vulnerability

When my memoir came out, I stopped sleeping. Well, I stopped for about a month before it came out, and then luckily it came out sooner than I expected so maybe that shortened the Epic Time of Unsleeping, overall?

It felt endless, so I guess it doesn’t matter how long it actually was.

I was excited about the book, and proud too. I had always wanted to be a writer, to publish a book, to stop lolling around whining about my DREAMS and actually do something about them and I did, I did that. I wrote an entire book and found an agent and sold it to a wonderful publisher and I was so so excited and thrilled and feeling lucky and good.

And all of that excitement, I think, that long road from idea to manuscript to book-in-the-world, obscured that last bit. That the book was going to exist outside my head. It would be something that people could pick up, and read, and have opinions about.

It is probably pretty common, that bone-deep urge to stand over someone who’s reading something you wrote so you can explain to them what everything means and why you said X and what Y means and look how funny that joke is and here is the opinion you should have about it (even if in real life you would actually hand someone your manuscript AND FLEE FOR YOUR LIFE).

With a memoir, it felt like that times ALL OF IT AND EVERYTHING. I don’t have just my writing and my careful selection of just the right word as if it were carefully arranged fruit on a decorative plate. It was my life there. Me. All the mess of me, and the truth of me, and the stupid things I had done and thought and the decisions I made. Just sent out into the world defenseless.

People would pick up the book and inevitably not just have opinions about the writing but ABOUT MY SOUL. Or my reasonable approximation thereof.

What it boils down to: Publishing a memoir makes you feel insanely, madly, horribly, painfully vulnerable. It is a little bit terrifying. It is completely strange. It’s kind of exhilarating. And if you don’t just say, you know what screw this I have no control over what people think let’s just let go and let Goethe, you go crazy.

So I went a little crazy for awhile.

I got better, though.

But this feels very similar, here waiting for my episode of In Deep Shift to happen. It was an amazing experience, strange and wonderful and crazy and enlightening and it changed me completely. That week of filming shook me awake and slapped me around and pushed me back into my life. I gained a tremendous amount of bravery and hope.

I moved forward after years of stagnation, trying to figure out what was next. I moved to Madison, and I found the courage to pitch a YA novel that tackles the bullshit politics of weight and happiness and self esteem and I started to figure out how I could be a writer, all the time full time and it was good.

And Jonas filmed the awkward, halting start of that. Tears and terror and dopeyness and reluctance. He put his hand between my shoulder blades and kept gently propelling me forward. He helped me recognize the incredible support network I had around me; he helped me find faith in the possibility that I could be a support for myself, too.

It’s all on tape, and I feel so incredibly vulnerable and completely exposed and a little scared. Here I am again, laying it all out to be picked over.

But I’m braver now, and a little stronger and a lot smarter and I’m pretty proud of myself for saying yes to the experience and yes to the opportunity to talk about the bullshit fairytale of weight loss and the incredible struggle to find happiness and solidity in your own skin. I wrote the memoir because I wanted to tell people they weren’t alone, tackling body image issues and anxiety and unhappiness and I did this episode for the same reason and I’m scared to be so vulnerable but I think, I think it might be worth it.

I’ve been sleeping okay.

next steps

utah
When I was 17, I fled from Pennsylvania to New York, because there was nothing there for me and I couldn’t imagine having a future in a rural place where the grocery store was a 20 minute drive away. But you know, I say fled, but really I was heading toward college and a life I chose for myself by god.

When I was 26 or thereabouts, I fled to San Francisco because the relationship I was in was toxic, and he wouldn’t let me break up with him. He wouldn’t move out. It sounds so absurd now, so absolutely absurd—what the fuck are you talking about, he wouldn’t? You call the cops if he won’t get the fuck out of your house. You make him leave. But I was scared and I felt trapped, and I had to get out.

But I was also heading for grad school to get my MFA and be the writer I always wanted to be but could never quite manage. I had never finished anything I wrote, ever, not once, until I went to grad school. In grad school, I wrote a book—not a good book, but a whole book, from front to finish. I found friends who are some of the most important people in the world to me. I started heading toward the person I wanted to be, someone independent and smart and creative. I started to believe in myself and it was the most amazing feeling in the world.

When I was thirty four? Something like that. I met a man and I loved him and he loved me and I chose to move to Utah, forward into the possibility of our future etc. and also to a place where I could afford to just be a freelance writer. To see if we could have a life together, and if I could make a living from things I made up. And we did, and I did. It was a really beautiful life, for a really long time and it was good. He and I grew up together in a lot of ways and took care of each other in a lot of ways and it is a sadness that it did not work out. But we have left each other better people, and that is such a good thing.

In Utah I have met some of the most amazing people in the world. In Utah I have found people who know me and love me anyway. Utah has been such a good place for me.

But I am done with Utah. This is the most beautiful place in the country, maybe, and it has been a gift to have the trails at my back door and the mountains shouldering up against the sky and there is so much that is good here, but I can’t stay here any more. It is redder than I can stand for much longer, less diverse. So small in too many ways. There is much that is wonderful here, but it wears on you, it does.

Last year, in the fall, I started to think it was time. Not to flee (maybe it felt a little like fleeing). But I needed mostly to find a place I chose very carefully and very deliberately. To find my chosen home. At first I was ready to go anywhere and everywhere—back to San Francisco, to New York where my mom and brother and his family are. To Portland or Seattle or. I don’t know. Somewhere.

My friend Karen said, wait. Wait, come to Madison. Come be with my family. It ended up on the short list. Because it’s beautiful, and green. Fresh water lakes instead of a fetid sea-monkey broth. Midwestern-kind and polite, but still sophisticated, or sophisticated enough for me. Because I realized every time I went back to SF or NY or Chicago that I was kind of done with big places. Maybe Utah ruined me. Maybe spending so many years in Pennsylvania planted a small-town seed. Something.

I chose Madison for family—so many people I love in a small radius, from right in Madison to Milwaukee and Green Bay and Chicago and Minneapolis. Closer to the east coast. A walkable neighborhood again, oh thank god for I have missed being able to walk to the corner for milk. Colleges I can teach at and a lake I can run along the shore of and put my feet in and a big open horizon. I love the mountains, but I have missed the horizon.

I made the decision to move last year, and to Madison before the year ended, and have always planned to move, maybe by the fall, definitely by the fall. On the burner—maybe a side burner. It depended on work and my house and family. But then, suddenly, everything came together, with work and my house and a place to live exactly where I want to live that accepts dogs and suddenly I was moving in just a month, a few weeks. I’m moving this weekend, to Madison. In the middle of a shower of insane things happening and travel and work and other work and everything that has kept me from sleeping these past six months.

My problem is that usually, I think people can read my mind. Or they know everything that has happened with me and to me and in my life. Or more accurately, they don’t care that much. That is something I have always struggled with, remembering that people want to know these things. I have told some people and not told others and I never remember what and who. And probably I should get better at saying, for instance, oh hey, I’m moving to Madison.

whole-hearted

6698400309_17aee309e9_b
Someone once said to me (someone who really ought to know better): enthusiasm. That’s your best quality. They meant: The way you throw yourself into things. The way you are all-or-nothing. The things you try, they are done and dusted. The people you care about, they know you care about them. The cliffs you fling yourself off, that is some full-fledged epic-style flinging and it is kind of amazing how you have not yet ended up a splash on the boulders far, far below the sane people way up above you, dude. Or words to that effect.

Which is nice, right? That’s nice. But it doesn’t change my argument in response—that it is also a kind of brokenness. That what it actually feels like it means is that the regulator that normal people have is out of whack in me. Gone missing entirely, maybe. Though I suppose if it were missing entirely I really would be a chunky splatter, metaphorically speaking. More so than I usually feel.

So this regulator that I imagine—very steampunky, lots of gears, makes some kind of whistle or clanking noise—I think it’s the thing that lets most people be adults. Make smart decisions. Consider things carefully. Be less dangerously impulsive. Beat down those essentially self-destructive urges.

It is, this imaginary bit of machinery inside me, the thing that ought to have helped me not gain 100 pounds because I was afraid if I didn’t eat all the cake, there would never be cake again. That should have made me carefully consider the fact that there were consequences to eating all the cake. That there were other things to think about beside “not having all the cake.” Instead, what I did was eat with an impulsive and reckless abandon while my regulator clanked and whistled uselessly and disregarded.

Weight loss surgery cuts into that, physically speaking—you can try to circumvent and that works to an extent. But it hurts. And eventually Pavlov is pleased to note that the association of pain with overeating becomes an effective way to curb that reckless consumption. It’s not cured—it’ll never be cured. It becomes contained.

And yet it feels kind of like a whack-a-mole, because other impulses have gone and reared up their ugly heads. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because how many articles have I read about weight loss surgery patients suddenly developing impulse issues? Compulsive spending, gambling, drinking. But that didn’t apply to me because I am not stupid.

And then Ben and I broke up and I bought a bottle of wine and I thought, oh. This is much better, with this bottle of wine in me. I hardly even notice that I’m crying all the time and that is so awesome you guys, who is going to the store for another bottle?

It was okay, though, right, because it wasn’t like I was doing a morning shot to wake up or keeping a flask in my desk or getting drunk at lunch. I wasn’t drunk all the time! So no problem, right? Here’s the problem: when it was there, I drank it. When there was wine, I’d have a glass, and then another. And I’d keep saying yes until it was all gone. Because there was no reason not to. Because if I didn’t drink it, I’d never have alcohol again. It didn’t feel like I was drowning sorrows—but it was nice to not think. It was nice to be cheery.

It felt better than bingeing ever had.

And it helped when I’d panic. In social situations where everyone expects me to be an extrovert, I can do that for you if I’m drinking! Let me give you what you need the only way I think I can. I didn’t think anyone noticed I was anything but totally charming and not tipsy at all—but of course people noticed.

And then those nights when we’d have a bottle of wine in the house, those nights were getting hazy. And then the nights when there wasn’t a bottle of wine in the house, I started to go out and buy one. Or two. And it was becoming a problem—no, it was a problem. It was full speed ahead into reckless abandon, it was a pattern, it was throwing all caution to the wind and saying fuck it, I do what I want. I can drink if I want. I can drink until we run out (echoes of I can eat everything and anything and all the things, and let’s see how fat I get).

God, do I ever learn?

I do. I do learn, eventually. So I got that going for me. And I’ve quit drinking for awhile. Easy-peasy. Except it was hard the first day, and I was mad. And then I thought oh, yes. Yes, that’s why this is a really good idea, if you’re getting mad because you can’t have a glass of wine (and then another or two) with dinner. That’s why this is possibly the best idea you’ve ever had.

It has been fairly simple since that first couple days—see above, re: whole-heartedness. When I do a thing, I do it well. Ladies.

It is frustrating though, to feel so broken. To feel like I have this tiny little flaw in me that can rupture in new and unexpected ways at any time. Like I will be spending the rest of my life being mindful, being vigilant, being afraid that I will find a whole new way to fuck things up and lose control and maybe that’ll be the time I don’t catch it and everything just falls apart. It won’t and it can’t because I won’t let it—I get better every time at beating it back. But that vulnerable feeling never quite fades and the worry never quite dissipates and that’s probably, in the long run, a good thing?

I think, when I’m being not-so-hard on myself, that it’s what makes me who I am. That these moments of weakness have made me incredibly strong. They’ve helped me define who I don’t want to be and who I can’t be and who I refuse to be ever again.

I’ve always been so, so ashamed of my vulnerabilities—and believe me, the fact that it manifested so patently and physically in my size was such a source of self-aware misery. But I’m learning achingly slowly that being vulnerable is no terrible thing. Letting other people know you are vulnerable and flawed won’t leave you alone and lonely, the way you’re terrified it might. Though it has taken me really so ridiculously long to learn that.

And I’ve even figured out that, if you can forgive me for being sincere here for a moment (which is another of my vulnerabilities, the way I come over all unexpectedly sincere sometimes): it’s where our vulnerabilities meet and mesh that helps us understand each other and fall in love—true love, all kinds, not just the romantic—with the most important people in our lives.

And this flaw of mine, this vulnerability of mine. This bright and brash and slightly mad part of me that sometimes erupts? It also manifests in adventure and taking chances and being brave and trying things because it is a sadness, to be afraid. It manifests in loving people hard without being afraid. And wanting their happiness as much as my own and saying the things that matter even when I’m scared. And from that, the good things in my life, so many of them in all arenas, have come. They’ve come from closing my eyes and flinging myself at the things I want, the things I want to experience, the kind of person I want to be.

It is still incredibly, painfully embarrassing sometimes. Both the good side and the bad. But I’m getting better at believing, whole-heartedly, that the truth of who you are, both that good side and that bad side, can’t, shouldn’t, won’t ever be hidden, and is probably loved. Hopefully.

Crombomb and the Lunatic

I’m typing this achingly slowly, just my right hand, because there is a little dog on my lap with his nose wedged into the crook of my left elbow. Every once in awhile he sighs his happy sigh and nuzzles his face in. He has a large vocabulary of sighs, most of them tragic, and so the happy sigh I am particularly susceptible to, and the little nuzzle just about destroys me. But if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you are already fully aware of how crazy I am about my little Crombomb, and how thoroughly I have embraced being That Crazy Dog Person.

He is a pain in the butt but he is also My Little Shining Piece of Light Broken Off the Sun and etc. and yes, the fastest way to my heart is to tell me how ridiculously adorable my little dog is and how awesome his ears are and how smart he is and how he should be elected President of All Dogs in the Universe and get a small crown. If you like my dog, I like you. I have always been suspicious of people who don’t smile at dogs; if you don’t smile at my dog, I know you are the reason evil exists.

My roommate has always wanted a dog. When he moved in, he said, “Can I get a dog too?” and I said “Ha ha ha, you shut up and just pay your rent, clown nozzle.” But for some reason I caved. Okay, for a Crom reason. I hate leaving Crom alone in the house when I’m gone for hours. And I guess I could let Rod fulfill his dream or whatever. So we hit up an adoption event, “just to look.” And we came home with a Lunatic.

She was originally named Courtney, which is a lovely name I’m sure but the wrong name entirely, and I’m not sure I can trust the people at the shelter any more, with that kind of willy-nilly bad judgment going on. I saw Rod’s face light up when he saw her—she looks like a lab mix, with the long nose and floppy ears, and he’s always wanted a lab mix. A dog-looking dog, if you know what I mean. My heart screamed FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE NO, because I’ve lived with labs. I know labs. Labs—they are the coked-up meth heads of the dog world.

They said, “She’s ten months old!” and I ran away and hid. But she was chill. She was so sweet and so friendly. She was so deeply, deeply invested in loving us with all the love she had in her heart. She seemed to really like Crommy, and Crom seemed indifferent in a positive sort of way. So Rod went and filled out the adoption papers and we were calling her Bella for awhile, but then Rod realized that people would find out he was a Twilight fan so we cast around for other ideas.

“Luna!” he screamed up the stairs later that night.

“What?” I screamed back, because we are classy.

“Her name is Luna!” he shouted. And I agreed that it was.

She is ridiculously smart. We taught her how to go through the dog door by holding out a treat to come get. Five minutes later she was jumping back and forth through the door, because clearly that was the path to ALL THE TREATS. (Crom, in the meantime, hates the dog door because it gets in his face and he is a precious princess who doesn’t approve of being touched.)

She is hilarious, eager to please, happy, snuggly, sweet, and a bundle of manic energy that makes me want to lock myself in the bathroom after a few hours of it. She and Crom spend most of their time stealing toys from one another and taking turns playing Chase Me, Chase Me. This morning they spent an hour wrestling on and around me and I threw them out of the house—by which I mean paid nice people to take them hiking for three hours because white people problems. They ran in circles for three hours and I got lots of work done. They came home and jumped on the couch and started wrestling in my lap. It is way less fun than you imagine.


Now they’re both snoring, Luna with her face tucked into the crook of my knee and her arm around her stuffed animal, Crommy with his nose in my elbow, and I am as exhausted as they finally are and I think we are all pretty happy.

travel the world and the seven seas


My brother and his wife are world travelers. They went to Thailand on their honeymoon, have been to Istanbul and Mexico and South America and all over Europe, and Carrie even spent a month in Africa. The two of them, they love to travel, and they have beautiful photos to show when they come back. When I flip through them it’s almost enough to make me wish that I loved to travel too.

In theory, I love to travel. In theory, I would like to see the world. I want to meet people and do things and have adventures and taste foods and marvel at the beauty and the wonder that there is to experience on this big spinning globe we all travel on together through space etc. etc. But I only want to do it if I can stay home. If there were some way to make a day trip to Morocco I’d do it. If I could spend an afternoon in Paris, I’d spend every afternoon in Paris. If I could drop by Tokyo, it would be my favorite lunch-time destination.

It’s not the traveling—I don’t mind the traveling. It is possible I even like the traveling part. I like airports, because I always feel like they’re an excuse to not think about how much things cost because otherwise you’ll have an aneurism and here is twelve dollars for that packet of peanuts. I like planes. There is something very contained and peaceful about a plane ride. There’s something about a plane ride that makes it very easy to focus—on writing or work or reading, and then you order a couple of tiny bottles of wine and a little snack box and you feel like you’ve just splurged and you have because now you can no longer afford to send your imaginary children to college.

I like to land and then go look at things and Experience Life and eat delicious things and enjoy the strangeness of it all, but then I am done. Then I want to go home. Foreign Place is not home. Foreign Place is too far away from home. Foreign Place is not safe. Foreign Place does not have an adequate supply of Diet Pepsi or a change of shoes or my fluffy pillows.

Foreign Place feels like a mistake I can’t fix—it’s too late now. I am stuck. I think it’s that feeling of having no recourse, of having set off without an easy way back, of having to follow through whether or not you want to. There’s no inexpensive, simple way to say “Sorry! Not really feeling very ‘Marrakesh-y’ today. I’ll try again tomorrow!” You are there and you are staying there unless you can afford to pay a steep Stupid Tax to change your tickets and flee.

I definitely don’t like being told I have no other choice. I panic like a little rabbit, and my little rabbit heart thumps to bursting and then it does.

But I’ll move anywhere. I don’t want to visit London—I want to live in London. I don’t want to sightsee in Tuscany, I want to own a villa. I am not interested in vacationing on the beach in Mexico—I want a little cottage by the ocean, with satellite Internet and a hot tub. In my imagination I have settled all over the world—most of the coastal Americas, much of Canada, the majority of Europe, and select places in Asia because I am a little chicken. I would settle down in Istanbul and make a life in Prague and live in three square feet in Tokyo and own a mountain goat in Peru.

There are spots for me all over the world, and I like to think that someday I’ll claim them, but that is unlikely. It’s also unlikely that I’ll ever become a world traveler like my brother and his wife, not while I’m crazy—a state that is also unlikely to change. I don’t like it when my dreams are unlikely.

crommy crom, best of all possible puppies

Sometimes I feel like despite of All The Adversity, I still manage to comport myself as a fairly adult member of society. I’m generally responsible and reasonably with-it. I pay my bills, I floss, I change the sheets weekly, I keep up with the laundry and the dishes. My deadlines are all met and my to-do lists, for the most part, have neat, straight strike-outs marching down the page.

That’s pretty damn good, I think. But then you meet my dog, and you think huh. That is a dog who thinks he is a little person, and can get on the couch with the rest of the people. That is a dog who does what he likes. That is a spoiled rotten little dog. Luckily he is the cutest dog the world has ever seen, or boy oh boy he’d be in trouble.

Those are all true things. He sits, he shakes, he lies down, he will not go through the front door until we say Okay, he stops at every corner until we give him the go ahead, he knows fetch, and give, and drop it, and down and uh-uh, kisses!, get him!, and no. He’s working on roll over.

But Crommy is also allowed on the couch and in the bed. Crommy gives kisses like he’s trying to take your face off. Crommy jumps up. Crommy barks when he is worried. Crommy thinks you should cook him a hamburger. Crommy sounds like a badly oiled door when he does not get his way—he creaks and cries and he suffers. Oh, how he suffers. Oh, how we don’t understand the pain he is enduring, when he does not get what he wants when he wants it, and oh how badly he wants it—we’ll never truly understand. Luckily what he usually wants is love. He wants to be next to me, on me, in my arms, looking into my eyes and expressing all the adoration he has in his heart for me, and for hamburger. For such a small dog, he can carry around a lot of love.

Part of this is my fault—I’ve never owned a dog, until my little bug. It never occurred to me that dogs shouldn’t get certain privileges. It did not even cross my mind that I shouldn’t snuggle him every time he wanted snuggling because I would be engendering in him a feeling that he has rights and by god I am taking those rights away when I do not drop everything to give him what he needs, without which he shall die.

Part of this is not my fault—no, seriously. He never begged—until he spent extended time at grandma and grandpa’s house, the magical land where treats rain from the sky and a sausage is cooked special for the dogs every morning and dogs can jump up and never have to sit before they get a treat or their dinner. He didn’t beg until Eben started working at home and sharing his chicken nuggets, I promise you that.

And I’ve tried very hard to teach him manners, but he is half Boston Terrier, and those suckers are excitable. Seriously. They are all like this, all the Boston Terriers in the world. They jump and run and they creak and whine and are tragically neurotic and there is very little to combat that particular personality trait. Or at least very little I’m willing to do, because yes. He’s not crate trained because the noises of tragedy broke my heart and yes, he sleeps between E and I every night, and also he steals the covers.

And when I meet people with perfectly behaved dogs, or when Crom jumps up or he gets anxious when a stranger comes in and won’t stop barking or he won’t quit mooning around the house like we’ve grounded him or he won’t just settle down, I feel like I’m a bad person who broke her dog.

But he’s also one of the best things that has ever happened to me. There is very little in the world that is like the unconditional love that a dog is willing to provide you. He is so smart, and so loving. He is playful, and silly, and when he bursts across the field in flat-out pursuit of the ball you just threw for him, the joy in every line of his body fills me with that very same happiness. When he is only content when he’s finally curled up against my hip with his chin on my leg, I am content too. He is ridiculous and he makes me laugh every day and I love that little dog more than I love most things. I think I’m probably coming to a place where I am okay with what that says tabout me as a person.

makes you stronger

Min is not actually my dog. No matter how much I loved her the very most more than anything, and no matter how much she loved me greater than pies and ham, she does not actually belong to me, and I do not actually belong to her, except in our hearts. She belongs to E’s brother and now that A has moved to SLC where his job, his school and his fiancee all are, he has taken his dog with him–which means my stewardship is over.

A came and got her Friday night, while I was out. I stumbled home kind of tipsy, was confused when no dog came exploding with joy to see me, limbs akimbo, tongue lolling, stub of a tail beating back and forth in a wild blur. She is supposed to circle around and around me and through my legs and push her face into my knees and cover me with love when I sit down to scratch her butt and then climb on my lap and sigh and put her head down like everything is finally right with the world and she couldn’t imagine anything being any better than it was right there and then, forever.

But the house was quiet, and she was gone and E said, reasonably, You knew he was taking her soon, and I did but I still found myself sitting down right on the floor and bursting into tears, because she is gone, and she wasn’t ever my dog, anyway, and how can anyone possibly take care of her as well as I did and how can anyone possibly make her as happy as I did and how can I ever possibly be as happy with another dog when I had the best dog ever in the history of them?

She wasn’t the best dog. She’s a crazy dog, with a lot of crazy dog problems, neurotic, jealous, possessive, anxious, destructive, aggressive. Crazy. It’s better for her to be an only dog; it’s better for E’s dog and his roommate’s dog to not have a crazy, neurotic, aggressive roommate of their own. It’s good for her owner to take responsibility for her, to be grown-up and adult and meet his obligations to the animal who belongs to him. It’s good for everyone! It doesn’t feel so good.

She is still the best dog. I kept it together for awhile, for a whole day and a half. And then when we visited friends, they said “Boy, I bet everyone’s glad Min is gone,” (because her Crazy is widely known) I almost started crying there and I have been crying on and off ever since. I miss my dog. She’s doing very well–A spends a lot of time with her, he walks her twice a day now, she had a wonderful time at the dog park and made best friends with a poodle, she is learning to deal with her crate and not be on furniture and so happy to have A back and to be loved the most and not have other dogs trying to butt in on her love. But I am feeling very sad, and very sorry for myself, and I miss my dog.

valentine

I can’t keep up with whether it is cool to like Valentine’s Day now because it celebrates the universal spirit of togetherness we must embrace in order to make it through these dark times and to honor our renewed spirit of national hope and optimism, or cool in the spirit of irony and the embracing of dorky things like Care Bears and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, or uncool because it is cliched and commercial and who really needs another pair of edible panties and it is exclusionary of those not in relationships and also cheesy or lame.

My personal stance, my plank in the platform, is that I am very fond of Valentine’s Day. I am a fan of love; I am glad that there is a day that honors love, in all its forms, filial and fornicatory, penetrative and otherwise. I am cheesy, and okay with that, a little (lot) sappy, and okay with that, and I enjoy the people I love and want them to know that they are adored and there’s no need to be okay with that–it is just a true fact.

I don’t need flowers or chocolate (though I enjoy flowers and chocolate) and I don’t require the perfect romantic evening that starts with a candlelight dinner and ends with passionate, gazes-locked, whispered-pledges lovemaking on a bed of velvety rose petals. Though of course I do not judge you if that is how your Valentine’s Day must be conducted otherwise everything is ruined and your sweetheart never really loved you.

Our plans involve garlic and DVDs and for me, anyway, general, overall qualities of happiness and contentment, possibly because of the Oreos but maybe because I am a little cheesy and a little sappy and kind of crazy about this guy I’m seeing. But also I will call my mom, and my brother, and my best friend, and also I will tell you guys–Happy Valentine’s Day! Take my love. TAKE IT. You have no choice, for it is yours. But don’t tell me what you do with it.

photo via chicks57

a year later

It has been, officially and by the numbers, exactly one year since I finished packing up the U-Haul truck that was sitting in the driveway in front of my San Francisco apartment, slammed down the back door, and got on the road to Utah. Packing frantically, hauling all your crap down a long hallway and down a steep driveway and around back of the truck and throwing it up onto the bed and running back inside for more and having arguments about what fits where and how, and why the other person is crazy go-nuts and should just be quiet, that doesn’t leave much time for introspection, for the I am leaving beautiful San Francisco and my beautiful apartment and my friends and my job and everything I know to move to Utah? freakout.

God, when you put it that way it sounds completely insane. Exchanging California for Utah? For Utah? Really, for Utah? All I had ever known of Utah was what everyone else knows–Mormons and conservatism and a vague impression of a state full of backwards unsophisticates who know nothing about culture and hate the gays and also like extreme sports. It is cold in Utah, there are mountains, what the hell am I doing?

Once we were in the truck, and on our way over the mountains and through the pass, our bellies churning with McDonald’s breakfasts and the adrenaline dying down, I found that it was a chant in the back of my head–what the hell, what the hell, what the hell am I doing, am I doing, am I doing? I had had so many good reasons for moving–Utah is cheap, I can live off my freelance salary, I can use all my time to write, and there’s this boy who I love and who loves me back and I think we have a real chance except for the fact that he lives, of all places, in Utah. And if I can move there and see if it works–it being my freelance career, my writing, my relationships–then there are all my happinesses, gathered in one spot. I don’t have to live in Utah forever! What the hell am I doing?

We pulled in after 18 hours of driving, and my apartment wasn’t ready. My landlord was crazy, the snow came down and the apartment was freezing and I had no friends and I was cold all the time, lonely, not writing, barely ever out of my pajamas, never showered. I spent a lot of time under my electric blanket, thinking what the hell have I done? I spent a lot of time wondering why nothing ever worked out for me and wondering what I was going to do, and waiting for everything to get better soon, please, because it had to, because a move of this magnitude had to work out. Narratively speaking, there was no other way for it to end up, because I am not living in a tragedy, by god.

Spring came and the sun and warmth and meeting people. Waking up and feeling better about life. Buying a bike, getting the hell out of the house, finding out that my little town is beautiful. Discovering that Salt Lake City isn’t a cultural wasteland, that I am happy in the work I do and good at it, too, that among the best things that ever happened to me is my relationship with a wonderful man who pushes me and makes demands of me and asks me to make demands of him and who makes me happy. We figure each other out, and start to figure out how to be together, begin to realize how well we really do complement each other. We have fun.

And a year later I look around and I think, you know what? I love this state. I love the wide-shouldered mountains and the huge expanses of sky. I love the people who are kind, the liberals who know that they are swimming in a very red sea and are all the more passionate for that. I love the snow and the wind and the huge, white hills for sledding and the icy-cold nights for curling up with tea. Sprinting across the empty golf course with the dogs at my heels and E behind me, laughing. I love my beautiful apartment which would cost me a million dollars in San Francisco. I love that everything is so cheap it feels like I’m getting away with something when I dry clean a coat. I love the people I am surrounded by, and E’s family who call me family too.

I love my life here. I don’t know when I stopped thinking what the hell am I doing; I’m not sure when I stopped wondering how long my furlough would be and where I’d be going next, and just started enjoying where I was, who I was with, who I am. A year ago I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but a year later I am so glad I did it anyway.

happy birthday to my mom

Today is my beautiful mother’s birthday. She is mumblety years old, and looks about half that, which is sometimes very annoying. She has the kind of perfect pure white hair that you are forced to describe as “snowy,” the kind that you wish you will have when your hair starts to change. It is the kind of beautiful color that makes the idea of ever even considering “hiding the grey” seem like a terrible abomination.

Everyone says my mother and I look so alike, but she’s got blue eyes and cheekbones that make me grumble, because why couldn’t I have gotten them? And her nose, too? She’s got a perfect nose. Instead we share the small mouth and the little knob of a chin, the body shape that runs up and down through the line of women in our family–if you got us all in a row, every woman in our family, you could see, in a casual glance, that we are related. That used to be something that bothered me–you can tell that I’m a part of this insane family! You can tell that she is my mother! But I get older, and my mother gets cooler. Or I get older, and far, far smarter than I used to be, because I am proud that she is my mother.

She is so smart, and she is creative. She is a hell of a writer, and can draw, too. She is so clever with her hands–her crochet is absolutely, terrifyingly precise, each stitch perfect, the perfect gauge, exactly like the one before it and exactly like the one that will come after it. Her handwriting is copperplate to the point where it looks unreal, beautiful, uniform, looping and clear. She is organized, careful with her money, thrifty, smart, and forward-thinking. And mostly importantly, my mother is very tough, and she is very brave–when my father died, we stayed in Pennsylvania and she raised us, little shits both, and she did it alone.

Whenever my mother has left a job, they’ve had to hire two people, sometimes three, to replace her. She is a whirlwind of responsibility and activity, of productivity and encouragement. People go to her for her advice and her support, to be listened to, because my mother is a good listener. People trust my mother, because she is one of the most rock-solid and faithful people you will ever know. If my mother and her huge and beautiful heart is on your side, she will always be on your side, forever and ever amen. You are one of the luckiest people in the world, if she is on your side. My mother has always been on my side, and I have not always appreciated it. I am grateful and thankful that I have figured out how lucky I am. I am grateful and thankful that I have finally reached that point where I am smart enough and old enough to know my mother as a person, to love and appreciate her not for what she’s done for me (so much) or who she is to me (a mother I am lucky to have) but as a good, kind, loving, beautiful person in her own right, on her own terms.

She is hilarious, and silly, and generous. She loves sci-fi and fantasy and to dance. She is a terrible singer, but has never let that stop her from singing. She is outgoing, positive, friendly, a force of nature, someone that people is drawn to. She’s a little nuts and totally dopey and despite the fact that I have, early and often, been a rotten, neglectful daughter, she always forgives me and I get to keep her.

I love you, ma. Thank you. And happy happiest of birthdays.