Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ain't That Girl Anymore

Looking back at old pictures of myself, I'm always shocked at what's changed. How the shape of my face has widened over the years, how my once wavy locks have lost their boldness, how what I thought of back then as a heavy, clunky body frame was actually quite svelte! It's a ritual of acknowledging what has come before, what is gone for good, and what is left.

Aside from the tragic loss of my girlish good looks, there are of course parts of myself that changed for the better. I'm not the same woman I was seven years ago when I met David for the first time, or (GULP) nine years ago when I stood on the steps of my high school and threw my graduation cap in the air. I'm not even the same as I was in sixth grade, when, at a birthday party, some brave friends of mine streaked around my house in the middle of the night and the rest of us looked on in fear and amazement. I miss the days of little-to-no flabby-ness but I don't miss the bad, not-so-great parts. I'm glad they were around for a bit, I'm thankful for the lessons they taught me, but I ain't that girl anymore.

Yes, I just said "ain't."Bob Dylan said it a few times in the same folksy way so just calm down.

Upon some more reflection, here is a list of other things I "ain't" anymore:

...scared of what others think - Sure, sometimes I'm still preoccupied (read: consumed) with what others think of me (Am I a bitch to be around? Am I hospitable? Am I funny?) but the whole concept doesn't scare me anymore. I used to shut myself off to people for fear I wasn't enough for them. "Enough" fashionable, "enough" interesting, "enough" cultured, "enough" wealthy, "enough" slutty. ('Nuff said.) Now, I get through each day on the belief that we're ALL CRAZY so it's better to embrace it than run from it. sarcastic. Please note the "as" there; still working on this one. OK, blame it on  the fact that I was a D.A.R.E kid but somewhere in my early years I started to get nervous about trying things out of my comfort zone. Don't get me wrong, like the rest of millennials, I was raised believing that WE ARE THE WORLD, and America is just a big, beautiful melting pot, and the sky is the limit, and if you believe it, you can achieve it. I wanted to see the world and try new things, I really did. But it turned out to be everyday life that I wasn't really ready for. I quickly discovered sarcasm was a great friend in low places who could help me put down and push away new people and experiences and always help me come out looking like I was on top. I bashed things that other people loved simply because they had passions and I didn't. I rebuffed certain books, music, movies - for a long, long time - just because I just wanted to resist something, not go with the flow. Because I was closed off and not accepting new outlets. Over time, I've learned to let go a bit and open myself up to the beautiful people and experiences around me. I've accepted that not everything has to be a definition of who you are. You also don't have to gain approval for the things you like to be valid, and vice versa. Sometimes it's just another Tuesday afternoon and you feel like listening to a little Bette Middler "Wind Beneath My Wings" (note: this is most Tuesdays for me). It's all OK; everything is going to be OK.

...bashful about eating. If you know me in real life: STOP LAUGHING! Truly, I am hungry most every minute of the day. But, c'mon, consider all the cosmic powers of force that must be mustered for this bag o' bones to rise out of a chair or walk down a hallway. (Also note: My metabolism is a freak of nature.) I used to be super self-conscious about how much and how often I ate, about being the one who yelled "CHEESEBURGER - with FRIES" from the backseat as salad-eating friends looked on regretfully. I'm over that now. As long as I am putting healthful food - well-balanced snacks and meals - into my body, I can do no wrong. So if my loud snacking on raw nuts is bothering you, so sorry. If a blob of my greek yogurt landed on your blouse, my apologies. Now SUPER SIZE ME, fools. resentful. The great theologian George W. Bush once said "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again..." Look, it's a very complicated analogy so I understand his confusion. I used to be so damn angry - at the world, at everyone, at myself. Everyone had "fooled" me two times too many and couldn't be trusted. The slightest provocation would give way to an explosion of venom - tears, and words, and confusion - hurled at my victims. Everyone had let me down. No one had stepped up when I needed them most. I used to hold myself up so high on this imaginary pedestal; I would look down at the people in my life below, whispering their slights against me as each one's face came into view. Liar. Cheat. Phony. Deserter. Sheep. Everyone else's flaws made me feel better about myself. But those feelings were fleeting. This behavior lead me to continue pushing people away, keeping them at arm's length, which, in turn, only made me feel more alone and angry. 

     If you struggle with this: LISTEN TO ME. Give that shit up. That is the 100-pound pack on your back, breaking you down with each step. It's that pit in your stomach that keeps you up at night. Face the pain; it's so much worse than hiding. By concealing it, you allow it to grow that much stronger. Over the years, through experiencing much love and grace, I learned that the beauty of life is its fucked-up-ed-ness (sorry, mom). We all screw up, let each other down, sabotage ourselves and the ones we love from time to time for no good reason at all. We are imperfect, each one of us. We're the anti-hero with whom we can so strongly identify. We're the one who crushed someone else's spirit because WE were feeling miserable inside. We're the sneak at work who benefitted from someone else's hard work. We're the liar who wasn't-exactly-not-totally-straight-forwardly-kinda-not-really that honest about what that text actually said, where we were the other night. We're flawed and that's what makes us (plus Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Walter White) so fully lovable. What do you say we all just stop pretending we have this shit figured out all the time and have a good cry/laugh. "YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?! ME EITHER" hahahahahahaa "I THINK MY MY MARRIAGE IS FALLING APART" ahhhhhhhhhhh "I THINK I JUST WASTED THE LAST 12 YEARS OF MY LIFE" wahhhhhhhhh. 
     Once upon a time, I thought I wanted perfect, on-time, every box checked, and the lines matching up. These days, I just want raw. I want REAL. I just want you to show up - there on the sidelines, maybe sopping wet, or covered in dog puke, or naked and shivering. However. Just show up and  we'll stand there and breathe together, and eventually, when we're ready, we'll make eye contact and figure out our plan of attack and storm the field together. That's all you can expect from anyone anyway: Exactly what you're willing to put out there. And sometimes you even get lucky, score a peach, and end up with more than you bargained for.

...someone who says "ain't." That was the last time. I swear I ain't gonna say ain't ever again. Say it ain't so.



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Cherry Tree

Conversations surrounding the cherry tree out front of our new home started the weekend we moved in. My father-in-law and his fiance chattered about what kind of cherry tree it might be - it looked unique. They've since followed up with texts, phone calls - photos have been exchanged.

Apparently, it is a certain kind of cherry tree. A special kind. But I haven't quiet caught the name of it. Rather, David has told me but I can't remember it. To be honest, as soon as I hear "cherry tree" or think "cherry tree," things get a little fuzzy. Words become incomprehensible and I feel a strong force pulling me back to a lush and vibrant memory.


I spent the early summer months of 2007 living with a widow in her thatched cottage in northeastern France, just outside the city of Dijon. (The birthplace of mustard!) While the house was in a neighborhood, it felt remote - miles away from public transportation and quiet as if it had been deserted many years ago.

Silence. That's what I remember most about my time there. Silent mornings, not even birds chirping - the smell of coffee brewing. My host mother  in her dressing gown padding around the living room, snipping leaves off of small plants on windowsills. She was a small and frail woman with a short, playful haircut and a deep sadness creeping in from the edges of her face. Her eyes always appeared as if she'd just been crying; her mouth, a small crooked link of pale pink, rested in a slight frown. Even when she attempted a smile a frown always found its way in.

She had lost her husband, an esteemed train conductor, a few years back and she had started taking in foreign students to fill the emptiness in her home upon the suggestion of a close friend. She talked to me about him regularly in broken English, her voice breathy and jumpy. She missed him, her other half. She was a severed whole - now a half just trying to get by without all of her moving parts. 

"Ma cherie," she called me; French for "my dear." I like to think she pretended those of us who stayed with her became adopted children. A mother of three boys - now men - of her own, she played the role of mother well. Preparing coffee and breakfast before my classes and deliciously fresh dinners of stuffed tomatoes and peppers; roasted leg of lamb; warm and slender baguettes baked just hours before. Lecturing me for my long, late-night phone conversations back to the States. Wanting to know my plans, where I would be going, when I would be home. Correcting mistakes in my French, asking me to repeat words back to her until I got the pronunciation right.

Despite her hospitality, the piece de resistance was the small fruit-bearing cherry tree in her backyard. After dinner, she'd reach for the smooth ceramic bowl and push it toward me. After the first time, I didn't need instruction. I would make my way to the backyard - among the roses and rare flowers lining the back fence, breathing in the warmth of the summer evening - and pick cherries. My longer slender fingers weaving in between the equally slender branches, plucking the small red globs with a snap of the wrist. I can still hear the rhythmic sound of them plop. plop. plop-ing into my bowl, interrupted occasionally by my stealing a taste of the bounty.

Snapshot of the roses in her garden.
We'd sit in chairs on the back porch popping cherries, watching storms roll across the sky, hearing bees buzz and flit from flower to flower. I don't remember a single conversation we had out there - only the silence and the taste of the juice on my tongue. The perfect calm. My worries and fear, my past - all of it an ocean away. Her sadness, confusion tucked away for a while longer. There was, at once, so much and nothing at all in the world to say.

I'll never forget the last time I saw her. She brought me to the train as I left the city for the last time. I was fleeing my studies and heading south to Greece for the last leg of my trip. After many hugs and tears, I left her and slid into a window seat. I sat there watching her for a long time - she didn't move or fidget. She didn't check her phone. Her eyes stayed locked on mine, where they remained as the train slowly came to life and began sliding forward, pulling me - her temporary stranger - away from her. Maybe it was the memory of her husband, of her sons growing up and moving away from home, of the torturous cycle of "hello" and "goodbye" over and over again. Or maybe it was me, our secret bond of so many quiet evenings spent side by side. Her body jolted; she clutched her handkerchief and covered her mouth. I could see she was crying. She waved and blew kisses, the day's mild wind picking up the edges of her red scarf and making them dance. The train was picking up speed; there was nothing I could do about it - no power within me to stay. A heavy sob rose from my chest and I waved back furiously, hoping a simple gesture could express all of the things I wanted to say to her all of those evenings that the silence had kept at bay.

More than "Merci." More than "I'm sorry." More than "I'll write to you."

Something like: I will never forget you, your generosity - the love I felt in every hug you gave me. It seems impossible but I know one day you'll find another broken half that will make you feel complete. And I want you to know I will think of you throughout my life, every so often, when a stranger shows me kindness or offers me a warm meal, when I'm lost in the stillness of a summer evening, and - strongly, almost unbearably - whenever I see soft, doughy blooms hanging loosely from the limbs of a cherry tree.


Monday, April 21, 2014

All My Soldiers Are Painted

I didn't know what to write about today so David pushed me to write about a band that has had a great influence on us individually and as a couple.

I didn't know Pavement existed before I met David, but it wasn't long after we met that I started listening to their music regularly. "Gold Soundz" is the first song I remember loving. Then it was "Grounded" and "Painted Soldiers." It was unlike anything I'd ever heard before. Stephen Malkmus' talk-y singing and high-pitched voice both attracted me and bothered me, right off the bat. (Mirroring my feelings for David - ha!) There was so much comfort in the music, in addition to the pain, and humor, and confusion. The college years were a lot of those feelings for me, as I'm sure it was for everyone.

During our first year of dating, we stumbled upon "Love Is a Mixtape," a book by well-known journalist-turned-music reviewer Rob Sheffield. It is a memoir of his early life and the two great loves of his life: music and his late wife. Their love was so authentic and tangible, and music was the thread that tied them together. As it was the 80s and 90s when they met, they would make mix tapes for one another, with hits from their wonky mainstream or indie favorites, including Pavement, that communicated their love and fear. Before David even asked me out (the first time), he began making me mix CDs. It was his thing for a while. I can still remember every track on the mix he made me before I left for France for the summer in 2007. We had only been dating a few months when I left so you can imagine it was all very dramatic. David has never been a super Mr. Romantic but music has always been his love letter to me. And reading how it was the same for another couple was so soothing. We were obsessed. We shared it with all of our friends, who in turn became equally obsessed. We read it over and over. The book only made my love for the band grow.

Now, after seven years together, whenever I heard a Pavement song, I immediately think of David and feel like someone is squeezing my heart so hard it might burst. I wouldn't name it as my favorite band necessarily, but it just might be the record collection I'd bring with me if I was going to be an island castaway. It's the perfect soundtrack for the haphazard and absurd nature of life itself.

The songs are all over the place, erratic and full of emotion, at once impossible to get through and also something you just can't turn off - the lyrics and melodies lingering in your head long after the music has faded. That weird comfort you can't live without.


Blind date with the chancer
We had oysters and dry lancers
When the check arrived we went dutch, dutch, dutch, dutch
A redder shade of neck on a whiter shade of trash
And this emory board is giving me a rash
I'm flat out
You're so beautiful to look at when you cry
Freeze, don't move
You've been chosen as an extra in the movie adaptation
Of the sequel to your life.

A shady lane -- everybody wants one
A shady lane -- everybody needs one
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god
Oh my god, oh your god, oh his god, over god
It's everybody's god, it's everybodys god, it's everybodys god, it's
Everybody's god
The worlds collide, but all that we want is a shady lane

-"Shady Lane," Stephen Malkmus



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Day 7: Summer Reading List

One of the things I miss most about being in school (trust me, there is actually very little I miss) is the required reading (and writing). Each year, if you wanted to pass AP English or Intro to British Literature or (incredibly enough) Study of the American Food Memoir, you had to read a litany of books - sometimes more than seemed humanly possible - and write papers on said books.

In high school, much weight was placed on the summer reading list. For my district, that was a list of 30 to 50ish classics from which you had to chose eight to 12 over the course of the summer. Now that I think about it, that's a lot a books to read in less than three months for a nonreader. I am, and have always been, a big reader and also a pretty fast reader. But I'm sure that is tough for kids who aren't big on reading, and also is probably the reason things like Spark Notes exist. (Wait, do they still exist? Is there a need for Spark Notes in the internet age?)

I digress. As much of a challenge or a piece of a cake it was (autocorrect just change 'cake' to 'kale.' Coincidence? I think not!) I miss being FORCED to read books that pushed the envelope, or expanded my mind, or brought the great big world into better focus. Even the books that I hated (see: most of the reading list for the History of Human Bondage lit course I took in college) had an effect on me, molding and defining my interests in the world of literature and life itself.

So given the sort of "Back to Basics" kick I'm currently on, I've decided to hash out a rough reading list of 10ish books for this summer and challenge myself to knock out each one by summer's end. As you may know (and mentioned above) I am a big reader, but I'm not typically working from a list or recommendations. It tends to happen organically, and tends to ebb and flow. For example, I read 18 or so books last year - sometimes three in one month then nothing for a while. Hopefully this helps keep me reading regularly!

I have a few titles to start but I would welcome any and all book recommendations you might have to share! I like everything. Last year's reads spanned graphic novels, sci-fi, political thrillers, chick/mommy lit, poetry, self help, and more.

What's a great book you recommend and why? 

Now, in no particular order...

The Great Summer Reading List of 2014:

1. "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap" by Matt Taibbi
Fascinating and very scary topic - heard him speak about it on Bill Maher's show.

2. "The Lowland" by Jhumpa Lahiri
The newest from my gal has been on my shelf since Christmas. Time to check it out. Also heard her read from any early draft in DC a few years ago!

3. "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I was so sad to hear of his passing and committed to reading this as soon as I heard. "One Hundred Years of Solitude" had a profound impact on me as a young reader and I've always wanted to read this one. Also file under one of the greatest titles of all time. Can I get an amen? 

4. "The Most of Nora Ephron"
Nuff said. 

5. "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte
Re-reading this incredible masterpiece because it is an incredible masterpiece! 

6. "The Fortress of Solitude" by Jonathan Lethem
From one of the last Borders' fire sales. 

7... And on, TBD! (I am curious about Hil's book "Hard Choices," released in early June, and Diane Keaton's "Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty.)

Now it's your turn, share away!


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day 6: In a Saturday Minute

I'm too tired to write a real post - it's past 10 on a Saturday night and I just remembered I haven't written today.

Stream of consciousness post, coming at 'ya:

It's really cute to me that so many people go home for Easter. I think I used to think it was just a southern thing, but it seems like it's common all over the place. I love ham and painting eggs. I probably won't do either tomorrow.


I just saw "Frozen" for the first time tonight! Usually I am annoyingly (unintentionally) contrarian about crazes but I really enjoyed it. A big part of that was likely that I was watching it with my 7-year-old sister, who was giggling the whole time and so happy to be watching it for the 11th time. I loved that the heroine was so brave, independent, and just wanted to experience human connection. Not that that's necessarily a new thing for Disney movies - see "Beauty and the Beast," and "Mulan," etc. etc. Honestly, the song "Let It Go" wasn't as catchy as I thought it would be. The snowman's little feet were my favorite part. I also loved the girls' white hair (I am weird) but it reminded me of beautiful Lavonne Adams, for all my UNCW peeps.


Last night we saw The War on Drugs in D.C. - it was an absolute blast but we didn't get to bed until almost 3 a.m. As a result, I've been a bit of a zombie all day. It is always such a treat seeing bands live with David. Concerts have been such a huge part of our relationship since day one. The first conversation we ever had was about a concert. The first concert we ever went to was Yo La Tango at the Cat's Cradle in Carboro, North Carolina. We drove up from Wilmington, newly infatuated with each other, when everything was nerve-wracking and exciting and secretive still. Over the years we've seen Radiohead, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and many of our favorites. I hope we always find the time to go see bands together, now so much more comfortable standing side-by-side in the audience, swaying gently to the rhythm of music we both love so much.

Sweet dreams!


Friday, April 18, 2014

Day 5: 11 Things

If you're reading my recent blog resurgence and wondering why it sounds like I'm still 'finding myself,' it's because I still am! I think that is pretty normal for mid- to late-ish 20s (yikes!). But I find it pertinent to share that I also was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease within the past three years that helped explain why I have been SO EXHAUSTED my whole life. Read more here. Since getting on daily medication (and also making some dietary changes due to allergies/sensitivities/general healthfulness, etc) I am feeling a whole hell of a lot better lately.

Actually, I feel like a whole new person these days - sort of.

And part of that whole experience is: Look, I can stay up past 10 p.m.! Look, I can think somewhat clearly! Look, social situations do not put me in a state of panic! Look, not everything makes me feel overwhelmed anymore!

It has been wonderful 'getting back to myself,' but it's a little scary, too. Sometimes I worry that I spent the first 22 years of my life on 'coast,' barely able to get through the day let alone LIVE IT UP as a wild, young thing. In fact, I know that I didn't - and wasn't able to - enjoy my youth as much as I should have, or as others did. But that's OK. I'm alive now, aren't I? And there is still plenty of living left in me.

It's nothing at all like having a serious, terminal illness but in a way the whole situation has helped give me some much-needed perspective on a few things, which I will share with you now:

1. How lucky I am be alive!
2. Woah, life is short and goes by so quickly!
3.You should definitely GO SKYDIVING for your 25th birthday or you never will!
4. You should never turn down a free trip - anywhere!
5. Sleeping is amazing but isn't everything - eventually, you will get caught up (when you die).
6. If you can't 'be you,' while you do it, it's probably not the right thing for you.
7. The ends of movies are often very interesting and it's fun to be able to stay awake long enough to watch them!
8. People have a lot of love to give if you make the effort to reach out and be present with them.
9. Even the things that feel THE MOST SERIOUS in life can be remedied (or at least made easier) with laughter. No matter what's going on, there is always a way through, you just have to find it.
10. Life is give and take - for example my meds clear my head but also give me a terrible memory (cloud brain) at times. You give everything you have to give and take what you can get and make the best of it (even when you just want to whine about it).
11. Marriage is one of the absolute best and HARDEST things ever. They don't tell you that up front (read this article by Momastery). This hard and holy 'love forging' with David over the past seven years has been my all-time best work, - our life's masterpiece. It requires a lot of energy and trust and fear and courage and a good sense of humor and a willingness to SHOW UP, every day, no matter what. This actually applies to all REAL relationships - hard work, folks.

Thank you for bearing with me in this sort of quarter-life-crisis-y thing that's going on with me right now. We'll figure it all out together - or at least have fun doing it!

Love you all!


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 4: Motivation

Greetings earthlings: If you are just joining the conversation, I've challenged myself to 30 days of blogging in an effort to force myself to write e'ry day. Check out Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 or just forget the whole thing and start here.
A client just called a moment ago, his voice full of dread.

"I haaaate to do this to you," he said.

I took a breath.

"We need to scrap the May/June cover," he said. "A bar of soap doesn't work for the environmental services piece. They discourage using bar soap in hospitals because they can be hotbeds for germs. I didn't realize. I'm soooo sorry."

I took another breath and shivered at the thought of a germ-y hotbed.

It's no big deal, I explained to him, and hung up the phone with an exaggerated sigh before skipping down the hall to my designer's office.

"Uh oh," she said, her eyes widening. "You have that look."


Lately I've been asked this question a lot:

What motivates you? 

And I think: Honestly? Honestly, it's the promise of pure, unadulterated laziness that really gets me going. For example, last night I speed-walked the dogs, knowing full well I had four hours of delicious 'me time' (plus gelato and comfy pants) ahead of me. We made it around that loop in RECORD time, I assure you.

As I always say: With gelato and sweatpants, all the things can be done. But when it comes to the big stuff - personal goals, self improvement, work, etc. - I am still figuring out that one thing that really lights a fire under my arse. That is to say, I believe myself to be a driven, productive, and (sometimes) upbeat person. How I get from gelato and sweatpants to accomplishing anything by the end of the day is beyond me.

moto - va - tion

Mulling the word over in my head just now, I suddenly thought:

Self: Hey dummy! You just hung up the phone and you got that feeling. You know, the ONE.

I played coy with myself for a minute.  

Self: You know the ONE that gives you chilly, invisible goosebumps and makes your feet kick out a little bit as you march down the hallway!!!!!

Oh, that. Sometimes I get so lost in the daily execution of tasks and emotions and transfers of information that I forget that spark you can feel, snapping you right out of auto-pilot. Grab the wheel!

I've never thought of myself as a competitive person, but I do LOVE a challenge - like that of a client ripping up a cover right before we go to press. That feeling of: time to dig in; batten down the hatches, people; hold on, we can do this; heave-ho! I love the thrill of the juggling that inevitably comes with it: bending and reaching my limbs, overextending, then back again - keeping everything up in the air and moving - correcting the course at moment's notice, bringing it all back to a steady rhythm again.

Movement, I've gotta have it. I can't stand slow talking, moving, thinking, or driving. There is a time and place for slow time (see: home/gelato/sweatpants time), but the rest of it is go time. On-your-toes time. I sort of live by the belief that if I'm swerving, or reaching out, or darting to the side, or (if you know we me well) tripping or stumbling, anything other than standing still, I'm going to figure this this thing out.

Forward movement - progress - a second attempt - a door closing, another opening - a new day - an unexpected turn you take because you don't have another option and maybe because it just feels right in the moment: For me, that's IT.

Perhaps it's the going that keeps me going.