April 20, 2013 § 2 Comments
If you pinned parts of me to cork board like a dissected art class beetle, you’d find the stories of a race I’m not a part of.
I can still smell pine needles and oak sap around the open spaced sanctuary where I was raised in California. I’m 10 again, just like that – sitting on a green fabric chair in a blue, carpeted room. God didn’t choose my European ancestors to follow him through the Red Sea, but I was taught, nevertheless, that faith is a thing you stumble upon when you discover your shoes don’t wear out, and cracker bread falls from the sky.
Its been a lot of years since then. I don’t have a word for it anymore – not “Christian,” not “Buddhist.” I’m pro gay, pro abortion, pro sexual freedom, pro follow your dreams and stick it to the man – and I’m pro doing right by everyone around you, including the folks that try and tell you that you’re hell-bound, together with all that feminist freedom and your neatly rolled spliffs and birth control.
I ignore them, on the subway, yelling about hell. But I resonate with loving my neighbor, and I still like to imagine one particular story of the Israelites gathering stones to carry as remembrance of a river crossing – a big to-do. They’d made it a long way since Egypt, god said. They should stop and take note.
I’m following suit, this weekend – picking up fortune cookie sayings and saving champagne bottle tops to mark a year, now, that I’ve been on the road to my own promised land – earmarking moments to remind me that just when I thought the current might carry me away, it didn’t.
It also won’t.
Here’s what I’ve learned in a New York City year – the lessons I carry, like my own bag of remembrance stones from the foggy Hudson river.
I wasn’t ready, you know. I arrived on April 20th, all blustery weather and trains running along a system of numbers and letters I didn’t understand. I didn’t know anyone to speak of. I only had $137.50 in my checking account.
When you jump into something like that, it’s all mouthfuls of water and salt in your eyes. Full throttle, uncomfortable emotion. You don’t get to dip your toes in. There will be no wading. Your money, your reputation, your heart and your relationships are all in a neat row, set up together like targets, waiting for someone to punch them in the gut.
I guess I’d caught wind that was the only way to ever do it, really. Some lives you can live apart from some professions. But my life and my job are like water – pulling them apart like breaking down a river current for parts. I knew I had to go all in on myself, as an entrepreneur – balls out, all calculated risk and determination.
All that salt in my eyes and the water I choked down taught me a lot. But I had to start going through the motions of doing it before it made any sense. Like a dog paddling toddler in the water – “look! I’m swimming I’m swimming I’m swimming!”
I was drowning, half the time.
Doesn’t matter. I stayed in the water. And eventually, I started to swim.
Entrepreneurship is a life you walk into the day you quit saying yes to everything else. I’ve learned that’s the only way you get going, or keep at it, for that matter.
The trouble is, it doesn’t feel natural. People mostly congregate in groups – religious groups, ideological groups, groups depending on where they grew up. Posse like. Follow the leader.
Make a home
Barbara Kingsolver writes that home is where you answer the question: “what life can I live that will let me breathe in & out and love somebody or something and not run off screaming into the woods?”
New York is the place where I’ve ever felt “home,” by her definition. They say that once you can make it here you can make it anywhere. I don’t believe them. I’m not sure that homes aren’t like best friends. You get only one real one, in your life – two or three if you’re extra lucky.
New York asks you who you are over and over and over again. This kind of work isn’t just what you “do” – it’s an ear mark on all your life pages – your friends, your bars, your groups, your places, your beliefs and commitments.
She’s a regular class bully. After you answer, New York will push you around a bit, and ask if you’re sure.
You have to be.
The night I met my flatmate, I’d shown up at a fundraiser I didn’t want to be at, and paid for an unlimited drink wrist band I couldn’t afford that week. But it was for the Congo, and then there she was, busting balls and wearing bright red lipstick. A month later, we were hiring brokers. Six months later, I wake up every morning and blink twice, just to make sure this big, beautiful apartment is for real, and my home life is really this full of peace.
Somebody, somewhere presented the idea that entrepreneurship was all excitement and heady feeling.
I’d like to kick them in the balls.
“I do wonder…whether some people opt for the entrepreneurship ‘experience’ over the lonely, exhausting, and terrifying real thing,” Eric Schurenberg writes in April’s Inc issue. “Companies get built in the spaces between you, your customers, your investors, your vendors and your team, where things get gritty and complicated and rarely go according to plan. They don’t get built, unfortunately, on a pitch-contest stage.”
Schurenberg nails it. Some days I’m terrified. That’s the worst of it. Others its just that I don’t feel useful, or smart or inspired. I don’t have a great answer for that – except that I keep trying anyway.
I think that’s the best anybody can do.
It’s only temporary
I’d paid my staff, my taxes, the business phone bill, my internet bill and bought chutney and red curry and had (very few) dollars to spare (I thought) for the week when a sneaky dollar fifty put me over the edge, clutching a coffee mug and wailing over my financial instability.
My father told me that it was a morning, not my life.
“Its the people inside your business that define it – the kind of work you do,” he said. “Not your bank account at 9 am on a Tuesday. This is called start up life, and this particular struggle will go away. But the people will stay, and so will the ideals you have built on.”
He told me there’s a wide road running between failure and frustration.
This too, would pass. And it did.
You’re going to need some help with that
The first time I moved in New York city, I did it on the subway, with big red rolling suitcases I had to drag up flights and flights of stairs. I had just about collapsed on my last transfer, when I felt my bag get lighter and realized the gentleman behind me was holding it up with his hands.
“You’re going to need some help with that,” he said.
God, have I. I wouldn’t know who to start with, if I listed out people to give credit to for every inch of this business.
I’ve learned that you can neither build nor enjoy a story by yourself.
It’ll come back around
I’ve learned that life is cyclical. On your team, even. She’ll pitch at you until you catch.
I try to live a lot, in the meantime, so I’m ready when she does.
Fall in love
I forget to love my life, sometimes – all caught up in bills and business deals, quality control problems and waiting to “make it.”
But I can and should and do fall in love with a million things around me every single day – the Albanian man who tells me that I have steel blue eyes, the flower stand I always pass on 84th and Columbus – the band playing Motown at Essex street on a Saturday morning, that one waiter in East Village, two weekends ago, who kept my coffee warm and my champagne filled just so — the sudden rain that one night I felt everything was ending until it soaked me through to my skin, running for my train.
I remember stopping in between 7th and 6th and crying, letting myself get all wet, getting it all out, alone on 23rd and feeling acutely aware that it really was going to be okay.
That was ten months ago.
Now, I catch myself falling in love with conversations and restaurants, brands of whiskey and certain Saturday morning traditions, coffee blends, champagne labels and familiar smells…people.
Most of all, I catch myself falling in love with what I have.
If that isn’t worth remembering, I’m not sure what is.
(photo by Sandi Elle).
August 27, 2012 § 3 Comments
I met M and J three years ago in Grass Valley, CA – 25 minutes from where I grew up off Highway 49, and an hour’s drive on I-80 West from Lake Tahoe, where my brothers and I used to make bets on who could stay in the cold lake the longest. We used to make my mom laugh, running out bright red and gasping from the snow runoff to beg for Juice Squeeze and hoagies.
The girls separated a year later. I lost touch with J, after that, but M and I stayed close. She never talked negatively about her old girlfriend, despite the fact that they’d spent over seven years together, and J had been nasty about the breakup. M has this phrase that explains her philosophy of living – “arms up!” she’ll say. “Eyes closed. Roller coaster.” When she’s down, she’s expecting she’ll be back up. When she’s up, she’s aware she’ll be back down. But she doesn’t negate either place.
“I learned a lot from being with women,” she commented once. “Then again, I learn a lot from being with men. I guess I just love people.”
I’ve always been aware that putting a label on M’s sexuality would be a mistake. It has much more to do with a way of loving out her fellow man than it does anything to do with being pansexual or bisexual or gay or straight, and she never uses any of those things to describe herself. So, neither do I.
I lived out more than one metamorphosis in M’s west coast apartment – Shanley 2.0 and 2.5 and 3.0 all clusterfucked together while I figured it out. I’ve flicked cigarettes off the balcony and taken long, slow hits with my feet tucked up under me on the raffia furniture on the veranda until my head felt lighter and my temples buzzed. I’ve been brought home stumbling from Rohypnol and spent the night puking off the side of M’s bed until I could stand straight enough to get to the bathroom. I’ve spent dizzy hours cleaning up that carpet, and calling home to tell my mom I’m okay, that my friends brought me home, and nothing happened.
I’ve pulled someone close in that same bed, smelling cigarettes and Grey goose and tonic and I’ve felt the world stop turning for a while, in M’s apartment.
I’ve gone back to the balcony and the raffia on the veranda with my heart broken, and woken up with blistering insides on the white, leather couch and I’ve driven home late on the highway, praying out loud with my heater on full blast with my blistering, pulsing, hurting heart pumping up a hurricane inside my chest.
I’ve gone back again whole, and sat sipping cocktails at the counter and talking about new beginnings. M was the person I called the first time I kissed a girl, and knew instinctively that kissing girls wasn’t my thing. I called her the first time I slept with someone I didn’t know. I called her when I couldn’t forgive my body for shutting down, and when I rejoiced over it opening back up. I lost my way, along the way, but M’s path shone like a beacon, always allowing for new experience, but never doubting her direction. That’s where M and I differed. I was always a “what the hell” person. I pulsed through life pissed off and wondering ”What the hell? What the hell? What the hell?” while M danced, pulling in certain things and letting go of others, because M always knew what kind of beat she wanted to jam to.
Once, she told me that she’d gotten to that place of sureness through a lot of trial and error. That was the night I stopped being pissed at myself for asking “What the hell?” and recognized that it was part of my journey.
M is big on intuition and she’s big on trusting oneself. So, she supported me through planning a wedding, and then she supported me when it was time to let my plans go. I moved to Washington DC and Los Angeles and Portland and East Africa, and M closed her eyes and put her hands up for me, each time.
M was the person who introduced me to Martha Beck. Beck’s a Harvard graduate and life coach turned author, though perhaps not in that order. A lot of her writing centers on her son, Adam, who was born with Down’s Syndrome.
I still thought I had it figured out when M and I met, you know. I was this 19 year old with an agenda and a clear direction and I was making a lot of judgments on the world.
M didn’t care. That’s the beautiful thing about her.
She’d already learned the more you know the less you know – but she didn’t judge me for not being there yet. Instead, she quietly and kindly handed me Beck’s book “Expecting Adam” the night I first sat in her kitchen watching J flip chocolate chip pancakes at the stove.
All she said was, “read this. You’ll cry and you’ll laugh and it will change your life.”
She was right. I walked away from that book with a new perspective on success – that it was something that centered around the way you loved people and yourself and your work, rather than how much money you made or the title you carried. Or, so I thought. I mean, I guess I stored that information somewhere inside me. But, I must have forgotten it when I simultaneously chose to become a social entrepreneur and at the same time became guilt ridden and depressed because I felt I “should” be working in an office for a salary instead.
When I hired an entrepreneur coach to kick the guilt and the depression and find a clear path, I figured that meant spending the first two weeks of our time focusing hard on my financials – turning me into insta-success – helping me make more cash more quickly. But my coach, in true M-like fashion, wasn’t about to begin there.
Instead of talking about my bank account, she asked me to sit on the floor and start drawing a visual map of what my life looked like in three years.
Jesus. That was hard.
The first night I tried to map out Shanley 5.0 AKA who I’d like to be at 26, I put my hair in a high bun and changed into my yoga pants. I rolled out this big sheet of white paper and I crossed my legs indian styled in front of it – pen poised…
I left to get a beer.
I left to get chocolate to go with said beer.
I called my mother.
I tried on a new American Apparel dress, for the third time.
I mediated, back in my yoga pants after taking off said dress.
Three days later, with a blank sheet of paper still rolled out on my floor I was perusing Beck’s writing for more information on Downs and I stumbled on a quote that reminded me of everything I’d first thought I knew after reading Expecting Adam.
That’s all it said.
I spent a week on that one phrase.
It took a full week for me to come to terms with the truth that I probably knew several things about Shanley 5.0 – what she wanted, where I hoped she’d be living and what she’d be doing with her time. But, I was afraid that none of those things would pan out, so I was shutting her down. I mean, who wants to listen to a bright future when all they’ve got in front of them is schpleck?
“I will not should on myself,” my coach directed that week.
Right. So, the blocking had to shift – from “I will never have what I want” to blocking out what my coach called the “little girl on your shoulder.” The little girl kept saying I should be in a corporate office, that I shouldn’t be be budgeting in expensive beer and going without good conditioner, that I should be making more money, should have gotten somewhere better sooner and, last but not least, really should be sending out sales pitches instead of doodling on a long, white sheet of paper I’m just going to shove in a drawer when I’m finished with it.
She thought the dumb map was bullshit anyways.
She kept talking the whole time I drew.
Halfway through the first 1/3 of my big, white roll-out sheet I dove in to more Beck. This time, she wrote that,
All this cheesy law of attraction stuff actually works—at least when you do it in a non-cheesy way, which I’ve been trying to learn and teach my whole life.
I imagined myself in an apartment by myself, then. I imagined myself quitting my part time job in a year’s time. I imagined myself writing, and working with my social enterprise and I imagined myself without guilt, sitting in this little studio with my grandfather’s tapa stretched out on the wall behind me.
I imagined M and her son dancing in their kitchen, and the night that she told me she had been crazy scared of having a kid, but that she envisioned herself as a mom – wanted to be a mom – and deciding to do it, despite fear, was the best thing she’d ever done.
Somewhere in between reading about Beck’s piece of forest property she purchased after pray rain journaling about it for months and finishing the second 1/3 of my map, I got a text from M telling me that she’d met someone, and it was going well.
“I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing,” she wrote. “But I’m breathing and I’m dancing in all this chaos and I feel this peace inside, because no matter what happens, I know where I want to be – and I know that I will find my way there.”
“Arms up,” I wrote back. “Eyes closed. Roller coaster.”
She sent a wink.
I finished my three year map a few days later. No where in it was there a corporate office, or anything close to the word “should.” In fact, it looked a lot like the direction I was already headed in – I just hadn’t known what to call it, before. Or, perhaps I should say, “draw” it.
I’m also happy to report that it has not spent a single, solitary moment in a drawer.
M’s coming to my coast this year.
She says she wants to come take part in this crazy adventure I’ve embarked on, in New York city.
“I love that you knew what you wanted and you went for it,” she texted.