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.

cast hexagram thirty-eight

A couple posts ago, I offhandedly mentioned consulting the I Ching to see where I should travel to next. While it was somewhat of a joke, I have actually been rather addicted lately to the online version, where you can virtually cast the coins and it generates a reading. I had randomly picked the book up at a friend’s a couple months ago and started leafing through it, and have been fascinated ever since. Purists may cringe at the thought of casting the coins online, but for me, how you generate your hexagram is completely beside the point since I don’t believe there’s any real relationship between how the coins land and your reading. I mean, you could as easily open the book to a random page; tossing coins just seems more fun.

I don’t believe things like astrology, fortune telling, tarot etc. are a means of predicting future events, but I do believe they can have value in that they get you to examine the issues at hand in ways you may not have thought of. The great thing about the I Ching is that it offers advice and wisdom that, while obviously a product of ancient Eastern philosophy, isn’t predicated on a specific belief system per se; with an open mind, anyone can benefit. As I’m in a transitional phase, the act of seeking answers, new perspective, or illumination on certain aspects of life gives me comfort. Some of my favorite readings are the ones that seem completely at odds or unfitting with the situation in question, because it forces me to reevaluate my assumptions. Other times, the readings are scarily apropos, but offer hope and clarity. Take today’s reading, for example:

Cast Hexagram:

38 – Thirty-Eight

K’uei / Estrangement

Fire distances itself from its nemesis, the Lake:
No matter how large or diverse the group, the Superior Person remains uniquely himself.
Small accomplishments are possible.

SITUATION ANALYSIS:

You are working at cross-purposes with another.
The distance between you is very wide.
The gap can be closed, however, with no compromise of your integrity.
You are not adversaries in this case — just two persons addressing individual needs.
Ask yourself: are these needs mutually exclusive?
Is there common ground here?
Must there be one winner and one loser?
Could you become partners in seeking a solution that would allow for two winners?

This hexagram reassures me that “small accomplishments are possible”. I’m not sure if these will manifest, because I only have a say over my own actions. But I’m all about partnership and seeking solutions. The part of this reading I’m appreciating the most, though, is the line about others not being my adversaries; just individuals with different sets of needs. This perspective can probably be applied to just about anyone you’d be in conflict with. And once you remove the adversarial aspect of a conflict, it’s much easier to find common ground and a sense of shared purpose. It seems obvious, but easy to lose sight of when you’re in the heat of battle and emotions take over. Which is why I’m grateful for the reminder.

tiki, teardrops and true confessions

tiki noIt must be a rite of passage to get your ass kicked by tiki drinks while visiting Los Angeles. The task was not hard to accomplish, what with a happy hour cocktail at the Roosevelt Hotel, huge beers with dinner, and a stop at the Rainbow for a whiskey soda and some jukebox glam beforehand. More reasonable humans might have called it a night at that point, but it was only 8:30! And this particular tiki bar was in walking (er, stumbling) distance from my friend T’s apartment.

But if you’ll permit me, let’s backtrack to Thanksgiving. In the dinner afterglow, perhaps three glasses of wine in the rear view mirror and tryptophan coursing through my veins, I found myself on facebook chatting with an old college pal who was visiting home from LA. We briefly toyed with the idea of trying to get together, but the timing wasn’t going to work. He suggested that I should just visit him in California, and in my warm and fuzzy and expansive postprandial state, I found myself thinking that was a great idea. A few keystrokes on my phone, and I had a ticket.

Mind you, I hadn’t seen T in about ten years, not since his wedding reception when he still lived in Chicago. Back when I was in school at Michigan State, I used to visit him there fairly regularly, taking the EL to the resale shops in Boystown or poking around Andersonville’s coffee houses and junk stores while he was at work. In the evenings, we’d go to dive bars, drink shitty beer and see bands play. Occasionally, his band would have a show, and I’d sing along in the front row.

Ten years later though, did we still have anything in common? I pondered this somewhat nervously as the trip approached. We were both unattached and had recently gone through divorces, so there was that. But we hadn’t really kept in touch since he’d moved (and even for a decent period before that), and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Girlfriends inquired excitedly whether there were any “romantic possibilities” for my trip; I answered quite honestly that I had no idea.

detroit streetMy first afternoon in town, as we wandered the streets of Hollywood at sunset, I kept seeing bits of home everywhere I looked… Berry Gordy’s star on the Walk of Fame; a sign for Detroit Street; a guy in a Tigers t-shirt. As it turned out, by this time there was someone back home who was tugging at my heartstrings like a cheap ukelele, and as much as I was enjoying the California sunshine, I couldn’t help but have him (and by extension, the city I associated with him) in my thoughts. Naturally I thought the best way to deal with this was with a cocktail.

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restless legs syndrome and the wanderlust gene

croix de toulouseI don’t have any tattoos, but I’m thinking that DRD4-7R would be a good one. It’s the name of the gene supposedly responsible for my restless, never-satiated nature; the one that makes me constantly seek out new experiences and new terrain. The letters could possibly fit inside the other tattoo that I’ve long contemplated, the croix de Toulouse (where I lived for a year), aka the cross of the Cathars. In addition to this cross symbolizing the region where I spent a formative year of my life, the Cathars were a group of persecuted heretics, and although I don’t espouse their beliefs, this probably says something about why I identify with them.

The other day I challenged a friend: “I feel like you’ve constructed this quasi-hermetic life in which you inhabit maybe 5 square miles surrounding your house and that’s it… Why is that? When did you become that way?”, I pressed, with genuine curiosity but, if I’m being honest, a note of judginess in my tone. This question was posed to a person who used to travel in his youth, and even lived abroad for a couple years, but who currently takes pains not to leave the cloister of his neighborhood.

On another occasion, he had answered a similar query by saying, “I get the world to come to me”- i.e. via food and drink, namely. This time, he replied with a question of his own: “Why is it that you always feel the need to be leaving?”

Why, indeed. I thought about this for a moment. And although I think he was just diverting focus from scrutiny and didn’t care too much about my answer (I say this because I gave a flip response and the subject was changed), it got me thinking… what makes some people crave a constant change of scenery? Why am I itchy unless I have plane tickets in the bank or a road trip on the horizon?

I’ve always had “restless legs syndrome”, but after I got married I accepted the idea that sacrifices would have to be made. We were homeowners now, and not getting any younger; we should put money in savings for the house or retirement rather than take frivolous vacations. Besides, any time I’d suggest a trip, even just a short weekend road trip up north or something, M would claim he had to work, and we wouldn’t go. Towards the end of the relationship I just started going off on my own with friends since he was unwilling.

One of the first things I did after our separation was book a trip to Portugal. Buying those tickets made me giddy, and reconnected me with the person I was eight years prior. Since then, I’ve been to LA and New Orleans, and will soon be planning a trip somewhere in Central America thanks to a free ticket given as compensation for a canceled flight. Not to mention that I have enough Delta miles for a round trip to Europe. I’ve been window shopping for cheap plane tickets the way some women window shop for Louboutins.

But back to my friend’s point: Why? Well, right now I think it’s pretty obvious that travel offers an escape from certain realities of my life: that I’m going through a divorce; that I live in a cramped little apartment; that I’m single and will likely never have a family so I might as well do things people with kids can’t do, like pick up at a moment’s notice when I find a great deal. (This isn’t a pity party, by the way; just me adjusting to my new normal.) But the other day, I came across an interesting article that talked about a genetic component to all of this; a “wanderlust gene”. Needless to say, I was intrigued.

According to David Dobbs of National Geographic, the mutant form of the DRD4 gene, 7r, results in people who are “more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities.”  [Ahem.] He went on to say that bearers of this gene “generally embrace movement, change, and adventure” (paraphrased from Dan Scotti in this Elite Daily article; here’s the original NatGeo article). Another blog article tells us the gene is “carried by an approximately 20% of the human population and is linked with restlessness and curiosity along with being a named association with ADHD (Schilling, Walsh & Yun, 2011). This restlessness can cause people to take bigger risks which includes exploring new or different places.” The ADHD connection was not shocking to me at all, as someone who has long suspected myself of being on the spectrum.

Of course not all travel can be explained by genetics- there are people who travel for status, to check things off a list, or who go someplace like Cancun and never set foot off the grounds of their all-inclusive resort- but my Capricorn nature loves scientific, reasoned explanations to things, so I appreciated stumbling on this info. Now, to consult the I Ching to see where I should venture next… suggestions welcome!

face of a brand

As long as I can remember, I’ve known that I wanted to own my own business. I didn’t know exactly what kind of business for a long time, but I knew that I could never be chained to a desk, and that the many hats worn by entrepreneurs appealed to my easily distractable nature. The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in my family, especially on my dad’s side; my grandfather was a farmer, and several of my dad’s 14 siblings are self-employed. As a kid, it was rough sometimes when we had to forgo extras like class field trips or senior pictures due to liquidity issues (I particularly recall my parents cleaning out my bank account once in high school because one of the cars was getting repo’d) but I always respected my dad for sticking with it, and he now has a highly successful business… spend 10 minutes in the car anywhere in the metro area and you’re bound to see at least one of his billboards.

One thing I didn’t quite reckon on, though, was the pressure that comes with representing a brand and being a semi-public (in the tiny scene that is Detroit, at least) figure. I’m struggling right now to strike a balance between living a life that feels genuine to me, and presenting a certain edited persona to those who know me as the owner of my business (which I’m purposely not naming here because of Google). Typically, I have no problem being presented as “N, the owner of such and such,” and am flattered when friends talk up my products as they make introductions. But sometimes, the weight of that is oppressive, and I crave anonymity. I’m envious of people like my friend T, who owned a couple of restaurants and now sells vintage clothing out of her car. This is a woman with an outsized personality who gives no fucks about what anyone thinks or says about her, and somehow pulls it off. I guess my bourgeois side cares too much about public opinion to go that route, or I just don’t have the confidence or cojones to get away with it.

This is something I consider often when writing: finding a comfort zone somewhere between “I’m 41 years old for chrissakes and this is who I am, so screw it,” and thinking about what if my mom is reading, or some other relative, or business acquaintance, etc. I’ve been pretty low key about promoting the blog, but you never know who’s on the other side of the computer screen. At least I don’t have the problem my friend K has; she’s constantly concerned that her blog will be discovered by employers or clients.

This quandary of maintaining multiple identities really hit home when I was out with P last week. We’d been sipping wine since 2 or 3pm and it was around 6 when we went to meet our friend E at a wine bar in the neighborhood. As soon as we got there, P saw a group of acquaintances- a wine salesman and his wife and two of their friends, one of whom was a heart surgeon- and installed me and E at their table. After making hasty introductions, he left us there to fend for ourselves while he wandered off in search of… what, I don’t know exactly.
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traveling companions: the significant other

I know a few free-spirited folks who favor solo travel–setting off to parts unknown completely untethered, able to go where you please and when you please, and meet new people along the way. Personally, I usually prefer companionship, but it’s crucial to know who makes a good traveling companion. I’ve been fortunate to have had more good ones than bad, but the bad ones have unnecessarily ruined some trips that could have otherwise been outstanding, and wasted a ton of my money and time. In a series of posts, I plan to review the most common categories of traveling companion and evaluate the merits and demerits of each, as an excuse to revisit some old travels and lovers and friends.

Let’s start with the most common, the significant other. The significant other can make a great traveling companion if the relationship is on solid ground AND if you both have similar travel styles. I had wonderful trips to Montréal & Québec, New Orleans and Washington, DC with J, a pretty easygoing but adventurous guy who enjoyed a healthy mix of seeing the sights and spending time lounging in bars or cafés, with appropriate amounts of napping and sex thrown in. Long car rides were no big deal with this good-natured and fun-loving companion; we’d listen to music and sing harmonies and occasionally pull off onto a country road for a quickie. Oh, to be young and in love.

I went up north and down through Wisconsin and Chicago with a different J; that trip worked also, mostly because he let me dictate everything. Not as exciting or sexy, but a pleasant way to spend a week out of town. At the time, he was very much a homebody and this was pretty much the only trip we ever took in 5+ years of dating. Ironically, he now spends most of the year on the road, touring in a rock band. How times change.  We stayed in cheap up north motels and watched the leaves change color and stumbled on the “cool” part of Milwaukee by accident and went to Shedd Aquarium and had a generally lovely week.

M, however, was a different story. To start with, we had very different ideals of the perfect vacation… his involved being near-catatonic on a beach somewhere, preferably with a huge spliff in one hand and an icy pastel-hued libation in the other. I am much more on-the-go, preferring to rise fairly early to take in some sights, followed by a leisurely lunch, nap, a little more sightseeing and then dinner, drinks, etc. I feel that it’s also important to know how someone will react when outside their element. M hadn’t traveled much prior to dating me, and everything always seemed to present some kind of problem or issue. How much of this was innate vs. him just wanting to be cranky with me personally is a matter of debate; he subsequently traveled to some borderline third world areas and had a grand old time. My hunch is that his filters were set not to complain on that trip since he was with a business associate and not his romantic partner. But that just goes to show that those things are subjective and you CAN choose to overlook minor inconveniences rather than complain and spread misery. I will never understand that… I always feel so fortunate to get to go places and do things that a little discomfort is no big deal.

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