September 24, 2015

playing the part.

Four years ago I sought the advice of a woman who was so very together. Quick-witted, sharp, successful, and gorgeous, she was hard-working and well-respected. Somehow, she was the sort of person who managed to work late, cook elaborate dinners, start book clubs, organize happy hours, try all the coolest workout classes, and, I don't know, probably save lives in her spare time. In any case, she was damn impressive. Meanwhile, I was 24, regularly eating cereal for dinner, and feeling not at all like an adult. I was an adult-in-training, and I wanted step-by-step, detailed instructions.

"How do you do it?" I asked her. "Seriously. What do your days look like?"

When she replied, I expected her to be overly humble or dismissive, but she wasn't. Instead, she laughed and shared her tricks. And that was part of it, I realized: She was awesome, she knew she was awesome, and even better, she knew it was okay to know she was awesome.

"I pretend to be the person I wish she was," she said. "I act like a better version of me."

I was confused. "But isn't that still just you being you?"

She nodded. "The lines blur." 

It basically starts as an act, she told me, like you're playing the part of your fantasy self. You dress the part, act the part, and before you know it, the habits are yours, and you're you — only better. 

That all sounded great, in an abstract sort of way, but I demanded specifics. What did she do?

Well, to start, she asked herself the same question, day after day, again and again: "Do I want to be the kind of person who [blank]?" And then came the second part, the harder part. She promised herself that 90 percent of the time, she'd let her answer to that question guide her. Almost every time, if the answer was yes, then she'd do it. And, of course, if it was no, then she wouldn't.

In other words, it was really, really simple, and also really, really hard.

I'd like to say that I quickly took her words to heart and shifted gears, but I didn't. Not completely, anyway. I did ask the question, though, and I learned a lot from my answers. I figured out, moment by moment, in a series of situations, what sort of person I wanted to be. And sometimes, on good days, I'd mostly be that person. Or, at least, more like that person. And that feels like enough.

Since then, I've watched her climb higher and higher, personally and professionally, toward her best self. And she's made me a believer in the fake-it-'til-you-make-it philosophy. I think it's okay, every once in a while, to let things change from the outside in. Sometimes, it's your best bet.

August 17, 2015

this is happiness.

A true cure-all: Channel your inner 14-year-old, go to a Taylor Swift concert with friends who aren't afraid to be obnoxiously cheesy with you, then belt out every single word of every song as you jump up and down. (Bonus points for snapping blurry iPhone pictures to capture the moment.)

Yep, I'm 28. And yep, this is happiness.

August 12, 2015

coming home.

 Over the weekend, we went to Outside Lands, the music festival in Golden Gate Park, and I obnoxiously can't stop gushing about my favorite shows. I knew I'd freak out seeing Mumford and Sons again (obsessed) and there really are no words for Sam Smith and Elton John, but one of the artists I was most excited to see was Leon Bridges. My friend sent me the song "Coming Home" a few months back, and I've had his new album on repeat ever since. It's become the soundtrack of our summer — the songs we play when we're in the car, when we're on the deck playing cards, when we're making coffee on Sunday mornings. And he was so good live. (You have to see him.)
Also, just FYI, for every normal picture I've ever shared of Radley and me, there are about fifteen others that look just like this one. Now you know.

August 4, 2015

three years later.

Three years since I married him, since the sparklers surprised me and I took his name. Three years, and ever since, the ground beneath my feet has felt just a bit more solid. With him, I feel steadied.

I've had good days and tough days and a few damn-near-perfect days since we said "I do," but every night, when I crawl into bed, I feel anchored to something, and to someone. I'm most grateful for that, I think, because really, it's that sense of balance that lets me be bolder, maybe, than I really am.

Cliché, true, as always: How much, how little, has changed. 

My hair's gotten darker, his flecked with grays. We moved from an apartment to a house, from our mid-twenties to late, but still there are too-wild nights and too-lazy days and moments that make us feel like we're just pretending to be adults, like we're just moving through the motions.

I read once that a part of you will always hold on to the age someone was when you first met them, and I get it. I really do. He's traded Bob Marley tees for tailored shirts, clean cheeks for a bit of scruff, but still, sometimes I glance over as he fastens his watch, grabs his briefcase, and he's still twenty. He's still sunburnt, a beer in his hand, the beach behind him. Sometimes, he's still my boyfriend.

We've lived what feels like a lifetime in three short years. When we were dating, I kept a list of my favorite moments with him in the back of a diary, and although I don't write them down anymore, I still mentally tick them off as they happen. This one's list-worthy, I'll think. Maybe even top ten.

That's what I thought two nights ago, an ordinary night, during that short in-between time when the sun's dying down but you haven't turned on the lights yet. I was sad, really sad, and when he brought me in for a hug, he didn't try to fix anything. He just said, "You're my favorite," and I knew he meant it, and I let my face rest against his chest so that I could hear his heartbeat.

Three years and he's my favorite, and I feel steadied, like a heartbeat.

July 28, 2015

just a ring.

Every once in a while, there's a coincidence so big and so wild that it feels almost, almost, like a miracle. Recently, a friend told me one of those no-way, can't-believe-it, the-universe-is-incredible kind of stories, and she asked me the last time I felt truly blown away by something.

It was during my senior year of college, when I went to Vegas with my mom and a bunch of her childhood friends from Tennessee. We were there for the Academy of Country Music Awards, and on the night of the show, we ended up standing in the pit in front of the stage. Between the cameras and the celebrities and the buzz of it all, it was a surreal sort of night to begin with — all noise and sequins and screaming fans. Also dancing. There was a whole lot of dancing.

At one point, while Miley Cyrus performed "Climb" (Why do I remember this? Hello, 2009), I went to twirl the ring on my right hand, the one I'd worn every day for four years. Where the stone should have been, the pink sapphire, I felt four prongs, an empty space between them. 

I panicked, heat suddenly rising to my cheeks. As the stage lights flashed and everyone around me swayed, their hands up in the air, I crouched to the ground, pressing my palm to the carpet to feel for that tiny pink stone. I'd opened the ring on my 18th birthday, just four months before I moved across the country for college. During those early days in San Diego, and whenever I felt particularly homesick, the ring had felt like a small, special connection to everything I'd left behind. 

"It's gone," I said to my mom as soon as the music stopped. "Look."

I held up my hand, and she went into instant fix-it mode. "We'll find it," she said. "Don't panic. As soon as the show's over, we'll search around and we'll find it."

The carpet, though — it was red. Of all things, we were looking for a tiny pink stone on a bright red carpet. When the show ended and the crowd had filed out and the janitors came inside to clean, we all kicked off our heels and crawled around the pit, searching. I didn't have much hope.

Why did I feel like crying? It was just a stone. It was just a ring. I was fine, I was fine.

One of the janitors walked over to find out what we were doing. He was a short man, older and tough-looking. His hair was long beneath his hat, mostly gray, and when he spoke, his voice was low and scratchy. I could barely hear him in the big auditorium. 

"What are you looking for?" he asked.

"A pink stone," I told him, holding up my cage of a ring. "It fell out."

He nodded right as the sound of vacuums started up nearby, and he watched my face as it fell, as I realized that one of those vacuums would most likely find the stone before I did.

"I'll help you," he said. "And I'll stop the vacuums. Are you staying at the hotel?"

I told him that I was. I told him that we were leaving in the morning, and that the ring had been a gift from my parents, and that I knew it sounded silly, but I really, really wanted to find it.

He stopped me mid-sentence. "Is that a Chicago accent?"

"Yeah," I said, briefly shaken out of the moment. "I'm from the suburbs."

"Me too," he said. "Glen Ellyn — do you know it?"

I laughed and stammered. "Yes, I... yeah, that's my hometown."

A lightness, recognition, fell across his face. A moment later, his smile faltered. "Look, I can only hold the vacuums for so long, and this place need to be cleaned up pretty quickly. I'm sorry, but you guys need to head out. I'll spend a few more minutes looking, but it sounds like it may be gone."

I nodded. He was right. But just in case, we gave him our room number, and he said he'd reach out if he got lucky, but that we shouldn't hold our breath. I glanced back at his nametag. 

"Thanks, Tony. I really appreciate it."

Back in our hotel room, we packed up our things, rehashing the show, the better parts of the night. My empty ring kept getting caught on my clothes, the pointy prongs snagging my shirts as I tried to fold them. Eventually, I took it off, zipping it into a small pocket inside my purse. It's not a big deal, I told myself. Let it go. You're being silly. 

Thirty minutes later, a knock at our door. A catch in my throat. 

Standing in the hallway, there was Tony, short and smiling and holding up one hand. The tiny pink stone sat in his palm, and the words wouldn't come. I couldn't speak.

"I found it," he said, laughing. "Can you believe it?"

And then we all cracked up, my mom and Tony and me, all of us a bit delirious from the strange, surreal night and our odd connection. I couldn't believe it. But also, I sort of could.

I thanked him a million times, asked how I could repay him, and he shook his head. "No, no," he said. "This is just one Glen Ellyn kid helping out another. Glad it worked out."

After he left, my mom and I sat at the edge of the bed, stunned, and I kept turning the stone over in my palm. The sapphire was so small, and that room was so big, and the carpet was red, and of all places, he was from my tiny Chicago hometown. What were the odds? Again and again that night, and again and again that week, I shook my head, asking, Can you believe it?

I know, I know, this post and my writing — it's all sort of dramatic. Obnoxiously so. But that's how it felt that night, and that's how it still feels whenever I glance at my right hand. When I was little, I had a watch that I swore held some kind of superpower, and sometimes I can still tap into that, as if I'm still six years old, as if my ring carries even the slightest bit of magic.

It was just the wildest coincidence, you know? Almost a miracle. 

July 27, 2015

so many of our summer nights.

An ice-cold, sweet-and-sour lemonade in my hand. A deck of cards splayed out across the table between us, straights and trios lined up in a row. The breeze, a bit too chilly, rustling the leaves of our  birch tree. His favorite reggae playlist on the stereo, sun slipping between the slats of our fence.

Easy, deliciously so. Not a care, not a care, not a care.

July 20, 2015

a little reminder about love.

"Love isn't something you convince people to do."

That took my breath away the first time I heard it. Riding home on the bus, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, I stopped and pressed rewind when Cheryl Strayed said those words on her podcast, Dear Sugar, a few month back. I keep returning to it, keep turning it over in my head. The message, of course, isn't new. That's something you hear in songs and movies all the time, the idea that you shouldn't have to make someone love you.

But, well, it's always worth a reminder, right? Friends, family, other halves — they don't need convincing. Just let go, do you, and let the chips fall.

July 18, 2015

the best feeling captured in the best way.

"She'd liked him immediately, and so much. What do they call it? Enchanted."
— from Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

(Photo by Sam, BFF and queen of golden-hour magic.)

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 as excited (or as frightened) by an assignment.

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 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 they move differently and they 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 ever could have expected.

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  help people 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.