packing light: part II.

Most of us have heard of the geographic cure concept- the idea that changing location will magically cure our problems. It can be so appealing for so many reasons, and the reasons are not all bad- there is much to be said for having a fresh start and new surroundings.

My friend questioned me about this multiple times when I was making this move. “Is that any part of this move for you?” she would say.

All I knew was that I was certain I was running TO something rather than away. I had done the years of work, put in my time. It was time to lighten the load, which I had been doing incrementally for years, and take a step forward into the unknown and bright future that was calling me. I had cleared away the “wreckage of my past”, or at least made peace with much of it, and was ready to move on to what’s next. And sure, the thought of inspiring new surroundings was a big draw for me- I was hungry to experience more and have expanded influences that aligned with the person I was growing into.

One of my mentors, Dave, quotes Carol Dweck who says the future is “unknown and unknowable.” There are endless possibilities. Today, this thought fills me with hope and excitement about what lies ahead. When I was 22 and just out of college, it was completely crippling.

I’ve written previously about some of my “tricks” to packing light. As the years pass and the aging process marches on, the need for some things (such as the many self-help books I’d amassed) falls away. What I couldn’t grasp at 22 I now realize at 40 (hmmm, as of last week, 41...) and do not take for granted, all that life is with its magnificent gifts. With time passing, I don’t wrestle with the same thoughts that paralyzed me in my early 20’s. After graduating from the safe college cocoon I had mastered I was terrified, shielding my eyes from the big, bright, overwhelming sun of The Future. The world was my oyster...  and it was simply much too much to handle.

So I didn’t handle it. I stayed up until 4:00am watching movies and sleeping until noon. I had a box of index cards that I wrote movie reviews on for my own nerdy benefit, and I shed a lot of tears. Looking back, this was the best tool I had to process my emotions at the time. I was craving support and watching other people’s depiction of stories provided that. I made frequent pilgrimages to the movie store, my mecca, to rent VHS tapes that would offer me some insight and relief from the swirling, intense thoughts in my head.

I ate junk food and mostly avoided getting on the healthy diet wagon I was supposed to be eating for my chronic illness (I’m sorry, but who the hell wants “a nice lentil soup” for breakfast?!), pulsing with a strong undercurrent of rebellion. I laid on the floor of my Tucson house alone in what I remember to be the dramatic depths of despair and talked on the phone with my friend Corey (who was impressively "older and wiser") for hours, who had the difficult job of convincing me not to give up when I felt ready to. He was incredibly empathetic and patient with my episodes, and, thankfully, also talented at making me laugh in my sorry state.

One of my favorite quotes from Noah Baumbach’s movie Greenberg is “youth is wasted on the young.” And so it goes- I look around, all of a sudden somehow 40, no 41, wrinkly and bumpy, my fresh, easy beauty gone. My inner beauty, however, beams radiant and strong, freed of so many of the mental chains of the past that kept me stuck.

As we journey along on our paths, there are little lifelines and clues to cling to even as it seems we are stumbling around in the dark. When I was very ill and in the thick of my health struggles upon newly arriving in North Carolina, a yoga instructor told me that I had a very strong life force. This filled me with hope because I could feel that it was true. I always knew deep down that I had a lot to offer the world. My current coach would say that I just need to get out of my own way to unleash my potential, and I see now that’s what I was working to do all those years.
To get out of my own way. This gets to the emotional aspect of packing light. We will be continually faced with opportunities to challenge our old beliefs and let them go, to make room for the new, healthier present moments that await us.

Wherever you go, there you are.” This is what we encounter when we make a move, particularly geographic. We come with us, ALL of us, including our rich pasts, our unique way of viewing the world, our experiences that shape our perspective. Here's a recent personal example from this summer.

The internet had stopped working a while back for several months where I was living during a particularly busy work stint and I started staying at my partner’s place more as a result. He welcomed me with a gracious heart into his home which provided a quiet work environment, strong Wifi and espresso (three things that have come to be Very Important to me these days). I was humbled by the offer and went overboard doing my share and then some of the cleaning and procuring provisions because I wanted to “earn my keep.”

I made jokes about being Vagabond Val, traipsing in with my plethora of bags each time- laptop and work materials, food, drinks, ergonomic work desk, clothes, toiletries, and so on. We laughed about how ridiculous I looked, a colorful pack mule crossing the street, lugging in all my stuff up to his apartment.
I was the one making fun at my own expense, a classic deflection. The next time I had a call with my coach she could tell the housing stuff was really weighing on me, and before we could move on to higher level stuff we had to address it. Shelter is a basic necessity, a Maslow's bottom of the pyramid survival element. What came up for me was some very old feelings of worrying about being a burden to those I love, likely stemming from longtime childhood illness. Not only do I feel more comfortable as the giver than the receiver in general, but I was overcompensating and in fear about even the small possibility of being a burden to someone else.

What my coach helps me realize is that I am depriving others of the opportunity to support and be there for me if I buy into this line of thinking. It can be quite hard to see it from outside ourselves, but I know if the tables were turned I would want to be there for the ones I love, no question, and would feel badly if I couldn't be. She suggested I write a poem about it as I worked my way through my thoughts. It was a helpful assignment and the words flowed out of me within 15 minutes. Here it is:


He doesn’t care about the crumbs
but I do

I’ve turned into my mother it seems

That’s OK, I declare
We all have our quirks

Or warts as Mom would say
We go right on loving them anyway

Grace grace grace
Give us some grace
I give you grace but not me

Bar is set higher you see

Old voices sting

Ring in my ears whispering
You’re too much

But what are we if not safe havens for each other?
Aren’t we all a bit too much sometimes?

Breathe.
Breathe.
Feel your feet in your shoes.
Let it sink in.

You’re safe. You’re here.
You’re VALued and loved
You deserve to take up space

You’re among the trees now
The stars shine bright for you
Look up and see
Beautiful and free

New kitty reminds me I’m enough

I’ve earned her affections
Like I earn them all-
With love, generosity and a spirit of the other

A genuine desire to foster acceptance and grace

Where does that leave me?

I’m creating this story
From dusty old yarns

It isn’t true, never was
But it’s familiar, well worn
And stubbornly clings to neural pathways

Screw the eggshells
They’re to keep chicks safe not people

Lay your burdens down they say

Lay them down at your feet

Allow yourself to be held
Take a chance on this love

People love me anyway
They love me although
They love me because

Listen up girl its true
They love you for you
You’ve got nothing to prove

I’m actually doing pretty good considering, I say
And its true

I’m doing pretty darn good anyway

And that’s enough for today.


~ VAS 7.14.17



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Rainbow upon arriving in California last year after 4 days of driving across the country.
Pretty good sign!


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another trip around the sun.

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I take birthdays very seriously.

I’m feeling more reflective these days (well OK, let’s face it, that's not anything new… Winking). Birthdays tend to evoke this with the very public recognition of the aging process, time marching on. “Time flies whether we are having fun or not!” the saying goes. They can be markers that call us to reflect on the year past, the year ahead, the meaning of it all. So with that, I share a little pulse check.

What other day besides your birthday do you feel most like yourself? It is after all the day you were born! Something about the spirit of that makes me excited for my birthday, and thinking about the things that make up our essence and core as we traverse our respective journeys. What we radiate to the world.

I have been immersed in transition, relocating to a new home the past few weeks, and notice how moving never fails to illuminate things. Something about all of our stuff being shifted around physically that can trigger emotional seismic shifts. While being one of the top five most stressful experiences in life, moving can provide some real gifts once we get past the utter chaos.

With each move, distance is created between the last place, and with that comes the opportunity for fresh insights to bubble up.

My new place feels like my old place in Greensboro, NC, but different. There is an awareness of different levels of self. I wonder if that’s what the term “leveling up” means...

I can feel a little breakthrough happening in the air. It feels Sliding Doors-esque, thinking about the many different Choose Your Own Adventure decisions we activate in our lives. We make choice after choice, each one getting us to a different ending, or perhaps the same ending, with a different arrival.

Living your truth is strange. You don’t realize how long you’ve been buried. It happens slowly in stages, unfolding before us in such a way that we may not realize what is happening because we are too busy being wrapped up in the folds.

I’ve always lived my life in intense bursts with hibernation retreats in between due to various circumstances. I have a feeling I’m not at all alone in this- we do this in our own ways as we juggle all the things that happen in our busy lives. I’ve always loved life, but haven’t always
lived it, not fully at least.

My friend recently said that she is sorry that I’m not a cookie cutter person because it's hard. Well, she's not really sorry, but she's sorry for the struggle that comes with it. She's right - I’m not a cookie cutter person, “cut out” (ha, sorry) to live a cookie cutter life. Blazing new trails where there are no tracks to follow can be really lonely and confusing at times.

She said that I’m facing up to the reality of what I’m embarking on and doing and there would be something wrong if I DIDN’T feel somewhat insane right now! Feeling the feelings means I am facing it, which is important. It's also important to have grace with myself. I’m going through so much, and it's not a pretty time. Self care, self care, self care I chant.

The guiding principle of
being what you want to see in the world gives me some basic direction and focus. Even though the path is still being forged, I can look to my North stars and values that I want to embody and surround me as I walk. My doctor turned philosophy guru says: “Be it until you see it.”

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke


There are times in our lives when everyone else knows “it” but you. We always have the biggest blind spots when it comes to our own lives. I think of the old sticking our heads in the sand notion, trying to be inconspicuous. I always use the analogy of being a kid trying to sleep at our desks in class in school, head down and arms over our face. We can’t see, so we think we are hiding. For some reason we don’t realize that others can see us.
We see things as WE are, not as they are…

The hiding is dumb, to put it bluntly, and we are ultimately most definitely going to be found out. It is like me hiding around town and work wearing what is now famously called my Dumpy Khakis. I wasn’t fooling anyone! My inner peacock had given me away and I had no idea.

It’s cliche, but no one else can live our stories for us. We have to do it. Hiding will only get us so far. We will keep meeting our same selves in the mirror facing the same things until we shift, make a move, make a change, be brave and take a step to move ahead.

I’m currently living the life I was “supposed” to live at 20, at 40. It’s a bit surreal. I wore a bikini last week for the first time since age 25, and felt way more comfortable in it now than I did back then.

Yeah sure, the old crusty junk that haunts us is gonna creep up. Rilke speaks to me today with his wisdom:

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke


Just keep going, keep walking.

I have seriously kick ass community. Those who know me know I only swear when I’m extra passionate. Happy We root for each other. I love that the most. They remind me who I am when I forget. I made a quick list of the people I feel most like myself around- took 15 seconds and jotted down a couple names. I encourage you to do this. Cherish those people.

Most important, perhaps, is that
I got me. I have my own back. I can meet my own needs and take really good care of myself.

Say it with me: I am a person of this world. A proud inhabit of this beautiful planet. I deserve to take up space (thanks Cat).

You are beautiful just the way you are. Be You. Tousle your hair every once in a while. Embrace the messy. Hike barefoot like my cousin Sean. Feel the earth beneath your feet.

Here’s what I’m currently learning and working on:

  • Love is additive. There’s more room in our hearts for an abundance of love than we ever could imagine.

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  • We all come from such different backgrounds and life experiences. It can be hard to really try to put ourselves in others’ shoes- I know I struggle with it. Again, we see things as we are, not as they are… relationships of all shapes and sizes are a gift that is letting me practice this. Life is short- love each other! And let the little things that are not important go. With practice we start to see what the little things are. I’ve found I have more flexibility that I thought on this as I’ve matured. I used to want things a certain way. And while I still have some preferences, some more important than others, I have been surprised to see what I don’t need to hang on to. It has freed me up to be more open to receiving the gifts that do come my way.
   “We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Translations from the Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

In terms of current priorities and goals, here’s what I’m focused on making happen:

  • Writing. I wrote 3,619 words participating in National Novel Writing Month in November. I definitely wasn’t going for a high count but rather consistency in showing up a few days a week in a room with other women and getting some words down on the page, and in that regard I was a success! We’re continuing the momentum through mid-December. I’ve been taking personal essay and memoir workshops in Berkeley this year at a fabulous place called Left Margin Lit (I am in their midst as I write this) and have dived into writing in a way that has been calling to me for a really long time. It feels good!
  • Hitting Fuzzy Yellow Balls. Tennis is another one of my hobbies that fell by the wayside. Whenever I pick up a racquet (which has sadly been only occasionally over the years) I think, I need to get back into this again, for real. I’ve been playing the past few months with some wonderful ladies, and just joined a friendly club in my new neighborhood that will guarantee I get in some more regular tennis action.
  • Creative Pursuits. Music, crafty things, design, color, style, photos, telling stories. I strive to fit these in more and make the time to create- it's good for the soul!
  • Inspiring Work and Building Community. I keep close to the flow on this and am learning to stick to the things that I am drawn to.
  • Exploration in whatever forms this takes. I live in the effing Bay Area! My new environment provides plenty to keep me busy in this department on a daily basis.
Until next year… I hope you make some magic happen on your birthday, and the 364 other Unbirthdays in between.

Enjoy one of my favorite
Birthday songs!

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Smurftastic birthday with the annual classic birthday candle!

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6th Birthday Happy

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When Grandma came to live with us in NC, Dec. 3rd, 2012

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