You might think I’m about to tell you a terrific story about an experience with one patient that changed my perspective on life and now I know why the caged bird sings. Well, I haven’t a clue.
So far the EXACT. OPPOSITE. is true.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve experienced special moments but honestly I don’t know what to route for. We’re supposed to want people to stay alive, right? And I do. I will miss her, correction I would miss her if I didn’t have my regular Thursday morning meet-ups anymore. At the same time, she’s sick. She’s unhappy. She’s lonely. She wants to be with her family but she is confined to her room. So what’s worse? Spending your days in agony just waiting for death or death itself?
My patient was put on hospice almost a year ago. This is rare. Usually you only go on for six months and if there is no decline they take you off. Crazy enough — when they take you off, you get worse, then you’re back on. They made an exception in this case though and she hasn’t been taken off.
Some people see clients for one week. I’ve been seeing this client since December.
I’m baffled by how entrenched she still is with the day to day. I would be pontificating on the meaning of life endlessly. Knowing me I’d be rehashing every last one of my love affairs from first grade onward. I’d think why didn’t I just relax more (advice I could use every day.)
She and I have moments where she talks about regrets and different choices she made along the way.
Honestly I can’t say I’ve come up with any grand realizations. That’s not why I decided to become a volunteer but I feel some pressure to have brilliant things to say about the experience. When people ask me about it I kind of look up to the ceiling as if to say I think about it and I haven’t come up with any thoughts worth expressing just yet. But give me time, I promise. That’s what I say as they’re running from me in utter disgust.
However two things have become abundantly clear to me since I started:
(1) You will continue to be in conflict with your family until the day you die. Even if you feel you’ve done everything right, they still will let you down because they’re all human like us. If we want other people to remember all the good in us, we have to look at them through that same lens.
(2) No matter how old you are, when you wake up in the morning you don’t know what the day holds. Your day could be completely ordinary until that moment when you’re totally blown away thinking, “Life is so weird and fun. I think I’ll do this again tomorrow.” That was my day today.
I was listening to my hospice patient. She has three or four stories she likes to loop through. Then all of a sudden she said our conversation reminded her of this poem Tress, and she proceeded to recite it to me!
She learned the poem when she was 13 at a school in the South End in 1940. I ended up leaving late and getting stuck in traffic, which was a bummer because I’m behind on work assignments. Freelance assignments. Trauma to Art assignments but the delay was so worth it.
And now I give you Trees by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Today my mother would have turned 60. Even though she’s been gone for 8 years, I still feel like our relationship is complicated, as most Mother-Daughter dynamics are. All her motherly wisdom is in me but she’s gone – so it’s hard to figure out how/when/what to think about her.
A lot has happened in her absence. I graduated college. I had my first big heartbreak. I was sidetracked in my career for a while but now I’m a full-time writer. I fell in love.
My brother became a chef. Then he started a family and met his soul mate, Lindsay, who has become like a sister, I think. I’ve never had a sister so I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’m happily still learning the ropes.
Our family expanded, and still has this great loss to deal with.
Eight years have gone by and what does that mean? What I’ve discovered is that it means you’re left with a ton of choices. The really annoying kind of choices where you have to consciously decide to either rise above or sink below.
One decision is: how will I remember her? Will I push her out of my mind so it’s ALMOST like it didn’t happen? Will I try my hardest not to think about “it” so that if ever I do think about it I immediately change the channel?
Will I listen and try to find meaning in the universe around me? Will I make time to be filled with wonder and marvel at how spectacular life can be? Even though existence is rather peculiar.
It’s drudgery. It’s ecstasy. It’s exhausting. It’s magnificent. It’s cruel… it’s kind. And you don’t have control over what happens. You only really decide your outlook — how hard you’ll fight, how brave you’ll be, how generous, how empathetic, how honest, how happy…
I go back and forth — dance a little on each side because the challenges teach me and remind me to be grateful for all of the good.
Last night was one of the moments where I got to experience some of the wonder. I was handed a little inspiration to say all that I want to say today.
Last night, for a reason I cannot explain, I decided to re-watch Spanglish (Thank you, Netflix). I had forgotten how much of that movie is about mothers and daughters. At the end, the mother asks her daughter, “Is what you want in life to be very different from me?” Isn’t that the question we daughters all ask about our mothers? The difference being that if my mother said THAT to me, I’d realize how foolish a question it is, because I’d be honored to be like her.
Side note: Every year I donate blood on my mom’s birthday. If you are thinking that I am telling you that to say, “Hey I’m better than you” then you’re correct. I’m hoping that guilt turns into action. Donate blood today. There are a lot of stats about why it’s good but my favorite is that most premature babies need transfusions. That could be you saving a little baby’s life… today!
Well this blog post is about two things. One, I have not been blogging. Yes, I realize people aren’t on the edge of their seats waiting for me to share my inner most late twenties angst BUT for those reading because Breaking Bad isn’t on the reason I haven’t been blogging, even though I really miss it, is because this has been one of the most challenging years of my life.
I was a little naive* when I jumped into making my dream come true of expanding Trauma to Art, and dedicating myself to it full-time. I did not anticipate all the physical obstacles coming my way on top of the obvious obstacles for starting a sustainable business/NPO.
I started the year very sick during blizzard 2013, got a third degree burn on a motorcycle in Cabarete, DR, totaled my car and sustained a concussion that left me out of commission for three weeks, got poison ivy in Muir woods — which appeared days later pretending to be a tiny cluster of innocent bug bites, FYI (Side note — the best way to stop the itching is to take a scolding hot shower “as hot as you can take” and the itching goes away, the hideous bumps remain visible to give you that complete leper experience). The final nail was the other day when I found out the hair color mishap I thought happed was in fact hair loss from my birth control. Thanks, Nexplannon. You’ve taught me some valuable lessons about vanity.
More than the physical mishaps that seemed to follow me at every turn, establishing the organization was difficult in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I’m not sure why I was surprised since I’ve observed some of my most wonderful friends run thriving businesses. OK, fine, ridiculous ex-boyfriends. They all had one thing in common. They were beyond your wildest comprehension of confident. I’m confident but I found myself afraid of what I did not know instead of inquisitive and persistent. I am all for a 12-hour day. I don’t shutter at the sight of a hard work. It doesn’t phase me a bit but when I saw my connections, donors, plans, strategies one by one go from “sure things” to complete flakes, I felt like I was spinning. The more paths led me awry, the less I took care of myself. The less I took care of myself, the less I felt inspired to be the person who put Trauma to Art together in the first place.
While 2013 offered me amazing moments — traveling with my best friend Caitlin to the DR, celebrating my birthday in California Wine Country, finally finishing Trauma to Art’s manuscript (we’re in the editing slash name that book stage — side note: we’re looking for something catchy like 4-Hour Work Week. Fuck, that was a good title), with the help of the best donors in the world we raised over $16K, I’m seconds away from FINALLY finishing the illustration of my late mother’s children’s book, I travelled to Las Vegas with the most amazing college friends — Chrissy, Ariel, Shelley and Amber, I went on a southern city tour with my boyfriend John and his parents, I watched two wonderful friends get married and even got to be part of the ceremony with a piece I wrote for them, which was an honor and a gift I will cherish forever, and that brings me to the best day of all: October 13, 2013 the day my nephew Joseph Thomas was born! He’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen — not just because he’s cute, because, duh, he’s a Muscarella, he’s just so brand new. When I held him in my arms for the first time, it was out of this world. I’ve never experienced something so pure. Time seemed to slow. The crazy world seemed to crumble around in significance. Fears, anxieties, stresses in that moment seemed less important because this is life in your arms. There you are holding a possible little leader, who could change the world. He looked like little sign of hope. A symbol to bring my family together.
I think it was the first moment since my mom died that there was a pure joy and excitement for my whole family. Holidays have changed. Everything has changed. As much as I work on Trauma to Art to create rituals to remember and forums to discuss how we cope with loss, the more I see how great an impact my family’s, or any family’s, loss has — our lives, our paths, our beliefs, our keyhole view of the world is changed forever. This is super corny but I felt so strongly that maybe there is this greater power and he sent Baby Joe to our family to remind us how crazy amazing it is to be alive for as long as we get to live.
While things haven’t worked out with Trauma to Art exactly the way I want them to, I know they will. Just like my concussion symptoms went away, I replaced my car, my poison ivy finally gave up annoying me and I’m sure my hair will grow back (I hope) — Trauma to Art will accomplish what I envision one day. I don’t have to lose myself to make that happen today, not to mention if I do lose myself that’s a guarantee it won’t happen.
I have NO idea what the next steps for me are going to be but everything will work out. I try not to pay attention to ‘it will happen to you when you are ready’ because that makes it seem like you have some say in being ready. I prefer to believe everything will happen but you’re not allowed to know when. Like a surprise present–something to anticipate with excitement! In the meantime I have to write. Writing whether my family members and friends are the only readers or not, I am off the rails when I don’t.
The Epilogue, Sort Of
If I’m going to say this was one of the worst years I have to know what a great year would be. Because there were other years I remember going what the hell is coming next only to be surprised by wonderful, serendipitous theatrics at every turn then look back and say, “Fuck that started out rocky but it was a damn good year!” 2011 was brilliant for instance. Before I thought the perfect year was doing loads of traveling. Now I do love to explore but I’ve realized sometimes traveling can also be escaping. Exploring can also happen in your own neighborhood. When you’re away you’re not building. Part of what made this year so horrible is because while I thought it was going to be one thing: growing my non-profit, it was another: a series of reflections and relearning life lessons. I resisted it for what it was despite nothing truly horrible happening. I have a million things to be grateful for. The more I resisted, the more obscure physical signs manifested themselves.
So what is a great year according to me…
Seeing all of my friends at least twice a year (they live all over). Friend almost isn’t a good enough word. My greatest girlfriends are confidants, sisters and true soulmates. We’re real friends like call each other on each other’s shit, love each other when we’re acting like assholes, analyzing each other’s life decisions because we want the outcomes to be fairytale-like. A year where I constantly challenge myself to learn new things. A year where I am writing as much as possible because when I write I reflect and learn in a much deeper way than when I leave those scattered thoughts in my head. A year where I meditate regularly. A year where my workouts are fierce and furious <— I don’t know if there is anything better. A year where I connect with my family. I love my family but sometimes they are the hardest ones for me to connect with, maybe because their opinions matter so much more, or because I’m afraid of what they might say if I was brutally honest. Even though bringing up painful issues can be uncomfortable, when it comes to confronting people, lately I’ve taken a backseat because I wanted to accept people for who they were. I think I took too far. Now I need to go back and really find a way to talk with people I care about when issues arise. If someone loves you, they’ll understand and talk. If they don’t care about you, they’ll walk away, which is usually for the best. A year where I don’t gossip… AT ALL. A year where I am reliable and available to my friends and family when they need me. A year where I inspire others. A year free of judging others, including myself, because that’s the worst one. A year where I’m laughing a lot like that obnoxious I can’t control the tears streaming down my face because this is so damn funny laughter.
*Naivety is something I truly cherish is helps squelch that inner voice that says, “Play it safe!”
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I just got back from a two-week-ish vacation to the Dominican Republic with my best friend, Caitlin. One of the last nights there we went to the Mariposa DR Foundation‘s inaugural event for their Girls Center. (Aside: The Mariposa DR Foundation Mission: To educate and empower girls to create sustainable solutions to end generational poverty. There is a video below if you’d like to find out more about the org.)
After the event we went to the Blue Moon, an Indian-Caribbean fusion restaurant run by a generous and hospitable couple, to say good-bye to volunteers from Lawrence Academy. These high schoolers had come down for a service project. Patricia Suriel, the founder of the Mariposas, asked each student to share what they learned on their trip that they would take back with them to the States. And, well, their responses inspired me to share what I learned on my trip and what I would take back home with me.
In addition to the fodder I received from the students to share in emails to guilt, ahem, ask my friends nicely to help support (with cash) one my favorite organizations, The Mariposa DR Foundation (donate here!), I also took note of a few nuggets for my everyday life.
Lesson #1 Encouragement is worth a million bucks!
Coming down the Cabarete, DR, you meet people from all over the world. We met people from all over the U.S., Canada, Germany, Hungary, Austria, France, Sweden, South Africa…. Oddly even though we met people from all over the world, it was not that diverse a population. Everyone we met had really similar thoughts about living life with passion and pursuing what you love. Starting a NGO like Trauma to Art yields a myriad of responses. It happens so frequently yet it consistently boggles my mind how personally people can react to MY dream. Not so in the DR! People were full of helpful suggestions versus the customary interrogation I receive in the Bay State as well as words of encouragement and validation. I flew back feeling energized and more ready to work even harder to make my dreams come true.
Lesson #2 There’s no place like home.
Another thing I learned was that even more than loving vacation’s blue skies, sandy beaches, turquoise waters and afternoon mojitos, I love my everyday life. My boyfriend, my friends and my family… which is expanding. While in the DR, I heard the amazing news that my brother and his love are expecting a baby!! While I enjoy kicking it in bikinis, nothing compares to becoming Aunt Lauren.
All told, I’m grateful for the heart-warming hospitality I received in the DR, the quality time with of my best friend, having the privilege to tour the Mariposa Girls Center and to be home with my family.
Aunt Lauren out.
Watching the girls and the volunteers sing a song they wrote! Yes, I cried about 5 times during the inauguration at the Mariposas Center. Thank God for sunglasses.
The damajagua waterfalls kicked my ass. Thanks to our guide, who called me a chicken, I survived.
Caitlin taking a photo before dinner at Blue Moon.
The coolest! The Mariposa Foundation is in the process of completing their center. An artist donated this beautiful butterfly for the bottom of the pool.
If you’re ever in Cabarete, you have to go to Cabarete Coffee Company — best coffee and best place to chat with ex-pats.
Our hotel was on kite beach. I loved watching the kites from our hotel room!
Second day there and we dove into deep conversations over 2 for 1 tacos and mojitos!
The Millenium infiniti pool is heaven.
The best fish at the desolate Rio San Juan beach! Please note, “Beware of falling coconuts.”
Playa Grande Golf Course on the Cliff. Beautiful place to people watch and drink Presidentes!
To learn more the Mariposa DR Foundation, watch this video:
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Navigating through my 20s without my mom is tough. I’m a girl living in a man’s world. Brothers. Dad. Boyfriend.
With the days of mourning behind me, I worried what it would be like the further and further I was away from a time when I saw my mother. Talked to her. Would I miss her more? Would I feel very far removed from her? Would I start to forget her?
Perhaps it is counterintuitive but I actually feel a calm because she is with me always influencing my decisions even when it is not apparent. Our relationship miraculously continues to evolve.
Her Latest Lesson
My mother did not build a career. In my limited understanding of the world, I considered this to be an egregious and embarrassing oversight because I have since the age of 5 regarded having a high-powered career as the ultimate achievement. Other girls dream of white dresses and fairytales but I envisioned the homes I would own all over the world.
When I would ask my mother about possible jobs around town she always said something like, “Why am I going to waste my time with that?” I took this a sign she thought she was better than everyone else.
Later when I was in college, I reflected and thought her judgment of others was a defense mechanism, and maybe even laziness or worse, lack of self-work. Time passed and I flip-flopped again. My mother was very intelligent. She could definitely work in any old cubicle around town. Something about my assumption did not add up. She had cancer so then I thought maybe that had something to do with it, but then a fulfilling career seems like a desirable distraction to me.
It was not until years later when I found myself in a cubicle that the crumbs started to lead me in the right direction. I have had pretty good jobs so far. I worked with people who became lifelong friends. I did some creative work writing and producing Web content. I traveled around the U.S. At my last job I even ditched the cube and had an office with huge windows and lots of time for afternoon tennis. Those experiences were adequate. They paid the bills. But two things. One, people telling you what to do sucks. Two, don’t let Mary Tyler Moore fool you, it’s not all co-workers who want to be friends or harbor super secret crushes for nine seasons. It’s a lot of lazy people with no ambition, crotchety bosses who take their boss’ aggression out on you and cake in the kitchen haunting every inch of your body.
Even though I consider myself lucky in many ways (experience, travel, conference tchotchkes) eventually all three of my “real-world” jobs became tedious and stifling on both the soul and the mind. Now I have heard from friends that some desk-jobs are fabulous. I have yet to make on-site visits but I believe they exist. Some people are lucky and find the right blend. Others create their own destiny. It depends on personality. I know myself so I know my expectations for what I am willing to spend my time on is high.
After my last foray (I hope literally my LAST foray) into working for someone else who chops my work into tiny little pieces, I decided my mom was actually a genius. She is absolutely right. Why am I going to spend the precious moments on my life working on projects I’m not passionate about? She spent her time with her family, cooking, eating well, reading and spending her life exploring what interested her. Yes, she did not become famous (yet) but she was the most interesting person to talk with and she consistently worked on her spirituality. By doing so she taught me to hold high expectations for my career and all the precious moments of my life.
That tricky Yoda Mom!
Lately I’ve been desperate to find some spiritual enlightenment. I just want a sign telling me I’m heading in the right direction. Maybe the universe heard me because last night I went to a Karen Berg Reincarnation lecture that was more about how to life than how to be reborn.
I thought the talk would primarily focus on the concept of reincarnation itself but instead she focused on being generous, kind and understanding in times of good fortune as well as bad. I am oversimplifying but Karen (who co-founded the Kabbalah Centre) was telling her audience that life happens in the small moments — someone asking you for a dollar for the bus, someone asking for directions or a hot meal, someone asking for a smile.
I needed to hear her inspirational anecdotes because right now I am struggling with my work and direction. In the last year and a half I saved up enough money to give myself some time to cultivate and pursue my dreams of working for myself, cultivating my own projects, working with people who inspired me. And that’s just the beginning. I want to fund Trauma to Art, my organization to help and inspire people who coping with the death of loved ones. I want to turn the stories I’ve found of people who were inspired by grief into a documentary. I want to write a book… BOOKS!
My first crack at the front cover. Did I say a month?
I’ve made good progress and it has only been two months since I left my job but still the impatience overcomes me sometimes and I just feel defeated. Napoleon Hill (one of many philosophers providing me with fuel these days) claims you experience defeat right before the clouds part and the abundance reigns. God, I hope he is right. He taught his deaf son, who had no hearing equipment to hear, so I’m inclined to believe him.
Until the clouds part and ALL my dreams become reality, I will still be looking for a sign. K.Berg suggested a good exercise that may have provided me with an answer. She said to write out whatever your current challenge is. Then write out what in this lifetime brought you to this challenge. I wrote out my vocational conundrum and then mapped out how I came up with my idea. And BAM, a lightbulb went off.
Right after my mother died, before my blog percolated or my enlightenment sparked, I really wanted to illustrate the children’s book my mother wrote for a neighbor about fitting in. Maybe that project holds the key. I’m willing to find out. Today I drew my first sketches and I hope to have a draft by the end of the month.
Wish me luck as I wish it to you!
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What are they calling us? The couch generation or something? Please.
I’ve had two bouts of unemployment since I left college. I didn’t do it the fancy way and spend 30 grand on some superfluous graduate studies program in basket weaving for underdeveloped nations. That first six months I spent a lot of time just sitting and reflecting, researching and exploring. I was trying to figure out what I enjoyed doing, what I didn’t and what would truly make me happy.
I volunteered at two programs — one boxing program teaching a strength training class for at-risk youth. They started in my 20 to 30 minute class then moved on to Dawne George, prison guard turned pro boxer. She went pro at 39, a remarkable feat, almost as remarkable as her at-risk male youth whisperer skills. The first six classes, I was frightened of my students. They were so much taller than me. I just wanted to be cool and for them to like me. Dumb blonde mistake! Dawne had a different approach: if you’re not going to follow my rules, get the hell out. It was super effective. In addition to that program, I volunteered at the emergency room of our local hospital. Remind me to insert a diatribe on the health care system in this state later.
My second bout of unemployment is happening now! I’m on day 4 and loving it. Today I spent the morning reading Mindy Kaling’s hilarious memoir. Soon I’ll be lunching with my friend at the amazing Strip T’s in Watertown and heading downtown for 75 minutes of heart-pounding hot yoga. Tomorrow I’m headed to a book launch party at Harvard, meeting with some professors and then headed to the Back Bay for the Everyone Has a Story Holiday Party featuring Emmanuel Jal, a South Sudanese world-renowned musician and former child soldier! More info.
This is my life. I get to decide how I spend my precious time. If I want to sit on the couch one day and catch up on all the Grey’s Anatomy I missed after Addison left, I can. If I want to spend the day at the library reading the first 5 pages of 20 books, I can.
I went through a short period when I didn’t work for six months in 2010 where I was embarrassed when people asked me what I did and I had to say, “I’m not working but…” and then fill in a qualifying statement that screams “but I’m still worthy of respect.” A 9-5 job with health insurance is not the epitome of living. Some people love their 9-5s, which usually means they are more like 7-7s, which is fabulous. The only truly embarrassing thing is not persuing what you love in some fashion on another.
This concept comes in many shapes and sizes. There are a million ways to find a way to do what you love, you just have to pick one and do it.
As a bonus, here is a perfect example of someone I love pursuing what they love. The very talented friend Rachel Levitin, who is on her way to becoming a famous musician, has a song for you!
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