There is only ever after

I want this grief to go away. I want to stop feeling as though the packaging holding my skin and my body and my life together is punctured every time I get news that a friend is pregnant, or has had a baby. Or when baking-themed gender-reveals for people I hardly even know pop up on my Facebook feed. (Also, please just stop bringing cake into this). Every time, it feels like I allow a little piece of fear to wedge its way into my heart.

There is a couple I see at Big River almost every day, walking their dog and holding hands, while the woman cradles a baby in a pink sling over her chest. Their happiness is obvious and infectious and like a total psychopath, I cry almost every time I walk past them on the beach with my dog. Oh I hear you, it sounds bananas but this feeling isn’t mental – it’s a cellular level, base instinct response, like when the doctor taps your knees with one of those tiny little rubber hammers only it feels more like a baseball bat whacking my ovaries and sending shock waves involuntarily throughout my whole body. And yes, it is intellectually absurd to feel sad or jealous of total strangers or likewise, Facebook “friends” I actually haven’t spoken to or seen in years or ANYONE for that matter. But that’s the rub. I know rationally that it is an irrational reaction and that in no universe is someone else’s existence a referendum on the state of mine. And yet, those involuntary feelings are there and some days I am better at seeing them for what they really are: gremlins born of my own fears and insecurities, and a little bit of biological voodoo too.

I carry this sickening sense of anger with myself for not wanting to feel this way, as well as a heap of guilt for allowing my grief to morph into this monster that seems to capitalize on the abject joy of other people. I do not want to be this person. I do not want my own feelings of loss to make undeserving scapegoats of friends or even people I just sort of know, and certainly not random postcard perfect couples from a Mendocino beach.

Because, what if this is my reality for the rest of my life? What if the next 30+ years of my world take a path that does not involve becoming a biological parent? That’s a long fucking time to harbor misplaced feelings of resentment towards others and bitterness towards myself, and for a circumstance I have to take responsibility for putting myself in the first place.

When Jay and I got back together in 2017 we had already broken up twice. The first time, he broke it off with me it was early 2016 and it happened after four months of dating, ostensibly because I wanted our relationship to be exclusive and he was panicked about making that commitment. It devastated me. I sank into an immediate and intense period of depression. I started to drink heavily alone, something I had never done before and have not done since. I spent crazy long days at work. And at very unhappy happy hours after I would finally leave the office. I joined a Crossfit gym down the street from my apartment which I told everyone was because I was working on my Michelle Obama arms but really I needed somewhere to get angry and punish my body with burpees and wall balls for being so foolish as to fall in love with someone who obviously didn’t want me. Why do we do that to ourselves, when the object of our affection responds with apathy or in the extreme, with rejection? Why is it so easy to feel like it’s not them but YOU with the problem in that situation?

And, wait for it. And then…and THEN. I took him back five months later, which sounds completely bonkers now but hindsight at the time was not a thing. I missed him. I wanted to believe that we could be the fairytale that worked out when he realized his terrible mistake. But I couldn’t get past the feeling that he wasn’t 100% there, and I don’t think I had forgiven him for breaking my heart the last time. So I was the one who decided to leave after 4 months.

The reasons behind our third and final reconciliation are many. What I recall the most is the feeling of familiarity and comfort I felt with him early in that third go-round, like hey, maybe this can work after all. Maybe all that insecurity I had felt on and off over the past year had finally run its course and we had gotten it all out of the way. Maybe it was because it was the spring of 2017 and I needed something to tend to and grow. He told me he loved me. He told me he wanted to make it work and more importantly, that he was ready, really ready this time to make this happen. I wanted it to work. I wanted to stop looking and going on shitty dates with tech bros and cynical strangers in San Francisco. I wanted all that pain we had put each other through to be the magic that made us stronger in the long run. I was willing to ignore the feelings of fear and uneasiness I had for the possibility that I could be part of a real-life love story, complete with plot twists and turns that ends with an alter of peonies and roses, a white dress, a commitment and a baby. Suffering through the bad to get to the reward at the end.

But the problems that led to our final break-up were already there when we made that last go of things. I believe that he believed what he was telling me was true: Yes, he wanted kids. Yes, he eventually wanted to be a husband. And yes, he wanted that all to be with me. I heard the words but I ignored the niggling sense that they also carried with them the invisible weight of hesitancy, inertia and fear. I sidelined rationality and sent intuition back to the locker room because I wanted this win so badly I was willing to take the risk for a chance at a real-life happily ever after.

Sometimes I feel like maybe the reasons our life together didn’t work out are irrelevant only because it won’t change the circumstances of right now. It won’t make this hole I feel at the moment feel any less vast. If we had become parents together as my fantasy dictated there would undoubtedly be a heaviness of grief around our failure to be a family unit for our kid.

The real reason I feel compelled to unpack all of this is to better understand the long game I’ve been playing with love relationships my whole life. Jay was not the first man with whom I tried to force fit a life but I want him to be the last. I made a hundred little decisions every day to convince myself that I should stay, over and over again for months. Or if we’re counting every time we broke up and got back together, for years. I made a choice and took a risk when we made a go of it that third time. I did that to me, regardless of who he is or the problems he has or who he turned out to be because there was love there and it was real. It was just everything else, namely the stories we wove independently and with each other about who we could be, rather than facing the harder truth of our own limitations, that became our final undoing. A partnership built on hope and love alone is a beautiful dream but makes for a house created out of bricks of mist.

Those stories enabled me to emotionally betray myself in the end, by blurring the line between a leap of faith and a fall of a bridge until it simply disappeared. It left me with a leeriness about myself that cuts so much deeper than the duplicity of a partner’s promise. And when that happens you’re the one left holding the bag. You can’t push the blame off to another person or even point to an outside influence to take responsibility for something you were capable of clocking in the first place, or the second, and certainly the third. It leaves you scared of your own shadow, looking over your shoulder and wondering, will I be able to catch myself before I do that again? Or is there another bagel shop breakdown somewhere in my future?

In a terrific irony, I am comforted by the knowledge that I could have forced the baby issue and I did not. I could have set aside the emotional evacuation orders my heart was sending me in the months leading up to our break up and demanded that we try and get pregnant, knowing deep down that our relationship would probably default in the end. It’s a tangible piece of evidence that suggests I am trying to look out for myself, even when I’m drunk on fantasy and wandering through an emotional black out.

Here there be dragons

You will be in a bagel shop when your heart breaks in this relationship for the last time. Egg, avocado, and scallion cream cheese on an everything bagel to go. The woman across the counter passes this to you as a sense of urgency rises in your chest and you realize you have to get out of there, immediately. You can feel your face flush hot and pink as you try to hold back the searing tears that are now rising up your neck and catching just short in your throat. You are conscious of what is happening as if time has slowed down just enough for you to suddenly understand with perfect clarity what you have been resistant to believe or accept for months.

As this realization silently untangles beneath your ribs, you look up at your boyfriend’s face as he chats and pays the cashier. I love you, you think to yourself, and I don’t understand how we got to this place, here, and now. He looks up and smiles, waiting by the door so you can walk back to the car together, his sneakers squeaking on the worn linoleum as he turns to go outside. It is in this moment – the moment that is now seared like an iron brand into your memory – that you realize sharply and suddenly and with an irreversible sadness that this thing we are trying to do, this relationship, is utterly and permanently broken. You will never, ever get what you need from this man or this life. 

Later in the aftermath, after you have moved out of the big house on the cul-de-sac in silicon valley, about as far away as you can go without disappearing entirely to a town 250 miles north with nothing more than your dog and a pile of boxes, when you have finally have had the time and the emotional willingness to sit with and start to examine the disoriented pieces of your life, you cannot shake the feeling that in that moment of revelation, holding a bagel in your hand on that Sunday morning in December, you felt something physical – something solid, something real – break apart in your soul. 

***

It was not the announcement of the pregnancy that got me, or even the news – shared as though it were a bonus gift in the same sentence – that our other friend couple were also having a baby, due the same week in the spring. We had run into Jenna and Will in the parking lot on our way to the bagel shop in old Palo Alto. It was a Sunday and Jay and I had just picked up an old desk from someone on NextDoor to put in our guesthouse. We planned to grab some food and walk the farmers market before heading home. Of all the couples from Stanford we knew, Jenna and Will are by far some of my favorite people and I had known for awhile that they had been trying for a baby. Only a few weeks ago, Jenna and I had commiserated in my kitchen about the number of baby shower invites we continued to get and had bonded over the realization that we had both stopped attending these events because they can be triggering to participate in when you are childless, even temporarily, and not by choice. 

Now the four of us were standing in a parking lot as Will gushed with excitement over their pregnancy news, and Jenna announced that Ricardo and Fatima – another couple in Jay’s PhD program – were also having a baby, due at the same time. My initial reaction was real joy; I was so genuinely happy for them – how could you not be? The look of pure love on Will’s face when he looked at his wife, the way Jenna’s eyes teared up with what I imagine was a combination of sheer happiness and also relief as they told us…it was impossible not to want to share in that kind of palpable excitement. A new baby. They were going to have chubby, beautiful new baby and that was their everything right now.

But as we said our goodbyes and started to cross the parking lot towards the bagel shop, something inside me started to churn. In hindsight it almost felt like a deep burning, as if there was a kettle in the middle of my chest whose top was starting to tremble and groan under the growing pressure of the water inside. I knew where this was going though I had no idea how hot or how fiercely it was about to explode. When the emotions hit, they came in as a tidal wave of sadness, anger, disbelief, guilt, and grief that stunned me into a suffocating silence – I knew if I tried to say anything that the damn would break and I wouldn’t be able to stop it. By the time we got to the bagel shop I felt like I was going to be sick. And by the time we left, I knew that my four-year relationship was over. 

Weeks later, while in the process of packing up closets of clothing and shoes in this bewildered state of resignation and confusion, I came across the long dress that Jay had bought me last spring before our trip to Hawaii. It is a beautiful dress, with a high neck that parachutes down to the floor in long, flowing folds of gold, green, and crimson colored fabric. I remember looking at that dress in the Anthropologie catalog as Jay peered over my shoulder and coyly placed an order that he surprised me with the night before we left for the big island. I remember thinking how perfect it would be for a Hawaiian holiday…and to hide the signs of an early pregnancy at a friend’s wedding later that year. I also remember how much this had pleased me when I wore it for the first time, thinking that the next time I put it on we would be halfway to having a baby. I thought about this all with a sense of detached sadness and numbness as I gently folded that dress into a box and sealed the top with shiny clear tape.

It is amazing the kind of mental gymnastics your mind will do to maintain the illusion of what you want to believe. We were no closer to having a baby last April than we were when we broke up 8 months later. I was just more willing at the time to ignore the emotional sirens going off everywhere in my life than to admit that we were broken beyond what love and therapy could ever possibly hope to repair.

In my experience, the willingness to get real honest with yourself about why a relationship ultimately falters doesn’t stop at the moment of death; it continues well past the expiration date. It would be easy for me now and really forever, to craft a narrative that basically paints him as bad and me as blameless, and I know this because this is essentially every story you’ve ever heard me tell about every boyfriend I’ve ever had. They were shitty, and I was shiny, and that is more or less the order of things. It is easy to make this your truth because everyone – your friends, your family, sometimes even HIS friends – are conditioned to accept this version of reality. It provides a scripted role to for everyone play in the aftermath of relationship catastrophe, which includes your own. A call to arms to comfort you in your despair, assure you that everything will be all right, and insist that the next time – the next man – will be so much better than what you’ve left behind.

But be warned that here, there be dragons. This relationship end story you have bought into, this tale you have not even had to convince yourself or anyone else is true because it felt so easy to accept and carry on, is a warning and it is a lie. And it is how you end up in a bagel shop on a Sunday morning in December feeling the weight of your heart as it shatters into a million little pieces.

Whatever you do, make westing

I drove down to Menlo Park yesterday, as I do now every week, once a week, to take care of my regular physical therapy, and therapy appointments. Therapists of any kind – much like hair stylists – are not people you can just swap out of your life willy nilly so is driving 250 miles round trip once a week fucking bonkers? Yes, but also demonstrably no and I just have to live my life.

Also, 3 hours one way in the car driving down a coastal highway through redwoods and dairy farms and vineyards leaves a lot of time to think about all the reasons why you’re now living in a remote part of the coast of California that is hours away from nowhere and any town larger than about 7,000 people.

So on this long drive I was thinking about the name of this blog, and why something I pulled out of my brain as a 28 year old grad student now feels almost more important and applicable to the life I’m living right now, 10 years later, in a tiny town on the edge of the pacific. When I started SideStreet, is was really just going to be a medium to communicate back to people in the states what my life in Malawi looked like – I thought of it as a travel blog (which now feels naive and embarrassing and as a former aid worker, let this be the last time we ever describe or discuss it in that way again). 

What I wanted to convey was that feeling you get when you stumble upon something new, in a different place, as a stranger or a foreigner or whoever you might be. When I started traveling – I mean really traveling alone as an adult – it was 2003 and the internet and cell phones were barely a thing. The iPod did not exist, let alone a handheld computer with a camera that we now call a phone. My cell phone at the time was a Nokia (the fancy one with a flashlight, I’m not a savage) that by contemporary standards was about the size of a vaping device and was useful only for texting, finding things in the dark, and playing snake. When I left for Bolivia in January of that year I got on the plane with a backpacking pack, a Panasonic  “shock proof” CD Walkman, 12 carefully curated CDs, a film camera (real film!) and two Lonely Planet guides: Bolivia and South America. Those last two are important because as anyone older than 35 might recall at the time, there wasn’t a lot of reliable information on the internet about places to see, stay, eat, or how to get there and particularly for a country like Bolivia, having a consistent internet connection was barely a thing. You relied on what was in that lonely planet book and the notes you took from the advice of other travelers you met along the way. 

And you know what that advice nearly always had in common? Stay off the main drag. Hit the alleyways. Wander your way up the hill. Explore the side streets because that’s where the real treasures – the discoveries that make it feel like your heart might explode from the the mere magic of stumbling upon the beautiful ordinary of a city’s every day life – are hiding in plain sight. The ceviche place in La Paz that I cannot show you on a map but can only get to by memory on foot in that city. The morning I got lost near the cathedral and turned a corner into the weekend flower market where baskets overflowing with white and yellow flowers, and vendors selling coca leaves by the pound filled up almost a entire cobblestoned hill. The hostel that looked like a cross between Tatooine and Casablanca on the edge of the lake run by a crazy German guy that served the best trout filet I’ve ever had in my life. The memory of laying on a boulder at 15,000 ft in the Dali desert holding my friend Alyson’s hand and knowing that taking a photo would never capture the joy of feeling so small in such a vast, never ending space – that is a physical memory that can only exist in your body and in your heart. 

The main streets will try to capitalize on all of that. They will try desperately to communicate through flashy ads and loud music that THIS IS THE PLACE! The Hard Rock Cafe is the true character of this town. United Colors of Benetton have captured the nature and culture of this city scene. They will try, but no matter where you are in the world, it is always a frenetic farse, a poor imitation of something original and grand. Broadway in Nashville. Market Street in San Francisco. The red light district in Amsterdam. The Prado in La Paz. At its best it’s all just an amalgamation of mediocrity, a sea of buzzing neon reds and pinks and greens trying desperately to convince you that it has something new and different to offer, to trick you into feeling as though you have found something special and to draw you away from the rest of the city that is extraordinary in its ordinary-ness. What you see is bright and loud and screaming in neon, but the only thing you feel inside is an endless sea of beige.

One of the questions I keep getting from friends and some family members is, why Fort Bragg? The insinuation in that question runs the gamut from “why the fuck would you want to live THERE” to “are you having a nervous breakdown?”. The simple answer is that I needed to get away, far enough away and out of my comfort zone to get some perspective not only on the deterioration of this relationship that I thought at one point I would be in forever, but to take stock about what my life looks like naked, as it were. Without a relationship, without a job, without the baby I thought I would have right now, to define me.

That, and trying to find affordable housing in the Bay Area in 2019 is like being an unwitting actor in a terrible dark comedy that went straight to DVD and no one has the energy for that kind of d-listed garbage. And so if I had to move, and it wasn’t going to be San Francisco-adjacent, well then fuck everything I am going to live in a forest near the sea.

Fort Bragg is not a place where people from the Bay Area go. It is so far away and so removed from the day-to-day hustle of SF and Oakland and Silicon Valley that it almost doesn’t exist at all. It is, for all intents and purposes, not a destination along the main drag. No bright lights, no neon signs urging you to buy trinkets or to even stop for that matter. It is a side street. It is the place you end up because someone told you once that Glass Beach is beautiful. Or that taco Tuesday’s at North Coast Brewing are worth checking out. Or that the city in all of its transition and identity crisis between a once-upon-a-time logging boomtown to just a regular place dealing with pot and poverty and daily life, is still beautiful and vibrant and teeming with a tender realness that big city dwellers simply can no longer connect with because it makes so little sense in contrast to their own intensely urban lives. 

But it made sense to me. I walked a metaphorical Main Street for a long while – for years – waiting for the moment where I would finally feel settled, like I had found where I was meant to be. But somewhere in the act of looking for that place I derailed my own nature and needs. I managed to – in all of those tiny daily incremental decisions – to deny who I was. I cannot grow or thrive under Budweiser signs and tubes of artificial light because few things ever can. And maybe that’s why the idea of being a stranger in a strange land in a town I didn’t know felt like relief instead of fear.

In the midst of this massive, unexpected life pivot in which I now find myself, trying to figure out what I do next, or who I am now, without all these labels or ideas that I tried so hard to make work but was not able to make stick, I needed to get off the main road. It is the only place, really, where it felt right to just be, away from the neon beige of everything 130 miles south. In a cabin in the woods. With a tiny dog. Walking the beach. And staring out to the bright blue sea. 

Cry baby cry

Let’s back up for context here and set the stage a little bit around who I am and where I’m at in my life.

I wasn’t one of those kids who had a lot of intentional direction about what my place in the world should or did look like. I don’t remember having dreams about being the president or a doctor or a wife with 2.5 kids, a husband, and a dog. Like a lot of people – men and women – who grew up in privilege in the generational gap between Gen-X and Millennials, I bought into the idea that the only thing I needed to focus on was doing ‘whatever makes me happy’ and everything in time would work out just fine. This was before getting into and paying for college was a nightmare and majoring in English or Dance or Humanities was post-recession career suicide.

So that’s what I did. I made massive life decisions one after another – as you do in your twenties and thirties – without a lot of thought about why or what direction that was going to send me hurling towards. And honestly, I don’t regret any of them. Because of those choices I ended up living in Bolivia, San Francisco, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Malawi (Africa), Sonoma County, Oakland, Menlo Park, and now Mendocino over the course of the last 15 years. I got a master’s degree. I traveled to more than a dozen other countries. I made the best decision of my life and got a tiny rescue dog. I spent countless weekends with my grandmother in the years before she passed away. I crawled my way up the career ladder to the best-paying job of my life. I bought a condo. I had a million crazy adventures with friends who I am closer to than most of my family. I had boyfriends and relationships and a lot of fun because that’s what it felt like I was supposed to do.

But in between all of those bigger life choices it’s been the smaller day-to-day decisions…maybe more like intentions, which I didn’t realize were slowly accumulating into these snowdrifts that were starting to quietly shape the road of my life. I’m trying to figure out how to explain this in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m beating up on myself because really that’s not what I’m out to do. What I mean to say, and I’ll probably come back and edit this later, is that while I was good at making big life choices, I wasn’t that great at being good to or doing good things for myself. I partied a lot. I drank too much. I dated people who weren’t right for me. I allowed people – dates, friends, supervisors – to treat me badly and convinced myself I was strong enough to tolerate it. I poured my psychic and emotional energy into helping other people and actively avoided helping myself. I stayed in jobs that were toxic and draining because I was making good money and I had a big fancy title. I thought the formula for happiness meant that I was supposed to accept these tiny realities as the price I had to pay in order to get to the part where the rainbow comes over the ridge and everything finally turns rosy and pink.

And you know what happened? Nothing. There was no rainbow. There was no rosy ending. I had big turning point mile marker birthdays into my thirties, then late thirties and still the world wasn’t returning to me what I thought I was owed: happiness. In my case, happiness looked like a soulmate relationship, leading to marriage and a family. I remember carrying these feelings of anger and incredulousness that I had put in all this time and suffering into my life and for what?

Until recently, and still sometimes in moments of deep scary fear, I felt like I had nothing to show for it. It felt like my life – this incredible, wild life that I have had the privilege to live – was worthless. Because I was waiting for all of these external factors and expectations to validate my experiences; I was waiting for the editorial “we” to hand me a medal and tell me I’d done a good job and now here was the happiness reward I’d been waiting for. I was waiting for the big pay off – which in my case was marriage and a baby – that never showed up.

Spoiler alert: This is not how life works. It took me walking away from a job, booze, and a relationship I thought was the one to realize that this is an unwinnable calculation that I had used to judge the “success” of my life for years. I am reminded of one of my former coworkers, a fierce-willed, red-headed database manager named Paula who takes shit from no one and used to remind me that “garbage in, means garbage out”: If your data was bad going in, you’d never be able to generate the reports you needed to make bigger decisions down the line. Those are words for life.

So, here I am at age 38. Recently split from my boyfriend of nearly four years. Unemployed for the past 8 months because I thought I was going to be pregnant by now, or at the very least engaged to be married. Living in a tiny cabin in the woods in Mendocino, drinking coffee and hanging out with Cleo the dog, and documenting my life to no one in particular.

I’m not on the other side of this and some days are filled with more gratitude and self-forgiveness than others. But I’m understanding more every day how and why I ended up in this place both proverbially and geographically speaking. And I’m learning to be kind to myself and to realize that life can be scary and sad but it doesn’t mean that I’ve failed.

In practical terms, the thing that I having the hardest time with is the grief around not having a baby and the realization that biologically, I may have missed my opportunity. That longing is something so deep and personal, and so primal…unless you’ve felt that unfulfilled pull there is really no way other way to understand it. My personal experience has also been that there isn’t a lot of space to talk about what this feels like in our culture. Even among friends, the kneejerk reaction when I get emotional or the grief starts pricking at the corner of my eyes is to offer misplaced, unintentionally patronizing advice when really I think what most of us just want to hear is “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”

If you’re not a mom, or a wife, if you’re not a career woman who is driven by the desire to achieve power or to make money, what does that mean for your life? If you find yourself unintentionally in this place where the things you thought you were supposed to do didn’t work out, and the things you know you want are currently illusive, how do you create a roadmap for a future that at the moment feels pretty obscure? How do you forgive yourself for the choices you’ve made in your life that got you here? How do you embrace this intense grief you feel for something you didn’t realize you wanted so badly until you maybe couldn’t have it anymore? How do you love yourself not in spite of this, but because these life decisions have led you to a place where you can finally see yourself for who you are?

Honestly, I have no idea. But I’m finally listening.

From the ashes

If you could reset your life, what would you do? If you could change your job, your relationship, your home, where would you go? Who would you be? And what would your life look like moving forward?

Few of us ever allow ourselves to think about this kind of scenario as adults. Upending your existence and making drastic, lasting changes that alter your place in the world are made difficult by the obvious day-to-day responsibilities of life – Finances and money. Love relationships and family. And maybe just the overwhelming feeling of “I can’t possibly do that” because, well, changes – big, 180-degree type changes – are scary and really fucking hard.

While I didn’t see it in the big picture at the time, in 2018 I made a series of incendiary decisions that started to burn at the pillars of my life, slowly and quietly undoing the very things I had for years looked at as me, my very proof of existence. In June I left my job, recognizing finally that the environment I had been unnecessarily mentally and emotionally depleting myself to keep afloat for the past nearly four years was at best, not fixable, and at worst, toxic to my soul. In November, I stopped drinking thus ending one of the most consistent “relationships” of my adult life. And in December, I struck the final match that ultimately burned my world down to its foundation: I broke up with my boyfriend of almost four years. It was not a surprise, though its ending came after an abrupt, almost physically startling realization that more than anything I want to have a baby. And the then swift and simultaneous clarity that our relationship was broken and could not fundamentally give me what I want most in the world: a family.

And so, in 2018, I left. I burned everything I knew and understood to be fundamental mile-markers of who I am into ashes and dust and walked away from a life I had been trying desperately to make work for more years than I would like to admit. I closed my eyes, walked past the glowing embers, feeling blindly through the deep, dark smoke, and emerged on the other side into a clear blue great unknown.

It’s a big leap, going from the place you thought you were into this; finding yourself alone in a wilderness of your own creation, trying to shed this skin of expectation and values you’ve worn almost your entire life which are just no longer helpful or useful to who you are or would like to be. This is the in-between. It’s either the land of infinite opportunity or the existential abyss. And the most terrifying thing of all is that you’re the only one who gets to decide which one of those definitions ultimately lays the foundation the rest of your life.

I am facing in the direction of unbridled opportunity but it’s scary and new and there is a recurring voice screaming WHAT THE FUCK running though my head many, many times a day. But, as my grandma would have said, “them’s the breaks” – this is life. And there’s no qualifying that as bad or good or otherwise. It is a season and it is as necessary as it is temporary.

For now, what I can tell you is that at the moment (on a Monday afternoon in a coffee shop on the northern California coast) I am more vulnerable and emotionally unarmored than I have ever been in my entire adult life. Freedom from any sort of expectation is the source of simultaneous excitement and terror – I can do anything I want and be anything I want in a world that is infinite in possibility and acceptance. As a start, I gave myself a small gift of grace and moved far north to live near the sea for a few months, a dream I’ve had for many years. Every day, I walk on the beach with my tiny dog, past high cliffs, ancient redwoods, and wide rivers that have no expectations of the world around them other than to just be.

When a fire burns hot, it leaves only ashes behind. And though small, those tiny grey particles have to go somewhere. Into the ground. Or up into the wind. Or out upon the sea. One way or another, they are trying to find their way back into the world. They are trying to reset, to find a home, in order to make way for a new, great, glorious and most importantly, yet unknown life.