Pause, Regroup, Go

The pause happened before my 45th birthday last year.

Field trip to Bandelier National Monument.
Field trip to Bandelier National Monument when I was only 43.

Thoughts started badgering me:

What am I doing with my life?

Is this where I want to be?

What have I accomplished?

Is this all there is for me?

I’m almost dead!

My older friends laughed  and called me “youngster” and “silly.”

But I know this restlessness.

I get restless when I need change – not want – but need. For me change is not only an opportunity for growth, it is growth.

The first time I felt this need I was about 12 or 13. I had fallen in love with San Francisco while visiting relatives. Chicago wasn’t my #1 city anymore. I was in love with the Mediterranean climate, the friendly people and the food. Unfortunately, due to my age and other factors, the move wouldn’t happen until I was 21.

City by the Bay

After a few months working at a biotech company, I applied and got accepted to graduate school in the Monterey Bay area just south of SF. I was following my dream of becoming a marine biologist – inspired by Jacques Cousteau.

California was wonderful, I didn’t want to move, but as my graduate career was ending, jobs were hard to find and the techies from Silicon Valley were beginning to make the Monterey Bay area too expensive to live. Through some connections I learned there may be jobs in Seattle – so, at age 25, I moved out of necessity – which is a different kind of need than restlessness.

City by the Sound.

I rolled into Seattle on July 1st, 1996 (yes 20 years ago today!). Life would be good for awhile – but restlessness found me 6 years later, when I was 31. It was a moment in my life where I felt everything stagnated: bought first home, married first guy and got my first permanent job, by age 30.

I lived in the suburbs of Seattle. It felt sterile, isolated, and unfriendly. The marriage began to remind me of my parents marriage.  In short no bueno. I knew there was more to life than what I had and I got out.

While the marriage was ending, I moved from the suburbs of Seattle into the city. A place where I could walk to cafes, to grocery stores and to a beautiful urban park with a lake, trees, and an occasional bald eagle. I felt more comfortable in the city – it reminded me of my city-kid roots.

When I feel restless my first reaction is to runaway and this one was no different.

I wanted to give up:

Everything I was doing

Everything I had accomplished

I wanted to:

Move

Getaway

Leave without a trace…

But that wouldn’t be responsible, it would be a short-lived happiness followed by extreme anxiety.

Third birthday of author...
Third birthday of author…

I needed to regroup, reevaluate, and reassess, my restlessness. I needed to ground my thoughts, take several deep breathes because I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t let down my younger self, and give up on her dreams and aspirations. But what had I not accomplished?

I achieved my goal of moving to Cali and becoming a marine biologist. I spent time at sea studying fishes in Alaska. I now have a great job, I own a house in the city and I have a terrific fiancé.

So what am I to blame this bout of restlessness on?

I look to astrology for answers (cuz sometimes it helps.).  I am a Sagittarrian and Sagittarians are described as travelers, philosophers, and adaptable. In short, I needed a change of scenery, more education and transition my avocation to a vocation.

For education I decided to GO back to school in a discipline complimentary to science, art. My medium is writing and on many levels I have always known I was a writer and have written in some capacity since I was a teenager. For the last 4+ years it has been my avocation. I have taken several writing classes, but they left me wanting more. Finally, I applied to a Masters of Fine Arts program – got in – and hope to graduate with an MFA in creative writing (focus on nonfiction) in 2018.

I’m working on a change of scenery – to a place my younger self wanted to live thanks to a TV show with a hot guy driving a red Ferrari – so I’ll write about it if it happens.

I embraced my feeling of restlessness. I worked to fully understand where they were coming from and I am making changes.  Life feels more fulfilling and I feel less old.

Cruising near Cuba

On December 17th, 2014, I was on a cruise ship, sailing to within four miles of the coast of Cuba.Heading to the Windward Passage

I was on a cruise with my mother, my husband and best friend from high school. We just left the Bahamas and were on our way to Ocho Rios Jamaica. I knew the ship would have to travel  through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti to reach Jamaica directly south of Cuba, but I didn’t know how close.

After lunch, while walking laps on the Promenade deck, I thought I saw land. I went to my stateroom to find our latest location, we were close to the Eastern-most tip of Cuba, Punta Maisí.

Our rickety taxi, a Russian made Lada.
Our rickety taxi, a Russian made Lada.

I was familiar with Punta Maisí because it was a place my mother wanted to visit during our trip to Cuba in 2010. Instead we stayed in Baracoa, about 39 miles away. We learned the roads out to the point were really muddy and with potholes large enough to wreck the already battered Lada sedan of our hired driver.

Perhaps now, while cruising along her shores aboard the luxurious MS NOORDAM, we would be able to see the famous lighthouse at Punta Maisí. Her decks providing us with a sturdy platform to view what we couldn’t get to on land.

I spent the day on deck squinting my eyes to see if I could see something I could recognize, I was hoping to see El Yunque – the famous geologic feature in Baracoa that purportedly led Columbus to Cuba’s shores in 1511. Clouds draped the coastline. I imagined I saw the silhouette of mountains.

If you squint your eyes you can see land in the distance.
If you squint your eyes you can see land in the distance.

The winter sun was low on the horizon, the fluffy tropical white clouds played tricks with my eyes, but finally as if commanded by my desire to see land, a slight wind picked up and – Land Ho!

My heart filled with pride of seeing my mother’s land, my eyes welled with tears, as if I was seeing a long dead relative, coming back for a brief visit. Cuba!

I continued my laps around the Promenade deck as our ship sailed even closer to Cuba’s shores. Each trip I announced to a clueless, yet curious, fellow passenger who was wondering what land we were passing. “That my friend is the most beautiful island in the world! Cuba!” I was proud of my ancestor’s land, despite her political history, it is a place of amazing natural history and made up of a resilient people.

A tiny white line in the middle of the image - is the lighthouse.
A tiny white line in the middle of the image – is the lighthouse.

The land came closer into view and upon checking our location again, about an hour later, I saw we were only miles off her coast, precisely off Punta Maisí. I squinted some more and thought I saw a lighthouse. I used my Iphone 4s camera to zoom in and steadied my arms on the deck railing. I needed another miracle from the clouds and the wind. My eyes played tricks on me, I thought I could see a small white blip in the distance. I took several images, not really knowing what I was taking a photo of. But on some level, I knew it had to be the lighthouse at Maisí.

IMG_4906_2When I got home after the cruise, I looked at all my photos and did a few searches on Google to determine that yes what I saw was Punta Maisí.

We continued to cruise past Cuba until nightfall. When lights onshore, made me wonder, again, where we were. I wondered if we were near Santiago de Cuba. I thought the lights I saw were from El Morro, the Spanish fort at the mouth of Santiago harbor. But when I looked at our location on the ship’s monitor, we were to the east.

Nighttime location when I saw lights onshore.
Nighttime location when I saw lights onshore.

I went back on deck and watched the blinking lights of what I thought would have been the runway at Santiago’s airport, the airport my mother and I flew into back in 2010, an airport slightly east of El Morro. My mind was made up, that was Santiago. Then, I saw more flashing lights, to the west of the “runway” past a dark area. I didn’t remember anything on the other side of Santiago’s harbor mouth. Then it came to me. That must be the mouth of Guantanamo Bay and the lights are from the U.S. naval base. I stood there staring into the darkness, imagining the large natural harbor of that bay, thinking about how one of my great-uncles was killed while trying to swim towards freedom and remembering my visit to the town of Guantanamo, in 2010, the place where my mother was born. Then, I had a vision.

“I can imagine our cruise ship sailing into port here.” I blurted to my husband, stunned by the break in silence.

I learned the next day, December 18th, that my vision may one day be a reality, Obama had announced his plans to reestablish relations with Cuba. A future cruise originating in the U.S., could possibly include Cuba on its itinerary. It will be a fabulous economic opportunity for the people of Cuba and an opportunity for cultural exchange for both Cubans and Americans.

Note: After several months of reading a bunch of articles about travel to Cuba, I read about an entrepreneur from Canada who has already established a cruise around Cuba. Wanna go?!

bus stopped by roadway stand.

Lost in Analogy…

bus stopped by roadway stand.
Cuban “Dirty Dog.”

Sitting on the bus in my decaffeinated and hungry state – bleary eyed, a mild headache, and a low grumble in my stomach – I tried to absorb the scenery. We rolled through a rural landscape of fields of grass bordered with wooden fencing and second growth forest, a jumble of tropical plants in slightly different shades of green, palms, vines and a coniferous tree or two. There were no directional signs for miles and no street signs at intersections. The Cuban government did provide motivational signs in the form of large billboards with pro-revolution slogans painted with vibrant colors. The road was boring and the only thing keeping me conscious on this tourist class, Greyhound bus look-alike, was the smell of old, dried up urine from the latrine at the back of the bus, a Cuban Dirty Dog.

Did you get the analogy?

In a writing workshop, located in Seattle WA, my classmates didn’t get it. They thought there was an actual dog on the bus, or that the smell reminded the narrator of an experience with a Cuban dog. Lost in analogy was the slang term for Greyhound buses used in my hometown of Chicago IL.

With analogy being so important to storytelling, to bring the reader closer to the story, what happens if the analogy isn’t universal?

It is like being told a joke and needing it explained to you. The joke is lost, poof – lost in translation.

What is a writer to do?

My goal as a writer of memoir and creative nonfiction is to share my story. My words will reflect my experiences, my slang, bits of my personality, but what if you the reader doesn’t get my drift and get’s lost? My goal of sharing my story is lost, as the reader is adrift in an ocean of confusion. Wondering, huh?! I don’t get it…

I don’t have the answer, for now I dropped the analogy to the Cuban dirty dog. In a different paragraph I call it a porta-potty on wheels (changed from my original Honey Bucket on wheels – the name of our local portable toilet provider in Seattle) so that more people in the U.S. would understand the reference.  Or should I call it a porta-John or porta-WC…  Ugh!

Challenging Status Quo

On Monday I decided I was going to do something different in my life.

It began when I wanted to add a cover image to my LinkedIn account. I know, nothing big, especially because I’m not sure what the value of my LinkedIn account is, and I’m pretty sure no one in my “network” cares about the cover image on my LinkedIn page, at least, not as much as my FB friends would care if I changed the cover photo on my FB page.

My niece learned of my true identity...  But is she right?
My niece learned of my true identity… But is she right?

It was the process of finding the image that mattered. Into my disorganized iPhoto library I went, to look for one of my favorite photos from a trip I took to Scotland in 2013. I scrolled through hundreds of photos. Some I wondered why I hadn’t deleted. Others, I wondered why I hadn’t printed and framed. Then came the photos of people, of me and my partner, in particular.

“We looked thinner back then.” he said,  while sitting on our sagging couch, a few feet in front of the HDTV, cable box, and Blu-ray player, remotes splayed across the scene, as he looked through the pictures on my laptop with me.

He was right. I saw it too. The milliseconds the images were up on the screen was enough time for our brains to pick up on the fewer inches of pudge that wrapped his mid-section or my back-section “only a year ago.”

The last year was fraught with so many – I need to work out more’s and I need to drink less beer’s – that it sounded like a broken record. Obviously, we were eating, sitting, drinking and wishing, more than we were sweating, walking, standing or doing.

So I went to the gym on Monday morning and sweat. I was sore on Tuesday, but I went to the gym again. I stayed away from those tantalizing carbs. I didn’t stop at Grateful Bread – whose current scone is the best in Seattle. I didn’t “celebrate” my second day at the gym. On Wednesday, I was feeling good, so when I went out to lunch I had a lovely cup of white bean and pesto soup with a think slice of homemade bread  and shared a little pizza with my partner at Element in the UVillage. Simple, small, healthy but loaded with carbs. The rest of the day I felt bloated . “Damn I think I do have gluten intolerance,” I thought after feeling massive in a pair of jeans I squeezed into the next day. Those jeans that were a little big “only a year ago.”

Was it all the traveling I did? My dad’s death? The “too hot” summer in Seattle? The amazing IPAs of the Pacific NW that I just can’t seem to stop drinking, especially during the “too hot” summer in Seattle?

Why did I gain weight?

I got lazy. My mind was not aware of my growing girth. My mind was too preoccupied with the stress of life. I failed at balancing recreation and work. I failed at balancing being active with being sedentary.

When my mind finally recognized that the girth of my ass had grown, I played a game with myself. Telling myself – “It’s not that bad.” or “I can work that off in no time.” Was I buying me some time? Or killing me softly, slowly?

My niece somehow knows of my challenges with the evil - Status Quo.
My niece somehow knows of my challenges with the evil – Status Quo.

I am going to the gym, I am starting to be conscious of what I am eating and drinking. I have a birthday coming up and I will not be “one year younger.” I’m challenging the status quo – I’m challenging the way things are or have been. I’m challenging the sloth within.

What are your challenges with status quo? What are your plans of action to defeat it? No plans? That’s okay, sometimes we just have to “do it,” to “act differently than usual,” to create the change we all so desperately want to achieve.

Challenging Status Quo – make it your mantra too.

When I was a basketball player…

My height is an aspect about my physical appearance that I just can’t hide.

I really can’t hide.

Me, trying to make a lay up...
Me, trying to make a lay up…

Not in a crowd, not in the subway, or the supermarket, nope I stick out. The only place I have traveled where I felt short was in the Netherlands. Everyone there, women included, were tall! Even the friend I was with made a comment about how I had “found my tribe.” The only problem was they were all blond haired and blue eyed and spoke a language I don’t think I could ever understand. They were not my tribe.

The places I have visited where I feel most tribal, like Peru, Bolivia, Cuba or Mexico, I don’t look like them. My 6-foot, olive skin, light brown hair and eyes, just don’t allow me to fit in. The looks I got when I spoke Spanish in those countries were ones of confusion and disbelief.  “Where did you learn to speak Spanish with an accent?” They would ask. Even when I explained my colorful heritage – Mom is Cuban, Dad is German, grew up in Chicago – they would answer – “Ah, es Alemana.” Oh, you are German… Problem solved, at least for them.

My senior year of high school, I thought I finally had my chance at being part of a tribe. My school was finally getting a girl’s basketball team. It was 1987. What other place than on the basketball court with other tall girls, would I feel most at home, most normal?

I was tall, I was a quick learner, my hand-eye coordination wasn’t so good, but I learned how to dribble and run at the same time. Basketball workouts did wonders for my physique – I think that was when I finally burned off all of that pudgy stuff called “baby fat.” I became a tall, lean, basketball machine.

I played Center. Which is sort of a cliche, but I was the tallest on the team. Although it was always a source of contention for the second tallest girl, whose perm made it look like she was taller at times. I had a mean rebound, which made up for my failures at doing lay up shots. Why I couldn’t hit the little square with the ball, at the right angle, with the right force, to then make a basket still perplexes me…  I think the analytical part of my brain wanted to know the equation or law of physics or geometry behind the theory of lay up shots – then I may have been able to “get it.”

There was a level of respect between teammates. We played well together and we didn’t fight each other, but we were not best friends and we never hung out after practice.

This didn’t decrease my desire to be their friend or to hang out. It’s just that even though we were the tall and athletic girls of our school – we still had differences that were hard to overcome. We lived in different neighborhoods, we had different socioeconomic backgrounds, none of us went to the same grammar school (which mattered for some reason) and I was in all AP classes.

I was learning a lesson that season of basketball. I was learning that the idea of a tribe of similar people is a farce. A farce that I feel many people aspire towards – that fantasy-land of similar looking and like-minded people. What I gained and cherish to this day, is the ability to look at someone and see myself in them. A person searching for their tribe, when their tribe is all around them waiting to be acknowledged.

Thank you sisters of basketball!

My sisters of basketball.
My sisters of basketball.

 

Saint Lo Seventy Years later

Disclaimer: I have been using the wordpress app on my iPhone for the blogs while on my trip. It is a pathetic application with no way to save a draft so I can work on it on my kindle after posting pictures. WordPress needs to understand that writers like all artists need a sketchbook and publishing straight away is not the best option!

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Saint Lo was mostly destroyed by allied bombing in June of 1944. It was a German stronghold due to its location. We went there hoping to find a museum with more information about the war but were intrigued that the town has chosen not to have a museum with any of this history.

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The original Saint Lo sits atop a hill and it is this area that received most of the bombing. There is a huge placard, if you will, announcing what happened in June 1944. Perhaps the city itself tells the history best?

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The rebuilt Norte dame cathedral is the only relic of the bombing. Can you tell which parts survived the bombing and which are new construction?

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The newer buildings lack the beauty of the previous buildings. The aura of the town on the cold windy and rainy day we were there wasn’t the most vibrant. Although on our way back to the car we spotted a true testament of how time heals.

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A carnival filled with laughing kids.

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The importance of remembering history is not lost on our current leaders. A sign outside a newsstand announces that Obama will visit Normandy this year.

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A day in Saint Malo France

Saint Malo, a fortified city dating back 100s of years, an important center of maritime trade and the closest town to fort La Varde where my grandfather was stationed prior to his death. A fascinating place. I hope the pictures do her justice.

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Solidor tower – a maritime museum paying tribute to the history of merchant mariners and the ships that rounded Cape Horn to expand trade routes from France.

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French sea scouts – scouts mariner.

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Museum of local history houses in a former castle.

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Francois- Rene Chateaubriand – French writer.

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Restaurant and tourist hotel within the walled city.

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Flag of Brittany.

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Scenes of walled town.

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Jacques Cartier- discovered Canada!

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Scallop dredger – I missed the offload!

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A French mothership – these are floating fish processors, they hang out on the fishing grounds so fishing boats don’t have to run to port to offload their catch a costly and time consuming task. Plus small catcher boats don’t have facilities to process their catch or to keep it for long periods of time.

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Map of the beaches around town!