November 26, 2014

what your currency is going to be

"If you are lucky, there is a moment in your life when you have some say as to what your currency is going to be. I decided early on it was not going to be my looks... My currency became what I wrote and said and did." 
— Amy Poehler, Yes Please

November 19, 2014

the plot points of your life.

I've been thinking a lot about plot points lately. For one thing, I'm chugging along with National Novel Writing Month, and in framing the story, it's all about choosing the Big Moments, the ones that Create Change so that everything falls into a very clear, very compelling Before and After.

And then, of course, amid all those musings, you end up wondering about your plot points.

In the story of my life, I keep thinking, what are the major moments that affected me most? What choices and people and events drew a line in the sand, one marking a before and an after, as only the truly important things do? What were the good ones? The bad ones? And what were the ones that felt bad at the time, outrageously so, only to reveal themselves as something sort of incredible?

For a team-building exercise, Radley once had to talk about the five things in his life that affected him most. Some of them were circumstances, some were relationships, and others were choices or events — and, almost impossibly, when he asked me what I thought his five things might be, I guessed some form of every single one. And yes, part of that came from just really, really knowing him, but what struck us both is how obvious they felt. As if we could look at his story, and his character, and channel our fifth grade book-report days to say, "Here's why he is who he is."

There was obviously some gray area, and some of the moments I brought up, he hadn't thought of before. That, to me, may be the most interesting thing of all — that someone else can see what makes you you, and you never gave that moment or place or choice a second thought.

Anyway, it's clear that I'm knee deep in a story, but I think there's something to be said for recognizing the plot points of your own life. For knowing, or at least trying to understand, why this led to that, and what that meant for you, and how everything fits together, somehow.

Or maybe it doesn't fit together, which makes for a far more interesting story.

November 17, 2014

The doing of the thing.

Wanting to do something and wanting to do what it takes to do something can be two different things. It's a point I've heard time and time again when it comes to writing; you can want to be a writer, or want to write a book, but do you want to spend a lot of hours sitting at your desk, typing away? Do you want to log a whole lot of alone time? Do you enjoy the doing of the thing, or do you just hope to be an author? Luckily, with writing, I really, really enjoy the doing of the thing, but I can't stop thinking about that idea, and that difference — the doing vs. the being.

It's probably safe to say that we've all come up against that same feeling. Sure, I'd love to be the sort of cook who whips up original dishes all the time, but honestly, I have absolutely zero patience when it comes to experimenting in the kitchen. I'm a by-the-book, follow-a-recipe kind of girl, and although it would be great to be more creative in the kitchen, I don't want to do it.

For me, this doing vs. being thing has become a measurement of sorts. Like anyone, I have a long bucket list, and I'm a big believer in setting goals and writing to-do lists of any and every kind. But at some point, the realist in me kicks into gear, and it's actually been really fascinating to take a hard look at the things I "want to do" and ask myself if I really want to do what it takes to do them.

At first, I thought I might feel guilty about crossing a few things off my list, but to be honest, I actually felt proud. It's easy to tick off a million things you'd like to do, but it's takes some true strength and resolve to narrow down that list and do what you actually want to do.

And who knows? When it comes to cooking, maybe someday I'll actually want to get creative with something other than an extra-special PBJ. But, I mean, I won't hold my breath.

November 3, 2014

Aaand here we go...

This isn't the first year a friend has tried to convince me to join National Novel Writing Month, but it is the first time I've agreed. And now, two days in, my brain is as blurry as this picture.

It's always been easier for me to write during the fall and winter months. There's just something about being all bundled up and cozy with a cup of hot tea that makes me feel more like a capital-w Writer. (Plus, let's be honest, it's far easier to coop yourself up and write when you aren't tempted by the 80-degree weather outside.) In any case, now felt like as good a time as any to really set aside some time to write, so now I'm aiming for that 50,000-words-in-a-month goal... Any other takers?

If you're a writer, too, and you're interested in taking on the challenge, sign up at and then let me know! It's way more fun to do this sort of thing with a few friends, so if you decide to start a new novel, keep me posted — any and all support helps, right?

"You write about the thing that sank its teeth into you and wouldn't let go." — Paul West

October 29, 2014

the home we carry within us.

Fall arrives later here, the leaves changing throughout October and November, the trees finally bare by December. It's taken me a couple years to learn what life looks like in northern California, and slowly but surely it's starting to feel normal. Less and less I find myself saying, "Well, in the Midwest..." and "Back in Chicago..." but the comparisons are still there, and they always will be.

It's funny how much of home we carry within us, though, and how those everyday details you took for granted growing up feel so comforting after you've left. My parents' house always has some sort of warm, vanilla-cinnamon, we-just-baked-something scent, and I still don't quite know where it comes from because my mom definitely isn't a candle person. (One friend once joked, "It's probably just your mom, because if she had a scent, that would be it — all warm and cozy and Fall-like.")

I found that scent, though, in (yes) a candle I bought recently, and it's almost silly how much I've come to love it. I may not live in the same house, and the odd San Francisco mix of pines and palm trees may be a far cry from the tall oaks I'm used to, but damn if it doesn't smell like home around here. And damn if it doesn't feel like home, too... Although, you know, that probably has more to do with Radley than all the maple-hazelnut candles I'm burning, but still. The details help.

(Above, our home in San Francisco, and below, my hometown.)

October 27, 2014

on having the courage to change your mind.

There are a lot of reasons why I love Lena Dunham, and a lot of reasons why I love her book, but it's mostly because she has a way of being both hilarious and poignant all at the same time. Of the many Lena quotes I love, there's one that stuck out to me in her book, Not That Kind of Girl. While talking about one of her past relationships, and wanting to end it, she said, "It's okay to change your mind. About a feeling, a person, a promise of love. I can't stay just to avoid contradicting myself."

Her words are simple — it's okay to change your mind — but they struck a chord, echoing the same strange, hard-to-pinpoint problem so many of my friends have mentioned lately.

In the past month or so, one girlfriend told me she's doesn't want to "give up" on her city. Another told me she doesn't want to leave her job because she's "not a quitter," and another said she wasn't happy, but she wasn't going to end her relationship because it's "what she chose." All of them were disappointed in one way or another, and all of them felt guilty about that — about feeling disappointed, as if what they'd chosen for themselves had been wrong, a mistake. Their fault.

That isn't the way it works, though, you know? Just because something isn't right right now, that doesn't mean it never was. That doesn't mean it was a wrong choice, or that when you turned one way, you should have turned another. It just means that what worked for you before doesn't work for you anymore, and that might have everything or nothing to do with your choices. Things change, and your feelings about them can change, too, and even though that can seem a little bit unsettling, wouldn't it be far more unsettling to be so stubborn and so scared that you never let go of anything, just because you wanted to prove something to yourself? 

The strength isn't in holding on to something just to prove yourself right. The strength is in being mindful and self-aware enough to move on when you know that's what you need to do.

There's a lot of courage in quitting, I think.

October 20, 2014

some birthday musings for radley.

Today Radley turns 27 years old — exactly six months after I did, because opposites attract or something? — and as usual, I find myself looking back at birthdays past. Over the last couple years, I've written him little birthday notes, so it felt only appropriate to do the same today, too.

Dear Radley,

I remember when you turned 21. We'd only been together a short time, but as we sat at that long table with all our friends, drinks and brand-new memories between us, I watched you laugh until you cried and I thought that I'd like to be beside you for more birthdays. Maybe even all of them.

I remember when you left the keys in your motorcycle not once, but twice, and I remember sitting together, waiting for help, and the way you blushed when you said you'd forgotten because you were nervous, because you were excited to see me. Sometimes, when you're sweetly embarrassed, I see that same smile. You've changed so much, but all the right things have stayed the same.

I remember when we were walking along the beach between our houses and you were genuinely worried about me stepping barefoot on the sidewalk. You offered me your size-14 flip flops and I laughed and laughed, and when I walked over a sharp rock, you didn't say I told you so.

I remember when we moved in together and everyone thought we were crazy and we did too, and then we had a picnic in the living room and I decided crazy was a good thing to be.

I remember when someone asked me to tell them all about you, and all I could say was, "He's just so good." It's been six years and sometimes that's still the best way to say it. You're so good.

I remember our wedding day, and your face when we saw each other. It was quiet, the only sound my dress rustling along the brick walkway, and you were stepping back and forth, one foot to the other, so nervous I thought I'd laugh and sob at the same time. And then your face. Your face.

To all the birthdays that still lie ahead, XO

And letters from birthdays past...

October 14, 2014

today i believe...

... that — okay, I'm biased — but there's just nothing like crossing the Golden Gate Bridge first thing in the morning.

... that you don't have to embrace pumpkin-spice everything just because it's Fall.

… that it's okay to say you're not okay.

... that the best way to be a long-distance friend is to remember the little things.

... that each day, it's important to create little pockets of time that are yours and only yours.

... that love in 2014 is when someone passes over the phone charger when their phone is dead, too.

... that, ohmygod, the Banks song "Beggin For Thread" will never, ever get old.

... that when there's a beautiful sunrise or sunset, you really need to just drop everything and appreciate it for a few minutes.

... and that there's something to be said for running toward the very thing you want to run away from.

October 8, 2014

looking back.

My story-in-progress takes place over the course of a summer. It starts in June and stretches into early September, and I knew that if I were ever going to do it — actually write the book — I needed to begin at the start of the season. Because there's just something about that slow, hopeful unfolding of summer. The daylight lasts and the lightning bugs appear and the air is so thick with humidity and nostalgia that it sort of makes your head spin. I'll always feel seventeen in June.

This summer, I sat at my computer and I wrote. A lot. There were two pages and then ten, then fifty, and then zero, because I decided to start over. This happened again and again, and again and again I sat at my computer and I wrote until I decided to just trust myself. (No small feat.)

I'm far from finished, and I'm still very much immersed in that fictional world, but the truth is, it felt strange to slip away from blogging. Somehow, I've been writing this little blog for more than five years now (I can't believe it's been five years), and although it made me feel fourteen again to go back to writing in an actual journal, I missed this space. There's a certain sort of comfort in looking back, which is what I do here, mostly, and yes, I sometimes worry that I look back too often, but all that digging into the past has actually really, really helped with the whole book thing.

And so here I am, looking back.

In all sorts of books and essays, I've read that every writer has their obsessions. I've wondered for a long time what my true obsessions are — the ones I repeatedly, instinctively end up exploring in my writing — and after a summer of fiction and diaries and travel logs, I've narrowed it down:

Love, loss, home, and a nagging nostalgia that's laced in all of the above.

I used to feel guilty for feeling wistful. In a lot of ways, there's strength in letting go, but I've also come to appreciate the strength it takes to hold on. Honestly, I sometimes miss things even as they're happening, but I believe in missing things, I really do, because the missing is a necessary piece of remembering. And damn if remembering isn't everything. That's what this is — the blog, the diaries, even the fiction. All of it is so that I remember. I've been writing in journals for more than twenty years, and in so many ways, those trivial recordings are what keep me sane. There's fear in forgetting, I think, and I find nothing more reassuring than putting it all on the page. I want to know, and I want to learn, and I want to remember. The good, the bad, all of it. But especially the good.

September 9, 2014

the picture that says it all.

Radley isn't exactly what you'd call a picture-taking kind of guy, so our three-week trip to Europe is mostly documented in awkward solo shots of him, or in slightly less awkward selfies that he snapped of us both. And then there's this photo of me, which Radley took on our last afternoon in Paris.

Taking advantage of the somewhat rare sunshine, we'd spent the day walking and walking and walking, meandering our way through the Tuileries gardens, past the Louvre, along the Seine, over Pont Neuf, and throughout both of the city's islands, where we let ourselves get lost again and again. We took that walk more than a few times over the course of that week, the the two of us charmed and a little bit completely in awe of the views. Later, I came across that same route in a guidebook, which called it the best romantic stroll in Paris. And it really, really is.

That last afternoon, when Radley turned around mid-walk and told me to smile for a photo, I remember feeling so grateful that he'd asked at that exact moment, because it was such a good one — such a light and easy, I-hope-I-never-forget-this-feeling, pinch-me kind of moment. I'd been sick for six days, my body struggling after two weeks of traveling, but damn was I happy. (I suppose there's nothing quite like waking up in Paris to make you feel totally, suddenly, wholeheartedly dedicated to ignoring any and all physical and/or emotional discomfort.)

Now, a week after returning home, it's this photo that makes me laugh as I sort through the hundreds taken throughout the trip. Because for all the posed pictures beside monuments and for all the smiley selfies in front of sunsets, nothing captures my experience quite like this spontaneous, in-the-moment picture. Those clothes were in need of a wash by then, and so was my hair, and thanks to a wide range of ill-fitting shoes, my feet were rather impressively dotted with blisters on just about every side. By then I was fueled mostly by caffeine and DayQuil, but also by a big, all-consuming, childlike sense of excitement. I felt grateful and satisfied and in-my-bones happy. Damn was I happy.

I'm still sort of reeling in the wake of our trip, overwhelmed by the experience and already (inevitably) a little bit nostalgic about the whole thing. It will surprise approximately no one to learn that I very meticulously recorded all the details of our vacation in both a paper notebook and a digital app, so I apologize in advance for the ridiculous influx of travel posts that will be filling these pages soon. In any case, I hope you'll bear with me over the next few weeks as I gradually share bits and pieces of it all, and for those of you who have reached out about specific questions and recommendations, I'll also be putting together individual city guides to outline more detailed travel suggestions!

In the meantime, here's to returning, and feeling rather grateful for that, too.