Posts From March 2014

Self, selfie, selfiest

So, I've had this website and blog for nearly four years now and I've barely touched it. I still remember when I asked Ted Angel to build me a site, how urgent I felt about the matter. I needed a site now! I need the site yesterday! I needed it for posting my work, for networking. I'd use it to sell myself as a writer, I'd use it to archive the work of which I was most proud. I'd use it to just post random musings. You know, I'd use it for Internet-y things.

And then he built it and I was happy and I blogged once or twice. And then, nothing.

Sometimes he'd ask me how it was going and, embarrassed, I'd say I'd been busy, but just-you-wait-I'm-going-to-blog-regularly-soon-I-swear.

And then I didn't.

And truth is, I have been busy. With work, with school, with trying to write a book, with trying to have some sort of life.

But I've also missed blogging. At some point, I'll have Ted host my old site so that, just for kicks, I can access my 2000-era self.

Speaking of "self," this is kind of what this is all about.

Me. Me. Me.

I turned 44 in December and in the weeks since, I've been going through a bit of a mid-life crisis (more on that in future posts) and I've been trying to figure out how to deal with it.

I don't have money to buy a red sportscar and I'm far too responsible and uptight to quit my job, sell everything and backpack through Europe (that and I'd miss my cats too much) so, instead, I'm turning to other platforms of self-expression.

I recently joined the BlogHer community (I've followed the site for years) and just registered to attend BlogHer '14 in July.

I've also tasked myself with BlogHer's NaBloPoMo March challenge. This month's theme is to write on "self" and as it turns out I can pretty much talk about myself for days. What can I say, I'm a writer, I have issues, I have opinions and, if I'm going to be completely honest, I'm a bit of a narcissist (don't front, we all are).

So, self it is. More blogging to come. This time I mean it, for reals. No, really. OK, fine, we'll see.


Ten reasons I'm still not an adult.

The New York TImes just published a piece by Pamela Druckerman titled "What You Learned in Your 40s."

In addition to the usual stuff about how, by this age, you've kind of figured out that it does no one any good at anytime to care so much about what others think and that "eight hours of continuous, unmedicated sleep is one of life's great treasuresm"{TRUTH), she also advises on the subject of adulthood:

"There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently."

OK, I call bullshit on this. There are plenty of grown-ups out there, I'm just not one of them. Maybe it's because I don't have children, maybe that keeps me suspended in a perpetual state of arrested development--I don't know and I don't say this like it's something of which to be proud. Sure, I like the notion of "staying young," of not growing stale, of not forgoing adventure and no longer caring about new music, etc, but I seriously also wonder when I'm going to become the adult that my parents ever were.

I've technically been an adult for 26 years and I think the closest I've ever felt to being a bonafide grown-up is when Cory and I both got life insurance policies. That's responsible, right?

Other than that, however, nope. And I'm trying to figure out why I don't feel like a grown-up.

So far, this is what I've come up with (a partial, probably ongoing list):

  1. I still eat dinner at the coffee table almost every night. 
  2. My dining room table is reserved for when we have people over for dinner, for projects and for various cat wrestling matches.
  3. I've never hosted a holiday family get-together.
  4. I still sit at the kids' table at most family get-togethers.
  5. I usually wait to do laundry until I'm down to the dregs of my drawers
  6. Basically I have no set schedule for any household tasks or necessities.
  7. I hate gardening. Adults garden, right?
  8. I don't have a 401K (I used to, so maybe I was an adult for awhile?).
  9. I don't own property (see parenthetical above).
  10. Johnny Carson is no longer alive/ on-the-air. How can you be an adult if you don't end every evening with The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson? My 7-year-old self says this is not possible.






Writing while female, part one

Look, I know I said I'd blog daily in March but I didn't say it'd be quality. Too busy, so for now I'll just leave you with Buzzfeed's list of what women writers are sick of hearing. I post this as someone who is damn sick of people accusing me of just being mopey all the time. One time this guy at a reading called me the "death poet."

Well, OK, then, I guess, whatever.




My writing voice sounds like texts from a 13-year-old girl

I'm pretty sure I'm going to crash and burn on this blogging challenge any day now, but I'm trying to make it at last at least a week.

Today's BlogHer writing prompt asks "how is your writing voice like you?"    That's a tough one because I think I have several writing voices.

There's my journalism voice (which itself is sub-divided depending on the subject) and my fiction voice and my poetry voice and, of course, my blogging voice.

I think if there's any one defining characteristic that they all share, it's got to be total neurosis. Sometimes there's also anger and snark and annoyance and crazy-making self-doubt and anxiety. Or maybe all that just adds up to neurosis. Certainly, I've had people (newspaper readers, mostly) complain about my "voice": It's too bitchy, too self-involved, too whatever.

One of my favorite bits of feedback came via what was likely just Facebook spam via an email from someone complaining that I'm too "wo is me":

“Are you a lesbian? You’re so wo is me. It’s a turn-off. People don’t like that.”

Um, OK But, whatever. I mean, maybe I guess on the 'woe/wo/whoa" part. 

Mostly I strive for honesty, but my honest voice is, admittedly, one that is narcissistic, peevish, fickle, bitchy and immature.

I've been criticized for writing like a teenage girl writing in her diary. Guilty as charged.

Actually, I think my writing voice sounds more like texts from a 13-year-old girl. Or, to be more accurate, my writing voice sounds like this video for Beyonce's "Drunk in Love," in which the song's lyrics are depicted entirely via emojis.

Yeah, that's pretty much me right there.


When and where are you most yourself?

Today's prompt: When and where do you feel like yourself?

A visual explanation, presented without comment:


In which I corner you on the Internet and get all up in your personal space

OK, I want to keep blogging daily (really!) but I'm not sure if I can keep up with the writing prompts.

Nothing against the prompts, but they're requiring so much damn introspection that it's making me grumpy.

Which brings us to today's, which pretty much answers itself:

"Does blogging bring out your best or worst self?"

Worst my friends, worst.

Blogging brings out my most narcissistic, self-indulgent, me-me-me kind of self. It brings out the part of me that over-shares, the side of me that probably alienates you, that likely makes you give me the hard side-eye of annoyance. 

There's no editor, no boundaries, just me blathering on and on about whatever's pissed me off, or made me obsessed or is just otherwise taking up a lot of brain space. Writing into the void as if I were still scrawling, illegibly into that purple floral fabric-covered diary.

Still, every now and then you make a connection. You tell a story that resonates with someone else. You reveal a side of yourself--a genuinely interesting part of yourself--that might have otherwise stayed hidden. Maybe, every once in a while, you're your best self.

So, you know, there's that.

But, if I'm going to be 100 percent honest I know that more often than not blogging brings out the me who corners you at the party and talks loudly into your ear, whiskey on her breath, eyes shining with a touch of the crazy.

Sorry, Internet, but it's true.

Happy International Women's Day

Try not to get murdered, assaulted, discrimiinated against, condescended to or otherwise treated like a lesser being, OK? On a happier note, I'd like to give a shout-out to my main lady, my mother, who always taught me to speak up and stand up, be counted and make everything I do count for something. On that latter note, I hope she's not disappointed by all the trashy TV I watch. I hope I've made her proud.

On applying for an #AmtrakResidency

Just applied for the Amtrak Residency for Writers program. They're only taking 24 writers so I know my chances are slim but I'm nonetheless excited by the prospect.

I've done my own "unofficial residencies"--one in 2001 and another in 2012. The first one, in which I took the California Zephyr from Chicago to Sacramento wasn't originally planned as a way to write--but I quickly discovered the situation was ideal.

Years later, I was craving another long-distance train adventure and so booked a trip to see family in Forth Worth, Texas. I took the Coast Starlight and the Texas Eagle on that trip and used the time to work on my book. During my time on the train, I wrote several chapters and spent hours talking to people, listening to conversations and observing others. The experience was invaluabe and it also gave me some much-needed respite from everyday life.

Even before news of this residency came up I'd been researching other trips. I'd love to take the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder to Chicago, and then maybe the California Zephyr again.

Good luck to all the applicants and here's to dreaming of riding the rails once more.

Warning, grumping ahead

So, I made this promise to myself that I'd blog every day in March--as part of BlogHer's NaBloPo March challenge. It's all part of my personal social media reboot - a reboot that actually means less time on Facebook and more time tweeting and blogging.

Anyhoo, I thought it would easy thanks to the prompts provided--but then I logged on today and realized there were no weekend challenges (I mean, so obviously I wasn't doing the prompts everyday since I just noticed this, but whatever).

My first reaction? Literally, it was: God damnit--do you mean I blogged yesterday and I didn't have to? Because god help me that I do something that's not required.

It's been such a long weekend filled with SN&R work and taxes and various other commitments, so if this means I can just finally kick back and watch some trashy TV (hello, Lindsay Lohan 'docu-series') well then, hell, pour me a drink and let's call it a day.

And then my inner guilt tripper kicked in and I reminded myself that this isn't just about official writing prompts, it's about me reconnecting with something that I used to love to do. Something that, in the last few years, I've been pushed away from thanks to an increase in commitments to everything else.

So there you go, I'm exhausted and grumpy but I blogged, thank you very much. I never said it would be pretty.

And, hey, there's still time for Lindsay and that drink (and yes I see the irony in that connection).


Don't #BanBossy, change the culture instead

So there's a new Lean In/Girl Scouts USA campaign to #BanBossy - i.e., ban the word "bossy" when describing young girls. I appreciate the effort to disabuse gender stereotypes, but why not try to change the culture instead of just wholesale removing a word from our vocabulary?

Bossy is not offensive like terms such as "bitch" and "cunt" can be in certain circles (though while we're at it, let's stop letting those words have power over us, too). Why not teach a young girl--or a grown woman for that matter--to take "bossy" as a compliment instead of an insult?

I am coming at this from the perspective, admittedly, of someone who was not probably considered bossy as a child. (I'll have to ask my mother on that one, she may disagree. I'm sure my younger brothers would). Rather, I remember often being tentative with my opinions and actions. That is until high school when two things started to change that: I took drama classes and I started writing for my campus newspaper.

The drama classes gave me confidence to stand and talk in front of other people--actually I found that I actually enjoyed it to a degree. If I felt confident in the reason for being on stage (in those cases, knowing my lines and feeling the part) then showing that to other people made me happy.

Likewise, working on my high school newspaper (first as a staff writer and later as the features editor) gave me confidence in my written voice which, in turn, gave me more confidence in everyday life. I wrote words, people read them, people gave me feedback. Even when people disagreed with what I wrote (which happened even in high school), it gave me confidence to know people were paying attention. I learned very quickly that people would often disagree with what I wrote. As a result, I started to develop a thick skin about their reactions, positive or negative.

I wish I'd been encouraged more as a child to be bossy. One can be bossy, but also be diplomatic and kind and pragmatic.

Bossiness and those other qualities are not mutually exclusive. Bossy as a word may have largely negative connotations, but I see it more as an extension of its root word. Someone who's bossy is in charge, and she's not afraid to be heard. She's not afraid to take action because she knows she's got to get shit done.

Sometimes I think I'm probably not bossy enough in my day-to-day life, but of course the older I get, the less I care about what others think about me. (Well, mostly anyway if I'm being 100 percent honest) I'd like to think now that when I'm not outwardly bossy it's not because I'm meek and afraid to take the lead, but rather because I'm observing, weighing options and thinking about solutions.

In the last few months I've had the amazing experience of becoming an aunt--both literally and in an honorary sense--to two amazing baby girls.  When I look at both of these girls I see their mothers, both of whom are outspoken, confident and assertive. Pretty damn bossy, actually.

It's my deepest wish that both of these babies take after their mothers.

Be assertive, be confident, be outspoken (but also, please, be diplomatic, kind and pragmatic).

Be bossy, damn it.

Check your depression privilege

I've been dealing with some quality depression lately.

I mean, this is the good stuff--no weak-ass, I'm just having a meh day kind of shit. But rather, a deep and hearty depression.

Then again, my depression isn't the super bad shit as far as mind trips go. I don't suffer from something more hardcore like bi-polar disorder. I gotta check my depression privilege, I just have good old-fashioned clinical depression and luckily, it hasn't really hit a critical point yet and so sometimes it feels wrong to talk about it--like, how can I complain about this little ol' thing when so many people have it much, much worse?

That said,  I am trying to understand it better--and understand how, in some ways, these feelings can help me and eventually make me feel better.

That distinction—between being better and feeling better—is significant.

We all want to feel better. It’s our God-given right, damn it.

Mostly, I keep this matter private, because depression doesn’t make for good company.

But perhaps it should.

In 2010, The New York Times explored the benefits of feeling blue in an article titled “Depression’s Upside.”

Having a case of the blahs just might have a “secret purpose … [as an] unpleasant yet adaptive response to affliction,” reporter Jonah Lehrer surmised, drawing on a lengthy Psychological Review article that combined research and anecdotes from the likes of Charles Darwin, David Foster Wallace and various psychologists.

Lehrer’s article is too complex and lengthy to adequately sum up here, but the general conclusion is such: Depression can be beneficial, and perhaps we should learn to “embrace the tonic of despair.”

It's been nearly 20 years since I was first diagnosed with clinical depression, and I’m inclined to agree with Lehrer’s point—which is not to make light of the affliction’s often debilitating effects: the fatigue and sleeplessness, the sorrow and the anger, the anxiety and the malaise.

No doubt, depression hurts.

And though I don’t wholesale agree with the idea of psychologists who claim that “medical interventions can make a bad situation worse,” I can fully support the notion that “sadness comes with its own set of benefits.”

Why should we, after all, be so quick to try to rid ourselves of the feelings that make up who we are?

I’ve taken the meds before—when the anxiety and heaviness become too much to bear—but mostly I try to listen to my feelings. Sounds kind of hippie New Age, I know, but I learned a lot about myself when, years ago, a therapist suggested I stop trying to “shut down” the depression and, instead, allow myself some moments of quiet and reflection—some moments of listening and absorbing and processing.

“The next time you feel awful,” she told me. “Try lying down, closing your eyes and just allow it—just feel awful for a while.”

And so I did. I closed my eyes and I felt awful.

Really awful. And as I felt awful I thought about those feelings and why they existed. Eventually, however, my mind—as minds are wont to do—started to wander off to different, lighter points. Eventually I opened my eyes, stood up and went about the rest of my day. The issues that contributed to my depression were still there, but I felt clearer and more resolute about my ability to deal with them. Happier even.

This kind of “rumination,” psychologists argue, can help us think better, process feelings better and, ultimately, be better. Happier, more creative, more fulfilled.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all fix. It’s not a works-every-time solution. But it’s part of the process.

(Portions of this post originally appeared here in a somewhat different form. Did I just violate some sort of blogging etiquette? Maybe, but three years later, I'm dealing with another cycle of this. So there's that).


The #AmtrakRedsidency application process is (hopefully) a work-in-progress

Ever since writer Jessica Gross' random tweet earned her a residency with Amtrak, the Internet's been clamoring for the railway company to make it official.

It made sense then that when Amtrak announced Saturday that it was formally rolling out that #AmtrakResidency program, that every writer on the face of the planet (including your sister who blogs about food and your mom who crafts really long Facebook posts and of course, me, the person competing for the world record on how long it takes to finish a book) got totally excited. Never mind that only 24 applicants would be accepted, you can't get what you don't try for, right?

And then just as soon as everyone got excited, so started the backlash.

The Washington Post called the program "a sham," criticizing (among other aspects) the high price of travel on Amtrak, the company's tax subsidies and its stipulation that recipients act as a "spokesperson / endorser of [the] Amtrak brand."

Applications and writing samples that pass an initial evaluation will then be judged by a panel “based on the degree to which the Applicant would function as an effective spokesperson/endorser of [the] Amtrak brand.” That brand, it seems to me, is inertia. Slow-moving and price-gouging. Exclusive yet shabby. Especially when measured against the affordable high-speed rail in Europe, China and Japan. Amtrak, with its residency program, is exploiting the romance of the railways to endear itself to a demographic that likely can’t afford its prices. 

Oh, OK then. Let's conflate the entirely of Amtrak's corporate problems with this particular program. Sure, why not.

Of more concern, of course, is that Amtrak's application came with some terms that an applicant must consent to in order for his or her entry to be valid.

One clause in particular has caused a bit of a furor:

I get it, that wording does lead to some major hesitance.

But is it "poison"?

Does even applying for the residency make you a sellout?

To their credit Amtrak has responded at least once, clarifying that any and all use of a writer's work would be done so with the writer's prior permission. Make that prior, post-application, post-selection permission. And, reportedly, Alexander Chee--the writer who inspired Gross' initial tweet--is in talks with Amtrak to help the company clarify its language and make the application process/program more writer-friendly.

Here's hoping Chee--and other critics--will give Amtrak some insight into copyright laws, not to mention the creative process, and why people are so rightfully protective of their works.

That said I'm not willing to dismiss out of hand the program and its outcome. At least not yet.

I think it's a great idea with great potential. But, obviously, this is just the rough draft.  Amtrak officials have some things to learn and some points to refine. And, frankly, I don't think this is just about good P.R., it's put an interesting and valuable spotlight on the writing process and the value of one's words.

There's definitely value on that.


Social media + ethical journalism--it's complicated

Yesterday an interesting drama unfolded on Twitter and I'm trying to figure out how to tell the story.

Because by today, a big part of the story was just how, exactly, the media reported on the original events.

At some point yesterday a person I follow on Twitter retweeted an entry from a woman she follows.

"If you are not following @steenfox tonight you are missing something horrifying and powerful," her post read.

Curious, I clicked and started reading.

For the record, I'm not posting the Twitter ID for the first person in question because I don't have her permission, and this post is all about social media permission and the ethics of such. I am, however, posting Christine Fox's Twitter ID because she's very public at this point. I am not, however, reposting any of her entries. If you want to read them, go here.

Anyway, back to the story. Yesterday Fox asked her followers the following question: "What were you wearing when you were sexually assaulted?"

Fox asked the question as a way to dispel myths about assault and the way a sexual assault victim dresses or appears.

Fox, who has more than 15,000 followers, received an onslaught of replies that poured in over the course of several hours.

Frank, honest, startling, candid replies.

Powerful stuff.

Of course the Internet, as the Internet is wont to do, picked up on the story--retweeting, favoriting and mentioning many of the tweets.

Jessica Testa, a reporter at Buzzfeed picked up on the story and reached out to some of the people who tweeted their experiences and got their permission to quote their tweets in a story. The reporter also reached out to Fox but didn't hear back from her before the story was published. In the published story the reporter blurred out the pictures and names of some of the users quoted (I'm assuming those weren't blurred gave permission otherwise. Correct me if I'm wrong).

Fox was, to say the least, not pleased.

"Just spoke with @jts. She stated that she had the permission of every person used on her post. She did not however have MY permission."

That is true. And to err completely on the side of ethical fairness, perhaps Testa should have removed all of Fox's identifiying details.

Then again, Testa does have more than 15,000 followers (and has posted more than 345,000 tweets) and is thus, arguably, a public figure who was conducting a public dialogue in a public forum. Her Twitter feed is public--accessible to anyone to read at any time.

Fox aside, does that make it ethical to repost all tweets--even with the user's explicit permission?

I'd argue that yes, in the best of situations, it does make it ethically right--if not necessarily the right thing to do.

In the best of situations the reporter in question would have, in addition to asking permission, counseled each person on the possible repurcussions. Would have advised them that with the publication of this article by one of the Internet's biggest, most widely shared sites, their stories would no longer just be circulated to thousands upon thousands of people, but millions.

Did Testa do that? I don't know. I would hope so.

Either way the distinction here between what is right, ethically and what is simply the right thing to do is very, very fuzzy.

For the record, I am not criticiizing Testa. As much as I applaud Fox's ability to raise public discourse on this topic in a moving, compelling way, I also applaud Testa's attempt to chronicle that story as a collective whole.

Social media is an amazing tool--especially for journalists. But it's also a complicated tool that makes for complicated journalism. 

To that end, it was interesting to watch various print and TV news outlet tweet like crazy to the person who posted the now infamous plane crash selfie snapped after a US Airways flight crashed in Philadelphia today.

What's intersesting is that my highly unscientific study of a few sites shows that the user in question gave permission to use the photo--but her name is not mentioned.

Like I said, complicated stuff.


Because I cannot shut up about the "B" word and other topics

I know I've already written about this once this week.

Twice, actually.

And I know I must be annoying my friends on the subject, but the #BanBossy campaign has gotten me thinking not just about gender stereotypes when it comes to personality type and workplace presence, but also about the idea of writing as a woman.

I've written professionally since 1995 (meaning, I've been paid for my work), but my career and experience dates back to when I was 16 and started writing for my high school newspaper.

Mostly, I have not received much blowback because I'm female--but there has been some. And that there's been any at all for that reason is, frankly, appalling.

Professionally speaking, I've had to learn to get over what people think and say about me really fast--especially with the rise of the Internet and social media. In 1995 the major Internet outlets were various message boards and AOL.

Now, with Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc, there are myriad ways to get your snarky hate on.

Still, whatever the medium, the point is I'm always annoyed when someone zeroes in on my gender as part of a critique.

The following is a list of things I've been called via email, phone call, message board, etc in the last 19 years: Bitch, cunt, idiot, little girl, stupid girl, know-it-all-bitch, fucking, dumb bitch, and bitch-ass bitch.

The number of emails, phone calls and message board posts criticizing my writing/perspective/self-identification as a feminist has also been many.

It's interesting--do men get subjected to the same gender treatment? I'd argue no--save the recent popularization of the mainsplaining concept.

It's not always words, however. Sometimes the sexism is more coded. There's the person, for example, who pointed to an article I wrote as an example of "what 40something women like."

The message was pretty clear. 40something + woman = terribly unhip, bad, not worthy.

A friend and I had a long conversation about this topic over a beer the other night. She's a few years younger (in her late 30s) but already starting to feel some of the weird age/gender backlash in her line of work-- a line of work that, incidentally, makes her something of a public figure.  I'm keeping identifying details private because I haven't talked to her about writing this in a post, but one of the questions she posed struck me as very universal among women in visible positions of power.

Her experiences echoed many of mine: Reading comments on various message boards/Yelp reviews/Facebook in which the critique seemed to focus on her gender (or a combination of her gender and age) more than anything else. More than her actual skill. More than her actual talent. More than an actual mistake or misstep she may have made. 

The work that this particular friend does is absolutely not gender-related in any way, shape or form. At all.

That said, in the spirit of fairness / suffering fools gladly, I do write about gender quite a bit. Way too much, many would argue. It's my jam, topics-wise.

Whatever, criticize me for writing about topics that are important to me. Topics I believe need a public platform.

And go ahead and call me names. I've always felt that, save those instances where I've made a factual error or had a terrible lapse of understanding on a subject (it happens, I'm human; most journalists are), then criticisms usually mean I'm doing something right. Someone is reading. Someone is responding. If you're the type to stoop to using sexist terms to describe me then that's your problem, not mine.

OK, honestly, it is my problem, too, because it's so ingrained in the culture and yes that does impact me. All the time.

But I'm also doing my best to change that culture by giving minimal fucks about such things. 


Your Saturday afternoon jams

Cory and I had a pretty chill Saturday afternoon--well once we got done talking to the tax woman (and not about poetry, unfortunately). After that though, it was all nice. There was sunshine and lunch and record shopping and driving around in the car listening to oldies, including The Coasters' "Poison Ivy," which turns out to be a favorite of Cory's.

I remarked it must be the only song in the history of songs that references calamine lotion and Cory, as he is wont to do when it comes to all things musical, quickly corrected me.

"Lou Reed sang about it," he said. "I got my calamine lotion, baby, do it again -- I got a foggy notion baby, do it again."

Yep, Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion."

The more you know people, the more you know.

All in the family

Tonight we had dinner at my brother and sister-in-law's house. It was a chance to see Audrey, my new niece, but also just a chance to hang out with Adam and Annie. My other brother Steve and his wife Cait were also there.

It was fun and relaxing. We ate Cait's homemade mac'n'cheese. We played with Buddy the dog. We chatted. We took turns holding Audrey. Well, Steve didn't because he's still afraid he might break her.

On the way home Cory remarked that it was probably the first time that the six of us had all hung out together without my mom or because there's some family function."

And it's true. Both of my brothers are much younger than me--eight and 10 years respectively. I moved out of the house when they were still in grade school. For the most part we've always gotten along but we haven't been super close.

That's starting to change now. They both got married last year. Then Audrey was born in January. Which means in the last year or so there've been showers and dinners and ceremonies and hospital visits and more dinners and, well, just growing closer. And I'm really happy about it. I've long said that family is just what you make it--and before this was simply my way of saying that I'd really focused on making friends my family. I've always been pretty independent and I think that's friends-as-family has been a natural extension of that for me. This is not to say I've been estranged from my family--just that often I felt closer to my friends. Lately, however, I'm started to realize that the 'family is what you make it' ethos applies to those to whom you're related as well.

"It's good--I don't think we should just see all of them at the holidays," Cory said.

"And I know you don't want to just see Audrey at holidays."

No, no I don't. So here's to renewing bonds and little babies.


TK, part two

An experiment






On falling into that vacuum

Today L'Wren Scott, a noted fashion designer, reportedly committed suicide by hanging herself in her Manhattan apartment.

She was 49, and news of her death shook me.

I didn't know her of course. I knew her name though--I'd seen it in magazines, accompanying photos of celebrities wearing her clothes--beautiful pieces that were both modern and retro cool. 

But really that's all I knew of her. Until this morning I didn't know she'd been dating Mick Jagger athough following news of her death that seemed to be the most defining characteristic about her--at least judging by all the headlines that played on some variation of "Mick Jagger's Girlfriend Commits Suicide."

That angered and frustrated me--clearly L'Wren Scott was an accomplished woman in her own right--but that's not why I'm writing about her now.

I'm writing about her because news of her suicide took me to a very sad, very dark place.

She's not the only famous person to do such a thing of course (and here I'm making an assumption that the report of suicide is true, based on what little I know--perhaps it's not fair, I get that) but for me, today, learning of L'Wren Scott's death felt like a note of sadness that echoed to my core.

Have you ever felt suicidal?

I have.

It is a horrible, awful and dark, dark feeling. It is the feeling of loneliness and despair and pain and emptiness and a lack of hope and an absence of all things good--all things beautiful and worth living for. It is all those feelings, wrapped tightly into a home-made hand grenade barbed with self-loathing.

It is a feeling that creates a black hole, a vacuum. A vacuum that can feel near impossible to escape.

And, for some that vacuum does become inescapable.

When I thought about L'Wren Scott today, I felt my mind and my heart and my stomach return, very briefly, to the place that overcame her mind, heart and stomach this morning. And all at once I felt horrible and sad and something of a survivor's guilt but also relief that I climbed out of that place. When you learn that someone's succumbed to those feelings that relief is both overwhelmingly comforting, but also it's no solace at all.

Please, please, please if you feel yourself falling into that vacuum, talk to someone. A friend, a therapist, a doctor, a complete stranger.

Anyone, please. 


Every 1's a winner

This Hot Chocolate song has made almost every single damn playlist I've concocted in the last eight months. It just narrowly escaped my annual holiday comp.

The song played over that scene in Frances Ha--you know the one when Greta Gerwig's character is in Paris, alone and trying to figure shit out--just did me in.

In both the worst and the best way possible. Meaning it brings up so many feelings. So many memories. So many, many intangible things.

I could watch that scene over and over again, but that's not really an efficient use of my time I guess. So, instead, I just listen to the song on repeat sometimes.

It helps with the depression. In fact it's on my official 2014 Depression Playlist (don't laugh--that's really a thing).

But more on that later.

Until then:

Obsessive compulsive listening

This is what I do when I'm feeling particularly crazy: Listen to the same songs on repeat. The same damn sad, crazy-making songs. Sometimes I make entire playlists.

Two years ago it was the title track from Arcade Fire's Suburbs record:

"I would rather be alone than pretend I feel alright."

Just over and over again in the car.

Last month it was an Elliott Smith CD, also in the car. You know, 'bottle up and explode' strikes a certain chord when you're feeling angsty and anxious.

A decade ago when I was in grad school it was, for a while, Aimee Mann's Lost in Space. The entire damn album, all the time.

Well, not all the time. But once or twice a week I'd make the drive to Oakland in the mid or late afternoon. I'd usually be running late and probably driving too fast and listening to Sahara Hotnights or Franz Ferdinand or Joan Jett or Jawbreaker or anything else to keep my energy high, primed for a long afternoon-into-evening of class.

Then at the end of the night--usually around 9pm--I'd head home alone, trying to digest everything I'd learned and observed and talked about in classes and workshops. The energy level would be quieting by this point, trending down. And although I'd still feel residual bits of it pulsating through my veins,  I also felt very, very alone.

I mostly loved graduate school, but being a commuter student made it difficult. I couldn't participate in a lot of the extra-curricular activities--anything from readings to just getting drinks after class. That was isolating. But it also gave me a lot of time to think (for better or worse). This was before smartphones so I'd often keep a digital voice recorder in the front seat and record story ideas, scenes, dialogue, etc.

But mostly I just rolled down the windows and blasted the music.

It's approximately 80 miles between Oakland and Sacramento and on a clear weeknight with little traffic it's a straight shot that takes your car out of the city's urban core into the Bay Area's suburbs and exurbs and finally spills you into s stretch made up of rolling hills and farmland. On cloudless nights, the sky is cut through with glittering stars and if you look to the left you can find the Big Dipper.

Lost in Space, which came out the year I started grad school, makes for the perfect soundtrack on such nights. Those two-and-a-half years I made the commute, that CD never left my car and many nights I'd hit play repeatedly on one particular song, "It's Not," as I tried to work through things in my head:

"I keep going round and round on the same old circuit
a wire travels underground to a vacant lot
where something I can't see interrupts the current
and shrinks the picture down to a tiny dot
and from behind the scene it can look so perfect
but it's not.
So here I'm sitting in my car at the same old stop light
I keep waiting for a change, but I don't know what.
So red turns into green turning into yellow
but I'm just frozen here in the same old spot
and all I have to do is press the pedal
but I'm not."

OK, I get it. I'm flying down the freeway and the song is about being static--stuck. But trust me, it works when you're feeling all sorts of feelings--sad, confused, exhausted, stressed, mixed up, angry, maybe even happy or just bristling with unburned energy, whatever--not to mention musically OCD and maybe it's just that one song that will get you through.

Or at least get you home.



Today's NaBloPoMo prompt asks the question: "Benjamin Franklin said: There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know one's self." Do you know yourself?

First though: "No, that's why I'm in therapy."

Second thought: "Yes, that's why I'm in therapy."

I mean I'm really impressed with all the posts from people who so confidently do know themselves. You've figured out what makes you tick--what makes you you--and you act on it accordingly.

Meanwhile I feel as though my self comprises many selves. Many conflicting selves.

  • I'm an extroverted introvert.
  • Or maybe that's an introverted extrovert.
  • I love my friends fiercely, but I love to be alone.
  • I can be extremely frugal and practical and yet I'm often broke. (I mean not broke-broke, but just sort of frustratingly not not-broke).
  • I'm a narcissist but I get uncomfortable having too much of a spotlight on me.
  • Although I don't mind speaking in public and am pretty comfortable speaking in front a class as an instructor.
  • As a writer I love words and love it when I have the luxury of time to craft sentences and labor sentences.
  • As a writer I really suck at grammar. I blame this on cutting many a high school English class. Comma splices are my biggest weakness. I'm working on this though.
  • As a writer I think I'm OK at my craft. Mostly. I mean, sometimes.
  • Sometimes I can't bear to read what I've written.
  • Sometimes I'm plagued by self-loathing.
  • Sometimes I. Just. Can't. Even.
  • I pretty much refuse to abbreviate or use terms such as LOL, OMG or 2 and U in emails, texts, etc.
  • I'm an emoji abuser.
  • I make a conscious effort to eat healthy and exercise. I genuinely love flax and quinoa and kale and all those other nerdy foods.
  • I eat way too much sugar.
  • I'm a feminist who worries who worries about how I look.
  • I didn't have children and I'm OK with that.
  • I didn't have children and it eats at me a little every day.
  • I love being self-sufficient and smart and enterprising and career-oriented.
  • I think I missed my calling as a rich, spoiled housewife.
  • I'm a really hard worker who doesn't know how to relax.
  • I can be really, really lazy.
  • I can be hyper-organized--live and die by the to-do list.
  • I am super-disorganized and at least once a day misplace something really, really important.
  • Nothing makes me happier than traveling.
  • Or being at home.

So do I know myself? I guess. Maybe. Sort of. A little bit, but really not at all.







Last night a clock radio changed my life

Sometimes I'm not entirely sure how I became such an OCD freak about music. Neither of my parents was really into music (my dad liked 70s folk/rock/pysch stuff and my mom's tastes skewed mainly soft rock).

Beyond hearing tunes in the car radio, my memories of music date back to the third grade. That would have made me 8 or 9 I think, which means it must have been 1978 or 1979. In any case, that's when I got a clock radio so that I could set my own alarm and get up early and get my ass out of bed already and get ready for school so I didn't make my parents late in the morning.

That clock radio probably changed my life in some small way. Or big way, depending on how you look at it. Certainly it informed such a huge part of who I am now.

Some nights I slept with the radio on; listening to the Top 40 station in Austin: The Bee Gees, Billy Joel, Chic, the Rolling Stones, Wings, Abba, Styx, Dolly Parton, Donna Summer, Blondie.

(This was also the era for Patti Smith and Johnny Thunders and the Clash but, again, I was an 8-year-old living in Austin with parents who listened to Barbara Streisand, the Moody Blues and the Carpenters).

I wasn't really buying music at this point--I wasn't even making mixtapes. I'd start doing both of those things in the fifth grade when I got a stereo system--with a record player and a tape deck--for Christmas.

So for now it was mostly just the clock radio and, on weekends, watching videos and live performances on America's Top 10 and American Bandstand.

The Grease soundtrack was really big that year--several of the songs from the soundtrack made the Billboard Top 40 and were played on the air in what seemed like near-constant rotation.

At some point I got the record on vinyl. I must have been playing it on some rinky dink Fisher Price turntable. I'm pretty sure, for a while at least, it was the only record I owned. In fact I owned the record before I even saw the movie.

I loved, loved, loved that soundtrack and my favorite song was Rizzo's song "There are Worse Things I Could Do" on side four of the two-album set.

Rizzo, of course, was the bad girl of the story, played in the film by Stockard Channing. Even at that young age I identified with her character more than I ever could or would identify with Olivia Newton John's Sandy.

OK, to be fair, I aspired to be Sandy, but deep in my litte rough-and-tumble heart I knew I was really a Rizzo.

Again, I was 8--maybe 9. It's not that I thought of myself as the high school bad girl, sleeping with all the guys and getting a bad rep. Rather, I could hear the sadness and loneliness in her voice. The aching to fit in beneath a whatever-don't-care attitude. Rizzo wasn't the pretty, popular girl--she was the chick who ran around with the questionable crowd and relied on her wits to get by. Sometimes she was mean, but only because she had to be. She was rough around the edges and not always easy to love.

I'm not sure how much of that I got as a third-grader but something in that song, something in Stockard Channing's voice resonated with me. Maybe it was all just an early predictor of my high school years.

Who knows--maybe I'm reading (or listening) too much into it. Whatever the case, "There are Worse Things I Could Do" was my first song crush and  I listened to it endlessly, obsessed.

Put the needle down, listen and sing. Pick up the needle and repeat.

Over and over and over again.



Saturday afternoon jam, March 22 edition

This must be the first Saturday in at least two months that my day has not been swamped with some sort of obligation, work-related or otherwise. I mean, don't get me wrong I've done a little bit of work (for school) but mostly this has been a very Saturday kind of Saturday: Lazy and unproductive.

Later we'll head over to some friends' house for dinner so I suppose that means I'll need to put on proper clothes and brush my hair. Then again, they're really good friends and probably would understand if I showed up in pajamas with a rats nest for hair.

Until then: Laziness. I slept in. By which I mean I got up at 8 a.m. and drank coffee and read and then by 10:30 I was falling asleep with a book in my lap so I went back to bed for an hour-and-a-half nap. Three out of four cats joined me. Bliss.

Got up, ate lunch, did a little bit of work on the laptop, still in my pajamas.

Made brownies to take over to our friends' house so I guess that counts as something productive.

Meanwhile, Cory's provided the soundtrack to the day; spinning records by, among others,  The Felt, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Neil Young.

The latter's "Down by the River" played as I made brownies and I'm not sure what version of the song it was but it played for a long time and as I listened, it struck me that it's the perfect Saturday afternoon kind of song: Long and meandering, lazily snaking its way through time.

Happy Saturday, carry on:


The things that scare us most

Last night we hung out with some friends and over the course of the night I had a long and possibly drunken conversation about the things that scare us most.

It came up because my friend was sharing a conversation she'd had with another friend about what their fears when it comes to death--i.e., what would be the worst way to die?

For my friend that worst death amounted to drowning (I think I'm remembering that correctly. Again, possibly drunk). Her husband feared strangulation. Cory said he thought about drowning in his car if it went over a bridge.

As I sat there nursing a vodka tonic I could not think of that which frightened me most. I mean, I don't want to die, period, so death in general just seems fucking awful. I'd file death by stabbing or dismemberment or any other sort of torture under "least favorable" options but, call me naive, I don't particularly fear those deaths because I don't necessarily think they're going to happen to me.

I don't really fear death at all, I think. Which is likely only because I've never actually come close to it.

Which doesn't mean that I always only fear very real, tangible, possible, statistically probable things. Quite the opposite, actually.

It’s just that fear doesn't follow easy patterns. There's the kind of fear that comes from when horrible things happen -the bad health of yourself or a loved one; being struck by a car, getting robbed, finding yourself destitute and homeless.

And then there are the kinds of fears that nest in your psyche and although they may be rooted in veritable Bad Shit situations, often they're really just mental mindfucks that feed on insecurities, personal quirks, impressions and those bits of your mind that are difficult to parse.

Fear doesn't thrive on logic, it festers in a hothouse fertilized with batshit insanity, heart-strangling, soul-fed terror, and all things irrational.

For example when I was in the third grade I watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica that had some sort of space alien vampire character who killed people in a vampire-like manner.

That episode terrified me and I spent probably the next three months sleeping so that I could face a certain corner of my bedroom because I was convinced this space alien vampire lived in that corner and would attack me if I turned my back.

Not exactly a rational fear. I mean, I was 8, but still.

My fear of spiders is, arguably, slightly more reasonable. It's nurtured by a childhood viewing of Kingdom of the Spiders. Stupid, cheesy movie that imprinted a life-long anxiety even though most spiders aren't poisonous and/or plotting to take over my town.

Still, I'm not really scared that I'm going to die by spider--I just scream a little scream when I encounter one in the house.

Other things of which I'm scared, irrationally or otherwise:

  • Sitting still in a Ferris wheel. If the wheel is moving, I'm fine. But if we're just sitting there, motionless and staring at the ground far, far below--cue the panic attack.
  • Going way too fast down the freeway and having the vehicle lose control. I have a lot of bad dreams involving this scenario.
  • Parties where I don't really know anyone.
  • Falling off the side of a cliff. Actually, that one's happened. I have scars.
  • Being lost in the middle of nowhere with nothing to guide me home. I mean, really lost, not just Google maps lost.
  • Losing my cats to some sort of horrible accident (house fire, etc).
  • Bees. I'm allergic.
  • Losing an arm or a leg. Or losing mobility. The thought of losing my independence terrifies me in fact.
  • Being awful to someone I love.
  • Losing someone I love.
  • Losing Cory. That would be the absolute worst of the worst. Period.

Change: The short list

Today's NaBloPomo prompt is a crack-up:

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

Jesus. That is hilarious. One thing.

I know, I get it--this is supposed to be about that one thing. The most important thing. The thing that would, like falling dominos, change all other things.

But it's never that easy.

Or, as I told my therapist last week: I thought I'd have it figured out by now--all this doubt and self-loathing and sadness and fear. I thought being in your 40s meant you were finally over all this existential bullshit.

She just smiled at me and shook her head no.

That's not how it works, she said.


I mean my To-Change List is epic. There isn't  just one thing I would change; there's not even a Desert Island Disc list of things to be changed. There's an entire world of things I would change.

My shortlisted highlights comprise an ever-shifting amoeba of a list that includes, but god-help-me-is-not-limited-to changing the following:

  • How I'm selfish about my time
  • How I have trouble saying no in certain situations
  • How I forget to hit "save" at really crucial points when I'm writing or blogging
  • My weight/hair/stupid face
  • My crappy self-image
  • How I can't seem to save a substantial amount of money
  • How I can't just seem to say 'fuck it all,' quit my job and travel the world
  • The way I talk to myself
  • The way those conversations seem to be pretty damn boring
  • How I'll go several aisles out of my way at the grocery store to avoid talking to certain people
  • My social anxiety
  • The way I never seal Ziploc bags tight and everything inside them leaks/dries out.
  • The way I get impatient with my cats at 3 a.m. when they just want food or love.
  • The way I bite my nails
  • How I hate running
  • My sweet tooth
  • How I'm bad with names and faces
  • My inability to carry a goddamned tune
  • That my brain holds a lot of useless knowledge (fun fact: Elton John's real name is Reginald Kenneth Dwight).
  • That my brain can't process said useless knowledge under pressure and I therefore suck at trivia
  • The way I comma-splice the shit out of everything
  • The way I seem to verb everything lately
  • My irrational fear of spiders
  • The awful haircut I had in 7th grade
  • That I didn't try harder at math in high school
  • That I didn't live in New York longer
  • That sometimes, when confronted with failure, I retreat
  • My very unfeminine snoring
  • My nervous laugh
  • That awful haircut I had when I was 33
  • The way I stayed in some relationships too long
  • The way I walked away from certain people too soon
  • My flat feet
  • How I let some people altogether disappear from my life
  • That I didn't go to law school
  • That I didn't major in English
  • Certain family members
  • Wanting to change certain family members
  • That I hate the heat
  • How I'm allergic to everything
  • My clumsiness
  • That one time I sat in that apartment in Chicago, foolishly waiting on a friend
  • Every single time I was unnecessarily rude
  • 1989.
  • That one time I hung up on a radio deejay who claimed I'd won a million dollars. I mean who knows, right?

So much change. So many big changes smashed up with dozens of tiny little changes and at best all I can do is hope is that one day I'll accept that that I may succeed in only changing some of them.

Ah, I see what you did there.

Maybe that's the one thing: Acceptance. Moving on. Getting over it already.

Fine, you got me. Well-played, writing prompt. You win this round.

To do: Make another list

Today's awkwardly worded prompt asks: What is your favorite personality trait that you possess?

After yesterday's post, I'll go with my ace ability to make hyper-intense self-reflective lists.

Quality hobbit time (alone but not lonely)

Oh good, today's writing prompt doesn't make me want to punch writing prompts in the face.

Do you enjoy being alone? What do you do when you're by yourself?

I'm an introvert and I love being alone. To a fault, perhaps.

I know that extroverts find "recharge" in being social--talking and being around other people.

Introverts, however, get that same recharge by spending time alone. Because being alone is not about being lonely. It's just the opposite actually. For me anyway. Being around other people, in certain situations, can make me feel more alone than ever.

It's an interesting dichotomy because if you are one side of this coin then it's really difficult to grasp the other side of the coin. As in, why on earth would anyone want to be around people that goddamned much?

Or, if you're an extrovert it's something more like this: Jesus, why are you such a hermit? (Or as my friend K. once called me, a "hobbit'. She meant 'hermit' and we all laughed because somehow hobbit seemed appropriate too and now in my head I think of myself as more of hobbit than a hermit--but I digress).

I am not a complete hobbit, however. I do get some charge/recharge from being around others. I hate small talk but thrive on good conversation. I love going to live shows or sporting events and feeling the energy of a crowd. As a teacher I get energized from teaching a class.

But all of this also mentally exhausts me, and so I retreat.

Mostly, my alone time comes in small chunks. An hour in the morning drinking coffee before I have to face the world. Some quiet time on the weekend mornings with a book and nothing else. A few hours at night or on the weekend if Cory's gone. But even just a few people-free hours can make a world of difference. It gives me time--not so much to think but to let my mind unfold and decompress. When I don't get this, I get tense, anxious, grumpy.

Being alone doesn't have to be something profound or special or meditative.

Some of the most mundane hours spent alone are also the best: Doing laundry, washing dishes, reading, watching trashy TV, spontaneous dance party for one, music blaring.

I love longer stretches of alone time, too--though I don't get them nearly enough. I used to work from home more often and even though I do get a lot out of being with co-workers I love working alone--padding around in pajamas, cats on lap, stopping to make a healthy, tasty lunch in my own kitchen and, as always, music playing.

Once when Cory went on tour I scheduled a week off to coincide with his being gone. I spent that week goofing off around the house (cleaning, going through things, etc), writing, cooking, reading and, even, hanging out with friends.

I've made solo cross-country trips by car and by train and have been trying to figure out the logistics of doing another such trip this summer or next. I need a good stretch of quality hobbit time.

But even more short blocks of time would help. I'm not quite sure how to make this happen--short of conjuring up more hours in the day--because I've also resolved to consciously spend more time with friends. To reach out, to plan things, to be spontaneous. I need that too.

Fear and happiness on the road

Today's prompt had something to do with traveling alone--as in, have you ever done it?

The short answer is 'yes, but not nearly enough.'

I've traveled a bit by myself and if I had more time and money I'd do it more often.

As it is, however, when I do have time to travel I usually want to (and can only afford to) do so with Cory.

Still, if the time and money were of little or no consideration ...

Travel, of course, is an amazing way to see the world in a different way. Or yourself.

In summer 1997 I was still struggling through a separation from my then-husband. We'd been together seven-and-a-half years so even though I think the relationship had burned out long before I actually moved out, there was still plenty of emotional turmoil.

Those first few months in my tiny Midtown apartment were challenging. I learned to live by myself again; to trust myself (long story), to like just being by myself. I loved, loved, loved that apartment. It was a studio but it was huge and sunny and overlooked a courtyard with a bubbling fountain. There, I slept with the windows open, listened to music, read, wrote and spent time with my new cat Sophie. Some of my closest friends lived nearby--Rachel and Tom down the street, Laura just a few apartments over.

I dated, I even had a boyfriend of sorts,  but mostly I hibernated.

Then, Jill asked if I wanted to drive with her to Chicago to visit her family. The plan was to go out together and I'd stay for a few days and see Chicago with her and then drive back alone as Jill wanted to spend several weeks there and was at a point in her life where she could just quit her part-time job between semesters and then pick up again in the fall.

The trip there was amazing; we drove from Northern California through Nevada, Utah and Wyoming and then cut up north to South Dakota so we could visit Mt. Rushmore. Jill took the picture at left somewhere outside of the Mt. Rushmore park. I apologize for the very '90s-ness of it. I am probably wearing Doc Martens and I'm OK with that but wish I could take the overalls and weird haircut back.

Throughout the trip Jill and I bonded like crazy (our friendship was only a few months old at that time). We shared deep, intense stories. We laughed a lot. We cried. We listened to music loudly and sat in the passenger seat with our toes waving out the window. It was perfect trip.

In Chicago the intense fun continued. We went to shows and parties and thrifted. We hung out with her family and stalked ex-boyfriends (hers, obviously).

And then suddenly it was time for me to go home. Alone.

Jill's parents lived in the tiny town of Crete, just south of Chicago. It's a rural/suburban enclave with cornfields and tractors and lots of hoopla about stoplights.

Her family was kind and the house was pretty and quiet but eventulally it was time to leave. Sometime after noon on a hot July afternoon, I hugged Jill goodbye and set out on my own.

I traveled south to Tennessee and stayed the night in Nashville in a crappy motel outside Music Row. The drive down had been beautiful--as I drove into Memphis it was raining but also sunny and I pulled the car over to the side of the road to join other travelers in the chance to snap a picture of a rainbow.

That night, however, I felt very very lonely. I may have cried. I definitely called my mother, seeking a reassuring voice. I heard people outside the door arguing. I felt scared and pushed a chair up against the thin motel door. And then I felt silly and just turned the TV up louder to drown out the noise.

The next morning I got up and had breakfast at a diner near the then-Country Music Hall of Fame. I can't remember if I visited it or not (I've been there since but the memories are blurring); I walked around some of the stores and took photos. Finally, I got back in my car and continued driving.

I stayed in Tulsa with my cousin for a few days and then made my way to Wichita Falls to viist my biological mother, and then Dallas to stay with my grandparents for a day or two. Eventually I continued on to Austin and stayed for a night at a hostel located near the river. There, I talked to a nice guy who saw my California plates and wanted to talk because someone he knew was from Southern California. The next day I went record shopping by myself near the university.

Eventually I got in the car and drove west to El Paso. Somewhere between Austin and El Paso I stopped for gas off of Highway 10. The station was the only point on the Interstate for miles and there a kind, older man warned me to be careful--a young girl out there by myself all alone. I thanked him, truly gratified by his sense of caring, and then jumped back in the car and probably blasted that damn Whiskeytown record for the millionth time. I'm pretty sure I lit up another cigarette; I'm pretty sure that, at least for a few hours, I felt amazingly carefree--all alone in the world but happy for it.

I rolled into El Paso sometime shortly before midnight. I still remember the sense of relief I had pulling off the highway--I still see the glittering city lights. There was, too, a little fear as I tried to navigate my way through El Paso's downtown in the dark, searching for the hostel. Once again I felt all alone in the world, but more afraid than carefree. By the time the sun rose the next morning and I ate my free Continental breakfast and coffee on the patio of this hostel--which was housed in a gorgeous old building--I once again felt alive, happy, happy to be alone.

I think that's the point. There was a lot of fear, but also a lot of happiness. A lot of singing in the car, a lot of where-the-hell-am-I? moments. The time I thought my car might wash away in a flash flood s I tried to make my way to Flagstaff--several hikers had died that way the week before--I felt oddly at once terrified but also at peace.

After Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon and then a 12-hour-drive home to Sacramento, I arrived home sometime after midnight on a Saturday.

The next morning Laura called me. "I saw your car, you're home!"

She sounded happy about this. I felt incredibly happy that she knew I was home. That she cared.

That trip changed me in ways I can't describe (I've tried; someday I'll archive that attempt here) and it also gave me the desire to travel again by myself. I've done it a few more time since then, most recently on a train trip to Fort Worth and back. The train's not quite the same experience as hitting the road by yourself but even surrounded by people, you find yourself very alone. Often in the best way possible.


A soundtrack for breaking up via postcard at a gas station outside of Reno

I listened to Son Volt's Trace  constantly on that trip from Chicago to Sacramento.

I played that CD--on a portable CD player that I hooked up to my car stereo's tape deck--at least a dozen times on that journey. I kept one song in particular, "Creosote," on repeat. One memory remains crystalline to this day: Listening to it on the highway that travels south from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Wichita Falls, Texas.

It was storming and the sky was gunmetal gray and windy and all of this reflected my state of mind. Not only was I still going through a divorce, but I'd also broken up with my boyfriend of two months thanks to something Jill told me between Graeagle and Reno. 

Actually, I don't think he knew I'd broken up with him yet because I handled this via a postcard mailed from a gas station outside of Reno, NV. This was pre-Facebook and texting and I didn't have a laptop so you got by in other, more primitive ways.

I bought the postcard from a thin, blotchy skinned station clerk--she couldn't have been older than 21. I can't remember what the postcard showed, but I do remember scratching out this rambling note about trust and honesty and respect and love and god I don't even know if he even read the whole thing or just got it all after the first line because, truthfully, it's exhausting me now to even think about it.

Anyway, this guy--the Poet as I called him back then. I was 27, these things happen-- loved Son Volt as much as I did. We'd played this record together several times in the car. He even he quoted lyrics from this particular song in a letter he wrote me once (a real letter--on paper, mailed in an envelope).

That Son Volt record never actually got played in the car with Jill. It was Liz Phair that blasted through the speaker as we peeled out of that gas station parking lot. There was, too, a lot of  Hole and Sleater-Kinney (and Wilco and Bonnie Raitt, too, but you get the general theme here).

When I left Chicago however, the soundtrack changed, at least partly. I still played the Liz Phair and the Sleater-Kinney and the Hole but I added, too, albums that are, by their nature, more solitary. Jeff Buckley. Jim White. The Dirty Three. That damn Whiskeytown record. Son Volt.

There were, of course, stretches of radio. Garth Brooks during yet another apocalyptic thunderstorm, this one in Arkansas. Mexican pop songs outside of El Paso. Fleetwood Mac, fading in and out of frequency, somewhere near Phoenix.

But mostly, it was these records, over and over as I snaked my way back home. When we left Reno I had been furious--Liz Phair-, Sleater-Kinney-, Hole-furious--but now here, alone on a highway in Oklahoma, Son Volt's "Creosote" struck me for how it fit our relationship.


Passing under barren skies
Waiting for our worlds to collide
And there you are
All alone feeling bad

Interstate movin' again
Barrel through thick and thin
Side by side
To survive like creosote

Born under a widespread changes
The search for higher reason
Learning the ropes okay
But fate just runs you around


I was still angry with him. But also not angry with him. Angrier with myself, I guess. Angry for choices I'd made--choices that really had nothing to do with him but led me there all the same. As it turned out,  despite the truth I'd learned, despite the hurt and the small betrayal,  I wasn't really that mad after all.

Because despite a few little relationship glitches--including the one that led to that decision outside of Reno--this guy was great. Kind. Insightful. As I sped down the Interstate, I hoped we'd stay in each other's lives. I didn't want to be his girlfriend anymore (or whatever it was that I was to him at that point; it was rather murky. Like I said, glitches), I did, however, want to be his friend.

That was 17 years ago and he lives in another state now and we don't talk much but we are, very much, still friends. And for that I'm pretty damn grateful.

A soundtrack to breaking up via postcard at a gas station outside of Reno: