Monday, March 28, 2011

The Bachelor

For whatever reason I'd refrained from posting too much about my dating life recently, with the exception of a couple dance floor make-out sessions (refer to the "Die Hard" post). But I thought it might be time to bring you up to speed a bit since it's been on my mind.

There is no doubt that as I've opened up my heart, I seem to be attracting more people these days. I've always been one to have an easy time meeting people, but as I've talked about before, I'd seemed to be sending out a lot of "I'm a good buddy" vibes, rather than "date me". So I've been experimenting with being more open and vulnerable, which has had some interesting results. Here are a few Bachelor stories I'd like to share.

Nice (Enough?)
A couple weeks into my sabbatical, I met him. He was with a group of friends, and I liked them all right away. Definitely a good start. We connected pretty easily, particularly since we were dancing, which you should know by now I love to do. I met a few other men that night, but no one seemed as interesting or open-hearted (for lack of a better term). He may have also scored points for calling me charismatic. Flattery will get you everywhere. And so we've been out on a few dates, and we've run into each other at a few other events. There's no doubt that every time is a good time. Things have progressed slowly (which, I'm told, is normal) and that's been fine by me. It's just been about getting to know each other. This has been the focus on my experimentation here. I'm trying to follow the traditional notion of meeting someone, taking it slow with lots of conversation, letting him call and ask me out, and really just being the "girl". Relaxing and not trying to control the situation, which I find I've really settled in to. But as time goes on, I've begun to question if we're really a good match. As friends? Absolutely. As more than that? Jury's still out.

We met on the dance floor (I seem to be sensing a trend here). I may have been fairly intoxicated. I'd been bugging a friend to dance and he finally gave in. The second we stepped on the floor, this guy grabs me by the hand and pulls me in. I admit I was intrigued by this rather forceful gesture. And we danced. And danced. And then made out a little. I should know by now that this is not, in fact, the way that long-term relationships begin. He seemed like a nice guy. A little older, which I typically like since they seem more stable, comfortable with themselves, and not intimidated by someone with a strong personality (e.g., me). So I admit I was a little interested when he asked for my number at the end of the night. He put it in his cell. And then he never called. I suspect I'm filed somewhere under "Chicks Numbers" like the electronic equivalent of stuffing napkins filled with girl's numbers in a drawer so a guy can remind himself he's still desirable. Lesson here? Quit swapping spit on the dance floor. I mean, seriously. I'm not 29 anymore. ;)

Civil Servant
A friend commented to me that I seem to often attract (or be attracted to) men in civil service type jobs. I'm not sure I'd ever made the connection, but after some thought, I do see what she's talking about. I've always liked guys who were a little rougher around the edges in terms of not being the stuffy office type. But I like them to have a sensitive side, and have been relatively successful at finding it. At any rate, we met at a bar (maybe I'm just more fun when I'm drinking?) and he was in uniform since he'd marched in a St. Patrick's Day parade earlier in the day. We met when I bumped into him accidentally (I swear) and managed to connect my right boob pretty good with his arm. This sort of turned into our joke for the evening which proved entertaining. My friends ended up taking off and I stayed to hang with him and his group of friends. I suspect that I'm a good decade older than the women he's used to dating. Why am I competing with 22 year olds for a 35 year old man's attention? Sigh. He had, at one point, more or less demanded a kiss on the cheek. I said no. Which he apparently doesn't hear very often (that's a cop for you). Nevertheless, we traded numbers at the end of the night.

A couple days passed and I decided that I'd experiment with calling instead of waiting to see if he would. We caught up for a few. I told him the story of leaving the bar and getting absolutely soaked in the rain. About 15 minutes passed after we hung up before I got the first text. "Btw you deserved getting wet for being rude". Hmm, okay. I indicated I had no such recollection of this "rude" woman he was referring to. His response? "next time I request a kiss, there shall be no hesitation". Well okay then. If I was worried about taking the power by calling, apparently I needn't be. He was being cheeky, but he was definately wanting to exert some control. I couldn't resist a reply. "One might argue that real men don't have to request it...they just make it happen ;)" Now, I shouldn't have taken the bait, because this continued for most of the evening. It seemed innocent enough. And then I sent this..."let's catch up soon. you can get any idiot to kiss you in a bar. Let's see what else 'ya got". Now, in saying this, I meant "let's see if you can hold a conversation". But upon reading it back, I can see where I may have sent a slightly different signal. Things went downhill from there. This is why I hate texting when dating. There's too much room for mis-interpretation. Lesson learned? I like letting the guy call better. And quit texting so much.

Group Effort
My entire life I've attracted married men. Forget writing a blog post about this...I could dedicate an entire blog to the reasons I think this occurs. Typically I meet them on the road when I'm traveling. I haven't been on the road much, so I suppose I was due. At any rate, I wasn't surprised to be hit on. But as the night progressed, it was becoming clear that he wasn't hitting on me for just himself. Oh no. This was intended to be a group effort. Certainly a new twist. I shut it down, but I mention it because, oddly, I was flattered! Perhaps that's strange, and maybe the only criteria is a willing participant, but I'm taking it as flattery and you can't stop me. It doesn't technically fit in the dating category, but it seemed entertaining enough to include.

Common Man
Now, I know this guy isn't the common man. But I've met him before. Over and over and over. There are so many of him out there, it sometimes completely kills my belief that there are loyal men out there. We met in a bar. I introduced myself and promptly anointed him with beads (another St. Patrick's Day event). We chatted for a few minutes and discovered commonalities in our profession, consulting, and the on-the-road lifestyle. I'd pegged him as being in town on business in about 5 seconds, so he was amused with meeting someone who got the lifestyle. He was ridiculously hot. I usually try to avoid these guys because they're trouble. My ideal guy is attractive, but in a "normal guy" kind of way. Not in a "I belong on a billboard" way. So we headed to another part of the bar. About an hour later, he came to find me. We actually had a really interesting conversation. I was surprised by his depth, and he seemed to continue to be surprised by my understanding of hotel amenities and frequent flyer programs. I gave him my number at the end of the night. He scored additional points by texting a "nice to meet you" by the time I was driving home. We continued to text the next day (apparently I didn't learn my lesson completely from Civil Servant). And then it all just stopped. No reply.

Two days passed. And then I get this. "Sorry for not responding. I had a great time. I am in a long term relationship so felt a bit guilty taking it further." WTF?! Good grief. I replied that I got the message and thanks for letting me know. To which he replied "I will be staying over in town later this week." And that was the end of that. Lesson learned? Trust my instincts. He looked like trouble, and clearly was. Oh, and never let my future husband travel for business. Just kidding. Sort of.

Mr. Normal
There's a guy in town who keeps getting recommended to me by a dating website. I'm not sure why, but we've never actually connected on the site. He's good looking and appears to know the difference between "to" and "too" and "your" and "you're". These are important attributes when dating online. He just seems like a good, normal guy. I actually cancelled my subscription recently, and was then surprised when he came up to me in a local bar last week. I actually really loved that he called out the potential awkwardness right away by talking about us seeing eachother online. And then I was slightly weirded out that he remembered so much about me from my profile. At least he was paying attention. We haven't had our first date yet, but I'll definitely be considering all the things I've learned when we do. I'm interested to see how this plays out with someone in a similar profession and in my age-range sweet spot.

The Lesson
I'm going to avoid talking too much about this one. We barely know each other, but there's something going on here, and I don't want to ruin it by over-analyzing it. We met in a bar. But this story is a little different. I was camping in Maine six months ago with friends, when we were booted from the campground by hurricane Earl. He and his cousin had the same fate. And so we all met in a bar in town. I liked him right away. Cute, but a little reserved. Our groups shared drinks, we exchanged numbers, and we parted ways. They live about 2.5 hours away, so didn't expect that I'd see them again anytime soon. Only to be surprised 20 minutes later when we discovered we were all in the same motel; their room directly above ours. The party continued. And then that was it. End of story. I reached out once when I was going to be in town, but he wasn't available. After that, I'd think about him, but didn't hear anything and so I let it go.

But then he sent a text out of no where two weeks ago. "you coming to baltimore anytime soon?" Strangely, I was. I had plans to drive through on my way to DC. So we met up last week. He says he was thinking about Maine and has had enough experience to know that when you think about reaching out to someone, you should. So he did. And, I tell you, I am smitten.

If nothing happens here, it's already going to hurt (which is super-weird and not like me, so that's interesting). But, here's the thing...if I never hear from him again, he's already taught me a lesson I needed. In one evening he's reminded me what this is all supposed to feel like. Connecting on an intellectual, emotional, physical, and (maybe?) spiritual level. And that's enough to make me grateful to have run into him already.

Lesson here? People come into your life for a reason. Half the fun (and grief) is finding out why. And I can't wait. I hope you're opening your life to new people too. Just stay away from the married ones. Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Monday, March 21, 2011


It's official. My six week hiatus is over. Today it was back to work. I started the morning about 90 minutes earlier than my "old" routine. Which allowed for a leisurely breakfast while reading a few pages of a daily affirmation book that a friend sent me during my time off. After that, it was off to an hour long yoga class. It was relaxing until the end. You know the jerk that can't stop coughing when you get to the end and it's time to meditate? And you're like "shut up...I'm meditating!" Yeah. That was me. I'm getting over a cold and I couldn't help it! I actually had to get up and leave and wait until they were done. I suppose it couldn't have been a completely zen morning. After a shower at the gym I was at work by 9:00.

So, what did I accomplish during my time off? Well, since I decided not to follow a stringent to-do list during my time off, I had to spend some time thinking about the things I did. So, here it goes.
  • Started a blog. Wrote over 125 pages (double-spaced, 10 pt font in case you were wondering)
  • Started a novel while attending a weekly writing class
  • Joined a new gym
  • Ran a 5K
  • Identified a financial advisor and put together a financial strategy
  • Did my taxes
  • Got all outstanding maintenance on my car
  • Read four books
  • Had weekly meetings with a therapist, life coach, trainer, massage therapist, and writing class
  • Attended a one-week yoga retreat
  • Signed up for two weeks back at Kripalu to obtain my YogaDance certification to teach
  • Identified and communicated with a Princeton yoga studio interested in offering YogaDance classes
  • Experimented with online groceries (I was not impressed)
  • Communicated with five family members to tell them how much I appreciate what they've done for me
  • Started talk of opening a bakery
  • Started the process to set up a trust, will, power of attorney, healthcare directive, and other estate documents
  • Sold a car
  • Bought a car
  • Met with a career mentor of mine
  • Made a decision about my short-term path at my current company
  • Bought a keyboard and re-taught myself to read music and play the piano
  • Partied and danced in New York City, Atlantic City, Hoboken, Hamilton, and New Brunswick (who says you can't have fun in Jersey?)
  • Cleaned out the garage with boxes dating back to a 2006 move
  • Freecycled my old BBQ sitting in the backyard
  • Communicated with my family about why my father left the picture
  • Wrote my father a letter, whom I haven't had a conversation with since I was eight
  • Met and began dating someone new
  • Waged war on mice problem and appear to have won, at least temporarily
  • Met several new girlfriends in the area
  • Printed over 600 photos from 2010 and put them into albums
  • Filled a frame that's been hanging on my wall (empty) with a collage of 2010 photos
  • Made at least four runs to Goodwill and Salvation Army
  • Got rid of wedding dress, bridesmaid dresses, and other engagement-related items
  • Had engagement ring reset into a necklace
  • Fixed my printer
  • Took the dog to the beach
  • Printed a favorite photo onto Canvas and hung it above the spare bed
  • Painted a couple of new paintings
  • Bought a 30x40 canvas to paint and hang over my sofa
  • Talked to strangers and learned their stories
  • Caught up with some of you and learned your stories
  • Watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean
  • Cried
  • Smiled
  • Breathed
  • Laughed
  • Lived
These are the things I did. And, truth be told, I spent a lot of time doing nothing - which is to say that I could have done a lot more. But what I really accomplished was what I learned; who I started to become. And what I discovered about myself and the people around me.

You only get one life. And they say that it's short. But, you know what? I think that, for most of us, it's not. It's a long road. With plenty of chances to get it wrong. And just as many to get it right. To get lost and to find your way. To lose your priorities and find them again. I feel like that's what I took the time to do.

I wasn't unhappy going into this. I didn't feel hopelessly lost or overwhelmed. I didn't hate my job (completely). I wasn't unable to meet new people. But I had a nagging feeling or thought or something that my perspective was skewed. I was seeing through those non-prescription reading glasses you get at the drug store. Taking six weeks off was like Lasik where you get really good drugs after (or, at least I assume. I have like 20/30 vision. I know you hate me now.).

Someone asked me today if I was going to keep blogging. Absolutely. Even if no one reads it.  Because I can tell that this is only the beginning of some really interesting stuff to come. And I don't want to forget a thing.

I've accomplished a lot in these six weeks, and I hope that you've discovered something while reading about it. Even if it was just about discovering how alike we all are. Talk to you soon. Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Good Life

This morning I watched the sun rise over the Atlantic. It was a little cloudy, but that made the sun coming up and the reflection all the more beautiful. Growing up on the west coast, I've seen my share of sunsets over the Pacific. I'd had recently had a conversation with someone where I realized I hadn't seen the sun rise over the alternate coast. I thought it would be a cool way to kickoff the last weekend of my sabbatical.

It took about 60 seconds before the dog was in the water, which was hilarious. Who would want to go in the Atlantic Ocean at 6:45 in the morning? My dog, that's who. She was so incredibly happy to be running through the waves and digging in the sand. Shortly after sunrise, the guy I met through the NJYP event last month joined the dog and I for a walk along the shore. Truth be told, I would have had a perfectly fine time sitting alone on the beach. But watching the dog romping around and sharing a conversation with him made the morning that much more enjoyable. On my last weekend of sabbatical, it's a great reminder that, while though I'm perfectly capable and strong on my own, having others around me makes life richer.

I've recently been listening to a song by OneRepublic called Good Life. It's got a great melody and the words have been resonating with me these past couple of weeks.

OneRepublic - Good Life

Woke up in London yesterday
Found myself in the city near Piccadilly
Don't really know how I got here
I got some pictures on my phone

New names and numbers that I don't know
Address to places like Abbey Road
Day turns to night, night turns to whatever we want
We're young enough to say

Oh this has gotta be the good life
This has gotta be the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, got this feeling that you can't fight
Like this city is on fire tonight
This could really be a good life
A good, good life

To my friends in New York, I say hello
My friends in L.A. they don't know
Where I've been for the past few years or so
Paris to China to Colorado

Sometimes there's airplanes I can' t jump out
Sometimes there's bullshit that don't work now
We are god of stories but please tell me
What there is to complain about

When you're happy like a fool
Let it take you over
When everything is out
You gotta take it in

I feel like there might be something that I'll miss
I feel like the window closes oh so quick
I'm taking a mental picture of you now
'Cuz hopelessly
The hope is we have so much to feel good about

Sometimes there's airplanes I can' t jump out
Sometimes there's bullshit that don't work now
We are god of stories but please tell me
What there is to complain about

What is there to complain about? Frankly, there's probably plenty. But it's about a mindset. Not every day. But for a few moments most days. I hope I can continue to take the time to be grateful for the things I have in my life. And in tune enough to recognize the things in my life that need to change to make this the life I want to live. Because we're in charge of how this whole life thing plays out. You can either live your life, or let it live you.

I am grateful for the life I'm living. I'm grateful for the people I know, for people I've lost, and for the things I've learned about myself. Having lost people in my life sooner than expected, I'm conscious of how much our futures are unknown. But I have comfort in knowing that if my life on this earth ends tomorrow, I've lived a good life. And, if I keep consciously working at it, it's just going to keep getting better.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Identity Crisis

Names are funny things. They can define you, without you even realizing it. They can tie us to the past, or make us hopeful for the future. Though never married, I've had my share of identity crises in my lifetime. For example, while my friends and family call me Jo, that's not actually my full name. I go by my full name at the office. Which tends to make my work friends in social situations very confused. Last week I went to a happy hour where a co-worker introduced me by my full name to his wife. She gave her name and I replied "Jo, nice to meet you". Enter weird look on co-worker's face.

And then there are those pesky middle names. The ones that parents seem to use to make some sort of tribute. Mine was to my father. My middle name is the feminine version of his name. A constant reminder of his absence in my life.

Maybe some of you even started life with a first name other than the one you use now. My mother and aunt (twins) were born Elizabeth and Dana. But after adoption, their first names were changed as well as their last.

Shakespeare said "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Now, that may be true. But one has to wonder if we would have as much of a fondness for them if they were called some hideous-sounding name. A name doesn't have to define us, but it's hard to make a case that it doesn't affect us.

Those that follow Kabbalah have placed such an emphasis on a name that there are websites dedicated to helping you find out if your name is right for you, along with helpful resources on making the change legal. Now, with all the celebrity press on Kabbalah, I'm inclined to think they're all nutters. But I can understand how changing your name could change your perspective. There are also a multitude of websites dedicated to helping you decide how to change your name (or not) when getting married. It's not unusual for a woman to keep her maiden name professionally, and to use her married name socially. I suspect it's a way to keep these parts of you separate; to maintain two distinct identities. The loving wife and mother. And the woman who will kick your ass in the office.

Like everyone, I was born with a last name. This was the last name of my father, and my mother who married him shortly after she got pregnant. It is the legal last name I have now as an adult. But it wasn't always that way.

In the late 70s and early 80s, last names didn't count for too much until you went to school. By the time I entered kindergarten at four my mother and father had become divorced, my mom had met my step-father (though hadn't married him yet), and we'd followed him to southern California from up north. And so I began school with my mother's maiden name.

A couple of years later my mother married my step-father and all of my school, medical, and other records began to reflect his last name. It was this name that I carried with me from childhood through high school. Me, my mom, my step-father, my sister, and my brother. We were a famiy. Neatly packaged with one last name. I didn't always feel like I was part of the inner-family-circle. Being seven and eleven years older than my siblings made me feel more like the built-in babysitter and part-time mom (when our actual mom would take a self-imposed hiatus for days at a time). But at least I had the name.

Then, at sixteen, I reached the teenage right-of-passage that is the driver's license. "Mom, I need my birth certificate so I can get my driver's license." I have no doubt that some sort of drama ensued where she (a) had no idea where it was and (b) blamed me for not giving her any notice that I would need said document. Eventually it was located. Complete with my last name at birth. Which was not the name used on every single record I had, or the name I identified with.

"Mom, do you have the paperwork for my name change?" I quizzed delicately, hopeful to avoid another tirade. "What name change?" Interesting. I continued, but I already have a sense where this is going. "My birth certificate doesn't have the right last name. You couldn't just start calling me by another name." Baited breath. "No one ever asked for any paperwork." Right.

So, at sixteen, my options were these; pursue a legal name change to match all my records or switch my name back to "legal" last name. Which, at this point, is the name of my father who I don't actually speak to. I just wanted a fucking driver's license. At that age, I wasn't keen to pursue mountains of paperwork, so I went with my "new" legal name. There was a lot of consolation in that, while I didn't speak to my father, I was very close to all of my aunts, my uncle, and my grandparent's. I could identify with sharing their last name. And so it was.

All of this transpired around Christmas break of my junior year of high school. I returned to school that January. I think I must have gone to pick up my grades or some transcripts and gave my newly minted driver's license. "I'm sorry, I can't release these records to you. The last name is different." Shit. "What about my school ID?" I tried. "Why does your school ID have a different last name than your driver's license?" I could have tried to explained the situation, but it felt futile.

I proceeded to work with the school to change all of my records over to my legal name. I'll never forget the first day that the new name made the roll call sheets. Teachers, confused, called out the name printed on their sheet. "Here." I answered to their puzzled faces. Classmates had a good time making jokes about me getting knocked up and married over the holiday. Good times.

My only other foray into another last name was during the engagement. We had ordered some things for our new life together. I'd planned on taking his name, and it was the first time I had seen my "new" name in print. I remember it being exciting. It was like getting to grow into this entirely new person.

In the end, it wasn't meant to be. But I do look forward to the opportunity to make someone else's name part of my own. To merge our lives. To continue to build on this great life I've made for myself.

Though I suspect I may hold on to my name in the office. Just so I can feel like the ass-kicker will live on. What does your name mean to you? Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Crazy. In Moderation.

I've been out on a few dates lately. On a recent date I'd mentioned that I was writing a blog, since it seemed like a natural thing to say. But I quickly realized I needed to follow that with a comment that he couldn't read it...yet.

I'm perfectly comfortable putting all of this out there, but when you're trying to get to know someone new on a romantic level, it seems like you need to put the crazy out there in doses; in moderation. This got me thinking about what a dosing schedule might look like in the dating world. Here are some initial thoughts.

  • Date 1: I have 2 sisters and a brother.
  • Date 2: They don't all know each other. Because my older sister and I have the same dad. While my younger brother and sister and I share the same mom.
  • Date 3: My mom is a twin.
  • Date 4: But we don't really get to speak to my mom's twin (my aunt).
  • Date 5: We don't talk to her because she went a little nuts years back and left her husband and three kids. (This, strangely, makes my mother seemingly normal)
  • Date 10: My mom is adopted.
  • Date 12: I grew up knowing both my mom's adoptive and birth mothers (e.g., both my grandmothers). 
  • Date 13: My mom also had a brother, my uncle, who was adopted from another mother. (diagrams may be required at this point).
  • Date 14: My uncle died somewhat unexpectedly a few years ago. Along with the coroner, the DEA showed up to take care of the pot growing in the backyard.
  • Date 19: I lived with an ex for over three years.
  • Date 20: I was engaged.
  • Date 24: I was engaged until five weeks before the wedding.
  • Date 30: I was engaged until I was dropped for a 19-year old.
  • Date 35: I made my ex-fiance sign a contract to pay my parent's back $8000.
  • Date 50: My mother is bipolar.
  • Date 51: I'm not!
  • Date 60: I haven't spoken to my father since I was eight.
  • Date 200: I make more money than you.
  • Date 220: I make a lot more money than you.
  • Date 300: I mentioned my mom's a twin, right? So are my dad's sisters (my aunts). So, surprise! We're having them too.
  • Date 301: Since my earning potential is higher, you will be staying home with the kids. I've bought you this "stay at home dad" t-shirt as a consolation prize. Congratulations.
On second thought, it seems easier to just send them the link to this post. Problem solved! Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dear Dad

In my previous post I talked about the fact that my father had written me a letter about a year and a half ago. Since then his attempts to make some sort of contact seem to be increasing. A birthday card here. A Christmas gift there. Little things. Relatively easy to ignore if that's what you're attempting to do. But they've become tolerations. And I'd decided in the past couple of weeks that I wanted to assert myself a bit.

Now, some of you may think that I should let him in. I can understand that sentiment, and perhaps one day I will be able to. But for now, parents still live in a world called Needy-ville. In Needy-ville, I am the mayor and apparently one of a few who can solve problems from breakups with your girlfriend (after you cheat on her) to a place to run and hide when you destroy the house during a fight with your boyfriend. There is a current cap on the population of this dysfunctional town. So, unfortunately, a new resident father would not be permitted by the mayoral bylaws.

Up to this point my approach to dealing with attempts to contact has been utter and complete silence. So the attempts keep coming. And, frankly, I'm annoyed. I have this desire to respond requesting that he cease for the time being. I want my control back of this situation. So I wrote a letter. I started with one little paragraph asking him not to contact me and it turned into a full page. I didn't want to be a complete bitch, so I thought it best to read it to my therapist and make sure it was advisable to send it. She said, with complete clarity, that it should be sent. "You don't think it's too harsh?" I asked. "Oh, you're definitely going to make him feel like shit." she replied. But, apparently, she thinks that maybe that's what I need to do before I can move forward. So, I'm sending it. Curious about the contents? Knock yourself out :) Hasta, sabbaticaljo

"I hope that you are well. I wanted to reach out to you since it seems that you’ve been attempting to do so more frequently in the last couple of years. I certainly understand your attempts to reach out. I can imagine that it is difficult knowing that you have a daughter out there, but not being able to communicate freely. Unfortunately, at this time in my life, I have to respectfully ask that you stop trying to contact me. I want to provide a little bit of background in the hopes that it helps you in understanding me.

First, you should know how lucky I was to have my grandmother and your brother and sisters in my life. Their role in my childhood (and as an adult) shaped who I am today, and I’m incredibly thankful for that. They deserve huge kudos for helping to raise me and for playing a crucial role for me growing up – perhaps something you should thank them for if you haven’t already. Things were not always the easiest for me as a child. Mom and my step-dad took care of me the best they knew how. But the reality is that I spent a lot of time taking care of myself, and learning not to expect others to take care of me. While it’s provided for some difficulty in my life, it has also made me incredibly resilient, capable, and self-sufficient. These qualities are at the forefront of who I am, so I suspect you’ve heard this about me.

You’d sent me a letter at some point in the last couple of years. Admittedly, I didn’t read it when I received it, but put it in a pile and ran across it maybe six months later. I don’t recall the details, but remember you asking me about locking myself in the bathroom and wanting to know why. The truth is that I have no idea why. I do know that by the age of fourteen I was already an expert in emotionally closing myself off to people or experiences that might cause me distress. I was a specialist in self-reliance and building walls. I can only surmise that I had emotionally cut you out by that point and the surprise of seeing you was too much of a shock to the system. My best self-defense from being hurt by you was to literally put you on the other side of a door. As you know, I’ve never let you back through it. And that was an awfully long time ago. I’m sure it’s not comforting, but perhaps it helps you understand a bit about why I don’t feel particularly inclined to develop a relationship now. At this stage, the honest truth is that I don’t see the benefit it would bring to me. The risk vs. reward doesn’t add up for me.

As an adult, I have chosen to spend my life exercising my right to have people in my life who are capable of taking care of me; of returning the love and care that I am capable of providing. These are an amazing bunch of people that I trust and who I know can pick me up when I fall. Some are related; most are not. But they have all become my family and my support system. It is sad that I don’t consider you one of those people. But I’m choosing to expend energy on people in my life who I consider to be stable, self-sufficient, and whom I trust. We don’t have that between us and, frankly, it’s not something I’m willing to put effort into building with you.

I’m confident that you’ll respect my wishes, even if it’s not what you want, including not responding to this letter. If things change in the future and I’m interested in communicating, I will certainly let you know. But as one human being to another, I do wish you all the best for the future."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Letter

Amongst my inner-circle, it's well-known that I don't speak to my father. Best I can recall, I believe it's been over twenty years since we had a substantive conversation. I think I was eight. And when he popped up around fourteen I was already an expert in surgically cutting out people who had the potential to hurt me. So I locked myself in the bathroom when he showed up at my grandmother's house. And never spoke to him again. Just in case you weren't sure I could hold a grudge.

This doesn't count a few awkward interactions over the past ten years where we'd run into each other at family events every other year or so. At about eighteen we saw each other at my older sister's wedding (different moms, same dad). I recall he didn't actually recognize me. I have more or less shut myself off to this part of my life. In my world, parents are often more of a hassle than a comfort. About a year and a half ago he sent me a letter (thanks, grandma, for passing on the address by the way). Ironic that he lives within driving distance now that I'm in NJ. I let it sit in a pile unopened for at least six months. I eventually skimmed it and threw it back in a pile.

My time off has led me to try to clean out some areas of my life that are crowding me. I've always been wary of going down this dad path. "Phobic" is the word my therapist used to describe it. Awesome. So, I sat down recently and re-read the letter. Then I proceeded to dissect it and comment to myself on paper. I'm thinking of using some sort of it in a novel I've started writing, so it's written in the third-person below. I don't really anticipate doing anything with it; it's more for therapeutic purposes. There's something empowering about taking your most screwed up life events and writing the ending any way you want it.  Anyway, enjoy more of my sordid story! My next post will be my letter back. Hasta, sabbaticaljo

The Letter
She got another letter in the mail.  She placed in the pile with a recent birthday card and note that was attached to a Christmas present.  A gift basket full of Ghirardelli chocolates.  As if that would make up for 25 years lost.  She read the words, wondering what he looked like as he was writing it.  Wondering what he looked like when she was a child.  A teenager.  A younger woman.

I’ve been considering writing this for a long time.  When father’s day passed this year I was especially taken back to your childhood (at least the part I was a part of).

It seemed strange to her that Father’s day would take him back?  What about her birthday?  She guessed at least 20 of them had passed since they’d had a meaningful conversation.  To the extent one can have a meaningful conversation with an eight year old.

I have so many regrets about that time in my life.  It’s at least interesting that’s your age now.  The part I always go back to was you locking yourself in mom’s bathroom and refusing to come out.  To this day I don’t know why.  Do you?

This had, in fact, been a topic of conversation amongst her various therapists over the years.  Why did she lock herself in the bathroom?  Was it the surprise of seeing him at the door after six years?  Was it him violating the security she enjoyed at her Grandmother’s house for those precious weeks each year?  The collective wisdom of three therapists from three states in four years advised her that by the tender age of fourteen she’d already learned to shut people out completely.  A skill keenly developed in the presence of her mother and step-father at home.

It’s long ago and hard to remember.  But I know you were coming to our home sometimes to visit.  I don’t have a clue how you felt about me or D.  Did I do something to upset you?  Was the whole thing just too much?  Was it D?

He’s actually blaming the girlfriend?

Once again it was so long ago and you’ve done so well that it’s really not necessary to revisit this stuff…

Sounds like a good plan.

…but if you have some insight or thought about it I’d be glad to hear them. I know that when you were born I held you in my arms and you spent the first few days of your life sleeping on my chest.

That was 1979.  A few things have happened since then.

Your mom was serious about having you at home and after taking classes we had mid-wives and you were born in the living room of a funky little house in CA.  We had after talked about bonding and it’s always tugged at my heart that if you did bond with me in those first few days how has it affected you not having that person in your life for the rest of your life.  It has to have had some effect.

Her therapists tended to agreed.

I’m pretty sure you’ve had to watch out for yourself your whole life.  I’m also sure that my mom has been the most consistent person in your life.

Her grandmother.  Her Savior and sanity.

Guess what, that goes for me too.  I just didn’t appreciate it the way I should have.  Some of us take longer to learn the most obvious of life’s lessons.  I know that I have no right to be proud of you.  It takes more than blood to be a father.

At least we can agree on that.

I know that I’ve never been there for you.  And that’s disturbing.  I also know that life has a way of not delivering what’s expected and absolutely delivering what’s not.  I know for a fact that I’ve not done right by you and that I’ll regret for the rest of my life.  It’s impossible to go back but it’s possible to improve, do better, love better.  I suppose this letter will do more for me than you but I hope that you accept it for what it is.  I truly love and respect you.  I hope the best for you and your family. 
She prepares for the finale. The coup de grâce. The final straw.
I hope you find someone who you can trust and have faith in.

Insightful given the circumstances. "I'm literally doing everything I can."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Adam Soles is my hero

St. Patrick's Day is a couple of weeks away. But don't tell that to everyone in New Jersey, where celebrations start about two weeks early. Last year I'd gone to Hoboken for the parade, followed by excessive alcohol consumption, and it seemed only right to repeat it again this year. So, on Saturday I had plans to go with friends from work to enjoy the festivities, complete with my green "I have a drinking problem" t-shirt and plenty of green beads.

From the start, it just wasn't meant to be. I woke up and the dog was acting weird. She kept trying to throw-up, but nothing was happening. She was crying and there was nothing I could do. The only thing that seemed to make it better was if I could get her to lay down and relax. Which she would really only do if I laid down too. So I texted my friends that I would try to catch up with them later and decided I'd be missing the train.

A couple hours later she seemed to be okay. I wasn't really feeling it, but I'd said I would go, so it seemed like the right thing to do. I looked at the train schedule and it was going to take me nearly two hours to get to Hoboken, but I could drive it in an hour. This meant I couldn't do much drinking, but I wasn't really feeling it anyway. So I made my way to Hoboken. I decided I'd stop into Chipotle for a quick lunch. The line was out of control. But I decided to be zen and let the day play out, so I waited the 30 minutes and continued my journey. I made it up to Hoboken and I was telling myself I was feeling better about the day. Until I tried to park.

Several times I found spots, but they required a resident parking permit. I drove around for an hour, waiting for the parade to end so people would leave. When it ended, I managed to get around to the other side of the parade route and locate a parking garage. It was $25, but at that point I would have paid $100. I just wanted a beer. Though I'd only be having a couple since I'd be driving home. I was a little flustered pulling into the parking garage and on the phone with my friend to find out where they were. So I grabbed my bag, fleece, and wallet while chatting on the phone. I made it about a block before I thought it best to organize myself. It was at this point I realized I didn't have my wallet. Huh. I swore I'd grabbed it. Turn around, back to the car. Of course the parking ticket was in the wallet, so they had a bit of trouble locating the car they had just parked. Scoured the car. No wallet. Shit. Look through the car again. Definately no wallet. Back to the street. Nothing. Son of a bitch. Just be zen. Just be zen.

Right. So now I'm in Hoboken on St. Patrick's Day. With no money. Or ATM card. Or credit card. Or driver's license. Which means I'm not going to be able to get into any bar. This. is. fucking. awesome. But what can I do at this point? I'm determined to move forward. I'll call and cancel the cards later. I will get another license. At least it wasn't my whole wallet - I'd only put my driver's license and one ATM and credit card in a separate wallet anticipating being out (which, apparently, is a good practice). I will be zen.

I'm meant to meet my friends on the corner of First and Washington. I'm on Third. No problem. But it takes me a while to plow through masses of drunken idiots. But I've made it to First. The phone rings. They're on Third. You've got to be kidding me. At this point I'm trying so hard to think zen that my head is threatening to pop off cartoon-style. I've completely shut out my screaming intuition that's telling me not to be there. It was time to listen. I call my friends to say I'm going home. And that's what I did. $25 to park for 20 minutes and I'm returning home without my wallet. Awesome.

I drove an hour home and returned to find the dog in good spirits.  I plopped myself down on the couch to relax, and then I remembered that I there was another New Jersey Young Professionals (NJYP) event that night that I had declined since I was meant to be in Hoboken. There was meant to be drinking and dancing, so right up my alley. And this is the same organization that held the Single Mingle event I'd been to and really enjoyed. I'd even met a fun guy and we'd followed it up with a great date earlier in the week.

So things were looking up! I had a bit of time to relax, cleaned myself up, and grabbed my passport for ID purposes. Where everything about Hoboken had felt wrong, this felt exactly right. I'd texted the guy I'd met at the last event to find out who might be going. I'd been under the impression he wasn't going to be there. But on the drive up I learned I'd been wrong. Even better! I'd get to catch up with him and we'd have a chance to hit the dance floor again. And it was a lot of fun. The people were great...and the first kiss at the end of the evening was even better. Hoboken can kiss my ass.

Truth be told, I hadn't planned on blogging about all of this. It seemed like just a silly weekend story without much of a point. But the more I thought about it, the more there was a point. I had been so determined to make the day a good one that I'd completely missed out listening to the inner voice that was telling me not to go. I'm not necessarily implying the universe was trying to get me to the NJYP event, but there was definately a part of me that just didn't want to go. And I forced it. And kept forcing it. My whole life I've felt like I had to make lemonade. Keep my chin up. Just keep moving forward. Sometimes I'm so determined to make lemonade that I'm oblivious to the fact that I'm totally out of lemons and only have prunes left in the cupboard. The key is listening to myself; to my intuition. Stopping to assess whether or not I have lemons. Stop to figure out what it is that I want to do, rather than plunging forward because I think I have to.

But all of that is not what actually convinced me to blog about it. What really pushed me to blog about this was Adam Soles. For two days I'd decided not to go to the DMV to get my license. I knew I needed to do it, but for whatever reason I decided it could wait until tomorrow. Perhaps I was listening to my intuition. And, wouldn't you know it, today a very nice UPS man handed me a package from Adam. A man I don't know and have never met. Inside was my wallet; complete with my driver's license, credit cards, and cash. Adam had even taken the time to write a nice note about how he had found it on the street and kept an eye out for me Saturday. Oh, and he really hoped I still managed to have a good time.

I mean, really? I left him a voicemail and a nice email (Subject: I think I love you), and committed to paying it forward. He wrote back saying he was happy to help and thought the world could really use a little more paying it forward. And threw in a little "Have a great life, Jo!". So now that Adam and I agree on this whole pay it forward thing, I'm asking you to help us out. I'm committing to doing something nice and random for a stranger in the coming week. Can you help me and do the same? Because Adam Soles is my hero, and we should all be a little like him. Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tolerations - Part II

(if you haven't read Tolerations - Part I, I suggest you start there...)

"You're selling my ring on CraigsList?!". 
"What? How'd you..." he replies
"I want you out of my house. You have twenty-four hours"

And that was it. I returned back to my place on Sunday. It felt weird. He'd taken the pictures off the wall. The tv was missing. One closet was empty. But, all-in-all, the strangest thing was the fact that everything pretty much looked the same. Other than the tv and clothes, he didn't really have that much stuff. We'd been living together for years, but with his departure it was strange that our (my) place didn't actually look that different. It was like we'd been living in my house with all my stuff and he'd just been stopping through.

But it was quiet. Really quiet. I couldn't remember being in the house alone. He was a student and most of his friends were actually husbands and boyfriends of my friends (you'd have thought that would be a red flag, right?). So he was always home. I used to daydream about a whole day at home to myself. I guess now I had it.

Night fell and I was anxious. All of this had transpired in merely eight days. Eight days ago there was a mere five weeks until I was getting married on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Eight days ago we had plans to return from our honeymoon in the Caribbean then wait a year before trying to get pregnant. The vision I had for my life going forward was now completely fuzzy. I couldn't stop replaying everything in my mind. I still had absolutely no answers for why this was happening or what he was feeling. I thought back to what I had learned from logging in to his email account.

I remembered something that would change everything. An old email account. It was the one he had used when we first met; the one he'd email me from when he was out to sea. He didn't use it anymore. But something in me caused me to turn on the computer.

I tried his password. I knew it well. I'd spent years helping him with whatever he needed. Applying to college - first to the local community college, and later to a four-year state university in town (where he ultimately opted to get a degree and, later, a job in my same profession). Filling out financial aid forms and emailing about VA assistance. I'd done his taxes one year when he was out to sea. These were the things I did believing in our future. So, there was no surprise when the password worked.

There they were. Emails detailing how much he loved her. Emails about where they were going to live. I was going to be sick. Again. I mean, really, how many times am I going to have to throw up over this? I was devastated. I called my best friend, barely able to breathe. It was too much for her too, so she handed me to her husband who graciously talked me down from the ledge. I didn't know it, but this would mark the beginning of our own separate and distinct friendship. My devastation turned to pure fury, and my auditor's instincts kicked in. I pulled up our cell phone bill. Her number was easily identified. It was 11:00 PM. My heart pounding, I dialed. She answered. I'd clearly woken her up.

"Hi, I'm so sorry to bother you. This is S's sister. He gave me this number for emergencies and isn't picking up his phone. I need to reach him. Is he there?"

I don't think she actually said anything. But I could hear them talking. He was right next to her. If she was sleeping, that meant he was sleeping right next to her. I wanted to be sick again. He answers.

"I just wanted you to know that I know."

I hung up. There wasn't anything more to say. He called my cell phone. He called the house. Over and over. I think he may have left a message, but I don't know what it said. The next hour is a blur. I accessed any and every online account he had. Email. School. Credit cards. I changed all the passwords to f*cky0u. When I hit his personal bank account, I transferred all his money to a joint account so I could cash it out in the morning. I left him $100.

The next day was Monday.  It was morning and I was the bank parking lot waiting for them to open so I could close our joint account, or at least take out all the money that I transferred from his personal account. I'm keen to leave him with nothing if possible. It wouldn't be hard. There wasn't that much to take, even when I'd been picking up most of the tab for years. He was a student and I'd figured it was a down payment on future earnings.

It was a major bank, but it was definitely the closest branch to our house and where we would always go. So I shouldn't have been surprised when he pulled up. And he was pissed. "$100?! You were going to leave me with $100?!". We're actually still screaming at each other as the bank unlocks the door. And still exchanging "pleasantries" as we're standing next to each other at the teller's window. She must have thought we were insane. "$100 is all you're worth! Why don't you have your girlfriend pick up the tab like I always do? She can pay your way now". This poor teller. "How can I help you?".

He knew me well enough to figure out I might try to completely screw him. He knew I wasn't a wall flower. So he'd checked his account and called the bank when he couldn't access it. He'd managed to get his money back. He wanted his passwords too. I said he could have them back if he came by the house and brought the engagement ring. He showed up a few hours later. I had enlisted my best friend's husband to be there for moral support and general backup. He had become one of S's closest friends. I've never forgotten how he told S that he and his wife were my friends, and they were not to be contacted in the future. He stuck up for me in a way that was so meaningful to me. S and I sat down to discuss the password situation, and he returned the ring. I'd drawn up a contract for him to pay $8,500 over four years interest-free. It would go to my parents for money they'd given us for the wedding. After some coaxing, he signed. I'm sure guilt was knawing hard at that point. That plus a $5,000 ring seemed as good as it was going to get. I viewed everything as a sunk cost at that point. I didn't want to bother squabbling over it. I told him I never wanted to see him again. And, you know what? I never did.

He used to email a lot. He wrote me a letter once and left it on my doorstep while I was in Hawaii staying with my aunt and uncle trying to piece myself back together. He emailed for years. When I'd move states, he'd always manage to find out and try to connect. We spoke once on the phone maybe two years later. He'd had a DUI and it was showing up on my auto insurance records. I'd called asking him to fix it. We'd covered the business stuff and hung up. He called back wanting to talk; to apologize. I told him I'd forgiven him long ago, and that it had been a long time since I spent much time thinking about it.

For years I've been carting around the bits and pieces left from our relationship and planned nuptials. I didn't think I was moving them from house to house for any reason. Periodically I'd post the dresses online to try to sell them. When I didn't get any bites, I'd just let them continue to sit in the back of the closet. I figured I'd deal with it another time. But there's no doubt that every time I'd run across these things they were a reminder. Even in the back of the closet, you couldn't miss a wedding dress. They're the only dresses that allow a grown woman to wear something with such a big-ass skirt and not be completely mock-able. I couldn't have hid it if I tried.

This past month has been about connecting with myself, even if I didn't realize it when I started out. It's about making room in my life for new experiences and new people; about opening myself up; finding things I've been carrying around and trying to lighten the load. So the dresses, the rings, and everything else needed to go. And now they're gone. The dresses and unused stationary all went to the Salvation Army. The one-carat princess cut diamond is at the jeweler being reset into a pendant. I set aside some photos and letters to serve as a reminder that the relationship did exist, and it wasn't all bad. They've gone in a box with pictures from other past relationships and from my childhood. They'll sit between yearbooks and softball trophies. And they'll just be memories, tucked away for the future.

This collection of items, almost by definition, were big "tolerations". After waiting all those years to just drop the dresses off somewhere, I was fascinated by how it was such an easy act, and how relieved and light I felt driving away - leaving that part of me behind. I felt the same way about my visit to the jeweler. It was exciting. I hadn't realized that I'd been expending energy tolerating their presence in my home.

I'm making room - and not just in the closet. Within me. To make myself ready for the next big thing, whatever that may be. So, in two posts, those were my tolerations...what are yours? Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tolerations - Part I

When I was planning for my time off I'd made a list of a few things that I wanted to try to knock off the to-do list. You know those things that you've been "meaning" to do for ages? Yeah, I know you do. You've probably thought of five in the time you've read these first few sentences. They're not even things that take very long. Maybe even minutes. But you just never quite get around to it. I've been trying to tackle them when I need some time away from being introspective or when trying to listen to my head vs. my heart is making me feel completely schizophrenic.

When I was interviewing life coaches, one of them talked about clearing out "tolerations" before delving into trying to work on an area of focus or moving towards a goal. So, what's a toleration? I found a pretty good description on another life coach's website (Donna Schilder).

"We all have unpleasant conditions in our lives that cause us stress.  We may try to ignore these situations, but they still affect us.  If the condition could be eliminated, it is called a toleration...It’s the rug that you trip over every day on the way out the door, the room you cringe as you walk by because it needs to be painted, the nail biting habit you know you should stop, but just don’t."

Sound familiar? The life coach I interviewed had given me an example of a guy who every morning would take a shower and his sprinklers would kick on blasting him with cold water. He had been tolerating this morning ritual for months and couldn't do much to explain why he hadn't taken the three minutes to change the sprinkler timer. Now, of course, hearing this story makes him sound like an idiot. But, honestly, I totally get it!

According to Donna's website, other examples of tolerations include:
  • A desk stacked with paper
  • A co-worker who spends all day complaining
  • Limited trunk space in your car because it’s filled with miscellaneous gear
  • Not exercising when you know you should
The key seems to be that it's a stressor that could be eliminated. These aren't things that you don't care about. They're things that eat up your time, money, or mental energy - perhaps without you even realizing it.

But enough background. Let me tell you a little bit about one of my more interesting tolerations. I have lived in four states in five years. So I've moved a lot of boxes. I've cleared stuff out every time I move to try to minimize the amount of crap that moves with me. But I have a few items that always take up way too much space in the spare closet.
  • One box of stationary, consisting of thank-you notes, spare invitations, and completed response cards
  • Five photo albums, each missing random photos throughout
  • A scrapbook of a trip through California from 2003
  • Two matching bridesmaid dresses; size 8 and 12
  • One wedding dress
  • One engagement ring
  • One wedding ring
So, this is a bit of a long story, but I promise it's a pretty good one. It's going to take me two posts to tell you about it.

Several years ago my boyfriend at the time asked me to marry him. We had been together for about three years and were living together. It wasn't a perfect relationship; I'd wished he was more affectionate and open, and wanted him to communicate more. But we were incredibly compatible. We loved to do the same things, made each other laugh hysterically, and were never bored together. We were a great match in so many ways, even if I didn't even feel like he only saw me when he looked from across the room. When he proposed, I took it as a sign of the validation of his love that I had been looking for. So I said yes on the balcony of a rooftop restaurant overlooking downtown San Diego (where we were living).  There were the requisite tears and applause from the other restaurant patrons who witnessed the proposal.

And so we dove into planning. We set a date for about a year out and set off to execute the monumental list of tasks that a wedding of 120 people requires. Life went on during our planning; I was working long hours and our time together centered around conversations about seating assignments and what to put on the invitation when the bride doesn't speak to her father but doesn't feel right about being "given away" by her step-father either.

About five weeks before the wedding date was due to arrive we were discussing getting the marriage license on the phone while I was travelling for work. Something wasn't feeling right and I said I thought we should wait to talk about it until I got home the next day. I came home that Friday night. To say that things were strange when I got home is an understatement. I knew something was wrong the second I walked in the door. I changed and came downstairs to ask what was wrong. After a few "nothings" he mumbled, barely audible, "I can't do it". Initially I'm processing this thinking "he can't do what? Laundry? Walk the dog?". But he wasn't talking about the laundry. After a seriously strained back and forth and me vomiting in the bathtub I had very few answers. All I knew was that he wasn't sure what he wanted to do and was having second thoughts.

We waited a few painful days and headed off to see the world's shittiest therapist. After the therapist visit it was clear we wouldn't be visiting her again, but also clear that the wedding needed to be called off. I was angry and told him he was responsible for dismantling the event, but I was also concerned about him since he couldn't articulate what was wrong. In between fits of tears I called his family to tell them what was happening and asking them to reach out and take care of him since I couldn't do it. I didn't want to kick him out (I owned the place we were living), especially since our status was still unclear in my mind, so I went to stay a couple miles away at my parent's house while they were away in Europe. I continued to ask him if he wanted to break up. If this meant things were over or if this was just about the wedding. But all he could muster was "I don't know". I was starting to become frustrated and a bit suspicious. So I checked his email account to see if I could find anything about what was going on.

He had posted my engagement ring on Craigslist. He was selling it. Without a word. Without any indication he didn't want to move forward. It was definitely over.

And I was going to kick the living shit out of him...