small kindnesses

The vendors in my neighborhood are awesome, and they blow me away with their small kindnesses and general friendliness. Maybe it's the time of year, but I'm feeling really sentimental and grateful.

There's the crew at Starbucks, who hail me as "Miss Ellie" and get started on my regular drink the moment they see me come in. They ask about my plans for the day, my dog, and even the men in my life, when I see them before and after shift, out on the sidewalk. One of them called me "Hopalong" this summer while my foot was mending, and filled my cup a bit less so it wouldn't spill when I wheeled back out on my scooter. Today, out of the blue, I was gifted a venti Macchiato by the barista who turned me on to the advantages of having my coffee prepared 'upside down'. "My Christmas gift to you," he said.

Next door is the sandwich shop I don't go in much, but whose proprietor, when he does see me, always inquires about Chaucer and invites me to bring him in (I don't, because I know not all diners are as enthusiastic about a drooling mastiff slobbering inches from their lunch). A few days ago as he was ringing me up he said, "I never got a chance to ask how you hurt yourself." I realized he must have noticed me hobbling/rolling to and fro in front of his restaurant for months, and I was touched that he made a point to ask, even though I'm basically a stranger - and an infrequent patron.

The woman who runs the closet-sized takeout place on my block asked after me, too, when I was finally well enough to limp by her again. She speaks hardly any English, and most of our conversations consist of me pointing and her smiling and nodding (and spooning steaming ladles of curry sauce onto a bed of chicken and rice). Nevertheless, she made her solicitousness clear with gestures toward my leg and a concerned facial expression; she wanted to know if I was all better. "Just about!" I replied, with a thumbs up.

Around the corner from her is a printing place I've never once set foot in, and barely glanced at in the almost three years I've lived by it. A couple of months ago, when I was at my absolute most frustrated and depressed, mystified as to why my foot wasn't healed yet, a man with bushy grey hair and a bushier grey mustache stepped outside to where I was struggling with a dog leash, a dog, a pair of crutches, a pile of poop in a tree well that I couldn't reach, and a really bad mood. He asked if he could help me, and the sympathetic look on his face obliterated me: tears started streaming down my face. I thanked him and explained that some days were better than others, and that while it was frustrating, I was surviving. He told me that he'd seen me on my crutches, then the scooter, then back on the crutches, and had felt awful watching me shuffle around for weeks and weeks with obvious trouble. "If you ever need anything," he continued, "I am happy to send one of the guys..." He nodded over his shoulder to the shop. "We can get you food or whatever errands you need, no problem."

Not long after that encounter, I was back to walking unassisted (if with a limp), and when he saw that, he rushed outside to greet me, all smiles and applause and "I am so happy to see this!"

A few days ago I popped into the dry cleaning place to see if they could reattach a dangling cardigan button. "Give me ten minutes," said the cashier who never has to look up my phone number to locate my stuff, and with whom I joke about the stains on my party clothes when I bring them in Monday morning. He matched the unusual thread color perfectly, and returned the cashmere sweater to me folded primly over a hanger and shrouded in plastic. "No, no charge," he smiled, when I asked how much I owed him.

Down the street there's a shoe repair shop where I occasionally take a pair of boots I've beaten the soles off of, or heels that need juuuuust a touch of stretching. The owner/operator chastises me for offroading through the dog park in such nice shoes, and refuses to clean them for me, after mending the heels. "Do it yourself," he says, exasperated, and hands me a ninety-nine cent pre-soaked polish sponge. "If we do it I have to charge you five bucks. It'll take you two minutes, seriously." Once I brought him a boot I'd ordered from Free People that had arrived with a stuck zipper. I was crazy about the boots, which were sold out, and didn't want to give them up. He looked at the zipper then turned the boot over slowly, examining the craftmanship. "How much did you pay for these?" he demanded. I didn't want to answer.

"Why? Are they poorly made or something?" He gave me look.

I sent them back the next day.

---

Instagram is flooded right now with images of holiday cards, which seem to be the metric for tallying social cache. This made me feel like a loser for a few days, since the only ones I've gotten are from my dentist, my real estate agent, and a few non-profits I've supported. I was actually feeling genuinely down about it until Friday, when in the space of an hour three different friends called to see what my holiday plans were and if I was free to get together, making my heart feel all full and fuzzy again, without even having to resort to John Williams.

Yesterday I had a brunch-then-shopping-then-cocktails-then more shopping day with my girlfriend Kerry, and we talked about the holiday card phenomenon. "Yeah, that's the big thing," I explained. "People make cute displays of them and then photograph them to post online or whatever. The more cards you have, the cooler you look." Kerry, who has no social media presence, was fascinated.

"Really?" she asked.

"Really," I said, taking a sip of my one p.m. Negroni.

"Huh," she said, and took a sip of hers.

She's not a big card sender, except to immediate family. And neither am I. I don't really have any family to send them to, and my friends? They know. Even if I haven't spoken to them in a while, they know. And I know. And they know I know. And we're okay with one another's laziness, which we recognize as such, and don't mistake for a lack of care.

But the people in my neighborhood who make my errands, my meals, my caffeine hits and dog walks that much more pleasant - they probably don't know the impressions they've made on me. I don't think greeting cards are quite appropriate (though in some cases tip$ and long-overdue Yelp reviews are), but this week I'm going to stop by, say happy holidays, and patronize their businesses in whatever ways I can, to try and return the small kindnesses they've shown me this year.

vague nostalgia

Yesterday morning while I was cleaning, I tabbed over to the Discover section of Spotify. I do this often, because even though it's overwhelming (impossible, really), I like to make an attempt to stay on top of new music, at least in the genres I like. It's always more fun if, when the festival lineups come out, I recognize some of the names of lesser-known bands. Plus, the Recommended For You suggestions tend to be pretty good. I've discovered tons of great randoms that way.

One of the bands recommended for me yesterday sounded really familiar, so I clicked on it. And a really weird thing happened. I instantly recognized the song I played, because it's a song I love and was obsessed with - along with the rest of the album its on - back in the day.

The thing is, I can't remember when that day was.

In fact, I can't remember anything at all about what was happening in my life, when I was obsessed with this album. And it's usually the opposite, you know? We tend to develop such strong associations with music we love that even if it's been years since we've listened to it, we're instantly transported back to the time and place, the people and events that were significant to us when we had it on loop. Ah yes. Sophomore year of college. Tucson. Cody Linck. Working at Breckenridge Brewery. Living at Oracle Apartments. But for some reason, all I know is that this album was incredibly meaningful to me at the time. I cannot for the life of me remember why, though. I feel like I must have been falling in love, or going through some kind of major emotional change, or something. But despite feeling absolutely bowled over by these songs again, I can't figure out why.

I also have no idea why I stopped listening to them and apparently forgot about them, for years. It's like being reunited with a boyfriend you were crazy about and being unable to remember why you ever broke up in the first place. We were so good together. What the hell happened?? 

The album is Our Ill Wills, and the band is Shout Out Louds. The track that grabbed me and yanked me so hard back into a vague nostalgia that I can't grasp the details of is South America. The other song I can remember listening to over and over and over is Impossible. I've been listening to these and the rest of the album for the past twenty-four hours, and my head is just spinning. I want so badly to know who I was and what I was going through, when I was loving it the first time around. My instincts are telling me it was something I needed to bury. My instincts are telling me to leave it alone. I mean, assuming I was listening to the album when it first came out (2007), I can reconstruct some of the details of my life at the time. I know who I was hanging out with that year, and generally how I was spending my time. But nothing is triggered, when I think of those things. Nothing to tie them to this music, anyway.

It is just the oddest thing.

Anyway, I'm glad I rediscovered the band, even if I'm a little bit spooked by the mystery.

learned this year: vulnerability

When you're willing to own the worst things about yourself, the criticism of others starts to lose its stinging power. It's as if someone were to pinch you on a callous. Yeah, no, go ahead. I've pinched it so much myself, it's gotten pretty numb. Be my guest, though. Maybe you need to for some reason?

But first you've got to be willing to face yourself down, in the darkest alley of your mind, and see your faults straight on. That's hardly fun. And worse: it isn't even necessarily productive, unless you plan on doing something about them.

A friend once asked me about vulnerability, as it relates to blogging. "How do you do it?" she wondered. "I wouldn't want to give that kind of fuel to my enemies." This was a conversation some six years ago, and it's stuck in my head as I've grown increasingly vulnerable in my online presence. I've written openly about depression, suicidal ideation, taking off my clothes for money, and drug use. I've revealed myself to be vain, lazy, self-indulgent, judgmental, immature, passive aggressive, hypocritical, ignorant, and materialistic. At least, I hope I have. Because those are all flaws in my character that I'm well aware of, and happy to cop to. Because I know I'm working on them. Because no one is perfect. And because I want to be the kind of imperfect person that others feel they can relate to, in this space and in real life.

Being vulnerable and admitting the worst things about myself doesn't change those bad things. They're there no matter if I say them out loud or keep them to myself. And they only have as much power in the hands of others as I allow them to. When I accept myself, the acceptance of others becomes less important. It's still nice of course (I'm only human) - but it isn't a prerequisite for my happiness.

Right now I know what my priorities are. I know what fulfills me and what makes me happy, and thus where I want to focus my attention and time. I know what areas of my life need work, too. When critics wag their finger at me, I understand, I really do. Given the same set of opportunities, the same talents and advantages, chances are each one of us would do something different. Each one of us prioritizes things differently: relationships, career, family, friends, health, etc. And that's a good thing, because life would be really fucking boring if we all walked the same path.

My path is mine alone to stumble down. Not everyone will understand my journey, and that's okay. It's my journey to make sense of, not theirs. Being public with my choices will always open me up to criticism, to side-eye and judgment for them. But I've learned this year that turning my palms up and saying Yep, you got my number, with genuine humility, makes it easier to pull the slings and arrows out of my back, so I can get back on my path, and hopefully be a little bit further down it when the next batch hits.

Vulnerability on its own is a liability. But vulnerability coupled with self-awareness feels like pretty fertile ground for personal growth.

small steps

A while back, inspired by the ever amazing Allie Brosh, I made this to cheer up a sick friend (I left off the accompanying in-jokey captions):

 ---

Currently looping, in between Christmas music:

Annette Funicello - Pineapple Princess 
The Lemonheads - My Drug Buddy
DWNTWN - Stood Me Up
Air Review - Animal
Release The Sunbird - I Will Walk
The Spring Standards - Only Skin
Young Galaxy - Hard To Tell
Princeton - Andre
Wildlife Control - Brooklyn
A.C. Newman - I'm Not Talking
Races - All For You

---

I rearranged my furniture, which is always very exciting. There are only so many ways stuff can go in 630 square feet, so it's fun to happen upon a layout that actually works or even improves upon the former one. This one's better since it gets my speakers away from that back shared wall. Chaucer seems to like it more, too. He's hanging out on his bed more, and asking to get up on mine less. Maybe he was chilly under the window, or just prefers to be on guard next to the door.





Finally hung some new stuff I'd had framed for my gallery wall:



An actual living room! (Sort of.)



Not sure if you can tell, but I hung over-door coat racks on the insides of my closet doors, and use those to hook the belt loops of all my jeans and pants over. Works awesome.

Hooks everywhere. Hooks for days. Hooks make it possible.


---

January is shaping up to be Month of Education. I'm taking a bunch of classes to both build on skills I already have and bring myself up to speed on basic workplace software that I have pretty much zero familiarity with. Back to school for Ellie.

Small steps every day, right?

---

We took Chaucer to the bar the other night. He excused himself to use the restroom, and when he got back, he had a little something stuck to his paw. So embarrassing.


We absolutely did not take video of it, either.

whiskey vs. tea

Our experience of art is always colored by the things that make us who we are. Our preferences and prejudices, our fears and values, our desires and dislikes, even our beliefs about ourselves - we bring all of that to the table when we read a book, or look at a painting, or listen to a song. We are moved or offended or amused or frightened according to this complex and ever evolving prepackage of perception.

I think that reading blogs is no different. If, when I find myself impassioned (positively or negatively) after reading a post, I take a moment to consider why I have so many feels about it - it usually has at least something to do with me. I hate to see the intimate family moments of children essentially sold on mommy blogs...but maybe because not so deep down I realize I'm being similarly exploitive with my loved ones, and by displacing my disgust, I'm avoiding having to own up to that? Then there are the bloggers whose values run so counter to my own - whose personalities so repel me - that no matter what they say or do, I will always find fault with them. On the other hand, there are bloggers who I know next to nothing about, but by virtue of some shared experience (say, depression), I will root for unconditionally...until they disappoint me, that is - and then I'll have probably some feels about that, too.

I've also noticed that when someone with whom I personally identify experiences a major life change (move, new job, marriage, baby), the ways in which I relate to them change - and sometimes weaken - and therefore affect how I perceive them. This is true for both people I know in real life, and those I follow online. (I think that's why reading novels is so exciting to me; I'm taken on an adventure with only the hope that where we end up is someplace that both the protagonist and I are satisfied with.)

The best I can do, in this space, is be authentically me while I explore my own ideas about the world and experiment with creative ways to convey those ideas; while I share the experiences that make up my days, months, and years. This blog is an intellectual playground and an occasional self therapy session - nothing more. It isn't a score card of my life's wins and losses. It's not a reflection of my worth as a person. It's a place where some of the details of my life, and some of my thoughts about that life, are shared. And I have to remember that everyone reading along will come to my words preloaded with their own ideas about the world.

The lens through which I am viewed is, as of today, 364 posts long. I've had 364 posts with which to make myself understood and liked and respected so far. Based on the feedback I've gotten, I'm mostly happy with the job I've done. I think most of the critical feedback has been fair, even when it's been tough. But that's why I love blogging so much; I have the power to keep developing the picture of my life, in whatever ways I choose. That's the challenge I thrive on: Can you keep sharing your life in a way that's compelling and fun to follow along with? And more importantly: Can you keep growing as a person, so that the things you have to write about are more interesting, useful, and relatable?

I hope so. I want that. But I also saw a quote today that really struck me for some reason. "I'd rather be someone's shot of whiskey than everyone's cup of tea."

Maybe I'm whiskey, or maybe I'm tea, or maybe I'm one with a chaser of the other. I don't know. But I do know if I could, I'd throw a huge party and invite every single of one you to come and enjoy an open bar stocked with both (and plenty of other libations), so I could at least say thanks for caring long enough to decide whether I'm the drink for you.

Cheers.

You are not quinoa.

Mushrooms tonight. Just the littlest bit. Wasn't the plan. Didn't intend to. But it was dinner with his dad, who, despite having been nothing but absolutely lovely to me in our limited interactions - is still his dad. And I wanted to be my best. Relaxed, confident, engaging and clever. Interesting things to say. Listening well, asking smart questions. On point with my French. Basically, some version of myself that only exists in my imagination. And the fastest way to her is through what's contained in the little grey vase pushed to the back of my highest kitchen cabinet.

So a cap and a stem, as I was getting ready. Short pleated cotton skirt, loose turtleneck, dilapidated combat boots, marled hiking socks, long wool overcoat with slightly puffed sleeves. Strongly considered a beret. Actually dug one out and put it on. Regarded self critically. No. God, no. Yanked it off, tossed it onto the couch. Paused. Stuffed it back into the drawer from whence it came. Hide the evidence of that near disaster.

I didn't say I'd done anything, but he told me later I gave myself away, anyway. "How?" I asked, intrigued to think I have a drug tell. 

"The way you were oohing and ahhing at those Christmas lights, when we parked." I nodded. Guilty. Could have happily watched them for an hour. "Also, how open minded you were about getting vegan for dinner." I had to laugh. Yep. "I knew you were shrooming. I knew it." He shook his head. "Think I can't tell when my girlfriend is high? Come on."

But before this conversation, which takes place later, back at home and after the reconnect: dinner. Tiny place in Silver Lake, super crunchy hipster server, patrons. The menu makes liberal use of quotation marks, to emphasize (warn?) that items will not be what they seem. "Cheese". "Roast beef". "Bacon". The shrooms and I find this extremely amusing, but I'm scared of coming across condescending or critical so I try to reign it in. The man sitting beside me, whom I adore, really likes this place. I'm going to make an effort, goddamnit. 

It's easy to speak with his father, who is down to earth and funny, and will happily chat about himself, his work, or just random trivia - and who will kindly spare his son's girlfriend from having to talk about herself (which, as she suspects he quite empathetically picked up on the first time he met her, she prefers not to do). He tells us about the photosynthetic properties of olive trees, and mentions that a meteorite will be passing through Earth's atmosphere tonight. He explains the (very different) French meanings of some English words, when they confuse me. Panache. Elan. His third child and I listen with genuine interest, holding hands under the table. He's a born storyteller and utterly non-threatening, and I think to myself: he's my favorite of the dads, by far. And while I briefly wonder if I should say this later, I don't, knowing that a compliment like that, while well-intentioned, has the unfortunate side effect of ushering in the Ghosts of Boyfriends past. And while they never stay long, they can chill the room quite effectively when they choose to. I'm comfortable enough to throw in as much French as I can, glad of the little I do know, which feels like points scored, though I know it really isn't like that. I know I am genuinely liked. I can tell by the smiles and laughter - and the Thanksgiving card I received a few weeks prior. 

The food poses a problem, despite my having ordered the simplest things I could: white bean soup and a hummus platter. Before entrees arrive, we're served bread that as best I can tell is completely unseasoned and well on its way to a second life as croutons. It's accompanied by something called cashew cheese. I'm trying, I'm really fucking trying, but the shrooms are more than ready to steer me to a dark place, quick, and the phrase "cashew cheese" is all they needed to hear. Done. I'm done. Appetite gone. I glance around the restaurant like a caged animal, relaxed for the moment but growing wary and keen to have an escape route if necessary. I have an ungenerous thought. If vegan food is so amazing and healthy, why do all these people look vaguely sick and miserable? I make a mental note in Sharpie and run it over with several shades of highlighter to NOT share that thought later, no matter how high I get.

I can't eat my dinner, but I pick at it the best I can. The soup is harmless but bland. The hummus is awful until I realize it isn't hummus, it's quinoa, because the server has gotten my order wrong. No matter, I'm fully nauseous at this point. Fucking shrooms. Too many? Stale? On too empty a stomach? No idea. He notices me not eating and while he helpfully offers tastes of his, to fetch the waiter, etc., I can feel his disappointment. Or maybe I'm imagining it. Maybe I'm disappointed in myself. Maybe I'm feeling inadequate, for reasons I won't understand until several hours later. And had I articulated them to myself at dinner, had I been able to, this is what I would have heard: I'm an outsider, here, right now. Outside this family, this father-son relationship. I hope I'm worthy, in his eyes. Whose eyes? Exactly, Ellie. Whose. Outside this scene, this whole vegan thing, which, really is all part of a side of him I feel what - what do you feel? Intimidated by? Jealous of? What is it? Yes, maybe, a little of both? I'm not vegan or new agey. I hate tofu. I've never meditated once in my life, much less twice a day for ten years. I've never even done yoga, for Christ's sake. So? So what? So what if that's what he wants? What if that's the kind of girl he needs? You are a Midwestern-Southwestern suburban transplant LA wanna-be cool city chick who has no direction and has made a habit of scoffing, HARD, at some of the things he believes about the universe. So what the fuck, Ellie? Why are you sitting here? You are not vegan. You are not quinoa. You are white sugar and gluten. Are you sure you're what he wants?

Of course, none of that had helpfully presented itself yet. But I got through the moment, and the dinner.

---

Back at my place, the reconnect. The space where everything else drops away, no matter what tensions or misfires there've been. We are equals. Barely in the door. Deep in my eyes, always, fearlessly gazing, holding my face, the back of my neck. Breath gone. He knows exactly how. Thumbs in the waistband, below my skirt. No, wait. Not until the last possible second, I whisper. Something about keeping them on, so hot to me. Don't know why. Just is.

He whispers back. But what if this is the last possible second? Hmm? Turns me where I stand. Over the desk. Mouth against my ear. What if this is the last...possible...second...

---

I confess it all, after. The shrooms. The insecurity, the distance I felt at dinner. Though I don't explain the depth of it. I'm ashamed, self-conscious, I don't know. I want to be exactly what he wants. I'm scared of not being good enough. But, as always, he blasts it all away. Reflective listening. His empathy, like nothing I've ever known, from anyone. We are the same person. Everything you just said is how I feel sometimes, with you. I have all the same fears. But what's the very worst that could happen? Think about what the absolute worst thing could be. Work through it. What is it?

That you'd realize I bore you. That I have nothing to offer you. That you'd end it.

Well, I get afraid of the exact same thing with you. And hearing you even say that right now is helping me resolve my issue, making me feel better, because we are so similar and I go through the same thing. There are lots of things you like that I don't. And vice versa. It doesn't matter to me that you experience things the same way that I do. What matters to me is that we're on the adventure together.

I talk. He listens, ask questions. Unfold it, see all the wrinkles, get to the heart of it, take its power away, and be done with it. I can see he's exhausted. It's late. Keep talking. I'm listening. If it helps, keep talking. He sinks further into the pillows - but he doesn't miss a word I say.

Eventually, he falls asleep exactly where he's laying, his arm crooked behind his neck, above the covers and partly dressed. I watch him for a few minutes, delighted by the way he so quickly and easily drops into slumber, like a child up way past bedtime. 

But I don't watch for long. Chaucer needs a walk, and I should sleep, too. 

henceforth

Beloved Family Pet Toppled in Newborn Power Grab

BROOKLYN, NY -- Area couple Thom and Joy Oswald disclosed today their intention to transfer all affection and attention previously enjoyed by their eight year old terrier mix Fitz to a seven pound, four ounce human newborn with whom they share a measure of deoxyribonucleic acid. Effective immediately, sources say Fitz's cuddling privileges and fetch sessions have been suspended indefinitely, while daughter Berkeley will be showered twenty-four hours a day with kisses and tummy tickles.

"I mean, he can't complain. He's had a good run," stated Thom, who until Berkeley's arrival at St. Joseph General at 8:34 a.m. on December 7, where she obtained an Apgar score of 9 and delighted the nursing staff with her itty bitty fingers and toes, used to walk Fitz twice daily without fail. "I'm sure he understands. This is just how it goes."

Citing her infant child's complete and utter helplessness as the primary factor in the decision to henceforth all but ignore a once-treasured pet, Joy relocated Fitz's bed, bowls, and toys from the kitchen to the laundry room. "The high chair has to go somewhere," she explained. "And I don't need him underfoot when I'm cooing at Berkeley the way I used to coo at him."

Officials say Fitz plans to live out his emotional banishment curled up beside an empty water dish, dreaming of frisbee with Thom, and patiently waiting for his new sister to learn compassion. 

the week in stupid GIFS

Two for you, one for me? That fair? I feel like I delivered on the meaty.



TL: Have you guys heard about the FaceTune app?? Shit is the bomb for the late thirties selfie-taker.
TR: "I like cruisers," he said, when we walked into the sporting goods store. Then he proved it.
CL: Attempting to take a cute pic of us by the tree, I apparently switched my self-timer app to voice activated?? Technical difficulties...but check out that Charlie Brown tree! The presents are all for Chaucer, obvs.
CR: Not flattering. Fuck it.
BL: He was really shoving that thing in there.
BR: (Sober.)

White Wine in the Sun

One of my favorite holiday songs. It's long, but trust - the ending will slay you, if you have kids.
 

Pinkman

Would you like to hear about my drug dealer, Pinkman? I'm going to assume that's a yes, not as some credit to my narrative ability, but because hello. Drugs. Pinkman.

The first thing you need to know about Pinkman is that his name isn't Pinkman. His name is Kenny. Incidentally, his predecessor, the guy who passed me along to Pinkman when he retired (his word), was also named Kenny. When I found out I was being handed off to a new Kenny, I started to wonder if maybe every drug dealer in Los Angeles goes by the name Kenny, as some sort of easy, anonymous code nom de guerre. Actually, I haven't stopped wondering that. So if anyone can confirm or deny, let me know.

Anyway, Kenny became Pinkman as soon as I was finished watching Breaking Bad a couple of months ago. I grabbed my phone and changed his contact name within minutes of the finale ending. (I don't kid myself that I am the only person in America amused by calling her dealer Pinkman. I enjoy it nevertheless.)

I met Pinkman when he delivered four grams of MDMA to me, at my home. I know what you're thinking. Four grams? At your home? Or, if you're not familiar with the dosage and selling of drugs, maybe you have no idea how much four grams is (it's quite a lot). Still, I'm guessing you're wondering at the weirdness of a drug dealer who does house calls.

Yeah, that part is unusual. But I had a broken foot. And I had been asked to procure the Molly as a favor for a friend going to a festival. (He planned on sharing it with several others.)

Pinkman, who was only persuaded to make the trek downtown by virtue of my large order, showed up at my door with a backpack, a boyish grin, and a shock of blonde hair that hung sweetly down the side of his face. I don't know what I'd been expecting, but it certainly wasn't the near-teenager that strode casually into my loft, dropped his bag unceremoniously to the floor, and started playing with Chaucer as if they'd known one another for years.

I didn't know whether to hand him the four hundred dollars we'd agreed upon or pour him a glass of Sunny Delight. And I was suddenly keenly, painfully aware of my age.

Pinkman (then still Kenny) eventually got down to business, but only after complimenting my apartment ("Your place is sick!") and inquiring rather solicitously about my injury. Reaching into his backpack, he asked if I had a coin.

"A coin?" I echoed dumbly.

"Yeah, like a nickel or something. To calibrate the scale." He set a small electronic scale on my kitchen island, along with a plastic baggie filled with what looked like glittering, pale lavender sand. I fished a nickel out of the dish on my sideboard and watched him expertly measure, chatting to me all the while. We compared notes on festivals, on DJs and venues in LA, and on drug use.

"You tried Lucy yet?" (He glanced up at me when he asked this.)

"No," I said, excitedly. "But I've always wanted to! Can you get it?" (I was assured he could. I was further assured that if I liked mushrooms, I would love LSD.)

The ease with which this youth was handling both himself and the very adult subject matter, combined with my own physical discomfort (I was still on crutches), made me strangely nervous. I didn't quite know what to do with myself, so in an attempt to seem equally comfortable, I hoisted myself onto the island, to sit beside the scale he was now hunched over. I felt immediately ridiculous, like I was trying to cozy up to the cute boy in chemistry class. I slid back off the counter and hobbled around to the sofa. Chaucer stayed put, riveted by Pinkman, staring up at him in hopes of another round of tug-o-war.

Our exchange concluded, Pinkman left as quickly as he'd come in, leaving my apartment feeling slightly buzzy in the way that rooms do when emptied of loud teenagers. I'd find out later he's twenty-four.

An hour or so after he'd gone, Pinkman texted to say that he hoped my foot was better soon. When I thanked him, he replied No prob. You're a doll compared to my usual customers lol. I cringed, knowing he meant it as a compliment but inferring that he perceived my politeness as a function of my age. At a loss how to respond, I finally went with Aww, well you're way cooler and nicer than anyone else I've bought from. :). I was afraid that outright referring to him as the nicest "dealer" I'd met would be in some way crass or unkind. He was, after all, also a musician. I didn't want to hurt the kid's feelings.

Lol good. You're super rad as well. Til next time adios and tell the dog goodnight? The question mark did me in - or maybe it was "super rad" - and I couldn't help myself; I sent back a favorite photo of Chaucer, a dSLR shot I'd taken and edited a couple years prior. Pinkman didn't respond. Again, inexplicably, I felt like an awkward high schooler. I chastised myself for sending the pic unsolicited.

I'd hear from him again soon, though.

soul searching

I've been doing some soul searching lately, and it was a relief to confirm that no, I still do not appear to possess one (because woo boy would I be in for some cognitive dissonance then, eh?).

But I did make some discoveries about myself that I hope will be of some use, because I'm staring down a pretty massive fork in the road. I've actually been camped out at this intersection for quite a while, hoping that one or another of the paths in front of me would suddenly light up with a neon sign saying This way, Ellie!

Alas, this hasn't happened.

Here's the deal: I want - I need - to get a full time job. And I'd like to stop right there and say how terrified I am to write this post, because I know what the world thinks of bloggers who don't work. But let me tell you that there is no criticism of me, in that regard, that you can levy on me that I don't levy on myself on a near-daily basis. I've been through some shit, but there isn't a single good enough excuse as to why I haven't already gone back to work, full time. It's on me. It's all on me. And I know how exceptionally lucky, rare, and privileged a position I am in.

So here I am, bundled up in my little one-person tent, watching all the normal people of the world march past, confidently (or not so) continuing down their own career paths, doing what they need to do - you know, like normal people. And I lie to myself. And I berate myself. And I make promises to myself. But I don't take any kind of constructive action, because I am absolutely frozen in the face of deciding what I want to do for the rest of my life. Whee!

I do know some things. I know that I haven't really enjoyed any of my attempts to turn my hobbies into full time, paid work. The blog design shop I started back in 2008 was fun for a while...until it was miserable. The freelance writing I've done under the direction of others has been painful, too; even when I produce good content, it feels inorganic and inauthentic to me. Occasionally someone, over the years, has offered to pay me for (of all things) photography, I guess based on some decent stuff I've lucked into here and there. And I resist that, too. (I resist all of it, in fact, so much so, that I've barely touched the portfolio website I started working on last year. Ridiculous.)

And the worst part is that when I do engage in employer/client-directed artistic work, I almost instantly hate - or at least tire of - the thing I once loved: writing, design, photography. And once I strip myself of the ability to enjoy the things I'm passionate about, what then? It makes me think that maybe I'm better suited to work that, while allowing for some creativity/problem solving (which was the thing I loved most about the tiny bit of web coding I did), isn't wholly creative, per se.

My mother spent most of her life working for various airlines. Great benefits, steady, predictable schedule (at least until 9/11). And she loved it. And she was an extremely creative woman. But she also thrived - as I have in the past - on the sort of work she could leave at the office, at the end of the day. I feel like that's what I want, too. I'm constantly consumed by creative energy, whether or not I release it. I'm always thinking of things I want to write or draw or photograph. It's fucking exhausting, honestly. And I think it would be really good for me to not feel compelled to be always "bringing my work home" with me. I want to leave a job, come home, and be able to fully devote my attention to Chaucer, to my partner, to my home, and to my other interests, as time and energy allow. I want to still love those interests, at the end of the day.

Considering my background and skills, the kinds of writing or editing jobs I'd be suited for also repel me, when I read their descriptions of requirements and responsibilities. It all sounds awful. And that's a scary and depressing thing to say, considering that those are the careers I "trained" for, as an English major. But the limited experience I've had in editing wasn't enjoyable. I didn't like reading and correcting others' work. I found it tedious.

I'm also thinking a lot about the kind of workplace environment I'd enjoy. I don't do well on my own. I get lonely and distracted much too quickly. But nor do I want to be a widget in a huge corporation. My dream job would allow me to work with a small group or team of others, doing similar work, with similar responsibilities. I don't want to be a lackey. But I don't want to be a boss (which I was waaay back in college, when I managed a coffee shop), either. I don't like delegating, supervising, or reprimanding. I actually like answering to a boss, and the simple satisfaction of doing what he or she needs of me. That probably comes from the fulfillment I found in college, in the teacher-student relationship.

Then sometimes I think about how drawn I am to the idea of doing physical work. I envy people who are out and about all day, moving around, getting exercise, not chained to a desk or screen. But I think the ship has sailed on the majority of careers in which that would be a possibility for me. I also deeply envy those who have some specialized physical skill or trade, something they've developed expertise in, over years. But when I try to think of what, among those options, I'd be good at and enjoy, I come up blank - which makes me feel rather pathetic. The other day I mused to LeBoyf that a good exercise for thinking long-term about one's professional career would be to imagine what, if one was going to give a TED talk, one would want to speak about.

But I don't know the answer to that, either.

I'm looking at my friends, and the sort of work they do - at the things they complain about, or the things they enjoy. And the fact is that nearly everyone I know is at best satisfied with their career choice. Most are just ambivalent. Many are miserable. And this breaks down the same no matter if they trained for ten years for their line of work, or fell into it accidentally. The happiness people (at least, those I know well) find in life seems to be drawn from a variety of sources, including relationships and non-work passions. So the question becomes, what sort of work can I do that will allow me to maintain and sustain the sources of the happiness I already enjoy? I'm thinking a lot about lifestyle, about the one I have now (what I like about it and what I don't), and about what I want my life to look like in five, ten, fifteen years. What's important to me. What I can do without.

Last week I enrolled myself in some basic software classes. Truly remedial stuff, I'm embarrassed to say. But while I've been blissfully banging away on one or another MacBook for the past ten years, technology has marched right past my skill set. I haven't laid eyes on a Microsoft program in ages. For me to even be considered for 99% of the jobs of the world, I have some serious catching up to do. So while it shames me to admit to being so, so far behind the crowd, I am taking action, finally.

And I'm still thinking and thinking and thinking some more about my options, my dreams, my realities, and my possibilities. The soul searching will continue. (I'm sure I'll keep coming up empty-handed, but I'll let you know.)

oversized air freshener

I put up an Instagram post derived from the vid below, but I wanted to redo it slower and sync the music differently so I could send the whole glorious 36 seconds to LeBoyf. It was super easy to make, using the VideoPix app (to slow it down, in this case to 15 frames/second, though the IG one is 18 fps) and the InstaVideo app (to add music, in this case The Christmas Song by The Raveonettes). Then I uploaded it straight to YouTube from my phone.
 

We (obviously) got a tree last night, an anemic little thing that looked more like an oversized air freshener sitting in the car than an actual holiday decoration BUT IT IS OURS and we carefully hung a handful of very lightweight ornaments on it (which will probably be smashed by Chaucer's tail anyway) while listening to records. Then we went for Thai food and came home and watched The Ricky Gervais Show projected on the wall above a happy (if hungry) looking tree, and it was good.

Hope everyone is having a great holiday season so far, being cozy and content, and eating the hell out of some carbs. I've got the next coupla nights to myself so I'm planning on putting up some meaty posts, because I know I have been weaksauce lately.

your glass box

Your glass box is beautiful; I can't deny that. You built it with care, with trust for strangers you'd yet to meet. Still haven't.

Never will.

Through it I see your need, the vulnerability that you wear like a second skin, so comfortable and smooth. Was it always so?

They come and press their hands against it, leaving fingerprints - smudges of an imagined caress.

That part makes me sad. So much, given away so freely. Your deepest and darkest, offered up to the undeserving and greedy and careless.

But I understand the exchange, and the shallow satiation. I don't begrudge you.

Your glass box is beautiful. I see exactly who you are inside it.

thoughts on Kelle Hampton

I've been thinking lately about the whole Kelle Hampton thing. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky and just skip this post. But if you must know, here's a quick summary: she's a mommy blogger (three young children of her own, one of whom has Down Syndrome, plus two teenaged stepsons) who is the subject of discussion ad nauseum on GOMI. She shot to internet fame when she published a post about the surprise, postnatal Ds diagnosis of her daughter Nella, subsequently wrote a book about it, and has since built a huge (and it seems, fiercely loyal) readership. Her blog is called Enjoying The Small Things (I choose not to link to it for reasons made apparent below).

I follow the discussion about Kelle more closely than I follow her blog itself, since a) I'm much more interested in the larger implications and ramifications of mommy blogging than in any particular mommy blogger, and b) I don't particularly enjoy Kelle's writing. (And if I'm being honest, that's partly because I'm terrified I share her proclivity for saccharine, cheesy metaphors and pat endings. I think I'm scared that if I read too much of her writing, I'll start to sound more like her than I fear I already do.)

Kelle's Instagram is a hotbed of drama, thanks in part to her father, who often jumps in to defend her against increasingly vocal critics. These back-and-forths can get pretty heated - and are often deleted summarily, presumably by Kelle herself, who has a popular brand (48k IG followers) and some major corporate sponsor relationships to protect. But if you get a glimpse of these comments before they disappear, you'll see they tend to say pretty much the same thing: give your kids a break already, and quit it with the obviously staged, materialism-heavy posts. The consensus among her critics is that her children often look exhausted, annoyed, and overly costumed in Kelle's efforts to present a twee lifestyle - one that is barely challenged (if not enhanced) by her youngest daughter's disability. 

For the record, I completely agree. And it makes me sad to see so many of those kids' intimate family moments splashed across the internet - not because they're not beautiful moments that might be worth sharing - but because they are done so with an eye to earn money from them.

Enjoying The Small Things is a monetized, sponsored brand, whose primary appeal isn't Kelle, or her husband, or her marriage - it's her school-age and infant children. They're what her fans clamor for and ooh and ahh over, day after day after day. I find this deeply problematical and disturbing, to think that kids who aren't even old enough to understand the concept of sales are being used to sell things. The first time I saw the [Target Partner] disclaimer on one of Kelle's Instagram posts, I felt a little sick. What at first glance appeared to be a sweet picture of her older daughter's Thanksgiving craft was in fact an advertisement. For napkins.

Of course, that's just one person's opinion. And someone could easily take me to task for it, saying Ah, but Ellie, you share some intensely personal moments on your blog too, no? Yes. Yes, I absolutely do. And while I'd argue back that these are the stories of consenting adults on a non-monetized personal blog, I'd do so weakly, because there is a parallel, and the point stands.

In any case, I was thinking how so much of the controversy she generates centers around the endless dressing up and photographing of her children. And I was wondering if she scaled back on that, and focused more on writing about them, wouldn't that be a win for everyone involved? But then I realized how wrong I was. It would only be a win for the kids, who'd reclaim some of their privacy. The win I was thinking Kelle would get from that plan - the chance to focus more on the skill of storytelling, without the shortcut of photos - doesn't, after all, strike me as something Kelle would consider a win. She is a photographer first; a blogger, second.

And Target and the other sponsors? No win there. Stories don't sell napkins, no matter how well they're told.

Reflecting on this, it's a short step to musing on the bigger picture - the bigger questions: What do we want to reward? Are we actually okay with monetizing our memories? Are we ready to erase the line between sharing and selling? Is there even any escape if we're not? Now that Instagram includes ads in our feeds, we're all a part of the larger system, whether we like it or not. 

I don't have a solution. I struggle with my own dueling impulses, where this blog and my social media presence are concerned. I'm not always sure that what I write is purely entertaining, and never exploitive of the people I love, or the strangers I meet. Every time I hit publish, I'm making a choice both for myself and anyone else featured in my post, and I have to live with those consequences - which haven't always been good. 

But I do know that what I see Kelle Hampton choosing feels wrong to me. And I wish she'd slow down and think about what she's doing, because she's taking liberties I don't believe she has the right to take. Her children are individuals, little people in their own right - not property for her to do with as she wishes. I cringe every time I read someone say something along the lines of "They're her kids to do with as she pleases!", as if children are so much chattel. 

I have more questions than answers, I guess. I just wish this subject was getting more play in more places, that's all.

adventure and mental expansion

A friend sent me a link to an article titled Smarter People Have More Sex, Do More Drugs And Stay Up Later Because It’s The Smarter Thing To Do today. Email subject line: Validation.

Well duh, I thought, before writing back "If only this had come out before my parents had died."

My favorite bits:

Many previous studies have found that people with higher IQs, better jobs, or degrees from top-notch universities are more likely to smoke weed or even snort a few lines here and there.

Esquire reports that this is because these people tend to pursue insightful experiences involving adventure and mental expansion.

Smart people will indulge in most opportunities that could potentially broaden their minds.

They also more closely understand addiction and moderation and are therefore less fearful of engaging in drug use. 

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Seems like it finally might be time to tell the story of when I went dancing and ended up in the shower, out of my mind on ecstasy, with a couple of guys whose primary sexual interest was one another, not me.

Or not.