Solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking

Caminante, no hay camino…

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.

I call bullshit

There’s a lot of truth in my last post, but there’s also such a bullshit narrative that I caught myself believing today that I need to poke holes in it.

Do I believe that all men will let me down? And thus, do I set them up to fail me?

Even my horoscope this week is mocking me.

This doesn’t ignore that my love letter has not been acknowledged. This doesn’t ignore that I’m being asked to give up some agency over how this relationship might go. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through coaching and therapy, it’s that I can only work on my own thoughts, beliefs and actions. I can’t always control my thoughts, but I can choose how I react to them. Working on this this week. Thanks for being here.

It arrived

I wish I could tell you I kept my cool and didn’t ask about the postcard. But we all know I didn’t and have a whole continuation of the last post where I’m going to dig into that deeper.

The fact that I’ve known for three days to expect one did not diminish the giddiness of opening my mailbox to find it this evening. I might have squealed. And the note on the back made my heart sing and put everything at ease.

Sometimes the chill shows up days after you needed it. Sometimes we don’t notice a truly great thing when it’s right in front of our faces, because it feels more comfortable to settle into old stories and try to draw lines of comparison to the past. I’m getting better at catching myself.

I doubted the existence of the postcard. But I needed to have some faith. The universe has me. I’m anchoring myself to it.

And now for the rest of the story

I bawled on the way to work this morning. OK, OK, fine, I cried most of today, including in front of my kids, which is pretty much the worst ever. It’s just all so much sometimes. I don’t even know how to make it all work.

There’s the stress of trying to buy the house, which puts me in a terrifyingly massive amount of debt on my own, but is somehow cheaper month to month than renting a space big enough for the three of us in the city where we live. And I completely understand that that run-on sentence is one of great privilege and I should shut up. But also, I’m losing sleep over it. I’m terrible at budgeting, terrible at saying no to things in the moment.

What to cut and where to make it all happen? I have to be organized as heck. I can’t forget my lunch, ever. I need to make sure our meal prep is buttoned up. I need to cancel the cleaning lady and take that work on myself, share it with the kids, which means increase the nagging, which makes me hate myself.

I have to get my house in order. There are piles of bills and school paperwork and laundry. There are mice under the kitchen sink that need trapping and their toxic poop needs cleaning up. The woodpeckers are pecking holes into the shakes on the side of the house and that probably means there’s something to eat up there and I’m praying it’s not termites. The car needs fixing again and now costs as much to maintain as a new car, but my new mortgage is going up as much as a car payment, so I doubt I can even afford a new car, let alone the fixes. I make good money, so all of this is embarrassing, but I have never had a head for numbers.

(Bear with me while I barf this all out so I can stop crying.)

My evenings mean racing home at 4:30, to pick kids up at various places or just rush to get dinner started. Then it’s a mad race to make dinner while they are trying to tell me about their day, or have homework questions, then clean the kitchen and get them bathed, etc. They are old enough to do most of this stuff on their own, of course,  but there’s a certain shepherding that comes with being a parent, because kids are adorable self-involved assholes and you have to nudge them to keep them on task.

This is common for lots of parents, and there are many couples for whom one partner consistently works late or travels a lot and the other partner has to sort this all out alone. Or a spouse dies. I get it, I’m not the only parent who is doing this dance. But I suppose I got used to having two parents at home in the evening. I got used to one person cleaning the kitchen while the other wrestles with homework and bath time. It’s become difficult to enjoy the evenings when you are only playing drill sergeant.

Of course there are moments of brilliance in there too, but for the most part, after a busy work day when you have NO time to recharge, the kids suffer. You are not the best mom you can be. And that’s a terrible feeling where I am, right smack in the middle of the intense years of parenting. Because I know it’s fleeting. I know my days are numbered and I want to enjoy the time I have with them before they don’t want to be with me anymore.

Also, the kids are the one thing that forces me out of any funk or trash-talking of myself. I hate when they have to comfort me, I have so much guilt about that, but I’m grieving and I can’t always fucking hide it. I remember my own mother crying when my father had a four-year affair and she finally kicked him out. She would sob and it would terrify me. Now here I am, doing the same thing to my kids. She would talk shit about him, and it would make me uncomfortable. Because even though my dad was a supreme dick, it was confusing. Now here I am, in the same place, and I hate myself for it.

But the kids, they are so forgiving, so resilient. They hold my hand and start skipping down the sidewalk and I too am forced to skip and enjoy life. They have adorable, astute and funny insights on things and it takes me out from the dark place where I live now.  I worry that I’m ruining their childhood, imbuing their memories with all sorts of awful. I worry that the happy times won’t outweigh the bad, and that they’ll resent me like I do my own parents. I know they worry about money and how I will be able to afford it all and I hate myself for not shielding them from all this.

I am realizing that I’m stuck in the “poor me” place and I need to crawl out of it. But the weight of it all being on my shoulders is killing me right now. “But you always did it all alone,” friends try to remind me. Yes, partially true, I did do a lot of it. I did not have the most supportive partner, but maybe part of this (which I have to accept) is that I am such a control freak that I was unable to let any of it go.

There is no bereavement leave for those who’ve lost a spouse by any means other than death. There is an equal amount of pain and sadness and paperwork to deal with, but no time off. Suck it up, buttercup, says society. You brought this upon yourself with your feminist thinking and wanting things to be equal and better. You destroyed your marriage, because you couldn’t work full-time, be the primary breadwinner AND do all the emotional labour. You couldn’t be the woman behind the man and coach your spouse to great heights so he could provide and you could be the perfect domestic goddess. You created this situation with your inconsistent expectations, acting like you could do it all until you fucking lost your mind.

If my kids or employees were freaking out like this, I would suggest we make a list. Break it down into manageable chunks. Figure out what the priorities are and what can be delegated. I would encourage them to let go of perfection in place of just plain old “gettin’er done.” I think I am at a point where I need to manage myself that way. And there’s a lot I need to let go or delegate, and admit that I have a LOT of guilt about delegating to my kids. Because none of this situation is there fault.

At the same time, getting them to step up and do more is good for their growth. I just have to find the words and the energy to present it to them that way. There needs to be consequences for when they don’t hold up their end of the bargain. And rewards for when they do. I need to be consistent in my approach, which can be a challenge in a two-parent environment at the best of times, but when the other parent can uphold different rules and attitudes at their home, it presents an added layer of complication.

I have spent the past week isolating myself a bit, limiting my social media and cell phone interactions (I deleted most of those apps off my phone). I’m (not overtly) keeping my family at a distance, same goes for old friends. Because when I post stuff on social, it’s a touchpoint, and people get this general feeling of, “She’s OK.” But I’m not actually OK. I have a lot of emotional baggage to sort through and purge. I have so much of me to excavate and understand. I don’t want judgment, assumptions or unsolicited advice right now. I don’t need the Yaya Sisterhood plying me with platitudes. I need to answer, “Is this true?” about myself.

I need to get real, REAL quiet until I hear my inner voice again. And it’s going to be painful AF. Things are going to get real dark as I withdraw from the distractions and the people who have kept me buoyed up the past nine months. At the end of this withdrawal, after having a Trainspotting moment of seeing a baby with the spinny head crawl along my ceiling, there will be me at my essence. There will be forgiveness. And love.

Just, maybe you can silently, virtually hold my hand while I get through this really tough part, k?

All the time

Last week, on my birthday, I rode to work on a sticky, sunny day, one ear bud in (because two ear buds while cycling through a city is a death sentence), listening to bahamas. I’m a sucker for folk rock or moody emo music, especially if it’s about love and heartache. I’m a fucking hopeless romantic, like most women of my generation, raised on rom-coms starring perfect-nosed blonde women.

I’m about to date. I think this is what’s happening. And as is clear from the blog, I’m overthinking it already. I’m trying not to, honest. But the game has changed in 20 years. Who texts whom? How to respond? Am I asking too many questions? I’m a fucking journalist so the answer is probably yes. But maybe I just say fuck it and I stick to one rule: Just be me.

What have I got to lose? Really at this point, I can date whomever I want. Really and truly. The choices I made in my 20s were so much about ticking boxes and ticking clocks. Hurry up and find someone to make a baby with! Make sure he can get all the accoutrements of adulthood with you: house, car, dinners out, vacations. Dream of all the boxes you can tick together. Ignore that you are hammering a square peg in a round hole. It mostly fits. You’re not a carpenter anyway, just a girl who has boxes to tick! You’re not mad that it doesn’t fit yet, you’re 20-something! Anything is possible!

I’m on the other side now, I’ve got babies and in 10 years, if I’ve done my job right, I will have a mostly quiet house many nights of the week. I’m in the process of buying that house on my own. I have a beater mom-mobile. I’m self-sufficient. And with full days and nights to myself a few times a week, I’ve realized I’ve once again got the sexual appetite of a 20-something.

I’ve got all the time in the world, don’t you want some of that
I’ve got all the time in the world, don’t you want some of that
Don’t you want some of that, I would if I was you

As my sexy, curvy friend Carla says, “I don’t need you. Make me want you.”

The problem with overthinking is that I’m not ready for someone to take up space in the warehouse. I’ve just spent a good number of months clearing it out. I’m still clearing it out, still purging and coming up with an organization system. I’m still chasing the spiders out and reconnecting with old relics and long-forgotten souvenirs from countries I once occupied.

I just found the dust jacket from a 30-year-old album. I put the record on and listened to the lyrics with adult ears, my experience now layered over my understanding of the songs. I have practiced this language, but speaking it feels different in my mouth now that I’ve travelled the terrain.

I’ve found photos of a girl, laughing on a Georgian Bay beach in a skimpy bikini. She looks perfect, but I know in her head she thought she was fat, she was ugly, not good enough. Another photo, in Acapulco in her 20s, she is wearing PVC and a low-cut top, stripper heels and too much makeup. Night after night, she let a poor man’s Antonio Banderas into her bed, sound of the ocean outside her window. She let him put his hands up her shirt and rub his hard on against her, while telling her when they got back to Toronto he’d be committing to the homely girl who drove him to and from school every day. She was not a girl that guys dated, they told her, she was too much like a guy herself. I decided to tear him out of the photo and hang onto her, because man she looks fierce with that tan.

I had all the time in the world, you wanted none of that
I had all the time in the world, you wanted none of that
You wanted none of that, I would if I was you

I find a box of ugly words that I’ve said to myself over the years. I look at each one, ask myself if they were true and how. Then I burn most of them out back. (I keep a few for days where I want to go nine rounds with my brain.)

There’s a shelf covered in mom guilt. It has to go. There’s a costume that says “Perfect Mother” on the tag. It never quite fit, but sometimes I wore it anyway, just for the Instagram photo op. There are piles of crafts that I always had the good intentions to complete, but never made time for. There’s a cylinder that yells at you when you turn upside down, and then says, “I love you so much, I’m sorry I yelled” when you turn it back the other way.

Put my work in front of my girl, there’s something wrong with that
Put my work in front of my girl, there’s something wrong with that
Something really really wrong with that,
I know this to be true

In the back of the warehouse, under some old skids, I find the giggles of girlfriends, from a time before boys mattered. I find a biography of Duran Duran. I find promises to tell about first periods and first kisses. I find a Dickie Dee bell and a Popsicle stick. I find the absence of self-consciousness and the beauty of a moment.

Behind the furnace, a heart pillow from the 1980s. A prize from a fair, smiling, arms open, beckoning me to embrace it, its fuzzy velour exterior, dusty and worn from neglect. I wipe it down lovingly and squeezed it until it glowed.

I decide to open the windows and let the fresh air in. I sweep and sort some more. I make a donation pile.

I start to envision a space with things in it, but I’m not ready for someone else’s chairs and tables and luggage to accumulate clutter. I’m not ready to share. I know I won’t be single forever, so what’s the rush? But maybe, I could throw one rager of a party in there this summer. Or perhaps host some quiet pop-up dinners in the space. Maybe I just gotta learn to let go of all these plans and thoughts and just surrender to having a little fun, no expectations. I’ve got the keys to the warehouse after all, and I get to decide when to tell everyone to get the fuck out. I’ve got all the time in the world. And for the first time maybe ever, I get to decide what to do with it.

Certainly before the ugly lights come on this time please.