getting harder

Two and a half weeks ago I turned 43, and it was both wonderful and difficult. Wonderful because I was in the company of my (self-acronymmed) GBF, on a beach in Mexico. Difficult because getting older is, well, getting harder.


I don't even really like to talk about it. Acknowledging it feels like manifesting it. Making it real. Talking to others about how much I hate aging feels like I'm inviting them to see me that way.


"Ugh, I'm old."


"Oh wow, I never noticed, but yeah you really are."


Of course this is incredibly stupid, superficial, short-sighted, and sad. I know that. I know that the programming I received as a little girl, from my sexist and overly sexed father, set me up for a lifetime of wrong-headed ideas about women and beauty. I know that I made things worse by working for years in a job the success of which is predicated on looks.


And I know that at some point I should have taken control and redirected this narrative. I should have learned to anchor my self-worth in other, more permanent places. Oops.


For a very long time I enjoyed the immense pleasure of shocking people with my age. "No way are you 35." "The fuck you are 38, let me see your driver's license." Three years ago at an EDM festival I made a group of kids I was dancing with lose their shit by holding up four fingers of one hand and making a zero with the other.


That doesn't happen anymore. The years have caught up with me, there's no denying it. I'm fit. I'm proud of the shape I'm in. But my age shows in my skin, my hair, my face. I can't wear the things I used to - not for fear of looking age inappropriate, because that's never really bothered me - but because they're just not attractive on me anymore.


And holy fuck, has it been hard to accept.


Cameron and I had a heart-to-heart about it when I was in Mexico. I laid it all out, all my fears and insecurities - many of which come down to my relationship Timo, despite that fact that he has never made me feel anything but desired and desirable.


"I hate it," I told him. "It feels like I'm sliding into invisibility. I think about how young all of Timo's coworkers all, I have these horrible thoughts that maybe he's embarrassed of my age..."


(I should interject here that Timo regularly invites me to social events with his coworkers and his roommates. )


Cameron's advice was not to let go of this self-abusing, pointless bullshit. "Letting go doesn't really work," he said, "because things come back. Then you feel even worse because you feel like you've failed for not being able to let go."


"Just accept that part of yourself, that hates aging," he said. "Just love that part of you anyway."


I'm not really sure how to do that, or if I can. I'd rather just find a way to accept aging itself. Humor seems like a useful tool. And cultivating contentment. Perspective would be useful, too, except that I don't get an awful lot of regular interaction with women my age. Everyone I work with is younger. I don't get too many reminders of what the average 43-year old woman looks like. And I don't have family around to grow old with, as a sort of reality touchstone.


My friend Kerry (who lives in SF, and who I haven't seen since she moved) has a few years on me. She used to marvel, with a mixture of amusement and true amazement, at her own age. "Ellie. I'm going to be 45. What the fuuuuck." I get it now. It's stunning to stop and think how quickly it happens. I don't know what forty-three is "supposed" to feel like, but mentally I don't feel much different than 33, other than I've lost much (but not all) of my need to prove something to the world. (I'm happy! I'm smart! I'm loved! I'm beautiful!)


So anyway, I turned 43. What the fuuuuck.

to be a part of

This past Saturday night, I met my two bosses for drinks at a brewery in the Arts District. This was a totally unremarkable event for them, but a highly significant one for me.

My work life, such as it is, has been a bizarre and staggering trajectory the starts and stops of which add up to so much WTF. None of the things that I have done for money in the past twenty years have anything to do with one another. Dancing? Its own crazy chapter. Editing a wedding website? Uh, okay. Hacking HTML to design blog templates? Cool, I guess. Personal assistant to a deranged millionaire inventor? Sure. Great. Why not. 

There's nothing about any of it that speaks of pursuing meaningful, skills-appropriate work. It was all just shit I either fell into or did for lack of knowing what else to do with myself. But worse than that, none of these jobs afforded me experience in a typical workplace environment - or familiarity with any of a typical workplace's gratifyingly normal elements. Face time with coworkers. Break rooms. Water cooler gossip. Performance evaluations and meetings and HR and conference calls. 

Getting close enough to your colleagues to consider them friends. 

So now here I am, in the very normal and everyday position of growing closer to my higher-ups, but not really knowing how to navigate the waters. Feeling awkward and shy and probably overly grateful to have the hand of friendship extended to me by the same people who hand me my paycheck. It's a good problem to have, I know. 

My two bosses are themselves very close. They run two stores together, clocking lots of long, stressful hours side by side. They are an amazing duo, and even when they occasionally crab about one another, they always have one another's backs. And now, mine. Some of my favorite moments at my job have been the hardest ones, the times when I was utterly exhausted and burned out and frustrated and breaking - and one or both of them dropped whatever they were doing to be there for me. We're talking emergency-group-hugs-in-the-parking-lot type there for me. Slowly I have come to accept this support without feeling shame or a sense of failure. Running a restaurant means drama and stress, and the pressure can push people together or splinter them apart. And little by little they have brought me into their often chaotic world of management. Trusting me with more, confiding in me more, inviting me to have more say in how things should be. There even may or may not be some group texting of questionable professionalism. 

And it has all felt really good to be a part of something with them. 

---

I took a personality test the other day, and it reaffirmed much of what I've learned about myself in this job, in the past year. Namely that I love being a source of support. I love assisting. I love taking things off my boss's plate, and knowing I've just made her day slightly less stressful. But I need my efforts to be acknowledged and appreciated. I'm addicted to praise. Thankfully, luckily, she gets this. I keep her Christmas card to me - the one in which she calls me her rock - where I can see it every day. I live for her delighted surprise when I take the initiative to clean up some aspect of our workplace, whether digitally, logistically, or just physically. 

But the test also said that I don't necessarily want to lead - also true. The "manager" half of my assistant manager title is the hardest for me to get into. I tiptoe around outright telling people what to do. I ask, and I nudge. And in those instances where I have to come down on my coworkers - I hate it. I am deathly afraid of being unliked by anyone.

And it was this very feeling I expressed to my second boss, our head chef, on Saturday night over drinks. 

"It's why I could never manage," I said, gloomily, not really sure if I meant it or not. It was the three of us plus three other couples, everyone two or three rounds in. A decent-sized group of drinkers. But in this moment, my voice was low enough to just bounce around us three in the middle of the table. 

"Yes, you could," he said, looking hard at me. I shook my head, but as the group's conversation picked back up, he said it once more, quietly. "You could."

I only spent about three hours with them, before leaving to go meet Timo. And most of the time we were jumbled up in short-burst conversations with others. But their invitation, a first, felt like a massive and heart-filling milestone. And before I went to bed that night I couldn't resist texting them: 

I'm really high right now, which is when I always get sappy with my friends, and I hope I'm not waking you guys up, but I need you both to know how much you inspire me, how much I've learned from you, and how grateful I was to be let in a little more tonight.

I didn't get a text in response (it was 3am). But when I got to work the next day, I did get a hug. 

mostly probably

the last things

Summoning enough self-discipline to climb back out of the warm bed and take an Advil. I don't drink much these days. Three cocktails could prove disastrous in the morning if I don't take precautionary measures.

Then back to the warm bed, where I make him watch a YouTube video of some insane South African dude introducing a pair of kittens to a couple of (fenced off) tigers. The tigers chuff and pace and yowl, curiously sniffing the kittens through the wire. You have to wonder if deep inside these distant cousins is some ping of recognition. Oh, you're sort of like me. Only much, much stronger. 

Or if the kittens would just be so many snacks. The strong can't be expected to be merciful, just for the sake of the weak. The strong have to eat, too.

The vodka, not content with soaking my liver, decides to poke around the glass menagerie of my emotions. I know better than to open my mouth and say what I'm thinking, but I do it anyway. Fears tumble out, bald and ugly. What are we doing, where are we going, what if, what about, blah blah blah. He catches them, setting them down gently on the ground before they can crash and shatter.

It is what it is. It's mostly wonderful. It's probably okay.

the middle things

A second round of drinks at The Stocking Frame. A pizza. Some pasta. Kenny and Alfie on one side of the high top table, Timo and I on the other. I didn't think he was going to make it. Long, bad day at work, which is far across town anyway. But he made it happen, and when he walked in my back was to him, and Kenny's "There he is!" is so delightfully familiar, so genuinely delighted, that I'm treated to that incredible feeling that happens when you get to be simultaneously in the company of the One You Love and the ones you love, and everyone has come to be happily knit together. I feel spoiled.

It's so good to be with these three men, and despite my own long, bad day, I feel myself glowing with liquor and laughter. Equal parts sharing. Everyone has something to say. My history with these friends easily mapping onto new territory with Timo.

We head to the show, The Fratellis at Belasco. Drinks are on me. Tipsy, I tip heavily. Bartender counts the cash, frowns, asks me if I'm sure. I wave gallantly. I'm so rich tonight.

Upstairs just to show Timo the venue, but when a waitress tries to upsell us on getting a table, we spontaneously accept. We'd wanted one anyway, because we wanted to sit down. We're kind of fucking old. We chat and joke through a forgettable opening act. A mildly illicit Kenny-Ellie memory (gay bar, foam party, shirtless dancing) comes up in conversation and I produce my phone. Oh hell yeah I have photos. Kenny sees that I've actually got an entire album of him. He starts sending himself shots he hasn't seen in six, seven years. When I look at one, check the date, and see that our friendship is in fact that old, my heart does a curious thing. Feels less like it grows than it graduates. Why yes, I have managed to keep this awesome friend in my life that long. Achievement unlocked.

The show is terrible. The arrangements are rushed, the sound tinny. It's no big deal. We're casual fans. We blow the pop stand after a few songs and go for late night Chinese food and the most delicious passionfruit cider in the world. Alfie is a regular here, and they keep the kitchen open late just to accommodate us. Noodles and dumplings, spice and heat and salt. Peking Tavern, still one of my downtown favorites.

the first things

I am in an Uber, on my way to meet my friends and my boyfriend. Hair up, bangs down. Jeans, white sneakers with silver satin shoestrings, and my favorite red lip gloss. Work day behind me. Nothing to be ashamed of, little to be afraid of. Los Angeles leaning into another cold spring night. Stars and stars, oh my stars.

I will never tire of this.




low resistivity: a weird love letter

In the cold, concrete-floored basement, there's a shop table covered with the guts of dissected medical devices. Clipped wires and dials. Metal rods and needle-sized levers. These are the trappings of an electrical engineer. This is my father's office. 

I don't mess with any of it, not that I'd get in trouble if I did. My dad encourages curiosity. The only things I'm forbidden to touch are the bench vise and scalpel blades. "You'll lose a finger," he warns, though about which I'm not sure. He encourages curiosity and questions, which occasionally I produce. I rarely understand his answers, however. I am my father's daughter in many ways, but not in this way. He will explain concepts to me a hundred times and I will never get them. That's okay. I'll get a lot of things one day that he never will. 

Still, I like to be in it - this space. There is a sense of relaxed gravity, and intelligence. I'm only eight years old, I don't yet appreciate the sort of mind required for engineering. But there's something magical in my dad's tinkering, that I know. He brings things to life, often with visible sparks of energy. It's dangerous and delicate work, and requires all his concentration. I have to play quietly, if I'm going to be down here.

Right now I'm playing with a stack of ferrite magnets. Cool and smooth to touch, they are the color of coal and the width of dimes. I pry two from the stack and set them down on the table a few inches apart. Slowly, very slowly, I move one toward the other. The second magnet scoots away, powerless to resist the opposing polarity. Then I flip one magnet and reverse the game, seeing how close I can get the disks before they snap together in attraction. The click they make when they combine is eternally satisfying, and a sound that will stay with me forever.

---

I heard it tonight, in my memory, as the heat ran from your body to mine, and things I never understood made sense for the length of a lightning bolt.

Magnetism is a fact of the world we can neither force nor resist. And conductivity is how easily things pass between you and I, because of how we choose to minimize the space and the obstacles. That's all I need to know, anyway.

break in the blur

Well, I survived my nine day streak, and I have today and tomorrow off. Survived but got sick - and I never get sick. Chronic diseases and disorders, yes. But little colds and the flu? Hardly ever. I have the weirdest immune system.

I don't even think it was the hours. I think it was not bringing a coat to work, and the very cold walk home. Whatever. I'll live.

The real frustration is that my schedule was loaded like that in order to accommodate a new hire - who decided, after all, that she didn't want the job. She found something else. Fine, great, except she didn't tell us until the day she was supposed to start. By then we'd all rearranged everything to devote the time to getting her trained up. By then it was too late to put everyone back to where they normally are. It went by quickly enough, though, a blur of the usual joys and frustrations. I just miss my boyfriend - and my blog.

We may or may not have found someone new since, however. I'm waiting to hear from my boss if it's happening. If so, I'll be on a six day week in order to train her. If not, god knows what. We're stretched pretty thin right now.

Timo has been patient and lovely, and even though we try to switch off visits to one another, he's insisted on coming my way to help me conserve every last bit of time I have. The other night before leaving in the morning, he sat on the edge of the bed next to me where I lay in a daze of exhaustion. He held my face and smoothed my hair and just softly said "Only three more days" and my heart about exploded. We hadn't even been talking about my work or how worn out I felt. He just knew. It was the most loved I've felt in a long time.

I have post ideas bumping around in my head. Some big, some silly, some sentimental. I want to talk about aging. I want to tell you about some of my coworkers, who are funny and fun, and the ways they inspire me. There have been some other things worth writing about. Another loss, and another significant reconnection.

But right now my head is a fog of sleep and sickness and I'm fighting to get something out of this day other than straight recovery. So for now, just - hello.

introspective waterfall

At the end of last month, Cameron floated an idea to me. He was planning on spending the month of June in Puerto Vallarta, and would I want to come down for a few days, if he did? I'd only need a flight, and could crash at his rental. I asked what was in Puerto Vallarta.

"Beaches. Margaritas. A break from Houston."

I said I was in.

He brought up the trip again last week, this time to see whether I'd want to go for my birthday at the end of May.

I said I was in.

He sent a link to the rental he'd been looking at. A modest jungle bungalow. Fountains, sandy walkways, stone-walled jacuzzi, plunge pool. Lots of lounging/drinking/reading/talking areas.

I said let's book this shit already.

And then he got strangely quiet over the next few days, which made me nervous. I didn't know if maybe it wasn't going to work out. I waited until I couldn't wait anymore, and then I nudged him.



I sent that text on my way to Timo's last night - while I was walking to his house from the train station. We had plans to grab a bite somewhere on Sunset or maybe Santa Monica, and hungry, I'd wanted him to come meet me straight away. But he said I needed to come over first. That he had a gift for me.

Well. These two. Can you guess?

These two. My ridiculously awesome boyfriend and my ridiculously awesome GBF (self-termed) had conspired to buy me this trip to Mexico as my birthday present. The flights, the accommodations, and an adventure of my choosing - waterfall hike, animal sanctuary, fancy dinner - whatever I want. That's why Cam had gone dark. They were scheming, and wanted to surprise me with the news.

And do you know how they packaged this gift, these two? Cameron designed a boarding pass jacket, personalized with the details of our trip, a loose itinerary, and a promise of take-to-the-grave fun. He sent the graphic to Timo, who printed it, and wrote up his own message to go alongside. The paper he wrote on is torn from one of his favorite notebooks, with "EXPLORE" printed at the bottom. The gist of the message: I'm so excited for you to have this time with your friend, to have an adventure, and we'll celebrate ourselves in our own way, afterward. 




The boarding pass jacket and the handwritten letter were stuffed, along with a sleeping mask, slippers, ear plugs, and travel toiletries into a cute little travel wallet Timo had laying around from some prior trip.

Ladies and gentlemen, my boyfriend and my GBF. Knocking it out of the fucking park and into the next country.

The website for the rental is in Spanish, and offers the most glorious Google translation ever:

Casa Camellie is created to achieve that necessary plasticity to recover mentally, anatomically and functionally, from the stressors, alienating and demanding current environmental stimuli.

I am on Day 1 of a nine-day streak at work (someone's on vacation + I'm training a new hire = no days off), so the promise of plasticity, even if I don't know what the fuck that means, is sounding really good right about now. It continues:

The objective is to achieve a better functional adaptation to the environment, through contact with nature, spaces designed to achieve gratifying stimuli in a group or individual, such as the relaxation we offer in our SPA areas, the food balance, the outdoor activities, such as hiking, canopy, walks to the beach or the introspective waterfall jumping and climbing obstacles of our Rio El Nogalito.

Introspective waterfall, people. Introspective waterfall. As if for me there'd be any other kind.

leatherpetal

I am *this close* to giving up on having succulents, and it feels like some terrible metaphor for my life.

You'd think that if I could keep a 135 pound dog alive for ten years, a bit of greenery would be easy. Nope. I've spent the past several months just cold murdering potted plants with my tortuously paced ineptitude. I'm sure if they could speak they'd beg me to just get on with it, already. Dump them in the bin or feed them to a cat or whatever dramatic way a houseplant might shuffle off its mortal coil.

It all started with the best of intentions. Not mine--those of my former coworker, Jamie.

At the beginning of this year, Jamie broke up with his boyfriend and needed a place to hide out. Jamie is one of the most delightful people I've ever met. Far too smart for his own good. Better read than almost anyone I studied with--or under. Snarky, self-aware, creative, and a natural born wit. He was one of the best things about my job, for the year we worked together. So I was happy to offer half of a king-sized mattress.

Jamie crashed with me for a couple of nights while he collected the shards of his young life, and we stayed up late swapping tales of romantic woe and family dysfunction. We told stories about our pets that had us laughing to the point of tears. And then, intuiting that we occupy an adequately safe distance from one another emotionally and socially, we held a mutual, judgment-free confessional about our respective addictions. We marveled at how easy it is to fuck up despite having, relatively speaking, everything you need not to. It was great.

And when Jamie decided that his best move was, in fact, back home to the east coast to lick his wounds for a bit, he gave me a very thoughtful present before leaving. He'd noticed what my apartment lacked--life other than my own--and gifted me a lovely little leatherpetal, hardily anchored in a ceramic pot he'd thrown himself. I was touched. I was terrified of killing it. I warned him that my first floor studio gets hardly any sun.

"That's okay," he said. "If you can read by it, it's enough light for a succulent."

"All I read anymore is Twitter. You know that."

He glared at me with affectionate exasperation. "Just put it in your windowsill."

Well I'm sorry, but my windowsills already have tenants: horizontal wooden blinds. And while a normal person would just leave the blinds raised a few inches to accommodate a plant or two, and no big deal, I am not a normal person. I'm too bothered by the asymmetry. Asymmetry will kill me one day, I just know it. I'll be reaching to adjust something off-kilter and I'll trip and break my neck. Here Lies Ellie, my gravestone will read. She Just Fucking Had to Straighten It.

Anyway, I compromised and started leaving the plants, plural (because Jamie's needed a friend, and then another, and then another, and then...) in the windowsill while I was at work. I called it putting them in daylight care, which I found totally hilarious, like all my jokes.

But of course, sunlight is only one factor in the life of green things. Water is the other. And while I was given clear enough instruction by Jamie and Google ("Soak it, let it dry out. Repeat."), that proved too complicated for me, because I could never tell where in the soaking or drying-out stages my little green charges were. Every day before leaving I would stare hard at these ill-fated orphans, waiting for them to give me some sign that today was Watering Day. But they were mum. So I guessed. And I guess I guessed poorly. Because my poor plants are poorly. Poor me.

I am strangely proud of the fact that I snuffed my succulents from too little attention rather than too much. That feels like growth of a sort. I wasn't smothering or clingy for once, with someone something. Instead, when I found them inscrutable and myself powerless to love them how they needed to be loved--I let go.

Which is not to say that I won't eventually start over fresh, with renewed faith and optimism. I can buy a variety pack of twenty--twenty!--live succulents off Amazon for, like, forty bucks. If my kill rate drops to just 90%, that still leaves me with four.

So maybe I can rework the metaphor. Because what else can you do, when you want beautiful things in your life? You give them what you think they need--and you hope they're strong enough to withstand your abuse.

---

So it appears that I owe some of you both a thank you and an apology--a thankology. This morning in an attempt to link my Sephora app (new) to my Sephora card (v. old), I signed into the email I'd used to set up the card ages ago - the same email that I have listed on my about page. And it had been months since I'd signed into that email -- I had no idea I had a virtual stack of unread letters from readers. I am so sorry, and holy shit, am I so grateful. They are beautiful and so thoughtful, and I will answer each one as soon as I can. 

spring thing

In the past couple of weeks, four different people with whom I haven't spoken in a long time have sent me messages. None of them read my blog, so my reemergence here has nothing to do with it. It's just funny timing, I guess.


Three of these people sent the tiniest, friendliest of communiques. I doubt we'll reconnect in any real way, and that's understandable - too much time, too much mileage, too much life has come between us. Still, it's nice to be thought of, and sent these random pings. They feel like warm little waves rippling in from distant shores.


And then tonight, I heard from someone very special to me, whom I have missed terribly. A text that was both an acknowledgement of the space between us and an invitation to close that gap. And that - that was like the sun breaking over the ocean itself. 


And if that sounds dramatic, it is, because the few friends I have mean everything to me. They are the closest thing I have to family. Unfortunately, the great tragedy of my life is that despite loving so fiercely and with the whole of my heart - I am still a master at pushing people away. At failing them, and hurting them. Half the time I don't even have to try. I'm a natural. 


When I got that message tonight my inner monologue was like, Oh. Maybe you are not so horrible after all. Which I know betrays a rather sickly sense of self. But there it is. Maybe you are not so horrible after all, because someone you respect and love misses you.


And so just in time for Spring, here I've got this perfect emotional manifestation of the season. Something delicate that wants to push through, and can, with the right nurturing. Something that already has all the requisite genetic coding, and only needs renewal and rebirth. A very Spring thing indeed.


Just funny timing, I guess.

city cinema

A man and a woman are sitting in a car outside the grocery store, parked within the pool of the store's fluorescent light. Their eyes are closed; her head on his shoulder, his arm around her. They could be at a drive-in movie, or taking in the view on Mulholland - oblivious to anyone or anything else. I only see them for a split second as I'm walking by, and their expressions don't betray whether they are in the throes of bliss or the depths of consolation. Whatever it is, they look for all the world to belong together, and to feel safe in that belonging.

---

From the side entrance of a restaurant, a man emerges, carefully navigating his road bike through the doorway. Over his shoulder I catch a glimpse of the kitchen: just-scrubbed pots, stacked sacks of rice, the mess of day's cooking slowly being cleared away. He lights a cigarette as the restaurant's manager steps outside, carrying a chair. Standing on the chair, the manager reaches up to click off a neon OPEN sign. One click makes the sign pulse. A second click sends ribbons of blue and red racing round the letters. A third click and the sign goes dark. The two men exchange the briefest of words and nods. Then one goes in and one goes on, and I am driven further into never ending cinema of the city.