Failing My Way to Success

churchill failureSo I failed. That commitment I made to write 1000 words every day for 90 days? Yeah, I tripped and then I stumbled and fell flat on my face. It happened quickly, within a week I was flailing and not finding time to pen my 1000 words. My solution to missing one day was that I’d make myself write 2000 or more the next. Scot Bolsinger, my inspiration for this whole thing, said he saw my downfall coming when one day I wrote 3500 words.

When I told him what had happened, he nodded sagely and said, “Yeah, you can’t do it like that. That’s like going to three AA meetings in one day. It’s too much and you’re bound to burn out.”

It’s not the first time I’ve failed to keep a commitment to daily or even just regular writing. Not by a long shot. But this time was different. This time in that very short time of making the commitment to write every day, I felt the positive effects of doing regularly something I love. I was energized by the act in a way that I haven’t felt before. And I realized that putting words to paper makes me happy. It buoys me up with a sense of accomplishment and there is something oh so sweet about those moments when the right words come together in a unique way and I’m suddenly smiling because it’s good. I might not be great, but it’s good enough that in those moments I recognize this is one of the things I was put on this planet to do.

So what contributed to my failure? It was a combination, I think, of just what Scot warned me about, biting off too much at a time and life throwing one of those curve balls it’s known to throw at us when we make a commitment to something good. It’s the challenge that says, “Are you sure? Do you really want this? How badly? Let’s see just how badly you want this.” And whammo! Circumstances conspired and I found myself distracted and preoccupied and unable to focus on the writing. I was unable to make it a priority.

I admit I need to learn to prioritize and learn discipline where my writing and my life in general are concerned, but in my defense, the distraction wasn’t some penny ante thing. It wasn’t a sink full of dirty dishes or a floor that needed sweeping. No, it was that suddenly three different people who mean the world to me were in crisis. First my father called with bad news about the prognosis the lung specialist gave him regarding the pulmonary fibrosis he’s been battling for a few years. Hearing from my father that his time is almost up was a blow I didn’t see coming. It took a lot of time and energy to process it. I’m still processing it. Then suddenly the Huichol shamans who were on their way here to Los Cabos to perform healing ceremonies were arrested in Guadalajara for carrying peyote. Their arrest was a huge injustice as their right to carry the sacred peyote cactus is protected under a Mexican federal law governing the religious rights of Indigenous peoples. My fellow peyoteros and I spent the next week doing everything in our power to get them released, including hiring lawyers from Mexico City to come to their aide.

Spanish lesson #1: Peyoteros are people employing peyote as a means to spiritual enlightenment and/or cultivators of the peyote cactus.

To add insult to injury, Mercury, the planet governing both communication and my sign Gemini turned retrograde at the exact same time. I can see some of you rolling your eyes, but believe it or not, I felt the effects of that tiny planet appearing to move backwards in the sky.

The bottom line? In mid-May I experienced a one-two punch at the hands of circumstances and retrograde Mercury that knocked me out. Suddenly I was exhausted, depressed and intensely preoccupied.

Spanish lesson #2: the word for “worried” in Spanish is preocupado from the Latin praeoccupare ‘seize beforehand.’

I felt like someone had let all the air out of my balloon.

Or like my mother used to say, “My get-up-and-go got up and went.”

In the face of this failure to follow up on my commitment to daily writing, I started to question whether I am really meant to write more than a few lines in my journal at night. I started to question whether the project I’m working on is the right project and whether I’m taking the right approach. On top of everything else I was quickly consumed by doubt. Knocked down and chewed up

And then, in case I was thinking of getting up off the mat to give it another go, the Universe delivered a sucker punch in the form of a rather snarky response from a literary icon related to my work and the balloon exhaled its last puff of air and lay in an ugly rubbery inanimate mess on the floor. Or, in keeping with the double metaphors I’ve used here, said icon took my already deflated balloon, chewed it up, and spat in on the floor in a spit-soaked mess of shredded rubber.

I contemplated that rubbery spit-soaked mess, considered my options, and decided not to force it. By their very nature, depression and exhaustion are forces you can’t fight. At least I can’t fight them. Maybe you are made of sterner stuff. But me? I decided to give myself permission not to write and see what happened. Instead I put the energy I did have toward helping my two friends who were wrongly thrown in jail, but I did not write a single word that wasn’t a Facebook post entreating others to their aide. It was the right time not to write. But now over a month later I’m back at it.

So what got me out of the funk?

The fact that my shaman friends were released a week after their detention helped. But what really put the spring back in my writerly step was time spent with supportive and creative people who pressed me to consider my options. Once again the importance of having a creative community to support us in our artistic pursuits and dark nights of the soul was illustrated to me first hand.

En route from my trip to see family in Canada, I was fortunate to have to the chance to spend a couple of days in San Francisco with Mr. Inspiration himself, Scot Bolsinger; Scot and I spent an afternoon at Pier 3 eating, drinking coffee, and discussing my challenges with the dynamic and curious literary agent Michael Larsen; and yet more coffee was downed in North Beach in the company of a wise, artistic friend whom I have not seen in many years.

It was telling that when the subject of my ambivalence towards my writing arose, they all posed the same question.

Is it an option not to write this book? Or will you regret not having pursued it to completion for the rest of your life?

The resounding “Yes!” to the second question drowned out any doubt seeking expression in response to the first. That very simple question is what I must return to every time I falter. It must remain my mantra until this book is completed.

The reality that nags at me all too often is that it is an option to take the easy route and focus the majority of my energy on surfing (and selling real estate). As easy roads go, it’s a tempting, even “sexy” one. But is that who I am? Am I a surfer with a side of real estate agent? Or am I motivated by a desire to be creative in a way that will make a difference in the lives of others? It’s short this time we are given. I’m more aware of that now than ever (reference above loved-one in crisis). I want to make this precious life I’ve been gifted with count. When all is said and done I’m the only one who will remember that awesome wave on that extra-special glassy day. And I really don’t want my epitaph to read “She rode some good waves and kept a clean house.”

In the end, I know that if I don’t do this, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. I’ll know that I ignored a calling so strong that despite turning my back on it repeatedly, like an understanding and loving friend, it returns to embrace me over and over again.

Trust

Le Petit PrinceI’ve had a while to ponder this the third in a series of posts (to start reading from the beginning go here). I meant to write it soon after the previous one, but If life is a box of chocolates, then I keep getting the really bad ones…you know, the ones no one wants…the turd-filled kind. These shitty circumstances, and, it turns out, some deep-seated misgivings, stopped me from continuing after I came close to finishing a first draft of this. Circumstances included a trip to San Francisco to attend the annual writers conference and then yet another illness – this time the flu with a fever that made my eyes feel like they were on fire and my head like it would explode, the worst I’ve had since contracting dengue in 2003. It put me in bed for five days straight. My misgivings – the greater of the two obstacles – stem from the delicate nature of the matter at hand and, honestly, much like the illness, I don’t think I’m quite recovered. But like they say, there’s nothing like baring your soul to heal the wounds therein. So here goes.

After my existence was referred to as “Bukowskian,” I thought it high time I schooled myself on what exactly that means. I bought of a book of his poetry and stumbled across a piece, called The Crunch, that contained this excerpt:

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to
watering a plant.

Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell

Those last two stanzas punched their way home, leaving me slightly dazed, but determined to extinguish the loneliness my soul’s been steeped in. I was over being Bukowski’s poster child.

I returned to the online dating site. As you may recall from my previous post, I’d avoided putting any money on the line. Now when a check finally arrived for some work I’d done months earlier, I took it as a sign that I should pay for a full subscription. When push came to shove, I found myself hesitating though, going back and forth from the page that would take me to PayPal, to the page displaying the names of lots of presumably lonely men. It took me another day to actually click on the “Pay” button.

I know I’ve said it before, but I was surprised how scared I was, how much courage I had to muster to open the door fully to the potential relationships on that site.  I wondered how I could be so fearful of exploring the online singles world and I was pretty hard on myself. Only now do I remind myself that I’d never done this before and I hadn’t dated for going on ten years.

Tentatively, I began the process of seeing who was out there. The first thing I noticed was that without exception everyone was “outside my match parameters.” I recalled the wine-fogged night I answered the personality profile and wondered if that wasn’t influencing the results. I also began to feel duped by the wily marketers who got me to part with my hard-earned cash.

The second thing I realized was that there were almost no surfers to be found. Not being a surfer was a deal breaker, much the same way being a smoker was. Eventually, it became apparent that I was limiting my options by nixing anyone who didn’t surf and focusing on guys from the west coast, so one day I decided to look outside those limits. I clicked on the photo of a guy I’d been intrigued by, one part because of his blue eyes, the other because of his nice suit. Unlike the profiles of a lot of men, his was complete and well written. He sounded like someone who cared a lot about helping others. I decided to reach out.

The process of getting to know him couldn’t have been more different than anything I’ve experienced before. Where relationships are concerned I’ve historically been a two-feet-into-the-deep-end kinda gal, but in this case our physical separation necessitated that we take things slow. I reasoned that this was precisely what the doctor ordered. Maybe this time I’d see the red flags when they were waving, rather than being blinded by proximity and, frankly, lust. We exchanged long letters – I have to call them “letters” because they were far too carefully penned and poetic to be lumped in with the texting-influenced one-liners that so many emails have become – they were heart-felt, emotions-on-the-page, revelatory letters of the sort I imagine people once wrote while courting over vast distances, long before the internet sucked up vast amounts of our time, back when people were promised to someone they’d never met. This guy could write! And he was opening himself up and being vulnerable in a way few men, in my experience, have been willing to do. My excitement mounted. And before I knew it, we were making plans to meet. I was headed home for Christmas and would be flying through San Francisco on my way to Canada, so once the craziness of the holidays was over, we would finally meet face to face.

I’m limited to a really bad internet phone connection from where I live, so I called him for the first time en route to Canada. Hearing his voice was unexpected and special in a way that comes from knowing a man’s dreams and desires, his heart, long before those words are associated with a specific tone and accent. It felt like we were doing everything backwards, but I reminded myself that I hadn’t managed to get the relationship thing right yet and this might be the way forward.

We talked for several hours many nights in a row, adding to the romance of our writings our individual voices and laughter. We discovered shared histories, philosophies, dreams that grew with each conversation. We anticipated our first meeting, planned romantic forays to points around the globe.

Along the way, there were plenty of signs that our meeting was not meant to be: his family life slowly revealed itself to be more complicated and drama-filled than I was comfortable with; his professional life seemed overextended; the head cold I’d picked up in November moved into my chest New Year’s Eve; the weather turned from frigid to freaky with talk of the here-to-for unheard of “Arctic Vortex,” huge accumulations of snow and blizzards wreaked havoc on airline schedules, delaying my departure by four days, exactly the number we planned to spend together.

What frightens me even now is that I didn’t heed all these signs even when, standing in line at the airport, shortly before learning I wasn’t going anywhere, he texted to say he had to cancel our meeting due to a family crisis.

We agreed our plans were on hold, not cancelled, and our conversations continued. But something had changed and when I returned to Baja, a gap seemed to open between us in proportion to the distance keeping us apart. I felt the dreams we’d co-created slipping into that gap.

 Like I said, communication is tough from where I live. Email is easy, but phone calls not at all and something seemed to be swallowing up his desire to stay connected. Let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to connect with someone who has decided to disconnect. I kept my frustration to myself, but I didn’t understand how or why all the promise seemed to be evaporating, I just knew the loneliness and its twin-brother sadness was oozing back up around my knees.

The days dragged on into weeks during which he sent only two communications: the first to explain how another family crisis was demanding his attention; the second, a week later, to say that recent events made it clear he needed to give his complicated family all his attention.

Yup, a “dear-Jane-I-don’t-have-room-in-my-life-for-you” letter.

To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly. I was disappointed and angry. I wrote to a friend I’d been keeping abreast of developments, “It would have been nice had he done the work to figure that out before I spent the better part of six weeks getting to know him!” But it wasn’t just the time invested. It felt like he’d just blown a hole in the bottom of my lifeboat and the dark flood waters were threatening my new existence. Our collective dreams were swept away in the deluge and into the void crept that familiar feeling of isolation, joined now by a sense of abandonment. You know that picture of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince standing on his tiny planet? That’s how I felt.

For several days.

Then reality crept back in and I realized how wrong this man was for me. How by clinging to him like a lifeboat that I thought could lift me out of my unhappy circumstances, I’d managed to turn him into what I wanted him to be rather than who he really was. I’ve known for many years and several relationships that I have a tendency to do this, but it was more than a little unsettling to recognize how easy it was for me to idealize even a relationship that hadn’t involved so much as a face-to-face meeting, let alone the intimacy of a kiss.

As I wondered how I might control this tendency, I remembered something that happened early in the process of getting to know him. I was walking down the beach, trying to discern if I should pursue a relationship with someone who sat well outside several parameters I’d discerned were important to me, when the word “trust” popped into my head. I decided then that I would trust in the intangible universal forces of good to take me where I needed to be, trust in the process, trust that I am exactly where I am meant to be. So I did. And in the process, I learned that it’s up to me to listen to my intuition and heed the red flags that tell me when someone is not the right person or this is not the right path for me. Yeah, 45 and still learning to trust myself.

The Real Dawn Revealed

Be free be yourselfNot until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
  Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been struggling lately. I’ve been struggling just to show up here and tell you what is going on in my life because it’s not been an adventure and it’s about as far from “cool” as the Baja desert in August. I’ve been struggling with whether to share what is happening or whether to struggle and suffer in silence, which is, after all, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant way. I am slowly realizing, however that struggle is what makes me, makes us all, human. Despite trying to wear her mask, I am not Super Woman, I’m not perfect, and I’m definitely not always together and smiling, skipping down the beach without a care in the world. And along those lines, I think that in many ways this blog has been a front, a pretense, a misrepresentation of who I am.

In an attempt to be honest and real, I gave voice to my struggle last August and you responded positively. With words of encouragement and understanding. I was astounded that a blog that I had considered not publishing because it revealed too much got more comments than any other I’d written. Nevertheless, I figured that once was enough and I’d best tuck the “I’m not happy” line of discussion back into the cave in my heart where I thought it belonged. Hence the silence. It’s hard to maintain the party line about your adventurous life when it’s actually filled with chronic sadness bordering on depression, illness probably brought on by a weakened immune system the result of such sadness, and the literally mind-numbing sensation that you are all alone in that sadness.

If I’m to be honest, I’ve felt like I’m knee deep in liquid cow manure for the last year or so and then in the last few months, the levels rose to somewhere just south of my nose. Sure I’m still breathing, but from where I’m standing, life stinks.

I was literally sick for most of November and all of December, culminating in a serious sinus infection and bronchitis while visiting Canada during the coldest December and early January they’ve experienced in over 30 years. There’s a reason I moved to the tropics and it has a lot to do with those winters. Even if I hadn’t moved here to learn to surf, I would have moved somewhere warm. I was over being cold, catching cold, feeling miserable for so many months out of the year. Did I ever mention on here that I once frost bit all ten of my toes? They were black. Coal black. I gasped when I saw them. But that’s another story for another blog. So you aren’t left in suspense though, I will say I still have all ten of my little piggies. Miraculously.

Canadians who stick it out for the often six months of frigid weather are a tough lot. They grin and bear what for me has become unbearable. The warmth of Baja has made me thin-skinned, a wussy by Canadian standards, but that’s okay. Admitting I’m a wuss is a fair price to pay for sun kissed skin and wearing flip flops 12 months out of the year. But I digress.

My point is this – I was already feeling down and then I got sick with a mild illness that dragged me down another notch and it lasted for what seemed like forever.

I know, this is a bummer post…but I’m not going to apologize for that. I cannot and will no longer try to minimize and cover up what it is that I’m feeling in the deepest recesses of my soul. And I need to show up, I need to share what I’m feeling because I know that I am not alone and that there are countless people the world over feeling isolated, alone, and depressed. Why do you think Philip Seymour Hoffman shot tainted heroin into his veins on Sunday? Many people, like me, are beating themselves up for not being more thankful for what they do have. And I am thankful. I’m so very thankful for the many blessings that my life abounds with. But the reality is that at the end of the day there are some fundamental things that this life of mine needs in order for me to be truly and unabashedly joyful – yeah, that skipping-down-the-beach-singing-a-jaunty-tune kind of joy that I constantly try to convince everyone out there I’m steeped in. I’ve been operating under the premise that if you believe it, I will too. But it’s just another front like the Super Woman mask I put on when I’m feeling insecure and vulnerable, which, to be honest, is most of the time.

I’m doing the work, I’m reading the self-help books that I hope will unearth the demons that plague me, meditating, doing yoga, eating right, getting in the water now that I’m no longer hacking up a lung. Admittedly, while visiting a friend on the west coast recently to get some surf and much needed social interaction, I probably had more tequila than was wise for someone balancing so precariously on the shadowy line between sadness and clinical depression, but the friendship was invaluable, the waves challenging, but fun. I believe it was Thoreau who said that when we are feeling down we must surround ourselves with positive people. So I went and visited one of the most positive people I know, who it just happened was going through his own health crisis and is dry docked for a month in the middle of surf season on his side of the peninsula. Then he got a message about his cousin being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer – two types no less. Nothing like a little perspective to make you see the silver lining around your own cloud.

So I don’t know if it was the perspective adjustment, time in the water, or just time, but I feel better now than I did when I began writing this post a few days ago. Nevertheless, I need to put this out there: sometimes my life sucks. To be more specific, often times, despite how together and happy we appear from the outside looking in, people are often suffering. I think that in North America we’ve lost our tolerance for suffering. The images of perfection we’re fed by The Media tell us to “Fake it ‘til you make it!” Tell us it’s not acceptable to admit our frailties, our fears, our weaknesses. Tell us to put the Super Man or Super Woman mask on and smile. But that’s a lie, one that hurts the liar and the deceived alike because it’s not who we really are, it’s not how we’re really feeling. If people knew how we were really feeling, they might reach out and offer us a hand – encouragement, a compassionate ear, a hug.

I haven’t shown up here for three months because I couldn’t muster the strength to dawn the mask. As I write these last sentences though, I’m feeling better, more honest, truer to myself. Ironically, it seems I’m made stronger by losing the mask.

The Condition My Condition Is In

For whatever reason, I don’t get a lot of comments on this blog. People read it, but they don’t feel the need to express their opinions afterwards. Maybe they’d like to tell me what they really think, but they’re being polite. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments made here and via email in response to my last post, in which I admitted to feeling the negative effects of my isolated lifestyle. Those words of thoughtful advice and encouragement reminded me that loneliness is a common ailment in our increasingly isolated and isolating societies. It became apparent there was a lot of empathy to my plight, a lot of “yeah, I’ve been there.”

The number of comments spoke of how many of us have felt this emotion, but while wandering around Facebook the day after publishing that blog, I stumbled across an article from Slate magazine called Loneliness is Deadly. The Universe tapping me directly on the shoulder? The melodramatic title did its attention-getting job. As I read it, I couldn’t help but notice that much of what the author described as the consequences of loneliness I knew, at least intuitively, to be true. I realized that for months, except for to a couple of close friends, I had avoided communicating how I felt because of the stigma associated with admitting we are lonely. The notion that we are capital “L” Losers if we admit to being lonely is sad, potentially disastrous, and just so much BS. If we avoid talking about it, we’ll never realize that there are a whole bunch of us walking around here not realizing that there are bunch of us out there feeling the same way. Comfort in numbers, my lonely friends!

A few days later I opened my email to be struck by the timeliness of Nathan Bransford’s latest post “Writing and Loneliness.” Then, just to make sure I really got the message, a week later the Daily Good newsletter I receive each day drove home the bottom line, the same message all those comments to my blog were sending: While we may be lonely, “We Have Never Been Alone.” Hannah Brencher distilled my feelings and pointed out an oft forgotten reality:

Loneliness is quite capable of swallowing us whole. And Loneliness will think to do a lot of things, but it will never think to spit us back up until we look around and realize that we have never been Alone.

Alone and Loneliness. They are two different things. One is thick, and the other is a myth. We have never been alone, not a day in our lives. What kind of devil hissed this lie in our ears? Yes, we have felt tender. Yes, we have felt defeated. But no, we have never been alone so much as we have refused to let the others in.

And so I began to examine where I might be keeping people out, whether I was the one who was isolating myself or had circumstances conspired to put me here in Isolationville?

I’d already taken matters into my own hands to actively remedy my situation.

Solution Number One was seeking and applying for jobs that will either give me the financial wherewithal to get out of Dodge more often, or necessitate leaving Dodge altogether.

Solution Number Two was to once again temporarily get out of Dodge. There’s nothing like a two week surf vacation away from your regular surfing life to give you a new lease on life!

The little town where I found myself was itself remote, but it turned out that I was not the only one looking to for a little surf-related R&R. New friendships were made and old ones renewed. And that saying about a change being as good as a rest? Well, it’s a cliché for good reason.

A few days into my surf vacation, I realized I’d never actually taken a surf vacation. By that I mean, I’ve never taken a trip for the express purpose of surfing. Yes, I’ve surfed away from home, but rarely, and I’ve always had another reason for taking the trip. Surfing hasn’t been the primary focus. I’ve even flown all the way to Fiji and Hawaii and not so much as paddled.

I spent two weeks at this very special surf spot and, unlike when I am at home, had no trouble at all getting up well before sunrise to hit the water before the crowds. I was the first one out every morning with only one exception (and yes, the size of the surf probably had something to do with the fact that no one was really chomping at the bit to get out there). I was pleasantly surprised on the first morning to see my favorite winter constellations – Orion and Sirius – shining overhead as I loaded the truck with essentials (lots of drinking water and my buddy Friday). The water’s coolness washed away any lingering drowsiness as I dragged my feet through the shallows (to avoid getting stung by stingrays who might be lurking on the sandy bottom). Sirius blinked in the gradually brightening sky as I paddled out into the bay where two to three footers peeled right to left from the rocky point. I placed myself a few feet inside of where I knew the larger waves would break, hoping to be the recipient of one of the set waves that typically appear just before the sun breaks the horizon. It was pure joy catching that first wave each morning before anyone else was out. The sight of me erect and sailing across the face of a wave was usually enough to get the campers moving though and soon I’d be joined by two, then three or four others.

Friday, traveler extraordinaire.

Friday, tucked in next to the 6’8″ Roger Beal, which sadly didn’t get wet this trip.

Near the end of the first week, more campers appeared along the bluff overlooking the break in response to swell reports that promised better waves, waves that had yet to materialize. By the time the sun had risen there’d be six, sometimes eight of us in the water, chasing knee-high waves. The waves’ size made for a mellow crowd. We shared the little peelers and chatted between inconsistent two-wave sets. The vibe was sweet and it felt good to be part of something so positive. Even the boys from Orange County, used to surfing among the aggro crowd at Trestles, encouraged me to drop in on them, yelling, “Party wave!” more than a little often. My faith in So Cal surfers was renewed along with my conviction that being connected to the larger Human Race is our natural state, our salvation.

Beautiful, but about as close to flat as it gets.

*********************

And speaking of small waves, here’s a beautiful piece about riding the small stuff, Small Waves by Thorpe Moeckel.

Stuck in a Moment?

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.I’m feeling that prickly sensation of mild sunburn on my forehead and the backs of my legs. After two weeks out of the water and away from Baja, it’s good to be home. I wasn’t so sure that I’d be feeling this way though. I wasn’t sure I was going to want to come home.

I’ve not only been MIA from this blog for a while, but I’ve been feeling MIA from life a fair bit too. I’ve been struggling, depressed and lonely. I’ve been fighting with the realities of my lifestyle.

I’m pretty sure I can hear you thinking where do I get off feeling this way? Believe me, I’ve been told many times and am usually very aware that I have every reason to be content, that I live a life most people would give a few fingers for. My ex, in his eloquence, is fond of saying I’ve “got it dicked.” And I usually can convince myself that’s true and find a reason to be content, if not outright happy. But there’s something missing and so much of what is obvious from the outside looking in just masks the difficult realities of my lifestyle. To compound the problem, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt any time I feel dissatisfied. Feeling guilty about how I’m feeling does nothing to help the situation.

When I find myself in this place, I do my best not to wallow or let it drag me down into a pit of self-pity. What I do instead is gratefully acknowledge everything I have, eat right, drink less and try to figure out what fundamentally is making me feel like crap so I can fix it. The fix is always one of two things – an attitude adjustment or something external I can change. Typically the former approach is enough to turn things around, but when the depression is the result of too much partying and surfing, and not enough sleep, changing my external circumstances can work wonders. This time though the only cause I could come up with was that I had been living in isolation for eight months and needed to get out. Getting out, however, requires funds, which are in short supply (for now, she optimistically writes), so I turned to my ex who’d been asking me to come help him with a landscaping project on Maui. He’d fly me to Hawaii in exchange for help with his project, some baking and home cooked meals.

The remarkable thing is that as soon as I booked my tickets, I felt better. Instantly. Days before my scheduled departure. I woke up early, enthusiastic for what the day would bring and looking forward to what lay ahead. I thought, “!s that all it takes? Something different to look forward to?”

As the plane took off and banked North in the direction of San Francisco, I felt a elephantine weight lift and my mood shifted skyward with the plane. Less than 24 hours in San Francisco and I started to think, “Maybe I should move to California and get a real job, get involved in some kind of community work…rejoin civilization.” Yeah, I can barely believe it either.

And then, rather than laugh at myself, leave it at that unbelievable thought, and return to my unreal life, I said out loud to three well-connected people, “So if you know anyone who’s looking for someone to house sit, a writer or editor, or anything really, let me know.”

On Maui, I began the process of formulating a plan that would make my new dream come true. I even came up with a way I could have my cake and eat it too. “I’ll get a writing job that only requires that I be in the office periodically.” And there were thoughts of landing a regular house- and animal-sitting gig.

The time on the island went fast. Too fast. I kept thinking up reasons why I should stay longer. “We didn’t accomplish enough on the project.” “I should go to this writing workshop that’s scheduled on the Sunday after I’m supposed leave.” “I didn’t get to have good pizza.” “I really should go see friend X.” But I had responsibilities back home that couldn’t wait and some disturbed weather off the coast of southern Mexico suggested a tropical storm might form sooner rather than later. I kept to the original plan and promised myself I’d return to the City by the Bay this fall or winter.

The flight from Maui to San Francisco, via Portland is not short. I had plenty of time to get caught up on my reading. I’d packed my Kindle in my checked baggage by mistake, so I read the only thing I had handy – Volume 24.3 of The Surfers Journal. And as I read from front to back cover, three quotes in three separate articles resonated with me, revealing a theme that shed light on the source of my dissatisfaction.

It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re no longer part of mainstream life.”

Day after day, no matter how perfect the waves get, there is a feeling of remoteness here, a sense that the rest of the world is moving along, more engaged, more connected, and more interesting.”

I felt a pang of recognition delivered with the pointier end of a stick as I read the last one:

If every day is a holiday, there are no more holidays.”

There they were, hard, sharp, and undeniable on the page – the three main reasons I was feeling down, along with their remedies:

Isolation, remoteness, and monotony versus engaged, connected, and interesting.

I feel, often, like I am on another planet or could be, for all the interaction I have with people. The little bit I have is limited in scope and time. What I’m struggling with, bumping up against, is the need to feel connected, deeply connected, to other members of the human race and to feel engaged in some cause that benefits others. But I’m scared by what that means. Really scared. That ache-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach scared. It’s the changes I’d have to make implied by this realization that scare the living shit out of me. And then I think, “What if this feeling is something that will pass and I end up regretting it for the rest of my life?” After all, we’re talking about walking away from what, for the most part, is a pretty amazing lifestyle. Then I worry that I’m looking in the wrong place for a solution to my dissatisfaction – external conditions. Maybe I just need to “do the work” and everything will turn rosy again. Maybe, just maybe, I’m “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it.” But the memory of the epiphany I had on that plane tells me that’s just wishful thinking. The prospect of leaving this surfers’ paradise is daunting. But if at the other end I find meaning and fulfillment, the choice seems pretty obvious. Nevertheless, I don’t know. I just don’t know. Do you?

Adios To A Dear Friend

In perfect understanding I shall come
And lay my hand in yours, and at your feet
Sit, silent, with my head against your knee.

                       Edna St. Vincent Millay

I wish I didn’t have to write this blog. I wish that I could turn the clock back, make different decisions, do something to make this a happy post. But I can’t. My buddy Zee, the dog I’ve mentioned in this blog more often than I have any other, died two weeks ago. The circumstances are too painful to describe, but my worst fears were realized when I took a trip to Maui to visit a friend. I’ve left the property and the country many times since Zee went blind, but this time was different. This time, I knew that she needed me more than before, this time I sensed that she was starting to lose her hearing and was not as aware of what was going on around her. And this time, there were people that were going to come and work on the house while I was gone. People who don’t know her like I do, who don’t love her like I do and who clearly didn’t realize, despite my admonishments, that they needed to be extra careful when they drove down the driveway.

Despite her passing so many days ago, I haven’t been able to write this until now. It’s been too emotional, too raw and each time I’ve tried my eyes have misted over so I can’t see the computer screen. As the days have passed though, I’ve tried to accept what I cannot change and comforted myself with the knowledge that she will not suffer any more.

While it’s impossible to know how difficult it was for her to be blind, how much she suffered as a result, I know that she was frightened more often than before. At times she’d get so excited – dinner time and when I said, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?”- that she’d run headlong into solid surfaces. That had to hurt. Despite her blindness, she never lost her love of joining me on the beach for a walk or run. She would brave the steps down to the beach, me guiding her with my voice and once we hit the sand, she would exhibit the same exuberance she did as a younger dog – rolling in the wet sand, trotting along with her head and tail held high. She used her nose to follow me and, if she lost my scent, when I called to her, she’d cock her head in the most adorable way, her ears held erect, as though she was thinking, “Is that you?” She’d zone in on the origin of my voice and come loping along until she caught up.

I hadn’t met Mr. T yet in 2002 when she arrived on his property, wrapped in a towel, tiny, dehydrated and nearly dead. Found in the Santa Catarina arroyo, she was left to die in the hot Baja sun along with the rest of her litter mates. She was the only one strong enough to survive. When he took her in his big hands, her eyes were white and her little body was stiff, but T hand fed her milk for several hours and by morning she was standing up in the cardboard box where she’d been placed, looking around curiously and wagging her tail in hopes of getting more nourishment from the nice man who’d nursed her back to health. The very next day she began wreaking havoc on everything and everyone, especially Doobie and Ruby, the two canines in residence. Not long after, he dubbed her “Crazy!” when he looked on in amazement as she ran down to the beach and launched herself into the shorebreak in a  somersault that would give Aly Raisman a run for her money.

In 2005 I was here alone for the first time looking after the dogs when she nearly succumbed to the tick-borne disease Ehrlichiosis. Zee was never one to turn down a meal, so when she refused to eat, I took her to the vet. To my great consternation, after giving her an injection of antibiotics and potassium to counteract the effects of starvation, he sent us home. That night as I fretted about being her only caretaker, her eyes turned white again. Convinced she was dying from hunger, I resorted to force feeding her a mixture of milk and raw egg using the plunger from a syringe to draw the liquid up and squirt it into her cheek. The first attempt failed as she wouldn’t swallow it, so I had to hold her mouth shut and her head aloft while massaging the fluid into her throat. I prayed a lot that night, asking God not to take her. But the main reason wasn’t because I was afraid of losing Zee, I honestly didn’t think it would do my relationship with T any good if she died on my watch.

Afterwards I sensed that she knew I’d helped her and a bond began to grow between us that was only strengthened when she began to lose her sight. I believe the disease left her permanently weakened and likely caused her blindness.

Before she lost her vision, at night I locked Zee in the garage along with a couple of the other dogs, where they had comfy dog beds and I knew they couldn’t get into trouble. In the desert, “trouble” can take many forms including skunks, coyotes, rattlesnakes and barking at nesting sea turtles. Once everything went permanently dark, Zee began freaking out when she was locked in the garage. One morning I discovered she’d clawed a big hole in the door frame and then the next she tore it off the wall completely. That’s when I knew I was going to have to make an exception to house rules and let her sleep inside with me. I brought first one and then, in time, two dog beds into the house – placing one in the living room, the other in my bedroom. From then on, she spent most of the time lying on one of those beds, content to be near me. If I walked anywhere on the property, she followed with her nose to the ground. If I left the property and didn’t invite her along, she trotted up the driveway and lay near the gate awaiting my return.

She got into the habit of quietly absconding with one of my flip-flops in the middle of the night. In the morning I’d find it in her bed, often under her chin. Thinking about it now, I find it hard to believe that the smell of my feet could be that comforting.

After the first few tentative descents, she figured out that the stairs in the house were evenly spaced, unlike those to the beach, so each morning she would navigate the stairs confidently, bouncing down from step to step two feet at a time. While visiting my friend in Central California last week, my heart lurched when I heard that familiar rhythmic clicking sound as her blind dog “No-Cow” used the same technique to go down the stairs.

Now that I’m home again the reminders are everywhere. The places she liked to lay, the toys she cheerfully carried up the driveway, the eye drops that relieved the pressure in her eye. Even the big fuzzy grey balls of her hair gathered in corners and under the couch choked me up enough that I made sweeping an unusually high priority when I got home. I don’t have the nerve to go look at the place where Felipe buried her. Just seeing her collar, the one covered in brightly colored peace signs, lying next to where she died made me cry. That collar was perfect for such a peaceful being. Even as a younger dog, when the other dogs chased cars, ATVs, cows and other dogs, she never joined in.

When I brought Peanut home, Zee was the only dog that would put up with her young exuberance.

Zee was the sweetest dog in my world, a constant reminder to be patient and loving, to live every day to the fullest, to choose quiet contentment over anger or complaint. If you were to tell me, as someone once did, that dogs are incapable of feeling emotions, let alone expressing them, I would have introduced you to Zee. You’d be hard pressed to dispute that her bark in response to, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?” was filled with enthusiasm or that she was smiling when she appeared at the barbecue, a paper plate held carefully in her mouth.

With any luck that corny poem that never fails to reduce me to tears, Beyond the Rainbow, will turn out to be true and she’ll be there waiting for me along with Soweso, Kipling, Fletcher, and Jinny when I leave this planet too.