Tropical Sense

When I was a young girl, someone gave me a very small solid of perfume.

I think that it might have been my great grandmother who brought it back from a trip to Hawaii.

She had lost her husband before I was born and traveled extensively in her later life. Quite an independent, adventuresome woman for her time. She had amazing style – dressed impeccably and decorated her Texas apartment with an elegance that was unique.

I was very young – maybe 5 years old. But I loved it. I was both a girlie girl and a Tomboy from day one, though I outwardly presented only as the former, and eventually, sadly, the Tomboy in me was abandoned by me in order to fit in/gain acceptance.

The perfume smelled like tropical smells – I think Gardenia was very much in the forefront.

It came in a small round plastic case the color if the Seafoam Green Crayon – remember that? I loved that too. That color only came in the 64 crayon size box – it seemed so luxurious, that crayon.

So it felt very grown up and special to have that perfume.

My grandmother was charismatic and quite the lady. I loved and feared her: she was very invested in etiquette and manners. She called me wiggle Worm. I guess I was naturally filled with vibrant impulses. She was the start of my socialization, and I learned to suppress that energy, to strive poise.

Eventually, the solid ran down until only the case was left, which eventually I lost.

But over the years, and to this day, I recall that smell. Intermittently, I have tried to find it again. I’ve longed for that scent, the exotic smell of far away tropical paradise.

I recently found a scent that is the closest I have come so far. It is not exact, but close.

I still hope to find the original again someday.

Perhaps I am looking to claim that half-girl, half-boy I was. To reclaim that vibrancy, those physical impulses.

Perhaps on a trip to Hawaii I will find it again? And those parts of myself? Wouldn’t that be amazing.

What has been a significant scent in your life? Why?

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On the Road Again

My husband and I are driving a Penske truck filled with furniture from our last apartment In the Bronx, NY to Texas. We’ve made this trip before.

Last time, we drove the opposite way with the same furniture from my parents’ home just after we were married 8 years ago, just after my Dad died, a year after my brother died and two years after my mother did.

I was so grateful for that furniture at the time. Newly married, making a home with someone for the first time, I was thrilled to have really nice things to bring to our shared space, a new apartment we’d chosen together.

Having lived in a tiny studio apartment in the West Village of NYC for 18 years prior to this big change, I had no furniture to speak of. My husband had some nice things to bring from his place, but not enough. We were stretching our budgets to get our apartment. New furniture was not in the plan. So my parents was a blessing.

It was amazing how perfectly the furniture all worked together. We chose rich colors for the walls off of the colors in the rugs, and somehow, it all had an eclectic warmth that just felt right. So “us,” somehow. The us we were becoming.

For the first years of our marriage, in those years after those huge losses in which I grieved and lived as best I could, that furniture surrounded me and held me and filled the empty gaping hole their deaths left.

I cherished it all. I had my father’s bronzed baby cowboy boots as book ends. A china cabinet held bluebirds, brown ware and silver pieces from my mother’s collections. We ate off of plates and used pans brought up from their kitchen. Put drinks on coasters from their den.

Our bedroom furniture was from my parents first house. The first expensive rug they bought, a now-worn but still lovely Oriental, sat under their gorgeous dark wood dining table and chairs.

But somewhere along year 6, something began to shift in me, and now, 18 months later, after a Konmari wave that washed away my clutter, a new apartment search, offer, and purchase, a renovation, putting an apartment on the market, a sale, a closing, a move, and a settling in, here I am. Day two of a three day journey to take much of that furniture to a new home.

My cousin, who my parents loved, who has a lovely wife and two young kids and a house, is happily taking the furniture off my hands. Whatever he did not take, others in NY needed and wanted.

Tomorrow we reach Austin, where the pieces will be put in their new home.

And I will let go. Of the grieving time. Of the me that has lived these 8 years in the after-shock, doing my best.

I feel such a mix of sadness and relief and excitement. Sadness because I still wish they were here instead of their things. Relief because something is done that I seem to have needed to do. Some job I unconsciously took on will soon be complete. And excitement is for this next part, whatever it will be.

Today I crave space. I want to be surrounded by things that resonate the me I am today. Our new home in no way resembles our last. And I love it with its new colors and furniture, and kickass river views.

I kept one chair out of it all. And reupholstered it. It looks wonderful there, surrounded by our new pieces, our new rugs.

At the end of the first day’s drive, we were treated to a blazing orange sky. Since my mother passed, I am convinced that beautiful sunsets are her way of letting me know she is there, loving me. It was clear that she, my Dad and brother, approve of this trip.

My parents and brother are still with me. But now they fill my heart space. I carry them wherever I go.

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Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown(-through?)

Fifteen months ago, I began a deep letting go process.

I was very sick, suffering from an unexplained exhaustion that kept me housebound for much of the summer.

Coincidentally, for a year my husband and I had been waiting for a larger apartment in our building to become available. We were happy where we were. We just wanted another bedroom and a larger kitchen.

In the beginning of this “sick summer,” one of these larger apartments became available. It was being sold unlisted, by the owner, who would not price it. “What will you pay for it?” he asked.

And so I began to look around, to see what was in the neighborhood that was comparable, to get an educated idea of the value of the apartment.

And along the way, I began to see possibilities that I had never even let myself imagine for us.

I saw apartments, alright. And some not with just an additional room and larger kitchen.

I saw some with balconies and a gorgeous view of the river! With a seasonal pool!

What?!

For us?

Could we?

Who were we to have such niceness?

It was a real stretch for my husband and I to imagine buying such an apartment.

The move we had been considering before this exploration of what was out there in our ‘hood would have been almost lateral. If we’d gotten that apartment in our building, we’d have basically recreated the apartment we have had these 8 years since marrying. I am pretty sure we’d literally have just brought over everything, just changed the kitchen and added a room.

We’ve both loved the home we made together. Somehow, his furniture and the furniture we brought up from my parents’ houses in Texas after my Dad died three months before our marriage all blended into an eclectic, beautiful style.

We have loved our home.

But I now realize that even before the summer, I had been working towards this letting go, this deep clean, this moving on, this full-on “now” presence in my own adult life.

In January I did a sweep of all my things and let go of a great deal. Yes, I applied as much of the Konmari technique as I could, and it was amazing, and freeing. I even finally went into stuff in storage and let it all go…stuff from my parents’ house I had not been able to deal with or use that had sat there since 2010.

I thought, great! I did it! My therapist and I applauded my actions.

And yet. I was still surrounded by furniture and other things that were my parents’, my mother’s, my grandmother’s. And I could feel the heaviness of it.

And so somehow, unconsciously, this drive to move took over. We daringly made an offer on the apartment with the view. It was accepted.

Uh oh.

This was not a lateral move. It was a stretch up. Way up.

We hired an interior designer to help. What?! Who am I?

(I call him the wedding coordinator I did not let myself have. Brilliant call.)

And I made a Big Decision: We. Would. Get. All. New. Furniture.

All my parents’ stuff? Letting it go! But how?! Some stuff can go to the Salvation Army, but my parents’ stuff?? Most of our furniture I couldn’t bear to give to strangers.

In December, impulsively, my cousin, who loved my parents and has a wonderful wife and two little kids, happened to take a trip up here from Texas for a weekend. I asked if they’d mind looking at our stuff to see if they might want anything down the road.

Miraculously, they agreed to take most of it. They were thrilled! (I was elated!)

Other friends who just happened to be buying new, larger homes who were in need and interested are taking the rest.

It makes me so happy for it to go to people who will use and love it. To not have it sit in storage, unused.

I have kept just one item. An upholstered chair that had been my great grandmother’s, that I had climbed up into as a toddler in my grandma’s house. A chair that my mother had kept. A chair that I have always loved.

We have had it reupholstered and the wood frame repainted. It had to be basically remade. (My husband still thinks it a bit crazy of me.)

I cannot wait to see it with the beautiful new pieces that we chosen for our new home. It gives me a deep joy, and I feel love around it.

We are on the precipice of actually moving in now. We closed on the apartment one year ago. Began renovating it in January.

Most of the process has been relatively smooth: the getting financing, board approval in the new building. The renovation. The decisions. The shopping. The decorating.

Putting our current apartment on the market. Going into contract.

Our current apartment closes next week.

And so here I am, packing and sorting. The move is actualizing now. What has been theory up until now is happening.

I have let go of most things. The rugs/furniture are all spoken for. Most doodads have been given away.

But some I just could not part with yet. Things of my mothers that were in a china cabinet that will now go to my cousin’s.

I have these things in a few small boxes in storage. They won’t be in the new place. I really want to let them go. I just find it so hard to give them to a thrift store. But I am working towards it.

My mother’s china, my cousin wants. Yay! But these other things…

I now realize some part of me is afraid I will wish for them someday. When I am old and alone, won’t I want to be surrounded by proof I lived and was loved?

And deeper yet: if I let these things go, does it make me a bad daughter? Does it mean I loved my parents less?

Am I a bad person if I do not keep the little blue bird figurines my mother collected?

Will she feel forgotten or unappreciated if I just let them go?

Who am afraid it will hurt?

These are difficult questions. There is reconciling to do, which doesn’t happen overnight.

Maybe Konmari can do it swiftly, the way she does.

I am doing the Curry Technique for this final bit. I am in a life/shifting, deep dive excavation of my very soul. I have been living this process that has been 18 months in the making to get here now, on the verge of really letting go of all this physical evidence of my parents and brother, now dead some years.

Of really moving on from these years of grieving. These years of finding a new paradigm. Of finding a new footing in this world without three very key people in it.

It has gotten quite challenging here at the end. We’ve had some new apartment issues. The new wood floor has buckled in places. The central AC’s leaked.

What does it mean? What is it reflecting about our process? The floor is literally the very foundation of our home. The leak? Is it literal tears?

These issues at this point have felt overwhelming. Like the last 6 miles of a marathon.

(I have had fantasies of selling the apartment and all the new stuff in it as is and living out of one suitcase somewhere. Yesterday I had to force myself to drive home. Everything in me wanted to drive away and never return. Seriously.)

Yet here I am. Putting one foot in front of the other. Showing up. Letting go daily.

I am continuing to walk to the edge of this precipice.

Here I am. On the verge.

And soon, in just days, I will leap.

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The Move

It looked great on the surface of it.

A new apartment, with a gorgeous view. I mean, who wouldn’t say yes to that?

I did. I was the instigator of this move. I did the apartment searching. The financing work.

And so here we are. A year after purchasing, and months of renovations. Renovations that we planned to take at most 6 months that are now at 8.

And our current apartment is in contract. Our buyers were just approved to move in by the board of the co-op.

We will be getting dates for closing any day now, and then we will move into our beautiful new apartment with its dream view.

All good, right?

And yet.

I. AM. NOT. PACKING. YET.

(Much to my husband’s consternation and confusion.)

I mean, I have been the instigator of all this upheaval.

I decided to totally redecorate and choose new furniture for the new apartment. To find new homes for the furniture that we have loved the past 8 years together in this first home we are now in and about to leave.

This was major, because most of the furniture came from my deceased parents’ home. It was oddly perfect timing, my father passing away after my mother and 3 months before our wedding. I have been surrounded these 8 years in our home by furniture that comforted me, held me…gave me a nest, truly.

And yet, here I am, ready to let it all go. My cousins are taking the pieces I would never be able to just give away to anybody. Close friends with kids are taking other pieces, which feels so right and good. Other people my husband knows are inheriting some things, which they need, want and are thrilled about, and that makes me happy.

The new furniture has been bought, and I love it.

I visit our new home and am stunned at how lovely it is going to be.

And yet.

We are literally half out of our current place. My husband is packing most of what is left. Things are in boxes or are already gone. We are half in and half out. Limbo.

What. Is. Going. On. With. Me. And. This. Resistance.

I find myself wanting to stay in this limbo land. I feel as if I could hover here with one foot in and one foot out forever.

I am terrified. So scared. To move on. To enter fully into my truly adult life, beyond the losses that have so colored the last eleven years. To let the past fall away and let the present fully emerge.

I get panicked. If I let go of the bronzed tiny cowboy boots of my father’s that I brought up from Texas with the furniture, does it mean I loved him any less? Does it mean I am a better daughter and I really loved him if I hold on to them?

If I throw out or give away the plates my brother and I made in our childhood, will I forget him and our youth? Am I a bad person?

If I let go of the plastic container I handprinted with hearts that holds some of my mom’s cookie cutters that I gave her and brought up from her kitchen after she dies, does it mean I am not a loyal daughter? Will it hurt her feelings?

Will I lose who I am if I let go of these things? Will I lose their love somehow?

Who will I be if I am not carrying around these objects that are connected to my past?

Will I float into nothingness? Will I no longer know myself? Will I forget the people and the memories associated with these things?

I have to somehow resolve this. Find a way to keep moving through this change that on some level I called in for my own soul.

I have to find a way to actually make this move. It is a movement, after all.

I have to breathe. And trust. And move forward, into my life.

Inspired by a Daily Word Prompt at Guest Daily Prompts: surface

Tradition

I am on an adventure with my nephew.

When I graduated from high school, my Granma took me on a trip to England, Wales and Ireland. It was a generous gift.

She’d traveled extensively in her life, as had her mother, my Great-Grandmother Burns. They’d both lost their husbands early and ended up living quite rich and adventurous lives as widows.

My Gran had taken my two brothers before me as they each graduated. It was a tradition.

So when my brother’s first born graduated from high school, I had the impulse to carry on the tradition.

My Gran was long-since dead, and my Mom – her daughter – had died a few years’ past.

So I decided to do what I knew they’d have loved to do.

I took my niece on a trip to London and Paris in 2016. My sister-in-law came too, which was almost as good as my Mom being there. She is warm and loving, just like my Mom.

It was a wonderful trip. I cherished our time together and felt my parents’ presence (my father and other brother had recently died as well) with us.

And now here I am, my nephew and I on an adventure. And this time, we are all here together: my husband, my nephew, my brother, my sister-in-law and my niece.

My nephew chose Norway and Sweden to explore. None of us had ever thought of visiting either, but of course we were all game!

So here we all are, in Norway.

And it is heavenly.

The beauty of this country is just magnificent.

But of course, it is all really about being together. We feast our eyes on the landscapes. We laugh and laugh. We eat delicious food.

Once again, I sense my parents, and my brother somehow here, happy for us.

Maybe my niece and nephew will someday carry on the tradition and feel my presence there, too.

On Enthusiasm

If you want to break open your heart (and your world) in the best of ways, go to clown school.

I just finished day two of a five week journey into the craft of the comedic world – the world of physical theatre, clown and Commedia del Arte.

I went to clown school once before, in 2014. It changed me and the way I live and act in countless, invaluable ways.

And I have taken a few clown weekend intensives between then and now.

But the thing is, you have to keep using the muscles that clown requires, or they atrophy. The wonderful clown you have freed from inside you descends further and further back into the recesses of your heart. Back into the darkness.

One of those clown muscles is enthusiasm. That excitement and wonder for people and things that give you pleasure, that make you laugh. That thing that males your eyes sparkle and your body happy.

That thing that gets bullied out of you around junior high (maybe earlier these days.)

That thing you learn to flatten to seem cool to the other kids.

The thing you learn not to show to protect yourself from ridicule.

The thing you betray in yourself out of fear of becoming an outcast.

The thing that gets beaten down into adult cynicism and suspicion.

(That thing you forget how to feel after while.)

It is a delicious sensation!

Day two of clown class, and I feel that muscle pinking up again. When enthusiasm is allowed its space to inhabit your body, all kinds of good begin to happen. And fun!

I double-dog dare you to find yours. Shake off the cobwebs and try it on for size. Take it for a walk.

It may feel a bit scary to let it be seen again by others. A part of you may be afraid and want to keep it under wraps.

I say: Go ahead. Be subversive. Be a part of the revolution.

Be enthusiastic!

Children Will Listen

From a very young age, I could feel what was happening in the adult world around me.

I am not unique. Yes, I am a highly sensitive person. But I believe we all are. I have no way to gauge another’s inner experience – just guessing.

Children have not yet developed the callous that life experience cam eventually create. They are sponges, picking up everything that is going on around them.

Why then do adults tell themselves that their kids “won’t know what is happening” and decide that is is best to “shield them” from “harsh, adult” realities?

There were pivotal events in my childhood that were never explained to me: my mother’s miscarriage when I was 6. My aunt and uncle’s divorce. The fact that my grandfather had had another family before ours. These things were never spoken of. Yet, I felt the energy around them and knew that something was going on.

Left to my own devices, I had no choice but to try to make sense of what I sensed, to piece together what I could as best I could with my emotional immaturity and my limited understanding.

I assumed my mother was dying. I thought she had stomach cancer. When she was taken away to the hospital, I thought it was forever.

When my uncle literally disappeared from our lives, I thought I must have done something to make him leave. I learned that people who you love can leave without reason or notice. I learned abandonment.

And as for my grandfather’s secret other family: my grandparents knew that there was a first wife and a son. They kept it to themselves. Boy, was that a heavy weight.

I could literally feel it in their presence. Their home, a place I loved dearly, always felt slightly “off,” and there was a barely discernible tension whenever the phone rang.

Years later, when the truth came out, my entire world clicked back into its rightful position. Living in the atmosphere of secrets gives added weight to gravity. It creates a denseness to the air one breathes. There is a physical and emotional tension of “readiness” you develop in that environment: you do not know why, but just under the surface you are on high alert, 24/7.

I’ve had to unravel these experiences. It has taken time, patience, professional help and love.

I have a friend who was an active alcoholic for the first years of his kids lives. After he got sober, he refused to consider that they had been affected by his drinking. He felt he’d hidden it well, that he’d been highly functional, had kept it from them.

I don’t know why he had such a blind spot around it. A kind of denial. Maybe it was too painful for him to admit to himself.

Maybe he, my parents, and my grandparents, were all well-intended and thought they were doing the best thing for their children.

Perhaps it was too complicated-feeling for them to try to guide their children through the truth so they opted to keep quiet and hope for the best.

All I know is that children do know – can sense – everything happening around them. And that if adults do not help the children make sense of what they pick up on, they will form their own conclusions about the world that they experience.

The prolific Stephen Sondheim captures this reality beautifully in his song, “Children Will Listen.” The lyrics are below. Here is one of my favorite renditions by the incredible Mandy Patinkin.

Who are your children listening to?

Children Will Listen

How do you say to your child in the night

Nothing is all black but then nothing is all white?

How do you say it will all be alright

When you know that it mightn’t be true?

What do you do?

Careful the things you say

Children will listen

Careful the things you do

Children will see

And learn

Children may not obey

But children will listen

Children will look to you

For which way to turn

To learn what to be

Careful before you say

“Listen to me”

Children will listen

Careful the wish you make

Wishes are children

Careful the path they take

Wishes come true

Not free

Careful the spell you cast

Not just on children

Sometimes the spell may last

Past what you can see

And turn against you

Careful the tale you tell

That is the spell

Children will listen

How can you say to a child who’s in flight

Don’t slip away and I won’t hold so tight?

What can you say that no matter how slight won’t be misunderstood?

What do you leave to your child when you’re dead

Only what ever you put in its head

Things that your mother and father had said

Which were left to them too

Careful what you say, children will listen

Careful you do it too, children will see and learn, oh

Guide them but step away

Children will glisten

Temper with what is true

And children will turn

If just to be free

Careful before you say

“Listen to me”

Children will listen

Children will listen

Children, children will listen

Songwriter: Stephen Sondheim

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: observe