I lick my lips for the 47th time in an hour and look around. My mouth is so dry that I’m fantasizing about lip balm pots like they’re purple beads on Mardi Gras. My surroundings do little to distract me.
Girl with feet on back of seat, head on knees, sound asleep. How is that comfortable?
Impossibly tiny child watching Monsters, Inc. on an iPhone. I never knew they made headphones that small. Whenever I get up to pee, she places her doll, Bella, in my chair to “save my seat.”
A clean-shaven man in a crisp white shirt plugging away at his laptop, pausing during each draft email, carefully considering what precedes, “Regards, Bill Baker, CPA.” God, I don’t miss Outlook.
I look at my insulated water bottle, concave from the air pressure. If I take another sip, I risk having to use the bathroom. Again. I swallow and look at the top lefthand corner of my phone. Again. Three more hours.
When I booked the “super saver airfare” a month earlier, I had only one thought in mind: getting out of Jersey.
Now, after six days in San Diego visiting friends and family, I’m just a few hours from home.
Or… not. If home is the place where you pay rent, then I only have ten days left to call New Jersey my own. After that, I face a knee-wobbling series of unknowns that has me questioning… EVERYTHING.
What if I was wrong? What if I don’t know myself after all? What if, along with every shred of familiarity and security, I’ve also tossed out my sanity? Who does this? Who, at 36, quits her full-time job, sells all of her stuff, and starts over?
I take a deep breath and press my head into the seat, careful not to touch the recline button lest I invade anyone else’s space even more. I think about the words I heard just a few days earlier, southern California sun on my skin, salt air in my lungs, and rollerblades on my feet.
“Love is the most important thing,” a leather-skinned man said in an easy, Southern accent. “And honor is like the knight, protecting it.”
When my friend Tracy and I spotted him on the Pacific Beach boardwalk -as I had shamelessly hoped we would- he immediately beckoned us over.
(I’m not saying you should watch that whole video…but you should watch that whole video.)
“You’re laughing,” Slomo drawled, skipping over any normal introduction or pleasantries and diving right into a line of thought he seemed to have been working on for years. “Having a sense of humor is so important. Always vote for the guy who still has a sense of humor.”
I thought back to another older man who had recently approached my sister and I at a bar.
“Do ya know why I came over here?” he had asked. We had been immediately taken by his twinkling blue eyes and Irish accent. After we’d failed to produce an adequate answer, he had continued, “B’cause you were laughin’.”
I purse my chapped lips and my pulse steadies, reliving both conversations. I close my eyes and breathe in through my nose, letting the air slide back out as smoothly as Tracy’s skates on the San Diego sidewalk.
Love and laughter. Yes. That’s why I’m doing this.
I stared at the form on my lap, heart racing. Was my handwriting even legible?
I hadn’t been planning to fill out such a form so soon, but as had been the case with most things recently, an opportunity had arisen out of the blue. In fact, the minute I had decided to take inspired actions towards my dream life, chance meetings and synchronistic events tumbled forward like coins from a lucky slot machine. The more I acknowledged and embraced them, the more followed – all like little winks from the universe.
Let it be known, however, that stepping down Fate’s path isn’t always easy, even when all of the arrows are neon pink and screaming your name.
Usually after I acknowledge a coincidental opportunity, panic sets in and I think of all of the seemingly logical reasons to stay firmly planted in The Known. Then, a familiar internal battle begins: C’mon, Jules. This is how this works. If you want a different life, you have to do things differently. DO NOT LET FEAR WIN. This has been on your bucket list for fifteen years!
I took a deep breath and handed in my form to the spiky-haired woman behind the counter.
With that gesture, my tight, sweaty grip on Control released by another inch, allowing my frenemy, Flow, to take over.
I’m really doing this. At 36 years old, I’m really letting a 5-foot-2 man named “Pop” drive a needle through my nose at 6pm on a Thursday. What are his qualifications? Did he go to school for this? Why does he want to stab women with sharp objects? Wow, he really does seem excited about this…
After marking my nose with a purple pen -twice, to get it juuuust right- Pop told me to close my eyes and take a deep breath.
“Wow, that was a good one!” he said.
“I’ve been doing yoga,” I replied. “Is it in?”
“Well, the needle is.”
I clenched the sides of the chair and decided, for what seemed like the 20th time in two minutes, not to pass out.
Pop deftly finished up and then dabbed a tissue at the corner of my left eye.
“Everyone always sheds a tear. Here, have a look!”
He handed me a mirror and I smiled, surprised.
“It’s hardly even red!”
Normally prone to rashes at the slightest irritant (or out of thin air), it was as though my body had been waiting for this new accessory. Within two hours, it seemed like it had always been there. Every time I glanced in the mirror, I felt like I was seeing the real me.
The great part about doing things that scare the pee out of you is that it DOES get easier each time. And I’m now something of an expert at homemade saline solution.
…Oh, what’s that? You wanted to see a picture? I didn’t take any of th—
It’s eight steps from my living room loveseat to the bathroom.
Seven steps from the bathroom to my bed.
Twenty-four steps -two flights down- from my kitchenette to the front door.
Over the past fourteen years, since graduating college, I’ve moved five times, had eight jobs, four broken hearts, one marriage, one divorce, run two marathons, lost and gained several hundred pounds, said goodbye to five loved ones (including one dog), written two books and 407 blog posts, gotten two advanced degrees, and traveled to three different continents.
Sometimes when things feel stale or stagnant, I review that list and remember: life is always changing. A notion that used to send me into the fetal position now puts a skip in my step. Thank god things are always changing.
No matter how many things we try to track and count, or how many boxes we tick on the Checklist of Life, we’ll never be able to control that one constant – change. Nor will we ever arrive at some magic moment, proclaiming, “Ah, okay, done now!”
When I moved to my 350-square foot apartment in November 2017, the only thing I was sure of was that one chapter was ending and another was beginning.
I was terrified, but determined. After all, if I wanted a different sort of life, I was going to need to do things, well, differently. Of course, I still placated myself with thoughts like, “If you hate it, Jules, you can leave whenever you want and go back to living with an actual oven.”
I needed to tell myself things like that because I still didn’t trust The Grand Unknown. I still didn’t really believe the old adage, “The path will appear when you take the first step.” I always wanted a Plan B, a back-up, something I could measure and rely on. So often we look for sure things and guarantees, favoring our logical, expensively-educated brains, while missing what I’m starting to believe is the entire reason we’re inhabiting these funny flesh sacks in the first place: to follow our hearts.
Who says our hearts are unreliable, anyway? Have you ever tried tackling a tough question by getting still, taking a few deep breaths, and sinking down into that space within your chest? That space that says: You are enough. You can do anything. Your dreams matter. You are loved.
Isn’t that the voice who should always dictate our next steps?
There are still many days where I straddle the line between my heart and my head. Not sure if that’s you, too? In my experience, it feels a little something like this: Hope vs. desperation. Giddiness vs. dread. Authenticity vs. fraud. Ease vs. restlessness. A life of seeming forward momentum and social media-worthy accomplishment vs. that huge part of you that just wants to scream:
Do you ever imagine standing up in the middle of a busy day and doing just that?
Then you could walk five steps to the fridge, fill three water bottles, and take your one dog two flights of stairs down to your one car. You could drive hundreds of miles until you reached the infinite woods.
There, you could hike countless miles and relish innumerable sights and sounds. You could consider your endless blessings, remember your boundless spirit, and realize your limitless potential.
Because counting only matters when you’re living small.
How do you deal with The Grand Unknown? (Hey, come out of that corner, you. It’s safe over here. I have bean dip!)
Oh, Chipmunks. There are going to be some epic adventures to share this year; I can scarcely wait. For starters, I can pretty much guarantee nudity.
Right now, though, as I nurse my 8,000th cold in the past two months, I have that strange feeling… I bet you know the one. I call it “the in-betweens.” Nestled under blankets and a heating pad, with Uncle Jesse curled by my knee, it’s as though some invisible hand has pressed the pause button.
Scared, exhilarated, exhausted and excited after an epic year of goal-crushing, travel, mind-blowing metaphysical exploration, closure, new and rekindled friendships, I’m sipping lukewarm coffee that I know should be tea, trying to just breathe and be. To see the beauty and blessing in this time out. Not every moment is meant to be go-Jules-go-go. There’s a gift within these gray January months, when signs of spring seem unforgivably absent.
Things are always moving, shifting, growing. Even when we can’t see it.
So in this time of unknowns, limitless possibility and quiet, I thought I’d share something ‘in between’ nothing and my normal blog posts.
I watched a video last night of an artist sculpting
Third floor walk-up? No yard? No parking? No laundry? No oven?? What was I thinking???
From my summer-long search I learned that studio apartments in this area, close to a major train line bringing well-dressed commuters into New York City, were in high demand. When I stumbled upon this one after two months of scouring the internet, I knew I had to pounce.
Within an hour of seeing the ad on Craigslist, I met with the landlord, beating out over thirty other interested callers in that first day. (It may have helped that I came equipped with my credit report, five references, my three most recent pay stubs, my dog’s vet records, an irresistible photo of said dog, and my current Masters degree transcript. This project manager don’t play.)
When the landlord confessed she was a dog lover, Uncle Jesse and I had no choice but to sign the deposit check right then and there.
Make no mistake about it, this decision wasn’t easy. The down-sizing itself was a down-right pain in the chipmunk tail. I got it in my head that the best way to sell my stuff was to turn my entire apartment into an Amazon warehouse and hold an “estate” sale.
I also thought it made sense to spend hours of time, and $14.00 on glass knobs I just had to have, to makeover old furniture that I’d inherited for free before trying to sell it on Craigslist.
We won’t even talk about the box spring that somehow got into my old apartment, but met an untimely demise trying to come out of the very same apartment.
And it was no small (heh) feat to turn 350 square feet of this:
So by now you must be thinking:
Was it worth it?”
Let’s find out, shall we?
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1. I Don’t Miss Any of the Stuff I Got Rid Of
To be fair, there’s still a mountain molehill of boxes and pieces of my dining room table in my parents’ basement, but those 87,000 picture frames? GOOD RIDDANCE.
2. Now I Wish I Had Even Less Stuff
Do I really need two giant Tupperware containers of gift wrapping supplies? I don’t even give gifts. I just show up and take things from people.
Sometimes…there are no words.
My, the pink against the white is a whole new level of class, Winston.
Like the good old days when I took all of your photos of your pets wearing slap bracelets.
3. I Feel (Almost) As Free as a Bird Flying Chipmunk
Whenever I move again, I’m excited to see how fast I can pack up. Could I ever live out of a duffle bag?
4. Climbing Two Flights Only Sucks if You’re Carrying a Case of Wine #worthit
I wound up finding an old laptop backpack as I went through all of my crap before moving, and have devised a nearly hands-free strategy for getting my work supplies, coffee, water bottle, lunch and dog down the stairs and around the corner holding only a leash. I can park in a reserved spot right by my door on nights and weekends, so I plan my grocery trips around that.
Not paying for that parking spot during the day? = $1,200/year extra to spend on wine. (I’m not making this up. Twelve. Hundred. Dollars!)
5. It’s Totally Cool to Wear Those Pants Twice in a Row
I fear this strategy has only worked well because it’s been winter.
6. You Can Cook an Entire (Vegan) Thanksgiving Dinner with Two Electric Burners, an InstaPot and a Toaster Oven
I live on a busy street now, near the center of town, and I can’t believe how often people lay on their horns with the determination of a gaggle of hipsters waiting in line for boozy brunch. I have to shut the windows if I want to ensure I hear every word of John Mulaney’s new Netflix special (OMG WATCH IT).
On the flip side, it means the train, great restaurants, coffee, and Trader Joe’s are all just a few steps away.
8. Living Next Door to a Catholic Church Will Not Make You More Godly
Speaking of unexpected noises, my nearby nuns are still messing with me at all hours, despite the anonymous letter I may or may not have sent a month ago.
9. “Need” and “Want” Are Two Very Different Things
When you don’t have any space to put anything, you’ve gotta decide pretty quickly if it’s a “need” or a “want.” For example, I need to bathe once a month, but I probably just want those pug slippers.
10. If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything…Like Cut My Own Hair
I recently found out that watching six minutes of a YouTube instructional video and then cutting your hair in a mirror using scissors meant for a righty that you found in the back of your dresser was more bold than wise. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from my ‘stache, it’s that hair grows back. Often more quickly than you’d like.
11. If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything…No, Really
Much like those who are bringing water to impoverished communities and winning Olympic gold medals, I too have learned that anything is possible if you just put your mind to it. Hang on. That came out wrong. I know this move wasn’t a missionary trip or a heroic act of strength, but taking this leap into the unknown has really galvanized my belief that most of our limitations are set only by our thoughts. So what if you don’t know what path will appear when you take that first next step? You’ve just got to have faith that the universe has your back.
Huh. Maybe that church is rubbing off.
What lifestyle changes have you made that surprised you (for better or worse)?