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.

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.)

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!