On Loneliness and Community

I write to you today from a hotel near the Portland, OR airport. I sit here, alone; feeling my loneliness deeply. In part I believe this loneliness stems from turning in my car (Liam) yesterday, and living at a random hotel for two days carless and companionless. I think another part of me has always been lonely, since the early days of my youth. Finally, I think this loneliness is a result of a lifetime of living in my head and not in my heart.

I didn’t intend to write about my loneliness today. In fact, I haven’t even processed and internalized in consciously yet. But then, before I began writing, I read this piece; one I had noted for a future post.

The notes I made were about community and how I think that’s what I’ve been missing in my life. I’ve mentioned this topic a few times in different ways. For example, when I was writing about my times in Oakland and Tucson, I mentioned my awe at neighbors interacting with each other. After reading the above article, I began realizing community was what I was witnessing at play (and craving) during these adventures.

When I was observing said community, I resonated with my loneliness. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see I was reminded how I “spent my days focused on optimizing myself: Endlessly working and improving, on a permanent quest to do as much as possible in the unforgiving confines of 24 hours.”, and how much I was losing myself in this quest.

In these moments I was also coming to understand how “community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none,” and now see how my behaviors and choices began to shift.

For example, the other day, after a wonderful afternoon wine tasting with a friend, I had a few hours before a dinner in town. On the advice from said friend, I decided to stay in town, grabbing a coffee and walking by the river, as opposed to driving the 20 minutes back to the house to “get something done”. I was rewarded with some awesome inspiration:

Columbia River Beach
Not a bad place so sit, enjoy coffee, and reflect on life, huh?
Columbia river gorge
A view of White Salmon from afar.

Another example is when I was walking the dog I was sitting in Bend, OR. Her longer walks were in the mornings before work; walks which I found myself wanting to rush through to get back home to start my day. I often noticed myself rushing, and then paused to slow down. One day during this practice I was rewarded with yet another beautiful scene:

Fallen Tree in a river
I still can’t tell if the branches in the water are the tree’s reflection or actual branches… the river is so clear!

A final example is when I spent another day wine tasting (Hey, I like wine. Who’s judging?) with a second dear friend (and host who I was staying with back in The Gorge). Much of the day I focused on being present, being vulnerable and open, and just laughing a lot. Here take a look for yourself:

Lis headshot
Happy to be with a friend at my favorite Gorge winery. PS how great is the sky?

It doesn’t take much to see how closely community and loneliness are tied together, and it’s no wonder then that this quote from the author stands out for me.

“What does help lonely people is to educate them about how our brains can turn in on ourselves, causing us to retreat into self-preservation mode and be on high alert for social threats. This naturally makes people engage less and feel even more lonely, creating a vicious cycle.”

I feel this last quote in my bones. I identify with it, and I am ready to admit it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (if you know me). “Lis, you are surrounded by great people who love and care about you all the time. How can you be lonely?”

Maybe it’s because by living in my head instead of my heart, my “brain turns in on itself” and I “retreat into self-preservation mode”. Meaning, I hold back so much of myself that I don’t actually feel connected to others.

Of course, I talk with others and provide all the care I can muster to those I love. But, there are more times than not where I choose not to share what’s truly on my heart for fear of exposing myself as different, weird, not acceptable, not lovable… the list goes on.

I think there are many of us out there who do this. In fact, I think most of us in my culture do this. That’s why I think we see so much loneliness out there in the world.

Being honest, I’m tired of this loneliness eating away at me. I also know I’m being called to the solution each and every day of my journey, and that said solution is always accessible.

Each time I talk with a stranger, make a new friend, or speak with an old friend the answer to my loneliness appears. It says:

Reach out. Be Your True Self. Connect with Your Community.

Tomorrow I head back East where I’ll strengthen my resolve to do just that.

Themes Emerge: Driving from Edgewood to Oakland

Here I sit on a couch in the Oakland mountains soaking up the morning Sun, listening to the soft din of wind chimes, and adoring a cup of coffee. As I turn my attention to writing, I think back on the road trip I just took from Edgewood, NM to this mountain retreat in Oakland, CA. There were several themes from the trip I wanted to explore in today’s post… hopefully I can do them justice.

To begin allow me to show you the route I drove earlier this February. (NOTE: Who chooses February to do a roadtrip? I suppose I did.)

map with route outlined
The route I drove from New Mexico to California.

I should note the route I took was a long, lonely drive across the New Mexico mountains, into the lands of the Navajo and Hopi, then up into the canyons and mountains of Arizona and Utah. Finally, I made my way down into the desert of Las Vegas and through one last mountain pass to Arvin, CA, a farm labor community just south of Bakersfield. Once back in California, it was an easy trip up Interstate 5 and into the Oakland mountains.

That was the external view of the trip, and dare I say it was the “simple” part to describe. Here, let me share some pictures from it before we get into the deeper stuff.

a dam over a river with canyons
The view before I cross the Colorado River near Page, AZ.
coffee shop outdoors
River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin, Utah.
patio and mountains
The view from the River Rock Roasting Company.
Desert art installation
The Seven Magic Mountains art installation outside Las Vegas.
Desert mountains
Desert views as I drove West from Las Vegas.

The internal part of the trip is a bit more challenging to talk about, but since this is a No Judgement Zone, I’ll give it a go. Here are some of the themes I considered along the way:

Theme 1: Trust that the universe has your back

Shortly before the trip began, a friend of mine recommended this book to me. I began reading it a few days before I set out and found the advice provided to be necessary as I traversed the terrains.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but driving in bad weather is probably one of my biggest fears. This is especially the case when I’m driving alone. So, when the day before I left Edgewood my friend, who is a pilot and always has his eyes on the weather, showed me some radar maps indicating a storm was going to move through the exact area I’d be driving in, I began to freak out.

“Am I going to be ok?”, I asked him as I looked at the swirls of blue, yellow, and orange. “Yep you’ll be fine. Just be aware”, he assured me.

His words and insights were helpful, but they didn’t halt my fears. That night as I was reading the above book, it seemed to read my mind. The lines I read talked about noticing your fears. It suggested that when you do, instead of feeding them, give them up to the universe and thank it for the lesson that having the fear was sure to bring. I used this mantra consistently as I drove, and sure enough my anxiety calmed.

As I traveled through New Mexico then Arizona, no bad weather found me! Then I got into Utah. It started as rain, then before I knew it I was in the mountains of Zion National Park in the midst of a snow storm!

Snow on the mountain roads
The snow begins.

I held my fears close, but before I let them overcome me, I let them go telling myself, “I’m a woman from upstate New York. I’ve got this! Thanks for the lesson, Universe. I release my fears.”

Shortly thereafter, I made my way safely to the inn I’d be staying at that night:

Mountains
View from the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah.

This theme of trusting the universe had my back extended well beyond weather. I used the mantra to release my fears around staying alone in motels and AirBnBs, and even smaller fears and anxieties around trying new places and things.

The more I trusted, the less I worried. The less I worried, the more present I could be. The more present I was, the more beauty I saw.

Trusting in the Universe is something I plan to take with me for days to come!

Theme 2: There is so much more to this world than me and yet I’m one with it all

This is a big concept with a crappy title, BUT it rang oh so true for me throughout the trip. As much as I got stuck in my own anxieties and fears, I was able to recognize that life happens around and without me. I was also able to reflect on how even though life is happening around and without me, I can still connect with it, and others, in a very real way.

For example, when I arrived in Gallup, NM the first night, I stopped to grab an afternoon coffee to revive me. The man working at the coffee shop was so incredibly kind to me, and he treated me as if we’d known each other for years. He correctly guessed I was on a long drive, and when I left with a delicious coffee in hand he said, “Enjoy that coffee, and safe travels!” I considered how the man’s entire life took place without me, but how in that moment it was just him and I.

I rolled that juxtaposition around until I arrived at my Airbnb for the night. The host greeted me and before long we were exchanging life stories. She told me about her time teaching on the Navajo reservation, her time in The Peace Corp, and her current life in Gallup. We connected on politics, life, and work. Before the night was through we said our goodbyes as she would be at work before I woke up the following day. Again I considered how close we were in that moment and yet how we’d never meet again.

The next day I entered the Navajo Nation, and stopped in the capital of Window Rock, AZ. Here I took in the veterans’ park, and the nearby museum.

Window Rock
Window Rock
Navajo Code Talkers monument
In dedication to the Navajo Code Talkers.
Sign in dedication.
Dedicated to veterans.
museum entrance
The entrance to the museum.
museum exhibition information
The main exhibit at the Navajo Museum.

All the while I was here I felt isolated and yet surrounded at the same time. As I came upon memorials and exhibits detailing the Navajo people’s past, I teared up as their pain seeped into my veins. Yet, I knew known of them.

As I left the museum, the woman at the information desk who had helped me called out, “Thanks for coming today! Have safe travels and a great day!” (NOTE: Everyone along this trip wished me a great day. Not sure if that’s a West thing or not.)

I made the long trek to Page, AZ where I stayed on the “street of little motels”.

Motel sign for Lu lu's Sleep Ezze Motel
The motel I stayed at in Page, AZ

While putting my goods in the community refrigerator that night, I met a man from Minnesota. He and his wife were in the area to escape the winter. Between this conversation and the one I had with the owner the next morning, I felt I was in the company of old friends. At the very least I was in the company of like minded individuals.

After each of these conversations where I was so highly connected, I’d go back to my room where I sat… alone.

I’m unsure where this second theme takes me from here, but even thinking back on the experience helps me feel connected in some way.

Theme 3: Meditation, I need more of it

This is another big one. Driving 20 plus hours over 6 days alone gives one a lot of time to think. And, given that I’m on this current journey that stems from a need to understand myself and my world further, I had a lot to think about.

Scratch that.

I didn’t have a lot to think about because I’m on this journey. I had a lot to think about because there is so much I’ve chosen NOT to think about over the years. Instead I’ve chosen the path of distraction.

As I drove mile after mile and had interaction after interaction, I chose not to be distracted. I turned off the radio and sat with my thoughts.

I reflected on my fears. I thought about how scared to be alone I am, and about how the fear makes no sense because I’m alone a lot without peril. I thought about my family’s fears of being alone, and considered that maybe I had absorbed these over the years. I thought more on how I had defined myself by my past, my family, my community and never really defined me for myself.

One night I decided to restart my meditation practice. Though, instead of mindfulness practice, I decided to let my mind roam. I called this contemplation instead of meditation. As I was thinking on how I’d never defined myself, I asked myself the question “Who am I without my past?” over and over again.

Eventually a vision came to me. I saw before me many versions of my current self, all dressed in different outfits and all standing, but at different heights. The Russian doll metaphor came to mind.

There I was surrounded by all my selves, and I continued to ask the question:

Who am I without my past?

Finally, the shortest Lis pushed the others aside, stepped forward, and said, “I’m here! I always have been! You’ve just been ignoring me all this time.”

The vision was a powerful one and I sat with the energy awhile longer. When I came back to myself, I vowed to try to help that Lis grow, and I saw carving out this self reflection, contemplation, meditation time was the way to do so.

As I wrap up this piece up, I’ll admit I’m a bit deflated. My coffee is almost gone, the Sun has moved, and the wind has stilled. I’m left with just me, these words, and my guess at what you’ll think of them.

Once again I find myself alone and surrounded. Once again the Universe calls me to trust in it, and once again I call on myself to trust in myself.

All these insights, from one little road trip.

Let’s be honest, it was a hell of a trip… am I right?

On a Rainy Day in Zion

I write to you from Springdale, Utah (NOTE: This is the 38th state I’ve visited! Only 12 more to go!). I’m sitting at the Bumbleberry Inn nestled in the mountains of Zion National Park. Allow me set the stage for you:

Hotel room bed
The bed from which I write to you.
Rain and mountains
The view from my window.

I meant to be hiking during this time, but considering the amount of rain pattering outside, I’m inside writing instead. It’s ok, though. I like the writing as much as the hiking.

In all honesty, I’m conflicted about what to write today. I WANT to write to you about my Albuquerque to Oakland road trip and about how it’s been up to this point. I want to tell you all the growing and learning I’ve done along the way. I also want to share the pictures of the amazing sites I’ve been graced with, and I’d like to tell you the stories of the people I’ve met. But, I can’t do it.

Trust that I WILL share all of this with you someday soon, but know that now, as I write to you from this rainy place, I realize I want to write about those things because they are easy to write about. I also see I NEED to write about the hards things right, for this is a life practice have ignored for far too long. So, writing about the hard things wins out today folks. Here goes.

When I left the East Coast less than a week ago (I write to you on February 14th. I think this will go live a week or two from now.), I left with a heavy heart. As I spent the next few days in New Mexico packing and preparing for the road trip, the weight didn’t lessen. Curious, I reflected back over the past several weeks and recognized I’d been existing in a somewhat depressed state.

For example, I saw that when I looked toward my trip to Europe this Spring, I felt no tingle of excitement. When new (and amazing!) work opportunities were presented to me I saw them as chores instead of fun challenges. When others asked about my journey, I shrank back from sharing it. During these reflections, I saw how inward facing I had become.

As I brought all of this to mind, I also remembered a discussion I had with a friend while in NYC. He was worried about my lack of direction in this current journey, and frankly so was I.

Hell, why don’t I just say it… so AM I.

I should note that this lack of direction is not new. I realize to many of you who know me this may seem inaccurate. I probably seem very sure of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I assure you, this is very much not the case. I’ve said it before. I’ve spent my entire life building the person I think I should be, instead of accepting and loving the person I am. (NOTE: I think alot of us do this. I know I’m certainly not alone in it. Anywhos, back to the story.)

All of these reflections continued to weigh on me. Then, yesterday as I was driving the 4.5 hours from Gallup, NM to Page, AZ, I could take the weight no longer. I started offing it at the Navajo Nation Museum. There I did something I’d never done before. As I walked among the artworks, I stopped in front of each one and asked myself, “How does this piece of art make me feel?” Funny enough, I even answered myself too!

I’m embarrassed to say it, but this self talk was new to me. You see, when you’re busy making a life you think you should have, you don’t ask yourself what life you actually want very often, or at all. Instead, you observe what makes other people happy and try to use those things to make you happy. But.. you never ask yourself if you’re actually happy. Doing so would be sacrilegious! The jig would be up!

Needless to say, I felt a little lighter when I left the museum.

I got back into my Subaru, Liam, and continued the trip. Through mile after mile of reservation land, I noticed small shifts. Instead of listening to music or podcasts the entire time, I took breaks to think. During these breaks I asked myself questions and when I couldn’t come up with answers I sat with the emotions and frustrations.

All of this helped to ease the weight a tad bit more.

Later that evening, I opened up to another friend about everything. I shared with him, quite unwillingly, how lost and lonely and WRONG I’ve been feeling. I also shared with him my reflections from the day; the biggest being me realizing this situation didn’t happen to me. I created my own discontent through my false actions over the years!

I worked to not judge myself. I told myself that whatever I’ve done in my life it’s been to keep myself safe, and I haven’t hurt others in the process. The only real person I’ve hurt is myself… and I’m tired of DOING that. The weight is just too heavy.

For the next two hours, said friend broke down his own journey to me (yet again… thankfully he’s patient). He reiterated to me the keys to finding and loving ourselves which is the only path to releasing a life you think you should live, and gaining the beauty of a life you actually want. It’s the only true way to get rid of the weight I’ve been carrying.

The keys to doing this are so very simply in concept, but putting them into actions is “the work” that everyone keeps talking about.

Here are the keys to life happiness as explained to me by my friend. Hold on to your hat!

1. Practice acceptance
2. When you’re unable to accept, ask yourself “why” until you have the answer.

Easy, right?

Right.

I want to tell you I’ll be able to have a consistent practice of acceptance by the time I’m done with this phase of my journey, but I can’t.

What I do know is that nothing external can make this consistent practice happen. It doesn’t matter how spiritual the practice nor how beautiful the landscape it’s done in. It doesn’t matter how many interactions I have with strangers, nor how many fun facts I learn. I could take all the yoga classes and go to all the meditations in the world and it still wouldn’t guarantee a consistent practice of acceptance to lead me to self love.

This is what I considered as I drove the miles today; the knowledge that it is due to one thing and one thing only if I succeed in this self love endeavor. That thing is both the challenge and the reward. It is the question and the answer. It is the origin AND the destination.

Yeah, that thing is me.

No pressure.

A Spell in NYC

About a week into the New Year I made my way to New York for a spell. I’m lucky enough to have dear friends, no, to have dear family members, who live in nearby New Jersey, and whom are generous enough to provide me with a place to live. When I arrived here I didn’t have a return ticket, though I knew I wouldn’t stay for too long. I love New York, sometimes more than I give it credit for, but it is no longer home.

That said, when I arrived at LaGuardia airport I felt at home. I even feel at home, sometimes, as I walk the streets and spend time with friends. It’s quite the sensation to be visiting such a big, confusing place and yet feel I know exactly where I’m going at all times. Talk about a metaphor… but I digress.

What was I saying again? Oh that’s right. I feel at home here, and yet I know I’m not. The person I was when I lived here still exists, but being that person doesn’t make me feel at home. I’ve noticed that person at times, and I’ve accepted and sat with her. But what I’ve also noticed is a different person. She is the woman who walks through the melee with immense calm and observation. She is the person who is far more selective about the way she spends her time and with whom that time is spent.

One of my few trips into Manhattan involved a lecture I had read about online. I went alone and I met no one there. I simply sat, listened, enjoyed, then gave myself permission to leave when the Q & A went a direction I was no longer interested in.

Another trip into the city was to go to a play I’d heard about on the news. Another dear family member came into town from Connecticut, and we set out from New Jersey to take in the culture:

Theater
The Booth Theater… waiting for American Son to start.
Man and woman in theater
Clewi and I take in some NYC culture!

Instead of packing my calendar with events as I used to do when in New York, I’ve been setting more healthy boundaries. I’ve been cooking for myself and my friends, a lot, and enjoying it immensely.

Thai Noodles with Beef
My version of Beef Pad See Ew. Delicious!

I’ve also been reading and thinking a lot in an attempt to maintain balance:

Cover of the Tao Ching
More reading material.

Finally I’ve been exploring, although in smaller ways than driving cross country. For example, yesterday I wandered into a shop to view this beauty:

notebook
This notebook caught my eye.

My intentions, and the actions that are based off of them, are much more clear, at times. Still, there are times when the other woman appears and I have to sit with her again; give her the stage for awhile and see what part she plays and why.

All this to say a lot of internal work has been happening with the external here in good ole NYC. It’s been good, yet challenging. To tell friends I can’t meet up with them is a hard one for me, but then to realize our friendships have changed is even harder.

It’s kind of like my relationship with my old home which is no longer my home, but which I still love dearly. Maybe when relationships like these change all is not lost, just shifted? Maybe I can love, then leave but still love a place or a person? Maybe one can leave a home, and still see it as a home despite no longer living there?

Maybe the home, person, place will always be a part of us, or maybe, they never were in the first place? Hmmmm.

A Day in Madrid, New Mexico

I first learned of the town called Madrid, New Mexico from the homeowners of the house where I’m staying. From there the name kept coming up. Combine this with having driven through on my way to Santa Fe the week before, and I knew I had to visit. The Saturday before Christmas seemed the perfect time. After-all, there were a few more presents I wanted to secure, AND I figured some holiday cheer would be in the air.

I woke up early to feed the horses, and about mid-morning I made my way to the town. It was only a 45 minute drive, and, as I mentioned in previous posts, the landscape along the way was stunning.

Madrid is a small town, so parking wasn’t an issue. I found a spot in front of one of the shops, then began my walking adventure. For my first stop I, for some reason, walked into one of the local art galleries. I wasn’t in the market for anything there, but something drew me inside. It wasn’t long before I found out what.

As I was looking around the gallery, the man behind the counter began speaking to me. It turned out he was from Albany, NY. He and his wife (and now his adult children) are artists, and they decided to move to New Mexico to explore their art some 31 years ago. We exchanged war stories of winters back East. I asked him, and he told me, about his adventures in the West. Needless to say when I left the shop I not only felt full of good vibes, but I was reminded that I’m never really alone.

My next stop was at a place I had read about online, the Gypsy Gem. I was looking for some earrings for my mom, and this seemed the place to find them. When I entered the shop I was greeted by a young man in his 20s. He let me know to ask him for help should I need any, after which I began making my way around the shop.

Several moments later I found myself engaged in another full on conversation. This time I learned the young man had just moved to Madrid last month from Miami. He was having a hard time finding a job in sales there due to the tattoos on his arms and face, but a friend to him that his parents owned a shop here and would certainly hire him. They did, and here he was.

I also learned he was getting used to the colder weather. In fact, he was very excited to have purchased his first wood stove after learning just how expensive propane heat was. This young man’s stories touched me. Not because they were particularly endearing, but because I could very much relate to them.

I remembered having a hard time grappling with heating costs at my first post college apartment in Connecticut. I also remembered moving across the country to San Antonio, Texas due to a friend’s suggestion. It was like peering through a looking glass into the past. I shared with him my current journey which we bonded over, and, although I left the shop without a gift for my mother, my step was a bit lighter the rest of the day.

My step was not too light for an afternoon coffee however, so my next stop was the Java Junction. Note that I had to walk past this before arriving:

Photo park
Who knew there was such a thing as a Photo Park? Not I!
Front of coffee shop
I finally found a coffee roaster in New Mexico!

I was delighted to find they served and sold beans which were locally roasted in Santa Fe. I had yet to try any local roasts, and thankfully I was not disappointed. I stocked up on coffee for the house, then made my way to a local chocolate shop.

This stop was like the chocolate equivalent of Cheers. A local man sat on a stool chatting. A worker made chocolate in the back. The owner gave me tastes of her amazing chocolate masterpieces while chatting about friends and family. It was a really great environment. I bought some of the wares to have around the house when the family came back for the holiday, and was on my way.

After chocolate I made my way to a final jewelry shop. Within the first few minutes I saw a pair of earrings I liked. I was going to keep looking, but realized that energy would be wasted. These were the prize of the day!

I secured the turquoise beauties then left the shop and the town. When I arrived home, I put away my wares and enjoyed the quiet afternoon. Towards the end of the day, this view greeted me on my walk down to feed the horses.

Pink rimmed sky
Loved this view North as the Sun set.

When I was done, I made the trek back to the house and reflected on the beauty of a day well spent. To have strangers share their lives and art with me is something I’m truly grateful for. Not only does it expand my understanding of others, but it helps me reflect on myself, what I’ve been through, and who I want to be.

Not too bad for a day in small town New Mexico, right?

A Day in Santa Fe

Last weekend, I decided I was in need of an adventure. My choice of destination was none other than Santa Fe. Situated only 1.5 hours from where I’m staying, it’s far enough to get out for the day and close enough to make it home in time to feed the boys.

mustang standing by a gate
Say “hello” to Gambler
Chestnut Thoroughbred standing by gate
Say “hello” to Laddie

I was excited to see more of what I already know to be an amazingly beautiful state. Not only do I get to look at this view each day:

High desert terrain with mountains in the background
The view from the house

But I get to enjoy beautiful sights just about everywhere I go.

Road and mountains.
Along the way to Santa Fe.
High desert landscape
Another beauty along the drive.

I’ve learned in my travels that I’m unable to just show up somewhere, wander around, then enjoy myself; so Friday night before my adventure, I put together a loose outline of the day. I was vigilant about adding things that felt right and removing those that didn’t. I also stayed very aware of trying not to pack too much into the day.

The plan was to go to the old part of the city and peruse for Xmas gifts, then head to get some hot chocolate which a friend said was worthwhile. I decided on the old part of town despite a friend saying how much he hated it. I figured since it was my first time in the city I should at least check out the historical area, since that’s what people ‘should’ do. Boy was I wrong… ish.

I got to Santa Fe around 11, parked, then began my wander. I tried, really tried, to enjoy the shops and galleries that abounded. Yet, I couldn’t. All I could do was scoff at it all. It just felt so… prescribed!

I was able to wander into a shop which felt less yucky than most, but after an hour or two I was spent. I did manage to enjoy the architecture and sight of the area a bit though. Here let me share that with you:

Sante Fe shops
Shops in the old part of Santa Fe.
painting
Fun art outside a restaurant.
Painting of Snoopy
I do love this beagle!
Historical sign about billy the kid
Ok I’ll admit seeing this was pretty cool.

On my way out of the area, I wandered past a sign pointing to a second floor shop which sold “Arte, Libros, y Musica”. I was sold. Like metal to a magnet I ascended the stairs and wandered into a book filled shop straight out of the pages of a C.S. Lewis novel.

As I looked at the materials around me, I noticed something strange. Sure enough all the materials were written in either Spanish or Portuguese. My brain made this connection as a voice appeared from a room further back.

“¿Bueno?” said the voice.
“Hola,” came out of my mouth.
“Hola ¿esta bien hoy?” the voice replied.

From there I hacksawed my way through more Spanish until the man had mercy on me (probably more himself given my language abilities) and began speaking English. I went on to have quite the conversation with the shop owner who informed me I was in the second largest Latin American book store in the country!

We talked books, Mexico City, politics, you name it. I left the shop feeling connected and renewed.

And, ready for hot chocolate.

At the chocolate shop I had another in-depth conversation, and an amazing hot chocolate made from a native recipe which was 100s of years old! At this I decided it was time to head back.

On the drive I reflected on the day, and I observed myself starting to scold myself for not “enjoying the old part of the city more”. I stopped myself this time, then gave myself permission to accept myself instead.

It’s ok if I do or don’t like something that people say “should” be done. It’s also ok NOT to do these things which I know I don’t enjoy. In fact, my aim is to do less of what I don’t like and more of what I do like. If this means less touristy commercialism and more random conversations with strangers, you know I’m game.

The lesson? In future adventures I endeavor to “do me” without pause. I think this is really the only way to have less angst and frustration in adventuring times. And… less of these aspects in adventuring times, means less of them in other life moments as well.

I’m all in!

Reflections from East to West

I write to you from the other side of my travels back West. I left Charlotte on Saturday (I’m writing to you on the following Tuesday), and am settling back in to a life alone. In reflections on my time in North Carolina, I found much bubbling to the surface.

First, several people were trying hard to get me to stay. It was a humbling experience; their asking this of me. For example, the night before I left we had a holiday party with about 20 of my friend’s friends. In attendance was a second friend of mine from high school (the one whom I spent Thanksgiving with) and her husband. Her husband said to me, “In all seriousness. Should you choose to come back to Charlotte to settle, we’d love to help you. When D came home from dinner with you the other night, she said it was the best she’s felt in long time.”

Wow.

Combine that with other guests asking me when I would return, and I felt more than welcomed. In fact, during that dinner out with D it was the closest to family and home I’d felt in a long while. I hesitated to leave the comfort of these sentiments.

But then the friend I was staying with countered, “She won’t be back. She doesn’t even like Charlotte.” She wasn’t all wrong, but she wasn’t all right either.

As I’ve mentioned time and again, a large part of this journey for me is about connecting with myself, understanding the core of my being, and living my truth. On many levels, the area around Charlotte isn’t a fit. There’s an energy there that just doesn’t connect with me. It’s a beautiful place, but it FEELS like a land inflicted with pain. It feels contracting and stifling to me, and, I recognize this is probably just for me. It doesn’t make the place a bad one, just not for me for the long term.

In contrast, many of the people there were quite wonderful to me. I felt honored to be in their presence, and to be taken into their group of friends. I hope to meet them again one day, and get to continue to swap life stories with them in the hopes of growing even closer.

For now, I take these lessons and reflections with me as I settle into the winter months in the New Mexico mountains. This is where I’ll wrap up 2018, and there seems no better place to turn inward to investigate all that has shifted and happened for me this year.

Let’s see what bubbles up this time, shall we?

What’s in a Moment?

On my last night in Tucson I was lucky enough to have dinner at the house of some new friends. (NOTE: These are also friends of my RVA friends.) My time with them was (too) short, but it was impactful. As we sat outside discussing just about everything, I felt the need to get my anxieties off my chest.

I described to the two of them the doubts I’ve been having. Most specifically, Are the short relationships I’m making while on the road a reflection of me only wanting to have “good” moments as opposed to hard ones with friends? Am I missing out on that other side of the person to person experience? Will I ever be happy somewhere and with someone?

You get the drift.

The one friend stopped me dead in my tracks. She described to me how she had a recent conversation with their daughter, the topic of which touched heavily on my current existential woes. Her response to both her daughter, and now me, was simple. And, as many simple responses are, it was quite profound.

She described a story in which her and a friend were discussing memories and moments in life. They determined that even though they may not remember every story of their life exactly as it happened, the moments still impacted them for the remainder of their days. She encouraged me to consider this simple wisdom for myself:

All we have is a moment. Enjoy it.

Of course I am paraphrasing this friend’s wisdom which I’m sure was much more eloquent and detailed, but this sentiment is what I carried with me. As soon as she said this all the Buddhist lessons I encountered over the years came flooding back. This was the fact I have been overlooking. I felt it stir me.

When I left town the next day, I left knowing I had the support of others to encourage me onward. The road took me into the mountains to the beautiful state of New Mexico. Being from the East Coast I had no idea what to expect from this state, but to say I’m stunned by all it has to offer would be an understatement.

This emotion was underscored by the AirbBnB rental I stayed in on my first night. Unfortunately, I only had one night here, but even that was enough to fill me with comfort and inspiration. And, most importantly, it granted me the best night’s sleep I think I’ve ever had.

I pulled up to the property to find the owner, Beth, working on one of her many art projects. Here, let me share it with you:

artwork
I was mesmerized by this piece.

She welcomed me and stated I would be the first AirBnB guest to walk across this new installation. Woohoo! We began chatting and I found myself quickly recapping my anxieties from the night before. You all know how she responded:

A moment is all we have. Live it up!

I guess that was all the universe had to tell me on the topic, and I figured I may as well start listening.

I started by taking a tour around this beautiful property; my jaw dropping at every turn. This woman had the ability to make anything and everything look beautiful. Her attention to detail was simply amazing, and the feeling her work gave me was greatly needed. Here let me share the pictures already:

Mountain view
A view of the property including the mountains in the distance.
Mountain views
More mountain views.
Tree view
Views of the trees surrounding the property.
horse
There were even horses onsite.
outdoor kitchen and living room
The outdoor kitchen and living space.
Tea set
I loved this tea set.
Metal peacock.
Some art marks the path.
Cabin door
The front door of the cabin.
Desk and chairs
The workspace in the cabin.
Spiral staircase
This is a staircase the owner and an artist friend built. Enchanting!
Front of small building
The front of one of the galleries on site.
Gallery
A gallery interior. Pretty amazing, right?
outdoor living space
The outdoor kitchen and living area at night.

As I sat outside enjoying the cool mountain air, I took in Beth’s life. In this small town of maybe 150 people, tucked away in the Gila National Forest, she had people stopping by to help her with art projects or help her fix something or other pretty much all afternoon. She had galleries onsite with incredible local art which people knew to come see. I noted the dream like quality of my experience there, and also noted how much I loved the quaintness of it all.

I reminded myself there are probably just as many downsides to her life than any other life, but since I’m living moment by moment at this point, I pushed those thoughts aside and simply enjoyed the good vibes.

The next day I woke up refreshed and ready to start a new day. It was the best I’ve ever felt waking up in the morning… I have to be honest. I packed up my gear and got on the road for another 4 hours of driving up to the El Morro area. Along the way, the sentiments of the past few days rang loudly for me, and I finally connected with what my friend was expressing on that Tucson night.

These moments I experienced over the past few days were short indeed. Further, I may never experience the people or places again, but the fabric of them has shifted my perspective. Since perspective is everything, they have shifted my life.

So, what’s in a moment? Seems like everything is, no?

Making Friends with Strangers

I had such a wonderful day this past Sunday, I find myself anxious sitting to write about it. I fear I won’t be able to write a piece which expresses the immense amount of gratitude I feel. I’ll try to explore my reactions and reflections along the way, but to start perhaps I’ll just tell you about the day.

I started it as I do any Sunday, or, rather, any day here in Tucson. I took care of Sunny, did yoga, and had a lovely coffee-filled breakfast. I then left the house and headed towards Old Tucson where I was meeting a friend of a friend who lives here in town. (NOTE: This is a friend of the friends I stayed with while in Richmond, VA this Summer.)

I was excited for the excursion because I knew I’d not only meet someone new, but I’d also get to experience something new; always a win-win for me. While I was driving the 20 minutes west the friend texted saying she was going to be a few minutes late. Instead of arriving at the park early, I decided to pull over at a scenic point to finish my coffee. Here was the scene I got to sip to:

Desert view
What a view.

I got back in the car and drove the rest of the way to Old Tucson. I should tell you, I didn’t research the place at all. Thus, it was quite the surprise to find out most of the western movies my dad spends hours on end watching were filmed at the location! Unfortunately, I’ve had to sit through many of these movies in my day, but fortunately this provided a pretty awesome experience as I walked around the park. Here let me share some of them with you:

Gift shop front.
The Last Outpost gift shop.
Movie camera
One of the cameras set out front.
Old Tucson entrance
The entrance to Old Tucson.
Movie list
Just a small subset of the movies that were filmed at Old Tucson.
Movie set
The sheriff office set.
Movie set
Set for “The Hanging Man” reenactment.
Old west store fronts.
The Barber and Dentist here in “town”.
Old west hotel building
The hotel in Old Tucson
Old west store.
The mercantile store set.
Fake grave marker
These grave markers in the cemetery cracked me up.
Actors on set.
The actors play out the last show of the day.

The friend arrived shortly after I did and brought with her her boyfriend and his sister. The four of us thought we’d only spend a few short hours at the park, but we found we were having such a great time talking, exploring the park, and hearing about the stories filmed there and life in the Wild West in general that we ended up staying until closing!

In talking with my new friends I learned so much about them and their life experiences. I felt my knowledge of the world grow tremendously in only a few hours. Plus, being at the park with them was great!

We saw live reenactments of scenes from films, we road rides, we experienced mines… it was awesome to be around great people again! We also talked about how much we loved the experience of the park. What it came down to was the people who worked there CARED about the park and the patrons. Even though it was an act everyone was putting on, it genuinely felt GOOD to experience it. Yeah, it was a place of commerce, but it didn’t feel overly commercialized. It was an endearing place.

Before we left the park the boyfriend and I were sitting on the bench outside of a gift shop chatting while we waited for the others to purchase their wares. He turned to me and said, “You know, I’m surprised by how great today was. I really enjoyed the time here at the park and meeting and talking with you. I didn’t expect that.”

“I didn’t either, but when good folks get together, good times are bound to happen”, I replied.

We sat in the quiet of the next moment simply appreciating the time the four of us had together that day.

Eventually we four bid adieu and I headed back to the house to take care of Sunny before heading to another event full of people I didn’t know; the Halloween block party thrown by the neighbors next door.

It was another welcoming place where I had the opportunity to talk to so many new people about their lives. One person was the father of the neighbor. I sat and talked with the 86 year old man for quite awhile.

He told me about his life; how he left Mexico in the 60s then came here to make a new life for himself. He worked several jobs before landing one with the state of Arizona where he earned the pension he now lives off of. When I asked him what he did and still does during his 23 years of retirement, he didn’t flinch in sharing with me the simple things in life that make him happy. These included cooking, working around the house, and making crosses for those he loves and for his church. Here is a picture of the ones he made for the homeowner whose house I’m staying in:

Wooden crosses
Crosses made by José.

I walked back home after the event and sat down in silence. I reflected on how strange it was to live out entire relationships with new friends, the beginning and ending, all in one day. I suppose this is life on the road. I WAS still saddened by having to leave the loving energy of the day, but I reminded myself that I’ll be taking the energy with me wherever I go. This continues to help me work through the sadness.

Another thought that helps me is in thinking of all of the strangers I’d miss out on making friends with if I chose to stay in one place. Now THAT’s something to be sad about indeed.

Feels Like Coming Home

I arrived in Tucson last Thursday prepared for another arrival in which I’d share a night with the homeowner. When I drove through the city limits I immediately felt something utterly strange.

I felt comfortable.

It was the first time in my adult life I remember feeling so at ease in my own skin.

When I drove into the neighborhood I saw it was deeply contrasted from the pomp and circumstance of my Orange County, CA arrival. This Tucson hood was a more simple place, and it felt way more welcoming.

mountains against a blue sky.
Mountain views from the neighborhood.

I parked in front of the house and walked up to the door. I was surprised to see a woman of 70+ years opening it. This is the homeowner?, I thought to myself as I calculated the size of the dog, her living alone, and her being on a house sitter website at all. I caught myself going into an act to try to charm her, and I immediately stopped myself.

When I stepped into the kitchen and looked about the modest home, I initially felt disappointment. Shortly thereafter, after dropping the act for a moment, the disappointment started to morph into another sensation I hadn’t felt in my adult life.

I felt at home.

We walked to the backyard of the house, and I noticed a sense of recognition. Tucson reminded me a great deal of San Antonio, and the backyard brought back memories of my time there. I wouldn’t say I necessarily had visual memories flood me, but more I remembered the energy I felt while living in San Antonio. I also saw how very far away from myself I was at that time in my life, and I extended gratitude for the opportunity to find my way back.

Tree
Tree in the backyard.

As I walked with the homeowner about the house I watched her feed the dog, water the plants, and maintain the home, all the while taking my usual mental notes. I also cracked my usual jokes, and once again put on my usual charms; none of which she responded to. Not a single one. Instead she stayed in her own energy and went about her chores, explaining everything to me as she went.

I watched her with her dog. Her energy was completely calm, and the dog incredibly loving and responsive. There were no worries about his behavior or concerns about his habits. Instead it was just two beings who cared for each other living together; a deeply beautiful sight to witness.

Dog on a couch smiling
Sunny welcomes me.
Dog laying on the ground by the door.
Sunny waits at the door.

When we went to the front of her house her neighbor was putting out more Halloween decorations. He greeted me amicably from his yard, then walked over. The three of us chatted for a bit, and the neighbor invited me to the Halloween block party he and his wife throw every year. It was more than a warm welcome. It truly felt like a homecoming event.

There was no grand dinner or cocktail event that night. It was simply me and the homeowner sitting in the living room with her dog talking and watching the news. I asked her about herself; where she was from, where she was going, what she was doing here in Tucson, and I learned so many interesting facts I fear I can’t share them all.

For example, I learned she once taught on a Navajo reservation where she lived for 11 years. I learned she lived in this current house for 36 years (NOTE: my age), and that she used to teach business at the community college nearby. I also learned that this time each year she goes with a surveying team to a state park in the desert where they record Native American petroglyphs for the park record books; something she has been doing since the 70s.

I sat and listened in awe and reverence. For what I saw before me was a self-actualized individual living her best life. Yes, I was in the presence of someone who had architected their best life, and when I realized this, I saw in her a potential future Self.

I immediately realized why the universe had brought me here to Tucson; to take in her energy, her life, her example, and to drop the act. I know I’m meant to keep from my observations what works for me and discard what doesn’t. Her example is the clear next one needed to help me architect my own best life.

I’m grateful.

It’s safe to say her energy has stayed with me over the past week, and I continue to examine all aspects of it.

Despite these profound interactions, I have made some time for adventuring and sightseeing. Not only was I able to find some coffee:

Coffee shop
Coffee!

… BUT the homeowner also left me her membership card to the Sonora Desert Museum! Here are a few shots from my walk around there:

cacti
Cactus love.
cacti and views.
Desert love.
Trees hanging down.
I thought these trees were pretty cool.
lizard
I made a friend at the museum.
desert mountains
A view out yonder.
cacti
These cacti are huge!
Blue Rock
A cool rock I saw while exploring.
Cactus and Desert trails
Views from the Sonora Desert Museum.
Cactus and Desert trails
More views.
Mountains,
The view from a scenic point on my way back from the Museum.
Another shot from the scenic point.

I also made my way down to the famous San Xavier Mission:

Approaching the Mission
Approaching the mission.
San Xavier mission in Tucson.
A closer view of the mission.
Chapel bells
Chapel bells.
Mountains and desert
A view from the mission hills.
Rock with clouds in the background.
A rock against the clouds.
Lion heads at gate.
Lions mark the path.
Quote plaque at mission
Lest we forget… I enjoyed this quote.

So, it hasn’t been all work and no play. Though, one thing is for sure. Whatever it is I’m doing out here on the road is working. How do I know? Well, to feel a comfort within myself that I haven’t felt in over 30 years, that’s something to me.

In fact, that’s what this whole adventure is about.