Note: I have no pictures from the trip, it seems! Boohoo, my phone died on me and some content couldn’t be recovered. I wish I still had some.
Last February, I had a life changing flying solo weekend, in lovely NYC no less. It was so unexpected, so filled with new feelings, realizations, lovely experiences, vibrant new friends and a delicious closeness with the life force and uniqueness of other women, that I’ve almost had to forget it at times, because if I keep it alive within me I would need to light a fire under my ass and get my dream life going even faster, with the unshakeable determination that I can and I will.
I had received an invitation to take part in a free-of-charge , weekend long event hosted and presented by the one and only Mama Gena: a woman I admire, and who very deservedly charges thousands of dollars for her courses and classes. Just reading the email invitation made me swell with possibility and a whimsical desire to go. It seems like a no brainer, right? It’s free, it’s awesome, you’ll see New York again, it’s there for the grabbing. Just go! The only hiccup was this: I was in Costa Rica, had been having very fluctuating income for a few months and had just enough money to either (barely) pay for the plane tickets or pay for my expenses during. It seemed like the answer was a no.
Right at the end of the email invite, was a line that made me so pissed to read. Something along the lines of the event already being booked at full capacity, and to please release the seat for another woman if unable to come. In my rational mind, of course it made sense to let them know I would not be able to attend. Let another woman have the seat and soak up all the Mama Gena goodness! It was the mature and respectful thing to do. Unfortunately, I was not feeling particularly mature or respectful. I was feeling like a little girl who wanted something, deeply and unapologetically, who did not care to give any explanation, who just desired to be at the event and would not-Hell, no!- give up her seat at the Skirball Center.
This irrationality continued simmering in me for days, never bubbling over but also never completely going away, up until the Thursday prior to the event. I was checking my Gmail on my smartphone when I received an email reminder, mentioning accommodations, etc for the Womanly Arts Experience. It hit me like a ton of bricks, I was definitely not going. Shit. Unable to ignore my frustration, I told my mom “Ah, there is an awesome free event in NYC this weekend by a speaker I really admire. I could have gone, but it’s too late now”. She made some sweet, sympathetic comment and headed for her hair coloring appointment, and I went straight home and took a nap. I was woken from my slumber by a phone call from my mom. “Nana, listen up. I can lend you the money to go to NYC. You just pay me back in a few weeks. Are you awake? Do you still want to go?” If I wasn’t awake when the phone rang, I surely was by the time I heard her offer. Of course I wanted to go! Where is my laptop?!?! Must search flights on Orbitz asap!
A bunch of questions fluttered through my mind like butterflies. Should I go? Don’t’ be silly, of course you should. On retrospect, I must notice it is very interesting to me how you can desire something passionately, and all of a sudden, confronted with the prospect of getting fulfilled, you drop it like a hot potato, wondering if it really is worth having. It’s almost like your inner voice tells you that, no, false alarm, walk away because you don’t really get to have your way. A crappy, self-imposed reflex if I ever saw one. Luckily, desire won this time around, and I decided to go for it. I happily called my handsome boyfriend to tell him the good news, a short phone call where he was his encouraging, supporting self, and I went right back to packing outfits into my suitcase and figuring it all out. Where would I stay? NYC is notorious for being pricey, and on such short notice… I happened to remember that my third cousin Kelly had facebooked me to say she was living in NYC when I went for the second time in 2011. We didn’t get to meet that time. Maybe she still lived there after almost three years? I texted Kelly’s sister, asking whether she was still living in New York. Yes? Excellent. Number, please? Check! I proceeded to ask my sweet cousin for a favor on steroids; to host me for four nights starting the very next evening. “Yes, of course, how wonderful to see you, I’m excited!”
So, both lodging and gracious host were checked. I booked my flight, for the very next day at noon. There were only two seats left (mine plus one) when I did. I packed my passport, I printed my directions, and got everything I could think of ready. I went to bed excited and prepared to be happy the next day.
Friday came. I was dropped off at the airport with plenty of time to spare. I headed towards the check in counter, beaming. Traveling does this for me. They checked my bag in while the very nice airline lady checked my ticket and passport. She frowned.
– “Are you sure you packed the right passport, Johanna? This one is expired.”
I only have one passport, I though, my tummy sinking. I must have looked clueless to her. She went on, saying that if someone brought my valid passport over there should be no issue. There were still almost two hours’ time before boarding. They would keep my bag checked so I didn’t need to carry it. I was already pre-checked in, so it would be much faster when I returned. I just smiled and took my extremely expired passport from her hands. How did I not check my passport expiration? It had been over two years since I last traveled, so there. I refused to beat myself up over it. For a tiny second, I panicked and freaked, though. I would need to pull the plug on this trip. It would end as unexpectedly as it began. I hoped they would refund my ticket. But then, calm took over me. No, it was not over. I allowed the excitement and hope to elevate me again. Everything had been lining up precisely right, so that I could go to NYC and see Mama Gena. I just had to keep riding the wave and trusting.
I stepped out and took a cab to the Immigrations office. The cab driver, when I told him where to go, asked me if I had some passport issue. I told him about my expired passport. He was very encouraging and optimistic, and as soon as we got there, said he’d stop the meter from running while I ran my errand, so that I wouldn’t need to pay too much.
I ran in, without much idea of whom to approach about this. I asked at the new passport window. No can do, it takes a couple of days to get a new passport. I asked a friendly looking security officer. Oh, boy, he had no idea but sure wished me luck. I still held on to my ray of hope. Finally, a lady pointed me in the right direction. If anyone could help me, it would be Reynaldo on windows 5. Three buildings down, that is. There was someone getting assistance on window 5, and from the sound of it, he had no intention of moving anytime soon unless he got what he wanted. Reynaldo (I assumed) kept patiently explaining that without a signed and authenticated authorization from the person he was attempting to represent, no action could be taken. Come on dude, I thought, move and make room for me! But then I thought, maybe guy on the line needs his help as much as I need mine, which took the edge of my time waiting in line. A few minutes later, he seemed to give, and it was my turn on window 5. I explained Reynaldo about my unexpected travel plans, my burning desire to attend the Womanly Arts Experience and about the cabby waiting for me in the parking lot. He was a middle aged black man, with a friendly smile, and he looked at me like an indulging father while he said “Ok, go to the bank in the next building and pay a –insert ridiculously low amount because I forgot the actual one here- reactivation fee, and then come back and I’ll approve you.” Yay! I ran over to the bank. About 5 people stood in line before me, and from the sour look on their faces, it wasn’t moving fast at all. I soon gathered that only one of three cashiers were open, and the person in turn seemed to be doing every possible transaction under the sun.
I checked my watch. 50 minutes until the plane left. I took a calming breath, and told my line mates about my hurry to get on the plane. Would they mind if I went first? It was just a quick payment and I’d be out of their hair. Everybody but the couple at the front of the line said yes. Sorry, but they had been in line too long already; they wouldn’t be able to let me go first. Ok, I said. And then, out of the blue came my taxi driver, who wanted to check on my progress. I let him know I was almost done and just then the cashier was ready and the grumpy couple from two minutes ago actually changed their minds and let me cut in front of them. Not five minutes later, I was walking out of the Immigration office, with a revalidated passport (on which Reynaldo scribbled Last Trip after making me promise to get a new one before I next traveled) with Mr. Nice Cabbie, and we headed back to the airport at record speed.
I ran to the check in desk. The nice lady from a few hours ago was on break. New counter lady didn’t think I could still make it on the plane. “Please, I said, there must be something we can do, I’m pre-checked and my suitcase is already checked in.” She talked on her radio, saying my name, and got confirmation that I was on the boarding list and they were waiting for me. Ok, she said, winking, follow me as quick as you can. She took me over to the security check point and asked and officer to let me go through first. I was checked and cleared, and another airline person was waiting on the other side.
“Come on, hurry, you can put your shoes back on inside the plane!”-he cheered.
And I did just that. I boarded the plane with two minutes to spare, my boots in my hands, happy and trusting and I had been that morning. Slightly sweatier, maybe.
So, why did I bother writing down the rather detailed recount of my Womanly Arts Experience flight in? Was it perhaps to brag about the many kind and supporting souls that contributed a little or a lot to get me there? Maybe. Mama Gena is all about the bragging*, after all. Or do I maybe have another agenda? Well, I do. Actually, the reason why I share it is because, as I am sure you noticed, there were a big number of times I might have just given up on going. From not having all the cash at hand, to the long shot lodging, to the expired passport, the impossible timeline and the crazy cab run in Costa Rican Friday traffic. What made the difference? I’m convinced my attitude sparked the success of my endeavor. I managed to stay happy through it all. I managed to let myself feel the anticipation of the trip first, and anything else second. And miraculously, the excitement of fulfilling my desire made all negative what ifs fade away. I know in my heart it was that spark of desire that shone through me, inspiring all those people to say yes when they could have said no, to help me when they might very well not have gone out of their way at all. This doesn’t mean that I am exempt from letting the nagging inner voice take over. No one is, I think. I just like sharing this experience because, more than anything, it reminds me of how I conjured a little getaway under unlikely conditions, out of thin air, with the help of many and with great success. From the moment my mom lit me up with her offer, to the moment I came back home I really felt the true celebration of people coming together to indulge me. I don’t know about you guys, but I can definitely get used to that.
There is so much more to tell about those four days I spent in New York City last February. I had been to the city twice before, and in very good company, too. But this time around it was a very free formed thing, no touristy landmark visits, no Broadway musical (much as I adore them), no big shopping spree. I had no idea what the Mama Gena event would be like, whom I would meet, where I would eat or even where exactly I’d be staying, for that matter. I got to experience this uncertainty all by myself, not as a cause of distress or as an opening to overthink and overplan, but rather as a true mental and spiritual and emotional vacation.
My cousin Kelly, in the middle of no less than two jobs and her own plans, was such an incredibly welcoming person, a generous host and an amazing guide of the city night life. Even though we are distantly related and had only ever met once before, she was truly family and a dear friend all wrapped up in one. Her very cool boyfriend Chris , her roommates and friends all treated me in the best possible way and I will always be grateful to them.
During the weekend event itself, the collective energy of the 800 plus women gathered there was a loving, crazy, sexy, comforting blanket of pure deliciousness I felt myself wrapped in. Some of them I still communicate with, but even while meeting and engaging with them all is not entirely possible, the sense of community and tribe, a glorious blend of safety and exploration will stick with me forever. I was very lucky to walk away with the friendship of a Canadian dream team of kickass beautiful ladies plus one fierce reinvented, sassy folk musician from Texas.
The activities were nothing short of revolutionary. I was confronted with my deep, true desires. Unearthing them from myself. Writing them down on a list. Wait, what? Reading them aloud to the stranger woman sitting next to me? Whoa! What if she thinks they are stupid? Shallow? Too big? Too ambitious? She didn’t. She thought they were beautiful and brave. Then, as I gave her my attention while she read her desires to me, I realized I felt like rooting for her to achieve them with all my heart. Some of her desires made me realize I wanted similar things, too. Liberating and powerful. .Yes, on some level it felt like being naked in front of a stranger times ten, but I realized that she was feeling the same way, exposed and raw, and that the alternative was for us both to remain hidden. Then, no one would know us, and those things each of us really long for would probably lay buried and discarded in the darkness for years to come. That was way scarier than owning my desire list. And there was lots of fun to be had, too. Before things ever got too loaded, we had a dance break. And another one. Quite a few a day, actually. I loved them. We were given pink feather boas. We walked the runway, 800 Sister Goddesses cheering. We learned the Dance of Rage. It’s refreshing to embrace that it’s not all peaches and cream in life and we need tools for when things don’t go as planned, too, as well as the ones for celebrating.
Then on the day before departing, me and Kelly took to the streets with no set plans. This turned into a few fun errands, an inexplicable adventure at AT&T where we somehow charmed the sales man into getting Kelly a new iPad and smartphone replacement free of charge, a makeup run de rigour, a delicious lunch, an unexpected private tour of the Law and Order SVU set organized all the way from from California by Kelly’s very sweet sister Graceann and finally an impromptu hair makeover for me. From brunette to flaming redhead. Wrap up the night at a Prohibition style speakeasy tavern, some NYC late night walking and artisan pizza at 2 am. What a lovely way to top it all off.
Up until that trip, I don’t think I had ever felt so comfortable with the idea of the unknown. Every time I see my pink feather boa, it reminds me that don’t knowing exactly what lies ahead can be more of a promise than a threat. Little did I know this lesson would prove much more valuable that imagined in a few short months.
A big pearl of wisdom I gained from Mama Gena was the almost explosive value of telling yourself what it is that you want. No explanations, no apologies. In terms of love, career, finances, life. What do your desires look like? No desire is too big or too small. I’ve come to realize that so many people go through life without knowing themselves what they truly want. That makes it very tricky to be able to tell others. Is it really surprising that relationships become unfulfilling when owning and sharing our desires sounds so radical and unusual?
So I made my desire list, I read and reread it, I looked at it until it felt completely my own, and then one day I just went for it and shared it with my man. It was both scary and exciting. I must say that many desires on it have become reality by now. It also led us to talk about our dreams and what we want the future to look like. And when the future we envisioned took a detour and surprised us with an unexpected addition, namely a little bun in my oven, my new found appreciation of the unknown came in handy. Big time.
I don’t mean to say that the idea of parenthood isn’t life changing in itself when you are looking to conceive. All I am saying is, when you are operating under the assumption that your won’t be walking down the Mommy road, and find yourself on it all of a sudden, you very quickly realize there are a million and one things to consider that you had never even contemplated. From pregnancy to birthing to lactation, to baby care to education. And that is only the beginning. . It seems to never end. Should I over think and over plan, then? I say no. Of course I’ll read and learn, and decisions that need to be made will get their due attention. But more than anything, I want to feel like I am at that little trip to NYC. The possibilities, the excitement, the support and celebration. People helping out, lovely surprises. So, I took my pink feather boa and pinned it right over my computer, where I can see it all the time. Because mostly, my heart tells me that that ye, I don’t exactly know what this trip will look like, but I do know for sure that I will love it.
*Bragging is on of the Womanly Arts, consisting on telling someone else the good things that are happening to you, that you are creating, as a way of celebrating each other and inviting more goodness in.