November 9, 2015

the life you keep saying you want.

I was lucky enough to attend Elizabeth Gilbert's first-ever writers workshop over the weekend, and as I later told my mom, Elizabeth brought the perfect mix of eloquence, enlightenment, and f-bombs. She's whip-smart and hilarious, sarcastic and self-deprecating in a way that's still self-loving. I adored her. Admired everything about her. And by the time I left, I felt the same way I did after I went to a taping of The Oprah Show — awestruck, energized, and ready to save the world or something.

Like most people, I first fell for her writing with Eat Pray Love, and her most recent book, Big Magic, has become a permanent fixture on my desk. She's said that Big Magic is her manifesto, and much of the weekend's workshop was shaped around the ideas her book lays out on creativity.

My notebook is full of scribbled phrases I jotted down as she spoke, but there was one line I didn't even need to write down. It stuck with me, and I honestly can't stop thinking about it.

"What are you willing to give up to have the life you keep saying you want?"

After Elizabeth asked the question, it sort of hung in the air, shifting the energy of the room. She went on to explain the hardest part — that you don't just have to give up the things that are bad for you, or the things that are a waste of time. You have to give up some of the good things, too.

This is the part that really got me: the life you keep saying you want. It's so pointed, right? It forces you to compare the life you claim you want to the life you've actually created for yourself. What's different? What's not? How much are you willing to bend to make the two look more similar?

I'll leave you with that. Oh, and my favorite line from Big Magic, which is actually a line by Jack Gilbert, a poet: "We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world." 

Stubborn gladness — so perfect, right?

October 26, 2015

today i believe...

... that the first chilly fall day is a certain kind of heaven.

... that it's perfectly acceptable to take a page out of Olivia Pope's book and have wine and popcorn for dinner whenever you watch Scandal.

... that Cheryl Strayed's podcast, Dear Sugar, is basically free therapy.

... that Liz Gilbert's podcast, Magic Lessons, should be a go-to for every writer or artist.

... that my favorite grad-school professor, Christine Sneed, nailed it once again with her latest novel, Paris, He Said. (It'll definitely win over all you Francophiles out there.)

... that, speaking of books, Meg's ebook is both poignant and perfect.

... that when *NSYNC tweets out your story, it's worth printing out the screenshot and putting it on your desk as a daily reminder of your tween dream come true.

... that it's really never too early to starting watching holiday movies.

... and that the Midwest in me will never, ever get over the thrill of commuting by boat.

October 22, 2015

small kindnesses.

A couple years ago, a couple years into living in San Francisco, I remember having a not-so-great day and wishing I was back in Chicago. I missed my friends, the lifelong ones, the ones who knew me best. I wanted the kinds of people who would show up wearing sweatpants for a lazy, who-cares kind of night. By then, of course, I'd built some really great relationships in California, but still I was homesick, and friendsick, if that's a thing. I was so, so friendsick. 

It's lucky, I think, to have those sorts of hometown friendships, the ones worth missing. That's what happens when you grow up in a small town — you get used to all your friends living within a ten-block radius, and you get used to seeing them each day, and moving through life together year after year. And then, when you get married, you look around on your wedding day and realize that your guest list looks an awful lot like your kindergarten class. (An actual thought I had during our reception.)

Last week, I had another not-so-great day. A string of them, actually, and in the midst of a busy time for Radley, I didn't want to have to lean entirely on him. I expected to struggle throughout the week, and I gave some of those same lifelong friends a heads up: Hey, I may need you this week. I expected the worst, waiting for the heaviness to sort of settle in, but it didn't. It couldn't.

There wasn't enough time for the weight to build because the people I love here, the ones in San Francisco, didn't let it. They swooped in and I felt understood. I felt okay.

If there's one thing I've learned about myself over the years, it's that I do better when I ask for help than when I try to go at it alone. Maybe it's all those years being surrounded by such a close-knit group, but when something hard comes up, I just have to know there's someone next to me. They don't have to do anything or say anything; they just have to sit there, and be there.

For the first time, really, I found myself reaching out to the people here. I felt strangely nervous about it, afraid to be vulnerable and afraid to be not my best self. But then the small kindnesses trickled in, one after another, and I ended up crying on a bus because I felt so sincerely cared for.

This city has never felt more like home. I've never felt more grateful for Radley, or for the friendships that have come into my life over the last few years. Nothing, of course, could ever replace the people who have walked beside me for nearly three decades, but it's good to remember that time isn't everything — that love can come quickly, and easily, and that can mean just as much.

Sometimes you don't recognize the strength of a friendship until you really, really need it. And it's okay to really need it, you know? That's kind of the point.

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.