Showing posts with label dayblog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dayblog. Show all posts

cumberland house

Despite all the reasons I give him not to, my friend Cameron still tolerates me. Despite my flakiness, my selfishness, my inability to ever match what he puts in - his friendship is constant.

Do you want to know what he gave me for Christmas? It's pretty amazing. He found one of the few untarnished memories I have of my childhood, boxed it up, and sent it to me so that I could experience it again, with more visceral force than I could about handle.

We were talking one night in early December when we discovered a commonality between our mothers: an obsession with Department 56 collectible villages. This was my mom's big thing, back in the day. Every year she would buy a house, or a church--the post office, or the city hall. And the accessories. Miniature Rockwellian people, frozen in friendly ceramic smiles and stiff-armed waves. Tiny glowing street lights and spiky plastic trees. Shredded white wax paper for snow. Everything was wired with lights, making for a cozy, twinkling little town to be gazed at over a cup of cocoa.

My mother battled depression and alcoholism, mostly losing. This made her unavailable, to say the least. But something about the holidays brought out her best, most loving self. She'd take me to the craft store for felt and pipe cleaners, glitter and pom poms. We'd sit cross-legged at the coffee table well past my bedtime, designing schlocky ornaments to hang proudly on the tree.

All this to say that when I think of my mom at Christmastime, the darkness with which I associate her recedes, and I see her at her warmest and brightest. I loved my mother most at the holidays, and I felt her love strongest.

When Cameron and I realized our Department 56 connection, we compared notes. I told him that I'd never forget my favorite piece: the New English-sounding Cumberland House. It was a two-story Colonial with a sloping brick roof and double chimneys. Spearmint green boughs adorned four majestic columns and a string of colored lights dipped down to side-by-side wreaths. It was a masterpiece of symmetry, an aesthetic which by then I already loved.

You know where this story is going, of course.

Cameron looked online, and found quite a few Cumberland Houses for sale. None of them would have reached me in time for Christmas, though. (What he really wanted to do was show up at my door with one, but that wasn't feasible this year.) On the 23rd, he happened to look on Craigslist Los Angeles. There was exactly one Department 56 piece for sale. It was a Cumberland House.

He reached out to the woman selling it and explained his shipping/timing predicament. Wondrously, generously, she agreed to wrap it and drive it from North Ridge down to LA and deliver it to me at work--on Christmas Eve.

One of the best parts of the whole thing was the reaction of my coworkers. Everyone was super intrigued by the little dragon label on it (an inside joke of ours), and impressed by the size of the box. And I felt pretty fucking special getting a special delivery. I was utterly clueless as to what it could be, and stared at it curiously on the train ride home.



And then when I did open it, well. I told him it was like unwrapping a lightning bolt. I actually cried out.



I wish my mom could have seen that moment, could have witnessed me experiencing an emotion thirty years in the making. But then that's why it's so important to cherish the ones we still have, while we have them, right?



And that's something I certainly didn't appreciate, thirty years ago.

some of what counts

There are only so many times in life that someone will see who you really are and love you for it. Only so many times you will be known in the way that you want to be.

There are only so many times that someone will thank you, deeply and genuinely, for something difficult you did. Only so many times you will feel appreciated for what is, in fact, really hard work.

The poignance of this rarity hit me like a wave Sunday night as I was walking home. I'd had two such moments that day. One in which I was seen, and one in which I was thanked. Quiet, private moments with people I've gotten to know a little bit, and respect. It didn't hit me until I was off the train and almost back to my apartment how lucky I was.

Life is short. Moments like this are finite. Connections between open-hearted, communicative people who will see and appreciate one another are few and precious.

When you find someone like this, hang on to them for as long as you can. Find ways to give back to them what they've given to you.

Trust me: the further you get along this road, the more you will realize that this, more than anything, is some of what counts most.



baseline

In October of last year, while simultaneously applying for (and accepting) various writing gigs, I knocked together what I called a "lapsed server" resume. Because before I'd started dancing, in a previous lifetime, that's what I'd done. I waited tables, I worked counter jobs - I even did a brief stint as a barista in a cafe inside of Borders. (I'd also had a few retail jobs, but I passionately hated every one of them.)

It was actually a friend who pushed me in this last-resort direction, pointing to the acting community as an example of creatives/artists doing what they had to, to survive. He was right. It was one of few options I had. If I wasn't going to lie my way into desk job that I didn't want anyway, there wasn't a lot else open to me. At least, not a lot with the potential for decent earnings. I've worked for tips before. I am good at getting tips. For all my character flaws, I am pretty personable.

So I pitched myself as someone looking to get back into hospitality after years of working for herself. A friend who has made a fantastic career of high-end serving helped me write a creative, clever, and sincere resume that I felt good about. Actually going out and applying with it - now that was a truly humbling experience. If there's one thing I learned last year, it is that LA does not give a fuck about anyone's career expectations, whatever that career is.  LA is a city full of hungry, hustling people. Even the most basic serving jobs are shockingly competitive.

After bouncing around interviewing for a couple of weeks and spending two horrible days working at a "mom and pop" sandwich place run by an angry control freak, I got lucky. A spot opened up in a restaurant pretty much exactly where I was hoping to land. The exact neighborhood and in fact the exact location in that neighborhood.

Now, I've thought a lot about whether I want to share where I'm working. I've had the experience a few times now of strangers recognizing me (or Chaucer, hilariously) from my blog and stopping me on the street to introduce themselves. And don't get me wrong - I find it flattering and for the most part a really cool thing.

But I'm not so sure in this case. The idea of someone coming by my work just to gawk, just to see me in all the un-glamour of waiting tables...that isn't particularly appealing. Not that any of you would. But I've had some freaky social media encounters over the years, and some less-than-positive attention directed my way. (As I myself have put less-than-positive vibes out into the world.)

So while I'd love to throw myself open to local readers and say, "Come say hi!" - I can't.

Suffice to say I work in an extremely popular, very trendy place that is almost always busy, with multiple vendors and restauranteers in a single space. Celebrity chefs. Laid back atmosphere. Sustainability and ethical sourcing. All in a neighborhood that is rapidly rising in popularity and price. Employees like myself - lots of twenty, thirty, and forty-somethings with "other things" going. Artists and musicians who wait tables or work registers to keep themselves afloat while they navigate concurrent creative lives.

And I love the job.

The money ranges from good to truly spectacular. It's largely a location, location, location thing. Which is not to say that we don't offer great stuff, and have a solid reputation. We do. But our real estate is prime, considering the target demographic.

And I love the people I work with. It's taken some time to really bond with everyone (thoughts on why that is to come in a future post), but I'm there now and it is wonderful. Coming to work is a pleasure. No stress, good energy, easy, and mindless in the best way.

Timo calls this my "baseline" job. That's a good name for it not the least because, perhaps unsubtly, it reminds me that serving is not my end goal. And while it has been a massive relief to have reliable income with a regular schedule (in fact I have pretty much the exact days/shifts I requested) for a few months, it's definitely time to get back to pursuing my own concurrent creative life.

So I'll talk about where that's at, next.

beauty in the grey

Next thing I promised to talk more about: therapy.

I found my therapist through Open Path, which is a discounted psychotherapy collective. Cheap counseling, in other words. So right off the bat you know you're going to be working with someone compassionate, because these people ask for pittance, basically, in terms of an hourly rate. In some cases they charge as little as a third of what a typical session of therapy costs. Patients only need to pay an initial membership fee; then they can see anyone in the collective, forever and ever amen.

I scrolled through the listings, looking for I don't know what exactly. An especially sympathetic face, primed to give me all the pity I crave? I found a man whose picture and description spoke to me (he specializes in loss), and I emailed him. This in itself was a very tragicomic exercise, trying to condense my many issues into a sort of please-take-me-on-as-a-client pitch. I ended it with my goals for what I hope to get out of therapy, which felt a bit like sucking up to the teacher - but I wanted him to know I'm serious about getting my shit together.

He didn't answer for a few weeks, and in typical Ellie fashion I just assumed I'd been rejected, and that I didn't deserve help, and I told myself I'd revisit the issue soon. But then he got in touch, apologizing for the delay, saying he'd been out of the country. He asked whether I'd like to come in for a complimentary consultation, which made me laugh out loud, because that's like asking someone with a totaled car whether they'd like to bring in their vehicle for a free checkup. Better clear your schedule, buddy.

No joke, I was already crying when I got to his office. I'd had a terrible night at work and the ol' avalanche of negativity had nearly buried me alive. As it does. So woo boy was I ready to unload on his couch.

Long story not much shorter: he had my number inside of ten minutes. "In the past thirty seconds you've said 'amazing' and 'horrible' and 'always' and 'never.' You swing from black to white rather quickly, don't you?"

So we're working on that.

We're also working on the inextricable closeness with which I keep to my emotions. My inability to detach from them, and from the experiences that have fostered them, even when those experiences are years old. I can tell the story of the abusive relationship I was in, in late 2011, and be instantly wrecked. He was quick to note that the upside of this is (he imagines) the amount of deep joy I can dial into, instantaneously. (I assured him that indeed I can do that.)

Bottom line, we're working on getting me to be more even keel. On finding beauty in the grey. And eventually we're going to put to bed all the crap that I've been keeping knotted inside of me for the past ten years.

And I like him a lot. He doesn't pull punches, and often uses humor to make his point. He makes me laugh at myself, which is something I love. My favorite people are the ones who know how to tease me, and do it effectively - and with warmth.

I told him when I initially emailed him that things are tight for me financially right now, but this is something important that I'm going to prioritize. Manicures are awesome. Mental health is awesomer.

in

I can't sleep, so I guess I'll plow ahead and I'll bring you up to present day, starting with what happened with Timo.

I walked away from him that day last month, didn't look back, and got on the bus home. (For locals: we'd met at The Grove. I made him meet me at the fucking Grove.) My heart was just a lump of icy lead. I didn't tell anyone, didn't even text my best friends, because doing so would have made it real. I just went home and faced it down alone.

I worked nonstop. I worked eight days in a row, took one day off to move, and then worked another six in a row. Work saved me. It kept me busy and distracted, and I was grateful for it. Every morning on my way to the train, I listened to songs that, for whatever reason, empowered me. I latched on to them, knowing that forever after they'd be ruined, but needing something to channel my feelings through.

At some point, and already the timeline of this is hazy, he messaged me. Said he wanted to see me before he left to go home for a month. I told him that if he was just looking for closure for himself, that I wasn't interested. That if he just wanted to say he was sad for how things turned out or whatever, that I didn't want to have that conversation. I explained it would just hurt me more to say goodbye to him yet again. He said he wasn't sure what he wanted to say, but that he really needed to see me, so I said ok, and asked when. He said he'd think about when he could make time, and that he'd get back to me the next day.

But then he didn't get back to me the next day, and that was almost worse than The Grove. I felt jerked around and so, so hurt. Then the next day he finally messaged and said he didn't know if he'd be able to squeeze in seeing me before he left after all - and that's when I wiped my proverbial hands. Because what the fuck.

In his defense, he had a lot going on. A huge project at work, getting ready to go to Europe for a month, and a stopover in Pennsylvania for work on the way. Also in his defense, he knew he wanted to see me, he knew he wasn't ready to let go - but he didn't know what he would say to me, anyway. And Timo doesn't do or say things he doesn't mean, or isn't ready to. Ever. It's one of his best qualities.

But from my perspective? I was donezo. I put my head down, threw myself into work, focused on settling into my new place, and tried to think about him less and less every hour.

This plan didn't last long. He texted me and said he'd sent me something on the messaging app we'd used before, the one I had dumped the day of The Grove. (He didn't know I had dumped it, I guess.) I said ok, I'll check it out, and I reinstalled the app. It was a voice message. He was about to get on a plane to Amsterdam (I could hear the call for boarding in the background), and he wanted to tell me that he'd been thinking about me every day. That he hoped I'd see him when he got back. Said he loved me, in English and German. Used his pet name for me.

I didn't know what to make of it. I felt like someone had yanked my head off my shoulders, played a round of tennis with it, then reattached it. I texted a friend for support, and that friend said, "Uh yeah, I meant to tell you. Timo messaged me asking about you. If you're doing okay. If I'd spoken to you. Also, he wanted to know if I have your new address, so he can send you something."

On the one hand I felt enormous satisfaction to know he was thinking about me, needing to talk to me. On the other I felt mistrustful. Suspicious. Not that he had impure motives, more that he was just missing me on a superficial level, and that if I wasn't careful, I'd get sucked into some kind of prolonged, protracted breakup again upon his return.

Like I say, the timeline of everything is hazy, but we messaged a few times. The gist of his communication was to say, "I want to talk when I get back. I need more time to think, but I know I want to see you. Give me a chance." The gist of mine was, "I'm here and listening. I've made my feelings clear. Figure out your own." He confessed to being scared I'd meet someone else. I told him, perhaps a bit brutally, that I meet people all the time. But that I wasn't interested in anyone else.

A few more days went by. And then it was Christmas Eve, and I was walking home from work when he texted. "Merry Christmas, Ellie," he said. I think it was raining. I'm pretty sure, in fact. Anyway, along with the text was a video.

This video was the boombox outside my window.

It was him sitting at his desk, talking into the camera, addressing me. "The other day Spotify showed me that you were listening to this song," he said. And he named the song. And it wasn't even a favorite song or anything, it was just a random track from a group I like. But apparently the name of the song jumped out at him as some kind of clue to my feelings, so he looked up the lyrics. And one of the lyrics was something like, "You say you love me, but what does that mean?"

Do you remember a few months ago, when I was talking about the things that worked so well between us, and I mentioned the whole "love languages" thing? How we speak the same ones, in the same order, and in the same intensity? Well, the premise and structure of this Christmas Eve video was Timo telling me exactly what it means when he says he loves me...as divided into the five love language categories.

"So this is what it means, when I say I love you," he started. I couldn't even watch it at first. Or even the second time. I could only listen. It was too much.

It was a series of statements all starting with "It means."

It means that you enrich my life, by challenging my way of thinking. It means thinking of you makes me think profound things. It means that the tears are worth it. It means I want to dance with you in front of a stage. It means I want you to wear my t-shirts. It means it pains me when I cannot find the right words to talk to you. It means I want to make sure you have the right pillow. It means I want to take a photo every single time we're together. It means I want to share the road with you, in seeing the world, and discovering new things. 

And on like that, for nearly five minutes.

Obviously, it opened things back up between us in a big way. We talked on the phone. We agreed that we needed to talk in person, not via satellite over the Atlantic. But we didn't really hold back. We copped to missing one another terribly. We expressed love. Timo told me that he made the video because he couldn't wait, that he didn't want any more time going by without letting me know how he felt. That so much could happen in five weeks, and he didn't want to risk losing me.

He didn't stop with the video, either. He made a playlist for me, of dozens of his favorite German songs. Pages of notes accompanied the list, a primer on the feelings associated with those songs, why he was sharing them, excerpts of lyrics translated for me. A few days later he made a sort of playful PDF report on my Lobby Ellie pictures, winnowing down his favorites by category. He sent me homemade cookies, along with a picture of us he'd printed up. He recorded a twenty minute audio message for me.

He went, in short, all the fuck out.

Then he came home, loaded with presents and things to say. The first night I saw him, we tumbled into bed and didn't really talk seriously. The second night he sat with me on his couch and I listened while he told me what he was feeling, and how his perspective on some things had changed.

And here is where I need to stop and clarify for you, the same way that he was intent on clarifying for me: this wasn't - isn't - a situation where his feelings changed. His feelings, he has emphasized repeatedly, never changed, because he did and does love me. But spending time away from me, over some of the most emotional days of the year, back in the country where he has always planned to return to - if I understand him correctly (and I am still coming to understand it all), made him realize a few things. That it feels good and right to be with me, here and now. That he isn't necessarily in as big a rush to leave. That even at the most meaningful moments with his family and friends, he felt something missing, and it was me. That every time he saw something beautiful or surprising in his travels, that it was me he wanted by his side to share in the experience. That he doesn't have all the answers about his future or my future, but that maybe we can meet in the middle and figure it out together?

Of course I am paraphrasing all of this, and probably exaggerating some of the more romantic notions he expressed. But not hugely. Not hugely, I don't think.

So. That was the second night.

The third night was last night, and we tumbled back into bed, this time with all the barriers removed and all of the emotion having landed where it is going to land, for now. And god. Just... And when I fell asleep next to him, I felt as relaxed and happy as I've felt in I don't know how long.

And this morning he woke up for work, at my place, in my new space that I love, tiny as it is. And he tickled me and made silly sounds and kissed my stomach to try and get me out of bed even though I didn't have work, so that I would have a full, productive day and feel good about myself. Because he knows I am fighting to get back to the things that are important to me, and he has enlisted himself in that battle. Because he's in.

And I'm in.

And that is where I am, with that part of my life.

the one you'll not want to skip

Hello again.

It has been incredibly difficult for me to get back here; the only obstacle being, as ever, myself. Whenever I am stuck in blogging, when I push it to the corner or hide from it, it is due to fear of some kind. Or overwhelm. Or both. In this case, I have wanted to write a massive end-of-year tell-all, about everything that went down in 2016, so that I can start 2017 with a clean slate - creatively and emotionally.

But there have been things holding me back from telling all and getting to that clean slate. Namely, shame.

There is no point in hanging on to shame, though. It's doing nothing for me. I don't have a time machine, and I can't go back and undo any of my bad decisions. I'm where I am now for better or for worse. So let's do this. Let's just unload all of this crap and move forward.

2016 was by far, without competition, the worst year of my life.

I spent the first six months still living with Terence, even after we'd broken up. And it was so, so bad. A nightmarishly toxic situation that made monsters of us both. I was unrecognizable to myself. He was unrecognizable, from the man I'd met two years prior. We brought out the absolute worst in one another. Ugly, raging, middle of the night screaming matches. I broke my own heart with how awful I was. I hated myself. But we were stuck.

So there was that.

In March I started working for a man as his personal assistant. I wrote some about this. This was what gave birth to the Riley series. I alluded in general terms to his difficult personality, to how demanding and angry he was. What I didn't get into was how quickly I fell into a weird, semi-codependent relationship with him. I was his employee, and he was my boss. But he didn't need another employee. The "work" I did for him was nothing he couldn't do for himself. What he needed was a friend. And that was my real job. Being the confidant, the emotional validator - the crutch, really - of an exceptionally unhappy person. And I got paid for it. So I stayed. Because I needed a job.

Because I had run out of money.

That's right. That's the big secret I have been mincing around for the better part of a year now, the one that has made blogging with honesty and openness all but impossible. Because if I am dishonest about the basic circumstances of my life, there is no room for authenticity or real feeling. It's just me trying to represent some version of myself, as I want to be seen.

So here it is, here is the terrible thing that I have spent the past six months coming to terms with, in a sort of slow-dawning shock: I blew through not one, but two inheritances. My mother's (small) and my father's (not small).

There was no reason for it to happen this way. None at all. No excuse in a hundred thousand years that can justify it, though my therapist disagrees (yes I am in therapy now and I'll get back to that shortly). But there you have it. Gone. Where did it go? Well, it went to four years of rent. Mine, and for half of the time we lived together, Terence's (he paid a third of what I did). It went to food. It went to entertainment. Festivals and concerts. It went to clothing, and caring for Chaucer.

It disappeared, because for four years, I didn't work. I didn't save. I just spent. So if you want to know how to blow through six figures in less than half a decade, that is how you do it. You just freeze up. You just become paralyzed about how to move forward with your life. You refuse to face reality and start at the bottom of a career path. You lie to yourself that tomorrow you'll start fresh. Make a plan. Figure it out. You tell yourself that lie day after day after day, for a thousand days.

And then all of a sudden, your self-sabotage will coalesce into exactly, precisely the disastrous ending you think you deserve: you'll have nothing. You'll be jobless, facing a dwindling checking account. Panicked but in denial. Sleepless with anxiety but totally clueless what to do.

Imagine that going on, while at the same time living with an ex-boyfriend whom you despise. That's where I was when I was introduced to an eccentric millionaire inventor who needed a roll dog and a whipping boy.

But here's a fun detail you don't know about that: the person that introduced us? Well, that was my girlfriend/neighbor, who also worked for him. And oh boy. Oh boy oh boy is this the point where shit gets interesting. Because I had spent the better part of a year, as her friend, listening to her complain about him. About how much he screamed at her, about how abusive a boss he was, about how she was just going to take advantage of him as much as possible and then get out with a cool million. About competing products she had in mind, to threaten him with. Per her words on a weekly basis, he was the absolute last person on the planet anyone should work for. Her job was miserable, because of him. And it wouldn't be until months later that I saw just how much he had informed her attitude about life, with his negativity. She truly is the most unhappy person I have ever met, and I suspect it's because of his daily (hourly, really) influence.

Anyway, the drama with her started immediately. She was, I guess, threatened by my sudden stature as preferred employee (a honeymoon phase that didn't last). She began to act coldly to me. Passive aggressive in the extreme. I confronted her, tried to have an honest and open dialogue about what was happening, but she dug her heels in. She blamed me for making her life more difficult, her job more challenging. The fact is that working for this man requires a delicate dance of diplomacy and tact. He doesn't always make decisions that are in his or his business's best interest - and sometimes he ends up pitting employees against one another. Vague I know, but the bottom line is this: I was nearly broke. In extremely dire financial straits. So I had zero choice but to do the work as it was prescribed to me. Follow his instructions. He was my goddamn boss, after all. She, however, wanted me to be more subversive. Risk my job (and his wrath) to make hers easier. A job that was providing her with an extremely comfortable and secure lifestyle, with plenty of money in the bank. She wasn't in danger of any kind. I was. She didn't care.

And here's another dumb detail of this sad story: she was furious about Riley. She told me that our boss was "her" story, and that I had no right to write about him. Mind you, in the six years she had been working for him, she had never once written a word. Not one word. But for some reason, all of a sudden my fictionalizing my experiences with him (for creative release and therapy, really), triggered her.

Anyway, March flew by, then April and May, and things escalated. Our friendship dissolved completely. My work life consisted of running around on a moment's notice, performing inane tasks and busywork, driving an inebriated boss home to his Bel Air mansion after tagging along on his dates with socialite models, and occasionally going to some "glamorous" event either with him or in his stead. Things I could never blog about, but holy shit. It culminated, the day before everything turned, in my attending a charity event at the mansion of a very well-known reality TV star. I sat at a table with soap stars I'd grown up watching.

Then, the very next day I believe it was, my boss snapped. We'd been arguing about a raise he'd previously agreed to, and he just lost it. He swung his very heavy bag at my head, and the metal clasp cut my skull open. Actually, that's not the whole story. What happened was this: we had been arguing at a cafe near the office, and he lost his temper and fired me. So I said, great, okay, I'll just gather my things and you can pay me, and I'll be out of your life forever. And he said, no, fuck you bitch, I'm not paying you. At this point I was scared. I'd seen him throw things before (he once threw a phone at me), and I could see him tossing my laptop out the window. So I rushed back to the office to get it before he could. Only he followed me, right on my heels, calling me a bitch the whole time.

And when we got to the stairs of the office, I was steps ahead of him. Maybe fifteen seconds. And on the steps I ran into a man whose office is right across from my boss's. It just so happens that this man is an award-winning film producer, who had become my friend in the previous months (another thing I could never blog about). And I said to this producer-friend, please don't leave, please wait and make sure I get my things safely, my boss has just fired me and is threatening not to pay me.

And my boss arrived at this scene, heard what I was saying, and just exploded. He swung his bag at me full force. It's actually amazing it didn't send me spiraling down the stairs. But no. It just knocked into me, stunned me, and cut my head open.

I could write volumes about what happened in this moment. And I'm not even talking about the logistics and the legal fallout, which I'll get to here in a second. I'm talking about what it did to me, emotionally. In short - and this is how fucked up my state of mind was last year - I felt I'd deserved it. I was so disgusted with myself, with the thousands of terrible, irresponsible choices that had led me to be working for a violent abuser, that I thought, more or less, "Yep. This is about right."

But of course, it wasn't right. It was the wrongest of wrongs. And after a surreal five minutes where he desperately tried to act like he hadn't just committed a violent crime, I scrambled my things together and left his office. And I called one of my best friends.

And so here is where the story takes another sad turn, because this call was the beginning of a whole other sub-chapter of drama. Here is the broad strokes of what happened: my AZ (college) friends rallied around me when my boss attacked me. Big time. They made calls, they researched my rights, they told me that they had my back financially until whatever would happen was settled. They gave me money. A lot of money. Which - can you guess? Can you guess what I did with it? I blew through it. Again, 100% because of not working. In my defense I was trying. I was interviewing, I was applying. But I didn't know what I wanted to do, only that I wasn't cut out to be a fucking administrative or executive assistant. And the time I spent figuring this out was on their dime. So they were pissed. They are still pissed. I don't blame them.

Christ, this story. Have you ever read anything so loaded with sad, tangential drama? Ugh.

Anyway, an Instagram friend (who happens to be a very talented and well-connected attorney) put me in touch with, no joke, probably the most feared trial attorney in the fucking city. I can't tell you the huge, high profile cases this guy has handled, but holy hell. Holy hell. And this attorney met with me and agreed, because of my connection to his friend, to handle my case pro bono. So yeah. That was pretty unreal.

A settlement was obtained. And I didn't have to give a dime of it up for legal fees. But can you guess what I did with the money?

That's right kids. I spent it, because I was still. not. working. Had I had a fucking job by this point, I could have used it to pay my friends back. But nope. This was August/September, and I had lost my job in June, and I still wasn't working. One of my friends cut me off completely, he was so disgusted. I have been trying to fix things with him, but it is the source of enormous, gut-wrenching heartache to accept the fact that nope, he's pretty much over me and my friendship.

And I don't blame him.

So let's see. Where are we? The settlement. Oh! I forgot to tell you some more of the gross details, namely that this former girlfriend of mine, the coworker, did everything in her power to try and prevent me from getting a settlement. And this - this is the thing that almost above all was just...just mind blowing. She called up the police detective who was handling my case and told her about my Riley posts. Why you ask? I have no idea. I mean, I do. I know she did it to curry favor with our boss and ingratiate herself...but good grief. All I could do at that point was laugh. So, so, so unnecessary. I cannot for the life of me understand why this person was continuing to meddle into my life and my business, and why she wouldn't just leave me the hell alone, but there it was. She just couldn't live and let live. I don't know if she knows how to do that at all.

After the settlement, my boss reached out to me and apologized. He said he didn't blame me, that he would have sued, too. He offered me my job back. And I took it back, for another month, until I found the job I have now.

I know.

But here's the thing. This man? He is not evil. He is just damaged. He has been through some really, really bad shit in his life. And at times he can be so generous, and try so hard to be a better person.

I still speak to him. He knows everything, of course, including about my blog. He doesn't care, and he doesn't read it. In fact I occasionally do small writing projects for him. Letters or press releases or whatever. It isn't a big deal. I do them remotely. He pays me well. We know we don't work well together. But he has helped me, too. Written checks way beyond what I was owed, to help me as I got back on my feet.

So that brings us to now. And me being on my feet. But because this post is already way, way too long I will end it on four things that I'll expand upon, completely, next time:

1) I have a job that I am good at and that I enjoy very much.
2) Timo and I are back together.
3) I have a new place that I am wildly in love with.
4) I started therapy.

I am, by all measures, finally back on my feet. Happy new year to you, and to me.

open

Timo and I broke up on Saturday. I guess I get to claim the dubious victory of having been the breaker-upper. It was my decision. Bully for me.

Where to start.

From the moment we got involved Timo was upfront about his intention to leave the US, probably within a year or so. One of the first things he said to me that constituted, I don't know, a warning sign, was that he doesn't let himself get too attached when he dates because of his plans to return to Germany eventually. He said that to me within the first week or so. I adjusted my expectations accordingly.

Then, shit happened. We went to Malibu. We went to a festival together. We started spending about half the nights of the week together. We got close. Our chemistry was always electric and we couldn't get enough of one another. He would routinely sleep over and go straight to work from my apartment. Once he blew my mind by taking his backpack and work clothes to a concert at the Bowl, just so he could come straight to my place afterward. And I didn't even go to the show.

He involved himself in my life, in what I was going through with work, with looking for jobs, interviewing, all of that. He was supportive in actual, concrete ways, going out of his way to help me figure things out, make plans. He told me he loved how much care I showed for him, too. He said I'd made him happier than he'd ever been, living in LA. That he was so thrilled with what we had.

I could feel myself falling for him in a big way, which terrified me because he's leaving. I brought up the issue a few times but those conversations only left me at best mildly reassured and at worst more confused.

The first time I brought it up he understandably balked. It was pretty early on. I think I said something about being open to anything, but that if he wasn't, he had an obligation to tell me. He responded by saying he was open about things too, but didn't know what would happen.

But then some more time passed, and I brought up the topic again. I may or may not have been drunk. This time I was more anxious, more persistent. I don't remember all of the conversation, but I do know this exchange happened:

Me: "It would almost be easier if you were to just say to me, 'I'm going home to Germany, and you, Ellie, are staying here.'"

Him: "I don't know that I want to say that."

Another time I found myself crying in his arms, because I was so crazy about him and so scared of losing him. He held me tight and, referring to a possible job change, said "Who knows what could happen." Little things like this that he would say - they were enough to keep me feeling calm about the situation. But then at other times I would call him out and refer to myself as the "good for now girl." And the way he would wince and softly say "Don't say that" made me think there was some truth in it.

We fell in love. When he told me he was falling in love with me, and then when he actually said the words, I was elated. I thought that meant that, I don't know, we were progressing towards something. So I relaxed a little. A lot, really. I felt his love, every day. I felt secure and so happy in it. He is incredibly loving, incredibly affectionate, and incredibly expressive. I counted myself incredibly lucky.

Over Thanksgiving there was a moment where he told me he wanted to take care of me. My heart nearly exploded.

Still.

Still there was a voice in my head and a dark little spot in my heart. Something deep inside was whispering that he didn't see me the way I saw him. That he loved me wildly, but that he loved me only for now. Little clues. Like when I started learning German, he didn't really encourage it. Like while he once mentioned talking about me to his family, he never said anything along those lines again.

I was at work a couple of days after we got back from Mendocino and I saw a couple that nearly devastated me. They were probably 60ish. They were foreign, Italian I think. They were the most youthful, playful, affectionate couple I'd ever seen. Just giggling and canoodling and so, so beautifully connected. It stopped me cold. I realized in that moment that I want that, too. I want it now - and I want it when I'm 60. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with my going after it, and demanding it for myself.

Timo is going home for the holidays in about a week and half. He'll be gone for three weeks. When he told me, I didn't even flinch. I expected it, had zero expectations about him inviting me or being back in time to kiss me for New Year's. That was all fine. But something in the way that he asked me to make myself available the day of his leaving and the day of his return...I don't know. It was playful and sexy in spirit...but it dinged my radar. Hard. And when I saw this couple I decided I was going to ask Timo, right away, whether he thought about a future with me. Not about marrying me, not about whisking me away to Germany...just whether he even entertained the notion of a life with me in it.

Because just as I have ambitions for myself professionally and creatively, so do I have personal ambitions, too.

I took Friday night to think. He spent the evening with friends. On Saturday I asked him to meet me. We set a time and place. It was an outdoor mall. Christmas tree, lights, music, crowds. The whole deal. Exactly like I needed it to be. I needed to feel surrounded by people and not alone. Because I knew. I just knew.

So, we talked. I told him everything that I felt, about him, about us. What I saw in him, what I saw in us. But that enough time had gone by that, if he wasn't at least thinking about a future with me by now, that he was wasting my time. Or that I was wasting it, with him. Whatever. I more emphasized how much potential I see in us, because my god. There are things about us that are just...exceptional. We never, ever fight. And if we do get into the slightest bit of conflict, it is so easy to just calmly get back out of it. That alone.

That alone. Priceless.

Then there was the intimacy, which just...

This is hard.

Then there is the fact that we both love in the same ways. We both speak the same love languages, in the same order, in the same intensity.

We both respect one another, and one another's independence, tremendously.

Anyway.

It didn't matter.

He didn't say the exact words "I don't think about a future with you, Ellie," but what he said was enough. It was stuff about the complication of moving countries, and how he's very good at seeing the downsides and challenges and impossibilities and la la la. It was "you have no idea how hard it is to completely uproot yourself and try to blend into another culture" or something like that. And it didn't matter to him that I'm unafraid of that (which I said) or that doing so actually sounds like the greatest adventure ever (which I also said), because at the end of the day it is not about Germany or moving or us not knowing how I'd support myself (us) in a foreign place.

Because all of those things are problems couples solve every day, all over the world, because they want to. Partners learn new languages and find expat communities for support and networking, and help with jobs.

But they have to want to.

I know he is heartbroken. I saw him cry for the one and only time. He didn't want to walk away. He said as much. He said he didn't know what it was inside of him, holding him back from saying "Fuck it, let's do this." He said he wished he was man enough to make that call. I tried to explain that there isn't any big or permanent decision to make right now, just dialogue and openness to possibility. Alas.

He said he can't imagine life in LA without me. He said he can't even imagine three weeks or a month without me, right now for the holidays.

But I am not a temp.

What sucks the most, honestly, is that he never even saw me shine. He was with me through what has been, hands down, the hardest six months of my life. He saw a version of me that was so beaten down, so overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, and insecure. He has no idea who I can be. He's never seen me at my best. He's never seen the person I am when I am secure, when I feel safe and loved and in control of my life - exactly the place I am getting back to now, step by step. He never saw the best me, and now he never will. I hate that.

I told him he probably has a window of opportunity, to change his mind. I tried to explain that I'm not after any kind of commitment or promise, that for all I know, when it came down to it I might decide I didn't want to move away, anyway. That all I need to know is that he thinks about it, because he loves me that much, and sees what we have is so precious and rare and amazing.

But two nights have now passed with no boombox-wielding German standing outside my window blasting Peter Gabriel. And I am forced to face the fact that I am not a heroine in a John Hughes movie, and that sometimes really, really good things get away.

When I walked away from him, I held my head high and I didn't look back. I didn't even cry. I just searched his eyes for a moment, asked him one last time if there was any reason I should stick around, gave him once final chance. Then I kissed him on the cheek and left with my dignity intact if my heart crushed.

Anyway. I'm okay. That same night I did the Ellie equivalent of getting roaring drunk to forget my woes - I found an EDM show and took myself dancing. It was actually a festival, a small local one at a nightclub I'd never been to. Two floors, five stages, awesome, unpretentious crowd. I had a fucking blast. Then I went to work the next day, and was so busy I didn't have to think. Then last night it hit me like a tsunami, and I cried harder than I have in probably years.

It's not just Timo. It's this year. This has been the hardest year of my life, by far. I haven't even shared all of what I've been through, though I plan on writing a massive end-of-year tell-all to clear the slate and start fresh next year. But yes, last night I cried so much and for so long that today I feel like I was punched in both of my eyes. I cried so hard that it was purifying. Now it's just numbness.

One part of me fantasizes that a month away from me will tear him apart, that he'll come to his senses and see that what we have is incredible and exceptional. But the rest of me knows him well enough to know that he goes after the things he wants, and if he wanted me, he wouldn't have let me go on Saturday.

I told my friends. Some said "Good for you for knowing your worth." One said, "I don't think this is the end of it." One said, "Oh god, Ellie," and just shook her head. (That was probably the most helpful, TBH.)

I made a bunch of lists, and taped them up in front of my desk. One of them is titled "Fresh Start" and lists all the ways in which I'm getting exactly that. New job. New apartment. New year. New opportunities. One of them is labeled "Me" and is a list of all the words I want to be able to honestly describe myself as, like calm, graceful, giving, creative, assertive, and so on. One of them is titled "Things I Love" and is a list of everything in life that brings me joy. When I wrote it I couldn't believe how quickly I filled up the page. I see it every day, several times a day, and it's a reminder that life is big and beautiful and full of potential, that there are amazing experiences still to be had, adventures of wonder and discovery, of laughter and love.

I'm open to them.

Mendocino

(last installment of Thanksgiving '16)

Saturday's rain maroons us perpendicular on the sectional, him with a book and me with my laptop. Every so often we glance out the window to see if the weather has cleared. It hasn't. We head outdoors anyway, Timo laughing when I push my furry hood back and let the rain pummel my face and hair. I know I look like a drowned rat, but the fresh air feels too good.

We hike up into the acreage behind the house, mindful of property lines. The people living around here value privacy and are armed, I suspect, to prove it. A tree trunk bridging a roily creek is an invitation I can't resist, even though my heart pounds faster as I inch across it than I'd like to admit. From the safety of other side I watch Timo take equally careful steps. We plunge further into the wilderness, crashing through puddles in waterproof footwear.

It's too wet out, though, and too cold. Defeated, we retreat back to the dry, warm living room. The furnace snaps and pops and, armed with snacks, we watch a movie. Timo tries graham crackers for the first time.

Sunday's promise of a clearer day holds, and we take the forty-five minute drive to the coast slowly. Branscombe Road lets us out at the spectacular cliffs just north of Westport, and we stop time and again for photos of the picturesque sea stacks being washed over by waves.

Following the Shoreline Highway leads us through a series of blink-and-you'll-miss-them towns, until we hit Fort Bragg for lunch. At a friendly dockside shanty of a restaurant, we wave seagulls away from our fish and chips and talk about the weekend. I get buzzed on a pomegranate cider, which warms my body but not my icicle-cold hands. Those, Timo invites me to warm on his neck.

With not too much daylight left, we're back on the road to Mendocino. Past the Jug Handle Reserve and Caspar, a sign for the Point Cabrillo Light Station beckons. Timo's game, having never been, and we walk the half mile to the water's edge with linked arms. I'm still merry from the cider; he's delighted with how much I'm loving the landscape he hoped I would.

All the outbuildings in the lighthouse complex are painted in coordinating colors of cherry and seafoam, with brown trim. They are beautifully maintained, cheerfully bright structures that stand in defiance of the drab, grey ocean behind them. We take our time ambling along the headland's curve, and I relax into taking as many photos as I please.

We reach Mendocino just as it's getting dark, making a quick round of the streets along the coast and the main drag. It's a place I could amble through, gallery by gallery and shop by shop.

Maybe another year.

Either way, Thanksgiving '16 gave me quite a lot of awesome to file away in the memory banks. Hope yours did, too.

























layers

(continued from yesterday)

Thanksgiving morning is grey and damp and still. A blissful lack of street noise, of constantly rushing traffic outside my window. I am always embarrassed by how late I sleep in other people's homes. But Timo's right there with me, and it's nearly eleven before we stretch and yawn and wish one another a happy Thanksgiving.

Cooking smells permeate the house. Roast pork and pumpkin squash soup. Stewed cabbage, broccoli and hollandaise, mashed potatoes and gravy. I poke around the living room, examining tchotchkes and souvenirs, peering into the tiny framed faces of loved ones I'll meet later today. A passionate devotee of Native American culture lives here. Dozens of dream catchers adorn the walls. Feathered brushes for sage ceremonies, instruments of horn and skin and bone. Beaded drums, woven blankets, paintings full of tribal imagery. Bear claws and eagles.

We explore the bosky grounds. I'm enthralled by how wet and green everything is. Moss wrapped trees with dripping branches. Reedy ponds sheltering toads I can hear but can't see. A carpet of soggy leaves underfoot, flecked with spongy yellow mushrooms. Following a road storied with Timo's teenage experiences leads us to the fenced-in pastures of other rural loners. In one, a curious horse ambles over when we cluck an invitation, carefully extending our arms across the barbed wire. His mane is matted and his flank is filthy; our hands are black when we finally leave off petting him ten minutes later. We promise to return tomorrow with apples.

I am given a tour of the cannabis garden above the house. It's a completely legal operation; a dated, signed permit hangs in a sheet protector on the tool shed beside. In the shed, massive plastic bins keep the harvested buds, still in need of trimming, safe from the mold and cold. Overhead are parallel lines of cord, hung with bunches of colorful wire hangers--all empty. This is where the plants, earlier in the season, hang to dry.

Near the empty garden is a mound of discarded bamboo shoots, used for staking the plants. I enjoy the thought that even wicked things need support to grow properly. I'm told about the technique of light deprivation: shrouding the crop in the darkness of tarps to trick it into thinking it's later in the season than it really is.I enjoy the thought of this as well, and try to explain to Timo why. "The idea of applying some artificial means of...whatever. Speeding things up. Getting to the end game faster." I don't know what end game I mean, though.

Guests begin to arrive, and the house fills with the cheerful sounds of introductions, reunions, gift-giving, glass-pouring. I hover at the edge of conversations, trying not to be underfoot as tables are brought in, seating rearranged. I spend entirely too long wiping down some folding chairs, just to have something to do.

Dinner. Talk of travel, politics, the career achievements of the past year. I nurse my glass of local Chardonnay, watching strange faces laugh as they uncover commonalities, disclose relatable moments.

Later: backgammon, homemade quince liqueur, and naps on the couch. I excuse myself to make calls, send texts. The feeling of wanting to belong to something is like a blade at my throat. Being included in a day like today is the ultimate paradox: it only makes it worse. Everyone is lovely and welcoming, of course. It doesn't matter. My walls are three feet thick.

When everyone has gone home, Timo shuts off the outside lights so we can see the stars. At the edge of the yard he holds me and we tip our heads back. "I've seen some incredible Milky Ways here," he says.

I tell him this is a moment we'll enjoy in layers. "Right now, then again later as we fall asleep, then however often we'd like in the months to come, remembering it."

I know this is true, because it's like others I've had--while being completely unique at the same time.







everything coming up

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and the metaphors are everywhere. I don't even have to look for them anymore. The universe just hands them to me on a silver platter, monogrammed with my initials. It allows that this is my talent, for better or for worse: finding meaning in the vagaries of an indifferent world. And it provides me with plenty of material. Here, Ellie. Be of use. Amuse someone, even if it's just yourself. 

We're driving up the PCH, having cut over to the coast just north of San Francisco. Just for an hour or two. Just so long as we have daylight to take in the views. Then we'll snake back inland, pick up the 101, finish the haul up to Mendocino County where our host for the weekend lives. A second family of his, of sorts. They'll greet us, along with two bounding, barking dogs, in the frosty driveway. Usher us with hugs and handshakes into the home where Timo spent a year of high school.

But right now we're on the road. Six days off from work. We sandwiched the holiday with vacation time. My first official RTO at the new job. It's a big deal to me, to be here with him, to enjoy this trip guilt-free, because I have work to return to afterward. It's a big deal for other reasons, too.

Muir Beach. Stinson Beach. The marshy wetlands of Bolinas Lagoon. At some point we stop saying "Oh wow", stop craning our necks out the window, and actually pull over at the vistas. The windswept cliffs of Point Reyes. The clay blue cottages of Nick's Cove. I say something banal, about that blue. How you couldn't buy it, you couldn't ever find that perfectly faded shade even if you thumbed through a hundred paint chips at the hardware store. Wabi sabi. I have to believe in wabi sabi.

"Yell if you want to stop," he says, and sometimes I do. Then I spring from the rental car, retracing the twenty or thirty yards needed to get whatever shot it was I saw. It feels weird. I'm out of practice. I miss Instagram, on days like this.

When he comments on the barges dotting the horizon I have an excuse to use one of my favorite phrases. "In the offing," I say, smiling at him. He loves learning new English words. "That's what they call it, where it drops off from view. Literally it refers to the farthest you can see out into the ocean but it's a great metaphor for something in the future you can just barely make the shape of." The words hardly get out of my mouth before I realize their import. To me, anyway. Skirting the conversation I've boxed him into half a dozen times already. The one about where his future diverges from mine, or doesn't. The one about work visas and homesicknesses and job placements that weren't supposed to last as long as they have.

I'd bite my tongue but I know I'm safe. He hasn't heard the subtext of my words. He's not afflicted with the same "talent" I am. He's just happy to be here. It's one of the things I love about him. He rarely overthinks.

We stop for bottled water, and to stretch our legs. An outdoor coffee stand attached to the general store catches our eye. It's a long drive still. Caffeine might be a good idea. The wiry barista who makes Timo's latte speaks with a vague accent; we'll agree afterward that he's French, that an interesting story must have landed him in this tiny seaside town. When I throw down four bucks for a three dollar drink the Frenchman rings a little bell. "We do that for good tips," he winks at me, though I don't see anyone else around to constitute a "we." Handing over the cup he nods his traveler's benediction. "Enjoy everything coming up."

I write this down, word for word, in the notepad on my phone. Enjoy everything coming up. 

A few minutes later and my recent sleeplessness hits like a wave. I cannot stay awake and keep Timo company for the remaining drive, even though I know I should. Even though I know he would. I am positively wiped, physically and emotionally. In the past two months I have started two restaurant jobs and quit one. I have taken on three freelance writing gigs, started and then stopped an assistant position in Beverly Hills, broken the lease on my apartment and signed the lease on a new one. I am finally settling into something resembling routine and stability--or at least I will once I've moved. This is the first I've felt I can really relax in a long, long time.

The best I can do is change the music I've been playing through my phone to a podcast for him. Snippets of it invade my dreams. TED Radio Hour. Something about love, about the kinds of partners various personality types seek. I'll bring it up later, because of course I will. This time Timo will know exactly what I'm talking about. He'll have honed in on the same part, maybe thinking the same thing I am: We sought and found our opposites. Isn't it lovely? But not exact opposites, you know. In some ways we are so similar. And that's lovely, too.

(I'll say all of this in a state of exhaustion, curled up next to him in our bed for the next five nights. Even in the dark I know his expression. The half-smile that means he's listening, accepting, but not necessarily agreeing or endorsing. It's okay. The listening and accepting are enough.)

Two cattle grids in quick succession jar me awake. "We're here," he says, carefully navigating a starlit, gravelly country road. I feel groggy, puffy and gritty from travel. I blink, getting my bearings. An expansive yard, raking sharply down to where we drive. Trees bedecked with string lights. Wire form animals, also strung with bulbs. Colored icicle lights crowning a house the details of which I can't make out yet, in the dark and in my punch-drowsy state. A pair of German Shepherds herd us up the driveway, barking in welcome or warning or both. They know Timo. They don't know me, the holiday interloper.

The cold when we emerge from the car is biting but not bitter. I hang back, pulling on my coat while Timo greets his host mom and the man whose exact title in this domestic arrangement is unclear. Roommate? Caretaker? Companion? Even Timo doesn't know how to explain their relationship, which while long-running has never been romantic. Friends. Co-inhabitants. Whatever. It's working for them. This is a happy home, that much is obvious immediately. I am not spared any of the effusiveness Timo's return has generated. Hugs for me, too. We go inside. The dogs stay outside.

An hour of catching up, reconnecting. Polite inquiries about the generalities of my life. I am bleary, but trying to be bright. It's unnecessary, though. These are easygoing people. Relaxed, ready to like anyone those they love present to them. And they love Timo. His host mom is lit with excitement at his arrival. She peppers him with questions about his work, his family, his life in LA. I sit beside him on the sectional, chiming in when I can, smiling quietly when I can't. Heat from the furnace is pushing me back towards sleep. Tomorrow will be tough, I know. I'll miss my family and my friends. Voices in my head will attack me, tell me I deserve the loneliness I'll feel despite sitting at a cheerful, packed table. I'll wonder whether I shouldn't have stayed home, rather than foist myself on yet another unsuspecting family.

But I was invited.

I retire before Timo, who stays up to talk, laugh, reminisce. He snuggles up to me a little while later, giggly and high and sleepy. "I'm so happy you're here with me," he whispers. "I'm so happy to share this place with you. I can't wait for you to see how beautiful it is."

As always, as has not yet ceased to amaze me, the sleep I share with him is the most restful I've had with any man, ever. No tossing or turning. No feeling crowded, even when when our limbs tangle. He is the only one I can say this about.

I count it as a something to be very thankful for.








no choice but to believe

I've been compiling a list on my phone's notepad. Small moments that have been special, that I wanted to share with you.

Today, despite the blue skies and 80+ weather, feels black and airless. Twenty-four hours ago I was crying, walking out of the elementary school gymnasium where I triumphantly cast my ballot. Election days always make me emotional. For the past eight years that emotion has been elation, and yesterday's tears represented a prolepsis of another victory that, shockingly, didn't materialize. Which is why twelve hours ago I was crying again, but for entirely different reasons.

It's gonna be okay. It's gonna be rocky at best and consistently enraging at worse--but it's gonna be okay. We all have a responsibility to buckle down and promote positivity every chance we get, on every level we can reach. Last night I made two vows to myself. This was the first: that I would concentrate on the things I can control; on building better relationships with the people in my life, taking the time to appreciate them and express my gratitude. My hope, I guess, is that this love will ripple outward and someday, hopefully before the next election, reach those who've become so lost, angry, and misguided in their values that they think the president elect represents their interests. It's Pollyannaish, sure, but we don't have much to lose right now.

The second vow I made is to make better and more frequent use of whatever meager talents I have. To be of service. To make you guys laugh, or think, or just feel less alone. And I urge anyone possessing any artistic bent to do the same. Now's the time. Get expressive. Bring us together, any way you can.

After I share the small moments I've been collecting, I'm going to share one other, bigger moment with you. It wasn't something I ever planned on telling anyone about, for reasons that will be clear to those with good Elliequent attendance. I'll let you make of it what you will. I'll let you think about it as much or as little as you want.

Today is a good day for thinking.

Moment #1

I'm walking home one day in August, the weight of my world slowing me almost to a crawl. Self-pity is a brick-filled backpack I can't seem to unzip, much less unload. My street is ugly; there's no two ways about it. I hate it. It's choked with traffic all day, and lined with run-down duplexes whose front steps are littered with discarded mattresses. How did I get here? A series of very poor decisions. Someday, if I keep making enough good ones, I'll be able to move off of it. But for now, trash avenue is my home.

Twenty feet ahead of me, a front door swings open. Three nimble young bodies bound out into the sunshine. Boys a few years apart in age, and sized accordingly. Ten, eight, and six, if I had to guess. The oldest reaches the sidewalk first, and without turning around, extends his arms backwards. His two younger brothers quicken their pace to catch up. Each takes the hand of their big brother. All three fall into step, and the picture they make from behind stops me short with its sweetness. Head, shoulders, hand. Head, shoulders, hand. Head, shoulders, hand. Together they are invincible.

Moment #2

The 720 bus, the one I occasionally take home from the west side, is standing room only at certain times of day. Exhausted faces that remain otherwise indifferent as we cram against one another, sometimes muttering apologies, sometimes not even bothering. I push as politely as I can to the back, not to get a seat (there are none to be had), but to make room for the dozens more passengers jostling for space behind me. A man ten years my senior stands and gestures for me to take his spot. I demur despite my heavy bag, but he insists. To my mind, etiquette dictates the seat is his; I'm a woman but he's older. But the bus is picking up speed, bouncing us around. Someone has to sit. So I do. All of this is theater for the surrounding passengers, who watch with impassive eyes. All except for one young man, who rises and taps the shoulder of the man who's just sacrificed his seat. Wordlessly, he signals: Now you take mine. They laugh and nod at one another.

Impassive eyes are now smiling eyes. Smiling at me, at the two men. Half the bus is in on this lovely moment. Rarely is something paid forward paid back so soon.

Moment #3

On the first floor of my building lives an old woman who, it seems, is caretaker to several small children in the neighborhood. Some of these kids--mostly around age five or six--live in the building. Some are visitors, only appearing in the afternoons. It's a sort of unofficial day care, the playground of which is our building's dusty front stoop. The kids pull cardboard boxes from the recycling bins, making flat-screen TV sleds or choo-choo trains out of them. A few have bikes, or those wheelie shoes. They don't seem to have much more.

The old woman doesn't speak much English, but I feel like I know her anyway. Her colorful cotton peasant dresses are worn to softness. When she smiles, nearly toothless, I can see why parents trust her with their children.

One early morning, as I am returning home from god knows what debauchery, I watch a man drop off his baby for the day. It couldn't have been later than six am. (Dawn spreads over our east-facing building beautifully but mercilessly; those of us with street front windows woke to roasted living rooms all summer.) The man is tall, dressed in carefully pressed work attire. An immigrant, his accent indicates. As he approaches the building he speaks in low, gentle tones to the baby in his arms, who positively lights up at the sight of the old woman. She reaches out, cooing. The baby giggles, and the man who places his child in her arms wears a complicated expression that moves me immensely.

I bet I don't even need to describe it. I bet you can imagine it perfectly.

Moment #4

I'm sitting at dinner with a man I've known for a little over half a year. My feelings toward him are as complicated as he is. He's a difficult man. A damaged man. He can even be a dangerous man, ill-tempered and violent. He has stunned me, at times, with his selfishness and small-mindedness. He has said many hurtful things to me; criticized and mocked me and left me crumpled in self-doubt. And I've watched him do the same to others, both to their faces and behind their backs.

But right now, he is none of those things. Right now he is someone else entirely. Because right now he is talking, with a sincerity I believe because I have seen glimpses of this other person, about the changes he wants to make. He is speaking with true self-awareness about the importance of compassion. Of how good it feels to him, to give to others. This second man, who lives inside the louder, brasher, angrier first man--I've known this man, too. He has been kind to me. Incredibly generous and understanding and patient. This second man is good. He just needs help being better. He needs encouragement. He's not entirely evil.

Very few people are entirely and exclusively evil. Very few people are incapable of change and growth. For some of them, change and growth are terrifying and threatening. But under the right circumstances, surrounded by the right influences and examples of others--almost anyone can access their second, better self.

There is no choice but to believe this.

sam harris + richard dawkins

This was tonight, in Glendale:


I'd seen Richard Dawkins years before, at the ASU Origins Conference. But I'd never seen Sam Harris speak. And the two of them sharing a stage? I was super, super psyched.

It was entirely too short and more than a bit biology-heavy, but man. There was a moment in the beginning, when they were first came onstage, that just felt epic. Don't laugh, but I thought of ancient Greece. How for centuries people have gathered to hear the philosophers and writers and orators they admire speak about big, important ideas.

I fell into conversation with another attendee about just how much Sam Harris has impacted me in the past five years. How much he's influenced my worldview and shaped my values. (Most recently: the day after I bailed on that interview, when I realized I couldn't stomach fabricating my resume, I listened to "Lying" on Audible. It was cathartic.)

I'd actually screwed up and forgotten my ticket was for last night. I was crushed when at 6:30pm yesterday I realized I would never make it in time. So tonight I took a gamble and went to Glendale anyway, hoping to beg and grovel my way into the sold out show. The loveliest docent nodded understandably at my predicament and fetched me a ticket from the office.

Sam Harris in the flesh. Bucket list item for sure.

LSD, round two

It starts with an invitation to a concert I'd never have gone to on my own.

It isn't that I don't like Diana Ross; I do. But I'm a casual fan, not a devotee. I'd never have bought myself a ticket to the Hollywood Bowl that night. Gratefully accepting an extra one from a generous friend, however, is a different story. And that's where this story starts - with someone doing something kind for me, and me fucking up that kindness royally. Way, way too many of my stories start this way.

I meet Alfie and two others at Hollywood and Highland, and the four of us walk up the street to the venue together. It's mid July, sticky and hot even at sunset. Despite my joblessness, I'm in high spirits, a month into dating Timo. Thoughts of him are a constant susurrus in my head, and I have to force myself to leave my phone in my bag with the bottle of Malbec I've brought as an offering. (Alfie, as expected, rebuffs any attempt to pay him back.)

His friends are smart and funny; we make a jocose foursome as we climb the crowded hill. I especially click with Cara, the willowy jazz singer freshly transplanted from New Orleans. She's pierced and tattooed, possessed of an impishness she couldn't hide if she bothered to try--which she doesn't. Her eyes are black buttons that dart from me to Alfie back to me again, reading us, sizing us up with quiet intelligence. We discover that she lives a few blocks from me, cashiering in a pizza joint on Sunset while she gets her bearings. The two of us quickly fall away from the others who've now joined our party; we confer about music and our neighborhood and somehow, suddenly, drugs.

There are eight of us total, some familiar to one another, some strangers meeting for the first time. I know half of the group, but mingling with the rest comes easy enough after we've trooped in, single-file, to our seats. Almost everyone has brought something to eat or drink, and we pass trays of charcuterie, raspberries, brownie bites, and plastic wine goblets up and down. Everyone is tipsy within minutes, and it's a genuinely mirthful crew. 

Cara and I sit snug next to one another, giggling and gossiping about nearby patrons, cutting up like high schoolers in the back row of class. When I express embarrassment about my poor contribution to the party, she waves her hand in dismissal. "I didn't bring anything." The black button eyes flicker toward mine. "Unless you count shrooms."

She's counted on my reaction, which is a dropped jaw and raised eyebrows. "Shhhh," she warns, eyeing Alfie over my shoulder. So she's picked up on that already, has she? Likewise knowing Alfie's disapproval of drugs, I lower my voice. 

"Are you serious?" I can't hide my excitement. It's been a while. Shrooms are scarce lately. 

She nods, eyes shifting, while she reaches surreptitiously into her cross-body purse. The next thing I know, a small, foil-wrapped disk is being pressed into my palm. My heart thumps. Something about the illicit way she's presenting the gift tells me she knows what she's getting me into, and it's either a lot of fun or a lot of trouble, depending on one's perspective. 

I ask about the source in a play at due diligence, even as I peel the foil carefully away from the chocolate. "My boyfriend makes them. They're the best in LA. You'll see." Her eyes lock on mine meaningfully. Oh yes. Adventure time. 

Vaguely I wonder at the fact that she's already found a boyfriend in her new city, and a talented alchemist at that. I also wonder whether Pinkman knows him. I'll have to get her number before the night's over. 

If they're good, that is. 

And that's the last thing I think before I ingest a peanut butter cup-sized serving of what, dear reader, turns out, quite fucking clearlynot to be chocolate and psilocybin, but chocolate and LSD. Very, very, very, very good LSD. 

I don't even notice that the chocolate is completely smooth as it melts in my mouth. It doesn't occur to me that I'm not tasting the usual mashed-up, bitter bits of dried mushroom stem and bulb. That all I taste is sugar, cocoa, and butter. That there is nothing solid in the edible whatsoever. 

I'm just psyched as hell to be tripping with my friends at the Hollywood Bowl. Even if I have to keep it a secret between myself and the one I've just made twenty minutes prior. 

---

The come up is rough. Rocket-ride rough. My cheeks flush and my eyes swim, and a curl of nausea wraps around my gut. Cara, who's fifteen minutes ahead of me in her trip, keeps her eyes tightly trained on the stage. I try to catch her attention peripherally, but she refuses to look my way. I'm not sure what's going on, why she's avoiding me, but something starts to slip off-kilter in my brain. The playfulness between us has dropped out, and with every second that passes I'm incrementally closer to panic.

They're just really strong, I reassure myself. You've been here a dozen times. You always feel a little sick. You'll be fine. They'll level out soon. 

"Wow," I mutter, hoping to elicit a response from Cara. She just smiles and nods ever so slightly, still with her eyes on the stage. 

I spend the next ten minutes trying to find something to hold onto, visually and psychically. The nausea has abated, leaving in its wake a dizzy mental twist I haven't experienced in over a year, but which is instantly recognizable. Far, far down in front of me, the blur of lights and color and costume begins its telltale transition into multi-dimensionality. All in a rush, it dawns on me. I've taken LSD. There is no mistaking it. The unforgettable effects I first encountered on my birthday last year in Joshua Tree compound by the millisecond, and I know.

I know.

Gulping for air, I excuse myself and make a scene trying to disentangle myself from pair after pair of legs as I flee our party's bench. I can feel dozens if not hundreds of eyes on me. Dozens if not hundreds of curious frowns. I don't care. I have to get away, get some space. I know what I'm in for, and I'm trying not to freak out before I can get a handle on the situation.

The night is mercifully cool as I stagger down the raked aisle alongside the amphitheater. No idea where I'm going. No idea what I'm going to do. I'm clasping my phone like the lifeline I know it is, putting off the inevitable. The pine trees lining the walkway loom like green giants overhead, their edges vibrating, rainbow-bright. In a little bit I'll be able to bear looking at them. Maybe ten or fifteen more minutes, if I'm lucky. Maybe longer. Eventually I know, if the trip goes right, they will be stunningly, heartbreakingly beautiful. But right now, I have to take in a little as possible, visually. It's far too overwhelming, because I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I've just taken a drug that, the last time I took it, made me want to kill myself. At first, anyway. 

I need to talk to someone I can trust. Someone who will calm me down, not scold or criticize me. Someone who will listen and walk me back from the ledge. 

My options are limited. My closest friends and I are on shaky ground. Two I'd like to call would be extremely unimpressed with my choice tonight, and would definitely make me feel worse about it. One is at home with spouse and kids, and an LSD-frenzied call from me would be wholly unwelcome. It doesn't occur to me to call Cameron, who probably would have been an excellent choice. Instead I decide to call my ex-boyfriend. 

No, not that one. The one before that one. The artist. If you've been with me for at least three years, then you know who I mean. If you haven't, all you need to know is he was the one that helped me when my dad died. He's a touchstone in my life, and remains a friend. And I trust him. I used to call him "A" on my blog. His real name is Greg. 

Greg, obviously surprised to hear from me so randomly, picks up within two rings. I pour my words out as quickly as I can, grateful for the familiar voice on the other end. 

"Greg? I'm at the Bowl with some friends, and someone gave me acid, and I didn't know I was going to do it, but I did, and I just need to talk to someone for a moment, ok? I know I'll be fine, I know the deal, but right now I'm just really scared because it's really, really, really hard at first until it levels out, and can you please just talk to me for a minute until I'm ok? Please?"

You know the tone of voice that someone who cares about you deeply sometimes takes, when they're exasperated beyond belief, but they also have enormous compassion for you, because they know you're something of a fuckup, but they love you anyway and would do anything to make sure you're okay?

That's the tone of voice I latch onto for the next ten minutes. And I am thankful for it. 

I don't remember much of what was said. I kept repeating myself; that I know. LSD looping: it's real, it's unavoidable, and it's one of the worst parts of the trip. Recursive thoughts that become verbal tics. I probably just kept saying how rough the beginning was, but that I knew I'd be okay in a little while. Greg did what he could to keep me calm, joking with me, reminding me that there was nothing I could do so I might as well give in and enjoy it. 

At some point, Cara finds me. Her eyes are round with fear, and she searches my face even as she asks concerned, solicitous questions. We play a game then, and the game is this: we both know she's given me LSD, not shrooms, but my poor reaction has terrified her; she is sure I'm going to tell Alfie, a friend she very much doesn't want to lose, so she pretends not to know what's really happened. We go back and forth, back and forth. I tell her I'm not stupid. "Please just be honest with me," I beg. "I know the difference between shrooms and acid, and it's okay, maybe you didn't know? Maybe your boyfriend mixed up batches or something?" I cast about for any excuse for her. I don't want to believe this stranger has drugged me. But I can tell she's lying, and badly at that. I can tell she's only trying to cover her ass, afraid of getting in trouble with our more conservative mutual friend. 

We spend several minutes lurching around near the bathrooms and smoking area while she tries to keep me calm and quiet. I realize she's not as high as I am. She might not even be high at all. I can't decide what to do with this information, where to put it or how to feel about it. 

And then, as abruptly as clicking to the next slide of a View Master, everything that is horrible about LSD becomes everything that is magical about LSD. Because that is LSD. 

So.

Now I'm faced with the task I couldn't accomplish the last time it was set before me, sixteen months ago: trying to explain why acid--as I have seen twice now--is the most powerful and life-changing substance on the planet. Why it will leave you breathless, tear-stained, and giddy with joy. How it will morph the physical world into a wonderland of possibility and living poetry. How it will crack your self-perception into a kaleidoscope of new, impossibly thrilling perspectives.

I will say it clearly and without qualification: LSD is my favorite thing in the universe. I wish I could put into words what it has given me in terms of self-awareness and self-love. I wish I had the courage to do it every month. I wish for everyone I love the gifts it has to give. 

Alas. It's LSD. Fat chance.

I feel like the posts I wrote after Joshua Tree were comprehensive, to say the least. I don't know that anything I could add now would further illuminate...what I'm trying to illuminate. But my god. All I can say is that last year wasn't a fluke. It really is a rabbit hole at the bottom of which is the pure light of consciousness. I know, I know. Believe me, I know. But there's nothing for it. I can't talk about acid without sounding like an insane hippie. It's acid. 

It all came out, of course. Everyone found out, including Alfie. You cannot hide being on LSD. LOL at the idea of that, really. Cara and I rejoined the group about halfway through the show, but almost immediately I had to leave again, so that I could literally run up and down the side of the amphitheater, crying with happiness, calling every friend I could think to call, leaving crazy-person voicemails about how much I loved them. The clarity and sense of serenity were even deeper than they'd been the first time. Or maybe I was ready for them to come sooner. Less afraid. Either way, I just wandered around, occasionally watching the vibrancy onstage but mostly communing with the trees and stars above. 

After the show we all trekked out together, snaking through the parking lot down to the boulevard. Brake lights smearing the night. I had to hold someone's arm. I took huge gasping breaths, amazed at how lovely even the traffic was. I apologized over and over to Alfie; so did Cara. He assured me he wasn't angry, but even in my altered state I could tell: Cara would be excommunicated for her sins. 

We ended up at Alfie and Kenne's house, where I staggered about their backyard in a dream state while they babysat. You could not commission a set designer to decorate a more acid-trip perfect setting than Alfie and Kenne's backyard. Trees and flowers, potted and wild, big and small. Riotous color and texture. Stone and pottery and brick and little kitschy plastic yard toys. I was in an absolute reverie of delight and gratitude. The spell broke internally, and I confessed to my friends about something that had recently happened to me. I sobbed and sobbed, relieved to have the truth out. Cara held me by the arms and made me look her in the eye while she told me what a beautiful soul I was. I'd long since forgiven her, and made her promise to thank her boyfriend for giving me this experience.

I texted Timo. Just his name. If he'd replied I would have told him I was tripping on LSD and happily thinking of him. He didn't answer, though, which in retrospect was probably good. It might have been a bit much, having not known me for very long. 

Eventually I wore everyone out. Kenne and Alfie went to bed, Cara went home after staying out with me for another couple of hours, and I found myself alone in front of a dive bar in Koreatown. I was still soaring. I called Greg, or maybe he called me, to make sure I was okay. I was fine, but I knew my night was nowhere near over. I took an Uber to Hollywood, and the babysitting baton was passed to my old neighbor turned boyfriend turned ex turned friend. He sat with me patiently in another dive bar while I babbled. He smiled with amusement when I cried with joy. And finally, sometime around 2am when I was finally able to eat, he bought me food. Then he put me back in an Uber and sent me home, aglow and abuzz with new life. 

LSD, round two.