Dying For Sex

“You needn’t die happy when your time comes, but you must die satisfied, for you have lived your life from the beginning to the end.”-Stephen King

Recently I binged on a six episode podcast in a span of 24 hours.  It was beautiful, poignant, and emotional, and I had to share this.  The series is called Dying for Sex.  It’s a conversation between two best friends, where one particular friend has stage 4 cancer, divorces her husband, and explores her sexuality with the time she has left.  It contains such beauty, humor, rawness, vulnerability, and inspiration.  It serves as reminder for one to think of how do you want to live your life, knowing that you will die. 

       How often do we forget that we are going to die?  That is the only certainty we have.  I’m not trying to be morbid or focus solely on the negative here, but it is true.  Yet, when we know this and can hold this in our hands, it reminds us of the preciousness of our lives.

       This is a foundational principle in Buddhism.  In fact in Bhutan, people remind themselves five times a day they are going to die to bring about their happiness.  If you have problems doing this, you can buy an app called “We Croak,” which will remind you.  I purchased this years ago, and try to remind myself how precious life is frequently.  

       When you know death is imminent, you cut out the crap, and live a life aligned to what is most important to you.  But the truth is none of us know when our time is.  What are we waiting for?  What do you need to do to live in alignment with your values?  What is on your bucket list? 

More info on the podcast : https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/dying-for-sex/id1495392900

Artist Date to Rodin

This past week, I took myself on an artist date to the Rodin Museum.  For those who aren’t familiar with artist dates, they are something Author Julia Cameron suggests we do weekly to deepen our creativity.  Basically we treat ourselves on a date, whether this is to a park, film, beach, or even the $1 store.  Often we wait for someone else to do activities with, but in this we treat ourselves, regardless how big or small.  This is a concept I love, and even used to recommend it to clients.  

I’ve been living in Paris for over seven months, and I had only been to this Rodin museum twice in those months.  It was a museum I fell in love with 18 years ago when I first visited Paris and one part of me thought I may spend my days here volunteering at the museum.  That didn’t happen, it was a beautiful warm (but not hot) day, and perfect moments to spend Rodin and his sculptures.  

Rodin’s works speak to me, as I felt he was one of the first artists to display in sculpture the intensity of our emotions.  This includes not just victory, but the suffering, longing, pain, ecstasy, wonder, and contemplation.  Although he’s most known for his piece The Thinker, there’s so much more depth to his pieces.  This is what calls out to me in his work.  I am someone who veers to the optimistic, perhaps in the past of demonstrating toxic positivity.  This blog is called It Only Takes A Smile, for gosh sake.  But over time, I have been learning the beauty that exists in suffering, complexity, and despair.  I am not idealizing these emotions, but they are part of our human existence and also part of our internal and collective shadow.  There’s a necessity to embrace the totality that life has to offer, and I appreciate the artists who can share humanity’s vulnerabilities (and sometimes their own). 

On a future artist date, go to a local museum and examine the versatility of the works available.  Embrace both the dark and the light.  See what stirs inside. 

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”-Carl Jung

Everyday Observances

            There’s a magic you forget, when you live in a touristy town.  I live two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and a 10 minute walk to the Seine River.  Some people save money for their whole lives awaiting to simply visit this town, and take their obligatory photos.  And in the midst of everyday life: days that are too hot you just want to stay indoors, or days you have too many errands to do, or days you just are feeling down, you forget the majesty that lies outdoors.  I try to remind myself that.  It’s still less than eight months that I have lived here, and I am aware my time is limited. 

            I go to the Champ de Mars daily now, which is my closest dog park.  I notice the tourists, as they dress in their finest and pose for outlandish photos in front of the La Tour Eiffel.  Some try to look sexy with flowing dresses and high slits, cheesy with making peace signs, some jump in the air, or have accessories such as a bicycle held high in their arms.  And I watch their glee, as the moment is captured. 

            But what is interesting I find in the park, is the routine.  The same people who walk in the park at the allotted golden hour before the sun exudes too much heat.  There is the lady with a tan hat who walks laps with a cane getting her steps in, a yoga teacher who takes her studio outside for visiting tourists, a retired couple who work out daily, the staff members that keep the park clean, the homeless person who takes in a nap, and all of the dogs and their owners.  I don’t know any of these people, and have talked to few of them.  But they have become familiar, and in a town of strangers, the familiarity has become something I’ve learned to find most beautiful about this city.  And the irony is that this exists in every city, if you are patient, walk the same paths, and observe closely enough.  You can witness beauty unfolding all around you. 

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. “Marilyn vos Savant

Glimmers of Hope

               Since Puzo has died, I have been making an effort to take my other dog Bella to the park at least once a day.  I realized I limited our walks over the past few months, because Puzo’s ability to walk was limited.  We only could use a stroller with him, and the heaviness of it made the process an ordeal.  But I still managed the Champ de Mars park several times a week (particularly in the nicer weather).  If we didn’t take these excursions, Puzo could only make it to the tiny alley we lived on. That was not inspirational.  I began to take Bella out separately, yet these walks were limited.  
               Life adjusts to those you must care for, and I simply accepted this was our phase.  But now he is gone, I am being more intentional with Bella.  There is guilt for not being more present with her before due to the care and attention that was needed for Puzo, but I am making up for that now.  It’s easy to get sucked into the sadness and depression that comes with loss, but the day Puzo died my mom reminded me « you must be there for Bella. »  And so I am trying.
               At the park today, I witnessed a beautiful simple moment.  The sky was a  cloudless blue, and a young woman was playing with her German shephard.  He had puppy energy.  She brought a massive bubble set, to blow bubbles and allow her dog to chase it.  But she did not do this freely,  it was only his reward after he sat down.  There is something so innocent about bubbles.  They are full of wonder for children, adults, and even dogs.  We chase these ephemeral irridescent shapes, wanting to embrace the beauty they momentarily offer.
               Later in the afternoon, I walked Bella to the pet store.  I was going to return a bag of specialized dog food I never got to open for Puzo.  A young boy was in the store staring at Bella.  He pet her, and I gave him a Puzo gratitude card (maybe you received one if you are reading this).  I told him my other dog died two days ago, he shared this with his cousin sitting next to him.  As he pet Bella, he showed her the card, almost reminding her to remember her brother.  It was innocent and sweet, and surprisingly I didn’t cry.  I can find hope in glimmers today of bubbles, a blue sky, the youthful puppy, boy, Bella’s park adventures, and the legacy of Puzo that will continue to live on.

It’s Like

Yesterday, I lost my English Bulldog companion of 15 years.  And it’s been more difficult than I expected.  As I was reading this book on the Dark Night of the Soul by Thomas Moore, it said you should try to describe your intense emotions in metaphors versus literally.   And this is what I have come up with so far…
                                It’s like…
It’s like the dizziness you feel from spinning in circles.
It’s like finding your first gray hair.
It’s like living in a country where you don’t understand the language.
It’s like a first break up.
It’s like breaking a bone, which you feel will never heal.
It’s like learning to use crutches.
It’s like visiting your childhood home.
It’s like a late January day in England, where the sunsets are at 3 :30 pm.
It’s like letting the world see you without makeup.
It’s like struggling to get onto another flight after yours was cancelled.
It’s like getting lost and not having cell service or a GPS.
It’s like driving on an empty tank, wondering if you will make it to the next gas station.
It’s like endless vomiting after a night out drinking.
It’s like a 100 degree day without air conditioning.
It’s like a yeast infection.
It’s like losing your appetite because you lost your sense of taste.
It’s like 24 hours of no sleep. 
It’s like standing on a crowded train at rush hour for a long commute. 
It’s like knowing you will never hear your favorite song again.
Metaphors can’t convey the pain, loneliness, and distance I feel from myself losing him.
 
-

Farewell to my Puzo


Today I had to say goodbye to one of my closest companions for the past 15 years.  This has been one of the hardest moments, and I knew he waited for me until I came back from my trip.  I had minimal sleep last night, crying as I looked at him, as he looked at me, his head rested on my hand, and we both knew our remaining time is limited.  I played my Puzo playlist day and night, which consisted of his favorite classical, jazz, and kirtan songs (his favorite song is by Paz – Om Ganapataye, which I played in the vet office as he died).  

I’ve had so many memories with this being who came into my life when I was 28, and has now left when I was 43.  We had 15 years and 1 month together.   Over the years, he’s travelled to more places than some humans.  He was a gift from my mother from Amish country in Ohio to NYC (with sidetrips to Connecticut, Vermont, Philly), and two moves to California, Hawaii, and we lived in three residences in the United Kingdom (he even visited Scotland), and finally Paris France.  I know he has now transitioned to a place where he will have further adventures and watch over me from above. 


 It was through walking him and his sister Bella, that I began to talk to strangers in these unfamiliar cities or to explore parks in places I would never have frequented.  He opened my heart in ways I didn’t know it was possible.  We named him Puzo, as Anthony’s favorite author was Mario Puzo (author of the Godfather), but puso in Tagalog (the Filipino language) means heart.  He definitely lived into the name of Gangsta Mafia and Fullness of Heart.  I love you Puzo, and I’ve appreciated every joyful, crazy, hilarious, difficult, touching moment with you over the years.  We will miss you and I know you will be watching over us and protecting us in this next phase.




20 Observations of Paris: A 6 Month Review

“Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”
― John Berger

 
               I am headed to the states for the third time today since living in Paris.  It’s been six months since I have moved here, and everytime I leave I can’t help but reflect on what my experience has been like.
 
What I have learned in France so far….
 
1.People have opinions of your dogs : are they healthy enough, where they should go to the bathroom, how long should they live, should they walk more, who to play with ?
 
2.Women don’t wear shorts, sweats, or yoga pants.  Floral dresses and skirts seem to be preferred.  Until 2013, it was illegal for 200 years for women to wear pants.  It sounds preposterous, but I found this out reading the Bonjour Effect. Women were forbidden to wear pants to keep them from dressing as men and going into the workforce.  
 
3.The double kiss on the cheek is the real deal.
 
4.Life does feel like a scene from the Disney cartoon Beauty and the Beast, where one must greet everyone with a bonjour.  To avoid doing so is rude.  It’s best to comply.
 
5.Many Parisians do not drive or have a need for a driver’s license.
 
6.Most people speak English, particularly the younger generation.  Those fifty and over years old, I have learned to not expect this.  If you don’t speak French, and find yourself in conversation with someone who solely speaks French, you can basically figure it out.  Guestimate it.  
 
7.Paris is full of diversity and interracial relationships, which has been beautiful to witness.
 
8.Apartments are small, anything over 400 sqare feet is killing it with space ! We all seem to partake in tiny home living here I’ve learned to survive in 290 square feet, between me, my English bulldog, and my chug.  I’ve even hosted a guest for a month .  .  
 
9.Parisians are quiet on public transportation.  If they talk on the phone, it’s a whisper, the dogs don’t bark, and even the children are behaved.  This becomes apparent when other Americans get on a metro. 
 
10.Paris seems to be the quintissential American European dream.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t hear an American accent (which isn’t my own).  
 
11.If you try to speak French, they may speak back to you in French.  Or they may find it amusing, and want to minimize your embarassing accent, and just respond to you in English.  
 
12.There are over 130 museums in Paris, to appear cultured, one must attend an exhibit at least once a month.  
 
13.The French dress simply, but classy.  One doesn’t find much bright colors, and due to minimal closet space, they make the most of what you have.  A camel winter coat,  military green trench coat, and simple white sneakers go a long way.  
 
14.Parisians love their parks.  Apartments are small, but the parks (in addition to the cafes) seem to be where locals extend their living rooms for picnics, celebrations, or even dates.  
 
15.Everyone drinks tap water.  Je voudrais un carafe d’eau s’il vous plait. 
 
16.There’s no guilt over the pleasures in life, whether this is gluten, calories, wine, or sex.  Joie de vivre is real.  Who needs a gym when you walk everywhere ? 
 
17.Parisians are serious about their food and desserts.  Everyone has an opinion, and generally it’s « not bad. »  Compliments are infrequent for cuisine.  
 
18.You can feel the creativity, history, and dreams as you walk the streets and boulevards of Paris.  All who inspired by it once haunted the same pathways as you, and if you observe and listen closely, you may absorb the Paris effect as well.   
 
19.Many Parisians long to explore other parts of the world too, and dream of living in other places.  It’s universal to desire what we don’t have.  They have a curious interest towards the American Western dream, cowboys, land, and the unknown.
 

20. There’s a mystery to the city, in trying to define it.  How does one do that ?  A flaneur is someone who walks around not doing anything in particular but watching people and society, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.  And I feel one can spend a lifetime doing this in Paris, trying to absorb the wisdom and creativity that are embedded in the historical streets of the 20 arrondistments. 

 
And so I will continue to explore more of the complexities of Paris.  I am an outsider looking in, roaming the streets, wondering if I will ever be an insider…

Adjustments to Meditation

        My mother is visiting for 10 days, which is lovely.  BUT whenever I have a visitor, or whenever I travel, my morning spiritual routine must shift.  I have grown accustomed to living alone and making my morning sacred :  journaling (morning pages), gratitude, breathwork, meditation, yoga, spiritual texts.  But now it has to shift, my mom even said this morning « no time for yoga when I’m here. »  and so I must improvise.  My meditation shifts to the evening, or I am reminded that walking my dogs is a walking moving meditation.  This is what it must be.  The trip is time limited, and just because for several days it has to be altered, it doesn’t mean I must lose the essence of the practice .  

      Years ago, this was the problem with my meditation practice.  I became attached to what it had to look like.  I only meditated using one particular method, and if it did not fit that mold, then I viewed it as if I had  failed at meditation for the day.  But over the years, I’ve learned to have more self compassion for myself.  I’ve learned to be flexible, and to include other aspects of life into my meditation.
       It’s easy in some ways to live a spiritual life on your own, or while you are on a meditation retreat.  But what about when you get thrown into the everyday world ?  Things must shift, and so it has.  And this is okay.
       We can still live with intention, even if our days are jolted a bit.   We can appreciate it for what it is versus being irritated it does not look a particular way.  We can turn towards the beings that are in our atmosphere and learn to mold our spiritual life to wave like strands of long grass in the wind.  Flexibility is key to our daily lives, even with our morning discipline. 

Paris Highs and Lows

            It is on Summer Solstice eve, but in Paris it feels the peak of summer has hit.  Saturday’s temperatures reached 38 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Farenheit).  This is doable in other places in the world, but in a city that has old buildings with no air conditioning, it is unbearable.  A local Starbucks and airport even lack air conditioning, which blows my mind.  This is one luxury that I miss about America, the luxury of AC, even for the relief of my dogs.  Luckily, I have a portable AC, but the space still remained warm with the AC and three fans.  We slept on the floor near the air conditioning to find peace. One can’t help but notice that everyone is a little more irritable with excessive heat and no relief, even the metros were not functioning at normal capacity.  Since then a thunderstorm has swept through and cooled the land. 

            I spoke with a fellow American the other day, who has lived in the city for three years.  She seemed to have mixed emotions as she discussed the potential of staying in the City of Lights.  I said to her, “you seem to have a love/hate relationship with Paris.”  She responded with a smirk, “don’t we all?”  I agreed.  And we discussed that every place has it’s highs and lows.  

            I love the ability to walk to most destinations or the easy accessibility that public transportation affords here.  But my 27 square meter apartment (less than 300 feet), is beginning to feel cramped.  I noticed this last week, as I arranged two new art pieces in my home.  As they went up, an Edison lamp fell down, shattering glass everywhere.  I let out a scream.  It was primal and automatic.  My dogs peered at me with horror, wondering what they did.  I proceeded to sweep glass in my dust pan, and continue to find shards of glass in unexpected places. 

            I am hitting my six month mark of residing here in Paris, with minimal improvement to my French.  I have made friends, but they have not made my inner circle of deep friends.  I begin to wonder if I should renew my visa in France.  Should I extend my time here?  My dogs are still alive and aging, and it will keep me tied to Europe.  But I can’t help but wonder is another country pulling me? Is France sustainable, without knowing the language, or having a job here.  I could reside anywhere, but will I stay here? 

            Yesterday, I shared this reflection in my creativity group.  The group is full of other expats, who have been here for at least several years.  They reminded me the inspiration that resides in the city, whether this is in the bountiful art museums, the hidden gardens, the history lurking the streets, or the similar minds you interact with.  I’ve given myself a time frame of several months to decide.  It’s a magical place this city, but there are inconveniences one must face to reside here.  

“You stumble, you soar. And if you’re lucky, you make it to Paris for a while.” — Amy Howard

There’s no rushing in parks

            Earlier in the week, I had a pending zoom call at 12:00 on a Saturday.  It was after 10:00 am, and I thought I could squeeze in a good ninety minutes at the park.  We generally had the luxury of two hours, so ninety minutes felt tight.  Yet, I was determined to do this.  I would rush to the park, find our spot and blanket in the sun, restore, then zip back for the call.  But how we plan things does not always equate with what arises. This is particularly the case when you have a 15 year old British bulldog in a stroller and a 13 year old pug/chiauaua mix who walks at a different speed.

            As we began our walk to the park, the sidewalks were crowded, as it was the weekend.  We passed a cheerful homeless guy, who I see daily and always wants to greet my chug.  But so many people were around, and I couldn’t seem to back track to return to him for his daily pet.  I mouthed “later.”  Shortly after, an elderly female who also was a dog owner stopped to talk to us at the light in French.  I tried to answer in French, “il est vient, il est quinze ans.”  He is old, he is 15 years old.” She spoke in English.  I wanted to try to cross the sidewalk while it was green, but Puzo began to stand up in his stroller.  I pushed him back down.  The lady then proceeded to carry her dog up to Puzo height and practically in his stroller to smell him.  I was not going to make the light, it seemed like a comedic scene from a sitcom.  I was in a rush, and the world was not letting me go at that fast pace.  I then stepped in a puddle on the street from the street cleaning. 

            We eventually made it to the park, found our spot in the sun and sat.  As I looked at the Eiffel Tower, I realized I was living the life I had planned for one year earlier.  I was in France, all this work to get to here and I have arrived.  My dog park was the Champ de Mars, but was I really present?  Was I living here truly?  Time passed, as numerous dogs and their owners came over to sniff my dogs.  

            As we walked home, I seemed to time it perfectly.  I didn’t factor in these triplet five-year old French girls who wanted to pet my dogs.  One girl tried to take the leash out of my hand, asking in French to walk my dog?  I didn’t know how to respond, until her mother came over and told her no.  The girl removed her hands from Bella’s leash.  They individually wanted to pet both Puzo and Bella.  I realized all of my interactions today were friendly and kind, but my sense of being in a rush could ruin this experience.  

            This was such a metaphor for my life here in Paris.  I came here to write my book, but I have yet to be signed by publishers.  My agent is encouraging me to pause until I am signed.  I must be patient with this process of a book being developed.  Originally, I wanted to be in Paris for one year, in and out with a book completed.  But this year is not looking like that. It’s delayed. I’m learning to slow down, and luxuriate in pleasures.  Learn to appreciate my time here guilt free. Somehow this is tough for me to do. To unlearn. 

            But if I am honest with myself, another reason I came here was to ease the transition with my dogs.  They are older and Puzo would not make it back to fly to America.  Our move from the UK to France, was smoother via car rather than plane.  I’m able to spend more time with them, without the confines of a commute or regular job.  Our pied-a-terre has turned into an elderly dog nursing home, and I have transitioned from being a psychologist to one who is a caregiver for my dogs.  The frequent accidents that occur in the home, the slow strolls, and the somatization of physical issues when I travel are all a reminder for me to live in patience.  I have to remind myself that my life right now is a living breathing loving kindness patience meditation.  This is where we are at, and what is required of me at the moment is unconditional love and care. 

            Perhaps this is what I am meant to learn here in Paris.  To slow down, practice patience, and pleasure.  I am to learn what it truly means to be present in my day to day life, not just as a mental construct.  Let go of what is next, because the reality is I do not know what that entails.    

“If when you look at me, you only see a white face and cloudy eyes, a burden or a hassle…you’ve missed out on the best part of me…Love me until the very end, for I am a gift. With each wag of my tail, I say thank you.”– Bacardi Reynolds

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