As I flew home at the ass crack of dawn hungover (or maybe still slightly drunk) after a quick business trip to Kansas City last month, I fought back tears as lyrics to a Dave Matthew’s song I’d heard countless times before suddenly committed treason on my unsuspecting heart. I’m really not sure what it is about flying that makes me so nostalgic, but every time I’ve boarded a plane since February 12, 2014, there’s a wistfulness in me that is palpable. Perhaps it’s the countless possibilities a trip can bring, or some weird anxiety about crashing that masks itself as a longing. But if I break out the microscope and really examine it (wasn’t I DONE with science after my failed dating experiment ?? A Little Genghis Khan (Part 2): Quasi-Empirical Evidence that, well, Boys are Dumb ), I think in its most basic form, it’s the prospect of disappearing and getting to start my life over. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life, and I love the person I’ve become in spite of, and more so because of, every single roadblock I’ve faced. But sometimes, I really just want a fucking mulligan.
Four years ago, I boarded that plane to the west coast to meet “Devyn”, someone I had “grown very fond of” after meeting on social media. That day, and that trip, are forever etched in my memory. I can remember taxiing down the runway with U2’s “Beautiful Day” playing on my iTunes, excited I was finally getting to meet him after many months of being modern day pen pals. I can picture how the sky looked that morning, recall what I was wearing, even see in my mind the last messages we exchanged right before I switched my phone off for what my gut said could be a life-changing trip. But no matter how hard I’ve tried the last few years, what I have been unable to recreate in my mind is the hope that was bursting inside me that day. Before that brisk February morning, I had never felt so strongly that the world was mine to conquer – my proverbial oyster. But on that day, I had never felt freer, and beyond content both in the woman I was and the even more kick-ass one I hoped to become. To be clear, while I wouldn’t fly across country just for any random boy, Devyn was merely the catalyst for the trip; that voyage was all about about letting go, starting over, allowing myself to dream again, and finding a way to truly live the amazing, inspired life I craved.
I’ve spent countless moments since that fateful trip trying to figure out how to successfully accomplish those goals without going bankrupt, morally or otherwise, and have gone through as many trials as tears shed in that process. So as I sat on my flight back from Kansas City a few weeks ago, a month or so away from a birthday which would put me closer to 50 than 40 (when the fuck did THAT happen), my station in life was even more of a focus. Professionally, I’m finally starting to recover from leaving my old career behind and things are definitely moving in a positive direction. And while I still have a complete douche nozzle for an (almost) ex-husband, I’ve made peace with the fact that it will be a life-long job to continually be undoing whatever damage is being done to my daughters by having to co-parent with him. I’ve also come to understand that as the mother of an intellectually disabled and behaviorally-challenged child, my life is ALWAYS going to be unpredictable and is never, EVER going to be easy. And while I’m fairly certain that I’m not destined for some mind-blowing, life-altering romantic relationship, I haven’t given up on finding that entirely (yet). So as Dave sang on about parking lot attendants and Bel Air millionaires, I pondered: if I had a time machine and could go back and change anything about my life, would I? And what would it be?
I started off easy – I would not have smoked for 20 years. While I am (as far as I know) perfectly healthy and don’t have unsightly smoker’s wrinkles (yet), the fear of ending up with cancer and leaving my girls without a mom is sometimes crippling. Not in a narcissistic way, but in a “they are really fucking cool kids and I desperately want to see how they turn out” way. But then I remember that had I not smoked, I would not have been outside the day a close friend walked by and approached me about a new job. (Of course, she could have just emailed me later that afternoon, but that sort of steals my fated thunder so I’m sticking with it; call it poetic license). That “new job” was 13 years ago and it unequivocally led to my developing an expertise in my field which was crucial in landing my current job three years ago. It also brought some amazing people into my life who I can’t imagine not knowing. So….maybe I’d just have smoked less.
Something I wish I HAD done was taken my grandmother up on offers to cook with her. She was a phenomenal cook and I miss her meals something fierce, but with this damn gluten intolerance, I couldn’t eat half of them now regardless. Though knowing her, she’d probably just curse at me in Italian and tell me to eat them anyway. But to have learned from her would not only have given me a solid foundation upon which to perhaps explore my own culinary concoctions, sans gluten of course, it would have left me with even more childhood memories to look back on with joy.
This might be cheating a bit on the mulligan concept since it’s not quite a do over, but again, I’m the one writing this so…whatever. I’d like to learn more. I don’t regret going to law school; any education is invaluable regardless of what field it’s in (or how little you liked if after invaluably spending $100k on it). But I’d like to learn different things. I’d love to learn a 4th language. I wish I knew more about history. And politics. And gardening. And macrame. OK, the macrame was a joke, but you get my point. As smart as I consider myself (and I’m not the only one who thinks that, so it’s not an ego thing), I have a thirst for knowledge that never seems quenched – much like my libido, apparently. And there are definitely not enough hours in the day to learn all the things I desire and still keep a job. Or maybe there are and I just haven’t figured out how to do it efficiently whilst not getting fired. Or maybe I just haven’t found that magical clock yet. And that leads us to the next stop on the mulligan time machine dial and the true impetus for this post.
Until pretty recently, I often felt like a spectator at life, never able to figure out how to squeeze every minute out of every day. And I envied anybody who could and was doing just that. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a dreamer, and I have an ever-growing list of things I’d like to do “one day.” But “one day” just kept getting pushed farther and farther ahead on my timeline, which would be fine if I had been using my time to do other “one day” things on that list. But typically, the tasks I chose to tackle weren’t exactly carpe-ing the diem. Sure, spending half the day perusing xHamster was fantastic fun (that’s pornography, for those of who may have accidentally stumbled on this blog searching for ACTUAL catechisms). But I could just as easily have done some yoga, gone out exploring with my camera, organized some shit around my house and only taken 15 minutes getting myself off instead of 2 hours, since for the most part, the result is the same anyway. But I’ve come to realize my poor time management (and resulting tardiness to almost everything I do) is only partly to blame for my inability to wring every drop of life out of every day. I was raised by a woman who was very similar. I’m not talking about the marathon masturbation; I’m fairly sure (HOPE!) that’s not even remotely genetic. I’m referring to her lack of a “life juicer.” I love my mother beyond measure, but she spent most of her adult life without a hobby or true passion for anything. As an example, she loves to shop, and has a truly great sense of interior design. But instead of trying her hand at house staging or taking an interior design class, she buys expensive pillows for her luxury sofa in her very nicely decorated house (more like museum) against which she props herself while watching the Hallmark channel all day, no doubt hatching another ingenious plan for Kat’s Future Ex-Husband #3 since the S&M Escort to Old Balls Moneybags one didn’t exactly pan out. (Who said a little BDSM never hurt anybody? )
So it’s no surprise I grew up believing things like shopping and watching marathon TV must be fulfilling because she always seemed happy. (Though at least with masturbation, there’s an endorphin rush so it makes it SLIGHTLY less pathetic than binging on Oprah reruns). So I too spent years buying things I didn’t need (and often couldn’t really afford) and when I was done shopping, I watched the NBC Thursday line up like it was my religion. Years passed and when I finally became a mom, I yearned to give my girls every experience I could. And as I started doing more and more things for and with them, I began to realize that it was my mother’s insecurity and fear of failure, and not life satisfaction that stopped her from trying new things, from stepping out of her comfort zone. And I decided a few years ago that was a family tradition I was not willing to continue with my girls.
This, my friends, is all part of my Life Juicing Plan. I decided a few years ago to no longer wait for things to fall into place before being spurred into action to take the next step. I don’t care (that much) about failure anymore; I push myself out of my comfort zone as much and as often as possible. And it’s been beyond liberating. Evident from the existence of this blog alone, I no longer struggle with the fears my mom faced. No matter how many scantily clad photos of me there are out there on the interwebs, making my writing public was by far the most revealing thing I have ever done. It’s been a little over a year since I posted my first blog entry and I can still remember the anxiety as I hit the “publish” button for the first time. I was petrified of what people would think, not just of my writing, but of me: the truly exposed me that I had only shared glimpses of before. That it was well-received was a huge relief, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t have a similar panic each and every time I publish a new post. While my girls are obviously not old enough to read any of the things I’ve written, they know that their mom writes creatively and hopes one day to be able to do it full time. My girls also know that I chase them around with a camera, and then tell them not to look while I capture “candid” images that will cover our walls and hopefully one day theirs as they have families of their own. They also have watched me edit photos and know I sometimes use my own pictures to accompany posts on this site. (Ok, that was just a shameless yet clever way to say that’s my pic up top, which I sort of forgot I took until I sat down to write this post and I think it kind of works perfectly). But all of this is something I would never have done 6 years ago.
As more evidence, I’ve stopped waiting for a travel partner to explore new places. Now that I’m getting back on my feet financially, I’m trying to get away when I can, my recent trip to D.C. a good example. There’s something incredibly freeing about navigating a new city alone – from photographing whatever catches my eye to eating in one of the busiest restaurants on a Saturday night by myself. My mother would never have done that. In fact, every time I tell her I’m venturing off somewhere, she almost panics as if it’s her trip, not mine, and she’ll be the one following walking directions around an unfamiliar city through her earbuds or trying to find gluten-free pancakes for breakfast.
I’ve also stopped waiting to have enough money to decorate my house. It may seem silly, but if you knew how many of those “one day” plans were house-related (or how frighteningly indecisive about those things I am), you’d appreciate just how huge a deal this is for me. So instead of ripping out pictures from magazines of things I might be able to buy if I robbed a bank (or god forbid, caved and went for Mr. Old Balls Moneybags), I now head to the nearest thrift store armed with design ideas saved from a gazillion google searches and get to upcycling. I decided sometime last year that I wanted a kitchen command center – you know, one of those desk-type contraptions where you can store your laptop, bills, and your kids’ endless school papers as well as a chore calendar and your shopping list, mostly all of it hidden very neatly behind closed cabinet doors and in drawers. I dreamed of having such an organizational mecca in my home so I did my homework and it seemed most were built-in cabinetry to the tune of thousands of dollars I surely didn’t have. Or MDF crap that would fall apart in a few months. Those were not options obviously. And anyone who knows me knows once I decide I want something, I’m relentless until it’s mine. (That’s not limited to thrift store furniture, as some may know better than others.) So after searching for a month or so, I bought a kids’ desk for forty bucks. Three months (and hours of scouring stores) later, I found a hutch that sort of matched the desk for $35, and with a few cans of chalk paint, a hand-saw and some radiator grates, I had made my very own custom kitchen command center. AND it cost me less than $200.
(It’s not totally finished – I still need hardware and some accessories, but you get the idea).
My mother would’ve spent the thousands and then sat back against her fancy pillows, scheming how to fix me up with the owner of the custom cabinetry company, who is “very handsome and might be getting divorced.” When I initially told her my plan for the desk, she didn’t hide her skepticism very well. But she did seem genuinely impressed by the artsy, craftier side of me when she finally saw the finished product.
I could keep going but some of the things I’m working on are still in the early stages. And others are just frankly not for public consumption. But suffice it to say that I’m continually working on me, trying to use the time I do have to do the things that make me happy and do them as often as possible. So as I touched down in Philly that morning, a tad tattered after the emotionally-charged introspection, I realized the reason I’ve struggled to find that hope from 4 years ago is because, well, it never really left. It just changed. And so did I. My priorities back then were different: I was living my life in triage mode, just trying to deal with whatever shitstorm life threw my way without losing what was left of me in the process. Now that I’ve had a few years to reflect, I realize I am an even better version of the me I had hoped to become that fateful day. I’m living my life on my terms, embracing who I am and conquering the world one blog post or rehabbed furniture piece or broken heart at a time.