September 30, 2011


Question mark by Marco Bellucci
Question mark, a photo by Marco Bellucci on Flickr.

So, as most of you know, I'm in Mombasa writing a book.  If you want to read a description of all that Kenya has to offer, I encourage you to wikipedia it because I've spent ninety percent of my time here holed up in a coffee shop.  Five percent of my time is spent clapping at monkeys that have infiltrated Jared and Ilea's apartment in order to dissuade them from jumping on me and ripping off my face like that woman who had to have a face transplant when the chimpanzee attacked her.  The other five percent of the time is spent gnawing on leftover Swiss Chocolate and persuading Ilea to give me massages. She wants to a be masseuse so she needs to practice, right?

Anyway, the writing process has been challenging.  I just can't figure out which direction I want this book to go.  As I write, I keep switching the narrative.  Then I get confused and frustrated, take a break, and read facebook for inspiration.  (Don't do that, you'll be disappointed and start to wonder why you're friends with people.)  Desperately seeking wisdom, I then usually pick up a self-help book and wonder why I don't write as good (ahem, well) as the famous author.  That's a typical day here.  If I'm feeling really wild, I may run into the Indian Ocean in my bathing suit screaming "don't look at me" as I dive between crowds of Kenyans in black inner tubes. 

Yesterday I had one of those days. After one of my "what the hell am I doing moments," I quit writing and checked my gmail.  Usually I'm invisible on gchat because I like to have control over who I talk to, but considering I hadn't spoken to anyone in twelve hours save for the few swear words I yelled at the monkeys, I decided to put my status as "busy." (ha!)

Seconds later, I received a gchat from Christy.  She's the girl that lived below me my first year in New York City.  We didn't see each other that often.  One time we ate oatmeal with peanutbutter on her fire escape, and another time we went to a comedy show in a gym, met up with a girl who is a nude model, and then danced in an empty bar before getting a shitty taco from San Loco. Besides these random exchanges, I always liked her.  She was honest and whimsical and would hop on a train to the Hudson Valley to find moss to bring home to hang in her kitchen. How can you not like someone who does something like that?

Since moving into new apartments, we hadn't spoken in over a year. After exchanging pleasantries, she asked about the book.  "I'd love to hear your insights," I told her upon concluding my spiel. (It's such a spiel at this point it's borderline nauseating.)

"I'm vicious," she warned, before offering any opinions.

"Hit me," I responded. 

Things quickly spiraled out of control from there. I can't rehash exactly what happened, but it went something like: 

"don't use the word power-it's a buzzword"

"don't use 'in-enoughness' it's too hard to pronounce"

"don't be Elizabeth Gilbert, the self indulgent white woman book type who could afford to go explore the world for reasons not discussed" (Side note, I loved Eat, Pray, Love. Other side note, she was able to travel because she received an advancement on her book.)

"don't take yourself too seriously because your personal journey is probably deluded."  She stopped to breathe.  "What books are you reading?" she asked.

"Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdoms by Christiane Northup and Return to Love by Marianne Williamson."

"Ok, cut that out right now," she responded. "Stop reading other people's ideas about how to live life and start grounding in reality.  Go buy an economics or a pottery book."

"Can I read Thoreau?" I asked meekly.

"No, but Kerouac will do. Ok, I gotta get back to work. Good luck, keep me posted!"

I closed gchat and sat on my yoga mat in an empty room in silence. Ilea and Jared are still moving into their place, so the minimalism engulfed me. 

I closed my eyes for a moment. My face felt like it had been slapped with a five pound wet fish. 

 But I felt . .  .  free. 

She was right. She was one hundred percent right.  Somewhere down the line, amidst my piles of self-help books and podcasts and journals, I had begun believing that in order to write something people would want to hear I had to be Elizabeth Gilbert or Marianne Williamson or Eckhart Tolle.

I'm not them. 

I have not had a life-altering experience that made me understand the universe. I don't believe that I have any profound answers to share.  I am a twenty-something year old ridden with self-doubt.  I've spent my whole life asking questions and now I don't even trust the questions I'm asking.  Screw the answers, how do I figure out what questions to ask? What is it I even want in this life? Is it peace, power, passion? Or, as Christy phrased it, are the questions more like "how do I accept who I am? How do I live a life that inspires me?"

I have a hundred pages of wrong answers, now I need to start figuring out the right questions.

September 29, 2011

Why Do We Think Relationships Make Us Happy?

A few months ago, I went to see my dearly beloved Krishna Das for a weekend retreat.  Because I had dragged Alex to two Krishna concerts, wherein I forced him to sit cross-legged and chant for five hours while angry yogis stampeded the stage, I let him off the hook this time.  Despite giving him a "get out of Krishna Das free," I couldn't help but wish he was there, disappointed that my dream day (chanting) and his dream day (surfing) didn't align.

Seven hours into Saturday, Krishna started talking about relationships.  He recalled a story by an Indian guru who stated, "I don't understand why westerners believe that relationships make us happy."  The class erupted in protest. "What do you mean?" people retorted, "of course relationships make us happier!"

Krishna didn't back down, responding "certainly close connections with others are important for our well-being, but relationships themselves don't make us happy."

For a very long time, I expected my significant other to be my work-out buddy, my spiritual adviser, my best friend, my chef, my cleaning man, my intellectual guru, my masseuse, my therapist, my support system, my travel partner, my dance partner, my editor, my go-to person to call during the day when I'm bored, my vintage shopping buddy, my florist, and my lets-sip-wine-and-talk-about-feelings-companion. In other words, I expected my partner to fulfill my every need.

So, despite meeting many of my so-called criteria, whenever Alex failed to conform to my relationship needs, we'd have to have a "talk."  Alex never complained about these discussions, but they certainly weren't fun for him.  At times, he'd listen intently to my concerns and agree to work on it.  Other times, he'd gently remind, "Ker, you need to let me be me."

"You can be you!" I'd exclaim, while secretly thinking, "but only if it aligns with my expectations of who I want you to be."

I deepened into my love with Alex when I realized that he couldn't fulfill me.

People are not made to fulfill us; they're made to shed light on how we can fulfill ourselves.  This is why we value true friends, spiritual advisers, therapists, and partners.  Not because they fulfill us, but because when we're with them, we remember that we are worthy of love. 

At the end of the day, Alex cannot make me pursue my own dreams, give me the discipline or creativity to write a book, make me feel connected to God, or convince me that I am powerful. Whatever he offers will never be enough to fulfill my deepest desires.

This realization has been a relief for both of us. I have (er-am trying) to relinquish my expectations of what he needs to provide to me, and in letting go, I see him for who he truly is--a life-long and perfectly flawed companion who can help to remind me that it is my spiritual journey, not my relationship, that ultimately completes me.

September 27, 2011

Writing a Shitty First Draft.

Before arriving in Kenya, I had a few day layover in Zurich to visit my friends Talley and Zach. We ate bratwurst, walked around the quaint European city, and railroaded to the Alps.  Highlight of the trip was the mechanical luge down the mountain, where I giggled and screamed and got whiplash as I flung around each bend before slamming on the brakes in fear.  Who needs to hike down a mountain when you can luge?

Other highlight of the trip was Tal's cooking.  For those of you who love delicious food, beautiful photography, and design, check out Tal's blog  Tal's design skills also helped me redesign my totally amateur and technologically stunted blog into a website that better encompasses Kerry-ness.  Thanks Tal!

To wake up in the land of the Sound of Music and fall asleep in hot and tropical Mombasa is a strange feeling. Plane travel, you amaze me. After arriving in Kenya on Sunday night and reuniting with my friends Jared and Ilea, I settled into their apartment overlooking the Indian Ocean.  I have no phone, the internet is spotty, and the sound of waves, birds, and tree hopping monkeys creates a nice writing ambiance.  Add a nice strong cup of African coffee (with a spoonful of powdered hazelnut creamer--total coffee taboo I know, but who I am kidding, it just makes the coffee taste so good!) and I'm ready to write.

So . .  . writing.  . . 

I've got over a hundred pages of borderline incomprehensible notes and ideas.  I also have some beautiful stories from women who have shared their thoughts on womanhood and power.  Combining the two is going to be an interesting task.  But for now, I'm just focused on writing a shitty first draft. That seems to be a great first goal.

As I write, I can't help but think that this book-writing journey is similar to the mechanical luge I rode down last weekend.  If I want to move forward with writing, I need to take my hands off the brake and just let go and enjoy the ride (despite the fear and whiplash).   So back to my shitty, but ever growing, draft. 

September 26, 2011


A week ago, I attended Donna Karan's Women's Inspiration Enterprise conference (WIE), and it could not have come at a more relevant time.  I had just finished clerking for a judge and was journeying into the unchartered territory of writing a book before switching legal fields.  I was confronting a crossroad in my life and hoped that I would leave the conference inspired.

WIE was broad in topic, ranging from social entrepreneurship, fashion, beauty, human rights, hunger, media, and spirituality.  However, there seemed to be a recurrent theme pulsating through each panel, and that was the power of connection. Life coaches Ann Mehr and Jerry Colona reminded us to connect with our breath prior to thinking and doing. Kris Carr encouraged us to have a sacred relationship with ourselves first and foremost. Dr. Jill Biden, Baroness Amos, and Iman encouraged us to connect to the need in Somalia. Documentary filmmaker Abby Disney and former President of Rock the Vote Jehmu Green spoke about connecting to the unheard, whether it be women in combat or undocumented workers in America.  Elizabeth Lesser, the founder of Omega, spoke about connecting to other women or, as she referred to it, having “womances.”  Donna Karan noted the importance of connecting business and philanthropy. And Deepak Chopra ended the conference by reiterating the need for a “collective consciousness for transformation.”

As women, we spend our lives connecting our paradoxes: yin and yang, ego and spirit; individualism and community; intuition and risk-taking; and patience and ambition.  Ultimately, at this point in my journey, I’m experimenting with how to make these connections.  And my first mission is currently connecting with my own power.  The speakers at WIE reminded me that power is not about our accomplishments, but the ability to overcome difficult circumstances. Many of the women shared stories about their failures, their crazy schedules, or their desire to quit at certain points (or in Kelly Cutrone’s case, “every two weeks). Through mentorship, faith, determination, and ambition, their strength allowed them to transcend these difficulties.

I left WIE feeling not only inspired, but empowered.  We all have the tools we need to succeed, we just need to connect to them.

September 14, 2011

When Our Bodies Talk

The end of August was an unsettling time for me. My clerkship, a job I adored, was nearing its end; Alex and I were moving back into the apartment we had subletted to friends; I was exploring the unchartered territory of book writing, figuring out my budgets sans federal income and benefits, and rearranging my travel plans.  Despite the fact that we were in between apartments, I was almost jobless, and I had no idea as to how the next four months would unfold, I felt surprisingly calm.

At least I thought I did.

Two days before my job ended, the air mattress Alex and I had been sleeping on popped. (I blame Alex.)  After moving to the couch, I fell asleep, woke up that morning as usual, and went to work. Half way through the day, I started feeling itchy.  I knew I should have moisturized this morning, I grumbled, as I finished writing my last court order.

As I typed, my eye caught a glimpse of something blotchy, and when I looked down, huge welts spanned across my forearm.  "I'm breaking into hives" I shrieked, running into my co-clerks room and scrunching up my collared shirt to point to the random bumps across my arm.

"What's happening to me?" I lamented about my yet-to-be-diagnosed ailment.  Though they had been conditioned over the year to never take me too seriously, my co-clerks agreed it was probably an allergic reaction.  But they were lawyers, so what did they know?

I gchatted my sister-in-love (not yet by-law) Julia and told her the news.  "I think it may be from sleeping on your couch with that wool blanket," I stated, placing full blame on her.

"Hmm . . . " she considered, "I dunno . . . perhaps it could be stress?"

"No, it's not stress," I scoffed, "I don't feel stressed at all!"

Despite the fact she's a psychotherapist in training, I rebuked Julia's suggestion, and took a close up photo of my skin to show to my friend Hannah, who's in medical school.  Besides being the only person in the world with more "conditions" than me, she knew her diseases well.  "Hives," she texted back.

"Am I allergic to something in my environment?" I texted. 

"Prob. But could be something much more serious." she responded. "C u at dinner." (After a few glasses of wine that night, Hannie proved useless in her diagnosis.)

A few days later, I went home to Canada, where, as I shared previously, my week of relaxation dissipated into job interviews and Spanish tutoring. The hives didn't stop. I would be fine for half of the day, gently feel an itch on my neck, and notice welts breaking out of my skin.

"What's wrong with me?" I asked my mom in an attempt to receive sympathy (and perhaps a new sweater).

"You're fine," my mom responded matter-of-factly. "It's just stress related."

"But I don't feel stress!" I bemoaned, puffy faced, welted up, and engulfed by three Spanish books, research papers for my job interview, and my journals.

I didn't think I was lying to myself. I really didn't feel that stressed.  I was sleeping well (granted I was dreaming in Spanish), eating healthy, laying off the coffee (which I recently observed gives me heart palpitations), and going for jogs.  Could it be that my mind didn't think I was stressed, but my body was telling me otherwise? Does my body have a separate voice from my mind?

This had to be the case.  Over the past few months, I've heard countless stories about people whose bodies communicated to them more effectively than their minds.

Megan survived a terrible plane crash six years ago, and her father tragically died in the crash.  She couldn't remember anything about the incident itself, but a few months after the fact, she accidentally bumped her knee.  The bump triggered countless flashbacks about the crash, and she suddenly had an image of her knee bashing into the seat in front of her.  Her knee had held the trauma of the accident, not her mind.

Katherine had been praying for a prestigious job opportunity with a well-known politician.  The day after she received it, she became physically ill and remained in bed all weekend.  After further reflection, she realized that although she thought she had wanted this job, the prospect of working in the position caused her extreme anxiety.  Her body was telling her something before her mind could register it. She declined the job offer and weeks later found a job she adores.

Six months ago, Anna was studying for her SAT's.  Extremely bright and dedicated, she took countless practice SAT's and performed really well on all of them. When it came time to take the test itself, however, she never scored nearly as high as she did on her practice tests.  She had classic performance anxiety.  After being disappointed once again after a test, her mom asked me if I had any recommendations for her.  I certainly had no insights to offer in terms of vocab or math problems, but I recommended that Anna try some mindfulness techniques.  Soon after, Anna spent a five minutes every few days doing body scans to observe how her body was unconsciously hold stress. Once she acknowledged her mind was holding stress, she effectively dealt with it, and a few months later her test scores skyrocketed.

Countless studies also show that after physical or sexual abuse, survivors have an increased tendency to suffer from unexplained stomach pains. Like Megan's story, their bodies may hold unresolved trauma in the gut.

All of these stories evidence that our bodies communicate to us even when our minds don't listen. 

As much as I wanted to believe that my hives were a product of allergies (itself indicative of the fact that I didn't want to admit stress), I have no doubt that the hives were stress-induced in large part because once I admitted to myself that I was stressed, the hives started to subside (with a healthy remedy of baths, yoga, and remembering to breathe).  It was if my body was screaming to me in the only way it knew how: "listen to me woman; calm yourself down!" And, only after my mind acknowledged what my body was communicating did I start to feel better.

I can't escape my issues through mental repression.  Undoubtedly, my body will hold the tension until I am ready to deal with it, and only after I align my body with my mind will healing occur.

September 11, 2011

Being Me Wherever I May Be.

Last week, my younger cousin Molly and I sat across the table from each other at a Thai restaurant. After recapping our week, I questioned her about my book and my blog. "Be honest," I began, "do you have any critiques on my writing?"

I knew she would truthfully respond. Molly is family, and my family has never refrained from letting me know when I'm doing something wrong, being annoying, or acting stupid.  Molly also has the gift of conveying exactly what she's thinking, even if it makes the other person slightly uncomfortable.  I value this trait because I have a hard time speaking my mind if I know it may cause conflict.

"Actually, yes, I do have some ideas on your blog," Molly started, gazing up at the ceiling as she slowly chewed her pad thai.  "I really like it when you share your own thought processes and describe your whole train of thought."

"Mmmhmm...continue," I pressed.

She shoved another forkful of pad thai in her mouth.  "No offense, but I don't like it when you do a lot of analysis on the situation and start to quote other philosophers.  I don't believe that you actually know what you're talking about when you analyze, so just sharing your own thoughts is better."

"Hmm . . . ok, that makes sense?" I responded, lingering on the phrase "you have no idea what you're talking about," but ultimately agreeing with the comment. I took out my most faithful companion, my notebook, and jotted down "no idea what I'm talking about."

"And definitely lay off the descriptive sentences about scenery. They bore me."

"Interesting,"  I stated, which is my go-to word when I have no idea how else to respond. "This is hard though because I'm receiving conflicting messages from people," I countered. "Someone just read some of my work and told me that I needed way more analysis and more sensory imagery."

Molly looked at me for a few moments, just blinking.  "Yeah, I mean, it's totally up to you what you want to do. I'm just saying what I think."

"Yeah, I know," I mumbled. I mindlessly played with my food, which I do when I'm nervous, and mentally weighed which writing style I should pursue.

I know it's up to me. I have received countless suggestions to "just be me" when I write, but that's the hard part, figuring out what my truest voice sounds like.  I think I know what it sounds like, but just when I get in to a groove, I start to question it.

I'm not saying this is bad per se.  I think it's healthy to be open to our own malleability and explore different styles.  That being said, on a larger scale, I'm still figuring out not only how to write like me, but how to be me wherever I am.

It sounds like an easy concept, but it can be hard being myself--my most authentic self--in every social situation.  I often find myself catering my discussions to whom I'm talking.  For example, I'll talk politics with my friends from college, but rarely religion; I'll talk religion with my religious friends , but never politics; I'll talk about my interest in certain legal issues with other lawyers, but won't talk about my book writing; I'll express my discomfort at a racist or homophobic comment to some, and completely ignore such comments to avoid confrontation with others; I'll put on my happy-go-lucky side in a social situation, when really I'm feeling quiet and introverted. 

While this could be considered, in some form, emotional intelligence or social etiquette, when I choose my conversations based on the comfort level of others,  I'm actually catering myself to who other people are.  I'm creating a social construct of self and choosing whether to share my "public" or "private" persona depending on who I'm with.

Back to Molly.  A few months ago, we were sitting around a party and someone shared an inappropriate joke.  I pretended I didn't catch the punch line and avoided eye contact with the joke-teller.  Molly, on the other hand, nicely, but firmly, asked, "I'm sorry, I don't quite understand what's funny about that."  It was awkward,  I'm not going to lie.  But Molly did it in such a way where she was honoring herself and her beliefs and not shying away from speaking her mind, though it shifted the mood of the environment. I really respected her for that.  She said what she meant.

I'm currently practicing this new thing called "only saying what I mean."  For example, if I run into an acquaintance on the street and I know that we won't get together, I don't say "let's get together sometime and catch up." If someone asks me how I am, and I'm feeling tired, I don't respond, "I feel great!" If someone asks me where I want to eat, and I have an opinion on it, I tell them where I want to eat. If someone asks me for advice and I know it could be hard to hear, I'm trying to just share what I really think.

I am slowly learning that I can't successfully be my truest self if I'm constantly catering my opinions, thoughts, advice, or vocabulary to other people. As Shakespeare said (sorry Mol-I'm quoting someone), "to thine own self be true."  One of the reasons I write is because it clears away all my facades and personas that I may put up during the day and sheds light on my deeper, more authentic Self. I'm trying to own my own voice, regardless of what others may prefer.  It's part of my practice of being me wherever I may be.

September 6, 2011

The Pain of Expectations

Last Monday, I flew home to my lake house in Canada for a week of relaxation. On the plane,  I sat in the window seat, staring out the window and envisioning a week of early morning risings, hours of writing, long beach walks, and family time.  In an attempt to create a more disciplined writing schedule, I set a goal to write six blog entries and another ten pages in my book.

After picking me up at the airport, my mom and I returned home, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief upon seeing the water.  I put my suitcase upstairs, caught up with my parents, and then opened my email.

Emails, unfortunately, have become mood dictators in my life.  When I see bold unread messages from friends, my heart quickly flutters in excitement. When I see bold unread spam, I get annoyed at having to go through the ten second routine of unsubscribing.  When I see bold unread messages from the organizations to whom I have applied for jobs, my stomach quickly churns.

Now normally when I open my email, I don't receive anything specifically new and exciting.  But this particular Gmail occurrence was Christmas in a box.  I found out that I had won an essay-writing competition and was chosen to attend Donna Karan's WIE Symposium, a conference relating to Women and Power--the very topic of my book.  I also received two job interviews, both for organizations for whom I'd love to work.  One of them scheduled a phone interview for that week, and the other scheduled an in person interview for the next.  After being informed that part of the latter interview would be in Spanish, and realizing that I hadn't practiced my Spanish in five years (panic!), I googled "emergency Spanish tutor Buffalo, New York," and immediately scheduled five consecutive days of one-on-one Spanish refreshment classes.

Just like that, after reading those emails in the first hour of being home, my week of writing dissipated into job preparations, tutorial sessions, and driving back and forth to the city.  While the actual act of speaking Spanish to an old Chilean man was not particularly stressful, nor was preparing for my phone interview, nor was submitting my bio to the conference, mentally I was stressed.  In light of the conference and job prospects, I was not only was considering postponing my flight to Kenya, but canceling it in replace of a Costa Rican Spanish immersion.  My "just take time out of your schedule to dedicate to writing" plan was now in question and my visual expectations of how the next few months would unfold was turned upside down. 

What I really found amusing (translate: sickening) was that wonderful opportunities were causing me stress . . .  because they were unexpected.  They say the only thing that is certain in life is change.  So why am I surprised when my plans don't go as scheduled? Why do I get flustered when the unexpected happens? These past few weeks I've been reflecting on the unexpected, and I've thought about how it's not the unexpected that causes me stress, but rather the fact that I had expectations to begin with. 

Not all my expectations are big.  I may have 25 small, seemingly trivial expectations in a given day.  I expect I will accomplish certain things on my to do list;  I expect that my subway train will timely appear; I expect that people will act in a civilized matter (so not always the case); I expect that my computer will turn on when I want it to; I expect that I'll get through the day safely, and so on. 
By placing these unnecessary expectations on my day, I set myself up to feel frustrated when these things don't go as planned.  

Not only do I place expectations on my day, but I place them on my relationships, be it with friends, family, or strangers.  Unconsciously, I always have an expectation as to how someone should react, and when they don't, I feel hurt.  If I smile at someone in line and she scoffs back at me, I'm taken aback.  If a friend doesn't call me back when I planned, I feel hurt.  When a family member doesn't support me in the way I want to be supported, I feel saddened. 

Alex and I had a long talk a few nights ago about this topic and he artfully said, "we set ourselves up to feel frustrated when we expect the people around us to act like we would act."  Meaning, we place the expectations of what we would do on other people.  If Alex responds to a situation in a way different than I would respond to a situation, and I think that I respond to the situation better, I get frustrated with him.  This is not only unfair, but causes pain to both of us. Instead of figuring out how he failed my expectations, I need to reassess what my expectations are, why I even have them, and how these expectations lead to disappointment. This entry easily segues into the difference between conditional and unconditional love, but that's a topic I'll explore later.

How can I stop having expectations altogether?  I'm not entirely sure, but I'm working on it. Phillip Moffitt wrote an article about The Tyranny of Expectations, wherein he discerned the difference between falling prey to expectations and opening to unknown possibilities. Perhaps, slowly, I can start to loosen my expectations as I go, reminding myself that the unexpected is more sure than the expected and finding excitement in the possibilities of a constantly changing and unpredictable life.