The End of Days

My best friend wrapped his lanky, pre-pubescent arms around my waist and kissed my forehead. He wiped my sweat-drenched bangs from my face and said, “I love you.” I looked up at him, probably 11 inches, smiled and buried my nose in his chest. I cried a little and he squeezed me tighter. He smelled like dirty boy and old high school gym. I could have bathed in those smells forever.

It was the final moments of my sixth grade graduation party. It was the first time I resisted the end of something. It might have been the first time, for me, something ended. It is my first memory of losing something and refusing to let it go.

I cried for the first three weeks of that summer after sixth grade. Even the thought of a new school, new teachers, new friends, new schedule was devastating. I knew the real thing would be torture.

That 12 year old girl who was paralyzed by change lives deep inside of me. She occupies that space of comfort where I feel safety, security, predictability. She thrives on the flow of my routines. She likes to dwell way down in the depths of the: relationships, communities, experiences, organizations that I’m a part of. That place where it feels like nothing else could ever be as good as this.

Today, I face a new end in my life. Law school classes are over. I will likely never be a student again. And as the Facebook statuses go up, and celebrations into the works, I keep returning to an uncomfortable vacancy inside of me: I feel nothing.

As I dig deeper, I realize I’ve spent the last three years resisting the end of my non-law school life. I’ve spent three years refusing to let go of the comfort of my career working with kids. I’ve clung to it so hard I’ve almost completely missed the experience, the reality, of the last three years. I’ve been so afraid of the new(and unfamiliar) opportunities, challenges and expectations of being a lawyer I’ve refused to become one.

About a month before the end of law school I made a commitment to try it out. Be a lawyer. Take depositions. Write briefs. Wear a suit. Along with the terrible angst and anxiety that’s accompanied this commitment, is the inner knowing that to honor it, I have to accept the end of my former life.

I cried this morning thinking about it. I watched the News Story from the last day I spent at my summer camp. For the first time, I observed it as a part of my past. My neck tightened. My stomach clenched. My eyes welled up as sank into the sensation of finality. The sensation I’ve been avoiding.

I know: life is constantly changing; nothing is permanent; everything is shaped by sad ends, and beautiful beginnings with all sorts of enriching, scary, challenging, validating moments in between. But the resistance I feel is real. The fear. The uncertainty. The discomfort. The looking back and wondering, will it ever be as good as that, again?

Failblog

During the first year we lived together, my best friend and I were completely obsessed with Fail Blog.

We’d email each other about it all day long and then get home and rehash it over uncontrollable (disproportionate to the level of entertainment value) laughter on our living room floor.

Every time something bad happened we’d said “fail blog” to commemorate it. “Another one of my kids just got expelled, failblog.” “I woke up too late to shower and my bangs are sticking to my forehead, failblog.” “I almost pooped my pants after the Chipotle burrito buffet at work, failblog.”

We spent entire Sundays communicating exclusively in hand gestures and “fail” or “success” blogs.

Three years later, I failed the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam. Failblog.

The biggest.

You see, no one fails the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam. No one. Especially not me. I don’t fail(blog) at anything. Ever. I win. I achieve. I succeed. I flourish. I get everything I want. I am the walking epitome of 28-year old lady perfection.

At least that’s how I think I should be.

Failure has got to be one of my top three most uncomfortable feelings. Reading my MPRE score resulted in the immediate and intense onset of nausea, followed by the sensation of wanting to run away from my computer, travel back in time, and/or hide from my friends and family. Forever.

All day I moped around in self-loathing. The internal dialogue went something like, “damn Katie, you are a complete moron. What’s wrong with you?” Of course the MPRE fail couldn’t stand on its own as an isolated incident of my complete lack of preparation and disregard for the exam. Oh no. I used it as a barometer for how I’m performing in every other aspect of my life: Survey Says? Terribly.

I suck at standardized ethics exams. I suck at deciding what I want to do with my life. I suck at relationships. I don’t have a job. Or a boyfriend. Or a house. And oh shit, I crashed my car a month ago, so I don’t even have one of those any more. Man, do I suck.

Every time I’ve failed at anything, as far back as I can remember, I’ve struggled through the same set of feelings and observations. This has contributed to two patterns in my life:

1) I don’t like to do things I’m not already good at.
I’ve had a paralyzing fear of flying since I was 8 years old, so I barely ever fly. I’ve had very little romantic success in my adult life, so I barely ever date. I rarely hang out with people who are not already my closest, most intimate friends. I order the same thing every time I go to a restaurant because I know it will taste good.

2) I never give myself a break.
I practice yoga six times a week, at least. I feel irresponsible and inadequate if I don’t. I wear a size zero, in everything. If my pants get a little tight or my tummy pooches any detectable amount, I feel like I want to stop eating for a week just to get “my” body back. Any time I’ve gotten really drunk since I was 19, I’ve felt guilty and ashamed for a week and a half.

These two: stories, behaviors, ideas, can really suck the joy out of a pretty awesome and abundant life. And in the aftermath of my most recent failure, I’ve considered taking a different approach. What if I observe the failure instead of absorbing it? What if I assess how I could have done better, commit to it for next time, and then let the whole thing go? What if I fly, date, mingle with strangers and it’s a total disaster? So what?

I’m struggling now to learn that I can’t always look the way I want to, act the way I want to, perform the way I want to. And that’s fine. This is a radical revelation. But it’s clear in this moment that no amount of hiding, avoiding and attempting to control has prevented failure in my past, so chances are good these strategies won’t work in the future.

In August, I will re-take the MPRE.

In the meantime, I will try to take one failure at a time, reminding myself that it’s ok to: have a bad flight, date, test, day, week, month. I will recover. I always do.

Lessons from Heather

I’ve been afraid of dying as far back as I can remember. Big time afraid. When I was little I would stay awake at night and get anxious about it. My palms would sweat and my heart would race as I’d try to understand the idea of not being. Not hugging my mom, not eating ice cream, not running up and down the soccer field. Not feeling, not laughing, not talking, not breathing. Not existing. I’d go over and over the thought of it in my mind and then shudder, feel cold in my body, and try to fall right to sleep so I didn’t have to consider the implications anymore.

A year ago, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As soon as I heard the news, I had that feeling again. My palms started to sweat and my heart raced. I burst into hysterical tears thinking about Heather not being. When I woke up the next morning I thought about dying, for the first time, in a new way. I thought about how Heather is the least deserving of terminal cancer of any single person I know on the planet. Then I felt anger. I thought about how Heather might not be at my wedding, help me raise my kids, or hula hoop at the next yoga festival. Then I felt sad. I thought about the beautiful and inspiring way in which Heather lives her life. Then I felt hopeful. I thought, dying is a damn good reason to: be nice to everyone, love unconditionally, forgive easily and openly and live fully in every single moment I have. Then I felt empowered.

She wrote to me soon after her diagnosis and said, “I’ve been handed my mortality. We all have one, I just know where mine is coming from. It’s time to be present.”

Holy Shit. This woman is recovering from major surgery in the face of a death sentence and she’s still my own personal buddha. Her spirit is magical.

Heather is one of my greatest teachers. I want to honor her tremendous life by sharing some of her lessons. Her lessons have shaped and enhanced the woman I am always trying to become. It is through her lessons that I know she will be inside of me. Forever.

love everyone like they’re your own family


I loved Heather immediately. We had an accidental run-in on adjacent yoga mats, and I was instantly taken by her. She had captivating energy. She surrounded me with love. She made deep and sincere eye contact. She hugged me like we did it every day.

Just after we met, I saw her in the Zuda Yoga lobby before class. She was glowing with her usual radiance, tempered by a gentle aura of deep relaxation. She told me she’d slithered her way to class after a massage had transformed her body into liquid. “Have you ever gotten a massage?” I hadn’t. “OH giiiirrrlll. It’s a must. I’m going to get you one.” She disappeared with her cell phone for five minutes and returned with a business card. “Call Tyler anytime, everything’s taken care of.”

Is this lady for real?

Completely real.

Her early gift to me was the first of many extraordinary moments and circumstances where Heather taught me how beautiful it is to love people. All people. Unconditionally. The way you love your own. She loves every, single, person, every, single, day, the way most of us do only on Thanksgiving or at our close relatives’ weddings. Heather taught me that it’s silly to hoard your love. That life is more abundant, more joyful and more fulfilling, the more love you give out. Heather opens her home, her heart, her wallet, her patience, her attention, to the whole world. She makes us feel safe, like we belong, like we are loved. No matter who we are or how we show up.

It is remarkable.

I have tried to emulate this in my own life and have observed to important things. 1) damn it’s hard sometimes to love everybody. 2) Hell yeah, it’s totally worth it.

On Partnership

My parents’ marriage was a disaster.  Even as a kid, years before they got divorced, it was easy for me to see how terribly wrong they were for each other. By the time I met Heather, I was pretty convinced marriage was one of the easiest ways to ruin your life.

Dave and Heather defy everything I thought I knew about partnership. The first night I spent in their home felt transformative. Mutual respect. Equity. Love. Communication. Support. All of these qualities permeated their every interaction. I couldn’t believe I was watching grown-up, married people behave this way towards each other. It blew my mind. The more time I spent with the Redfords, the more I admired the way they worked as a team: parenting, planning, cooking, laughing, decision-making.

In the summer of 2010, Heather and I sat on the porch of a Squaw Valley condo and talked about love and partnership. I told her how much I admired her relationship with Dave. I told her how much I had learned from them, just being a part of their lives. She told me that marriage is work. She told me that loving someone for your whole life and having to live that life, is nearly impossible. She told me that in a marriage, there are days, even entire time periods where you don’t even like your spouse. She also told me, that she loves Dave so deep in her soul and is so committed to him, somehow, it all works out. That conversation, and all of the moments I spent with the two of them, were important lessons about sacrifice, and forgiveness, and love, and commitment. Heather taught me that finding a partner, loving them and making it work is one of the most beautiful ways to spend a life.

Living a full life.

The first time I went to Heather’s house I was invited for “dinner.” “Come over in the early evening, bring wine if you want, otherwise just bring your awesome self.”

So, I figured: have a little food, a little conversation, I’ll probably be back home and in bed by 11.

That night, Steven made crab cakes. He’s her youngest. He was sixteen at the time. He looks exactly like Heather and I felt the same way I feel about her the moment he hugged me (as soon as I walked in). There were three different types of desserts. I must have had ten glasses of wine.

Early in the night we huddled in the family room and shared about our lives. I talked about law school and teaching yoga. Patrick (her oldest) talked about college applications and how he’d never even consider going to UCLA. We talked about Buddhism and high school and the perils of being an accountant. We talked and laughed and loved each other. I felt home.

Later we feasted on delicious food. We drank more wine. Had more conversation.

When dinner and dessert were over we hugged each other and laughed some more. In all of the euphoria we found ourselves dancing in the entry way to the house, singing our hearts out.

I probably crawled into bed that night at 3a.m.

The abundance of that night was characteristic of every experience we’ve ever had together. Heather taught me what it means to live a full life. She does everything with full attention, full energy, full heart, full love. She shines as her fullest self in every moment. She shines and shines and shines.

She took days off of work to ski with her kids in Tahoe. During his senior year of high school she took her son to see his favorite band at Red Rocks because “why the hell wouldn’t I?!!!” She meditates, practices yoga and drinks good wine. She is a divine goddess of laughter and spirit.

She is a constant reminder to me that this moment is all I have, so I better rock it the fuck out.

Heather gave me many gifts: emotional, spiritual and material. But her greatest gifts of all are her lessons on how to be in my life. I am a better woman, friend, partner and human because of her. She will live forever in my heart.

Gets Me

I’ve had the same best friend since I was 13. 15 years, spanning early adolescence to our late twenties.

It feels like eight different lifetimes.

When we were freshman in high school we shut ourselves in my bedroom and recorded songs about imaginary homecoming dates on the karaoke feature of my stereo system.

When we were juniors, I held her hair back as she threw up peach flavored Boone’s and slurred through an apology about being so drunk. Later, she squeezed my hand in the seat next to me at my brother’s graduation from therapeutic boarding school.

When we were in college, we shared feminism, progressive politics and ten or twelve Oprah book club books. We became strong, assertive women.

When we grew up, we lived together, in my favorite apartment, on the tree-shaded corner of 16th and O, in midtown Sacramento. We wore spandex and danced up and down the hallways of our building. We watched all ten seasons of the original 90210

In the stages between, I dabbled as a lesbian and she had her heart broken by the man she thought she would marry. I cut my hair into a mohawk. She had adult braces. Together we transformed a summer camp and built a beautiful community of young people. We fought, we cried, we struggled, we grew, we triumphed. We laughed. So. Hard.

Life is change. In fifteen years, I’ve changed my hair, my politics, my career path, my diet, my fitness regiment, my spiritual beliefs, my taste in men, my values, my attitude, my goals, my dreams, probably five hundred times. Amy got all of it. “I feel you.” “That’s awesome.” “You should definitely drop out of law school and move to a mud hut in Bali, why not?”

I can’t think of anything more important in my life than having someone who gets me. Someone who shows up with affirmative and unconditional love in the face of every: bizarre decision, bad behavior, sexual misadventure, fear, sadness, loss, excitement, celebration.

A dear friend of mine is dying of cancer and I can’t stop crying about it. Last night I called Amy. I was hysterical and incoherent, rambling in fits of sniffles and sobs. On the other end of the phone she held the space. Heard my voice. Felt my pain. And got me. She understood every word, every feeling, every thing I was trying to express, spoken and unspoken. All of it. And as soon as I got off the phone, I took a deep breath in, a long exhale, and stopped crying. I felt safe. I felt understood.

I feel deep gratitude that my life is witnessed by someone who sees me as my fullest self. She reminds me that I’m perfectly awesome just being who I am, or changing, or whatever works for me. She’ll see me, love me and support me, no matter what.

10 years. 3 Words.

There’s a beautiful yoga teacher in Sacramento who just started to write a blog. I am completely addicted to it. She is honest and eloquent and funny and open. I love her, through it. She inspired this post with her own story: Ten years. Two Pages. Three-word sentences. Sounded impossible, so I gave it a shot.

Felt like adult. Fended for myself. Pressure to succeed. Hid my pain. Didn’t feel it. Ate practically nothing. Drank Diet Coke. Anger and Resentment. Applied to College. But just barely. Had people fooled. Thought so anyway. Met first love. Loved him quickly. He cherished me. I started eating. Still so angry. Didn’t acknowledge it. Left for school. Loved my freedom. Escaped my family. What a relief.

Found summer camp. Working with kids. Lit my life. Became a mentor. Met little Cindy. She was fast. She was energetic. She loved me. Loved her back. I felt joy. I felt valued. Blessed by community.

Brother got sober. Didn’t care much. Tired of that. Everything about him. Was still angry. Angry at him. Angry at parents. Didn’t know though. Thought I healed. Wanted to forget.

Joined Session Six. Unicamp was home. I made friends. I was loud. I was obnoxious. I laughed tons. I never cried. Mentorship Program Director. My life changed. I had responsibility. Learned organization skills. Learned management skills. Sucked at it. I hate sucking. It was hard. But also awesome. My beautiful committee. Talented and wise. They trusted me. I sucked less. I tried learning. I tried listening. Still hated sucking. Learned and grew. Ran a program. I did that. It was crazy. I never slept. I never ate. The good kind. I felt alive. I felt purposeful. I found myself. So I thought. Do we ever? I’m thinking no.  Love was glorious. Like the movies. Relationships are hard. I was vulnerable. I was open. Then it ended. My heart broke. I cried tons. More than ever. Then I stopped. For many years. Didn’t want to. Crying was weak. Crying was failure. Crying was miserable. Mentorship was hard. Missed my friends. Missed my support. Kept at it. Did my best. Was never enough. Hard on myself.

Lived in 203. With best friends. My beautiful heroines. Four extraordinary friends. Shared our secrets. Talked about life. Became women together. Learned to trust. Opened a little. Just to them. They were smart. They were funny. They were unconditional. Late nights laughing. Many dipped cones. Alice is brave. Sonya is artistic. Michelle is practical. Marni is unique. Me and Alice. Singing Lauryn Hill. In the car. Loud and louder. Hobbes and Guess. Best duo ever. Love that woman. My whole heart. Soul sister forever. Different and same. Learned from her. Loved with her. Anger at men. Anger at world. Anger all over. Feared getting hurt. Strong and stronger. Strength and power. Protect my heart.

Climbed a mountain. With our kids. Me and Alice. To the top. Shared with them. Cried with them. Laughed and hugged. Laughed so hard. Hugged So hard. Cried so hard. Most memorable week. My whole life. Changed me forever. Still remember them. Each of them. Special to me. In my heart. Me and Alice. Singing and sharing. Teaching and loving. Our fullest selves. Hiking through hail. Thunder and lightning. Holding one another. All of us. Like a family. A cherished memory.

Summer of 2006. Amy and Katie. Our journey together. No words explain. Could write paragraphs. What it meant. How it felt. Nothing like it. CHALOF is love.

Went to a yoga class. It was hard. I got strong. I liked that. Liked my arms. And my abs. And my butt. It was working. For those things.

Quarter Life Crisis. What to do? Who to be? Save the world. At least try. Work with kids. Make parents proud. Not sure how. Struggle with everything.

Then Gobbie’s accident. Everything is chaos. My parents cry. My parents fight. My brother helpless. My brother broken. My heart broken. Devastating us again. Everyone is sad. But nobody speaks. It is fine. He is fine. We are fine. Nobody’s fine.

Tried Outdoor Education. Sassed my boss. Dated a lesbian. Knew it all. In your face. In everyone’s face. Didn’t work out. What to do? Who to be? Still didn’t know.

Moved to Sacramento. Felt like failure. Still hated sucking. I felt lonely. Especially at first. Did more yoga. And even more. Felt like addiction. The good kind. Sweating and twisting. Oming and chanting. Deeper and deeper. Started to listen. Finally heard lessons. Liked the stories. Connected to dharma. Found a teacher. Taken by AMK. Her intense energy. Felt like mine. She could relate. I could relate. We knew eachother. We were eachother. Wanted to teach. Spread the yoga. Did teacher training. Resisted it all. Didn’t ever cry. Didn’t open up. Laughed and joked. Put on show.

Back to School. Be a Lawyer. Make some money. Have more power. Make parents proud. Meet everyone’s expectations. But who’s everyone? Felt totally lost. Confused and Sad. Missed my job. Got big ego. Mean to everyone. Got good grades. Still felt bad.

Quit teaching yoga. I wasn’t ready. Needed to work. Work on myself. On my mat. Started listening again. Open your heart. Be more vulnerable. Didn’t know how.

The Final Voyage. Opened my heart. I felt changed. Resisted it ending. Held on tight. Fear and sadness. Joy and hope. CHALOF is family. In my heart. All the memories. So much love.

Left for L.A. A new adventure. Scared and excited. Held Amy tight. Transition is scary. Change is hard. Spent time alone. Sitting with myself. Yoga was hard. Loneliness was hard. Started to cry. I felt relieved. Cried some more. Missed my friends. Missed my life. Missed my community. Missed my mom. Missed my identity. Started to breakdown. But then, breakthrough. Heather got sick. Cried for days. Decided to love. To love everyone. To love hard. Channeled her energy. Felt her spirit. I felt changed.

Not so angry. Tapped into softness. Grew out my hair. Started to listen. Tried being nice. Nice felt good. Started to meditate. Tried gratitude practice. Wrote in journal. It was working.

Maybe teach Kindergarten. Be a lawyer. Run a camp. Just run away. Be a lawyer. Grown up life. Happiness and Expectations. Happiness and Money. Happiness and soul. Happiness and love. Sorting it out. Practice and practice. Try and open. Patience and curiosity. My greatest challenges. Give up fighting. Give in gently. Meet some resistance. But keep trying.

Lady Love

Two things I know for sure:

1) I have the most incredible mom on the planet. She mothers with deep love compassion and sacrifice. She is unconditional. She is brave and strong.

2) My twenties have been blessed by the emergence of many beautiful female role models. They are powerful, soft, intelligent, funny and unique. Each of them teaches me in her own way about womanhood, femininity, being a parent, a spouse, a partner.

One thing I struggle with: Embracing in myself all of the exquisite feminine strength I see in my mom and other women.

Late in high school I got this idea of myself that I was a strong, sassy woman. To me that meant being assertive. outspoken. not taking shit from anyone. The older I got the more I felt like this idea of myself was myself. It became my entire identity. I felt powerful and accomplished. I liked that people respected my authority. People told me I was intimidating and I took it as a compliment.

My voice is always heard. I speak my mind, talk over other people and demand that people take notice of what I have to say. In large groups of boisterous men I can hang tough with sarcasm and insults.

For years this felt like both a personal and feminist victory. I felt empowered. I told the young women in my life whom I mentored that it was important to be strong. Be assertive. outspoken. don’t take shit from anyone.

But about five years deep in a spiritual practice and many incredible female influences later, it started to feel like an obstacle. I felt lonely and isolated. I wanted to know what it meant to open up my heart but all I could ever do was open up my mouth. I was desperate to understand what wasn’t working.

Slowly, I opened myself up to softness. It started with a simple commitment to “be nice.” With every person I knew, in every public encounter, I focused on this one thing. I noticed almost immediately the positive effects of this practice in my life. In turns out, people like when you’re nice to them. Shit, who would have thought?

The more I acted nice, the better I felt. And sooner than I ever would have expected, I didn’t have to try so hard. It became how I was rather than just something I did.

Being nice unlocked other traits I hadn’t seen in myself since I was a little girl. I cried more in two months than I had in five years. I cried in movies, commercials and books. I couldn’t watch a single thing on the Oprah Network without puddling into a pool of tears.

I started to help people. I helped strangers: open doors, pick up dropped produce in the grocery store and find places when they were lost.

I wanted people to feel loved and cared for by me. I wanted to connect and listen to them. I started to bake and cook for anyone who would eat it.

It all felt incredible.

The behaviors and attitudes I observed in myself were the feminine qualities I had been denying and rejecting (mostly out of fear) for years. I feared that if I loved  people, they would hurt and betray me. I feared that if took care of people, they would walk all over me. I feared that if I connected to people, I would feel vulnerable and exposed. I thought if I cooked for people I would fail at it. I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone witnessing my failure.

Today, in the midst of what feels like a phase of emotional and spiritual transition, all of those fears remain intact. What I’m learning, is fear is a barrier to my happiness. Fear is a barrier to me living my fullest life. Fear prevents me from letting my whole self show up in the world. When I soften, embrace my femininity and allow others to do the same, I chip away at my fears. The more I accept that I just might be a caretaker, a mother, a gentle and kind woman, the more I feel acceptance in the world.

I still feel powerful. My voice is heard. I command respect. But in moments of softness I find my strength and my voice by allowing people to see me instead of demanding their attention. I can still be outspoken but conscious of what I say. And, one of my greatest lessons to date, is that the best way to “not take shit from anyone” is to not give it out.

Womanhood is beautiful. Femininity is luminous and powerful. To love, be compassionate, caring, open and soft are lessons I learned from my mom and the gifts of a vibrant life. I do not have to sacrifice my strength to be a woman, I just have to give up the fear that I do.

I feel gratitude for all of my many female mentors and inspirations. This particular reflection was inspired by two brave women telling their own stories of struggling with the balance of softness and strength:


http://www.peachfriedman.com/2012/03/02/thing-1-and-thing-2/

 http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/03/starving-for-approval-anorexia-and-the-mother-shadow–candice-holdorf/