June 21, 2015

my dad's words.

My dad's a person with catchphrases. Like a character in a book or in a movie, he's lovable for being predictable, and more often than not, you know what he'll say before he says it.

Whenever I leave the house, he tells me, "Be smart! Make good choices!" Whenever he watched me play sports, he'd pace the sidelines and shout, "Anticipate!" If it's sunny outside, he says, "Life's good," and if I look worried, he says, "Don't sweat it," and if anyone ticks him off, he'll drop an f-bomb and offer a reminder: "Never forget how stupid people can be, Marie."

"Who loves you?" That's what he says with a wink and a tilt of his head whenever he does something sweet. And each time we talk on the phone, just before he hangs up, his voice goes from sarcastic to sincere as he says, "Take care, kid." That's why I save his voicemails; I want to be able to hear those three words whenever I need to.

My dad's words. When I think of him, the words are what come to mind first. He's a talker, the reason I'm such a chatterbox, and although I'm grateful for a whole lot of what he's given me, it's his words that I appreciate most. They're there when he isn't — a gift even when he's miles away.

Photo by Cooper Carras

May 20, 2015

ask, then ask again.

Have you ever interviewed someone really close to you? Back in college, I interviewed three people about falling in love: my dad, one of my best friends, and another friend's boyfriend. It was part of a writing assignment, and I was asked to conduct the interviews, edit their responses into three separate monologues, and then perform the monologues "in character," channeling each person.

I'd never been quite as excited (or as frightened) by an assignment.

Here's the thing: I already do a lot of asking. Of friends and family and almost-friends and sort-of acquaintances, I tend to ask a lot of questions: simple ones, random ones, deep ones. I ask the questions because, yes, there are plenty of fears that I face, but one of the biggest is the fear of not asking. Not asking means not knowing, and I want to learn from the people I love. I want to know what they have to share and what they have to say, and I want to carry that with me.

Still, despite the many things I'd asked this group, the actual interviews felt very, very different. I'd expected the process to feel forced and strange, maybe even a bit stiff. Instead, though, each interview felt almost sacred. I didn't expect to be surprised; hadn't I talked to them about love a million times before? Hadn't we shared our thoughts and our dreams and our stories?

We had, of course, and we hadn't. Because until then, our talks weren't interviews — they were conversations. A back-and-forth. And people are different when they have the floor, so to speak. They sit differently and move differently and consider their thoughts in a way that's far more heightened. 

Each interview lasted five minutes, maybe seven, and I learned more in those three hundred seconds with each person than I had in years and years of seeing and talking to them almost every day.

I'm bringing this up because I can't stop listening to old StoryCorps interviews. I've mentioned the organization before, but if you aren't familiar with it, StoryCorps is a nonprofit and project that's collected thousands of interviews over the years. There are interviews between best friends, parents and children, spouses, teachers and students, and sometimes ex-strangers who connected over odd or sad or beautiful circumstances. Now there's a podcast, one that I listen to on my commute, and recently, they came out with an app to encourage people to conduct their own interviews with people they care about. Whether or not I do it through StoryCorps, I've decided to do just that, because there's something to be said for asking, listening, not responding, and then asking again.

In some form, I encourage you to do the same. You just never know what somebody might say — what golden, shiny marble of wisdom they may toss into your collection.

May 13, 2015

little treasures.

When I was young, I collected tiny, shiny things. Inside a small wooden music box, I kept a random array of little treasures: a black sequin that fell from my mom's dress, a stray Christmas light that wedged itself into the carpet, a silver button that probably belonged to someone's sweater. There were earring backs and broken thumbtacks and colorful strands of thread. I remember putting in a birthday candle and a blue eraser, and a small piece of plastic I grabbed only because it was gold.

I sought out small tokens of joy, little slices of light and color. It's not that I did anything with them, really. Every once in a while, I'd open the lid to survey my stock, pulling each tiny, forgotten thing from the box and arranging them on the white windowsill in my bedroom just so. Then I'd put all the gleaming, vibrant gems of garbage back into my music-turned-treasure box.

(Maybe I kept small pictures of JTT and Zack Morris in there, too, but that's not the point.)

The point is that I actively, purposefully searched for beautiful, charming things to pocket. When I was young, I looked for little slivers of joy to call my own — and I still do. In a different way, I still do, because more and more I've come to understand my own responsibility in finding joy. I understand happiness as a choice, and how happiness comes from making choices. 

Recently, I was having a not-good day. A day of spilled coffee, sad news, and some truly unfortunate timing. I could tell early on that something within me wanted to wallow in the gloom, and as I pulled into our driveway, I had every intention of crawling under the covers and turning up my melancholy, rainy-day playlist. 

A stripe of sunlight stopped me, though. It was shimmering across our bed, the room all aglow in that mid-spring sort of light, and I thought, A cup of tea, Laura. A candle and a cup of tea. 

I lit my favorite candle, brewed a cup of my favorite tea. I opened up one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, and I went straight to my favorite chapter, rereading my favorite lines. When I was finished, I picked up the phone and called Meg, and I told her what I was doing, why I was calling, what I know to be true: happiness is a practice. A collection of tiny, shiny things in our everyday that make it feel just a little bit like magic — like something we should treasure.

(Photo: Our living room, where the golden light gets me every time.)

May 11, 2015

a little jewelry shout-out.

A few weeks ago, a friend entered me into a contest with Amour Absolu, and I ended up winning the most gorgeous pair of earrings! I don't share products here very often, but in this case, I want to give the company a little shout-out — not only am I obsessed with the shield stud earrings (and the supercute packaging they came in), but I also loved how sweet and personal everything felt. Some other jewelry picks on my wish list: the stackable rings and the bar bangle
Happy shopping!

March 18, 2015

the only thing that matters.

Somehow, I just learned about StoryCorps this week, and I ended up binge-listening to episode after episode (after episode) of the NPR podcast during my commute. There were several stories that struck me — and a few that made me cry on the bus — but it was one woman's words in particular that made me stop, hit pause, press rewind, and listen again.

Her name is Jenny. Ten years ago, her son Sean was in an accident that left him in a wheelchair with a traumatic brain injury. He can't walk or talk, and Jenny's his caretaker. At one point during the pair's interview, using an iPad to communicate, Sean said, "I want you to know how thankful I am for what you have done for me. You gave up your life to give me a life." Her response?

"Yeah. But it's okay. Time's really the value commodity that we have, and if you can share time with somebody else, that's probably the most important thing you can do for someone. It's the only thing that matters." 

An important reminder, don't you think?

You can listen to that episode here, and you can find the full StoryCorps archive here.

February 23, 2015

moving on without letting go.

As someone who gets, well, more than a little nostalgic for the places I love, I've kept my distance from San Diego since college. That city's at the center of so many of my most special memories, and I thought it would be best to rip off the band-aid and never look back. A quick, clean goodbye.

Turns out, that wasn't the case.

Until last week, there had only been a handful of trips back to the beach — a wedding, a writers conference, a bachelorette party. It's just a short flight away, but I've steered clear of San Diego, terrified that I'd go back and feel homesick for the city, wistful and weighed down.

But as with (admittedly) a lot of things, I'd let the idea of the thing become bigger than it deserved. Sure, there was a bit of melancholy when we first landed, but more than anything, I felt glad. Flying over Balboa Park as the sun went down, the city skyline and the bright blue bay beneath us, I didn't miss that time of my life. I just felt really, really grateful for it.

How refreshing, and what a relief, not to ache for what you used to have and where you used to be. It's taken me a long, long time to learn that you don't have to miss something to make it mean something. A place (or a person) can be important to you without pining for it, and moving on — it doesn't have to be dismissive. There are different shades of letting go. 

February 22, 2015

a little essay about love.

Several months ago, my friend Meg asked me to write a post about love — about the notion of wanting, but not necessarily needing, a relationship. A handful of sharp, thoughtful writers had already contributed to her series, and I wasn't sure where my (married) voice might fit into the conversation. In any case, I decided to weigh in, and you can read my essay here: 

So many thanks to the lovely Meg for her kind words, and for always kicking off the most compelling, heartfelt conversations. Honored to be a part of it!

February 8, 2015

today i believe...

... that rainy-day, Sunday-morning coffees are the best kind.

... that it's perfectly understandable if you found yourself freaking out and texting all your friends when you watched Jimmy Fallon's incredible Saved by the Bell reunion.

... that sometimes, there's just something to be said for forgiving easily.

... that friends from home can feel more like sisters.

... that The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison is a must read.

... that you're never, ever too old to build a fort with chairs and blankets in your living room, and that when you do, flashlights and old summertime stories should definitely be involved.

... that honestly, what you find strange in yourself is probably what makes you great.

... that there's no shame in being the person who cries over goodbyes.

... and that it's never, ever too late to reconnect with that old friend you used to care about, because chances are, it'll mean just as much to them, too. (Write the letter. Make the call.)

*          *          *

January 30, 2015

the middle ground.

There are eleven, maybe twelve blog posts sitting in my drafts folder. There's one about a difficult day four Decembers ago, another about having, for the first time ever, just one New Year's resolution instead of a laundry list. There's a post about a strange, sunny day on the bay, a post about an adventure with our friends, a post about something Radley said that stopped me in my tracks, surprising me in a way — a good way — that words haven't surprised me in years.

Sometimes this happens. I have so many things to say that I don't know where to start, and I end up saying nothing at all. Do you ever have that dream? The one where you're trying to talk to someone, and although you hear the words in your mind, muffled, as if you're underwater, you can't speak? 

*          *          *

It's been a good month. A really, really good month. The kind that's so good, you have to force yourself not to grow suspicious that something difficult must be around the corner. That feeling has been nagging at me, though, and there's nothing worse than that train of thought — the when-will-the-other-shoe-drop kind. It comes from a place of such fear and guilt, as if you have to pay for your happiness, as if joy will always be followed with some kind of inevitable sadness.

That's a defense mechanism, of course. When things feel like they're moving in the right direction, you can't help but brace yourself for whatever challenge will come up first.

*          *          *

I hear my dad's voice in my head a lot. On the soccer field and in the stands during basketball games, he'd shout, "Anticipate! Anticipate, Marie!" He has a big bellow of a yell, the kind that intimidated teammates but motivated me. Pushed me to work harder, and work smarter.  

I hear my mom's voice in my head, too — a much softer one. With five kids and a Girl Scout background, she's the kind of mom who always carries not just a first-aid kit for medical emergencies, but a first-aid kit for, well, life. From her purse, I've seen my mother pull out everything from garland to full boxes of cereal, just in case. She's a big just-in-case type, and before I ever did anything (go to school, take a test, leave for a night out), she'd repeat, "Be prepared."

Be prepared.

 So much of parenting boils down to readying your kids for what's next, and helping them learn how to ready themselves. My parents instilled in me a borderline-ridiculous affinity for planning, and it's one of the passed-down habits I'm most grateful I adopted. There's something to be said for training yourself to anticipate what's coming, and to be prepared for your next move. 

But here's where I've sometimes mixed up their message: You're not always anticipating a blow; sometimes you're preparing for something great. You can't know that, of course, but you can learn to understand that good can follow good. There are ups and then there are downs, but sometimes there are ups, and then more ups, and then the down isn't so far to fall, after all.

*          *          *

The words come quickly when things are really hard, and when things are really good. Maybe it's because the emotions feel more extreme, the thoughts more defined. It's the middle ground that's tough to sort through, I think. Even easy joy can be hard to navigate sometimes.

December 31, 2014

2014, a year of opposites.

After 2012, a whirlwind, and 2013, a year of so many firsts, these past twelve months have been a lesson in balance. For so many reasons it felt like an in-between year, with twenty-seven feeling like an in-between age. I'm not very young, and not very old. Not single, and not a parent. These days, and this year, felt like mine to spend as I wanted, which seemed both liberating and sort of terrifying. There was a lot of work — my three-year anniversary at PopSugar! — and a lot of adventure — three weeks in Europe! — but more than anything else, there was a lot of simplicity. Everyday-ness. A gradual settling after years of so much change. This year, I learned that I like to be still.

January: Award-show madness, PopSugar parties, and the time Zac Efron charmed our office.
February: A quick trip to Chicago and a long weekend in Cabo. Beers with our best friends. BBQs and bikinis in the wintertime. (Re)Falling in love with California.
March: A big stack of books I'd been dying to read. Coffee and crosswords in bed. Sunday brunches. Birthday surprises. Long, hilly, hikes in our backyard.
April: Confetti in my hair, friends at my sides. A picture with Jamie Foxx. The time Andrew Garfield thought I was 18. Giants games and palm trees and ice-cream dates on weeknights.
May: A Disney World family reunion. Matching orange t-shirts. Nieces and nephews and enough popcorn to make you sick. More hikes, more BBQs, sunburns on our cheeks.
June: Spontaneous date days. Late-night dance parties.
July: Writing, writing, writing. A long weekend with friends in Denver, a long weekend with family in LA. Chris Pratt in our office and trying very, very hard to keep it together.
August: Beyoncé. Europe. The return to Oxford, and the adventure of a lifetime with the person I love the most. Paris at sunset, Munich beers the size of our heads, rainy London nights spent walking and talking and ducking into dark, cozy pubs. Castles, Will and Kate's house, morning strolls along the Seine. Buses and trains and a well of gratitude so deep I couldn't put it into words.
September: Baseball, football, repeat. Radley's face during the first game at Levi's Stadium. Sunny weekends, girls' nights, and watching some of the people we love say "I do."
October: Rolling fog and hot, hot days. Drinks on the deck, dinner by the bay. Sunsets and Napa and laughing so hard my stomach hurt while Lena Dunham read her essays aloud.
November: Back to basics, and back to the book. Gorgeous beach days with our favorite people. A fancy party. A trip to Mexico. The most special weekend back at our wedding venue.
 December: Parties and sequins and the latest, most festive nights. Three years at PopSugar! Home, family, and more Portillo's than anyone should ever eat. Hockey games. Board games. Old friends and old home videos on repeat because you just cannot, will not stop laughing.
2014, you were a special one.
Cheers to 2015!