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.

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?

*                    *                    *

For those of you who would still like to keep up with the blog as I write more sporadically, you can subscribe to email updates in the right sidebar, follow me on Bloglovin, or, of course, keep checking back. There's also Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — bonus points for Pinterest.