MAKING LIMONCELLO :: Living in the Present
First of all, I’ve decided to rename my personal writing blog from Good Grief to Making Limoncello. When life hands you lemons, what else do you do? I had developed a bit of a mental block about getting in and writing about Good Grief, so I had to shift the prism to cast a different light on it.
This is a collection of current thoughts and experiences in my present space and time as I open a new chapter of life. Although grief is a part of who I am and my life story, it does not define me. If I want anything to define me it’s Carpe Fucking Diem.
This blog post is the foundation that provides a little insight to my existence in the now. I’m finally comfortable with acknowledging that it takes work each and every day to slow down, invest in myself through self-care and self-love, and listen to my inner voice guiding me to what is next. And you can’t do that without being present, friends.
I still have so much writing and many thoughts to share from the past two years of going through grief, but I’m keeping those set aside for the book I’m working on. This is also an acknowledgment that I have a life story unfolding at the present that is raw, real, and relevant right now.
If there’s anything that the universe has taught me in the past few years, it is to live in the present and savor every moment.
Unfortunately, it took tragedy for me to learn that lesson. I hate admitting that, but that’s the truth. When Jeff died unexpectedly in 2016, all I could do was live day-to-day. Some days that meant hoping that I could muster up enough energy to get out of bed. Maybe even take a shower. And I was winning if I could peck away at some Tzatziki and pita chips over the sink like a 20 year old bachelor. I lived each day individually, independent of the previous and next day. That was survival mode—and that is not living.
You see, I had been given a directive from Jeff a long time ago that if he died before me, I was required to keep living. And adventuring. And loving. It had become my job to grab life by the balls and appreciate every fucking precious second I have on this earth. My friend Kristy Bishop pointed out 6 months in that she knew I was pushing myself to continue to exist because I was doing it for Jeff. She hoped at some point I would learn to do it for myself. Ouch. That’s a good friend who has the huevos to say that to your face.
I learned somewhere along the way in the process of grieving that living in the present is much easier than living in the pain of the past or the facing the pressure and fear of the future. This came first in the form of my mantra—Zero Fucks Given. Sometimes that gave me permission to be cutting and blunt, not hiding my anger at the universe for the fate I had been dealt. Other times, it gave me permission to do whatever the hell I felt like, quite unapologetically.
My first therapist, Sylvia, would say that there are gifts that come from grief—if you can let yourself be open to seeing them. I would roll my eyes and secretly throat punch her across the room in my head. Unfortunately, she had gotten to know me pretty well at this point and would joke, “Please don’t mentally throat punch me!” Yeah, it was necessary for my therapist to have a sense of humor and occasionally curse…otherwise she could not be trusted. But then, month-by-month, I started to live a little differently, or at least be able to think beyond survival mode.
As I approached the year-mark after Jeff’s departure, I was feeling lost and knew it was time to start living a little further out but that thought left me short of breath. I decided to do something crazy and go travel long-term. I called my good friend, Jeff Youngren, to ask his opinion. He was always honest with me. He gave me his stamp of approval. I timidly starting telling people this crazy idea of running away to the circus. My friends encouraged me to create a Kickstarter project so that the community could support my mission and I would feel like I had a greater purpose and responsibility with my travels. Was money an issue? Sure. Did this feel like the craziest thing I had ever done in my life? Yes. Absolutely. But I knew one thing—if I stayed here in San Diego at that point in time, I may lose it. I had spent the the first year of widowhood doing what needed to be done to survive while escaping to Mexico or the farm in Paso as often as possible. Truth be told, I could feel myself cracking at the seams—it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.
When I boarded that 747 to Prague July of 2017, it was nothing short of a miracle that I was sitting on the tarmac. It took a village to get me there. Friends, neighbors, and family had spent the past month prepping my house for AirBnB so that my mortgage was covered while I traveled. I had done a huge purge of my worldly belongings. I shoved what I could in my tiny garage and a storage unit in my backyard. I was literally throwing trash bags of stuff in there 20 minutes before getting picked up for my flight. Joe Park called me and said he was coming by to stuff a California burrito in my face because he was certain that I hadn’t eaten in a day. I was coming off a week of 16 hour days prepping my house for my departure. The final straw was getting out of the shower 10 minutes before my friend Rich picked me up to take me to the airport. I had also just finished re-packing my single solitary suitcase three times that day as I frantically crammed it full for a 3-6 month journey (creative procrastinator!). I was shaking with anxiety on the way to the terminal and talking 500 words per minute.
The reality was that I was overwhelmed with a sense of panic as I really took my first big step since Jeff had died. I stood in line waiting for check-in, inventing reasons why they weren’t going to let me on the plane. And then I made it through. I was feeling major imposter syndrome. As I got on the plane, I popped an anxiety pill and washed it down with a glass of red wine. I woke up halfway through the flight to a full-blown panic attack and breakdown somewhere over the Atlantic. I sobbed uncontrollably next to my confused seat mate and I simply could not get a grip. I was a huge messed up ball of grief, confusion, excitement, and utter fear with a passport and a one-way ticket to Europe.
And then I woke up the next day in Prague, overwhelmed with a sense of disbelief. I spent the next year traveling the world. I would get up each day and ask myself what I felt like doing. What sounded good to me? What do I even like to do? I was pushed out of my routines and familiar surroundings, forced to make micro-choices that were insanely different than the types of big decisions I had been facing the past year. Anything was possible. Everything was available to me to choose. A sense of empowerment started to develop from curating the minutes of my day in a new environment where no one expected me to be anything other than what I showed them. That was freedom. And in freedom comes the ability to slow down and appreciate the millions of experiences that can make up a day. My life began to feel plentiful and exciting. It was like a pulse that had been revived.
I met new people with a sense of adventure and lust for life. I went out into cities across the world each and every day to explore and learn. I lived outside my comfort zone. I sharpened my observation and documenting skills every waking hour. The unknown became the norm. My ability to read a scene and anticipate what may unfold skyrocketed. I would leave my flat in the morning and walk 10–14 miles around a city, sometimes with a plan, but often just leaving and deciding, intersection by intersection, which way to go. Right or left. Not looking too far ahead and not looking behind me either.
I was creating hundreds if not thousands of images every single day. For myself. As a reflection of my journey, both literally and figuratively. I shot a catalog of images that would be equivalent to a wedding season at home. I learned to pick up my camera again when someone wasn’t paying me. I learn to express my pain and personal growth through the lens. My camera finally had become a true extension of me in a way that I had never experienced before. I finally got past my insecurity of labeling myself an artist. And that is a gift.
My purpose is to implement and recognize the gifts grief has put in my path as I continue to learn how to use the talents and gifts that the universe has dropped in my lap—photography, writing, and ability to sharing my experiences.
Living in the present is something I’m holding on to tightly as a way of being. It’s slowing down and not looking at my watch for an hour of yoga. It’s feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. It’s feeling the current of water as I paddle my kayak across a lake at 7000 feet elevation. It’s laughing inappropriately loudly as I boogie board with Suzanne and Maryanne wondering why we stopped doing this in our teens. It’s savoring a cup of hot coffee that my boyfriend likes to bring me in bed in the morning. These little micro-seconds make up the moments of life and I want to be present for them all.
Carpe diem. Seize the day. Live la Vida.