the dangers of sourdough starter

This morning, while my KitchenAid mixer was kneading bagel dough (the trouble with sourdough starter is that you have to actually make things with it or throw away a lot of sourdough starter), it started shooting sparks straight out from the motor.

I had to make a decision. I could keep kneading and risk a fiery explosion, which, in addition to possibly burning down my house would likely ruin the dough. Or, I could stop the mixer, averting possible fireball disaster but I would end up with half-kneaded dough and who wants to knead dough by hand? Is that even a thing that works?

In the end, I turned off the mixer, decided the dough was kneaded enough and sent it on its way to proof. Will the lack of full kneading also ruin the dough? Time will tell. Bagels take a long tine before they’re ready to eat, what with the proofing and the shaping and the more proofing and the baking and the cooling.

Here’s a weird thing. We were watching John Waite’s Instagram stories (from Great British Bakeoff season three) a couple of days ago and he just got a new copper KitchenAid mixer. It is beautiful. And so I said that if only our mixer would stop working then maybe we could get that beautiful mixer too.

I’ve had this mixer (the one with the sparks and the black soot) for 24 years. I got it as a wedding present from my (now ex-) husband’s parents. 24 years! And two days after I joke that I’d like it to break, it breaks! How’s that for being dependable!

I ordered a new mixer immediately. I did not order the copper one. Turns out, it’s nearly 4 hundred dollars more than the same model in non-copper.

In fairness, I have been using the mixer a bit more lately (although I use it once a week even in non-apocalypse times) and a screw did just fall out of it yesterday. (I put the screw back in, but perhaps that it fell out at all was a sign of larger problems.)

I have since (post shiny new mixer order) watched a YouTube video that tells me all I need is a $6 part that takes less than 10 seconds to replace and my fiery spark problems will be solved.

So that’s also a thing someone who hadn’t already ordered a shiny new mixer could try, I suppose.

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good morning to the bees

I’ve been waking up early lately – 5 or 5:30. Sometimes I go back to sleep for an hour, but usually I get up. Early morning is the most amazing time. Everything is quiet and peaceful. The day can still be anything.

I used to start the day with coffee and Twitter but now with the anxiety, I instead have been opting for green tea and a walk outside. I make sure the slugs aren’t eating my garden for breakfast. I say good morning to the bees. I feed the sourdough starter. It’s a better way to start the day and in those moments, I’m convinced that humanity was better off two hundred years ago. Except for the indoor plumbing and warm and cozy HVAC-heated homes and the Great British Bakeoff.

Here’s another thing I do, in case you think I fill the morning with only healthy behaviors. I stare at my pantry, which I’ve stocked with every possible dry and canned good one might ever need or want: 17 types of flour, 8 types of dried beans (also 8 types of canned beans), freeze-dried vegetables, pasta, shelf-stable nut milks and tofu, rice, lentils, quinoa.

I stare at it and take mental inventory even though I also did this yesterday and we haven’t eaten much of it or probably any of it since then. I find it soothing.

I see news headlines about how Americans can’t pay their mortgages and I panic even though I can pay my mortgage.

It’s all exhausting. We’re all exhausted. I haven’t found a soothing evening ritual because I’m too tired by the end of the day. I could give myself a facial and write in my journal while drinking chamomile tea. But where would I get the energy?

The morning though – the morning is bright and open with all the possibility in the world.


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sometimes the randomness of the universe is orange-infused water

I am overloaded again. I have let myself get overloaded again. I have overloaded myself. Again. This time, I’m better equipped to recognize it. To stay sane while it all swirls around me. To know that it’s happening, at least. And know that all of this is data to help prevent it the next time. Or better understand it the next time. Or learn a little more the next time.

I woke up this morning in Albuquerque and the hotel was lovely and I was irritated because of how much work I still have to do, despite vowing not to get this overloaded and trying for so long to get a handle on the overloadedness I’ve allowed and the room didn’t have a room service menu and when I called they said well, obviously, I just have to turn on the TV to find it.

And then when I called back to order and asked what vegan options they had for breakfast, the person on the phone suggested eggs. So I didn’t have any breakfast. And then I took the stairs instead of the elevator to the lobby with my luggage, only the stairs didn’t lead to the lobby. They led somewhere outside. So I went back up the stairs only the doors to all the floors were locked so I went back downstairs and looked for the lobby outside with my luggage. And then also I was hungry and hadn’t had much coffee.

So I was irritated and I told the woman at the front desk that the stairs should really have a sign that warned of what befalls those who use them.

I looked online and found a cafe at a resort and spa in the middle of nowhere on the way to where I was driving next. Eventually, I came upon a gate and I pressed a button to be let in. I was 30 minutes early and the restaurant wasn’t open yet. It wasn’t quite hang around outside weather but I could see that the resort didn’t have any indoor hanging out spots. I went to the office and asked for advice. He directed me to the relaxation at the spa, and I thought, great. I’ll walk all the way over there, and they’ll tell me that only spa guests can use the spa relaxation.

Only now I’m in a quiet, peaceful room, with comfy chairs with blankets and soothing music and hot tea and water with orange slices. And no internet or cell service.

The randomness of the universe is sometimes irritating. But sometimes it’s a surprise relaxation room with orange-infused water.

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only a finite set of lenses are available for this camera

It’s true what they say about getting older: for everything you may lose (eternal optimism, youthful enthusiasm, supple skin), you gain clarity. You can see what was only blurry before – what you can change, what is beyond your control.

A blurry world snapped into focus is freeing, sure. You can see so clearly that railing against the void is useless. You can’t change the weather, the world, anyone but yourself. You can let go of those things that are pointless and can better spend your energy, especially now that it’s become an exhaustible resource.

But with clarity comes a sense of loss, too. Helplessness. Some things you can’t will into existence, can’t move no matter how much you mediate, how many cleansing breaths you take, how much wisdom and perspective you feel you have in knowing a better way.

You can’t change anything but yourself.

Surely this is why celebrities all write self-help books and memoirs in their 40s. They all say the same thing: somehow I can change something, someone. Life is fleeting. I don’t want you to spend that short time suffering.

I was watching a documentary the other day about Buddhist monks. In their monastery, a clock chimes every 15 minutes. It’s a reminder to be present in the moment. When they hear the chimes, they stop whatever they are doing, take a breath, reset. I guess we do that once a year, new year’s resolutions and all of that.

We know it’s a good idea to be present, to look around, to remember what we are grateful for. But what we wish we could change is so much louder. It obscures the rest. We have to really listen and look, to filter out the noise.

But mostly we lose ourselves into the noise. We obsess over the front page of the newspaper even though we live in the peaceful world that doesn’t have reason to make the news.

That part we can change. Or, anyway, it’s potentially changeable.

We can enjoy breakfast and the moon and the way the light filters through the leaves. But it sounds dumb, right? Sappy and self-righteous and oblivious to the suffering of the world.

I don’t know. I can’t change anything but myself.


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if you want more love, why don’t you say so

Do you ever open a browser and stare at the search box and just wonder what you could type in to get an answer? And you don’t even know the question, you just know you need the answer. Something. Somewhere.

Like for instance, this. I randomly came across this phrase in some article the other day: “certainty-seeking behavior”. And I thought, “Oh, I see. That makes sense.”

I looked into it and it’s this idea that rather than assume everything is OK in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we think the opposite – that everything is probably falling part unless we can see otherwise. Not everyone operates in the world this way — the everything is falling apart way. And who knew that?

The three most common ways this behavior manifests is with OCD, hypochondria, and generalized anxiety disorder. I guess “test me for every disease because unless I get a negative test result I think I have everything”, “I’d better check the stove one more time because possibly it turned itself on since last time I checked”, and “I know my friends used to like me, but maybe they don’t anymore and just haven’t told me yet” are all variations on the same theme.

Which is useful information, right? The next time I’m sure no one ever wants to be around me again and I’m going to lose all my money and have to live under a bridge and so on, I can just remind myself that I am not having a meltdown thinking that the stove must be on even though I can’t see the stove right at this very second. And that will calm me down. Or make me go check the stove. It really could go either way.

Anyway, one of the articles I read noted that giving in to certainty-seeking behavior (you know, “but do you still like me? how about now? Also, now still?”) is perhaps ironically the quickest way to trigger the opposite.

It also is the quickest way to reinforce MORE annoying certainty-seeking behavior. You’re anxious in a world of uncertainty. You seek validation. You get validation and certainty. You feel better. Then the cycle starts again. Like a heroin hit. Only more addictive.

Presumably the way to break yourself of the driving need to OMG just find out for sure right now and never be anxious and unsure again until ten minutes from now is to, well, make yourself stay in uncertainty.

Don’t seek certainty and validation. Be anxious. Live with the uncertainty. The theory being that you’ll discover that you’ll live after all. And maybe start to be less anxious even without reassurance. Or something like that. I don’t really know because the more I thought about that, the more I needed to take a Xanax.

So that’s not an answer to anything, really. But I’m trying it out. Feeling uncertain. And just when I’ve imagined the worst my brain can conjure, I find out otherwise. And it’s OK after all.

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we’re all in the dark. we’re all in the sun

There’s this story I tell about my childhood.

I was in first grade and I’d just learned how to read. I was super excited about it. Even at six, I was all about the next goal, about being perfect, always moving, never standing still or being satisfied by mediocrity. The six-year old version of a type A, headed for burn out, overachiever.

We were assigned to these reading groups in class based on how far along we were and the shining pinnacle of achievement was the big red book. You knew you’d made it once you reached that big red book.

Anyway, that’s not the story. The story is that I had a crush on this boy. In my memory he had red hair and freckles, but maybe that was just from something I read. He lived down the street. He didn’t know how to read. He was in the very first reading group. They were reading whatever was the opposite of the big red book.

One day, I went over his house to play. I brought flash cards. I was so excited about being able to read and the thought of not being able to was just tragic to me. I had to help this poor boy through the terrible, dark jungle of non-reading and bring him into the brilliant sun of literacy.

He was frustrated, struggling, despondent. If only he could figure out how to read. And here I was to help him.

Only that’s not how he felt at all. I brought out the flash cards. He responded with the opposite of gratitude and affection and hopeful anticipation: “I don’t want to learn how to read.”

I took my flash cards and went home. I couldn’t fathom it. Didn’t want to learn how to read? Crush over.

In the version of the story I tell, I was, even at six, ever helpful, eager to share with others, selfless. I knew, way back then, who my soulmate would be: a boy who loved to read and learn just like me.

So, really, my version of the story is all about how obnoxious, delusional, and judgmental I am.

“Here, let me help you be more like me.”

So what if he didn’t want to read? I don’t want to skydive or climb Mount Everest. We all like stuff and don’t like stuff. Maybe the point of a soulmate is to find someone who compliments you, not someone who is exactly like you.

Maybe people don’t need my help. Maybe they’re doing just fine. Or maybe we all need a little help. And we’re all doing just fine.

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so this is how it ends


I found another spider during my daily pre-shower ritual. He was on the bathroom floor next to the tub. He was smallish, like the last one. But the same horrible kind, and smallish for giant house spiders is not the same as small.

I realize I was wrong before, when I called the first one a “he”.

That first one was clearly the momma spider, who gave birth to a million baby spiders, and they have now all banded together to exact their revenge on me for making them orphans. Just like the ending of Charlotte’s Web.

A million spider babies lifting their tiny spider legs: “you killed my mother. Prepare to die.”

Tell the insurance company it was the spiders that burned the house down.

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this is my life now

About two years ago, I decided that I was finally ready for commitment again. I was tired of the temporary life, unanchored. Of knowing that when I went home, it was what was I was going home to for now, but not forever.

After betrayal and hardship and sleepless nights, I was finally ready to try again.

I bought a house.

The idea behind this house was that I was going to make for myself a permanent home, at least as much as anything can ever be called permanent. What ended up happening instead was two years of nowhere at all to live, as the house was completely gutted and rebuilt. But that’s a story for another day.

Today’s story is about spiders.

The part of the United States in which I live is mercifully free of many of the horrible crawling things that can crawl on your face while you’re sleeping and I have to stop writing anymore of this sentence because I won’t be able to sleep tonight.

But we have our share of giant house spiders. If you haven’t seen them, feel free to Google. I’ll wait. I’m not going to Google them with you because even photos are horrifying and Google so helpfully shows you a million all on one page.

In any case, they’re huge. And black. And horrible. And giant. And spiders. And they come into your house.

My house is still mid-construction, but a couple of months ago, I moved in just enough things so I could live here (bed, laptop, internet connection). About a month after that, the first shower was finished. You can imagine how exciting it is to have a shower available to you at any time, night or day. Super luxurious. Like I’m a princess.

About a week ago, I brought my things into the bathroom, reached in and turned on the water, took off all of my clothes, and stepped in. I think it’s important for this next part to understand that I was naked.

I glanced to my right and sitting on the shower curtain, right at boob level, completely defying gravity, was a horrifyingly huge, giant house spider.

Obviously, this was one of the worst things that had ever happened to me.

First, I screamed. Then I slowly stepped out of the shower, being very very careful not to disturb the curtain and send the spider flying right at my face.

And then I was standing naked outside the shower, silhouette of the spider mocking me.

I considered walking away, barricading the door shut, and never showering again, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough. I’d never be able to sleep in the house again, knowing that thing was out there, waiting for me.

I hit the curtain, hoping to knock him onto the tub floor so I could smash him, but all that did was cause him to scuttle around to the outside of the curtain, closer to me. Then he ran up to the curtain rod and stared at me.

Well, fuck.

Give that round to the huge, horrifying spider.

I grabbed the hand shower (still on full blast) and burned that motherfucker down. By which I mean, I got the entire bathroom soaking wet.

The spider was undeterred. He just scurried around with his smug spider face and his horror movie spider tentacles.

Until one joyous moment, when he finally lost grip and was hurdled through space down the drain.

I left the shower on full blast and went upstairs to fall apart.

Could I ever shower again? I had to, right? Eventually? But if I didn’t do it now, I may never do it. So I forced myself back downstairs, thoroughly inspected every inch of the bathroom for hidden spider danger, then stepped back into the place of horror.

I kept a vigilant eye on the drain, but the spider was not able to power past the thundering water.

I faced the danger and I overcame it.

The end, right? Fluke thing? Spider gone? Showers of luxury and princessness have returned?

For the next few days, every time I took a shower, my process was the same. Look under the rug, behind the toilet, in every fold of the curtain. Under the shampoo bottles. Get a clean towel and shake it out to reveal any spiders lying in wait.

And everything was always fine.

Until one day, I went through the steps, the same as the days before, took off my clothes, stepped in the shower. AND SAW ANOTHER MOTHERFUCKING SPIDER ON THE CURTAIN.

It was slightly smaller than the first, so the first one wasn’t back for revenge after clawing his way, tentacle after tentacle, up the drain. But goddammit.

I washed him right down the drain, managed to make myself stay in the shower, and did not turn my back on the drain the entire time. Which made it a little difficult to wash my hair, but who needs clean hair, really, when it comes at the price of a secondary revenge spider jumping out of drain at you while you’re not looking.


So, anyway. Now I have to move.

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sometimes, i consider alternatives

Grey’s Anatomy (yes, I still watch Grey’s Anatomy. Shut up. You should too.) last night had this great scene where Meredith and Bailey and Amelia and the new sister of Meredith’s whose name I don’t even know yet were sitting around talking about being alone.

And mostly everyone said they didn’t like being alone or sleeping alone or going through life alone. And then the new sister said that she couldn’t sleep if someone else was in bed with her and told this whole story about how her great boyfriend proposed but when she came clean about needing to sleep alone, he broke up with her and married someone else. “Maybe,” she concluded, “I’m too good at being alone.”

I’m probably too good at being alone too. Sometimes I think I should get out and see the world more. But only so I’ll have interesting things to think about and write about and learn about.

It’s possible those aren’t the reasons I should consider leaving the house.

(And sure, I just spent six months traveling the United States in an RV, so it’s not like I haven’t left the house at all. But even then, I didn’t really go out of my way to talk to anyone.)

Sometimes, when I’m alone and it’s quiet, I think: I can’t imagine disruption from this.

But then other times, but only very select times with very select people, I think, maybe not being alone isn’t so bad either.

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cupcakes and bacon

You know how sometimes you’re just tired? And you probably have the energy to do something. But only something completely indulgent, like eating a hostess cupcake on the couch and watching “Bring It On”? And then you think, well, that’s better than playing Candy Crush on your iPad and not beating the level (again) and then taking a nap, right? Because giving yourself a break and refreshing your mind plus Jesse Bradford?

Mostly I feel like that a lot. Only I also want to play Candy Crush. Play Candy Crush while I eat a cupcake and also watch Jesse Bradford. On the couch. With a warm blanket. And slippers. Also maybe you could make me a hot chocolate.

I need a home. I need to travel. I need a break. I need to work. I need to take on more projects, fewer projects. I want to experience the world. I want to hole up in a warm corner away from the world. I should write. Why should I write?  Why can’t I write concurrently with my life like everyone else in the world who has ever existed has done? Well, except Emily Dickinson. Oh, and Thoreau. But other than those two, everyone can multitask.

You see how I get exhausted and need the  cupcake and so on.

Sometimes I think: OK, here’s what I should do. I should just write a novel. Because as much as I always say I aspire to write a novel, I’ve never really been a novel writer. I’ve been more of a random writer. I write random things at random times, randomly along with all of the other million plates I’m spinning. So maybe I need to just force myself into a linear structure and set aside an hour every day and start at the beginning and write every hour until I get to the end.

And then I’ll either have a novel or know I never want to write a novel or will have wrestled the competing voices in my head into all talking about the same thing. Or about not as many conflicting things. Or maybe they’ll be be quieter.

In another place I’m writing than here, several people have told me that my writing is funny. Which if you read my writing here, that might strike you as funny. Because reading here, you’d wonder if I even have heard of humor, of the idea of anything being funny.

Maybe an hour-a-day forced novel would be free of all the compartmentalization I spend so much time trying to keep in place. Which is also exhausting, now that I think of it.

Along with the effort it takes to keep away the proverbial wolves at the door, who seem to have a larger presence than their proverbs would imply. And to keep the world turning. Food on the table. Bacon for the pan and rest.

You’d eat a cupcake too.

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not all moments feel like this, but sometimes they do

Sometimes, for no reason at all, I’m filled with anxiety. Or dread. Or foreboding. Or whatever that feeling is you get in dreams where you’re in college and it’s finals but you don’t know where your classroom is and you haven’t been to class all semester.

Like I’ve missed something important. And I can’t go back to even find out what it was, much less change it.

I’ve read all the books and the advice and the admonitions. Feeling anxious or worried about what’s unknowable or even about what is, wishing you could change something you did or said or what is inevitable, none of that helps anything at all.

You may as well spend the time, whatever that time is, in whatever place you’re in, having missed something important or not, moving forward. Or being in the moment. Or something other than useless and paralyzing panic that you’ve left on a non-existent burner.

But I don’t know how to do that. So I keep looking for the stove.

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if then else

What if I pack it all in and clear my life and decide, for real, that I’m going to spend time writing every day? I purposely spend less time on activities that generate income. In order to write more.

What if then instead of writing more I just watch reruns of TV shows all day and take a lot of naps?

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this particular airport chili’s

I still have the bleedy eye. My doctor said that it would take between two and six days to heal but that I was a “faster healer” so it should be closer to two. I like to think I’m the very best at everything, so I admit I got a little smug when he said that. Although then I thought, but how does he know I’m a fast healer though? Probably he’s just humoring me. You know, so I don’t get all stressed and bleed more in my eyes.

He agreed with the internet about it happening for no reason. I remain suspicious.

Here’s what happened to me when I fled the hotel of hidden and disappearing food:

I went to an airport Chili’s. First, before you shake your head at my naiveté, yes of course the airport Chili’s is going to be a disaster. Not only is this inherently true, but I know from experience that this particular airport Chili’s is a particular nightmare. (And let’s pause to shake our heads at the sadness of being a near-regular at possibly the worst airport Chili’s on earth.)

I also know from experience the airport Chili’s is the only place to purchase alcohol in this particular terminal.

Anyway, I thought I went in prepared. I needed wine, clearly, since I was about to board a six hour flight. So I ordered that first. Then I order chicken fajitas because I figured that even if the chicken was terrible, I could just eat the tortillas and guacamole.

The fajitas arrived. The wine did not. Nor did the guacamole. I can’t imagine a less appetizing plate of chicken. I won’t even describe it to you. You can use your imagination but know that I would probably have preferred eating whatever you’ve thought up to what was on the plate.

I asked about the wine first. And then the missing guacamole. The server shrugged. Normally, I put some on the plate right here. But I couldn’t find any. So I didn’t.

So I was left with tortillas. You know, I said, I’m happy to buy this. But I’d like to order something else. A manager was summoned.

“So, I hear us being out of guacamole is really bumming you out.”

(That’s a verbatim quote.)

I explained again how I was happy to buy what I had ordered, but that I was wanted to order something else. No problem. She took my order. Fortunately by this time I had my wine.

When my second dish arrived, it was something entirely different from what I ordered. I mentioned this to my server. He didn’t seem surprised. She just punched it in wrong. Did I want what I ordered instead?

And so the second dish was cleared from my table, entirely uneaten.

I drank more wine.

My third dish eventually came and it was fine. You know, airport Chili’s fine. But fine. They only charged me for one meal. I left a normal-sized tip.

My fantasy man of international intrigue did not sit next to me on the flight. Which was just as well because in addition to my bleedy eye, I had one of my more advanced flight-related panic attacks. I kept taking Xanax and washing it down with wine until – no joke – I passed out hard and only woke up when we were descending. Which meant my friends and family were at some point able to stop texting me that no, I probably shouldn’t make the pilot land the plane wherever we happened to be so I could rent a car and drive the rest of the way.

This morning, I woke up and made myself eggs and toast. I didn’t forget the toast.

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This morning, I accidentally caught glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. Until now, I thought that “she gasped” was a phrase made up for romance novels and mystery dinner theatre, but were I narrating a story about myself in the third person, I would have had to use those two words to describe what happened next.

Half of one eye was (is) completely red. Blood red. Blood is bleeding all over in my eye. Obviously I thought I had a brain aneurysm or similar, so of course I immediately sought guidance from the internet. The internet told me this was totally normal. Happens on the time. For no reason.


First, it doesn’t happen all the time or people would be walking around all the time with bleedy eyes. And nothing happens “for no reason”. Except maybe rainbows.

Once the internet assured me that I wasn’t bleeding from my brain (or was I?!), I realized that I’d need a new fantasy to get me through my flight later day.  My fantasy is this: I’ll sit next to an impossibly sexy man of international intrigue. We hit it off on the flight and then once we land, we run off to his luxury hotel suite for a night of passion. It hasn’t happened yet, but since I’ve flown so much at this point, I figure it’s just a matter of time. The odds are bound to be in my favor by now.

It would be just my luck if he showed up on today’s flight. “Weird sunglasses girl on a plane” may be slightly better than “bleedy eye girl”, but neither are getting that one night stand.

But maybe I shouldn’t fly at all. If there’s some weird pressure built up in my head, would a flight make it worse, like how you can burst your ear drums if you fly with an ear ache? (Or something like that, I’m not exactly clear on how you’re supposed to know when flying will cause your ear drums to burst, except that I know you’re not supposed to fly after scuba. Or before scuba maybe? Something about water and flying.)

Now one side of my head (the same side as the bleedy eye) hurts all the way down to my jaw. My teeth even hurt on that side. Coincidence? Psychosomatic? Or maybe the internet is wrong and these things don’t happen for no reason after all.

I can’t really stay at this hotel any longer though. I would surely end up killing someone and although having a bleedy eye in jail might make me seem tough, I don’t imagine I would get a high standard of medical care. I watch Orange is the New Black. I know about these things.

This morning, despite being still without a room service menu, I ordered breakfast. Eggs and toast. Which came without toast. How can anyone eat eggs without toast? So I called back down and they did eventually bring the toast, which I then ate with my lukewarm eggs.

I think my bleedy eye scared the room service guy.

This really does not bode well for my meeting with that sexy airline passenger of international intrigue.

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the water’s green and blue and calm and warm

I’m sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella, looking out at the ocean. The water is that turquoise, clear blue green like you see on postcards or the pages of resort web sites. As you swim (and the water is the perfect temperature for swimming), you can see all the way to the white sand.

I’m annoyed.

I’m annoyed by a green inflatable toy.

It’s obscuring my view. The couple next to me (who have spent the morning singing to their baby) have escalated their annoyingness by leaving this toy directly in my line of vision.

I know.

They’re terrible people and they’re turning my life into a tragedy. What have I ever done to deserve this?

I spend a lot of time feeling like I can’t count on anything. With relationships, sure. And work. But even with the minutiae of every day life. I walked up to the restaurant hostess stand last night and she said, same as it ever was: “is there something I can help you with?” And I’m filled with despair. Why can’t you just ask if I want a table and if so for how many? Why can’t you help me? Why will no one help me?

Can I not even count on people not to leave their inflatable green toys in front of my otherwise relaxed view of the sea?

My waitress this morning at breakfast was not great at her job. She was completely overwhelmed by her tables (she didn’t have that many tables) at least in part because she did everything inefficiently. She came over to ask if I was ready to order and when I said yes, she seemed surprised and said, oh, I’ll go get a paper and pen then. And then she stopped  and talked to three other tables on her way to get said pen and paper, and then stood there, somewhat lost as to how to get back to me. Later, she brought my food and then realized she hadn’t brought condiments and about 10 minutes later remembered to bring them.

Here’s the thing, though. She was doing the best that she could. Yes, she should carry an order pad with her all the time and yes, she should just bring condiments on the same tray as the food. But she hasn’t thought of that. Or hasn’t been taught it. Or whatever. But she’s not purposely trying to let me down.

My first night here, my room service never showed up. The person who took my order wrote the room number down wrong and tried to deliver it to the wrong room. Finally, after about an hour and a half, they figured it out and brought it to me.

The second day, I had been moved to a different room and this room had no room service menu. So I called and asked for one so I could order lunch. Only it never showed up. After an hour, I went downstairs and ordered lunch to go from the bar.

Dinner, still no menu (and I was avoiding the dining room due to its proximity to an extraordinarily loud high school reunion), so I tracked down the manager on duty, who coincidentally was also the head chef. I’m just trying to eat, I told him. I don’t understand why it has to be so hard. He was sympathetic, of course. So, two nights. Two free dinners. But I didn’t want free dinners. I just wanted to be able to order food and have it arrive and then be able to eat it.

The woman who brought dinner to my room the second night was astonished. How can everyone keep fucking up your desire to eat was her general feeling, although in nicer words. I know, I thought. The tragedy of my life.

But people aren’t letting me down, not really. They’re doing the best they can. And maybe their best isn’t great, truth be told. And maybe it’s OK that I’m annoyed. But the world isn’t letting me down over and over again. They’re muddling through. Just like we all are.

Except that asshole baby who left his green inflatable toy in front of me. He was just messing with me on purpose.

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it was so important at the time

“You can’t hit a pregnant girl.”

I had never hit anyone, pregnant or not, and I wasn’t planning on starting now. The very idea that I was about to be in a fight didn’t even make any sense.

The only time I had been in a fight hadn’t made any sense at the time either. I was at the preppiest, richest junior high school in town, which in retrospect was possibly not my greatest idea ever.

I had started seventh grade at the poorest school, in the scariest part of town. I had to wake up super early so I could climb through the gap in the concrete wall, walk through the empty dirt lot to the corner, and catch the bus that would take me an hour across town. Desegregation efforts meant that the poor, mostly white kids in my neighborhood went to school in a poor, mostly non-white neighborhood that was not very close by. (The rich white kids went to a school they could walk to. The preppy one. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

My favorite part of the day was the bus ride. We weren’t allowed to listen to pop music at home since it was devil music, but I had to ride the bus, right? I wasn’t doing anything wrong if I had to listen to what the bus driver was playing on the radio. Even if it was Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.

I wasn’t part of a gang, so mostly the kids at school left me alone. Rival gangs were always getting into fights. You’d see one set of boys running across the lawn, followed by another swarm of them. You might think they were having fun chasing each other around. Except for the knives.

But no one knew who I was. I was new. Mostly the kids had gone to elementary school together. They had weird fashion codes that signaled things I didn’t understand, like sometimes the girls would wear their jeans inside out. I knew enough to know that I would not fit in better by wearing what everyone else was wearing. I wore my jeans the normal way.

I was cornered once in the bathroom by these towering black girls. They told me to stop looking at them or whatever. So I did.

My neighbor was my age and her family was Korean. They were pretty sure that school was not for her. So they lied about their address and drove her to the preppy rich school across town, which seemed like a pretty good idea to me too.

I got my mom to lie about our address so I could change schools, and sometimes I could get a ride to school with the neighbor. But since I was in band, I often had to be at school early or stay late, and then I would take the city bus. That also took an hour, and the bus driver didn’t play Wham. But the kids there didn’t chase each other with knives at least.

The girls didn’t wear their jeans inside out either. They wore polo shirts and sweaters with dogs on them. I was so happy that I was no longer required to take home ec and could choose from several elective classes (elective classes?!) that I took wood shop. I was the only girl.

One day, in the locker room after gym, a girl jumped on top of me from out of nowhere and started hitting me. I was very surprised. You don’t have a lot of time to process rational thoughts at such a time, so my body just instinctively curled up into a ball and I put my hands in front of my face. I guess she eventually got bored that I wasn’t fighting back and gave up.

My brain still hadn’t caught up. A girl standing near me said, “why didn’t you hit her back?”

Hit her back? Intriguing idea. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me. Nothing occurred to me. Nothing except, “oh my god, why is she hitting me? what is happening? why is this happening? what is this?!”

Had I the presence of mind for extended thought I might have enjoyed the irony of all of the trouble I went through to switch from the scary school where the girls wore inside out jeans and I never got beat up to the calm school where the girls wore their collars up and jumped me for no reason in the locker room.

But I didn’t enjoy that irony until years later. Until now, actually. Apparently the “one day” to look back on a junior high school ambush and laugh is about thirty one years later.

So later, on that summer night in 1988 when I wasn’t supposed to hit the pregnant girl, my fighting experience was limited.

My friends pulled me outside. The pregnant girl in question thought I had been flirting with her boyfriend. I was not. I wasn’t even sure who her boyfriend was. Anyway, as far as  I knew, I hadn’t flirted with anyone.

The girl was also the daughter of the chief of the local Indian nation. There weren’t many upsides to hitting her. If I could even figure out how to make hitting someone happen. Which to be clear, I could not have. So I left. My friends admired by valiant concession. In their defense, they were pretty drunk.

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i left years ago but i’m still trying to get out

The first time I went to the prom, we drove through McDonald’s for dinner on the way. I was a sophomore in a tiny town in Oklahoma and my boyfriend was a senior. I don’t remember anything about the prom itself, but I remember buying cheap beer at the grocery store after and staying out all night drinking in a field, then sleeping in a car for a few hours while parked on a dirt road.

I saved and saved for the dress, which looking back now was a very unfortunate fashion choice. It was white lace, mermaid-shaped and strapless, form fitting until it reached my knees, where it sprung out into white satin. It was the most glamorous thing I had ever seen. I bought matching (fake) pearl jewelry, which I might still have in a box somewhere, with a program and pictures and maybe even a champagne glass with 1988 etched on it. Do they still give kids glasses intended for alcohol at high school proms?

The second time I went to prom, when I was a junior, I took a sophomore. He was super cute and really tall and I was so excited that he wanted to go with me. We went to an actual restaurant for dinner with a group of his friends. Who he ditched me for as soon as we got the prom. I think he offered to take me home before he headed out to the after parties without me.

The third time I went to the prom, I was in California and my boyfriend was in college. He was an actor and in a truck club (by which I mean he and his friends would get together and cruise together in their tricked out trucks and they named themselves). He was so cute and so cool and it was my senior prom so it seemed like I should lose my virginity to him after. I was very disappointed when he went home directly after the prom with barely a kiss goodbye. I wore another white lace dress. Fortunately without the mermaid extras this time.

I don’t know why he skipped the sure-thing virgin. Maybe he felt guilty since I soon found out I was just one of many of his girlfriends. So I guess it was a good thing that my dreams of a magical night were thwarted. Not that who I lost my virginity to makes any difference at all in the course of my life, but at the time it probably would have fucked me up for a while once I learned about those extra girlfriends.

I wonder sometimes where everyone is now. I don’t wonder what my life would have been like had I stayed with one of the boys I knew in high school. It never crossed my mind for a minute, even back then, that would happen. But it’s startling how much my life has diverged from where it was then.

I looked for information online about that boy I went to my first prom with. The last I knew, he had joined the army. All I could find was an archive of his high school sports records from the 80s and a mugshot from a couple of years ago.

The guy I was hoping to lose my virginity to? It looks like he joined the army not longer after I lost touch with him and when he got out eight years later, he went to one of the lessor Cal States and tried to get into theatre again. Then he was a railroad conductor for a while. And now he lives in Texas and does something with logistics for truck and railway transportation. I even found a Pinterest board that might be his with lots of pins of motorcycles and muscle cars. I also found what I think is his profile on several networking sites for motorcycle riders.

He was really into motorcycles when we dated too. I remember once that a friend of his was in a terrible motorcycle accident and we visited him at the hospital. This was way before the days of commonplace helmets and the guy was pretty beat up. I had the typical high school girlfriend response: stop riding motorcycles, if anything like this ever happened to you, blah blah blah.

Here’s the truth. You know how sometimes you’re in a scary situation, like maybe you almost fall off a cliff or nearly get sideswiped by a car? And it’s only after you’re safe that you completely fall apart thinking about how close you came to disaster? Even though you’re absolutely fine and there’s no danger at all?

I feel like that.

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one time, in paris

So here’s a thing that happened:

I was walking in Paris and happened upon this cafe with an outdoor courtyard of scattered tables under the trees. Inside was a little shop with upscale jams and honey and boxes of sugar cubes, only instead of cubes, they were little flowers or butterflies or stars. These ones actually.

Anyway. I didn’t buy any. They were sort of pricey and it seemed like a hassle to get them back to the United States. When I got home, I looked for them online but didn’t see a place where I could buy them and have them shipped to me. I found some other brands that I thought would be kind of similar and ordered those.

But they weren’t the same at all.

And then one day, probably a year or so later, I found myself walking by the same cafe in Paris again. So I bought the expensive cute sugar. It’s now in my kitchen.

Consider: I was walking in Paris. And then randomly, I happened to be walking in Paris again. You can understand I might be incredulous. At my own story. I mean, I was there and I still am suspicious about whether it actually happened.

A few days ago, I was at a baby shower. I was talking to some friends who asked how I was doing and I said that I could feel myself headed into another breakdown. A sure sign is when I start fantasizing about being in a hospital bed (all of the relaxation of a vacation without the pesky guilt of not working.). “Again?!” one of them said.

Well, yeah. On the one hand, that seems ridiculous. Having been through them before, why haven’t I learned my lesson and started avoiding them. On the other hand, anxiety disorder doesn’t just go away because you want it to, I guess.

You rationalize: surely this feeling is vestigial. It’s from being punished for crying when you were two. From having all of those carefully laid plans turn into falling dominos when your parents chose to move every year your entire childhood. It’s from going to classes half time senior year of high school as part of a vocational work program so you could work full time and yet at the end you still didn’t have enough money for the college you wanted to go to. From pawning your flute to pay for the SATs. From having a husband who spent so much money you flinched every time the phone rang because you  knew it was a bill collector and the IRS sent you a tax lien notice.

Now you happen to randomly walk down the a street in Paris and buy sugar that you wished you’d bought last time you walked down that same street. You don’t need be ever vigilant, making back up plans to save you from the first set of best laid plans that are sure to all apart no matter how careful you are.

But you are. And you do. And you still wait for it all to fall down around you.

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choose your own adventure

I watched two women on the beach edging into the water. The waves crashed down and splashed them. They laughed and clung to each other and ran back to the safeness of the sand. Then they tried again.

I sipped my coffee and glanced back at my book. The hostess appeared like an angel from the heavens: “would you like a blanket?” (I would love a blanket.)

I’m freezing just watching those women. She looked out. “They’re crazy.”

I snuggled up in my blanket and went back to reading. Maybe we’re all crazy.


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Maybe you never really know a place the first time you’re there. You’re walking around in the dark, hands outstretched, hoping you don’t fall down. You feel the turns, the sharp corners, the safe places.

So next time — if you’re lucky enough that there is a next time — you see things a little more clearly. Nothing is ever entirely clear; we can only ever see the parts that we see through the lens that we see them. But sometimes some things can get clearer.

I’m sitting on a deck in Malibu, overlooking the pacific ocean. All I can see are waves and sand and rocks and sand pipers and pelicans diving into the water.

I’ve been here before.

What will I do with my life this time?

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you work at a smile and you go for a ride

Road trip: day 19 of who knows how many days. So far, I’ve mostly been driving in circles. The last time I fled the world with no plan and no end, I ended up in Paris, Barcelona, San Sebastian. This time, I haven’t made it farther than California. But then, that seems to be where I always find myself when I don’t know where I’m going.

I’m happy. I have no idea where I’m going, but I know that I’m happy.

I guess I quit my job again. It was complicated and it all turned dark and awful and all my old fears came back. But that’s over now. I keep learning, learning about what not to do and who not to trust and I guess life will always be that way.

But you keep going, and somehow you get to the other side. I just happened upon this Joseph Campbell quote: “we must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

I still don’t know how it ends and now I don’t even know what comes next. But something will come next.

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on a wednesday, in a cafe, i watched it begin again

Unlike Tay, I don’t mean that I met a boy. But it is Wednesday. And something’s beginning again. I’m just not quite sure what it is yet.

Today, I climbed some rocks in Joshua Tree and looked out at the sky. It was the perfect place for an epiphany, a moment of zen to make the world make sense, give my life purpose, fill me with joy.

I climbed down and got back into my car. I turned up the music and drove really fast around the curves. Or at least as fast as one can in a rented Prius.

But I didn’t have any epiphanies yet.

Don’t tell me the epiphany is that there are no epiphanies because that just leaves me floating in the middle of a vast ocean with no oar. Or outboard motor.

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every autumn

I’ve heard that when alcoholics stop drinking for a while and then start up again, they don’t start over. Their bodies just pick right up where they left off, with black out binges right on day one.

I think the same thing may be true of mental breakdowns.

I got rid of nearly everything that was drowning me, pushing me down into the dark, muddy water: the company, the employees, the clients, the fear of financial ruin. I spent months doing nothing but sleeping. And it worked. My dangerously high cortisol levels plunging me into adrenal failure dropped back to high normal.

But now I’m back in the world, working through the business transition and it’s already paralyzing me. I can’t even look at my email or my calendar. I don’t want to have another conference call or discussion or meeting. I just want everyone to leave me alone all of the time.

There’s this scene in The Best Awful, one of Carrie Fisher’s novelizations of her real-life struggles with manic depression. In the scene, she’s in a mental institution after a psychotic break and she’s supposed to cut pictures out of a magazine and make a collage. And although she recognizes this is something that a child could do, her brain is unable to make sense of anything. She knows the photos have meaning and some of them have words on them, but she can’t connect the dots. All she feels is hopeless. The task is too hard.

I know that all I have to do is sit at this computer and answer email. Write software specs. Put together a marketing plan. Whatever. These are all easy things to do. I have done them all so many times that I could do them in my sleep. And yet I can’t do any of them at all. I can’t even sleep.

And I feel like a failure as a person. Because I just want to let it all go. Watch it burn.

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because i’m free, nothing’s worrying me

When I was a kid, I really liked that BJ Thomas song, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”. Of course, it was entirely lost me, since I didn’t understand the concept of metaphor and thought it was about somebody who literally was followed by a rain cloud. But I found that image amusing, I guess. Which is the opposite intention of the song, now that I think of it.

One line totally stumped me though, and not because I also didn’t understand the concept of simile, although that is also true. “And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed”, what? I really tried to figure it out. I wasn’t sure how being rained on was like a guy in bed, but assumed it just meant the guy in bed was also rained on all the time, and it seemed like kind of a bummer that he was getting rained on in bed.

But what perplexed me was the idea of someone’s feet being too big for his bed. What did that even mean? In my world, a bed was many times larger than a person and the idea of someone’s feet hanging off a bed wasn’t even within my realm of existence.

We view the world through the only frame of reference we have – our own experience. We can’t walk a mile in someone’s shoes or whatever it is we’re supposed to do for understanding and peace and love and the rest. If the bed is ten times bigger than we are, that’s the only size bed we know exists.

And then you get older and you think, oh. Sometimes the person/bed size ratio changes. I didn’t realize that.

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what a wonderful world this would be

Pandora has been playing Ingrid Michaelson, Anna Nalick, Pink, and now, out the blue, Hootie and the Blowfish. Suddenly, it’s 1994, and I’m sitting in the dark, narrow bar in Balboa where we listened to that album on repeat all winter.

Sometimes I feel exactly like that person. Other times I can barely remember her; I don’t know if she ever existed.

I think about how naive I was. How wrong I was about so many things. And that scares me because I must be as wrong about as many things now. I just haven’t learned what they are yet.

This morning, a friend who’s lost a bunch of weight lately told me that she hasn’t bought new clothes (even though her old clothes don’t fit anymore) because what if she gains the weight again? I told her she had to live now, based on how the world is today. Not based on what might happen or what she worries will happen or how things used to be.

Life’s so hard to live like that. But imagine how freeing it would be.

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the voices in my head

I’m trying to be in the world more. That’s it. My whole goal. Be in the world.

At first, I thought I should strive for something slightly more ambitious, like join a club or take a class, but I’ve decided that small steps are enough for now. Get out of bed. Change out of my pajamas. Put on actual clothes. Go outside.

It sounds like I’m depressed, but I don’t think I am. I think I just want to keep sleeping and reading and writing for a while longer. And I could. But I could also easily become one of those crazy hermits who chases kids off the lawn, has an erratic hairstyle, and forgets how to make small talk.

I could order all my food from Amazon fresh, get all my books on my Amazon Kindle iPad app, I could even write books and self-publish them on Amazon. So who’s at fault here, really?

My (truly) expansive time off doesn’t end until tomorrow and already I’m weary. It’s exhausting to let people keep taking and taking but it’s also exhausting to continually keep them from taking and taking. I’m getting better at the latter but I’m not stronger at it. But I have to learn this careful art of give and take to live in the world. And it’s better to live in the world, right?


This morning, I went to church. If being in the world means talking to people, then I mostly failed, although I did say hello to my neighbors during the “say hello to your neighbor” portion. I spent most of the sermon wondering how there could possibly be a God, if he just sits around and does nothing unless we pray enough, after the pastor said we should “pray for peace”. So possibly the entire outing was a failure. But still. I left the house.

Later, I went to spinning class only because a friend absolutely made me. I think that venture was more successful in that I talked to people (well, her: one person) and I didn’t fall off my bike and die. Anytime I make it through spinning class without falling off and dying I consider it a success.

So, that’s it. That’s really all I accomplished today. Well, I got an email that told me I have a new Klout moment, but I don’t really think that counts. I finished Monica’s Story, but I definitely am sure that doesn’t count and in fact, I probably shouldn’t even admit that I read it. In any case, neither of those things involve leaving the house or being in the world.

I’ve started working on this novel, and I’ve been writing a lot of dialogue. When I’m not writing it, I’m listening to it. There’s not much time to talk to actual people when I’m holding up both ends of a conversation in my head.

I’m feeling a lot of pressure from a lot of different directions to do a lot of things that other people want. But maybe what I want is something else.

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here’s what i remember

Here’s what I remember. A writer was going to teach a special class about writing at my school. It wasn’t open to everyone. You had to submit something you’d written and be accepted. I was. I remember that the class was at the same time as driver’s education, and that’s why I never  took driver’s ed and really never learned to drive officially. But maybe that’s wrong and the class was earlier. Or later. Or over the summer.

If the class was at the same time as driver’s education, that probably meant it was during my junior year of high school and so in Oklahoma, but when I try to visualize the room, I see the high school I went to in California, which means it would have been my freshman or senior year. But wouldn’t I remember it better if it had been my senior year? So I think I’m just visualizing something else.

I came across a bunch of papers I’d written for a class at that high school in Oklahoma. I thought they were for regular English, but maybe they were for this special writing class. I don’t remember anything about the special writing class at all.

I remember one lesson on writing from what I think was a different, earlier writing class  – probably eighth grade. The teacher hated the construction “There is/are”. Hated it. Why write “there are birds flying across the sky” when you can write “birds are flying across the sky?” Or even better: “birds fly across the sky”, and so on. I never write “there is” or “there are” even now.

I don’t remember any other writing lessons, not really.

But I remember what I wrote to get in to this special writing class. I think I remember that we got a prompt. A first sentence. Maybe even a whole first paragraph. Or maybe it was just a prompt with no specific lead in at all.

I still have a copy of what I wrote. It’s about a door to nowhere that stands on a beach. It begins like this,

“On the beach, just above the high tide line, stood a door. Despite the fact that it had no logical business being there, it stood foursquare and solid, and anyone who cared to look could see that it was open several inches.”

That’s the part I don’t think I wrote, the part that was the prompt. Even though it includes “despite the fact”, which seems extraneous. But I don’t think I would have used “high tide line” or “foursquare and solid” at 15.

The entire thing is full of extra words, but it’s otherwise pretty good, I think. A little overwrought, maybe.  It speaks of hope and faith and despair and I can barely imagine the same person writing it who at the same time was staying up all night drinking cheap beer. But apparently she, I, did. I mean, maybe. Maybe I didn’t write it all. But I can’t seem to find it anyplace else so if it’s just something I happen to have with my name at the top, and a faded memory, blended from something else, it’s not published in a form that I can find any trace of online. I continue to be perplexed by memory’s lack of loyalty.

If I have the timing right, I would have gotten the prompting lines in 1988. Stephen King’s second Dark Tower book, The Drawing of the Three, which prominently features doors on beaches, came out in 1987, but I certainly hadn’t heard of it. Maybe the writer/teacher, who I assume came up with the prompt had; there’s no way to know now. I recently re-read The Drawing of the Three and looked for the lines in case she had lifted them entirely but she hadn’t. King’s descriptions of the doors are entirely different other than that they too stand alone above the tide.

Here’s the rest of the story, only extraneous words removed. I wonder about that girl, fresh into the world.

“The tide crashed against the rocks, spewing white-capped waves high into the air and sometimes spraying and smashing into the door. It was worn from years of daring the waves to reach higher for it again and yet it stood, solid and strong. No hint of collapse into the ocean that it had withstood for so long.

Many had passed those sandy shores and wondered the door’s purpose. Why was it there? Where did it come from? A man wandered by and questioned why it stood ajar. He grasped the knob with both hands and pulled. Nothing happened. The door wouldn’t budge an inch in either direction. It remained open just enough to peer through, but not enough to enter.

A young girl, fresh into the world and innocent of its ways had once pondered the door. She supposed it was an entrance to another world, where dreams came true and everyone lived happily ever after. Fortunately and surprisingly, no one came along to tell her any differently. At least for a brief time, she could hold a wish unshaken.

Lovers would walk hand in hand to where the door stood and sit in the sand and lean on the door while watching the waves, iridescent in the faint moonlight. The door never minded being leaned on. It was never moved or shaken, even though rooted in shifting sand.

A scientist came to study it once. He went away, unaffected, his only conclusion that it must extend deep into the ground and was made of oak. No one questioned him, but he didn’t really resolve anything.

No one thought about the door much. It was just always there. Until one day they tore it down. The government embarked on a beachfront clean up. The door had to go, they said. It was a safety hazard, they said. Children could get it hurt, they said. But they only said it to each other and never thought anyone would care.

Early one morning, the bulldozer came. The sleepy little beach town opened one eye and looked in the direction of the government trucks and took a moment to wonder before going back to sleep but it never dawned on anyone that the door could be in danger. Who would bother their door?

It took a lot more than the government people thought to tear it down.

“Sure is stout,” said the bulldozer driver, on his third, and finally successful try. The door broke with a deafening crack. By the time the town awoke, the dozer was leaving and on one realized until it was too late.

When the feeling of emptiness set in, nobody really could understand why. They only knew that a part of their lives was now gone. As the tides rose and fell, so did their lives. Through all of their hopes, their desires, their failures, the door never moved. Changes came: life and death, pain and joy. They could always count on the door. It was the one thing they could trust, even if there was nothing else. And now it was gone.

What were they to do now?”

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pages from my lost youth

“Long walks, long talks, after dark;
We vowed we’d never forget.
Now it’s hazy.”
Stay for a While, Amy Grant

My senior year of high school was disjointed and confusing and wonderful and stressful and joyful and tragic and busy and unspeakably sad. It took forever and flashed by in an instant. Probably the same as it is for everyone in one way or another.

How is it then that it’s slipping almost entirely away from me? I see blurry snapshots, fogged-over, early-stage polaroids. Clips from silent films in black and white.

A few nights ago, I was flipping through my senior yearbook. I was reading to a friend of mine some of what people had written. Stay in touch. Best friends forever. I’ll never forget that night we drank all that peach schnapps. That kind of thing.

After reading what one guy had written, she said, “hey, that’s really funny.” I thought about it. I told her I thought I read a manuscript he wrote once.  And that it was funny too. I remembered he was younger than I was (I looked him up in the yearbook and he was a junior when I was a senior — it seemed like an eternity) and that we would sometimes hang out at his house and talk about writing. He would show me some of what he was writing. Maybe I showed him my writing too, but I probably didn’t.

For some reason, I thought I might still have one of his manuscripts, so I looked through some of the rest of the box of high school. Sure enough, it was in exactly the manilla envelope I imagined. But he had mailed it to me in the fall after I graduated. I hadn’t remembered that. I only remembered reading parts of it at his house. This version had a note, telling me he had written more, although it was still unfinished and that he really wanted to know what I thought. And he was thinking maybe he should give up writing altogether.

Did I ever tell him what I thought? Did I ever even read it? Did I ever even talk to him again? I kept it all these years, but then I would. It’s something someone wrote.

It was funny. It was rough, sure, but certain lines, turns of phrase were beautiful, hilarious. I didn’t remember any of it. The narrative calls it an “autobiographical novel” and indeed, all of our classmates and teachers come to life on the pages (with nearly all of their names intact). One might call it biting satire. Or possibly seething rage. The foundation for most comedy.

Everyone feels lost in high school, but I had gone to one high school for part of freshman year, moved half way across the country, then moved back to that same high school my senior year. All of my freshman friends were still there but they’d had years of experiences without me, were entirely different people. I knew everyone but I didn’t know anyone.

But the manuscript. Near the end of the portion I have is a scene where the narrator sees a girl he’d never seen before (being a year younger, he hadn’t been at the school when I was there the first time) and everything changes. Harps, angels singing, and so on. It’s not necessarily me he’s writing about, you might say, except this new character and I share a name.

I think now about how scary it must have been to send this to me. Did I really never even read it? Did I read it and really not ever reply? Did I read it and yet really not remember?

Whatever happened, I was awful.

I tried looking him up online and couldn’t find him. Anywhere. It made me really sad to think that maybe he didn’t become a writer (I certainly didn’t find his byline anywhere). He was really good. He should be writing.

The closest I came to finding anything was a piece of “The Office” fan fiction written by someone by the same name in 2006. It was pretty good, so maybe it was him.

I asked a friend from high school if she knew what happened to him. She didn’t. “He was always really weird,” she remembered. Was he though? Did I think he was weird or did I just know that everyone thought he was weird? When you’re 17 is there a difference?

The only moment we ever have is this one. And then it’s gone.

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safe and sound

Childhood memories are rarely indifferent. If we remember something at all, we either truly love it or it fills us with hate, rage, shame, fear, regret.

The childhoods of our memories are hybrids of blurry nostalgia and dark monsters under our beds.

It’s exhausting sometimes. We learn the world piece by piece as we grow up and then the process begins again as we see everything we learned from the outside and realize everything we learned is wrong. And we learn it all again.

Over and over again, we react to what happened and then and not to what’s happening now. We live one foot in today and the other in that hybrid nostalgic/monster world.

I spent the last few weeks in Europe, wandering the streets of Paris, Barcelona, San Sebastián. Espresso in sidewalk cafes, wine on sun-filled terraces, sangria while lying on beach chairs in the sand.

But no food.

When you’re traveling, you’re at the mercy of the local cultural food whims. In Spain, no one serves dinner before 8:30. And then it’s sardines. In France, well, there’s mostly French food. Some organ meats. Snails.

When I got back to the United States, the first thing I did was go to the grocery store so that I could have whatever food I wanted anytime I wanted at all. (It really was almost the first thing, since I was up at 4:30am and didn’t have anything else to do.)

I thought, I can walk down to the beach (in daylight, I mean) and I can pack up chips and salsa and cheese and bread and lemonade and eat them at 6pm if I want. Or 2:30pm. Or 11am.

And then I thought, Oh. Maybe I’m finally relearning food.

Because as an adult, I don’t pack food and bring it with me anywhere. Ever.

I spent too many years with a home-packed lunch when all the other kids had money to buy lunch in the cafeteria, of driving past every restaurant on route 40 on road trips between our house in Oklahoma and my grandparents’ house in California and instead eating stale sandwiches or whatever my mom had packed for the trip.

Bringing your own food means that you can’t afford to do otherwise, that you’re left out from what everyone else is doing, that you’re isolated and different and not good enough and alone.

Only maybe it doesn’t. Maybe bringing your own food can mean that you’re in control and can have whatever you want whenever you want it.

And I know it seems stupid and petty and small. But it doesn’t feel that way to me.

This afternoon, I ran barefoot in the sun along a Malibu beach. And in my head, I kept repeating: you don’t have to run anymore. You don’t have to run anymore.

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wolves and champagne

So I quit my job.

Which is what has led me to this cafe in Paris lined with books, drinking espresso and reading a book about Phish and Insane Clown Posse. And identifying with it.

The author writes:

“Ambition had been the engine that had fueled my career. But my ambition had turned on itself. Ambition respects only itself; it’s never satiated, because satisfaction would defeat its whole purpose… It’s always keen to remind us that the wolf is at the door and everything will fall apart tomorrow unless we push mercilessly in pursuit…”

When the world (at least the world I’ve lived for the last eight years or so) talks about success, they mean scale. How many hundreds of endless conversations have I had about scale: scaling myself, my ideas, my work. These are inevitably followed by discussions of letting go: delegating, not taking on so much, not doing everything myself.

But some things you can’t scale.

And maybe what I’ve realized is that some people want to build something greater than they are, something that reaches beyond what they could touch alone. They want to see something grow. And that ambition is very different from the kind that drives me.

Writers don’t delegate their novels out to a sea of interns. Painters can’t scale their art by bidding out brush strokes on mechanical turk. I don’t want to oversee a big operation, not really.

Maybe it’s a weakness. Others can’t live up to the high expectations I set for myself. I can’t scale me. I can scale what I do, but it’s watered down. It’s adequate. It lets me down. And maybe I should learn to let go of that, say average is OK. But I can’t. I suppose I don’t want to.

But then what?

My answer so far has been to run away. It wasn’t enough to quit my job, I had to leave the country too. All I could think about was escape.

But it wasn’t as brave as all that. Sure, I’m faced with figuring out what to do with the rest of my life, which right now seems impossible. Like I’m standing  on the edge of a cliff and I can see land but there’s this chasm and no way to get across.

But this time I didn’t light a match and let everything burn as I walked away  (maybe I am growing after all). I sold my company. My (previous) staff all still has jobs. I have money in the bank. I’m on the run in luxury hotels with fluffy robes and slippers, room service, and champagne.


And yet I still feel like the wolf is at the door and everything will fall apart tomorrow.

I’m working on that part.

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if not quiet, then peace

The thing about Paris cafes is that they’re noisy. I know they sound romantic and wonderful and presumably all you need to do is walk into a Parisian cafe and order an espresso and you’ll have a complete novel written in an afternoon.

But also they’re really crowded in a way that makes the idea of personal space a fantasy. And everyone has to talk really loud in order to be heard over the table next to them. And sidewalk cafe implies that they’re directly next to the street and Parisians love their extraordinary loud motor scooters.

But OK, at least you can have a chocolate croissant while you sip your espresso. No. Croissants are only available before noon. But you can certainly have chocolate cake.

Paris Cafe

But where else can you linger all day and write or read and drink espresso or rosé and never be bothered at all?


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giant spider alien tidal wave cliff

I try to do too many things at once. I don’t mean I have too many browser tabs open and I answer email while I’m on a conference call, although both of those things are true. I mean that I might think to myself that I want to write a book on one thing and a different book on something else and also I want to create a software product and I want to buy and remodel a house and travel to Paris and start a web site and instead of thinking, yes, I will do all of those things, I think, yes, I must start all of those things right now, all at the same time.

I blame the rapture. Since I grew up in never-ending terror that the world would end at any moment, my childhood was like one of those scenes in an apocalyptic movie where an astroid or alien ship or whatever has just destroyed a city and the world has dropped away and now there’s just a huge gaping cliff instead of the Statue of Liberty and it’s growing larger and larger by the second and then a tidal wave the size of Los Angeles appears and everyone is running for their lives, trying to outpace the ever-growing cliff and wave and giant spider overlords.

Just picture that and replace the tidal wave or overlord spider or what have you with Jesus.

So I have this frantic panic when I do anything, like there’s not enough time, I’m running out of time, WHY CAN’T YOU RUN FASTER?

And that tends to make me try to take on too many things at once.

And because I have to do everything right now, all at once, and it has to be finished, right now, there is no room for delay or inefficiency or wasted time.  There’s just no time to walk behind slow people or wait for the waiter to bring the check.

The fault clearly lies with God.

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