chris and me + moving away: how maryland's been on our relationship

 My handsome, handsome love | Catoctin Mountain Park | August

My handsome, handsome love | Catoctin Mountain Park | August

Let’s talk about the ways we love, and fail to love each other. Let’s talk about them even though it’s hard.

This move brought with it a storm of homesickness that stunned and stunted my first days and weeks in Maryland. Like everything in life, the move was harder than I expected, and hard in ways I didn’t expect.

I didn’t expect the sadness, no, but I also didn’t expect how I’d respond to the sadness. How it would make me both silent and combative, how it would shape this season for me and Chris.

I don’t like sharing my failings (who does?), but I’m been learning about myself, about who I am when I’m vulnerable, who I become when I feel lost, and I like sharing what hurts and what heals.

We got out here, and in the first, borderless week, I felt these gaping holes open—not just missing Minnesota, or missing family and friends (though both were there), but missing the stability of knowing the place on the globe I occupied. It was bigger than homesickness, but included homesickness, but also needed a language separate homesickness. Something that included loss and being lost, but also included brightness: notes of curiosity and excitement.

Before all these knots of pain and fear and dislocation, I became what I’ve never been before—a stonewall. I went silent when I couldn’t find a way to explain what it was I was feeling, and when I could explain it in ways that made sense to me, but not to Chris, I got harsh.

(This is what I didn’t want to talk about—the ways I responded when I was hurting. I get why babies scream, and toddlers hit. We want to give our pain a name that someone else will recognize.)

Who knew that I, overly articulate and expressive to the point of exhaustion, would meet my sadness, and fall silent before it? Who knew my emotional interior would become so complex I’d lose my arsenal of language?

One night, I sat on our kitchen floor and cried, so angry and ashamed that my first experience of our adventure out here was one of sadness and retreat. Chris took the floor next to me, and took my hand, and said “I know you feel safest when you’re alone with your pain. I don’t know how to join you in that right right now, but I want to. Can we find ways to let me care of you too?”

It’s heartbreaking and humbling to have your partner ask you to make room for him. Chris is a warrior for us, and he keeps us strong when I flounder. He’s tender and brave in ways I’m still learning, and while I’ve thrashed through my discomfort and sorrow, he’s waited for me.

This move is our first striking out on our own. We’re each other’s only people out here. It’s just us, and when we decided to move, that was the exciting part: who were we going to be when there’s no one and nowhere else for us to go?

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One month in, and I think we’ve come through the worst of of the dislocation. We’ve named the varied sadnesses of living away from home, and we’re learning to negotiate the ways those sadnesses manifest themselves. It’s only been a month, but in relationship years, it’s been long. We’re grown and stretched and fortified ourselves. Built new forms of trust, and stripped away more layers of year. Hard work for four weeks time, but good, good work.

I’ve called him this before: Chris is my miracle of love. He’s my radical re-education in how to receive love, how to be loved. We wouldn’t have moved here if we didn’t trust completely that the love we share would hold us. But it didn’t take long for us to find these bumps, these failed experiments and wrong turns and accidental crossroads that can weaken relationships not ready for them.

We talk in terms of lessons, and Chris has been kind enough to approach my frustration, and stonewalling, and furious sadness as lessons. Already, we’re stronger for what we’ve learned. More intimate and more attuned to one another. Already I see the playing out of the single faith that brought us here: That the together is the home, and that inside the together, we can do anything, be anything, become anything.

I am grateful, and grateful, and grateful for a partner who is patient with me. Who is tender and empathetic and willing to weather my storms. He’s learned the extraordinary lesson that it’s pain that makes us painful, and he soften when I harden. His is a love of returnings, of circling back and back to my points of pain and shame. He’s showing the love of unconditionals. In turn, in all my messy, frustrated, frustrating ways, I hope I’m showing him the same.

Right now, this move feels like a half-framed house. Please stay in it with me. It’s in the building that we’re finding all this beauty, that we’re strengthening and steeling our love, that we’re becoming, together, ourselves.

the overlap of all these endings and beginnings: summer 2018 recap

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It was almost a jolt for me, last Monday, when I began to see my social media feed fill with “goodbye summer” posts. Even though my work is tied directly to the school calendar, it didn’t register that, of course, summer is drawing to a close.

I’m tethered to rhythms, and usually, I love to let seasons border and bookend chapters of my life. This past summer, though, was such a wild, sprawling, rangy season that I can’t count it as just one thing. How was the sweltering Memorial Day weekend we spent with friends part of the same season as the dark, fogged over Fourth of July we spent along the North Shore? And what was August? This month where we crossed borders and time zones and oceans and mountains in both the air and sky. Into what category do I put the month we visited two countries, returned to our own, then moved from its middle to its eastern edge?

All summer, I thought in terms of endings and goodbyes—and we said a lot—but now that I’m on the other end of summer, I’m starting to wonder if it wasn’t actually more about of beginnings.

I experienced a groundwater shift in my writing life. I finished a novel I’m unbelievably proud of, and I identified and committed to concrete goals and steps for those goals to move my writing forward. I felt my relationship with Chris shift into a deeper gear. Travel stretched us to become more tender, and in the moments when the fears and stresses of moving brought out in me qualities that are far lovable, we had the opportunity to push past the ugliness, and move deeper into love. To enter new levels of unconditional care is, if not a true beginning, a beautiful continuum to be moving along. In so many ways, we were preparing for beginnings: Preparing our friendships to (hopefully) withstand distance, preparing our career paths for new leaps, preparing ourselves to move away from everything we know. Even when we sat in London and I cried over all the endings, it was actually the rushing, tumbling into beginnings that I made me want, so badly, to stay put.

I need more time to think about this. As much as I love bringing my experiences into cohesion—this is what keeps me writing—I don’t like reducing life beyond its size. I’d planned to forego any attempt to write about summer, but obviously I’ve changed my mind. If I’ve learned anything from journaling (a habit I’m haltingly building), it’s that there’s value enough in creating the record. It’s time’s job, not ours, to make sense of these seasons that blast us or our lives apart.

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So what was summer 2018? A whole beautiful mess of things.

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Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend was summer at its finest. The temperatures soared beyond where they normally sit, and we launched into summer. St. Paul Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning, rooftop drinking in the afternoon, and the evening at a baseball game with our friends. The next day? Soundset 2018, and a full day of live music, and kickass friends. We even fled our apartment on Friday night to catch the last of the sunset over Lake Nokomis, because the world was just so beautiful in that dying gold we didn’t want to miss it. That one weekend felt like what summer should always, what last year’s summer was like. The kind that’s a gift we don’t get very often.

Goodbyes to to the Job I Loved

In June, I got to say my spiritual goodbye to a job I’ve loved and found so much reward in. I got to spend a week with my now former team and a bunch of excited and exciting kids, experiencing the final stage in a project and process that lasts all year. I wouldn’t actually end my job (or have to say the goodbyes that made me sob) until August, but that week in June served a goodbye to the program. It also made me realize how much joy we can find in endings—when we know they’re coming, they give us such extraordinary presence.

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Saying Goodbyes to Minnesota

July was full of goodbyes to Minnesota. Chris kicked off the month by surprising me with a birthday getaway to the North Shore. We got to retrace our own early history, I saw lupine growing wild along Highway 61, and then after climbing forty-five minutes along the socked in cliffs of Palisade Head, we got ten minutes, where the fog shifted and the cliffs of Lake Superior opened to us. I got to say goodbye to the place in Minnesota’s that feels most steeped in history and home to me.

In July, we also made a point to visit some of our favorite spots in the cities—Hi-Lo Diner, Minnehaha Falls, Nina’s Cafe, St. Anthony Main, Lake Monster Brewing— and we said goodbye to Chris’s hometown with one final (for now) night of bar hopping with friends. It was always going to be impossible to say a proper goodbye to the Twin Cities, and why try? We’ll be back. And maybe restaurants will close and new bars will open, but our home will always be our home. As glad as I am to have had goodbyes at a few favorite places, I’m also glad we didn’t try to say goodbye to everything. Like someone said to me at the Sebastian Joe’s in Lake Harriet, “you visit your favorite places when you’re back, and they get better, because you know what to compare then to now.”

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Then there was our trip. Seventeen days of exploration and travel and miles of pavement pounding in gorgeous and unfamiliar cities. I’m never recovering from London, and even though New York feels like a separate trip, I’m already hoping we get back soon. This trip, though, was one for our books. Not just because it was the first Chris and I took together, but because we were dazzled by so much, exposed to so much, and learned so much.

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Our First Weeks in Maryland

I’ve been introducing myself all week, and it’s tripping me out to say “we haven’t even been in Maryland a month.” But it’s true! We moved less than a month ago.

So far, we’ve done a lot of settling in, but have found time between IKEA runs and new jobs to do a little exploring. Our goal for the year is to spend at least one day, at least every other weekend, sightseeing, exploring, or playing tourist. (My personal goal is to visit every National Park in the area, so we can collect all our National Park Passport stamps. Don’t laugh.) So far, we’ve visited Calvert Cliffs State Park (with my parents), Cunningham Falls State Park, Catoctin Mountain Park (Camp David is somewhere in this park), been into D.C. once, and to Alexandria (so charming) a few times.

I can’t get over the history here. I’m floored every time I pass the home of one of the signer of Declaration of Independence on my way to work, and when I pass signs that the townhouse George Washington is still right here, steps from sidewalk I’m on. It’s a different kind of American history, as well as geographical and pre-historic history, to be surrounded by, and just like everyone said to us,, it’s really cool for us history nerds to be this close to so much history.

As for fall, I’m looking forward to it—assuming the weather here in Southern Maryland changes. (I’ve been warned that it can stay warm until December, but that temps generally drop in late September). We have a giant list in our living room of places we want to see or visit while we live here, and, more importantly, we have plane tickets home for Thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to a new season, and for the rhythms and routines we’ve developed so far to become more natural, maybe start to feel something like home.

all the magic london had to give

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London was a storybook. It was six days of pure magic.

London is another city I have loved from afar, primarily through literature. For so long, London was the center of Western cultural production, and, for good and bad, the center of the Western literary canon that I devoured in my childhood. This city showed up, again and again, in the books I read and the histories to which I was drawn. Harry Potter visits, as do the Dashwood sisters (Sense & Sensibility). Dracula is entirely about the threat and defense of London as the heart of the British Empire, and all of Shakespeare is influenced by the city in which his plays were first performed. I even wrote my senior thesis about London, and the role Sherlock Holmes’s played in demystifying the sprawling metropolis.

My desire to see London has been so strong for so long that I can remember a specific, physical ache in my chest that came when I thought about London. A few days before we left, my dad heard me telling someone where we’d be traveling. From behind me, I heard him say she’s always wanted to see London.

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On our first night in London, I cried on the Tower Bridge. We left our hotel for a walk. We weren’t navigating towards it, but within a ten minutes, it started to rise up in front of us. The Tower Bridge, and to our right, the Tower of London.

It was the view of the Thames that got me. We stopped on the bridge to look out over the river, and in that view, I recognized everything—the bridges crossing the river, the castles and palaces and government strongholds alongside these towers of chrome and glass. Even the cranes and scaffolding were familiar, a city built on its own preservation. The sun was sinking, its light breaking to dust and gold along the river. It wasn’t just that I’d seen the image in photos and films (though I had), but the thought that wouldn’t leave me that night. I kept thinking this is the city of all my books. This city I’ve dreamed of for so long.

In New York, I couldn’t get my hands around the city, and maybe that’s because the island is so condensed. Stories piled onto one another, one community’s history bulldozed to make way for another's. London, however, is sprawling. It doesn’t stack. It widens and spreads. I felt the same massive wonder, but none of the overwhelm. All this beauty? All this magic? I felt I could feel it in my hand, collect it, carry it with me.

What did we do in London? We did so much, and yet so little. We walked miles and miles every day. (For context, on our lightest day, we walked 10 miles). If Chris and I discovered one thing on the earlier legs of our travel, it was that we needed to walk a city to know a city. After the first night, I almost an aversion to leaving the streets of London. On this first ever visit, I didn’t want to disengage with the wonder of seeing the city unfold by blocks and boroughs. Everyday, we walked until our feet ached. (Or, in my case, broke into itching hives that needed night soakings in our hotel sink).

We saw London from the pavement: the Tower Bridge, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, (but not Big Ben; he’s under construction), Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham and Kensington Palaces, Notting Hill, King’s Cross, Brick Lane, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theatre. We visited Old Spitalfields Market twice, strolled Whitechapel Road on our first morning and Greenwich on our last, braved the sweating crowds at Camden Market, and browsed three floors at John Sandoe Books. We also spent a quiet morning wandering the Inns of Court, quiet courtyards behind Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court of England and Wales) home to the professional organizations to which all barristers, to this day, are required to belong, and another in Belgravia, a parade of marble and flower boxes, empty on Saturday morning.

We still hit quite a few of the big sites and museums. We couldn't be in London, and not see where Anne Boleyn was executed or the princes in the tower were murdered. Even without seeing the crown jewels (the lines, people, the lines), the Tower of London was worth the half day spent there. The Tate Modern was thought provoking, as was the British Museum, but both were too crowded to spent too much time in. The National Gallery was a feast, and I spent the majority of my time walking between the John Constables and the J.M.W. Turners, both men masters of brush and light in their own ways. Ever since reading Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent about a foreign spy’s plan to bomb the Greenwich Mean Tower, I’ve wanted to see the Royal Observatory, and I’m so glad we made it on our final day. We visited Hyde, Regent's, Greenwich and St. James royal parks, and each was lovely in its own right (especially after we learned England doesn’t have open carry laws, and park vendors sell Pimm’s). The Churchill War Rooms were unparalleled. I did not realize, until we got there, that the museum is housed in the actual, steel and concrete insulated room where Churchill conducted British operations during WWII. We spent hours in the bunker, and still I I left with a diary from one of the secretaries who worked in the War Rooms, wanting to know more.

As far as food goes, our hands-down favorite was Rum Kitchen, a small Caribbean spot nestled behind the Logan Mews in Notting Hill. After the crowds of Portobello Road Market, we needed respite, and between the cool room, the rum, and the food (oh, the food), we were all three in heaven. For the rest of the week, Chris kept asking “remember Rum Kitchen? Is it too early to miss Rum Kitchen?” Another surprise favorite, delivered by Google maps, was the Mulberry Bush, quiet spot near our hotel with traditional British food and an atmosphere that felt like pub-cozy for the twenty-first century. Other standouts were everything we had in the Borough Market, breakfast at Popina in Mayfair, and cocktails at The Booking Office, gorgeous bar in the original reservation office for St. Pancras Station.

Perhaps my favorite experience of London (and definitely the reason we walked so much) was that everywhere we were, we were within blocks of something grand and historic. Over and over, we’d look for an Underground station, and realize we were a half mile from this palace or that monument, and why not just walk a little extra to see Buckingham; we were in London.

I fell in love with London in a way I haven’t fallen in love with a place since I visited Seattle at eighteen. I cried when we arrived, and when we left, I cried again. The city was, again and again, an experience of wonder. When I got home, someone asked “do you remember how London smells like fresh gardens?” I have a small sprig of pressed lavender from Hyde’s Park to remind me.

 

On our final day, I had with me the sense of an ending. We’d spent that leg of the trip with Chris’s best friend. Parting with him made me feel like we were all be moving towards our next. Like this was the closing of one chapter of our lives. Even the weather was starting to turn. After six bright, hot days, we experience our first and only rain, and as we crossed the Tower Bridge a final time, the breeze off the Thames was cool and strong. More signs of a changing season.

Our leaving London was the first leaving of many to come. Leave London on Tuesday, Dublin on Friday. Say goodbye to friends on Saturday. Put everything we own into a trailer on Sunday. Finish the job I’ve loved and turn in keys to the apartment that gave me a home on Monday. Leave the Twin Cities for a final night at our parents houses, and then on Tuesday, get up and leave again. This time, our parents’ homes, the states we were raised in, and the lives we’ve been building for 26 and 24 years.

I cried for our endings, sitting beneath the hulk of the Tate Modern, my head on Chris’s shoulder. So much in front us, yes, but so much we were putting behind us. I needed the moment to say goodbye.

our first week in maryland: homesickness, hope + an apartment tour

As my parents prepared to return to Minnesota and the reality that I wouldn't be returning with them set in, I kept saying, “I want this experience of leaving. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.”

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We arrived in Maryland last Wednesday after a Herculean 20+ hour drive, and spent Wednesday through Saturday existing in a bubble of excitement. Look, the Capitol! The Potomac! The Chesapeake Bay! The weather app now includes tides patterns! Target is five minutes away! There's Alexandria! Mount Vernon! Mountains! Crabs!

Our parents were still with, and our brand-new apartment smelled of fresh paint. Our floors were a disaster of cardboard boxes and IKEA assembly, but look how the space was coming together! Everything was unfamiliar. Everything was exciting. We were riding high on adrenaline and adventure. All the reasons we came out were felt present and close.

Then my parents left before dawn on Sunday morning, and the weight of what it means to leave fell on me. I watched their tail lights until they disappeared, then I let Chris bring me back inside.

We spent that first day alone in a heavy quiet. I cried and put books on my shelves as my mom’s location moved farther and farther away on the Apple map. This was the weight I couldn't feel when this move was just an idea and a plan, the weight of what it means to live separate from everyone you love.

I went to bed on Sunday still crying. In the dark, I told Chris that I'd thought I was strong enough to do this, and he said to me: “just because you're strong enough doesn't make this easy.”

I’ve long been afraid that I’m not brave enough or strong enough to withstand the fullness I so desperately want out of life. Getting out here to Maryland, and finding myself immediately mired in tears and homesickness resurfaced this fear. We’re on this grand adventure--why do I so desperately want to return to what I know? Why aren’t I more excited?

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The shape and weight of my homesickness has taken me by surprise. I expected a swell of sadness, but I didn’t expect it to edge out the excitement or joy of the move. I didn’t expected all these strange moments of sadness -- crying over a shelf pin found at the bottom of my purse, because it reminds me of my dad, who built me my desk or overspending at Target, because I felt oddly conspicuous and obviously out of place. 

I’ve never been the girl to have a mantra, but mid-week, I made a deal with myself to “be present, but have a plan.” My sensitivity, my sadness, my love for the things that feel so far away aren’t wrong, but I don’t want them to consume me. When you’ve the history of depression I have, sadness can feel frightening. Who's to say this won’t be the blue patch that sends back into that dark country you’ve worked so hard to leave?

But not all sadness is depression or leads to depression, and as Chris so kindly repeated to me through all my tears: what I’m feeling is right, and it’s appropriate. Feeling my feelings is healthy and good. Loving something enough to cry for its absence is beautiful. It honors that love.

And while homesickness has dampened the excitement, it hasn't, by any stretch, extinguished it. There are all the things to do  that I'm excited for: I want to visit every Smithsonian, and hike on the Appalachian Trail. In December, Mount Vernon does candlelight tours, and on Assateague National Seashore, there are wild horses. Last weekend, we visited a state park known for its fossils. 

And then there's the beating heart of why we moved: the possibility. Above the job offers and the day trips, we came here for what if and what will. What will happen as we grow? How will we change? And in what ways will we become more of who we are meant to be?

We came out here to line up the dominoes, and see where they fall. We've set ourselves up to experience an onslaught of the unknown. That is absolutely going to make us uncomfortable.

Tears aside, here;s the highlight reel of the move so far: Our apartment is lovely. We leased it sight unseen, and what could have gone so badly has gone so well. This space is comfortable, large; the light is clean and effulgent. There's space for me to have a small writing nook, but not so large that Chris and I could lose each other in it. Our town is a surprising mix of rural and suburban. We’re five minutes in any direction from: A suburban, commercial stretch that includes a Target, a one stoplight "downtown," all county services, including the courthouse, and farmsteads. We’re also only thirty minutes from a metro station that bring us directly to DC, forty-five minutes from both Alexandria and the Chesapeake Bay (in different directions), a little over an hour from Baltimore, and a little over two hours from the Atlantic Ocean. (We’re also only four hours from Asbury Park, which is important since our entryway is dominated by a massive poster of Bruce Springsteen).

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This move is an experience and an adventure. We’re at the very beginning, and like any story, we don’t know how this all unfold. Thinking about it this way gives me the most excitement. I deal in stories, and here we are at the very beginning of our next one.

I may miss Minnesota, but he's the best home I've ever found.

we bring ourselves wherever we go: four days in dublin

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We arrived in Dublin on a Sunday morning. A fine, flat rain punctured the surface of the Liffey, and the streets were all but empty. We passed three elderly women, each wearing raincoats the colors of jewels. They, and the doors in Merrion Square provided the only color. We'd flown overnight, a plan that seemed ingenious when I booked the tickets in February (fly out at one country's dusk, arrive at the second's dawn), but in reality, it was as brutal as it sounds. We didn't sleep on the flight. Chris's restless legs got the best of him, and he described his skin feeling as though it were crawling. The man next to us complained that this was the smallest plane he'd even ridden, and while we have less frame of reference, we were inclined to agree. We landed the walking dead. I was so tired that, even now, those first few hours seemed surreal. Compared to the constant movement of New York, the empty streets were a relief. It took a two mile walk (with suitcases, on small sidewalks and cobblestone--I still have bruises on my ankle) to our Airbnb to orient myself to the clock, to the day, to our trans-Atlantic position.

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Dublin quickly became for us a city of lessons. The four days we spent here were decidedly rocky. Jetlag made us susceptible to the anxieties we're both having about our move, and neither of us handled well the discomfort of the unknown. While Dublin is a small, walkable, charming city with English speakers everywhere, the simple fact that it wasn't home was enough to dislodge our equilibrium. On our second day in Dublin (the sixth of our trip), we looked at each other and said we just wanted a break from all the decision making. Breakfast -- but where? And lunch -- but were? And what should we do today? Where is that? How will we get there?

The short of it: Dublin is where we had to admit we didn't have a groove.

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As we planned this trip, we both acknowledged how much we had to learn. This was to be our first trip as a couple, the first (large) trip for either of us without parents, the first we we're taking as adults. I'd hoped traveling would come as easily to us as so many other aspects of our relationship, but it didn't. It took some learning.

Our first day in Dublin corresponded with our one year anniversary, and in retrospect, I like the timing. Dublin stretched us, made us grow. We started our second year in a place of vulnerability. We had to get tender with each other, and honest with ourselves. Why were we at odds? Why were we on edge?

A mother once said to me that from raising children, she'd learned that most problems between people can be solved with food, water, or a hug. I thought about that on our third evening, after we'd bickered our way through Temple Bar and ended our evening early so we could talk, uninterrupted by the movement of the city.

Our anxieties are always over connection. How do we tell the other what we want? What we need? How do we ask each other to hold the places too bruised for us to even name?

And as much as these tensions manifested themselves in our traveling (we are kings and queens of "but I want to do what you want to do"), they weren't about travel. They hadn't anything to do with travel. We bring ourselves with us wherever we go. It's the great myth of escape that we could ever lose our pain. In Dublin, we bickered over plans, but when we stopped to address the tension, we talked about deep-rooted insecurities, the mixed fear of and desire to be known. We talked about our move, and about how excitement is starting to blend with anxiety, with sadness.

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While Dublin ended up being less about Dublin and more about our relationship, I should clarify: Our days here were good days, punctuated by tension (not the other way around). After my anxiety to see everything! do everything! lessened, our days mellowed. Dublin is a charming city with an understated beauty. Compared to New York, it felt like a village, and we were so happy getting lost in down these twisting streets.

Our first four days here in a nut shell: Irish War Memorial Gardens were an oasis along the Liffey. The Little Museum of Dublin was delightful, and because it's made up entirely of donations from Dubliners, it's a fascinating perspective on this city's history. I wish we'd gone the first day as an orientation to this city. We're in Dublin, so we had to drink Guinness. We toured the storehouse on our second day here, and as much as the tour was an advertisement for its brand, it was fun, and the best way to share a pint. Temple Bar was far too crowded for us. The Winding Stair Bookshop was lovely; the swans in St. Stephen's Green made me squeal, and the best food we had all week was the scones. Irish scones have ruined me for all baked goods. I'll never be the same.

My favorite moment of all though was the quietest. After attempts at two museums failed (one was closed, the other required advance booking), we found ourselves in the Irish War Memorial Gardens. The rain showers of the morning had given way to blue sky, and a sun so warm I shed layers until my arms were bare. We found a rock on the bank of the Liffey and dangled our feet over the clear water. I watched a bird's small, webbed feet pedal underneath the water. In so many ways, this could have been any other afternoon in the sun, but after spending six months saying to each other "baby, we're going to Dublin!," we were here. In Dublin! In Ireland! In the middle of this adventure! Forever let that be enough.

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on the challenge of new york city: thoughts + photos from the first leg of our trip

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"In the absence of love, I found myself clinging hopelessly to the city itself: the repeating tapestry of psychics and bodegas, the bump and grind of traffic, the live lobsters on the corner of Ninth Avenue, the stream drifting up from beneath the -streets." Olivia Liang, The Lonely City

In my teenage-hood, I planned to live, someday, in New York City. I studied street maps and photographs of the city, choose books written by writers who lived there, and tried to write my own stories about the life I imagined must exist there. All week, I thought about that verve, that determination. What had I expected, at fourteen, to find in New York City? And if I had moved, would I have found it?

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We arrived in New York City at noon on Wednesday, and immediately, the city felt like an onslaught. We tried to keep our suitcases out of the way, and around us, people moved with such velocity I felt like it was the beginning of a bad movie. Midwest girl comes to New York, retreats to the corner, because the cornfields never moved like this.

This intimidation dissipated, thank god, once we found the correct subway station and dropped luggage at the apartment we were staying in, but what remained was the feeling of being challenged.

For much of the week, my experience in New York resisted any narrative or structure. I tried, several times, to journal (a habit I’m bribing myself into building with pretty stationary), but I couldn't reconcile. There was the extraordinary beauty of a city designed to live up to its reputation, the layers of neighborhood and street that peeled back as we walked, and the sense I couldn't shake of not being able to see the city for all the towering buildings. There was the activity of tourists (like us, I won't pretend we were anything but)—Fifth Avenue a melee of money and cameras, but I kept thinking of all the people who live here. Cynthia Nixon once said that eleven or twelve (I can't find the quote) is the golden age for a kid in New York, because they're finally old enough to ride the subway alone. The foreignness of that experience—at twenty-five, I felt barely capable on the subway system, having hailed from the land of freeways and multi-car families.

I'm reading Olivia Liang's excellent memoir/meditation on loneliness, which colored my view of the city. Never have I been in a place where I've seen so little personal space, and yet, such a collective preservation of what does exist. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, I’ve learned to avoid eye contact when I don't want a conversation on the street or in a cafe, but in New York, I was liberated to realize that proximity wouldn't necessitate small talk. By that same token though, Liang wrote of New York as a "city of glass, of roving eyes," and I quickly saw how atomizing this city can be, how lonely it could become.

Then there's the size of the city itself. The bewildering depth of history, culture, experience. That we walked above the footprint of the original Dutch colony just blocks from the site of the World Trade Towers attack on our way to board a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the entry point for 30-40% of people living in America. That hours later, we passed the Stonewall Inn and a townhouse James Baldwin once lived in and the fictionalized site of a TV show was too much to hold. I'm not sure how anyone, let alone a tourist passing through here and there, can ever try to hold the breadth or depth of what New York is or has been.

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Our few days in New York righted itself as the plane lifted off from JFK. We flew at dusk, and when I looked out during takeoff, I saw the city. A gray line of skyscrapers cut out from the pearl grays and pinks of dust. So fine and so flat a sight it looked like a page from an illustrated book.

This is how the city positioned itself for me—there’s the city itself, and then the shadow of it. Our experience being the shadow. What is New York? What makes it special, makes it unique, defines it? I have no idea. We saw Central Park and Fifth Avenue, bought books from Three Lives & Company, ate brunch at Sarabeth’s. Walked fifty miles across this narrow island.

I’ve loved this city from afar for long enough to know what’s said of it: that you don’t understand this city unless you’re born there, that you don’t get to call yourself a New Yorker until you’ve lived there ten years, twenty years, unless your parents too lived there, unless you’ve cried on the subway. Any version of New York that a tourist seems is a slice, a pale version of its totality.

I don’t say this begrudgingly. I’m not sure New York is meant to be an easy city. The friend I visited said our first night “this city is gritty and harsh; it’s not meant to be pretty.” To visitors, it poses a challenge: what did you come for?

We came to do nothing more than see the city, but even that was dizzyingly broad. No, we came to see slices of New York: Bleeker Street and the High Line. Fifth Avenue (the busy stretch) and Madison Avenue (the quiet stretch). The Statue of Liberty, and the eastern edge of the island from the back of a retreating ferry. My friend took us to a sports bar so busy on a Wednesday night it had a bouncer, and to one of her favorite bakeries (Levain—the cookie so rich I couldn’t finish it in two sittings). I met her eight years ago, and she moved to New York two years ago. I watched in awe as this Midwest girl I met in the dorms navigated the subway, the intersecting streets.

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The city that seemed so inaccessible yielded slowly. The green of Bryant Park after the crush of Fifth Avenue. The café we went for coffee, baseball on the TV and Childish Gambino on the stereo. The surprises of Central Park, and the Upper East Side’s empty streets on Saturday morning. The two bottles of wine we split on Thursday, and the ways we talked—old friends—about leaving, returning, growing.

New York came to us in pieces. There was no way we were going to experience it as a whole, but even though I knew this, I still felt a pang of sadness. It reminds me of the limits of travel. For as much as it expands you, there’s only so much a tourist can receive. There will always be the hidden city, the one that operates outside the reach of the visitor, exists between buildings, behind streets, out among the crush of bodies. There’s always going to be the inaccessible experience, the totality of what it means to live somewhere like this, not just visit.

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tomorrow, new york city: pre-travel thoughts on travel (because i'm so excited)

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defaultTomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. We booked tickets from New York City to Dublin in what feels like a separate life. It was dark at 7 pm (funny, too, how that endless winter now feels so long ago), and July seemed as far away as the cities we'd were visiting. When I told my parents in May that I’d be moving in August, my mom said “but there’s so little time.” There were fourteen weeks, and I think about how I view time like I’m a child, but experience it like an adult. Fourteen weeks was an ocean of time, even twelve (the number of weeks until now, the eve of our trip) seemed like a sea.

Tomorrow, we board a place for New York City, Saturday, one for Dublin, and the following Thursday, London. When we get home, we’re here for three days, and then we move.

When we booked these tickets so many months ago (so many decisions ago), I talked in binary terms. Here and there, and how I hoped that being there would change how I saw here, this place I’ll be forever returning to. I talked to my partner about how travel changes you, not because you’ve gone away, but because you’ve returned home, how it was in the returning that the leaving makes sense.

Here I go talking about leaving again, but how can I not? I was born in Minnesota, lived here twenty-five years, and when I boarded a plane tomorrow, I do so knowing that when I return home, I’ll only be there for three days, then gone again.

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I’ll be traveling as a novice, and it’s humbling to admit this. I’m 25, and save for a very few times, I’ve never boarded a plane without a parent. I recognize that I am traveling from privilege to privilege, to countries that share my native language, and to metropolises that are as large or larger than the one I currently live in. We’re not roughing it, and the chances of us encountering any problems -- but especially one we can’t easily solve -- are low.

Chris is skeptical when he hears me talk about this trip. In all aspects of my life, I want a PLAN, but about our time away, I keep saying “let’s play it as it lays.” Yes, I’ve a list the length of both my arms of museums and landmarks and restaurants for all three cities, but I don’t want our trip to be a checklist. Even now, I don’t have a clue how we’ll spent our first (partial) day in New York. Get to my friend’s apartment to drop luggage, but then? It’ll be enough that we’re there.

Last year in Rome, I was bewildered by the city, by its size and the depths of its history. After I gave up any hopes of “seeing” the city in something resembling totality and decided instead to just see the streets in front of me, our days mellowed into something lovely and free. My mom and I wandered neighborhoods and poked our heads into shops and cathedrals and down alleyways.

We won’t see all of Dublin, we won’t see all of London. Why do any of think we can somehow get our hands all the way around the places that we visit? I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for twenty-five years, and for all that these cities are home, I still only know them in parts.  Yes, in Dublin, we’ll visit the Guinness Storehouse and in London, the Tower, but dear god, don’t let our trip become a carousel of tourist traps and photos ops. I want this trip to reveal itself in hours and days, the cities by neighborhoods and streets.

I’m new to traveling like this, and Chris and me are new to traveling with each other. Right now, the night before we fly anywhere, it’s all hopes and philosophies. I picture parks and cafes and long hours in museums. I want time to read, or write, or watch the city go by. I see our days loose. I want the hours to stretch. I want us to be bowled over.

But then, this is what my whole life is right now. Hopes and dreams and visions of what may come. Tomorrow, New York, then Dublin and London, and then, instead of home, the east coast, and whatever meets us there. I want to not be consumed by the move, but how can we not be? Twelve weeks ago, it was surreal to think that this is how it works: that first, we tell everyone we’re doing this monumental thing, and then we just do it. It’s still surreal.

But that’s all for tomorrow’s tomorrow, because you know what else feels surreal? That I've spent my lifetime dreaming of three of these cities, and finally, I'm seeing them!

Follow our trip: I’ll be sharing all over Instagram + writing a bit here. And as always, if you know where I can find good books, good food, or anything beautiful in these three cities, tell me everything and tell me now!

"you'll miss the water + the trees": north shore getaway (pt. 2)

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It’s summer, the fourth of July, but cool temperatures and the possibility of rain had us awake early on Wednesday. Day two of our little getaway was my to play. I wanted to drive northeast to Palisade Head, and pick our way back south, stopping as we wanted.Palisade Head rises in sheer cliffs, three hundred feet above Lake Superior. On clear days, it’s a stunning panorama. The Sawtooth mountains and Shovel Point to the northeast, Split Rock Lighthouse to the southwest, and across the lake, the Apostle Islands.

We only stop once on our way up (for me to jump out of the car and snap photos of lupine along the shore -- the first I’ve ever seen growing wild), but by the time we reached the lookout, the lake had vanished. Banks of white fog obscured everything, leaving only the base of the cell tower, and the rocks immediately in front of us clear.

A man with Ontario license plates shook his head at me when I joked about the view. “Waste of your holiday,” he said, then warned me of coming storms.

The man had a camera on his neck, and I understood his gruffness. This lake is unruly, dangerous. It has its own weather patterns, and if you expect anything from your visit, you’ll likely be disappointed. I didn’t care though. That we couldn’t see the water, but could hear the waves roll over boulders at the base of the cliff was its own experience, gave the day its own beauty. We didn’t leave, but climbed down the billion year old lava formations.

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In the white fog, I thought, strangely, of death. This lake is, historically, treacherous. The “graveyard of the Great Lakes,” Superior has more than 500 ships on her floor, and as Gordon Lightfoot said, Superior doesn’t gives up her dead. The water is too cold for a drowned body to release the post-mortem gases that would, in a kinder lake, bring it to the surface. (As I told Chris on our drive up, I was really into shipwrecks for a while.)

I tried to explain how its in this space between beauty and danger that I find my love of Superior. It’s like the mountains, or the Grand Canyon. Like any wild place of beauty, we come to it, because it dwarfs us. We come to it, because we need it to dwarf us.

Lake Superior exists separate from us. Beyond our intervention or desires. It’s unruly and dangerous, and in this largess is its majesty. This lakes is powerful in the ways that it is, resonant and restorative and clarifying, because it exists beyond and beyond and beyond us.

Climbing these cliffs with so little visibility, I felt closer to the raw power of the lake. It’s large enough to have its own ecosystem, its own currents, and the fact that it’s landlocked and not ruled by global tides makes it somehow more powerful, more set apart from all its comparisons. It’s 2018, and we don’t navigate by lighthouses anymore, but this lake still demands respect. Just a year, a girl slipped from the very place we were climbing, and died on the rocks below.

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We were quiet in the fog, careful on the rocks, and cautious when we looked over the edges on our hands and knees. There was so little lake to see, but still, it was there. Just before we were about to leave, the fog shifted, and I could see the low waves that, previously, I’d just heard. The eddies of fog broke, and the lake to the northeast opened for us. Behind me, the cliffs we came to see.

For all I’ve said about the lake not existing for us, this felt like a gift, like the lupine on the highway felt like a gift. I didn’t expect it, didn’t need it, but oh my god, to receive it. The cliffs rise up, reds and oranges and grays, above sheets of hammered metal. You see the forests that rise and fall with the low mountains, and the lava formations that stand above the water. The fog kept the coast and water hidden, but I’ve seen, on clear days, the shore recede to haze and the lake stretch farther that you can see. I snapped photos furiously, then put my camera down. It’s a kind of worship, to sit before so much.

The clearing only last ten, maybe twelve minutes, and when the fog returned, we climbed back to the road. Growing between the lichened rocks, I came eye level with a blueberry bush, the berries still waxy and green. I snapped a photo, and kept climbing. I took hours for me to realize that I'd be gone by the time they ripen.

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Preparing to move away has left me with so many separate pieces. There’s the deep sadness of being away from family, but that sadness doesn’t diminish the sense of adventure. The waves of fear that we’ll fail (finances are my anxiety) are separate from the excitement that we’ll will be building something entirely our own. I hadn’t yet tried to reconcile all these jagged pieces, but they were with me as we picked our way down the shore.

Heavy rains truncated our plans, but we stopped once more to visit Split Rock Lighthouse, a Minnesota icon Chris has never seen. We skipped the tour to walk the grounds on own own. The thick white fog that had obscured the lake at Palisade Head was gray and heavy here. It hung over the trees and buildings, and turned everything to shadow.

Here, again, is a shore I know so well. Even under blankets of fog, I can trace the outlines of the cliffs and rock patterns. I’ve seen this beach on hot summer days and in crisp fall weather, with fat snowflakes falling on and in the earliest spring when the ice was breaking up. Its broken pieces made music riding on small waves.

For two days I felt this returning. All the ghosts of who I’ve been, from my childhood to my adulthood, are here. This lake is part of me. All these memories, all these stories kept coming to me. That’s my favorite beach, and if you climb past the no trespassing signs, it stretches all the way to the mouth of the Beaver River. When he was a toddler, my brother wore his flippers and goggles on the walk to Gooseberry Falls, but when he got there, there was barely a trickle  of water coming over that wide terrace. Six years later, he and another almost-brother scaled that rock face. We watched waves on this beach the year my dad turned 50, and if you keep driving north, that’s where we spent Thanksgiving.

On the beach beneath Split Rock, I submerged my hands in the water, a holdover from childhood when I wanted the water, the lake itself on my skin. We were getting ready to leave, fog heralding more severe weather on the way. I expected to be bowled over by grief. How many times in the last nine weeks have I asked myself ‘am I really leaving? And I really leaving the home I love, the land that feels apart of me, the family to whom I’m anchored?’ That we’ll be back is a given, but when? I’ve never left home with a plan to return.

The water was cold and clear and bracing, and with my hands in it, I felt clarity instead of sorrow. All the pieces of fear and hope and sorrow and excitement and possibility, all gathered into something that felt whole.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild came to me. How she wrote, “Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.”

I think about what my friend told me about leaving: It’s not easy, but it’s not scary, and the doors that open make it worth it in the end.

But I’ll miss the water and the trees.

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north shore getaway + thoughts on leaving minnesota (pt 1)

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Two days after we decided to move from Minnesota to Maryland, I texted my oldest friend and asked “what’s been the hardest part about leaving Minnesota.” He answered, “Leaving Minnesota.”

On Monday, I turned 26, and on the Tuesday before, my partner surprised me with a two-day getaway to the North Shore, so I could see Lake Superior one last time. He knows this lake is sacred to me (as it is for so many). Growing up, my parents called it our “happy place,” and it remains a place of peace and power for me.

His plan was for us to spend Tuesday in Duluth, and Wednesday visiting my favorite spots along the shore. A day to connect, a day to explore.

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Duluth is special to Chris and me as the place where we solidified our budding relationship. As much as this getaway was about my birthday and saying goodbye to Minnesota, it was a quiet celebration of us. It was easy, once we reached the lakewalk, to slip into some of our nostalgia. Last summer, the bay sparkled. We arrived at the golden hour, and the sun lay on top of the water like a silk. This year, the bay was stained red from iron and mud kicked up from weeks of torrential rain. Different a year later, but so are we.

We did what you do in Canal Park: Walk to the piers, walk the lift bridge, watch it rise for sailboats, walk the boardwalk until the crowds thin. We visited Vikre Distillery in the shadow of the lift bridge, and sampled gin, aquavit and whiskeys distilled in sight of the cocktail room. Later, we ate at Canal Park Brewing, a brewery with an excellent menu. Vikre was beautiful, the spirits an homage to passion and knowledge, and Canal Park Brewing Company is always a treat. (The food in Duluth trends heavy and American.)

We talked about everything. This next year will be big for us, but the way we talk about moving reminds me of what a friend once said about her pregnancy: it’s too big to talk about every day. Having hours without agenda let us roam. This is the beginning of something we can’t fully see. We agree that Maryland is temporary, but how temporary? And what comes after Maryland? We’ve each had thoughts about school or about my writing that excite me as much as they scare me. It’s the most fantastic learning curve to have a partner who actively supports the dreams that, six months ago, I didn’t think were worth pursuing.

As the afternoon stretched into evening, I grew quiet, so quiet Chris asked me if I was upset. Of course not, of course not. I process the world through words -- if I’m not talking, I’m writing -- but their volume can sometimes be an assault.

Admittedly, I barely understand how to be present in a moment, but I think it’s something like this. The experience of the evening -- cool air off the lake, and lapping water, and his hand in mine -- was too complete, too exquisite for more words. It was enough -- it was everything -- to just be in it. Happy, I told him, so happy.

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I wrote too much for anyone to read in one sitting. Part two coming soon.

packing a life into boxes

I've done it so many times I don't have a count anymore, but every time I pack my life into boxes, I'm flooded. Both with the amount of stuff I own, and, as I touch every item in my home, the emotional terrain each item comes with.

I'm not a pack-rat or a minimalist. I live for the feeling of clear cupboards and manageable drawers, but I'm hesitant to toss stuff that I've spent my money on, because will I kick myself in a month when I need to purchase a new fillintheblank? A cousin once told me that if he's considering discarding something he can replace for under $15, he lets it goo. But I also grew up watching my mom be meticulous about our possessions -- sometimes to the point she was discarding items we very much need in our daily life.

I don't have answers. Our relationship with our stuff is so complicated. It's fraught with our own layers of emotional complexity, but also with socio-economics and the politics of wealth inequality.

Our objects tie us to the multitudes of who we've been. I have a bookmark with a giraffe a mother cross-stitched for me when I was nine after I lent her daughter a piece of clothing at a summer camp, because I like being reminded of the first time I remember consciously choose to set aside my own anxieties for someone else's inclusion. Last summer, I filled trashed bags of clothing, because I didn't want my closet to remain a reminder of of all the ways I compromised my worth. My boyfriend and I are moving two full sets of Harry Potter books across the country (plus the beginnings of a third, illustrated set), because this story shaped our childhoods and adolescences in separate, but powerful ways. Do we need three copies of the Sorcerer's Stone in one house (especially when you consider I've read it so many times I can repeat the first page from memory)?

At the beginning of the year, I had a vision of white space. I wanted to clear room. Why, I wasn't sure, and for what, I didn't know. If I'm learning to have faith in anything, it's that we are receiving preparation for what comes next. I was creating space between the narratives that frame my life, and the desires those narratives found conflict with. I needed clarity to make the decision we made three months ago.

We're weeks away from the materialization of that "white space" I wanted. A cross-country move, and a place to live where we know no one except the HR departments who hired us. I said to a friend that this move feels less like an outright opportunity, and more like the opportunity for opportunities.

Six months ago, I cleared my home of anything that was unnecessary or reminded me of pain. Now that I'm packing what's left, the question has shifted "do you need this enough to haul it cross-country," and the answers aren't as clear. There's math I need to consider, how much does the trailer hold, what can we afford to replace, what must we just part with, but then the equations get messy. How do you fit what you need in a trailer, but first, how do you know what you need when you leave home for the first time? How much of you collection do you keep out of comfort? And how warm is that comfort, really? How do you carry all your history with you, and still keep space for new places to become a kind of home?

The question I'm really asking is how to I love the home I'm leaving and still leave room for something new to grow?

odds + ends: holiday weekend edition

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I had something else entirely written about the five day weekend I'm starting today, but my partner showed up as I was leaving work yesterday, and whisked me away to the North Shore.

The days are passing fast, and while I loathe the refrain of "I'm so busy," it comes to mind frequently. We're in single digits for weekends left in Minnesota (including this one). Three before traveling, then one before we leave with a trailer. Alongside all the work of moving (packing, sorting, donating, selling, measuring, etc.), I have an almost anxious desire to soak up as much of Minnesota as I can. I love my home. I love being from here, and as excited as I am to be leaving (for a while), I sometimes can't believe I actually will.

We'll be north today. Being here, in places that have grown sacred to me, I feel sensitive and humble. All this beauty, all this history, all these places my own ghosts haunt. There's so much more to say, but I'm not saturated to find the words. Already I've yelled for Chris to stop the car so I can walk the fields of lupine.

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I'm finishing researching our upcoming trip. I'll forever love my Lonely Planet guides, but I'm scouring travel blogs for the spots the guidebook missed (or, on the flip side, the guidebook hotspots that should be avoided). I love reading travelogues, but dislike prescriptive advice. Hand-Luggage Only is my go-to for quick lists + recs, followed up by A Lady in London for, as the name suggests, all things London. For food, I'm hounding friends to give up their favorite joints, and checking out everything French Foodie in Dublin + Canal Cook recommends. I'm whittling my list of literary haunts, because if it were up to me only, we'd spent all fifteen days chasing literature's ghost. I'm not researching New York with the same fervor, as that leg of the journey will be a different beast. We're visiting friends, and soon we'll be on the right coast to visit more often.

Chris laughs at me when I explain to him that I want our trip to feel like the freedom to play. Turn down that street, take a rest in that cafe, visit this bar or church or open gate. He knows how much I crave a plan, and how badly I manage change. Maybe a better way to say it is: I want to know everything while maintaining the freedom to do anything.

I'm slogging through Star of the Sea, which started promising, but is dragging on, while craving the slimness of short stories. Elsewhere, I'm reading career advice to alleviate the fears of leaving my first job, catching up on the newsletters I subscribe to (then fall behind on), and building an at-home yoga practice (because that studio life is expensive). An essay of mine was published to the Invisible Illness site, and I'm starting to feel the stirring of fresh creative life after finishing my novel. I'm scribbling down fragments of sentences and stories, hoping they'll become something.

Finally, because it's Independence Day, let's take a moment to feel patriotic. Last Saturday, demonstrators gathered in 700 different places to protest inhumane immigration practices. Ruth Bader Ginsburg's workout is intense (because fighting fascism takes work, y'all). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the face of hope this week, and midterms are coming soon.

can i tell you what i've been working on + why it scares the hell out of me?

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Last weekend, I wrote complained about the business of creativity in the age of the internet. All of the social media and the metrics and the followers and the numbers. Basically, all these indicators I didn’t care about, because what could a “follower count” have to do with the stories I write?Clearly, I’m behind the times, but, people, I didn’t get hip to Instagram until late 2016. My best friend in college was all over it right away, and I watched all the filtering and the sharing, but she was so much trendier than me. Leave that for the cool kids. Until last week, I didn’t know how many followers I had anywhere.

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In sixth grade, a classmate told me “nobody likes a try hard” after they saw the score at the top of the “descriptive essay” I wrote about my house at Christmas time. 98 out of 100, and my teacher docked those two points because I used the word “scintillating” to describe the lights on the tree. He said he didn’t know what the word meant. I needed a dictionary, why wouldn't you? This was year I was called “dictionary” instead of by my name, because classmates caught me with an OED during homeroom.

What does this have to do with promoting my writing? I’m not sure, but it’s what I think of every time I hit send on a new essay or post.

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I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I was four when I told my best friend that I wanted to “make books.” When I love something, I love it hard, and when I go after something, I go after it hard. I think I’m so hesitant to share, promote, beg for readers, because at some point I began to conflate earnestness and effort with something to be  ashamed of. Another mark against Torrie, the weird kid who read the dictionary, who keeps sharing even though can’t she take a hint, nobody cares.

I have Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls in my head: “[Least Complicated] is a song I wrote thinking about my little boyfriend Danny in 6th grade. He was so cute, and I went to Woolworth’s and I bought him a ring with my allowance. And as soon as I gave it to him, I knew it wasn’t the cool thing to do. And that was just the beginning of the rest of my life.”

--

This is the locked room I’ve been circling.

I know in the deepest parts of me what I want: To write. To have a readership for my writing. I want my writing to find life outside myself.

I spent this week getting fired up about the whole of the “writing life.” My strategy so far has been to hit send and see what happens next. I've gotten a few short stories out of this strategy, but that's about it.

So here’s where I am now. I’m working on upping my game, expanding my repertoire, building myself a brand new bag, if you know what I mean. I’m sharing this both as a request for support if you like what I write, and as an explanation if you’re feeling spammed.

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Learning: Above all else, I’m learning. The goal here is steady, practical education. While I love the accumulation of knowledge, I don’t (yet) enjoy the process of learning new skills or systems. I frustrate easily, and want to skip ahead to the part where I know what I’m doing.  Since I can’t do that, I’m trying to avoid my usual pattern of obsession + burn out.

I’ve downloaded half the Jenna Kutcher Goal Digger library, and am listening between episodes of The West Wing Weekly and My Favorite Murder(a woman can only hear the word “girlboss” so many times in a row). I’m reading Jane Friedman for the smart truth that it is, and have subscribed to Felicia Sullivan’s newsletter (though her wheelhouse is geared towards freelancers and brand/business strategists). I’m vetting a handful of other resources tailored to education I'm looking for. Other recommendations? Send them my way!

She Breathed Deeply: Did you know I changed the name of my blog last year? I’m upping how frequently I post. You know what I write about: what I’m reading, what I’m learning, how I’m growing or healing. This summer, you can expect some travel, lots about leaving home, lots about living in the DMV. Other perennial topics include mental health (anxiety + depression remain my specters), creative writing, the odds + ends of what’s capturing my attention. If you’re a frequent reader, let me know what you like and what you don’t like! I love feedback. I need feedback.  Seriously, give me feedback.

Medium: This is basically a different and more elegant form of blogging. I’ve read voraciously on Medium for several years, but have only published sporadically and without strategy. I’ll be sharing more essay-length pieces here, as well as some of my fiction. Check out one of my favorite essays I’ve ever published and follow along over there too.

Instagram: I’m going to be all over Instagram, and I’m going to be uncomfortable as hell about it. I’ve talked about followers, and while I understand the value ascribed to followers from a “platform” standpoint, I’m not looking to just jump my number.  I’m learning about the vibrant communities on Instagram, about how it can be a platform for connection. Follow for flowers, Ferris wheels, and the occasional photos of me.

Creative Writing: I have a few short story ideas I’m developing, but my biggest focus is still what comes next after I finishing the latest draft of my novel. I had several kind people ask to read my manuscript (gift upon gift, people), and those who finished had positive, constructive comments. The resounding response is don’t stop now.

I won’t lie, that’s pretty amazing to hear. I was ready for a “good effort,” and a polite suggestions that I throw the towel in. I want to hear from a few more people (offer still stands - you want to read 272 pages about a woman finding her way back home, I’ll send you the PDF) before I fully commit to a fifth draft, but I see that on my horizon.

Elsewhere, I’m focusing on the ideas I have for what I want to write about. Already, I’m finding myself granting “permission” to explore aspects of my writing I wouldn’t have pursued before. Why not write about what I’ve learned about money? Why not submit essays to suitable publications? Why not respond to requests for books reviewers, for help reading submissions? I’ve had so many rules -- fiction writer only, submit short stories only, stay inside your zone, why would anyone want to read that?

The great permission I’ve granted yet? The permission to stop asking these stupid questions.

Maybe nobody will want to read that. Maybe I am wasting my time on something that I’ll never receive traditional success for. Maybe I will stay outside the circle, and my metrics will stay low, and that will mean something for my writing career. Maybe, maybe but maybe not. Years ago, I listened to Cheryl Strayed interviewed about the success of Wild.

“There’s a long history, of women especially, saying ‘Well, I just got lucky.’ I didn’t just get lucky. I worked my fucking ass off. And then I got lucky. And if I hadn’t worked my ass off, I wouldn’t have gotten lucky. You have to do the work. You always have to do the work.”

I think about this a lot, because I know I can’t control the luck, but I never want to wonder what would have happened if I’d worked harder. So here’s me digging in the to the work. Want to give me feedback? I’d love to hear from you. Want to follow along? I’d love for you to join me.

what i'm reading lately

 Peonies + Bookstack

Peonies + Bookstack

Right now, this country is all jagged outrage and impotent heartbreak. I wrote about my bookshelf before yesterday's Supreme Court decision (although, obviously, after the waves and waves of coverage on detained asylum seekers, babies in cages, and outrageous government-sponsored human rights violations). Books can be escape in desperate times. I hope, instead, they're lightposts, wisdom to combat all this injustice and pain. -

There was a time when books were my safety. I read constantly, voraciously. Friends would joke: I can see from Goodreads that you've read four books in the time its taken me to read one. Do you do anything else? I brought books to parties, because knowing I had one near was enough to stem the anxiety that crowds created for me. I referred my bookshelves, in unguarded and un-ironic moments, as my oldest friends.

In college, I made my roommate wait while I ran back into our apartment. When she saw me tucking a novel into my bag, and she laughed. We're running errands. What do you need a book for? What if something happens, I tried to explain, and I have time to kill?

So you're saying that we get into a car accident. I'm so badly hurt I can't carry a conversation, and you're going to whip out a book while you wait for an ambulance?

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Last year, my reading lifeshifted, and it's taken me the year to acclimate. When I stopped needing books to smother my pain, I stopped reading. I wasn't the walking wounded anymore; I didn't need the band-aids.

It's been a joyful process to rediscover one of my earliest loves. It's led to a deeper relationship and, antithetically, less attached relationship with the texts. It's not an anesthesia, so I'm present for language and wisdom and plot development in ways I wasn't. I've been rereading books to savor them in new and cleaner ways. I'm purging my shelves of what I don't like, expanding my diet to explore what I do, getting more life of everything I read.

In other words, I've found my groove again.

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Under the Tuscan SunBella Tuscany, Frances Mayes: I didn't read these books when they were released a decade ago, didn't see the movie, wasn't old enough to get tired of the Tuscany-as-lifestyle frenzy they created. My mother passed them to me in a stack she was discarding, and I grabbed the first before a work trip I wanted some "light" reading for. Mayes is a fantastic writer. A poet, she operates at the level of the sentence, and I get why these books (the first, in particular) sent the world into paroxysms of Tuscan-fever. Everything is beautiful underneath her pen.

But beneath the language, and all the talk of wines and linens and the cucinia povera and the Etruscan walls (as an aside: I found this all fascinating, even if it was extraneous and vaguely pretension), I found in these memoirs a meditation on home, and who we are when we locate ourselves elsewhere. I'm moving this summer, and Mayes did for me what I ask literature to do: Her memoirs provided shape and language for the hopes I have for our move, for the dreams, the anxieties, the questions, the reasons.

The Good Mother, Sue Miller: Like the Mayes memoirs, The Good Mother is decades old, scavenged during one of my $0.50 per title book bin benders. This novel about a woman who became awake: After a dispassionate marriage, Anna Dunlap begins to lay a new foundation upon which to build a life for herself and her daughter, only to have this new life thrown into chaos by a decision made by her lover. The central crisis of this novel isn't as nuanced as Miller likely meant it to be (although I'm speaking from a vantage point of thirty years), but the intensity of character's experience is. Miller writes  a traditionally "female" story without any of the traditional sentimentality. Motherhood brings deep, radical love, but also compromise and limits. Romance is obsessive and consuming, but there's no prince charming who will save a woman's life. Familial ties are complicated. Love, in all its forms, is complicated. It's a story that embraces, but doesn't try to smooth, the rough corners of our experiences.

Vida, Patricia Engel: This is best book I've read this year. Engel is a sharp, beautiful writer who knows how to make language detonate. I read this very short collection of interconnected stories (140-ish pages) during an April snowstorm that left me snowed in. There's nothing Engel won't touch, and nothing she can't make both beautiful and broken: prostitution, domestic abuse, death, immigration, heartbreak, girls who feel out of place, boyfriends who let you down. I read this book months ago, and still haven't gotten over it.

This spring, I also reread Felicia Sullivan's superb Follow Me into the Dark, Cheryl Strayed's gorgeous memoir, Wild, and slogged through a few so-so titles that immediately wound up in the give away pile.

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Currently, I'm reading Star of the Sea, Joseph O'Connor + The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison. The first, a novel I've had on my shelf for years, is one of my pre-move "read now or toss" books. I will haul the books I love across oceans without regret, but I really don't want to get out to DC with boxes of books I'm going to disappointed in when I finally read them. So far (as in 50 pages in), Star of the Sea, historical fiction about a passenger ship crossing from Ireland to New York, is better than I expected.

The second, I'm reading slowly. Do you ever "save" the books you're most excited for? I've wanted to read The Empathy Exams since it was released, but even though it's been on my shelf for a year, I was hesitant to start it. When I buy a book, I put it on my shelf and wait for months, maybe years, for the "right time" to read it. I'm not sure if this is a sweet piece of my character (the anticipation builds my love) or another way I reinforce the beliefs that I don't deserve to have I want. Either way, I'm finally reading Jamison's essays, and they're as gorgeous as I expected. I'm savoring each essay, one at a time.

Other books on my "to be read: special moving edition" pile: Joyland, Stephen KingIn the Country We Loved, Diana Guerrero, The Wonder Spot, Melissa Bank, A Box of Matches, Nicholson Baker.

What are you reading? What should I be reading?

thoughts on the business of creativity

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Do you ever become obsessed with productivity? The need to keep vaulting forward? Believe me when I tell you that, as I write this an hour after waking, and already I've felt myself pitching into the anxiety of industry.I tried to explain this to my partner: I feel like I’m fragmenting. My brain is this hive, a colony of operations, except I’m the only bee inside and can’t visit every chamber. There’s the business of leaving: the leases and the jobs and the moving boxes and what you do with all the stuff you own when half of it you love and half of it you hate, but it all seems to necessary. But then there’s all the stuff that has nothing to do with moving, and everything to do with just living.

How do you make enough money to earn the freedom of unencumbered hours to create? If, by some miracle of economy and privilege, you have that freedom, how do you cut away the noise of the world to let ideas populate your wilderness? If by all the miracles of economy and privilege and focus, you actually create something, how do you get anyone else’s attention?

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I sound like I’m complaining that “no one” reads me writing, but really, I’m not. More people read my writing than I can even imagine. After I wrote about finishing my novel, several people emailed asking for the PDF. What a gift that was. Doubly, triply so when those miraculous readers wrote me to say they saw the kind of beauty in my story I’ve worked so hard to create.

No, it’s all the business of creativity. The social media presence and the digital analytics and the “cultivating community” (versus the actual, valuable process of finding people who are as excited about the same things as you). We’re inundated constantly with all these stories about people who “hustled” their way into their careers, who built brands and followings and presences and parlayed them into other opportunities. I want to write, and I’m not saying I should be be able to do this without any work (because I’m shouldn't), but I’m saying what does my Instagram following having to do with the stories I write about broken people? And if one means something to the other, how do I marry those bright squares with the emotional excavations of my fiction.

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I’m creatively restless in the blank spaces that finishing my novel opened, and I’m uncomfortable and confused by the landscape of digital creativity. (What even does that mean? Again, I write. Does that make me a digital creative? Does simply being creative in 2018 mean you are, automatically, a digital creative?)

Yesterday, I sat in a garden for two hours, and finally left, because I couldn’t still my mind. These two trajectories, moving away and building my writing, are linked, because I’m looking at this move as an opportunity to refocus my time and energy. My brain is a to do list a mile long, and it’s an internet browser left open on too many tabs. 

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I’ve questions I want answered and stories I want told. How do I drill down past all the extra stuff to think as deeply as you need to write? And then how do I pop back above the surface, and make space for myself in the already crowded room?

did you hear the news?

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We're moving! This August, to the East Coast. Get ready, people. Get excited.

After we made the decision to move, I kept asking my boyfriend "are we really doing this?" Even though we were doing all the things you do when you leave (told our parents, told our bosses, signed contracts, applied for housing, etc.), it didn't feel real. How could it? We said we'd do this one big thing, and now we're just doing it?

This will be the first time that either of us move away (away, away, not just to the next zip code) from our homes. I know people move away all the time, but for us, this is the ball game.

We spent last week in the area to which we'll be moving. Even though we were there for work and at least thirty miles north of the community we'll be moving to, just being in the same region felt surreal. We descended, and I kept saying "this will be the airport we'll fly in and out of when we live here." We walked outside: "This is what the trees will smell like when live here." We grew sticky in the heat: "This is what the air will feel like when we live here." Minnesota is my home is such profound and deeply rooted ways that I can barely, barely imagine what it'll be like to live anywhere else. I looked up at the blue sky, and again: "This is what the sky will look like when I live here."

Already, I'm enamored with magnolia leaves. They're thick and glossy, and stand at attention in ways I didn't expect from tree leaves. Already, I'm intrigued by the history, so much military, so much politics. Our federal/political past has always interested me less than our socio-cultural past. Already, I'm mapping transit stations, because so much is going to be a train ride away. The whole east coast, it seems, will be just a train ride away.

Seeing our soon-to-be state, doing the cross-country move housekeeping, playing tourist in our new backyard. It made it seem - not more real, because it'll take months to shake the not-in-Minnesota surrealism - but more tangible. This is really going to happen. This is what I was feeling this January, when I said I wanted room. Space, space, more blank space. For what, I didn't know them.

For this, I guess. For all this.

how to have the best summer

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"I suspect that the way I feel now, at summer’s end, is about how I’ll feel at the end of my life, assuming I have time and mind enough to reflect: bewildered by how unexpectedly everything turned out, regretful about all the things I didn’t get around to, clutching the handful of friends and funny stories I’ve amassed, and wondering where it all went. And I’ll probably still be evading the same truth I’m evading now: that the life I ended up with, much as I complain about it, was pretty much the one I chose. And my dissatisfactions with it are really with my own character, with my hesitation and timidity."- Tim Kreider, The Summer that Never Was

Last summer was one of those golden summers that nobody ever actually has. Without contest, it was the best and the fullest of my adult life. (I’d say of my whole life, but there was a summer, when me, my mom, and my brother spent seven weeks lakeside, and the sun turned me blonde).

When I was fifteen, I was on the phone with a friend the week before Labor Day. Already, the days were shortening, and the dew forming on the grass made my feet cold. I sat on the steps of my deck, as far as our cordless phone’s signal could reach, and we talked about how summer never is what it’s supposed to be. Nine months later, when school let out and summer started again, this same friend made a list of all the things we were going to do that summer. I can still see the list, but I don’t think we ever crossed a item off it.

By some karmic jackpot, my summer last year was that summer I always hoped I’d have at least once. Each day came to me like magic. I went to baseball games on weekday afternoons. I spent blissed out weeks on a porch, watching the sun set over the rooftops, too hot to do anything but listen to The Weeknd and drink wine. One Saturday, I woke up so early that I met the woman I was living with coming home from her night shift. She had a drink, I had coffee. That day, I drove south, and we saw the sun split itself into a thousand beans as it passed the horizon line, and then that night, I stayed out until two, and ran home in the rain.

I stayed out past midnight again, and again, and again. I walked home under the stars after spending hours with people I’d just met. I spent so much time getting to know strangers, because I was losing friends that mattered to me, and I didn’t know how to recover the pieces. Deep into July, I laid under the sun, and listened to elementary schoolmates, now grown, play basketball. I was shattered, in that warm grass, to think about how often all my friends have been new friends, and how very, very rarely they’ve become old ones.

I turned twenty-five, and spent the night before my birthday, a Saturday night, alone in an apartment cluttered with moving boxes, feeling too young to be this lonely and too old to care about the next day. I lost twenty pounds from stress. I walked hand in hand along the shore of Lake Superior, and remembered that our constants can take many forms.

After two strong margaritas, I watched Fourth of July fireworks set off over a baseball diamond. Their exploding light against the navy sky was so violent and beautiful that I cried. Again, and again, and again, I lifted out of body, and wondered what it was I did to get to access so much joy. I went to Italy. Swam in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Cried in the Basilica of Santa Maria. Threw a coin into the Trevi fountain, because the first time I did it, my wish came true. When I got home, I slept for three hours, and woke up and went to a nightclub. Last summer, I fell in love.

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This summer will be, for every reason there is, different from last. I’m fighting my natural tendency to believe that different will mean worse. Last summer was bottled lightning. It was wild in its intensity, and shocking how much life I experienced during that short season. It was wild in the way it all surprised me.

For important reasons, this summer is calculated. I’ve done something I’ve rarely done as an adult, and made a list of all the things I want to do. I’m plotting out weeks (and more importantly, weekends) to maximize time. I’m building calendars based on priorities. Sometimes, this is what you have to do. Time is sometimes an ocean and sometimes a math equation. Yesterday, my boyfriend said to “we won’t be in town for a single Thursday Saint’s home game.” No dollar beer night this summer.

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I think about how yoga teaches us to find space within our bodies. This summer feels a little bit like that, learning how to find space, to be at peace, to do all it is we want -- and need -- to do.

I supposed this is all my way of saying: here's to a new season. One of the hardest thing I've had to confront is how I assume scarcity in the face of abundance. Last summer, we never ran out of time, out of sun, out of day, out of wonder. This summer won't be like that. Already, the days feel finite. But why does that have to make them any less precious?

i finished my novel*

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*Draft four. Saying "I finished draft four" doesn't make a snappy title. People! I finished the fourth draft draft of my novel!

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I didn’t think I’d ever do this. I wrote the first real draft (I’ve been kicking around these characters + this story for over a decade) my senior year of college. I hammered out pages upon pages during lectures, and when I was studying, I’d make deals with myself: “Finish reading this article, and you can write for twenty minutes.” “Finish this section of your thesis, and you can write for the rest of the night.” When I finished that first draft, I was surprised to find myself at the end. I’d been following the rope so blindly that I hadn't stopped to ask myself what it was I creating. Then, all of a sudden, there it was, the end of the rope. I’d run out of story.

It was a brutally cold Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I was the only person on the street when I walked to the nearest copy to print and bind my novel. I took a blue pen to my novel as soon as I got home. After a harrowing second and third draft that made me wonder if I even wanted to write, I made a big deal about putting this story aside to pursue other projects. Then I ran back to it for a week, because I felt like I'd failed my characters. Then I put it back on the shelf. Then I wrote 60 pages of something new in two months, and let it languish for three. I berated myself for not being able to make up my mind. I told myself that I had one month, and if I could pound out 20,000 words of draft four in that time, I could return to draft four. I spit out 30,000. Then I filled two steno pads with a new story so dark I had to quit writing it so I could stop dreaming about drowned children being pulled out of lakes. Then I knocked on the door again to see if my characters, my friends, would still visit me. This went on for years.

In March of this year, I wrote myself a note and put it on my bulletin board. You just need to bring Ana home. I gave myself a deadline: April 30. I blew it off, and gave myself another one: May 31. It stuck.

On May 28: 92,518 words.

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This book has been the boyfriend I can’t quit, but it’s also been a lifeline to some of my darkest days. I was fourteen when my main character, Ana, came to me, flawed and broken and tired of running from herself. It took me until I was twenty-four to realize that I was writing my way through my own redemption.

I'm at odds with what I do next. Part of the reason I put this novel aside so many times is because I've genuinely wondered if I should look at this novel as my teacher, but use it as a springboard to create something new. Something, possibly, publishable. Not everything I write needs or deserves to see the light of day. But what I can't figure out is whether that's the case for this novel. I love my characters, and I think I've written a moving story about family, redemption, and loss. I also think I've written an overly complicated timeline that veers towards sentimentality, and maybe doesn't give my female character the autonomy she deserves. I just don't know.

I have a few people reading it right now, and I've asked (read: begged) them to give me an up or down vote on whether or not I work to get this story submission ready. I'm comfortable with the idea that no one beyond my family and close friends will read this novel, but I'm haunted at the prospect of making that decision.

(As an aside,  hmu if you want to dive 292 pages deep into my brain and are willing to be more honest than mom/dad/boyfriend).

For all the "what's next" questions, I frankly don't really care about the quality of the work right now. It's enough that I wrote it. This scared, lonely woman came to me when I was fourteen and mourning the loss of a family home, and she stuck with me long enough to become a real person. I followed the rope she threw me through the dark. I followed it a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time, and for the first time, it feels like a real novel.

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Last night, my boyfriend drove me through Wisconsin's rolling fields. He didn't realize this, but he took me to the land upon which I build my novel. We listened to Jason Isbell, the artist I leaned most heavily on for inspiration. He told me again, and again that he was proud, and I wondered if I was too. I spent this past week feeling proud, yes, and relieved, but also unmoored. I finished, but what I did I finish? I FINISHED, but have I? I finished, but what do I do now?

It seems symbolic, and almost providential that I finished now, as my partner and I stand on the cusp of our next act. This novel is so much a novel of Minnesota, of where I've been and what I've anchored myself to. I used this story, first, as a way to mourn the loss of a home that had been in my family for years, but as I continued to write, I used it to mourn -- and then reclaim -- the parts of myself I thought I'd lost. Years ago, I wrote " a woman does not let herself remain a broken thing," and then I made that same promise to myself.

It's a victory, people, even if I don't yet know what kind. I finished something big. finished it. Not gave up on it, not quit on it, not tried to forget about it. I stuck with my people, and they stuck with me, and if writing has taught me one thing it's that there's beauty in the attempt.

you learn to survive, then you learn to come back alive

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I started my adolescence with all this fire and verve. All these goals and plans and dreams, and oh my god, I laughed at adults who told me "I hope you make it."

Hope? I would.

I memorized New York City street maps, because someday, I'd leave Minnesota. I told adults who asked me if I wanted to be a mother that I only wanted to "after I was old and done living," because I was too greedy for the world to imagine tethering myself. I installed a computer with only one working program (a word processor) and typed 250 pages about a girl who wanted to lead. I carried notebooks with me, and asked for books on writing for my thirteenth birthday. I registered for classes that I was technically too young for, and just didn't tell anyone my age (until my classmates asked me join them for a post-class drink, and I had to say catch you in five years). I was going to be a writer someday. I knew this is how I'd get there.

I've written so much about thes omething that happened. Depression and anxiety caught up with me, and carved me from the inside out. Even after I got the help you get (meds, talk therapy, coping mechanisms, etc.), I wasn't quite unstuck. Like silt in a river, I drifted and settled beneath the current. I stayed like this for years.

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Movies and memoirs tell us there's one big moment for us to change ourselves, but I have a theory that we'll all do this many times over the course of our lives. Rise from a waking sleep, and realize that this life is partially, if not wholly, our own.

I spoke with a woman who is reaching the end of her career, and still preparing for her next act. She told me that she's never regretted her choice to pursue what she was passionate about, not even when the money didn't follow, not even when the dream jobs became untenable. When I told her I was still trying to figure out how I will pursue, she said, "If I could give you two pieces of advice, you need enough drive to understand your passion and how to follow it. And don't ever, ever, ever delay your goals for a man."

Elsewhere, I read an essay by a brilliant writer I admire, "I used to be a woman who did things. I was a doer, a maker, a builder." I read that, and remembered the younger version of myself who assumed, at twenty five, that that's who I'd be by now.

This isn't about regret (although, to sing Sinatra, I've had a few) or some misplaced "I thought I'd have done x, y, and z by twenty-five" (we're not expected to deliver in our first act), but rather about what happens when you start to feel the weight of time slowly building.

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When I was a teenager, my favorite song was Bruce Springsteen's "The River." A beautiful, and terrifying song. I rolled one lyric over and over, trying to make sense of it. "Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse." He's said that this album was his first attempt to hold both life and death in the palm of one hand. When you listened to this album at fourteen, you can't understand all that pain. I held that line so close to me, because even though I knew (they way you only can when you're fourteen, sixteen, eighteen) I'd never lose sight of my dreams, it haunted me.

About eighteen months ago, I laughed out loud when someone asked me what my dreams were. We're really still asking those questions like they matter? We haven't all given up and given in to the grind? Then someone else asked me the same question, a guy in a bar who I'll never see again, and I felt the way you feel when you drink champagne on an empty stomach -- all fizz and light and warmth in your fingers and your cheeks. Now, my boyfriend and I talk about dreams like they're worth holding on to. He talks about mine like they're worth fight for, and what's even crazier to me, is I'm starting to believe it again.

I've been coming out of the fog for well over a year now. Survival is only one part of recovery. Reclaiming hope, reclaiming possibility, reclaiming not just the ability to, but the courage to dream, reclaiming my right to want something out of my life. That's what comes after learning how to survive.

It's like driving through the night. The earth starts to roll towards the sun again, and there, where there was only black, is the horizon. All clean and endless and there again.

new york city, dublin, london: tell me everything

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We are traveling this summer! We're going to New York City! We're going to Dublin! We're going to London! Then we're going back to Dublin! My boyfriend and I booked tickets a few months ago, but it's taken the snow melting from the sidewalks (this week) for me to get we're-going-to-be-in-Europe excited. I love guidebooks, and already have ones for all three cities (evidence above), but I want to hear from people who have been there. Where do we go? What do we do? What restaurants do we need to try? What museums do I need to visit? What bookshops do I need to see? What bookshops do I NEED to see?

Each of these cities have been jewels on my tongue for years. I visited New York when I was a teenager, but the other two will be all new. I'm all the things you are when you travel: excited and anxious and ready to be wowed and hopeful that it will bring with it clarity/creativity/wonder/an awakening. Mostly, though, I'm kind of in awe that I booked these tickets, and kind of in awe that in just a few months I'll be standing on foreign soil, walking on streets whose names I've memorized from maps and books. In the weeks after booking the tickets, I kept turning to my boyfriend and shouting "We're going to Dublin!"

It's still a few months out. For now, though, I need you to tell me everything good. Heavy emphasis on books, food/drink, weird crime stuff, and anything not included in my guidebook.

questions that don’t need answers: on the what’s next of it all

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"Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onward to whatever crazy beauty awaits. You don't have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don't have to justify your education by its financial rewards. You don't have to maintain an impeccable credit score. You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you've got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that's all." -- Cheryl Strayed, Tint Beautiful Things

Back in 2011, when I was a college kid losing myself in the black vortex of untreated mental illness, I told everyone who would listen what I was struggling with. Anxiety, depression, daily panic attacks, Zoloft to treat it. I had known so few people to have mental health conditions, and the few people of with conditions, I only knew about through backroom whispers. It was foolish of me, but I thought what I was going through was so unique. No one else I knew was frightened by meeting friends for a movie! No one else I knew had their chest go tight and their vision blurry and their stomach sour three, four times a day! No one was irritable like I was, sad like I was, unnamably hopeless like I was.

Of course, that wasn’t true, but I didn’t know people who had - or at least who talked about having - any mental health conditions. There were some backroom whispers about tiny pills swallowed daily, but nothing or no one that said to me ‘mental illness is real, is common, is treatable.’ As the number of people who told me “I experienced the same thing” mounted, I wanted to shout why didn’t anyone tell me?

Why didn’t anyone tell me that this blackness has already been charted?

After writing last week about my depression, I was overwhelmed and grateful, as I always, always am, at the number of people who reached out to say that they got it. My god, people, life gets so lovely when we all stop hiding what’s supposed to make us lonely.

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I’m also really happy to report that this week was better than last. After historic snowfall over the weekend, winter seems to finally be breaking. The sun has shined every day, and I finally ditched my down jacket. I read a sharp, intimate, breathtaking book, wrote two short stories back to back in a voice I barely recognize, and got really excited about bullet journaling. Then, on the one low day of the week, when I raged about stress and cried at the DMV, my sweet, sweet boyfriend reminded me that it’s okay to not always be okay. Like they say, a day at a time.

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These last twelve months have been momentous and beautiful, and have given me the opportunity to, above all else, ask myself, to pull from Mary Oliver, what it is I want from this one wild and precious life.

I’m twenty five, and this seems like a good age to ask big questions. Or maybe every age is as good as any other, and I am ready now. What do I want out of life? Not just out of my days, but the whole grand sweep of it. What do I want it to have been when it comes to an end? How do I give my heart to someone, and what do I do when they give me theirs? What is purpose, and how do I find mine? What’s a career path, and how I build mine? How do I tend my roots without sacrificing my growth? What does desert feel like when you life in?

What comes next, and how do you decide when next comes? How do we even make that decision? Or do we just wait until there’s not decision left to make?

I think, again of that question Elizabeth Gilbert asks: who are you going to blame your life on today? Who get to be in charge of me today? And when will I learn to give myself permission to let that person be me?

Even when I can provide an answer, they only breed more questions. Like fruit I’m plucking from a tree, new ones ripen every day.

I know a few things for certain. That I must write. That I must love someone deeply and let them love me deeply too.

For a long time, I was a girl with no windows. No way for the light to get in. Then I torched my tiny room, and watched it burn. Unanswered questions thrill me. I’m young, and I’m curious, and I’m just the right amount of broke to be neither optionless nor tethered. It's a miracle. That's what I keep thinking: it's a goddamn miracle to be here.

So what do you do? How do you build a wild, curious, thoughtful life? How do you love yourself and love your loved ones and love this world well? How do you keep these questions from becoming boxes that require answers, and allow them to be a journey in themselves?