Couch Crashing.

There is something I’ve become pretty good at over the last year that I would’ve never really expected, being a sick kid and all, and that thing is adaptability. Since giving up my apartment last March, I haven’t had a real home that I consider all mine since. All mine: that’s a phrase we humans love. I have jumped from house to house, state to state, with a small bulky suitcase and a bag full of pills for a solid year now. I’ve turned into a professional couch crasher. I have found that I encounter home in many places. That studio apartment that was all mine was just one of them. I remember cramming the last of my remaining boxes into my corolla and turning in my key to the landlord last year. It was a terribly sad day. Currently I’m writing from Tampa, Florida, nearly a year since that day, and I am suddenly feeling the freedom of not owning anything anymore. For so long I was trying desperately to keep everything I had, like a squirrel stumbling around hanging on to too many acorns, because they were all small symbols to me that my life was together and I was together and I could do it on my own. But finally letting those attachments go (and accepting what was true) has opened up a new freedom. Basically everything I need I can fit into this green bag I bought a couple of years ago. Except Monty of course, he doesn’t fit. But he made the 10 hour drive to Tampa, and is an incredible teacher of what it means to be adaptable. See?

I think he likes it here.

See?

I don’t know how long I will be here or where I will go next. At some point I plan to go to Colorado and stay with my grandma for a while. And at another point I’ll make it to New York because my brother and sister-in-law will be having their baby in a few weeks. I don’t have a distinct plan. Which is very much my style because about 95% of the plans I make do I ever follow through with anyway. So in this new style of life, I just sort of go where the wind takes me, and on my own terms. I am lucky to have such loving and welcoming people in my life who have all said in their own way “Sure, I have a couch you can sleep on.” Of course they don’t mean permanently and I never intend to stay forever, but there is sort of an unspoken agreement between me and my hosts: Stay until it’s time to go. Last year I spent two months in New York at Nick and Estee’s. (The soon to be parents) Then I spent a month in California at my sister and brother-in-laws house. Then a little time in Miami for Nick and Estee’s wedding. Then it was back to my parents house, and floating around on couches in New Orleans, recovering, writing, and living a non-traditional nomadic life. I have finally grown accustomed to living unplanned, undecided, and out of a suitcase.

I still look forward to the day when things are settled down, when I finally have a home base, and when I can answer this question a little more easily: “And so what do you do, Mary?” I love that question. And by love I mean despise. How does someone like me begin to even remotely answer that question? Usually I say “Oh, I live with my parents and yell at the TV when they watch Bill O’Reilly. Sometimes I take showers. What do you do?” I think now I have a better answer. I’m a nomad. But instead of wondering in fields, I crash on couches. At this point, it actually does feel like my vocation. Like I’ve been called to wonder around the world for a while, and figure out how to live well even though I’m not. It’s certainly been a learning experience, but I know I still have a long way to go. Like my mom always says, Just do today. Today I’m in Tampa, it is sunny and warm and Monty is fetching sticks in the bay. Somehow after the journey here, I still haven’t crashed. I woke up with a pretty killer migraine this morning but the medicine took care of it and I don’t have that typical Feel-like-I’ve-Been-Hit-By-A-Truck-In-the-Face feeling. So I am grateful for that, and trying not to harp on it for long. Sometimes I fear if I think too much about it the good feeling will go. So I’m not questioning it, I am just grateful.

I think more than any physical place, my notebooks have been my home. Writing often reveals to me what is true and real before my own mind can recognize it in the world. I know that writing is a way for me to find truth and tell the truth. It might be why I get anxiety just before I sit down to write, but after I finish, I feel better. Lighter. And if I’ve written correctly, I always walk away with more clarity, more light in the room than before. So I won’t concern myself too much with what house I call mine for now. Maybe home is more an internal thing than anything else. For the time being, home is on paper, and deep within.

Health, Happiness and Nomadic Tendencies.

Trusting the Battle

I’ve received quite a number of emails over the months and read many responses from people who ask how I stay so positive, happy, and humorous among illness and all the things I’ve lost. It makes me smile to read emails like that because it’s sort of like “Oh, haha, these people think I’m happy and have my shit together.” The truth of the matter, is that happiness is something I work at, every day. I mean that. I’m not a naturally chipper person. Especially in the mornings. Most days I don’t feel incredibly alive until about 7 pm. I don’t have a ton of friends or a blooming social life. I am OK with that as I’ve always been someone who enjoys solitude. But I just don’t want to give the impression of “The grass is always greener” over here. I’ve gone through a lot of heartache and despair. I’ve just made it out on the other side. But I still struggle with optimism and simple joy. Writing here has enabled me to find the lessons that were hiding beneath the tears and sickness and loneliness. So sometimes it appears that I’ve got it all figured out and wake up whistling the tune to “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day…” I don’t. I work to find the beauty and meaning of every day of my life. And many times, I fail.

I have been prone to periods of despair throughout my life, especially last year. One day in February, I cried almost the entire day. I kept thinking I would run out of tears, and I never did. As soon as I’d finish blowing my nose and wiping up my face, I’d sit down just to have the tears return and my heart go back to aching. That night, my mom brought in tomato soup to my room and made me eat even though I had no appetite. There I was at 26 years old, being spoon fed by my mom. It was humbling, but also a really beautiful moment to know that even in all of the isolation I felt, someone was still there to feed me, when I didn’t have the strength to feed myself. She talked me through the pain and the tears, many of which were falling in the orange liquid in the bowl and making little ripples like a rock in a pond. I remember how sad and hopeless I felt that night, distinctly. But, I made it through, with the help of my mom. It wouldn’t be the last day where I felt like I was drowning in the sadness of my own story. But each of those moments when I reflect on them now, were revealing something quieter, and not as easy to see. In my anger that I had to move back in with my parents, I missed the fact that I was lucky to have somewhere to go and have someone to take care of me. In the sadness of losing my job, I skimmed over the idea that staying there would’ve made me sicker, possibly to the point of no return. Last year revealed many moments that at times would suffocate me, if I looked only at those moments. But life isn’t isolated that way. In every moment of darkness, something else is revealing itself, if we choose to see the whole of it. A lot of times, I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and take an honest look at the way things were. This was not easy, and it still isn’t easy. It’s work. Like Nepo says “This is the trick to staying well isn’t it; to feel the sun, even in the dark.”

I still struggle today in finding the meaning of my life. But further than that, I struggle with general happiness. I sometimes slip and get stuck in a hole. At times it feels easier just to be depressed or angry. And momentarily I guess it’s OK to feel those things, I just know that the only times I’ve been able to move forward is when I choose to look honestly at my experience and try to see what it has to offer, not what it has taken away. Staying mad, staying sad, saying ‘It’s not fair’ just keeps me in the hole. And who wants to live in a hole? It’s dark down there!

Everyone is fighting their own battle, whether it shows on the outside or not. We often assume everyone else is happy, has an easy life, and could never understand our struggle. I often felt that way last year. But that thought is not only our ego trying to isolate us, it’s false. Peel back the layers of any person, and you’ll see the battles they’re undergoing and the scars they carry. I have mentioned this before, but it is something that has stuck with me for a while. Trust your battle. Trust that the life experience you were given is exactly what you need. The lessons you learn will become the whole worlds lessons. Wayne Dyer says to find the lesson, you have to actively ask each experience “What is this here to teach me?”

So that is what I’m working on; not only to seek the lessons of my experience, but to try and live each day happily and with ease. Again, it’s something I have to work at. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the questions and mysteries of life, that I miss the simple pleasures. I could spend all day wondering and fearing whether the sun will rise tomorrow, and wrapped up in that anxiety, I miss the sunset. I’m going to try and trust my experience and my battle. I’m going to stop wishing for a life that isn’t mine. And I’m going to try whistling that tune “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day…” every morning. Because my grandma always whistles that tune, and I’ve yet to meet anyone happier.

Health, Happiness, and Battles.

 

Some Lessons of Love on Valentines Day

I’m told that you learn how to love from your parents. So on this International day of love and cheap Walgreens chocolates, I’m going to share the lessons of someone whose influence has been huge and far reaching- My mom. Here is a part of her story.

My mom and dad met on a blind date set up by their two best friends. It was only meant to be “friendly” and an innocent night of fun. Neither my mom or dad were fully on board with the idea of it, but they were told “It’s just dinner. What’s the harm in that?.” What was promised to be just dinner, ended up being the first night of a journey that would lead to marriage and four kids. Bam! In 1993 my dad was diagnosed with cancer. There was a lump underneath his belly button which had been there a while. It hadn’t really grown or changed but to be on the safe side they went in and removed it. Upon opening him up, they saw that not only did he have cancer, but that is was so widespread they couldn’t even locate the origin. So we were never told he had “lung cancer” or “stomach cancer.” He had whole body cancer! He was given six months.

We were also told the cancer was too far spread for chemo or radiation treatments to be effective. My dad wasn’t thrilled with this prognosis, so he devoted himself to getting well through a hollistic approach. He cut out white sugar, white flower, meat, artificial everything, and drank so much homemade carrot juice that his palms turned orange. He lived in great health for three and a half more years to the surprise of all his doctors. But ultimately he lost the battle. After he died, I remember my mom saying “I could never love someone the way I loved your dad.” And it was pretty well understood and accepted that she wouldn’t marry again.

But four years later, she was set up on another blind date which she again resisted strongly and almost bailed out on minutes before. This time it was a different set of friends who set her up, but the promise was the same. “It’s just dinner. And we’ll be there the whole time.” Well wouldn’t you know it, sparks flew that night too with Roger. (We liked to call him Roger Dodger) And six months later, they married. I remember my mom saying, “When you get to be my age, you just know these things. There’s no reason to wait!” He had two kids from a previous marriage, so now altogether there were three boys and three girls. We were literally the Brady Bunch, just far more dysfunctional. But it was a really incredible thing to see my mom so re-energized again. Roger was very different from my dad, but it didn’t seem to matter. He brought her back to life.

Five years later, I was a junior in college at LSU. I remember this Tuesday morning distinctly. I was brushing my teeth and going over a case in my mind for my Media Law class that I was running late for. My cell phone started ringing and I saw it was my house. When I answered, I heard the horror in my moms voice. She could hardly get the words out, but she does. “Roger died last night.” He was in Florida on business and died in his sleep at his hotel room the night before. He was never late, so when he didn’t show up to work the next day, they knew something was up. The autopsy revealed it was a heart attack. I kind of gasped for air when I heard my moms words. In a moment it felt unreal and disgustingly real simultaneously. I was trying to process what she had told me as I packed a bag when it hit me- the icing on the cake of this surprising and sudden tragedy–my sister was getting married in two weeks. And here’s the cherry on top– they were getting married in the very same Hall that my mom and Roger were married in. As my sister Amelie so eloquently put it, Are you fucking kidding me?! It was unbelievable. I hopped in the car and made the hour and a half drive home, in shock. It felt like a 10 second drive.  Doug, Nick and Amelie were all in by that night as well. Roger’s kids were in the next day and we all put our heads together and began the “making arrangements” process. Sometimes I still look back at all that and think, did that really happen?

So we Gelpi’s do two things really well: Weddings and funerals. For one thing, we’ve had a lot of practice. We planned and executed the funeral, and then prepared for my sisters wedding a week later. Somehow, the funeral was beautiful and seemed just how Roger would’ve wanted it. A lot of people spoke, including his son who’s words were poised and beautiful. The service took place outside in the 3 acre garden he created. As depressing as it was, somehow it still felt right. The next weekend, it was time for my sisters wedding. And it was a blast. Still one of the best weddings I’ve been to! Everyone smiled, laughed, and danced, including my mom. Sometimes I think we should start a business where we plan both weddings and funerals. I must say, there’s not SUCH a difference. Each involve an absurd amount of flowers, a lot of drinking, and usually someone saying something inappropriate. There’s just more dancing at a wedding! Anyway, the next year involved a lot of cursing and yelling at God. A lot of questioning life and existence and the universe and a lot of crying and flipping off the sky. But in very quiet moments, in stillness, I felt reassurance. I could feel that this was not how the story would end. It wasn’t over; not yet.

Just over a year later, my mom was at a bar-b-que at some of our best friends house, the Pastoreks. Paul Pastorek was one of my dads best friends. They were the family we’d take ridiculous annual vacations with in the summers. We were extensions of each others families. Anyway, while at the bar-b-que, my mom met Paul’s brother, Marc. Somehow, in their more than 20 years of friendship, my mom had never once met Paul’s brother, until today. You can go ahead and guess where this is leading. Yep! They ended up falling in love, too. Just over a year later, they were married on a mountain in Colorado. We joked about who was crazier; my mom for taking another chance and marrying again. Or Marc, for taking a chance and marrying a woman with two dead husbands! The first song we danced to at the wedding was “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. It was both irreverent and inappropriate, just like all of us. Once again, we danced all night. It was perfect.

Taking the plunge, part 3.

So now, the lesson. Only marry men with strong genes. Just kidding. I think the biggest lesson I have gathered from my moms story,  is that choosing to love someone involves incredible risk. There are no guarantees in life and certainly none in love. I think it would have been very easy for my mom to clam up after the first loss. And then to disengage completely after the second loss. Excuse my Jewelry commercial sappiness, but I think by keeping her heart open to even the idea of loving again, she was able to both give and receive it in spite of the track record. At Roger’s funeral, she stood up to speak to everyone’s surprise, including her own. But she said something came over her, and the first  thing she said was “To love is to be vulnerable to loss.” This is true for everyone. And that’s a scary thought if you harp on it too long. But the alternative, which is safety, bears no reward. And that doesn’t sound like much fun, at all. Most everyone I’ve talked to who has been in love, whether it worked out or not, says it was well worth it. A few nights after Roger died, a lot of people were over at our house. We were eating, drinking, and remembering, telling stories. At one point my mom was talking about their first date and how hesitant she was. At the end of the story she said “What can I say, given the chance, I’d do it all over again.” That’s what you call courage! I was in awe of her. And as I watched her marry a third time, change her name a third time, ‘do it all over again,’ take another plunge into the unknown, I knew I was bearing witness to a model for not only how to live, but how to love too. Get busy livin or get busy dyin! Am I right? So here’s to you mom, for doing it all over again, picking up the pieces and moving forward, and teaching everyone around you that love, while it is a gift, is not random. You have taught us well.

Health, Happiness and Love!