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A Love Like That.

As some of you know, I struggle with letting go and allowing love to grow (both in terms of what I share with others and in what I feel inside as self-love). I’ve recently been experimenting with giving in to love and thereby permitting myself to experience things like inner peace (similar to that moment on the train in Thailand), and seeing myself through the eyes of the ones that love me.

It’s really something – to feel the kind of warmth and acceptance of inner peace or of the love of another.

For these reasons, blogger Kendall Goodwin’s post with the above quote/poem, resonated with me.

Enjoy and thanks for reading,
S

Photobucket

Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says
To the Earth,
“You owe me.”
Look
What happens
With a love like that.
It lights the
Whole
Sky.

– Hafiz, Sufi poet

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Sarah’s Thailand – Fall 2012

I’m in a writing state of mind today, no doubt thanks to a bit of a positive boost from this morning’s rain (read about it here).

And I promised you a piece on our Thailand trip. So here it is – Northern Thailand, through my eyes…

When I lost my job in June and I decided to take a few months to regroup and experiment, one of my goals was to travel abroad. Nowhere in particular, but somewhere far away from my day to day.

I thought about going back to Europe/UK, since my lovely friend Y and I had only been to London and some surrounding cities, back in 2010. But Europe/UK was expensive (the unfortunate result of the exchange rate between the USD vs. the Euro or GBP), and to be honest, seemed a bit too similar to home. I wanted something really exotic and different. So I turned to Asia, as many countries in this region (China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Tibet, Thailand, Vietnam) are high on my travel list. Plus, many of my closest relationships are to Asian Americans and I’ve always been very interested in Asian culture past and present.

Y and I had talked about going to China, and I thought Dan might want to visit Vietnam one day, so I settled my sights on Thailand.

Originally I planned to travel on my own but not alone, so I researched various small group tour companies. After consulting a variety of travel blogs and news articles, I ended up selecting Imaginative Traveller and their partner, Intrepid Travel. I knew I wanted to travel for about 10 days (I would miss Dan too much if I was gone for more than a couple weeks), and I wanted to keep costs to a minimum, so I settled on their Explore Northern Thailand tours, which were listed at 8 days.

While in the final planning stages of this adventure (literally, within the week or so I planned to book everything), I happened to connect with my friend S from grad school. We were catching up over email and when I revealed my plans to go to Thailand and asked if she’d like to come, she said yes!

And from there on, our adventure began.

We met in NYC and flew to Bangkok (by way of Shanghai) in mid-September. We stayed in the cities of Bangkok, Sukohthai, Lampang, and Chiang Mai, over the course of the 8 days. You can view the trip itinerary on either Imaginative’s or Intrepid’s websites (Explore Northern Thailand trip option), but basically we:

– Bangkok: Rode on a longtail boat, visited an open air market, saw the Giant Standing Buddha, visited the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha, and walked along Khao San Road

– Sukothai: Visited temples, bicycled around ancient monuments, picnicked with locals, stayed at a guesthouse and almost got caught in a flood

– Lampang: Went to an elephant conservatory were we rode an elephant, watched elephants bathing, and fed injured elephants (with prosthetic limbs!)

– Rural Chiang Mai: Made an offering to a monk, bicycled through valleys visiting a rice farm, mushroom farm, local sewing shop, taught English to Kindergartners, stayed with a host family, ate traditional Northern Thai food and experienced some of the music and dances customary to that part of the country, and visited a hot springs

– Urban Chiang Mai: Learned a few facts at the Cultural Museum, took a Thai cooking class and learned how to buy produce at a local market, experienced a Fish Spa and a foot massage, shopped the Night Bazzar, saw a lady boy (transvestite) cabaret, and bought some custom made clothing at a tailor

And throughout it all we experienced: long distance train and bus travel (even an overnight sleeping car on a train!), Rickshaws, Songteaus, Tuk Tuks, taxis, pit toilets, sleeping under mosquito netting, Buddhist culture, new foods, and the company of a few Australians, a couple from Belgium, a couple from Ireland, and a lady from England, as well as our phenomenal tour guide, Boom (a native of Thailand who grew up on a Chili farm on the West coast).

We even picked up a little bit of Thai, for instance: Sawadee ka – Hello/Goodbye; Ka poon ka – Thank you (both as said by a female and spelled phonetically).

I’m still in the midst of editing the photos I took (of which there were hundreds), so I’ll add in a couple of them to this post, later on.

It was an incredible trip and one that I will carry fond memories of.

“Sarah, wait!”

Okay, I’m here.

“Is that it? You went across the world and did a whole bunch of stuff, and that’s it?”

Well, I mean, that’s what we did in Thailand.

“Yeah but, anyone can go to Thailand and do those things. What did Thailand mean to you?”

Oh you mean, why did I go and what did I learn about myself from the experience?

“Yes, yes. Of course. You always reflect on things.”

Well, you are right. 🙂

Per the usual, one of my intentions of going on this trip was to reconnect with myself.

These last few years have been pretty transient and tumultuous for me due to a variety of reasons (e.g., grad school applications, back injury aftermath including the lawsuit, family relationships, loss of employment, etc.), and well, for me – the best way to get in touch with my inner self is to remove me from my surroundings and force me to be present in the moment, and to learn.

Perhaps serendipitously, I had Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (EPL) with me (phenomenal book by the way, if you haven’t read it), and even though S was by my side and shared many a conversation and beautiful moment with me, Gilbert’s writing in some ways could’ve been the codified version of the narration in my head.

For those who haven’t read the book, Gilbert experiences a heart wrenching divorce and travels to Italy, India and Indonesia in search of a sense of self and wholeness. So the section of her book on reconnecting with pleasure and desire in Italy, the one on devotion and spiritual renewal in India, and the one on finding balance in Bali, all rang true to me in that:

In these last few years I’ve had to really learn how to let pleasure in to my life. For years I had worked very hard with the idea that, like the proverbial ant, work came first and play came second. Suddenly life decided to take me off that rat race in both the form of a back injury and being laid off and I was forced to come to terms with my human yearnings for fun, adventure, and joy. Not that I hadn’t had these before, it was just that I didn’t appreciate them – I simply viewed them as weigh points in between times of intense work/diligence. So I’ve been learning how to allow myself languid pleasures, and pure fun.

Furthermore, even though I have wonderful people and relationships which bring me countless joy, I had to realize that I’m the primary caretaker of me and if I need more fun, more happiness, more elation, I can’t look to others in my life to make it happen. Sometimes self care means loving yourself and creating your own fun. My recently renewed passion for photography has really helped in that regard – it’s something deeply creative and technical, but also so incredibly fun and satisfying! Plus, I love being able to capture moments for myself and for others.

This also coincides with a bit of a romantic rebirth for me. Prior to dating Dan, romance lured me but relationships rang a death knell. Previously, I’d  been in some pretty disastrous involvements which had negatively impacted my self-esteem, body image, and sense of self. I won’t say all these personality aspects are 100% rosy now, but being with Dan has really allowed me to love both myself and others again. It’s also allowed me to come to terms with my human (and sexual) self as a adult, in ways I really can’t put into words. Suffice it to say, Dan has really helped me recognize what self and other love can be, and certainly our relationship, as well as the ones I share with my closest friends, have all really helped me to be more open to the love and joy that can be found in human connectedness. I am deeply grateful for these experiences and deeply committed to these individuals I love.

Furthermore, I am coming to understand the value in balance. I can’t have it all (or truly, as close to “it all” as I can get), without recognizing my needs across all the valid areas. I have physical needs (e.g., hunger), mental needs (e.g., to learn), spiritual needs (e.g., to feel at peace), emotional needs (e.g., to feel love) – and while I might be able to foist off or ignore a need for some amount of time, eventually they all cry for attention, and I must tend to them. In fact, it’s preferable if I try to tend to all of them a little bit at a time and keep the scales even, vs. drastically flip flopping from one to another.

And in acknowledging balance, I also have to allow myself to let go. It is incredibly hard for someone like me who relishes the structure and stability of plans, diligence, and ambition, to accept that the world is largely out of my control. It’s great that I feel empowered; it’s great that I want to play an active role in the world and in my life; but I’m still me – an individual who is subject to all the systems and processes of the world at large (e.g., political structures, organizational hierarchies, governments, etc.) and just things beyond my purview entirely (e.g., illness, catastrophe, weather, inconveniences, etc.). And though I still wrestle with the idea that my life is a much larger story greater than my most dedicated efforts at crossing off to do lists, I am starting to understand that: 1) my best is good enough, 2) there is always (except in rare cases, re: catastrophe) a tomorrow, and 3) I am the best advocate for myself (re: self-care).

And I’m sure there were more nuggets of awareness, but as you can see, EPL really provided a springboard for me. While we were flying across the Pacific, traversing the railways across rice paddies, riding the roads to Chiang Mai, and I was reading Gilbert’s thoughts, I was deep in a state of murky self-reflection.

In fact, perhaps the largest take away was a sense of inner peace.

After all the up and down and side to side of the last few years, my ego finally sat still and rested. The moment I remember it best was when I woke up to a beautiful sunrise somewhere about 2 hours outside of Bangkok on the sleeper train. I was one of the first folks in our group to wake up and I just laid there feeling very much still.

I rolled over to one side and gently drew the bright blue curtains to quietly reveal the soft glow of a pink and purple sunrise. I found my camera and snapped a photo, and in that moment I just knew that it was finally okay to let go of everything I’d experienced in the last few years and move forward. I’m not sure why there, why that moment, and why Thailand, but for whatever reason, internally I took a breath and made the first movement forward. I thought of Dan and felt very warm and comfortable and that’s when I knew that even though the future is a bit amorphous, things were going to be okay.

And so, if I hadn’t had the opportunity for so much dedicated self-time, I might not have been able pull all the pieces together and reach said conclusions.

Furthermore, being in a place like Thailand, once you’ve lived in a place like the U.S., just reminds you of the things you take for granted. For example:

– Western-style plumbing (you might laugh at this, but I seriously did not enjoy pit toilets, the lack of free toilet paper in public bathrooms, or outdoor showers – though the showers were significantly less offensive to me than the toilet situation)

– Emergency response (we sat in Bangkok traffic on the way to the train station and an ambulance had moved approximately 1/8 of a mile in 30 minutes – I sure hope the person who called in was okay)

– Education (while Thai’s can attend public schools housed in monasteries, they are certainly less able to educate kids with the aid of technology and cutting edge resources)

– Climate (while I’m not a fan of Texas’ hot summers, it sure beats having to constantly apply sunscreen and mosquito repellent on threat of Malaria or Dengue fever)

– Safety (I can walk my neighborhood for hours without fear of pick pocketing, mugging, or unwanted attention; I can also drive without having to wonder whether a Tuk Tuk or Moped will pop out of nowhere)

– Freedom (Thai’s deeply revere their monarchy, and while I respect that, I also appreciate my ability to speak freely about our government without fear)

– Food/Hygiene (while I LOVED the Thai food we ate on our trip, I was sad not to be able to eat raw produce or have cold drinks with ice)

Anyway…so that was Thailand through my eyes.

Have you ever been to Southeast Asia? If so, I’d love to hear your stories. And if you’ve never visited, I highly, highly recommend it.

Thanks for reading.

Always, S

My Brother

Every now and then, life surprises you.

Let me provide a little bit of context:

My (younger) brother and I, grew up in Massachusetts.

For the first 10 years of my life, our family lived in a tiny rural town of less than 2,000 folks. In our early years, my brother and I spent much of our time together hanging out at the house playing or studying (because there simply wasn’t much else nearby, and our family was close). When I turned 10, we moved to the lower most floor of a “triple decker” (3 floor apartment building) in the inner city. From there, we moved to one side of a duplex and attended a charter school, and then finally to a small single family house in upper-middle class suburbia where we both finished out our high school years. When we weren’t in school, we were attending after school sports (soccer, baseball, swimming, dance, etc.), music lessons (violin and piano for me, drums for him), other activities (reading, web-design club, art classes, girl or boy scouts, Vernal Pool Society, martial arts…I can’t even remember them all right now…), and of course spending time with our respective friends and our Maternal relatives (who we saw weekly; our Paternal relatives would mainly get together on holidays).

Needless to say, at only 2 years and 9 months (to be exact) apart in age, with many shared life experiences, my brother and I were close. And even though there was the occasional poking, pushing, argument, and see-who-could-yell-the-loudest-fest, our relationship was pretty solid and stable.

Then when I left for college (and moved to Texas), things changed a bit.

My brother and I didn’t communicate regularly, in fact, we communicated about twice a year – once when I would return home for Christmas, and again when I’d visit during the summer. I’d find out how he was doing through phone conversations and email with my parents, but it wasn’t quite the same.

Sadly, in his Junior year of high school my brother became involved with some friends who introduced him to drugs, and my brother ended up on the wrong side of the law on a few occasions. By this point our communication was pretty strained and irregular at best, and our parents were on high alert constantly. It seemed like every conversation I had with our folks included commentary on how my brother was in trouble, wayward, or just difficult to connect with.

I spent isolated time with my brother during this period, which began about mid-2006. Again, we saw each other at Christmas, and possibly during the summer. Relating was strange.

Initially, I felt angry and sad. I was angry that my brother got into drugs, that he was becoming an increasingly bigger source of strain and tension on my parents, and that when I would be home, he was frequently unavailable. I was sad because I saw him suffering – upset that he got expelled from school, upset that he didn’t feel at home with our family or his friends, upset that he acquired large amounts of debt in legal fees and court costs – and I was sad because here he was, my brother, hitting some really difficult times and I felt helpless. I was in the audience watching a tragedy from the front row and no matter how much I wanted to jump in and change the plot, or close the curtain and hide the pain, I couldn’t.

Things got incrementally better…my parents left the Northeast and moved to Nevada in mid-2008 which caused my brother to have to (mostly) support himself financially (since he had been living with them but did not want to move cross country). My parents went on to their post-child-rearing stage and established themselves in a new State, with new jobs. My brother stopped actively using or dealing illegal drugs and found a couple of part time jobs that provided structure. He focused more on his music, his real passion. I graduated and worked at the university, did some traveling with my closest friends, went on to grad school in New York City, left a poor relationship, dealt with the accident, worked in market research, and found love.

Throughout it all, our family always met up at Christmas. My brother and I both would stay with our parents for about a week in December. During those visits, I would get moments with him – just me and him. But they seemed fragile and short. After the holiday was up, we’d all return to our respect corners of the country and go about our lives.

I didn’t push my brother into any kind of adult connection. We had our own lives, and to be honest, I knew so little about him as an adult that I often felt more connected by our past than the present. But furthermore, I became more my own person and I didn’t want a deeper relationship with my brother to compromise my adult identity – an identity that I’d been trying so hard to form and maintain. I also didn’t want my connection to him to resemble the one I have with our parents (re: emotionally difficult, laced with expectation and misunderstanding), as that was the only other example of a nuclear family relationship I had to draw from.

My approach became one of love from afar: I’d send the occasional text, email, and birthday card – tell him that I cared about him, but left the rest up to him.

I got a phone call from my brother last night.

It was completely unexpected, and it was really great. We talked for about an hour about how we’re both trying to find our way in life, how we are frequently frustrated at what we think our parents expect from us, how we feel misunderstood by our parents, and how we just want lives where we’re happy, loved, and enjoy what we do.

There were multiple moments in the conversation where I was awash with emotion:

– I could hear the exasperation and pain in his voice through the struggles he’s facing

– I could hear the pride and love when he talked about how thrilled he was with what I’d done so far in life

Here was this person, this one point of humanness across the country, who I could relate to instantly, feel strongly connected to, and dang it,  really wanted to reach through the phone and give a hug to.

Now, I don’t take this recent phone call as a sign of massive change. I still anticipate that we may not communicate regularly, that we’ll really only spend time quality time together at Christmas, and we’ll send short messages remotely when a brief burst of “love you; thinking of you,” strikes. But it feels great to know that my child self, teen self, and adult self can connect to this person who has been there through all of those stages and still gives a damn.

It’s also nice to know that he and I can start to bridge the gap as adults and redefine our relationship in ways to match the present; something I perpetually struggle to do with my parents (and other relatives). Likewise, with him I’m the 25 year old me instead of the 12 year old me, but if I feel the need, I can invoke the 12 year old me sometimes and it will still be okay. Plus, no one else can quite experience the underbelly of our nuclear family in the same way, with knowledge of all it’s positives, intricacies, secrets, and dysfunction. I only have one person on this Earth I can call a sibling, and that’s him.

My family has been one of the greatest sources of inspiration, frustration, tension, and learning, in my life. It seems like that’s not going to stop anytime soon. I struggle on a regular basis with my relationship to my parents and other relatives, but I’m hopeful for the future as long as I can occasionally reconnect with my brother in a peer-to-peer way and remember that sometimes life (and others), will surprise you.

Thanks for reading,

S

P.S. As I mentioned above, family is a constant source of mixed emotion for me. A HUGE thank you must go out to Dan, and my dearest friends (Ya, Pa, St, Au, Ro, Al, Ra, Er, El, Ma…), who help me weather the storms and have truly become my own family, apart from that of my genes.

A Love Letter

I had started working on another post a couple of days ago.

It was about decision making, the idea of analysis paralysis, and some reflections as a result of Seth Godin’s recent blog post on when to reconsider decisions.

But then, I found this article in the NY Times: The Vanishing Mind: When Illness Makes a Spouse a Stranger

And I cried.

The article discusses frontotemporal dementia, or Pick’s Disease, a rare form of dementia (loss of brain function, often connected to memory loss) coupled with brain atrophy in the frontal lobes.

What’s so striking is that the article not only describes the difficulty individuals have in dealing with the disease (changes in personality, loss of speech or memory and other functions) and the fact that there is no known cure, but also how the lives of those close to the ill are impacted.

The main couple described in the article is Mr. and Mrs. French: Mr. French with Pick’s Disease, and Mrs. French the spouse and caretaker. The interactions between the Frenches are completely tear-jerking – how he quietly accepts his disease and supports her care giving choices even when she’s wracked with guilt or uncertainty, and how she spends hours with him in his nursing home room, just to be with him.

While I find the French’s story incredibly moving, it makes me realize two things:

1) how much I love Dan and those closest to me, and how I wish to never be parted from them

2) how much Dan and those closest to me have had to deal with these last couple of years as I’ve faced and come to terms with a chronic injury

I could wax poetic about how life is precious and how important it is to treasure what you have, but instead I want to say this:

 

To Dan and all whom I love,

If something, anything, happens such that I’m unable to reach you, know you, or feel you in any way, please know this:

I love you.

Please know that I take every sliver of a shinning moment that we spend together – whether joyful, peaceful, angry, or unstable – and I keep them close to my heart in a little place that I retreat to when the world goes sour.

And if I’m somehow unable or simply not myself, then I trust you to do what you need to do for me, for you, and for anyone else involved.

I am grateful for all that you are, will be, and have been, and I hope to always have the honor and pleasure of continuing this journey with you for as long as I’m able.

Thank you for being you. And again, I love you.

 

-S

 

Adult Attachment

Today, I took a walk around a nearby public high school at midday. As I was approaching my return route, a couple crossed the street and I found myself walking behind them for a block or so.

They were cute – clearly happy to be with each other, and equally happy to be allowed off campus for lunch. To help you picture them: the girl had short cropped dark hair and was wearing a black cotton dress with a floral pattern and brown flats. The guy had jean shorts that fell below his knees, flat slip-on shoes, a t-shirt, broad rimmed baseball cap with red unkempt hair poking around the perimeter, and a slender skateboard in his arm. Both of them were wearing backpacks, holding hands, and walking with a tinge of awkwardness – in the somewhat shy but playful fashion of teenagers in love.

While moments like this often cause pause – “I remember when I was that age,” “I remember my first love,” “ahh, youth,” etc., it actually prompted me to think about how influential those early experiences can really be.

Dan and I recently read Attached written by Levine and Heller. The book explores how attachment theory can be used to explain, understand and improve adult romantic relationships (though the principles can certainly be applied to non-romantic relationships as well). For those familiar with Bowlby’s (and Ainsworth’s) original attachment research regarding children, this book basically brings the same theory forward into the adult realm.

To briefly recap attachment theory according to Bowlby, Ainsworth and the many child development researchers since, the premise is that children display one of four types of attachment to their care givers:

– secure: the child is able to perform activities with their caregiver as a stable base; the child is upset when the caregiver leaves but is able to be calmed when the caregiver returns and then resume their activities; the child can be consoled by a stranger but prefers the caregiver

– avoidant: the child shows little emotional change with or without the caregiver present; a stranger is often treated similarly to the caregiver; the child may ignore their caregiver

– ambivalent-resistant: the child shows constant distress over the proximity of their caregiver; the child is distraught when the caregiver leaves and is difficult to console; the child prefers their caregiver to strangers but when the caregiver returns the child may feel upset

– disorganized: the child shows a mix of behaviors (often leaning towards the ambivalent-resistant and avoidant categories); appears confused and has difficulty responding

These attachment categories can also be lumped more generally into secure and insecure attachment (with insecure encompassing avoidance, ambivalence and disorganized).

Adult attachment theory is very similar, but the categories used by Levine and Heller are: secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious avoidant. Here are their descriptions of such attachment styles:

Anxious: You love to be very close to your romantic partners and have the capacity for great intimacy. You often fear, however, that your partner does not wish to be as close as you would like him/her to be. Relationships tend to consume a large part of your emotional energy. You tend to be very sensitive to small fluctuations in your partner’s moods and actions, and although your senses are often accurate, you take your partner’s behaviors overly personally. You experience a lot of negative emotions within the relationship and get easily upset. As a result you tend to act out and say things you later regret. If the other person provides a lot of security and reassurance, you are able to shed much of your preoccupation and feel contented (Levine & Heller).

Avoidant: It is very important for you to maintain your independence and self-sufficiency, and you often prefer autonomy to intimate relationships. Even though you do want to be close to others, you feel uncomfortable with too much closeness and tend to keep your partner at arm’s length. You don’t spend much time worrying about your romantic relationships or about being rejected. You tend not to open up to your partners and they often complain that you are emotionally distant. In relationships, you are often on high alert for any signs of control or impingement on your territory by your partner (Levine & Heller).

Secure: Being warm and loving in a relationship comes naturally to you. You enjoy being intimate without becoming overly worried about your relationships. You take things in stride when it comes to romance and don’t get easily upset over relationship matters. You effectively communicate your needs and feelings to your partner and are also strong at reading your partner’s emotional cues and responding to them. You share your successes and problems with your mate, and are able to be there for him or her in times of need (Levine & Heller).

Levine and Heller consider anxious-avoidant as a mixture of the anxious and avoidant categories described above.

So as you might guess, the premise of the book is how an awareness of adult attachment theory can help one find a partner, improve an existing relationship, or decide whether to stay within a relationship.

What’s interesting is that, while some psych researchers have focused on how attachment in childhood can influence adult attachment, Attached posits the case that adult attachment is actually somewhat separate from childhood attachment in that, one can grow up with a certain attachment style which can then be altered/changed throughout adult relational experiences. Also, certain societal expectations or trends, can influence how adults view attachment – for example the topic of codependency. According to the dictionary codependency is:

Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction. (Merriam Webster)

And in today’s pop psych world, codependency is often used to describe the interactions between unhealthy folks (usually those with addictions or other maladaptive behaviors) and their partners. The two individuals, in essence, can feed off one another with one partner “enabling” the continuation of the unhealthy behaviors in the other, which then perpetuates an unhealthy reliance between the two.

Codependency, in my experience, is very real and very challenging to overcome. However, as Levine and Heller argue, it is really meant to describe the interactions of unhealthy individuals to those close to them – it is not intended as a reason for maintaining a constant amount of space or distance between healthy partners. In other words, it was never meant to make mutual, loving dependency between partners the enemy.

Now some of you may be thinking codependency is a bit of an extreme example – but what about the idea of being responsible for our own experiences, such as happiness, as I wrote about here? Well, there are always shades of gray, but truthfully, Levine and Heller did not fully discuss the concept of maintaining both an individual and joint identity within coupledom. I personally believe it’s healthier to have a simultaneous sense of self and a sense of oneness/we-ness, while in a partnership, and I think it’s unrealistic for each of us to expect our significant other to fulfill every single one of our needs (the major needs for certain, but not everything – that’s what I have friends and family for). However, those ideas should also not be reasons against fostering intimacy and healthy dependency within a relationship because at some point the relationship must morph from “you and I” to “we”. My partner should be able and allowed to contribute to my wholeness/completeness as a person – just not responsible for 100% (or even maybe the majority) of that wholeness/completeness. Balance, folks, balance.

But anyway, while societal trends can influence how adults view attachment (and in the case of codependency, such trends probably really shouldn’t), adult attachment can also be impacted by close relationship experiences. This Op-Ed piece called The Brain on Love by Diane Ackerman, provides additional support to this idea, as it discusses how experiencing (or not experiencing) love, actually influences our neurology. This is why Levine and Heller argue that as an adult one should “choose a romantic partner wisely” (and I’d extend that to other key relationships too- close friends, business partners), for a poor choice can influence attachment styles.

As you might have guessed (based on other postings I’ve written herein, or if you know me in person), I am squarely in the anxious attachment camp. And as you might have also guessed, I used to be more secure.

Had I, back when I was 15 like the couple I observed earlier today, been a bit more choosy in who I allowed into my inner circle (speaking mainly about former partners, but also about other relationships), I might be a lot more secure today. A lot more open to intimacy, a lot more understanding and supportive of my partner, and less emotionally volatile.

I can dwell on the past and rue my missteps, but rather than relive the past, I’d rather learn from it and start deliberately “rewiring” my brain for the benefit of me and those I’m close to. As Levine and Heller’s book discusses, being aware of your own adult attachment style is the first step, then it’s learning how to interpret and respond to both your own internal signals/behaviors and those of your partner, and then doing your best to become that which will make you a better partner (i.e., more secure). Dan and I have our work cut out for us, but it’s a joint project and I know we can do it.

So I thought about Attached when I saw the guy and girl walking happily hand in hand by the high school. I hope they’ll find themselves able to adopt (or nurture, if they already have) the traits of those securely attached. I think we all deserve to feel deeply close and emotionally contented by those we care about and love.

Thanks for reading, S

Love

I love, love.

From that warm, soft feeling of being truly home, to that passionate kiss, to that mutual understanding between people who just care about one another so darn much. And by the way, I’m not just talking the love between romantic partners, but also that between long-time friends, family members, and well, even between animals and humans (sigh, how I love animals).

Love will probably remain one of the most sought after, enigmatic, misunderstood and revered emotions/experiences, but those qualities only seem to make it more fascinating.

Anyway, I could go on and on describing love and the many facets it can take, but I’ve been sensing something different about love lately, particularly with respect to the impending Valentine’s holiday.

I’m an utter romantic. I’ve written Dan a multitude of love letters (sometimes love poems or love cartoons, even), I feel warm and gushy when I watch the scene in the gazebo between the Captain and Maria in the Sound of Music where they finally confess their feelings to each other (Julie Andrews and Christoper Plummer version), I shower affection on my closest friends, and I’ve been known to get lost in Wordsworth, a languid waltz, and of course, my own daydreams.

However, with all that being said, I’m coming to realize that I was raised to associate love with gift giving. Not exactly the idea of buying someone’s affection, but definitely the idea that physical items = an expression of emotion.

This idea is likely somewhat cultural. We’re all familiar with mass marketing and consumerism and how the Walgreens down the street starts setting up the Christmas merchandise days after Halloween. We’re bombarded with images of opulence in Entertainment News, and it seems like engagement rings are growing by the karats these days. But beyond the American interpretation of gift giving, my family also communicates emotion through objects – in fact I think I received at least one piece of jewelry to mark almost every life event (i.e., first communion, graduation, etc.) I’ve gone through.

So when I met Dan, I became a bit confused. “Spending time with you,” he said, “is the greatest gift, and that’s all I ever want.”

Hmm, this through me for a loop. He was saying and expressing the things I’d always longed to hear from a partner, but for some reason my brain could…not…compute. Time? Experiences? These are gifts in and of themselves? But what about that handmade watch or that specially tailored suit? Aren’t those gifts?

And I wondered if maybe it was a test or a trick. Maybe he was just being nice and doing the whole “oh you shouldn’t have” while thinking “I’m so glad she did.”

Plus, it wasn’t an issue of cost – I could afford to get him nice things from time to time, and I really enjoyed seeing something in a store and thinking “I bet Dan would like this” and picking it up for him on a whim. I felt like I was both expressing how I felt about him, communicating that I thought of him, but also, I was fulfilling a need (buying him something he might like to have but wouldn’t buy, or providing a can opener because his old one was really rusty, etc.).

But he kept saying “I just want to spend time with you,” and the “gifts” I was giving him, were piling up in my living room.

And thus began countless conversations between us on the topic of material “stuff.”

Initially this led me to investigate Gary Chapman’s Love Languages. At first I simply thought that Dan and I were just communicating on different wavelengths – I was a “gift giver” he was a “quality timer.”

But not exactly, because when we’ve been separated for periods of time (when I was traveling, or our work schedules limited us to seeing each other only on weekends, etc.), I’d feel myself going crazy with the lack of quality time. And, I realized that I wasn’t craving gifts from him, either. Don’t get me wrong, Dan often brings me food that he knows I’ll enjoy (often desserts, which are delicious), or will even pick me up something more utilitarian, and I have appreciated every “thing” he has given me, but what I most wanted, too, was not brownies and a container of dishwasher soap, but time with him.

I found that I also valued quality time across the other significant relationships in my life. I remembered disagreements with my parents over them wanting to buy me expensive Christmas gifts, while I just wanted some of my Mom’s delightful Christmas cookies. I realized how having in person conversations with my closest friends, many of whom no longer live in geographic proximity, has brought me so much joy – because I leave each of those encounters feeling filled to the brim with love and understanding.

And I reflected more on my own relationship to material items. In the last seven years, I have moved nine times – with more than half of those moves being across state-lines, and even across the country. In looking around my apartment and office, I have really whittled down my personal possessions, and on countless occasions I’ve found myself perusing the shelves at Target thinking “that’s a great (insert household item or piece of furniture or keepsake) but I just don’t need it, and I definitely don’t want to move it.” I even began taking digital photos of memorabilia (ticket stubs, airline tickets, brochures, etc.) so that I could compile all my mementos on my hard drive in an effort to eliminate the piles of accumulated trinkets in my life. But even there, the memorabilia was about remembering experiences and events. And who am I kidding, I constantly photograph everything from a sushi dinner at a restaurant to Dan walking along a hiking trail.

I really care about life events and adventures, but not because they are associated with a necklace or a dress. I care about them because I value people and our shared experiences. Clearly Dan had reached this conclusion well before me.

So with Valentine’s Day approaching (as well as the anniversary of our first date, whoot!), I asked Dan about gift giving and celebrating us.

He, not surprisingly, reiterated, “I just want to spend time with you.”

My initial thoughts, also not surprising, were, “but isn’t there something special I can get for you? Something that you’d really like to have but wouldn’t buy for yourself?” And in my head were visions of those handmade watches and tailored suits, surrounded by copious amounts of fruits and vegetables (Dan prefers fruits and veg to chocolates – that’s okay, more cocoa-y goodness for me!).

But he said, “no, not really.” He suggested a pair of dance shoes he’s been eying if I “really wanted to get him something.”

So I stepped back for a bit and I thought about it. I’d be happy to get Dan a pair of dance shoes, heck, I’d run to the store right now and pick them up so he could use them for our classes later tonight. But do dance shoes really communicate how I feel about Dan? How I feel about our relationship? Not really. Dan needs dance shoes, and I’m glad to help fulfill that need if I can, but I don’t want to mark yet another occasion with a physical item that doesn’t get at the heart of the matter (no pun intended), which is – how much I love, respect, and appreciate this man and our relationship. (By the way, I’m not saying that dance shoes can’t be an expression of love, it just doesn’t fit me/us in this circumstance.)

So this Valentine’s Day(/anniversary), I asked Dan if we could try a new restaurant for dinner (nothing too ostentatious, just good food), exchange cards, and hang out together. We’re going to give it a go. Afterall, I’m just me and while I could give him gold cufflinks and we could dine and dance in the Rainbow Room at the top of the GE building, which would all be fun, I’m excited not to have to worry about picking out the perfect gift and making sure my mascara doesn’t run into the Fillet Mignon at a fancy restaurant.

I’m just happy to be loved and in love.

Beyond Dan, I hope you all know how much I love and appreciate you, too.

To all the family and friends who have made my journey on this Earth more rewarding simply by their presence and the experiences and lessons we’ve learned together, thank you, and much love.

To all of you who read my musings regularly, semi-regularly, or once in a blue moon, thank you with love from the bottom of my heart.

A very Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

Chicago Part 4: Quality Time

This post is almost a month overdue, but beyond my visit to the Morton Arboretum and the time Dan and I spent at Swing City Chicago, we also took in three different plays (Overweight: Unimportant, Misshapen; A Touch of Poet; The Great Fire), spent some time with Dan’s grad school buddy Shawn and his girlfriend Linn (both really wonderful people), and generally just hung out with each other navigating Chicago together.

The plays were all unique and interesting. Overweight was a European existential play, and while I truly enjoy existential adventures, I definitely felt like some aspects to Overweight were a bit beyond my understanding (I’m definitely rusty on Germany history, and even rustier on German existential theory…).

A Touch of Poet examined some of the issues of class, saving face, and increasing one’s status in society. This was achieved through the familiar plot line of an alcoholic-abusive father figure with a military past trying to assess his station in life and simultaneously the drama created by a daughter who wants to marry out of her economic strata. The story was set around the turn-of-the-century (well, by that I mean late 1800s) in the U.S., and the family were Irish immigrants though the father had fought for the British Army, so there were a few unique elements. The story was poignant – as the father becomes more self-aware and the daughter more understanding of her father’s dark traits.

The Great Fire was probably my favorite of the productions we saw. It was a retelling of the Great Chicago fire during the 1870s, and was a well-produced cross between a musical and a play. There were stories from Chicago residents, an overview of the event from the perspective of the city government and fire department, and the fire itself, was even made into a character. Special effects helped create the environmental elements – the literal “feel” and “sight” of a fire of that magnitude- and the cast was excellent.

Each of these plays touched on different elements of performing art and theatricality, and I appreciated each of them for their originality and message.

We also had the good fortune of staying with Shawn, and spending time with him and Linn. They took us to a delicious Korean restaurant one night, and Shawn spent time with us at his apartment and ate a couple of smaller meals with us. Both of them were incredibly kind and pleasant people, and shared some of their current activities/interests with us — Shawn’s optics research and career goals, Linn’s work in a NICU, their upcoming trip to NYC over Thanksgiving, and just their general ideas and dreams. A foreign city can feel so much warmer when you’re able to spend time with good people there.

However what I enjoyed the most was all of the time Dan and I spent together – just us.

Whether it was the plane rides napping against each others shoulders, late night rides on the Metro/L holding hands, when we looked around an all-Lacrosse store, when we sat on the stoop of an apartment building to share a few songs on his MP3 player, or were walking around downtown in the rain trying to find a theatre aggravated between the discrepancies on my printed directions and the GPS on my smartphone.

Life so frequently takes us both in different directions — he’s got a new design project, I’ve got a bunch of reports to write or consumer surveys to program, he has his friends to catch up with and I have mine, and we have our dance classes, etc.

As so many have commented before, and will comment going forward, quality time together is often limited. Or at least, quality time in which we are both free from other external obligations (work, family, friends, etc.) and can just be present in the moment with each other.

However, it was all those small moments where we were just together – maybe communicating, maybe just enjoying a quiet companionship – that I loved the most.

Now, almost a month after our visit to Chi-Town, I think back on that weekend with such fondness for those memories, but I also remind myself that we owe it to ourselves to make our relationship a priority in our lives.
We will always have giant to-do lists between us, goals to accomplish, chores to complete, people needing our help or attention. And those things are valuable – they give us purpose, make us feel productive.
However, sometimes the trappings of being “busy” are just that – trappings. They don’t provide true personal satisfaction, or perhaps more importantly, a true sense of mutual understanding and love.

I’ll say it now, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but love makes it all worth it.

For those little moments, those precious moments, in the past, present and future, I’m eternally grateful.

-S

Art (Life) in Unexpected Places

Dan and I have enjoyed our share of plays in the Austin area. Most recently we saw The Tempest as described in an earlier post, but we’ve also seen a couple of productions at Hyde Park Theatre (Good Thief, Marion Bridge – Good Thief was an amazing one man show), August Osage County at Zach Scott (excellent show, talented cast- very moving/tragic-comedy plot), a smaller production at The City Theatre, and a few others that fail to come to the forefront of my mind at the moment.

As life would have it, we, along with our friend Ali, made it out to Present Company’s production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale over the weekend. Not only was it a complete coincidence to see two Shakespeare plays within a couple of weeks of one another, but it was also a complete coincidence that I stumbled upon Present Company’s website and we ended up sitting on a blanket on Rain Lily Farm in East Austin enjoying a well-done show by a troupe of seasoned actors with a passion for Shakespeare.

Before the show we met at Rio’s Brazilian Restaurant on Pleasant Valley, also in East Austin. The restaurant is brightly colored but rather small and modest from the exterior. Inside there are well-placed bursts of color and an eclectic assortment of modern art that echos the Brazilian/South American ethos. It was calm, laid back and cultural. The food was quite delicious – we enjoyed some beef, chicken and cheese empanadas and had some mussels and shrimp for dinner.

Then after the show, as we were walking about a mile to where we parked, we happened into an artist’s collective gallery space and took in some recent projects by local artisans – photography, collages, modern sculpture. It was in a mostly nondescript building along our route, and was just about to close before we popped in.

All of these experiences (Rio’s, Present Company’s show, the gallery) reminded me of how lovely it can be to find joy in unexpected places. I would have never anticipated Rio’s to have such a hospitable vibe and such vivid art inside; little did I know how pleasant Shakespeare could be when intermixed with the smell of hay, and seen from a seat on cotton sheet on a farm; and I although I know art can live and breath anywhere, I would not have anticipated a group of folks to be putting on a small gallery showing that just happened to be along the route we walked.

Now I know its often said that the little things are what matters, and that often times the simplistic/quaint can be the most beautiful. And I think those ideas are true. And it was nice to, for however brief and fleeting the moments were, experience joy and artistic creation (yes, I think the culinary arts are truly art along with theatre and fine art) when I was least expecting it. These experiences remind me, yet again, of how important it is to be present in the here and now as much as possible.

I’m an idealist – I can spend hours upon hours dreaming of what could be and what the future might bring, and to be honest the dreams provide me much bliss and inspiration. However, they are only dreams until they arrive, and in the meantime, I could definitely do well to spend some time savoring some seafood, enjoying the company of the people I love, experiencing Elizabethan drama, and exploring the arts. Because it’s only in the present that Dan and I grow closer and learn more about ourselves and each other; it’s only in the present that I can share experiences with friends; it’s only in the present that I can hope to understand emotion and the mind-body connection; and it’s only in the present that I can be who I am without the worry or trappings of a potential future or a burdensome past. It’s only in the present that I get to be, me.

Thanks for reading, S