Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Meant to be

For the vast majority of the past thirty years, I strove to create a life that I thought would make me happy.  I went to college and got a job.  Then I bought a house, earned tenure and a secure position as an elementary school teacher.  But what I really wanted always seemed to elude me, for there is no clear syllabus for meeting the right man and falling in love.  There was no fast track to mommyhood. 
For years, every time I’d find someone attractive and try to get things started, it never worked.  Ever.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” my friends would lament. 
When I left teaching in 1999 and wrote my first novel, I thought, Now my real life can begin.  All I have to do is find the right agent.
For eleven long years, whenever a rejection letter showed up in the mailbox, I’d tell myself, “That agent wasn’t meant to be.”  Over and over and over again, I’d remind myself that when the timing was right, a door would open.
Finally in 2011, one miraculously did.
After signing a contract with an agent in New York in October of that year, Helen* pitched one of my novels to publishing houses all over the city.  For months, she’d email and let me know that while editors liked my style, they were going to pass on the manuscript…unless I chose to rework the plot.  Which I did.
But in the end, the manuscript was once again rejected by every house.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” my friend, Barb often reminded me.
Still, I endeavored to persevere.  I wrote another novel that Helen pitched alongside the first one.  After three years of waiting and wondering when the timing would finally be right, I made the difficult decision to opt out of my contract.  Since then, I’ve sent out dozens of query letters to new agents.  A couple of times in the past year, there’s been an interest in my work, but the momentum quickly fades and I’m back at square one.
Each time I told myself, “Just wait…it wasn’t meant to be.”  But a few weeks ago, in the midst of a difficult week, I finally realized that maybe it never will be.
Not the way I imagined.

I’ve often wondered, How will I know when something is meant to be?  Because it shows up at my doorstep?  Because it works out just the way I had planned?  Because I waited long enough and I’m due a reward for my patience and diligence?
These days I know better.  I’ve learned to not push the river.  While not easy, I’ve been practicing acceptance of the way things are right now, knowing that undetermined change is inevitable.  I’ve come to live by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words that I placed on my bathroom mirror fifteen years ago: All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen.
A little over a year ago, I met my significant other.  When we were first introduced, I had no idea that seven months later, he would become the love of my life.  Back then we were simply starting a casual friendship.  Over time it deepened, but still, I wasn’t looking for anything more.  At the time, we were both dealing with the aftermath of some difficult situations which we readily shared with each other. 
One day, he was in my office and looked the shelf above my computer desk.  “Which of your books do you think I should read first?” he asked.
Knowing a bit of his background, I nodded toward the thickest novel.  “That one,” I said, pulling the copy from the shelf. 
“I like the title,” he nodded.  “A TAPESTRY OF TRUTH.”
“It’s pretty twisted,” I told him.  “The main character is a Scorpio.”
“Like me, huh?” he laughed, bouncing his eyebrows.
“Maybe,” I shrugged.  “Wait and see.”
For his birthday last October, I gave him a signed copy.  “I don’t know when I’ll get around to reading it,” he admitted.  “I’ve got a lot of responsibilities.”
“You’ll read it when you’re meant to,” I replied.
Since then we’ve had many long, heart-opening conversations.  Many times, when he’d share something about his past, my eyes would widen.  “That’s freaky,” I’d say.  “That’s in my book…you’re Michael, the male character I love the most.  I’ve been writing you since 1994.”
It’s more than our love of Mentos gum.  More than the fact that we're both middle children.  More than our motivation to persevere.  There’s something I can’t quite put into words…at least not consciously. 
Thankfully, his granddaughter said it beautifully last winter.
My sweetheart and I took Anna* to the Toledo Zoo for the Lights Before Christmas display.  It was a cold night, so we stopped at the Carnivore CafĂ© for a cup of cocoa.  Over mugs of steaming hot chocolate, I asked Anna, “Do you like Papa’s mustache?”
“Yes,” she nodded.
“Did you like it when he shaved it off last month?”
“Yes,” she nodded, sipping her cocoa.
“Do you like him better with or without it?”
“I just love him,” Anna replied, lifting a brow and looking at me as if I was nuts. 
Thankfully I was taking pictures while she was talking and shot an adorable one of Anna and my sweetheart.  She’s giving me sideways grin and he’s looking at her as if she’s the most precious thing on the planet. 
Later that night, he said, “Wasn’t that the sweetest thing Anna said?  She just loves me no matter what.  It’s incredible that a little kid can be so wise.”
“I know,” I replied, hugging him.  “I just love you, too.”
Since then, we often repeat that phrase to one another, especially during times when we’re working through something.  When we’re tired of life in general.  When we remind each other that no matter what, true love is always between us.  
Over the weekend, I was skimming through a copy of THE LACE MAKERS, marveling that it’s been almost two years since I finished the first manuscript.  I’m contemplating writing the sequel this summer and wanted to revisit some of the main characters.  I found the scene where Karin’s little brother, Jurgen, is introduced.  At one point, he pulls on a sweater that Karin had made for him, saying to his sister, "Ich liebe dich einfach."
Tears filled my eyes when I translated the words:  I just love you.
My sweetheart often tells me, “Kate, you can do no wrong.  You’re my deal.”
“I’m not perfect,” I reply.  “I’m going to make mistakes.”
“Yeah, so what?” he smiles, reminding me that real love has many faces…and his unconditional acceptance is the one I treasure the most. 

As I look back on the timeline of my life, whenever I was experiencing something heart-breaking, so was he.  Whenever I was going through an intense transformation, he was as well.  Whenever I needed to make difficult choices in order to change my life for the better, he was making huge strides, too.  
When he and I first got together, I’d silently ask myself, Is this meant to be?  Are we supposed to be together?  Now I no longer need to question it.
In the past, when something wasn’t meant to be, I still tried to niggle my way into making it happen.  I’d poke and prod, then get pissed off when something didn’t go my way.  But I never saw my sweetheart coming.  And I’m sure he never anticipated me either.  We came into each other’s lives at the right moment, when both of us were ready for something real, something that would take us far from where we have been.  Something that is more comfortable and comforting every single day.
Now I know for certain that our love story was meant to be, for we’ve been with each other all along.

*Names have been changed.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Weird City

  Over the weekend my significant other and I went fishing at a remote reservoir outside of the city.  Actually, he fished while I read a book and listened to the songbirds.  On his way around the south side of the water, he stopped to talk to me.   “Do you know what yin and yang energies are, Kate?” he asked. 
I nodded. 
“I’ve been thinking you’ve got a lot of yang energy.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” I agreed, thinking about how much of my adult life has been spent on my own.  If I didn’t have the motivation to take care of business, who would?  If I didn’t step up and protect myself, there was no one else to do it.  “But I’ve worked to develop my yin, too.” I also said, recognizing the fact that in the past five years I’ve let my hair grow longer, let my softer side take the lead, let go of needing to be in control and fix things.
“You’re yang where I’m yin,” I told him.  “And I’m yang where you’re yin…you know what I’m saying?”
He nodded. 
As I watched him walk around the other side of the reservoir, I thought about how masculine he can be.  The way he shows up for me when I need him.  The way he helps me figure out spatial challenges I encounter in a knitting pattern or a pool table.  The way he laughingly grunts like an ape (`a la Tim Allen) whenever he completes the task at hand.  I thought about all the ways he’s helped me become more feminine.  The way he thoroughly enjoys my gardening and baking skills.  The way he holds me whenever I’m tired, sad, or in need of comfort.  The way he supports my desire to retreat from the world this spring and summer in order to make some significant changes in my life.  
Then I thought about all the ways we balance each other.  I’m strong when he needs me to be and vice versa.  He’s outgoing where I’m more introverted.  We both need alone time and have found ways to be together, yet still have our own space. 
The other day I told him about the horrible blind dates I’ve had over the years and why I’ve been hesitant to get involved with anyone.  This morning I was reminded of this chapter from my memoir.  I had forgotten the ending though.  In the process of editing it for Open Road, I’m overjoyed to discover that my friend, Matteo, was absolutely right.  
It may have taken a long time to get here, but my mighty good man is infinitely worth the wait.

"Weird City"
originally published in January, 2013

I can't believe I’m here again…waiting for another blind date to show up.  At least I’m at the park and it’s a warm September day.  At least I don’t feel as if I have to impress this guy, even though we’ve only talked a couple of times on the phone.  Still, it annoys me that he’s late.  That he won’t tell me which yoga student gave him my phone number.  But I figure, “What the hell?”  I might as well try.  Even if all those other blind dates went nowhere, this one might be different.
I watch every man who walks by, wondering if he’s the one.  “Are you Greg?” I want to ask.  “Are you looking for a woman named Katie?” 
There are tall men. 
Short, stocky men. 
A really nice looking guy in running shorts with long brown hair and a two-day beard. 
None of them is Greg.  I check my watch and sigh.  He’s fifteen minutes late.  I figure I’m being stood up…again.
As I walk back towards my car, I decide to wait a few more minutes.  After all, he’s coming from work.  Maybe he got held up in traffic.  I can give him the benefit of the doubt.  It’s busy at the park and as several cars pass by, I lean against the trunk, my arms crossed, watching to see if any of the drivers are men. 
A small Mazda darts by driven by a creepy looking guy in a black track suit zipped up to his chin.  “It’s eighty-five degrees out,” I say under my breath.  “Why is he dressed like that?”  Then the thought hits me and I murmur, “Dear God, please don’t let it be him.  Please not him.”
Oh, is him.
Greg walks up to me and extends his hand, nearly covered by his dark nylon jacket.  He’s wearing long pants as well…and loafers.  His shaggy hair is greasy and plastered to his head.  His skin is doughy and ashen.  He looks like he hasn’t bathed in a few days although he’s wearing enough cologne to make me sneeze.
“I’m Greg,” he grins.  “Nice to meet you.”  His voice doesn’t match the one I heard on the telephone. 
I shake his clammy hand and wonder which of the trails at Wildwood is the shortest and least populated.  I’m ashamed to admit it to myself, but I don’t want to be seen with this man.  I don’t want people to think we're a couple.  It’s not so much the way he looks, but more the way he carries himself.  My judgmental bitch compares him to a cheesy cartoon rat.             
Greg isn't familiar with the trails at Wildwood, but, having hiked here for years, I know them well.  I lead him on a connecting path, one that will take us maybe fifteen or twenty minutes to cross.  We make small talk and I tell him of my plans to leave Toledo as soon as possible.  I tell him that I’m getting tired of Midwestern life and long to go west.  Maybe that will give him the hint that I’m not interested in starting anything serious. 
He says he’s been to Portland and Vegas, but that’s about it.  “I like it here,” he says.  “And work is good…so what can I say?”  Greg is an instructor at one of the community colleges in town and says that Toledo suits him well.
"I could live here for the rest of my life," he says.
Strike one.
I’m practicing honesty, so I tell him upfront I don’t like the fact that the person who hoped to fix us up wants to remain anonymous.  “I know it’s not your doing, but I want you to know I’m a very private person.   I don’t like that she gave you my number, but doesn't want me to know it was her.”
Greg shrugs.  He doesn’t say, “I respect your feelings,” or “I can understand how you feel.”
Strike two.
We round a corner and I’m counting the minutes until this walk can end.  Five down.  Fifteen to go.
“Do you know where we are?” Greg asks.
“Yeah…I know this place like the back of my hand.”
“Well, then...,” he says, his voice dripping with what I imagine he thinks is seduction.  "Are you going to tie me up to one of those trees and whip me senseless?”
“Uh…no,” I stammer, willing myself to walk even faster. 
“Well if you were,” he snickers.  “I would have asked you to show up in a leather mini-skirt and chains.”
Strike three…and you're OUT!
Seething, I say nothing.  Greg suddenly realizes I don’t think his comment is funny and nervously chatters on.  I walk faster and soon we’re back in the parking lot. 
“Well, where would you like to go for lunch?” he asks.
“I think I’ll pass,” I tell him.
Greg looks dejected and genuinely surprised.  “Really?  It thought we said we could walk and then eat.”
“No…I don’t think so." 
I lift my eyebrows.  “Do I really have to tell you?”
The look on Greg’s face tells me I don’t.

As I drive away, I’m furious.  Furious with whoever gave Greg my phone number.  Furious that yet another man I’ve been fixed up with is an asshole.  But most of all, I’m furious with myself.  I had promised myself that after going out with Mr. Bodybuilder Freak, after that terrible afternoon I had with Mr. Interview last winter, I would never go on a blind date again.  Why did I waste another afternoon in the hopes of finding someone here in Toledo? 
My life has once more reminded me that only weirdoes and creeps are left in the small pool of men in this city.  I cannot wait to escape and get the hell out of here once and for all.
There must be normal men out there...somewhere.

For most of my life, it's been a challenge to find the balance in being selective, in having good boundaries and still be open to the humanity of men.  And yet, after all the stranger-than-fiction experiences I've had, I'm thankful I've learned to err on the side of restraint.  Several of my girlfriends thought it would be a great idea to fix me up on blind dates with men they knew from high school, work, or through their husbands.  So in my mid-thirties I agreed to meet Pete, a local gym owner and bodybuilder who my friend Donna thought would be perfect for me.  A professional athlete and a yoga instructor.  What could be a more complementary couple?
In meeting Pete, I could certainly see why he complained about going on plenty of first dates and not many second ones.  A group of us were out to dinner and when he strutted into the restaurant, he immediately made a beeline for Donna’s husband, hoping to impress him with news about his thriving business. 
When Donna introduced me to Pete, she mentioned that I was her yoga teacher.
Pete quickly dismissed the idea of needing to practice yoga.  “Yoga is really for people who don’t want to get with the program,” he boasted contemptuously.  “Six weeks in my flexibility series, and you’ll never need to stretch out again.” 
I wanted to tell him that was tantamount to only showering for six weeks and then never needing to bathe again, but I said nothing.  Instead I patiently endured Pete's talking about himself, his career, his family, and his opinion on everything from what I should be eating to how I needed to lift weights. 
“You really need to eat meat,” he said, nodding at my plate of stir fry.  “I always bulk up before a competition.”
“I get enough protein with nuts and soy products,” I said politely.  “I’ll bet I eat almond butter three or four times a week.”
Pete smirked.  “Nut butter is the worst kind of food on the planet….in my book, it should be banned.”
O-kay, I thought.  How much longer do I have to sit here before this night is over?
Donna’s husband graciously changed the subject by asking me how the rewrites on my novel were coming.
“Great,” I said.  “I need to cut a hundred pages or so, but I’m making good progress.”
“Can I interview you for a story in the City Paper when you get published?” he asked.
“Sure…just don’t ask me where I got the idea for the plot.”
“Why not?”
“I just want the book to stand on its own,” I explained. 
Pete shot me a smarmy grin.  “What would you say if I asked you where you got the idea for the plot?”
I'd had enough of his patronizing behavior and before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “If you asked me, I’d say you could just kiss my ass.” 
Obviously, that was the end of Pete, which was just fine with me.

A year later I lessened my resolve and was fixed up on blind dates with several other men, one of which included a man I quickly dubbed “Mr. Interview.”  Introduced through email via a friend of mine, Mr. Interview sent me a two-page dossier of his qualities, including his height and weight "give or take holiday sweets" and the fact that he "is passionate for and devoted to (his) mother."
I'm all for a guy loving and respecting his mother, but when the word "passion" is involved...well, that's another story.  But, instead of following my first impulse and running for the hills, I followed through on confirming our coffee date.  I wrote back a simple response to his request that I tell him a little bit about myself:  "I like books, yarn, and chocolate...and not always in that order." 
Mr. Interview wrote back, "You sound wonderful.  I hope that when we meet there is a mutual physical attraction."
Ew!  It's fine to think that...I was thinking the same thing.  But to be bold enough put it in writing?  Now I was on tenterhooks in anticipation of meeting this guy. 
I arrived early and found a spot in the loft at Sufficient Grounds.  Mr. Interview arrived right on time and when he saw me, I knew I had passed his initial muster.  Still, he had a mental checklist of what he wanted and would "settle for nothing less."  Right off the bat, his first question upon meeting me was, “Well, Katie, you’re thirty-eight years old.  Do you have any idea why you’ve never been married?”
I sighed deeply.  “Because I keep getting fixed up with jerks like you!” I wanted to reply. 
Why did he have to push on that bruise?  Living with the social stigma of being in my thirties and never having been married was a tough stereotype to shake.  I had spent years wondering what was wrong with me, only to realize that while I may be complicated, endlessly asking questions, unfinished, and above all, indefinable, there was certainly nothing wrong with me. 
And by the way, I knew Mr. Interview was in his early forties and had never been married either.  Who was he to question me?  And yet he did...incessantly.
"When was your last relationship?" 
"How long did it last?" 
"Do you get along with your family?" 
"Do you want to get married?" 
"Where do you see yourself in five years?"
To the last question, my inner maverick stepped up.  "Wherever I'm supposed to be."
Mr. Interview was not amused.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he said, frowning.
"I've learned to go with the flow of not plan it all out," I told him.  "I've learned the mystery is better than anything I could imagine."
Mr. Interview scowled.
I sighed.  "Well, where do you see yourself in five years?"
Mr. Interview brightened.
"I'll be married with two kids, a dog...maybe a cat," he smiled.  "I'll have a house in Sylvania and a lake house in Michigan.  I'll have $200,000.00 saved in the bank and will have been promoted at least twice."
"That's quite a list," I said, not at all impressed.  "What happens if you don't get all that?"
Mr. Interview looked at me with disgust. 
"I will have a fairytale relationship!" he insisted.  "I will marry a woman who will complete me!  She will be my one, true soul mate because she will never change."
I lifted my brows in surprise.  I didn't know I had been fixed up with a Jerry Maguire wannabe.  "Good luck with that," I quipped and soon after, beat it out of the coffee shop as fast as I could. 
The last straw was when I met that creep who requested I tie him up to a tree and whip him senseless.  It seemed I had blind dated my way through a sea of weirdoes, freaks, and narcissists, only to be met with a sadist comedian who needed tips on basic hygiene. 
“Okay, Katie, this is it,” I told myself.  “No more blind dates.”  And I have remained firm in my conviction since then. 
“It’s too bad,” my friend, Lisa, said.  “What if the guy you’re supposed to be with is a potential blind date?”
Ah...the irony.

I look back on those awful encounters, I can laugh now, but at the time they were anything but funny.  Perhaps those men with their own agendas and insecurities were showing me how far I had come in moving past my own fears.  Pete revealed the fact that I no longer felt the need to justify being a yoga instructor or a him or anyone else.  Certainly Mr. Interview reflected my twentysomething self and her fairytale fantasy life. 
The jury is still out on Greg.
Since my late twenties I've been stalked, publicly humiliated, and summarily dismissed.  Men have disregarded me as just another Sad Single Woman Who Lives Alone With Her Cats...and Knits!  They've pitied and pooh-poohed and patronized me as well.  It's a wonder that I even entertain the possibility of being in a potential relationship. 
It's not that I hate's just that up until a few years ago, most of the ones passing in and out of my life proved to be untrustworthy, unreliable, and ultimately unfavorable.  I've settled into a space where I have male friends of like mind...and that's enough for me.  At least right now.
But I'm entertaining the idea that since I've changed so much in the past five years, perhaps I'll attract Mr. Right For Me Right Now.  You never know.
 When I lived in Big Sur, skunks often appeared when I was on my way from the gardens at Esalen to the farm on the north side of the property.  There was even a mother and her two kits living peacefully beneath my hut.  Everyone wanted to rid their living spaces of these intimidating animals, but I welcomed them.   Sitting on the deck, I would watch their little black and white shapes waddle back to the hut as the sun rose, tired from their nocturnal adventures.  After the sun went down and I went to bed, I could hear mama and her babies scurrying out in search of grubs and other goodies. 
One afternoon I was preparing a sweat lodge with my friend, Matteo.  We chatted about our animal totems that have revealed the many life lessons we needed to learn and embody.
"You have some pretty powerful skunk medicine," he quipped.
"Yeah, I know," I sighed.
Matteo lifted his brows.  "Lots of lessons about self-respect for you this time around."
Placing some lavender into the crevices between the rocks we had arranged, I said, "And boundaries and sensuality and walking alone."
He nodded.
Knowing most people's reactions to seeing them on campus, I said sadly, "But who would want to be with a skunk?"
Matteo brightened.  "Another skunk of course!  If you respect you, as a skunk does, then you'll eventually attract someone who mirrors that self-respect and clarity."
I stood up and dusted my hands on my jeans.  "I've lived by myself for a long time...I'm used to waiting."
All these years later, I still am.

Yin/Yang Skunks