What The Water Gave Me

In the not so distant past, I had what Oprah would call an “aha moment.” It all stemmed from an unexpected announcement that left me reeling. Hurt and angered by the news, I was bewildered by the injustice of it all. I felt like I’d been sucker-punched.

Several days later, I sat down with a friend and revealed my plight and feelings of frustration. I’d been backed into the corner and didn’t know how to fight my way out. Whereas I was emotional, my friend was rational. The advice, perspective and plan for action this friend gifted to me led me on my way to having that aha moment.

See, I’d always been a determined lady growing up. By the time I was 15, I knew what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be. I had dreams and goals. While some of my fellow high school classmates selected colleges because they offered a wide range of studies for the undecideds, I searched for universities that would let me pursue my two loves: writing and acting.

That laser focus grew blurry in my 20s following graduation. By 23, the disappointment in myself was not only growing stronger, it was planting deep roots. Truthfully, I always thought I’d be living a different life than the one I was living. I wasn’t entirely at peace with the one I had.

Fast forward to today and my 30s and, after some bumps along the road, I’m certain that I’m getting back on track. Life doesn’t look like how I pictured it as a teenager, but deep down, I sense that when I finally come to the end of my story, it’s going to be better than how I imagined it would be.

I digress.

I came home that night after the conversation with the friend, buoyed by the advice and the plan I’d be putting into action. Before I could do so, however, I had to release all of that emotion pent up inside me. The rage, anger, frustration, disappointment and whatever the heck else was locked up needed to go away. Far away.

So, my living room became the stage and I came striding out into the middle of it, the sole performer. I delivered a monologue to the universe and to myself. My husband John and two intrigued, lounging cats were the unsuspecting audience members who listened as I let the words flow. I also let the tears flow when they did, and I didn’t hold them back. I continued my impromptu speech and cried as I spoke.

What did I say? Well, I stopped apologizing for myself, my past and the choices I made up until this point. I embraced those choices because who was I to say what could have been right or what might have been wrong? The truth was, if I made a few different choices here or there, then I wouldn’t have other things in my life. It was time to come to terms with that.

From now on, I was moving forward. And then I thought of water – a stream, a river.

A mountain stream in the Adirondacks

A mountain stream in the Adirondacks

I am the stream, the river, always moving forward, I said, loud and clear.

I might feel like I’m stuck in the river rock, churning and bubbling with rage like the rapids. But no more.

No more.

Every experience moves me forward, forward and I glide with ease over every rock, past any rapid. I cannot, will not, be contained.

My river moves me forward, forward. My will was as strong as ever.

I was ready to stand up for myself, reclaim my determination and take back my power. I refused to be an observer in my own life and I’d never be held back again.

I am the stream, the river.

I am always moving forward.

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15 Stitches and a Headache

As most things do, it started with an idea. The idea grew into the purchase of a book and then an invitation. My friend Crystal had been crocheting since she was a kid and thought it would be fun for us all to get together and crochet. She promised she’d teach those of us who’d never held a crochet hook in our lives how to do it. The inaugural Stitch and Bitch session was set for a Thursday at the end of June in the year 2012. 

Before you can even start stitching and bitching, you need the appropriate crafting supplies. I found myself wandering the aisles of Michaels, painstakingly considering the various colors and fibers of brands like Red Heart, Bernat, Sugar ‘n Cream, Caron, Loops & Threads, Patons and Lion Brand. Even Vanna White has her own yarn! I felt a bit like Goldilocks: this yarn is too coarse, this one is too fuzzy, this one is too thick. I finally found one just right in colors I approved of, selecting it in two shades of blue, a gray and a teal. 

Yarn in hand, I moved to the hooks and chose the gauge indicated on the package wrapped around the skein of yarn. I’d read that you might need to adjust the hook size depending on the size of your stitches. Since I didn’t know what size my stitches would be, I selected the hook it recommended and hoped for the best. I left Michaels feeling a little overwhelmed and a lot uncertain. 

I come from several generations of women who sewed, crocheted and knitted. Even my dad had sewn clothes, made stained glass lamps and furniture from pieces of wood. I’m not sure what I expected, but I hoped crocheting would come naturally if other relatives had done it before me. 

On the night of the Stitch and Bitch, six of us gathering in Crystal’s living room. We shared pizzas. We drank a few margaritas, to either give ourselves the courage to start stitching or the boost to start bitching. Crystal passed us photocopies of the granny square pattern we were going to learn and we started the lesson. 

I quickly discovered that the blood of my crafting ancestors may not be the same blood coursing through me. I was all thumbs as I tried to hold the hook the right way in my right hand while finding the right amount of tension in the yarn I held in my left hand while also using that hand to move the yarn over my hook. I felt like I needed two more hands. I kept twisting the yarn around the hook the wrong way. When I went to pull the yarn through, all that lay in front of me was a tangled, knotted mess. This is when I discovered the size of my stitches: they’re small and tight. 

My fellow stitching comrades in the room possessed various skill levels. Hannah, like me, was a beginner, but I soon shot her envious glances as she picked up on the motions quickly, deftly negotiating her hook and yarn into real stitches. If she was authoring this piece, she’d tell you that she wasn’t that good and that she ripped out half her stitches. Utter nonsense. Hannah was doing a lot better than me by the end of the evening. Anna and Ali, on the other hand, were crochet professionals – Ali more so. Anna said she’d only crocheted scarves before, but that was still leaps and bounds more than I’d done at that point. 

Crystal realized that I was either a hopeless case or in need of individualized attention. Ali stepped to my side. She had me stop following the square pattern. “Let’s just practice single crochets and double crochets,” she suggested. I nodded mutely, too frustrated and annoyed to speak. 

That night, I bitched more about stitching than about anything else. 

By the time we disbanded, Crystal had made a few more margaritas for us, Hannah had a quarter of a recognizable square and I had what can only be described as a small kite – or a fuzzy sperm. 

Open to interpretation: a small kite...or fuzzy sperm?

Open to interpretation: a small kite…or fuzzy sperm?

I’m sure you’re thinking I came to terms with the fact that I’m all thumbs and I gave up, my crocheting days numbered before they even began. 

Au contraire, reader. 

I persevered. A few weeks later, Ali and I sat in Crystal’s backyard on the fourth of July, our feet in a paddling pool as she reviewed stitches with me. I felt optimistic that day. Maybe I could get the hang of this and coordinate my hands and fingers in the right way…

Both Crystal and Ali continued to tutor me, answering my questions as I attempted stitches on my own, without supervision. 

I quit the granny squares and crocheted a heavy, winter-weight infinity scarf in a pattern I created, alternating single and double crochets. This helped me perfect the basic stitches and become comfortable with the movements and the rhythm. I even added a ruffle at the ends! 

I went back to the granny squares, selecting different patterns out of the book and not the one Crystal had originally tried to teach us. She later admitted that particular square was rather advanced and maybe not the best one for us to start out learning. I called it the square of hell and wanted nothing to do with it. I’m happy to say that I finished 72 granny squares, five of them with a 3-D flower in the center. 

I didn’t stop there. 

In the autumn of 2013, I started my first full length, consecutively stitched afghan as a Christmas present for a friend. Watching the friend’s honest reaction of surprise, I was grateful I didn’t quit. 

To date, I’ve crocheted 72 granny squares, two scarves, two adult-sized afghans and three baby blankets. I’ve kept that fuzzy sperm, too. Mostly because it makes me laugh and more because it reminds me of where I started – from the beginning, from knowing not a single, blessed thing about crochet. And now I can read a pattern. 

The second baby blanket I made for my new niece

The second baby blanket I made for my new niece

I showed many of my projects to my grandma, crocheting in her presence a few times. She knits and crochets and creates beautiful work, including leg warmers I used to wear to dance classes and winter hats with a bobble on top I secretly hated as a little kid. She meticulously folds and wraps every bootie, shawl, afghan and sweater just so. I used to think it was a little over the top. Now I understand. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to make each and every one of those pieces. 

My grandma’s critical eye scanned my work and then she asked me questions about the yarn I used and my hook gauge.

I smiled. I knew I’d made her proud. 

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Don’t Look Back in Anger

The sun had been shining brilliantly all day. In an instant, its bright rays vanished, devoured by the dark clouds approaching from the distance with a menacing vengeance. Swallowed by the storm, the sun didn’t have a chance.

The storm will pass. It is a fleeting thing, built on momentum and atmospheric pressure and whatever else meteorologists say causes storms.

Yet, the sun is always there, even when hidden on a gloomy or cloudy day. It might be harder to see its light, but it is a constant.

When the sun shines brighter, the storm clouds break apart or drift away. Sometimes the sun gives the gift of a rainbow, a lovely prism of light in reds, blues, purples and greens. The world is fresh and new and the feeling of promise is contagious. When you’ve survived the storm, how can there be anything but hope?

This isn’t a story about storms, rainbows or suns, although some part of me wants to start singing “The Rainbow Connection” in the best Kermit the Frog impression I can muster.

But it could be a story about storms, rainbows and suns because, really, that’s what life is like. Life is a series of contradictions, successes, failures, joy, despair, choices, plus everything and anything in between. We are the suns in our lives. We find rainbows; we face storms; we hide when we’re uncertain; we radiate when we’re doing what we love.

Of late, some of my going has gotten tough. The storm brewing in the distance has come in strong and furious; the rain and lightning are relentless. I am standing in the eye of the storm. I can’t help but wonder if there is a sun. I’m not sure this storm will ever stop.

During these times of struggle, I focus on my past. Previous decisions made, friends lost, this path chosen over that, always itemizing and categorizing every perceived mistake I’ve ever made. Thinking on my past turns me to frustration, despair and anger.

My storm is anger and the past. This storm of anger has raged and roared within me for years, sometimes with the mew of a kitten and other times with the bellow of a lion.

Me, in reflection

Me, in reflection

I look back in anger. I’m angry at what has been. I’m angry at why I couldn’t have tried harder to make it different.

If I’d been smarter, savvier, wiser, prettier, or just something MORE – whatever that more could be or should have been – it would all be different.

I can hold a grudge. I am the elephant who remembers everything. I’m angry that I can’t let it go. But when you’ve been wronged, it’s hard to let go. It’s hard to forget.

No more. Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

I guess you might say I had what Oprah calls an “aha! moment.” Either that or its time to take the power back and find my strength like a good friend reminded me I had. I know I have the choice to look backward or focus forward for joy. This time I choose joy. This time I look forward.

Don’t look back in anger at the storms in your life. Don’t look back. Make peace and let go. The time is now for the promise of better things to come. Trust me, I know it won’t be easy. I’ve taken some giant leaps in staring down my storm.

After all, if you’re six feet standing tall in the eye of the storm, how can you expect anything else but rainbows when the sun shines again?

 

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Breaking the Habit

I don’t know how I got this way
I’ll never be alright
So I’m breaking the habit…Tonight.
– “Breaking the Habit” by Linkin Park

It had been an ordinary day. But that’s the funny thing about ordinary – the extraordinary is always trying to break through. 

Thursday, June 8 was a warm and pleasant day in Chicago. Around 4 in the afternoon, it was time to step away from the office and my desk chair to practice some arm balances on the lawn in the sun. 

By 5:30 p.m. I was in yoga class, thinking that this was just another day, just another yoga class. As in prior classes, every pose brought a delicate balance of strength and struggle, ease and challenge. 

About 20 minutes before the end of class, it came time to move to the wall. I died a little inside. I tried to quiet the defeatist voices in my head: “I’m not good at this. I can’t do this. It will never happen.” I contemplated leaving class early, like I’d done the other day. It seemed easier to bow out quietly than to be the class joke who can’t kick up to meet the wall without instructor assistance. 

Furthermore, my right shoulder had been bothering me for weeks. The stress that had always remained hidden under my shoulder blades had crept up and up into a much more noticeable pain at the top of my shoulder. A doctor suggested that I stop this yoga practice for a while. It seemed like my more recent troubles began there, she positioned. I wasn’t so sure, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to shake this ache. 

I stayed in class. I turned to face the wall. I kicked up, expecting the ordinary.

Instead, the extraordinary happened. I kicked up. I kicked up and rather than finding air and coming straight back down to the ground, I found the wall. The connection made, I nearly catapulted down again out of panic, amazement or surprise – it’s difficult to say which, although it was probably a combination of all three. 

Upside down, I expected the class around me to erupt into applause. Didn’t they witness this miracle, my awesome achievement? My impossible had become possible and only I seemed to notice and acknowledge it! I felt a little bit disappointed. This was my moment of glory! “Notice me, people!” I shouted inside of my head. After what seemed like forever, I stepped off the wall. 

I leant back on my shins and stared at the wall, holding back tears of joy, wonder and disbelief. I did it. I really did it. I wanted to hug the wall. It seemed like we’d finally reached an understanding. After months of uneasiness with one another, we suddenly turned a corner. The wall no longer intimidated me. 

As I sat there, I became acutely aware that the pain in my shoulder was gone. The realization led me to think that the shoulder pain and my fear of the wall were one in the same: my struggle to kick up had manifested itself as the everyday pain in my shoulder. Making contact with the wall dissolved all of that pain and fear I’d been holding. I was free.  

When the instructor came by, I shared the good news. We exchanged a double high five. I kicked for the second time, successfully making impact with the wall again. 

On this day of my breakthrough, the only one judging and measuring me all along was me. I was the only one who thought of myself as a failure. I was right to be the only one clapping for myself. I deserved my own praise. It didn’t need to come from anyone else. Only I knew how deeply this weighed on my soul, how this had become my Everest. 

The summit reached, on that ordinary turned extraordinary day, everything felt possible. 

In supported forearm balance

   Me, in wall-supported forearm balance. Next step is to not clasp my hands together. 

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I Come Apart

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! – John 16:33

As I made my way home after work, I misstepped as I climbed some stairs and stumbled. Though momentarily startled and jarred, years of experience with my own clumsiness meant I carefully regained my balance. I hadn’t fallen; I was only briefly shaken. I looked around. No one saw this trip up the stairs. 

There are days when I’m sure that I am living my life in harmony and peace. On those days, I feel confident and focused, assured that new opportunities are just around the corner. I know that the future promises to be bright with excitement and endless possibility. 

Then there are days where I feel worthless and disappointed in myself for the choices I made that brought me to the now. Those days, nothing is right and every step is a stumble. This misstep is seen by the entire world and it laughs at you. It shouldn’t be funny when someone falls, but for some reason we struggle to stifle our laughter. A way to cope because we know that we’ve all been there; we’ve all fallen before? Maybe. From this misstep, recovery is not nearly as graceful. My balance is shaky. 

Those darker days are deeply rooted in fear. It’s a real fear that those words of disappointment and unworthiness could be true. I die a little inside when I let the roots deepen and overcome me with worry, growing into a fear that I am a mistake, or I’ve wasted my time and squandered any talent that might have been given to me, if there is any talent to squander. That fear is like a weed, growing out of control and threatening every flower and plant that stands in its way. 

Once upon a time, I had it all figured out. Whether it was sleight of hand, a magic trick gone awry or a strong wind from the east, whatever “it” was lay in disheveled ruins. The course was detoured and I grew weary of making other plans, having other dreams. Picking up the pieces, I wondered “what next?”

And that’s when fear established residency in my being. The faith I once had in myself grew dim, if it even glowed at all. Trust was nonexistent. That’s what happens in the dark days. 

My fear lives in the hottest deserts. The sun is strong and I struggle to detect any signs of life. Will I find any water to drink that will restore the peace and harmony, bringing back the better days? If I do see the water, is it only a mirage fooling me that things can get better and hope will prevail? 

Fear is my weapon, my own self-destructing ammunition. Unsteady, I flirt with the danger of pulling the trigger. A little bit of danger doesn’t scare me, but this kind is unnerving. Here, I come apart. 

I read somewhere that falling down is part of life and getting back up is living. It’s a certainty that some of what I had figured out did not work out the way I wanted. There have been plenty of missteps…and I can only imagine there will be a few more before it’s all said and done. The continued challenge is in denying the fear and the darkening shadow of doubt it casts upon me, coloring my perception for the poorer. It is in rejection of the fear and the power it threatens to hold over me that I can become whole again. 

Image

In the Badlands of South Dakota. If this is the desert where my fear lives, I’m going to find it wearing a blue cowboy hat…according to this picture, anyway.

 

 

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Upside Down in a This Side Up World

Hello, my name is Sara and I’m afraid. 

As I understand it, one of the first steps towards any recovery begins with that statement. You’ve said it. You’ve taken your first step. You start at the bottom, at the foundations and begin building back up – brick by brick. I am. I am. I am. I’m. 

I’m afraid of snakes. The shivers towards this particular slithering reptile began in kindergarten with the alphabet when “S” like in “Sara” was commonly illustrated with the “S” as in “snake.” I’m afraid of deeper darker things too, but it’s not the time to delve into those now. 

Hello, my name is Sara and I’m afraid to go upside down. 

I’ve been learning forearm balance, a yoga pose where – yes, you guessed it – the only part of you connected to the earth is from your elbow to the palm of your hand. The first part to master is kicking your legs up so that they hit the wall behind you for some extra stability. When you’re really good, you won’t need the wall because, as the anti-yogi says in my head: the wall is for losers. On the other hand, the zen yogi comprehends this non-judgmental statement: if using the wall is where you’re at in this practice, then honor yourself and what you can do today. Namaste. 

My first attempt at forearm balance happened two summers ago. I didn’t even want to try, but I wasn’t given much of a choice. The instructor was there to help me kick up, an expectant look upon her face. With my nose hovering dangerously mere inches above the floor, I panicked, convinced that my neck would break or I’d sever my spinal cord. Born a breech baby, even in utero I’d decided that I was adverse to standing on my head. 

Old habits die hard. 

Now here’s yoga imitating life. I’m ignorant and blind to my own power and strength. It’s a lot of leg to kick up and my kick is still weak and uncertain. I’m afraid of letting myself down, or worse – crashing into other yogis and them falling like dominos. Then, there’s that wall. The wall – my future successes I might dare to achieve – is so far away. I’m trying, but I’m afraid. I make a few small steps towards a breakthrough, but it still hasn’t happened yet. 

What happens if I succeed? Will I think differently of this world when I see it topsy-turvy? Isn’t this world already askew, even looking at it right side up? After all, when you ignore the “this side up” label, it’s quite possible that those contents inside may no longer be intact or the same ever again.

Image

the world titled on its side

 

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Best Time of My Life

Change is a five-letter word referring to the loose coins in your pocket or the thing that comes into your life, shaking it up for the good, the bad or the indifferent. I’ve welcomed it, wished for it, wondered when it would come and dreaded it. 

In September 2000, I was more than ready for it. 

Sitting amongst piles of clothes and belongings, I picked up a magazine and thumbed through it, pausing to ready my horoscope that read something like this:

“Gigantic changes in every area of your life are presently in the works. This all may seem scary, but once the whirlwind is over, you’ll see how productive its been. Prepare to be proud of your courage and and your accomplishments.”

My heart leapt with anticipation upon reading these words. The only thing I’d argue against that what I was about to embark upon seemed scary. To the contrary. I wasn’t scared at all. 

The moment had finally arrived. I’d packed, unpacked and repacked my suitcase about a thousand times until I was sure all the contents were just so. This included rolls of film for my camera, CDs and my portable CD player. All of my life for the next five months fitted inside just three bags: a suitcase, backpack and messenger bag. 

The world was a different place then so my parents waited with me at the United Airlines gate until it was time to board. Tears welled in my mom’s eyes as she gave me one final hug goodbye. I hoped that my confidence reassured her. More than anything, I wanted this opportunity to make the world my own. It was my time to go. 

This first flight would take me to New Jersey and the next was a red-eye to England. Nearly 4,000 miles from Chicago, I’d make northern London my new home studying theatre for a semester in this city renowned for the dramatic arts and where Shakespeare once performed on the stage of The Globe. 

Image

at St. James’s Palace in the year 2000

Here I navigated the Tube and double decker buses, discovered cider and drank pints of Strongbow in carpeted pubs built in the 1700s, saw 23 plays in the West End, adopted British phrases like “cheers,” “loo” and “mobile,” ate Cadbury’s Creme Eggs in October (they make them year-round here – not just at Easter!) and shopped at stores along Oxford Circus in special sections dedicated to tall girls. I finally found my island paradise in this country that understood how to make clothes for the long-legged. It was from here that I set off to explore 11 other countries, lived 13 days according to train timetables and managed to pack everything I’d need in a backpack. Much to my surprise, it was here that I met a British boy who four years later would become my husband. 

When the whirlwind of my life abroad ended in January, it was difficult to return to the States. My home country felt foreign and unfamiliar.  It would take time and distance to reconcile those feelings. Time and distance have also evoked a wistful nostalgia for the life I spent in London all those years ago. Truly it was the best time of my life and the measure of contentment for all else when freedoms abounded, stress was nonexistent, travel was at my fingertips and I still felt like I could do anything. 

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