And a very, merry un-birthday to you!
“Twinkle, twinkle little bat, how I wonder what your at…”
I woke up from crazy dreams at 10:30a hot as f*ck. It felt like my back was on fire, but it was just 100 degrees outside and I don’t have an a/c. I sleep in a dryfit sports bra and boy shorts at this stage of the summer – something’s got to wick away the night sweats. I popped out of bed and immediately into a cold shower where I found sweet relief from the stifling heat. I put on my favorite, black, soft-with-years, spaghetti strap dress and twisted my hair into a haphazard bun and then made a very important decision. My bed is hard as a rock, but I stripped the memory foam mattress topper off of it anyway. I am not sleeping like that again. I’d rather feel like I’m sleeping in prison than in hell. I think I burned 1,000 calories in my sleep last night.
With the sleeping situation handled, it was time to make my next important birthday decision – what’s for lunch?
I’d made lunch plans with two of my knuckle-headed dude friends, but apparently they had another lunch engagement come up. I knew better than to make plans for the following day with friends while we’re out binge drinking. People over commit when they’re drunk; we all do it. We just can’t help it… The word “YES” flows freer than the booze. I broke my own rule and screwed Future Jo’s birthday lunch plans.
Lunch alone? On my birthday? Oh, god! Poor me. I guess my other option was to stay in my sweatbox of a flat and ride the wave of hot flash hallucinations while I made new plans with other friends. Screw it. I’m hungry now. Lunch alone is no big D, I do it all the time.
Turns out, I was really in need of a date with myself. I had some thinking to do.
I had a nice, quiet lunch for one at the trattoria around the corner from my house. I hadn’t been there since March, but had some fun memories of the place so I thought I’d stop back in. Tortelloni with butter and sage is one of my very favorites so I ordered that and a side of fresh tomatoes. I spoke Italian the entire time. Even when I asked the not-very-nice lady that runs the joint if I could please have a plastic “to go” water bottle since she wouldn’t let me take the half-full glass bottle that I paid for already. I needed water for the park. And I’d saved a few tortelloni and tomatoes for an afternoon snack while I lounged the afternoon away at Giardini Margherita. She kept telling me “no”, it was against the rules and she even argued with one of the very nice men that works there who walked over behind the counter and retrieved a bottle of water from the cooler. He ignored her, handed it to me, smiled and thanked me for dining there. I smiled, graciously took the water and told him that today is my birthday. He turned back, “Seriously? How old are you?” I replied that I was 37 today. He smiled, “Complimenti”. I beamed.
For the past few days I’ve been so excited for my birthday. I’m ready for this year and seeing how my fabulous, new Johanna v3.7 updates fair out in the real world. I feel really good about this next chapter. And I was glad to tell a stranger it was my special day.
I turned my attention back to the hag by the cash register to find her staring at me. I took the opportunity to stare back. I studied her face. Her expression. She looked old – not from years, but from meanness and being too bossy and not enjoying her life enough. Looking at her made me feel bad and nervous. She was angry. My ears got hot and I’m pretty sure my face was flushed red when I finally forced a smile at her… but I was sticking my tongue out at her on the inside. She never smiled back, but stopped arguing about the water, rang me up and I left – smiling all the way to the gelateria. That bitch needing to relax was not going to ruin my day.
My favorite gelato combinations are pistachio and hazelnut or bacio (translate: “kiss” – chocolate hazelnut with bits of hazelnuts) and creme. I never waiver from these combos, but I felt like trying something new. Damn, am I glad I did!
Picture this tickling your taste buds: Hazelnut creme gelato with whole, raw hazelnuts and pieces of hazelnut praline hiding inside served in a flaky crisp cone with a waffle cone wafer as a spoon. Uh-huh. It was heavenly.
When the server asked what other flavor I wanted, I confidently replied that I only wanted Cremino Ludovico. I savored my excellent choice all the way to Giardini Margherita. I was so into that gelato that it didn’t even occur to me that I was walking on the boiling hot side of the street with the sun blazing down on me, and my sunglasses on top of my head. Best birthday gelato of all time. <angels sing>
I spread my blanket out in a nice, shady spot at G-Marg and read for a while. Apparently I was in my own little world, I snapped out of it when a man sporting orange, yellow and red striped speedos began walking towards me waiving his arms to get my attention while asking for the time. I told him that it was three o’clock and he walked back over to his space and began putting his clothes on. A few minutes later a woman showed up to join him. They sat talking for a while and then in English the man yelled over to me, “Look at my stuff.” What? “I don’t understand,” I replied. “You. Look at this stuff!” He shouted back. Hmm. Okay. I put down my book and stood up to walk over and inspect whatever it was he wanted me to see. “No! We go do caffe. You look at stuff. Okay?” Ahhhh! Got it. “Yes, I am happy to watch your things while you get coffee.” They offered to bring me a gelato, but I declined. And then I quickly changed my mind. It’s my birthday… I can have gelato twice in one day!
About 30 minutes later they showed back up and brought me a Cornetto (like a Nutty Buddy, except the cone isn’t rubbery). Somehow the Italians manage to keep cones crispy and delicious even in their pre-packaged frozen treats. The inside of the cone was lined with chocolate – when I got to the bottom the chocolate was warm, melty and delicious and tasted like a dream with that last few crispy bites of the ice cream cone. I lay back on my blanket satisfied, licked the chocolate off of my fingers, stared up at the trees and listened to the chatter of the couple. As they got lost in conversation, I returned to my own little world reflecting on my past year and daydreaming about the next chapter in this life.
I remind myself every single day that I’m comfortable with uncertainty and that the unknown is one of the best parts of life. It’s where we get to practice grace and just be. It’s where we get to daydream and create the things we want in our life. I still get scared and forgetful sometimes and find myself jaw-clenched and white-knuckled playing out the scenes of my worst nightmare in my mind. I have an active imagination that can flip-flop from my best friend to my worst enemy on any given day. Sometimes it takes work to let go of the thoughts that don’t serve my higher good. Negative and scary thoughts can be a pesky little gnat, buzzing around your head. If you breathe and focus long enough, you’ll find your inner-ninja and squash that sucker. Remind yourself that all is always as it should be. True happiness is easier to obtain when you just relax and go with the flow.
I live a very full life, but everything hasn’t gone my way this year. And I want everything to go my way… I’m a Leo. There have been a few ugly cry sessions; I’ve felt sorry for myself and needed someone’s arms around me and/or a hand to hold and didn’t have that and so I’d feel sorry for myself about that, too. But, I realize that by being alone this year I am learning to nurture myself, to soften, and smooth out the rough edges. I didn’t grow up in a nurturing household so that concept has always felt foreign to me. I’ve always had trouble asking for help. I was strong, not soft. And I thought that was good. I didn’t even cry the first time I saw “The Notebook” and I bragged about it. Shanda and Monica told me that my heart must be made of stone. I laughed and wore that like a badge of honor. Thankfully, with age comes wisdom.
I now know that when things feel like they’re falling apart or spiraling out of control “winning” (aka being strong) does absolutely nothing to fix things. It just makes you harder and more out of touch with your truth. The fastest way to feel better is to be soft and easy with yourself. Allow the disappointment, sadness, pain, whatever. Those feelings, as bad as they feel, are going to get better. That’s the living part of life.
Italy helped me find a beautiful softness I’d been missing. So, I tell you this next part with very fresh perspective. The most important responsibility we have in our life is to acknowledge when we feel bad and then work on feeling better. Cry it out, work it out, walk it out, write it out…whatever makes you feel better… just don’t talk it to death like women are prone to do. Just get that shit out, change your focus and be done with it.
Change offers us an opportunity for growth – opportunity being the operative word. We can all choose not to grow and stay on the hamster wheel of nowhere good. But, seriously, who wants to be on a vicious cycle of always ending up NOT getting what you want? When life forces a left turn (even though we thought we were happy driving straight ahead) there are a few options: we can focus on what’s in the rear-view mirror and risk a fiery crash, or we can re-orient ourselves, enjoy the change of scenery and find the beauty in our new route.
It’s hard, until it gets easy. I’ve spent my life being a planner. I want to win at everything and constantly work to set the stage for that to happen. I talk about myself in future tense – I make conscious decisions during the day to “take care of Future Jo.” I live consciously so I can pave a path of easy for myself (that’s a thought that goes through my head a lot). I recently learned that July 28 is even called “The Day of The Winner”. So, there… I come by it honestly, but I’ve learned that winning isn’t always rewarding. At least not in the sense I had originally anticipated and planned it to be.
I’ve learned to let go of what winning looks like and just go with the flow – treat life like improv – always say yes and be excited about whatever happens next. Who the hell knows what’s just around the corner? I don’t. And even if I wasn’t certain that my thoughts become things and if there was only a shred of possibility that I might be the one in control of manifesting things in my life, I would without a doubt still choose to have fun being excited about the possibility rather than scared that it’s going to suck really hard.
<I whistled here. Humming would work, too.>
There’s no big winner at life, even though it is totally a game. Stop racing against other people or trying to catch them, focus instead on you. You are the most important person in your world. If you ain’t happy, ain’t nobody else gonna fix that! Don’t focus on your husband or wife or kids, boyfriend or girlfriend, parents or siblings or boss or whoever to make you happy. Your happiness is all on you. Be thankful for that! It’s good news that we’re in control of our own happiness. A joyful person is a magnet for whatever he/she wants. Choose that.
About ten years ago my grandmother Bunny gave me a framed poem that hung on her wall that I enjoyed. “If I had my life to live over I would pick more daisies.” For many years that hung on the wall inside my walk-in closet. I read that poem often and always with the intention that I would live a life free of regret. And, as Nadine Stair suggested in her poem, I would have a life full of moments.
Life is just an adventure. That’s all! It is something to enjoy as much as humanly possible. Let it be easy. Love yourself. Meet as many people as you can. Talk to strangers. Say “YES” more than you say “NO”! Break a few rules. Indulge. Share. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Look for opportunity. Jump! Stay connected to the people that matter. Make decisions with a loving heart. And, most importantly, take a lot of pictures and live a life you’ll enjoy telling stories about when you’re old.