July 30, 2015 admin

PURPOSE: My Feet Tapping

by Lia Avellino

Age 27. New York, NY

I was born and raised in New York City.  I learned the art of striving at a very young age.  My father, raised by a single-mom who immigrated to Pelham Bay in The Bronx from a fisherman’s island in Italy, managed an Italian restaurant by night and worked in the garment district during the day.  My mother, raised in Westport, Connecticut, sold men’s fragrance at Saks Fifth Avenue.  As a hippie turned-born-again-Christian, my mother taught us to believe in the value of good works and self-regulation. Work, for me, became compulsory; defining and all encompassing.  The goal was always “more,” and it had to be more of everything.

The goal was always “more,” and it had to be more of everything.

By the age of 26, I worked as a fashion model in NYC, worked on a team to redesign the way the chronic ill in New York received health care, taught a memoir writing group to teens from at-risk environments, got married, managed a national component of President Obama’s 5-year initiative to reduce teen pregnancy, enrolled in graduate school at Columbia to study social work, provided counseling to over-aged and under-credited youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, and worked for one of the most well-respected media moguls in the world, traveling globally and nationally.

However, I couldn’t tell you what month the trees began to bloom in my neighborhood, or what the large piece of art hanging in my therapist’s office looked like.  I woke up at 5 am daily, sometimes earlier, to get a workout in and then rode the subway, feeling anxious that I was unreachable while someone “needed” something from me “immediately.”  I developed something of a covert narcissism, which many of us New Yorker have–the belief that everything we do matters and so much is hinged on our participation and decision-making.

However, I couldn’t tell you what month the trees began to bloom in my neighborhood, or what the large piece of art hanging in my therapist’s office looked like.


I identified that I was petrified of stopping.  Of what I would find in myself, if I didn’t hold it all together.  I wasn’t ready to act, but I was ready to listen.  So I listened.  I turned to my sisters in feminism, literature and film:

to writer Joan Didion, telling me to “play it as it lays”

to feminist bell hooks, reminding me that “to live consciously means to seek to be aware of everything that bears on our actions, purposes, values and goals”

to Maude (of the 1971 film Harold and Maude), who emboldened me by saying “Look.  See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals.  All kind of observable differences.  You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this…yet allow themselves to be treated as that.”

to poet Dylan Thomas, who said to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

to a New York Times Modern Love columnist Gary Presley, who told me to act “against head-logic.  With heart-dreams.”

and lastly Toni Cade Bambara whose words ring in my ear daily, “To be trapped in other people’s fictions puts us under arrest.  What you are doing matters.  Remember that.”

I collated all of these wisdoms on a blog, and read them daily.  I saw, and began to believe that there was nothing more I needed to do.
I simply matter, just as simply and beautifully as you matter.

Purpose in saying hello to the fear, welcoming it in, understanding it, dismantling it, and then hopefully, to release it and dance.


One morning when I got to my desk, I made a list of all my personal values, and asked myself if I was living life in accordance with those values.  It was a very simple exercise, but it gave me that nudge to move toward trying something different. My list and my life were misaligned.

I made the hard decision to leave my job.  To stop.  To wade in the middle of the ocean, without the directive flashing lights.

I am deeply afraid of what I’ll find, but there is purpose in this alone.  Purpose in saying hello to the fear, welcoming it in, understanding it, dismantling it, and then hopefully, to release it and dance.

I know I want to dance, I feel my feet tapping.

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