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I recently read that Emily Dickinson quote. It’s nothing revolutionary, really. It’s about having courage. It’s about overcoming fear. And yet, it’s the capitalized word “Nerve” that makes all the difference. Nerve is a proper noun, having an identity of import. It’s something we give credence to.

When it grants, it empowers action. When it denies, it sucks away aspiration and deflates dreams.

About three years back, I recounted a story over and over again. To my multiple life coaches, to my husband. I was in the thick of studying interior design. I had started a website. I began to dream…cautiously. Starting something new scared me to pieces. Unsure of my ability to succeed, I wondered if I truly had the Nerve to go through with a career change.

Fast forward to present day. While I still teach, it is temporary. My days are ignited by a love of what I do with design. I have jumped in with both feet (finally!) and am excited about the future. This is honestly a new feeling for me when it comes to work.

There is still much that needs to happen; there are large goals ahead. The difference though, is hearing Emily loud and clear; going above my Nerve once only makes the next time easier to do.

[image: Shelby Brakken]




Luang Prabang is a set for so many fascinating story lines. There are people of all walks of life passing through, staying for a time, settling in. There are dreamers, adventurers, lost souls and truth seekers. There are artists, do-gooders, partiers, and floaters. There are entrepreneurs, free spirits, escape artists, and risk-takers. Some kept to themselves. Many congregated in small but vivacious spaces to share in the experience of being right then, right there.

One of these places is the Ikon Club.

I feel lucky to have frequented this place and shared a friendship with it’s owner, Lisa. Watching her creative video of the genesis and character of Ikon makes me smile and wish I was sitting on a stool there right now.

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 8.59.25 PMIt’s been three months and life in Luang Prabang feels like a dream somehow.

At times, we can’t believe it happened at all. If we didn’t remind ourselves once in a while in Skype chats or via glimpses of FB updates from there, it’d seem unreal. This is because: 1. our time was significantly shorter there than our other overseas homes and 2. we so radically changed our lives that it feels strange now.

A couple of years ago while we planned our escape of life known, I created a Pinterest board called Laos Dream. Visually inclined, I pinned dreamy images of how I pictured our days there: tropical surroundings, yoga, colors, and calm. In many ways, that board materialized.

Now, in my North American existence where life is speedy and a bit pushy, the fact that I lived another way feels like a dream. I mean, did I really wake up to the sound of early morning drums from the monks at the nearby temple? Was a bicycle my main source of transportation to and from the morning market? Was sticky rice a staple food in our daily diet? Did I truly accept living with very large spiders as a norm? (um, no).

There is no way to completely capture the reality of those months, not in photos, not in words. I can’t ever pin down what it was like, the dichotomy of struggle and wonder, being adrift and very present, wanting less but craving more. The closest thing to capturing it all is this blog…and even it, falls short.

Because truly there’s no such thing as a dream catcher.

They may get tangled along the way, but dreams are really just meant to fly.

photo 5the shores are still speckled with tiny shells, just like thirty years ago, when collecting those looking like “beach butterflies” were the best souvenirs to carry gingerly home. on weekends caravans park on the sand, vallenatos booming from open trunks, small gatherings of joy under brightly colored tarps, while the waves become everyone’s playground.

high pitched ringing bells and short taps on horns announce the arrival of cool palletas or the presence of a taxi ride into el centro. there, palenqueras adorned in flowing skirts and colorful head scarves call you “mi cielo” as you walk away with a cup full of fresh mango. the plazas host all types of activity, from continuous cathedral weddings to trios playing live music for a night’s wage. one can feast on thick arepas con queso grilling at a corner and take a shot of sweet tintico for an afternoon caffeine kick.

looking up is always a good idea in the old city.colonial style balconies cascade with bougainvillea and the tops of church copulas adorn the sky. the colors loudly  separate one building from another: a striking blue next to a golden yellow next to a deep pink; this vibrancy seeps into the energy inside. with personalities of their own, hotels, boutiques, restaurants, bars draw people in: tourists and cruise visitors, locals and expats enjoying their choice of a fruit juice, a rum & coke, an aguila beer, a happy hour mojito.

magic moments take place, when the ocean breeze cools the tropical heat. lovers slowly stroll on the historical city wall, some tucked in dark corners sharing stolen kisses. lights glow romantically from windows and the sound of horse drawn carriages evokes tranquility.

above, the moon hangs nearly as long as the last rumbero walking home along the beach, shoes trickling sand in one hand, humming the last song played.


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uncertainty quoteFor the past five months I’ve had to become chummy with not knowing. It’s not an organically formed relationship. In fact, I’m making myself do it…kinda like when your parents made you play with their friends’ kids who came over because it would just be awkward and rude not to.

Parent: Chris, why don’t you go and play with Darla.
Me: (shakes head) Mmm-mm.
Parent: Go on now.
Me: I don’t wanna.
Parent: (sternly) Chris!
Me: (running out of room) I said NOOOOO!!

I did try resistance. Or, maybe it was more like pushing. In any case, it was forcing; not “letting go” or being easy with the unfolding of events. I wanted to know what was coming. I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to have more control. What resulted was frustration, anxiety, and fatigue.

It’s not easy living with “I don’t know” to questions like: What will you do for work once you’re in California? Are you really “back” now? How will you keep your marriage going long distance and how long is that for? Where do you see yourself five years from now? A year?

I’ve seen that look in the other person’s eyes as I try to explain why I am 39 years old and have lived at my parents’ for the last couple of months. And, that’s when I start wondering with them too: What is going on here?

The short answer: I don’t know.

Ok, then, what about this…what would happen if those words were viewed as tickets to freedom? What if that sentence was not covered in shameful vagueness but draped in patient curiosity? What if instead of screaming “NO!” I shouted, “Sure, let’s go play!”?

I’m trying to be friends with uncertainty. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 5.52.26 AM“Who created thunder, does not fear it.”

-Bahunde proverb

Somewhere among labeled boxes collecting dust inside garages or stuck within pages of forgotten photo albums. Someplace where scribbled words are losing their identity, and smartphones have taken over time and imaginations. Underneath flat conversations about the economy and award shows and weather speculations. Masked behind the rage against bumper-to-bumper traffic and storytelling with Instagram filters. Lost since the moment it was decided that there was no space for it.

There it is. Rumbling, crescendo-ing, deafening, roaring, echoing, rumbling again. The voice to truths. The jolt toward goals. The sound of fearless creation.

We are all thunder-makers; let’s make some noise.

PageImage-487669-3326911-travel121“This is Opportunity masked in Fear and Darkness.”
-Tana (intuitive, healer, friend)

A few months back, it happened. Sobbing breathlessly in the passenger seat of my cousin’s car, it was identified. My words were choked and my thoughts scattered. But, she looked at me with understanding and said in a matter-of-fact tone that I embraced more than expected: You’re what, 38? Mmm, you’re going through a mid life crisis. This is normal.

And in a span of minutes, the insecurities that came with a career shift, the recognition of a 14 month Laos experiment, the wear and tear of uncertainty around a marriage, the large question of WHAT’S NEXT? hovering over…
…these pieces all compressed into a neat little zip file entitled ‘normal’.

The thing is, we don’t have access to other people’s zip files. We don’t know what they contain or if they exist at all, and at times, we feel we’re the only ones in this mess.

The inaccuracy of perception, right?

Everyone has their stuff-whether it’s as visible as loss or separation, or subtly lingering behind uplifting quotes on a FB status. Life gives us changes and it’s how we show up to them, that counts.

With this in mind, I offer a different perception.

That what is currently happening is not really a crisis at all, but a mid life experience:
tangled, pulsating, in-your-face, opening, hungry, hopeful, lovely.

I don’t need to dye my hair a bold color.
I don’t want to run away and hide.
I may have to ask for help…often.
I will likely change my mind over and over.

This is how I choose to experience my mid life. And, it’s all ok.

[image credit: Shelby Brakken]


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