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Friendship, Pumpkin Cheesecake, and Anne Lamott

21 Oct

IMG_7318 To have a few amazing friends on this side of eternity, this sometimes grotesque amusement park, is the greatest joy. As Saint Bette sang in the bathhouses, “You got to have friends.” We cannot depend solely on spouses to dump on, to share our intimate thoughts with or reveal our deepest truths to. Trust me, they have been through enough just living with us. Our yokes are heavy. Healthy people need to unburden sometimes unpleasant feelings and information, such as hating everything about life and everyone on earth, and hoping the bad people are killed by snakes; or that they just ate all the frosting off a Safeway carrot cake because they were feeling fragile.

Anne Lamott

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

I’m seeing my best friends this week and we’re going to eat an entire pumpkin cheesecake and share our deepest darkests and maybe, if there’s sufficient time and energy, sing along to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

(There’s never enough time.)

I look forward to our elderly years where we live Golden Girls style, loud, and fully ourselves, but until then.

Pumpkin cheesecakes and declarations of ungenerous thoughts.

I Woke Up At Noon

9 Jul


I woke up at noon due to blackout curtains and basement temperatures, but mainly due to insomnia.

I woke up at noon.

My mom and I went to lunch. Over salads and bread bowls we talked about my sister’s wedding and my wedding and how generally I hit the lottery with Rob.

(I really did.)

(I struggle to put it into words sometimes because I really, really did.)

We went shopping for the week and discussed what I want to do to be more environmentally conscious, and what ingredients I like in my smoothies and how the two overlap.

I ran into four people I know. Well three. And one who knew me, and I had no idea who he was all smiles and “Oh my gosh what are you up tos?”

That’s Utah for you.

My mom says when she’s in California it’s kind of nice, she can be anonymous. But in Utah you go out for a few hours and suddenly you’re reconnecting with old neighbors and making plans with friends and there is no anonymity.

There is only you in your mumu and wet hair.

I got myself one of those monster Diet Cokes with all sorts of tasty add-ins.

My parents and I watched the Great British Baking Show and laughed a lot.

It’s hysterical to watch television with my parents. We put on the season finale of the Good Witch together and between my mom’s commentary and my dad’s teasing the whole thing was next-level interactive theater.



Mild conflicts

Some time in the middle of it all, a friend showed up with Mexican food.

 My mom baked us treats, like we were back in middle school.

And soon the kitchen filled with my best friends and we ate and ate and there were cheese puffs and movie theater popcorn and chocolate ganashe and we ate and ate and talked and talked.

We took the enneagram test and marveled at its accuracy.

I mean, the buzz words alone for me





There were shrieks of shock and a moment where we said, “I am understanding you so much more” to a friend and she responded “I am understanding myself so much more.”

And eventually it was late. Way too late, really, and we packed up and I promised to send an article on celebrities having babies in their 50s and I felt so known.

So known and so full.

I woke up noon.

It was a really great day.

Here In Your Pain

7 May


Years ago I went through a breakup.

I should say, years ago I went through many breakups with the same person, a sort of Groundhog Day nightmare I feel lucky to have made it out of partly intact.

But heartbreak it was.

On one of these occasions I showed up at my friend’s house. I had told her what happened and when I arrived she stood at the door with a notebook.

She handed me a pen.

Would you like to talk? was written on the first page.

I checked the box for NO

Would you like food?

I checked the box for YES

And down the flow chart we went. Without saying a word I communicated what I needed right then. We got food. We were there together.

I don’t know what else we did. But I’ll always remember that flow chart. That notebook. That response.

I’m here.

I’m here in your pain.

In the book Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle says

We think our job as humans is to avoid pain, our job as parents is to protect our children from pain, and our job as friends is to fix each other’s pain. Maybe that’s why we all feel like failures so often–because we all have the wrong job description for love. What my friends didn’t know about me and I didn’t know about Amma is that people who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain.

A couple of months ago my grandfather passed away.

It was sudden and shocking and a very difficult for me. For my family.

The day before my grandfather’s funeral, a friend texted me. “Hey, me and B are coming to the funeral. We’ll watch any young kids so people can be there for the service.”

I didn’t ask them to do this. I didn’t even know they planned on it. They got babysitters for their own kids. They took their personal days off of work for a man they met only briefly.

They did it for me.

After the service I stood with them among wooden blocks and plastic trucks and let some of it out and they listened and they said

No problem

Of course

I’m here in your pain.

I’ve been working on inviting my pain to the table. Witnessing it, if you will.

When I feel something uncomfortable I slow down.

Hello there anger






Come on in. Here’s a seat. What kind of tea would you like?

Would you like to talk? Check for YES

I’m here

I’m here in your pain.

(I’ve learned from the best.)

Five Group Texts That Work In My Life

28 Mar


1. The Family Text

Group name: n/a

Used for: Confirming family dinners, spreading unflattering photos

2. The Writing Group

Group name: FAC (First Authors Club)

Used for: Talking about writing, complaining about writing, discussing writing projects, dreaming

3. The Political Chain

Group name: Stronger Together

Used for: Sharing political articles and ideas, venting, wondering what on earth is wrong with Utah

4. The Friend Group

Group name: Important Things

Used for: Daily texts about all that is going right, daily conversations about all that is going wrong

5. Caitlin + Rob + Me

Group name: n/a

Used for: Cat pictures. Tweets. Pop culture. Laughs.


What group texts work in your life?

Everything happens, we make the reasons

19 Jun


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.

Friendships And Flight

5 Jan



Tonight over burritos with a new friend we talked about old friends. About how difficult it is to live far away from your closest humans, to feel like you are surrounded by mainly acquaintances, to let go of former friends when you’ve both outgrown each other.

She described one friendship in her life as a short flight. From Kansas City to St. Louis. Barely got off the ground before it started to descend again.

When I was younger this concept would have devastated me. I had very permanent ideas about relationships. If you love someone, of course you love them until the day you die. The idea of ever loving anyone else is a betrayal. It couldn’t have been love then!

Friendships were the same. Once a friend, always a friend! Even if you have nothing in common anymore, it’s your job to maintain the dead friendship, otherwise why call it friendship at all!

Adulthood has cured me of that, somewhat.

The first friend I let go of cured me of that, somewhat.

It wasn’t that hard, actually. There was no big falling out, no moment of truth. It was just a gradual moving away from each other until one day I woke up and realized she believes this thing about the world that I don’t and I believe this thing about the world that horrifies her.

And it’s not that you must share all worldviews to be friends, it’s more like

It’s OK.

It’s OK that she was my friend for the time period she was my friend. It’s OK and it was good while it happened and I’m grateful it happened.

And neither of us are terrible people if we just let it go. If we move forward.

The second friend I let go of ended abruptly. Well, it was more like small grievances built up into one terrible, hurtful thing, a thing that still is terrible and hurts me today. It ended poorly and forgiveness will take some more time and that’s OK too.

It’s OK to walk away when it’s not working anymore.

Not all flights take you overseas.

Of course, some friendships you fight for and some are for good–in sickness and in health, till death do you part. I have less than one hand of those and they mean the world to me and there’s no replacing them.

My mom said that once.

After a lifetime of moving and moving and moving again I talked to her about maintaining friends through the moves.

“There’s only one Macey,” she said, referring to her best friend from 17 moves ago.

There’s only one Macey.

And there’s only one Macey and my mom.

And yet, in this hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in a town far from my own, I sat with a girl who became my friend through the internet (of all places) and we discussed writing and day jobs and holidays and mental health.

And yet, you make more friends.

There’s only one Macey, but there’s also only one Hilary.

Or Rebbie.

Or Katie.

Slowly, ever slowly.

We take off again.

Do People Bond Over That?

29 Nov


I got in Friday afternoon around 4:30. Cait was dancing in the doorway waiting for me with a compression hug. “I’m going to pee my pants,” I said.

“Don’t pee your pants!” she said.

We settled onto her couches with cozy blankets. “Rob bought me a mermaid tail blanket for my birthday,” I said. “How is Rob?” she said.

We gabbed and gabbed barely coming up for air. Occasionally one of us got up for another Diet Coke or to go to the bathroom. I changed into pajamas very early.

A couple hours in we moved to the kitchen table with a pile of enchiladas and sour cream, and then it was back to the couches, like a terrible montage showing the passage of time.

We moved to the floor to eat a pizzookie with caramel ice cream. We made a Target run for velvet flare leggings. Finally it was back on the couches and the blankets, TV in the background that we ignored.

After a while our words were slurred and spotty. We were tired and our throats were scratchy.

We should go to bed, we said, over and over.

Eight hours into the conversation we finally did.

It was a testament to friendship and face-to-face interaction. Cait and I have talked since we last saw each other, of course. We’ve shared tough things and real things and trivial things. We know the basics of what’s going on. But nothing can replace in person. Nothing can replace the leaps that happen when you walk through a Target aisle and talk about your evolving style in relation to your evolving personality.

We’re different now.

When we met we bonded over shared sadness and our inability to seem to move on from horrible relationships. We got each other and got that thing, that hopelessness and messed up thing in each other.

Today, if we met, I don’t know that it would even come up. I don’t know that the people and events and things that were Our Whole Lives Our Whole Identities Our Whole Whole when we met even be on the discussion board.

We are healthy now, or healthier, at the very least.

Do people bond over that?

Friendship, Utah, And Doris

4 Apr


I’ve been in Utah for the past few days, eating fry sauce and grasshopper shakes, seeing friends and family.  Utah, Utah, Utah.

I have such a complicated relationship with this state.  I wonder if everyone does with their home?  Is Utah especially fraught?

It seems all of Utah is a small town.  I know this can’t be true, and yet, while in line at Cafe Rio today, there were four separate conversations with four separate groups of people who knew someone I was with.  We are all interconnected.  Probably related, too.

It was such a needed day.  I MISS THIS.  I miss my friends who are really my sisters at this point.  How we can sit down and cheer on the big meal.  How we can share our deepest fears and hopes and ugliness, how we can support each other anyway.

There’s a thing with old friends that can’t be replicated elsewhere and every day I wonder if California is worth that.  How can I replace Amy, the girl who reads my mind, the girl whose twisted heart turns in the same way as mine?  My sister, after 16 years.

How can I replace Breanne? My friend whose knowledge on every subject baffles me, whose opinion I want on everything?  How can I replace her humor, her resourcefulness, her absolute Bre-ness?

Or what about Mandee?  The most gentle, kind, graceful soul in every room.  The girl who tries so hard, who never gives up, who loves our friendship like I’ve always wanted a friendship to be loved.

And then there’s Caitlan.  With her way of bringing spirituality into all conversations.  With her intense passion for EVERYTHING, with her concern for random celebrities, and her pet causes and her desire to save the world.

These girls are part of my soul, the people I choose to surround myself with because they understand me and accept me in ways I can’t find anywhere else.

I miss them every day.  In an ideal world we all live next door, watching TV together, playing Rock Band through the night, living and laughing and just being with each other.

I recently saw the movie Hello My Name is Doris which is wonderful and you should see it right away.  It’s a character study executed flawlessly by Sally Field, not Sally Fields as I always have to look up.

It’s the story of a woman with my perfect fashion, a woman who wonders what she’s done with her life.  Who daydreams and hoards and falls in love with a coworker.

My favorite scene in the movie, though, doesn’t have to do with any of those things.

It takes place after Thanksgiving when Sally (Doris) is quite upset.  Her best friend Roz hurries over with a bag full of Thanksgiving leftovers.  Sally sobs into her arms and says she’s a joke to everyone and she has nothing to look forward to.  Roz simply says, “You have two kinds of stuffing.”

There’s no judgement in this scene, though there could have been.  Roz shows up.  She doesn’t berate Doris for any of her actions.  She just gives her two kinds of stuffing and tells her it’s all right.

There’s another scene, later, where it’s Sally and Roz and some other girlfriends helping Sally address a lifelong problem she’s never tackled.  Sally surrounded by those who love her.

I’ve been thinking about female friendships lately and always.

The advice they give you when you’re young, how boys come and go but friendship is forever, that advice is solid.  That advice, I’m learning applies even to adulthood when we think we know the boys we will always have.  When even long-term commitments and we-think-forevers are called into question, it’s Roz at the door with two kinds of stuffing and no judgement.

It’s your girlfriends who come help you with your big, lifelong struggles.

Or least it’s mine.

The worst part of adulthood is being away from those you love every day.  Childhood with your family all around and your friends for 8 hours a day, no one tells you this is it.  It only happens once.

Because I know, even if I lived in Utah, I couldn’t see my girlfriends every day.  They have jobs and children and husbands and mortgages.  They have families of their own, obligations and real life.  I would see them, more, sure, but not enough.  Never enough.

And so I press on.  I don’t know the answers to all of this, nor do I think I’ll ever have them.



I do know, however, that I have two kinds of stuffing.


I Miss Pepperdine

10 Aug


I miss Pepperdine something fierce.  Something right in the gut that creeps out and punches me every once in a while just because it knows that it hurts.  It knows where the bruise is.

I miss Pepperdine even though at this very moment I’m sitting in the Pepperdine library typing away.

I love Pepperdine.  Much like I love Malibu and I love Caitlin, I love Pepperdine because it came to me at a time when I felt particularly low, a time when I needed it most.

I love this library I’m sitting in.  I love the hot chocolate machine that I can never get to work.  I love the cubicles, with wood and scattered plugs you have to search for.  I love to write here, knowing that I am protected from noise and other people, but I can also see the ocean if I turn my head just so.

I love the shelves and shelves of books.  I keep collecting books for my future library, against all principles of zen and the art of tidying up and I’m OK with that.

Pepperdine is OK with that too.

I’m assuming.

I miss Pepperdine in the fall, with all the new freshmen and all the new energy.  I miss being a TA with my best friends, spending the afternoon in a booked study room wasting our time, talking dreams.

I miss Katie showing up late with a gold parking token, Starbucks in hand.

I miss the Chipotle runs, the Duke’s runs.

I miss getting snickerdoodles and oatmeal chocolate cookies from Malibu Kitchen during break.

I miss the pointless lectures and the group chats.  I miss that feeling that we are right in the thick of it, that we need to sign up for that writing conference Right Now!

I miss writing.

I still write, obviously.  In some ways more than I did then.  But I miss writing for an audience.  The anxiety before your work is read in class.  The thrill of watching yourself improve, of getting caught up in a story.

I miss playing pretend for four hours a night and calling it school.

I miss class.  I miss tea breaks from class.

I miss the popcorn trees in spring and the ever-changing rock.

I miss the pasta bar and chocolate milk machine.

I miss, I miss, I miss.

I finished my coursework in two years, the quickest you could do so in my program.  That was silly, looking back on it.  That was silly, but I was eager to make money and get in the workforce.  I don’t remember why, exactly.   Student loans, I think.

That extra year, the third year, was the year people really started to improve.  People found their voices and niche and ideas.

I have two great sitcom ideas, so so much better than the sitcom idea I pitched last year.

And here I am.

I didn’t have a good undergrad experience.  One day, if I choose to write about it, it will be like the book of Job–calamity after freaking calamity, this time with no moral at the end.

I’ve often wondered about this.  Had I gone to a different school would things have been different?  What about a liberal arts college back East studying creative writing?  What about an all-women’s college?

What if I had applied to schools abroad?

The conclusion is always the same: I can’t change it now.  I made the decisions I made when I made them for a reason.  I was 17.  I wanted to be near friends and family.

But further, I was 17 and had to pay for college.

I made the decisions I made for a reason.

I am here now for a reason.

Not for a reason like “Everything happens for a reason,” but for a reason like “I actively made these choices.”

Pepperdine got to be the college experience I never had.  Not in the traditional sense, maybe, because my version of college has never included many of the traditional college things.

Pepperdine got to be a place I could pursue the thing I love most, with my best friends around me.

I never made any friends in undergrad.  Well, one.  (Hi Laura again!)  I felt like I was in the wrong place doing the wrong thing.

Here I am today and my best friends are all people I met in this program.  The boy I love is someone from this program.

I miss Pepperdine.

I’ll always have it, of course.  I’ll always have Pepperdine.  The memories, but also the present.

I still come to campus often.  I run on the track.  I go to yoga twice a week.

I swim in the pool.  I buy those overpriced gluten-free chocolate animal cookies from the shop. I check for eggplant soup in the cafeteria more than I care to admit.

I miss it and I have it and it’s fleeting.

There’s a thing when you’re in a moment that you don’t fully grasp it.  I remember when Caitlin and I stopped being roommates there was this feeling–that was it.  That little patch of time where our lives intertwined perfectly with Grey’s Anatomy reruns and Rice Krispie treats, that time was gone.

We talked halfheartedly of being roommates again post college, maybe in San Francisco, but I think we both knew it was over.  That time came and was wonderful and it would never happen again.

We are different now, Cait and I, from when we started Pepperdine.  We grew up.  Together and separately.

I am different now, from when I started Pepperdine.

I grew up.

I miss it like mad.

Home Is Where The Nachos Are

31 May


Friday afternoon I found myself in a yin yoga class with Hilary.

Yin yoga is my favorite kind of yoga, mainly because I know I can do it.  I know I can stretch and grow and leave feeling refreshed.  Sometimes I go to these 1.5 hour hot yoga classes in Malibu, and all I can think is I’ll never be able to do this, I must give up yoga and probably everything else.

But yin yoga at noon at Pepperdine is one of my favorite things in the world.

Hilary smiles throughout the whole class.  You should really try working out with that girl.  Her eyes are closed, she’s in shavasana, and she’s got a big, broad grin across her whole face.

Hilary has many of the things I do not have.  It’s what makes us good friends, my eagerness to soak some of it up.

After yoga I told Hilary I wanted fries.  I saw an Instagram shot of fries and I needed fries and so to Duke’s we went because I know about their fries.

(And their nachos.)

(And their hula pies.)

We’ve been here nearly three years, Hilary and I.  I got a notification that the blog I started in London–a very sad, very small, desperate thing of a blog–just turned four.

FOUR YEARS OLD!  My London times are in preschool.  They no longer just happened.

I remember moving here, fresh back from London and everything was London this and London that and it’s not anymore. I hardly mention it.  It’s part of my history, and certainly not the most important part right now.

Not even close.

The boys Cait and I dated that first year we were here, the ones we gave nicknames and who were topics of conversation–they have grown older, grown out of their nicknames.  The other day I found out one of them is expecting a child with his now wife.

I texted Cait.

She responded with a picture of a burrito.

Three years.

Not quite.

Almost three years.

It’s enough to make a place a home, I think.  Or it’s getting close.

I get sad, sometimes, about my life here.  I have friends, and good ones.  But not that many of them.  And none who knew me before.  These are all “new” friends, people who met me when London was fresh.  People who have never met the boys who broke my heart or the friends and family who healed it.

My friends here feel so separate from the rest of my life, sometimes.

Rob has two friends from other areas of his life, a childhood friend and a college friend, who are both here in Southern California.

I envy that.

What I would do to have a childhood friend out here!  A high school friend!  My sole college friend! (Hi Laura!)

There are times when my life in California feels so separate from my life elsewhere.  My life in Utah, I suppose.

All of my siblings are back in Utah now, did you know?

You wouldn’t know.

For a stretch there it was only 1/5 Denning children in the Beehive State, all of us spread out, doing our own thing, likely never to return, and then without warning everyone is coming back but me.

It’s enough to make a girl think.  What am I doing here?  How long will I be here?  What do I want of my life?

I think these things anyway, but the prospect of all the people I love regularly gathering without me, I think them harder.

I have a life here.  I’m no longer at the stage where I wonder when my real life will begin.  I am living my real life, right now, this very moment, with the dregs of my cold tea and my California cherries and the four books I have open on my bed because nothing is really holding my attention reading-wise these days.

This is my life.  A life of yin yoga and french fries, of sea salt and foggy skies.

I don’t want to ever leave Malibu.

I think this fairly regularly.

Every time I drive up the PCH, past the stilted houses and the dots of surfers and the overpriced restaurants–I feel the air come back into my lungs and I think, “How could I ever leave this?”

Malibu feels like home.

I have my places.  A magazine stand, a burrito stop, my favorite scoop of ice cream.

Places take time.

So do people.

Rob reminds me of this when I’m feeling sad about being here.  “Jill,” he says.  “Your people in Utah have 15 years with you.  It’s natural that it’s different here.”

It’s natural and it’s hard.

It’s my real life, right now, this very moment.