DOG, by Nat Johnson

Well, I found it. A video about a dog that slays me even harder than Denali. I've got a bit of the ol' serotonin depletion today, so this was just what I needed to push me over the edge into a full-on cathartic cry.

Naturally I wanted to inflict similar suffering on the one person I know who loves his dog as much as I love Chaucer: Cameron. But he got his vengeance, oh boy. He sent me back a video of him and his Rhodeagle mix Bailey--both of whom I miss achingly--watching the video.

Good luck, dog lovers!

(via Brain Pickings)

forest story, part I

Wednesday, middle of May. A lumberyard in the valley. Riley descends lazily from the cab of the car into stultifying heat. She winces as her crisp white tennis shoes sink thickly into the grit. Her sweater, a necessity in the chill of Baxter's frigid office, begs to be shed, but the only thing underneath it is a clingy, strappy tank top. No.

Riley allows her boss to charge ahead, his mission and vision clear, as ever, only to himself. Whatever impossibly specific standards he has for this, his latest project, her input will only be shrugged off. Better to let him wear himself out, and give in, bitterly, to some substandard offering--or conversely, be the sole victor in his quest. Riley need only stay out of his way--and his wrath--and she'll live to die another day.

Baxter, knowing what he wants, inspects stack after stack of wood while Riley, shielding her eyes in the glare, inspects the property. Squared-off logs in haphazard heaps. Old wood, deep and darkly hued in chocolate, amber, red, and Riley's favorite, weathered taupe. The beams are menacingly splintered but undeniably sturdy. Grand, even, if two-by-fours can be grand. This is not Home Depot. This is a place for connoisseurs, artisans, and the aesthetically-obsessed, eco-minded design buff. Riley once again gives a begrudging tip of the hat to Baxter's taste.

Something about this place, though. Something familiar and warm. She's just about to puzzle it out when a booming, friendly voice fills the space just to her right. "And who might you be?" Riley turns to an eyeful of man, a great hulk of muscle and flannel and ruddy beard. An honest-to-goodness lumberjack, peeled straight from the paper towel's label. He carries a box spilling over with what appear to be tubes and glass beakers. Everything about his comportment says good humor and confidence, including the blue eyes that are definitely twinkling at the presence of such an unexpected fish out of water.

Riley accepts the challenge. "Me? I'm nobody. He's the one you have to worry about." She nods ahead toward a scowling Baxter, hunched over in examination of a particularly hefty beam.

The man at her side gives her a curious half smile. "Oh, I doubt that very much," he rejoins, but allows Riley to drop back while he greets the customer on his lot. As they confer, Riley's attention returns to her surroundings. To the shambles of a cabin with a wraparound porch, from which strains of Led Zeppelin pour like spilled whiskey. To the cutting table, where two young men, her juniors by a decade, face off across an expanse of raw timber. They, like their boss, are piqued by Riley's appearance in their dusty workstation. Riley is aware of this, and feels a flush of self-consciousness. The flush deepens when she notices their boss, ostensibly in conversation with her boss, is staring directly at her. Something is going on here. There is a buzz in the air that has nothing to do with circular saws.

And in a rush, the familiarity gains a name. Bonnaroo. This feels like fucking Bonnaroo. Good old boys. Sunshine. Music.

But something more demanding than putting a label to this colorful scene is pulling at Riley's attention, and for once it's not Baxter. It's the lumberyard's owner, who is positively refusing to avert his eyes from her. Riley hasn't been the object of such unbridled and shameless scrutiny in a long time. She flushes again, uncomfortable in all the right ways.

A transaction unfolds. Protracted, of course, because Baxter being Baxter has demand on top of demand as pertains to cost, cutting, delivery. Throughout the sale Riley tries to adopt a casual, meandering attitude, as if politely interested in the wood's age (five hundred years) and value (three hundred dollars) but not acutely aware of the chemistry between herself and its vendor. But it's no good. The chemistry is electric, and Riley is pretty sure everyone including her boss has caught onto it.

She fetches the checkbook from the car, ditching her sweater and the last shreds of pretense along with it. Fuck it, she thinks, striding into the cabin where she finds herself alone with a very intense, very interested man she estimates as having at most five years on her. Neither of them say a word at first, as Riley thumbs through the binder to a blank invoice. Then: "Sorry for the mess. I'm making moonshine."

"Of course you are." She shakes her head. She can't help it. The man is a caricature.

"Would you like to come back and try it, when it's done?" He teasingly withholds her pen as he asks this. The two hundred dollar pen Baxter insists on her using, despite her protestations, because he likes how "official" it makes her look. Riley lets the full weight of the man's gaze lock her in place. The air in the cabin feels thicker than honey, and just as sweet. Almost unbreathable. Almost. But before she can choose her own adventure, the screen door clatters, interrupting the flow of honey.

Baxter, ignoring or perhaps truly ignorant of the moment he's walked in on, has another demand. He wants to buy the vintage steel trashcan sitting outside on the porch. Lidded, with ribbed sides and just the right faded patina, it's the sort of charming antique that will go perfectly at his ranch house. He wants it, and he wants to know how much for it.

"Not for sale," replies the proprietor, much to Riley's surprise.

"Sure it is. Everything's for sale. How much?" Naturally, the refusal only inflames Baxter's desire to obtain.

"Honestly, I'd never planned on selling it. I'd have to think about it." Riley is loving this. Baxter not getting what he wants? Delicious. So rare and so delicious.

"Okay well you decide on a price, and have your guy deliver it along with the beam. I'll pay him cash for it then." Baxter, having arrogantly declared a presumptive win, clatters back out. Apparently taking with him some of Riley's verve, because suddenly she can think of nothing to say to this man, this tower of hypermasculinity, other than, "Here's your check." And with that, she steps back outside, flustered and unsure.

The stranger picks up the slack, though, and offers a final parting shot. "If you wanna try that moonshine, you're gonna have to leave me your number." He calls this out loudly, right in front of his employees. Right in front of her boss. Again his directness brings color to Riley's cheeks. Thankfully by now she's found her moxie again, and calls coolly over her shoulder: "I'll give it to your boy when he makes the delivery." She walks backward for a few final moments of eye contact between them before turning away, breaking the spell.

Well, this was fun. 

Riley congratulates herself on some top-notch flirting, undecided as of yet whether she'll pursue the lead. Either way, worth the dirt on her shoes.

Definitely worth the dirt on her shoes.


Here is a thing I am working on: dispensing with absolutes.

I tend to file my efforts in one of two folders: Absolute Successes and Absolute Failures. It's not a productive day unless I accomplish everything on my to-do list. It's not a workout unless I am dripping with sweat and exhausted. The day wasn't healthy unless it was totally free of refined sugar, or caffeine, or whatever my nutritional scapegoat du jour is.

This is great for keeping things simple, but not so great for actual achievement and growth. Because in my case anyway, the absolute system undermines the bigger picture by poking little holes in it. When I stumble in one arena, it's all too enticing to give up in others. Write off the day. Let the negative self-talk start. Absolutes are an excuse to flagellate myself and reconfirm all my worst suspicions about how terrible I really am, so why bother at all?

Absolutes are difficult habit to quit, but I'm experimenting with solutions. Rather than burn myself out scrambling after that 100%, I force myself to stop at, say, 85%. Then at the end of the day when I reflect on what I've accomplished, rather than berate myself for the missing 15%, I congratulate myself on the 85%. I'm learning to be okay with Bs.

And yeah, I know this sort of self-coddling makes overachievers and perfectionists throw up a little bit, in their mouths. But when you're coming from a place of total stagnancy and zero achievement, the small steps don't feel so small.

labor of love

Something different today. Something I had intended to share earlier this year, thought under different circumstances. But things don't always work out the way we intend or hope. And that's okay. And I'm still very proud of what I created, even if it didn't pan out as a profitable enterprise.

Remember when I spoke about a business I was starting? Well, I had what I thought was a fantastic idea. And I still do think it's pretty cool. But there are just too many variables to make it feasible. And so after many months of frustration, of trying to hack my way through those variables, I had to admit it isn't going to happen. Not in its current iteration anyway.

First, some background.

A couple of years ago, inspired by flat-lay collages I saw online, I decided to compile outfits of my own. Over the course of a couple of Red Bull-and-EDM fueled days, I pulled all the clothing out of my closet and arranged it in neat groupings that I photographed on my desk. Nothing revelatory, I know. Lots of people do that, particularly fashion bloggers. But after I'd uploaded all the pics to my phone, I showed a couple of girlfriends, and they both responded the same way: "Awesome. I wish someone would do that for me."

Both of these women are working professionals, and neither would have the time (and maybe not the patience) to do this for themselves. And when one of them said, "Seriously, you could charge people for a service like that," I had the exact same (admittedly dim, because I never think any of my efforts are really all that great) sort of lightbulb moment as I had when someone said I could charge people to redesign their blogs (resulting in Rainy Day Templates). Hmmm. I wonder...

And that's how Trove was born.

Sort of.

Trove wasn't actually born until a couple years later, because I shelved the idea for a very long time before dusting it off to really examine it again. The reason I pulled down off the shelf? Stylebook. If you've never heard of it, Stylebook is an app for visually cataloging your clothing, and easily compiling it into outfits. It's absolutely fantastic and super useful...once you get past the incredibly tiresome task of photographing every. single. item. of. clothing. you. own.

When I discovered Stylebook, I re-shot all of my garments separately. And holy hell was it tedious and time-consuming. But once it was done and I could use the app, it was amazing. So much fun. And I instantly saw that someone could make a business out of doing the grunt work, for professional women who had no inclination to do it for themselves, so that those women could then enjoy the fruits of all that grunt work. I thought about fashion bloggers and stylists, too. Even costume designers. I saw the market for it.

At that stage of the game, I still thought flat lay was the way to go. But that didn't last long. I realized after a few weeks of playing around that I wanted something that would look spectacular. Magazine-quality images. Something visually appealing and fun and interactive.

That's when mannequins came into the picture.

There's not much point in walking you through the process from there, because it's very easy to see where I was going. My idea was to inventory garments one by one styled on an actual mannequin for shape, and under professional lighting for accurate color representation. I would then edit the images to remove the mannequin completely, leaving a "ghosted out" garment. These images could then be used by clients in apps like Stylebook (because by then, other similar apps had emerged onto the market) to easily and quickly create outfits.

Only, it's not as simple as it sounds. Because women and their clothing? Come in lots of different sizes. And you can't put a size 0/2 top on a size 6/8 mannequin, without stretching it out. And here's a fact you might not know, because you haven't spent about a hundred hours in mannequin factories like I have--mannequins don't even come in size 0/2.

And there are a whole other host of insurmountable issues I'm eclipsing. Loads of problems related to dress forms (yep, tried those), mannequin shapes, lighting, the technological obstacles, and much more that I'm skipping over. Bottom line: it is all but impossible to do what I want do to, large scale. I'd need a ton of resources. I'd need a studio where I could have an army of different sized mannequins, plus bins and racks and tables for temporarily storing clothing. I'd need a small team of employees to help with the steaming, the dressing and undressing. If you've never fought to pull a pair of skinny jeans onto a rigid, lifeless mannequin--trust me, you never want to.

And this isn't even touching the subject of editing the images, which I planned to outsource, because OH MY GOD the tediousness of background removal, even with how powerful Photoshop is.

Oh yeah, and the problems of where, how, and how quickly to accomplish the inventory. Would you want some stranger coming in and packing up all of your clothing for a few days? Maybe if you saw how glorious the rewards were...but maybe not.

Also, and perhaps that which is most important: It became glaringly apparent throughout my efforts that I simply do not have the temperament or discipline to work for myself.

Anyway, that was my idea. I got as far as doing my own entire closet for sampling and exampling, and creating a pretty gorgeous website (if I do say so myself). You can see it for yourself here (I'm particularly proud of the copy, so if anything please read the "about" page), but here are a few screenshots, too:

The silver lining that came from this dead end, of course, is that my own wardrobe has been beautifully inventoried, and I can use the Stylebook app exactly how I'd envisioned others using it. And you guys, it is an absolute pleasure. The only way you can fully appreciate how it works is by watching me use it, so I just made this quick, super crappy video just to demonstrate (it keeps timing out here but you should be able to watch it on YouTube):

Again, when Trove still seemed like a viable business idea, I had every intention of making an amazing video that would showcase how cool it is. But yeah. No. Trove is not a viable business idea. Which is a bummer, not the least because it dovetails so well with minimalism and especially capsule wardrobing.

But that was (is) Trove. Defunct pursuit. Abandoned concept. Labor of love.

sunny, sweet, and sexy

It feels like ages since I've had pics to post, of anything other than Chaucer's mug--which, don't get me wrong, remains my favorite view. But today I have some. Not gonna lie: it feels nice to be able to do that again.

I spent last weekend holed up in what could arguably called a cabin, in Malibu, with no cell reception, and really no one around that we could see. We being my companion and I. Person of interest. Person I am dating. Person I've known for I guess seven weeks now? Person. Person who found the rental, booked the weekend, treated me, and spoiled me over the course of two and a half days with meals, gifts, and thoughtful little gestures.

The place was adorable. Pure, southwestern-ish boho charm, totally one of a kind. Twin octagon rooms connected by a small stairway. Skylights. Spacious, octagon-shaped patio. Dreamy little aerie of a loft. And the shower? Was a freakin' stone grotto. Check it:

I had nothing to do with the above spread. I woke up to that, fully prepared, waiting for me on the kitchen counter. Chocolate milk on ice in a champagne bucket. Along with Prosecco. Yeah.

Not pictured: the stop we made at the Getty Villa, on the way up. Took a tour. Goofed around and laughed, and made impatient bedroom eyes at one another.

We had decided ahead of time that we just wanted to stay in and be chill for the whole weekend, not mess with fighting crowds or waiting for tables at restaurants and bars. So we stopped at the store on the way there, stocked up, and cooked for ourselves the whole weekend. He ended up out-cooking me, which was some bullshit as it was his birthday and shouldn't have done a damn thing other than relax. But so it went. And he's a brilliant cook.

We made the very most of our time there. Long, idling dinners under the patio's string lights, and surrounded by the dozens of votives he'd brought along. We lay on the sofa, playing music for one another, some of it from a playlist we'd collaborated on, some we'd think of on the spot, that we wanted the other to hear. Then we turned off the lights, rolled out yoga mats, layered them with beach towels, and lay under the stars. We both brought small surprises for one another. We explored within and without.

And it was all just so fucking lovely. As sunny, sweet, and sexy as I hope the snapshots convey.

getting better

Well, hey there old friends. I've missed you. So much has happened since last we talked. Some of it wonderful, some of it terrible. I'm just going to dive in, get you caught up as quickly as possible. The sooner we dispense with the past, the sooner we can spread a picnic blanket out in the sun and enjoy the present.

I moved out of downtown into a new loft in Koreatown, in the middle of a heatwave, with no AC. Now, you're probably thinking, How the hell did you manage to do something so stupid, Ellie? And I'll tell you: I do not know. Maybe because of everything else that had been going on, it slipped my mind. Maybe because when I'd visited the apartment previously, it hadn't been so hot as to make me notice there was a problem--or would be. Or maybe I am just an absolute imbecile. Either way: no AC.

I quit my job. I could write volumes about why and how, but in the end it doesn't matter. It wasn't a good fit for me, for many reasons, but strangely the straw that broke the camel's back was the hours. I hated the late hours. I hated coming home at ten o'clock at night, or later. I hated missing every sunset. I hated not being able to go to dinner, to happy hour with friends. And, frankly, I wasn't being paid enough. So I bailed.

I was the victim of a crime. It's nothing I'm going to talk about though, because I'm fine now and I just want to move on.

I came into some financial difficulty, thanks in part to my own bad decisions and thanks in part to some major mistakes made by my accountant, in the filing of my dad's estate taxes.

Those are the broad strokes. But there was a lot more to it all. A lot more ugliness and a lot more struggle. And I've thought and thought about how much I want to go into it, how much I want to share. And I've come to the conclusion that I just want to press ahead. There are two main takeaways, though, from my past two months: 1) that my friends are among some of the most loving, patient, devoted, and generally incredible people in the world, and 2) wow did I have some growing to do.

The one good reason I could name, to open up about everything that's happened recently, would be so I could explicitly describe all the ways in which my friends were there for me. Because we're talking boots-on-the-ground there for me. Picking me up, dusting me off, and putting me back on my feet several times a day there for me.

When I found myself walking dazedly out of the police station, my face stained with shocked tears and unsure where to even go, my phone blew up with a group text. Three of my best friends had already conferenced privately before teaming up to reach out to me, ready to walk me through every difficult thing I needed to do next. They were, collectively, furious about what had happened to me, and their anger and indignation was the one thing that made me feel not alone. They helped me locate the resources I needed. They checked in with me every step of the way. They cracked jokes when humor was the best medicine, and they reassured me in those moments when I lost faith.

When I froze up at having to look for a new job, they came through again. One of them started my resume for me. Another made a timeline for me to follow, with due dates for submitting applications and securing interviews, and for creating a new personal budget. One of them called me almost every day on his way home from work, to coach and cheerlead me back into action. And they all sent me money, or offered to.

When I couldn't find an AC unit anywhere in the great metropolis of Los Angeles, one of my friends MacGyver'd me a fucking rolling cooler AC using copper tubing, an aquarium pump, and a fan. He brought me loads of groceries and bottled water which, not having a car, is a perpetual challenge for me to keep stocked.

Another of my friends connected me to an attorney who ended up being the real unsung hero in this story. Lots of unsung heroes in this story, unfortunately.


And then there is how all of what I went through has affected me, emotionally. And how I've changed because of it. How I've grown. And that is much more difficult to write about. But here is some of it:

I almost broke, but I didn't. I mean, I did break. I broke down. So many times. So, so, many breakdowns. Oh god, you can't imagine how many tears. How much fury at the world, at myself, at others. How much hopelessness and despair, despite the love and support that was given to me. How many times I gave up, for days and days at a time. Hid from scary responsibility. Delayed the inevitable. Procrastinated difficult choices.

I broke a little, but I didn't break to the point of not being able to put myself together again. That I did not do. Slowly, eventually, the crying spells turned into quiet spells. Thinking spells. I decided I needed some new tools. New coping resources. New ideas about old bad habits. And those are the changes I'm in the middle of now.

I've started meditating. Honest-to-goodness meditating. Oh boy would that piss Terence off, but there it is. I've started journaling privately, focusing on gratitude and self-esteem. I'm learning the simple but astounding power of deep breathing. Of taking five minutes - the length of one carefully chosen song, to listen to through headphones in the bedroom, out of Chaucer's view - to cry when I need to....but no longer than that.

No longer than that.

I'm reading Unstuck, and I'm addicted to The School of Life YouTube channel. In both cases, I'm amazed at how long it's taken someone to say such important, helpful things so beautifully.

But most notably, I'm in the throes of an epiphany and its concomitant conclusions, and it is this: I've always self-deprecatingly referred to myself as a self-saboteur, but I never realized just how serious a condition it is. And I get it now. And I get why I am: I am used to success in many realms of my life. Friends, health, fitness, romance, creative endeavors. But career? Nope. That is an area in which I have always stumbled. And because of that, I actually shun success. I run from it it. And that has been the biggest hurdle for me to clear, in getting past this difficult time in my life.

Example: I had a day where I got three leads in a single day, as a result of having applied to four jobs the day before. And rather than excitedly pursue all of those leads, I froze. I didn't return calls. I found reasons not to want the jobs anymore. (Eventually I returned the calls, and even got two interviews out of them.) What the hell, right? But it's because I'm unused to professional success, so it feels weird and foreign and scary to me, like the bottom will drop out any second. Like disaster is lurking right around the corner, waiting for me to fuck up.

Anyway, that is a very abridged picture of what my past couple of months have looked like. I didn't feel like blogging. I didn't know what to say. It would have been an endless stream of complaining, of bad news. I couldn't have faked it. So I didn't even try. But I'm back now. I'm almost totally on my feet again. Things are moving along, and though I don't have a job yet, the reins are firmly in hand and I expect to very soon. Hooray.

Oh. There is one more thing.

I met someone.

And because I know he'll see this, and because I can already picture the nervous smile spreading across his face, I'm going to be very clear in saying: his privacy shall be of my utmost priority, no matter what, no matter how badly I want to share. Because...he's kind of amazing. He's kind and smart and considerate and incredibly affectionate. He's the best communicator with whom I have ever had the delight to engage, in every sense of the word. He's expressive and caring and sexy as all fuck, and I am so enjoying his company, which, to brag about one tiny thing, I shared this past weekend at a bungalow deep in the hills of Malibu.

So, yeah. It hasn't been all bad. And it's getting better all the time.