DIFFERENCE


trailblazer quoteI have spent a lot of time in my life figuring out how to fit in.  How to blend in with the crowd.  I struggled to look like everyone else, act like everyone else and make people believe I was no different from them.  When I was younger, my only wish was to not be different.  I didn’t want to be defined as anything other than regular or ordinary.  Of course, this is because my life growing up was anything but regular or ordinary.  My life was abnormal.  My family was broken, I was broken.  I did not have the opportunity to have a childhood like so many of my friends did.  I never had the chance to be carefree and explore all the “normal” experiences of youth.  Instead, I was hiding, I was covering, I was shielding.

When I would write stories as a kid, I would create characters that resembled what I believed to be ideal.  They had two loving parents, lots of friends, beautiful dresses, and practically lived in castles with rooms filled with magical toys.  I always gravitated towards the girls who embodied this image…and they never liked me because I was so very different.  I was a square peg trying to contort myself to fit into a round hole.  I refused to openly hang out with the kids who were outsiders because I could not comfortably admit that I was really one of them.  It is probably why I was friends with so many gay boys who were deeply in the closet.  We had so much in common – we were hiding out together.

Fast forward the clock.  I’m now nearly 46 years old.  I have hiked up and down metaphorical mountains in my life, searching for my place, looking for answers, trying to identify my own identity.  I have explored every aspect of my personality and tooled around inside my mind in an effort to understand what makes me tick.  I have confronted my demons (and continue to) and revealed my vulnerabilities in order to force myself to come out of hiding and show myself to the world.  And, in the end, I know for sure that I do NOT fit in, I will never blend.  I am not a face lost in the crowd nor am I a voice drowned out by the chorus.

And, guess what?

I love that about myself.

Today, just today, this very day, I acknowledged something about myself that I never have before.  I accepted and honored the fact that I am different and I am so totally ok with my difference.  My difference makes me unique and makes me talented and makes me special and makes me ME.  And ME is pretty awesome.  I know that to be true.  It does not make me perfect.  In fact, part of my uniqueness is my ability to be so unbelievably imperfect and yet so extraordinary at the same time.  I don’t have a very big ego but I believe, without a doubt, that I am special and that I have gifts and talents that are so uniquely mine that I cannot try to compare or contain myself to anyone else’s paradigm.

Yesterday I was reading a really interesting article about how successful entrepreneurs have such distinct identities and how their embracement of their distinctions ultimately is part of their success.  I felt liberated in the very moment that I read those words because I realized that I have been trying to conform to so many other people’s idea of who I am.  For years, my mother would tell me that she knew me better than anyone and she would choose words – words that no mother should choose for her daughter – to describe me.  I was labeled with unkind words and suggestions that I was dishonest and deceitful when my heart told me that i was sincere and authentic.  Because I have a penchant for gravitating towards narcissists, I tended to be marginalized in my professional environments because I was always so gifted at elevating others while I was squashed underneath the weight of the massive egos I was bolstering.  I was rarely recognized for my talents but, instead, scolded for my unwillingness to continue to be cast aside or passed over.  When I tried to stand up for myself, I was brutally diminished because my needs to be whole were in direct contradiction with the narcissists need to be all-encompassing and overbearing.  I was left to feel small and minimal.

When I read the article yesterday, I felt light and airy.  I felt empowered to embrace my individual identity and explore those traits that are so uniquely mine.  Now, of course, yesterday was not the first day that I figured out that being unique was a good thing.  I have not been living under a rock for the last four and a half decades foolishly believing that blending in was the right strategy.  But, sometimes, the smallest thing – the simplest of words – causes a piano to fall on your head.  Sometimes a basic concept seems out of reach until suddenly it is not.

Once upon a time I was 45 years, 8 months and 15 days old and I stood up and believed in myself.  I was confident and strong and brave and realized that there is nothing I cannot do and no trail I cannot blaze.  I am different and unique and quirky and, sometimes downright odd.  And I am me.  Great, awesome me.

OCEAN VIEWS


IMG_3683“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” – Christopher Paolini

I just took a walk on the beach – a pretty uncommon occurrence for me in February. Fortunately, I have been swept away to Florida for work for the weekend and had the luxury of spending an hour to take a leisurely walk along the ocean, feeling the sand nestling between my toes and listening to the serene sounds of the smashing waves along the sea shelled shore. I often forget the effects the beach has on me. In fact, while I have known I was coming down here for a few months, I gave no thought to packing a bathing suit or even setting aside time to relax on the beach. I looked for excuses to not do anything relaxing and focus the time away on the work that I am here for and any other work I could sneak in with 2 uninterrupted days to myself. It’s odd when I think about it now – why wouldn’t I have focused on the beach, the pool, the spa or some other indulgences for myself? I am staying at the Ritz Carlton – there is an unending array of options for me to pamper myself and, yet, I focused solely on the amount of work I could accomplish while here. I really did not pack a bathing suit and I kept checking the weather hoping for rain.

Yet, once I got here, I could not escape the majesty of the ocean. From the balcony of my room, I immediately felt ensconced in the warmth of the sea air and calmed by the lull of the ocean tide. Peace and calm took over. As I walked along the ocean today, I marveled at how blissful I was and how my brain so easily shut itself down. Of course, being me, I pondered this and, for the first time in a really, really long time, I did not have much to think about except watching the seagulls and breathing in concert with the waves.

The beach has always been a significant part of my life. Perhaps it is because I am a cancer and, as a water sign, feel very connected to the ocean. Perhaps it is because some of my best memories of childhood took place at the beach. Perhaps it is because you simply cannot be stressed when you sit and watch the ocean and become mesmerized by the ebbs and flows of the tide. The calming that comes over you is difficult to be disrupted. When I was very young, my family spent lots of time in Montauk, NY because my father’s parents owned a home there. After coming over from Italy and settling in the Bronx where many Italian immigrants landed, my grandparents decided to truly move out to the country and settled in what was, at the time, a very undeveloped area – a simple fishing village – at the very tip of Long Island. Back in the 60’s when they retired out there, everyone built little cape cod houses on giant pieces of property that remained untouched. My grandparents carved out a piece of their land to develop a vegetable garden that rivaled some produce farms. They replicated the gardens they had grown up with in Sicily and, from their crops, produced some of the most aromatic, magnificent food I have ever tasted. You could not walk into my grandparents’ home without a pot of gravy on the stove or a fresh pizza in the oven. My little 5′ grandmother Annie could cook up a feast for dozens and managed to smack a few fannies with her wooden spoon as the children ran through her house.

In the days when my parents were still living their idyllic life, we would venture out to Montauk several times a year, especially in the summer, and experience some of the most tranquil moments of my lifetime. My grandfather, who always seemed like a little old Italian man (despite his great height and stature), would bounce me on his lap and play with all his grandchildren as we ran around their spacious front yard or ride our bikes along the gravelly, windy roads in their neighborhood. My grandmother would yell at us in Italian if we even dared to step foot near her garden. I was not a particularly adventurous or disobedient child but, sometimes, the curiosity simply took over and I would go down deep into the property to see what all the fuss was about. It was spectacular. In my lifetime I have never seen such elegant eggplants or bright, luscious tomatoes. There were peppers and cucumbers and cauliflower and broccoli. I never had any interest in the actual vegetables but I was fascinated by the magnitude of it all. I would peek my nose over the small fencing around the garden and, without fail, my grandmother chided me and I quickly dashed off to avoid her wrath.

I remember climbing the dunes only to find the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. After my little body made the climb up the steep sand hills, I would just exhale when I saw the waves breaking. I could not wait to run down and tempt my fate, praying not to get swept under. Needless to say, the tide often pulled me in and I emerged laughing and with a bathing suit filled with wet sand. My mother hated the water and, frankly, hated the idea of putting on a bathing suit even more, so she usually sat under an umbrella watching from a distance, smoking a cigarette or reading a book. She never played in the ocean with us but my father, if he was with us, usually came running in to rescue his kids. It was glorious. It is all still so perfectly vivid in my mind. They are precious moments – a short blink of time – that left such impenetrable marks on my soul. The memories represent bliss, serenity, calm, peace, happiness, joy. I pray that I never lose my memory because these are possessions that I cannot safely lock away in a vault to be pulled out and admired. They exist only in my mind. No photographs, no videos, no one left to talk about it with. They are mine and exist only in me. My grandparents’ house has long since been bulldozed – the property developed by the new inhabitants of Montauk. Now it is filled with wealthy weekenders who have moved past the Hampton’s and, while they love the charm of the upgraded fishing community, still want to have their creature comforts – their McMansions, their gourmet kitchens, their in ground pools.

The last time I went back to Montauk was around 1990. I was single and decided to take a weekend for myself. It was an unusual move for me at the ripe old age of 23. My life was all about my friends, my job, dating and having fun. But the quiet, introverted part of me desperately needed to be alone, to recapture the memories of my childhood, to ponder my reality. It was probably the beginning of my journey right there because it was painful and difficult to find peace on that trip. I was confronted with the realities of my life. The idyllic scene I had so masterfully captured and framed in my mind was now being disrupted by the truth of my life. It was infiltrated by divorce, abuse, death, misery, disconnection. The rays of sunlight that shined in my memories were masked by dark clouds and thunderous noise that did not at all resemble the calm and peaceful waves. Suddenly, I was confronting everything that went wrong. Going back to that joyful place made me sad. It brought me pain. I had a journal and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I poured my sadness onto pages as I sat by the water. I cried. I rode a bike around the village and visited all of my favorite haunts. I went back into White’s Drugstore where I had wandered as a child, buying bubbles, coloring books, postcards to send home to my friends. Everything looked similar but it was all different. I was all different. I was broken and I was first beginning to learn just how broken and was trying to find my way to a repair shop.

I have never been back and, remarkably, have never been there with my husband. I discovered a new happy place with my family – the Jersey Shore. I adopted my husband’s fond memories from his childhood and created new memories with my own family. Our children spent weeks during the summer on Long Beach Island. We take them to Asbury Park. We visited Jenkinson’s Aquarium and played the games on the boardwalk. And, the beach still brings me peace. I still feel the calm. I have managed to push past the sadness of that part of my life and illuminate with the soft glow of distance and understanding. It was just a sliver of my life – just a flicker, a gust of wind – but it also shaped me. It made me who I am today, even if in some small way. I had a glimpse into what life could be and it helped provide me with a simple sketch of what I might want my life to look like. It helped me understand that it is not all bad. Nothing ever is. There is always a silver lining. I am disappointed I don’t have more memories of that family, that house, that beach, that life. Yet, I am grateful it was real, even if just for a split second.

One day I will return to Montauk to try to recall the precious memories with this new mind, with a healed heart. But, for today, I walked on the beach in Florida and succumbed to the pure pleasure that the ocean brings. I was peaceful, I was happy, and I remembered.

 

 

 

 

 

TRUST


trust“All trust involves vulnerability and risk, and nothing would count as trust if there were no possibility of betrayal.” – Robert C. Solomon

I’d be lying if I did not confess that relationships are challenging for me.

There were never any roadmaps or guidebooks to help me navigate relationships growing up. I learned how to connect with people by trial and error. I had no role models because the relationships in my family were transient and conditional. I learned how to love out of pure need to be loved. I was willing to love someone if they showed me love, even at my own peril for many of those who I believe “loved” me had a very shallow definition of love and tossed the word around recklessly. I learned how to trust by…. well, actually, that is where things get really complicated for me. In my life, trust presents a lot of difficulties and is not something that comes easily. Most who know me well will attest that trust is something I place high on a pedestal and, if broken, does not have a good chance of being repaired . I’m not proud of this but it is part of my complexity – I don’t trust easily and I can grow to mistrust without much effort.  I’m not perfect, nor are my relationships yet I work diligently every day to nourish and enhance the trusting bonds I do have.

I recently located an old video from my childhood that was buried away in a closet. It is the last vestige of my youth in my possession and it is a critical touchpoint for me. My parents, like many others in the 60’s and 70’s took lots of Super 8 movies and, after my parents divorced, my mother kept them stored away in a box high on a shelf in one of her closets. By the time I was a teenager, the projector we used to watch the movies was long gone and all we had left were a pile of flat round tin cans that held all the memories of when my family seemed “normal,” when things were happy and when it appeared that my course in life would be dramatically different from the road it actually took. The films lay in those cans for years because we never bothered converting them to VHS and because they represented a time in life my mother simply did not want to return to. To see the demise of her life in full color blasted before her eyes was simply too painful. It wasn’t until I was married and getting ready to start a family of my own that I went back to her house to retrieve whatever I could to piece together a life that now seemed a bit more like a dry erase board that someone leaned on and had carelessly rubbed across the words. Everything was smudged and smeared and you could sort of make out the content but the message was very unclear. I really wanted to chronicle my family’s history and gain a deeper understanding of where I came from. By the time I got to the box in the closet, it was evident that someone else had beat me to it. My older brother, caught up in his own turmoil, had the same idea I had. Unfortunately, he never converted the films and, in his haste to leave an apartment from which he was being evicted, he left the box behind, likely to be retrieved by some future renter who would carelessly toss them in a dumpster. When I went to my mother’s closet, there was one stray canister left behind and I grabbed it, not knowing what I would find. To my relief, it was a splendid 28 minutes of me from the age of about 5 months to one full year later. It included a magical Christmas, my first steps, a decadent vacation to Miami Beach, my brother’s birthday party and an assortment of other sweet moments that gave me insight to a life I never knew existed.

I watched the video countless times over the years but then stored it away, like my mother did, replacing it with converted DVDs of my own children’s highlights over their short lives. I had forgotten about the tape until recently. I started scouring my house looking for it because, for some reason, I knew it included some critical pieces to my puzzle. I knew that, today, with a new lens, a new perspective, a new need, I would find essential messages that would help me unpack more pieces of myself to help me move forward, even if only just by a few steps.

I was cleaning up the guest room and scoured through the closets and drawers. Surprisingly, it was right there out in the open in a drawer, waiting to be retrieved. It practically laughed at me, wondering why I had such a hard time locating it after I had passed over it again and again. It screamed “I’ve been right here all along!” I grabbed it, raced out to a local shop that converts VHS to DVD – yet another iteration in this film’s life journey – and popped it right into the computer the minute I got home. I had recollections of the scenes in my mind since I had seen the film so many times in the past. But this time I studied it. I watched every touch and every kiss my mother placed on me. I looked deep into my father’s eyes to try to understand this mysterious stranger. I looked at myself, trying to find the roots of me, trying to find my soul in that chubby little baby. I watched it and felt loved. I saw a child who was doted upon by family, friends, neighbors.  I saw a family so perfect and so sublime. And I knew it was all bullshit. I knew it was a show for the cameras that reflected just a small portion of what was really going on. Where was my sister who was 14 years older than me and had been exiled to live with my mother’s brother in Brooklyn because of conflicts with my father? Where was the endless flow of Johnny Walker that turned my father into a monster who beat my mother with anything he could find? Where was the vitriol that my mother doled out to my siblings and me to degrade us and demean us in order to get us to follow her every command? None of it was there because this was the highlight reel – truly. This is every Facebook post talking about how wonderful life is when, in fact, people are cringing and crying on the inside. It is a mirage of happiness that, while may hold some reality in those brief moments, do not reflect the real road traveled.

So, what does this all have to do with trust? Well, everything. For me, trust is about absolute authenticity. Trust is about honesty. Trust is about putting your real self on display and being vulnerable and allowing yourself to stand in your space and be who you are. Without that, we are only showing a fragment of ourselves that prevents us from really being honest and really being trustworthy. In all candor, I have not perfected this. In fact, there is a small contingent that I share my ugliest worts with. There are only a select few that I really trust. And the reason why is because, after a lifetime of being duped into believing that the highlight reel is the truth, I need to be certain that there is more. I need to know that we can get down and dirty and show our secret underbelly.

I’ve been thinking about all of this recently because it is a critical part of my journey. As both of my parents died in the past 1 1/2 years, I have been trying to find a way to forgive them for all of the pain and suffering they have caused me and my family. I have been trying to learn the lessons from their lives and my own to, hopefully, make different choices and better decisions to create a life for myself that is authentic and, while not free of mistakes and pain, makes me feel like I am being the best person I can be. I want to make sure I am putting out into the world something of import. I am trying to learn how to forgive those who hurt me in order to maintain trusting relationships and not be so quick to abandon the trust simply because I have been hurt or scorned. I am struggling with it today.  I seek out guideposts that help to send me in the right direction so I can figure out who to forgive and who to forget. I am trying to find a softness – an antidote to all of the callouses that have formed from years of hurt and betrayal.

My husband and I will celebrate the 21st anniversary of our meeting this week. What I did not know that February night in 1992 was that I was meeting the man who would teach me more about love and trust than anyone ever could. And, I had no idea how much I would test it or challenge it over the course of our lives. As I reflect on my life and all the relationships that have flowed in and out, I know without a shred of uncertainty that he is the only person that I trust completely. He is the only person I can forgive without question. He is the only person that I know, without any doubt, will have my back and love me no matter what. And, for that, I am really blessed. He has taught me that there is a life where the highlight reel can be the real reel.

MISSING


“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown

I am currently working on a very meaningful project – coaching someone to help them uncover their story.  I love this for so many reasons but mainly because I am helping them find their story to authentically and passionately share with others the importance of the work that they are doing.  It is an exciting journey for them because they are being pushed to explore aspects of themselves in ways they may not have before and it is interesting for me because I am challenging myself to be present on their ride and partake in the same activities.  Part of my role is to provide journal prompts each day to encourage them to write.  The prompts are often benign and are intended to simply get them to explore some thoughts and put them down on paper.  I’m not particularly interested in what they write.  I simply want them to write.  But, of course, the mere exploration of thought creates pathways to information and the act of scribing creates further connections and suddenly stories are unfolding right in front of you.

Yesterday, I offered up a prompt to write about someone that you miss, dead or alive.  I put no parameters around this topic because I wanted them to explore on their own who they missed and why and, perhaps, what it meant to miss someone.  Do you miss someone because they are no longer part of your life?  Do you miss someone because they have passed on?  Do you miss someone at that very moment even if you are going to see them the very next day?  The exercise was intended to allow them to journey along all those lines.  As I am trying to parallel the exercises and simultaneously write on the very same topics, I commissioned myself to tackle the same subject…and fell short.  With each journal prompt, I also ask that we write about something that we are grateful for and/or something we are disappointed about from our day and, last night, I got really hung up on the first part.  I focused on my lack of gratitude, which was, conversely, a source of disappointment for myself.

Ironically enough, I am not someone who enjoys journaling because, for me, it sometimes seems forced and I am often harshly critical of what I write.  Because I typically write with the intention of having others read it, I am extremely focused on my choice of words, the deeper messages and having compelling content.  And, of course, that is exactly what journaling is not and exactly why I should spend more time on that activity.  Journaling is most powerful as a tool to allow for a free stream of thought to enable you to find those pathways to your inner voices.  I recognize that it’s nuts that I resist it and, as a result, I am forcing myself to take advantage of this opportunity to embrace the art of journaling if only to have some connection and authenticity with this project.  What comes from it will only be the icing on the cake.

Last night when I set out to write about someone I miss, I struggled.  I could not really come up with anyone that I missed so much that I wanted to write about it.  There are a lot of people that have been a part of my life that I do not have any connection with anymore because of life circumstances.  I do miss some of them and, sometimes I feel badly about the role I played in our disconnection.  I miss what they used to mean to me and I feel sad about the fact that, in many cases, I allowed the person to slip out of my life.  There are also certainly people who are currently a part of my life who I do not see very often and I surely miss them.  In truth, some of the people that I am closest to live at a great distance from me so I am constantly missing them but that has become a regular, ordinary characteristic of my life.  I don’t like to write about it because it frustrates me and also makes me very sad.  So, ultimately, I avoided the topic entirely and I ended up spending my time writing about my own disappointment in myself for not feeling more grateful and for letting myself continually get caught up in malaise rather than focusing on the positive aspects of my life.  The subconscious thoughts about how missing people makes me feel bad surely inspired a whole lot of negativity towards myself and was a perfect platform to display my deep levels of disappointment in myself.

This morning, as often happens when I am returning from dropping my kids off at school, I took a few minutes for some self-reflection and started thinking about the exercise again (yes, this is how this stuff works.  A simple little prompt can permeate your thinking and just sit with you for days.  It’s pretty awesome).  With a somewhat clear head, the loud and resounding noise was that the person I missed most right now was me.

I’ve gone away.  I have allowed myself to get caught up with the messiness in my life.  I focus on all the things wrong and nothing that is right.  I have become blind to the beauty around me like the rich fall colors and the fragrant aromas of the season that so often make me feel whole and connected.  I feel disappointment in myself in regards to many areas of my life.  I am harshly judging myself and critical of my thinking and endeavors. I am, as the brilliant Brene Brown would say, caught up in a shame spiral.   She says that “shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  That is a potent message and, when I reflect on my life right now, it truly represents how I feel and why I miss myself.  I miss the person who rises above and feels tremendous gratitude for all the richness and texture that makes up my life.  I miss the strength that I typically exhibit to work through the clutter and chaos and the pride I feel for having muddled through and come out the other end feeling confident and powerful.  I miss waking up every day looking forward to the challenges before me and going to bed at night feeling tired but inspired and excited about what comes next.

I miss me.

The good news, I suppose, is that I can see myself in the distance and know that I am not far away.  And, chances are, it will likely not be too long before I return.  However, in the spirit of honoring this exercise, I will recognize that the person I miss is me and I will pine for myself and encourage myself to find my way back.  I will, like any good friend, extend a hand to help myself back up the hill, shout out directions as I traverse the rocks and catch myself if I slip.  And, until my return, I will keep on missing me and will remember another passage from Brene:

“Shame resilience [is] the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it.”

She says, “shame derives its power from being unspeakable…language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”  So, I guess this little exercise, this benign journal prompt is exactly what I need to help myself as only I can.

FAMILY TREES


“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn’t depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.” 
― Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society

Yesterday, a typical Sunday afternoon for me – folding laundry and catching up on television shows on my DVR – I stumbled upon a show where a pair of singer/songwriters were talking about being inspired to write a song for a friend who was struggling to see her own beauty.  I thought it was such a lovely gesture on their part and I could hear the passion as they talked about their process of writing the song.  Naturally, it made me think about what inspires me to write.  Like the pair, I need to be really passionate about something for the words to flow through me and, when that inspiration hits, it is difficult to hold them back.  And, almost as if the Gods heard me, I was trolling around Facebook a short time later and found some inspiration.

Two things caught my attention and they were so oddly related that it felt like a bit of divine intervention.  First, I saw a photo of one of our oldest friends that brought a huge smile to my face.  He recently acquired his first pair of reading glasses (a common plight with my social set these days) and posted a photo of himself wearing them to amuse his mother-in-law on her birthday.  Something about seeing him with the glasses took my breath away as it captured the passage of time since we met when he and I were just starting out right after college.  His endearing smile, the small crinkles around his eyes, and the signs of age that come from years of living life to the fullest was simply joyful.  It reminded of me of how I see my husband every time I catch sight of the grey hair in his beard or around his temples.  I can just as easily imagine him as the young man I met 20 years ago and I adore the history that the aging process signifies.

Immediately I was flooded with memories of the two decades of friendship he and I have shared with our spouses and children and just the look on his face made me happy. Not sad that we hardly get to see each other anymore because he and his family live across the country but, instead, grateful that we have such wonderful memories and that, as we age, we have a familiarity and comfort that never wanes.  He and his wife and my  husband and I have been friends since the beginning of our relationships and our children have known each other since birth.  They are our family – distant, separate but always deeply connected in our hearts.

Almost immediately following that, I saw a posting from a friend of a friend that challenged the very notion that had just warmed my heart.  She wrote:

“My friends, neighbors, students and colleagues it is important that you never take your own family for granted- today “family” is thrown around as a casual term – sometimes describing a group of friends or workmates, nope. What happens when you are no longer “family”? or if you decide to move on? Please consider its origin, It is through blood, through marriage or birth, by genetics, lineage, heritage- marked by tradition, held together through customs and habits for generation after generation…Not perfect, not without flaws but – it is you and I, and it makes up who and what we are..it is the essence of our soul.  To enjoy an experience with those that are like minded is a constant gift, to have friends that you cherish is a rare gem, to exercise with a group of students is a limitless joy and one that I hold steadfast to my heart. But they are not my sisters, nor my brothers- and they are not yours either…we are mere humans sharing space, hopefully being kind to each other, supporting one another and wishing and bringing out the best for– but when the chips fall where they may, who is there to pick up the pieces? remember the difference… because one day, in quick moment, you will know.”

While I have great respect for the bonds she has with her family, her assertion cut through me and saddened me because the suggestion that family is created by lineage and blood and marriage simply does not hold true for me and many I know and love.  I can appreciate that she may be one of the very fortunate who has an intact family that is able to love and support each other but many of us need to find family in different ways.  And, often those family members come from work or our communities and we are more than simply “humans sharing a space.”  That is not to say that every friend and every colleague with whom we share closeness and affection is of the caliber of being considered family but, for many of us, we discover those diamonds who truly become our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.  We connect and love and share and assume responsibility for one another in a far deeper way than simply humans sharing a space and being kind to one another.

I try hard to not take offense at other people’s beliefs and ideals because I accept that we all come from different places with markedly different experiences.  In this case, her open commentary to her community disturbed me because it challenged everything that is true for me.  While I understand she met no malice by her words and her sentiment was genuine and heartfelt, the reality is that, according to her commentary, I have no family beyond my husband and children – and the mere thought of that makes me very sad.  Unfortunately, I have not had the good fortune to have blood relatives who could love and support one another.  We are not the ones who are there for each other when the chips are down and we need to be lifted up.  My reality is that, aside from my husband and children – whom I love dearly and would go to the ends of the earth for – there is no one with whom I am connected by blood that has any involvement in my life.  It is painful and sometimes I feel very alone, but it is my truth.  Instead, I have painstakingly, handpicked a select group of people who are my people – my family.  I know, without any uncertainty, that they will be there for me through thick and thin and I for them.  Ironically, the friend that I share in common with the author of those comments is one of those people who is part of my manufactured family.  She is my oldest friend and she and her family are the closest thing to blood relatives I have ever had.  We have no genetic connection.  There is no lineage, no marriage, no heritage.  Just years of caring for one another and building enduring bonds that have surpassed many of our relatives.  There is no doubt in my mind that we are family without a single genetic link.

Families come in many shapes and forms and that proves itself to me every day when I think about the families I see all around my community.  I live in a wonderful environment where families are constructed in many different ways.  We have non-traditional families with two moms or two dads, with children that come through foster care, adoption, or surrogacy and have “aunts” and “uncles” that share no DNA but have love and bonds that are as strong as steel.  Many of us have large circles of friends – extended families – that celebrate holidays and vacations together and support one another through the most difficult and the most wonderful moments of life.  We go far beyond being kind to one another and are invested in each other’s futures and outcomes.

I do not take lightly the notion of family and I do not quickly entitle someone to being part of my family because I am very selective and very protective of those who enter into that arena.  As someone who has seen blood lines severely broken and found water to be thicker, stronger and more enduring than blood, I can say, with complete certainty, that when the chips fall, those with whom you have made significant investments, whether they come from blood lines or elsewhere, will be there to pick up the pieces.  I am walking proof that this is true.

MY GAY BEST FRIEND


I have a gay best friend.

Apparently, it has become something of a chic accessory to have one.  Teen Vogue called GBF’s the hottest fashion accessory of 2010.  GBFs are listed in the Urban Dictionary as  every guy’s gateway to getting a hot girl.  However, for me, not being all that trendy and definitely too old to be “of the moment”, my GBF is by no means an accessory.  Instead, he is a blessing for which I am very grateful.

Truth be told, I might consider myself something of a magnet for gay men.  I never gave it much thought until recently because it all seemed pretty normal to me. I have always been surrounded by a fair number of gay men –  I grew up and have lived most of my life in the vicinity of New York City and I have worked in creative industries. I was a theater geek in  high school and college and, as a result of growing up in a complicated, dysfunctional and broken family, I was always searching for acceptance in many of the same ways that my gay male friends were as they were embarking on their journey of sexual identity.

Over the past year, my own attraction to gay men and their innate attraction to me, has become abundantly obvious to not only me but also those around me.  I have sort of developed a rep for being the chick with all the gay friends.  I kind of love that because I adore and cherish my guys.  But, being me, it is simply not in my nature to accept things without first understanding the underlying meaning and, therefore, have spent some time inquiring about this phenomenon.  I’ve asked a number of my gay friends, particularly my gay bestie, to explain what the attraction is and I’ve gotten quite a few interesting responses that intrigue me.

Aside from being snarky and bitchy, which stereotypically makes for a great gal pal for any gay man, I seem to have a “quality” that draws these guys to me.  I have fancied myself a fag hag but, after considerable research and much discussion, I have learned that this is not at all a positive label and does not fit the bill for me.  As a married woman with a family, I immediately fall out of the category as I am not likely to fall in love or desire any of my gay friends.  The appeal and the dynamic is completely different for me.  While I love that my guys all have pretty great fashion sense and typically enjoy going shopping with me, the depth of the relationships are what makes them meaningful to me.  And, especially with my GBF, I feel like I can wear my worts and be accepted in a non-judgmental, non-competitive way.  And, I suspect, the appeal for them is similar.  There is no drama and we all simply go with the flow.

This all makes perfect sense understanding where I come from.  The female dynamic in my family was very triangulated with my mother and sister constantly competing with me and my mother pitting us against each other.  My early experiences with women were complicated and challenging and it resulted in my tendencies to gravitate towards the boys because they were easy.  I was also bullied severely as a young girl.  I was frequently taunted by other children because I was chubby, insecure, wore glasses and didn’t know how to fit in.  I was an easy target for the kids because I was painfully shy and overtly sad and, with everything going on in my home, I didn’t have the skills or confidence to stand up for myself.  The bullying was shameful and I hid it until I was beaten badly by another girl in 4th grade.  Suddenly we were in the principal’s office with my mother and hers and everyone knew what I had endured.  My mother’s own shame over being so disconnected from what was happening to her child rendered her incapable of doing much but feeling guilty. Back in the 70s, they didn’t have resources for kids who were bullied so I continued to tolerate the abuse until I got older, developed a bit more confidence and, thankfully, by high school I was able to tap into my natural ability to build rapport with others and finally found a safe space for myself.  Not surprisingly, I also found myself surrounded by a bunch of guys who were painfully confused by their sexuality.  They knew then, as they know now that I am someone who implicitly understands their experience and offers complete acceptance.  I suspect it is a part of the fabric of our beings, part of the signals that we give off, that we find instant connection.  As my GBF will tell you, Like likes Like.  We get each other.

Looking back at the various gay men that have played a central part of my life, one interesting trend has emerged.  In my younger years, most of the gay men with whom I was close were deeply in the closet.  They all came out to me many years into our relationship and typically after the intensity had faded a bit.  I’ve wondered why they were not able to share their truth with me and realized that it was primarily because they were struggling to be honest with themselves.  What I offered them was the space to be whomever they needed to be without labeling them or challenging them.  As a teen and young adult, the dynamics sometimes got confusing to me because I never truly understood the unspoken boundaries of our relationships.  Not having the sophistication that I have as an adult, I did not understand that these men were, in fact, bonding with me like a port in a storm.  I was a safe haven because I never put any pressure on them to see me as a romantic partner because I, myself, was struggling with my own self-worth and did have any romantic expectations.  Our parallel struggles made us extraordinary emotional counterparts.  However, I would be lying if I did not admit that, sometimes, I wondered what was wrong with me that the relationships never evolved into more.  And, relying upon my strong self-deprecating capabilities, I always assumed that it must have been me.  I never even considered the alternative.

For sure, these relationships worked for me because of my need for emotional intimacy – something that was so lacking in my life growing up and was being more than satisfied with these men.  I felt loved and nurtured.  Unconsciously I was seeking unconditional love and it was coming at me in abundance.  As I got older and my need to combine emotional intimacy with physical intimacy increased, it became more challenging for me.  Because of my relationships with my gay friends, I was often emotionally unavailable to men that I dated.  No one I dated understood or connected with me in the way my gay friends did and, frankly, I was not even open to letting them try.  What I didn’t know then but later learned is that my situation was not as unique as I believed it to be.  This dynamic existed in many gay men/straight women relationships with each filling very unique and powerful needs in the other.

Everything changed when I met my husband.  He was the first man that I had met who was able to provide me with a complete and fulfilling relationship.  I found myself, for the first time, being able to connect together a powerful emotional intimacy with strong physical intimacy and so began my 20-year love affair.  The relationship with my husband and the arrival of my children quickly changed the dynamics in my life and, for years I did not have any close relationships with gay men – most likely because I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to devote to them.  Nonetheless, my innate attraction to gay men and theirs to me continued and, living in a community with a large gay population, they continued to flock to me and I slowly grew my herd.

I recently read a great article about the power of relationships between gay men and straight women.  The article quotes John R. Ballew, a professional counselor from Atlanta who suggests that “from the perspective of gay men, women offer intimate friendship that is generally free from the complications of sexual interest.  For straight women, gay men offer male friendship that’s free from game playing. Women can relax and be themselves with gay men in a way that’s usually not possible with hetero men.”  There is a real phenomenon between some gay men and some straight women that is unlike any other relationship.  It allows for a level of emotional intimacy that often gets marred in a physical relationship.  For me, there are many unique aspects that I think lends to the strength of these bonds I have, particularly with my GBF.

My GBF appeared in my life several years ago when I started a new job.  We met at a work function and had, what I believed was, an immediate chemistry.  Of course, knowing my GBF as I do now, he was playing me a bit and I fell for it.  He’ll tell you that he didn’t feel the same powerful connection right away but was intrigued enough and motivated enough to get to know me better – but that is the hallmark of our relationship.  I’m impulsive and he’s strategic.  We are ying and yang.

When I met my GBF, I was at a crossroads in my life.  I was changing careers, my kids were a little older and my marriage was well into its second decade. Unlike when I was younger, I was not necessarily seeking out a deep emotional connection.  I just needed allies on my journey and, for whatever reason, I knew, instinctively, that he would be an important player.  Plus, he made me laugh.  I had no intention of becoming close friends with him, never expected that our relationship would stretch much beyond work pals and certainly never expected that he would essentially become part of my family.  Given my history, it was rare that I would let anyone get that close to me.  And, since he lived 1000 miles away and only came to NYC once every few months at best, it would have been difficult to bridge that gap over random cocktails or dinners after client meetings.  Yet, we did.

Whatever the reasons, whatever the connections, what I know is this:  To quote my friend Tom Fiffer, who wrote in his blog this week “Blessings come in the form of people.”  I have been blessed with many spectacular people – men and women – and my life is better because of those I share it with.  And no matter how rough the road is, some people, particularly my GBF, make it extraordinary.

STRADDLING THE FENCE


I realized this morning that it has been weeks and weeks since I last wrote a blog post.  Blogging has become such a way of life for me but, apparently, my life has been getting in the way of my way of life.  My life has not slowed down and there certainly has been plenty to write about – I still suffer through my daily struggles of trying to continue my healthy journey, I have the normal ups and downs in my relationships and I glean new insights from my work – every.single.day.  Yet, with all that is happening, I have not been able to find the time to slow myself down to catch my breath and check in, even if just for myself.

Several weeks ago I had some travel away from home and was gone for 10 days.  It was officially the longest I had ever been away from my husband and kids in one stretch and I knew it would take its toll.  I was pretty excited about my travel, though, because it started with a quick weekend away with an old friend and was immediately followed up with an intense week of work with my business partners in the midwest.  I knew these days were going to be transformational for me in many ways so I had great anticipation for what my journeys might bring.

My girls’ weekend ended up taking the shape of a bit of a midlife crisis weekend (or, at least, that is what I dubbed it).  I got my first tattoo and my first massage (and shame on me for waiting until midlife for the massage!).  The tattoo was meaningful in that it symbolized a change in myself that I was extremely proud of and marked a new phase of my life.  The massage, aside from being extremely relaxing and therapeutic, also marked some symbolism in my life because it represented a sense of indulgence and release that I had not before permitted myself to experience.  Instead of buying myself a convertible or running off to Jamaica with a younger man, I decided to indulge in myself and nurture the parts of me that needed to be tended to.  I also tried to stare down the realities that I am probably a bit further than midlife at this point and that, while my best years may still lie ahead, there are likely to be far fewer of them than what had already passed.  That is a pretty sobering thought.

When I continued on with my journey to my work meetings, I managed to catapult myself from my midlife crisis focus to building my future.  It was a great week of meetings, inspiration, collaboration and a few personal breakthroughs for me that I will forever remember and be grateful for.  As I returned home from the 10-day tour of duty, I felt disconnected and disjointed, not sure where I belonged.  I love my family and my heart broke every time my 8 year-old son texted me “I love you more than life” and, yet, I felt like a stranger intruding into someone else’s life when I got back.  Of course their lives had gone on while I was away.  Both my boys looked like they each grew a foot while I was gone and my tween son was that much more bottled up and unwilling to even hug me when I came in the door.  He could never admit he missed me.  My husband was suffering the pains of having to hold down the household for nearly 2 weeks without the support and assistance of a partner.  He was battle weary.  I was lost, trying to transition from my friends and work back into my family and responsibilities.  I was straddling two different worlds, not sure which one I best belonged in.

It is not uncommon for many of us, particularly parents, to be challenged by the disruption caused by immersing oneself into work and then trying to emerge and return to “normal” life.  Those of us who travel a lot for work or who have particularly intense jobs often live in a suspended state where we love everything in our lives but sometimes wish we were at work when we are at home with our families and desperately miss our families when we are away at work.  It’s a classic Catch 22 scenario.  Layer on top of that the guilt associated with feeling like you are not completely present in either (frankly, in my case, I feel like I am always more present at work and tend to be less present when it comes to my family and, for this, I am not proud).  I feel like I spend so much of my time lamenting about what I am not doing that I find it difficult to simply enjoy wherever it is that I am.  After all, both sides of my life are very appealing.  I love my work and my business partner is my best friend so, when we get to be together working, it is a double pleasure.  We have a magical quality to our work and our relationship that makes work feel more like play and who wouldn’t want more of that.  On the other hand, my family is my heart.  They are what makes me tick.  My children bring joy to my life in unexplainable and unimaginable ways.  My husband is the only constant in my life for the past two decades.  He is my support system and my rock.  My friends in my community are an extension of my family and make me feel connected in the world.  Who would ever want to leave that behind?

It’s an amazing conundrum that challenges me on many fronts.  I feel like I have to work that much harder to maintain all my relationships because sometimes I only have small chunks of time to work with to make my impact.  I have to be very conscious about being present and not distracting myself with my work when I am spending time having lunch or coffee with a friend.  I have to be much more deliberate about focusing when I am doing activities with my kids and husband because it is easy for me to pull out the phone, check my email or let my mind wander to the many details of my business.  I need to release myself from the guilt I feel when I am away from kids, trusting that they will not be blogging 20 years from now to try to overcome the pain they endured by having a sometimes-absentee mom.  It’s a lot to manage.  But, in the end, I suppose this would be what they refer to as a “first world problem.”  I am so fortunate to be able to get to run my own business, travel, luxuriate in collaboration and imagination.  And, I am even more fortunate to have love everywhere I turn.  I am blessed with children who, while growing by leaps and bounds every time I turn my back, give me the grounding I need to find my footing when I seem to be a little off balance.

I know I am not alone in this.  I know, even in my intimate circle of friends, there are many of us who struggle in a similar way.  Nonetheless, sometimes it feels really lonely and isolating and sometimes getting lost in my thoughts about this takes me away from some pretty important stuff – like remembering to blog…