I watched a TED talk today by Brene Brown:
It’s 20 minutes, but I highly suggest you find the time to spare. This was her original TED talk that she referenced, also worth a viewing:
She was able to vocalize a lot of things that I have been feeling as of late, specifically about what happens to us as we open our lives up to other people, to different possibilities. When we operate from a place of vulnerability, what it means to be authentic. How much do we share of ourselves, how do we construct our realities. Many of us apply a filter to what we let other people see.
A lot of this is wrapped up in the universal feeling of shame. Brene spends a few minutes dissecting shame from guilt, which while often confused, are not one and the same. Guilt is ‘an emotion that occurs when a person believes that they have violated a moral standard that they themselves believe in.’ While Shame ‘is, variously, an emotion, a state, an affect, a condition or a cognition.’ It shifts shape, allowing us to feel it on many different levels, in many different ways. It is perhaps the most insidious of all, because it can creep in and present itself at any time.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking and talking about my childhood. This has come as a result of a combination of different things. One has been that I am finally in a space that I feel safe enough with some people to talk about how what happened when I was younger has affected me as an adult. Another is a humiliating experience that I has recently at the hands of a total stranger, in front of people that I do not feel totally secure with. It has taken me some time to get over it and move on, I think because I have been subjected to this kind of thing before. It took me back to a familiar and deeply uncomfortable place.
As this blog explores, I have had a harder time, maybe than most, getting comfortable in my own skin. I often times feel like I have something to prove, and end up feeling a lot of the time like I have fallen spectacularly short. For whatever reason, kids are cruel, insecure, lack role models, television, insert excuse here ____________, I was bullied mercilessly as a child. Not just by kids, but I struggled to find a safe haven with adults as well. At that time (think early 90’s) many were still of a post-war/baby boomer generation where you sucked it up and got on with it. There is hardly less constructive advice that you can give a child experiencing what I, and many others have than ‘you need to get a thicker skin.’ I spent a lot of time feeling that my mere existence was enough to invite criticism, torment, insults, sometimes even physical violence into my life.
It’s hard to recover for those types of things, and I think that I’ve spent a lot of my life overcompensating for it. The idea that shame can morph from ‘you’re not good enough’ to allow us to talk ourselves out of daring greatly, or trying with the potential that we may fail, into ‘who do you think you are’ if we even hope for success, is something that resonated so true for me I had to stop, rewind, and listen to it again. It’s the idea for many of us that if we can even get up the courage to try and succeed, that we do not deserve what may come from that incredible and heroic act. It’s feeling like we don’t deserve to have our moment, let alone a lifetime of them. Over time we do less and less, and build a life for ourselves that is small, in order to ensure our success, to know the outcome, to avoid those feelings of shame.
I’m speaking to this today because there are a number of big changes coming in my life. And rather than simply being excited about them, I’ve spent a lot of time coaching myself in handling disappointment, tempering my expectations, believing that if they don’t work out the way that I am hoping, it will just be what I anticipated. I’ve kept a lot of these developments to myself, not sharing my excitement or happiness, in order to do some damage control in case stuff doesn’t work out. Shame keeps me in that place, rather than recognizing the amazing thing it is to even try at all. To put my pants on one leg at a time, lace up my shoes, and walk out in the world every day, hoping for and trying to construct the reality which I want for myself, is courageous. I’m not quite ready to share yet, but I’m hoping that this post will be a good first step in my ability to do so. And I have nothing to be ashamed of.
Thank you for allowing me to be vulnerable.
My heart is heavy today as I write this letter to you. For the past couple of months my correspondence with my home country has been lighthearted postcards telling small vignettes of how I am spending my time abroad. I’m ‘seeing the world’ right now, the bits of it that seem safe at least, although after yesterdays senseless tragedy it seems that nowhere is.
We are often times exposed to violence in other parts of the world through pictures and video. It’s easy to feel removed from places that you’ve never been, things that you’ve never experienced. But this hit too close to home. And all I could do was hit the refresh button on my browser over and over again, watching as the injury toll rose, hoping that this was all a dream. I felt helpless, wondering if friends that live in the city, and one who had been ecstatic to run the marathon were alright. Sighing in relief as I found out that they were, knowing that others were not feeling the same emotion as they found out that their loved ones weren’t.
We take for granted that things will remain just as we’ve left them. Everything in its place, comfortable, familiar. In an instant all of that can change. The America that I departed from is not the one that I will be returning to. To watch it happen from a foreign country made me ache for home in a way that I can’t fully describe. I have never been prouder to be an American than seeing how you all banded together to respond.
Spring is a time of hope, optimism, rebirth, growth, renewal. I can only hope that this rings true as we all struggle to make sense of this tragedy. As a runner, fighting the elements, the seasons, and my own body at times, the significance of this attack on an event meant to signify the triumph of the human spirit is not lost on me, or many many others. The courage, will, and determination that it takes to run 26.2 miles is something to behold, and for all those who were running, as well as those who lined the route to cheer on their friends, family members, and fellow humans, it’s a special thing to be sharing in. Ripping the right to that sense of victory away from so many who worked so hard for it is appalling, and taking a human life is never ok.
To the proud people of Boston, and those that were visiting: this is a dark time. Know that people the world over are mourning, and desperately want to see you come through this in whatever way you can. There will always be a scar, and life will never be the same. Wounds will slowly heal, a new normal will slowly emerge. No one will ever ask you to forget, and we will always remember.
Love and Light.
After two weeks of being abroad (although I am kind of abroad already, I’m so confused) I am now back in Edinburgh. And it’s good to be home. Every time that I leave is always an opportunity to see how I feel when I return. Has any of the rose-colored haze worn off? Is it how I remember? Do I feel the same connection?
After seeing the things that we have over the last couple of weeks, the wonder of arriving at a train station with no idea what to expect, navigating a foreign city with all of the communication challenges, excitement and possibility around every corner, it made me think about the first time I came to Scotland.
Yesterday I walked and walked and walked all over the city, going to many of my favorite places, trying to re-acclimate a little. This whole thing is one giant experiment, and I’m often left to wonder how I will know when I’ve found my place in the world. As someone who has moved around quite a bit, both by choice in my adult life, and because my dad’s job transplanted our family twice, I often times lack a sense of home. The familiarity of returning to the house that I grew up in. Or calling all my friends from growing up when we go home for the holidays. Even learning different phone numbers, zip codes, street names. All of this are things that we can take for granted, and all of it has made me feel like there is something missing that I need to find.
People are what tie me to a specific place, or moment in time, and I have been fortunate enough to meet some good ones along the way. I feel that I am able to go out in the world because of them, the support they offer, the confidence they give me. There are those who I thought would be friends forever that have gradually faded into the distance, growing smaller on the horizon, until finally there is nothing more to see. Others have been like a slow cooker, lots of raw ingredients thrown in and allowed to simmer over time to produce a delicious blend of flavors to enjoy. People can come and go in life as well, and I am often times the guilty party.
I take for granted that these relationships will stand the course of time, although looking at many of the structures in Europe that tell the history of humanity, I see now what time can do. Even with proper maintenance, cracks appear, fascades fade, a leak can spring. For many buildings, and relationships, this can be part of the charm. Accepting things as they are, knowing that nothing is perfect, and yet standing the test of time, is something quite special to behold.
For other buildings, like the Colosseum, an event so large (an earthquake) was enough for it to eventually be given up on altogether, the physical structure there a reminder of what once was. These things can happen in a friendship too. A huge fight, a change in values, or even waking up one day with the understanding that the person who was in front of you the whole time was not who you chose to see. For the most part, people present themselves as who they are. It’s our responsibility to recognize this, and to not place unachievable expectations on them. This leads to feelings of disappointment, often misguided, and usually unfair.
Which leads me to disappointment. It had taken longer than I’d like to admit for me to separate disappointment from failure, and although not mutually exclusive, the two are not the same. For a long time I’ve chalked things up as failure that haven’t unfolded as I’ve wanted them to, which has then been folded into my self-esteem, and often times how I feel about all of the things surrounding said event. I have not allowed myself to see or feel any success in the effort. Often times I am incapable of seeing how far I’ve come even in falling short of attaining the ultimate goal. In writing this post, I am reminded of one of my favorite Memes of all time:
It still makes me laugh so hard that I cry. And in thinking about having the ability to laugh at life, I had an epiphany. While the cupcakes here are an example of something that hasn’t turned out quite right, I’m sure they were still damn tasty. The intent was still there, even if the follow-through was lacking. I’m sure they were hard work, and whoever made them had visions of grandeur, serving the cupcakes to an awed audience who would marvel at their cupcake-decorating prowess.
Once I dried the tears, I thought even harder about why we, as people, internalize and absorb ‘failure’ the way that we do. Is it because we are disappointed that something didn’t work out the way that we had hoped? Fair enough. And there are some huge disappointments in life. Failure to achieve a certain goal or milestone, however, does not make everything a failure. Because maybe you’ll still get to eat a delicious cupcake.
The moral of my musings today is that I am not sure how any of anything is going to work out. None of us are. We can spend our time calculating outcomes and certainties without ever being 100% accurate. We can ride the wave of probability, missing the ocean of possibility. Kind of like seeing the forest through the trees. My feelings about this city still ring true. For whatever reason for me, right now, Edinburgh is the key to understanding myself, and some of life’s bigger lessons. They aren’t all easy, and there are some hard, and probably disappointing ones to come. But by living a little more each day, I’ve come farther than I ever would have though possible, or could have hoped for myself. Nailed it.
Here is something that you may not want to attempt on your last day of 2 weeks in Europe, unless you are of sound body and ever sounder(?) mind… The highlights of Rome in 8 hours. This will involve strength, stamina, keeping your wits about you, and your head on a swivel.
We left Florence Sunday on the 9 AM train, Rome-bound with an arrival time of 12:48. Knowing we were going to have to hit the ground running, literally, if we were going to see everything we intended and get to the hostel in time to get any kind of sleep before our flights the next morning, there is no way that you can mentally prepare for what this means in actuality.
After checking our bags at the train station, we walked outside and were immediately hit with the mania that is the fourth most populated in the EU, coming in at just under 2.8 million people within its city limits. Quite the opposite of where we had just come from, both in Florence and Luzern. The noise, the smells, the color, the sheer number of people,
socks you in the nose and leaves you with tears stinging your eyes. I realized instantaneously when we left the train station venturing into the city, that Rome and I were going to have unfinished business, and I would need to return.
On our list to see: The Colosseum, The Spanish Steps, Vatican City, and the Trevi Fountain. Go.
Apparently we had collected some good traveling Karma, because our timing everywhere was perfect. Lines to get into the Colosseum can often look like a theme park, weaving through turnstyles, wrapping around the outside, seeming to never end. I’m not sure if it was because it was Sunday, or if it was because it was 1:30 by the time we arrived, but we were in the doors in 20 minutes. 20 minutes! The que for the bathroom took longer than that. We had debated whether to spend any of our brief time waiting in line, and I’m glad we did, because we walked in to this:
This picture will never do justice to the sheer magnitude of the structure, or the feeling that you get as you walk in. It is the largest ampitheatre in the world. It is the LARGEST ampitheatre in the world. It is the largest ampitheatre in the WORLD. I guess until Dubai decides to build a bigger one…
Of the things that I appreciate so much about being able to visit these historical monuments is the perspective it can give on history, how we’ve evolved as humans, an idea of why understanding events of the past is so important to the future. Here is a place, when filled to capacity, saw 50,000 people watch men and animals fight to the death for sport. Not only serving as public entertainment, these gladiator games were a reminder to the people what could or would happen if they got any ideas. ANY ideas. Those chambers that you see below the ‘stage’ area (which is meant to show where the floor of the Colosseum was) is where the slaves, animals, and prisoners of war were kept. There they waited and listened for their turn to die as frenzied crowds cheered on, calling for carnage, wanting a good show.
I felt chills, although I was in a tank top (it was 65 degrees after all, downright tropical compared to where we had been!) and they stuck with me the entire time as I tried to imagine cheering for another living being’s gruesome demise. I thought about the terror that humans and animals alike must have felt as they stepped onto the dirt, as they played a part in a much bigger play, with greater meaning than they could understand.
As we left, I thought about all the places that we had been on this trip, and how we view history. We tend to think about it in the past, as for many of us we live in a modern state without the reality of the violence that still exists for so many others, often on a daily basis. We read a book describing the burning of a village, the raping of women, the death of children, and think ‘how horrible’ without completing the equation that 1+1=2 and there are fellow human beings existing in a world where this is not only possible, but a certainty. And there is not much that is keeping ‘us’ from ‘them.’ We would be wise to acknowledge this, and remember that.
Our next stop was Vatican City and the Basilica. Home to a population of 800, ruled by the pope, it is the smallest independently recognized independent state in the world, with its own guards, metal detectors and all. Guess what was happening in Vatican City on Sunday Afternoon? Mass.
In another turn of luck, we were amongst the last group of people allowed into view the Basilica, as the opening processional for the Sunday afternoon ceremony was starting. The Basilica is truly awe-inspiring, and although I have my own conflicting emotions about organized religion, I appreciate the desire for humans to have faith in beyond what we can see. The world is big, and often times confusing, and being a part of something can help life to feel a bit more manageable…
On to the Spanish Steps, the widest staircase in Europe, made popular by the movie Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. It was also home to the mass of people that you see in the first picture above, almost immoveable in some places, yet scooters and cars still managing to slowly squeak through the small openings.
Which brings us to the last place on our list of the Cliffs Notes of Rome… The Trevi Fountain. It was a fitting place to end our whirlwind trip through some of Europe, as legend has it that tossing a coin into the waters of the fountain ensures the thrower a return to Rome. Although we were exhausted, and both Deanna and I were ready to return home, there was a sense that this trip was a comma, not a period. Not only our adventures together as friends, but also in the ones to come in life as well. My next post, to come in the next couple of days, is about everything that I learned on my trip, and my homecoming of sorts to my adopted city of Edinburgh. Stay tuned! Until then, here is the last picture of the trip:
Let the days go by, let the water hold me down, let the days go by water flowing underground, into the blue again after the money’s gone, once in a lifetime…
The Talking Heads are my favorite band of all time. In looking back on my life, I have had some incredibly epic experiences. I got to meet David Byrne in LA at the Hollywood Bowl (put this venue on your bucket list!) after an amazing concert where The Arcade Fire opened for David, and then closed the show with him by covering Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love.’ It was one of the top 5 nights of my life.
Which brings me to Firenze. Deanna and I had left our final destination up in the air. We are leaving from Rome tomorrow, she’s going back to the farm in Wales, and I return to Edinburgh to work on some things. She had travelled to Florence 12 years ago with her family on a trip around Italy, and had the same feeling then that I did when I first visited Edinburgh. Like you’re meant to be there. In trying to decide how to end our trip, we realized that we had an extra travel day on our train ticket. It was serendipity, and with that, on the fly, that’s where we were heading.
We got off the train, and time seemed to stop. I’m not sure how to describe it, and there is no way that I can do the city justice in words or even pictures. All I know is this moment, this moment right here:
It brought me to tears. I feel them welling up right now as I write this, an overwhelming sense of peace and gratitude flowing over me as I think about it. It was in this moment that I knew it was all going to be ok. Life is funny. There are twists and turns, ups and downs. I’ve had some euphoric highs and soul crushing lows. I’ve loved and lost, hurt and been hurt. I’ve shared joy and sorrow, welcomed new family members, and said final good-byes to others. I’ve been scared and confused, confident and sure. My life may not look like I thought it was going to, but if it looks like this:
I’m doing just fine. This is not a post about how I have it all together, or even remotely close to figured out. On most days I am kind of a mess. I am a worrier, a perfectionist, I place a ton of pressure on myself, and I am harder on myself than anyone ought to be. I’ve spent a lot of time not enjoying the ride because I was trying too hard to enjoy the ride. It’s hard to explain why it took me this long to feel this way, but a big part of it is that I often times feel scared that the good things in my life are going to go away.
What I’ve realized this trip is that there are always going to be positive and negative experiences in life. But the cons don’t negate the pros. These things that I’ve done, the stuff that I’ve seen, the friends that I’ve met and made along the way, those can never be taken away from me. And it’s not an either/or situation. Good and bad often times coexist with each other, and it doesn’t have to be comparative. I think this is often times why things feel so intense. I’ve lived many different lives so far in my 30 years on the planet, and I’m sure that I’ll live many more. Sometimes it feels contiguous, and other times I feel like I’m jumping tracks. Surprises can be awesome, and the inevitable can suck.
I’m learning, slowly but surely, that my life is my own. There are people that I share it with along the way, many of whom have altered the course of it with out knowing, and with no intention of doing so. We may not have even realized it at the time. At the end of the day, it’s my choice though, not how things unfold, but how I choose to look at what’s happening in front of me. And this isn’t a post about the glass being half full or empty, or anything like that, sometimes shit happens. But I can choose not to get overwhelmed by the negative, or to deny myself the good. I’m slowly starting to accept who I am, to be proud of it, flaws and all.
Mostly, I’m just trying to be a good person, and to have some fun along the way.
And now, Florence as I felt it:
Gusta Pizza: Go. Go there now. Don’t even go to your hotel to drop your bags off. Eat the Caprese Pizza, and try not to cry tears of joy when you take your first bite. Also, have a glass of wine, cause you’re on vacation.
The Academy Gallery and The David: I can’t even describe what this was like, but it was an almost spiritual experience. The magnitude of what I was looking at hit me immediately, as does the sheer size of the statue. As I got closer to it, and realized how intricately carved this giant block of marble was, I felt all the beauty in the world. The rest of the museum is worth taking a look at as well, since it contains a well-rounded picture of the history of Florence, and the birth of the Renaissance.
Walk: Everywhere. There are little alleys with untold treasures all around the city, and every time you look down a side street, you see something new. Also, look up, there are so many roof top gardens, and now that the flowers are starting to bloom, it’s full of colors that will make your head spin.
William’s Pub: There was a cover band playing, they host beer pong tournaments, and their bathroom actually had soap. It’s the little things.
Piazza della Signori: Find a cafe and watch the street performers as you drink a huge mug of beer. Laugh about it.
Piazza Duomo: Sit on the steps of Florence’s Cathedral in the sunshine. Watch people. Listen.
Ahhhhhhhhh Lucerne. A town on the lake in Switzerland of about 75,000 residents, it was everything that I would have imagined from a Swiss village. Growing up in Los Angeles, the idea of coming here conjured up images of The Matterhorn, which is arguably the best rollercoaster at Disneyland. I digress.
In the two days that we were here, the fog did not lift from over the lake, which gave it a cozy feel that was far different than the big cities we’ve been seeing over the last 10 days. It was the polar opposite of the mania that was Amsterdam, and gave us a chance for some much needed rest and Relaxation. It is 120 km around the lake, with paths around most of it, so we walked all around the village and along the lake on Wednesday, and then took a hike out to the point on Thursday. It was quiet and serene, absolutely beautiful, friendly, and charming. The hills are lush and green, and there is plenty to do while still having a vibe that you have retreated from the rest of the world.
Our host in Lucerne was Bill Weir, who owns an ex-pat bar in the city called Legends. He’s a riot, and since the bar shows football games (he’s a Liverpool fan) you’re sure to find some fellow sports fans there. It’s busy during Christmas and summer, and much of their industry comes from tourism over the holidays. Had the weather been a bit better (although it wasn’t as cold as it has been other places on this trip) it would have been the perfect time to be there. Everywhere we go everyone is waiting for the spring.
It was also Deanna’s birthday while we were there, which I was excited to get to spend with her. Deanna and I met while working at a Veterinary Clinic in Longmont, Colorado. I was living in Boulder, she in Fort Collins, with Longmont somewhere in the middle. She worked the overnight shifts in the ER, I was working the day shift for the Internal Medicine department. Although we talked quite a bit over rounds, there wasn’t much interaction otherwise. I knew that she was taking courses to go to grad school, and when she was accepted to the University of Edinburgh, we were all thrilled for her. Somehow we ended up at dinner, or drinks, something involving coworkers, and the two of us spent the entire time talking, and laughing. Knowing that she only had a few months before leaving Colorado, we spent quite a bit of time together. There was the usual ‘keep in touch’ exchange, assuring that we would over Skype, ‘technology is amazing’ and ‘it’s only 7 hours ahead.’ With that, she went out into the great unknown.
I tell you this story, because my life has changed drastically as a direct result of my friendship with her. After a bad breakup, a stressful semester in grad school, and a mounting frustration with the way that EVERYTHING in my life was going, I started looking up magical places that I could go on vacation in a reality that wasn’t my own. At this time, Deanna and I made a Skype date for our bi-monthly chat, and I was expressing all of these things. It was coming up on our winter break, and she was lamenting that she wouldn’t be able to come home for the holidays. In a moment of insanity, a light bulb went on for both of us, and almost simultaneously it was decided that I was going to visit. This set in motion a chain of events that I will save for another post, but the most important was that on my trip to visit her, I fell in love. With Edinburgh, the city, the people, the culture, the country, the pubs, the clubs, and who I was when I was there.
I came home from that vacation a different person. I felt energized, enthusiastic, and empowered for the first time in as long as I can remember. I had been unsure of what I wanted I my life, where it was heading, and to an extent, I still am. But going on that trip and coming home planted a seed, which grew into a sapling, that grew into a tree. It gave me something to work towards, and at least an idea of how it would look. And that was to get back to Scotland, maybe for good. I needed to at least get back to see if what I had felt there was real, and if that meant anything more.
Through a lot of hard work, a lot of stress, and some fortuitous circumstances, here I am. I’ve made it happen, at least for a little bit, and I’m getting to see some more of the world. She’s been no small part of that. Her support and encouragement, as well as her humor have gotten me through many tough situations, and helped me to make the leap. At the end of May, Deanna is going home to the states, and who knows where life will take us after that. There are challenges to living in a foreign country, and I am lucky to have had a friend in the journey. Thanks D, and Happy Birthday again, here’s to celebrating many more!
Following World War II, the city of Berlin was divided into two sectors, East and West, one half controlled by Soviet Russia, the other side controlled by the allied forces of the United States, Great Britain and France. Once again families were divided, and people were stripped of their identity. No longer were they Germans, but East Berliners, or West Berliners, Communists or Capitalists. Berlin was ravaged during the fall of Germany in World War II, and the division of the city halted any real hope of reconstruction. In 1961, the Soviets began building the Berlin wall, meant to divide the city, east and west, to halt East German defection, to symbolize the lines drawn in the sand as the world settled into the Cold War.
‘The Wall’ was a 3-meter tall structure of concrete on either side of what was known as the death strip. It was a 100 to sometimes 1,000 meter wide no man’s land in the middle of the two walls, that was heavily patrolled by soviet soldiers. They carried guns, and orders, that no one who wasn’t authorized, was to cross. In the years leading up to its construction, over 3 million people defected from East Germany. Between 1961 and 1989 when it fell, only around 5,000 attempted crossing, with about 12% of them losing their lives in the process. Restrictions for who could pass from East to West, and vice versa were strict, and the famous crossing point “Checkpoint Charlie” was wrought with tension as guards on either side performed their duty to keep the border secure.
It made me think about the metaphorical walls that we build in our lives, and the imaginary hurdles we think that we have to overcome. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what else is out there in the world, staring into the distance, imagining things that I haven’t yet seen. But the beauty of it is, there is nothing preventing me from getting there, except the fact that I tend to get in my own way a lot. I can’t imagine looking at a wall, a totally inanimate object constructed by a far-off ruling power, meant to cut me off from the rest of the world, controlling my access to information, keeping me in my place. How hard would it be to hope for anything with no idea how or when it could possibly come true?
The Berlin wall fell on November 9th, 1989. I was 7. It was celebrated with dancing, music, and strangers hugging in the streets. Thousands of people came with sledgehammers to participate in demolishing a structure that had so much physical and metaphorical significance. Very little of it remains today, although parts are preserved as a reminder of what once was, and what can be. My mother traveled to Germany and to Berlin in the 1970’s, she had described to me the intensity of crossing the wall, and the dichotomy between the East and West. I’m certain that she wouldn’t recognize the city as it is today.
Today, Berlin, although ripe with history, is like any other modern city. It’s struggling to form an identity, to find its place in the world. It has been ravaged and reconstructed many times, yet still it stands. There is a sort of grit to it, but you can feel the current of energy that flows like the re-established underground trains that connect the whole city once again. Although it wasn’t a particularly “pretty” city, I couldn’t help but feel inspired while I was there, taking heart in the ability of a city and a people to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes.