taking risks + saying yes: thoughts after a first season in maryland

I don’t mind sharing the hard or ugly parts of life—life gets hard and ugly; let’s talk about it. It’s the middles that trip me up. The space between the unknown and the understanding. I stop writing in this space (as I have these past few weeks) when the questions start to pile up.

We’ve been in Maryland three months now. A whole season. Thursday, it snowed, and I was reminded that there will remain all this space between what’s familiar and what’s not.

When we first moved, I thought about all the roads. My sense of direction is a joke, but I’ve always said I know where I am, I just don’t know how to get to where I need to go. I got here, and I didn’t know where I was anymore. All my history lived somewhere else.

The word I kept using was dislocation. I was dislocated.

Three months in, and we’ve located ourselves here in Southern Maryland. We’ve jobs in local schools that are enjoyable and entertaining (guys, you thought high school was a trip when you were in high school? Return as an adult.), and our weeks have developed their cadence. I write in the morning, we work. In the evening, we swap hallway stories, and on the weekends, we daytrip to museums and national parks and villages established during the Revolutionary War. We’ve even had visitors all the way from Minnesota.

We’ve established our routine, and like they say, ideas bloom within boundaries. Now that my time and energy isn’t subsumed by the details understanding our new geography, I’ve the freedom to explore what this move means for us on a broader scale. A writer I admire wrote about how moving brings the quiet. Remove yourself from the noise of all your former lives, and you’re forced to face yourself.

Remember all those questions you told yourself you’d someday answer? They’re starting to pile up.

It’s interesting to track what’s blossomed while being out here. Career, it turns out, has been one of my greatest preoccupations. What is I want to do with my life? And what do I want to get paid for? How do I measure success if it’s not via a career path? And how do I measure success if I’m not receiving it down other avenues either?

I knew it would be strange and possibly uncomfortable to make a cross country move without attaching it to a career objective, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on work to provide me with a sense of worth or accomplishment until I left it. Turns out, salary and benefits really can be an anesthesia against the bigger pictures you thought you’d one day paint.

I left a job in Minnesota that I’d loved, and traded it in for a position that I didn’t need my college degree to qualify for. My job out here is easy. It’s what I make of it, and while some days are harder than others, I generally get good stories and warm fuzzies, and after 6.5 hours, I leave. Nobody sends me emails, and you know what that means? It means I got exactly what I wanted: the ability to focus my energy elsewhere.

Basically, I’ve removed my own ability to say no to new ideas. My work doesn’t provide me enough satisfaction or occupy enough time to protect me from desires and passions, and the twin excuses of too hard and too scared don’t wear as well out here, because what else do I have to do out here? It’s what have I got to lose, but on steroids, because while the worst possible outcome is still only failure, it’s failure achieved 1,100 miles away from everyone who I’d be embarrassed to fail in front of.

Did you know that I sew felt and sequin Christmas decorations? I’ve been doing it for several years now, making tree skirts for family and friends, updating our stockings, playing with embroidery and beadwork. Remember that old McCall’s pattern for felt and sequin stockings, with the reindeer or Santa applique? That’s what I make, but hopefully a little prettier, a little less tacky, a little more timeless.

I’ve opened an Etsy shop and started an Instagram page, because why not? I love sewing these stockings and tree skirts and ornaments, and I’ve taken enough custom orders to make me think strangers on the internet may love what I make too. So far, I’ve made no sales, but honestly, I’ve been thinking about doing this for four years. Trying is better than wondering.

It’s all about the great cosmic why and why not. Why are we here? And if we have to ask that question, why not shoot our precious shots? It’s uncomfortable, to be honest, to reduce these questions to their parts and ask them of ourselves, but there’s not much else for me to do right now. I miss Minnesota like all hell, but I’m not ready, not nearly ready, to throw in the towel and come home. I love my job, but I’m not sure how to make a career out of a position that doesn’t require of me my diploma or hard won experience (though they do earn me an additional $10k a year). I know that writing is at the very center of my purpose here on earth, but how do I turn it into more than a hobby, and how do I stay in love with it if I never derive measurable or recognizable success?

These aren’t Maryland questions. If I’d stayed in Minnesota longer, I would have had to face them there too. They’re driftless question, twenty-six year old questions, transition questions. Questions that don’t necessarily need answering, but absolutely need attending.

They’re the work questions, the toolshed for the work we do to keep up with our becomings.

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.

"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?

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.

-

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.

-

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?

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.

-

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.

-

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.

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.

-

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.

-

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?

everything you’ve been feeling? yeah, that’s depression

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Late last week, after an episode of television left me unreasonably shattered, I remembered: This is what depression feels like. (How did I forget?)I’ve experienced three major depressive episodes in my life. Darknesses so unnavigable I thought I’d never be a whole person again. But depression doesn’t usually come for me like this. It’s more likely to come in mild, stubborn waves. Instead of night that won’t end, it’s like clouds that refuse to part.

When I’m back under the clouds, I can’t understand how I ever forget that this is what depression feels like, but I always do. Maybe it’s a stubborn leftover from childhood, that hope that, once they come, sunny days will never leave.

But as steady as the sun comes, so do the clouds, and all my hallmarks signs of depression are back -- and have been for several weeks. Brain fog, poor concentration, fast tears, a blue undertone, worries that seem unsolvable, a general sense that it’s all too much to bear.

It’s taken me three days to write these measly 800 or so words, because my brain feels both empty and waterlogged. This too reminds me I’m depressed. Accessinglanguageis usuallythemostnaturalthingI do. Maybe that’s why depression (even more so than anxiety) feels frightening -- it cuts me off from the very act that heals me.

--

I like growing up, though, because I’m getting better at my life. Right now, I’m getting better at accepting that I can’t “fix” my way out of depression. Exercise or yoga or meditation or reading a good book -- all these things help soothe me, but they’re not “cures” for depression, despite what the internet tells you. All I can do when I’m here is hang on. To myself and to the resources I have, and I wait for the days to get better. (And they always, always have).

This is a mild and functional depression, and some days are easier than others. Some days are even easy. Tuesday was an easy day -- cheerful, productive, bright. I fell asleep at ease. Wednesday was not, though. My brain was a wide blank desert, and every time I tried to dial in to my work, my blankness intimidated me and left me in tears. I wanted to crawl back to bed, and hide from the light.

--

I’ve been on hiatus from my blog, because work and life crowded out the time I usually set aside to write, and I didn’t do a good job of creating time elsewhere. I once listened to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she said that when she wakes up in a bad mood, she asks herself: “Who are you going to blame your life no today? I was quiet here for several months last year, and returned in the fall to kickstart my creativity and retrain my writing muscle. Another month and a half of radio silence is good proof that I derail my own goals better than anyone else can.

Although, I hate the language of goals. Especially when I’m in my depression, I’m reminded that our resources are limited, and sometimes, you just can’t do everything you want to. Self discipline and commitment and “crushing it” all have their place in forward motion, but “no excuses” and “hustle harder” is just so antithetical how life actually rolls. I want to finish a draft of my novel by April 30. I told myself I’d write six days a week to do that. Last week, I opened my notes every day, and didn’t write a single word.

All that being said, I want to get back into a regular habit of writing here once a week. I like the space it gives me to think, and I like the small platform it gives me to connect with the people who share in my struggles and triumphs and questions and curiosities. That, more than anything else, heals me.

---

Reading Lately: The Woman in Cabin 10 + What Alice Forgot. After eschewing the novel in favor of essays for a year or so, I’m back to my roots. These last two novels I read are both highly marketed, highly marketable “commercial novels,” and while I dislike the snobbery of “literary fiction,” I see the difference when I read novels like these. These two novels are page turners/page burners. I’m not keeping either now that I’ve finished (I keep only books I really love and plan to return to), but losing myself in their stories reminded me of why I love books.

Watching Lately: Big Little Lies + Criminal Minds. I’ve been rewatching Big Little Lies (but only while I workout, because #motivation), and this show is so nuanced and complex. My boyfriend and I are also deep into Criminal Minds. We play this fun game during the credits where I shout out all the mug shots I recognize, and he buries his head underneath the couch cushions. (I didn’t say who it was fun for…). As much as I joke about loving creepy crime stuff, there’s something particularly fascinating about the gender dynamics at play in the true crime world. Women know -- and we have this knowledge reinforced daily -- that we are vulnerable to crime in ways that men are not. Our bodies and our lives only remain our own insofar as we are aware of how quickly they can be taken from us. Again, with the jokes, but I think women feel a little bit better when we know all the different ways we could be killed.

Working on Lately: Being kinder to myself. I’m not talking self-care or “treat yo self,” but rather about the way I talk to myself. I shared on Instagram this week the negative comments I made to myself about my appearance. I try to approach the world with grace and care, but when I think about how I approach myself, it’s all sharp edges and hard lines. Of course you’re lazy. Of course you’re not pretty enough. Of course you don’t deserve that. It’s exhausting to live under such a barrage, and yet I choose to do it to myself! Why? I’m the one that gets to decide how I treat myself. Why do I choose to be so mean?

thoughts on abundance versus reduction + what we create space for

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I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about reduction over the last few months. Reducing my spending, reducing my possessions, reducing my stress, reducing my clutter, (I want to say reducing my waistline too, but I’m working on self-compassion over here). The cleanness of January--new year, fewer plans, clear, winter light--makes me want to cut down, cut back.

On Monday, I lay awake in bed thinking about writing. I’m reading Karl Ove Knausgaard, and thus far, he hasn’t written much about his writing, but the act of writing is a constant specter in the books. The joy of language (“These two places alone, which I could not believe I had written...are two of the best moments in my life. By which I mean by whole life.”), the industry of publishing, the slog of working on it, the anxiety of not writing at all.

I’ve written very little this past year. I did publish short story in a small journal in June (cue the trumpets!), and have written reflectively both in my journal and in this space, but as far as creating, pulling new stories out of the nascent fog, shaping those narratives into something readable, something publishable--I’ve only “done” three longhand pages of that kind of writing in the past seven months. Despite having written so little, I still feel writing on me the way I always have. I still shutter beautiful moments, listen for cadence as people speak, note the phrases strangers use as they cross me on the sidewalk. On Monday, I thought about how hard it is to create something new (even if it’s just for yourself), and then I remembered that I’ve done this again and again and again. Creating is hard, but it’s also as natural as breathing.

What will occupy the space I’m creating with all my reducing?

I wrote about this feeling last week: That I want 2018 to be an abundant year. It strikes me, lover of words that I am, that the two words that have been rising to the surface now are at odds with one another. Abundance and reduction.

But then I think about the two areas of my life where excesses can be most visible: my spending habits and my book collection. I’ve been diligent these past weeks at tracking my spending, and weighing my purchases, and while I’ve said no to what I haven’t needed, I’ve genuinely enjoyed spending each dollar I’ve spent this month. A Saturday night with friends, a haul of fresh, adventurous foods we turned into meals on a long, snowy weekend, sipping the “world’s best chai latte” in a warm parlor on a cold, cold night. Cutting back to make room for more.

Same goes with my book collection. Reading My Struggle, which is so compelling and wise and asks questions of me that I haven’t know to ask, has me thinking, yet again, about which books I keep and which I pass along. I have a tremendous amount of books, many of which I haven’t read yet, and while you wouldn’t guess it looking at my four full bookcases, I edit my collection frequently. I won’t keep a book unless I loved it, or unless it taught me something. The six volumes of My Struggle are the kind of books I will gladly haul with me from apartment to apartment, and from city to city. Books with this much life make me want to cut back on the volumes where the magic has dulled.

As is so often the case in my life (in all our lives?), I feel like I’m holding disparate things in one hand, and wondering what will be done with them. I want to write, but I don’t trust my words yet, or my ability to work with them. I want to foster abundance in my life, but right now, I’m taken with reduction. What is going to fill up all this space I’m creating?

I’m considering dedicating a month to a daily habit to try to create some forward motion for myself. Journaling, maybe, or mediating. I’m always interested in what happens when we commit ourselves to one thing. How can that one thing crack open the ten thousand?

I have all this joy right now, but also all this anticipation. The new year is arbitrary, I know, but the hope I have for it isn't.

what i want 2018 to be

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I planned to spend time at the end of 2017 reflecting on the coming year, and when the week before the new year disappeared into more important commitments, I planned to spend the first days of 2018 reflecting, and then, I spent the first week of the year sick. Best laid plans, right?

It’s funny that all my plans to plan failed, and that I’m now two weeks in, and, aside from a few conversations with friends, this is the first time I’m meditating on what I want from 2018. (A former version of myself would have harbored fears that I’d already wasted the year, because what’s a rebuilding of myself if I can’t mark its beginning and end on a calendar).

-

Before Christmas, my Elise friend asked what I wanted in 2018. I told her I want to remain as happy as I am now. It was late, and I was tired and giggly; I didn’t just mean happy, because happy can temperamental. What I meant was more than happy: I want to remain as full as I am now.

2017 was a happy year, yes, but more than that it was a full year. I grew so much, experienced so much (both good and bad). I met new people, had new experiences, lived in new places. I traveled, read, drank, ate, swam in the ocean, dug my fingers in mud, laughed, cried, spent time alone, spent time surrounded. Last year was abundant. I, in 2017, felt abundant. It was the year people told me my face changed. They saw joy in my eyes, on my skin, in my body.

After drought, I was (am) a girl overflowing.

That’s what I want in 2018. I know that to say my “new year’s resolution” is to “have a full year” sounds like vague bullshit, but I don’t have a better way to describe it. My life is this beautiful, flowering, sometimes hard, sometimes soft thing that I want to love and nurture and grow. Now that I am more me -- more in tune with who I am, what I want, who I want to be -- I want to experience more and more of that fullness.

I don’t have checklists or plans, but rather I have directions in which I want to move. Areas of my life where I want to concentrate my energy, nurture life into.

- Cultivating friendship -

Oh, how many times has my heart broken over friends? I’ve always struggled with friendship. Even as a little kid, I didn’t make friends easily, and when I did finally, I rarely knew what to do with them. So much of the time, I still feel this way.

While 2017 lit up so much of life, it also did a number on my social sphere. For a complex set of reasons, I either lost touch with, intentionally distanced myself from or unintentionally lost intimacy with many of my friends. (Not all of them. The friends I’ve held on to are dear, shining, bright stars to me). I shed so many tears over friendships last year. I don’t often journal, but I had to last year, to understand what was happening to my friendships, and what those losses were doing to me. Through all that hot, lonely heartache, I finally got to a place where I decided that, while the “problem” didn’t necessarily lie solely with me, the solution would.

For all my longing for friendship, I’m not very good at the work that friendship requires. I’m content being alone, and I’m also deeply insecure about the bonds that I have. I assume my presence is a burden or inconvenience, and opt, instead, to not reach out or follow up. If I want strong friendships in my life, I have to first learn how to be a good, consistent friend. My primary experience of friendship has been one of starting over (new people, new groups, new circles who will accept and maybe love me), and even though I feel that again now, I’m trying to be hopeful. If I get better, maybe my friendships will too? I want 2018 to be a good year for friendship, to be the year that I learn how to be the kind of friend I want.

- Get my financial house in order -

Last year, I lost balance with my finances. I carried a balance on my credit card for the first time in my life (small, but nevertheless there), and I struggled to figure out exactly where my money was going compared to where it needed to be going. As 2017 came to a close, I began to clean up this general “messiness.” I can be lean and disciplined when I need to, and have created a budget that work well for my life and its rhythms. But as the new year starts, I’m thinking more broadly about money than just hitting targets on my spreadsheet. As with so much in my life, I want to be intentional about where my dollars go.

A lot of what I make goes towards expenses I don’t control -- rent that is a little too high, groceries that I keep having to buy, insurance that I’m goddamn lucky to have -- but when I think about the rest of my spending, I think in terms of addition. I want my spending to add to my life, enrich it, not detract from it. Sharing meals with friends, owning books that set me on fire, hopping neighborhood bars with my boyfriend -- these experiences, though they have a cost, bring me so joy. In 2018, I’m looking to minimize what I spend on the mindless stuff -- the stress shopping and impulse buying -- so that I can spend, without worry, on what fills me up, and save the rest.

Basically: don’t spend on what I don’t need, so I can focus on what I do.

- Travel -

This is so simple. I want to go everywhere. I want to see everything. There’s no one place I want to experience in 2018, but rather a thousand places I’d be excited to visit if I have the opportunity.

With the money goals that I also have, travel may not be as attainable as I’d like it to be. But while I want to work towards affording “real” travel, I also want to expand my definition of what it means to “travel.” Last July, I visited Lake Superior with my boyfriend. Even though I’ve experienced the lake a hundred times and in a hundred different ways, to experience it with someone who hasn’t was like experiencing it new again. I want to visit Toronto/ Stockholm/ Vienna/ Olympic National Park/ Los Angeles/ Boston/ London (literally, you name a place; I want to go to it), but if that kind of big-far-wide travel isn’t in the cards for 2018, I want to be equally thrilled to see and explore the bits of the world that I do get to.

- Get comfortable with vulnerability -

Sometime in my early adulthood, I trained myself to keep what’s true about myself locked up. I would either write it down, or I would only tell it to myself, but I stopped telling other people. It was a lot easier to stay quiet than it was to unzip myself and hope the person I was with would hear me and understand me and treat all my fragile spots with the kind of tender care they needed.

I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s lonely, and uncomfortable, and prevents me from learning safety, and it prevents my loved ones from learning about me. But, god, vulnerability is hard. I have visceral, physical reactions to situations that require it of me. The more opened up and raw I feel, or the more intimate the information I want to share, the harder it is to physically open my mouth, physically form words, physically breath through the intensity. I want this to change. Becoming more comfortable with vulnerability is a gift I can give to myself and to the people who love me. In 2018, I want to become softer with those people. I want to be known, and I want to let them know me.

-

As I look over this little list, I realize that none of these “resolutions” are new to 2018. I’ve been working on financial health, on friendships, on vulnerability already. I’ve already had successes (and failures) in each of these realms. Dedicating 2018 to working on these intentions doesn’t signal a departure. There’s no “new Torrie” I’m aiming to create. Last year, I wrote that I hoped that even if the new year wasn’t better than the old, I, at least, would be better. Last year was, thank God, a much, much better year, a healing, happy, hopeful year, and I want 2018 to be a continuation of that. I want a year of more. I like being a growing person. I like knowing that I’m still getting there.

merry christmas: thoughts on tradition + what comes after seasons of waiting

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As a child, I was militant about holiday traditions. The music we played when we decorated the Christmas tree, the dishes served on Christmas Eve, the snack we chose when we drove through neighborhoods at night, looking for lit-up houses. My mother, survivor of a sad childhood and painful Christmases, worked hard to create a whole season of warmth and love and the familial familiar. She did far too good of a job. I looked forward to the month of December with an anxious longing. There was so much light for us to bottle up, so few days to do so.

I remember waiting for the nights to grow so long the bus would drop us off in the dark. I’d run down the hill towards home, looking for the straw star, hanging in the kitchen window, gold against the deep blue of winter night. As an eight year old, it stirred in me something too deep to name. Family or home or some form of safety so fundamental, so elemental it strikes against our evolutionary code.

-

Last year, my grandfather died two days before Christmas. A sudden, cruel phone call that cut through all the tinsel and lights. Grief and then illness cut Christmas short. I pulled all the decorations down on the night before his funeral, and boxed them hurriedly. My grief was dark. I needed lights off to feel it, sit with it.

I wonder if it’s the coming anniversary of his death that has tempered this holiday season, or if it’s simply, as I’m finding in different ways all across my life, that I don’t need the rhythms to give me comfort this year. I decorated a tree, sweet and small and a hand-me-down from my grandmother, but not on the pre-appointed date (day after Thanksgiving, always, so the short season will be as long as possible). I’ve watched some of the movies, listened to some of the music, but have done neither with the same kind of strategy. It sounds silly, but I had a schedule -- this movie, at this point in the month, to accompany this activity. I baked cookies, both alone and with people, but I haven’t baked what I always deem “traditional” yet. At this point, I likely won’t get to them at all.

At some point in my teenage years, my mom had to talk to me about my traditions-stringency. It was too much for the rest of the family, too much for her. I had so many expectations, so many demands. I took the joy out of our customs when I required they be performed, and I removed from our family the ability to relax into the season, adapt to our always-changing selves.

I mellowed out after that. (Thank God. I remember the anxiety I used to feel to try to squeeze! it! all! in! Even as a child, I worried about how fleeting the holiday season was, and how long it would take to get back to it again. In high school, I faked sick to give myself an extra day to bake cookies, and sit under the lights of our tree). But even with my mellowing, I was still careful to perform my traditions. This song, first thing on the morning of Black Friday, as I unpacked the decorations. Thinking about it now, it’s no wonder I always cried as a child, silently and without understanding, on the drive back home from my grandparents’ house. I was so desperate to stock up on joy; I couldn’t stomach it all ending.

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This year, I feel mellower than ever about Christmas. Two days from the day and on the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, I don’t feel desperate or giddy or anxious or panicked about what the season was or what the next few days will be.

When I decorated my Christmas tree, I turned into a child again. I cleaned my apartment, organizing corners and dusting off shelves, to prepare for the tree, and when I unpacked the ornaments, I did so with the explosiveness of a toddler -- everything out so I could see it. Then I hung each ornament with extraordinary care, tracking down the memory that accompanies each one. When I drove home, one night in the dark, I nearly wept at all the lights on houses and trees. Every single decoration tickled something young and enchanted inside of me. One of the first pieces of writing I ever had published was a short essay about Christmas wonder that my dad sent in to the Twin Cities newspaper without me knowing. I re-read it this year, and even though I shudder at my use of adjectives (people, who, other than 16 year old Torrie, uses words like dulcet and cordiality), I resonated with the idea that Christmas is a season of “anticipation,” of “the beautiful, unrestrained and determined faith of a child.”

-

I don’t observe Advent, but I do think about what it means to wait. Last year at this time, I was sad and angry, and, although I didn’t know it at time, on the brink of some of the deepest soul-searching and self-building I’ve done yet. I was waiting for something hidden inside me to come to bloom. Out of the darkness of my grandfather’s death, out of the ensuing grief and the shattering loneliness that marked the first months of 2018 came something really beautiful: a life I was happy to be living.

This Christmas, I’ve felt less beholden to a performance of Christmas and more childlike about Christmas than I have in years. I feel mellow and happy and glad for the season. I baked a cake on Wednesday, and plan to frost it before we leave for a Christmas party today. My mom said about Thanksgiving that she likes how our family is at ease, but doesn’t want us to sacrifice tradition. I don’t see it that way. I’ll spend Christmas Eve at my parent's house, with the people I love. We plan to bake cut-out cookies, the kind we baked when my brother and I were young, but who knows how much of the family will actually participate. We’re going to be together. We’re going to sit in front of an actual fireplace (my parents heat their house with burning wood). We’ll have stockings hung, and trees lit, and I’m sure I’ll get shouted down when I suggested we watch a Christmas movie together. (At this point, that’s happened enough to call it tradition). I’ve done about half the Christmas “stuff” I usually do, and have enjoyed all of it twice as much. After Christmas day, I’ll have some time off work. I’m looking forward to rest, to New Year’s Eve, to 2018 beginning. I’m so grateful for all of it.

I wonder if this is what it’s like to be, at least for a little while, at the end of the waiting. To just, for a little while, be.

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i hate to talk about my body but...

Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There’s nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach if round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.” - Cheryl Strayed -

Living in a woman’s body is funny, and for some of us (most of us, I’d contend) really hard. I’ve written before about what it feels like to wage war with your body, and although I’ve come really far since then, I have days and weeks and sometimes longer where my body feels more shame and excess than love and strength.

I’m in one of those weeks right now. Last night, I laid awake worrying about a particular pair of tights. They sometimes feel like a trap for my flesh and other times, they move softly on top of my body. I would like to wear them this weekend, but how will they feel and, more importantly, how will I feel with them on?

-

I got really small this summer. I’ve been small for most of my adulthood, always within 5 to 10 pounds out of range of that mythical “goal weight,” but small. Then this summer, I got really small. I lost weight quickly and naturally in April and May. Shedding excesses I no longer needed.

Getting smaller coincided with getting happier (no coincidence there). I stopped emotionally eating, started enjoying everything around me more, including both food and the strength of my own body. I was freer and less encumbered by a lot of stuff I didn’t need, including about 10 pounds.

My mom looked at my reflection in a mirror in May, and said “you’ve gotten really skinny.” I said, “I know I have.” She said, “you like it don’t you?”

I really did.

(For a little while, and then I got too skinny. I never dieted or skipped meals or did anything unhealthy to lose weight, I just got careless with my nutrition and ate too many meals of sliced apples and microwave popcorn. When we were first dating, my boyfriend would ask me what I ate, and if it didn’t seem like enough food, he cooked a meal a meal for. I quickly gained back a healthy amount of “soft” weight, and then began to develop muscle and strength).

-

I think often about my body, maybe even more so after this summer. I’ve come a long way from the insecurities of my teens and early twenties, but I’m still not entirely at peace within my body. I’m quicker to stop negative self-talk, and I’m more intentional about practicing love towards myself. I’ve learned a lot about health, and about what makes my body feel good, and have come to (nominally) accept that my body is a vessel meant to give me a home. I’ve learned that I do feel best when I’m trim and strong, and because of the natural shape of my body, that does mean I look small. But I also know I’m not willing to go into the business of full time beauty maintenance.

I like wearing crop tops without worrying about what the exposed parts of my body look like, and I like jeans that hug my legs. I like to see when my muscles swell and shape and sharpen. I like working out, because feeling strong inside my skin is a high. I also loved last Saturday night when, after an evening of vegan wings and bar snacks, me and my boyfriend brought home a sack of tacos and queso and ate until we hurt. I like keeping a list of the “best burgers” in the Twin Cities on my phone, because I like eating cheeseburgers and I also like the hunt for a “best one.” I also love this feeling I sometimes get when, for the briefest of seconds, I remember how very little it all matters, because we all have bodies, and they all have flaws, and sometimes my stomach will be soft and other times my skin will be marked. I like how freeing that feels.

There’s so much contradiction within me about my body and about the factors that contribute to the body that I have. Even though I’m happier, healthier and more confident than I’ve been in years (for reasons that have nothing to do with my body), I still sometimes look at my flesh, and wish I could edit it. I want a big life, and so far, I feel proud of my twenty-five years; they’re not may, but I’ve learned a lot and I’m stronger and more at peace, because of them. I wouldn’t edit those years, and I wish I could stop myself from wanting to edit the body that brought me through all of them.

A few Saturdays ago, I talked to a friend about the journey we’re both on to love our bodies. We got on the conversation after making a joke about how some days, when we workout, we feel strong and magical and goddess-like, and then other days we feel like limp pasta shoved into spandex. My bright-light of a friend said that she was fighting to give her body the same love on weak days as she gives it on strong days. I thought about how I want to give my body the same love on self-conscious days as I do on confident days.

I feel whiny and indulgent talking about my body, especially in such a public forum (although, let’s be real, I don’t exactly have a “readership” for this little blog), because who does give a shit, but also at the same time, loving yourself is hard. Finding ways to get comfortable inside your skin, all the while knowing that your skin is going to change probably this month, definitely this year and absolutely definitely in years to come, is really, really hard. I want to care for myself well without starving myself (physically or emotionally). I know I will, but I don’t want to look at pictures from these young years, and wish for the opportunity to tell that girl she’s beautiful without such demolition. I think we’re all working on finding that balance.

-

As an aside, I was re-reading some old posts this past week, and I disliked how often I heard a tone of resolution in my writing. I am a work in progress, and when I write about anything on here, I write about it, because I’m processing and am in process. If I ever sound like I’ve “solved” anything, I’m lying in word or tone. I’m at work here: on body image and confidence, as well as on my mental health and my fear and my happiness and my comfort and my writing and my relationships.

thoughts on self-care

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"A world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick. Self-care should not be something we resort to because we are so absolutely exhausted that we need some reprieve from our own relentless internal pressure. True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from." - Brianna Wiest

I spent Friday night alone to rest. It was a busy week, and I had a bad cold for all of it. I really, really need rest, but in order to do so, I had to cancel on a holiday party I was invited to (which I really, really didn't want to do).

I have a complicated relationship with the idea of "self-care," because I think that being kind to yourself is one of the most fundamental things we all (but in particular, we women) need to learn how to do, but also I think that lots of selfishness, consumerism and blatant bad decisions get excused by calling it "self-care."

Last spring, when I was the most strung out and burnt out by the life I was living, I wrote about self-care. I re-read that short essay now, and I cringe a little bit, but I also feel a kind of sad-happiness for that girl. On the one hand, my attempts at self-care seem flimsy in comparison to circumstances I was trying to care my way out of, but on the other hand? That girl was learning so much. I was learning so much.

One of the primary things I was learning was that even though life is so damn hard it turns our bones brittle and our skin rough, each waking minute doesn't have to be a battle.

I was thinking about "self-care" last night when I was home sick, because I found myself practicing some of the form of self-care I used to rely on. I used to put so much stock into baking a batch of cookies or reading a book to make me feel better. I remember pleading with myself just to get to the end of the day or end of the week so I could zone out in front of the television, or lose myself in a book, or in the mindless of baking. These habits alone, though, rarely brought me what I needed, because - and this is what I know now - self-care isn't giving yourself permission to escape when you find yourself breaking. Self-care is working hard to live a life that doesn't break you.

I said this last week too: Life is hard. We're approaching the one-year anniversary of my grandfather's death, and its bringing new waves of grief. I'm getting my financial house in order, but I'm not there yet, and my chest sometimes gets tight with money-worry. My network of friendship has splintered, and even though I maintain some dear, old friends and have met some new, wonderful people, my circle of relationships are, on the whole, smaller and less intimate than ever. I feel lonely sometimes. I read the news, and then, like every woman I know, I have to grapple again with the ways I've experienced harassment and assault and violence and degradation. Life is still as hard as it ever was, but I now have a life that can handle it all better.

I spent spring 2017 learning how to gather up strength inside myself, and then I spent summer 2017 living a life I no longer needed escape from. This was - and is still - the kind of self-care I'm trying to practice. Cultivating a life from which I don't need to escape.

Last winter, I begged with the universe "why can't it just be easier?" My life is easier now. It just is. I got to bake last night, not because I needed something to make me feel better equipped to face my life, but because I wanted to. Because it was fascinated to see how butter and sugar caramelized and then crystallized into these delicate, lacy cookies.

I said the same thing last week, but god, it feels good to not have to escape anymore.

snapshots of a happy summer + why i've been quiet

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I've left this space deliberately blank for several months, but I think I'm ready to return to it.

I spent the last three seasons living my life. For years, since I was a teenager (maybe earlier), I had the sense that there was some fullness of experience that I wasn't getting my hands on. I paired with a crippling fear of what may come should I try to get to wherever that fullness was, and I lived inside of small boxes. It's hard to explain to people who have been less afraid to me how deeply joyful and fundamentally expansive and overwhelmingly delightful it is to say yes instead of no. It's wild and full, and it's oxygen to empty lungs.

I spent the better part of the year hacking away at all these vines that had grown up around my life. Light after darkness? When you can claw your way to it, it's glorious. It shows up on your skin and in your bones.

One of my uncles said to me: You look happy in your eyes. And my mom said: You don't look scared anymore. And countless people said: You just look different, in a really good way. I told them this is what good looks like on me.

-

This summer, I saw things that I'd once clung to slip off my skin like water.

Between May and November, I read very little. It wasn't an active aversion - books weren't a struggle, but no longer were they a salve. One of the first warm afternoons in May, I took a blanket and a stack of books into the yard. I spent three hours moving my blanket to follow the sun, and not once did I open my books. Over and over, I found myself more content to sit quietly with my own thoughts, than I was to fill my mind with someone else's. What little I did read, though, was brilliant, and radical, and healing.

Television, too, has lost some of it's appeal. I've written before about how much I love well made TV, and while that's still true enough, I don't have the same stomach for it anymore. I still haven't seen the new season of Game of Thrones or Stranger Things, and I haven't even cared to give Mindhunter a chance. This is nothing intellectual or enlightening, I can still fritter away hours like a champion, I just don't have the need I used to to anesthetize. Why would I, when all of a sudden, mine was so bright, and so beautiful, so equal parts terrifying and exhilarating?

I also wrote very little. Circumstance often left me without a laptop or without the paper manuscripts I work off. A notebook and pen were easy to carry with me, so I wrote extensively for myself and about extensively. But the littleworldsI'vespentyearscreating? I left them empty and untended to for months. I am coming back to these, but I'm finding it harder to slip into someone else's skin now that mine has grown so easy.

Of all the changes I experienced this summer, losing my anxiety was most exciting. At some point this spring, it began to steam off my body the way fog burns away underneath a rising sun.

Do you know what it's like to feel at ease in the world? For a long, long time I didn't. I've writtena lotabout howmy anxiety is (was) a constant negotiation. I carried Xanex and apples with me, chamomile tea and a book in my bag. I was always bracing for what next thing would cause that awful, nauseous fear. And then I woke up one day, and it was gone. New people? Crowded rooms? Spending time with someone new? With several new people? With a whole room of new people? May, June, and most of July were one long rope of anxiety triggers, and not once was I triggered. When a friend asked me how I was handling all these social situations I was describing, I laughed. Afraid of being rejected? People have done worse to me than not like me.

At the beginning of November, I felt the first tremors of dread that I'd felt in six months. It took me a minute to recognize that particular internal shaking, but when I did, I breathed through it. It's going to be okay. Not because it's meant to be, or because it has to be, but because it always has been."

I cried, one Monday morning, when I realized that I'd spent an entire weekend meeting new people. Not once, in three days of introductions, did I want to peel back my own skin and hide. (Big, big thanks also to the man I was with).

I am now at ease.

It may be gone for just this season, but I really hope it's not. Of all the things that have rolled away from me this year, my anxiety is the one thing I most hope will never, never return.

I spent much of June hot and in my underwear. I was living with people who were rarely at home when I was, and because of it, I spent most of my evenings alone, and on this beautiful porch. I'd set myself up with a book and maybe a glass of wine. The sun would set all pinks and oranges over the neighborhood. One night, I heard a little boy yell at this dad "no, you need to go to bed!" Another night, the pre-teens next door played basketball and worked on memorizing the lyrics to 1-800-273-8255. I listened The Weeknd (surprise soundtrack to my month of peace) on loop, and rarely opened my book. I was so much more content to lie on that sofa, and reflect on who I was. Who I might be. Life was (is, will always be) as astoundingly, fundamentally hard as it was ever, but the difference was (is) that it's hard in ways I want to be awake for. I think that's the reason why I've been foregoing so many of my old habits. I no longer want to be distracted. Comfort isn't the endgame anymore.

When I was a freshman in college, I was far too deep in the throes of an anxious depression to experience that particular thrill of being on the precipice of that which you cannot fully grasp. June was me on that ledge. I called it an ecstatic explosion. I didn't have any other words to explain the compounding joy of learning and relearning to live a life of my own choosing.

I know that I've rambling, and I know that a lot of this is vague, but this is my way of coming back. For two years, I found something hopeful and inspiring about writing here for an audience so small it could barely be counted. At some point, writing became another coping mechanism in my deep chest of survival tools. I'm ready to come back to blogging (I'm even giving this space a new name, y'all!), because I'm hoping it gives me a path back in to the fiction writing I've loved for so long.

Onward, right? Always, always onward.

comfort isn't an endgame

I went for a walk in the rain today, trying to train myself, as Mary Oliver instructs: "Attention is the beginning of devotion."

The air was cold, and the tips of my fingers, ungloved, stung as they adjusted to the wet. I repeated to myself, again and again, that I don't need to be comfortable, that comfort does not need to be my aim.

The park was deserted, except for a three other people, and I dropped down into small valley that water, once, carved out. Underneath the birds, and the rains, and the rushing water, music played in my head. I repeated lines to myself, and tried to pay attention. I was out, because I needed it. On a primal level. These last few months, I've made jokes about wanting to lie down in the dirt, but underneath the laughter, I think there is something profound and true in my desire to touch the ground. I was an outdoors girl. I hiked (in flip flops, as my mom will tell you), and I camped, and I tried to build for myself small words of my own that didn't need shelter from walls or the root. I've been out of touch with that part of myself, and I've suffered for it.

Today, I stayed in the rain even though it made me uncomfortable, because I knew that I needed it. I sat on the trunk of a fallen tree, rushing water on either side of, and watched the current move dark over stones and branches and other unseen things. I stayed there, and watched one large log, hung up on brambles and rocks, be pushed in and out of visibility. Deep fears of what lies underneath the water stirred in me (I pictured dead bodies, then I pictured my own, if I were to slip from my perch). I let the discomfort build, but I was safe, and because why do I always try to turn away from fear?

I walked slow enough to see wildflowers, bright and beaded with rain. I knelt at a dark pond, and watched bubbles puncture the flat surface. Small green things lay just underneath the water - early spring grasses, a maple leaf, wild green with black veins. I put my hands into the water, and then I pushed them into the dirt. I wanted the tactility of mud on my skin, the feel of small vines - life finding its way - giving way underneath my fingers. I scratched into the earth, and pulled up fistfuls of black mud, muscular with roots. It smelled rich and rotten, and was cold even on my numbed fingers. I smeared my hands with the dirt until they were dark and streaked and gritty. I turned my palms up; the rain made clean circles of my skin. Later, I knelt at the creek, and let the current, warm compared to the mud, wash away the rest of the dirt.

As I knelt, the trees above me flapped, and a great blue heron landed in the water in front of me, its body a thing of lethal grace. I froze, so as not to alert him, and watched him move through the water. He stepped slowly, his body rising and falling with the shifting depths of the creek bed. As I watched him, I tried to remember which dead relative (of mine - or was it someone else's?) had loved great blue herons.

He walked against the current, spindle legs adapted for the water in a way that mine, if they were where his were, were not. Once he moved past where I could see him, he stopped long enough to let me move, come closer than I had been before. I sat, this time, on the wet rocks, and continued to watch him. I'm sure he knew it too. He plucked his way, delicate, through the water, catching minnows in his beak, until he heard something I did not in the woods, and lifted his wings into flight. I stood with him, and watched him circle above me, and above the creek, and then above trees. I continued to watch until I couldn't see his movement any longer, the woods returned to their raining stillness.

It didn't matter if someone I loved once loved blue herons. This moment was mine, not theirs, firmly of this earth, and of my silent attention.

I walked back to my car after that, my fingers too numb to bend, and my legs and hair drenched in rain, and thought about Mary Oliver, and why we need homes "not of beam and nail, but of existence itself."

"How wonderful that the universe is beautiful in so many places and in so many ways. But also the universe is brisk and business like, and no doubt does not give its delicate landscapes or its thunderous displays of power, and perhaps perception too, for our sakes or our improvement. Nevertheless, its intonations are our best tonics, if we would take them." Mary Oliver's, Upstream

be kind to yourself

A woman once told me that I need to learn to be kind to myself.

I was reentering the world after a deep depression, and finding a life that I didn't know I'd had. I was in the process of both beginning and ending relationships. I was no longer panicking daily. I was beginning to store memories again.

She knew all this, and I told her I was doing better. She laughed, and said "you still need to do it."

I called (or maybe emailed?) her and asked what she meant. I don't remember her answer, but that that night, I stopped by a bakery and bought a slice of chocolate cake.

I ate it at my university-issued desk in the dorm room I once hated. The window was open. Someone in the courtyard was playing Joni Mitchell.

-

This past few days? They were hard ones. Pedestrian culprits - long hours, insomnia, crap food hoovered in inconvenient places. I came to the end of the week depleted.

My work follows a cycle that peaks in March. My hours will go bonkers, rhythms thrown out the window. My stress levels go up, sleep goes down. I read less, workout less (though my job itself becomes physical), eat worse. I once described this season as "hell, but so great," because even though it's hard, it's powerfully rewarding. That being said, this weekend is the last entirely free weekend that I'll have in a while, and I'm savoring it.

I went grocery shopping yesterday afternoon, and the teenager who rang me up sang "My Girl" under his breath. I was so delighted (right up to the point when he pointed at the frozen pizzas and asked if I have teenagers. Kid, I'm 24!) I nearly cried.

Today, my plan is to be nice to myself. This sounds so self-indulgent I almost can't stand it, but I think practicing simple kindness towards myself will do me good.

I'm going to cook. I have a fridge full of fresh food (finally!), and I'm going to give myself time to follow a detailed recipe I clipped from a magazine several years ago. So rarely do I enjoy creating a meal.

I'm going to read. Amber Dermont's The Starboard Sea is captivating, but I'm also craving my weathered copy of Anne's House of Dreams. Since I was eleven, I've read all eight books in the Anne of Green Gables series in the spring. Last year, I didn't, and it felt like I leapfrogged something important.

It's rare for my days to feel loose and open. Even when I'm "free," I border my time, hem myself in with private plans. You know what feels radically kind today? To not do that.

The sun is out. Last night's dusting of snow is gone, and tomorrow, the temperature is supposed to reach the 60's. (And Minnesota said amen!). Two years ago (two!), I bought a candle that smelled so good I put it into a drawer. I placed the candle underneath my favorite piece of artwork (a drawing someone gave to my grandparents on their wedding day), and lit it. In my cupboard, I have cookies that taste best when they're eaten one at a time.

Too often, I catch myself thinking "why can't it all be easier?" Sometimes, it is.

Yesterday, I put pink tulips on my table, because when I was a little girl, my mother painted a border of tulips along the molding of my bedroom. I loved their pink, purple, and yellow. In the spring, I would try to pick them.

Kindness, sometimes, is easy like this.

what i'm reading + navigating the next

Of course, of course, I know that I can't know the future. And of course, of course, I know that there's only so much planning one can do before life becomes what it most consistently is: unexpected.

I keep saying of course, because I do know this, and I don't mean anything profound by it.

Still, the uncertainty of what's coming, the absolutely inability to know has been scaring the pants off me. Thus far, I've seen my future largely through the eyes of the young: it's all golden from here. But I know that cannot be true - two big blows within two weeks, the double whammy of death and diagnosis remind me that life often (or oftener) deals loss. The house always wins.

-

On the morning my grandfather died, the entire family crowded into a hospital room, and my grandmother sat closest to my grandfather's side. His death was quick and unexpected, and everyone kept saying some variation of "we didn't know this coming; we couldn't have known." I kept looking at my grandmother, thinking the same thing.

I have photographs of her as a bride on my walls, and I often think of her at that moment in her life. As young and beautiful and full of hope as she does look, she also looks dazed. I wonder what she was thinking, at the very, very start of her wifehood. (I asked her, once, and she told me that she hadn't planned to marry at all. She was going to teach, and have cats). There was so much in front of her, so much extraordinary (and, in many ways, beautifully ordinary) life still to come. She couldn't have known, then, what she knows now. That she'd spend more of her life married than not married. That she'd give birth to six healthy children, all of whom would grow safely to adulthood, that they'd each have children of their own. All this that we cannot, cannot know when we're young.

I think about how much life there (likely) is in front of me, and how much of it I cannot know.

This future I keep talking about, this fuzzy "what's next" is some days a gift to unwrap and other days a yawning, black unknown. (Please, a light). It's an exercise in futility to strategize my anxieties, but still, I keep trying to do so.

Books, as always, are my answer. I've been reading ravenously, a woman in need of water. Some of what I've read has been excellent (We Were the Mulvaneys, Follow Me Into the Dark, Born to Run), some of it sub par. I'm looking for wisdom, a way inside these baggy unknowns.

We Were the Mulvaneys, the story of a family's central and spiraling undoing, hangs right in the center of what is know and what cannot be known. It's a novel almost too good to bear, and in its final pages, it opened a door to something big and unnamed inside of me - the totality of family or history or intimacy or love. I'm not even sure what; I just known that I've been in that room before, and in it is beauty and pain.

I'm currently reading Leaving Rollingstone, a memoir written by the man who wrote one of my favorite novels. He too deals in what was. Kevin Fenton writes like a man still looking for his understanding (Merit Badges was like that too). Unlike other memoirs I've read, his writing reads like process, not like results.

We Were the Mulvaneys, Born to RunLeaving Rollingstone, even Follow Me Into the Dark, a novel unto its self (review to be submitted soon!), are all written with posterity. Lives that came apart, and came together again - or did both in ten thousand tiny ways. Each offers their own answers to these questions I'm trying to ask.

What else should I be reading?

how to undo fear

When I was a child, I devoured books about strong girls. Old fashioned novels about girls who lived in the woods, and who loved life with this big, abundant abandon. Girls who faced the worst life would give and rose, who were willing to be brave and unapologetically smart. I read Gone with the Wind for the first time when I was ten, and I revered Scarlett O’Hara in all her petty meanness and selfish immaturity—here was a woman bent on survival.

I consumed stories about fearless women, because I imagined that someday, I would grow into a fearless woman. This word—for me, it was a world unto itself.

I think as a kid, I spent more time thinking about my identity than I did trying to create—or at least project—it. Because of that, there were a few individual words—fearlessness among them—that became so big, so prominent in my mental geography. I was this, or at least I would be, when I grew up.

There are a few moments from my life that stand as highway marker, and this is one: In the middle of my freshman year of college mental health crisis, I got lost on a city bus. I misread the schedule or misread the bus—I’m still not sure which—but I wound up getting deposited at an empty transit station, in the wrong downtown, on a street that I did not recognize.

I was terrified.

And not because I didn’t know where I was. This was only six years ago—I had a cell phone with a GPS, and access to both the city wide bus schedule, and people with cars would could come pick me up.

I collapsed in an empty hallway, on a carpet with green and gray squares, and I began to weep. I was so, desperately afraid of absolutely everything. The life I’d been dreaming of since I was a little kid was far, far too big for me, and I was only at the beginning. I was staring down the barrel of my adulthood, and I knew deep in my bones that I was not fearless. I was fear. Without realizing what I was doing, I had accumulated and indexed fears until I was a walking atlas of them.

I was afraid: that my parents would be killed in a car crash, that someone in the transit station would approach me with a question, that I would be invited to a party and not know what to do, that there would be a party and I would not be invited, that my brother would be killed by a gun, and that I would never make any friends. I was afraid that I would never write again. I was afraid of my dormitory hallways, and especially afraid of the cafeterias, and afraid of how lonely I was, and afraid of how difficult it was to make friends. I even remember lying awake one night and worrying that I would never have friend with whom I was close enough to fear that someday they too may die a painful and untimely death. (Crazy, I know).

I was a whole landscape of fear, a country of worry held together only by very fragile bones.

In the months following that breakdown, I had to deal very seriously with my identity. It is truly the only time in my life when I felt utterly lost from myself, and at odds with who I thought I’d been. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t “fearless,” because although I was not, my identity was unstable at a much more fundamental level. I did, however, have to confront the magnitude of my fears.

Ongoing treatment and care for my anxiety has significantly lessened the weight of fear in my life, and the strength of my fears have lessened— less “what is my parents dies in a car accident?” and more “how would I afford a car payment if my transition drops out.” But they are still very, very much with me.

I used to think that I was letting down the young version of myself who thought that strength would be measured, like it was for my heroines, by how little I feared. But here’s the thing. I’ve reread most of my favorite books from my childhood, and I don’t see fearless women anymore. I see fear. These stories are shaped by fear! They’re only compelling because of the fear. Because it’s not a lack of fear that makes Anne beg Matthew and Marilla to keep her, or that makes Hermione brave enough to partner with Harry, or that gives Eowyn the strength to pull off her helmet and look evil in the eye. It’s the decision to act in spite of the fear.

Every single character that I ever adored all had a set of fears unique to themselves, and every single one of them saw their fear, their worst fears, running after them, and not a single one of them ducked. That’s why I loved them. That’s why I wanted to be them.

Fearlessness is not the goal. For me, fear is a companion that I didn’t invite into my house, but that is here, because sometimes it keeps me alive. Maybe it will change, but I doubt it—I’m predisposed to panic, and my craft is my overactive imagination. At this point, fear is in the house, and I can’t make it leave.

I can, however, make it sit in the corner, in the uncomfortable chair, facing the wall. I can tell it to shut up when it starts to drown out the guests that I actually invited over. When it convinces me that the phone only rings when someone dies, or that I can’t take down my Christmas tree, because my dad cut it down, and what if my dad dies before he can down a new tree for me, then I’ll send it to a different room, and make it stare at a blank wall in there.

Giving fear power in the moments when it doesn’t have a valid claim only makes the moments when fear is real, and when it is warranted that much harder. Because fear comes when what we love is threatened. And if we’re being honest, life does not promise to protect that which we life.

One of the very few things we’re promised is suffering. Life will hurt badly. As a friend reminded me after my grandfather died, what I was feeling just then was the result of the very best that life can give—86 years lived, 64 years married, 6 children grown, 14 grandchildren, 5 great-grandchildren. That’s the best, and that aches.

We’ve all read this before: If we live long enough, everyone we’ve ever loved will die, and if we don’t, we’ll leave behind people in pain.

Fear cannot change the facts. It will only make it harder to live with them. This is a hard truth to hold in your hand—I believe it maybe 2 out of every 50 days, and I act out of that belief only 1. Fear is powerful and seductive, and it is almost all empty promises, broken cisterns that leak water when you’re most in need.

Life comes after us, whether we want it to or not. And all my fearing, all my empty worrying, my obsessive indexing of catastrophe, has not prepared me for what happens when the thing I've feared becomes the thing that's real, and takes its own seat at the table.