January 3, 2013 § Leave a Comment
J laughs like he’s been taken over. He grabs his stomach and opens his mouth and out comes the joy. I hold it in for a minute, and then I laugh too. I can’t stop. Grabbing my sides, HA! HA! HA! the big sounds come out. My face hurts. My stomach tightens. There’s the rush – all that stuff I was holding in my gut. I catch my breath. He does too.
He slaps my leg.
“Oh, god, that was funny.”
I start to warm up again.
J and I laughed until 2 am, when I curled up on the couch and fell asleep without thinking. I woke up to quiet in his Sacramento first floor apartment the next morning, and watched the light come in through the slanted shades. His boyfriend came out and smiled at me, shirtless and sculpted and beautiful – his boyfriends always are like that.
The boyfriend made coffee, and handed me a mug. We smiled the way people do who have love for a person in common.
Love is easy sometimes – waking up in the quiet by a person who knows what you’re thinking when you don’t say anything at all.
They bought me brunch, this man who has supported me ceaselessly and a partner who wants to talk about Uganda and mobile applications and keeps saying “send me that piece you wrote, yeah?” and “hey, send me that article, don’t forget.” When he was out of earshot J whispered about our congruities – this man and I. There’s Uganda, and there’s this itch to move and this involvement in the start up industry. I smile like a little kid, then, because I know the similarities between myself and his partner mean this man loves me the way I love him.
J brought me home to my parents home after we ate. We drove past the three bedroom off Stevens street where I learned to ride a bike, and turned right on Hwy 49, where you can turn left and find the house where I had my first dog and my first crush and I met a goofy girl in overalls who is still my best friend.
He hugged me tight. “Okay?” he said.
He drove away, and I got ready to go inside.
Love is a game of tetris sometimes – all this bouncing up against boundaries you put there on purpose so it wouldn’t die out.
Seeing the people you’ve loved the longest kicks up dust in the empty spaces inside you that you haven’t decided about yet. There’s resolve, the new self. There’s the old self you’re trying to hug and kick out the door all at once, and then there’s no-man’s land, all this brain and heart mass that hasn’t been decided on. And, there’s where the melancholy – the lonely – pours in.
Family’s a dust devil – kicking all kinds of things into my undecided spaces.
I can hear my mom talking about me up the stairs. “She flies out Friday. Came in last week. Yep…Yep.” She I do best when we’re playing tetris right, with all these boundaries going up in the right places to keep us from banging into spots that hurt.
Sometimes the want to kick the lonely takes over. Lonely is not having a sure place, and lonely is stilling the noise and lonely is not being sure exactly what to do in a place except for wait. Lonely is a lost paradigm.
Lonely is a sit and a cigarette. Breathe in. Breathe out. Lonely is still learning how to stay with yourself.
I smell cigarettes and oak trees when I close my eyes. There’s a different kind of smoke. It must be a burn day in Northern California.
My grandfather called me an infidel last week. “How can you have Muslim friends if you’re an infidel?” We were drinking wine at the kitchen table I’ve ate at since I was a little girl. I had decided not to fight.
“My friends don’t talk like that, Gramps.”
I felt heat rising in me. I felt it again on New Years Eve, sitting in front of a fire with a man who educated me on the way men think – that in life, for men like his son, for men that are real men, a woman who says no is the only kind of woman worth having. That any, “broad who spread her legs” isn’t worth much. By spread her legs he said meant consensual sex. He was specific: a woman who says no ten times is always better than a woman who says yes once.
“No,” he shook his head. “Women like that aren’t anything at all.”
He’d told me his ancestors came from Côte d’Ivoire, so I asked him if he’d been to the Ivory Coast. We were laughing after that – him, and a woman he was calling “smart,” after unknowingly calling her nothing.
Not anything at all.
Mom and I played tetris later that night in the kitchen. I played a song on the ihome, and she told me it made her sad. I nodded, “me too.” She asked me about my night. I said, “good.” And, there was silence, right then. I let it be, like I let Gramps be, like I let the man be in front of the fire on New Years. And, I knew that was enough. Just that. The quiet. The knowledge of friction. And, inside it, all the love that keeps a person coming back to a place where they kick up dust with the people they love. Without anybody trying to do it, you know – just like a real desert storm.
I thought of the time she and I danced to Stevie Nicks before I moved to New York City. I remembered that love is like that sometimes – crying and dancing in the kitchen with a person who gets you, even when you don’t say why you’ve got all those tears.
That’s real love for you – desert storms and understanding, all wrapped up together in a sucker punch to the gut.
Love looks a lot like quiet instead of fighting, like an understanding of total misunderstanding, and the choice not to poke the elephant in the corner again. Love looks like not talking politics, and love is knowing nobody taught somebody better when they should have. Love is offering an alternative, without fighting. Sometimes, love is quiet. Sometimes, love is laughing so hard you can’t talk with people you don’t understand at all that year.
Love is the aunts who pinch your ass on their way past you and say “you’re ok?” after you’ve blown up over politics again, just like you knew you shouldn’t.
Love is tetris. Love is a bouncing ball, boundaries and love is smiling when you know nobody’s going to “get it.” Love is melancholy and lonely and a cigarette on the porch when its kicking up dust in the empty spaces.
Love is getting on a place to go back to a life that works better than the one that did here.
Love is the people who beg you to come around, even when they know its going to be difficult.
Love is knowing you’ll be back again – another tetris game, another holiday, another year. And that you’ll come back again after that.
Love is knowing that the dust kicking won’t kill you, after all.
December 5, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I spent two hours at a Buddhist shrine in Chelsea this weekend, sitting and feeling my legs ache while I tried to find my center.
“You’re going to feel yourself pulled off course,” my instructor said. “That’s ok. Acknowledge it – ‘thought’ – and pull yourself back to the breath.”
There’s nothing that feels immediately natural about meditation. Here you are on a cushion in a room full of other people with your eyes wide open, trying not to get too caught up staring at one single spot while you focus on your breathing.
I’ve rarely spent time in total stillness by the time the gong rings to end the session. But when I’m tempted to get mad at myself for planning my week out instead of finding my center, I remember that I show up at this studio in Chelsea because meditation isn’t about perfection but, rather, about learning to hold your seat – to stay in the moment without changing its discomfort and imperfection.
It’s just this kind of thinking – “gentle thinking” – that brings me back to recognize that this exact moment, with the room full of people and the ache in my knees – is important. And, therein lies the secret to meditation.
The concepts I learn through this practice have proved to be some of the most helpful tools I’ve discovered in my journey as a young female business owner in New York.
The process of building a business without financial backing takes 4-5 years, with at least your first two typically spent in the red. Proof of concept can often take a year in itself, and the mistakes you’ll make after that will take both your money and your time.
What all of that adds up to is a whole lot of imperfect discomfort that I’ve learned you can’t build anything worth holding onto without. No matter what way you slice it, a business is built on thousands of individual moments that need your attention before you can move forward. And, sometimes, it feels like its going to be forever before someone rings the gong and welcomes you into the next phase.
When my heart is tired and my brain hurts and my emotions are all pushing me to give it up, the principles of meditation are teaching me to stay with the right now. Not when I’m making x amount of money, or manage to take on x amount of new accounts. Right now. This moment, with the recent mistakes and the present frustrations.
I’m learning to “hold my seat” – to engage fully with this exact stage of my business, just like each moment on the cushion.
Here are a few reasons why that is so important:
The future builds off this moment.
I’m often tempted to run ahead to the next thing – to do what’s more exciting or let my thoughts wander out to six months from now, but the truth is that each individual phase of building is vitally important to the next. If I hadn’t spent a year providing my concept, or several months on strategic planning, or made mistakes that showed me what direction not to continue in, our business never would have moved forward to the next phase.
This moment is teaching me something I need to know.
In hindsight, some of the most seemingly “wasteful” moments of my business have taught me absolutely vital skills. I saw this last year, after helping my former guide through a medical emergency in Uganda. I was glad to help – but I struggled, over those weeks. I was there to do business and ended up spending hours in medical clinics and hospitals, arguing with drivers and handling payments.
While all that time felt genuinely wasted due to a corrupt health-care system, those weeks taught me cultural insights that now prove useful to me every day.
This moment deserves my attention.
In meditation you learn that things you typically ignore, like your breath and the feeling of your stomach filling with air, are actually tools. While seeming insignificant, they can actually be the key to handling your life’s largest stress areas well. And, I’ve found that seemingly mundane or unexciting tasks I’d like to ignore make up the foundation of my business – things like market research, accounting, inventory are each important in their own right, and need to be done well in order for the business as a whole entity to flow smoothly.
This moment will give me strength for the next one.
I was once told that building a business like running a marathon. This means that endurance is required. And, the only way that you can learn to get comfortable with endurance is by starting with where you’re at. Slowing down and breathing through one moment is what gets me through the next.
So - Breathe. Stop. Stay.
Give this imperfect, messy moment your very best.