Back at it Again

carolyn keating

carolyn keating

I am reading a book I was afraid to read for the past 18 months: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Isn’t that funny? The word “fear” is in the title, and apparently something in my subconscious did not want me reading this wonderful book at that particular time in my life.

Big Magic is a witty, serious, deeply soulful guide to embracing your creativity. No matter what you may call your day job, Gilbert believes we are ALL creative beings. The guiding mantra of Big Magic is: “You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.”

As Gilbert explains, “Human beings have been creative beings for a really long time – long enough and consistently enough that it appears to be a totally natural impulse.” 

She says that even if your present-day self doesn’t think you can draw, or sing, or paint, or dance – you’ve simply lost your way. Simply put, your ancestors HAD to make things. The everyday act of living meant that you sewed, cooked, preserved fruits and vegetables, made toys for your children, fixed what was broken, modified tools to suit your needs or came up with mini-inventions in the home or out on the farm that made life go a little bit smoother. Necessity and creativity went hand in hand.
It’s no coincidence that for the 18 months during which I neglected to read Big Magic, I also neglected writing this blog. Saying “oh, life just got in the way” is the easy way out. I think that I was fearful of putting myself out there, of telling the unvarnished truth, which was the whole point of starting this blog in the first place.

I write this blog in order to share my daily adventures, travel-related or simply life-related. 

I call it “Pack and Go Now” because nothing thrills me more than having to pack at a moment’s notice!

Travel is the well-spring of my creativity. Seeing new places feeds my soul, informs my world view, and makes me a happier person. 
I am also a strong believer that travel is a source of healing. Teddy Roosevelt took off for his Western adventures when his mother and wife died on the same day.

I mentally – and physically – “packed my bags” when I got kicked hard in the heart by a painful divorce followed by the sudden death of a boyfriend. My current life philosophy is: GO WHILE YOU STILL CAN. Book the flight, take the cruise, go on the road trip, pitch a tent. What are you waiting for?

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A Trip and a Hip

  An amazingly wonderful trip to Colorado with my fiancé was cut short by my mother’s broken hip. 

This Rocky Mountain getaway of mine had two reasons behind it. First, to support my fiancé’s sister who is undergoing chemo and radiation for multiple cancers. Second, to get my fiancé away from care taking for a few days so he could relax and recharge his batteries.

I am now, officially, in my fifties. Middle age is serving as a daily reminder to ‘carpe diem’, to seize each moment of each day like it was your very last on this planet. As a cancer survivor who battled the disease in my early thirties, ocarpe diem has been my motto since being declared cancer free more than 16 years ago.

Literally, for me, every day IS Christmas. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I weep with happiness watching my teenage daughter receive school awards, take band trips to Washington, DC, and reach milestones like getting her drivers license and taking her SATs. I cry at the drop of a hat, mainly because I am so damned glad to be alive to see her enjoy (and struggle through) her adolescence. After multiple surgeries for cervical and colon cancer, I still cant believe I was lucky enough to watch Erin graduate from Kindergarten. And now her high school graduation is right around the corner. We’ve made plans to visit colleges over the summer. The world is her oyster right now.
Two weeks ago, I had my annual physical with my oncologist and scheduled my mammogram. Now, I am playing phone tag with the oncologist’s office, trying to return his voice mail message. I am wondering what the call is about. Is my cholesterol high? Are my triglycerides a tad too fatty? Or is it the Big C knocking on my door again?

I keep getting the oncologist’s answering service. They close the office on Fridays. Besides, Ive been immersed in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and joyfully NOT focused on my phone messages, Facebook, or any of the other electronic intrusions that normally suck time out of my days at home in Miami.

But before I can even catch up with my own annual exam results, I get an emergency call from mom’s neighbor, who heard her screaming for help from her garage and rushed to her side. Apparently, she fell in the garage and broke her hip. Joe, our neighbor, waited with her while the paramedics came, and called me in Colorado with updates on which hospital she was being taken to and which police officers I needed to speak with while trying to find someone to come get my mother’s dog.

I watch Joe’s children play in their front yard each day. He has an adorable baby girl who started walking not long ago. But, as is typical of life in the big city, we’ve never actually met or spoken to each other. His wife and I have waved at each other. We’ve said hi to the children’s grandfather. Now, I am indebted to him for hearing my mother’s cries for help while I am on vacation 2,000 miles away.

This morning, I reach my mother by phone from the Denver airport. She’s groggy and in a lot of pain. She tells me she is scheduled for an operation. I tell her I am on my way home and will be at her bedside by dinner time.

I am an only child and my father died in 1985. I feel the weight on my shoulders to get home immediately, to figure out where to rent a hospital bed for her recovery, to be the caretaker she deserves. 

After driving down to Denver from the Rocky Mountain high country, it was back to reality last night with the neighbor’s phone call and the news of mom’s accident. This morning, it was back to reality saying goodbye to my fiancé’s sister, who has been given less than a year to live IF the chemo and radiation begin to work. I hope to see her at least one more time. I fear the weakened state I will find her in. She shaved her head bald last night rather than watch her hair fall out in tufts and handfuls. It was the only good tip I could give her: Cut it all off before it begins to itch. Have a moment of control over your cancer before it takes over every single aspect of your being.

I go to bed with the exasperated acceptance that this is the reality of midlife. Aging parents, aging siblings, dealing with assorted health crises the way we once dealt with pesky acne breakouts or boyfriends who didn’t call back. There is the daily awareness of your own limited time here on Mother Earth. There is faith, and the safety net of friends and family who keep us afloat during tough times. The best you can do is to keep plodding, and to return the kindnesses bestowed upon you during your own times of need.

Dating A Pirate and Changing My Course

imageWhen I began this blog, I was leaving my Miami tourism marketing job of 12 years. My plan for Pack-and-Go-Now was to travel the world, to grab my passport and do my own post-divorce version of Eat, Love, Pray. I wanted to roam the back alleys of Cairo, eat my way through India, hike to Machu Picchu, parboil myself in the hot springs of Iceland and let go of the pain and stress of the divorce. It was ME time; time to reassess my life, my goals, my future. Time for the healing balm that travel has always been for me.

Of course, as the saying goes, when you make plans, God laughs. Clearly my dream of international gallivanting was not part of His plan. To make a long story short, my first romance after my divorce was with someone I had known since childhood. Danny was a gentle soul with devastating wit, surfer good looks and the bad boy mien that had first enthralled me back when I was a college freshman.

He still carried a torch for me more than 20 years since we had sporadically dated, going to Miami Hurricane football games together and even taking a madcap trip to Southern California to attend the wedding of my college chum. Like me, Danny was a cancer survivor. He had never married. Best of all, he had many, many pirate tales to share with me. Miami in the late 70s and 80s was a very different place, and, for a time, Danny had been part of the drug smuggling scene. He’d also been a chauffeur for a Miami Beach hotel. He’d driven Truman Capote, George Plimpton and Mother Theresa around the Magic City at various times. He had met and driven various White House officials around too, mainly during the Bush Senior era. Oh, Danny had enough stories to fill several books. He was a true pirate.

I started to hang out at his house every night after work. It was a sanctuary for me. I drank goblets of red wine, bitched about my ex and all of the legal mumbo jumbo I was still sorting through. We stayed up late and watched movies. We filled each other in on people we hadn’t seen for years. We laughed at how surviving cancer had changed us. We didn’t sweat the small stuff. We were survivors, tough as nails in so many ways.

Danny was a great listener. He gave me the encouragement I needed to begin healing, put the past behind me, and get back on my own horse, so to speak. We had 10 lovely months together when he died suddenly. He fell and broke his neck in the shower in the middle of the night.

As awful as it was, it was not surprising. He had balance issues from a neck surgery he had needed during his long journey through throat cancer. He also had a tracheotomy, which complicated his life in many ways. I rushed over to his house, arriving while the police were still there.

The policeman sized me up, realizing that I needed closure on Danny’s sudden death and that I was tough enough to go view the body. Which I did, saying a prayer that thanked God for sparing him any pain and for not letting him die in a hospital — which I knew was Danny’s worst fear. He had suffered enough.

Still mourning my marriage, I now found myself spiraling even further downward to a very sad place. I had just lost a dear friend, a confidante, and the one person who’d been able to make me laugh and smile after the dark days that followed the end of a 20 year marriage.

Contemplating Fifty

It’s coming fast. My 50th birthday. This is one birthday I can’t just ignore. I’m one of those shrinking violets when it comes to celebrating my own birthday. I’m not sure why, exactly. Over the years, I’ve planned surprise parties for friends and family. I’ve taken pleasure in the details, aimed my camera to capture the startled looks from the birthday boy or girl, relished the excitement of pulling off a big surprise.

For me, hitting the half century mark represents a new start. A throwing off of chains; a celebration of the new life I had to carve out for myself after a very painful divorce. This new life is still very much a work in progress. Some days I embrace it eagerly. Other days, I struggle to find my rhythm.

My head has been spinning with ideas about how to celebrate this upcoming milestone. A cruise with my mother. An island getaway with my boyfriend. A solo journey to a faraway place. Or perhaps, a vow to do 50 cool things over the course of the coming year. Reality rears its head in the form of the very real need to save money for my daughter’s high school band trip and the art camp she wants to attend this summer.

I’m blessed to live in Vacationland, aka Miami Beach, where snowbirds flock to escape winter’s chill. I’ve got the beach in my backyard, orchids blooming in February, blue sky and palm trees. What I long for are hills and mountains, rivers and streams, and big showy rock formations. The list of great places to hike in Miami is rather small, unless you count shopping malls. I’m bouncing back and forth to web sites in Utah, Wyoming and California, taking pleasure in the fact that eventually I will find the perfect place, and design my perfect 50th birthday trip.

Winter Fishing

  Lately Miami has had me frustrated. Traffic, endless construction sites on Miami Beach, tourists driving mapless — and hapless — around my ‘hood. All testing my patience.

Time for a reboot. Time to go fishing!

We headed out east of Haulover Inlet, looking for sailfish. After a couple hours of three- to five-foot waves, the sea laid down as flat as a lake. The sky was bright blue, and, thanks to a Miami “cold front”, there were very few boats out.

My boyfriend, a fishing captain for more than three decades, showed me how to rig a ballyhoo. It was more intricate than I’d imagined. Twisting the wire around the tiny ballyhoo’s bill, getting it balanced so that the bait “swam” just right when it went into the water to lure the big fish.

We had five rods ready to go. I munched on tortilla chips and salsa, trying not to dump the salsa over in the pitching waves. My boyfriend watched the baits bouncing behind the boat. We followed a line of seaweed, knowing that a weed line attracts fish.

There was no catch of the day, but it didn’t matter. The cool ocean breeze, the views of the Miami skyline and the bliss of being out on the water were more than enough to change my state of mind.

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Guns & Moonshine

moonshine

moonshine It’s been an adventure filled summer. I reunited with my old boyfriend (circa late 80s) and went on two great road trips Applesalong the east coast. A quick list of things I did this summer for the first time includes: shooting a gun, running moonshine, picking apples, standing behind a roaring waterfall in North Carolina, visiting a roadside goat attraction and attending a Pittsburgh Steelers game.

Goodbye to the Known World

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My office at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau
I’m getting ready to leave my job and travel around the world. It’s simply time. I’ve got visions of passport stamps dancing in my head. So, I’m packing away my office, gathering my writing samples from the past 12 years, and heading out for some adventure.