Sunday, December 8, 2013

Love is a Verb

As I fall in and out of romances and friendships, I find myself having deep conversations with friends about their relationships with others and with me that force me to define my beliefs about love and articulate them.  Here's where I'm at:

Love is not some ambiguous feeling that no one can describe.  Love is a verb.  Love is the actions we take towards the people in our lives.  I love my family.  I love my friends.  I love the men I get involved with romantically.  Loving them doesn't necessarily mean that I want or intend to spend the rest of my life with them and no one else.  Loving them means that I care about their feelings, their desires and goals; and that I want to help them when and how I am able and that I want to see them succeed in being their happiest, most-fulfilled self.  I love plutonic friends with the same intensity that I love romances.

Most often in my relationships with men (romantic ones), they begin with sexual passion and later down the road, develop into friendship.  I don't always find these friendships to be deep and lasting; nor do I always find the passion to be deep and lasting.  I have yet to find a man whose friendship and passion with me are unceasing.

We often speak of "soul-mates".  I don't believe that there is just one person in the world for every other person.  I think we find and connect with many soul-mates in our lifetimes, and not all of those soul-mates will be people we want to marry and/or have children with.  For example, there are several people in my life with whom I would consider myself a "soul-mate".

Tiffany: my oldest (longest) friend.  She and I have been through a lot together, and we know one another through the traumas we've witnessed and supported each other through, and we are intensely loyal to one another.  Although our lives have not always followed the same path, and it's not always easy to understand the others' perspective or desires, we have a mutual respect for one another and there is always common ground to fall back on, and a sense of true sisterhood between us.

Andrew: my ex-boyfriend.  He's broken my heart (more than once) and has not always been the "best friend" I once considered him to be.  Yet he and I once had that passion I described earlier.  He and I lived together and learned one another's habits and flaws and virtues and values and goals, and despite having lost that early passion and gradually coming to realize our incompatibility, we still love each other (and I think we always will).  Of anyone I know, I can still count on him to give "tough love," to listen to my troubles and to commiserate over similar family-drama-type situations and to be kind and well-intentioned.

Lauren is my cousin.  She and I are 2 years apart and have been peas in a pod since we were kids.  I think we've both been each other's role model in some ways as we've grown up together.  She understands our crazy family like no outsider does.  She is sensitive and kind and we share a lot of traits, as well as a passion and talent for music.  Lauren is family; and family is as loyal as they come.

These are just three of the people in my life who I would consider "soul-mates".  I imagine (and hope) that someday, I'll find someone who I can call a "soul-mate" and love and share mutual sexual passion and deep trust and understanding.  I want that person to be a true partner and to share in my life with me and allow me to share in his.  I want that person to accept me in all my beautiful, flawed ways, for who I am and who I was and who I will become.  I want that person to have fun with me, and I want to have fun with him.  I want him to be beautiful and flawed and fascinating.  I want loyalty.  I want friendship.  I want compassion and understanding and affection.

Commitment is just not that important to me.  I think if two people love one another, are loyal to one another, are friends; care about one another's desires, goals, values and success, then what good is commitment anyway?  To me, it takes away from everything else.  It turns loving someone into an obligation, instead of a desire.  It turns loyalty into an obligation, instead of a desire.  I don't want someone to fear the guilt they'll feel if they don't treat me with love and loyalty.  I want someone to want to love and be loyal to me, just as I want to love and be loyal to him.  If I can have that, who cares if he's my "boyfriend" or my "fiance" or my "husband"?  I'm not even sure it's natural for us to be monogamous anyway.  How many other mammals are?

I want verbs; not nouns.

On Mortality

On Friday, I learned I have stage IV metastatic melanoma in my rib, lungs and shoulder (and maybe hip).  Having previously beaten a lesser stage of this disease 3 years ago, I feel much better prepared to handle it this time around.  I have a deep knowledge and understanding of melanoma that I lacked the first time around, and I have developed relationships with wonderful people who can help me now.

With the exception of my fractured rib (caused by the melanoma that's growing there), I feel physically normal.  I'm realizing now that the emotional impact of this cancer is affecting everyone in my life as much, if not more, than it is affecting me.  It's much scarier to consider someone you love having a disease about which you know very little and for which the statistics are not promising, than it is to be positive and assume that everything will turn out fine.

Here's the thing: statistics are just statistics.  I have a lot in my favor - I am young and otherwise healthy, and I am positive and have an army of friends, family and other resources who are standing beside me through this ready to fight for/with me.  Every case is different, and the treatment options are growing and becoming more and more successful with every day and dollar of research.

I told my roommate my diagnosis on Friday night.  He went to "take a nap" and emerged from his bedroom an hour later looking like he'd seen a ghost.  He had been reading those statistics and learning about melanoma.  After we talked about it a bit more, he started building a Bucket List for me (and him) to work our ways through; a great idea, but a morbid one.

The fact is, we all have limited time in this life.  Making the most of that time and doing everything you can to enjoy whatever you've got is a great way to live.  I could get hit by a bus and die tomorrow from that, or I could live another 80 years.  I could die from melanoma in the next 5 years, or I could live another 80 years.  I can sit by idly and let my quality of life slowly deteriorate until I die of melanoma, or I can attack this cancer with the best treatment available and buy some more time in this life.

I'm dreading the side effects that will accompany whatever treatment I end up choosing.  None of it is easy to go through, physically or emotionally, and all of it reduces quality of life for the duration of that treatment (and often beyond).  All of this is in exchange for a little more time at the end.  I feel like I'm trading time for more time - it's like any financial investment: give up a little cash now so that you can have a bigger return later.  But there's a risk in doing that.  You could lose.

The problem is, either way I'll lose that time - in treatment with awful side effects and hope of a healing cure, or in doing nothing and letting myself slowly and painfully die.  So I've got to try and hope for the best and just get through it.  And in the meantime, I'm adding to my Bucket List and making plans to most enjoy whatever time I have left in this life, be it 5 or 80 years.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


"Confidence is like a muscle - the more you use it, the stronger it gets."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dear ____,

I love your inner peace.  Even in the worst of times, when the weight of the world is clearly on your shoulders, you manage to keep your calm.  Even during a meltdown, when you're crying and lingering in sadness, you stay steady.  I can think of only one time in the last 5 years when you've lost your cool and become truly hysterical - it was in the passenger seat of that car on that night...the night of the last straw.

I love the care you take in selecting your friends and the kindness with which you treat them.  You do not waste your life and your love with and on people who do not deserve it.  You gravitate toward other people, like yourself, who enjoy life and don't take things too seriously.  When your friends need help, you help them.  When your friends make mistakes, you forgive them.  You share in their joy and you comfort them through their sadness.  You worry for them deeply because you care deeply.  You are selfless with these few who have earned your trust and love.

I love your sensuality.  Somehow you've managed to emerge from that cocoon of insecurity (middle school) a beautiful creature in your own eyes.  That awkward self-consciousness is gone.  You are confident of your sex appeal and you have no hang-ups about expressing that sensuality to the few you let in.  You are carefree and gorgeous.  Nothing exists when you're in his arms but that moment.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mountain Climbing

Everyone faces challenges in life.  Although you can easily feel like you're all alone in the midst of a challenge, it's almost a surety that others are facing the same struggle at the same time, and sharing that overwhelming sense of despair, loneliness, worry, and frustration with you.  Over the course of the past several months, it has seemed that the people closest to me have been charged with an unusually severe lot of life's challenges.  As I've observed my friends and family take on these "mountains", I've found myself analyzing how it is that they've chosen their particular paths up the mountain.  I know...stop it, Jen.  

But every one of my family and friends in their specific situations has in many ways been training to meet the valleys of these mountains and take on these climbs.  They probably don't always realize it, but the smaller struggles that they've encountered in life up until this point have prepared them (in many ways) for what they're up against now.  More than likely, these mountains will one day look small in comparison with the next mountain range with which they'll find themselves face to face.

Here's an example - my ex - let's call him "Anthony".  Still a good friend, we've maintained contact since our split a little over two years ago.  When he and I were together, Anthony was rather distant from his family, and he preferred to keep that distance.  I, however, have a strong familial bond with my big, fat, Greek family, and they seem to be constantly in my business or me in theirs.  Through the years that I spent as half of the couple "Jen & Anthony," I showed him the value of keeping family close, relying on them and supporting them when necessary, and I like to think he caught on to some of that, and grew closer to his own family as a result.  When I was diagnosed with cancer in September 2010, Anthony and I were living together.  I knew my world was about to rapidly change, whether I wanted it to or not.  I thought then that even though Anthony and I had our issues, he was my best friend, and when the shit hit the fan, he would come through for me and be there for me 100%.  I thought that I had done such a good job of welcoming and incorporating him into my family, that he would follow-through as I'd expect one of my own family to do in a time of need.  But when I got that life-changing diagnosis, I learned that I was wrong about Anthony.  He didn't know how to be there for me and support me through that.  He reverted back to how he knew to stay safe in a family - by keeping his distance.  And he lost me.
Anthony's younger brother was in an accident this past fall.  Let's call his brother "Paul".  In his early twenties, Paul could have died; he could've been permanently brain-damaged; he could've been paralyzed for the rest of his life.  Anthony and his family were devastated.  Anthony could have hidden his feelings and detached himself from the situation and carried on with life as he knew it.  Paul was living in another state, and they saw each other rarely (holidays and other special occasions).  Instead, Anthony showed up at sunrise; he changed his life to fit with Paul's changing life; he started to climb full-speed up that mountain; he knew and feared the possibility that if he didn't start climbing, Paul would fall off his mountain and out of Anthony's life forever.

Maybe his sense of loss over our romance and depth of friendship was his prep-work for what would happen with Paul.  Anthony said to me recently over a bottle of wine, "I want to be there for him the way I wasn't there for you."  The fact is, he's kicking that mountain's butt now, and I'm proud of him for even taking it on in the first place.

When I think of the mountains I've personally had to climb in life, there has always been an adjacent challenge that came first to prepare me for how to handle it better when the real mountain appeared.  I guess everything happens for a reason; and everything happens when it should, as it should.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Baker's Morning

Hot rays of sunshine crept onto my face to the point of discomfort. I slowly woke and with eyes closed I saw only blood orange light behind my lids. Alone in my queen bed, I felt warm, safe and secure, nestled into my crimson cotton sheets and fluffy white down comforter. I felt the gray and black striped cat stretch atop the bedspread, always touching me slightly so I couldn't sneak away while he slept. As I came out of my dream and into the day, I opened my clamped jaw to discover morning breath - gross.  Lying in bed, I imagined the warm refreshing shower and tooth-brushing that was to come upon dragging my dead-weight body out of bed. I dreaded being wet, but the thought of the clean feeling that it would produce enticed me to push the sheets and comforter and cat aside.

An hour later, clean and full-stomached, I began another day in my kitchen. Today's menu - devil's food cake with caramel swirl crunchy icing. Eggs, flour, sugar, cocoa, cream and love were my life's ingredients.

A Reason A Season or A Lifetime

A wise person recently shared this idea with me, and I feel compelled to pass it along:

We meet people and form relationships for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

It didn't take long for me to identify myself as the type of person who enters into every relationship with the loose expectation that it will last a lifetime.  There is no "purpose" motivating me to open my mind and heart to a friendship or romance except simply to have a friendship or a romance.  When it comes down to it, it's pretty simple and (at that stage, at least) I don't overthink it.  My initial analysis of a relationship tends to be purely intuition-based.  I have a tendency to trust people until they give me a reason not to.  I can usually tell within the first 5 minutes of meeting a person if they're someone I want to give my trust and friendship.  Once that trust is irreparably broken, the season ends.  But it was always my intention to have a lifetime.

I'm not a friend with ulterior motives; I'm just a friend.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jazz Standards

I'm a music-lover.  I am a musician.  I love to listen; to play; to write.  I love it all.  It's a true passion of mine.  It's always been a part of my life, and it always will be.  As my good friend, Tiffany, and I related to one another recently, the right music at the right time can speak to the soul and bring us to tears easier and with more depth than just about anything.  It brings back memories, good and bad.  It  can pull at your heartstrings like no one and nothing else can.

If asked to select my genre of choice, ordinarily I hate to peg myself to just one, since I have an eclectic ear and enjoy all genres of music.  Here's my secret truth: my favorite is standard jazz.  I could listen to Tony Bennett, Nat King (or Natalie) Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Etta James, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and the like all day, every day, and never stop smiling and/or crying.  

The chords are so thick and luxe, I sometimes don't even listen to the lyrics.  But when I do, those lyrics are so soulful and real.  It's like they've taken everything I've ever felt and will ever feel and mashed it up into the sweetest, perfectly warm and smooth cup of hot chocolate you can imagine.  This stuff is unbeatable from where I sit.

It's not the pale moon that excites me,
that thrills and delights me, oh no
It's just the nearness of you


Means for Inner Peace

It's rare that I just don't feel like going for a run.  Running accomplishes so many different things for me.   While on a run, I can consciously think through problems and (sometimes) find solutions, or I can forget the problems and think about nothing, knowing that I'm doing something good for my body and mind.  Whether I'm seriously thinking or not, I remind myself during each and every run that I am strong; that I am alive; that I am a survivor.  I always feel like a superhero when I finish a run, sweat dripping from every pore, stretching out like a champion.

Growing up, I found solace playing the piano.  I could lose myself at the keys the way that I do now on a run.  Yes, I still play the piano, and I still find solace there sometimes.  I haven't replaced my old friend, baby grand, with a treadmill or open road.  But I have found it increasingly challenging to get away from the grind of everyday life to play the piano.  It seems like whenever I sit down to play, I strike a chord, and immediately, someone needs me for something.  My phone rings or I get a text that needs attention; Dad or Marie want me to do it NOW, not later; someone's favorite TV show is playing loudly in the background, drowning out my peace.  When I go for a run, there is nothing else for me to do but that; right there, right then.  Dad and Marie sure as hell aren't going to come running after me.  There are no calls or texts urgent enough that I can't handle them 60 minutes from now.  For an hour or so, I've reclaimed my peace in the world.  I can unplug and reflect on what's good and what needs some work.

Everyone needs an escape now and then.  Everyone needs a daily dose of introspection.  Without it, we melt down.