Excavating

“Oh my gosh, I love Sarah McLachlan!” you hear your 19-year-old self say from somewhere deep within your 35-year-old body. “I’d love to be your date! Thanks for inviting me.”

Fast forward. The house lights are dimmed. You’re seated close enough to Sarah McLachlan that the definition in her triceps as she plays the piano is making you think about doing planks when you get home. You’re expecting this show, which she’s performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center, to be a night of throwback nineties nostalgia. (Silence, haters. I see “cool” shows sometimes, too.)

Hold on. Hold on to yourself. This is gonna hurt like hell.

All things considered, you’re doing well and feeling pretty light and airy these days. But, to your surprise, what looked to be a fun date on the surface becomes, three songs in, a private excavation of buried grief.

You’d neglected to remember that Sarah McLachlan writes about lost love laced with gratitude, acceptance and well wishes, which are themes that parallel the path of you and your former husband. Sure, some aspect of this music once spoke to you as a teen, but it hits you dead-on at 35.

Nevertheless, there’s a hand on your knee. It belongs to a smart, handsome man you’ve been seeing.* He’s fun. He’s clever, generous and chivalrous. A bespoke investment banker with higher ed street cred that both inspires and kinda annoys you. He’s one of those people with an insane bandwidth for both doing the demanding work he does and finding spare time to write screenplays, cook like a chef and do improv. Which makes you feel kinda dumb because you know you’ve never had that kind of bandwidth. He obviously doesn’t have kids, though. Duh. Your friends know him by the moniker “Gucci Loafers.”

“Are you sure he’s not a lesbian?” your co-worker asks the day of the show.

Not likely. But he’s complex. And maybe worthy of your attention. However, a few bars into “I Will Remember You,” you’re zooming to the center of your heart and staring at the ceiling to stop the tears from coming. You know all the words and yet it is as if you’re hearing them for the very first time.

You elect not to create a detailed grid of all the lyrics and the emotional response they trigger (you’re welcome, haters) but let’s just say you spend some time eyeballing the ceiling to ward off tears, holding your sniffles till the applause, laughing inappropriately and turning your head to the side to hide your far-flung facial expressions from Gucci Loafers. You basically look like a crazy person.

This is not at all what I expected out of the evening, you think, accepting the situation and chuckling to yourself as tears pool in your eyes, I guess I needed to feel a few things?

Sidebar: What becoming a single, working mom really looks like sometimes

Moving through a transition as massive as this one is odd. You know it’s big, and yet you just keep putting one foot in front of the other—sometimes walking, but mostly running, eyes up—because it seems like that’s what you have to do. It’s harder to slow down and breathe deep than it is to keep a fast pace.

You go to work at your new job, you probably try too hard, you attempt to build co-worker relationships and navigate office dynamics, you hold it together, you hold it in, you dive into time with the kids when you have it, you try your darnedest to cook and do housework when you don’t, you scrounge for time to exercise, you try to keep up with dog walks and dog hair, you call your lifelines in heavy tears when you fail at all of it. You use your newfound kid-free weekends to make up for lost time with girlfriends and you date around, you work your ass off to stay grounded and keep it all together. Even when you pause to meditate at night, it doesn’t matter how long you sit in physical stillness because you barely ever slow your mind down enough to actually check in and ask yourself, “Sweetheart, what are you feeling?”

So when Sarah McLachlan is singing your precise story, and you can’t turn the station, it gets real.

You suddenly know what Roberta Flack was talking about

After the show, you write a long email to your former husband:

“It was like she was singing about all my own heartache and grief and love for you as we part ways as husband and wife. I literally found myself streaming secret tears during certain songs. Could not get my abiding appreciation for you, nor the deeper sense of loss, though it’s the right path, out of my heart. It hit a deep, deep nerve in a really cool, if not hilariously inappropriate, place (on a date with someone who probably didn’t pick up on the fact that I was totally engrossed in my grieving rather than the fact he was treating me to a nice concert.)

…On listening…tonight…it reminded me so much of how deep and sad and pure and beautiful this all is. And how, even in sadness and grief, we are both so supported by God, the masters, our guides, angels and each other.”

This email opens up an exchange between you and your former partner that you previously couldn’t have imagined. You show him your true vulnerability, the sense of loss you feel and the hope you have for the future. You let him know it’s not all rainbows for you right now, even though you made it look like it was. You honor the love that was always there and still is and always will be. You both exchange the equivalent of a monumentally awesome e-hug.

The next day your eyes are swollen from all the feeling of things and crying, so you work from home. Feeling this stuff is hard work in and of itself. And, for whatever reason, it was Sarah McLachlan who made you do it. It wasn’t a cool show by hip-guy standards, but it was one of the most important shows you’ll see this year. When you do go back to work the following day, the haters make fun of you. And you laugh really hard. Because it’s funny. Really. It is.

*Epilogue:

It’s been over a month since the concert. It was a legit turning point for you in your grieving process, and you still have a way to go, but you’re soaring higher than you were when you originally drafted this blog post, which was the day after the concert. (it takes you longer to actually post stuff now that you’re a working girl.)

You haven’t seen Gucci Loafers since the show and, because you love tales of irony, here’s why: You’d suspected it for a while, but following the concert of Madame Lilith Fair Founder, conversations in the black car—it was always a black car—on the way home confirm his patriarchal (and potentially misogynistic?) leanings. Hilarious, right?

Fitting daintily within the patriarchy was fun for a minute, but it’s not really your scene, so you fade out. “Well, at least until Tori Amos goes on tour and he calls you with tickets,” your co-worker chides you over lunch, making you almost choke on your food.

You don’t hear from Gucci Loafers much after that, either, so you figure he saw something equally glaring and repulsive in you during that conversation. In other words, you probably won’t be crying about him at your next girl power concert. And he’s not crying over you.

You wish him general wellbeing and expansion, and you’re thankful to him. After all, he facilitated your all-important excavation and the subsequent connection with your former partner, freeing you to move to the next level of healing. Gucci Loafers also taught you, as dating does, a few things you know you want in a man at some point, and a few things you know you don’t. And, single lady friends, that is some valuable information…

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New life

I’m pointing headfirst toward the bottom of a 45-degree incline. In other months, this is our local sledding hill, but today the slope is lush with grass and warm earth, which is getting stuck beneath my fingernails.

Six small hands grip my ankles, hoisting my legs in the air behind me. “Go, wheelbarrow! Faster!” a pack of kids cheers. And, so, I go. Down the hill, one hand at a time, giggling while maintaining a feeble plank pose as three kids, one of whom is Charlie, gleefully wheelbarrow me toward the bottom. Just for kicks.

Soon, I’m laughing so hard I’ve lost my breath. “C’mon, Mommy!” my own kids yell. I feel Kip remove my shoes and tear away with them, laughing ecstatically, saying, “I’ve got your shooooooooes, Mommy. Twy to catch meeeee!” As I laugh and clumsily traverse my hands down the sledding hill at their egging, I note that every aspect of my being is in deep, deep joy.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way.

For the past year, at least, I’ve been climbing a hill so steep, so craggy and so fraught that despite my best affirmations for clarity, joy and lightness of being, I just couldn’t get there. (Click here for veiled references to this. And here, and especially here. ) My joy was half-joy at best. And my lightness of being? Nonexistent.

So the euphoria of wheel barrowing down a hill on the last day of school, which I took off work to spend at a park with the boys and a ton of their classmates, is not fleeting or trivial. It is a milestone. It is pure. It is real. It is relief. It is a new beginning. It is a miracle.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtube_gdata_player&v=63QPunDIxqA

New way of being

I’ve felt inclined to keep it off the internets till now, but there is a reason why the hill has been so steep. Why it feels so good to be moving downhill again, why I went back to work full-time, why I haven’t posted in months and why this moment of unadulterated joy feels so significant…

My husband and I separated this past spring. As we explained it to the kids nearly three months ago, we love each other and we love them, but we decided to get “unmarried.” (sounds less harsh than “divorce.”)

This decision was not plucked. It took many, many months, perhaps even years. We ultimately underwent Katherine Woodward Thomas’ Conscious Uncoupling process (like Gwyneth), and today, after treading through much anguish, grief, reconciliation and redemption, all of which still surfaces in waves, we live in separate homes, share equal time with the kids, have family dinners, take vacations together and openly discuss surreal things like Tinder dates and financial strategy.

There’s no easy way or finger to point to explain why we decided to end our marriage. Most days, there’s no blame, wrongdoing or bitterness. Both of us feel devastated in our own ways at times, but no one feels wronged. As marriage and uncoupling are too complicated to untangle publicly, I won’t. The hard truth is that I love this man with my purest heart, and he holds me in a similar regard but, quite simply, it became clear that our souls were calling us to begin our relationship anew. We emerged from the pain, suffering and hard, hard work of discernment with a new, very intentional way of being: devoted soul-friends and co-parents.

The phoenix process

“During times of transition, amid everyday stress, and even when we face seemingly insurmountable adversity, life offers us a choice: to turn away from change or to embrace it; to shut down or to be broken open and transformed.”

– Elizabeth Lesser

In her book Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser reveals the theory that to evolve and transform, we sometimes must be broken open and endure what she calls the “phoenix process,” which involves the fire of transformation from which we rise completely changed and somehow more opulent than before.

It took one hell of a journey through the fires of transformation to get to where we are now. Apart from the emotional discovery aspect, Brian and I had to get a lot of things in place before we moved into this new way of being—my securing gainful employment that felt good to my soul and met my material needs, the solidfying of our financial strategy and his finding a new place to live nearby, all in ways that honored our own spirits, the love that is our foundation and the wellbeing of our boys.

Uncoupling can be a long, slow, intentional, excruciating process, one I would not wish upon anyone, and yet the transformational magnitude of which I would hope for everyone. It involves much crying and gnashing of teeth, but from the fire rises a phoenix. In our case, two of them, and hopefully four, once the kids complete their own phoenix processes, through which we are committed to assuring them of our steadfast love and God’s.

Vacationing in my old life

I’m not a stay-at-home mom anymore. I work full-time for strong, caring, inspired people I’m growing to adore, doing work I love. It’s a totally new life and it can be as demanding as it is gratifying. I have no idea how to cook for myself or my kids or find my way through the dog hair on my living room floor on some days, and yet sometimes, I feel guilty that I enjoy this new working-girl life as much as I do. Which is why taking advantage of a slow week to immerse myself in the kids’ last day of school felt like a vacation into old, comfy, familiar grooves of my recent former life.

After I fall out of wheelbarrow and we all land in the grass like puppies, the kids end up together in a grove of pine trees and I rest in the shade. Other moms mill around or plop in the grass near me, little girls stop by to throw their arms around my neck for quick hugs, there are scraped knees and makeshift rope swings.

“What are you guys working on?” I ask the kids, who are collaborating like bees, with great purpose.

“Oh, we’re collecting sap to make glue,” Max says. “We’re going to sell it to the glue factory.”

“And we’re gonna be rich!” Charlie adds. “Oh! Guys! I found a ton of sap up here! Quick! Somebody pass me a pinecone!”

Six first graders and one five-year-old Kip bustle around collecting pinecones and coating them in sap from the upper branches of the pine tree. There’s tapping of twigs against tree trunks, faux drilling and branch bending. It reminds me of the kind of play we did as kids—totally unstructured and improvisational, full of outrageous ideas that seem totally feasible and promise ultimate triumph. Play with a vision.

“We’re going to sell all the sap to the glue factory, use the money to buy a couple other companies that make us even more money and we’ll become so rich that we all go live in a mansion!” Charlie tells me superfast on the drive home.

“What will you guys have at your mansion, buddy?” I ask.

“Machine guns! And a pool.”

I laugh. The audacity of it all! The innocence! The joy. It’s back again. I text Brian: “So happy I’m with the boys today. I hope you’re having a great morning!”

Pure joy.

With any luck, at least until my next adventures in being broken open again, because it’s rarely just a once-in-a-lifetime thing, after all, the joy will stick around for a while. At the very least, it’s deeper than it ever was before. At long last.

The looks of love

By the looks of things on social media, the love was flowing this Valentine’s Day. And, to my delight, Love (let’s capitalize it, shall we?) looked different for everyone.

It wasn’t just flowers, a hot date or a perfect marriage on display. As seen on Instagram and Facebook, which have been known to dampen one’s enthusiasm about one’s own life on occasion but valiantly took the high road yesterday, Love included kids, pets, lovers, friends, parents, grandparents, sports, self and more. I was struck by the outpouring of self-love, friend-love and love of what is, whatever that was. At least in my feeds, I didn’t see a single person lamenting Valentine’s Day, regardless of their lot in Love. But I saw a whole lot of nurturing of varying kinds.

I have more than a couple friends who kicked it alone, and relished it, more power to ‘em. Others partied. Others worked. Others traveled. Others cuddled up with partners, kids and/or dogs. One friend unexpectedly ended up apart from her loved ones and surmised that God was her Valentine this year. “If you want to come over for a glass of wine,” she invited. “God and I will be here just hanging out. We’d love to have you.”

I’m a girl who loves quirky twists as much as I love Love itself, so seeing my friends stake their own claims on a day filled with all kinds of weird expectations kinda ruled.

For me, Love included a yoga class and long shower, pretty flowers from Brian and pink buttercream, sincere conversations and hugs, Thai takeout and family snuggles. After dark, as I drifted to sleep way too early with my arms around two boys who dampened my chest with drool, I thought, This doesn’t look like a traditional mass-market, gender-normative Valentine’s Day, but it’s kinda perfect.

It was a major scene at the store Friday. Kip wanted to pick out some jewelry for me. Charlie wanted to as well. I politely refused. They raised hell. "I just want to get my mommy someping as beautiful as she is, ok?!" Kip cried. "Wet me just pick someping beautiful out for you!" It was loud. I almost cried, too. He selected this bedazzling bracelet and Charlie chose the earrings and necklace. "The two little owls are me and Kip," he said. "And the big owl is you. You can wear these and think of us, all together."

It was a major scene at the store Friday. Kip wanted to pick out some jewelry for me. Charlie wanted to as well. I politely refused. They raised hell. “I just want to get my mommy someping as beautiful as she is, ok?!” Kip cried. “Wet me just pick someping beautiful out for you!” It was loud. I almost cried, too. I pointed him to the clearance rack. He selected some glittery Halloween earrings and this bedazzling bracelet and Charlie chose the earrings and necklace. “The two little owls are me and Kip,” he said. “And the big owl is you. You can wear these and think of us, all together.”

The scene of the sweetest Valentine's Day party ever, at the home of my pal, Lyz, who has found favor in heaven for welcoming five extra boys and their mamas into her very pretty house and arming them with frosting and sprinkles.

The scene of the sweetest Valentine’s Day party ever, at the home of my pal, Lyz, who has found favor in heaven for welcoming five extra boys and their mamas into her very pretty house and arming them with frosting and sprinkles.

We did a little family cupcake decorating.

We did a little family cupcake decorating on the big day. As you can see, Quinn men take their cupcakes very seriously.

No such thing as too many toppings.

No such thing as too many toppings.

Pat yourself on the back

It’s January, the month when everything that fell under the soft, twinkly haze of the holidays is cast in the glaring light of the New Year, and acting all prickly. I’ve spoken with more than a handful of friends who are having a tough week, mostly regarding work, specifically, so I think it’s time to unveil Charlie’s latest invention: The back-patting machine.

Maybe what we all need no matter our career lot is a little encouragement right now, so here goes… You’re awesome.  Don’t waste any more energy doubting yourself. Whatever it is, it doesn’t define you. Listen, learn and do your thing. Be you. Get some rest. Take good care of yourself. Because you’re darn good at providing care, and only the best will do for you. Have some fun today. Fun is good for you. You are good. So good. Everything is going to fall into place. You can do it, no matter what “it” is. You got it goin’ on. Love yourself. I love you. You’re awesome.

Now go ahead and pat yourself on the back, you magnificent thing, you.

This is a Boy Scout (note the neckerchief) wearing a helmet with a robotic arm, the sole purpose of which is to pat your back. Well done!

This is a Boy Scout (note the neckerchief) wearing a helmet with a robotic arm, the sole purpose of which is to pat your back. I say well done! (pencil sketch by Charlie.)

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 2: Context-free excerpts from my Vancouver 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 2 in a series of journal excerpts from the long weekend away. 

Watching water lap against smooth rocks at Deep Cove.

Watching water lap against smooth boulders at Deep Cove.

Day 2 –midmorning, Vancouver

As Amin and I drove to the trailhead at Deep Cove for a hike this morning, convertible top down and coats zipped, I looked up into the sky, where unusual November sun filtered through the cedars. That mountain road, those sun-laced trees and the easy silence as Amin drove had us both feeling such peace.

In the next moment, Kylie Minogue came on Amin’s ipod and, though he rushed to find a better song for our reverie, I stopped him because, well, it was a remix. We commenced car dancing. And laughing.

We were headed for the trees. The glorious, sky-high cedars and firs who’ve lived longer than my great-great-greatest grandparent. We crossed the Capilano Suspension bridge and went way high up into their canopy.

About to cross the Capilano Suspension bridge.

About to cross the Capilano Suspension bridge.

The oldest trees, I learned, their bark is thick enough to withstand a forest fire. We hiked over their roots, which cover the ground in a squiggly pattern of wood emerging from dirt, and unlike most other hiking trails I’ve ever walked, our feet made no sound when treading. Not like the crunch-crunch-crunch of decomposed granite. Soft, deep, dark, needle-paved earth. I could almost feel the forest around me saying, “We got you, Emily. We got you.”

magical rainforest

To quote Robert Louis Stevenson: “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”

The peace of nature was interrupted by the squawking of a large group of tourists, presumably a big, extended family taking an adventure in the woods. At the top of the trail, on a rock outcropping overlooking Deep Cove, Vancouver and the Pacific, five twentysomethings from the group cackled and screeched loudly as they sat overlooking a scene that, to me, inspired reverence and reflection. And silence. But they didn’t stop talking the entire time Amin and I sat there. All I could do was laugh. And I laughed so hard. Here I was in the mountains to recharge and revel in their stillness and the everpresent soundtrack is the high-pitched, uneven cadence of valley girl Chinese.

Amin atop the peak of the Deep Cove trail.

Amin atop the peak of the Deep Cove trail.

Earlier in the hike, shortly after passing a sign informing us of bridgework being done, we heard the sounds of indie rock echoing from a creek bed. Moments later, we approached five young Carhartt-clad forestry guys sawing and hammering a new passageway across the stream, rocking out to Liz Phair. We looked at each other and laughed. Between the loud tourists and the blaring boombox, it was all paradox.

And then there was the angry bearded gentleman cursing at his toy 4×4 truck as he hoisted it off the ground with one hand, clutching a remote control in his other. “Fuck!” he yelled at his truck. Perhaps it had tipped over? Not weathered the terrain as he’d hoped? “Go ahead.” He growled and moved out of the way for us to pass.

“This is not the experience I had planned for you,” Amin said apologetically.

“No, it’s perfect!” I said, and I meant it. Because a.) I was with an amazing friend, b.) the richest experiences, they are almost always layered, and c.) it reminded me not to be attached to my own ideas of what something should be, but to accept what is. Perfect.

After our hike, a stint relaxing on the banks of Deep Cove and a few bites of a honey maple donut (aw, yeah), we drove back into the city to eat a late lunch at Japadog—Hot Doug’s Asian cousin—where various types of sausages are slathered in Japanese-style toppings like seaweed, teriyaki, yakisoba and bonito flakes. My fries were drizzled in a shoyu-butter sauce. I was so very, very in my element.

Yay, Terimayo!

Me. In my element. This is the Terimayo, y’all.

Full and happy, we came home, Amin worked quietly in his office and I fell asleep on their couch to the tick-tick-ticking of his keyboard, blanketed in the setting sun, a lush throw and the sheen off English Bay.

Good thing I got a nap because Amin capped our blissful day with sushi at Kingyo Izakaya and tickets to Flashdance the musical that night. Totally spoiled.

Good thing I got a nap because Amin capped our blissful day in the outdoors with sushi at Kingyo Izakaya and tickets to Flashdance the musical that night. Totally spoiled. And how ’bout that outstanding photobomb in the background?! Thumbs up to you, too, friend.

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.