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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i’ve made a different kind of life

I came to an agreement with myself about my mom today. For a long time, when I was growing up, I thought my mom was right about everything, that she had a direct line to God, and that if I didn’t agree with her, I was wrong. Later, I realized she was wrong about just about everything, and was in fact, dangerous, manipulative, self-absorbed, and would just keep taking as long as I let her. (And to be clear, I still realize these things about her. This is, after all, the woman who changed my granparents’ will and tried to get my grandmother to sign it in her hospital bed, only hours before she died. The woman who less than an hour after my grandfather died took his ATM card and withdrew the maximum allowed because she knew she would soon no longer be able to take from their bank account any time she wanted.)

But now, I just feel sorry for her. Sorry for her life — not the life  she’s living — that’s entirely her own doing. But the life that makes her feel like she’s always in the right and that no one appreciates it. It’s odd, really, how I can think of her with detachment. I can think abstractly that it’s sad to not to have parents, at least parents with whom I can have any kind of relationship. But I can’t mourn her specifically. I stopped letting her suck me in long ago.

She called me this morning. The first time she’s called me in at least a year. And I’m sure she meant well. I really do. She said she called because she heard about my cat and she was sorry. She knew I’d had him for a really long time. After all, she continued, she also has had her cats for a really long time. Not as long as I’ve had mine. But still. A long time. And she would be very sad if anything happened to them. Not that anything has. They’re all healthy. They’re great really. She’s super happy about that. But before. She’s been sad about pets before. And did she mention that she didn’t have any money?

And as I listened to her make the conversation entirely about her, I realized that she didn’t know any differently. She doesn’t know how to be in any other conversations. And she really did mean the call with good intentions. She just doesn’t know how to listen to other people, or care about them, or to make things about anything other than her.

And that’s a lonely kind of life.

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any title would just be a cliche

Sadness isn’t linear. It’s not like hourglass sand, slowly running out until one day it’s gone. Sadness surprises you with its ability to hide and then confront you at the most unexpected moments. You want to get through things and get past them and move on, but life isn’t like that. You collect life as you go along. Some things you gladly embrace and keep close to you forever; others you can’t shake off, but maybe you can bury them in the bottom of your pack. You’ll still come across them when you’re looking for something else.

And so it goes. Life is exceedingly wonderful. But sometimes it demands a little strength.

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good times never seemed so good

Things that are happy. I can do this. I know a lot of happy things.

OK. Here goes.

  1. Girl scout cookies. I especially love tagalongs. The trouble is that I can eat an entire box without even noticing. Don’t judge. They’re delicious. I happen to have a box next to me as I type. Yes, the box has cookies left in it. For now.
  2. My awesome of the awesomest friends. Seriously. I don’t know how I got so lucky. Moving around as I’ve done my entire life, I haven’t had much opportunity to accumulate close friends, but somehow I’ve managed to end up with a bunch anyway. Friends who I can talk to anything about, who are there for me, and who are always up for anything. Whether I need them to fly somewhere to go to a funeral with me or drive down the road and meet me at the strip club.
  3. Glee. Yes, this is a TV show. Yes, this is a stupid thing to put on the list. Yes, I don’t even really watch TV and this show is really not all that smartly written, which is generally a requirement of any show I watch. But the music is SO HAPPY. I have been listening to the soundtrack all day on repeat and honestly, how sad can you really be when you’re listening to “Sweet Caroline”? (Also, did you see that “Like a Virgin” montage this week?)
  4. Pop music. Where else can you get fantastic lyrics like from that “Carry Out” song, which I didn’t even know until just now is sung in part by Justin Timberlake, who I thought was way more respectable than that, but apparently he’s gotten so respectable that he’s moved on into being goofy. Also, on tracking down the lyrics just now, I came across the video, which is also entirely fabulous and I like him way better seeing him dance all dorky like that as opposed to his “I am a serious artist” phase. And that he’s mocking himself as a spokesperson for McDonald’s. This video may make him almost as likeable as that NSync DVD of an early concert tour when he was like 13 and his mom was with him and he ran up and down the escalators at an airport after eating too much of that colored sugar that comes in paper straws. Yes, I know that sentence was a run on and yes I do have that DVD and it’s THAT good. Just about as good as the video for this song. Choice lyrics:

Baby, you’re lookin’ fire hot
I’ll have you open all night like I-hop
You look good, baby must taste heavenly
I’m pretty sure that you got your own recipe
So pick it up, pick it up, yeah I like you
I just can’t get enough I got to drive through
Have it your way, foreplay
Before I feed your appetite

I can tell the way you like it, baby, supersized
I ain’t leavin’ till they turn over the closed sign

Take my order cause your body like a carry out
Let me walk into your body until you hear me out

Number one, I take two number three’s
That’s a whole lot of you and a side of me.
Now is it full of myself to want you full of me?
And if there’s room for dessert then I want a piece

Baby get my order right, no errors
Imma touch you in all the right areas

Do you like it well done, cause I do it well
Cause I’m well seasoned if you couldn’t tell

Now, clearly this song brings up a few questions:

  • “Errors” rhymes with “areas”? I so have been pronouncing one of these words wrong. Although I have no idea which one.
  • Are women really turned on by grammatically incorrect incomprehensible phrases that seemingly imply that because a woman is hot she should snap to his demands like “take my order cause your body like a carry out”? Doesn’t this sentence actually mean “you’re hot woman; go make me a sandwich!”
  • If you can’t get enough, wouldn’t you want to stick around rather than drive through?
  • Do many women like being compared to a house of pancakes, even an international one?
  • Is he suggesting two threesomes? Or six girls at once and him? Is that a sevensome?
  • Do you suppose someone who says they’re “well seasoned if you couldn’t tell” could possibly be any good in bed? What about someone who says “Imma”?
  • I’m not even touching the “baby get my order right” part. But feel free to ask your own questions.

While this song confuses me in many ways, I am utterly delighted by its determination and focus on a singular goal: hot, sexy, fast food metaphors. I could spend the rest of the day coming up with more. Most of them write themselves, of course. We need go no further than that global pancake hacienda: “come hungry, leave happy.”

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i don’t want to write today

Sometimes, I got nothing.

I could write about how very sad I am that my cat is dying and that I have to somehow, somehow figure out how to make the decision of when to let him go only I don’t know how to make that decision, because how can you know? And I could write about how sweet he is, even now, when he can’t walk at all, can’t even stand up. And he struggles to get up and then falls over and even then, he still wants you to scratch his ears and snuggles up against you and purrs when you talk to him.

And I could write about how my cats have been the one constant in my life for 16 years. Nothing else, no one else has been with me through everything my life has been since that day, at my first job out of college, so wrong and right about the world at the same time, I first saw him as a tiny kitten in that cardboard box.

Or, I could tell you about everything I’ve gone through. And how I’ve become a different person. And how life has been disappointing and joyous and nothing I ever expected. And everything I’ve learned since I got him and how knowing that doesn’t make me feel wise, but instead only how much there’s left to learn and how far I still have to go.

Or how hard it is for me to think about death. And how sad I am still am about my grandparents dying. And how I realized the other day that if my father died, I likely wouldn’t ever find out.

But mostly, I think I will just sit here on my couch and pet my cat, who’s curled up in my lap, looking at me, and only wanting love.

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new driver perspectives

Car service to the Miami airport, headed for my flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil, the conversation began as always: you travel so much — surely you don’t have a husband or children. But then, a departure: not a prediction of wedding bells and miracle pregnancies. Instead: “Well, all that travel, you can just have one night stands everywhere you go! Men have been doing it for years, I suppose women may as well get in on it too.”

And then (from my 70+ year old driver), “too bad we didn’t meet at the beginning of your trip. We could have had a one-night stand!” And then he gave me his card and told me to look him up next time I was in Miami.

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tired

I should have lots to write about. I’ve been traveling for weeks: Atlanta, New Orleans, San Francisco, a convoluted route through London and Istanbul to Israel, then Jordan, and now Cairo. Another day and then I’m off for a day in Miami by way of London and then several days in Brazil, then Seattle, Washington DC, and San Francisco. But mostly, I’m tired.

The lack of regular food, exercise, and sleep has finally caught up with me and I’ve been finding it hard to fight off being sick. I spoke at 11 sessions over the course of a week while trying not to collapse on the floor in fits of unstoppable coughing. I mostly succeeded. Mostly. I tried running yesterday and my lungs just didn’t know what to do. I feel like I should go to the gym tonight, but really all I want to do is climb into bed early and sleep for a really long time.

I have lots of work to do — work I’m excited about actually — but I just don’t have the energy for it. I see the possibility of a light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel seems really really long.

And I keep getting caught up in the same contradiction: things are difficult alone: running a business, life… But things are also difficult when you try to do them with other people. But truly, it can be exhausting to try to do everything by yourself.

I’ll get there. I know my life is overwhelmingly good. And I actually feel that, I don’t just know it theoretically. I’ll get my energy back.

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all this and your fortune too

I seem to spend a lot of my time these days being driven some place or waiting to be driven someplace or waiting after I’ve been driven some place. I started writing this while waiting in the lobby of a Palestinian hotel in East Jerusalem to be driven to an event elsewhere in Jerusalem, where I talked to lots of people, after which I was driven to Tel Aviv.

I’m in cabs a lot, of course, but sometimes someone from the event picks me up, or in rare instances, when an event organizer is feeling really fancy, a limo. Once last year, I sat alone in the back seat of a stretch limo with twinkling lights along the mirrored ceiling that changed colors every few seconds. It’s only in those moments I feel inadequate for not having an entourage.

My arrival into the Tel Aviv airport was perhaps the oddest drive I’ve been on. The event organizers had arranged for a VIP entrance, as my previous arrival a few months back had been, well, rocky. Not so this time. I was met directly at the gate, then whisked down an elevator to a waiting SUV that brought me around the side entrance of immigration. Total time: less than three minutes.

Last night, our driver from the Amman airport to our hotel was the only woman taxi driver in Jordan. I didn’t get the impression that things were very easy for her, but she was bubbling over with joyousness. “Enjoy the moments”, she said.

In Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, one of my cab drivers was from Ethiopia, the other from Sri Lanka. The first had the typical taxi driver reaction to me, a study in contradiction. And in predicting my future. I spend too much time talking to cab drivers to ever need to visit a fortune teller. He couldn’t stop telling me about how I had the best job in the world and how lucky I was to be able to travel so much and be so unencumbered. And yet, where is my boyfriend, where is my husband, where are my children? I don’t have them, I explained.

But don’t I want children? Ah. No. He was positive I would change my mind. Maybe on this very trip I would meet someone. Maybe I would be pregnant sooner than I think! I didn’t go into the whole impossibility of the prediction. Drivers are always so sure of their visions in to the future, I’d hate to shake his confidence.

My latest trip, only moments ago, was being driven in a golf cart from the lobby of my hotel to my room. The driver did not tell me my fortune. Or about my future miracle pregnancies.

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before seat belts were legally required

I don’t know if my first memory is really a memory or if it’s just a patchwork of things I’ve heard and images I’ve created from remnants of conversations and photos and stories. Most of my childhood memories are faded, like I’m stretching out to reach them as much as I can with my arms and my fingers and my tiptoes but I just can’t quite touch them, like a dream you can’t quite hold on to once you wake up.

I think this is partially because we moved around so much. If you live in the same house your entire childhood and you remember the Christmas you got the red bike, you might not specifically remember the fireplace and the windows overlooking the trees and the snow, but you can fill those things in from other memories of being in that same house on other Christmases. You know where the window is because you saw it every day for your entire life. I don’t know if we ever lived in the same place two Christmases in a row. I don’t have spare memories to fill in to make that one moment complete.

My first memory is more like a still photograph. I am sitting in the passenger seat of car, looking out. I’m looking slightly up, which would make sense as if this memory is true, I couldn’t have been much more than a year old, so would have been in a car seat. I’m guessing here on the car seat, since I can’t imagine any other way my parents could have gotten a baby not to fall off the seat onto the floor. I’m pretty sure they never used car seats once we were old enough to sit up, as I don’t remember ever being in one. All of my early memories of riding in cars are of me standing up, holding on to the headrest. (To be fair, car seats weren’t legally required when I was a kid, and I’m pretty sure seat belts weren’t either.)

In fact, when I was four and my mom had remarried and we were living in a duplex not far from my grandparents’ house, we were on our way to visit them when someone ran a stop light and plowed right into the side of our car. At the time, my sisters and I were standing up in the back seat, looking out the back window. Suddenly spinning across the road and being thrown into the roof was the most terrifying thing that had happened to me in my short life. I remember only brief moments after that: we were at a nearby house, calling my grandparents; I was on the couch in my grandparents’ den being told I COULDN’T GO TO SLEEP because maybe I had a concussion and if I went to sleep I would never wake. Which was possibly the second most terrifying moment of my life.

Third was when it was time to go home and my stepdad expected me to get into the truck. I don’t remember the drive from the accident to my grandparents’ house, although I’m sure there was one. But likely I was still too shook up to focus on what was happening. Hours later though, trying desperately to stay awake in order to stay alive, I was more alert. And I knew the terror that getting into a car could bring. My stepdad thought I was being a whiny spoiled brat. Kids did what their parents said. End of story. No matter how terrified they might be. Threat of (or possibly actual) spanking later, and there I was, sitting in the truck, petrified. Still without so much as a seat belt.

In my first memory though, I’m pretty sure I was in a car seat of some kind. I think I was in an old VW bug, although I’m sure that’s just because I know that my (biological) father drove one. The car was parked in an alley in front of our house (I have a vivid memory of scraggly yard and the chain link fence, although I have no idea if those are real) and I was looking up at the back of an apartment building at the end of the alley. It was a stucco building, stacked with windows — no balconies — and the windows I was looking at were lined with aluminum foil. And that’s what I remember: thinking, why is that stuff covering those windows?

I told my mom about this memory, and she said it was accurate. That there was in fact an apartment building like that where we lived and that people covered their windows with aluminum foil to keep out the heat of the sun.

Things I don’t remember but that I’ve been told: that the house didn’t have any screens, but it was so hot, my parents would keep the windows open anyway and I got so covered in mosquito bites that when the landlord came over one day he was horrified and had screens put in; that my (biological) father used to grow pot in the yard and once his brother (my uncle) borrowed his car (the bug) and got pulled over for drinking but my uncle told the cops that he had to return the car so they drove him back to my parents’ house, subsequently found the pot and arrested my (biological) father; that my mom claims they were also going to arrest her (who knows who’s drugs they were, after all), but that she cried, and they let her stay with me and wasn’t I lucky because just like that I would have had to go live in foster care; that the house had no furniture and only a mattress on the floor because my parents were hippies.

That was actually the second house I lived in. I was born in the first. But by the time I was a year and a half, my parents had split up and my mom (and my not-quite born yet sister) and I had moved in with my grandparents. In the house where my sister was later born.

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we all had childhoods once

I think most kids think their childhoods are pretty normal as they’re growing up. We have no frame of reference, so why wouldn’t we think whatever we’re experiencing normal? It takes a while before we start to compare ourselves to the outward glimpses of other kids, and even then, who’s to say they aren’t the odd ones? After all, our parents are the most authoritative figures in our lives, so whatever they’re advocating must be the right way about going about things. And even once we realize our parents are merely human, we still only know what we know.

Even now. I can’t fathom what it would be like to grow up somewhere — the same somewhere — and have the same friends and go to the same school and whatever else growing up in one place might mean. I also don’t know if it’s better or worse than moving all the time, of never knowing how much longer until the next move, of not having that feeling of a home. Am I more adaptive and flexible? Did I learn confidence and how to get along with anyone? Would I fear change and speaking in front of large crowds and meeting new people if I lived in the same house with the same people all my life?

Some things I do know. And some things I continue to learn.

Why does it matter? Why not just say you had a childhood and I had a childhood and we’re all adults now and we make our lives now? We do make our lives now and I don’t see a reason to spend our time in the past. Mostly I find that dwelling on the past doesn’t do anything to move me forward. It just pulls me back into a place I have no desire to be.

But.

Sometimes, I don’t know how I end up in a place or a feeling and then I realize I’m just going through the motions I learned a long time ago. And I don’t have to go through those motions. But I can’t know that until I know where I learned them. Which is a convoluted way of saying that the past can set you free. Or something possibly less pithy.

Also, sometimes people think the stories about my childhood are funny.

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my faith is like shifting sand, changed by every wave

I am, of course, a liar. But you knew that already. You’ve read about how I don’t need anything except my independence and how the only true validation comes from within. And yet you’ve also read about how I love the show Scrubs entirely because the theme song reminds me that it’s OK that I can’t do everything on my own.

The sad truth is that I completely mock the horrifying lyrics in that teenage pop song “According to You”, which include the following:

According to you
I’m stupid,
I’m useless,
I can’t do anything right.
According to you
I’m difficult,
hard to please,
forever changing my mind.
I’m a mess in a dress,
can’t show up on time,
even if it would save my life.
According to you.
But according to him
I’m beautiful,
incredible,
he can’t get me out of his head.
According to him
I’m funny,
irresistible,
everything he ever wanted.

Yes, horrifying. I want to take her aside and tell her that she’s beautiful and funny and incredible whether a guy is telling her that she is or not. And that relying on that as a gauge is a sure way to heartbreak and pain and dependence and honestly, a neediness that’s just not attractive to anyone. It’s self-fulfilling. Being insecure about not being pretty or smart or funny or whatever enough is the best way not to appear to be enough of any of those things.

And yet, there are days when I can understand those lyrics completely. When I don’t feel beautiful or funny or anything anyone has ever wanted and no amount of inner confidence and strength can convince me otherwise. When, in fact, I do want outside validation. When being enough on my own just makes me tired.

Everyone wants to hear something nice every once in a while.

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solitaire

Business travel is built around the idea of the solitary. When you check into business hotels, you’re given a single room key and there’s only enough of that awful hotel room coffee for one. You’ll often get a king size bed, but that’s just the hotel’s way of saying that you might be sharing the bed with someone, but it’s not someone they expect will be sticking around for morning coffee.

Leisure travel is not designed in quite the same way. Where does one sense this more strongly than when hoping to order food from a restaurant accustomed to tourists? At an all-inclusive resort in a tropical location.

It begins on the plane. Again, a business traveler is used to certain type of fellow passenger: generally male, generally in an uncomfortable suit, generally furiously typing on a blackberry until long after the “turn off electronic devices” announcement. An amusing way to pass the time on the flight is to listen to those around you introduce themselves in pre-emptive, self-congratulatory ways. They strike up wary conversations, ostensibly to get to know each other, but in reality as first class versions of gladiator games. “I’m going to Salt Lake to close a million dollar deal. I cover the whole Utah region. Everyone needs pens.” “Oh really? Interesting. I have a meeting with the Utah governor to talk about paperless technologies.” “We should exchange business cards. I’ll email you!” The business traveler version of “I’ll call you” after a blind date.

Planes to leisure destinations are much louder, as they are full of people who already know each other, traveling in packs. A woman behind me boarding the plane to Puerto Vallarta asked the flight attendant about getting someone to switch seats so she could sit with her friend. “It’s all couples on this flight”, the flight attendant told her. “You probably won’t find anyone who will switch.”

Per usual, the taxi driver was quizzical. “You came by yourself? No husband? No boyfriend? No friends?” And here’s where I start to wonder if in addition to having no interest in coupling up, I’m fundamentally unable to even if I did want it. Because the idea of spending a few days entirely by myself doing entirely what I want whenever I want (or not) is exactly what I want to be doing.

Here’s another thing about an all-inclusive tropical resort. You’re not even allowed to book for just yourself. When they say, prices per person, double occupancy, what they mean is that you’re paying for two people, including meals and drinks, whether you invited someone along or not. When I called the hotel to arrange transportation and said it would be just me at the airport, they wanted to know when the second taxi needed to go fetch my traveling companion. When I checked in, reception wanted to know when the second person would be arriving. It’s a perfectly logical question, considering I’ve just paid for two sets of towels, two sets of meal bracelets. Who would do that?

Someone who thinks the solitude, the independence, the freedom are worth it.

Which brings me back to my pondering. I just read Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. Back when I read the author’s first book, Eat, Pray, Love, I so identified with her agony over purposely destroying, with her own hands, what many would consider the epitome of success.

But unlike her, now that I have independence, freedom — all of those things you aren’t allowed to book at an all-inclusive hotel — I don’t know that I could ever go back. Her new book explores the idea that there’s really no such thing as balance. You can’t have the autonomy and independence and privacy and freedom to do absolutely anything you want anytime you want and have the intimacy and reliability and security of a permanent relationship. Her fear is of the institution of marriage, that marriage itself can overtake you. Perhaps, but I don’t think you need to be married for a relationship to erase large swaths of you, due to the very point that you can’t be completely independent and free and etc.

And yes. I know. Of course the other side of it is it really so important to be able to read in bed with the beside lamp if you can’t sleep at 2am, when the tradeoff is everlasting love and comfort and someone to hold your hand? And I guess my answer is that I don’t know.

When people find out I’ve decided, for real, permanently and non-reversibly, not to have kids, they sometimes ask if I might regret it later. If surely one day I’ll wish for the comfort of children and grandchildren and family and again, all the etc. that implies. I don’t know. Clearly I don’t think so.

And so it goes with relationships. Or, at least, that kind of relationship — the type where you pledge your love to one alone and you live in the same house and you tend not to go to all-inclusive resorts without.

I do sometimes feel like I’m the only person actively not looking for a white dress and a white picket fence and a dog and 2.3 children. Well, me and college guys maybe. And not even all of them are in my camp. Apparently, even the word “solitary” is not only not generally considered positive, with thoughts of unencumbered freedom, but indeed skews negative. Consider the only vaguely positive definition I could find: “following or enjoying a life of solitude”. It only allows for the possibility of enjoyment. But that’s overwhelming joyousness compared to the other definitions: having no companions; lonesome or lonely. endured alone. a recluse; a hermit. And it just improves from there: desolate; deserted; silent; still; hence, gloomy; dismal; as, the solitary desert. See also, solitary confinement.

No wonder everyone is scrambling to give up all that freedom for a relationship. Anything sounds better than a solitary life. Even the game of solitaire isn’t always, well, solitary. According to Wikipedia, “it is possible to play the same games competitively (often a head to head race) and cooperatively”.

Last night, I was in a club in Puerto Vallarta, talking to Omar. He was telling me about his ex-wife and how she took all their money and was in and out of rehab and eventually left him for another guy, with whom she’s already had two kids. But you know? I could tell that deep down, he wants her back. He said he knows some people who have been able to make relationships work and have been happy. What did I think?

How did he find me, of all people, to ask that question to?

I didn’t tell him what I think. Although I didn’t paint him a fairy tale world either. I was noncommittal. Which all said, seems about right.

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it’s not really as bad as all this

I was sitting in a deserted corner of the Pittsburgh airport a few nights ago, waiting for a flight that would take me to Minneapolis, where I could in turn catch a flight that would get me back to Seattle. I ended up in the back corner, as it was the only place I could find both an outlet and a chair and both my phone and laptop had nearly dead batteries. I overhead a man in a suit talking on his cell phone. He exchanged pleasantries with the person who picked up the phone and then the conversation took a really different turn. “I have some bad news.”

He went on to say that someone had a heart attack at the office that day. While at his desk. He began the story in a rather hopeful tone, like maybe the coworker was OK. But then he said he thought the coworker might be dead. And explained that he was found at his desk, but no one knew how long he had been there before he was found. And that the person who found him tried CPR but couldn’t revive him. And that the paramedics worked on him for 30 minutes before taking him away. It didn’t sound very promising from my outlet-filled corner.

He was calling because while the coworker wasn’t married, he had been with someone for a very long time, but the caller didn’t know what other family he had and he just wasn’t sure who to notify.

Fuck.

I’m sure none of us expect that we’ll die at our desks.

Then, I got on the plane and found my seat. I had been frustrated all day because I had asked my editor for one extra day to do a final read of my book manuscript and he said there wasn’t time. But while in the cab to the airport, I’d gotten an email saying he’d gotten the extension approved, so my mood had turned significantly better. But as the plane took off, I thought about the phone call I’d overhead and I wondered if my editor would publish my book as is if the plane crashed. Talk about dying at my desk. Really? That’s what made me worry about the plane crashing? That my book would be published without my final review?

After I’d made it to Minneapolis and gotten on the second flight, I sent an email to someone saying I would make it back in time for the event I was supposed to speak at the next day. You never know when you’re on the last flight of the day with a layover through a midwest city in winter, but it had worked out OK. Only after I hit send I wondered if I had jinxed the trip because after all, I was sitting in the plane about to take off, but the plane hadn’t yet successfully landed in Seattle. But surely an email stating confidence about the flight wouldn’t cause it to crash.

I’m taking a few days off next week. I don’t want to die at my desk.

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countercozen

verb. To cheat in return. (OED)

My parents had an odd sense of parenting in a number of ways, but none more so than the utter randomness of their strictness.

Case in point: When I graduated from high school, I was three months from my eighteenth birthday. Although I had two full time jobs lined up for the summer and a place to stay with my best friend’s parents, who were cops, in order to make $1500 or so that I needed to augment my otherwise full scholarship to the college of my dreams, my parents decided that since I was still underage, I had to move with them. If I refused, they would report my friend’s parents for kidnapping or something. So, I went with them, didn’t make the $1500, and wasn’t able to go to my otherwise full scholarship dream school. Everything worked out OK in the end, but I already told that story.

Today’s story is about the randomness of their strictness (it’s actually about my experience in countercozing (countercozenness?), but the randomness is the prelude. After my junior year of high school, my parents moved from Oklahoma back to California and let me stay behind and live for the summer with a woman I barely knew from my job at Kentucky Fried Chicken in exchange for $150 a month in rent. I had enrolled in a concurrent high school/college program and was planning to take Chemistry at the local university (lecture and lab, 7am to noon, five days a week) for college credit. (I have no idea how, but I somehow got an A, even though my lab partner was my friend’s boyfriend, who I partied with almost every night, and could therefore barely drag myself into class). I also had a week-long trip to Washington DC scheduled for which I had been chosen to represent my state after numerous essays, speeches, and answering questions for panels of seriously looking people. Also, they ran my picture in the local newspaper.

Why did my parents make me move with them when I had graduated from high school and would only be a few hours away when they were content to let me stay behind in a different state a year earlier? It would drive a person crazy trying to find a reasonable explanation. My entire childhood was filled with contradictions such as this. They didn’t value a college education but perhaps having my picture in the paper convinced them my Washington trip was important? They didn’t really like my friend’s parents and had a misguided sense that Oklahomans were trustworthy sight unseen?

Reason really didn’t factor in much as a kid. My parents were strict mostly in the sense that once they said something, they stuck with it, no matter how idiotic it was.

But now to the story. I had a 1980 Mazda GLC hatchback (this was 1989). I had bought it at a local used car dealer, one of those places with signs that practically say “I will rip you off as much as I possibly can. Please come in!” When I bought it, the sales guy told me they had done an entire engine inspection and everything was great. As a 16 year old girl, even a smart one, I totally bought it. The line about the inspection and the car.

In August, after my Chemistry class had ended and I was back from representing my state in our nation’s capitol, my mom flew to Tulsa to drive to California with me in that old car. We didn’t even make it to Oklahoma City before the engine overheated, stranding us on the side of the road. We ended up getting towed in by a great guy who took a look and gave us the bad news: the engine block was cracked and likely had been for a long time. It didn’t cause me trouble since I mostly drove it in the winter, and I only drove it short distances in the summer. But there was no way I could drive it cross country in the summer. And fixing it would be more than I had paid for the car.

My naive and innocent heart was outraged. But the used car salesman told me the engine had completely checked out! Surely he didn’t lie to me! The mechanic smiled at my gullible youthfulness. And then we devised a plan. I called the used car salesman and used all of my girlish charm. My parents had left me all alone to fend for myself. I had to get to California and was too scared to drive all that way by myself, so I needed to sell my car so I could afford a plane ticket. Could he possibly buy the car back?

I could barely hear his reply, the condescension was so loud. Sure, he could buy the car back, but I understood that he couldn’t refund my money or anything. He could give me $800, less than half the price I’d pay less than a year before. Oh, I understood. He could barely contain his glee at his chance to sell the same car twice with little additional investment. I arranged a time to return the car with a sad voice. And then hung up as my mom, the tow truck driver, and I laughed and laughed at his agreement to buy a worthless car at any price.

Our sting went as follows: We towed the car back to Tulsa and parked two blocks from the car dealership. My mom stayed with the truck and I drove the car to the lot. The sales guy drove it around the corner to make sure I hadn’t burned through the clutch or anything during my short ownership stint. The car would drive just fine for a few blocks so all went well. He gave me the money. I walked away and met up with my cohorts and we drove on to the airport.

I still have fond memories of that tow truck driver. He completely went out of his way and beyond his job description to tow the car all that way. But he enjoyed countercozening with us.

Looking back, I see that most of my outrage came from my lack of experience with the world and not so much that I had been dealt great injustice. Sure, the sales guy lied about the engine checking out, but I was buying a cheap used car. And sure, I cheated him back by selling him a knowingly defective car, smug in the deception because had he really checked out the car like he said, he would have already known about the cracked engine block. But did I really cause him any pain or did he just resell the car to another gullible high school student at a tidy profit? I can only hope the car overheated at the next test drive, but that’s just how I like to imagine it, not how it likely went.

But even so. Every time I see one of those heist movies where the good guys make a plan to swindle the bad guys in retaliation for some bad guy thing (sometimes, the good guys are actually likeable bad guys, played by characters such as George Clooney, so it’s OK that they’re not strictly speaking “good” guys), I can say, yep, I’ve done that. And it’s every bit as satisfying as you imagine.

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christmas conversations

“I don’t know if you’ll like what I got you for Christmas. Not knowing your tastes or anything.”

(Translation: I’m your mother and yet you never tell me ANYTHING.)

My mom has an interesting sense of privacy. Which is to say she has no sense of privacy at all. She’s come over to my house, poked around, and then wandered over to me with my paper journal in her hand to say she can’t read some of my writing so can I tell her what this or that word is. When my sister first moved out, some of her mail still ended up at my mom’s, who would open every last piece and read through it, ostensibly in the name of “helping”. “No really, mom,” my sister would say. “Just put it all in an envelope, UNOPENED, and send it to me.” But that made no sense to my mother whatsoever. And she just ignores what she doesn’t agree with.

When I went to counseling during my divorce, she was perplexed. Why do you need to pay to see a counselor when you could just talk to me? she asked.

My sister recently ordered some sexy lingerie online. “Just in case!” she told me. I told her that was wise. When you encounter a moment when sexy lingerie would come in handy, it kills the mood a bit to say, hey, so sexy lingerie sounds awesome. Let me just order some and we can wait a few days for it to get here. I’ll get back to you.

My mom was in the car when my sister stopped at the post office to pick the package up. “Ooh, a package. Who’s it from? Open it!” My sister declined. My mom badgered her all the way home and left pouting. Because clearly it was her God-given right as a human on this earth to see absolutely every parcel of mail she chose.

You might try to see things from my mom’s point of view. She’s only trying to take an interest in her daughters’ lives. She’s interested in knowing more about them and how they’re doing. If you thought this, you’d be wrong.

My mom’s compelling need to know everything about everyone comes from her starring role in the movie of Life, supporting cast: everyone else. Everything, everywhere, has to be all about her. Otherwise, why would it exist? Movie storylines don’t have subplots that are irrelevant to the main character.

But as with all good movies, you don’t want to get bogged down in the details of the supporting characters. Case in point:

“I always brag about my daughters. Everyone always asks how you’re doing and what you’re doing now. I really have no idea what you’re doing, so I just tell them to Google you.”

(I am, in fact, very Googleable.)

This comment is a two-for-one special. She gets to play the part of the proud and loving mother, while at the same time the slighted and shut out one.

I ask if she has Googled me, since she has no idea about me and clearly thinks this is a good way to learn more. No, she has not. I point out that as it turns out, in a twist even better than reading the internet, I am standing right here and could fill her in on what it is I’m doing now. She laughs and changes the subject. No need to introduce a lull in the movie with details like that.

She has mastered the art of listening. And by that, of course, I mean she pays just enough attention to the conversation to find an opening to talk about herself. We were out at dinner and I mentioned that one of my cats had cancer, had just had surgery, and was about to start chemotherapy. Her response?

“Well, my cats don’t seem to be sick at all. I don’t ever bring them to the vet of course since I don’t have any money, but….”

And then she went on with story after story about her three healthy cats. While working in her surely sympathy-inducing lack of money. This, her reaction to my sick cat.

“You’ve always had thick legs.”

This is a favorite topic with her. I’m so used to it, I barely even notice. My sister was apalled.

“I can’t believe you just called her fat.”

“I didn’t say she was fat. I said she was muscular.”

My muscular or perhaps thick legs and I just drank more wine.

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promise not to promise anymore

We all have pictures in our minds of who we want to be. And some days I’m just not that person. Some days I’m sad and useless and I have nothing creative or witty or interesting or smart to say. I don’t know how to feel so I feel helpless and lonely even though I could call a million friends and go a million places. I just feel lonely in the world. I’m that person I don’t want to be.

I wrote once that I try not to believe in hope. I write all the time about how I’ve built my life around focusing on the steps I’m taking and not where I’m going. I find refuge in that. I find freedom and joy and my moments are worth something. But there’s a flipside. You can say, I am going to take a step, any step, no matter where it takes me, no matter the destination. The steps are what counts. But then it can’t also be that the destination counts. You have to choose. And there are moments, there will always be moments when all we want is to know that we will get past them. And if we could focus on the destination, on the place we will one day be, then we can get through these moments now.

But.

You can’t have it both ways. There’s a choice, then, in that kind of life. I can’t focus on the destination; I’m focusing on the moments. And the question is valid, it’s important, it matters: where do you want to be next year, the year after, what’s your five year plan?

And I think, but I don’t have a five year plan. I don’t believe in five year plans. Every five year plan I’ve ever had has been planning and working and building the pyramids brick by brick and ending up in an entirely different life. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

I know that everything I just wrote isn’t true. I am being simplistic and difficult and obtuse for no good reason. But the unreasonableness is camouflage for something that’s real. I don’t believe in plans because I can’t believe in hope. But I can believe in moments. And except for days like today, moments are enough. Even the best of us can’t have everything.

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death and gin

Last night, I was sitting at a bar drinking gin, talking to a couple of strangers about death. Somehow we had gotten onto the subject of plane crashes and I said I had recently talked to someone who had been in one and had to open the emergency exit door and he had said that he wasn’t scared during the fall, only after. And this guy at the bar said that he had been on a plane that got struck by lightning that then fell 10,000 feet and that he too didn’t feel scared during the drop. In fact, he felt an eerie sense of calm, and only panicked once it was over and they had leveled off.

He said it was odd, but that no one talked about it. The pilots, the flight attendants, even the passengers. No one said a word. But that as the plane was going down, people started screaming, and just as many of them lit up cigarettes. Imagine, you think you are plummeting to your death, and your first impulse is to smoke.

And then he told us another story. He was flying back from a custody hearing. His marriage had fallen apart, the judge had just given custody of his kids to his ex-wife and he felt like his entire life that he had spent so long building had crumbled and he was left with nothing. Sitting on that plane, it hit him that he had nothing to live for, and he decided to kill himself.

Only then, then. The plane hit horrible turbulence. And in only seconds, his entire outlook changed. Faced with the sudden real possibility of death, he thought only one thing: that he didn’t want to die. Maybe he would find love again. Maybe he could build a new life. No matter what happened, he wanted to live.

Later, I performed a dramatic reading of one of my favorite poems (To His Coy Mistress) to yet another set of strangers (“but at my back I always hear, time’s winged chariot hurrying near…”).

Later still, I went with some friends to see an exhibit of preserved dead bodies. One of them (a body, not one of my friends) was holding a tennis racket, stretching up towards an invisible tennis ball. I said to one of the docents, “I bet he never even played tennis when he was alive.”
This all seems like I was facing my death fears, but really I was cheating. It all seemed theoretical. I was discussing things academically, but not really considering that I, one day, would be nothing but one of those dried pieces of muscle and tissue.

I don’t think today is the day I’ll ponder that reality either.

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who needs love when the sandwiches are wicked and they know you at the mac store

Yesterday, between finishing overdue work for clients, attending a university board lunch, meeting with a potential client, having coffee with someone to talk about organizing an upcoming conference, and answering questions from my editor about my book, I managed to wedge in time to meet with the surgeon about permanent sterilization. The juxtaposition of rushing and rushing and rushing to meet work obligations while at the same time stopping long enough to think about LIFE CHOICES in a thoughtful and ponderous way struck me as being a bit ridiculous and surreal.

This isn’t about woe is me, I’ll never have children and a family. In fact, if anything, I feel a sense of relief, And that, really, is the crux of the angst, all tangled up in a melodramatic questioning of the blackness of my soul.

What reflection is it on a woman who never felt the maternalistic ticking of the biological clock? What does it say about me that I’m happy with my life exactly the way it is, so devoid of the traditional surroundings of happiness? Is my soul constructed with a fundamental design flaw?

I feel like an orphan and I build my family from non-standard parts. But I don’t feel sad and lonely and wistful of a life I don’t have. I feel free and hopeful and like I belong in the world.

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all the chances we’re gonna get happen here and now

Life’s a blur speeding past the window
We’d love to stop but who has the time
So much to do – we’re so far behind
And we stay that way no matter how fast we go
I wonder what’s the point at which we break
When will we realize just what’s at stake
We dance at weddings and we cry at wakes
And then we rush to make the next appointment

-Life and Death, Carolyn Arends

When I was just out of college, I lived in this kind of scary part of Costa Mesa in Orange Country, California. (One night, I was driving home late from the gym and while stopped at a light, four guys got out of the car next to me and started surrounding my car. I punched the gas right through the red light.) I made $23,900 a year at my corporate job in Irvine. I had two roommates, both of whom were crazy. I had just broken up with my boyfriend, who I had been living with in yet another scary part of Costa Mesa. I had cause for a lot of early twenties angst, but one moment every morning made me so happy my heart felt like it might burst.

On my drive to work, I would crest a hill and the Pacific ocean would appear out of nowhere, startling blue and stretch to the edge of the world. It didn’t matter what I was worried about facing at work that day or how angry I was at my roommates or how anxious I was about being able to pay all of my bills. Just seeing the water gave me a moment of peace. I took the long way around just so I could see it.

When I made the (foolish) decision to leave California (foolish, but had I not gone down that path then, I wouldn’t be here now, so I can’t regret it), I knew that moment of seeing the water come in view was what I would miss the most.

I love lots of things about where I live now, but my favorite time is early morning. There’s something about the light and the water and the sky and every morning before I leave for my office, I stand in my living room and just take it all in. And as I drive, I follow the water and no matter how stressed I am about all the work I have to do or whether I’m going to make it to the airport on time or why I’m not the kind of person who thinks to send out Christmas cards with heartfelt holiday sentiments, I have a moment of peace.

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a story of a terrible daughter

How does one explain the following: when looking at the start menu of a computer, the icon for Firefox says “Internet” beside it and “Mozilla Firefox” below it and the icon for Internet Explorer says “Internet” beside it and “Internet Explorer” below it.

Are they two separate internets? Do they lead to different destinations? Clearly, the answer is yes.

Proof? When you open one and click the down arrow on the address bar, the list of sites available to you is completely different than when you do the same with the other. The list of bookmarks is also entirely different. Obviously, you can go to different places in each.

Add to this the following story:

Say someone purchases data (possibly this data is a list of so-called “leads” for a shady, commission-only mortgage broker “job”, and possibly this “someone” can’t waste her time with jobs that pay actual “salaries” because they don’t get you rich quick enough, but I digress) in spreadsheet format. And say that when opening that data in Excel, the columns are too narrow so that the information is cut off and only the first few letters of each word are visible. What can one do except purchase more data in hopes that it contains all the words and not just parts of them?

Honestly, what other choice does one have?

Now tell me, dear reader, what would you do if this person, facing such conundrums of multiple internets and partial words, if this person caught in such overwhelming adversity were your mother?

Exactly right. You would do the only thing there really is to do in such a situation. Nod sympathetically at the trouble and toil she is up against and wish her the very best of luck in her pursuit of internets and spreadsheets. And sleep like a baby all night long.

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something else to add to the insanity list

It is so incredibly easy to slip into this place of letting the flaws of others — issues that have nothing to do with us — influence how we feel about ourselves. I don’t know why it’s such a comfortable place. But we think that if only we were something enough, we could cause that person to overcome that flaw, that inclination, that tendency to be rude, shallow, emotionally unavailable, ungrateful, uncaring, unappreciative, whatever, and they would treat us differently. And if they don’t, it’s not because they’re rude or shallow or any of those things, it’s because something is the matter with us.

However. I have realized that is insane.

Recently, I had this moment that almost dealt a serious blow to my self esteem. I found myself questioning my own value and then I stopped myself and realized. That the problem wasn’t that I wasn’t whatever enough. The problem was with someone else. It had nothing to do with me. We can be there for people and we can care about doing what we can to make them happy, but ultimately, our presence doesn’t change who someone is. Being nice to a mean person doesn’t suddenly turn them into a humanitarian. Being wonderful doesn’t cause a self-absorbed person to see what we’ve done for them.

Once again, there is freedom in not being responsible for everyone else. And there’s a balance that keeps us from becoming the uncaring and ungrateful ones. And my self esteem is just fine.

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dangerous places

I went to a bookstore yesterday. Bookstores are dangerous. Not all of us can simply open a door and walk into what our alternate life might be.

Bookstores always make me feel ambivalent, and this visit was no different. On the one hand, I felt a sense of hope. I saw a series of books by an ex-coworker’s brother. I worked with her years and years ago when he was a struggling unknown writer. She had given me his books and he and I exchanged a few emails. I liked his writing, but assumed that like most authors, he would write into obscurity and I’d never hear from him again. And yet here he was, with prime space in the young adult section.

On the other hand, as I walked around, I was stuck with a sense of the familiar. I had read all of these books. Not literally all of them, of course, but I had read books on nearly every shelf. I know I read a lot. But no matter how much I read, the world is infinitely full of more books. And yet the bookstore chains stock their shelves with the same few over again.

On the way home, my iPod, set to random, played: Wide Open Spaces, You Can Sleep While I Drive, What If We Went to Italy. I wondered if my iPod was trying to tell me something.

Why is it that I’m so driven to string together words and write them on a page? What does it matter?

I was talking to someone the other day who had struck me with his drive, his intelligence, his passion for helping others. But then he told me that he didn’t believe in reading books. He would rather experience the world in person than in print. It was like walking down the street, admiring the skyline, and being knocked over by a piano being hoisted from an apartment window by a crane. We can’t possibly experience all of the world: every view, every moment in time, every feeling. And for what we do experience, we don’t always get the story behind the story. The written word has honesty that other experiences can sometimes lack.

I stood in the bookstore like I always stand in bookstores and I breathed in the words. A panicked then, a little, about my life. I have a business, employees. And all I want to do is run away and write. Fortunately, I have those expensive sunrises to balance me.

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a life of peaceful contemplation

I can write about how I feel and what I’ve done and about moments and snippets of conversations and what I see as I walk through an airport. I’m not quite as able to transfer a landscape to a page: a painting in words.

But at this particular moment, if only I could describe for you this: brilliant orange sky seeping into everything: the clouds, the blue, the reflection on the water. White snow on the mountains. The ferries, white and green, slowly gliding by. Water everywhere, surrounding all of it. A tugboat, coming back from to the port. A flock of ducks, flying in unison.

And I think, not profound thoughts of nature and life and the joys of peaceful contemplation over work. No. I think, fuck, I’d better get focused on bringing in some money so I can enjoy this view for as long as I want.

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not all those who wander are lost

Quote seen on a wall of the Salt Lake City airport. Fucking Tolkien. Summing up in seven words what I’ve been trying to say in hundreds of journal entries.

Two nights ago, I was at a dinner for an event I’m speaking at, and somehow the conversation turned to movies. What movie do you most identify with? I said probably Breakfast at Tiffany’s because of Holly Golightly’s tendency to lose her keys and keep her phone in a suitcase under her bed and try to learn new languages but I didn’t necessarily identify with her career choice of prostitution or her fear of naming her cat. Someone mentioned a recent movie that made him break down and sob, even though he was on a plane, and someone else said he’d recently cried watching A Christmas Carol. Both guys said they cry more now that they’re older. One of them said crying was like emotional masturbation.

Last night, a bunch of us from the same event were at the bar, having tequila shots. What’s the difference between a memorable conversation and one that doesn’t matter, someone asked? I said I thought it was all about how shallow it was. Is the conversation about anything meaningful or is it just small talk. (Although I didn’t say it then, I remembered the conversation from the night before and thought that hearing what makes people cry and how it makes them feel is meaningful conversation that gives me perspective on the world.)

So, how do you go about having good conversations, he then wondered. I said that mostly there aren’t good conversationalists and bad conversationalists. It’s more about the connections between two people. One person you feel like you can be honest with, another you limit things to small talk. Someone else said she thought that it was   chemistry and everyone in the conversation looking for the same things out of it. I likened it to sex. The difference between good sex and bad sex can be more about the chemistry between two people and whether they’re interested in the same things than about those involved being inherently good or bad at it.

I’m sitting in the Albuquerque airport right now, drinking coffee. I have been here before. Which is to say, I know I was here earlier this year when I went snowboarding in Taos, but I have been here by myself, fairly recently, only I have no idea when or why. The Albuquerque airport has this great area upstairs with huge windows and lots of tables and chairs and absolutely no people. You can take stairs up to it, but there are no signs that tell you what you might find. I imagine not many people know about it. I know about it. But I don’t remember when I found it.

I’m not lost. I’m just wandering.

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life within movement

I live within movement. The cabs, the trains, the airplanes, the airport lounges, even the security checkpoints are my living room, my office, my route to work. The other day, someone was driving me to an event and asked if I would mind if we parked a little farther out and walked over. I almost didn’t understand the question. Asking if I mind traveling, by foot or any other way, is like asking if I mind breathing. It’s just something I do.

A few days ago, I made my train with two minutes to spare. I was sitting in a cab going nowhere and I finally asked the driver to stop so I could walk. I swept into the station, bought my ticket from a kiosk, and stepped right onto the train as it was pulling away. What if I hadn’t made it? Well, there are always other trains.

Right now, I’m tired. I’m sitting in a coffee shop downtown, in between meetings. I’ve been coming to this coffee shop for years, since long before my current career and travel schedule. I ran into the owner. How are things, I asked. He told me, “I pray good morning and I spend all day building relationships. How can things be better? These are things no one can ever take away.”

I’m reading Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy, which talks about the philosopher Seneca, who said, “the wise man can lose nothing. He has everything invested in himself.” The book so far talks a lot about how our emotional well-being is influenced less by our circumstances than we generally think. In a way, the book can be a bit depressing, as it suggests that one can be less angry, frustrated, and sad if we simply expect that bad things are likely to come our way. “We cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful.” “Because we are injured most by what we do not expect, and because we must expect everything, we must hold the possibility of disaster in mind at all times.”

But I sort of get the point and it doesn’t have to be depressing. Life has great stuff and life has depressing stuff and sometimes things are hard and sometimes they’re awesome and the trick to not getting stuck in the low spots is to keep going so you can get to another awesome spot. Why spend time being shocked and amazed that life can be hard when clearly this is something we all know?

The book also talks about Epicurus and how money spent doesn’t necessarily translate into happiness. The book concludes “happiness may be difficult to attain. The obstacles are not primarily financial.”

Of course, understanding that money isn’t the key to happiness doesn’t mean that the opposite is true. Going without money doesn’t lead to happiness either. As Seneca, living in his luxury villa noted, “I will despise whatever lies in the domain of Fortune, but if a choice is offered, I will choose the better half.”

As my friend the coffee shop owner said, happiness in life is more about the connections we make with people. I’ve written a lot in this journal about my moments of panic about being alone. I don’t panic so much these days. Everything tilted and when I next looked out, I realized I was measuring myself against societal standards for not being alone that I don’t even believe in.

I’ve written a lot about life as a collection of moments: joy and despair and longing and gratefulness and frustration and hope, but I don’t think that makes me a philosopher. Although philosophy is all about reason and I am exceedingly pragmatic. But the balance between reason and emotion fascinates me.

Life operates on the unpredictable nature of chaotic motion. And in that motion, I find peace.

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finding joy

I admit, I laugh a little when people phrase their statements as absolutes. As though I have ANY world wisdom at all and have any reason to be cooly looking over at anyone and laughing. I know. That’s part of what makes the whole thing ridiculous. But still. I laugh. Because if there’s anything I know it’s that rarely is anything absolute and black and white. See, I wrote “rarely” so I’m not hypocritically breaking my own holier-than-thou statement from on high.

And yet, sometimes, when people make these definitive, no question about it statements, our first response is to believe them. Or, at least for me, it used to be. I don’t think I believe much of anything anymore. Which possibly is bitter and sad, but actually has made me feel pretty free and happy. I used to think that what others’ said was more credible than what I thought because their opinions were more objective than mine. I was too close to me to know me clearly. But maybe they can’t see me well enough to know me clearly either. When you’ve spent your life focusing on pleasing people, it’s amazing how much weight is lifted when you realize that maybe just because they’re not pleased doesn’t mean that you’re flawed.

I’ve also realized something else, which I think (I hope) acts as a counterbalance that keeps me from letting my cynicism take over completely until I let my selfishness become the focus to replace the overpleasing. And that is that we all need people. I like being with my friends. And introducing my friends to my other friends and seeing them happy.

I used to spend so much time worrying about living my life alone. And now I don’t worry anymore. I like my life. And I’m not alone. I’m happy exactly the way that I am.

I measure life these days in moments, not in milestones towards a destination. I’m not checking off a list or looking at my days through the lens of a Microsoft Project spreadsheet.

I’m doing a bad job of explaining this, I think. I don’t mean to be philosophical or lyrical or poetic or pontificating.

I was in a cab this morning, being driven through DC. The driver was telling me about his daughters, and how their strength and independence made it difficult for them to find good men. Unlike most cab drivers who give me life advice, he was all for keeping that independence.

I don’t know anything. I really don’t. But I know that I don’t know anything. And I’m OK with not pretending that I do. And I’m going to find joy in moments as they come. Life is hard. We can all despair. But why should we let life win like that?

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all those things i can’t do

I used to think I was smart. But recent weeks have been filled with epiphanies completely new to me that likely everyone else simply calls “obvious stuff we’ve always known”.

I thought I understood why someone would have a so-called midlife crisis. (Although “crisis” is not the word I would really use.) As we realize death is rushing at us like the ground after we jump from an airplane, we think, fuck. I’d better live this life while I can. I’m reading this book that quotes Marcel Proust’s response to a question about what people would do if the world were about to end. He says that:

“Life would suddenly seem wonderful… just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it — our life — hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly… We shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.”

I read that and think, yes! That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say. Every moment has a backdrop of impending death. Live life now, is the whisper I always hear. Because you won’t have the chance forever.

Only now (I did say this was about an epiphany, and the whole death thing is clearly not the thing that’s new to me as it’s practically all I ever write about), I realize that sometimes a midlife crisis is something else. Realizing you can get better at things.

I know. I told you it’s possible I’m not that smart.

In some ways, my life has been a series of black and white. Either I was good at something or I wasn’t. So I either did that thing or I didn’t. It didn’t cross my mind that if I wasn’t good at something, I could keep at it and get better. If I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t do it. That just wasn’t the thing I had talent for, so onward to something else.

As a kid, I was always good in school. Sure, I didn’t know everything. I had to learn things. But learning came easy. It was something I could do. Athletics, not so much. My stepdad said I wasn’t athletically inclined and I took my lack of abilities to mean they didn’t exist, and no amount of practice would make me better at them. It’s not that I didn’t want to try things that were hard. I just didn’t know that trying would do any good.

When I say I want to do everything that scares me, I think part of what I mean is that I want to try things I’m not good at. A few days ago, I tried indoor skydiving in a wind tunnel. We each got three tries. The first time was absolutely terrifying. I had no idea what I was doing and I was terrible at it. My first thought was that I was just bad at it and this just wasn’t something I could do. But I made myself try again. The second time was better. I knew more what to expect. I listened to the instructor and made adjustments. It was still scary, but I realized that how good you are at something the first time you try it isn’t as good as you can get at it. The third time, I jumped into the wind and the instructor took me to the top of the tunnel. Understand I was still terrible at it, but I did considerably better than the first time.

As hokey as it may sound, it may have been pole dancing that triggered this epiphany. At my first lesson, I couldn’t do any of the spins. At all. And I thought, well, I guess this just isn’t something my body can do. But the instructor said of course I couldn’t do it the first time. Really? Of course?

I kept on and now, while I’m still fairly terrible, I am able to do the things that seemed impossible in that first class. This idea of either being able to do something or not is just another way I’ve been trapping myself. Just because I can’t do something doesn’t mean I can’t do something. Try everything. Maybe I’ll be good at it and maybe I won’t. And maybe I’ll get better at it and maybe I’ll love it and maybe it’ll terrify me but why not at least try it? After all, we are humans, and death may come this evening. (Although I’m really hoping that it doesn’t.)

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