Choices and Gratitude

“There is only one very good life and that’s the one you want and you make it yourself.” – Diana Vreeland

As I write this I am sitting in a loud Amsterdam restaurant drinking a beer and deciding if I have room in my belly for one more sashimi order. Someone has just spoken to me in French, again, unsure of my national origin. My long messy curls and scarf have caused the confusion. When my hair was short I was usually mistaken for German. I answered in French. It is not my first visit here, nor my second. I can no longer count the number of times I have been in this city. It is a gateway to my company’s European headquarters, where I now spend 20% of my time. I am used to being here and in other European cities as a solo business traveler. Perhaps more jaded than I should be about travel.

Last night I was texting with an old friend from the small town where I grew up and for a moment I saw my life through her eyes. For her my life is exotic, full of glamorous cities with art and shopping. A life of visas, foreign shores, and mysterious strangers. She didn’t initially see the exhaustion and sense of isolation that can accompany this type of life if you let it. She is a single mom, who misses her boys, and just left a bad relationship. She has also done an amazing job at rebuilding her life. We, however, connected on the emptiness we sometimes feel. I re-read the texts this morning and realized that perhaps I was focusing a little to much on the isolation from friends and family, and not enough on the experiences this life has given me.

A quick flashback and psychoanalysis before we continue. My parents are English, which made me a little unusual in a small farm town. I was abused by my step-father, which created a desire to conform – to be normal. I so desperately wanted to fit in, which meant marriage and children within a couple of years of high school. That was the life I thought I wanted, but not the life I got. I chose to attend university, then law school. I broke off an engagement. I moved. I moved again. I married late, then learned that my husband did not want children. I got a new job, one that involved more international travel than initially stated in the hiring process. My husband cheated, I kicked him out. I now travel even more and may eventually relocate to Europe. This was not the life my 16 year old self had mapped out.

I spent part of today at the Stedelijk looking at modern art that contemplates the isolation we humans sometimes feel in this modern world. It made me realize that the loneliest moments of my life were when I shared space with a partner who stared at the ESPN feed, and no longer spoke to me. Isolation is a part of the human condition, for without it we can never truly appreciate connections. I was wondering how I did I get here (queue the Talking Heads song), but upon reflection I made this life through my choices. And while there are moments of loneliness and longing for a traditional family, I am blessed with friends and family who still pull me close even if I am thousands of miles away. I have a very good life, for which I am extremely grateful, and yes I did order the additional plate of sashimi – je ne regrette rien!


Posted in Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The List

Trigger warning for discussion about sexual assault.

The List

 This is the most personal and hardest post I have ever written (and probably will ever write). This exposes to  sunlight the part of me I keep hidden from all but my closest friends and family members. This post was triggered by reading Henry Rollin’s commentary on the Steubenville rape case. What struck me was that he, like so many other commentators on the subject, did not detail what impact sexual assault has on the victim. He mentioned that she, unlike her rapists, would have a “life sentence.”

If I listen to the media, it is clear that society does not understand the devastating impact that sexual assault has on the victims. That impact that creeps through every facet of our being, and is not easily cured by therapy. As victims we don’t share the impact because it makes others uncomfortable. Maybe it even makes us victims uncomfortable, we feel damaged or believe that you will view us as damaged. That gives predators power over us and allows a culture of rape to continue.

Detailed conversations about the ongoing impact of sexual abuse on its victims are hard. There is no easy path or Hallmark moment. There is only a lot of pain, anger, self doubt, and fear. The scars never fully heal and the damage from the abuse echos through our lives. Yet in giving the pain a voice and confronting it there is power and strength, both for the person articulating their experience and others who are struggling with their own damages list. I have to thank Fiending for Hope, a survivor who posted a very detailed list about the impact of a sexual assault on her life. Her piece is raw and powerful and the brutal ferociousness of her conversations on this subject inspired me to share my own experience.

My stepfather sexually abused me from age 15-17. There, I said it – I am both a victim and a survivor. It finally stopped when I told my Dad. I had told other relatives but they did not act (or were powerless to protect me). Below is my list of what three years suffering abuse at his hands did to me. I give this to you so that you understand what sexual assault does to its victims.

 My List.

 1. I do not like surprises. I try to control things.

2. I do not like driving a car at night, as the abuse occurred during nighttime “driving lessons.”

3. I do not easily trust. Sometimes I trust the wrong people because betrayal feels like home.

4. I feel like an alien in my own body.

5. I disassociate when I am stressed or uncomfortable – when I was in high school people thought I was a “space cadet” because I would mentally remove myself from my environment on a daily basis.

6. I have nightmares of my old room, it crumbles around me and I cannot escape.

7. I cannot have my neck touched.

8. I wall myself off from others, losing myself in books, paintings, or music.

9. I assume that no one will listen to me.

Posted in Fear, media, rape, survival | 2 Comments



Deep to my core I am an introvert. Crowds and strangers make me jumpy and tense. Living for a month in a foreign city is challenging me. My safety net of friends is far away. I am forced to venture forth and see what is out there, to speak to strangers; basically to overcome my natural state of being.

This week has been even more difficult. I am in Bordeaux at a boutique hotel, not one that caters to international business travelers. It made me realize that the Netherlands is a cocoon for the English speaker, a place where you are just as likely to hear English as Dutch. Bordeaux, not so much.

Talking to strangers is hard for me in my native language, in a foreign language it paralyzes me with fear. I speak a little French, but not as much as I would like and not as well as I should. I worry that I will not know the correct word, that I will use the wrong tense, that I will not be able to understand the response… The list of potential failures goes on and on. I need to improve my language skills and the only way to do that is to open my mouth and use my words, my French words.

The first attempt at this was actually entertaining upon reflection, something from a Hollywood comedy about traveling in Europe. The conversation was with my taxi driver, who didn’t speak any English. I had no choice, I had to tell him where I needed to go and he had to explain to me that the street where my hotel is located does not allow cars. Somehow I got to my hotel through broken French (with some Spanish thrown in) and hand gestures. To be honest, mostly hand gestures.

My next attempt was more successful, I managed to order a light dinner and wine at a tapas bar. The waiter spoke English but in this case I confronted my fear of saying things incorrectly and asked to practice my French. He humored me and gave me pointers. I did the same at breakfast this morning and was rewarded with a smile, a full lesson on breakfast foods, and some amazing vanilla yogurt.

This is an important lesson for me. Being human and asking for help is one of the best ways to conquer fear and to make that human connection.

Posted in Change, Fear, Travel | 2 Comments

The Ancient Ones

I am currently on temporary assignment in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. By Dutch standards, because of its industrial nature, the town is new, modern. For an American it feels old, like most of Europe. There is history in this city involving dukes, fires, Spanish conquest, and Nazis. My apartment here has its own layers of history. Decades of Philips video electronics are stacked upon each other. Old water based heaters sit next to modern Ikea clothes racks. A toaster oven from the 70s is neighbor to a modern Senseo coffee maker. When you compare the old to the new, you appreciate the craftsmanship of the old.Heater

My favorite ancient in this apartment is a hair dryer. There was a modern hair dryer in the bathroom when I arrived. It was what one would expect; compact, light weight, and plastic. Not made to last. After my first night I opened my front door to find a gift. Maintenance, worried that I was lacking a hair dryer, left me a relic from the past. This hair dryer is made of metal, silver in color, with elegant lines. The air vents call forth images of chrysanthemums. It weighs heavy in my hand, alerting me to its power and reminding me that I am only a temporary caretaker. Like this city it has been here for many years, and will remain for many more.

Hair dryer

Posted in Travel | Leave a comment


Business travel. For six weeks I will be living out of a suitcase, actually one suitcase and a leather duffel. My home and critters will be in the hands of friends for that time period, safe and sound. I will be in the hands of both friends and strangers, and for someone who likes control that thought is slightly terrifying.

I love to travel, but six weeks is a long time. As I packed for this journey I wondered, what to bring from home to ease this time? What would make me feel less like a human alien in a strange land? What could make me belong? Technology and social media keep friends and family close at hand. Books, movies and music can all be downloaded, easing the cultural isolation. None of that, however, will connect me with my new environment.

The simple answer is my drawing pad and charcoal. I lose myself in drawing, I always have. When I was younger it was a means to escape those items I did not care to face. As an adult drawing became a tool to heal my wounds and connect with my past. I now turn to this time-honored tool to connect with and record my amazing adventure.

Posted in Drawing, Travel | Leave a comment