Gone Fishing

I vividly remember the first time we met. It was a bizarre exchange when juxtaposed with the way our friendship evolved.

You came up to my table and introduced yourself, said you noticed I was here every day, asked me what I did…

It was the first of many lengthy conversations, but this one didn’t end so well.  Somehow we landed on the subject of gorillas, then zoos. I, in my overly-opinionated, self-righteous fashion, blurted out that I thought zoos were prisons.

You snatched up the card you had given me, visibly irritated, said something to the effect of “we’re done here”, and walked off.  I didn’t fully understand what had just happened, but I felt terrible. I tried to apologize. You weren’t exactly receptive.

The next morning you walked over to my table and started listing off links I needed to look up. It wasn’t an ask, and you weren’t going anywhere until I did. You proceeded to explain all the projects your family had funded to improve the major zoo where you grew up. I acknowledged their contribution and apologized again. You seemed relatively satisfied and went back to your table.

The next day you walked in and came right over to me. Had I seen it? The huge gorilla painted on the wall next door? You were excited and adamant; I had to go right then and look at it. So I did, smiling as I walked out.

I was redeemed.

You were a talker, no question, but your stories were riveting- tales of celebrities, ambassadors, extravagant galas, exotic girlfriends, President Kennedy discussing the fate of our country at your kitchen table. You had lived a charmed life… but that was a long time ago.

We never went into details, really, but we both understood we were in similar places- everything had fallen apart and we were trying desperately to piece our lives back together. It seemed like you were, and you were determined to help me do the same.

You were always coming over with ideas- where I could publish, jobs I could pursue, people I should contact. I would ask how things were going, and you would always respond. “With me? Oh, everything’s fine…ya know, just pluggin’ along.”

The holidays were approaching and you knew I was struggling. You would check in every so often…”How ya holdin’ up, kiddo?”. “Fine”, I assured you, “…just pluggin’ along”.

Right before Christmas, you asked what my plans were. I avoided answering and assured you I’d be fine. You waited until I went to the bathroom and slipped an envelope under my computer on your way out. It was $100 bill with a message written on the envelope. “Just go do something fun, will ya?” By the time I saw it, you were nowhere to be found.

I still have the envelope.

Almost every time you walked by my table,  I would hear a single ‘doo-da-doo”. I wondered why you did that, but it always made me smile. Maybe that’s why: your way of telling me to keep my chin up.

The last conversation I remember having, you came over announcing that you’d just been paid. “Let’s go to the grocery store and stalk up. We can go right now if you have time”. “Absolutely not”, I replied. There was no way I would let that happen, regardless. But I also knew you weren’t in the position to do it.

But it wasn’t about the groceries, was it? You wanted to do something kind and you wanted a friend to spend time with. I denied you both. I could have just went to keep you company. But I didn’t. I was too busy ‘pluggin along’.  I thanked you several times, but no, I couldn’t possibly. You looked disappointed and left.

We didn’t interact much after that. I knew you weren’t doing well on some level. Every time I looked up, you were engaged in conversation with someone new. You weren’t reading as much, just talking. It bothered me. I’m not exactly sure why, but it did. It seemed exhausting for everyone involved. As if you were desperately trying to be heard, to convince everyone that your life wasn’t always like this…to be remembered.

But no one else seemed to be bothered by it. Because you were charming and intelligent, interesting and kind. And it was never just about you. You genuinely wanted to know all about the person you were talking to. You asked questions and listened attentively. You gave advice, and without fail, I would hear, “Good for you” from across the room.

You truly just wanted everyone to feel good. You wanted to connect and encourage and lift everyone up. And you did.

You didn’t show up Monday or Tuesday. By Friday, we started to worry. We knew you had to move out of your place. Were you just in the thick of moving? The following week we sent you an email. You didn’t respond. Nobody had your number.

‘J’ came over to me this week and asked if I’d ever heard back. He handed me the card you sent.

“Gone Fishing”

You were clearly saying goodbye, but it didn’t seem like that goodbye. I emailed you again.

But you didn’t get it. You were already gone

I’ve moved to a different spot. One where I can’t see your chair. The one that remains empty. Except now, it’s not empty because you decided to move. It’s empty because you’re dead.

And one thing has become painfully clear: your presence always filled the room.

Now, so does your absence.

—-

April 25

Look at you, just up and disappearing on us! I would be mad at you if I wasn’t so concerned.

I hope you found a new place you love. I hope you feel loved, because you are…and very missed.
Big hug and warmest wishes,

Brooke

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A Tribute to Sevilla, Spain & Mi Gente

If Paris was the intense, elegant, somewhat intimidating sister, Sevilla was her charming, beautiful sibling. But when Spring came, they both transformed. Paris into a seductive dream of warm, playful decadence, and Sevilla into an exotic fantasy of colors, music and the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms.

In the thick of writing an academic article about child marriage in Pakistan…so revisiting one of my favorite places in the world, my second home, was a welcomed reprieve.

Today is the last day of La Feria, the spring festival that embodies so many of the things I love about Sevilla. So here are some fun pictures of Ferias past and ‘mi gente’-dear friends, now family- I’ve known and loved for over two decades…

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Mi gente from this year and Ferias Past (mejor amigo, Oscar and I, his wife and daughter, Alejandro & Valen dancing ‘the Sevillanas’, and ‘los chicos’…

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La Giralda

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My first Feria in ’98

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My beautiful friend, Araceli…a patient soul who taught me the Sevillanas

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El toro de oro

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The source of one of my favorite smells: orange blossoms

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My Spanish niece, Esther, and her beautiful mama…

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My Spanish mom and sis…my two favorite ‘Maites’.

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Manolo, my favorite trouble-maker

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Bringing Briya (my company) to the streets of Sevilla (photo by the extremely talented Alvaro Rodriguez Galan

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Your Mid-life Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Here’s a sneak preview of what I’m hoping you’ll finish in a certain publication you might have heard of.  No guarantee, of course, but fingers crossed.

He had told me he needed to leave over an hour ago, but he was still here. A battle of wits was in full swing. I was winning, and I could tell he liked it.

The banter continued, the chemistry, obvious. He finally paused, studying my face. My chest tightened. I knew that look, and I knew what was coming.

“You are, I don’t know, I’ve just never met anyone…”

I stopped him before he could finish, “Are you married?”

He laughed, clearly taken aback, then looked down.

“No. I mean, not technically. Or I guess technically I am, but it’s been over for a long time.”

This is now one of the first questions I ask if I’m interested in someone. And this is what I’ve learned: “no” usually means yes and “getting a divorce” means I want a divorce, but I’m not yet and won’t be for an indeterminate amount of time.

To be clear, I’m not seeking out men who are married. But as it turns out, being 40ish and newly single seems to be the status quo. It also turns out that single or even just available is open to interpretation.

When I first got divorced, one ex-boyfriend after another started reaching out. I was a bit naïve in the beginning, thinking they just wanted to catch up. I quickly realized that even if we aren’t the type to keep our married status current or obvious, social media can be telling if someone’s paying attention. It can also be very deceptive.

When the one I never quite got over showed up, I, of course, scoured his social media. His status? Married. There was a good amount of pictures of his kids and family vacations, so I reasoned he must just want to catch up.

After a drink or two, however, I got the truth. He’d been separated for months. The marriage was over and had been for years. The situation was complicated: the kids, the house, the finances…but he was finally ready to move on.

This all made sense at the time. My divorce was painful and not immediate. But logistically, it was relatively simple and finalized within a few months. In short, we didn’t have children.

So I listened. I listened to him tell me that he’s thought about me all this time, that he loves his kids but wondered if he made the wrong decision, that the reality is, I’m the person he wants to be with. Yes, I was still a little crazy, but I’m like no one he’s ever met…

I believed him and we plunged in. I had the person I thought I was meant to be with, and he had an exciting distraction from the painful reality of his day-to-day.

Therein lies the tragic flaw. For men in the thick of a mid-life crisis, I’m a distraction from reality, existing in the realm of a fantasy they conjure up.

I’ve become their manic pixie dream girl, the female version of a night in shining armor who “…has no reason to exist except to cheer up one miserable guy.”

This is it, in a nutshell: (explained by Hugo Schwzer)

I thought less about her and more about how it was she made me feel… As unstable as she may be, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl not only senses a young man’s potential in a way he can’t, she intuitively knows how to lead him to his destiny. She knows him better than he knows himself, or so he believes. That convenient assumption allows the young man both to adore the MPDG and to avoid any responsibility for reciprocity. How can he be expected to give anything back when she has this magical intuition about the world that so vastly exceeds his own?


Your attention, please.

I wasn’t feeling it today. It’s grey out. I don’t do well with grey (except to fend off black and white).

So instead of writing, I committed to catching up on reading and stumbled upon Behind the Scenes by Brandewijn Words.

It wasn’t his generous words that got me (although beyond humbled by and grateful for them), it was his message. I realized it plays into the same theme as the two posts I read immediately before, and the book I’m currently reading, What is in the Way is the Way, and a documentary  I just saw, Leaning into the Wind.

Apparently, there’s something I need to pay attention to.

The theme/s, more or less:

In BW’s words:
“…the way that the world grabs me sometimes. How it twists my perspective and I see it from a different angle… why it’s important to get on the ground, sometimes, and look at something from a completely different point of view.”

Andy Goldsworthy’s words: (Leaning into the Wind)
“There are two different ways of looking at the world. You can walk on the path, or you can walk through the hedge…step aside off the normal way of walking or looking.”

 The Incurable Dreamer’s: 
“Each step I took was with intent and an understanding that pain is what paints the sky with breath-taking beauty and ignites your soul in the grasp of darkness…even when your heart loves so deeply it threatens to destroy you, it is possible to feel blessed.”

Tom Being Tom’s: 
“But if we can learn the lessons of our past and focus our attention in the present…we can build the tomorrow that we want, instead of the one that we fear.”

In short, it’s about perspective, about paying attention to what’s happening in the moment, being curious, leaning into the questions, and most importantly, the emotions behind them, especially the uncomfortable ones

It’s the very thing we stop doing as we get older. We know all too well the spaces that hurt. We’ve experienced the pain of loss, heartbreak, disappointment, rejection, and failure. And we’ve become masters of avoiding them, no matter the cost.

Yes, we survived it, but it changed us. It scared us. Why risk feeling that way again? Running, numbing, suppressing, avoiding: these all seem like the safer bet. So we stop taking risks, “stay on the path”, chalk it up to life is hard and spend our days either stuck in the past or praying that things will get better in the future. Or, we lose ourselves in trying to control and fix everything that’s wrong.

Life, its unfolding, loses its color…and turns to grey.

“Fear needs time to exist. It needs stories of past and future in order to get a foothold in your mind.” – Mary O’Malley 

I see this happening all around me. I see this happening to (or with) me. I’m missing out on so much of the good that still exists, wasting what could be beautiful moments because I’m so focused on fixing the handful of things that are wrong,

But the pain is there to teach us, and the lessons will keep coming back until we learn them, increasing in intensity until running, numbing, and avoiding are no longer options if we’re going to survive.

The fucked up thing is these lessons stem from stories we made up based on beliefs we adopted when were tiny…based on fears we developed when we were tiny.

We run away from them, imagining the pain, shame, or anger will be too much to handle. But by doing so, we give them their power, letting them gain momentum and snowball into something so enormous, when it finally catches up with us, the blow is crushing.

Crushing, but not final.

“If we can learn the lessons of our past and focus our attention in the present…we can build the tomorrow that we want, instead of the one that we fear.” ~ Tom Cummings

The irony is we spend our entire lives trying to find happiness, experience joy and avoid pain. But it’s pain that amplifies our experience of happiness and joy. And neither joy nor happiness needs to be found. We always have access to them. We just get so focused on avoiding pain, we lose sight of them.

So what happens if we stop pushing pain away and invite it to stay instead? What if we just get curious about it, without berating or judging ourselves? Whether it comes from anger, shame, sadness, or fear, we simply ask where it’s coming from and why…and we listen.

What happens is we hear the same story we’ve heard for decades. The one we made up to try to understand the inexplicable when we were tiny, the one we play on repeat, that confirms our deepest fears.

If we’re not vigilant, if we don’t pay attention to our underlying agenda to play it safe and avoid the pain, the cycle continues: we get sucked back into the past, scared the future will hold more of the same…and we lose the moment.

So what if we try something different, change our perspective? Instead of doing whatever we normally do to escape it, we welcome it and give that tiny one the attention and compassion s/he has been screaming for?

I can’t answer that yet. My lesson, the one I thought I’d outrun, it caught me. And yes, the blow was crushing, the pain, excruciating. But there’s no more escaping it, and I’d rather not repeat. So, I’m leaning in.

You have my full attention.

I can say this, though: it isn’t screaming anymore. It still demands my attention, to be sure, but it has loosened its grip. It has also made it clear that I’m not in control. I don’t get to decide when or how, and there is no one clear path out of this. I just get to ask questions…and listen.

Oh, and the sun finally did come out, as it always does. But to be honest, the colors were more vivid before. I was just too focused on the grey to see them.

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* Image by Ionus Caras

“When she turned to face it, she transformed it. Her biggest fear became her greatest strength.” ~ b.breazeale