life’s like this

Today, I came across this:

Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. Last week I was in despair about what to do with my life WHILE I WAS WALKING IN THE SUN ON A BEAUTIFUL BEACH. And not only did I have no problems that day, but it was actually particularly good.

In my last entry, I was writing about how just finding a way to be happy with my current situation used to be the wrong answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the wrong answer. And maybe it’s not about being satisfied and accepting of everything around you, but it’s about recognizing and appreciating those parts of your life that in fact are pretty great. But in my typical binary fashion, I can’t seem to wrap my head around that.

So maybe what I should do is this: any time I get irritated and angry and disgruntled and mean, I should stop and make a list of all of the good things (about that situation particularly, if I can find any). For instance, when I get to the airport, I hate everyone because airports are terrible and all of our personal freedoms are taken away, and you are at the whim of the airline employees, and then you have to go really high up in the sky in a claustrophobic tube and try not to fall thousands of feet and die.

But I could look at things differently. I get to travel somewhere. Not everyone gets to do that. I might even be going somewhere warm. And so on.

I thought of this today as I became irrationally angry at something that didn’t even matter. And yet it was impacting my entire day and in fact, making me further question my current career path. Because this one thing made me angry, I should completely change careers as not to have to encounter it anymore? It’s possible I take things to extremes.

I want to make a list of everything that’s good.

Only there’s no time. There’s never any time. And I’m back to where I started, wondering how I got here. Wondering how to get to a place where I don’t feel behind with everything all of the time. Tired, so tired of hearing myself wonder how to get that.

And so it goes like that.

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i was a flight risk, with a fear of falling

Yes, Taylor Swift again. She’s like that wise old man at the top of the mountain dispensing the meaning of life. Only with more bouncy curls.

I’ve been reading the archives here and the patterns are frustrating. Looking back, I thought the problem was circumstance, so I jumped off the speeding train. Only the lack of time, the crushing weight, the sinking realization I had to do everything all of the time, it all followed right behind me. Then, I thought maybe the problem was my response to circumstance, so I worked hard to change my reactions. And again. And yet. These things help, but now I wonder if what I really need to learn to do is change my perception. Appreciate the good things.

It’s tricky. In some ways, that’s what got me into the worst of it all — I was so focused on pleasing everyone else but me that I thought what I wanted didn’t matter. I thought the answer was to be happy where I was, when where I was would never make me happy.

Our fears and hopes and reactions are often based on past experiences, not what’s in front of us now. Sometimes, that serves us very well. Other times, not at all. How can we know which time is which?

When I escaped to the desert, one of the counselors there said I had trouble with discernment. I don’t trust anything, don’t count on anything, because when I have, I’ve been let down. She said it wasn’t that nothing can be trusted, but that I had been trusting the wrong things, the wrong people. Maybe.

It always seems like all or nothing, but it never is. It’s just what comes next.

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this could really be a good life

So get this.

Apparently it’s not my responsibility to solve the problems of the entire world. Who knew? This is a fortunate turn of events, since as it happens, I’m not actually able to solve the problems of the entire world. It’s weird how I realized long ago that I can’t be my mom’s savior, but it’s seemed perfectly logical to try and be the savior for people I don’t even know.

Anyway, that’s new.

I was talking to my therapist today about this new perspective and mentioned how the reason I started a company was not because I wanted to run a company or had some grand vision, but because people kept contacting me asking me for something that didn’t exist (as far as I knew) and since I knew I could create it, it didn’t cross my mind that I had any course of action open to me than to do so. Which is not to say I didn’t get anything out of it. That’s one of the harder parts of all this, of course. We keep doing these things because they work on some level, even if in other ways they don’t work at all. (See for instance: transformative event for the parts that don’t work quite so well.)

So once again, I rethink everything I ever knew. And all of the definitive statements I’ve ever made here might not always be true after all.

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i just want to be ok

Because I want to be wholly improved, feel as though I should be completely cured by now (time has past, money has been spent on retreating, medicating, analyzing, and so on), I continue to be surprised by signs that I am not. I find it nearly impossible to get out of bed in the mornings. I can’t fall asleep at night. My dreams are filled with nightmares. I feel a weight on my chest. I manage to make it through the motions of the day and get home at 5pm, 4pm, and collapse. Just getting through the day has drained me. The exhaustion is total. Everything irritates me. I can’t focus. I can’t function in the way I expect.

So many things remain undone.

I’ve been doing all of the healthy recommendations to move past debilitating depression and anxiety: I’ve seen medical doctors and have had batteries of tests; I’ve gone away for a relaxing technology-free break; I take walks; I practice breathing; I eat flax seed and whole grain bread and vegetables; I take herbs; I burn aromatherapy oil; I lift weights; I sleep in; I see a psychologist; I take Xanax. And yet.

Tonight, I’ve decided to try drinking. If nothing else, surely it will help with the insomnia. Alcohol has fewer calories than ice cream or chocolate, so I figure it will look less glaring on the daily log where I keep careful track of my nutritional intake, as part of the set of healthy recommendations I am following to try and get better. I admit (here, I mean, not to the nutrition diary) I ate an entire chocolate bar a few days ago and neglected to write it down. I told a friend about it. “One of those little mini candy bars?” she asked. No. An entire large chocolate bar. (For those unfamiliar with tracking every nutritional data point, a entire chocolate bar has around 500 calories and 40 grams of fat, around one-third the suggested daily intake of calories, and just about the entire daily intake of fat for someone such as myself for an entire day.)

I feel like a jerk. I have so much more than so many. And yet all I can do is complain. A friend said I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. That maybe I have the foundation and the tip of Maslow’s hierarcharcy of needs, but I’m missing the middle. Can you have self-actualization without love, belonging, and safety? And from a logical perspective, I really have safety nailed down too. I guess I just don’t operate as though I do.

Every night, I think: tomorrow I will have the energy to do that. (That being everything from making a five minute phone call to completing a two week project.) And yet I don’t. And part of the problem is that I have no sense of perspective, no depth perception, no way to know who to trust, what to believe. Every step is into the unknown, into darkness, no way to know if I’ll land on solid ground or fall into the abyss.

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a transformative event

According to convention wisdom, it seems there are two ways of completely changing your life, in the case that you wake up one day and realize you’ve been living it entirely wrong.

The first way involves introducing small changes that you repeat over time until they become habits. The only way for something to stick, one hears, is to start small, one change at a time. Only if what you’re looking to do is make lots of really big changes, that’s not really the advice you want to hear. Admittedly, the reaction to such advice doesn’t make much sense, which is to not make any changes at all. After all, if you’d started making those small changes one by one a year ago, you might have an entirely different life by now.

But still, when one is trapped in fear and desperation, the idea of somehow ignoring all of that and going about your day, slowly becoming untrapped, undesperate, and no longer paralyzed by anxiety and soul-crushing sadness doesn’t always sound like a fun option.

The second way involves having some transformative event that completely changes one’s life a la the Biblical Road to Damascus transformation of Saul to Paul. You hear about these types of events all the time: “it changed my life”, someone might say, and they don’t mean that in the way that everyone’s life changes all of the time with everything we do, but rather that they went from one kind of life to a different kind of life. I had hoped that a near-death experience would have come complete with a life exchange silver lining, but you can’t get everything you wish for.

Perhaps fortunately, a complete mental breakdown may be all that a girl needs, so I’ve been exploring that possibility. I had been toying with the idea of having myself (hopefully temporarily) committed to an institution whose sole goal it is to provide transformative events through serious medical treatment, but I’ve since discovered one of those more peaceful (by which I mean luxurious, by which I mean expensive) locations that celebrities retreat to due to “exhaustion”. And now that I have taken enough Xanax, I even feel stable enough to book into the non-clinic portion of said location (by which I mean, the section that doesn’t have admittance rules banning sharp objects).

Will it really help? I have no idea. The mental breakdown itself is already dramatically changing my behavior. “You’re saying no to things. That’s great!” says my breakdown-triggered newly appointed twice-a-week psychologist. It’s not the result of the efforts of something I’m trying to do, I explain. I mentally have no ability to add anything else. I’ve become completely non-functional. I have no choice but to say no. She suggests I look at things differently. I’m still meeting deadlines, finishing projects, running a company. I finished the manuscript for the new edition of my book. I’m going to the gym. I may not be as functional as I’m used to, but I’m functioning.

I think of all of the things I haven’t done. Everything I’m completely blocking from my mind because it’s the only way I can function at all. The mornings I need a Xanax to get out of bed because I wake up mid-panic attack. The times I’ve been unable to move from the couch. For hours. How I went to bed last night at 8pm and slept for 12 hours, waking up only for the nightmares. That doesn’t feel like functioning to me.

So maybe that’s the transformative event. I can’t go on feeling like this. Insanity, after all, it doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So if I want to end up feeling differently than this, I will have to do something other than what I’ve been doing (by which I mean for my entire life).

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i went in seeking clarity

This is what I thought about when I thought I was going to die.

Backstory: Perhaps ironically, only days earlier I was at a book event, where bookish people walked around and eyed us author types as one might evaluate lobsters at one of those pick-your-own seafood places. We (the authors) smiled behind our books in likely the opposite fashion of said lobsters (pick me! pick me!) and tried to helpfully answer questions from reluctant potential buyers in some way other than “yes, I can see that $25 is a steep price to pay for that year I spent pouring my heart and soul into the words on those pages. Totally reasonable point.”

I had it easier than the memoir writers, of course. I was exceedingly impressed they didn’t say that to each and every person who flipped through their book’s pages dismissively. After all, business books have little detail of personal torment and sorrow. Although I hope my fellow writers were in turn impressed that I didn’t respond to the person who asked if she would actually learn anything from my book or if it was all stuff she already knew with “I’m not sure. Show me your book and let’s compare.”

But the point is that every so often, we lobsters would escape our tanks. On the plane the night before, I had read one of the memoir-style books: this one about a fast-paced TV news producer who had a brain hemorrhage and nearly died, and then took stock of his life and made some changes. I was chatting with him about the experience and he told me that how you figure out what’s important is what you think about in those moments when you truly think you’re going to die. That it’s not if they got the right person booked on the show that day. It’s your family. Your spouse. Your children.

Well, fuck you. I don’t have those things, so what the hell can I do about that? Only I only said that to him in my head. He was very nice, actually.

In any case, as it turned out, I had cause to try out this theory less than a week later, while on a tiny plane with my seven-year old niece. After the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced (context: I have been on over 90 flights this year alone), things suddenly took a turn for the worse. The plane began plummeting out of control, everything not tied down flew through the air (for instance: passengers), everyone was screaming. It was your ordinary, every day, basic plane crash scene from a movie. Or perhaps the pilot episode of Lost.

After several hours (possibly this was actually less than a minute, but I’m pretty sure it was about three hours), the pilot seemed to regain control of the plane and we went back to the much calmer state of the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. He then came on to apologize. A lot. And reassure us that we would be landing soon. No really.

In those moments — not the actual I’m-going-to-die-we’re-crashing moments — but the ones just after, with the bracing that the really actual death was likely coming any moment, a part of me tried to focus. What did I think about when I knew I was dying? Is that a clue as to the meaning of my life?

This is what I thought: “Oh my fucking God. I cannot believe I’m going to fucking die right now in a plane crash.” Which isn’t all that helpful in life focus other than it supports my theory that I don’t really want to die. My post-crashing moment thoughts were about my sister and about how sad she would be that her daughter died in a plane crash. So, I guess I’m not entirely selfish.

My third set of thoughts (after the “fuck I’m going to die” and “my poor sister” ones) weren’t helpful either, to the extent that I can’t even really write about them. They were all self-pity and woe is me and wishing for things that don’t exist. (Despite what people tell you, your dreams can’t always come true. Dreaming for a pet unicorn that takes you on rides to your friend the leprechaun’s house won’t actually get you very far, sadly.)

My point is that I didn’t gain any new life insights from my near-death experience and I’m kind of mad about that because if you almost die, shouldn’t you get something positive out of it? All in all, I guess I can’t really recommend this method for seeking clarity. In case you were considering it.

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i’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairy tale

I’m caught between two equally crushing feelings:

1) I’m too old (that is, smart) to believe in the white horse, in Lloyd Dobler holding the boom box in the rain, in that feeling that someone who I only want wants only me.

Stupid girl, I should have known, I should have known.

2) Love is the most important thing in life.

Love was as hardwired into the structure of the universe as gravity and matter.

The latter quote from the Hyperion series (the former, of course, from the font of wisdom Taylor Swift).

I was talking to someone about Hyperion’s message that love is like gravity and he said that that was a perspective I likely didn’t agree with. But maybe he’s wrong about that.

Love isn’t something that you can plan; the best one can do is hope. And what’s the point of that? Except Gandhi said, “It is the law of love that rules mankind. It gives me ineffable joy to go on trying to prove that.”

So no wonder I avoid it. The most important thing in life. And there’s nothing one can do to reach it except wait and hope.

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there will be an answer, let it be

I always have a collection of half-written drafts that remain unposted here. All these lists of pop song lyrics, as though perhaps I’m hoping the truth of life is surfaced through radio happiness. Right now, it’s mostly a collection of lines from “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls:

I’m trying to tell you something about my life…

I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it…

I went in seeking clarity…

The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.

This is the lesson I keep learning over and over again my entire life. I can’t know it all. I can’t control it all. I have no idea what’s going to happen next. But sometimes, sometimes. Couldn’t I just have some assurance, even just a little?

I know, I don’t even like the Beatles, but I wonder sometimes: “there will be answer, let it be”. Is that a statement or a plea? I repeat it to remind myself: Let it be. There will be an answer. Even though there’s not an answer right now. Even though the road is so dark and I can’t see at all into the blackness.

When all I want is to be enough, even then. Let it be.

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i’ve done everything wrong

When I was growing up, we were pretty poor. I think I didn’t realize how poor we really were as we were considered the “rich” relatives, what with one set of cousins living in a treehouse they’d constructed in the woods and another living in their car.

My parents tended to exaggerate their lack of so-called book smarts. I don’t know. Maybe this was a defensive reaction. Better to act like you disdain wisdom than to admit you just don’t have any? You’re that way on purpose rather than despite attempts otherwise? My mom was (and is) forever saying, “well, I’m not very smart…”. My stepdad (born and raised in southern California) took to Oklahoma life as though it was all he’d ever known: wearing overalls, listening to Hank Williams, buying a beat up fishing boat, hunting, and adopting an “aww shucks” conversation style.

What I knew: that there was something other than this. I could pursue success and have a different path. That was a quantifiable, data-driven, proven model I could see around me.

What I did not know: that there might be value in less tangible things — relationships, families, love. I had seen no evidence of his growing up, after all. I had seen only the opposite. Most of what made my parents unhappy seemed to be each other, and us. My own failed attempt at marriage only validated this data.

But maybe I was wrong about everything. Maybe I was wrong. But what can I do now?

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I guess I’m happy when I don’t want to be anywhere else but where I am

One of my favorite movies is Love Affair (all three versions). But why? I’m the least sentimental person I know. I have not made it a habit to believe in love or look for love or wistfully pine for love.

I was talking to a friend last night about what it means to be successful and I said maybe nothing matters except what makes you happy, no matter what success is supposed to look like.

I was thinking this the other day:

When faced with the possibility of loss we do not think: what if no one were to feel this way about me again? Rather, we think: what if I were to never again feel this way about anyone else.

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do what makes you happy always

The trouble is the wine cabinet.

A friend gave it to me when she moved and while I did manage to carry it from my car into the house, it’s awkwardly shaped and folds out, which makes it difficult to get a good grasp on.

I need to get it down the stairs.

For now, it sits just inside the front door, mocking my independence and self-reliance. Of course, I pay for said independence and self-reliance and I did in fact ask my assistant to help me carry it down the stairs. But while her skills are many, furniture mover is not among them.

This is where it all falls apart, my careful plans of architecting my life just so. I don’t need anyone until I need to zip up the back of my dress. So I don’t buy dresses that zip up the back.

Only now, here’s this wine cabinet. I can’t take it back. But to keep it, I need to ask for help, to rely on someone else

And with this, I have no experience at all.

I was texting with a friend. She is trying to decide what to do with her career. I told her, “do what makes you happy always”, but I really meant to tell myself.

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the dots connect somehow

I collect words, which is much easier to do now that I read most of my books on the iPad Kindle app. I want to rush out and buy hard covers of all of those books so I can pile them up around my house, but I appreciate the ease of having a handy collection of highlighted phrases that I can access anywhere. These contradictions are the summation of my life.

What’s caught my attention lately:

From Lisa Kudrow’s Vassar 2010 commencement address:

“I was weirdly confident…for no reason at all — but because this didn’t exactly feel like it was a choice as much as succumbing to a compulsion, and I didn’t analyze what led me to this point, whether it was divine intervention, or a lapse in judgment or sanity, I just listened to that inner voice.”

From what James Altucher learned from hulu hooping:

“The less movement the better… If it’s hard, it means it’s not going to happen. When you have the right company, it’s easy. Same for getting acquired. If it’s too difficult, then you are either in the wrong business or you need to build more.”

I think this is likely true in lots of circumstances other than business.

From Penn Jillete’s book God, No! (talking about spending money on renovations for his house that he’d never make back in resale value and worrying about scandalous pictures of him getting leaked):

“‘Accept who you are and do whatever you want.’ I found that when I stopped lying to myself and stopped planning for futures that weren’t going to happen, I got happier. It was easy. I liked that my door to the Supreme Court was slammed in my face.”

From an Esquire article quoting Roger Ebert:

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts.”

There’s something here I’m clearly still trying to puzzle out about important and necessary parts of selfishness, and friction, and “should” vs. “need”, and the unexpected paths our lives take.

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morning

I have a pond in my front yard. An actual pond with a waterfall that magically turns on at 10am and off at 8pm. A little bridge spans an even smaller “stream” part of the pond and leads from the front gate to my house. It’s adorable, truly.

The pond is home to koi. Also rainbow trout. 19 of the first; 4 of the second. Never heard of a koi/trout pond? Neither has anyone else. Amazingly, they seem to live together fairly happily. Every morning when I’m in town, I go out to the pond before the waterfall kicks in. The pond is peaceful and still. The water is clear. When I walk up to the pond, the fish all swim over to say good morning. OK, they swim over because they’re pretty sure I’m going to feed them, but I think they also want to say hi. Well, maybe not the trout.

When you feed koi in a non-trout pond, the koi are pretty chill. They float around and nibble on the treats and look lovely and zen. Things are a bit different in my pond. The moment the food hits the water it is EVERY FISH FOR HIMSELF! (Or possibly herself, I can’t really tell if the fish are boys or girls.) The trout are amazingly fast, zipping up to the surface and gobbling up as they go, splashing out of the water, diving down, pushing past every koi that gets in the way.

The koi are learning. They’re starting to hold their own — furtively sneaking in and grabbing some treats at speeds I’ve never seen koi attempt in any other pond, pushing their way in, diving and darting. They’re tough, my little koi.

When the treats are gone, the trout swim away. The koi stick around, back to their floaty zen state. We’re cool, they’re saying. That feeding frenzy free for all? That wasn’t even us. Must have been some other koi.

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you might think i’m bullet proof, but i’m not

From my driver, bringing me home from the airport last night: “You are a blessed woman. It is contagious. I will go home and also be blessed.”

It’s true. I know it’s true and I see it and I feel it and I believe it. But I’m always on guard for it all to go wrong. Or for something else to go wrong. For every good thing, a bad thing has to happen to keep the scales balanced. Even though I know that’s not true at all and the scales are tipped well into the blessed scale.

I don’t know the answers and I never know the answers and I wish I knew the answers. And I’ve written about it before and over and over again and still. All I’m really looking for is peace.

I know the writing in the journal makes it seem like I’m never happy and I’m actually mostly happy. And I know that I’m one of the lucky ones.

But never perfect.

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i’m good at spin

It always confuses me when I realize someone is envious. Why would anyone envy this? I wake up and I work and I feel the crushing weight of not being able to stop and it’s lonely and it’s relentless and just as I think I might be getting the boulder to the top of the mountain, I find myself once again right back at the beginning. And I think, how did I get here? How do I escape? And I realize that the only way I know to to get away from runaway trains is to close my eyes and jump, that I haven’t ever, even once, been able to stop the train, to slow it down, to get it to change tracks. And yet when I jump, I land on a train going even faster and even more out of control.

So, I think, how could someone envy me, who mixes metaphors with boulders and trains and mountains but it’s only because I get no sleep. I sit here. And I look at this screen. And I watch the demands roll in and I know I can’t satisfy them all. But I keep trying. I keep trying.

But my life is full of wonderful things too. And I know that. And I know that’s what people are seeing. Because it not only gets tedious for others when I recount my woes, my trains, my boulders. It gets tedious for me. Sometimes it’s easier to downplay that part.

So when someone both tells me that they feel they should be as famous as me (as though I am famous at all) because they have just as much skill and talent and whatever it is that this supposed fame is from, but then in the same breath tell me that they could never travel like I do and when I invite them to speak at an event I’m organizing, they turn it down. Too much travel. When I hear both of these things, said at once, I don’t know whether to smile or cry. Because I’m tired.

I say that if you don’t like to travel, then choosing not to is the right choice. Even if it means less “fame”. Because it will mean that. The crowds can’t know you if they don’t see you. But what difference does it make? How does a few hundred, a few thousand people having heard your name before change anything about your life? Make you happier? Give you more time?

I was having a drink with a friend a few days ago, which I was able to justify (oh the time having drinks takes away from sitting here and looking at this screen) only because he was also interviewing me for a book he’s writing. He told me that a few weeks ago, his wife’s 24-year old brother died in a motorcycle accident. One day here was there, and then he wasn’t. And you know, that could happen to anyone. Anytime.

A bit later, as part of the book interview, he asked me about being a role model for women. Every time someone tells me I’m a role model, I panic. I’m flooded with dread. Because to build your career like I have, you sit here. You look at this screen. And it’s 3am and it’s 7am and it’s 11pm. It’s Sunday. It’s your birthday. It’s Christmas. And you sit here. And your friends text you and invite you to a party. And you sit here. And you’re trapped.

And then you board a plane and another plane and another plane. And you’re tired.

I can’t even fathom how someone who wants more than this — a husband, a family, a dog — could even attempt it.

That’s not the answer I gave him though. I’ve had a lot of media training. I’m good at spin. But not here.

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from there to here

I’m sitting in a hamman in Morocco, drinking tea. Not a traditional hamman, where the locals go, where you pay $3 and you and your neighbor take turns scrubbing each others’ backs. This is a fancy, upscale hamman, with dark tile, lined with candles.

I am the only person here.

I have had the traditional hamman treatments, and now the staff have retreated, leaving me in peace with tea and dates and the tranquil silence.

I’m thinking of my stepfather.

As childhoods go, I’ve read enough the of dysfunctional childhood memoir genre to know that things could have been worse. But I’m pretty sure mostly people had it better.

Last week, my sister told me that my stepfather was dying in a hospice. At age 58. Decades of constant drinking had taken their toll. I called him “dad” from age 4 to 18, when he abruptly (or not so abruptly, he was really always on the verge of leaving) left (leaving a birthday card on my pillow). I never saw him again.

I haven’t given him more than a passing thought in years.

All those people I used to hold grudges against — and with good reason (mostly) — like my parents, now I just feel sad for them. A person almost always thinks he’s justified in his actions. Our perspective from the inside looking out is skewed. There is no firm reality, only context.

I can imagine him there, dying (dying! what more can he take from me?), alone. Thinking that after all those years he spent caring for us, even though we weren’t his biological children: housing us, feeding us, working long hours so we could have Christmas presents and birthday cake. After all that, we’ve abandoned him.

I could look back on those years differently. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Yes, we’re moving again. Take off my shoes and fetch me a beer. Lay still while I whip you with this belt.

But what’s the point?

It wouldn’t change the fact that he’s about to die.

And here’s what I think about, as I sit, sipping my tea, in the hamman, at the resort where I’m staying in a villa with a private pool overlooking the ocean in Morocco.

I think about those times when he ridiculed me for wanting to go to college. How he would tell me that college was for lazy people who didn’t want to work. That when you add up attendance costs and lost wages from not working while you were in school — there was just no way to ever make up for that.

I think about all those hours I worked in high school in order to save money for college, for SAT tests, for college admissions applications.

I think about how, when I desperately needed $100 to pay for some college application-related expense my senior year of high school and had already pawned anything of value, he gave me the $100 in exchange from my (life long) stamp collection and a promise that I wouldn’t ask him for any money for my wedding. (When he left, he left me the stamps, along with the birthday card.)

Funny then that the only time I talked to him after he left was 7 years later, right before my wedding. He found out I was getting married and called me to congratulate me. He was so drunk, I could barely understand a word he said.

I think about these things, and about this too. He truly believed the things he told me. When he wouldn’t pay for things like SAT tests, he wasn’t being mean. He honestly believed they were a waste of money. That I was making wrong choices.

He also didn’t come from a world where parents were responsible for anything once a child reached 18. Feed and clothe them through high school and then you’re done. He would have been affronted had you told him he was responsible for anything else.

He wasn’t being mean. To him, asking him to pay for anything related to college was like asking him to pay for puffy rainbow clouds. Not his responsibility. Folly.

And pay for college itself? He didn’t have that kind of money, so what difference did it make.

I think of that now. Because he was so terribly wrong and I am living proof of that.

A life that includes villas with private pools in Morocco was not one he would ever fathom. It’s not just that it wasn’t in his realm of consciousness, it was a concept that didn’t exist for him. Getting a passport was a concept that didn’t exist for him.

Living in a 5th wheel travel trailer in Oklahoma, all I ever thought about was getting out.

I read about other places, other lives. Even as a fourth grader, I schemed, I plotted, I looked for cracks. To find a path out. For me, I knew that crack was college. Some kids latch on to musical or athletic talent. I knew I was smart.

Where did this idea of good grades and college even come from? Neither of my parents (or any of the three of them, if you include my biological father) were particularly interested in or good at school. None of my relatives had gone to college.

My grandfather was a truck driver. My grandmother (after she finished raising seven children) worked at the K-Mart cafeteria. My mom didn’t work. My stepdad worked in the oil fields. My biological father smoked a lot of pot. I lived in rural Oklahoma, not known for its abundance of white collar, corporate skyscrapers. I didn’t have the internet.

So why was college and life beyond the overriding thought always in my head?

Maybe it was all that reading.

No one in my family has ever left the country but I’ve been to 21 countries in the last five years, 6 continents in the last 12 months.

Where does it come from?

I haven’t talked to my stepsister in years. She lived with us when we were growing up, then decided she was done with school and parents at 16, so got pregnant (so she could have someone to love her), dropped out of school, and got a place of her own.

She’s on Facebook. I go to her page to see if she’s written anything about her father. Her wall contains only posts from a game called “Treasure Isle”, every few hours, every day. Nothing else. Her interests say she “likes playing games on the puter”.

Should I send her a message, asking how she is? Are they estranged? Are they close?

I ask my sister where he is but she doesn’t know. She says she’ll try to find out. She heard the news from our step cousin (his nephew), but he doesn’t know either.

I think of all of this as I sip my tea. A spa attendant comes by and asks if I need anything. She speaks only Arabic and French and I speak only English, so mostly I just smile. She pours me more tea.

A few days later, I leave Morocco. I come home to find a message from my sister. She’s gotten the address but no phone number. She said it wasn’t easy. That no one in the family seems to still be in touch with him.

I look up the address. It’s in a tiny town in Western Oklahoma. I wonder what I should do, what I can do. It’s late and I’ve been traveling for a long time. I go to bed.

The next morning, my sister sends me another message. My stepfather has died.

I don’t know how to feel.

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tidings of comfort and joy

We think that we’re locked into a life. But we’re not. We think we have to do things a particular way, go down a particular path, go through particular motions. But we don’t.

I see the absolute joy and surprise and on the face of my six-year old niece. What happens to us?

Some days, everything makes me sad. I can’t fix everything. But then other times, I’m hopeful, so hopeful.

I’m sitting on a patio in Mexico, watching the water. It makes me laugh when the pelicans dive headfirst into the water, zeroed in on a snack. And then they just bob there in the water. I meant to do that, they say. Just wanted to get my beak wet.

Once again, I don’t know how this ends.

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winter wonderland

I like to believe that I spent my entire life on a sunny beach on California and my days were like living in a Katy Perry song. However, this is just a lie I tell myself. In reality, I have spent many, many years in snowy, blizzard-like conditions. I have experience with these things.

Why then did I just attempt to walk out onto my balcony, during 60 mph wind gusts. In a snowstorm? Why did I do that?

My goal was to see the ridiculous waves crashing against the crazy snow. Instead, in milliseconds, I was soaking wet and nearly had my back door knocked off. Which would have made it really cold inside.And I saw nothing as the wind blew my eyelids shut.

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how do we get to where we end up?

How it happened is this.

I didn’t set out to start a business or run a company or have employees. I didn’t have revenue goals, business plans, value props. What happened was, someone asked me for help. And I felt bad saying no. And so I said yes. But then someone else asked me for help. And then someone else. And so I kept helping them.

Not that I rescued orphans from collapsed mines or anything, you understand. These were just businesses looking for help with the kind of thing I’m good at. Only it got to where I had too many to help so then I started getting other people to help me help them.

So now I’m in this weird spot. Because suddenly I’m running a company and have employees and I should have revenue goals, business plans, value props. But instead, if someone wants me to bid for a project or provide references and examples of my work so they can compare me to the other companies they’re considering, I think THANK GOD I don’t have to help them. They have someone else to help them! I don’t have time to add them to my list of people to help, much less fill out their bid forms and reference sheets. But I suppose that’s not the correct perspective for a CEO.

It’s perplexing sometimes.

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location, location, location

When I was maybe eight years old, my family inexplicably moved to the middle of nowhere in the countryside of Oklahoma, not far from a town of 200 people. We had a been living in a suburb of Tulsa for about a year and I have no idea why my parents (or really, my stepdad) decided to move and how they even found such a remote and random place to move to.

I can see the appeal for them though. It’s easy to blame a lot of the crazy that went on in my childhood on my stepdad, but in reality, my mom was a willing participant. And it’s not that hard to see how we would end up, for instance, in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma based even on a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago.

I was sitting outside my mom’s current house, inexplicably in a suburb of Sacramento, at my niece’s birthday party. I forget sometimes how other people’s lives generally go, and am continually surprised when people I’ve never met assume for me a normal and traditional upbringing.

One of the moms watching her daughter at the party started talking to me, and at some point I realized she thought this had been our childhood home. I explained that my mom had moved here just a few years ago.

“Oh, where did you grow up?”

That’s always a tough one to explain. Depending on how much energy I have, or the likelihood that I will ever see this person again and have need for an accurate narrative, I generally either say “California” or “we moved a lot”. When pressed (and people don’t generally realize they are pressuring me to relive childhood trauma when they simply ask where I grew up), I pick a point in time: I was born in southern California; I graduated from high school in central California; I went to college in northern California.

The next question, however, I had no idea how to answer.

“So, why did you mom move here?”

That, I have no idea.

I have no idea why she chose this particular town, but I do know why she chose this particular house. The rent was cheap. The house was large (as a single person, she still requires at least three bedrooms for the amazing amount of random stuff she’s accumulated over the years — and it is truly astonishing to me that someone chooses a house not to live in, but to store things in). The house is old, which to her means it has “charm”. It’s in the “country”, which by her measure is the epitome of location.

Things she has never considered when determining where to live: proximity to anything at all; cost and hassle of the upkeep of an ancient residence; whether or not she actually needs an entire room to display her scary doll and santa claus collections.

At that point in the conversation, my mom came over and started complaining about the noise from the nearby train tracks. One of the moms said, “I guess after a while you get used to it.”

My mom’s response, ever the martyr: “No, I never do.”

She then proceeded to complain about the nearby quarry and how dust was always everywhere. (Yes, my mom purposely chose a house directly next to both railroad tracks and a quarry, likely in part so that she’d always have at least two things to point to as her burdens to bear in life.)

I noted that both the train tracks and quarry were in fact already there when my mom decided to move into the house. It wasn’t as though she found her perfect home, moved in, and then the city decided to install them next door. (As you might imagine, she wasn’t overly impressed with my logic.)

And so I’m sure it went with our house in the country. Sure, the closest grocery store was an hour away in Tulsa and even the closest school was at least 30 minutes, and all bets were off in the winter when all the roads were covered in ice, but the house was probably pretty cheap and it had lots of land around it. What more could you want?

So we would make the weekly trip to the grocery store and (I swear this is true) my mom would can vegetables and things and store them in the musty, dirty cellar and what I remember most about living there was all the hours I spent stacking wood, as our only source of heat was a wood-burning stove. I don’t how many other eight year old girls know dimensions of a rick and a cord of wood, but I sure did.

I thought it was all normal at the time. After all, Laura Ingalls lived this way. And we didn’t even have to heat water on the stove for baths. (Although we did have to check the bathtub before we got in for scorpions.)

One of my favorite things about being an adult? Being able to choose to live in the middle of a city, so that I can decide I want a cup of coffee and a muffin and can walk three minutes to buy them.

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but then i sleep instead

I read something funny, compelling, witty, charming, beautiful.

I,

1) want to be a good writer
2) want to have time, energy, passion to write, interesting things to write about even though I know writing well isn’t about that at all.

Why do I care so much?

Maybe I want to be funny, compelling, witty, charming, beautiful.

Maybe writing sounds like the opposite of the franticness, the pressure, the demands, the 893 emails behind but I’m just too tired to look at the words anymore.

I’m not missing desire, only strength.

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don’t we all shop like this?

So how is that I ended up scrolling through shopping results online that included the “three hole love doll” and assorted silicone body parts?

It started innocently, really. OK, sort of. Some friends and I went to an event at this sex shop (that’s the sort of part) and we got gift bags that included the very best lip balm ever. I know. I didn’t think of lip balm as being a sex toy either, but there it was, with the waterproof vibrator and Hot Girls in Aprons and Oven Mitts DVD. (Perhaps that wasn’t the exact title, but you get the idea.) Anyway, the lip balm was awesome and later, I was talking to one of the friends who I went with about it and mentioned that I was running low. She said she was too and that she also had loved it, so right then and there, we drove back over to the sex shop to buy some more. Only they didn’t have any. In fact, they don’t sell it. They just happened to have it as part of the promotion.

What to do? Look for it online, of course. Which I did and amazingly enough, found it on Amazon (free shipping with Amazon Prime!). Only it came in a package of items called the “Goodhead Kit for Him, Mint”. Which includes all of the “essential oral sex tools to transform average head into unbelievable head.” I didn’t even know there were “essential” oral sex tools other than a mouth and here I thought I was a bit better than average. Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong all this time!

Despite the effusive marketing speak, I didn’t know that I really needed a “love ring” to “watch him light up with joy”, so I thought I’d browse around a bit to see if the lip balm was sold separately. I scrolled past the regular stuff   (pocket rockets, bondage rope, the yumi anime love doll) and then came upon the rubber exercise “easy rider” balls with attached dildos (who knew?). But then I saw the vaginal enlargement pump. Really? Do people really want to enlarge their vaginas? I headed to the reviews to find out: “the cup is comfortable and there is a pressure release on the pump and cup which is great if you get a bit too brave.” Get a bit too brave? What DOES THAT EVEN MEAN??

The perfect pair breasts made a bit more sense and the reviewers for that are surprisingly helpful to each other: “just keep your eyes closed and you won’t get distracted”; “use baby powder liberally over every inch restoring it to a very silky soft feel”; “the coloring around the nipples wears off easily, but I don’t see that as a real problem”. And I was happy to discover that good ‘ole Doc Johnson is an equal opportunity fetishist as you can also get Belladonna’s foot soldiers (“each set contains one left foot and one right foot”!). Sadly, this item has no reviews.

In the end, the “essential” oral sex tools kit appears to be the only way I can get the lip balm. I guess I have no choice but to transform myself into someone who gives unbelievable head. The price I pay for good lip balm.

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even hannah montana can’t escape my mom

“Your hair is so dark… I mean, it still looks good though.” This, then, how my mom greets me as I walk in. I don’t expect anything different, of course. Which is fortunate, since throughout the day that I learn that I have a very small waist (too bad about the rest of me, that is) and that I am so successful because God has blessed me so very much.

Normally, I just let it all go, but I took a stab at the being blessed thing. “Or maybe I worked really hard.”

She thought about this.

“Lots of people work really hard. But not everyone is successful.” (Translation in case you don’t fluently speak the language of my mom: she works really hard. So hard! And yet why is she broke all the time?!) And anyway, she asked me, don’t I like what I do? Well then. I can barely count it as working. Most people aren’t so blessed as to enjoy their work.

I just took a drink of my margarita in response.

I got off lucky though. Hannah Montana didn’t fare so well.

Hannah arrived at my niece’s sixth birthday party with hula hoops, a karaoke machine, pom poms and face paint. You can imagine the excitement of all the little girls, right? They gathered around her with anticipation. As did my mom.

“Wow, great job. You look just like her. Last time I saw you, you looked just like Snow White!” Hannah and I both gave her the same look. That look was “what the hell is wrong with you, you crazy woman?”

I explained to my mother in front of THE EXCITED GROUP OF SIX YEAR OLD GIRLS that the reason she looked like Hannah Montana was that that SHE WAS HANNAH MONTANA. My mom looked confused. “But the girl we talked to before..?”

“You must mean my friend,” Hannah explained, clearly bewildered by a grandmother trying to destroy her own granddaughter’s magical birthday surprise and replace it with the hard, cruel reality of our cold and bitter world. Should Hannah tear off her clothes and start singing about how she can’t be tamed while we’re at it?

My mom wandered off and found my sister. “Did you know that’s not the same girl we hired? They must have sent someone else.”

She approved of Hannah’s blonde wig though.

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if i had a superpower…

I know I have to do something about the stress when every phone call, every email, every time someone just says hi makes me angry. I feel the moment of weakness and that only makes me angrier, knowing I’m in that moment and I can’t do anything about it. Worse yet is letting other people see that moment of weakness.

A friend told me a few days ago that he wasn’t going to feel sorry for me as I’m incredibly fortunate and have virtually no problems, comparatively speaking. He’s absolutely right. And I don’t feel sorry for me either. That would be ridiculous. But I still have those moments of weakness.

I’m only an ordinary person. Who wishes I had superhuman strength. But I don’t.

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this isn’t one of my good qualities

I step outside and stand in the tedious cab line. Normally, this goes quickly, but today, no cabs are in sight. The air is hot and sticky. My phone chimes with incoming mail. The cabs start arriving and the guy behind me jumps into a cab that pulls up beside him, waiting in its own cab line. I don’t know if he’s oblivious to how this is supposed to work or if he just doesn’t care. I glare at him. There’s nothing he can do about it as the automatic door of his cab-mini van slowly closes. I don’t even know why I glare at him, why I care. So, I have to wait an additional 30 seconds because some guy was an asshole.

At my turn in line, I start to walk towards my cab — the cab designated for me based on my place in line — and the taxi line keeper, the one who hands out the fare flyers that I always shun, stands in my way. “Where are you going?”

“Why do you need to know?”

This is what I actually say.

He keeps at me and some stubborn bitchy part of me doesn’t want to tell him where I’m going, just wants to get in my cab, away from the line and the heat and the noise.

He won’t relent.

“Why can’t I just tell the driver where I’m going?”

He goes off on a rant about how that cab doesn’t go to Virginia, just to DC. I tell him I’m not going to Virginia, I’m going to DC. He lets me go.

Maybe it’s some chip on my shoulder, angry every time someone assumes I’m in the wrong place or thinks I don’t know what I’m doing. This happens a lot at airports. Recurring scene: I’m standing in line at the ticker counter. The line minder asks me where I’m going. I have no idea why this is relevant. “This line is for business class for international flights.” “Yes. So says this sign I’m standing directly next to. I can read.”

One guy, understandably irritated at my lack of any shred of politeness told me he was only trying to help. “You’re not helping me.”

So maybe it’s that and maybe it’s that if I feel like I am constantly worn down by the noise. By people wanting things from me, needing things from me, relentless. My phone chimes again. More email. Please schedule a call with me tomorrow. I laugh. There’s no room in my schedule, not even for a call, for two weeks. I can’t even be left alone to get into a cab?

I know. I’m a jerk. There’s no part of me that thinks my reactions are justified.

I’m sitting in a hotel bar. The waitress says I should try the red velvet cupcake. They’re so good, she’s been known to eat three for dinner. But the other people in the bar are loud, inescapable. I close the browser tabs with my email. Log out of instant messaging. I feel too constantly accessible. It feels intrusive every time someone wants to be my friend on Facebook, on Foursquare.

This morning, at my apartment, before I left for the airport, before I was nonsensically rude to someone just trying to do their job in the humid, oppressive heat outside an airport, I saw a huge seal laying on one of the little boat docks. A baby has been hanging out the last few weeks, but this is the first time I’ve seen one of the parents.

But I had a plane to catch.

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beautiful and dirty rich

Sometimes I wonder how I got here. I can’t say that I should have planned my life better, because of course, I did plan. I planned and planned and it was all wrong and came crashing down and I was left with the realization that planning doesn’t always make things better. Sometimes it makes things worse. And good fucking God. Now, by not planning, I’ve ended up in an entirely better place. And I’m happy. Honestly, I’m amazingly happy. And lucky. And grateful.

I spent the weekend laying on the beach in Rio. As you lay there and watch the water, locals come by offering to sell you anything you might want: sunscreen, hats, sarongs, magazines, water, jewelry. They’ll bring a portable mini-grill over and make you lunch. You can get a massage. A new bikini. On Sunday, I stood at the base of Christ the Redeemer, wearing sandals I got in Jerusalem.

Then yesterday, I stood in my living room and watched the sun over the water and all I wanted to do was cry. What the fuck am I doing? Am I doing it all wrong?

Today, I drove to the bank . As I parked, I saw a crow on the ground, clearly dying. I didn’t want to look at him. As I opened my door, the sound of birds was deafening. I looked up, and hundreds of crows were circling the air, perching on wires and trees and rooftops. All crying, screaming. It was a little terrifying. They all were looking at the dying crow. By the time I left the ATM, the crow on the ground wasn’t moving anymore. The air grew quiet.

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i can’t be saved

A certain someone who has read this journal on occasion may see that title and think I’m at it again: all that “I’m an independent woman” rambling  and OK we get it already, you’re independent and strong and don’t need anyone and can change the oil in your own damn car if you wanted to (but while I did in fact used to change my own oil in college, I now try to pay people to do as many things as possible and no that’s not a ephemism, so shut it) and I am just FINE on my own.

(It’s not true, of course. The don’t need anyone stuff. That I changed my own oil in college is indeed true. Our garage had this scary, spider-filled pit that you could drive over and then work on your car while standing up. In the pit. My car broke down a lot. I didn’t have any money. Also, even then, I wanted to be independent, not relying on anyone, blah blah blah, so I knew my way around an engine. Except, did you know that buying your own oil and filter supplies is just about as expensive as just bringing your car somewhere to have the oil changed? Yep. Plus you need that special tool to get the filter off. And also, it’s messy. Plus, the spiders. So, I really recommend against this method of gaining independence.)

But that person (who I mentioned way back before that rambling parenthetical)  would be wrong. Mostly the title is about the horrifying fact that I really like this new Miley Cyrus song. That it’s Miley Cyrus would be bad enough. But she’s 17. So it’s ridiculous that she’s singing about how she can’t be changed and every tomorrow is a day she never planned. OF COURSE she didn’t plan it. No one has any idea what their world is going to be like when they’re 17. And yet, there it is. It’s shameful, honestly. If I were 17, it would be fine if I liked this song. But not now. And yet I do.

What makes it worse is that on that album, she does a cover of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. Like, seriously? That’s just like when Britney Spears remade “I Love Rock and Roll”. What is wrong with people?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit I also kind of like that “Your Love Is My Drug” song by that girl with a dollar sign in her name, especially the beginning part where she says “maybe I need some rehab, or maybe just need some sleep”. And also that song about my milkshake bringing all the boys to the yard. Which I realize now is about a million years old but it still IS AWESOME.

So what did I do? What else could I do? I picked up the latest issue of Cosmo. Maybe I’ll find it’s gotten good too. Think of how much easier life would be if I could be more easily entertained. The cover of the July 2010 issues looks promising. 99 new sex facts! Who knew that many things were new about sex?! The #1 love instinct I should ignore! What men find hot! (Wait, I know this one already. Blow jobs, right?) 20 naughty things to do in the dark! (Cosmo readers need someone to tell them this?) Let’s dive in!

You will be shocked to hear this, but the 99 new sex facts were really disappointing. For instance, “women place a higher importance on looks than men do when looking for a casual sexual partner.” Millionaires feel having money gives them access to better sex. More interesting: the chemical ocytocin, released during sex, reduces pain by about half.

Here’s something weird. One “fact” is that the average time sex lasts for Americans is seven minutes and another is that that women want sex to last about four minutes less than it does. Um, women want sex to last for three minutes? Clearly these women are not having good sex. Good sex should last as long as possible. Longer really.

And what about this? 95% of women consider penile-vaginal intercourse sex. What? What exactly do these other 5% of women consider to be sex? Where do magazines find these people?

So Cosmo has given us a collection of random surveys with no attribution from a sample size of women who want three minute sex, in some crazy bizarro world of what sex is. Awesome.

You understand I couldn’t read the rest of the magazine right? Even for science? And anyway, I have go to listen to that song about taking a ride on your disco stick. Or maybe the one about how what I want want want is what you want want want so give it to me baby like boom boom boom.

But I draw the line at that creepy Bieber kid.

 

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firecrackers and beer for breakfast

On a bookcase in my living room is a framed photo of me and my grandma. It’s the summer of 1988. I have curly permed hair and am working at a fireworks stand by a lake in northeastern Oklahoma. I’m 15. My boyfriend, his best friend, and his friend’s girlfriend, and I worked at that fireworks stand the two weeks before fourth of July and maybe made $200 between all four of us. It was hot that summer — over a hundred degrees every day — and we’d take turns working and hanging out at the lake. We’d skim a little cash off the top and buy beer at the nearby convenience store. We had unlimited access to fireworks, and in Oklahoma in 1988, a lot was legal. Amazingly, none of us ended up in the hospital.

A friend stayed with me this weekend and ended up driving through some small towns nearby to go for a hike. She came back with photos of fireworks stands. She grew up in California where such a thing was unthinkable. They were a novelty to her. I showed her the photo. It was a world she couldn’t fathom.

If I look back objectively, I was a mixed up kid.

Every part of my being was fixated on the one goal of my life: to get out. To not squander being smart. To not be stuck in a small town my entire life. To accomplish something. The only way I knew to do any of this was to go to college, so I focused all of my energy on that. I wanted to go to a good college but I didn’t have any money and my parents didn’t believe in college, so I’d need to get a scholarship. To do that, I’d need good grades, lots of extracurricular activities, to be in lots of school clubs. But I also needed money to pay for things like the SATs and college admissions so I’d need to balance all of those things with a job.

I so looked forward to the day I turned 16 so I could get a job that paid minimum wage. In addition to the fireworks stand, which was not, strictly speaking, a money maker, I worked at my parents’ antique store for a dollar an hour. I turned 16 at the end of that summer and excitedly got my first job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Our small Oklahoma town didn’t have a lot of choices.

As you might imagine, I was a conscientious student. I did all the homework, got all As, aced all the tests. I made due with what the school system could offer me. We bounced around between Oklahoma and central California when I was growing up, and high school was no different.

More was available in California. I took algebra in summer school before my freshman year to get a head start. I took 0 period trigonometry my senior year and took all honors classes. In Oklahoma, where I was my sophomore and junior years, my high school didn’t have honors classes or trigonometry so instead I enrolled in a concurrent program at the local college the summer after my junior year and took college Chemistry. I was in mock trial and spirit club and any other school club I could add to my college application (Oklahoma, ironically enough, had a large Mothers Against Drunk Driving group.)

And yet, I was still a teenage girl. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to have friends and do fun things and kiss boys. Even though (or perhaps because) I didn’t grow up with anyone I went to high school with and was the “new kid” three times between freshman and senior year, I somehow managed to be on the edges of just about every group in school. I was always perplexed when the popular girls invited me over to their houses to hang out. (Especially since my mom cleaned their houses.) I would find myself at a party, making out with one of the cool boys or playing quarters with all the boys and drinking them under the table.

I somehow juggled perfectionism at being a student with going to a lot of parties, drinking a lot, skipping school (I was great at forging notes from my mom), and spending a lot of time with boys. I don’t know how I managed this with strict, religious, and crazy parents, but a combination of sneaking out my window at night, lying about spending the night with friends, and leveraging the nights my parents were out late at auctions for their antique store seemed to do the trick. I used being smart in ways other than just to get good grades.

I think back to when I was happy in high school and I’m not sure. It’s all a blur. I remember the days when boys broke my heart. When I listened to the same sad pop song in my car over and over again and cried until I thought I would die. I remember the horrible fights with my parents. The bad moments stand out to me as black and white in their awfulness. No ambivalence.

Was I happy being invited to all the cool parties with the popular kids, hanging out at the lake with them, getting over a hangover by drinking a beer for breakfast? Kind of. But it was always against a backdrop of wondering what I was doing there, sure I would be found out at any moment and chased away. Maybe we’re all like that in high school. I always thought it was because no one knew me well enough and as soon as they did, it would all be over.

I’m reading Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace right now, and Wallace says something about shy people that really resonated with me.

If I’m hanging out with you, I can’t even tell whether I like you or not, because I’m too worried about whether you like me.

With that one sentence, he managed to sum up just about every social interaction I had until I was 30. My greatest happiness in life right now might be that I don’t live my life that way anymore.

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anyway you want it

“It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”

Sometimes it seems pointless to write when it’s been written so much better before. Sometimes I don’t have words. They’re just beyond my grasp and I can feel them, but I can’t write them down. Some moments are wonderful even as the world burns around you.

This is what I’ve been thinking about today: someone told me a few days ago that the fear of saying no (and passing up great opportunities) is a fallacy. That every time we say yes to something, we’re saying no to something else. Maybe I need to reframe things. When I start to inevitably say yes to something else, I should consider what I’m saying no to.

But some things are worth saying yes to.

As Billy Joel once sang, “dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true”.

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i want something else to get me through this semi-charmed kind of life

Sometimes. Sometimes, something hits you. Maybe like you’re walking down a quaint dirt road in the country. The kind with fields of flowers on either side. Lovely, really. And you’re strolling by, looking up at the fluffy white clouds and the birds and then out of nowhere. Boom. You get knocked right over by a herd of cows. It’s not that you hadn’t seen cows before or even these particular cows. They’d been grazing on the flowers right by the road. You saw them from the corner of your eye. But you didn’t expect them to stampede directly over your body. Fuck.

This happened to me today.

Well, sort of. No actual cows ran over me. And it’s not even that I realized something momentous I didn’t know before. Instead, I just thought about something I already knew, had already thought through, written about, pondered, internalized, understood in the context of my life. And then I thought. Oh. So that’s what that means. Right.

It’s just this. I don’t want to rely on someone else.

Yes, that’s not new. Yes, I write about it here all the time. But I thought about it differently today. Really going all in on relying on someone else (counting on them, expecting them to be there for you always, no matter what) is more than just giving up independence, it’s more than just giving up control and being helpless and weak and non-capable (although yes, I know it’s not really any of those things; it only seems to be, to me). It’s asking for your heart to be shattered in a billion pieces so small that you can never find them and put them back together again.

And it’s not that I think that it’s sad that I can’t be vulnerable and close to people, because I think I can. And am. And it’s not that I’m waiting to find just that right someone who can make me believe in trust again or something else from one of those sappy romantic comedies. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t want that to happen. I wouldn’t let that happen. (Why expect so much of people? It’s too much.) And more importantly, I’m happy now.

I was talking to a friend who said that for us to have joyousness, the human experience has to include real engagement, real vulnerability, real moments. I agree. I have those. But I’ve architected my life in such a way to have them without blind and absolute reliance. Or as another friend said, she optimizes for genuine moments.

So, I’m faced with this new realization, but I don’t know what (if anything) to do with it. I think, actually, that I’m happy about how I’ve built my life. With meaningful connections but without setting up those connections in ways they can let me down. And break me.

And even that sounds like a Taylor Swift song. Or maybe Paramour, swearing to myself that I’m content with loneliness. But that’s not it at all. I’m not lonely. I’m just content.

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and sometimes i’m joyous and frustrated at the same time

I think it’s like this. I say that I want a clutter-free life, my heart like stone so nothing can stick to it. But that’s not really true at all. What’s true is that I welcome complication, but only when I welcome everything that comes with it. Complication then — clutter, doesn’t factor into the weight of a thing. And it’s the weight of the thing that matters. If the weight is wrong then even a lack of complexity is too much.

Earlier tonight, I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone. She realized, she said, that it’s not about changing, about hiding your flaws, your weaknesses, about being more appealing, more attractive, more what someone would want. It’s not about any of that at all. It’s about finding someone who wants you exactly who you are. Who thinks that what someone else would call your flaws are some of the best things about you.

We say, “be yourself” to someone who is feeling lost and alone in the world, but we don’t explain what that means. It doesn’t mean that being yourself is being the best you that you can be (although that is, in fact, the case). It doesn’t mean that you can’t sustain being someone else (although that is also true). It doesn’t mean that by being yourself, you will be more attractive to more people and make more friends (and it likely doesn’t mean this at all).

Instead, it means that you will be more attractive and make friends with the right kind of people. The people that you don’t have to try to sustain being someone else for. The people who like every last part of you exactly the way you are. Who love that you sing off key to the radio rather than tell you to be quiet. Who get just as absorbed in your rambling tangent as they did the original conversation. Who think that getting lost is just as much an adventure as getting to where you originally planned.

My journal’s turned into an after school special. But fuck it. Freedom isn’t a lack of weight from complication. It’s a lack of weight from trying to be what everyone else wants you to be. How fucking exhausting.

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sometimes i’m wrong

I like to think of myself as completely non-judgmental. Do anything, feel anything you want. We’re all human and different and complicated and anyway, life is hard. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we have. But there’s an exception. In my mind, to total strangers in a crowd, in their cars, sitting next to me on planes — I’m not gracious. I’m not accepting. I’m not even nice.

This hit me today on the plane. I was sitting in first class and the man who sat next to me gave all the signs (I thought) of the self-entitled. Once he got to his seat and realized the overhead was full, he handed his bag to a man just boarding the plane (who was headed for coach, of course) and asked him to put it in the overhead next to him. Then he sprawled out and took up as much as space as possible and ordered two Jack Daniels with Sprite. (Seriously.)

So there I was with my laptop and my headphones and my bubble of privacy and as we were descending, he, reading the flight magazine, turned to me and started talking. My first thought was: am I not in my bubble of privacy?

But then.

And this is how people surprise you.

He told me how much he was enjoying reading the in-flight magazine. And he showed me all of the winning photos from the photography contest and wasn’t it wonderful? The photos were amazing — he went through them one by one: have you seen a fish like this? A glacier this beautiful? And he started winning me over a little.

But then he showed me all the notes he had taken on a piece of paper from the ideas he had gotten from the articles in the magazine. He works too much (he looked as though he should be long retired), he said. He forgets about all of the great things in his hometown. He showed me his list.

Look, he said. I have this boat. I could dock it in the bay and invite friends over and we could just hang out and watch the water and the sky. And I haven’t been out to these falls in a really long time. And they’re great. And look at this crazy word. I love words like this. Maybe it’ll be my new computer password. I wrote it down.

And it amazed me that this person who I had made this snap judgment about. Had turned into a one-dimensional cardboard cutout. Was human. As we all are. And was excited about the wonders of life. And was having trouble, as we all do, figuring out how to make it all work.

I told him I would read the in flight magazine on the way back. And maybe I’ll make some notes of my own.

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