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Summer To-Do List

21 Jun

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Eat so much watermelon my fingers are forever sticky and my stomach always feels slightly sloshy

Go to outdoor movies and don’t complain about the traffic to get there

Walk on the beach

Rollerblade

Eat peaches and cherries until I can’t eat peaches and cherries anymore

Never say anything bad about my body in a swimsuit

Only read the books I truly, genuinely want to read

Homemade Caesar salad once a week, twice!

Farmer’s market meals on Sunday night

Outdoor yoga

Fourth of July with my parents

Jam making

Popsicle making

More sunsets

No makeup

No bra

Cheap sunscreen as perfume

Ice cream cones again and again

A summer wedding on the beach in Cape Cod, five years after our first trip there together. A personal, fun, dream event with the people I love the most in this universe.

Repeat

(Except for that last one)

Everything happens, we make the reasons

19 Jun

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When I was 17 years old I started work on what would be my first adult novel. It was an idea my friends and I came up with and worked on together, in between AP tests and end-of-the-year festivities. It was so much fun, writing and creating with no pressure whatsoever, just for the joy of it.

Over the next 8 (!!) years, that seed of an idea became an actual book. I worked on it through several degrees, a move to a different country, some friends dropping out, and one staying on. In the bitter end it was me and that friend, having gone through our early 20s and the heartbreaks and changes and stresses it caused, this book our ever-constant companion.

I worked on it on many birthdays. She texted me when she found out she was pregnant since we would be writing together day-in and day-out. It was this looming thing, this thing I Had To Finish, and we were both sure when we finally did, the book would Be Something.

I just know in my gut when we finally finish it will be picked up

If I were to die, I would want you to finish it in my stead

There is a particular sort of mental break that occurs when you write a book. I’ve seen it in my life and my friends’ lives. The world has become so small, just those pages and you, and you’ve poured your soul and sacrificed your life.

I’ve had others ask me to finish their books if they were to die.

We are never joking.

 

When we finally finished our book, years and years later, we were not the same girls we used to be. It was a relief to end that time of our lives, to rid ourselves of a relationship that was past done.

We sent it out with a lot of hope and mania and 2,920 days of dreams and wishes.

 

It was rejected.

 

We all knew the end of that story.

I don’t have a published book, this was years ago. And it was rejected.

 

Every time my writing is rejected it hurts, but this was a special sort of pain. Eight years of my life…for what? Eight years of my life and I wasn’t good enough, this wasn’t good enough.

It seemed a parallel to so many other things happening to me at that time. It seemed like why did we do this?

 

Years later, with the benefit of perspective and time, I’ve come up with a few reasons why.

Why we did this. Why it was important in my life. Why it happened.

I should clarify though, I’m not an everything happens for a reason person. I believe that a lot of things are simply choices or accidents. That the meaning behind them, the reasons things happen are reasons we create for ourselves. Lessons we learn through these events, if we so choose.

I’ve chosen the following reasons for why I needed to write my first book even though it didn’t bring me fame, fortune and a new life. Even though no one picked it up. I’ve chosen these, but there are others I could have chosen. Other narratives that I could have created.

Instead, this is what I know:

The book bonded me and my friend in a way nothing else will ever bond us. It kept us close through some tumultuous years.

The book kept me writing through my early 20s, a time when I wasn’t officially pursuing writing in the way I am now. It kept me hungry to create.

The book taught me things as a writer. I can see what I would do differently now. How that book was flawed, how it could have been better.

This week I saw a new book that’s being released that has a lot of parallels to my first book. It stung a little, someone else writing the story I wanted to and seeing it published, seeing it receive acclaim.

It stung a little, in a sort of vague way, the way things in your heart ache from years ago.

It stung a little, but not as much as it used to.

 

You see, everything happens for a reason.

The Key To Life

18 Jun

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It’s a busy time right now. There are apartments to see and new jobs to start and 700 million wedding things I think of at all hours of the day.

You know before Lorelai opens the inn where she calls and leaves herself messages in the middle of the night so she doesn’t forget anything?

That’s the stage I’m at.

So

Today, when I realized I had no plans whatsoever, today when I looked at the next week which includes errands and doctors’ appointments and The Sound of Music Sing-along and a Broadway show and Roxane Gay with one of my favorite feminists and dinner plans with friends and normal living and wedding planning and apartment hunting and and and

I took a deep breath and said, OK then. Today is just for me.

Today I take care of me.

Taking care of myself looks like this:

 

Cleaning

Eating three solid meals full of vegetables and real food

Going on a long walk

Reading

 

That’s it.

That’s the secret of life.

Anne Lamott says, “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do.’ And mostly, against all odds, they do.”

When I was a kid, I too imagined that the keys to happiness! Peace! Stability! Success! Love! were something other than the obvious things.

 

Cleaning

Moving my body

Eating nourishing foods

Reading

 

And then, as I discovered that these were the keys, I realized just how hard they really are. How most of us don’t live in a world set up for these things, we have to carve out that time. We have to fight for it. It’s harder to eat vegetables than it is to eat McDonald’s. It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard and yet it’s the only thing worth it.

I love the above illustration by Mari Andrew:

What do you do in your life?

Oh well I do yoga and I write in my journal and I make myself a fabulous dinner every night.

 

That’s the key right there.

The key to it all.

Kids, listen up. You won’t get it, but bookmark it and return when you’re a little older.

I’m sorry it’s so easy and so hard.

I Can Do Hard Things

14 Jun

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I got off work at 3:00 and made the journey to Koreatown. Without traffic this was supposed to take a half hour. With traffic…

(Scary music)

NO ONE KNOWS.

(Banshee scream)

It took an hour and a half. I listened to a podcast featuring Speidi, which later sent me into a spiral looking into their current lives. They live rent-free in my dream town and Snapchat and housewife all day.

I shall work my whole life and never afford this town.

Life isn’t always fair.

But then again, I don’t want to be Speidi.

My friend Bailey recently performed at an open mic poetry night. That is a story for another time, or perhaps those characters will just be in a book of mine. The social justice poet who cast a spell. The aspiring alien researcher wearing planet pants. Truly those in this world not trying to fit into whatever standards we have collectively decided are “normal.”

I admire that and them.

Bailey read a poem about mental health, and at one point she talked about the questions you’re asked in a mental health journey—questions by a therapist, by those who monitor such things.

“Do you feel suicidal?”

“No, but I feel hopeless.”

Hopeless is a word I know well.

It’s a word I felt yesterday, for no reason at all.

When you’re low, or sad, or anxious, or whatever your particular brand of struggle is, it’s easy to go hopeless. Your life stretches out before you and you say, well, what I’ve known is sadness/anxiety/this struggle and I’m supposed to keep doing this forever? This never ends? What’s the reward? How do I get through?

It feels hopeless.

Yesterday’s hour and a half car journey was so I could go to a live recording of my one of my favorite podcasts.

This is the time when I wholeheartedly recommend Harry Potter and the Sacred Text as something very, very special.

I told a friend who is a middle school English teacher about the podcast and she has incorporated it into her Harry Potter unit at school, listening to it, doing some of their practices.

I put it on on days when I can’t take the news, when I need something comforting and filling.

It’s like mashed potatoes and pot roast all covered in gravy with those really buttery vegetables on the side.

This podcast reads one chapter of Harry Potter each week under a specific theme. It examines the text as we would a religious document. It blesses characters, does a spiritual practice, and generally uplifts the world.

This week’s theme was Truth.

This week’s chapter was Book Three, Chapter 12.

The Patronus

After some discussion on the text, we were asked to write down a truth about our lives that we wanted to remember.

I thought about it, not very long, and wrote in large font

I can do hard things

It’s the antidote to hopelessness, I think. Not only remembering truths about ourselves and the world, but a reminder that you’ve been here before and you got out OK.

It’s what I tell myself when it’s late and hopelessness hits hardest. Tomorrow is another day. When you wake up you will feel differently.

And also

I can do hard things.

Garlic Knot of a Human

11 May

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I’d been tense all day.

It started with the news, as it always does in this, the year 2017. I read the news and I’m boiling, raging mad. I’m venting and picking fights, discouraged and mourning.

More than slightly nauseous.

I went about my day, gathering grievances like cat hair to black leggings. By the time I got home from work at 9:30 I was a twisted spiral garlic knot of a human.

I put on a meditation. Ten minutes. I could do ten minutes.

My thoughts wandered. To the news. (To the news!) To the relationship I’m struggling with. (To the struggle!) To this blog post I started in my head and the to-do list I was composing. Could I accomplish 53 things before bed? What time was it now? 9:32?

I made it out the other side of the meditation.

If I was a 9 before maybe I’m an 8.

8.5?

I’ll take it.

There are a few things my therapist says that I think about regularly.

One is to do it even if you don’t think you have the energy.

Do the things you know will make you feel better even if you’d rather lie in bed and mourn your life. Go to the yoga class. Put on the running (walking) shoes. Drink the water.

Meditate for 10 minutes.

The other thing is radical self-acceptance.

I truly don’t know how this works, but the idea is that I say, OK, you know what? Maybe I do x, or am x. That’s OK.

Maybe I trend towards this or that, these things, traits, characteristics I’ve assigned as bad or good. But they aren’t bad or good. They are things about me.

And I can work on me, I do work on me, but I also need to accept myself.

This goes against everything inside of me. Inside me I hear that I can work my way to perfection. That I can earn it, somehow. That I have to give my best and somehow my best is different than everyone else’s best. Somehow my best is the theoretical best ever. Perfect.

If I practice radical self-acceptance aren’t I saying I’m OK the mess I am now?

Won’t I stop improving?

When I read ebooks I check every single page to see what percentage I’m at. Sometimes I haven’t even moved up 1% but I still check. A tic. I can succeed, I can accomplish even in my leisure activities!

I don’t like ebooks very much.

The point of this all, I suppose, is that I am not a person who will stop improving. It’s not in me. I need to let go of the notion if I accept myself then I’ll never try again.

My therapist remarks how she’s never seen someone attack their therapy homework like me and yet I’ll come in and apologize I haven’t done more.

I’ll tell my friend I have no energy and they’ll say you just sent me 60 texts about x topic.

I don’t have an accurate gauge on myself or my best self.

And so radical acceptance, I think, is something like saying, you know what?

Enough. Enough!

I’m OK. I’m ever so much more than I realize.

As is.

Today.

Garlic knot and all.

4 Minutes (Not The Madonna Song)

27 Apr

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It took about four minutes. Four minutes and 20 posts before I was utterly depressed.

I don’t follow certain types of bloggers for this reason. They are not aspirational to me, they are depressing.

Suddenly I’m looking at their tiny bodies in tiny bikinis, on everlasting vacations paid for by others. Suddenly their luscious locks and free clothing make my life feel like one giant slog towards death.

Suddenly the questions I ask myself are

Where did everything go so wrong

Should I make mac and cheese

Wouldn’t that be coping with food

You’re not even hungry

But it will make me feel better

Fine, you have no self control look at that tiny body

Suddenly I’m there.

The thing that bothers me most about these bloggers is that they are selling this as real life. It’s different than a fashion ad in a magazine where you know it is a model posed to sell the clothing. These girls are posing to sell clothing, but also under the guise of “sharing their life.” Here we are on vacation. Again. Best husband, best sunset, best life.

And when you make it personal like that, when you take away hey this just an ad designed to sell clothing and instead say hey look my life is so out-of-this-world, if you bought these things yours would be too, then it becomes dangerous.

No one gets a free pass in life, an existence smooth and wrinkle-less. We all have things.

Christine Amorose, a writer I follow, posted recently about travel bloggers. She said:

I’m friends with a lot of travel bloggers (both online and in real life), and there’s often this very obvious (or sometimes sneakily subtle) feeling of superiority because they travel regularly and make a living from it. Sometimes they even want to teach you how to do it too (!), as if the world needs fewer accountants and engineers and secretaries and is instead calling out for more people to get paid to take photos of waterfalls and post them on Instagram. Even as someone with her toes dipped in the industry, I have the very real sense that this whole travel influencer thing is all a huge bubble that might very well burst. And I see all of the ebooks and guides on “how you can do it too!” and headlines screaming about six-figure salaries while thinking: but is the behind-the-scenes as desirable as the highlight reel? Is that flashy salary paying for health insurance and 401Ks? Are you really as content as the life that you’re trying to sell?

Because within this narrative of exotic travel equaling the dream life, there’s a latent disdain for a life of commutes and offices and mortgages and “the real world” in which many of us live. Speaking as someone who regularly deals with train delays and arbitrary work hours and exorbitant rent payments, I can say quite honestly that there are certainly days in which I would prefer to be sipping a margarita while staring at a turquoise sea instead of dealing with “real life.” But as someone who travels fairly regularly for work and for play, I can also say that real life has a way of catching up with you, no matter where in the world you are. There can be joy and heartache and arguments and the feeling as if everything is finally clicking together at home or the office or while stuck in traffic on your way home just as much as it can happen on vacation.

I so appreciated this, and I so appreciate this writer. She is someone who gets paid to travel, she’s always honest about it, and she never makes her life into something it’s not. I never stare at her and think why not me?

The truth of the matter is, I’ve never wanted to switch lives with someone I know. As soon as you know someone, you see their struggles and realize, oh, ok, no thanks. But it’s the allure, the illusion of perfection of someone you don’t know who convinces you that others out there. They are experiencing a smooth, wrinkle-free life!

Another writer I love says it this way:

Chances are, if you are reading this, you’re noticing a bit of a chasm between the life you lead and the life you want to lead, and here’s a secret: we all have this chasm. We all have this gap. There is nothing broken in you that is not broken in everyone. We are each conditioned to want something different than what we have been given. And so, you have two options: (1) Chase someday, or (2) Accept today. I recommend the latter. Remind yourself that you are here, breathing, alive and well(ish). For now, let that be enough.

I think what’s missing for me in (many) of these types of bloggers is the “we all have this gap” aspect. I read stories and write stories to assure myself that what I feel is normal, that we’re all in this together. We have chasms, we chase after things we shouldn’t. But there is nothing broken in me that isn’t broken in everyone.

I spent four minutes of my beautiful, flawed life looking at someone’s fake, flawed life and it was not a good use of my time.

But I am here, breathing, alive and well(ish). For now, that’s enough.

(And one day, I’ll forget to look.)

A Moment of Clarity

13 Apr

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Earlier this year I found myself at an English lecture I didn’t particularly want to attend. There was a guest speaker that day, and enough people that everyone felt safe pulling out their phones and laptops under the guise of taking notes.

I looked around me at the man on the front row playing a game on his phone. How rude, I thought, as I pulled up an ebook.

At least have the class to hide your disinterest.

It was in that moment that I had a flash of light.

That woman, the guest lecturer, had taken her time to come to this classroom. She had put together a presentation, she had invested her thought and expertise and bad jokes into this. The very least I could do was give her the courtesy I would want to receive.

Attention. A laugh. A raised hand. A thank you at the end.

I put away my ebook and my laptop and dutifully listened for the next two hours.

The content wasn’t anything that overly interested me, and the presentation itself didn’t change me much. But that choice, that moment of light, did.

It feels like the type of thing Anne Lamott would write about. She would say something along the lines of–as human beings in this broken world, all we can do for one another is show up.

All we can do is listen attentively, to give our time and interest to another human being. To treat them with respect, even if it’s slightly unenthusiastically at first.

This is where grace and mercy and healing starts.

I understood that, for a moment that day.

It took me 29 years, but I understood it then.

My Friday Night

12 Apr

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Tonight, some time after the sun went down, I finished a big project I had been working on for weeks. It was a nasty boil of a thing, one that drained me and irritated me in every way and suddenly it was Friday night and I was done!

What would I ever do with the freedom?

I decided I wanted blackberry tart frozen yogurt and pot roast. In that order.

I wanted to finish S Town and Swing Time.

I wanted another Diet Coke.

And so I set off in my car, surprised I had the energy to drive across Malibu.

The night unfolded much like I thought it would, and then nothing like I did.

I ran into some cat callers in the parking lot who harassed me and scared me and I hate that. I hate that those men think they have the right to make comments about my body and get into my personal space. I hate that it’s so commonplace.

I hate that we elect men who act the same way.

The pot roast was good.

So was the frozen yogurt.

In reverse order.

Swing Time! I have thoughts. The primary relationship reminded me a bit of Lenu and Lila from the Neapolitan Novels. That rich, female bond that yields the chocolate mousse of relationships. Says Holly Bass in the NYT review,

There’s something beautiful about the way young girls choose their best friends. A swooning, love-at-first-sight experience, it rarely takes into account social hierarchies, societal expectations or even basic commonalities. And it can be surprisingly decisive, cementing a relationship that persists for decades without any logical basis.

Chocolate freaking mousse.

And then S Town. Holy cow. I didn’t know what I was in for with S Town, but I’m still unraveling it in my mind.

That was genre bending, so much more than what I thought a podcast could be. That was journalism, but that was also a story, a Great American novel, a Southern Gothic with an eccentric protagonist up there with the best, saying hi to Ignatius J. Reilly. A protagonist who exemplified the complexity of the human experience. Who mirrored the complexity of the world he was so worried about.

There is, of course, the question of ethics with S Town.

But, selfishly, right now, I want to ignore that. I want to bask in that story, in that work of art.

Holy cow.

I want another Diet Coke.

Rallying Cries for Women Throughout History

27 Feb

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I am, I am, I am — Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

I am, I am. I am, still. — Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

And Still I Rise– Maya Angelou

I’m a keep running cause a winner don’t quit on themselves — Beyoncé Knowles

Nasty woman (About Hillary Clinton)

Nevertheless, she persisted. (About Elizabeth Warren)

 

My Life Flashlights

21 Feb

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Anne Lamott essays

A kind comment on my writing

“Me too”

Putting words to paper

A universal story

Shavasana