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.

August 12, 2014

the lightness of that life.

My best friend snapped this picture of me in Paris seven years ago, asking me to stop in the middle of Montmartre and smile. It's such a true, capture-the-moment sort of photo, a favorite memory made manifest, and I love so much that I'm still wearing my gloves, a plastic bag hanging on my wrist. We'd just eaten crepes for lunch, just bought little paintings as souvenirs, and I remember feeling so young and so old at the same time, ready and a little bit scared to return to real life after four months studying abroad. I was twenty years old, blonde, single, and recently heartbroken, both terrified and thrilled for whatever was waiting for me back home.

Again and again I've returned to this photo over the years, struck by the way it marks such a turning point in my life. It was while I lived in Oxford that I decided to be a writer, and it's in that small, quaint little city that I learned how to be alone. For the first time I was on my own, in more ways than one, and I remember feeling relieved to learn that being alone didn't have to mean feeling lonely.

And just as soon as I learned how to be alone, well, I returned home and met Radley.

Words are my job, but when it comes to Oxford, I'm at a loss, I really am. It's like that, I think, when a place and a time feels so sacred, and those four months are such a precious little pocket of time when in a very real and visceral way, I knew that everything was going to be okay.

Today, Radley and I are heading overseas (!!!) and I'm visiting England for the first time since living there. We'll be traveling to London, Oxford, Munich, and Paris, and there's a knot in my chest when I think about walking along those familiar Oxford streets. Honestly, I'm far more anxious than I expected to feel, and it's a good sort of anxious, of course, but I'm also a bit scared to step back in time, to return to my twenty-year-old self and feel the weight and the lightness of that life.

A bigger part of me, though, feels more blessed than ever to share that space with Radley — to let him into that precious little pocket of time and get to know that sacred, secret part of me. The me before him.

July 31, 2014

today i believe...

... that there's just really nothing quite like the California sun.

... that you don't need to be a young adult to like YA books. (Cough, Eleanor & Park, cough.)

... that when things are feeling a little off and you're looking for an answer, sometimes it isn't all-out change that you need — just a little momentum.

... that just-because greeting cards are the best kinds of greeting cards.

... that it's so, so important to say no every once in a while.

... that there's nothing more satisfying than finding a really thoughtful, I-knew-you'd-love-this little gift that you just know they'll appreciate.

... that everyone needs a song (or thirty) that brings them back to high school.

... that a person's flaws can be the thing that makes you love them.

... and that the hard thing about life in your twenties is the way that everybody's doing something different, and everyone's in a different place. (That's also the best part.)

July 8, 2014

something magical.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I've thought that there was something noble and mysterious about writing, about the people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were little gods or sorcerers. All my life I've felt that there was something magical about people who could get into other people's minds and skin, who could take people like me out of ourselves and then take us back to ourselves. And you know what? I still do." — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

July 2, 2014

on choosing to be busy.

There's a lot written about the challenges of life in your 20s. There's a lot written about the uncertainty, the in-between feeling, the confusing combination of fear and hope that comes with all that future and possibility stretched out in front of you. It's a real thing, the struggle of your 20s. And in my experience, it's mostly an issue of prioritizing.

When I was younger, my priorities felt far more defined. I knew very clearly that I should work hard in school, make good friends, and maybe figure out a few things about myself along the way. Things shifted a bit in college — more of those "Where am I going with my life?" questions — but everything still seemed pretty obvious. Everyone my age was doing the same thing, working toward the same sorts of goals.

And then, you know, real life hits.

In the days after my 27th birthday, I wrote about the excitement of 27. It's young! It's old(er)! It's whatever you want it to be! It's whatever you want it to be. That last part means decisions, choices, priorities. It means late-night heart to hearts with friends who are in totally different places than you, both literally and figuratively. It means bucket lists written on the bus as you wonder what, exactly, matters. It means figuring out the hard way that you can't put every dream on your plate at once, and that you shouldn't want to, anyway, because in the crazy, complicated years of your 20s — that roller coaster of a decade that pulls you in every direction at once — there's something to be said for a simple focus. 

I'm busy. You're busy. Everyone's busy. That isn't the point. The point is what you're busy doing. What's filling all that time? The truth of the matter is that you're always going to be stretched a little thin, and that's just life. Yes, you'll be overwhelmed, but you get to choose what overwhelms you. Is it work? Relationships? Travel? Is it your everyday hobby? That long-term pipe dream? All of the above?

By default, I've always picked "all of the above" — mostly because that means I'm not actually choosing. I'm endlessly, impossibly indecisive, and if I'm forced to waver between one thing or another, I tend to err on the side of, well, everything. It's silly. And it's immature, really, because what's growing up if it's not learning how and when you need to choose? If you don't decide, you're selling yourself and all those pipe dreams short. Honestly, if you sit back and think about all the really, truly successful people you know, chances are they were fairly single-minded in their success. Because even if they ended up as a doctor/lawyer/writer/actress/world traveler, chances are that, at first, they only set out to be a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or whatever that one, first, single step may have been. In all likelihood, the rest of it followed later, staggered in the wake of that first dream like a trail of little victories.

Prioritizing means something different to everyone, but for me, as a writer, it mostly means prioritizing what I write. For somewhere between eight to ten hours a day, I write for work, which translates to lots of hours logged behind a computer. But the crazy thing is that I always want to write more — always. Whether it's here on the blog or for my latest fiction piece or in my rambling, randomness of a journal, I quit writing for work and then I'm ready to write more.

But there are also things like, oh, you know, relationships and friendships and exercise and fun. And as much as a long day filled with nothing but writing sounds good in theory, I'm not cut out for the solitary writer's life. In graduate school, a classmate joked, "You're too social to write a book." I laughed in the moment, but later, the comment came to haunt me. Was she right? Does a successful writing life mean it's your only life? Does writing a book mean you have to eat, sleep, and breathe your story, coffee dates and hikes and late nights out pushed to the wayside?

Yes and no, I think. But in any case, it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Life is only going to get more and more complicated, and in choosing what will overwhelm me, I've forced myself to prioritize — to narrow my focus and be, if not single-minded, then at least quadruple-minded. Baby steps, right? For weeks I've been thinking about what sort of busy I'd like to be, and this is what I came up with:

I want to be busy taking care of myself.
I want to be busy carving out time for the people I care about.
I want to be busy working hard in a career that I love.
And I want to be really, ridiculously busy writing a book.

It's that last one that's been nagging at me lately in the best of ways. For the past year I've been picking up and putting down a work in progress, waiting until I'm just a little less busy to "really dive in." And then I realized that you can't wait for busyness to go away — you have to welcome that busyness and make it your own. So I guess I choose to be damn busy writing a book.

And all this is to say that, yes, it's been a little bit quieter around these parts, and that's because as much as I appreciate the blogging world, I don't want to be busy blogging. I've been writing in this space for five years, and like anything else, blogging has grown into a habit, one I'll probably never be able to give up. But for now, anyway, I'd like to be overwhelmed by other things while the timing's right. So I'll keep returning to this space whenever I feel like it — every couple days, every couple weeks, whatever — as I let my focus settle elsewhere for a while.

In choosing what I'll allow to overwhelm me, it's been interesting, to say the least, and I really encourage you to do the same. What kind of busy do you want to be?

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June 17, 2014

my dad's best lessons.

"Your father has to say ten-thousand words a day." It's a line my mom dropped years ago when we were laughing about my dad's chatty personality, and she joked that at the end of the day, if he's been alone, my dad just talks and talks "to reach his word quota." Luckily, he's a smart guy who reads more newspapers than anyone I've ever met, so he's never short on interesting topics. 

The other half of the joke, of course, is that I have to say ten-thousand words a day, too. (For the record, I think my quota is far smaller, but either way, the point is basically that I talk a lot, too.) It's one of the many, many habits I've picked up from my dad over the years.

And with all that chatter of his, my dad spent a lot of time telling me things, teaching my things. In elementary school, he taught me how to ride a bike, how to swing a bat, how to play chess and swim backstroke and polish my long-division skills. He spent an entire weekend helping me to perfect a speech in middle school, and those three years brought more basketball, volleyball, soccer, track, and golf lessons than I could ever possibly count. You need a free-throw routine. Anticipate the ball. Don't look back at the other runners — look ahead, keep your eyes forward.

High school marked the prime time of Dad Lectures. He instructed me to fill up the gas tank when it's a quarter full, and to make plans in the middle of the week because it's the best way to prioritize what you really what to do. Before school dances, he encouraged me to embrace the curls and "stand up straight" for photos, and every Friday and Saturday night, he told me to "make good choices." When things were hard, he told me to look inward, and when things were good, he told me to surround myself with people who celebrated my successes. He told me the bad-boy thing was a phase (it was) and that good guys were worth waiting for (they were) and that sometimes, it wasn't all that easy to tell the difference between the two (sigh). And for all the times I wished he wasn't, my dad was always right.

There were a lot of lessons, a lot of lectures, and although so many of his ten-thousand-a-day words are left etched in my mind, it's what my dad didn't say that I remember most. It's what I learned from watching him, from imitating him, that's served me best over the years.

From my father, I learned to arrive three hours early to the airport, just in case. I learned to never turn down a piece of cake, to always tip well, and to tell someone you love them as often as you think it. I learned to apologize when I was wrong, to forgive myself as I'd forgive another. I learned to sometimes stop for directions, and to know when I could find my own way. I learned how to make other people feel special, how to be selfless without losing myself, how to give when I had little to share. Mostly, though, I learned how to love — easily and honestly, without pretense or fear or hesitation.

Because those three, of course, were always my favorite of his ten-thousand words. They came as he tucked me in, as he turned out the light, as he winked and laughed: "Who loves you?"

* * *

June 2, 2014

the ten-week countdown.

After months and months of getting very, very excited, we're finally at the ten-week countdown to our end-of-summer Europe trip! Over the years, Radley and I have taken exactly one vacation that was just us, just because (our honeymoon), since all our other getaways have been to visit friends and family. That makes us all the more thrilled about August, when Radley and I will be traveling to London, Oxford, Munich, and Paris(!!) for a few weeks. 

It's been seven years since I studied abroad in Oxford, and Radley's never been abroad, so between the two of us, we're pretty much beside ourselves with excitement. I'm hoping to show him around a few of my favorite spots in London, Oxford, and Paris, but neither of us have been to Munich before. Any suggestions? I'd love to hear any and all recommendations for all four cities!

May 27, 2014

a happy-tired kind of weekend.

Sometimes a weekend comes and goes and it feels like it passed in a flash, so we made a point to take advantage of every moment these past few days. Saturday we joined some friends for a gorgeous hike through Tennessee Valley (an old favorite) plus lunch and beers at Mill Valley Beerworks (a new favorite). The next day brought some errands, some ice cream, and some big laughs during a late-night dinner date at Vin Antico, where we found ourselves underdressed and overeating and loving every second of it. By Monday night there had been BBQs and sunny runs, ice-cold lemonade and crispy watermelon, and I crawled into bed feeling exhausted in the best, most satisfying way. When you live days to the fullest and find yourself happy-tired as the sun goes down, there's nothing better. There just isn't.

May 20, 2014

on fear and stillness.

A few weeks ago, a reader sent me an email full of questions, mostly about love and relationships. And then, at the very end, she asked me this: What are you in-your-bones afraid of? After a while, I responded to say that I'm most afraid of loss. Loss and stillness.

Loss, of course, is the easy answer. It's what we're all afraid of, isn't it? There's nothing more terrifying, nothing more gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking than losing something or someone we love. I gave her that answer without an explanation, but stillness, that deserved more thought.

I grew up in a busy, bustling house. As the youngest of five, all of us athletes, we were always on the go. For a long time, my weeks were a blur of practices and games and pick-up scrimmages in the park before more practices, more games. There was soccer and basketball and volleyball and swim team. There was cheerleading, dance class, and choir, plus lessons for piano and golf and tennis. Schedules were packed, days were filled, and the idea of boredom was laughable.

Then, in the wake of an injury, there was a pause. Without practices and games and lesson after lesson, my world quickly turned quiet. There was an eerie, unfamiliar silence, and the sudden stillness knocked the wind out of me. I'd just turned fifteen, and as days turned into weeks turned into months, I found myself tugging at the loose threads of my life until I was left emotionally undone. For the first time I felt disoriented, dizzy with decision. My days lacked energy and my spirit lost its spark until finally, fortunately, I learned a very simple, significant lesson: Sometimes, life slows down, and when the stillness starts to feel more crushing than calm, you have to create your own momentum.

There's something to be said for bouts of quiet, of course, but in my experience, life is at its fullest when there's movement. When I look back on all the times that I've disappointed myself in a deep, surprising way, I can see in hindsight that more often than not, I was flailing about, restless in a chapter with too much reflection and not enough of a plot. As a writer and the wildly sensitive child of two wildly sensitive parents, I have a tendency to sometimes step back and wait when I should be racing forward, and it's taken me years to learn when and why and how I need to put one foot in front of the other.

For the past few years — the past decade, really — I've felt as though I was being thrust forward year after year, propelled from dash to dash on the timeline of my life. There was a lot of momentum, a lot of movement, and while much of that had to do with all the inevitabilities of being in your teens and twenties, at different points, I had to choose to move. I had to create momentum. Waiting for some sort of force to nudge you ahead is the easy route, but waiting is lost time. What's really exhilarating is to be the force that's pushing you forward, to choose very consciously to thrust yourself toward your future even when you have no clue what that future looks like. And eventually, hopefully, you can find peace in the stillness that settles into the tiny spaces between all the wonderful life you're busy living.

May 15, 2014

today i believe...

... that an extra coat of mascara can change your day. (Not really, but you know.)

... that everyone needs a friend they truly look up to and admire, one who makes you want to be a better person just because they're that incredible.

... that perfect, sunny weather calls for lemonade and outdoor lunch dates.

... that forgiveness is a funny thing, but always worth it.

... that some days, you just need to toss out the to-do list, pour a glass of wine, and talk to your best girlfriends on the phone for a solid three hours.

... that there's nothing sweeter than a little kid who's excited for their birthday.

... that love means giving them the softer, cozier blanket.

... and that it's so, so important to be the person who celebrates other people's successes.