Big Transitions & Palo Santo Chocolate

 

On Friday I closed down my little shop (The Green Wagon) after nearly six years. It became obvious to me after I got back from the POF journey that I was going to struggle with running a business and finishing the book. I felt my life yanking me in another direction that couldn’t possibly involve me spinning all of the plates anymore, but I promised myself I would give the shop a year & here we are–seventeen days shy of one year since I returned. The intentions we set are so much more powerful than we realize. I got busy with the store. Exhausted with the store. The book manuscript sat on my desk, neglected for months at a time. I began to feel like because I couldn’t really focus on any of the pieces of my life, I wasn’t doing any of them well.

I didn’t want to write or work on the book when I was exhausted or not able to do my best with it. I began resenting the store, because I couldn’t find the energy to also write the book. A wise friend told me that sometimes we have to trim back certain parts of our lives in order to let other parts grow. So, a few months ago, with the lease coming to an end, I had no doubt what the next step would be. The neighborhood had changed. The shop had changed. I had changed. It was time to allow it all to evolve. 

My plan is to spend September and October finishing the book manuscript. That is as far ahead as I will really let my mind wander right now. I don’t know exactly what comes after that, but one thing I did learn on my journey (and something that I have to remind myself of often) is how much peace and joy I find when I trust the process and stop feeling the need to control what happens next. While traveling the POF path, I never knew what was going to happen in the next hour or the next day. Who I would meet. What little town I would ride through on my scooter in New Zealand. What the next city would be like in India when the train stopped. Or how I would spend my time there. Or even how much time I would spend there. I didn’t need to know where I would eat lunch or even where I would sleep sometimes. I trusted the story to lead me. And it didn’t fail me. Not once. 

Yesterday at 8am, I finished my last bit of business at the store and drove to a nearby coffee shop to treat myself to breakfast for completing the long process of closing down the store. I was standing in line and noticed a small bar of fancy chocolate for sale on the counter. My initial thought was, “I can’t have that.” Then I did something that surprised me. I picked it up and bought it. As a gift to myself. I felt the beautiful paper between my hands, ran my finger over the lavender color wax seal that held the paper closed around the chocolate. It was so pretty I almost didn’t even want to open it. It only cost me about $5, but these little gifts we lovingly give ourselves are sometimes the most luxurious and deserved. 

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I sat down and started drinking my coffee and watching the people file in and out on their way to work. The rhythm of the early morning in this particular spot. And there it was—that same inner voice that returned on the first flight of the journey. I thought I had lost it again beneath the rubble and noise of the past year of my life. Suddenly, I felt like I was just little me in the world. The same feeling I had on the top of Piddling Mountain the day I spent with the old horse and told myself there was nowhere I HAD to be for almost eight months. There was nowhere else I had to be yesterday morning. No one else I had to be but just myself. After weeks (maybe months) of absolutely exhausting work–suddenly, it all felt freeing. 

While flying back, I had a fear of losing those precious, intangible, invaluable bits of truth I had found on the journey–the kinds of things I couldn’t claim on a customs form. The types of things I still find hard to explain to people who ask about the trip. I worried that I would not be able to feel the same once I got home. And for almost a year, I haven’t felt the same. I didn’t feel bad, necessarily, but I haven’t felt the same. I am asked all the time if it was hard to adjust to being back. The answer was honestly no, but I didn’t realize why until yesterday morning. It wasn’t hard to adjust back, because I *didn’t* adjust to being back. I just sort of divided myself into who I was on the journey and who I was at home and jumped back into work. But as soon as I turned in the keys to the landlord and let go of a giant piece of my life yesterday morning–trusting wherever this decision was leading me–there it was. There *I* was. The me I was on the trip and I was suddenly able to be her in Nashville, which is what I had so desperately wanted all along. 

I was worried it would take a long time for me to feel back to myself again–to define who I was without the store–to feel something even somewhat similar to how I felt when I was traveling, but it was that simple. I felt whatever it was shift inside me. How beautiful is that? Why do we find it so hard to have faith in ourselves? To trust that we know exactly where the path is and how to get back to it? I was worried I would feel untethered and lost and directionless and depressed and have to work really hard to remember who I am, but it was like flipping a switch. It was like seeing your oldest and dearest friend for the first time in years. Except it was me. And the recognition of it all made me tear up with happiness.

I got up and let a young family have my table. Three little girls in pink tutus and ballet slippers. I walked in the coffee shop one way and out another.  As I walked to my car, I decided that my only job for the day was to be good and kind to myself. I did my best to “do nothing.” Why do we call it that? The act of caring for oneself and slowing down is definitely something essential and important and necessary. 
 
I came home from the coffee shop and watched the chickens and ducks in the yard. I sat in bed and enjoyed every bite of the chocolate bar I had given myself. And I appreciated it. I drank a glass of wine in the middle of the day and watched a documentary about India. I day dreamed. I watched the pattern the sun made through my lace curtains and how it moved across the sheets in my bed and let myself drift into a nap. And I woke when I was rested. 
 
Every time that nagging voice would rise up in me, saying things like, “You really should go unpack. Have you seen the mess you just made of your porch and kitchen table? Where are you going to put all of this stuff? You should finish a chapter of the book tonight, if you don’t unpack. You aren’t being very productive,” I lovingly told that voice to shut the hell up. Yesterday was for me. I didn’t “work” on anything other than just having a lovely day. 
 
And I feel like–even though I came back almost a year ago and even though it doesn’t make much logical sense–I just now arrived at home. Thank you to all of the people–my Mom, Sam, Mike & Leslie to name just a few–who took time out of their own lives to help me pack and move and clean and transition these past few weeks. As I hide out in my little hut in the forest over the next few months, editing the manuscript, you might hear a bit more from me on the blog. 
 
As I was just about to publish this, I heard a tap and looked up to see a hummingbird hovering in front of the window, staring at me at my writing desk…
 
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Pants on Fire Video Footage

Last night I showed a video at the party that I put together from the footage I took while traveling. I wanted to share it with all of you who couldn’t be there. Some of you who have been following along since the beginning will recognize a few of these moments from the blog.

What you’ll hear while watching this is a beautiful song that was written by my sweet friend, Melissa Capezio.

Stay tuned for pictures from the party!

New Project 2 from Jennifer Casale on Vimeo.

Invitation to the Pants on Fire 1st Anniversary Party

Can you believe that it has been almost a year since I boarded that flight to New Zealand? Well, I can’t. But I’m having a party to celebrate & to thank you for following the blog and cheering me on during the wacky process of writing this book. Hope to see you there!

All My Best,

Jen

CLICK BELOW TO OPEN THE INVITATION:

www.paperlesspost.com/events/6440427-35594a45/replies/120344187-dc884873

Final Postcard and Happy New Year Wish

New Year’s Eve I stayed home and fell asleep before midnight. To anyone else, it probably seemed pathetic, boring and like a very anti-climactic way to wrap up such a huge year in my life. I spent most of 2013 on the other side of the world, and the list of things I learned in those 365 days just keeps growing. There weren’t any particularly exciting parties happening on NYE or any particularly exciting men to kiss at midnight, and honestly, what I really wanted was to feel good and clear and ready to greet 2014. And I was.

Getting back into the routine of being home has been a different kind of journey. The time and energy I thought I would have for writing quickly dissolved into a steady (and way too familiar) pace of overworking myself. And trying to figure out how to take care of things here (without overworking myself). There are times I turn around and look at the red Pants on Fire map I have taped to the wall behind the store counter & feel like it was nothing more than a dream. People say often, “It is so weird. It feels like you never left.” And that kills me, because sometimes I feel the exact same way. I have to stare at the route on the map and remind myself that yes, yes I did actually go to those places, and a lot of things changed for me on that journey–even though it may look like the exact same woman is sitting here in front of you, wearing the exact same clothes, sitting in the exact same shop. This must be a little bit of the emotional jet lag that Florentino warned me about, but it snuck up on me gradually.

It just (big, giant surprise here, eh?) turns out that it is a lot easier to be inspired and poetic while (select ANY of the following); hiking long sections of The Great Wall of China / camping under the Milky Way in the outback / riding a train through South Africa next to giant rainbows / riding your bike on the coast of New Zealand / watching the sunrise while sitting on the bank of the Ganga River in India — than it is to feel inspired and poetic while (select ANY of the following); working seven days a week for months at a time / cleaning up dog barf at 2am / getting dumped / lightning is striking your HVAC unit, catching it on fire and melting it right before an ice storm. (Yes, really.) It is more of a challenge to keep my eyes and heart open to see all of the intricate connections and the beauty here–and that’s okay. It is something that has to be practiced. There is an art to knowing how to open and lift just as soon as you notice your eyes have narrowed and your head has lowered. And I am learning to be gentle with myself–to not beat myself up too much just because I have not reached or met the goals and deadlines I set for myself.

On Monday, I had a rare day off and pinned up photos from the trip on the wall behind my computer screen. So, as I sit at my desk at home and write this book, the faces of people from the journey watch over me. Smile at me. Remind me of how very beautiful this story became, because of their gifts and love. I also pinned all of my postcards to myself up on the wall and re-read back through each of them—which was exactly why I wrote them in the first place. While writing them, I tried to imagine what I might need to hear while reading them back at home months and years later–for days just like this, when I feel lost and full of doubt about my ability to tell this story–and here I am, on the other end of that long, long string, holding the other tin can to my ear. Listening to what I had to say to myself. And it helps.

While going through notebooks and sheets of paper on Monday, there were lists and notes. Pages full of time tables for when buses and trains would leave. Five months ago. Nearly a year ago. And this note, hidden between a grocery list and a to-do list. “Whenever you think back on this journey, never forget moments like your first night in Montenegro on the cliff–the full blue moon–and how the world wouldn’t allow you to believe you were here just by accident or coincidence. It almost knocked you over with the reminder that you were always meant to come here, and that the world is just as magical as you always hoped. This is your story to tell and don’t you ever forget it.” Which was the general message I wrote on the postcard to self from Montenegro, which I have misplaced somewhere between that seaside village and Nashville. Here is the last postcard from the journey, mailed home on the last full day of the journey.

LAST POSTCARD TO SELF :: FROM LONDON

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18 September 2013

Today is the last full day. Tomorrow morning you will get on a plane and fly home–and tomorrow night, sleep in your own bed–after 218 nights of sleeping elsewhere–on couches, trains, floors, airports, the bottom of boats and in the arms of one man. This postcard will arrive home after you do + you may hold it the mailbox and it might be hard to read. You might wish you were here on this sofa in London instead–where I am now writing this–or any of the other countries I’ve written to you from. But remember what your mom taught you, “You are exactly where you need to be.” You set out to do something really big–something you weren’t sure you could do. And then you did it. You thought and wrote and laughed and hugged and cried and walked and swam and loved your way–all the way–around this great big world. Whenever you’re scared, read these letters + know that you can do anything + I’m proud of you + love you. -ME

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In other news, this week I celebrated the 5th birthday of my store, The Green Wagon. It is a wild thing to think back to that first day. My mom was there to help. I was so nervous. A picture of A was taped up next to the register. (He was in fake Afghanistan.) So, so much has happened in the time between.

We had cake and drinks at the store to celebrate. I sent out an email to our email list of customers. A woman and her husband walked into the shop. The woman approached me while I was cutting the birthday cake. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small handful of soap nuts (a nut that grows on a tree in India & Nepal and has soap and a natural disinfectant in the shell). I looked and her open hand and then back at her face, a little confused. She shyly said, “I bought these at your store 5 years ago.”

In that moment, I instantly remembered her.

“Yes! You told me that your mother used to wash your hair with these in India when you were a little girl!”

She smiles. “You remember me?!”

“Of course I do.”

“I just had to come here tonight to say congratulations.”

A simple gesture, but it meant so very much to me. And, as is so often the case, the sweetest moment of the whole day arrived unexpectedly and wrapped in perfection.

Happy 2014, Pants on Fire family! Wishing you only the very best this year.

Love,

Jen

A Tribute to a Dear Friend

An old British man named Ted Hazelton used to come visit me at the Murphy Road Green Wagon everyday on his way to buy milk and bananas. Sometimes he would invite me to eat soup with him at Cafe Nonna or to watch British comedies on TV with him at 7pm when they came on PBS. He told jokes that only he found funny. And I laughed with him, because I loved his laugh.

Ted had more of a social life than most people I know. Every time I saw him, he was on his way to a basketball game at Vandy, to the gym, to a conference in California, etc etc. My (ex)husband and I invited Ted to our wedding reception. He arrived in a taxi and danced more than any person at the party that night & still had energy to come to our house the next morning for brunch. He never stopped moving. He had terrible vision, but always somehow also had only extremely beautiful women helping him cross the street! Ha.

Ted had a flat right on the edge of Regent’s Park in London, and would go there for about three to four months out of the year, so when he didn’t appear for a few weeks in the spring of 2011, I assumed he had gone to England and forgotten to tell me. When summer arrived, I started worrying and regularly stopping by his apartment in Nashville to see if he was back. I felt something was off, but had no idea who to even contact. I slipped notes under his apartment door with my phone number written in large, thick handwriting, so he could read it. Even more time passed, and I assumed he hadn’t made it back to Nashville…then I got a phone call out of the blue one day in July of 2011 from a woman I had never talked to. She explained her name was Cindy and that she was cleaning out Ted Hazelton’s apartment. My heart sank. I thought she was going to tell me Ted had passed away. Then she went on and explained that she had found a letter I had written to him and my phone number was on his speed dial.  Ted had fallen down the steps outside of his apartment in February (he lived on the 3rd floor of a walkup with only metal exterior steps), and had a serious head injury and had been in the hospital since. She also explained that Ted had recently been moved to a nursing home and his nephew was coming to pick him up to take him back to England (permanently) on Saturday morning. She gave me the address, if I wanted to visit him.

I went to see him the next day. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was nervous that his head injury may have caused too much damage for him to remember me. I walked through the nursing home and asked a nurse if she knew where Dr. Hazelton was. She pointed to a man sitting only a few feet away, facing the other direction. I tapped on his shoulder and knelt down next to his wheelchair. His normally clean shaven face was covered in an untrimmed white beard. It was clear his vision was completely gone. He always had terrible hearing, so I started to slowly and loudly explain who I was. He kept telling me I was talking too fast and was really confused. I kept repeating my name louder and louder and slower and slower. I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t working and each time I said my name, the knot in my throat got bigger and harder to push sound past.

A nurse walked over and asked if she could help. She repeated my name even louder and slower. I wanted her to stop yelling my name. I wanted to run out the door and drive home. I wanted to cry. He asked why I was there. “I am here to visit you, Ted.” Why? “Because you are my friend.” Nothing. All of a sudden something clicked for him, and I saw it wash over his face. The moment of recognition. And I was overwhelmed with emotion at the simple fact of being known and remembered. And just then he grabbed my hand and said, “I was hoping you would find me here! I’ve been waiting for you.” And every minute after that he knew exactly who I was.

It was time for lunch, so I wheeled him over to his table. The nurses said he liked sitting alone by the window. There was a single placemat at the table. This made me sad to think that he had been lonely all this time, and I hadn’t been there to listen to his jokes. It was clear that while he had lost his sight, his hearing, and the use of his legs, he still had his British sense of humor. We ate in the cafeteria & Ted told me all of the new jokes he had made up since we had last seen each other.  He poked fun at the way the nursing home incorrectly made his hot tea (according to British tea standards). He told jokes. Again, some made sense to me, some didn’t, but they all made me laugh. I laughed until my face hurt from smiling. (Here is a photo from our visit.)

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He said he had been thinking about my wedding reception and his visit to my house a lot the last few days and hoping he would get to see me again before he moved…..like he somehow knew I might be coming. Then we said goodbye. I’ve thought a lot about Ted over the past two years. I even thought about trying to find his nursing home in England while I was on the Pants on Fire Tour & surprise him with a visit, but that was the end of the journey and I was flat broke.

Much of what he talked about was silly (he had a true gift for not taking himself seriously), but sometimes we would discuss poetry and philosophy (two of his favorite subjects and ones that he did take seriously), and every now and then he would break out some profoundly gorgeous thought.Once he leaned over his bowl of soup in Cafe Noona, circled his piece of bread in the air and said, as if it were a great secret between just the two of us, “You know, Jennifer. You have to do the best with the limits of language. So, you have to teach the word to change its mind.” I wrote it down on a scrap of paper that I just found. Dated 6/19/09.

After reading Ted’s words this morning, I thought about him the whole way to work. I started writing this blog post as soon as I got to the shop about how finding and rereading that scrap of paper this morning–how magical it is that someone can say something to you & four and a half years later, it finds you again, scribbled in your own hurried handwriting and inspires you. I decided to try to track down some of his family or the nursing home where he lives to ask how he is doing. And I knew Ted would love to hear that I am writing a book. Even though I knew it was a possibility, the wave of sadness that washed through me when I googled his name and instead I found an obituary still surprised me. And I read that my friend died peacefully on Oct 21, 2012. Over a year ago. One more angel on that army of angels that was keeping me safe that whole eight months.

On the back of the scrap paper with Ted’s quote, I found something I must have doodled around that same time, “today. today. love.” (Which I now think is the only to-do list I will ever need and should probably ever write.)

Rest in peace, my sweet friend. I am so grateful to have been sitting in a little shop on your path home from Jack’s Market.

Some people shuffle into our lives on their way to buy milk and fruit & we are never ever the same again.

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To read Ted’s obituary click HERE.