From the mountains

There is a lot of happiness in wandering in the mountains, waking up at the break of day, climbing high, higher than you think you could, looking at the rocks and snow beneath your feet and at the planes down below. The mountain air is clear, the breeze is frosty in the mornings, the towns are prettier than usual, the coffee is stronger, and the stars are more visible.

After an adventure it is wonderful to go back, and look up and be in awe at how far you managed to get the day before. Seems unreal and almost impossible looking from the road that runs between the mountains. So far away from home.

There is another slice of happiness getting back home, to my data, to my work, to planting little carrots in the flower pots filled with fresh soil. Everything looks magical and filled with peaceful light when you come back from the mountains. Closest I’ve ever got to happiness.

Taqueria San Jose

I have never been to this place. It was a small taqueria under highway 101 in San Rafael. I have seen it almost every time I drove through the city. And it happened often. Coming back home from the gym or shopping I saw its yellow lights under the bridge. It always looked empty and the light coming from the insides was dense and yellow, like moonlight. “Cocktails”, “Burritos”, “Tacos” were written in green paint over the stained brown walls of the taqueria. Staying on the stop light under the bridge I used to stare at the few people eating or waiting for their orders. The insides always looked shabby. In my head I marked it as the “happy place”. I thought that you had to be very happy in order to eat there. I thought to myself that once I’m in love I will go to this taqueria, and I will be so happy that I will not notice its shabbiness and the dissonance with the rest of the world.

For years I have been driving past this taqueria. I welcomed its light before I would hit the highway. It was the mark for entering or leaving the city. It signaled the start or finish of my errands. Today, once again I was stopped in traffic right in front of its doors. There was a red and white sign that read “Open” and a man left the taqueria carrying a take-out order. There was nobody else on the streets. I lowered the window of my car to smell the air. The day was warm and silent. Just a distant roar of the cars on the bridge.

Sitting comfortably in my car, I felt certain desperation about everything. I was falling into it gently. What came to mind was that I loved math. I loved numbers. I loved logic. And there was nothing else to say, because these things don’t require many words.

Lately I have been falling in love with things that aren’t human. I loved to read books about robots. And in my head I had conversations with robots, I shared things with them, I discussed my ideas with them. With them I didn’t sound crazy being concerned with the future of humanity and exploration of space. I dug myself deeper in coding and data, it made me advance in my job, but the true motivation was bigger than that. It was beyond visible, I sensed that it was helping us build the future. I couldn’t talk about it much with people around me. Every time I touched this topic at my work I saw glazed eyes, my friends also preferred to talk about mundane things, and there was really nobody else around to talk to. I resorted to learning and conversing in my head with yet-to-be-developed AI. On the outside I was becoming laconic. On the inside I was always trying to solve a problem.

If I imagined I had a robot for a friend it was easier to deal with my shortcomings. I knew I would never be as good as a robot in many things. My shields were down and I never had the need to feel reactive. I also felt secure, because there would be no emotional battles. Robots can’t take your words in a wrong way. You can’t offend them, and they can’t offend you. Offense is only there when we suspect a wicked intention. And I thought that conversing in my head with a robot I was at my best. Or was it the peaceful silence around me?

I was driving along the streets of San Rafael slowly emerging from these thoughts and looking at the green trees and Oleanders in bloom. The smell was sweetish. There were a few people on the streets modestly dining on the spread apart tables. The streetlights were on, illuminating the lack of evening vibe. I thought that the taqueria must be shining with its deep yellow lights like a lighthouse. But I have passed it already and couldn’t see it, however the thought of it made me feel a bit livelier.

Summer of 2020

The summer of 2020 went by fast. I looked at the desk next to my bed, there was a yellow book and 3 playing cards, three aces. I was trying to finish this book for my work for the past few months, but the reading went slowly. It was a long summer that went by fast. I was feeling melancholic and bored.

It was probably the lack of physical exercise, of challenges, the lack of seeing people, and now the smoke. The fires have started in California about a week ago, right when I took a week vacation to go hiking to Lassen with the kids. We had to cut our trip short and turn back home after day one. Heavy smoke from fires was all over Lassen and I still remembered how hard it was to breath there. The skies were yellow, the sun orange or red, and the ashes felt over the tent, the car, and the food while we ate it. The rest of the vacations we spent enclosed in our apartment, since the air outside was unhealthy. It was still hot, we were still  in covid and not seeing people. I tried to study or to read but would turn to screen of my laptop or phone all the time reading news or watching snippets of funny videos. The vacation week was wasted.

Overall we were doing well. While the country was suffering from unemployment and covid, I was lucky to have a good job, which I loved and that was meaningful. We were healthy and kids were good kids. Since this summer we weren’t able to go to Spain to see my parents (Europe didn’t admit Americans because of covid), my parents organized math and Russian classes for the kids almost daily, which took the kids away from video games and built a better relationship with their grandparents. We also took up hiking and doing difficult trails with elevation above our skills. I got us a tent and tons of camping and hiking equipment and we got good at setting our basecamp. On our escape from Lassen we packed our basecamp in 31 minutes, which I consider a record for the three of us.

When covid started I was in an uplifted spirit suddenly having so much extra time on my hands. However, this was all gone now. I still had the time, but the spirit disappeared. Most of the days I woke up early, meditated, made breakfast for the kids and myself and moved to my desk to work. I didn’t do almost anything else during my week except work. Lack of challenging exercise, lack of seeing people, too much screen time, and sitting at my desk had negative consequences. In August I have been wandering around the house without any motivation. I didn’t feel like myself. In my free hours I moved between my books (mostly on cosmology or science fiction), a mars rover model that I was starting to build as a hobby project, my data science classes that I took online for my work, and my startup that has been limping for the past few months because I have hit yet another wall.

I felt tired. After doing the grocery shopping this morning and breathing in a portion of smoky air, I sat on my bed with the book. I barely read one page. There were 3 aces on my bed, my son left them there earlier. I took the aces. I looked at them and started thinking about green pastures, horses, mountains. About fresh air. About courageous and strong men. About how beautiful and strong I could be. And I thought about running away from the Bay Area, somewhere else, another country may be. Because I thought the life was short and we will all die too soon. What’s the point of living tired? But I didn’t do anything. I needed time to understand how things really were, and not how I felt that they were. How objective can one be about what one lives? And if there is one card missing?


Strengths are weaknesses

I used to think that our strengths and our weaknesses were two sides of the same coin. That with each strength a weakness comes attached. If you wanted to be friends or love somebody you needed to evaluate if you could live with the weaknesses that come with their strengths.

Two things recently happened that changed my way of thinking about it. First, I finished reading “The Naked Sun” by Asimov, where at the end of the novel the detective Elijah Baley lists the strengths of the spacers as their main weaknesses. Spacers’ robots and their long lives, what was considered their strengths, ultimately prove to be also their weaknesses.

Second, this morning on a team zoom call my manager said that she is getting involved into one of our projects on managerial level. And I felt relieved as she said that because this project has been quite a mess till now, with different teams participating and many arguments. I thought to myself that my manager being so measured and objective was the best person to bring some structure to this new project. And it caught me by surprise because these are the qualities that in each annual review I listed as her weaknesses. I had to write something in that portion of the review and these were the only things that came to mind, her being very measured, being able to keep the distance, always being able to have an “outside” perspective. Till I got to know her better I had an impression that she wasn’t passionate about the work we do. And now the same exact qualities that came to mind as her weaknesses were also her strengths.

This made me question if our weaknesses are our strengths and vice versa. I thought about my own strengths and weaknesses. I can push things through and make it happen, this is my strength. I don’t give up. And this is also my weakness, I destroy things (relationships, feelings, people) on the way. I work a lot, I am passionate about my work, this is my strength and it is also my biggest weakness. I do less of other things, I spend less time with kids, family, friends. I’m less passionate about family life or friendships.

I have a friend who is kind, it is his biggest strength and also his biggest weakness. I have a friend who is extremely smart, and this is also his strength and his weakness. I have a friend who is creative, and now that I am thinking about it, it is her strength and her weakness.

It seems like strengths and weaknesses are not the sides of the same coin. They are literally one same thing. Once something becomes your strength, it also becomes your weakness.

Breakfasts with Deers

It all started at the beginning of January. After morning bjj training on Saturdays I used to have coffee with my best friend Arnaud at a small breakfast place in San Anselmo. That particular Saturday he was skiing with his family and when after training a group of bjj guys offered to join them for coffee, I agreed. They went to an açaí bowl place in Corte Madera and the coffee machine at that place was broken. The owners told me I could get coffee at a nearby book store.

The store was called Book Passage and as I learnt later from her books, this was the store that Isabel Allende loved to go to. I got my coffee and started rambling through the shelves and tables. It gives me a physical pleasure to be surrounded by books and page aimlessly through novels and poems. I get disoriented easily in the book stores, it is a sensation of a lot of people talking all at once, telling me their most dear ideas in a condensed and essential way. It overwhelms me, and I enjoy being overwhelmed. With a coffee in hand, I saw “A Long Petal of the Sea”, the latest book by Isabel Allende. I have never read any of her books, but my mom, when she visited us on Christmas, said that Isabel Allende lived in San Rafael. And that set a connecting dot. I picked the book and as I was reading the back cover, I remembered that we saw a photo exhibition about Winnipeg and Pablo Neruda when we were in Barcelona. This was the second connecting dot and I took the book to the register. The woman at the register told me that Isabel Allende was giving a chat next Monday at the Dominican University in San Rafael and signing her books there. We started talking, and I asked her if they had this book in Spanish by any chance, and she had it. And I ended buying it in Spanish, since it was the language it was written in.

I haven’t read fiction in a while, and when I started reading “Largo Pétalo de Mar” I found in this book everything I couldn’t find in people. The depth, the resilience, the different kind of love that I believed existed. After I finished her first book, I got another, “El Amante Japonés” (“The Japanese Lover”). This book was read mostly on Tahoe, during the ski week and finished on the first day of March, which was our last day skiing there this season. Right before the whole shelter in place happened in the Bay Area, her next book, “La Suma de los días” (“The Sum of Our Days”), arrived at my door. Each book made an impact. Each book had a phrase, a thought, a perspective that made me see life in a different way. It revealed things I knew, but haven’t realized. In “Largo Pétalo de Mar” it was the circle phrase: “If one lives long enough, circles close.” It was about being able to last long enough and to be present enough to see them close. If you die or if you evade or rush through things, you don’t get to see the closure. I needed to read the book to appreciate the fullness of the idea. In “El Amante Japonés” it wasn’t a phrase that took me captive, the whole book is a statement. I knew that love like that could exist, love that goes beyond social conventions, beyond what is possible, love that comes from inside the heart and is strong and pure and bypasses separation, distance, and silence. I just needed someone to remind me of that. And the book did.

In “La Suma de los días”, a memoir of author’s life in California, in Marin, there are three ideas that stayed with me. First one was her son’s view on life “It isn’t personal, everyone is responsible for his or her own feelings, life isn’t fair.” I thought that this is something I aspired to live by, but not always succeeded. Or almost always didn’t succeed, but tried hard and improved over the past years. I was taking things less personally (not just my option, in my yearly evaluation at work it was noted as the biggest improvement). I established a daily peer exercise to not feel responsible for other people’s feelings and take full responsibility for mine. And I enjoyed the fact that life isn’t fair and took the benefits it offered. If I had more than others, I was happy to give and help. If my friends had more than I, they shared generously and I learnt to accept. Life not being fair had its sliver lining. The second idea that stayed from this book was the author talking about her husband and their relationship, and after enumerating reasons why he loved her, she stumbles upon what was the most that she loved about him, and ends with “and for me I simply loved to sleep in one bed with him”. This is of course not the phrase she uses (and I am reading it in Spanish), but this is the gist of it. And I thought how important was just that, the fact that you have to love to sleep in one bed every night with that person. Everything else is “good to have”, but becomes “superfluous” if the love for closeness is not there.

It also brought more peace about my dating dry endings. I made an attempt to date through a dating site back in December and after a few coffees or lunches realized how much stress it was brining into my life. In those months I met four men, all of them different but sharing the same features, they were involved in their jobs, had built and sold companies (or were in the process), they were single, intelectual, lead an active lifestyle participating in variety of sports that were demanding and exciting, they liked talking to me and were clear about their intentions of forming a couple, they bent their schedules to find time for lunch or dinner, they weren’t pushy and at the same time their compliments and words made me feel feminine and beautiful (which I needed so much). And yet, I had zero desire to be physically close to them, forget about sleeping in the same bed. Coffees became stressful, lunches provoked anxiety and made me feel like I was constantly finding excuses why I couldn’t make it. Towards the end of January I decided to face how I felt and be clear with myself about it. I talked to each of them and told them it was a mistake on my side to think that dating was right for me and that I didn’t want to be in it any longer. I quit and they understood it well. And I felt so much lighter since then. And now, I couldn’t agree more with Isabel Allende: the sign of love was that you wanted to sleep with that person every night in one bed, hugged, and close to each other.

The third phrase from “La Suma de los días” that made me think was, “generally it is not the truth exposed what makes us vulnerable but the secrets we keep.” Again, I am rephrasing it here translated from Spanish. Since I’ve read it, this idea was rounding in my head and I talked about it to all the friends who called to check on me this week. It is very powerful. We always think that the truth will make us vulnerable. That if people know how we really act, who we really are, they will stop liking us and this will make us vulnerable. But it is our secrets that make us weak. Once you can face the truth, you become stronger, because you become a little bit more “one” with your core. The secrets peel you from your core. I slept with this thought for the past week. I took it with me on the frequent walks on the hill behind our house during the shelter in place. It was an essential idea to take on walks.

I started thinking about what I thought made me vulnerable. What were my secrets? Last week a friend called and he got talking about the credit cards and good credit score. And I had to admit that I was horrible handling money, I was afraid to have credit cards, because I couldn’t keep track of payments and would always ruin my credit score. It was a phone call, but I could feel my face blush as I said it. And after I said it, I realized that he was very understanding and emphatic about it. I almost felt that he liked me more because of it. And now that I’m writing this, I think he did like me more, but not because I couldn’t handle finances, but because I didn’t try to hide it or disguise it.

The books took me through the months of January and February, and with them I transitioned into March with its pandemic and shelter in place. While a big portion of the population was losing their businesses and jobs, the accelerator I worked at was doubling down. Everyone suddenly needed to move their communication online and we were the ones where all the orgs turned to. I had more work now than I ever have had before, working from early mornings till midnights. With more work my tech skills ramped up as well and from one day to another I was leading teams and making complex builds. Sometimes I lost sense of what was driving me. Was it to achieve a high metric or to actually move a needle for people who were suffering due to the pandemic? We achieved high metrics due to the context and to the lean builds that the team has perfected over the years. And when I believed that we were actually helping people then my long work hours didn’t seem much. When the pure metric rush took over, then I would feel how much my eyes hurt from the screen. I learnt how to type all my emails with eyes closed to get some rest, and use the sight for the builds.

There was food in the stores, the people were calm and friendly, kids school has moved online and all the sports and activities were paused for a while. Overall the days in March were very calm and quiet. My son was playing trumpet, doing extra math, and watching Gordon Ramsay videos on MasterClass. I had to promise him we would go shopping for pans and knifes after the shelter in place was over. He took the cooking thing seriously and abrasively. My daughter kept getting high grades in school, got accepted with a full scholarship into the Tech Trek Summer Camp at Stanford, kept running her Astronomy club on zoom, reading books on astrophysics and space, and drawing non-stop. The house was peaceful and serene, and I don’t think there was even one argument in the past month.

To keep our lifestyle a bit healthy I set a routine of two daily walks for each of us. We would go up the hill where the houses ended and then down the hill among shallow green grass and oak trees where no hiking path existed. Kids enjoyed this freedom of going on the walks by themselves for the first time in their lives and I took mine in the early mornings. There were deers, coyotes, and all type of birds on the hills. I saw them on every walk. As the weeks passed we got used to each other. Now the deers didn’t stop chewing when they saw me. And I would stay still and watch them for a while. The birds would make all kind of noises on the sunny days and they were quieter when it rained. On the walks I would think how I was part of this world. We are all part of it, we are part of the stars, of the earth, of the trees, we were all made together from the same matter that the stars are made of. This is why it is so important to look at the stars and never lose the perspective of how we are a part of a bigger whole. I would enjoy not feeling anything, but just being “the part” of the world. And I noticed how not feeling anything but just being a part was the baseline for my days now. It was serene, it allowed space for work, it allowed space for listening to others, it allowed space for love from inside the heart.

And so I went daily to walk on the hill that had no hiking paths and sometimes I took my breakfast coffee on my walks and I started to refer to it as breakfasts with deers.


There is this thing about accents. When I look back I have never fallen for anyone who didn’t have an accent. Majority of people I dated had accents. My ex-husband had an Argentinian accent in Spanish when I met him. We met in Barcelona and we spoke Spanish and I used to be attracted by his accent.

When I moved to US the few people I loved or was in love with had accents. My best friends had accents. Thick and beautiful accents that made them stand out. When I heard them speak they were brining a new perspective to the topics they covered. They made mundane things interesting. They made boring things new. I wanted to hear them speak just for the sake of the accent.

Accents were like clothing. Some were made out of silk, some bore the heaviness of nordic wool, some were honest and breathable like cotton. All made one look intricate and memorable.

And yet, my own accent always bothered me. I thought it made me sound ugly and shallow. I worked with a speech coach. And then I worked with another speech coach. It taught me to speak slower, but my accent survived all the coaching. People, random people, would tell me that they loved my accent. And I would not believe them. I would think they were just being nice. I was embarrassed by my accent for the major part of my life. By my accent in any of the languages I spoke. I think, all the immigrants, we feel like this at one time or all the time.

I was working with a lot of immigrants lately and it struck me that I often wanted to talk to them because of their accent. I enjoyed how it sounded. It was beautiful. Like listening to the waves of the ocean. Like nature. I was talking to an Azerbaijani woman a few days ago and as I was listening to her I was conscious that I received pleasure hearing her speak because of her accent. And yesterday I made some small talk with a guy from our gym, he was from Eastern Europe and had a distinctive thick accent. I kept up with the small talk because I liked the sound of his voice. His haircut had personality as well as his accent.

As I became conscious that I loved the accents of others and may be I liked them because of their accents, I realized I was ok with my own. My accent is my personality. Trust me, there are people out there that love your accent! Don’t get rid of it. Enjoy the sound!

Don’t lose your breath

Lately, my main goal in martial arts sparring was not to lose my breath. It wasn’t to submit, to win, to dominate, it was simply not to lose my breath. If I could finish each 5 min round and talk clearly and calmly I was satisfied. It doesn’t mean I didn’t fight, it means that my breathing rhythm was a priority. Since it was my focus it wasn’t hard to achieve, it basically meant to be in full control of myself, not to muscle up, not to get angry or agitated.

It brought amazing results. I could see how my partner would be sweating and spasming towards the third minute and then make mistakes. Mistakes I could take full advantage of to advance without much effort, since he was dead tired and couldn’t pay attention to details. And I felt like I was just starting and could be as technical as I wanted to be. It is hard to explain to those who never were in a sparring match how much advantage the power to breath can give you. I only got it after I did it over and over again, day in and day out. Every day when we shook hands at the timer start I would tell myself (and sometimes tell my partner) that my only goal was not to lose my breath by the end of the round.

I can’t say I won more often. I didn’t. But I didn’t lose more often either. The results remained the same as if I went full force and gave it my all. However I got much more out of each match by knowing where I am and what I am doing and why. This clarity at all times made fighting more meaningful. Those who have done it will understand.

Yesterday morning I had to spar with a new white belt, a tall and heavy guy (probably twice my weight) who just was set on pinning me to the ground. I didn’t fight for the first half of the round, I just made sure he couldn’t do anything to me (i.e hurt me or submit me) and then he was spasming so badly that it took no effort to sweep him to the ground and have a bread-cuter choke set up on his neck by the time the timer rang.

The same in business. I read somewhere today a good quote that said, “never allow someone get comfortable disrespecting you”. A lot of times I take side projects as a contractor helping with strategy and growth hacking. Today I was working on changing themes on a client’s website and I needed to access a file on a server to which I did not have access. The client connected me to the person who helped him with hosting and after asking for one file I got a reply saying, “This is a major screwup. I don’t trust that working with you is not going to cost me a lot of uncompensated time.” He cced people I didn’t know on that reply (possibly others from the company or the board). Totally out of the blue. I felt uncomfortable, because the client and myself went in written through all the steps of what was going on and what I was doing on the site. The client agreed on all the changes proposed and explicitly said to go ahead on each change.  In any case the guy’s (and it was “he”) reply was disrespectful and ungrounded. Even knowing that, it still shook my confidence for a few minutes. “Why is he saying that? He has no idea what is being done. I checked with the client on every step, on every detail that was added to or removed from the site.” These were the first thoughts I had. And I felt crappy. I was spending my Sunday working on this project and probably billing less hours than I actually worked, because it was a non-profit that I wanted to help.

And then I said to myself “Don’t lose your breath. You did everything right. He is just being disrespectful. He is being an asshole. You don’t have to take it.” And then I remembered the quote of never letting anyone become comfortable disrespecting you. I got my breath back. I emailed the client on a separate thread. Here is what I said:

“Hi [client’s name],

I don’t think [guy’s name] is being respectful. I am not ok with the way he is talking to me.
I know what I am doing and I have done other websites before. These are normal procedures and it always took a few back and forth tickets between support team and us (client) to instal the website theme properly. 
I don’t want to be looped in the emails with him if he doesn’t change his attitude.


In the following few hours I didn’t hear from either of them. I am not worried, because I know I will do my part of the job and the new upgraded site will look good. Also, it is Sunday. The whole point is don’t lose your breath and don’t allow others to disrespect you. And yes, it does feel crappy when others behave like that.

Yesterday night we had a gathering with a few bjj people from the martial arts dojo and my coach, a black belt who I highly respect, said to me, “I saw you rolling with this new white belt this morning who just went full force on you with zero technique. You shouldn’t even roll with these people. The first moment they start going like this on you, you should tell them “I am not rolling with you, you are going too harsh.” You train hard, you’ve been training hard for years, you’ve earned your belt, you have the right to say “no” to those who don’t have the skills and will just hurt you. You should say “I am not rolling with you.”

And he is right. It takes courage to say “no”.


Our awesome Saturday bjj group, Feb 9th, 2019

The Power of Clarity

It was today before 9am at a cafe in Berkeley where I finished reading this book. It was neither the title nor the subject of the book that stroke me profoundly.  It was the long forgotten notion of clarity.

Something I was good at before: making decisions. I could make a decision trusting myself and go with it and never look back. This clarity of what I should do and what I should not do was what made me strong. It also made me ruthless and less emphatic, because I would see things for what they were and not for what me or others wished them to be. No bullshit, no wishful thinking, not too many gray areas of doubt.

And then I had problems in my marriage, got divorced, had to take care of my kids fully since their father wrote them off, a few years later felt in love again with somebody who was married, stayed in that gray area of “almost love” not making any decisions and bouncing between wishful thoughts and unwishful doubts.

I always thought that not being able to make a decision is one of the biggest faults of a human being. This frozen state of inactivity is almost death, it is where damage and loss happen, because the time moves forward and you are staying still.

Another thing that happened is that I was a victim. Ok, let me backtrack here. I was not a victim, but I used the power of being a victim. In life we all go through losses and damage, it could be a loss of a loved one, a loss of a job, an unhappy marriage, a health issue, a bad relationship with a parent or child, you name it. Carrying this loss gives us power of a victim, this power allows us to expect more or special compassion from others. We may change the course of a conversation, of a relationship, we may win attention or extra warmth with this power. We all have this power and we all use it one way or the other. This power prohibits us to grow. If we want to be strong and grow we must renounce this power. It was double hard because I never recognized this victimhood in myself, however I would think and say something along the lines that I already do more than majority of other moms. I would reject volunteering or say “no” to an invitation and add “I am a single mom I do not have the bandwidth”. It was a petty excuse, and I did not have to say it at all. But I said it because it gave me power of a victim of a situation. And I hated these words “single mom” with all my heart. They do not have the same connotation as a “successful woman” or a “great warrior”. And this is who I really am.

The book talked about this too. And I suddenly remembered how to make decisions and how not to be a single mom and never use this power of circumstances again. Strength and power are not the same. Do not grow power, grow strength. The only meaning in life is the one we give it. I love to say what I think, to love when I love, to laugh as if nothing else except laughter mattered, to fight (ok, I just enjoy martial arts, no other reason), to be truthful, to be direct, not to walk in the gray area of doubt. To have the clarity. To feel the power of clarity. To have the eyes open to what things really are, and to call bullshit by its name, and kindness by its name, and cowardice by its name, and love by its name.

I walked out of the gray area of my last 4 years after the divorce. Well, almost 5 now. I had no shady relationships, no hidden truths, nothing to lie about, no more “single mom” stuff. I saw what I saw, the life was that: people around, coffee, my closed book, the upcoming work meeting, then a drive home, picking up the kids from the gym, getting a Xmas tree. And tomorrow I would go to the gym early in the morning and train and spar and I looked forward to it. I missed all these guys with broken ears. You develop an unspoken trust with people after you have been in bodily fights with them.

Leaving all the gray areas behind I felt strong. I admired strong people and wanted to be one. Everything was simple and clear and full of love and meaning that I gave to it. I made my decisions.

They came with the December sunshine and the power of clarity.


On fennel, immortality and sunset in red

(for Neli, who says it makes a difference in her life when I write)

This summer I would wake up at 5:15am. Usually I would wake up even earlier than that and lie in bed and wait for the alarm to sound. When the mornings were hot I would push the blanket away and roll halfway across the bed and lie on its cold side. I felt rested and lazy and tried to find an excuse to not get up and to skip the dojo. At 5:20 I would get up, brush my teeth, put my gi on, take my sports bag, my phone and my car keys and walk through the door into the morning. The air was fresh and not cold in July. At 5:30 the sun was still behind the horizon but the darkness had already disappeared giving way to the gray air full of greenish trees.

Later in the day I would occasionally have breakfast at a cafe next to the dojo, sometimes with a friend and sometimes on my own. A few times we went to ride horses on the fields at sunrise.  And the sunlight on those fields was mixed with the strong smell of fennel, the same fennel that was in my toothpaste when I was a child. The scent of fennel, wild flowers and sunlight stayed on your skin till you showered that day. And then July was part of you.

At 9 I would be working. I would spend hours pulling customer data for analysis and designing tests. And the hours would braid into my work so smoothly that I would not notice how it would become afternoon and then evening. The kids were spending summer with my parents in Spain and there was nobody to interrupt my days.

There was a man that I cared for and when I would have a moment I would call him and if he could talk we would talk for a long while narrating our day and things we did. Sometimes we would meet for lunch or dinner and it seemed that summer days were still too short to say everything we lived through. We laughed a lot too. This relationship grew like the wild flowers on the fields grow: suddenly, growing under rains, spring winds and unyielding sunlight, and away from people’s eyes. And like the scent of fennel and wild flowers on early summer mornings it made one feel immortal.

In summers I had time to think and so I thought about what love was. Wasn’t it as simple as being able to put yourself in the other people’s shoes and see the world like they see it for a second, just to understand them? And then being able to say and do things in such a way as to make their day a little bit better from their point of view without taking anything away from yourself? This was the same love that you would have for a child or a friend or a parent. And yet it was so difficult to achieve taking the rational path… The walk across the field with the wild flowers that smell of fennel and immortality took you there directly.

This summer I had a lot of freedom. Like the wild flowers I had the freedom to grow. And so I worked two jobs, contracted on small projects, trained in bjj almost every morning, took a few courses on speech and kept working on my company. The kids were taken care of and I felt asleep at nights with a smile on my face first thinking about them; and then feeling the cool calmness of the sheets on my half-naked body and finally imagining the eyes and the hands of the man I cared for and gradually dissolving in the darkness of my own sleep. Summer nights were still, like the fields without wind, and I slept deeply.

A few times this summer I observed with certain surprise that I never regretted my divorce. First time it was because my mom asked me if I ever regretted not being with my ex-husband and, caught off guard, I bluntly said “no, not a day.” And this made me look back a few more times and realize that I did not miss being married. Our relationship was bulky, unkind and painful towards the end. I was young when I married and I lost my sense of direction and wandered away from the flowery field into a well-know path that took a lot of space and energy and that ended up in a big building resembling a shopping center. I was glad to be far away from it now.

On the summer mornings when I did not work or train I would go on a hike in the redwoods. And walking on the narrow path I would hear birds sing and would be taken aback by the sounds and by the beautiful silence around me.  I was not that present before. Once at home I would take a shower to wash off all the dust and before putting on my clothes I would stay in front of a large bedroom mirror and look at my naked body. The skin, with slightly darker arms and legs touched by the summer sun, the muscles, the breasts, the visible neck bones, the hips, my face, my wet hair with the water still dripping around my neck, and the red nail polish on my fingers, the only bright spot in this human nakedness. And I would look at myself and feel kind towards this body that was mine; and slowly, like a raising wave in the ocean, love would settle in, taking away the objection of the slightly full hips. And then I would’t be serious any longer and I would smile and make faces and tell myself to go get dressed, or at least wrap myself in a towel before going into the kitchen to make coffee.

Those were summer days in July when I would wake up loving my mornings, work a lot, think tenderly about people close to me and feel wrapped in the smell of fennel and immortality under the morning sunlight. I was waiting for the kids to come back from Spain to start another school year, and for more work to take on to be able to pay for all of it. And I wanted to hear what his next project would be and see how my own projects would unfold.

And one evening I saw an immaculate sunset filled with small white clouds sprinkled with golden aureolas from the setting sun. And I thought that almost nothing could be as beautiful as that. That day I sat back on the sofa with the laptop on my knees working in front of that sky. And gradually, making its pauses, the sky turned red. The little clouds became golden and I sat there slowly falling in love. As if everything before that was not beautiful enough.

Like a Dance

Love relationship, specially at the very beginning, is like a dance. If you look at it, a dance is a series of steps that take two people closer to each other or separate them. Dance is rhythmical and beautiful cadence of getting a step closer and then separating to keep the distance to allow the movement to flow. If two people just stay in each other arms there is no dance. If they decide to distance too much the connection between the partners breaks and the dance dies.

Dance, as love, is made of tension and intimacy between two people. You observe the other close and alternate the follow and the lead. He takes a step back, you follow in the same direction. Then there is a pause and you take the lead to make your step and let him follow. If I do not know what to do in real life, I imagine it is a dance and then it all becomes clear.

And then, once the dance is complete you stay in each other arms, at least I did. And this hug was limiting because it first lost its tension, then its intimacy, and then there were neither dance nor space to move. We forgot how to dance, and with it how to keep the beauty of life alive.

In love, as in dance, we should never become lazy.  Always keeping the flow of the movement, the distance, the closeness, feeling with all your being the moves and intentions of your partner, being fully present. The embrace is not the goal of the dance. The goal is to create beauty in between of the steps. A beautiful relationship.