feminism and realized that while I don’t identify as white (I’m not actually Greek like the real Maria Callas), my skin is light enough that I have benefited from white privilege and thus it’s my responsibility to do better to make the world more just and inclusive of all people.
In the past decade, I made several A+ clusters of female friend groups. Insanely wonderful covens of fucking hilarious, courageous women. You know when you’re watching a show like 24 (shows that are inherently racist to Middle Eastern people, but make Westerners feel like they are gods who need to protect the gates of heaven) and they show those overlapping cells of terrorist organizations? It kinda looks like that in my mind, but with lovely human women who share their resources, their victories and their losses with humour and grace and love.
In the past decade I’ve travelled. I’ve learned to jump in every lake I come across, because there are only so many swims in a summer. I learned the universe has my back when I lost my wallet on my way to my first trip on my own of life. I have been to my mother’s hometown and to the country of my ancestors. I found a future home in a warm country in Europe that has my heart and gave me a feeling of possibility when all was lost. And when all was lost, I was found!
In the past decade I’ve learned to love my body, as it is. I’m learning to see it as a home for the space that contains ME! I’m learning to respect it and care for it, to allow it to experience pleasure without guilt. Learning to loosen the tight spots and tighten the loose spots, but love them fully even when I don’t look like the patriarchy told me I should to have worth. My hope is that I can teach my children this lesson now, so they don’t miss their more flexible years and ruin their future mobility by sitting still for too long, but also so they can love themselves as they are, where they are. Learning to connect mind, body and spirit has been a gift, a skill I’m deepening by the day and one I wish for all of you too.
In the past decade I’ve had more lovers than in the previous 2-3 decades combined. I’ve written about all of them here. While I’ve chosen to take a six-month “fallow” period (my lady-fields have to rest before they can flower again), I’ve had a lot of fun in the past three years. I’ve learned how wrong I was about so many things. Finding out how wrong you are is fun too. I feel prepared to learn some things through dating again. I’m confident that I’m ready to get back on the proverbial horse. Giddy up! I’m ready to build the future with someone and I feel his vibe out there. I can’t wait for the magnetic pull of the universe to bring us together.
In the past decade, I’ve met famous people and politicians. I’ve become friends with every woman I ever had a WCW for. I am the first woman in my family to own her own house (though props to my sis for buying a condo solo). I have had my name printed in proper publications, next to work I felt truly proud of. My actual life has exceeded the dreams of my immigrant parents. I have so much and so much to give. Now I just have to practice reciprocity.
In 2020, I’m releasing shame and transforming it into vulnerability. Honesty without tact is cruel. Vulnerability without compassion can be aggressive. Practice a bit at a time. Read Brené Brown. Embrace your imperfection and then learn how to own your mistakes, how to forgive yourself and love yourself through it all. Remember it’s all just an experiment. We are travelling to places without a map (not one that any of us are wise enough to read, anyway). We are baking without a recipe. It’s all trial and error. Every decision gives us a data point.
2020 is going to be about re-writing your story and not getting attached to how it might turn out. It’s about letting go, letting go some more, giving away, shedding, releasing, trusting that you are held in the palm of a hand you cannot see. It’s about assuming best intent. It’s about examining your own privilege and thinking about ways you can share your privilege and use your gifts and your “too much” (whatever that is) to help those who have less. It’s about smoking out the lies we’ve been fed for generations as women. It’s about telling them who’s boss. It’s about saying sorry and meaning it. It’s about doing better next time. It’s about staying with yourself like a faithful dog. It’s about opening up wider than you ever imagined and letting people in, because people are good and this world is worth saving.
You know some of this, because you’ve been here, following along the whole way. I got sucked into a bit of a work hole this past fall, but I’m digging myself out now and committed to getting back to the writing practice that fuels me.
I’ve changed some names and details, because I’d like to continue the anonymity of this blog, even though it offers a false sense of security. The truth is many people who read know who Maria Callas is, and I don’t mean my fave diva from the opera world. But anonymity protects some of the people I write about from the greater public, even if this blog will never be as famous as the original blog I started 15 years ago.
The was much funnier and more poignant live. I have struggled with public speaking my whole life, but yesterday I found my voice and my power. It was magical. I wish that for you, to experience the joy of sharing yourself so completely with a group of strangers, and to have people laugh and cry and feel like they know themselves better because they now know you. If you’re interested in coming to one of my live events, leave me a comment or send an email and I’ll reach out if I believe it’s safe for me to do so.
What is it that you don’t see? What is it that you don’t want to see?
I’m going to tell you a story. I’ve had 20/20 vision my whole life. Every July, right around my birthday I go to the eye doctor. On my 39th birthday, my attractive optometrist, Dr. Mike told me I had the eyes of an 18 year old. I thought, “Oh yeah.”
“Don’t get too cocky though. Come back and see my when you’re 40 and we’ll talk then.”
Sure enough, like a fairy tale curse, by 40 I was struggling to read tiny pill bottles. At 44 I was wearing a +1.5 drugstore reading glass but still had close to 20/20 vision. But this summer, at 45, boom! “You’ve got the eyes of an 81 year old. You have Narrow angle closure glaucoma and you’re at risk of going blind.” What. The. Fuck?
Suddenly faced with the possibility of not being able to see anything was eye-opening (pardon the pun). Assuming fate was on my side, what did I hope to see in the next 40-50 years of my life?
My past hopes of sitting on a porch swing, reading books with my husband playing guitar next to me, were dashed three years ago when we broke up after 16 years of marriage.
What did I want to see? Top of Everest? Nah. But Rome? Athens? Tahiti? This beautiful world?
My mother’s aging face? My father’s work-worn hands? My kids becoming adults? Finding love? Maybe having children of their own?
The sight of someone looking into my eyes with deep love in his eyes?
Ugh. When I thought about that last one, about finding a romantic partner, my belly churned. It was like someone in a movie snapping a thick book shut. We’ll get to that in a sec.
My choices were wait it out, but risk having an attack when not close to a hospital, or have a laser iridotomy: A simple procedure where a tiny hole is zapped into your iris to release the pressure in your eyeball.
So I waited. I waited all summer. Because while I was wondering what it was I wanted to see, in the background I was also doing the work of uncovering some pretty ugly stuff from my past that I did not want to look at. Even writing this part of my story was tough.
A lot has happened in the past year. I started a business with Rock n’ Roll Coach, almost exactly a year ago. We threw one event on a whim and fell in love with the idea of working together, which is how our super cool business was born. We now coach groups of incredible women on their mindset, teaching our program over three hours a week.
In April, the company I’ve worked at for 10 years sold my division to another company, and I’ve spent the past 365 days leading teams through change. I’ve learned to silence Imposter Complex, stepping into myself as a valued leader in the company, something that didn’t feel comfortable for me in the past.
In the past two weeks, I was given two new teams that I had little to no experience with, because, to paraphrase my new boss, they needed my energy. It’s humbling to be the rookie at my level after over a decade in the business!
In the fall, I successfully transitioned my two kids to new schools, middle school and high school. If you’re a parent, you know that September and October are full of big feels, and getting through this seismic change fairly smoothly has been a huge win.
One of the biggest things that happened to me this year was I started to fall in love with a man we’ll call The French CEO. It was significant because it was the first truly emotional relationship I’ve allowed myself to experience since the end of my marriage. I’ve had a lot of fun.
The French CEO has an adorable accent, is a devoted dad and works 80s hours a week, so getting time with him was super challenging, even for a busy single mom like myself. I didn’t mind only getting to see him once every other week, but there was a real lack of conversation in between hangs.
Simple texts here and there, usually initiated by me when I’d feel insecure due to days of not hearing from him. Always me sharing a lot and him unable to share much more than how busy he’d been.
We spent a beautiful weekend away together a week before I turned 45. When he missed calling me on my actual birthday, I was a mess. The relationship was bringing up things in me that I needed to understand. A lot of the coaching work we do is about understanding and managing your own mind, so I knew it was my responsibility, not his.
I started to explore why I felt so insecure when I hadn’t heard from him in a few days. And what I realized was that in my childhood home, if my father was silent for a few days, it meant all hell was going to break loose in the form of violence. As it turns out Little Maria feels very frightened when she’s ignored. It means she’s done something bad or disappointed someone. Whooooo.
Through therapy and meditation, I was able to go back in time and see my parents with compassion and forgiveness. They say forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. I found this to be true in terms of my healing process.
But what also came through loud and clear is how much I was willing to put up with before I could confidently say it wasn’t working. The subtext to all of it was that subconsciously I felt I didn’t deserve more or better. Love to the little bad girl was conditional, and if she wasn’t perfect, she wouldn’t get it.
I didn’t want to SEE my life story as it had embedded itself in my psyche. I couldn’t see it for fear it was too painful. But let me tell you, when I finally had the courage and felt desperate enough that I had to get to it no matter what was in there, the clarity and peace I found was the opposite of scary.
For the first time in my life, I was able to say to a man, “If this is going to work, this is the bare minimum I need to feel secure.” The bar was surprisingly low. The French CEO chose not to reach for it anyway. But I walked away with all my power, something I had no idea how to do before.
In fact, managing my own mind and accepting my responsibility in doing the work has lead to powerful change in all aspects of my life. I didn’t realize, for example, that my own anxiety and stress was leading to my kids’ behavioural issues at home or performance issues at school. Learning how to separate facts from feelings has been something I’ve been able to share with them as well.
The outcome to my story: I had the surgery on October 30th, and I’ve had the good fortune of learning that my recovery is better than the expected result. Meaning I’m back to an average person’s eye health. While I need reading glasses now, I still have pretty great eyesight.
But having solid eyeballs is not the same as having a solid vision for yourself. Today we are talking about 2020 vision in a different way. A proper vision guides your daily life and provides the direction necessary to chart the course of your days and the choices you make about your career, life, and family.
All a vision asks of you is to come at your self and the world around you from a place of possibility. We’re going to ask you to imagine the future while staying firmly rooted in the present. Those deep breaths we took at the beginning, how’d they make you feel? [MC: I started the event with a meditation and Indigenous Land Acknowlegement]
If breathing mindfully relaxed you, you can always come back to a single in and out breath to come back to present.
When you find yourself shutting down ideas that pop into your brain, jot down the thoughts to explore later. Steph will guide you through a workshop and you will leave feeling inspired and engaged and empowered as the captain of your destiny.
In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, author Bessel van der Kolk says,
Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.
Consider this your safe space.
Then we did all kinds of fun stuff. Workshops, lessons, panel, a talk about sex with a sex educator. My business partner is so good at what she does and it was incredible to see the progress she’s made as a mindset and life coach this past year. It was so rad. Typically I sit on the sidelines of our events during Q&A, but I found myself taking the stage. I’ve done the material for long enough that I know how to answer people’s life questions, when they struggle with guilt or time or what idea to chase. And I continue to improve as I read and study and learn new perspectives and modes of teaching.
I find the ticket sales part so challenging, but the content is so good. We helped so many people yesterday! Here’s hoping that word of mouth helps our business to grow. Would love to do this full-time. Oral storytelling was so important to my culture, getting to do it for a living would be magical. Putting it out to the universe.
Before I left Spain in 2017, my dear friend, healer and spiritual guide, Dr. X, gave me a poem by Antonio Machado.
Caminante no hay Camino
Caminante, son tus huellas el camino y nada más; Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace el camino, y al volver la vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar. Caminante no hay camino sino estelas en la mar.
Wayfarer, there is no path
Wayfarer, the only way Is your footprints and no other. Wayfarer, there is no way. Make your way by going farther. By going farther, make your way Till looking back at where you’ve wandered, You look back on that path you may Not set foot on from now onward. Wayfarer, there is no way; Only wake-trails on the waters.
I keep this poem in a skinny mint green Moleskine, the one I took with me to Spain. I picked it up in a hurry the other day, when I couldn’t find my current skinny red Moleskin. The printout of the poem dropped out and my journey began anew. I flipped open the journal pages and read the past while in the present, my thoughts on my travels, my heartbreak after my divorce, some random Spanish phrases, all weaving through the pages to remind me of who I was. What a beautiful gift to myself, to capture myself in that time, how I thought, what I experienced and felt. I got teary, missing Spain, Dr. X and her magical husband, and that nervous tingly feeling of adventuring alone.
From its pages I could conjure up the smell on the one side of my Valencian apartment, a musty, metallic scent that I attributed to the elevator. I was there with the oranges and the electric juicer, the magic of daily fresh squeezed Valencian orange juice waking up the senses with its perfect orange hue. There was the day in the Lonja de Seta, where I sat in the courtyard under the orange trees writing postcards and journal entries, until the sky opened up and POURED so I had to seek shelter in the beautiful medieval silk market.
To me it was my book idea saying, “Hello, I’m back. I just took a bit of a journey, because I got bored with all the not writing of me that you’re doing. But I’ve travelled far and wide and there’s no one I’d rather tell this story than you.” Sigh, it’s true love. Once upon a time I believed that uttering an idea out loud meant someone else might catch it. But now I know that no two people can see or tell a story the same way. Also, ABUNDANCE MINDSET, bitches! There’s enough to go around! The writing of one book does not erase the writing of another on the same subject. Heck, we sustained two (TWO!) Fyre Festival documentaries.
Anyway, my book is about beliefs, about the end of patriarchal religion, about crafting a belief system that works for you and finding saints in everyday superheroes around you. It’s part memoir, part service, part whimsy, part I don’t even know, but it’s 100% me. Right now it’s in this blog and in 5-7 random Moleskins, a few Google docs and Evernote notes and it needs to be pulled together and woven together like a friendship bracelet. But above all, it needs to come out. The world needs it. I need it.
Yesterday I took myself for a walk in the sunshine. I’d been thinking about walking after Elizabeth Gilbert posted about a coastal France hike she’d taken with her friend Cree. The rabbit hole began with a quote that Liz Gilbert had posted by Saint Augustine, the OG flaneur. “Solvitur ambulando” AKA “It is solved by walking.” I should walk more, I thought. I should get a tattoo of that quote, I thought. Then the rabbit hole took me to the Wander Society, a book and a club that I shouldn’t even be talking about because it’s like the Fight Club of pacifist, analog, nature-loving bi-peds. Anyway, they have a sort of sideways Harry Potter lightning bolt symbol. “I should get a tattoo of that mixed with St. Augustine’s quote!” said ADHD brain (clearly I didn’t feel like working today).
Some days, it’s best not to fight ADHD brain, because it’s a beautiful seeker. It’s a curious forest nymph, it’s an astronaut, it’s an explorer. It does not like the office unless I’m writing more than emails. So I decided to expose it to sunlight and took my book and my journal out and away from the building that cuts my pay checks every two weeks. I had it in my mind to sit on the roof deck of a 24-7 restaurant I used to frequent in my raving days. It was also a great date place and I’d been there with the ex-husband lots. I got there and the roof was closed, because humans make stupid rules like “No service on the roof deck” even though the weather is perfection and they’d have so many more customers if they just did. It was empty and I’d committed to the idea, so I sat there, ordered wine and veggies in various forms and read my book.
As I sauntered back to the office, I saw a sign that said, “We got oat milk!” I’m aware of my privilege when I say that I like my oats milked, frothed and served with espresso these days, so I popped in. The barista reminded me of a character from Legend of Zelda and I decided this was gonna be a great interaction. “I’m playing hooky!” I exclaimed. “What law is keeping me chained to my desk?!” She was enthusiastic on my behalf and I asked her to tell me the story of her tattoos while she made me an oat milk latte. “This one is the chemical symbol for serotonin and this one is for dopamine,” she said, pointing to her left and right wrists. “Neither of which my brain is very good at making.” She told me about her dyslexia and how she just assumed math and science were not in the cards for her, but that watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on PBS changed her life. She told me all about Carl Sagan, all about Discovery I and II and the reason for the planets and rockets and nebula on her arms. Her cheeks were sparkly pink, her hair purple, her ear holes large and open. Being in her presence made me happy, and as I walked back to the office, I marvelled that there are AT LEAST SEVEN BILLION stories on this planet. At the very minimum.
I’m currently finishing Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and it’s in the vein of Sliding Doors (best Gwyneth movie) or Groundhog Day (which I used to love, because Bill Murray, but now is so creepy and stalkerish. I mean he basically obsesses about the Andy McDowall character and learns everything about her until he figures out exactly how to trick her into falling in love with him!). Except Life After Life is set in WWII, which has affected me profoundly. I have been thinking a lot about how we live in such good times that we make mountains out of molehills. When we are out of survival mode, life doesn’t have the same meaning to many of us. We take it for granted. We are so engrossed in what we think matters that we completely miss how miraculous ALL OF IT IS. I walked and reflected on my life, how there will be other great loves. How I don’t have to get on the first train that will take me as a passenger, that just about any infinite number of outcomes and storylines is possible. A random conversation in a cafe, a chance encounter in the street, a left turn, one singular choice can change the trajectory of the whole story.
So next time you are feeling stuck, or glum, or helpless… get up. Put on your best Nancy Sinatra vibe and say, “OK boots, start walkin’” and go. It might just change your life.
Tonight’s post was inspired by Regina Spektor’s “End of Thought,” which I listened to while riding home in the purple-orange glow of late-summer dusk, September’s warning snap to the air, on the way home from yoga and meditation on Friday.
After a summer of being Supermom (with some really fun me-time where I could fit it in), I ended my workday Friday knowing I was about to have 10 days to myself while my kids are at camp. I had irons in the fire: A picnic with my neighbourhood moms, an opportunity to meet a man from my past for a drink… but instead, I chose ME.
I rode home from work in a fervour, making the most of summer hours to grab my mat, get changed and cycle to my studio for a special 5pm class. It’s a Yin yoga class, run by a beautiful soul with a mid-western American accent. You hold poses for a really long time, releasing stuck chi, the practice itself becoming a meditation in staying with oneself through discomfort. And wow, lots of your buried shit comes up in the process.
For example, my mid-back gets locked up frequently. At the chiropractor, she uses acupuncture to release me a bit before she even tries to adjust me there. In doing a move called “Chain of beads” that’s intended to articulate your spine as it was designed – one vertebrae at a time – I noticed I was stuck there. And in working out the spot with repeated and deliberate movement, a long-buried memory appeared.
I was maybe 16 or 17. I was hanging out on my older cousin’s driveway in the suburbs, holding court with family friends who were also teens. My uncle, the controlling patriarch of our family who always demanded respect, got out of his car. I was mid-sentence and didn’t acknowledge him right away. Typically, it would be expected that I stop what I was saying and make a big deal of his arrival, greeting him as I normally would. But on this day, I didn’t feel like it. So I looked in his direction and continued talking.
He walked up to me and said, “Boy!” (In our language, very derogatory.) And he smacked me hard between the shoulder blades. I recoiled and said, “Ow!” And he did not care for that. I went from being his absolute favourite (he was big on favouritism. One of his sons became a dentist, the other a drug dealer.) to him not speaking to me for MONTHS.
He was a father figure to me, as my dad was mostly absent due to his personality and also because he worked two jobs, I spent way more time with my uncle (who was married to my mother’s sister). I’d forgotten this experience completely, but there it was, hiding in my thoracic spine, somewhere between the T6 and T7 if I had to guess.
I got a massive release (though that spot needs more work), and then we followed with Yoga Nidra, which is deep rest meditation. I’ve stopped struggling and actually find it delicious now, how I try to grasp her words as she guides, trying to stay conscious and present until eventually something gives up and I end up in lucid napping state. I felt pretty good. Even saw a new (straight?) guy (no wedding band) in class and that made me optimistic that my spiritual life partner is out there.
I thought about what you said And it’s the end of the thought that really got in my head
I biked home listening to my “Chill Mix” – Apple pre-programs what I might find relaxing based on what I’ve listened to or favourited in the past. And this lovely Regina Spektor song came up. And I couldn’t help but think about the intense summer I had, somehow in relationship with Monsieur Magique without actually seeing him. It proved to me how much of our relationships happen in our minds, through our thoughts which then drive our feelings (which then drive our actions – I have this all memorized now from coaching lol).
I hadn’t heard from him at all in three weeks. I’d mostly made my peace with it. Still, his words were lingering. The way he’d perceived how I’d behaved. Were his words true? Were they true for me? Did they make me better?
Be careful before you decide Be careful before you decide
It has been too easy to get persnickety about what he said. To be all, “Oh please!” But in leaving meditation, I had compassion for him too. The fact that he’s coming from a place of fear. And desire to control outcomes. That he believes the story he tells himself that he needs to work this much, sleeping four hours a night. (I seriously worry he’s going to have a heart attack.)
Even more so, I had a deep compassion for myself. I’d set my intention to “self” – self-acceptance, self-respect, self-worth. The homework that my therapist, Danny, gave me was to reflect on my worthiness and learning what I deserve, so self-reflection goes in there too. I turned the mirror inward, I found the girl who had been wronged by her dad and also by her key alternate father figure. And I knew that while she gets closer with each experience, she’s still got some work to do to trust others and understand when she should accommodate and when she should do herself a favour and cut the damn cord. He couldn’t give me what I needed, and rather than break loose, I worried that since “he can’t love me the way I need” keeps repeating for me, that I was the common denominator in the equation. So I spent all summer digging DEEP.
Risk only what you won’t miss And all the rest you can leave for all the others to take You cannot make a mistake The universe is too big The universe is too big
It was nearly midnight when he texted me.
“Wanted to say hello. I am a bad man for not giving news. I know you are probably mad and do not understand what is going on. I would feel the same way. LMK when you are free this weekend to talk maybe, if you want to. Hope the kids are good and excited for their BIG back to school week. Also sure your big project keeps you very busy in a good way and you are enjoying running it, Miss Incredible!”
It caught me off guard, so even though my usual, most-natural reaction to anyone else would be to respond right away, I decided to go to sleep and decide what to do in the morning.
I don’t know why I let you stay I don’t know why I let you stay I don’t know why I let you stay around In my mind
In my mind, we are done. His behaviour this summer was appalling. How would we ever come back from that? How could I ever trust him not to cast me aside like that again? It’s literally the deepest relationship conflict I have, the quickest way to wound me – being ignored or shelved. And yet every single one of them (Theo, Ali, Mr. SN and now MM) has done this.
So I’ve tried to take responsibility. I’ve done the psych work (still going!) to understand why this is my achilles. I feel like we’ve gotten some insight in the past few posts. I’ve filled my life with so much good cake, that I can barely even see HOW I will make space for a partner, unless he’s willing to let me be free to continue to pursue my passions and friendships, and also willing to blend into this fun, chaotic, rich life I’ve built. I’m not needy, but I’m clingy a bit. And what I’ve learned through therapy is that this comes out when the other person is not in it with his whole ass!
In my mind we are done. Because we are at odds. He can’t get emotionally attached (his words), and I can’t even do a regular casual WITHOUT emotionally attaching. That’s who I am. My cleaner is not that good, for example, but I love her so much that I can’t imagine cutting her loose. I have long-term friendships with other humans where they let me down, or don’t show up for me how I’d like, but I can replace them with other friends (or fill in the gaps with other people). In monogamy, you can’t do this unless you swap out the lacklustre partner altogether!
I thought about what you said And it’s the end of your thought that really made me upset
The end of his thought was, “You stop giving yourself freely because you have been hurt in the past and things seem always calculated to protect yourself.” I weighed it carefully and through consultation with my consiglieri (shout out to the inner circle!), I realized that even if he’s 20% correct, it takes time to build intimacy and trust. And the one thing we never had was time.
I hung out with friends yesterday afternoon, then stopped at a dog park (calming for me) in the sunshine and called him. No answer (and no dogs in the park – sign?). He called back but it was minutes before I was meeting the Patron Saint of No Bullshit for hangs so I didn’t answer. He texted to say he’d tried me and I should try him any time that evening. I replied to set the expectation that I’d connect with him later.
Be careful before you decide The universe is too big The universe is too big You cannot make a mistake You cannot make a mistake
After a super illuminating evening with the Patron St. of No BS, I called. And it was as expected. A very casual conversation catching each other up on what happened over the summer (without bringing up the relationship). I felt calm, cool and like I knew what I wanted and that this wasn’t it. I stand by it.
There was a long silence… Him: “Is there anything you want to say to me?”
“About this summer, about how I treated you…” I got the sense from his “bad man” comment that he wanted to be eviscerated, but I as I’m practicing non-violence, I didn’t see the point. I knew he may perceive it as lack of passion, but I don’t care. I’ve done that kind of fiery passion and it only leads to misery. I chose to stay rooted in my truth.
“What is there to say? If you’re expecting me to be angry, I’m not. I can’t be mad at what is. I was supremely disappointed and hurt in July, but I’ve had weeks to process those feelings and while I’m still disappointed, I’m good. You can’t give me what I need right now, and that’s the circumstance. It is what it is. Is there something you were hoping I’d say?”
“I just miss you. I really miss you. I miss the fun times we have together. But I’ve been working all week until 1 am, so this is the first opportunity I had to tell you.” (*cough* bullshit * cough*) “I’m sorry if I hurt you. I was so overwhelmed. (his voice cracked) Truly overwhelmed. I just couldn’t. I’m sorry. I’m realizing how much a role I have to play in how much I’m working. That I can’t let go. I don’t know how.”
Grown-ass Maria did not swoop in to rescue. Grown-ass Maria held space for his hurt, expressed that she really wanted him to get his shit together because she cares about him and his health and well-being. And then she peaced out. He didn’t seem to want to get off the phone. He mentioned multiple times that he felt we should see each other to talk it out further.
“Can I ask you something,” I proposed. He agreed. “If it’s two years from now and everything in your life was perfect…”
“TWO YEARS?! Oh god no, I’ll be dead. Six months?”
“OK fine, six months. Everything that’s stressing you out goes away… what would be different with us? How would it be different?”
If I got a clear answer, I don’t recall. I don’t care. You’ve shown me who you are. “Wait until September” was a lie, one made as an offer of hope, but full of bullshit, because he doesn’t actually want to change until everything is perfect, which doesn’t exist. We texted today and he offered Thursday as a possible day to meet up and talk. I know what I want to say if that date transpires, and he’s not going to like it, but what I know after all the work I’ve done is this: I am the prize. The prize is sacred. Not just anybody gets to win the prize. It’s not a lottery. You have to earn it.
Spiritual soulmate – I’m coming for you…
I don’t know why I let you stay I don’t know why I let you stay I don’t know why I let you stay around In my mind
I have been going to therapy steadily, with my current therapist, Danny, for 2.5 years. And somehow, it turns out I’d vaguely glossed over my childhood abuse in that time. I think I thought I’d dealt with it, that if I am able to have loving relationships (conditionally, one might argue) with my abusers, that I’d forgiven them.
It wasn’t until I read Byron Katie’s “Loving What Is” that I made the connection. Even if we think we’ve 99% forgiven someone, if we don’t deal with that last 1%, it’s going to keep showing up for us. As a positron, a cheerleader and Hype Girl in Chief, acknowledging that I’m the child of abuse has somehow always felt like engaging with a negative story. I was worried I’d get stuck in the narrative. But in ignoring it, I failed to heal a broken part of my past. I let people mistreat me. I have been unable to ask for what I truly need in life. And what came out in therapy today was that deep down, I don’t believe I’m worthy of better.
If I dig, I can find so many layers to that bruised, rotting onion. You know how sometimes you can peel off the rotting layers, and still chop up the rest of the onion for cooking? And you’re crying, because old onions emit more of the gas that makes you cry, but you’re like, “Meh. I can still make use of this thing.” But sometimes, you start chopping, and while there are so many whole layers looking fine, near-perfect even, the centre of the onion has also started to brown? That. Today I found the brown centre.
For all my cheerleading, I have not been the best leader in my own life. I have settled for less than. I have accepted bad behaviour and tried to make unpleasant things work, I have beaten myself up for wanting more. I have beaten myself up for not being able to ask for what I need. I have finally gotten the courage to ask for it, only to be made to feel like nope, I didn’t deserve it. But what Danny was so good to remind me today was that I have the power to ask, “Wait, does your statement hold true for me? And does it serve me?” And if it doesn’t, if that critique or gaslighting doesn’t lead to a better me, then I DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO IT.
Monsieur Magique got catty when I spoke my truth. He called a week after the text exchange about taking a break and I was elated to hear his voice. I was busy with kids and said I’d call him back. When I called back, no answer. “Did I miss you?” I texted, assuming he’d fallen asleep. “I’m around until mid-day if you want to connect/call back.” By midnight that day, I’d still not heard from him. I had no idea what he was doing, if he had his kids, but assumed he did not since it wasn’t a typical weekend for me to have the kids, and we’re on the same schedule. So then why wasn’t he getting back to me, at least with a short text to say, “Hey, busy day, will call you back tomorrow”? The entire thing makes no sense. Who treats someone like that, when only a month earlier they’d taken that same person on a romantic weekend?
So I called him on it. I said, “I’m so disappointed not to have my call or messages acknowledged, at the very least to set the expectation of when I might hear from you.” Then I took some Brene Brown inspiration and wrote, “I don’t know what stories you are telling yourself, but the one I’m telling myself is that I’ve somehow done something to upset you. That perhaps I experienced that beautiful weekend away completely differently than you did.”
That’s when I got the weirdest reply. “You do not add any stress to my chaotic life, to the contrary, and you did not do anything wrong, but I can’t get emotionally attached, and seriously, you are busy too and I am often caught thinking how something serious between us would work, with the kids. I found how you handled the concert thing weird to be honest and it made me realize that that you did not really mean it maybe, or that you had given up on me, which saddened me a bit. All you had to do is remind me and I would have made plans but you chose otherwise. I do not know, there are a lot of little things and while I realize how patient and understanding you have been, I am not sure what you really miss about me when I am not around. I don’t feel insecure or unsure about you Maria, but I don’t see any passion in you either when we are intimate or sticking to plans meant for us… You stop giving yourself freely because you have been hurt in the past and things seem always calculated to protect yourself. Call me whenever, I am more available than you think you know! 😊Especially when I don’t have the girls… Would be nice to talk to you too…”
HUH? So there we have it: the stories he’s been making up about me. How do you build intimacy and passion with someone you barely see and rarely talk to in between short visits? If you added up the time we’ve spent together in the six months this thing was on, we probably spent three weeks total together at most. Sigh. How does someone say, “You’re not giving yourself freely,” when they barely make the time to get to know you better and earn your trust? We talked that night, and I felt a bit better after being given a chance to explain myself, but the message holds: He’s not ready for serious, and I don’t want to feel like his mistress. Stalemate. (Also, he’s kind of a dick, no?)
And yet here I am, weeks later, secretly hoping he’s suddenly gonna message me to apologize for being wrong. Instead he has fully ghosted. Not a word from him in over two weeks. Boy, bye! Making promises that you might have time for me in the future, when your perfectionist fantasy pans out, never putting me first, not sharing your life, not inviting me to social events, not even after we shared so much…? Why did I accept that for as long as I did? Why did I let a man call me his girlfriend and then treat me like that? Why can’t I just accept that he’s not the right guy for me? Because it ruins the fantasy of the perfect meet-cute? Or because of scarcity mindset (BINGO!). I have a long-held belief that there are not enough good enough guys out there, let alone one that will make me feel awesome most of the time. Boom!
What came out of therapy is that I’ve been taught that you’re lucky enough just to CATCH a man. That if you want to KEEP that catch, you’d better push your needs down deep and accept whatever he has to give. That you’d better accommodate him and his family, because you were lucky enough to get him and that is the only goal: get and keep. If you lose him you were either too much of something, or not enough.
So my homework: I need to work on my self-worth, to truly learn and believe that I am worth more than what I am currently offering myself and allowing myself to accept. I can’t control what people offer me, but I can control my response to their offers. I do not need to accept sloppy seconds or leftover scraps. I’m lucky I’m not so hungry that I should feel grateful for your mouldy bread or your stale crackers. I don’t want your excuses or your dangling carrots. I don’t want your “Well I’ve always said my priorities are work and kids” as if those are not my priorities too. I don’t want your drunk tired sexy time after too many hours of YouTube and Rum ‘n’ Cokes. There’s more to this, so SO much more that has happened to unlock pieces of myself. Major compassionate revelations and face-downs with my dad, for example. But I can’t process and regurgitate it all right now, Maria fans, I’m feeling a bit RAW. I’m like a newborn baby whose defences have been removed. Where’s my womb?! Why do I have to learn life all over again?
But I AM learning. I am building myself back up from the darkest places, from never knowing, from being a child who is loved deeply by the broken people who abused her. If you are out there and you are reading this and seeing yourself and recoiling with fear, telling yourself you’re not brave enough to do this, I’m telling you that looking it in the eyes is so much more freeing than carrying it with you for 30+ years. When you let the past continue to hurt you, YOU BECOME YOUR ABUSER. I encourage you to see a social worker or therapist or your doctor or your preacher or a coach or a homeopath – SOMEONE who knows how to help. Message me dreamingofmariacallas AT gmail DOT com if you need to.
As I discussed my discoveries about my childhood self with Dr. X, she asked me to investigate why my father did some of the incredibly hurtful things he did. Eventually I hope to find the time and space to ask him before it’s too late. After writing down a series of questions from a place of curiosity in my journal, I got a message from another single mom I know telling me she’d been reading about Attachment Theory, specifically this article. And boom, there was my father in all his flawed, deeply pained, unrealized self. “A child with an avoidant attachment attempts to meet their own needs, because it is too painful depending on others who consistently fail to respond to them. They develop a sense of shame, thinking, ‘I am not worth paying attention to.’ They then disconnect from their needs in an effort to avoid feeling this shame.”
I know little of my father’s upbringing. Much of it clouded by editorializing from my mom, who despised her mother-in-law and confronted her in-laws in such a disrespectful way that my father was emasculated and didn’t talk to his parents for many years. By my mother’s accounts my father was left alone much of the time, ignored in favour of his younger sister, etc. I often wonder about my father’s appalling social skills, whether he would be diagnosed on some sort of spectrum if he were born now. And if that undiagnosed neurological quirk made him a difficult child, therefore causing small town rural parents with little resources to deal with him via neglect. I will never know. But I know that my father’s distance has to do with his feelings that it’s better if he’s not around, he does not feel worthy of love. We’ve had to work our way up to hugs and kisses and occasional I love yous.
They say there’s nothing more damaging to a child than a parent’s unrealized self. Let that sink in. For those who know my real identity and know how much I do, it largely comes from this place. Life is full of experiences and opportunities for joy. All we have to do is say yes. I’m also learning that my energy stores will dwindle as I age, and that despite my desire to do and try all the things, I have to be selective about where my energy goes. My children provide me that checkpoint: What am I modelling for them? One of my most favourite things Dr. X ever said to me was when I was speaking about my parents, talking about how I don’t want to live like they do. “Aren’t you lucky to have such great teachers in how not to be?” Game changer. Positioning and perspective are everything.
As I learned more about attachment theory, I learned that people who grow up with an avoidant attachment parent are also prone to insecure attachment and that can show up as avoidant or anxious attachment where you may seem needy or jealous. So boom again. Guess what I am?
This article, also by Lisa Firestone, PhD really spoke to me. “An anxiously attached person assumes they want closeness but engages in patterns that actually leave a certain amount of emotional turmoil and distance. Although they may perceive themselves as feeling real love toward their partner, they may actually be experiencing emotional hunger. Their actions, which are often based on desperation or insecurity, exacerbate their own fears of distance or rejection. When their partner does come closer or gives them what they want, they may react in unconscious ways that push their partner away or create distance. They may find that their true tolerance for intimacy is much smaller than they thought because real love and closeness would challenge their core beliefs about themselves and relationships. Therefore, while they may believe they want security, they actually feel compelled to remain in a state of anxiety.”
WHOA! Wait a second. I’m actually attracted to the conditions which make me feel shitty and then I do shitty self-sabotage-y things to keep me in the shitty feeling state that I’m used to because that equals love to me? HOLD MY BEER! Why am I, as Glennon Doyle says, not “speaking my insides on the outside?” Oh, because my brain is used to this weird dance of “Come here, go away! Gah! Boys are so confusing! No one will love me the way I waaaaaaaant!” BOOM!
What I love about this kind of deep work is that once you become conscious of your behaviours and patterns, you have to stay conscious. Because it’s no longer a reflex, now it’s a choice you’re making. I’m not saying this work is easy folks, but much like how my body hurts whether or not I exercise but only one of those choices keeps me healthy, staying in a place of self-harm and self-sabotage hurts worse than doing this kind of excavation. Also, I’m not suggesting you should do this on your own. Much like having a trainer or a yoga teacher, having a therapist, homeopath or life coach can help to make sure you’re figuring this stuff out safely and correctly. (I have all three.)
So now I know what’s going on. Now I have compassion for 12-year-old Maria and I meditate while giving her a hug in my mind. I’ll take care of you, I tell her, we will overcome this together. You don’t need to be scared anymore. You don’t need to crave the affections of a man with the same desperation any longer. We are safe. We are resilient enough to stand on our own no matter what comes. We will figure it out together.
It still took some courage to speak my insides on the outside. I chose the liquid form. While day drunk on sangria this weekend, I decided to send a simple text that amounted to, “Hi! Haven’t heard your voice in three weeks. So are we doing this or taking a break? I can roll with whatever, but I have zero influence over this right now. If we’re doing this, here are my minimum requirements:
I see your face every 2-3 weeks
We talk on the phone once a week
You share with me what’s going on with you. It has to be a 2-way conversation.”
Couldn’t get more basic. That is the bottom of the barrel as a single parent. This is where I need to start. The baseline. We build from here.
Meditation and journalling gave me the insight to see I was suffering and I could end it, simply by asking for what I needed and risking losing someone in the process. Because real love comes from within, not from something or someone outside yourself. You can know it intellectually, but knowing it in your soul takes some work and consistent practice until you form the spiritual equivalent of muscle memory. 12-year-old Maria needs me to take care of her and she needed clarity.
Monsieur Magique responded with a typical for him slew of “I have all this stuff going on right now and I tried to see you last weekend but got shut down.” PETTY SIDEBAR: hilarious because when I’d initially asked him for that date he’d responded with “Bastille Day…” which — what the fuck does that mean? Are you storming something? Can I come? Also why do I have to make myself available when he wants? And why does he feel rejected when I have to say no? That’s for him to uncover, because he doesn’t give me enough time for me to ask. He went on to say that what I proposed made sense, seemed like something we could both handle and sorry. Pfft.
My response to his overwhelm was good and true to me, and came from a place of compassion for us both. I said: “I’m sorry too. You have been going through a ton, and I get it. I hoped that I could be someone you could lean on during this super intense time. I honestly don’t need much, because as you said I’ve got my own things going on. Unfortunately I feel like my minimum threshold for feeling secure in this relationship was below the red line, and it just doesn’t feel good. I just want to be your person, Magique. I don’t want to be put on a shelf like a box of old photos. I want to fight your fights with you and vice versa. But it’s too much right now and I understand.”
I felt free. Hugely free. (Like I even went dancing and smiled a genuine smile the whole time, and I happened to be five minutes from his house). Because I could finally see what I was resisting. The truth. This is not someone who can make me a priority right now. He’s said it countless times, but also enjoyed keeping me shelved to take out like a toy when he was able, and that’s not enough for me, but I was scared to admit it because he’s so amazing in so many ways. He had asked for patience until September, but I couldn’t reduce my expectations any lower without compromising myself. The person he was asking me to be meant I had to fight my brain daily to accept things that made me feel insecure.
This has been a truly positive experience because now I KNOW. He has been a gift, because he lead me to truly see what I deserve, both through positive and negative interactions. I’m not afraid anymore. I know what I want and I will no longer apologize for it. I want my person. As I said to a friend yesterday, “I have four vibrators, a great house, an amazing career, two incredible children, a body I take good care of, a mind that I’m constantly working on and a spirit full of love and energy for anyone who wants to bask in it. I need nothing. I’m basically a cactus. This is a turnkey property. You just move in and enjoy.”
I don’t know if this is the end of Monsieur Magique for good. I use au revoir in the title, because it connotes that you hope to see someone again soon. But what I know is that I still have a few things to get my shit together on, and he has to do his work on his own. I’m not his person. He isn’t ready to make me his person. But you know what? I AM MY PERSON! And while it feels lonely in situations full of couples, or when I notice the foundation of the house crumbling and look around to see who knows how to take care of that (which should not be gendered, I know), it’s also liberating as fuck.
Let me say it louder for the people in the back (and shout out to my friends who are right now thinking, “Girl! I told you so!”) I DO NOT NEED TO SETTLE! I’m so proud of myself for finally figuring it out and speaking my truth. My horoscope on Co-Star yesterday said, “Climb to the top of the mountain, from there you will be able to see everything.” So friends, I’m rising higher. Today’s horoscope said, “Clarity is the same as transcendence.” Breathe that in. Is that not just beautiful enough to get a tattoo of? The air is getting thinner, so the work to keep going is getting harder… but the view, the vantage point, the perspective… it’s worth it.
Well it’s been an INTENSE AF Cancer season, folks! Two eclipses and Mercury in retrograde. It all flips today as Leo season starts. Breathe easy because this is supposed to be some of the best astrology of the year! Mid-July to mid-August is going to bring sweet summer times for all. I for one am feeling FREE!
As a Cancerian, I come alive as soon as summer solstice hits. June 21, the longest day of the year, I feel it. I can’t explain it but the sun tips in my direction ever just so and my typical Energizer Bunny spirit is on Nitro! I fall in love with my city, with nature, with my family and friends all over again. My relationship with myself strengthens each year in this time, through these environmental and relational experiences. It’s also my bday in the middle of it. Three summers ago, when I found myself single for the first time in two decades, I decided I would no longer wait for someone to organize celebrations for me or depend on another human to make my summer dreams come true. So every year I now spend the first week of summer with my small humans (who are rapidly outgrowing that term) and then when I return from our travels, I throw myself the most fun birthday party imaginable, full of the best collection of women I’ve come to know and love, and who love me back in return. For me, it’s the most life-affirming way to ring in the beginning of another trip around the sun.
However the skies or the Universe or somebody needed me to learn some things. So while I’ve had so much joy, I’ve also had more struggle than I would have liked. As such the past month has brought forth an incredible amount of self-discovery.
Monsieur Magique has been far less magical in the past few months as the shine has worn off our initial glow. The pressures of his job (some self-imposed), combined with some unpleasant twists and turns in life has meant he’s not fully engaged in building a relationship and that’s been tough for me to accept. At the end of June, full of overwhelm, he unloaded all his worries and stresses on me to explain why the weekend away that we were planning was being reduced from two nights to one, after I’d expressed disappointment. I’d like to know what it’s like to really spend time with this person, and my dismay was expressed because I was trying to come to terms with whether I accept “almost good enough,” both in terms of what was being offered and also in how what was being offered made me feel about me.
To be fair to him, his life is full of landmines right now, but now that I’ve had some distance from it, I believe this is happening to him because the Universe is trying to break him open. He’s resisting, of course, and because he is not learning the key lessons of acceptance and surrender, each day brings a new bomb. Each set back is piling up and up and it’s hard to see someone you care about go through a period like this.
If I were someone he chose to lean on more regularly, maybe I could have helped. At least I would have felt like I was a part of his life. Instead, after a beautiful Saturday and Sunday away together where we savoured each other’s company and had a lot of fun celebrating my birthday a week early, he completely shut me out. He didn’t wish me happy birthday on the day, and that was one thing. I found I could accept it in that I know that he mentally checked off “celebrate Maria’s birthday” when he generously and lovingly took me away and romanced me. But more so, all our text conversations over the past few weeks have been of me sharing what was going on with me and him sharing nothing of himself, often not responding for three to four days. This behaviour would be one thing if this was brand new, but we’ve been seeing each other for almost seven months. We have shared some very personal things with each other. It’s so strange to feel so close to someone and then to have them disappear into a world of short sentences that say nothing once or twice a week and no phone calls. Connection is work. Connection is what I was lacking towards the end of my marriage. Connection is a big reason I decided to break up with Mr. Saturday Night.
Through this discomfort, I’ve been doing a shit ton of work on myself. Questioning everything, meditating, exercising, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, journalling, talking to friends, working with my business partner Rock ’n’ Roll Coach to get my thinking straight, and seeking the council of Dr. X. All of this was done to make sure that I wasn’t making problems where there were none, confirming that my ego wasn’t driving the bus, trying to accept reality to avoid undue suffering, testing and questioning to keep myself from getting trapped in a story. Byron Katie’s work Loving What Is was exceptionally helpful in this time, as was Glennon Doyle’s Love Warrior and the work of the coaching model that RRC teaches.
And wow did I ever have some major breakthroughs! The big questions: How much attention do I need from a man? Do I really love myself and realize the true universal love that is ever-present, so that I’m not mistaking my feelings? What thoughts are leading me to have the uncomfortable feelings I’m having? What thoughts do I need to have to feel better about this relationship with Monsieur Magique? What thoughts do I need to have to push me forward with lovingkindness?
So the big breakthrough was a way, way back one. I grew up in a house full of violence. It’s not something I talk about much, because I have a mostly healthy relationship with my parents now, working towards accepting them for who they are. My big scary father has softened with age and I have found a way to feel love and compassion for him, but there’s still work to be done there in forgiving him. In my childhood home, if my father was quiet for three days, it meant he was holding in something he was angry about, and on the fourth day all hell would break loose. He would flip a dresser, or throw all my clothes out the front door, or throw a bottle at my head or smash my sister’s face into a plate of eggs.
I realized that for some people, letting go of past memories is a simple choice. My sister accepts my father as he is because she knows that by getting angry at his bizarre behaviour instead of laughing at it, hurts her more than it does him. He’s already in pain, a product of his own fucked up childhood, and at nearly 80 years old we are not going to change his behaviour anytime soon. While he’s not violent anymore, he cannot spend time with his family, often greeting us at the door and then leaving, unable to just BE with us. The other day he walked into my house at dinner, grabbed some food off the dinner table and ate it in his car. It was 35 degrees Celsius out. I have air conditioning and chairs. It’s so strange and upsetting and yet I can choose to let it upset me, or I can ignore it. I’m not there yet, it’s still upsetting, but I do see now how I make it worse with my thoughts about it. It’s not personal. I can’t be mad at him for not being who I want him to be — that’s futile. Sigh.
Explaining this to you all is important, because until I work through this, I will not be able to move past it and I will continue to invite men into my life who trigger this same anger, disappointment and feeling of unlovability in me, not to mention the fear of abandonment and fear of rejection. Feelings that I’m a fuck-up, or a bad girl, or somehow less than, all stem from this critical developmental relationship that was never functional. So in my life now, how this shows up is that when a man goes silent with me for a few days, my default is to examine what I could have done to make him disappear. 12-year-old Maria feels very unsafe when men go quiet for a few days. What I love about Monsieur Magique is that he’s not at all afraid to speak his feelings and thoughts, but what doesn’t feel good is that he can’t communicate consistently. It’s normal to only hear from him twice a week via a text reply. If I get tired of carrying the conversation, or feel like I’m doing all the sharing and I decide to ignore my impulses to share bits of my life with him, he will finally send a note after four days. There’s no daily cadence of chatter, which I actually think is healthy in relationship building. Simple courtesies like “good morning” and “goodnight” would be lovely, I would be really happy with an “This made me think of you,” but this is not how this is going. I would honestly settle for a few times a week of “here’s what’s been going on for me, what’s been going on for you?” As a writer, my love language is words! Followed by quality time and touch — hard to get any of this when someone doesn’t have time for you!
While I can accept that his work and parenting situations leave him very little personal time (as he’s quick to explain when questioned or challenged), when you add it all up there’s the faint smell of bullshit, too. He’s able to make time to run in a triathlon with friends, he has time to watch stuff on YouTube, and as even my ex was quick to point out yesterday, “It takes 30 seconds to send a text to let someone know you are thinking of them.” Ha! So I did the thought work. I applied the model of writing down all the circumstances, evaluating which thoughts were leading to what feelings, and then examining the actions and results that came from each. And I could clearly see where I was making matters worse and what was a result of his lack of engagement.
Dr. X suggested I follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation on the five-year-old self, which has three parts. (Full details here.) The idea is that if you can feel compassion for your inner child, if you can tell your inner child that you’ll always take care of them, and then you shift your attention to seeing your parents in their vulnerable, fragile, five year old selves, you can heal a lot of the past. This meditation will be my focus for the rest of the summer, because as a parent, healing the inner child within, as well as the inner children of our parents that live within each of us helps us to parent our own children with compassion and presence. It stops the cycles of our past (in my case violence, lack of agency and neglect/abandonment) from being transferred to our own children. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I am at peace today. I was making excuses to get out of my favourite bike ride of life. It’s a long, winding, thrilling 10K from the cottage to the next town over, first through this town with its mix of cottages (both rustic and modern), trailers, tennis courts and trees, then along the shores of a mighty, majestic lake. You can feel that these shores were an Indigenous sacred place, that those wiser and more in tune with nature than zombie colonial consumerists respected its power and its grace for more than just a bit of sunny summer fun.
It was nearly 40 degrees Celsius with the humidity. It felt foolish to attempt it, but my daughter insisted. “You should go. It’s something you love to do, mom.” She was right, of course. I rode to the tennis courts first and watched the boys in their tournament, listening to the chatter of privileged white teenagers, the girls discussing tans and salads, the boys discussing the gym and submarine sandwiches. Ridiculous that so much has changed and yet nothing at all. If I think about it too much I will feel depressed, so I shrug it off and just accept what is.
The boys mostly suck —that’s my boy! Takes after his uncoordinated mom, who was one-half of the losingest tennis doubles team in her 13th summer on earth. I vow that we will play this summer, all three of us. That we will not wait for things to happen to us. That we will go and make them happen. I will remind them time and time again that sustained effort and consistency are what deliver improvements in life. And that you have to want it badly enough.
I have come here alone, with my children and one friend of my son’s. I will celebrate a birthday up here, another rotation around the sun, reaching a possible mid-way point to a number that sounds both reasonable to me as a logical person, and unreasonable to me as someone who loves life. I am trying to avoid pride, while also being somewhat self-celebratory that I can do this, that I AM DOING THIS, this thing alone. This thing called life.
I left the boys mid-play, cycling away from the town and my children and pedalled towards freedom. “It’s going to be hard,” I remind myself, “There will be times you want to quit, but you should push through. There will be times when you want to rest and you should take a moment. The goal, the intention, is presence. Experience how your mind and your body battle it out and reunite them with your spirit.” It didn’t take long for the glee to kick in, for the gratitude for a body that works, for a mind that gets out of its own way some of the time, for the abundance and wealth and privilege of being able to come to a place like this.
Beach towns are in my blood, culturally this is how my ancestors would escape their oppressively hot ancient cities. My mother has many tales of summer enjoyment on an island or at lakeside escape. My father did not give her a lot, but he knew she loved a beach and would try to make that happen for her on occasion, even though we didn’t have much. You don’t need much to experience paradise, just the right environment and the right company, and often not even that.
I weep at the majesty of the enormous lake, its waves lapping gently in places and threateningly in others. I have worn my bikini under my tank and shorts. I have promised myself a solo swim. A woman on a beach alone is a tragic figure among the throngs of families, but I like that I will have an air of mystery. A woman happy to be alone is something to fear.
At the end of the trail I stop for a rest. I’m not completely cured of my desire to connect outward, so I send a few texts to the strong women in my life. The end of the trail is the beginning of the way home, I say. Earlier in the week, while cycling with my daughter, I tell her that bicycles were the beginning of women finding freedom, that men could make rules about who could drive, but a bike ride was the first time a woman could ride away from everything on her own. I’m grateful but have mixed feelings about the extreme safety and freedom I feel here, on this land occupied by many white-haired white people, land that sits next to a First Nations reserve, but where you barely see any Indigenous people. I try just to observe and not judge, though I can’t shake the uneasiness of the inequity.
Dr. X writes back, “You’re living the good cake!” The good cake refers to a statement I made about Monsieur Magique, whom I almost took a break from recently. I decided my life is like really good cake, and he is lovely but complicated icing. “I could scrape off the icing,” I’d surmised, “and be perfectly happy with really good cake.” (MM was overwhelmed with life, when I suggested the break to let him off the hook, but instead he leaned in harder and took me away for a delightful weekend, but that’s another story, and I think I may keep it just for me.)
I cycle back listening to Krishna Das, then pausing to listen to the waves and the birds. I stop at the beach and write most of this after a cold, refreshing swim. I emerge from the water, proud, strong, independent. ALIVE.
I will no longer make apologies for my need for solitude. Instead I will continue to build my life around space. I am a good mom, I don’t need to question it. I am living the good cake. Not everyone likes cake, so it’s not about me when they don’t like me. I will no longer allow the perception of others to make me question myself.
I will be my own best boyfriend, my own true love, my own steady partner. I will not let her down, I will not let her go. I will stay with her when she is sick, when she is sad, disappointed or in pain. I will look her hurt and tragedies in the eye and I will not flinch, nor will I try to fix it. I will just stay and hold my own hand.
I am whole. I am made in the image my creator wanted. I am flawed but my flaws make me beautiful, unique. I am always learning, parts of me dying to make room for new growth.
I’m nearly halfway, if I’m lucky. No more apologies. No more hand-wringing. No more doubt. Just a cautious hurtling forward, clumsy but with moments of grace. It’s all here for the taking. The only thing in my way is me. I start today.