01 October 2014

Learning to Say I Love You

"The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love." 
-Samantha in Her

For an excruciatingly large part of my life, it was terribly difficult for me to utter the phrase, "I love you." Saying the words made me physically uncomfortable: my stomach would twist into knots and my skin would prickle. Nothing about "I love you" ever felt right. The only times I would ever say the words were when prompted, or when telling my dog good night. It was so much easier for me to tell my dog I love him/her than to tell a person.

I'm not entirely sure when it all began, this discomfort with love. It is quite possible that it stems from being made very well aware as a child that I was a mean, spoiled brat, and therefore I felt like love and I never belonged in the same sentence. It is hard to give or receive love when you feel like you deserve no part of it. And so, throughout my life, the only times I would ever say "I love you," the phrase was usually accompanied by the word "too," in response to someone else's "I love you." Love was more of an obligation than something that felt natural.

Even after my nephews were born, "I love you" was difficult to say. Of course I love the three of them in a way that I could never have imagined, and I express my love with hugs, kisses, and ruffling of the hair. I make sure they stay out of trouble, I feed them when they're hungry, give them water when they're thirsty, and I play with them so that they know that I care. But "I love you" would never come out.

It really wasn't until the past few months that "I love you" became easier to say. For the first time in my life, I work with a group of people that I genuinely love and care about, and who I know love and care about me in return. Hugs, high fives, and pats on the back are a regular occurrence, and I hear and say the words "I love you" more than any other time in my life. Not only this, but when I tell my friends I love them, it feels completely natural- no knot in my stomach, no queasy palms. Just love.

But "I love you" hasn't quite made its way into the rest of my life yet. It's still hard to say it with my family. I never tell my sister I love her, and we rarely hug, even though she is the most important person in my life. Love that big is hard to express without feeling completely vulnerable.

Perhaps my discomfort with vulnerability is at the root of it all. Sure, I make myself vulnerable when I bellydance or when I write something like this for anyone to read, but there is still a veil  between me and my audience/readers, whereas with the love the veil is drawn and everything is on display. When I dance or write, nobody has to pay attention, and I really don't care (too much) because I do those things for me anyway. But with love, there is always a hope that it will be returned. When love is not returned, the pain can be unbearable, and therefore, it is easier to keep your love to yourself.

So this is the part where I would normally challenge myself to be more expressive of my love for everyone in my life. This is where I say that I am going to make a point of making "I love you" part of every goodbye. This is the part where I tell you that real love asks nothing in return, and therefore I should have nothing to fear when I tell someone I love them because if love is true then there is nothing to be ashamed of. And yet.

I'm not quite ready for that. I may now be in my thirties, but I still have some things to work on. I see life as a continual learning experience; I'm always changing, learning, and (hopefully) growing. I don't expect myself to be completely comfortable with "I love you" overnight. I don't even expect to be comfortable with it by the end of the year. But I am learning, and I am willing to grant myself grace when I mess up. And maybe, one day, "I love you" will be the words you remember me by.

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25 August 2014

Going It Alone

“The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It's the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.” -Napoleon Hill

I've done a lot of things alone in my life so far.  I've gone to the movies, dined, visited Disney World, travelled (both abroad and domestically), moved abroad, lived in an apartment, made large purchases, gone to weddings, and gone hiking all on my own. Hell, I even went to my senior prom alone. And now I can add to this list: go on a (short) road trip, camp, and go to a concert by myself.

There are a lot of things I want to do while I'm alive, and pretty early on I realized that if I waited until someone could do those things with me, I might never get to do them at all. I knew I couldn't wait on someone else to want to go to the same movie as me, or want to go to a dance with me, so I would go by myself. When I studied abroad, I had a list of must-see places and knew that in order to see some of them, I might have to go alone (thus a two-week Spring Break in the U.K. and Ireland, solo). A few years ago, I really wanted to go to Hawaii and knew that going by myself was probably my best shot (also, traveling to Hawaii alone is incredibly relaxing). I'm no stranger to being solitary.

And yet I felt unprepared on Friday morning when my plans with a friend to go to a concert in the middle of nowhere of Washington State changed unexpectedly. The plan was to drive out together on Friday morning, set up camp overnight, attend the concert Saturday night, and return home Sunday. It was going to be a fun girls' weekend! The universe had other plans, as it often does.

Thus I found myself Saturday morning, throwing some food and clothes in the back of my car and taking off with my friend's tent to drive out into the middle of Washington all by myself. I had a knot in my stomach all morning, conjuring up visions of being drugged and dragged out to the middle of the brush before the concert. Or, being followed back to the campsite after the concert and being taken by surprise by some knife-wielding psychopath. Somehow, I had forgotten all of the other things I had survived on my own.

I've never driven for so long by myself. I get antsy and fatigued in the car. Luckily, driving solo means being able to make a pit stop whenever I damn well please. Whenever I got nervous driving up and down and along the sides of mountains, I told myself "you can get through this," then turned up my music louder and sang at the top of my lungs. Turns out singing really helps with my anxiety on the road. I do alright as my own driving companion.

Once I arrived to the campground, I set up my tent right away, with the help of no one. Now, I'd set up plenty of tents before (I was a Girl Scout, after all), but could not remember ever having done so alone before. I did, however, have the necessary skills and I managed to get by (even pressing the stakes into the ground without a mallet). Next all I had to do was go to the concert and make it back to my tent in one healthy piece.

And of course I did. I planted myself on my idea of a prime spot on the lawn and soaked up every minute of the concert. I people-watched (what is up with all the crop tops?), I read a book before the show, I soaked up the beautiful scenery of the gorge. When the music started, I swayed and hummed along as it pleased me, knowing that no one was around to care or tease me for doing something that is purely me. I let the music move through me, un-self-consciously. I stayed until the very last song and walked back to the campsite among the throngs of other concert-goers.

On Sunday morning, I packed my things up (again, all by myself, with no help from the wind) and hit the road. I stopped for a delicious breakfast in Ellensburg, and it didn't matter that I had a long wait. The nice waitress ended up comping my breakfast because of said wait, and I felt pretty well taken care of. My drive home saw more beautiful scenery, some rain, and a stop in Hood River for a break to stretch my legs and enjoy coffee and a book shop stop. My time was all my own, and I could do as I pleased.

If there's anything I've learned from this weekend, it's that I really can make it on my own. I've had a few guys in my time call me fragile, but I don't think they ever saw to the root of me. At my root, I'm strong as the strongest oak tree, able to handle whatever winds and rains the world throws at me, all on my own.

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23 June 2014

Impossible Dreams

Never thought I'd do this...

You know those things you think you can't do? Maybe you think you can't climb a tree, or could never bake a souffle, or maybe you think you can never travel to that one place you've always wanted to see. Big or small, we all have things we think we can't do. And for those who don't have such things- congratulations on being superhuman.

Personally, I have a ton of things I think I can't do. I really don't think I could jump off of a bridge, or go skydiving, or climb Mount Everest. Granted, I also have zero desire to do any of those things. But there are also things that I would like to do that I, for whatever reason, think I can't. I think it would feel really awesome to be able to do a turkish drop, but don't know how feasible that would be given my tricky knee situation, nor do I trust my ability to perform one safely. I am also not sure I could actually write a novel, and definitely don't think I'll ever be able to hit the high notes of any given song.

There are also the big things that I struggle with thinking I cannot do. Perhaps I can never own my own home. And what about saving up the money for yoga teacher training and a trip to Sweden? Or the big one- maybe I will never know what it is like to love and be loved in return.

One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite book trilogies is as follows:
"Being in love was like China: you knew it was there, and no doubt it was very interesting, and some people went there, but I never would. I'd spend all of my life without ever going to China, but it wouldn't matter, because there was all the rest of the world to visit." from The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
I try not to dwell too much on the things I think I cannot do, or will never do. I really don't care if I never see the Great Wall of China- but God forbid I never see the Pyramids at Giza. And certainly there is part of me, the part that wants to experience all of life, that wants to know what love is like.

But you know what feeling is really awesome? The one you get when you do something that you had no idea you could do. When I started taking bellydance classes, I had no idea half of the things I could make my body do. I never in a million years would have thought I would perform, bare-bellied, in front of friends and strangers.

When I was younger, I never thought I would see Rome. The Colisseum was just another monument I'd never see. When I did go to Rome and visit the Colisseum when I was 22, I cried because I could not believe what I was experiencing. I tried not to let my friends see, but I couldn't help being overwhelmed with gratitude to see something I didn't even think I could dream about.

Most recently, I was able to get into bird of paradise pose in yoga. Not the full expression of the pose (give me time), but I was able to safely, slowly, and accurately move into the pose with my leg bent, but body upright. This was, up until Monday, one of my "I can't" poses. But I can, and I did, and it's a marvelous feeling and a great reminder that big or small, somehow the things we think we cannot do have a way of presenting themselves to us, and you wonder why you ever thought you couldn't to begin with.

So I leave you with this- whatever your impossible dreams are, be open to their possibilities. Prepare yourself so that when the opportunities arise, you can realize your unspoken dreams. And if you ever get stuck thinking you can't or won't- just remember all of the things you have done, that you thought you never would.

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