Just swimming in metaphors

You are suddenly a mermaid. Swathed in cloudy turquoise light, you dive down, down, down toward sand and tiny threads of seaweed growing from the bottom. Soaring through the water, for a second you are almost certain you are part-woman, part fish.

Ripples in the sand, not a creature in sight. Surrounded by unbreathable faded blue, this Atlantean water feels familiar, like you know it. You feel like you could stay there forever, making waves of your body beneath the waves of the ocean, bright yellow fins propelling you along the sand you’re grazing with your chest.

No one is watching you, no one knows where you are. You remember hearing about bull sharks in this area. You haven’t speared any fish, and you’re not particularly afraid, so you’re not high on a shark’s radar, but the fact that you can’t even see two feet in front of you does make you a little uneasy. They say the sharks in your mind are scarier than the real thing.

You turn over, do a quick 360 scan for dorsal fins and recline into your favorite place in the world—on your back, in the ocean, submerged in water, breathing air, staring at the sky, your body rolling with the waves. Your feet rise, then fall, gently, so gently. The water raises and releases your knees, your hips, chest, head and eventually your arms, the swell at last lifting your fingertips and setting them softly back down where they were. And the next swell comes. And another. And the clouds are beautiful. And you are certain there’s no more mystical place to be than in between earth and sky, buoyed by the sea, which you equate with God or Spirit, all by yourself, and somehow nowhere near lonely.

At the same time, it’s hard being alone sometimes. As a single, working mom, that is. You’re thinking about it a lot on this trip, which you’ve been anticipating for two years. One of your best friends curated her best friends for a birthday trip to her parents’ home in the Bahamas, and these women are awesome in all kinds of ways—funny, graceful, powerful, kind, running companies, raising families, blazing trail, nailing it in general. They each delight in their respective marriages and you’re very aware—because of you, not because of them, and no more clearly than when they wrest you away from the dashing Southern sportsman you all call “Marky Mark” at the bar because it’s just time to go home—that you are unaffiliated.

They jokingly wish that the guy, provided it’s a guy, who owns the ridiculous yacht in Baker’s Bay (Podium, if you’re curious), whoever he is, will find and fall in love with you. That, or a fun, kind, open, spiritually evolved, sexy, athletic hedge fund owner who likes you and your kids. In other words, a unicorn. You well up about the sense of aloneness at dinner one night, and one of the girls says very clearly and directly: “This is just one moment in time in your life.”

Right. It’s easy to forget. This transition you’re in, it won’t last forever. You’ve just got to move through it.

You can’t help spotting the metaphor in the opaque sea around you, and tying it to this broader moment in time. You’ve been swimming in “unknown waters” with limited visibility for a while now. Not ideal conditions. You wish it were clear, like some of your dives off the Ambar III in the Sea of Cortez, or like the deep blue off the coast of Kona. You want to see in front of you and behind you and beneath you. When you dive down, you want to behold something wondrous and to reach for it. But here you are in a cloudy, unknown corner of the ocean. You have no idea what could be swimming—or not—around you and you are not entirely sure where you’re heading.

It feels a little nerve wracking, this not knowing what surrounds and awaits you. And yet you don’t get out of the water. You heave a deep breath, pop your snorkel out of your mouth and go down, fin tips the last to disappear beneath the surface, dolphin kicking, clearing your mask and ears, to the sandy bottom, which you cannot see until the very moment you touch it.

That’s what this season of your life must be about. Diving, going, trusting, moving forward fast and hopeful into unknown waters to see what’s there, open to whatever you find. (But you think it might be nice to come across that unicorn…)

Eventually you do come back to shore, the setting sun shining a light so magical you can’t believe it. Stepping out of the hazy turquoise breaking on the beach, a mermaid transformed, you look down to see your skin appears golden. It actually looks gold in this light. And although you don’t have anything figured out, and you don’t feel any lighter, wiser or more secure than when you entered the water, in this moment in time, you know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Slathered in sun and saltwater, glowing and unknowing.

Note: This is just one tale from your visit to the Bahamas, a mere snippet of a broader four-day experience, which involved all sorts of succulence you embraced with abandon. Lobster salad, island hopping, fast boats, strolls through quaint towns, conch fritters and cold rose, meditation under infinite stars, dance parties, conversations with awesome women, yacht gawking, rum punch, daily solo SUP-ing, the world’s most generous hosts, private air travel, delightful new acquaintances, swimming, paddling, laughing, reading, writing, eating. A beautiful journey. You are ready to return immediately. Still, the ocean brings stuff up for you, and even amid all the wonderment, shit gets real, so that’s what you write about.

 

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Part 3: Vancouver trip journal. The Chief.

I had the chance to get away in November. I’m still posting from my travel journal. Following is Part 3 in a series of  excerpts from the long weekend away. Let’s begin with the scene on the drive up into the mountains…

The Stawamus Chief

Almost to the top of the second peak of Stawamus Chief Mountain, the trail goes from rocky staircase to vertical granite. This mountain, which rises 700 meters (2,297 feet) above Howe Sound in Squamish, B.C., is known for its climber-dotted granite dome. Hikers, however, have the option of summiting three different peaks, which they reach by way of rugged trails, endless steps fashioned into the mountainside, metal ladders hammered upon rock faces and chains fastened along steep granite slabs.

The trailhead

The trailhead.

It’s been a long time since I scaled a mountain and, led full steam ahead by the aerobic god that is Gary, my breath is heavy and my heart beats hard. Gary has just returned from two weeks on business in India. I first see him the day before with Amin in the Granville Island Public Market, in between a spice stall and an Italian deli, where he appears with Amin out of nowhere and wraps his arms around me in a way you might embrace the person most, most dear to you after many moons apart. Despite extreme jet lag, he is exuberant with joy and warmth and I can feel his embrace throughout my heart. Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of Gary’s affection understands this feeling—it’s just who Gary is. His very cells are made of love and fortitude, sealed by soulfulness.

Homemade clamato and bacon as bloody mary garnish. Cuz, like, yum.

Homemade clamato and bacon as bloody mary garnish. Cuz, like, yum.

Sipping bloody marys laced with homemade clamato over brunch, I marvel at the beauty of what he and Amin share. They are delighted to be reunited after two weeks and I get to bask in their sweet reconnection. And also in their collective eye candy-ness.

Just try to tell me they're not delicious.

Just try to tell me they’re not delicious.

Gary is more aesthetically gorgeous than even the last time I saw him a couple months ago. He always is. His eyes are bright blue, his hair a lunar shade of silver and even after 24+ hours of travel, he looks fresh and full of energy as ever—it’s no wonder he was pulled over on the streets of New York to model for Esquire magazine. Gary is bright with the kind of good stuff that can change your mood, your mindset, your day, maybe your life.

And now he’s got me huffing and puffing my way up a mountain. It’s the kind of demanding physical work that banishes every thought from your mind except one: Keep going. I settle into a rhythmic pace of climbing, lifting myself up one foot placement at a time. My consciousness drifts from high-level self-analytics and fixes on the basics. I literally cannot think of anything but the pleasurable burning of my muscles; the breath going in and out of my lungs; the blood pumping in and out of my heart like magic and the earth, rock and wood beneath my feet with each step. I’m out of my head and reveling in my own life force.

Lotta granite, long way up.

Stopping to catch my breath, lotta granite, long way up.

When the stairmaster of rock steps abates, Gary gives me the lead. I’m excited at the prospect of going first up the mountain, no visible human in front of me, as though I’m the first explorer to pass through this terrain. Soon, though, it goes from invigorating to daunting.

“You guys?” I call back to Amin and Gary, who must sense how much I’m relishing the space around me because they’ve dropped back a ways. “Um, I don’t see the trail. Where is the trail? From here it looks like the only way to go is to jump off this cliff…”

“No, no,” Gary assuages, chuckling. “Just keep going. You’ll see the trail. It’s there.”

This was probably not the safest photograph I've ever taken. Thankfully I didn't wipe out on ma bike.

This was probably not the safest photograph I’ve ever taken. Thankfully I didn’t wipe out on ma bike in Stanley Park.

The day before, Gary wordlessly led us off the paved oceanfront bike path and up a long, tall street—my quads begging for mercy—that led to God knows where, presumably somewhere in Stanley Park. Suddenly we came to a secret winter garden encircled by evergreen guardians, where we paused to rest. No humans in sight. Just a pond, some birds, frosty reeds, the surrounding forest and the three of us on our bikes. There was no sound but our breathing and the seaplane that flew overhead. Total stillness. I had no idea where we were, but Gary and Amin led us through darkening needle-strewn paths back to the sea wall just in time to watch the sunset over English Bay and continue our ride past a grown-up playground with rings on which we all had to stop and swing.

Good, clean fun.

Good, clean fun. (scroll down to see how one is supposed to look while swinging on rings.)

Back to the Chief, honest to goodness, it looks like there’s no place to go. The rock outcropping curves around, the chains end and dense trees wait on the other side of what looks to be a certain drop off. Where is the path? I look around for another way up, but there’s nothing. Surely no direction to go but backward.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Gary calls, watching me hoist myself atop the rock ledge and tread, so confused, a couple steps forward. “Do you see it now?”

I don’t see it. But I take a precarious step forward anyway. And another. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a flat plane of rock appears at the curve of the granite’s edge, a natural, though previously invisible, pathway just a couple steps from a trail marker and a short pine-needle path to more chains and a crevasse. My brain shifts back into a cerebral space just long enough for me to spot a metaphor.

Do you spot the metaphor here? (this is what happens when I stop moving and rest.)

Do you spot the metaphor in this picture? Almost to peak two of The Chief.

I can’t see the path. I fear it’s not there. I feel confused, despondent and worried about all the ways I’ve effed up to end up in this seeming dead end. All I want to do is turn around and not be so close to the edge of certain-death drop-off.

But I am here. I can’t turn back without being super disappointed. Others have gone this way before me and not crashed to their death, so I know it must be possible. There is a way forward. I just need to have faith. I just need to take another step.

At least on the trail to peak two of Stawamus Chief Mountain, not only does a path reveal itself, but it comes with chains to assist in the tricky ascent.

“Maybe life can be like that, too?” I say to myself, half-wondering, half-praying.

Almost there! Just don't throw rocks at the people, mmkay?

Almost there! Just please don’t throw rocks at the people…

I pull up through the smooth granite crevasse and hear the sounds of laughter and top-of-the-mountain chatter just ahead.

As we crest the summit, I’m flooded with the kind of reverence and wonder Mother Nature routinely gifts.

View from peak two.

View from peak two. Wonderment.

Gazing around at the vastness of this range, the sea and the sky, I sense new faith sprouting. “Thank you,” I say silently…to God, to Amin and Gary, to myself, to Brian, to my body and to Spirit in general. All is well. Everything is going to be ok. The path will show up. Just have faith and keep going.

Happy little hiker

Happy little hiker atop the second peak of the Stawamus Chief.

Amin and Gary make their descent.

Amin and Gary begin their descent.

I realize what I LOOKED like as I was getting ready to swing, but this is what I FELT like once I got going. This is my intrepid college friend, Kim, on the traveling rings in Santa Monica. In addition to being one of the most globally strong people I know, she has a new comedy series coming out. Would you help her out by liking her on FB and/or subscribing to her YouTube channel? https://www.facebook.com/foxandbing https://www.youtube.com/user/foxandbing

Part 1 – Context-free excerpts from my Vancouver trip journal

I had the chance to get away in November. Getting away is good for everyone, and I really needed it. My rock-solid friends, Amin and Gary, invited me to stay with them in Vancouver. And they gave me the grand tour. Food, hiking, biking, strolling, arts, cooking, shopping and exploring. We didn’t slow down but to sleep at night, and it was a magnificent gift. Following is Part 1 in a series of journal excerpts from the long weekend away. 

Aboriginal totem pole awesomeness in Stanley Park.

Aboriginal totem pole awesomeness in Stanley Park.

Day 1. Midday on the West Coast. Lifting off the ground in Seattle, going up, up, up, the land spreads out beneath this tiny propeller plane into which I’m buckled, as if it would matter. Evergreen trees are everywhere. Enormous snow-capped mountains spike in the distance. It’s been so long since I’ve seen mountains. And, looking upon the green expanse of this coffee-grunge-granola-technology Mecca, the soundtrack in my head is na-na-na-na. na-na-na-na-na-na. (the theme from Singles, natch. Second favorite movie of my teenage years. Stealing Beauty was first. Laugh at me now.) I’m on my way to Vancouver, British Columbia, and into the arms of my friends, Amin and Gary.

Gary (left) didn't arrive in town from India until Saturday, so Amin (right) and I got some one-on-one time. Here, the three of us prepare to board the ferry from Granville Island back to Beach, where they live.

Gary (left) didn’t arrive until Saturday, so Amin (right), who’s clearly in the light, and I got some magical one-on-one time. Here, the three of us prepare to board the ferry from Granville Island back to Beach, where they live.

Day 2. Early morning in Vancouver. The sky is gradually brightening out my floor-to-ceiling window and, from where I’m propped in this perfect, fluffy guestroom bed, I see the outline of the mountains slowly appearing against the sky. Vancouver is still mostly quiet.

This was my room in Vancouver. Look at all that down fluffiness! I could not have been any happier.

This was my room in Vancouver. Look at all that down fluffiness! I could not have been any happier.

I just meditated for nearly 45 minutes, which is rare for a mom of two who sleeps till the last possible moment before heaving out of bed to get the kids ready for school. Oh, how I adore the fact that, right now, I’m in a 24th floor palace of peace staring at mountains, twinkling city lights and Vancouver Bay, no one expecting me to do anything or be anywhere any time soon.

Room with a view. English Bay.

Room with a view. English Bay.

Inexplicably, I feel amazing, although I drank a strong cocktail and proceeded to eat so, so much Indian food at Vij’s that I couldn’t even finish off the most exquisite thing I may have ever put in my mouth: A masterfully seared lamb lollipop caramelized on the outside, only to reveal tender pink perfection to the tooth, all finished with a thick, homey sauce of spiced tomatoes, cream and magic.

This was a tough decision. Cardamon Sidecar won out.

This was a tough decision. Cardamon Sidecar won.

Before dinner, Amin and I split a bottle of red while talking at his kitchen counter. I stood, he sat and we conversed from either side of his pristine granite island, sipping, sharing and laughing till we couldn’t breathe. What is it about kitchen counters? We stand around them for almost everything. Someone comes for tea; we perch on stools in my kitchen. There’s a sensitive story to tell; come on back to the kitchen. Charlie has homework; he does it in the kitchen. One kid has a meltdown; it starts in the kitchen. Parties congregate in the kitchen. The best smells in the house originate in the kitchen. A difficult conversation, it almost always unfolds in the kitchen.

Is this anyone else's dream home? I pinched myself that this is where I got to nest for the weekend.

Is this anyone else’s dream home? I pinched myself that this is where I got to nest for the weekend. Gary and Amin got style.

Brian and I have been standing in the kitchen a lot lately. We’re connecting at a deeper, more authentic, more vulnerable level than in any year prior to this one, and a lot of it has happened in the kitchen. I’m grateful we have a kitchen because where else would we stand and talk and troubleshoot and sort and explain and ask and tell and share and hug and cry and laugh and make sense of things and make plans and feel all of it and be ok, if not better, afterward?

There’s the living room couch, I suppose. But couches feel so serious. If you’re asked to sit down so you can talk, it’s about to get real. The couch is for cutting to the chase. Couch conversations end with huge hugs, if you’re lucky, and swollen eyes either way. I prefer kitchens.

This trip was plotted so I could refortify. Gain some space from everyday life, get out into nature and somehow relight my pilot light. Amin’s kitchen counter was just the place to start.

This snap was from a couple nights later, when Gary was home from his business trip, but this counter proved to be the scene of much long-forgotten bubbliness.

This snap was from a couple nights later, when Gary was home from India, but this counter proved to be the scene of much bubbling over.

Amin is a sociology professor and author of an acclaimed book, There Goes the Gayborhood?, for which he interviewed Brian and me years ago. It was our first meeting. We felt like we knew each other the moment we met and, in years since, we’ve grown close. He has a deliciously raucous past and a rich present, the balance of which make him ecumenical in word, thought and deed, erstwhile emotionally unattached to the words, thoughts and deeds of others. He has a lush inner life, a gorgeous way of seeing the world, a cunning sense of humor, intuitive knowing to beat the band, a cellular awareness of Spirit, killer dance moves, washboard abs and a fine talent for mixology.

I mean, really. This guy calls me "Energy Star" because he is an abundatntly gracious nickname genie. Here, he might be saying, "Nothing but shaken and chilled tequila will do for Energy Star, okaaay."

I mean, really. This guy calls me “Energy Star” because he is an abundantly gracious nickname genie. And he chills tequila in a martini shaker because he says room temp simply will not do for Energy Star.

Being with Amin is equal parts stimulating, relaxing, playful, easy and fun. We might jump—as we did while driving from his office at University of British Columbia to downtown Vancouver with his convertible top down in 40-degree temps because the sun was setting, the sky was huge, the air smelled like eucalyptus and he wanted me to take it all in—from discussing gender normative behaviors to cranking up dance club remixes and from geeking out about poutine to asking for each other’s insight on recent psychic visions. In the span of five minutes, we might cover 86 topics, and then linger a while longer on an entirely different topic before jumping to and from endless thought lily pads all over again.

Already, following an evening of eucalyptus air, beautiful food, awesome conversation, deep sleep and a sense of total acceptance, I can feel my bones draining of their heaviness, my heart relishing its new lightness, my personality remembering its playfulness. Vancouver medicine. Friend medicine. Oh, travel, I’ve missed you.

Sun, evergreens and the purest air I'd breathed in ages.

Sun, evergreens and the purest air I’d breathed in ages. It honest-to-goodness smells of eucalyptus. My favorite.