What do you do when you're too sad to celebrate your birthday, but also too sad not to? You make a list of things you like and you spend some time with those things. It worked rather brilliantly. Not shown: excellent buddies that helped so much with birthday joy around here. I am not an island.
Dear Supper Club and Extended Family,
Since the minute I got the “I proposed, we’re getting married” call from Brandon, I knew I would cry the whole wedding day. And I did. I cried so hard my false eyelashes came right off. I was beyond honored to witness this love story get its moment.
Getting a chance to celebrate this big love helped pull me out of a really confusing time in my life where nothing felt certain. Honoring these friendships that have stood the test of distance and time felt like coming home. It offered me a chance to reflect and reminded me who I am and what I want. Thank you all for so many incredible moments this weekend, but most importantly, thank you for showing up in my life, thank you for seeing me, thank you for knowing me, thank you for sharing your life with me, thank you for being in my family forever. I am overwhelmed with a sense of excitement about what’s next for me and for all of us.
Not everyone can get married and radiate that amount of positive energy, reflection, and inspiration. Knowing that amount of incredible humans and assembling them to just hug each other, literally and figuratively, for four days straight could possibly solve all our collective problems. The problem is it’s rare, which is why it’s so powerful. Maybe there isn’t a word in the English language to truly articulate its significance or aesthetic, but it’s somewhere between the feeling of seeing someone you love for the first time in years and remembering the first time you realized they were going to be your forever friend.
As we drove back from The Improv Shop on Saturday night, the realization that this weekend was over hovered above me and I felt so sad. I sighed out, “I’m sure we’ll see each other soon.” Pat responded, “Well, I always think we’ll be seeing each other soon.”
I had the time of my life and we’ll be seeing each other soon.
On May 14th, I resigned from my job of four years and eight months without another job to dig into. I have given myself four weeks of nothing. Dad visited the day after my last day of work and so for a week, my time was accounted for. But he left a week ago, giving me a glimpse into the next few weeks. The great unknown. This has been a first.
As a teacher, time off was summer, but I always had a job come fall. I wrestled with enjoying such a long span of time to myself. The first two weeks were always perfect: finally catching up on sleep after that excruciating last month that is May as an elementary sped teacher, organizing my life and laundry which hadn't been done in forever, catching up with non-teacher friends. But then....after sleep got back to normal, and rearranging every inch of my house, there wasn't much else to do. I partied and shopped too much in my first summer off and watched my bank account dwindle.
Now, sober curious with an aversion to shopping, but with mountains and beautiful weather most days, this stretch of down time has felt markedly different. Maybe it's because I'm nearly 34 and/or because I quit a job on my terms that really made me unhappy, but I'm really enjoying this time. I'm able to attend morning and mid day yoga classes instead of dragging my tired self to evening classes right after work. Hiking mid afternoon is so incredible, especially being able to nap before dinner. Giving myself permission to binge watch shows I've wanted to watch for a while, letting the laundry and the dishes pile up a bit, it feels like vacation every day. That's until I actually go on vacation.
I put a lot of pressure on vacations in the past, perhaps because I was so stressed out that I needed my downtime to be perfection in an effort to compensate for my crappy 9-5. It wasn't that my work was hard, I just reached my peak potential in my position a long time ago and due to the nature of the company, there wasn't any room to grow. And I overstayed because I was scared I wouldn't find anything else, that I wasn't good enough for anything else. Somehow, I found some courage and self-worth this year, and it became clear that I had to leave, even if I didn't have a plan on how to do that.
But having some space in between my last day and this Memorial Day Weekend camp vacation, this one was different. I didn't feel the need to overplan. I actually forgot a few things, and instead of feeling ashamed and guilty, I felt proud. I let go of organizing every minute of our weekend and kind of just let things unfold. It was quite possibly the best weekend I have had in a really long time.
We slept in on Saturday and got on the road around 8:30, rolling into Patrick's Point State Park Campground just before 4. After setting up camp, we explored actual Patrick's Point, Wedding Rock, Abalone Point and Observation Lookout, all within walking distance from our camp site. The cliffs off the Pacific Ocean were spectacular.
Saturday night, we made campfire pizzas and smores and stared at our campfire for hours. We both slept a solid 8 hours (rare for both of us and for camping). Perhaps the best sleep of our lives? So far, that could be true.
Sunday, we woke up with the birds and got on the road to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. A mere 53 minutes away, we headed straight to Fern Canyon. Parts of Jurassic Park: The Lost World was filmed here and I couldn't help but feel like this place was ours. A holiday weekend and we were one of three groups on this short trail. It was magic.
The beach was feet from the parking lot, so after Fern Canyon, we took in a few minutes of Gold Bluffs Beach perfection. Paul said it smelled like cauliflower. I thought it smelled like a dead bird, which is what we happened upon eventually. This is still a debate in our household, but I maintain that cauliflower does not smell like dead birds. Tomato, potato.
Similar to a campfire, I could stare at the waves of the Pacific Ocean for hours. This portion was deserted and although the coastal air was a bit chilly, the sun helped.
A short drive away from Gold Bluffs Beach, we headed to Trillium Falls. On our way, we drove past a meadow with a dozen or so elk idly grazing. A cautionary sign warned us of getting too close. Because, duh.
Trillium Falls was a 2.6 mile loop in the heart of Prairie Creek. We got deep into redwoods country here, but also these majestic shaggy muppet trees were everywhere, along with fat clovers called sorrels that have purple underneaths and beautifully striped white flowers, and so many ferns. So much green, life, moisture, history. I reached my "wow" quota for the year. Also, your neck gets pretty tired trying to take in such giant trees.
We stopped and took a PB&J break before hiking down to the coast via the Carruther's Cove Trail at the northwest corner of the park. 0.8 miles straight downhill was nothing, but we did work a bit to get back up. Worth the view, though. So much driftwood made us feel like we had been carefully placed on a desert island.
We took one last, easy 1.5 mile hike before dinner at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, which was crowded but beautiful. We had dinner at The Lighthouse, a delicious vegan-friendly casual restaurant that is known for a mashed potato waffle cone (strange but good) and vegan coconut kumquat ice cream with ginger chips. I'd drive the 7 hours just to revisit that dessert.
After dinner, we managed to make it back to the coast albeit waddling from so much food. The sunset over Wedding Rock was incredible and the clouds at the end of the sun drop made it look like a 16 bit video game. Strange and awe inspiring.
I always have moments where I think about the prep of camping, the amount of stuff we take to feel comfortable outdoors, what it takes for us to set up a life without a permanent house for a few days. It makes me realize how much we've outsourced our survival, especially the amount of work and energy it takes to maintain a campfire. This source of warmth and a way to cook food for survival has now become a novelty, something we do to create a sense of ambience. But we don't need it. And we don't need to camp, or hike, or surround ourselves with ferns and trees and sorrels and wildflowers. Why do we do it?
Instead of having survival skills, we now pour our energy into our careers, which provides us a way to survive and thrive at whatever level we choose. But I wonder if this has become more of a competition, and if we've tied our self worth to getting more, earning more, taking home more, buying more, instead of really understanding what we want and just making sure we get it. Is more really a goal? Isn't there a limit to more? I've been considering what "true north" really feels like, what we're all collectively drawn to and why, and I wonder if we're all just heading in the same direction because we're afraid other paths will be lonely, dark, unsure, bumpy, leading to nowhere. I mean, watching a peer do the traditional steps of life, college, career, marriage, house, kids, boat, isn't that a fairly well-defined trail that seems pretty straight forward? Isn't it easier to walk in that path versus trying to figure out what you actually want, even if it differs from that life order? And if we do that, stick to that groove, and we're still drawn to something else, want something else, and instead, we just avoid it by getting wasted after work, isn't that telling that we're not actually listening to our internal compass?
Don't we all actually know, we just don't want to listen to ourselves because it's hard? Because we might not like what we hear? Because what we hear would urge us to change?
There has been a quiet voice that I've chosen to listen to lately. I haven't always chosen that. It's easier not to. But now, I'm listening. And that voice has told me so many things, but it's mostly giving me permission to quit or keep going, on my terms. Quit the job you hate, turn down the job offer that you don't want, stop reading the book you don't like, go on a hike that you think is too hard, try skiing that run you don't think you're good enough for, apply to the job you think you're not qualified for, break up with people that don't like you or that aren't rooting for you, talk about the hard stuff even if it's awkward, do the hard stuff even if you're tired, do the damn thing, do all the damn things. Count on trying to talk yourself out of doing the hard stuff, but do it anyway, even if you've crafted the perfect sensible reason or reasons not to. And then perfect the art of napping because this kind of life is incredibly rewarding and equally exhausting in all the best ways.
This chapter of my life did not come with an outline. I didn't carefully craft this narrative and it shakes me everyday. "What are you going to do in two more weeks?" I sometimes let myself wander into critical mass territory, but I've also been practicing the radical notion that I deserve some reflection, some perspective, some self-care, and most importantly, to get everything I want out of life, out of a job, out of vacation, out of a super chill Tuesday.
Balancing on logs to get across a shallow stream in Fern Canyon on Sunday felt like a secret: we were the only ones in the canyon for a moment and the subtle sunrays had started to creep in, giving the air a sweet scent of warm green things. That's where the good stuff is: the quiet warmth of a perfect summer morning that you didn't really prepare yourself for. There's that overwhelming feeling of happiness that seems to make your chest cavity swell like your breath could either crush you or spill out your ears while watching someone you love cross a stream like he's seven again. I don't want to feel that way a few times a year when we find time to get away: I want to expect that out of my weekly life.
And sometimes it's that simple. Heart swells regularly. Just make room for them.
When I was in eighth grade, my web developing father sat me down for my first tutorial web development. It was a basic HTML lesson and before I knew it, my webpage had a cloud background provided by a wallpaper of the same cloud image I had ripped off the internet. I don't remember what was on that first website, but I do know that creating this page on this internet just by typing characters on a blank black screen was riveting. I couldn't paint like my mom or brother, but this could be my canvas.
Like most women, I was steered into a caregiving profession after giving up a writing job fresh out of undergrad. I taught for four years and burned out brilliantly, but my grad school experience gave me a passion for advocating for disabled persons and underrepresented youth, and also updated my content managing skills. I left education for a content manager position in the health and wellness field, freelance editing and writing in between my day to day. But just before my last day of teaching, I discovered Codeacademy and Code.org. It was a great way to engage my students that started feeling the summer itch.
It was amazing how fast my students caught on. For many of them, background knowledge was not something they had when it came to reading, but for computers, it was like they had an innate knowledge of how things worked. As the cliche goes about educating, their enthusiasm inspired me to sign up and I flew through the HTML and CSS courses.
My Codeacademy attendance record over the years have been spotty at best, which isn't ideal when learning a brand new language. So when I logged back in and dusted off my coding muscle, it was humbling. But in the same breath, repetition helped. When Codeacademy sent me the email that I had been coding for 5 days in a row, my obsession of checking off boxes in succession kicked in, and since then, I spend a little part of everyday on a lesson. It doesn't matter if it's 5 minutes or 50, I do it every day. And things are starting to click, and then become incredibly impossible again.
Par example, arrays! I love making grocery lists, meal prepping, etc. Learning about .push and .pop and .slice was exciting! Look what I can do with just a few commands on this black screen. I am a powerful list making monster!
And then loops just knocked me on my ass, as how does one ever figure out how that while (condition) is supposed to run? What are the colors actually supposed to look like? Where are those examples that helped me so in the lesson before, bro? (let bro = 'Codeacademy') Humbling. You may have been a list making monster 5 minutes ago, but now you've been mowed down by that slick lil devil that is while loops.
Such is being a beginner. Sarah Drasner (@sarah_edo) just recently tweeted, "For those just learning to code now - remember when you were learning to drive? You had to think about everything constantly - but eventually the car became an extension of yourself. That's how it will be. You will eventually have muscle memory built into many tasks. Stick with it."
I must add an addendum to Sarah's sage advice: stick with it, but bring plenty of naps and snacks and patience with yourself to this coding party. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
Defining myself on my own terms is something I’ve never given myself permission to do. So on New Years Day, I shaved my head. Not down to skin because it’s winter, but my hair was reduced from an 8” ponytail to a tiny 1/4” fuzz top.
I’ve been in a state of transformation for over 6 months. I stopped drinking in July and save for the sporadic splashes of wine, I’m basically sober. It has changed my life in so many great ways and it’s also really hard for (most) people to understand: if you don't drink, you're either in recovery or you're just "not fun." I don’t have a drinking problem, but I also don’t want one. I just want to wake up feeling awesome everyday. I call myself sober curious (a nod to Club Soda): I’m not opposed to wine but I also don’t want to drink a glass and feel like I need more. It’s a slippery slope for me and I wanted to quit while I’m ahead. But it was hard to quit because I felt like, “What will people think?” Would I have to have uncomfortable conversations with people drinking and me abstaining? Wouldn’t it just be easier to hold a glass of something instead of having to explain myself?
The Friday before Christmas, I read an article about fitness instructor Bethany C. Meyers that has shaved her head many times for a number of empowering reasons and I immediately wanted to do it. I’ve wanted to shave my head since junior year of high school, I just didn’t have the guts. Now, there were more reasons to than not to. My pro/con list was filled on the pro side with a lot of positive things:
• less time on maintenance
• save money on hair oils and product
• save money on haircuts
• easier to do yoga, swim, hike, ski
The Cons list was nothing but what others would think and one instance where I was scared about the grow out phase.
• Will people think I’m crazy?
• Will they think I’m sick?
• Will people think I’m ugly?
• Will my husband think I’m ugly? (He’s sad that I thought this, but I’m human)
• Will the grow out phase make me feel ugly?
I knew a bald head would be awesome but looking like a hedgehog for a month? Do I have that many hats?
I can tell you a long and boring story about the cut, the relief, the shock, the settling in, but the real takeaway is the physical transformation I’ve felt after shaving my head.
I feel amazing. I’ve never felt this good. I feel sexy, confident and so incredibly powerful. And this may be totally in my head, but I feel like my pushups have exponentially improved, in form and in duration.
Shaving my head was empowering. Hair is such a big deal for women. We spend so much time, money, and mental energy on it. It defines us in ways that are so ingrained, we forget they're there and we accept them by default. Getting rid of my long hair without cutting it into something “cute" was an attempt for me to reframe the conversation. I wanted to deconstruct what pretty has been for me, what power and privilege came with it. And I wanted it to be terrifying.
But it took a long time, and I agonized over the decision for a solid week. Why has it taken me so long to get here? Why do I care about what others think more than what I think, feel and need?
The “shave my head cons" list has applied to every decision I’ve ever made, but mostly the item, “Will people think I’m ugly/crazy/stupid?” What will they think? What will they think if I’m not posting cool stuff on social media? What will they think if I don’t drink at a brewery/party/wine bar? What will they think when I don’t have any hair?
I ultimately decided that other people’s opinions matter as much as I let them. If you surround yourself with cheerleaders, including what you say to yourself in the mirror, life can start to feel a little less daunting and a lot more supportive. And you start to realize you can do a lot of scary things that you normally would never consider.
I still care. There are bad days and weird days and good days and phenomenal days. But the way my hair looks is insignificant for me in this place that I’m in. What my hair looks like has nothing to do with who I want to be and what I want to do and where I want to go.
I may always care, but I’m learning, and trying, to care about the people that matter, not the faceless crowd that I imagine is always judging me. I have no way of knowing the truth of their judgment. It may just be something I tell myself and it may be true, but it’s insignificant. People that support and love me, that have gotten to know who I am at my core, they matter most.
I’m applying what I’m learning about my hair experiment to the rest of my life. What else can I do that’s so brave I think it’s crazy? What is something I’m worried about others thinking is crazy? That’s where I’ll start next.
See you there.
Selfie Game: Lit
My life has been marked by endless feelings of unfinished business. I am certain I will be a ghost when I die.
As a child writing stories about my silly dog Midnight, or a superhero named Ernie the Goose that saved Michael J. Fox from muggers with a Super Soaker 2000 (you know, the squirt gun with the water tank backpack), I never stopped editing. It was never done. I read and reread every Shel Silverstein poetry collection trying to find something I had missed the first, second, third time. There was always work to be done. When my mom died in high school, I appointed myself as the healer. Her reach was infinite. She was so much to so many that the void was overwhelming. There were so many people to fix.
My ex-boyfriend called the night she died. He was sobbing. I listened. I let him cry. He cried and cried and I listened. I lied to him and said that it was going to be okay, because that is what you say. I remember watching three of my classmates huddled together at the cemetery falling into themselves in tears. I looked at them and wanted all of the crying, broken faces to be happy again, to stop looking at me with their heads cocked sideways trying to figure out when I’d be better. In one moment, I aged 10 years and gave myself a psychology degree.
“I am fine, but are you okay?”
I took on the world’s problems. This gave me a sense of purpose, chores and tasks to check off instead of letting myself rot. In ways, it was easier. I figured time would take care of my innards and the world needed me more. I had nightmares for years about my family dying. I attached myself to examples of my own reflection: hollow and reckless with a bravado about having fake, thick skin. I mothered the world in meaningless ways. I was terrified of loving anything.
But you can’t really decide not to decompose: it happens on its own. It’s taken me more than a decade to understand what I need and that those needs are important. I had to deconstruct myself much like I deconstruct what I read, look at it at every angle, analyze, hypothesize, test, repeat. I heal through reflection, solitude, reading and nature, then I give it all away. It’s like I have to forage for food for my survival, but instead of eating, I feed everyone else until there’s nothing left.
The day before she died, in a flash of lucidity, my mom told me I was an amazing writer, that I was so smart, and that I would do great things. I am starting to accept that maybe she was right. I get lost in counting all the ways I miss her and will miss her, how the loss has changed and will continue to change but never get any smaller. I’m learning to hold a space for her legacy instead of her absence and remembering how my father instantly turned into two super parents to a lost, shell of a daughter. I’m lucky to have a host of cousins, grandparents, and surrogate moms that stood behind me and took care of me when I was sure I didn’t need care.
Grief has been somewhat of a circle of healing and bleeding and repeating myself, telling the same stories until they become braided into the wallpaper of every house I’ll ever live in. My breath still gets caught in my throat when a mother and daughter show up in a story I’m reading. I worry if I’m emotionally prepared to be a mother myself, if I have miles more to go, if I’ll ever be ready for a child.
But maybe this is a never ending part of my life that I will forever have to navigate as I’m always remembering details about her that I want the world to know, that I want to remember, what she smelled like, how she hung a spoon on her nose, how she made me laugh until my stomach hurt, where she always left her shoes, our Queen sing-a-longs and soft serve ice cream fights, trying desperately to quantify in eighteen different ways how much it still hurts like the moment she left, my unfinished story, our unfinished story....
My mother was made of equal parts belly laughs and bear hugs and she loved me so completely that it shakes every step I take….
He says, “I don’t think the women at work like me”
And I say, “Why do you think that?”
And he says, “They don’t smile at me, they aren’t nice.”
And I say, “Why do they have to smile at you?”
And he says, “Because I’m a nice guy.”
And I say, “How would they know that?”
And he shrugs
And I say, “Women don’t have to be nice,” and I say, “Maybe most guys they know aren’t nice like you. They’ve all ruined it for you.
That’s the world I live in. You want the women to smile and we want the men not to murder and rape us.”
And he feels awful because he is a good guy but he doesn’t get it, how would he know that when I walk into any place by myself it’s very different from when he walks anywhere by himself? I have to tell him.
When I reached puberty, I learned that I am to blame if a man hurts me because I was taught to avoid violent men through a series of wishful rituals: not ever being alone, not ever drinking alcohol, not ever showing skin, but still, still still still still even if you follow all the rules and put your keys in between your knuckles with your right hand and have your left thumb on the trigger of your mace, some man can take you down with a glance. I have just now allowed myself to feel good in shorts, because for 10+ years I wore long pants in the summer time, in the 100+ degree heat because I didn’t want to deal with their stares and whistles and yells. You can feel so good leaving the house and be demolished by just one of them. It changes you, makes you feel guilty for taking up any space at all. You’re a bitch if you don’t like it, you’re a slut if you smile first and you can’t ever be right because you are not an actual person. You are merely just skin, tits and ass that can go from “sexy” to “fat ugly bitch” in a breath.
We internalize this, it becomes “how it is” so much that we let it fester and grow until you hear it again, some strange man says, “Smile honey,” and it rises again, to the last time you wore shorts and what the world felt like, like it’s your job to not give them a reason, the men who will stare at you anyway, in the grocery store wearing teacher pants, pants so incredibly large that your butt gets lost forever, on purpose, because you don’t want to deal with a crazy scary stare, a yell, and whistle, because you want to blend in so badly, because you are a teacher to middle school boys who have objectified you and told you that your skirt is too short and you want to hide and yell at the very same time, you’re embarrassed that you never wear that skirt again, and still, still still still, in the grocery store in your teacher pants an older man tells you, leaning in too close, in a hushed tone like it’s a secret, “Nice drawers” and won’t stop staring at your ass while you empty your apples and bread and oatmeal out of your basket and you get so mad “why does he get to make my butt an ass, why does he get to swallow me whole?” and you want to tell him to BACK OFF but you’re scared because you’re by yourself and the giant window at the front of the store will show him exactly where you’re walking so you grit your teeth and say thanks! because what else do you say? Being mean or saying nothing may set him off and he could follow you and you could get hurt. There’s a 30% chance that you will regardless. The only real protection is having a man with you. Men respect other men’s property. I’ve heard so many times, “Sorry bro didn’t know this was your girl.” I have never heard, “Sorry lady I just realized you are a human. I’m so sorry I scared you.”
So I say, If she doesn’t smile at you, there’s nothing wrong with her, or there is and it’s none if your business. You’re a nice guy? Then leave us alone. Let us be human, let us be pretty, let us be ugly, let us be angry. If you were to stumble upon a wild animal in the wilderness, tell me how you decide whether or not it will eat you alive. Too late, you’re dead.
- It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives.
It is estimated that of all women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared to less than six per cent of men killed in the same year.
In 2012, a study conducted in New Delhi found that 92 per cent of women reported having experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime, and 88 per cent of women reported having experienced some form of verbal sexual harassment (including unwelcome comments of a sexual nature, whistling, leering or making obscene gestures) in their lifetime.
But please, tell me how it makes you feel when women don’t smile at you.
Over two weeks ago, post-hike, I wandered into a bookstore in the foothills. I had a long list of books to read. I picked up a collection of shorts stories from Lydia Davis and read it in four days. It changed everything. I have not read a book like that in my whole life.
But most notably, I started writing again. Not a boring blog entry about my latest epiphany on how to live life, but a story. Stories. My dreams became these crazy wild tales that I couldn't help but carry into the early morning and write them down before I forgot it all. I have filled up half of my journal in 13 days. Writing and reading have taken up most of my free time. It has been incredible and completely bizarre.
As with all change, I often agonize on what it all means. I try to fill in the unanswered questions that I've been struggling with and connect the dots to somehow figure out the rest of my life. It's a weakness I have to want to see into the future, peek over the hedges, make lists and plans and get ready for what's next. Except this feels like a return. I found a part of me that has been wandering around, drunk and afraid for a long time. The crazy 18 year old that was sure she was going to be a writer has come back, sobered up, got some sleep and now hydrates herself responsibly.
I wanted to immediately feel like I had wasted time, I was behind, I needed to catch up. But I realized that I've gotten better, in a lot of ways. I always thought unearthing the need to write seriously would bring back all these insecurities I had when I first set out. I do still have wild thoughts that I'm not good enough, will I ever be, who will want to read about my post office anxiety, am I relevant, etc. etc. But on the other hand, I kind of don't care if anyone gets it. I'm used to it. I don't need to beg the world to understand me and tell me I'm brilliant. I love to write. I always have. I think I'm pretty good at it. This time, I'm not asking for permission. Who cares where this is going! Even if I spend the rest of my life reading and writing on the edges of everything else and never really take care of my dangling modifier habit, what a wild ride that would be.
I started this short story in 2006. I gave it a 2016 makeover.
There were two men in my stomach. They were putting up a fight about foreign politics. They could not agree. With everything, their yelling was banging up my insides. I was frightened. I was in bed and pulled the covers over my mouth and nose, but slowly so they wouldn't notice me. I held my breath so they wouldn't notice me. They didn't for a while.
I spent a long time arguing with myself on how to fall asleep. I finally mustered out a whisper: "Could you keep it down, please?" I held my breath and waited for an answer.
The men stopped arguing. Their voices became friendly, quiet squeaks. They decided to have a beer. They picked out handfuls of ale from the sky and placed them in each others cups.
They did not know, but I fell asleep hearing them sing a wonderfully silly song about zebras, laughing and drinking. They are thoughtful friends.
I had dreams about lovely purple large-brimmed hats that night. And the men, they fell asleep eventually, humming.
Five years. How did we get here? I used to think I knew. I would spout out cliched advice to newly married couples that would ask what our secret is. Date nights! Loving yourself first! Cloning Paul! But this past year, a lot of people have gone through breakups, which has led me to reflect on us. And I realized that I truly don't have an answer rooted in science or logic.
We met in the midst of one of the worst years of my life. I was an unemployed college dropout with crazy amounts of self-esteem issues, lost in a fog of alcohol and a lack of direction. I was aware of how much of a mess I was and was dead set on ending a relationship of three years to (eventually) focus on school. Three days after breaking up with my boyfriend, I met Paul. It was the worst time to meet anyone of substance (or so I thought) and I was stubborn enough to deny this sunshine in my life because I was too young to figure out who I was going to marry, especially when I wasn't in the best state. But that's how profound meeting Paul was: if I wasn't careful, I knew I'd want to keep him around forever.
Our first year was messy and hard, but we walked out of the first year and just decided to figure all of it out together. And we found out that we were really good at the good, bad and ugly stuff of life when we worked as a duo. We argued about the dishes and would fight when we both drank too much. But then we grew up, got better jobs and went back to school. I knew I would eventually lift myself up and out of my drunk dropout fog but I didn't realize how much Paul would help. I didn't have to worry about him shattering my independence or choosing between a serious relationship and a career/college. Crazy nights when I worked and went to school for 12 hours, he made sure I ate dinner and left me to study. He was unconditionally supportive throughout finishing my undergrad degree and the bear that was grad school. We became a really good team. It became clear in year two that life was improving immensely when we were together. So we just kept hanging out, for almost 10 years now.
I don't think marriage is hard. It's not because we are some alien race immune to challenges, but marriage itself is the easy part. Working on yourself and realizing when you're projecting your own fears and insecurities is the hard part. I am lucky to have a partner that works on himself just as hard as I do. Our work is carefully making sure we're not blaming each other for what we see in the mirror. We're constantly growing separately and support each other when that gets tough. It makes it really easy to be nice to each other when you don't hate yourself.
But I don't have all the answers. I didn't love myself before meeting Paul. I didn't give myself enough time between breakups like you're supposed to. I was so young. Following all the formulas for long-lasting marital bliss wouldn't have led me here.
As much as I wanted it to be, love is not scientific. It's not a checklist. You can't boil down logistics and make it happen. You can't take the great advice from your friends and grow love in a greenhouse. It's just magic. It just happens. You have to be smart enough to notice it and embrace it and help it grow, but it does its own thing, whether you like it or not. Whether you're ready or not. Whether you're a very put-together 31 year old or a crazy drunk of a 20 year old.
I believe in fairies. I believe that trees talk to each other. And I believe in the Yo-Naus.
On Sunday morning after a rare late night, Paul and I decided to go out to breakfast at our favorite place. We didn't get there early enough and it was packed, so we ate at the counter. Two out-of-towner guys were sitting at the top of the L shaped counter. Paul ordered the biscuits and gravy, something he'd been waiting to order for months since it's not on the summer menu. When our food came out, one of the guys asked, "Is that the biscuits and gravy?" with wide eyes. Paul said, "Yeah! It's so good. But they don't have it in the summer." The guy got more excited. "I was going to order that but got pancakes instead. I'll have to get that next time." Paul nodded his head and took a bite. Then he turned towards the guy and said, "You wanna try it? We can split this. I'm not going to eat all of it." The guy politely declined, but I was in awe, and proud. Sometimes Paul's kindness floors me. Being willing to share your favorite meal with a perfect stranger (and not just waiting for my reaction) makes me fall in love all over again, and feel really grateful that I get to do life with him every day.
Five years. It sounds so long ago that we Jubilee'd at my grandparents farm. I'm pretty much done pretending that I have any clue what's ahead of us. Marriage itself may get hard. We both may change in uncharacteristic ways. But as naive as this sounds, I'm fairly certain that if I just keep believing, we'll still get to keep the magic.
And maybe if we're really lucky and if the past is an indicator of our future, it'll just keep getting better.
It started in high school. My Uncle Bob used to ask me what my five year plan was every Christmas. He meant well, trying to help me figure out what it was I wanted to do, but I never had a good answer. I knew I wanted to go to college. I knew I wanted to write. When or where was always fuzzy. I guess I lacked the ability to pretend that life has the ability to be planned out five years in advance. I definitely tried.
The master plan was never really something we openly discussed at the dining room table at home. My parents were supportive of everything but my dad definitely made sure to instill in me an importance of supporting myself in whatever direction I ended up heading. At times, it was hard being a broke college student, but I am so incredibly grateful for the struggle because it helped me figure out how to take care of myself.
What are your plans? I've had some sort of plan since I could hold a pencil. I thrived in event planning during my grad school years. I obsessed over party details every gathering we decided to have. Plans, for me, have always been fun to dream up and organize but the reality was that they always, overwhelmingly, went another way. I have never had the natural flexibility to "go with it" and be "okay" with plans shifting.
I reached this place when I chose to give up teaching: it was a new place that required faith in the unplanned plan. There wasn't really a day that I symbolically threw my day planner in the fire, but somewhere in that career change, I decided to trust a life not thought out. It was terrifying at first, but with a little practice, I got good at it. Integrating improvisation in your life is good, but applying it to the "master (un)plan" is on another level.
What are my plans? I don't know. At all. I've been conditioned to believe that this is wrong or lazy or devoid of direction. I'm "unfocused." But I choose to think of it as something I've never allowed myself to do: not know. My life-long planing gave me a false sense of control and direction. I have manipulated every decision in my life by planning years in advance. It led me to burn out in a career that didn't match my life.
I don't have parameters for what I'm going to do when I leave here, or even really know what the next job or place to live will look like. I know what I don't want and I know what I'm good at and I know what I enjoy. But other than that, it's pretty blank. And I think that's okay. I am practicing being comfortable in the unknown. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. This is also the happiest I've ever been.
Some people think moving away and not knowing anyone is the scariest thing in the world. To me, being alone with your thoughts used to be really scary. Now I can't get enough. I have so much I want to do: read, write, run, hike, yoga, bake, cook, organize, create. I can't wait when lunch comes around and I get to sit in the swing behind the office and write. I can't wait to take the evening run with myself and the trail and daydreams.
Things are shifting. Fall is near and that's always been a starting over point. Change is happening, however slow it needs to happen. I will never forget where I'm from and never stop missing the people that love me and support me. But for right now, I need patience: to dream, to wander, to grow, to be alone. I am learning how to stay present and really get to the bottom of what I want. I think this will lead to me recognizing the "what" when it comes around and leaving the rest alone.
My plans don't have anything to do with how I make my money or where I live. My plans are making the most of every single day by getting outside and doing what I love. My focus is how I can improve, how I can make time for what makes me happy. And I never want that to change.
What are your plans?