My Great Grandfather, the Deputy Bird Commissioner

For my father Victor, who passed away 18 years ago today. It seems to me he was very much like his grandfather, interested in and adept at so many things. He is missed still.

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Vittorio Ruggeri 

Until recently, I thought I was unique in my family for my interest in birds. Of my 7 siblings, not one of them influenced me in this area. Nor did my parents. And while we kids spent plenty of time outdoors – mostly swimming and fishing at the Elm Street Pier, which was about 200 yards from our house – we were no nature nerds. There were no field guides to anything lying around.

As it turns out though, my paternal great grandfather, Vittorio Ruggeri, held the title of Deputy Bird Commissioner of Newport County in the early 1900’s. I learned this by way of an email my mother sent me in September of last year. I was on vacation when she sent it, distracted and doing birdy things (of course), so other than an “Oh cool!” moment, I promptly forgot about it.

But back in January, when 2018 was declared the Year of the Bird, I remembered. Year of the Bird is a collaborative campaign by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s purpose is to celebrate birds and the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treat Act. 

When this Year of the Bird thing began, I intended to write more about birds, and the history of the MBTA, and of Vittorio’s time as Deputy Bird Commissioner. But in addition to lacking confidence – I am a competent birder, but no expert – I’ve also never been a good student of history. In fact, the only class I ever failed was a US history class. It was badly taught, with no life breathed into it. It was presented as a chronology of events that I felt no connection to it.

But my curiosity about my bisnonno, and his direct connection this particular history, held my attention, and compelled me to dig.

A quick Google search helped me find his name in the State of Rhode Island’s Treasurer’s Reports from three years, 1912-1914. He may have done this in other years, but I was unable to find more reports from other periods.

 

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From the 1912 Report, October wages

Prior to 1918 (when the MBTA became federal law), it was up to individual states to regulate the hunting of migratory birds. For Rhode Island, this lead to the creation of the Commisioners of Birds by the General Assembly in 1899. The Commissioners were a group of specially trained game wardens, one for each of the 5 counties in the state. An article on the RI DEM website states that:

Their duties were to enforce the laws relating to birds, game, and other animals. In the past, town officials inadequately enforced these laws. This newly established commission appointed paid deputies who worked on a part time basis, as well as unpaid deputies, who received money for their services by collecting one-half the fines after convictions.

But while state level efforts like these helped, they weren’t enough to repair the damage done to North American bird populations. By the early 1900’s, a century of unregulated hunting by humans had taken a devastating toll on our birds. Great Auks, Labrador Ducks, Passenger Pigeons, Carolina Parakeets, and Heath Hens were hunted to extinction. And we came close to losing many others to the “plume trade,” which supplied feathers to milliners in New York and London.

Feathered hats were all the rage in the late 1800’s, until a boycott – started by two influential Boston socialites – helped bring national attention to the issue. The boycott became a nationwide movement when these two women, Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall, started the first chapter of what would eventually be know as the National Audubon Society.

Other states followed suit with their own organizations. The mounting pressure of public campaigns by these groups led to stricter hunting laws at the state level. But these state laws, like the ones my great grandfather helped enforce, simply weren’t enough to repair a century of damage, and so the development of federal legislation went underway.

First, there was the Lacey Act of 1900, which was the first federal law ever written to protect wildlife. When this wasn’t enough, the Weeks-McLean Act of 1913 was passed with stricter regulations, but was soon found to be unconstitutional by two district courts. Despite their failings, both of these acts were important precursors to The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which has held firmly (mostly) in place for 100 years.

***

When it comes to knowing any specifics about Vittorio’s work as a Deputy Bird Commissioner, I have very little to go on. He died in 1950, 23 years before I was born. My own father, Victor, passed away in 2000, and his only remaining sibling (he had 6 sisters and 3 brothers) died last June. If there is anyone else left alive with any memories of Vittorio, I would be very surprised.

But the State of RI Annual Report of the Commissioners of Birds from 1913 details what their duties were. It states that commissioners made arrests, gave fines, and seized illegally poached game. He must have done some, or maybe all of these things, in the years he gave to this position. The report also reveals that the job had its share of drama and excitement:

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img_0392Most of what we know about my bisnonno is in his obituary. He was a renaissance man. In addition to his work protecting birds, he was also a metal-smith, and an expert locksmith, and was known as the “locksmith for The Avenue” (Bellevue) here in Newport. He was often called on by the local police to assist in burglary investigations. He was also an opera singer who sang in the Naples Opera House, before emigrating from Italy to the US, in 1900. He played the drums. And he was a keeper at the Elm Street Pier – the same pier where my siblings and I spent our summers fishing and swimming, decades after he passed away.

I wish I knew what it meant to him to be a Deputy Bird Commissioner. I wonder if he img_0388loved birds and nature, the way I do. I realize that it may have just been a way to make an extra dollar in the gig economy of earlier times. I am not one to romanticize these things. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the years he spent watching after birds imprinted somewhere on his DNA, and ended up in mine.

Regardless of his motivations, seeing his name in those reports makes me proud. It gives context and texture and a personal connection to the history of a law that has, for a hundred years now, protected the birds that I love so dearly.

More birds, less pain,

xo-L

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Don’t Hesitate

“The love in whose presence we stand must also inhabit us.” -Daphne Rose Kingma

5 years ago, on Valentines Day, I published a blog post titled “Row”, about my niece Melissa’s excitement for the new man in her life, and my reaction to it. The title refers to Mary Oliver’s poem “West Wind #2”, which urges the reader to always “row” towards love, even if we sense “the embattlement” ahead.

15378_10203501783681721_864596546241764038_n-001I’ve been thinking a lot about my niece – and that post – lately, because in just a few weeks from now, she is getting married to that man from 5 years ago.

I’ve been thinking too about how weddings are happy but complicated affairs. They are a delicate balancing act for the two about to wed, between their own desires, and the expectations of all who love them. As much as we all buy into the “it’s your day!” idea, weddings stir the emotions of everyone involved. The movie version of this allows us two feelings: joy for the couple, and just a bit of sadness for those who have passed on and are missing the big day. But of course real life is more complicated than that.

How we feel about weddings – whether it be joyful, sad, nostalgic, surly, or some combination thereof –  is a reflection of our own experiences and associations with the institution. For those who are blessed with good partners, weddings inspire hope and happiness. But for those of us who are cynical about love, they become a spotlight – one of those bright, unflattering interrogation lights actually – on all the ways love has failed us, or how we’ve failed in love.

***

My niece has been the picture of calm while planning this very low-key, casual destination wedding, and it has impressed me to no end. She has stayed true to what she and Mark desire – a casual beach wedding in Puerto Rico – without placing any pressure on anyone, for anything.

She and Mark have shown a deep and relentless consideration for the friends and business owners in Isabela who will be part of their big day. Plans were made long before the devastating 2017 hurricane season, and they made absolutely sure that our presence there would be a blessing, not a burden. The consensus among the locals was to bring our business – that it would only help them.

They have vacationed in Isabela a number of times, and have made lasting friendships with locals. They have grown to love the beaches, the people, the food and the culture – I can’t wait to love it too. I know I will, and it will probably hold a special place in my heart after this, the way my niece always has, since the first time I held her when I was 10, and she was tiny.

***

I have felt deeply ashamed that I haven’t been able to feel a whole lot of happiness for her until recently. My 2013 surliness seems downright adorable to what I’m wrestling with now. 2017 brought with it yet another failed relationship (that I now refer to as “The Long Con”) and left me more battle weary than I’d like to admit. There is still shrapnel everywhere.

The shame I felt was all about the love I have for my niece, and not just how I “should” be happy for her, but because I desperately wanted to be. At some point late last year, I realized the advantage and blessing of that “interrogation light,” and shone it all around inside my heart and head looking for joy, like it was an attic full of dusty boxes. It was there, but I couldn’t get to it without clearing some things out of the way first.

Back in December, my dearest friend of 20 years, Michelle (who is also a wedding guest) saw me struggling to wrap my head around the trip to Puerto Rico. She knew I was freezing up, so she just went ahead and booked the trip for us, making sure that I was seated between her, and her husband on the flights. Which is pretty much a guaranteed 6 hour mix of exasperation and laughter. And Xanax. And booze.

I’m still not sure I deserve that sort of kindness. But then any unluckiness I’ve had in love in the past decade is so often tempered by my absurdly good fortune in the friendship department. Not that I’m keeping score LIFE but I totally am.

I am able to, more each day, feel a clearer happiness for my niece. I’ve watched her grow up, and grow through so much. She is thoughtful and kind, and brings those qualities to everything she does, this wedding included. I’ve seen her learn how to care less about all the small stuff, and how to take care of herself in a way that I could probably stand to learn from. I am continually impressed by her strength, her good heart, and her humor – though I harbor some resentment about that last detail. She really needs to stop being funnier than me.

I don’t want anything to keep me from taking part this joyful day with her, and Mark, and all the other people who love them as much as I do.  I may be still be wrestling with my own cynicism about love, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see it, or feel it, and so much of it, in all its forms. It is worth celebrating, worth digging up joy for.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

–Mary Oliver

More Love, Less Pain,

xo-L

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year of the Bird

IMG-7955I have good news people: 2018 is the Year of the Bird! This year, all year, National Geographic, The Audubon Society, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Life International (and over 100 other organizations) are joining forces to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Throughout 2018, they will shine a spotlight on the 10,000 species of birds on our planet. The goal is to raise consciousness about them through a year of stories covering scientific research, conservation efforts, and the natural histories of birds from around the world. And they will share ways for all of us to help.

I knew this was coming, this campaign by these giants in the publishing and conservation worlds. I heard about it last month, but I didn’t get really excited until my sweet friend Michaela dropped off the January issue of National Geographic on my stoop, just before the new year. And since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how great this whole Year of the Bird thing is.

I also keep thinking of how I decided to throw myself deeper into birding last year, to help heal my broken (yet again) heart. Birds have always been a panacea for this, for me. So I woke early to seek out rarities. I went on trips, and on group outings where I met other birders, who are honestly some of the nicest people. I read a lot of books and articles and blogs about birds. I took a 6 week bird biology class at our local Audubon chapter. I learned about falconry, and had the thrill of briefly flying a Harris’ Hawk at New England Falconry in Vermont. I watched a half a million Tree Swallows swarm and dance in the sky over the Connecticut River, something I wrote about here, and will never forget.

2017 was my year of the bird. And I plan to take this into 2018, right alongside the YOTB campaign.

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Happiness

I keep thinking about this blog too, and of my writing. I’ve been writing since my teens, but until I started this blog 7 years ago, it was limited to  personal journals, letter writing, and an occasional essay gifted to friends. It was just something I enjoyed doing – a hobby, I guess – with no greater goal in mind.

The blog came about as a way to challenge myself and my writing. I figured if I liked writing so much, why not do a little something more with it? I guessed that the pressure of an audience would help me hone my skills, which it did, and continues to do so. It was a little terrifying at first, but the casual nature of this being a blog, and a personal one to boot, helped temper that pressure. It has allowed me to play with my writing while laughing and crying – or laughing ‘till crying, with my teeny-tiny-but-oh-so loyal audience.

I’ve never had any aspirations of making Eat Thru The Pain anything more than it is.  I’ve always seen it as a way to stay vulnerable and connected to you all, which is good because I kind of suck sometimes at doing so in real time. In real life. As you know. 

But if I’m honest, I get tired of hearing myself think, let alone trying to filter those thoughts into yet another Eat Thru The Pain post about yet another breakup. Blech. So, in order to keep myself writing, with something of a challenge to it, I’ve decided to write more about birds on the blog this year, and less about myself.

I won’t change the name to “Bird Thru The Pain” just yet, but it’s on the table.

I’ll shoot for a once a month bird post. I may write a personal one here & there too. Some of the bird posts may be infused with the personal, some may simply be informational. I’m not entirely sure how it will evolve.

I do promise to keep in mind that you all don’t share the same enthusiasm I do – but my hope is to spark some in you. And I hope that what you take away from my little bird musings is an understanding of the importance of preserving their place in our world.

Plus, writing will force me to learn more, and there is always so much more to learn about birds, and nature, and about how we can save this precious planet we call home.

I’m also doing this simply because I want to be part of the party! This bird-nerd is so totally pumped to see the avian world getting so much press!

I just got up out of my seat as I was writing this because I heard a Northern Cardinal outside. There’s two on the power lines in front of my house. During this dreadful cold snap we are having, they are fine, they’ve been through worse ones. Looking at them, I realized that the fact that some humans have deemed this their year means nothing to them. But I hope it eventually means something to their survival. And I want to contribute my small part of that here, in this tiny bloggy-corner of the internet.

More food birds, less pain,

xo-L

 

 

 

 

All the way around again

IMG-7869This past year, I discovered the joys of coffee in bed on my weekend mornings. In fact I started this blog post during my last coffee in bed session of 2017. It feels luxurious and lazy – two things I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of being, which assuages any Yankee guilt I feel about the chores that await. In the personal and political chaos of 2017, I’m grateful for this new ritual. I use the time to read, write, or just watch the damn (albeit cute) House Sparrows in the privet outside.  

I think I like doing this so much because I had one of those years where I had to catch my breath over and over again. Probably not unlike yours, maybe worse in some ways, maybe better in others. I am now six months out from a breakup that should have been simple, but complicated my life in ways I could not have foreseen. It dredged up every last fear I have about trusting people, but I am working on it, and moving on. Then, in November, a dear friend parted this earth way too soon, leaving me – and so many people I love dearly – aching, and stunned.

With the year closing out, I am, like many of you, looking back, taking stock, and counting blessings.

Gratitude is a practice that is based in comparison. It may seem a morbid thing to do, but when things go badly, it helps to remind ourselves how much worse it could have been. It can work like the switch on a flashlight, forcing us to shine a light on our relative good luck. Sheryl Sandberg calls it the “gratitude for what’s left”, and it can offer perspective when things seem too much to bear.

I have done this, and I know my year could have been worse, and I am truly grateful for what is left.

The worst part of this year was watching people use this concept to dismiss each other’s experiences. I got a small dose of this in my personal life, but more so when I paid attention to the news. The term “snowflake” was flung around far too much. The lack of empathy was heart wrenching to witness.

In the best case scenario, people want to convince you that things weren’t really “that bad” or “could have been worse”, out of love, because they genuinely want us to be happy. In the worst case, it’s because our suffering is an affront to their happiness, or a threat to their fantasies about this country. 

But perspective and gratitude don’t make pain disappear – they are more like dressings for our wounds, not a miraculous tincture that seals them up. Healing takes so much more than that – like empathy, self-care, and time.

I know the whole gratitude thing can seem like some cult-ish fad, or a pollyannaish thing to do. I’m not saying it cures all, and I certainly don’t want to oversimplify. I speak from my own experience though, and how it helped me heal from a panic disorder 7 years ago.

I took up a practice of gratitude back then, alongside therapy, exercise, meditation, and yes, some Xanax too. If I’m honest, writing a list of things I was grateful for seemed silly, and no match for a disorder that felt like it might literally kill me at times. I was overwhelmed by bitterness about the factors that brought on the disorder, and felt grateful for nothing, but I was willing to try. 

So I started with the basics – like sidewalks. I walked 4-6 miles a day back then, because it was the only time I felt some reprieve from my racing heart and mind. Sidewalks made that safer, and easier, so, on the list it went. It took a few weeks, but I eventually realized that taking stock of the basics made sense, and was a good starting point. Over time, it helped chip away at the lies that anxiety tells, and it gave me real ground to stand on while I continued the work that eventually lead to recovery.

My point being: I have experienced the power of its practice. But I sometimes forget. I sometimes fumble around in the darkness, especially in years like 2017. And even though January 1st is an arbitrary date that holds no significance in astronomy or nature, I find the symbolism a new year difficult to resist. And what’s wrong anyhow, with taking time to reflect on what has transpired? Or with moving forward with hope and well wishes in our hearts, for ourselves and everyone around us?

And while I’ve shared this quote before, in another New Years’ post I think, I’ll share it again because it says it better than I can:

“…onward full-tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another–that is surely the basic instinct…Crying out: High tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson

And then I’ll just leave you with one more thing – something a dear friend sent me on Saturday, while I was enjoying my second-to-last coffee in bed of 2017. This is the same friend who I spent last Christmas with while her world fell apart, and she too had a rough year, but is doing much better. It was so thoughtful of her, and so perfectly timed. 

If I have learned anything this year, it is that I won’t ever be ready for what life throws at me.
I won’t have the right words when it counts;
I won’t know what to choose when fate itself is staring at me down.
But now I know I don’t always need to have the right answer.

I’ve learned I can go on waiting for something,
sustained by hope and nothing more — or I can put it aside and shrug my shoulders.
Bravely accept the fact that I can’t keep my heart safe anymore than I can stop love from taking everything from me.

I have learned to stop saying yes when I don’t mean it — to live as authentically as I know how.
To allow the tips of my fingers to skirt the darkness, as long as I remember to keep my eyes fixed on the light.
And as one door opens and another closes, I will move forward with the knowledge that unlike so many others, I have another year ahead of me — another shot at making it all the way around the sun,
And a chance to get it right this time round.

-Lang Leav

I’m grateful we all have another “shot at making it all the way around the sun”, and wish you all love and peace in the year ahead.

More food, less pain,
xo-L

Connecticut River Tree Swallows

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Goose Island. Waiting for the birds.

Early Monday evening I boarded the River Quest, a 64’ catamaran at Eagles Landing in East Haddam, CT. The purpose of the cruise was to watch a large flock of Tree Swallows descend onto Goose Island at sunset, where they roost overnight. For a few weeks every late summer and into early fall, the swallows gather here, near the mouth of the Connecticut River, as they ready for their migration south.

This behavior is known as “staging.” The swallows choose this particular spot for a variety of reasons, such as the ample food source of flying insects (they dine on the wing), which they load up on before their long flight. Another reason is for the protection from predation that Goose Island provides. It is dense with Phragmites, an invasive marsh reed, making it nearly impossible for predators to approach from anywhere but above.

It is not completely understood why they join forces in these massive communal roosts, but it is likely for the safety in numbers. And the numbers are impressive. Estimates vary. They are difficult to count. But it is generally agreed that between 250,000 and 500,000 gather here annually in flocks so dense that they regularly show up on radar.

After an hour’s boat ride down the river, where we saw Bald Eagles, Osprey, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and Belted Kingfishers, the captain positioned the vessel for the best view of Goose Island. The naturalists on board turned our attention to the incoming swallows.

In this half hour before sunset, the Tree Swallows started flying in from all directions, from their daytime feeding grounds. In the span of 15 minutes or so, dozens of birds turned into hundreds, then thousands. There were ribbons and clouds of them coming from every direction. We saw groups flying in low over the river, skimming the water for a final drink before joining the others in the sky above the island. Just before sunset, there were tens of thousands.

Through my binoculars, the view was almost more birds than sky, and I could see individual birds twirl and dip and dive. Still looking through the binoculars, I pulled the focus in closer. More birds. And when I pushed the point of focus out further? Still more birds. These adjustments revealed just how deep and massive the flock was.

At this point, the captain announced that the mass of birds was showing up on his radar, and invited us into the cabin to take a look. I made a quick dash there to see, then back to the deck, not wanting to miss the finale.

For a few more minutes after sunset, the cloud of birds twisted and shifted above the island. The flock would tighten, float up, then down, then swirl back up, loosen, and then do it all again in a new pattern each time. Aerial acrobatics.

Then, in groups, they began their descent.

It seemed that one bird would cue a group, then they’d form a vortex and funnel down. Then, when the funnel got lower in the sky, the birds would suddenly drop and dive straight down, careening towards the Phragmites at 60 miles per hour. It seemed impossible that they could land safely at that speed. But of course they could – they were built for this. Still, it was stunning.

It literally took my breath away. And with each group’s descent, I inhaled sharply again and again. I had tears in my eyes as I watched, and goosebumps all over. The man to my left kept whispering “Oh wow. Just wow.” despite the fact that he’d seen this 5 times before. I was glad I wasn’t the only one so deeply in awe of the sight.

Then, abruptly, it was over. We all stood there in silence for a moment. A moment later, I could feel a collective breath of release, followed by a quiet chorus of “wows” and “oh my gods”. I think some people clapped. I can’t remember. I just stood there smiling and silent, my chest bursting with excitement, overwhelmed by joy and wonder.

I’ve known for a long time that this is a bucket-list item for a lot of birders. What I didn’t know, was that Roger Tory Peterson, the world-renowned naturalist and artist, wrote about the Goose Island swallows in 1995, just a year before he passed away at the age of 87. He lived in Old Lyme, not far from the CT River. He wrote this:

“I have seen a million flamingos on the lakes of East Africa and as many seabirds on the cliffs of the Alaska Pribilofs, but for sheer drama, the tornadoes of Tree Swallows eclipsed any other avian spectacle I have ever seen.”

I’m so grateful to have seen it.

More Food Birds, Less Pain,

-L

Note: I am not a birder who takes pictures or video. I tried to get a few with my iPhone on this trip, but they were no good. But if you search for “Connecticut River Tree Swallows” on YouTube, there are some good videos to be seen. 

Balls Deep

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Was Sean’s idea to “edit” our June work calendar like so, I swear.

I started working on a blog post in June, shortly after the end of a 6 month relationship, as a way to process what-the-fuck-just happened. But I’ve struggled with it. Blindsided and still in shock, I knew I wouldn’t have the clarity to write about it well, but I started jotting things down anyhow.

The temptation to vilify him was strong – there were lies, you guys. Well, one big one at least, that he coated our days with for months, about being in love when he actually wasn’t.

As crushed as I was by his confession, I knew it wasn’t fair (or even all that interesting) to call him out. Besides, he isn’t a plotting or evil person. But being that good at feigning love? Something inside him is broken, and unresolved. But we’re all broken in places. The only consolation I had in this was that it wasn’t really about me.

I’m not condoning how poorly he treated me, which was very, very poorly. But focusing too much on his fuck-ups kept me from really looking at myself, which, if you ask me, is the only work left to do when someone eats your heart, then vanishes.

When I wrote, I found myself trying to justify my response to the breakup. I was really upset. The day after, I wailed and sobbed, my head on my friend Martin’s lap, while he handed me tissues. I barely ate or slept for two weeks. I was so embarrassed by how I felt. I desperately did not want to shed tears for him. And I just kept wondering why it hurt so much.

The more I dug into the original post, the more I saw that the pain of this breakup was tightly tied to the pain of the two that preceded it. The first one knocked me down so hard it took me 5 years to be able to fall in love again. The next time I fell in love felt like redemption, but it wasn’t, and it took me a year to bounce back from that.

In theory, or so I thought, this breakup should have hurt less. After all, I was only with this person for 6 months. But in the first few weeks, it felt way worse than the last one, and I was astonished by this.

Days after the breakup, I admitted to my co-worker/friend Sean, how pathetic I felt for being so upset.

He threw his arms out, exasperated, and said, “It’s not pathetic Louise! You two were balls deep in a relationship!”

Succint, validating, and so Sean.

And it is true. I, and everyone else, thought we were “balls deep” in a relationship. But even though he was driving the relationship fast in every other way, he wasn’t in it deeply at all. He had one foot on the gas and one on the brakes the whole time.

At some point it dawned on me that I’d never had my trust betrayed like this, at least not by someone I was madly in love with. So, even though it could have been worse, it made sense that it still hurt like hell.

And it’s not like this shit gets easier. But at least I’ve made progress. This I know.

My own issues around intimacy are deeply rooted in my childhood, and I have worked hard my whole life to repair what was broken. Those issues make it tough for me to open up and trust – and they also make bouncing back from heartache and disappointment more difficult.

But describing precisely how my issues factored into the pain of this breakup? I was worried it let him off the hook somehow. But more so, it is so difficult to be that open and vulnerable about your own shit.

And there are some people who chalk that shit up to “crazy.”

But then there’s the rest of you.

As difficult as it was to start the breakup post, it’s been more difficult to wrap it up. I wrote redemption into the end of it, because I know it will soon be true. I loved. I got hurt. I will (very likely) love again.

But I still have days of heartache and anger that don’t yet feel like redemption.

For instance:

A week ago, after a proper stretch of feeling better, my phone rang while it was in my hand. It was him. I just stared at my phone, bewildered. I didn’t answer. I knew it was probably a pocket dial, and to my relief, the 2 minute muffled voicemail confirmed this.

But then then a profound disappointment took over – revealing a hope for reunion that I wasn’t aware I even harbored. I deeply resented the feeling.

How could I want that, after how much he hurt me?

It took days for me to get back on track. What did the trick was admitting to a friend how foolish I felt for still pining for someone who didn’t even love me. This friend, of course, reminded me this was just part of the process. Lots of steps forward, a few back. Simply by revealing a feeling I was ashamed of, it all but disappeared.

Turns out the road to redemption is curvy as fuck, and paved with messy, embarrassing emotions.

So I decided that if I’m still just a butt-dial away from a gut-punch of uncomfortable feelings, maybe the original blog piece needs more time. Or, as another friend pointed out, maybe it served its purpose in helping me process things, and doesn’t need to be shared.

And while I only half believe it as I write this, I know redemption in love is possible. My gynecologist, of all people, assured me of this as we wrapped up a routine appointment. She asked about any recent partners, as these doctors do. I briefly explained the relationship and breakup, trying to gloss over it, but my stupid eyes welled with tears.

Usually funny and slightly irreverent (she calls my uterus “that sucker”), she got quiet, and pulled her stool up close to my chair. Then, dead serious, she looked me square in the eye and told me of a breakup she went through that was nearly identical to mine. She explained how the next man she met (now her husband) was so careful with her heart, knowing she’d been crushed by the last man she was with.

“I know this sucks,” she said, “but promise me you won’t give up, and that you’ll keep doing the work, and I promise you that you’ll find the right person .”

My eyes filled with more tears.

“Can I ask you something?” I asked.

“Of course,” she replied.

“Do I have to pay a double co-pay for this visit?”

She laughed, said this one was on the house, then sent me on my way.

****

I don’t know if my story will have the same arc as hers. But I hope it does.

And I don’t know that I’ll ever finish the original blog post. Maybe I need a few more steps forward, and a few less back before I can fully believe the bit I wrote about redemption.

In the meantime though, I’ll follow my doctor’s orders.

More Food, Less Pain,

xo-L

a little holiday love

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Ninigret Pond, Christmas 2015

On the surface, this Christmas Eve doesn’t look much different than my Christmas eve last year. I am living in the same flat, in the same town, and working the same job. Nothing much has changed. I even drove to the same Portuguese market that I drove to last year, for wine, cheese, and sweets.

But last year, on that 20 minute drive to the market, I cried. A lot. A few weeks prior, I had parted ways with someone I’d been in love with for a year. We were supposed to spend Christmas together. I cried because I imagined the car loaded with wine, cheese, an overnight bag, and sweet little presents for him. Instead, I was in my gym clothes, killing time with pointless errands, and going to buy wine for parties I wasn’t even sure I’d have the energy or heart to attend.

Today on the drive, I was in my gym clothes again, but I was smiling. The slightly fuzzy scenes from a truly proper date last night were coming into focus, making me giggle every few miles or so. (I mean, I took a fucking saber to a bottle of Champagne like a goddamn pro, you guys!) I was smiling too, because I knew I’d come so far from the heartache of last Christmas. 

2016, as hard as it was, and still is, blessed me with time and space to heal from the hell that my 2015 was. This hasn’t been a great year, (we all seem to agree on that!) but I’ll take it. I made some dear new friends, and was safe in the company of old friends who are just always fucking there somehow, waiting with love and patience that I hardly feel worthy of. But I’ll take that too, with so much gratitude, that I do not show enough.

As I write this, a sweet friend of mine is napping on my couch after having a wretched, horrible day that nobody, especially her, deserves. I’m grateful that I am healed enough from my heartaches to help her through hers. Even in our blessed and comfortable, “first world” lives, pain like this needs and deserves love and attention. Especially today, when there is so much pressure to be joyful for the holidays.

Happy holidays friends new and old. I love you all.

More love, less pain,

xo-L

My Super Honest Dating Profile

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I’m told I look just like my picture.

My self-summary:

Socially awkward. Risk averse. Perimenopausal.

What I’m doing with my life:

Prepping for the possibility that I will collapse, alone, in my apartment. Neurotic and unoriginal for a woman my age? Sure. But it is largely out of consideration for the person that finds me, (likely my landlady), as well as the person who will have to fetch personal belongings for my hospital stay (likely my brother, IT Guy). So I do my best to keep my flat an acceptable level of clean and organized. Besides, if this morbid fantasy medical emergency kills me, I guarantee you that Ghost-Louise will haunt the person who cleans out the fridge in an attempt to apologize for the month-old soup leftovers, which I think we can all agree is super lame for a ghost.

I’m really good at: 

Shame spiraling.

Attracting felons.

Condiments. All the condiments in my fridge are active condiments.

Making soup. I’m soup-er jazzed about experimenting with citrus in my soups this fall!

The six things I could never do without

  1. A box of tissues. My brother says I cry a lot.
  2. Peanut butter.
  3. A spoon for peanut butter.
  4. Alcohol. Or I’d have to move to a cabin in the woods in Maine.
  5. Xanax. For those times when day drinking isn’t socially acceptable (or allowed at work).
  6. Complete and total autonomy.

I spend a lot of time thinking about:

  1. How I once said to my therapist “well at least I’m not a serial killer!” to which she thoughtfully (almost too thoughtfully?) replied, “well that is certainly a valid point, considering your childhood.”
  2. What I’m going to eat next.
  3. My sinuses.
  4. Moving to cabin in the woods in Maine.
  5. Whether I’m that chubby girl who gives a BJ on a second date so guys will like me, or if I’m just a liberated, slightly perverted, sex positive woman.
  6. Anechoic chambers.

On a typical Friday night I am

  1. Trying to dodge plans so I can go home, eat soup, and work on my birding bucket list.
  2. At a bar, not talking to you because:
    • I’m not attracted to you.
    • I’m attracted to you.
    • You’re talking to the tall blond types, ignoring me completely, which is your loss because this average height, 43 year old brunette pear has the breasts and the vaginal tone of a 25 year old.
    • I hate talking, strangers, and bars.

Recent books I’ve read:

“I Feel Bad About My Neck” – Nora Ephron

“How to Build Your Own Spaceship: The Science of Personal Space Travel” – Piers Bizony

The most private things I’m willing to admit:

I once fell asleep eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

You should NOT message me if you:

  • Are 22, and are looking for a cougar experience.
  • Are 22 and want to have a threesome, but have gravely underestimated the imagination of a 43 year old woman, and, subsequently, you cannot handle her suggested variations on the theme.
  • Think a first message about licking my asshole is a good strategy.
  • Have a user name that starts with “Tongue4Use”.
  • Have a user name that ends with “69”, EVEN IF THAT IS YOUR BIRTH YEAR, perv.
  • Are holding something dead in your profile picture.
  • Are wearing a ski mask (or any mask, really) in your one and only profile pic.

If I had a personal motto, it would be:

More Food. Less Pain.

One Good Month

In early May, I drove to Maine,  alone, for a much needed weekend of hiking in the mountains. My Favorite Niece, ever perceptive and generous, was largely responsible for making this happen. When I had a last minute car issue, she called upon our friend, Sugar Pumpkin, to help me sort it out, then off I went. I promised to repay them both somehow, but all they asked for was a blog post. So this is for them. A little late, and I owe them something funny eventually, but I had to get this out of my system first. 

********

More often than not, May is not my month. The unexpected loss of my father 16 years ago left its mark. And every May since, with the background reset (cue the lilacs) I brace for the worst. In doing so, I subconsciously create chaos, or consciously cut my losses. Or, in a really bad May, I do both.

Last May, was one of those really bad ones. I moved suddenly, lost a friendship, and abruptly ended a relationship with a man I was madly in love with.

The chaos didn’t end there. In the months that followed, there were more changes, both positive and negative.  In July, I lost my job, and it was awful. In August, I reunited with the man I was still madly in love with, and it was bliss. In September, I went back to work. In October, I moved again. Then, in November, with hardly a warning, the relationship ended for good, with an “I can’t do this” email, from him.

It could have been worse. Each drama, on its own, was “no disaster“, as Elizabeth Bishop put it in “One Art”, her poem about loss.But the frequent upheaval and disappointments were exhausting. It was like 6 months of May.

The external chaos finally ended in December. I was glad for the arrival of winter, and the way it demands less of us here in New England. Bewildered and dizzy from the year, I took stock. What remained of my life was exactly what I needed to recover: a place of my own, with a claw foot tub; a low stress job in a blessedly quiet office; and an abundance of free time and autonomy. But I also had more sadness and anger than I knew what to do with.

I wish I could tell you that I spent the winter drinking tea, reading Brene Brown and journaling, but it didn’t happen that way. Managing the dips of sadness, the peaks of anger – and the numbness in between – preoccupied me. In these first couple of months, my attempts at self-care were halfhearted, and short lived. I was angry at myself – enough so that I did not believe my wounds deserved attendance, or, that my bad decisions, forgiveness.

At the very least, I understood the healing power of time. In those first months of winter, waiting was the best I could do. So I welcomed snow storms, watched Netflix, and took long baths in my claw foot tub while reading entire issues of Vanity Fair. On weekends, I drove to nearby towns where no one knew me, and walked, or read books in local coffee shops. I ate ice cream, and drank bourbon. Neither tasted like love, but they came close.

After a couple months, when I felt ready to unpack it all, I called my old therapist and got to work. With her help, and with the love of my truest friends, I began to snap out of it. I watched my appetite for things other than ice cream and bourbon come back – like being outside. In April, I woke up one Saturday, drove three hours north, hiked a mountain, then got in my car and drove right back. I was sore for days, but it felt like a start.

It was nearly mid-May when I drove to Maine. I took me until then to remember the May-curse. I was five hours into a drive that was supposed to take four, and frustrated. There had been traffic, then dense fog followed by heavy rain. At hour five, Google Maps estimated another twenty-five minutes to my hotel.

But it didn’t factor in the frogs. The last twenty mile stretch of road happened to be through a marshy, wild area that is prime frog habitat. When it rains, and especially in the spring, frogs often leap onto roads looking for warmth, or food, or sex. I had forgotten about the phenomenon, despite witnessing it on prior trips north.

The road I was on was alive with frogs. There were so many. But there wasn’t anything I could do to avoid hitting them. I was on a two lane road in an area called – I kid you not – the “Unorganized Territory of South Oxford”. It was pitch black. There was no alternate route, nowhere to pull over, no friendly country cafe to pause in. And besides, the rain wasn’t ending anytime soon. There was no sense in stopping.

So I drove and squished a thousand frogs. I cringed constantly, and kept reflexively yelling “Sorry!” to them. I whispered “what the fuck?”, over and over again. I wondered what it all meant, the traffic, the fog, the rain – and now frogs? Was this another “fuck you” from the universe? Was this the start of another cursed May?

It took me 45 minutes to drive the remaining 20 miles.

The next morning, with coffee in hand and hiking shoes on, I drove on dry roads to a trail head, and thought about the frogs. I felt for them. I mean, I went looking for warmth and food and sex (well, love) last year, and I too got crushed. But I stopped this line of thought when I remembered my new policy against self-pity, and my old policy against anthropomorphism.

And did every last thing need to be a reminder of him?

Or of my shitty year? 

On my first hike of the day, I admitted that it was simply a mix of decisions and timing that brought me to that road. Not to mention other factors beyond my control, like weather – or the civil engineering that went into cutting a road through a marshy forest.

Kermit
Another MS Paint masterpiece by Favorite Niece.

While hiking, I also realized that the factors that had me murdering frogs the night before were the same factors that brought me to the wild, beautiful, breathtaking waterfall I’d just reached. The difficult drive wasn’t symbolic of anything other than the fact that life is sometimes chaos, and sometimes calm. We might think we’re in control, but we just barely are. Things can fall apart in a heartbeat, and we can wreck them in one too. My year was one long lesson in that.

When May ended, I realized that I managed to not fuck anything up, consciously or subconsciously. One bad drive aside, it was a good month, though I can’t explain why. Maybe the spell is finally broken. Maybe therapy works. Maybe going away helped. Maybe I’d finally mastered “the art of losing”. Time will help me figure it out. Right now though, I’d rather move forward, and not worry too much about being squished again.

More Frogs, Less Pain,

xo-L