Something was off and I knew it. My heart knew it, my body knew it, and my mind was doing a great job pretending it did not know it. One night, as we were walking into a restaurant, a couple of my friends who know me well asked me “what it was I was not listening to.” I knew better than to ask surprised, so the best answer I had for them was that it was not time for me to listen. They were kind enough to leave it alone.
The tightness in my chest was not so kind.
It would usually show up around bedtime, when I had nothing else to tend to. It would whisper to me that I already knew, that all I had to do was admit it, that it would be easier once I did.
But I wasn’t ready.
The Sunday before Labor Day, alone at home for one last weekend of the summer, I could feel the voice getting louder. It was getting quite demanding, and the best tool I had to drown its insistence was my lawn mower. So, I mowed my lawn with great focus, delighting in the noise that was overtaking my mind. Once done (I have a small yard), I still felt very vulnerable ... so I mowed again.
It was getting late and for the sake of sanity, I stopped short of asking my neighbors if I could mow their grass, and went inside to watch a movie instead.
The night was uneventful, and I woke up on Labor Day Monday with a whole day to myself stretching in front of me. The unease was still there and I was trying to learn to live with it, to make friend with the rumbly feeling, the Incomplete that was curled up somewhere inside of me. I had “lived with the questions” before, I could do it again, especially if I didn’t try to figure out what the question was. And actually, it all seemed to have quieted down several notches.
On my way to a garage sale, I was savoring the solitude and the beautiful weather. I only had one stop on my list, and it was a good one. In a beautiful area of the island, a woman seemed to be parting with all of her belongings: in addition to a For Sale sign on the front lawn, there were many bundles of sheets, tablecloths, complete sets of plates, bowls, utensils, furniture, books, clothing, art... it looked as though she was selling her whole life.
As I picked up a few small bowls of the most delicious shade of blue, she and I got into a conversation and she shared with me that she was letting go of everything - house, everything - and moving to Europe to reunite with a love of her youth. She seemed happy, and she seemed nervous. She said something like: “you know, maybe I’m crazy but I have to go for it.” Because I love this kind of crazy, I was quick to tell her that I thought she was actually really brave, that she was saying YES to life, to her heart, and what a beautiful thing that was - and finally that well, if it didn’t work out, she could always come back.
As I walked back to my car, she told me that this was just what she had needed to hear, and she thanked me warmly.
“My pleasure,” I said. Because really, this is what I do. I thrive on celebrating people’s dreams and courages. No big deal.
The drive home was about 15 minutes long, and as soon as I opened the door to my house, it hit me with gusto: this thing I had worked hard at keeping at bay, this thing I had tried to drown out (twice) with my lawnmower, this thing I had asked / begged to stay quiet... this thing had sneaked out of my mouth when I expected it the least, seemingly on its way to someone else’s ear.
I had heard it. I had answered it.
It had won.
Suddenly, there was no holding back my tears as all this energy had found a path out of my heart. I picked up the phone, still holding my car keys in my hand. I called my daughter and sobbing, I told her that “I had to go to home for a while.”
She knew right away what I meant.
As I talked with her, the Essence started to take Form. The madness started to feel sane, the chaos started to slow down and just as I had said minutes before “I was saying YES to life, to my heart, and what a beautiful thing that was - and finally that well, if it didn’t work out, I could always come back early.”
She was fully supportive.
Plucked away from my country 35 years ago without the voice to stand up for myself, more than France and more than Italy, I suddenly knew that I needed the Essence of Sovereignty. Geographical Sovereignty, to be specific. I needed to heal this old powerlessness, and for many reasons, this time in my life was the perfect window to do it (apparently the border officer in France knew it too, as she had strangely told me, when looking at my passport as I flew back to the US four months ago that “ I really should stay here.”)
Within days, a plan was starting to emerge. Sharing it with the people I love was at times easy (my oldest son told me that it had taken me longer than he had thought it would) and at times less easy. Waves were made, and waves were ridden. Sometimes gracefully, sometimes less gracefully. Financial puzzles were put forth. Meetings were had. In the end, I got the blessings I was yearning for.
Initially, I had hoped to be able to go for a year. In actuality, it will be six months, and really six months is plenty.
Where will I go? I am not fully sure and because of the Essence I am seeking, this not knowing may be the most important part. I will be in Italy in September for the La Dolce Vita Retreat, and in Mexico, in February for the Relax, Renew & Review Retreat. In between these two landmarks lies the magical land of Geographical Sovereignty. And that’s what I need the most.
I will write, I will continue to coach, I may even lead some classes online. My guess is I will discover some new happiness work to be done over there, also.
In the last few days, I have been around several people who have changed their lives drastically, following a call they knew they had to follow. Of varied ages, some have changed gender, some have changed continents. Others have drastically switched careers and in doing so, majorly altered their income. Some have changed their sexual orientations, some have invested huge resources in order to invent a new family. Yesterday, I had the privilege of sharing a meal with two beautiful women in their 60s. Married to each other, life handed them the unexpected challenge of saying yes to raising the baby of a relative, to make sure he would be safe and thrive. They not only said yes and adopted him, but they are now contemplating moving to France to raise him in what they consider to be a better educational environment. Neither of them speaks French. But their heart is leading the way, and from the little time I spent with this now 3-year old little boy, their hearts are a powerful guide. They are flying over there in September for a one month reconnaissance trip.
And then, sitting in the darkness of a movie theater, last night, I was awed to learn that Eleanor Coppola just released her first full length movie, as director. She is 92 years old.
So, for now I am putting together the puzzle pieces of renting my home for 6 months, making sure I can keep on growing my work while I am gone, that the Center continues to run smoothly, and that my cat is well taken care of. I am a little scared and I am a lot grateful. Grateful that no matter how many times I mow my lawn, my truth seems to always trust me enough to sneak out, even if on its way to someone else. And grateful that there are so many YES people in my life, ready to celebrate and support my dreams - even when it is not 100% convenient.
Today, I invite you to consider that this crazy thing you’ve been dreaming about may actually be possible. I invite you to consider that there may be someone around you wondering right now, why it is taking you so long to say yes to it. I invite you to love yourself enough to make a few waves, and possibly be surprised by how gracefully you and yours may ride them. I invite you say yes to life. Because life loves it when we do this, and tends to reward us gleefully.
Having dinner with my friend Hilary last May, I shared with her the logistics of my upcoming summer: for the next three months, my little home was about to quadruple in occupancy.
I explained to her the whos and the whys, and I knew that she was hearing not just my words, but what I was not saying. It is true that no matter how sweet the whos and the whys, I was looking at a whole season of scarily close quarters, in a house with very few doors. This translated to a potential for little personal space, something which having lived with me in the past, she knew me to absolutely need in order to write, to work, to create ... and to be.
Once I had explained the situation to her, trying my best to sound light and easy about it all, she put down her fork, looked at me, and said: this is not going to work.
No “hey-you-can-always-come-sleep-on-my-couch-once-in-a-while” type of thing. No “who-knows-it-may-turn-out-just-fine” kind of comment. None of that. She looked into my eyes, and repeated: this is not going to work. Possibly followed by: this is not going to work.
I knew better than to try to list the reasons why it could indeed, work. She and I have a long enough history of honesty with each other that I had nowhere to go. The “it will be fine” story I had been trying to tell myself for a couple of weeks in the privacy of my own mind, was crumbling right there on the table, next to the half eaten injera bread.
Exposed and at her mercy, all I could ask was: ok. What do I do?
She was fast. “A tiny house,” she said. “Or a camper. For sure something with a door that closes. Something you can put in your yard and where you can even have phone coaching sessions. Yes, I do think a camper.”
A camper. Hmmm. I could start to see that.
Minutes after saying goodbye to Hilary, I posted a request on FB, asking if anyone had a camper I could rent for the summer. An interesting thread was started and I went to bed, grateful for friends who don’t let me get away with stuff.
The next morning, I was meeting another friend for a garage sale escapade. As we got ready to leave, I let her know that I was looking for a camper, and explained why. Because of who she is, her eyes lit up, and off we went.
Garages sales were scarce, and all I picked up was $1 a string of pink flamingo lights. The string was short, and I had no idea what I would do with it. But I threw it in the back seat.
10 minutes later, as we neared an old friend’s place on our way home, I remembered that as I was falling asleep the night before, I had thought that Corey would be a good person to ask about a temporary camper. He and I had lived on the same piece of magical land a lifetime ago, and if ever there was someone who may know of such a thing, it would be him. I asked Carol if she would mind a quick stop, and we made a left turn down the familiar steep driveway, the way I had for many years. Corey was home, and surrounded by several dogs and a swirl of creative mayhem, he invited us in. He did not have a camper, he said, but “Fred is upstairs, and he may.” Once upstairs, we were offered some delicious warm homemade flat bread, and the question was posed to Fred. Fred, whom I had known for almost 30 years and had not seen in 15, was fully focused on a toy drone he was working on, and he barely looked up when he said - get ready for this - “well, I do have a little Airstream, parked in the bushes.”
Carol and I looked at each other.
I am not sure who made the next move, but I do know that when Fred said that yes, we could take a look at it some time, Carol and I both finished our flatbread pretty darn fast and one of us said that now would be a really great time.
Within 20 minutes, we were walking behind Fred up a grassy hill and into the woods. And there, under bushes and looking super grimy, was the cutest little camper I had ever seen.
Fred opened the door, got out of the way, and I stepped inside.
The first things I saw were some sort of terribly dirty partition, and a really grungy looking mattress. It all looked so bad inside that I almost stepped back down and was ready to forget the whole thing. That of course, would have been without Carol who was suddenly right behind me, looking around the way she does, and then declared that “we could fix it up.” When she says things like that, I listen. And when I listen, the way my eyes work changes. If she thought we could fix it up, then we could. I asked Fred how much he would charge me to borrow this beast for the summer, and he said that if I could clean it up, that would be my rent.
Back in the car, we were shaking our heads, and I am pretty sure I saw one of the pink flamingos wink at me.
Fred and I met once more a couple of days later, drew up a little contractual agreement, where he kindly gave me the options to 1) have him come pick it up at the end of the three months, cleaned up 2) buy it cash 3) lease it to own for three years. Then he said he would deliver it in the next three days.
Three days later, shortly after the sun came up, the World’s Cutest Little Camper rolled down my street, its red round lights blinking happily, and looking mighty pleased to be out of the bushes for the first time in nine years.
The next day was a big work day as I had hired a man to work with me on cleaning it up, inside and outside. I wanted to move fast, get it up to snuff, and move on with my life.
Covered in overalls and suds, we went at it, and within two hours, it started to look really darn good. Mid day, neighbors started to show up, people I had never met in the three years of living here. A couple had lived in an Airstream for 6 years, and they declared the 1979 Argosy Minuet: “a beaut’.”
By the end of the day, it was a totally different camper and I could barely remember its forlorn, moss covered look.
A trip to Value Village for a fluffy pink comforter, the string of flamingo lights hanging on the front - it started to talk to me, and before I knew it, agains all things that make sense, I had named her Lolita. As I was told days later on AirForum.com (yes, I joined that) you should never name a farm animal if you plan to eat it. Or return it in three months.
Over the last month, several of us have fallen in love with her. Thanks to my favorite talented handyman, she now has a beautiful new floor in the main area, as well as in the bathroom (the dirty, green shag carpet was not going to do it), she has had a couple of overnight guests, I have had naps, coaching sessions and much, much delight - and well ... last week we built a little fence behind her. The kind that offers privacy, you know? And the kind that says that she’s not going anywhere fast.
For a couple of weeks, just as we were lavishing love and care upon her white round aluminum body, questions kept coming at me, and within the span a few hours, I could fully entertain totally opposed scenarios: I could buy her and sell her at a profit. I could send her back. I could keep her and travel. I could keep her and _______. I was making myself a little crazy trying to force some sense into something that just would not yet let me see its sense.
It was only once I committed to not making a decision for another month, that my mind seemed to gently shift. Once I allowed myself to enjoy and rest in the Not Knowing Zone.
Pretty soon, very softly and sweetly, peace and enjoyment grew. I was able to be in the moment and simply grateful - and as Rilke writes in one of my favorites lines, I was able to Live the Questions.
What I know for sure, is that this is no accident. The way she came to me, the way she looks, the way I feel when I step inside. The Essences that match some of my core Essences so well: Beauty, Creativity, Freedom. Even Connection.
For years, I had subscribed to Airstream’s online newsletter, following a meeting with a young woman who lived in one. Their curves were like warm butter to my eyes, and every time I received the email, I dreamed a tiny bit. About six months ago, I had unsubscribed, thinking that I wanted to focus on things that were more current - and more possible. I guess it became time to upgrade the dream from reading about it to living it.
There are so many things whose sense we don’t know but can feel. So many things that ask of us only to say yes.
Today, I invite you to say yes, even when you can’ t quite explain the sense of it. I also invite you to know when you deeply need something, be it more personal space, or a special experience. Finally, I invite you to allow your friends to know you so well that when necessary, they are able to bring you back to the real you, often over great bread.
And more than anything, I invite you to dance with the magic of life as it so often conspires to surprise us in ways bigger and more playful than we could ever imagine.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke
Isn't it funny how we can be crystal clear one moment and so hesitant the next? It is so easy to judge ourselves for this.
Wishy washy, flaky, ungrounded... all sorts of words can come and whisper mean things in our ear.
What if if we needed this back and forth movement, this waves-like dance of revisiting, checking in, deepening, in order to come home to us? What if every step of the dance was important, and if without even one of them, we would not experience the whole gift?
What if we could celebrate our (and others') tender humanness in fully exploring the yeses of one moment and the nos of the next? What if we could accompany ourselves all the way to the shore of the decision, without abandoning our softness, along the way?
The moment will come. It may be today, or it may be next year. And when it comes, we will know fully, with our bodies as well as with our hearts, that we have arrived. At the perfect time.
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Happiness & Creativity Retreat in Italy
I write because this is the way I am able to taste life more deeply.