How I Gave Up My Home and Found Freedom

NOTE: This essay was first published just after I moved in with the woman who is now my wife. I wrote it in May, 2015, and I think it’s a perfect reflection on what my life was like then … still, quiet, and waiting to begin again.

I just moved again. Only this time … I’ve finally come home.

Since my daughter died and my one-time life fell apart in 2012, my undulating path has led me ever forward.

Again and again I’ve been called to up-level who I am, what I do … and even where I live. Challenges have abounded. Wild waters have had to be crossed. Yet I have persisted. And now, finally, I am thriving.

Oddly, I followed the path that Teal, herself, followed just before her death. Here’s how it went.

A few months prior to Teal’s death I gave up my apartment in San Francisco and moved in with a lover. The relationship ended shortly after I arrived … and so I found myself without a home. A nester by nature, I always held having no home as certain death. This was literally my worst fear as a small child.

Yet somehow, this time I rose above it and did something radical.

I dumped my stuff in storage, packed a few lean bags and went off to find myself.

“Nice,” said Teal approvingly. She, herself, had just landed in an apartment after six months of couch surfing with friends, preceded by six months of backpacking around the world. “I don’t really need a home,” she explained lightly.

At the time I didn’t get it, but now I do. Completely.

Home is our tether to who we are – which for me was a rigid identity, forged in the crucible of a dysfunctional childhood. But now I was being called to let go and head for the unknown.

In fact, in my homeless state, I was searching for the supreme ideal that formed every moment of Teal’s life: freedom.

So it was that I wandered here and there.

I spent a memorable month sleeping under the stars at a hot springs filled with gentle, naked Californians. Then I travelled, visiting friends and traveled here and there around the US and Canada. I was subletting a home in a small women’s commune in the wine country when Teal died.

With her death came a new level of surrender. Having a real home now suddenly seemed out of the question. I wanted nothing more than to drift.

I found my way to a small, safe cocoon – a sunny bedroom in Petaluma, a sweet little town north of San Francisco. My housemates were funny, interesting, and forgiving of my frequent need to disappear and cry.

My identity continued to disintegrate.

It began to dawn on me that I was no longer capable of doing the business coaching that had sustained me for the last decade. Really all I could do at this point was drink tea and write, with a long-haired cat tucked by my side. Then my aging, infirm mother died and so I received a modest inheritance.

This time I packed up and moved to Paris for two months. Here I could let go of the last vestiges of the compressed, anxious high achiever I’d become. A room for a mere 20 euros a night landed in my lap. So I walked through Paris every day for hours. I made friends, bought groceries among the Parisians and practiced my French with everyone who would let me. I pretended for a while that Paris was my home.

When I finally came home, I was relaxed, centered, newly grounded. Just as Teal was when she returned from her own wandering travels in Europe and Asia.

At this point, it was sixteen months after Teal’s death. I was ready to emerge … somewhat. But only in the safest and tenderest of ways.

It was at this moment that a kind, loving old friend invited me to live with her. Now I found myself in yet another new town – Sebastopol, known for its hippie bus mindset and chill vibe. Here I found my yogi, a kind and guided soul who introduced me to another of Teal’s loves: goddess spirituality.

Every time I went to Kashi’s studio and practiced the gentle, healing yoga she taught, I felt another part of my heart open and let go. It was here that I became fully, completely surrendered on the path.

In Sebastopol, I set up the tiniest of roots. I rented a small office and created an altar, which I lit with electric candles and strewed with rose petals. Regularly, Teal and the goddesses would drop in and advise me.

For another sixteen months I dissolved back to a new layer of calm, and simple Me-ness. I gave up trying to make money and within a few months a paying gig writing novels came my way. Everything I needed simply kept showing up, again and again.

During this time I stopped striving and as I did, the best thing of all happened: I fell in love.

Now I live with my love, and slowly the foundation of our new life is being built. My storage unit is getting emptier and emptier as I let go of no-longer-needed pieces of my past. And each day we knit ourselves together on the soul path we agreed to an eternity ago.

In my new life, I am finally free. My self-imposed prison is gone. The need to suffer has lifted. The relentless perfectionist has been silenced, and the little girl who lives inside of me has been liberated.

I find myself now with a new and gleaming path ahead, not to mention a home. Every inch of it is informed by my three years of wandering and living like Teal did …

In wonder, grace and curiosity, simply waiting to see what would happen next.

If you want to learn more stories about letting go, you might love my latest podcast, A Master Conversation About Letting Go with Timber Hawkeye. 

 

 

Are You a Wounded Decision Maker?

Throughout most of my life, I made decisions based on one thing: how I felt in the moment.

Turned out to be a bad idea.

Back in my early twenties, when I was starting out as an advertising copywriter, I chose to work for an abusive jerk in one of the most notorious hack agencies in New York. It was the place that invented that American icon, Madge the Manicurist. And working there was hell.

At the same time, I ignored an invitation to interview with Ed McCabe, the grand circus master of creative boutique agencies. He was the guy every young writer wanted to work for. He was fun, engaging and swept every awards show. But I blew off his entreaty.

Why?
Because I had no idea what I was doing. Blithely, I assumed I should just go on instincts, so I made a very bad choice.

The bottom line was that I didn’t know how to ask for help. Nor did I even know I needed help.

At age 20, I thought I knew all the answers. “All ad agencies are alike,” I told myself, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. So I chose rashly, with no preparation.

Thirty-two years later, I discovered I was still making the same mistake. Fresh out of a 25-year marriage and newly out as a lesbian, I was in no mood for circumspection.  I dove headfirst into a love affair with an unstable person.

A month later I came to my senses and walked away – only to return to her a month later on an impulse. A friend at the time advised me against it.

“You’re scaring me,” he said. But I ignored him.

After all, I always knew the correct answer … right?

Wrong.

Only in the last several years have I learned to make decisions slowly and with a great deal of thought. The bigger the decision, the more thought goes into it. It feels like an act of Grace.

Conscious decision-making has taught me that I am not alone. That it’s best to get feedback from trusted friends. So I’ve come to think of these wonderful advisers as my personal ‘board of directors.’

Friends talked me off the cliff of compulsive overwork when it was time grieve my daughter’s death. Others advised me to walk away from a potential abusive relationship, and run towards the woman I was really suited to.

Still others kept me from snuffing out my pain with an impulse to buy a painting I couldn’t afford.

In the end, each choice I’ve made has always been mine. But I’ve learned to make them with eyes open and all the options on the table.

In this way, conscious decision-making has saved my bacon many times in recent years.

Here’s the part I really love: this Zen-like approach to decision making is fun. The pressure is off!

Especially when I regard each decision as an experiment – one that may work beautifully, or, instead, become a ‘learning experience.’

No longer must I be the swashbuckling hero of the moment, swooping in to make a big decision with no forethought or research. No longer must I save the day the way I used to as a child in an alcoholic family.

Instead, now I can take my own sweet time. I can decide when I’m damn good and ready, and not a moment sooner.

Not surprisingly, the woman I am now married to is a beautiful decision maker. She vets every choice thoroughly, turning it over from all angles. She’s not interested in seizing every opportunity, but instead, in exploring the potential downsides as well.

She takes her time, and she is teaching me to do so, too’.

At times, it’s still uncomfortable to peel myself away from a rash decision. The old buzz of pheromones and the thrill of the adrenal rush sometimes beckon.

But I stop to reflect before I choose. Because I know that on the other side is excellent self care, which is far more sustainable than the sugar rush of a fast choice.

Do I still honor my instincts? Absolutely. It’s just that now I know how to sit with them.

The world will not end tomorrow if we don’t act today. We can act in good time, slowly and consciously, and so enjoy the warm glow of satisfaction from a decision well made.

May you choose well and slowly.

If you like this conversation about how to avoid making knee-jerk reactions, you might love my latest podcast with Chel Hamilton. She has a lot to say about overcoming ‘knee-jerkery’.

What the LGBT Murders in Orlando Taught Me About Love

Rachel & SVF. Pride 2015For the first time in my adult life, I feel scared – and at the same time defiant and even joyful – about who I am.

I am a lesbian who did not come out until age 52. So I lived my first half century as a content member of the mainstream straight world, complete with husband and kids. I felt safe, a little smug, and protected by society.

Now, in the wake of the horrific mass shootings in Orlando targeted at the gay community, that security has been shot to hell. I feel my vulnerability like never before.

Just as so many generations of LGBT people have before me.

Yet, just as dark is always followed by light, I feel my courage, my resilience and my spirit rise up. Just like all my gay brothers and sisters who lived and died before me.

This is what LGBT Pride is all about.

Here, on the edges of social norms, we live and love more intensely than we ever could have in the straight world. We do this because we need to. And because it’s our right.

Every time I walk down a street, holding the hand of my fiancée, I still feel a small swell of the pure joy of being out, proud and uniquely me. Even after six years as a lesbian.

I hope I always will.

Those who would call us infidels and push us from tall buildings, or walk into night clubs and gun us down in cold blood, or even pass laws barring us from bathrooms, have forgotten something.

Because we are outliers – the so called ’10 percent’ – we have gotten very, very strong. And we have built a community that is like a force field.

At this point, after Stonewall, the murders of Harvey Milk, Brandon Teena, and Matthew Shepherd, decades of AIDS and HIV, and hate crime after hate crime, it would have to be.

Not only is the community incredibly creative and resourceful, it’s rock solid. And it will not quit.

Ever.

My fiancée tells me stories about what it was like when marriage was legal, then it wasn’t, then it was, then it wasn’t in California. It was a situation that wreaked havoc. Still the community pressed on, until the Supreme Court’s historic decision came down legalizing same sex marriage in the U.S..

When my beloved and I marry in October, we will joyfully celebrate not only the joining of our lives – we will stand up for all people everywhere who honor their personal bliss.

No matter how unique. And no matter how potentially dangerous.

We will also remember the 49 victims who died and the 53 who were wounded in Orlando, just because they were dancing, enjoying life and honoring who they were.

In the end, only one thing is certain.

You can’t kill love.

 

The Gritty, Beautiful Process of Becoming Yourself

Lili_Elbe_by_Gerda_Wegener.401These days we seem to be generally all about becoming ‘something’ — especially as the year begins. We want to be thinner, richer, sexier, bolder, more productive yet more relaxed, more spiritual …. hell, even bustier.

We want our flawed and weak selves to disappear and be magically replaced by someone who is infinitely better.

As if we could be improved on just as we are.

I write this as a lesbian who for the better part of 40 years pretended I was not. It wasn’t safe to be me – not in a family headed by two people who were cluelessly homophobic. My story is not new. The repression of who we are shows up again and again through the generations.

Yet, it is a new day. I have been out and proud for more than five years, and seen the dawn of gay marriage in the USA. The growing mass acceptance of transgendered people is proof as well.

Not long ago my partner volunteered to work at a conference for transgendered families. Yes, that’s right. Transgendered families; parents whose children have decided at age six or eight or eleven that they are in the wrong body. There were hundreds and hundreds of people at this conference – it was a dazzling display of openness and self acceptance.

Next month I will publish my first novel in 25 years, which features a transman (female to male) character. Charley is a spy who happens to have transitioned at age ten. In the deep south. In the late 80’s.

Why did my co-author and I make this choice? Because it’s a story of deep self acceptance that must be told again and again.

In Transformed: San Francisco, the fact that Charley is a transman becomes irrelevant; his transition is not even discussed. More important is that Charley is brave, strong, grounded, and a little hopeless in love. That he is gifted with being both vulnerable and tough, sensitive and bold.

Charley is us and we are Charley – even when he blows off paying his taxes and gets suspended by the CIA, his employer.

We all must be ourselves just as we are … no matter what. If this requires special bravery, then special things are likely to happen. Even if the results are immediately disastrous, they make sense over time.

The Danish Girl, an exquisite film by British director Tom Hooper, comes to mind. The film is based on the life of Danish transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who was the first person to change genders surgically. Her decision to become a woman ultimately killed her – but oh how she lived until her death!

Lili Elbe loved to walk the streets of Paris in her full feminine persona, often passing as the sister of the man she once was. Mind you, this was in 1912. The painting shown above of Lili by her beloved wife, artist Gerda Wegener, completely captures her essential femininity.

The Danish government, in an equal state of openness, honored Lily’s changed identity and even issued a passport in her new name and gender.

We hope that Transformed: San Francisco will help all manner of readers accept those who are different, yes. But for me there is always a deeper agenda. As a writer and speaker, I am here to remind people again and again to honor who they are, even the tricky bits.

Can we improve and learn and grow? Always, of course. But must we change what is essentially ‘us’ in order to fit in? To be ‘normal’ — whatever that is? No.

Rather, we must learn to love our own particular quirks.

For this reason, we included a second character in Transformed: San Francisco who longs to be a professional dominatrix. She begins the book as Pamela Delacroix, a Manhattan socialite who has just been booted out of town for serving as dominatrix to six husbands of friends.

Honestly, Pamela was just doing what came naturally, though there was certainly a better way to get the job done. Namely by leaving her repressed marriage, moving to San Francisco and staking her claim as a true dom which she does. Here she takes the name ‘Electra’ and gets down to business.

Life moves towards wholeness for my characters as they take risk after risk fighting a Christian extremist who believes such people are ‘sinners’. As I know we can, as well.  Emerging from writing this book, I know that a good story can open hearts and minds, just as The Danish Girl has.

At the very least, it has opened mine just a little bit more.