traveling companions part 3: family

It’s pretty inevitable that you’ll end up traveling with family at some point, whether by choice or obligation. If done right, it can be a great bonding experience. If not, it can make you feel like a screaming teenager again.

Growing up, pretty much all of our family trips took place in and out of cars. With four kids, there was much of the typical bickering/ whining (“mom… she’s touching meeeee!!!!”) and parental threats of pulling over to administer punishment for said bickering. But there were also lots of fun moments of games of I Spy, 20 Questions, and sing-alongs (where I learned how to rock a harmony with my mom singing Beatles or holiday songs).

Since then, family travel has mostly consisted of a bunch of us converging on or around someone’s house, whether it be my dad’s lake house or my mom’s place near Hilton Head. The key for me in these situations (or really anytime I’m in large groups) is the ability to get away and have a little quiet time each day, especially if there are kids around. Usually this means getting up early to read, write or take a walk before everyone else is up, or just disappearing into a bedroom for some down time. As social as I am, I find that I get cranky if I don’t have these opportunities to recharge.

Of course there have been other family trips where we meet somewhere and do more of a tourist thing. In the last 13 months I’ve been on three trips with my mom and her husband- twice in the Blue Ridge mountains, where I brought a friend each time, and just this past weekend to San Diego for a family wedding. In general my mom is great to travel with. She likes to be active, and is usually up for any type of activity we suggest. The only problem is when she starts complaining, usually about service or food at restaurants and/ or about driving and traffic related issues. I’m not sure if it’s a function of her age and being set in her ways, or if it’s just her personality, but it always puts a damper on things. I think the more you go elsewhere and experience other ways of being, the less you have an expectation that things “should” be a certain way, and maybe it’s easier to adjust or accept differences. Or perhaps certain people are just more rigid. My mom didn’t really do much of any traveling until later in life, so I try to cut her some slack. When I do encounter this kind of behavior, in her or other people, I try to diffuse it by saying things like “Just be glad that we’re able to be here!” or other statements that focus on the positive.

When I started traveling on my own, I reveled in the fact that I was out in the world without my parents, discovering things for myself and figuring out how to be independent, so I wasn’t chomping at the bit to include them in my travel plans (not that they would have wanted to… they didn’t even make it to France the whole year that I lived there). My first voluntary trip with a family member was in my mid-20s when I went to Italy with my sister B- there was a February sale on tickets that happened to coincide with her college spring break, so we went to Rome for under $300 each. I’m five years older than her, and I’d say this trip marked the beginning of our relationship as peers. There were a few bumps in the road, mostly due to our age difference and level of experience as travelers (I’d spent nine weeks backpacking through Europe and was accustomed to staying in youth hostels and eating on the cheap; ironically, although she was younger, she had slightly more upscale standards) but overall we had a great time and I was so glad to be able to share that with her. We’ll always chuckle about the night in Florence when we dined and dashed because the food was so horrible and we waited 45 minutes for a check that never came.

Once all my siblings were adults, I’d hoped to be able to take more trips with them, but it seems like things never line up. My sister N had young children for several years. Now, her kids are old enough where she could leave them, but B just had her first baby. Meanwhile, my brother J and his wife are child-free for the time being, but don’t have the financial freedom to do a lot of traveling. N wants to do a girls’ weekend this winter for her 40th birthday though, so who knows. I’ve always wanted to go overseas with J, because we have a lot in common and I think we’d enjoy the same destinations, activities, etc. But at this point, it’s looking pretty unlikely that we’ll ever get to go anywhere just the two of us.

My mom, who’s in her mid-60s, is planning a trip to Ireland with her sisters for this fall or possibly next spring. I really hope that down the road, after people’s kids are grown (or even before), my siblings and I will plan some trips together. Although we all have different travel styles, I like to think that we’d have a ton of fun wherever we went. And who knows, maybe they’ll get me out of my comfort zone to try something I wouldn’t normally do, like a cruise or all-inclusive resort. You never know, stranger things have happened when family is involved.

cast hexagram 47

Three weeks ago my marriage officially ended in a courtroom downtown Detroit, in a surprisingly sun-filled room on the 18th floor overlooking the river and Windsor, just a scant couple of blocks from where it began. Below is my I Ching reading for that week. I’m happy to report that I followed the wisdom therein, biting my tongue, knowing that all the words I wanted to say would fall on deaf ears and only make me feel worse. (Anyone who knows me will know what a challenge it is for me to hold back when I have something I want to say, so I was particularly proud of this achievement.)

Also as advised, I espoused cheerfulness; I’m a strong believer in the fake-it-’til-you-make-it school, and I find that the more you act like you’re fine, the more it takes hold and becomes genuine. I never in a million years thought I’d be an advocate for what I probably would have deemed phoniness at another stage of life, but age and experience have made me see things in less black and white terms. Today, the cheerfulness almost feels real, and it gets a little realer each day.

The lake is above, water below; the lake is empty, dried up. Exhaustion is expressed in yet another way: at the top, a dark line is holding down two light line; below, a light line is hemmed in between two dark ones. The upper trigram belongs to the principle of darkness, the lower to the principle of light. Thus everywhere superior men are oppressed and held in restraint by inferior men.

THE JUDGEMENT

OPPRESSION. Success. Perseverance.
The great man brings about good fortune.
No blame.
When one has something to say,
It is not believed.

Times of adversity are the reverse of times of success, but they can lead to success if they befall the right man. When a strong man meets with adversity, he remains cheerful despite all danger, and this cheerfulness is the source of later successes; it is that stability which is stronger than fate. He who lets his spirit be broken by exhaustion certainly has no success. But if adversity only bends a man, it creates in him a power to react that is bound in time to manifest itself. No inferior man is capable of this. Only the great man brings about good fortune and remains blameless. It is true that for the time being outward influence is denied him, because his words have no effect. Therefore in times of adversity it is important to be strong within and sparing of words.

birthday came early

I’ve just spent Christmas with my family, but this was a Christmas of many years ago- only my parents and siblings, no spouses or children. My mom announces that one of my grandparents has just died, but which one? Hadn’t they all passed away already? We discuss this, and conclude that they in fact have.

Although I know it’s winter, the weather is as mild as a spring day. It’s my birthday, or the day before maybe, and I’ve made no plans. So I wander in search of something to do; a little companionship. I cross through a field where someone is inexplicably walking a dolphin on a leash; occasionally they throw a bucket of water on it. My dog sniffs it for a moment and trots onward. I pass by other relatives in town for the holidays and wave hello, but don’t stop to make small talk.

I make my way into my city, which has, for my purposes, become walkable from my childhood home, and just walkable, period. Places that are miles apart are suddenly and conveniently clustered into one fun neighborhood. Strolling past all of my usual haunts, whose windows twinkle invitingly with string lights for the season, I think of guys I could call who would take me out for a birthday dinner, and we’d have a nice time. But of course I don’t want nice–I want Him.

I end up at a house party and suddenly it’s morning and there he is, outside on the patio, sitting expectantly as if waiting for me, despite the fact that we haven’t spoken in ages. As usual, I’m displeased with him for some perceived minor infraction and begin to chide him. But as usual, his physical presence washes away my annoyance like chalk in the rain, still perceptible but illegible and without consequence. He silences my faltering complaints with a kiss and we latch on to each other like long-lost lovers.

We make our way through the city this way, joined, and although he is twice my size, somehow I am carrying him like a child. I ask where he wants to go and he says, “my house”. So we go, and there is a party happening; a birthday, but not mine. His place has expanded and there are rooms upon rooms to go through to get to his chambers, but at last we arrive. Someone has left us slices of cake, and I gleefully exclaim that we’ll eat it in bed. We have to chase some children out of his rooms; the last one to go is a very small toddler who has just learned to walk and whose footsteps shake the wooden floors like thunder as she runs out.

After dispensing of all the interlopers I return to him and to our kiss. He now tastes of liquor… a hidden flask? I’m stone cold sober and want to ask for some, but don’t; it’s morning, after all, and besides, this kiss is the main thing. Our tongues reach deep, searching for each other’s souls, or maybe intestines. I could go on in this moment forever, but I know it’s not to be.

I awake, and immediately want to crawl back into the cocoon of this dream. Coiled in the warmth of our imaginary embrace, I slowly and regretfully shake off sleep, knowing that the best part of my day has likely already occurred. But although it was just a figment, the kiss is now a shiny coin that I’ll keep in my pocket, absentmindedly rubbing for luck and secretly smiling.

some items of business

Aghghg… I had a post in my head in the shower this morning before work, quickly typed it out, tried to save it and there was an error. So perhaps it was not meant to be, and I’ll just start over. I was going to post some quick thoughts along with a song that expressed a feeling I was having earlier about a certain person/ situation, but I’ve thought better of it, so instead I think I’ll just address some items of business about this blog.

First, let’s get one thing straight: It’s dumb to have to explain this, but the use of initials to refer to people in my life isn’t meant to be cute or coy. Obviously if you know me in real life, you can probably pretty easily figure out who is who. It’s mainly meant to fly under the radar of Google searches, so if anyone’s searching someone’s name, they won’t land here unexpectedly. It’s the same reason I don’t mention my business by name. It’s also just a courtesy, in case people don’t want their name used. I had a conversation with someone the other day who mentioned that a mutual friend had sarcastically said, “Gee, I wonder who — could be.” Of course you know who it is, did you actually think I thought I was being mysterious or obfuscating details? T, I don’t expect you’re reading this, but if you are, give me a little credit.

Secondly, I know this started as a travel(ish) blog and has drifted a bit into some more personal territory, but that’s just what I feel I need to write about right now.  I do have some travel-related posts in the pipeline, but the big picture is that this is about my life experiences, whether they take place at home or elsewhere. I got tired of writing my food blog, which was by and large a shiny happy place where everything was super and I rarely expressed my darker or more sarcastic side, let alone any of the real shit that was happening in my life. On that blog, I cooked and ate beautiful food with my supportive husband and went to amazing parties and potlucks with awesome friends who were also all great cooks and we ate the best food and drank great wine and lived a charmed life. Clearly some of that was true and real, but don’t expect the same gloss factor here.* That’s not to say it’s all going to be negative and emotional. Just that if I feel like writing about things not being perfect, I will.

Lastly, it came to my attention in the same conversation from the other day that there are people reading whom I’ve never met, but who know of me peripherally and have sought out the blog as a way to find out more about me (and not necessarily in a positive way). I suppose that’s the risk you run by publishing your semi-private thoughts in a public forum, but at 41 years old I just can’t bring myself to care anymore what people think (unless you happen to think I’m brilliant and talented, in which case I’m all ears!), especially those who don’t know me personally and who will never know what’s in my heart and soul. So, judge away, stalkers and weirdos. And if you somehow landed here randomly and don’t know me: welcome, I can definitely be a crazy person at times (aren’t all the interesting people, though? At least the ones I know…) but overall I’m pretty smart, fun, and every once in a while I have some interesting stories and insights and perspectives.

I’ll leave you all with this song, an anthem from my teenage years that’s been swimming around my brain for the last three days. The lyrics aren’t all perfectly applicable to my life right now, but whenever I listen to it, it always makes me feel like I have someone in my corner.

*If you prefer a little more gloss, follow my instagram– I try to keep that pretty positive!

alone again and

For the last 7 months, I’ve lived in a small one-bedroom flat, the upper half of a duplex I bought before I was married. It’s not a bad little apartment; it has some cute vintage features and built-in bookshelves and a little alcove with a window and a tree just outside. In fact, if I’d lived here in my 20s I probably would’ve thought it was near perfect. But right now, it feels pretty miserable. Of course, the circumstances that brought me here play a role in that, but mostly the thing I hate about being here is living alone.

Some people thrive on living alone, cherishing their solitude like a thick, warm blanket in a storm. I am not one of those. I grew up in a big family and had lots of roommates throughout my 20s and 30s. When I did live by myself, I had a very full social life as well as a social job (in retail), so the few hours I was home alone each day didn’t faze me. Nowadays, I’m self employed and working from home most days. The loneliness creeps in around midday, a dense fog, and by  mid-afternoon I am either stir-crazy or want to crawl back into bed. I end up going out way too often. My dog is my savior, but sweet as she is, she can’t carry the weight all by herself.

I fantasize about having a commune of sorts; a halfway house for my misfit friends where I would cook supper every night and tend to people’s broken hearts and disappointments and melancholia, or celebrate their successes and triumphs. We’d drink wine and play music and dance around the kitchen and soothe each other’s troubled souls. Or, we’d each go off to our separate rooms for a night of calm and quiet, but take comfort in knowing that the others were close at hand.

When I was married, M would work all day and then either retreat to his office to watch TV solo, or go out after work without me, leaving me to question why I got married in the first place if it meant sitting at home without company? I mean, the principal reason I thought anyone would get married was to not be alone; to have a partner in life. Ironically, I think I was worse off then than I am now, for whatever that’s worth. Being in physical proximity to someone so emotionally absent creates a depth of loneliness even greater than actually being by yourself; a concept that I couldn’t have fathomed before it happened to me.

All of this is not to say that I can’t be by myself or in my own head or that I constantly need attention or interaction. Not at all. During family weekends at the lake, I adore sneaking off to read on the beach before anyone else gets up, or taking a stroll through the pines, soaking up the stillness. And there are many occasions- after a busy work event, for example- where I just want to retreat and decompress. But more often than not, even if I’m doing something like reading or writing, I like it if someone’s in the room with me (in fact, I read a lot more when I lived with M than I do now). The key here is choice; whether or not the solitude is optional makes a huge difference in how I perceive its value.

We are made to feel that neediness of this sort is a character flaw; that it indicates you’re not “secure” or introspective enough. People who relish their singlehood are put on pedestals for being independent, strong, self-sufficient, etc. In reality, many of the people I know who prefer solitude are damaged individuals who choose to keep others at arms’ length lest they have to deal with the sometimes messy complications of human interactions and relationships. I suppose that’s their prerogative, but at what cost? Despite the pain I’ve experienced at the hands of family, friends and lovers, I don’t think I’d change a thing. The joy and inspiration and insight I’ve gained from these intimacies far outweigh any distress they’ve caused. And even with M, as painful as it was at times, I can’t say that I didn’t gain something. I learned a lot about total acceptance of other humans, something I struggled with before and which I think is such an important and worthwhile trait to cultivate. On that note, I’m sure my assessment of those individuals choosing to wall themselves off sounds judgmental; I don’t mean it to be. I don’t think they are in any way bad people for making this choice; it’s just not something I can understand or relate to at all. Even when I’ve been at my lowest and most hurt, I have always turned toward others rather than away, and I’ll always take a risk getting my heart smashed, because I know how beautiful it is to be that vulnerable with another person.

A friend of mine is fond of referring to people as monkeys. In regards to this topic especially, I couldn’t agree more. Our primate cousins are faring much better than we humans right now as far as societal structure though. You don’t see monkeys trying to “live alone”.  First of all, it makes no economic sense. Sharing resources is far less stressful than trying to support yourself solo. Second of all, you put a monkey in isolation and it becomes depressed, and why would a primate willingly inflict that upon itself? A well-known study was done on rats where they were given water bottles with cocaine that they could consume at will. The rats all went crazy for the cocaine-laced water, bingeing to the point of heart attack. The study was held up as proof of how dangerously addictive cocaine is. But the researchers in this first study neglected to take in a crucial factor: their rats were all in isolation. When scientists re-created the study but left the rats in their normal social groups, the animals consumed far less of the drug. The implications about the importance of social bonds are clear and undeniable to me.

I’ve been looking for a new house for the last several months and it’s been a frustrating search. Everything I’ve seen has been too big, or too expensive, or needed too much work, or was great but got bought out from under me by someone who moved faster or had more money. I keep telling myself that everything is for a reason and that my perfect house is out there somewhere, but it’s tough not to get discouraged. Although my apartment is small, I wouldn’t hate it nearly as much if I could even just have people over for dinner. Being deprived of one of my favorite activities- making food for people- is draining the life force out of me. Luckily I have friends who will occasionally let me cook at their houses, which is nice. But I can’t wait until I have a place where I can spontaneously have dinner guests whenever I please.

I would love to hear counterpoints from those of you who are wildly happy on your own; maybe I’m missing some component of what makes it so great? Meanwhile, wish me luck in my search for a new hearth and home; I need all the good mojo I can get.

three-legged puppies

My friend T, who also happens to be recently divorced, talks to me fairly regularly about her escapades as a newly single person on the dating scene. She happened to observe recently that she is recognizing a pattern in her attractions- namely, that she seems to have a proclivity for what she’s termed “three-legged puppies”. You know… guys who are in need of some sort of rescuing, special care, etc. I laughed at her creative descriptor, but it made me reflect on my own past relationships and the motivations therein. I’ve been known to fall victim to the charms of three-legged puppies… I think we all have at some point (if you don’t know who yours are, let me know and I can probably point them out.) They’re cute in their needy, damaged way, they give you a sense of useful purpose, and make you feel like just maybe you have your shit together by comparison, even if you really don’t.

Particularly, the three-legged puppy comment brought to mind O, a guy I used to hang out with a decade or so ago. O and I were never really dating, but we were what you might call special friends. I can’t even say we were friends with benefits because the relationship was pretty nonsexual… this was mostly due to him being a total weirdo and only able to handle the tiniest amounts of intimacy. I don’t know what exactly his diagnosis would have been, had he actually gotten help, but he wasn’t able to exist even remotely comfortably in the world as we know it. Something about him was too precious or sensitive for this life. His coping mechanism of choice, sadly, was heroin. He used to claim that it was the only way he could handle the bullshitty interactions of everyday life (like his job in retail, for instance) and I believe him.

The Gold Dollar, where I met O and spent lots of quality time at the turn of the millenium, near the intersection of Temple & Cass
The Gold Dollar, where I met O and spent lots of quality time at the turn of the millenium, near the intersection of Temple & Cass

He didn’t really do it to party or get fucked up; it was more just to get by and blunt the sharp edges of life. And I knew him in the earliest days of his use, so it wasn’t like this was a years-old maintenance habit. I used to imagine that he had emotional sensors that were amped up way more than the average person could conceive of, and the drugs just helped bring everything to a manageable level. (I think this must be fairly common; another friend who has struggled with some mental health issues and who used to do heroin told me that the first time she tried it, she thought, “This must be what normal people feel like.” Like O, she would do it and go to work, except in her case it was at a law firm.) Not that I condone his drug use at all- I always wished he’d gotten psychiatric help, and I think his malaise could have been managed with far less harmful substances and/or talk therapy. But, he was a wannabe musician who idolized and romanticized drug users, and that was the path he chose.

Anyway, during this time I was writing songs as my short-lived solo project, Little Hammer, and I wrote the song below about O and the other three-legged puppies of this world. I still have a soft spot for them, but I know better than to get caught up, much as I wish I could save them all. Incidentally, I wrote another song about him during this time that never got recorded, with the not-so-subtle lyric “Prince Charming/ on a white horse/ or the hookers on Temple & Cass, well I don’t know which is worse”. The song was an ode to that summer, breezy but bittersweet, with lyrics about bare feet on concrete and big cars on the boulevard… “summer in the city of nowhere to go but up”. Back then, it was probably a lot more accurate, but that’s a topic for another post.

I’m not sure whatever happened to O; he moved back to his parents’ in Cali at the end of that summer, and we lost touch. I regret to say that I don’t have a very optimistic outlook on where he might be right now, but I wish him the best. Even if you’re cute or charming, it’s not easy going through life with only three legs.

traveling companions, part 2: the best friend

This post is the second in a series about various travel companions; go here for part I.

hilary-noelle-1The very first trip I ever took without my parents was with my high school best friend, H. One of my uncles, a priest who researches our family genealogy in his spare time, had organized a three week trip for us to France, where we were to stay with distant relatives in Alsace. He accompanied us for part of the trip, but most of the time was spent with my friend bouncing around different homes in the French countryside. I’ll write more about this trip down the road (or check out this related post from my old blog), as there were many formative firsts worth recounting. But H was a great companion, especially given that we were just 16 and full of all the teen drama and emotions one would expect at that age. H and I had a connection such that any and everything could be turned into an inside joke funny to no one but us (“Albert? C’est toi?” Mort de rire.). When uttered later, these would provoke the other person to giggling fits that would often end in tears of gleeful hysteria. I’m sure we got into some minor snits with each other at some point, but my primary memory of this trip is that we got on grandly.  (Sadly, the postscript to all of this is that we had a falling out when she tried to steal my boyfriend freshman year of college. We might’ve gotten past it, but she moved away the following year and we never reconciled until a dozen or so years later. By that time, we had grown apart too much to get things back to the way they were, and although we’re “friends” on social media, I haven’t seen her since. But I cherish the memories of that trip like none other.)

noelle amanda azoresThese days, I am so lucky to have a best friend, A, whose travel pace and preferences mesh almost perfectly with my own (and who’s never tried to steal any boyfriends). When we were younger, we didn’t have much occasion to travel together since she was still in school and/or working to pay off student loans. (An exception was one ridiculously fun weekend in NYC circa 2000… memories of dancing like crazy to Led Zeppelin in a divey Lower East Side bar…) In 2014, though, we were able to take two trips–one to Louisville and the Smokies, the other to the Azores–and both were pretty near perfect. I kept finding myself in certain situations thinking, “if I was with M, he would be ornery and complaining right now,” but everything was smooth sailing. It just confirmed for me that I was not the problem (well, at least not as much as he would have me believe), and I felt much better… I’m not the difficult one, I’m a great travel partner! Ha. And, we may be getting older, but we still have just as much fun… in Asheville, NC, we charmed our way into a “private” club and danced our asses off like it was 1999.

Of course if your best friend is crazy or has a completely different idea of fun than you or is just difficult in general then I can’t really advise taking that mess to another location. But assuming you get along (and if not, it kind of begs the question of why is this person your best friend?), no reason not to take that party on the road. A and I are already daydreaming about our next trip and checking cheap ticket sites on the regular. Costa Rica is a solid contender, but we’re also considering mainland Portugal and a couple other spots. I can’t wait to find the next place where we’ll dance with all the abandon of our 27-year-old selves.