1: Connection

For thirty days, before my thirtieth birthday, I am sharing thirty lessons from my life.

It is mostly a challenge to myself.

To avoid marinating in the story of “not enough” and “not what I expected,” and, instead, celebrating and appreciating the growth and depth and wisdom of thirty years.

To write every, single, day. Not Just a sentence or an edit of something I’ve already written, but a complete thought, a new idea, an entire blog.

To move into the next decade of my life from a place of abundance and gratitude. Gratitude for everything I already am, for everyone who is someone to me, for the chance, every day, to experience being myself.

Lesson 1: Connection

My older brother was a kid-genius-reading-prodigy. His third grade teacher refused to let him do a book report on “Shogun” because she’d never read it herself. He tore through John Grisham and Tolkien and everything in between. As a second grader, he tried to explain the plot of “Silence of the Lambs” to me during our bike rides to school. At some point, my parents confiscated his copy but I think he had a second one, stashed secretly under his bed.

One time, when we were really little, he read a Time Magazine article about evolution in the front pew at church, on Christmas Eve.

I, on the other hand, hated to read.

I always sensed my parents discomfort with the disparity in behavior between my brother charging through three to eight full-length novels on family road trips and me, sitting next to him, idle in the back seat.

My best friend jokes that my “most over-told” story from childhood is about the “Book It” program sponsored by Pizza Hut, in the early nineties. Each time you read a book, you got a sticker on a special poster at school. When you reached a certain number of books, you got a free personal pizza and drink and a super cool, giant button from Pizza Hut.

For months we ate pizza hut pizza, every Tuesday night. My brother collected a pile of beautiful buttons, and my mom reluctantly paid for my personal pepperoni, every time.

I loved the Babysitter’s Club and occasionally struggled through an American Girl book. But, in my family, Babysitter’s club wasn’t really considered reading, and I preferred to play with my American Girls, not read about them.

It all worked out though. After faking my way to A-pluses in high school English, I picked up reading in college. I have grown-up subscriptions to the Atlantic and the New Yorker. And as if that isn’t impressive enough, I earned a professional degree that required reading approximately 400, mind-numbing pages, per week.

My parents finally seem satisfied that I don’t have a learning disability.

Even as far back as my brother introducing me to Hannibal Lecter, I loved to write. My favorite project at my first elementary school was creating laminated, bound books that I wrote and illustrated myself. I loved storytelling, and using my imagination. Even with the limited vocabulary and still-evolving language and grammer of a first grader, I loved to edit, too. I never shined with so much pride as I did when I brought home a new book I’d “published.” My mom would graciously read all eight pages and thoughtfully give me feedback about my unique, literary gifts.

Beginning in third grade, I regularly kept a journal. I wrote pages and pages of prose for reports on books I barely finished. I dreamed of being famous like Roald Dahl or William Shakespeare, or that french guy who wrote “The Little Prince.”

In college, I started my first blog. It was mostly “feminism in real-life,” reflections on my every-day experiences through the lens of my progressive education. I didn’t share my blog electronically, or personally, even with my closest friends. Sometimes, when I wrote something I really liked, I’d send a link to my mom so she could reflect my feelings of pride and satisfaction. I wrote in a blog because it felt important. The issues and ideas I took on had weight and merit, and I never felt like my illegible handwriting scribbled on the pages of my thirtieth hard-bound notebook were worthy of the cause.

In the years before I went to law school, I wrote on and off. I’d churn out a couple of good blogs while my students were taking the high school exit exam, then fall off the wagon for a month and half.

My mom remained my only reader, and I never considered expanding my audience.

During law school, I briefly tried to be a yoga-blogger, but it quickly got repetitive and stale. I felt uninspired and uninteresting and judgmental of all the people on elephant journal who seemed to write about yoga for a living.

“How do they have so much to write about? Isn’t it pretty much the same lesson, new day?”

Because my third year of law school was easily the most laid-back, fun, spiritually enriching period of my adult-life, I picked up writing again. I gave myself the freedom to write about anything. I let go of narrow expectations. I didn’t have a purpose, or a message, or a theme. I’d sit down at my computer and allow myself to put whatever I was feeling on the page.

I shared my first blog on social media the day my dear friend Heather Redford died. It’s clear to me now that Heather helped me do it. She used her courage, and spirit, and no-nonsense way of revealing life’s most important lessons.  She told me to cut through the fear, and the bullshit, and show myself to the world. At the time though, it felt like an act of survival. The pain was so deep and so raw, and I was so far away from everyone I wanted to be close to, it was the only thing I could think to do to ease the sting.

All sorts of people responded. My local friends and my Sacramento friends and friends I hadn’t seen, or heard from, in years. Expressions of love and sympathy and compassion came pouring through email and text messages from every piece of my life.

My friend Anne told me my blog “hit her like a ton of bricks.”

She could relate, and others said they could, too.

Over the next couple of months, I shared more of my writing. The more I shared, the more people reached out to me. To tell me how much they identified with my feelings and experiences and perspective. I connected with my childhood best friends and my elementary school classmates. Girls I fought with in high school and the older lady friends of my mom. Kids that used to work for me, and alumni bruins I volunteered with, way-back-when. My brother’s wife and his girlfriend from boarding school. My yoga teaching friends, my law school friends, people I never considered friends at all.

They wrote with praise and support and their own stories. They thanked me for my honesty, and courage, and willingness to share. Each time, each of them, in a new way, reminded me, of the same thing.

We are all connected.

Writing, for me, is a practice. Of meeting the world, head-on, as my most authentic self. When I write, I reveal the pieces of myself that, in person, can easily hide behind my sarcastic wit and self-confidence and articulate speech. I’ve written things on this blog that I’ve never even said out loud. To anyone. Not even myself.

And it is those things, always, that people respond to most.

I write because I love to.

I share because connection is the root of a beautiful life.

Love in Southeast Asia: Meeting Heather on the Halong Bay

“I can’t stop looking at her.”

Parker reminds me that there are only 10 other people on this boat, so I should try to control myself.

We’re out for our first excursion aboard the Paradise Four. It’s nine billion degrees on the Halong Bay, but it feels like Heaven. The view is majestic in every direction.

I’m captivated by a short-haired woman in her early sixties. She’s wearing a purple tank top and her hair is dyed a deep violet-red. It’s clear she spent her pre-gray years as a vibrant red head. She’s traveling with her husband who appears quiet and loyal. She radiates with a huge smile and palpable enthusiasm.

I can’t stop looking at her.

“I know you think this is just more of my hippie-voodoo, but check it out.”

I scroll through my Iphone camera roll to a picture from a year ago. I pass the phone to Parker. Heather’s beautiful, freckled face fills me with joy and heartbreak. I watch his eyes soften into a silent apology for doubting me.

“That must be weird for you.”

I don’t feel weird about it, but if I keep this up, she might.

Just after sunset, Parker and I join the grown-ups on the top deck for cocktails. We sit in a haphazard circle of beach chairs and relax in the eighty-five-degree darkness. I inch my chair as close to her as possible, observing a boundary line for the personal space of a complete stranger. My boundary lines have always been a little fuzzy.

She speaks with a rich australian accent. Her vivaciousness and effusive language make her unique intonation even more dramatic.

I want her to tell me every detail of her life.

She and her husband raised their two boys in four different countries. A year in Sri Lanka, 3 in California. Some time in London, and of course, Australia. The boys are grown now, but they still travel as a family. She and her husband share a strong partnership, a love for exotic destinations and a taste for good wine. They love their kids deeply but live full, independent lives. I can tell just by listening, their family is something special.

I want to squeeze her so tight I can feel her bones. I want to tell her I love her. I want to reveal that we are soul sisters, and share about my loss. I want to cry in her arms and feel Heather’s spirit comfort me. I don’t want to get off the boat because I can’t say goodbye again.

At dinner I watch her and her husband invite new friends over to share their table.

“That’s so Redford.”

Later, I see her disappear into the cabin deck and emerge with a buffet of stomach medication. She thrusts them in the lap of a total stranger and tells him to take what ever he needs.  She says, “I won’t humiliate you with questions about your symptoms. I know it can get crazy down there around these parts,”

She would.

The next morning I drag myself to Sunrise Tai Chi. I meet my friend and her husband, the only two people brave enough to sweat it out at 6:30 a.m.

At 7:30, I find a seat next to her in the dining room and fill up her coffee.

We talk until Parker, and breakfast, emerge.

For over an hour, we chat and laugh and connect. We joke about the traffic in Southern California and share ski-weekend memories from Northstar at Tahoe. Her love surrounds me, just like the first time we met.

It felt like sharing moments with Heather that could have been. The conversations we would have had, the milestones in her boys’ life she might have witnessed. Her patient, sweet husband. Their beautiful life.

I wanted to cry but didn’t want to have to muster an explanation. I drank up the light in her eyes.

When we got off the boat, I whispered: I miss you my dear friend. I’ll see you again soon.

Of course, I should have known.

Heather’s soul is transcendent.

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.