Tales of a wandering lesbian


“How was it staying in someone else’s house for a couple of months?”  My bro, Matt is always good for interesting conversation.  “Did you feel like you were imposing?  Would you trade the experience?  Would you do it again?”

When I left Portland for Italy, it was with a certain set of expectations.  I really tried to have as few expectations as possible, but I still tried to prepare myself for certain things.  Like not having a place of my own, or the loss of language and humor.  I expected it to be hard in some respects, in truth the hard is part of what I was looking for.  Stripped of my day-to-day routine and defense mechanisms, maybe I’d be more able to hear the guiding voice I’d finally noticed screaming at me my first day in Barga.  I did find some of that.  I also learned some things about myself I hadn’t expected nor really wanted to learn – painful things that I’m sure will come in handy some day.  (It makes me feel better to think that painful things are of great value.  It sucks to think that they just hurt because I’m a dumb-ass.)

As my return to Portland drew closer, I found myself conflicted.  I had so much enjoyed the time with my Italian family, and had learned a lot, from the way to eat cheese and honey to the way my feelings of inadequacy can color my interactions with the people I love.

I also learned how much I value having a door.  This is a lesson I’ve learned before in work contexts.  But even after nearly a decade of unsuccessfully struggling to secure an office with both a door and a window, and analyzing the status that such an office carries, I still didn’t fully grasp the importance of having an actual door in my everyday life.  By taking this first leap in the way I had, I put myself in a position where I would not have a door of my own in any aspect of my life.  Without an office job or my own house, the symbolism of a door was intensified.  While I blogged about what I ate, and what I felt, I consciously opened myself and my adventure to the world.  While I slept on someone else’s floor, they opened their world to me, and I shared the minutia of my existence, right down to my underwear drying on the radiator.  And I felt both the freedom and the exhaustion that came with it.  I started the journey ready to be responsible for nothing but myself, not fully realizing how dependent I would be on others not only for the shelter I had chosen, but for the many lessons I was hoping to learn.

When I had the opportunity to rent a fantastic, cheap apartment I turned it down.  I could isolate myself and prove that I could do this on my own, but if I really wanted to know about myself I needed to prove that I could do this with others.

Throughout my life I have struggled to find a way to accept the assistance of others without resentment.  To realize that, accepting the nourishment, or even the flat out help of another person is not tantamount to failure.  That I am not weakened when I reach out, but rather strengthened.  It’s a lesson I have learned intellectually, one that I have shared with others, but one that I struggle to embrace in my own life almost daily.  It’s a lesson that I really want to learn on a deep level.  Someday I’d like to be appreciative of a partner who wants to take care of me, instead of resentful.  I would like to feel built up by the gifts I receive instead of torn down.  I feel like that would be a healthy thing.  Seems like a good idea.  I wonder why it’s so hard?  I kind of want to vomit and work-out compulsively while I’m writing this.  Maybe I’ll just eat.  Crap, this one’s hard.

In Italy, I found myself falling into a routine.  Between the metronome of my meals, I unwittingly sought out the regularity that would stop me thinking about my life.  Waking up at a regular time, making breakfast, catching a ride to the top of the hill, writing, shopping, cleaning – these things were welcome distractions.  It was almost the end of my trip when I realized that, halfway around the world, with the intention of changing my life, I had found a way back into the patterns that had made me so unhappy.  It wasn’t until my last night in Fornaci, the last night on my little bed on the floor, that I realized how I had traded an office without a door for a life without a door – that I had traded the lack of control and self-worth that I felt in my life in the US for the equivalent in my life in Italy.

When I returned to Portland, I would have no place of my own, but many friends who would happily invite me into their homes, even give me my own door.  It’s a nice feeling to know that I am welcome.  I have beautiful friends in Italy who opened their homes and families to me.  People who treated me like their sister or daughter or aunt.  They allowed me to see myself and the tricks I play to keep from addressing my own demons.  I have wonderful friends and family in the states who would do the same.  Before I left for Italy I wasn’t often able to accept any of these gifts.

As I prepared to return from my trip I wasn’t sure much had changed.  I still felt out of control of my life.  I still felt pretty darn inadequate.  And, in a fit of self-indulgent misery, I called my mom to tell her how I was feeling.

And a miraculous thing happened.

When she suggested that I take control and book a hotel room so that I wouldn’t have to worry about where I was staying or who I was inconveniencing, I listened.  I heard her.  And I accepted her advice.  Without resentment.  Without thinking that I knew better.  I just saw it for the good suggestion that it was and acted on it.  And I felt better.

Yes, I was choosing to rent a door for a few days, a place where I could retreat and deal with the emotions that were enveloping me.  It wasn’t that I was rejecting the gifts that were offered me.  I was simply taking responsibility for the way I felt and recognizing what part of my life I had control over.  It was what I needed.  The night I checked in, I wondered if I’d find myself withdrawing to a dark place.   When I woke up the next morning, it was with at the intersection of sleep deprivation, jet lag, caffeine withdrawal and PMS.  I was emotional – but energized.

I got a great deal on a fancy downtown hotel that was a few blocks from my old office, which meant I woke up to familiar sights and sounds.  I shot an email off to my friends at the office, the people I’d spent 8 hours a day with for three years, and I headed out.  I spent nearly the entire day with people from the office.  We got bagels and coffee at my favorite places, talked for a couple of hours and then headed to the Indian cart for lunch.  I realized how interesting it was that the first place I went was the place that had been so difficult for me.  Sure it was comfortable.  Yes, I knew the people there.  But there were a lot of dynamics I wanted nothing to do with.  On this trip into the office, I found a couple of things.  First, I was able, and even excited to have long conversations with people I had previously had conflict with.  I was a little more aware of my feelings and how they were coloring the interactions.  And I steered clear of the dynamics that didn’t work for me anymore.

Second, I was able to open up to my friends.

I’m a pretty open person.  I’ll answer almost any question as honestly as I can.  But I rarely seek out advice regarding my personal life.  I’ve often said that I’d rather make my own mistakes than learn from the mistakes of others.  I think I’m finally ready to let that go – at least I hope I am.  My first few days back in Portland allowed me the opportunity to seek help, to seek advice on topics ranging from my next travel destination to my career plans to my personal relationships.  In accepting the support of friends, I felt stronger.

And every night, I closed my door on the world so that every morning I could open it again when I was ready.

There are things you miss when you’re out of your element.  Little things like sounds and smells, bagels and Indian food.  Things you take for granted.  For me, one of those things is a door.  I’m not sure exactly what that says about me, but I’m content just to know that it’s something I need.  Would I trade my time in Italy?  Asalutamente No.  But I think there’s one comfort I’d rather not live without.

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December 27, 2009   Comments Off on Comforts