Tag Archives: journey

Buongiorno Milano!

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Shopping Center

Milan’s cobblestone streets are flooded with Italian women wrapped tightly in fur coats and men in designer jeans and studded belts. Nodding heads on subway cars look more like Ralph Lauren billboards than tired passengers heading home from a day of work. This city has a pulse and it beats rapidly, deeply through the night and early into the morning. Where I can pass as a local in some places, Italy knows better. My pale skin, pale hair and blue eyes cause long stares and incoherent words under soft breath. Men whistle as they pass by, staring too long with eager lust in their eyes. But even the greatest offense sounds beautiful when it is muttered in Italian.

This language shakes and breathes and dives in and out and up and down. Every word sounds like a call to action, a battle cry, a plea to join a cause. And the people lift their arms high, and put their hands close to your face and speak with a passion I’ve not experienced in my most heated moments. Hymns sung to Beethoven’s Fifth in an intense and frightening way to an ear that knows no better. The metro hums with chatter and booming laughter and a sense of famiglia encapsulates the city and all of the people inside it.

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

We visit the Duomo, a beautiful, skyscraping cathedral, if there ever was such a thing. Never have I seen so much art in one place. Every inch is ornate and ironic in the most beautiful way: the walls, covered in sculptures up to the ceilings, which you can barely see with human eyes; stained glass windows stretch beyond my grip of sight; the floor, a maze of complicated patterns and colors; paintings hang, two-up all the way down the church on either side. We try to make sense of everything our body is trying to absorb, but we fail and become overwhelmed, groggy from the dim lights and evaporating holy water. We leave the church, letting ourselves get lost, wandering narrow streets; every turn a new discovery, a new way to get lost again and again. We are asked for change, harassed by people on the streets collecting money for ‘Africa’ or to feed their hungry babies. We push past, pretending not to understand, and stop at a tobacco shop to enjoy a freshly rolled cigarette on a cold patio, surrounded by like-minded  locals.

And on a Thursday night, we walk into a small bar, where we are greeted by a group of men, laughing and eating cichete and drinking the local birra. Ciao! Ciao! Ciao!! echoes around us in a room with walls covered in old newspapers, slot machines lining the back perimeter. We swiftly and quietly order “due birre” from the bar and take our place at a small table in the corner. We quickly learn that’s not how Italians make friends. We are stoned to death with questions, and brought endless plates of formaggio and freshly sliced prosciutto,  deviled eggs, cheeses, salami, bread and  chips and dips. Every time we finish one plate, another one comes to replace it. Arthur works on a computer in the corner, ridden with unnecessary programs and a long history of user error. He tries to navigate Windows in Italian, and the men joke, calling him Bill Gates, gesturing to his over-sized head. They string together sentences in Italian and broken English, furrowing their brows when we don’t understand, then burning paper and building charades with toothpicks to help us along. They laugh because we don’t understand much; Armando, who knows the most English translates what he cans, and makes inappropriate gestures to either party in between his translations. The men tease each other with gay jokes and pepper their sentences with ‘fuck’ as often as possible. They apologize because I’m a girl, and immediately joke that they will take me home with them; their wives will forgive them tomorrow, they say.

IMG_0786Then a free round of beers come before the bar closes, but we stay inside, laughing and eating, filling the room with the sweet, choking smell of competing tobaccos. The owner pulls out his camera, points to his wall of photos, and we spend the next 15 minutes posing for pictures we’ll never see. We part ways, but not before receiving an invitation for the next night, which we know we will accept. And we will come back the next night, but it won’t be quite the same. These fleeting moments are never able to be repeated, and so we cherish them even more.

Day 35: Soulsong: Music that Moves Us

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Music has the power to transcend a murky soul or damn it further into submission. It takes us to a place where heartache heals, love prevails, passion ignites – where pain has a repeat button, and snotty tears break a shaking voice. And it’s so intimate in that way. We wallow with our favorite singer/songwriter when we need someone to understand that we haven’t moved on yet, but are too afraid to say it out loud, to admit to ourselves. We scream the lyrics to an empty room, wishing we had the courage to say those words aloud to someone… wishing those words were our own. We bob our heads at our steering wheels. We turn the volume up when we get ready on a Friday night, soaking in the energy of every pop!beat!ye-ah! We sing happily and freely with our friends at the bar, words uniting us, subtle reminders how similar we are. We cha cha slide, we macarena, we show how low we can go.

We associate songs to our experiences; those cries of pain to our own, or a distant joy that fuels us. We relate them to people; when we are in love, when we stop loving. They make us sick to our stomach – a reminder of a life you thought was yours, now mocking. And even though we shouldn’t listen to those songs – the ones that make us remember a time that now seems a million miles away – sometimes we do. And sometimes our hearts are broken all over again for it. But we are able to find another, and speak through a voice that’s not our own. We find strength through a streaming courage.

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Every time I hear the Spin Doctors I am reminded of driving to my brother’s t-ball practice in my mom’s minivan. Whenever my Format album is playing, I am transported to my 16-year-old self, the back seat of an old Civic, windows down, a car full of giggling girls. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s We Ain’t Much Different will remind me of my father until the end of time. I Want it that Way was my first couple-skate song in the fifth grade. I belted Lady Gaga’s Speechless to my steering wheel in a mellow dramatic frenzy for weeks on end when stitching up my heart. It still gives me the same feeling of empowerment, even more perhaps, now that I’m on the other side.

And, I know it almost seems too obvious, but Modest Mouse puts a smile on my face on the worst of days with “Float On.”

I’ve had Fun.’s Aim and Ignite album in my car for weeks (yes I’m still living in the age of CDs…) and every time I hear The Gambler, nearly without fail, I start sobbing uncontrollably. I’m not sure why- it’s not intended to be sad, nor do I feel sad when listening to it. It’s a love song. A life-long, old on the porch, sort of love song about falling in deep and having babies and growing old. There is something so beautiful about it to me that I just can’t hold back. I don’t imagine anyone else could really feel the same way toward it. And, that’s the beautiful thing about the music. It’s one of my soulsongs.

What are some of yours?

I swear when I grow up, I won’t just buy you a rose.
I will buy the flower shop, and you will never be lonely.
Even if the sun stops waking up over the fields
I will not leave, I will not leave ’till it’s our time.
So just take my hand, you know that I will never leave your side.

Day 19: Katie

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This project to find something every day to be thankful for has made me realize how many little things happen in my life that I enjoy so much. Some of them are small, like a good nail polish color or getting a free drink at Starbucks, and some are a lot bigger, like being healthy, having a good family and having everything I need. Because of 140 days of Prague, I remind myself all day, multiple times a day, how many great little things are happening all around me. And the funny thing is, they always have been. Now, I just have my eyes open because I know, at the end of the day, I get to pick the thing that tickled me most and talk about it. Bad things don’t seem so bad, and the little pleasures become larger.

So, everyday, I find myself being thankful for 140 Days to Prague. I’m sure I drive anyone crazy who follows my blog with posting so much, but this is the best therapy I’ve ever had… and I’ve seen professionals.

Back to today. I woke up this morning and talked to my dear friend, Katie for a while. We’ve been trying for weeks to catch each other. With a 13 hour time difference and extremely busy lives, today was the first day we were able to take a full hour and catch up.

Today, I’m thankful to be friends with Katie.

I’m sure many more of these will come because I love so many of my friends so much, but Katie and I had a good chat this morning, so she’s up first. The usual catching up, plus a little bit of politics, a little bit of philosophy, a lot of life.

We haven’t known each other very long – we were no more than acquaintances during college. It wasn’t until after we both graduated and she commented on a facebook post of mine that we even started talking. Although she is on the other side of the world and we haven’t known each other very long, I love that we can sit on the phone and chat about life openly and without judgement. I don’t know many people who I can have meaningful conversation, disagree with on a topic, and still enjoy the discussion so much. If Katie and I would not have become friends, I’m not sure I ever would have taken the leap to Prague. I look up to her courage, her spontaneity, and the joy she gets from life. I know it’s going to be a while until I get to see her again, but I know we will be friends for a long time.

I’m thankful you’re in my life, Katie!

Day 15: Dependence Day

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Today, I’m thankful  that I got to spend the day with my family, doing absolutely nothing.

I’m not exactly a patriotic person, and I’m a pacifist at heart. Since it is the Fourth of July, I was feeling obligated to be thankful for something American-like, even though I have honestly grown tired of so much about this country. It’s hard to feel proud to be an American when I look at what that means in context. Greed, glutton, ignorance, deception…  how could I when that’s how I see things? This tweet gave me the perspective I needed, though:

I don’t have to be hokey to be thankful that I am able to spend a holiday with the people I love. To sleep in a comfortable bed, and to not worry about much of anything. I don’t like war – I think it’s rotten, and I don’t necessarily think it has much to do with our freedom anymore. But I get that someone has to do it for us to make it in this difficult world. I’m thankful that they are doing it. That people are putting their lives on the line so that people like me don’t have to. I would be terrible at war. I would die. I mean literally, I would be killed. No time flat.

So, with all genuineness, I’m thankful that I get to enjoy being home, doing nothing today. I’m thankful for the people whom I don’t even know, yet depend so much upon, to make that my reality.

Day 14: Little Niceties

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Today, I’m thankful for the little nice things that people do.

I walked into my office this morning to an Applebee’s gift card from someone who submitted a classified ad to my newsletter. Well, didn’t just submit it – he emailed and called quite a few times over the course of the last month, making sure it was published, making sure I got his voicemails, making sure I got his emails. I’ll admit I got annoyed with him a few times and wasn’t as completely nice as I could have been.

So the gift card was a good reminder that you should always take the extra second or 10 seconds, or minute, or 5 minutes to be kind. I was never rude; I simply could have taken a little breath, gained a little perspective, and been a little better than I was. I’m not saying money buys me love – the note he wrote without the gift card would have had the same effect on my heart.

I encountered someone yesterday who had the same effect on me. I was getting my car assessed from a recent rear-end accident. My bumper was barely scuffed. The agent said he would work in extra time to have my entire bumper sanded and painted, to repair another, much more noticeable scratch I got in a Kroger parking lot a few weeks after getting my car. And he was just so nice. An insurance agent, of all people.

So two little acts of kindness have restored a lot of faith in me today. Little reminders that it takes no more time to be kind than it does to be obnoxious – and it’s better for your blood pressure too, I think.

Day 12: Like Riding a Bike

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Day 12: Today, I’m thankful I got on the bike.

That overused cliché about never forgetting how to ride a bike turns out to be true. I haven’t had a bike since… well, I honestly don’t even remember. Sometime around second grade, I think.

We got my dad a bicycle for Father’s Day a few weeks ago, and since the temperature dropped from 93 to 75 degrees over the course of an hour today, I finally decided to give it a whirl around the block. I’ve been debating for weeks, but I’ve psyched myself out every time, imagining violently sliding across the pavement sideways and meeting my untimely and embarrassing end. Today, I said screw it, put on some soffe shorts and a tank top, and went for it.

I went around the block twice and came back in, sweating, and feeling good that I conquered my fear – even if that makes me as accomplished as a 6 years old. After a little bit of lightning and some spitting rain passed, I decided to go back out again.

I’m so glad I did – the air had a yellow hue, the clouds were dark purple against an auburn sky, and the air was cool. I kept the gear higher than I should trudging up the massive hills in my neighborhood and didn’t succumb to squeezing the breaks as I came soaring down the other side. It felt incredible to go that fast, cool air beating around my ears and tangling my hair. And one time around the block turned into three or four or five, as I lost track of time.

I’m sure I my butt cheeks will be hurting tomorrow, the unfortunate way they do when a bicycle seat bruises them, but for now, I’m glad that I got on and started peddling. Once I did, I realized how silly it was to not ride simply for the fear of falling down.

Day 9: Clean Teeth

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Day 9: Today, I’m thankful that I can pay people to clean my teeth.

I know a lot of people have irrational fears about the dentist, but I’m not one of them. I never had many problems with my teeth growing up, so it was always a pleasant enough experience for me.

Today, I went for my annual cleaning. The thought of someone else scraping the plaque off your teeth is pretty disgusting, but it just feel so good. They use that little round super toothbrush that buffs your teeth, and the toothpaste with the sand in it – then rinse, vacuum out your mouth, give you a free toothbrush, and send you on your way.

I can ear a little bell chime whenever I smile today.

Thanks, clean teeth, for being shiny.

Ding!

140 Days to Prague

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Somewhere between our situation and our outlook resides our character.

I get that life is complicated. I get that things won’t always go your way. But, sometimes I feel like the universe has a pillow over my face.

This year has been wild. I’ve had a surgery, two car accidents, bought a one-way ticket to Europe and have had more friends get married than I can count. Those are just the big things. In between, I’m dodging calls from boys I want to forget, listening to my mother warn me about “ending up alone”  – including a recent article about how people who live alone die younger – and working behind a desk at a job that I’ve mentally checked out of. And then a million more things like it.

All the stress has been making me a little nuts. Has me seeing a glass half-empty, brown grass sort of world. But yesterday, I was going to get ice-cream with a friend and I put on a pair of jeans that have until recently, been too tight to wear. And I took a good look at my butt and all the rest melted away. I know we are a “big picture” world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy these little moments of bliss.

Thus, 140 days to Prague is born. A countdown until I leave and start my new life. 140 things in the interim that I find to be thankful for. Just one good thing a day. Suffocated or not, I can find one magical moment every day to be thankful for.

Day 1: The way your bum looks in the perfect-fitting pair of jeans. Hug my legs and cup my cheeks, wash is dark, pockets deep. Thanks, good-ass-jeans.

Broken Heart. The same as a broken anything else.

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The incident.

The initial SNAP.

There’s the slow break. It may happen without you even knowing, causing a dull pain that you deal with, until you finally admit something isn’t right. Wonder how much damage was done by not addressing the dull pain when you first noticed it. Think about what you would have done differently if you would have only been more mindful.

There’s the hard break. Running at dusk, enjoying the fresh cut grass smell of spring, and your leg buckles. Lying on the cement. No warning. Can’t feel the evening sun, the buzzing lawnmowers lose focus, ringing ears. You feel everything and nothing at once.

Symptoms.

Guilt. Remorse. Pain.

The challenging part – admitting that you have a deficiency. You may be the guilty one. Maybe this happened because of your neglect, maybe you could have done something to prevent it.

Wish you could rewind. Go back, stretch, tie your shoes tighter.

Confusion. Betrayal. Hurt.

You did everything you could but the thing you love ruined you. Nothing more to do. Sometimes you can do everything right, yet it still manages to go wrong. You keep telling yourself that. You hope to believe it one day.

The diagnosis.

You see an expert. Obviously broken. You aren’t yourself, you hurt everywhere. You cry and think discouraging things. Every time you move, you are reminded of the pain. You set up a plan for recovery, but you are filled with guilt for now.

Friends tell you not to worry. That this will be a memory soon enough. That you will run again. But you can’t imagine it. The thought of it makes you sick.

The recovery.

Start out slow. Going out, support from friends. Before you’re ready, but you fear you never will be. Wanting to break out in a full run, wanting the instant satisfaction you used to have, missing the momentum, the possibilities. Having to start over from the beginning. Nothing is the same.

Side effects.

Pushing to do more, move forward. But every step reminds you of what you used to be, the gift you used to have. The gift that’s gone. You relapse. You numb yourself however you can. You close your eyes to pretend you aren’t where you are. Wonder if it will ever feel good again.

The prognosis.

You keep stepping, you keep pushing.

Because you have to.

Because you want to believe that everyone else is right and this will all go away.

There will be good days and bad. An entire day will eventually pass where there is no pain. And then a week. Then you will forget that you were ever broken. Eventually, you will be healed. Some evening with overcast clouds and cold rain in the future, you will feel a twinge of pain and be flooded with the old feelings. But you’ll remember getting through it. Remember that you conquered it. And it will be okay.

You will run again. You will be able to see the sunset and smell the spring grass with nothing but feelings of happiness.

You will grow stronger through your healing.

Soulkin – What Love Means to Me

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I don’t believe in a whole lot anymore. The only time I say the words God or Jesus, it is in a fit of profanity. If I had to fill in a bubble on a survey, I’d be some Zen Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, existentialist.  I know that is an offensive contradiction, but I change my mind all the time, and I’m not quite ready to commit to my spiritual status yet. But, despite my lack of spiritual certainty, I’ve become so much more present in my life lately.

I read a short book by Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Breath, which helps you think about being present in your present. Focusing on what you are doing as you are doing it – centering your mind, narrowing your focus. It’s liberating avoiding multi-tasking. And trust me, I’m a serial multi-tasker. I’ll do squats while blow drying my hair and brushing my teeth and reading a book. That’s no exaggeration. I’m crazy.

So it was a challenge just to read – and only read. To breathe and only breathe, to step and only step. This book, combined with the knowledge of my moving soon makes me appreciate everything I do immensely because I know I won’t be able to see and do and feel these things for much longer. My stimulus is about to change dramatically. So I’ve noticed the world again. The way you imagine a small child sees the world, when everything is new and full of mystery and won’t hurt you. I have been exponentially more happy, far less worried and even more positive towards myself and those around me. Just by being where I am – by doing less – thinking less.

I feel good energy all around me lately, and I’ve noticed it for the first time in a long time.

Again, I’m not sure about some greater power in the universe – we might be functioning off coincidence or self-fulfilling prophecy alone, but every once in a while, the stars line up. I have people in my life who have completely changed the outcome of my life. When I feared a bad relationship would never stop haunting me, it literally packed its bags and moved away. When I was bottoming out in my life, I met a dear friend who challenged me to start a new one. And there are so many of these little happy coincidences to be grateful for. It astonishes me that just when we feel we are at our breaking point, someone comes along to carry some of our burden, and walk beside us. Perhaps someone we never expected to be there in the first place.

I don’t know a whole lot about the Nicholas Sparks, Jane Austen versions of love.  My Pride and Prejudice fantasy ended up being the satirical version with the zombies. But I have so much love for the people in my life – I know people give me those sad expressions when they see my single status, but I just can’t seem to find the feeling that I’m missing out on anything. I’ve had friends sit through sniveling and crying and who have seen my most unshowered, unattractive version of myself, who have stripped me down butt naked and thrown me in a cold shower after a night of binge drinking, who have put up with panic attacks and tantrums and the most irrational and inappropriate behavior you can imagine. The ones who really matter – who have always been there- I know they aren’t going anywhere. The ones that do get away, well, it’s probably the very best thing that they did.

Some people will come and go – some will matter, some won’t. We don’t have time to open our hearts up to everyone, and even if we did, who would want to? The most precious gift you can give someone are your secrets, your time, your trust.  So when you find one of those people – your soulkin – hold on to them as long as they let you. If they want out, be thankful for the time you had together, but let them go. Know that there comes a time when you have to take the gloves off, and have a little trust in whatever it is that you trust. Don’t ever let anyone drag you down on their way out. No matter who it is, they are not worth it. Ever.

Above all, be open to being open. Let in all of the love that you possibly can, and then let in a little more. Accept people who want to be in your life – they see something in you that you may not even see in yourself. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and who will fight beside you. Then be that for someone who needs you. It may make their day, it may give them hope, and it could change you both forever.