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Going Back to Go Forward

Two weeks ago, I drove through the mountains to a place called the Finan Center, which was the last of eight institutions I lived in when I was a teenage runaway on the hunt for a better life. I was pretty nervous as I sat down in front of this large group of teenagers who looked back at me skeptically. I could see in their eyes that they’d traveled some of the same dark roads that I had, so I took a deep breath and told them about it. I wanted them to know that they don’t have to let their pasts define them, and that there’s a voice inside each of them that’s trustworthy and that tends toward light. And it was amazing to watch, in the course of an hour, these kids come to recognize a kindred soul and fellow rebel, and to see their expressions soften as their eyes filled with something unmistakable: hope. At the end, many of them came up to me and asked me to write them “something inspirational,” so I wrote mini love letters in their notebooks or on little scraps of paper, and I left with little notes from them, many of which said, “thank you.” I’m going to keep those notes close, and I’m going to be rooting for those kids, and their beautiful, hopeful hearts.

(Sorry for the out-of-focus photo–it’s actually the better of the two I have. And we weren’t allowed to photograph any of the kids there, understandably.)


No Lean Halloweens

The day after Halloween has me a little afraid: a series of reports from friends scattered in neighborhoods across the country suggests that numbers are low—both for trick-or-treaters and candy-doling homes—and that what costumes and decorations there are to be found are lacking in the pizzazz department. Could it be that Halloween is losing steam?

When I was a kid, Halloween operated at full-throttle, and it was miraculous to me for two reasons: first, my mother broke her own rule (no sugar unless it’s fructose, and no chocolate unless it’s carob, which, as anyone who has ever eaten carob knows, is the cruelest joke where snacks shaped like candy bars are concerned) and allowed us temporary access to our sweets; and second, for a whole night I could put my heart into being someone else. That someone else was usually a gypsy, and as we moved in clusters from house to house in the dark, I peered into each open door and wondered about what it would be like to live there. I was already playing at being a runaway, learning that I could imagine not only a different face for myself, but a different life.

Rita Gypsy 8ball

Last night, I went to a haunted house—the kind you pay to enter and then walk tender-footedly through in slow staccato steps—and as the first few wretched nether-beings jumped out at me, I laughed. “Haha,” I said. “That’s awesome.” I wanted to compliment the actors on a fine job while simultaneously letting them know I wasn’t scared. But about halfway through, something changed. It might have been the faceless person in the surgical mask moving in sharp spider-like bursts, or it might have just been that thing that happens when your best friend starts chasing you around the house and somewhere between the kitchen and the bedroom you find yourself running for your life, but whatever it was, I was terrified. Of course, it was the best kind of terror, the kind you can give yourself to fully because you know there’s a door waiting for you, one that spills you back into the calm night unharmed.

I loved it.

And I hope that Halloween just had a hiccup this year, that its blood is strong, that it’ll return next year with a vengeance. Because when else do we get such a perfect metaphor for moving through fear? When else do we get to play at a different life, and at darkness, and get rewarded with the sweetest things?



Don’t you love those days that break open like geodes—that begin in the ordinary unassuming way days begin but then flash your heart with purple sparkle? This morning was like that. It started in the usual way: Laoshan black tea in my favorite mug, frisbee with the dogs, time at the writing desk, more frisbee, a hastily eaten yogurt, and the zipping of my riding boots. I hadn’t ridden Claret in a week, and my trainer Jane was away, and these two things would normally make me a little nervous. Forget that I’ve been riding several times a week for five years: the opportunistic and amorphous fear (let’s call it OAF) that creeps in wants me to know that there’s a chance I will be thrown off my horse into oblivion.

frisbee shine finn

But today was different: in place of the fear shone the desire to simply reconnect with Claret after many days away. I missed him—both the usual escapade of shoving entire carrots into his mouth, which he sucks in like a high-powered food processor, and also the feeling of simply being on his back and letting my hips swing with him. Once I got him tacked up, however, I realized I was going to be the only one riding in the arena. Suddenly I was facing the trifecta of anxiety-producing factors: a week off, an absent trainer, a solo ride.

I stood in the doorway with Claret by my side, and together we beheld the arena. His eye was catching the light off the mirror on the wall, and that made him look all angelic and majestic, which made me swoon a little, and as I moved to gently stroke the side of his face, he nudged me roughly forward with his enormous head. “Thanks,” I said. And then I mounted my horse.

Strangely, I still wasn’t afraid. At first I thought it was a rare act of mercy on OAF’s part, but then I realized it was a choice I was making. I was going to ride no matter what: I could either do it fearfully or joyfully. And on this day, I chose joy. And not just any kind of joy—I’m talking determined joy, steely-eyed joy, leather-jacket-wearing badass joy. I felt it in my core and across my back, which, despite a week of lolling about, were still strong. I felt it in my hands, which held the reins steadily but softly. And Claret must have felt it, too, because instead of the difficult warm-up we tend to have—during which he flaps his lips about and trips and tries to itch his face on his leg every third step—he started off trotting smoothly, in his own strength.

Quietly, we trotted and cantered and communicated, and soon everything began to fall away—even the notion of joy—until there was only the seamless motion our two bodies made. At one point, I closed my eyes—the way people do when listening to an amazing song or letting chocolate melt on their tongues—which might not have been the smartest thing I could have done, but again, there was no thought. There was only now, as experienced in these two living bodies, and now was enough.