Showing posts with label observation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label observation. Show all posts

pivot

Our first Saturday together in seven months, the rain gets the better of us.

We drive to the forest, listening to music that satisfies both our tastes. Paul Kalkbrenner, CRO, Ben Howard. We joke nervously about all the defeated looking, soaked-to-the-bone hikers we see on the way up the mountain. Buy a day pass for the park. Layer on hoodies and jackets, gamely set out on the trail. But it's too wet and too cold, and the loop we have in mind is three hours long. We'd be asking for colds. We'd be stupid. So we pivot. Decide to hit one of the beach cities neither of us have ever really explored.

We stop back at my place first, to change into dry clothes. In a stroke of good luck, we snag a parking spot in front of my building. I slip my debit card into the meter, which automatically cues up two hours' worth of time. Timo punches the timer down to 45 minutes, then 30, and I laugh. "How quick are you going to be?" I tease. It's been a few days. Changing into dry clothes is only the cover story.

His dimple comes out at this--the one that deepens when he's trying to suppress a smile. The one that owns me, completely. "That's up to you," he shoots back, looking me square in the eye. He dials the meter back up to an hour, puts his hand on the back of my neck, and walks me this way inside to my apartment.

---

On the way to the coast, he calls home. An official, meet-the-parents Skype had been tentatively planned anyway, and doing it now there's less pressure. Two birds, or something. I listen to the conversation through the car's speakers, deducing enough from the occasional bit of English what they're talking about. There's a lot of laughter. Timo and his mother both laugh easily, and often. I can hear them in one another, even when I don't understand a word. She is energetic, full of plans and ideas and questions. His dad is quieter, chiming in when he wants something clarified. Something tells me he's the one I'll seek out someday, during some future visit, when the foreign, mirthful house full of siblings and cousins and babies overwhelms me.

Timo stops to explain or translate now and again, so I don't feel totally excluded. I catch some German words related to work that are identical to their English counterparts, and when I look at him pointedly he says, "Yeah that's right, I'm talking about you."

His mother asks whether we'll be coming to Germany soon, to celebrate some of the good news Timo has just shared, and I jump in. "We talked about maybe coming later this summer...?" I direct my words to them, but I'm looking at their son. He says in German then translates, smiling at me: "It's in the plan but not on the calendar."

And then we're in Long Beach.

Neither of us is crazy about the admission prices of the aquarium (which I've been to before) or the Queen Mary (which we've both been to), so we opt for aimless wandering. It's cool and windy, and downtown is more or less deserted. The streets are wide and empty, the fresh air and ample space invigorating. We walk and talk and look, admiring some of the older architecture and flat out hating on some of the new.

Massive cranes towering up from the loading docks remind Timo of the Port of Hamburg, and the nostalgia in his voice makes me jealous. Little gets closer to someone's heart than the landmarks of childhood. When we stroll past the hands-on tide pool outside the aquarium, I'm tempted to spring for the $30 ticket; I've always loved these sorts of mini aquatic petting zoos. Plunging my arms into the icy water. Carefully prying starfish from rocks. Pressing my flattened palms against the needle tips of sea urchins. 

The grassy area surrounding the lighthouse is closed off for a wedding; bridesmaids in navy blue chiffon form ranks around a bride in white satin. A photographer stations the party in front of gently bobbing boats, and it's picturesque enough, but in that casual, sunny way of California harbors. East coast harbors just feel more authentically naval to me. Saltier. Tougher.

I'm thinking about my dad today, finding excuses to bring him up. He was a sailor, having joined the Navy at sixteen. Somewhere I've got a handful of black and white snapshots of him in his crisp whites, some local doll on his arm. Cocky and grinning despite his age. April 30th marked five years ago that he died. I celebrated, in a gesture that only those who really know me would understand, by going to a Deadmau5 show. Getting high while listening to live music, and the feelings of love and gratitude that doing so always leads me to.

We sit and gaze across the water at the Queen Mary: massive, immobile, timeless. Timo reads aloud from the ship's Wikipedia page - our own DIY historical tour. We take a pic that I'll later delete, because it is awful. I do this guiltily, because more frequent documentation of our time together is a mission we have vowed to undertake. It's something I have to admit I miss about my last relationship, as annoying as it occasionally was.

Hungry, we Yelp, choosing a seafood restaurant nearby. Picking a new place for date nights, or on day trips, or even while traveling always stresses me out. It feels like such a gamble, and such a shame when it's not good. But the place we find is perfect for our mood and our appetites. On barstools at a table facing the street, we share clam chowder, ceviche, grilled yellowtail. I get buzzed and chatty on pineapple cider, flirting with my boyfriend of ten months.

Serious-faced little dogs trot past the window, leading their humans, and I laugh. "Is there any kind of dog you don't like?" Timo asks, amused, I guess, at the ease by which I am delighted.

"Sure. I can't stand Chow Chows and Shar Peis. And Cocker Spaniels. And Dalmations." This last surprises him.

"They're mean," I explain. "Inbred and blind, mostly, so they're very aggressive." Timo nods, and I go on, watching his face. "And though I really like their faces and coloring and personalities, I don't love how German Shepherds look." Surprise again. "The hunched-over legs," I say. "That skulking way they walk. And did you know that their actual name is 'German Shepherd Dog'? So dumb. Like 'PIN number.'"

"That's because in German, their name means 'the shepherd's dog'". My jaw drops, genuinely gobsmacked. I'd never realized. I make a gesture that mimes my head exploding.

Tipsy, I announce that were I to live in another century, I'd be a shepherdess. "What a gig. Just take the sheep out, chill all day reading under a tree, take them back home." Knowing pointless thought exercises like this aren't his thing, I ask anyway: "What would you want to be, if you were born in another century?"

"A rockstar in the sixties." I object, having of course meant pre-1900, but he just laughs. "That was another century."

I'm curious though. It's about the last answer I'd expect of him, and I ask: "Would you really want to be a rockstar?" I've dated a few wanna-be rockstars in my day. Timo is nothing like a wanna-be rockstar.

"No. Not really at all, actually." And I believe him.

"I read a quote from Alain de Botton the other day. 'Proof of good parenting is that your child doesn't want to be famous.'"

"What, because they'll have gotten enough attention growing up?"

"Exactly." Without saying it explicitly, I know we both agree with the theory, and that feels important for some reason.

The whole evening still open to us, we decide to catch a movie. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (we both loved the first). On the walk over to the theatre, on the pedestrian overpass bridging an outdoor mall, Timo playfully races a toddler pushing his little sister's stroller. When the boy suddenly leaves off and stumbles in another direction, Timo sets off immediately after him, until the kid's dad calls him back. It takes me a second to understand: the little boy was headed towards some stairs. I stare hard at my boyfriend's profile as we continue on, but he just keeps his eyes straight ahead, refusing to take in my wordless praise.

On the front steps of the Performing Arts Center, we come across a man walking his Golden Retriever puppy. I gasp; the dog is utterly gorgeous. The man sees my face and before I can even get out the words May I pet your... he's whirled himself and the pup around so I can kneel down and say hello. The puppy gives me a quick kiss on the face, then seats himself calmly without even having to be asked. I stroke his neck and back, stunned nearly speechless by his sweet brown eyes.

"How old?" My heart is pounding.

"Ten months." I nod, then shake my head. "He's amazing." It's all I can say. Even Timo is impressed, chiming in, "Beautiful."

Then they're gone. Ten seconds' worth of interaction at most, but I'm destroyed. Timo sees me turn away, tears forming, and pulls me into a hug. "That was stupid," I say to his chest. "I don't know why I do that to myself."

"Why wouldn't you?" he says sharply. "The dog was beautiful." I know the impatience in his voice, and what it means. It means, No, Ellie, you're not giving up on anything you love in this world, just because it sometimes hurts. It's a sentiment I've needed to hear before. It's one he's willing to offer up again and again, until I get it.

Before the movie we get ice cream. Cold Stone Creamery. He's never been. I excitedly point out the frozen slab of marble, explain the process. "You can get as many different things as you want. They'll smash it all up and mix it in." Our eyes are already bigger than our stomachs, but the portions are enormous regardless. We sit and scoop our indulgence on a bench outside the creamery, the setting sun streaking the plaza in ribbons of cold white light.

"This is obscene," he criticizes happily. "In Germany this would be a third as big."

"That's so there's room to put the sauerkraut on top." I am leveled by my own joke, and howl with laughter.

"Think you're clever much, do you?" The dimple reappears.

---

On the way home, I lean across the console, turning my face into his arm. He's wearing one of my favorite sweaters. Lightweight, loose knit, wheat-colored. I breathe in the smell of him and sigh. When I pull away so he can more easily change lanes, he objects. "No no, come back." Lays his arm over my shoulders. Strokes my elbow softly. It's gotten late and we're both tired, but the drive home goes quickly.

It's just Long Beach. Just a walk around the waterfront, some lunch, a movie, and ice cream. But holy fuck is it more than enough for me.

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.

pop!

If it's important to me, and I'm important to them, shouldn't it be important to them, too? + Should? What's should? What has should ever gotten anyone? + I'm so disappointed. I'm angry. I want to lock the door. I want to take my ball and go home. + Well, you could do that. Would that make you happy? + No. I don't know. Maybe a little. Ultimately no. + You let expectation get the best of you again. + Yes. + Expectation is a balloon waiting to be popped by reality. You can have a hundred of them, tie them together and float away on the levity of what they promise. But eventually they'll give out. They'll burst, or fizzle and deflate, and you'll hit the ground with a thud. + So what do I do? What do I do with these feelings? + Tell them. Ask them to ask themselves how they'd feel. Then let it go. It's just a balloon.

the queen and the viscount

The queen is fucking the viscount, and the whole court knows about it. We do our best to act like we don't, but they're getting sloppy. Unsealed missives. Garden dalliances in the full glare of moonlight. We look away when they exchange simpering glances, keeping our own faces blank. But the stink of their self-satisfaction--that we cannot escape.

Honestly I think she wants everyone to know. Everyone but the king, of course. One by one she draws aside her handmaids, demanding to know what we've seen, what we've heard. Oh, nothing untoward m'lady, we lie, and the sluttish twinkle in her eye betrays the delight she takes in this facade. But we value our heads, so we keep the lips on them sealed. We don't tell her what the viscount does when she's away. Which is much, and ugly. There are casualties of his "affection" from the galley to the stables.

The queen fancies herself a coquette, but too many years have passed for that. Too many babies born. The velvet at her waist pinches, the rouge creases on her cheek. The seamstress told us she's had the lace of her cuffs lengthened to hide withering hands. No more is she the apple-cheeked ingenue freshly arrived at our shores, her dowry the promise of war avoided.

And the viscount, well. Have you ever admired a stallion far off in the paddock, only to see when it approaches that it is, in fact, a gelding?

Then you know our illustrious viscount.

the enveloping warmth of self-delusion (a how-to)

Step 1: Construct your narrative. Think carefully about the role you want to cast yourself in. Victim, hero, iconoclast, and martyr are all popular choices, but don't feel limited to these. Get creative!

Some questions to consider: How am I being wronged? In what ways am I innovating or inspiring, that others fail to appreciate? What personality flaws and intellectual shortcomings are preventing them from recognizing my greatness?

Step 2: Ignore any answer that does not lend itself to your established narrative.

Think of your self-deception like a cozy fur coat, shielding you from the harsh winter wind of reality. You wouldn't let it get wet and dirty, would you? That's what challenging outside opinions are: dirt. Brush them off and keep going.

Step 3: Surround yourself with enablers. It's important to experience routine reinforcement of your worldview. This is best achieved by maintaining strict filters in life. Listen only to viewpoints that ratify your position, particularly where it pertains to your character.

Remember, you don't owe the world an open mind! It's your brain: block, delete, and dismiss any thought that makes you uncomfortable.

Step 4: Have the bubble in which you live insured. It's the only thing keeping you safe from the twin abhorrences of self-awareness and growth.

puddle

A girl broke down crying in front of me tonight, in a discount department store on Broadway. A teenager. I don't know how old. Sixteen, if I had to guess?

Terence was with me. I was shopping for, well, props for the business. I had my hands full and was a million miles away, thinking of everything I needed to do. "Excuse me," I heard a halting voice say. "Can you take me to the nearest Starbucks? I'm lost."

Take, she'd said. Lost, she'd said. This phrasing, along with the fact that she was with another girl--and they both carried smart phones--made me suspect I was the target of some sort of scam. Because what teenaged kid these days can't navigate her way to a Starbucks?

"Well I can't take you," I answered with friendly, reassuring briskness (in case she really was lost), "but I can tell you where one is? It's super close." I pointed towards the store's front doors and began to give directions (one street up, one street over), and that's when she started crying. She just sort of dropped her head into her hands and lost it.

"Hey! Hey, it's okay!" I snapped out of my distracted state and turned to her and her companion. "Are you lost?" She nodded, looking pitiful. "You're okay, you're totally safe, okay? You're safe." More nodding. Friend didn't say anything. Friend had a lot of eyeliner and the last three inches of her hair were dyed lilac. I got the sense that being lost wasn't the real problem so I said, "Listen, whatever it is, it's temporary. You're safe and it's gonna be okay." I gently rubbed the top of her arm, petting her like a distressed Chaucer (who probably would have been a great help in this situation).

"I don't want to go home," the girl suddenly announced, jolting the mood from after school special to CSI: DTLA. Or maybe it just did for me, because I felt my spine go rigid. I looked at Terence, who was watching quietly from a few feet away. "Hey--will you give us a sec?" He nodded and moved off.

"Listen, it's okay," I repeated to the girl. Then with the best calm-but-concerned-outsider vibe I could channel I asked, "What's going on at home? Is everything okay?" It occurred to me that for whatever reason, I was playing Trusted Adult in this scene. I introduced myself. "I'm Ellie. What's your name?" She told me, but I forgot within minutes. Let's call her Emily. "Listen Emily," I said. "I know I'm a stranger and I don't want to intrude in your life, but are you safe at home? Is anyone hurting you at home?"

Let it never be said that I'm not direct.

Emily shook her head and I looked at friend, who didn't give me any kind of furtive, She's lying glance. "It's fine," said Emily. "I just can't deal with them right now." Deal with them right now sounded good to me. Like typical, sixteen-year-old hating-her-parents type stuff.

"Where do you live?"

"Atwater Village."

"How did you guys get here? Did you take the bus or something?"

"Lyft." (Duh. It's a new era, Ellie.) "But my mom canceled the credit card." Ah. A picture emerges.

"Okay, well...do you have bus fare to get home or whatever?"

Nodding. "I just want to go to Starbucks and chill for a little while."

So I reissued my directions, because I judged (based on my vast experience with angsty adolescents) that she was probably fine. Or would be in a couple of hours, anyway. At the very most in a couple of years.

Poor kid. Not much worse when you're that age, than thinking every puddle is an endless ocean.

go ask alice

She stalks through the automatic doors of the hotel lobby aggressively, her head tipped back so her jaw juts out like a dare. Daring us to stare, daring us to judge. She wears a black peaked policeman's cap, black sunglasses with huge circular lenses that dwarf her porcelain doll face, black knee highs above black Converse, and black dance shorts. Criss-crossed with perfect symmetry across each nipple is a black adhesive 'X'. I know they're pasties, I know she must have bought them, but their width and vinyl smoothness matches that of electrical tape so completely I have a brief vision of her throwing a roll of it, pilfered from her dad's garage, into her suitcase along with the rest of her getup. She'd be 85 pounds, soaking wet. If she's over nineteen I'd eat my hood.

Speaking of my hood, she's speaking of my hood. "Oh my gosh, you're so furry, I love it," she says without any intonation to warn me whether she's being sincere or catty. I'm dressed pretty provocatively myself, so my bitchiness radar is set to high sensitivity. So far this weekend no one's been anything but complimentary of my outfit, but I'm a middle-aged woman in footless fishnets and I'm decidedly on guard. And since the oversized frames hide her eyes, at first I'm not even sure that she's talking to me. "All pink and furry. I just want to rub you." Yep, she's talking to me.

"Go ahead." I smile at her, realizing that nineteen is probably pushing it. She's like a much younger, much frailer Juliette Lewis. But by now our group, which has been waiting in the hotel carport for our ride to the festival, is climbing into the van that's just pulled up. I get in ahead of Terence and for the half-second it seems like she might sit directly beside him my stomach clenches ever so slightly...but then she announces her intention to take the back row instead. "Like the bad kids," she cracks, and everyone laughs louder than necessary. Than they would, I suspect, if the person making the joke wasn't a topless teenaged girl.

Her companion is a slight, sweet-faced kid in a homemade Pinocchio costume, with massive dark eyes that dart about excitedly, taking everything in. This is their first festival. She is clearly the alpha, he the adoring sidekick. I ooh and ahh over his every button and ribbon as he twists around to show them off. Meanwhile the girl stretches her arms out across the seat back, wondering aloud how many Alice in Wonderland costumes they'll see at the festival. Her body language is calculated to declare casual self-confidence but the stiffness of her shoulders, slouched slightly forward, betrays a touch of self-consciousness. I want to tell her it doesn't get any easier with age. But that if she's so comfortable with her body already, she might just get through it better than most. Instead Terence and I advise her and her friend on what sets to catch. Neither of them know any of the performers.

"I like shit like this," she explains, pointing at the van's ceiling to indicate the music playing. "That dirty, ratchet shit." I twist my lips, pretending to think. I hate trap and have no idea what to tell her, but Terence chimes in with suggestions. When he's done, a wave of warmth comes over me. "You don't have any kandi!" I say, as if only now noticing her bare forearms, snow white and thin as reeds.

"I knowww!" she says, with exaggerated mournfulness.

"Okay well I'm giving you this." I separate an elastic bracelet of pony beads from the cluster on my left wrist and carefully pull it over the others towards my left hand. The beads are red, black, white, and light blue - the colors of the classic Disney character's frock. In the center of the kandi are spaced three short words. I doubt she'll get the secondary or tertiary references but considering her earlier comment I can't resist. It's just too perfect. Also, it's the tightest kandi I made and wouldn't fit a wrist much bigger than hers or mine. She lowers her sunglasses for the first time and the youthfulness of her saucer-sized eyes makes my heart thud. The intelligence, too. Ratchet shit, my ass. This girl is playing a part. There's more underneath the rebellious-Hot Topic-model-hoping-to-scandalize-everyone-with-bare-breasts act, I can tell.

I confess that I don't know the exchange ritual very well, and she perks up. "Oooh now I feel like less of a festival noob, teaching a veteran something." I laugh, but what I'm laughing at is the idea of being any kind of veteran to EDM. Since we're sitting in different rows we can't do the "respect" part of the PLUR exchange, but that's okay. She's lit up by the gift I've given her, which she fingers lightly as she reads out the words I strung on it, squinting with 3:00 a.m. post-packing exhaustion, doubting the phrases I'd come up with for my kandi were clever enough for the whippersnappers I might be giving them to. "'GO ASK ALICE'. Oh yay! That's perfect. Haha, I love it. Right on!"

Terence squeezes my thigh and gives me a side smile as the van pulls into the drop-off zone. All dozen of us debouch into a dusty parking lot, putting on our game faces and our sunglasses, adjusting nylon and spandex and fur, tugging our few clothes into place and wearing less - or more - than we'd planned to that day.

anesthetic

Dentist this afternoon. Three cavities filled, because apparently I've been using powdered sugar as toothpaste. Gotta look into that. I'd canceled my three previously scheduled appointments since I am a huge baby (though in my defense the last time I let the dentist lay hands on me I got dry socket), so I couldn't say a word today when they kept me waiting a solid forty-five minutes before starting.

The exam rooms at my dentist's office aren't divided by walls; they're just small, recessed inlets off of a main walkway. This makes it easier for the staff to step in and out of each patient area quickly, so they can manage multiple appointments at once. It also allows everyone to hear what's going on with everyone else. Drilling, cries of pain, diagnoses of gum disease... It's all very democratic.

Today in the "room" beside mine was an elderly woman, whose face I could see when I turned to my left, which I did exactly once. Scraggly grey hair, clean-faced, threadbare cardigan. She had a dreamy, faraway smile that suggested nitrous, but it was clear from the encouraging words of her companion (who I could hear sitting at her feet) that she wasn't high. Just not there, exactly. Alzheimer's perhaps, or dementia? I don't know. The middle-aged male voice - which kept calling her Drea and telling her how brave she was -  had a patronizing quality and an unnecessary loudness that set my already-nervous teeth on edge. I wondered whether there wasn't some part of Drea, still perfectly lucid, that hoped he would shut the hell up.

With nothing else to do, I texted Terence a play-by-play. He just said, "She likes to smile, and she likes to chew, too! Doesn't she? DON'T YOU, DREA?"

Jesus, said Terence. Plot twist: he's actually in the chair in a dress talking about himself. 

Now he asked the dentist and assistant if they mind if he takes a picture of them working on her. WTF. He's talking to her like she's four and promising her a Starbucks cookie and I want to cry. 

Poor Terence, who was probably waiting for my own work to start so he could take a nap, didn't know what to say. It's like a bad show and you can't change the channel. 

I feel awful for her, I said, adding a frown. She's terrified, I said, though I had no way of knowing if that was true. Then I repeated the mantra I'd been saying all day, to stave off my dental visit dread: Joshua Tree, Bonnaroo, Lake Burton. Joshua Tree, Bonnaroo, Lake Burton. Joshua Tree...

---

My fillings were surprisingly quick and painless, and I was on the train back downtown within forty minutes. I absolutely hate having my face numb, though, so as soon I got home I Googled ways to dispel the anesthetic faster. One site said increased blood flow helps, as from exercise. But I hadn't eaten anything so a run was out of the question. I threw some soup on the stove and edited photos from the weekend while I waited. When the soup was hot, I poured myself a steaming bowl and retreated into a big, cozy chair. But when I tried to blow on the soup to cool it, the muscles around my mouth just bunched up stiffly; I was still too numb. Panic crept in. What if something's wrong? What if they made a terrible mistake and my face is stuck like this forever? I slurped a spoonful of soup and the slackness of my jaw was unbearable. Exactly how a stroke victim would feel, I realized.

I knew everything would come back to me, if I just waited a little bit longer. I'm still waiting, though. Poking my cheek with my tongue, grimacing and puckering and getting quizzical looks from Chaucer.

We could probably both use a run.

in which I White Knight for a music festival

In a move 0% of those surveyed characterized as "a good idea", I went to Coachella for just one day - Sunday. I'm not often in the habit of wasting two thirds of a music festival ticket, but thanks to my own last minute indecisiveness, a resale glut on StubHub, some flaky Airbnb hosts, and a disinclination to engage with Craigslisters after dark, it was the best I could do to salvage my investment. I drove out, spent eight hours there, and drove home. Intense for sure, but not unbearable. And considering how much incredible music was plied into such a narrow time slot, worth the trip.

Coachella is everyone's favorite festival to hate on, and understandably so. It's expensive, heavily corporate, and has a terrible reputation for superficiality. Fashion has become such an integral part of Coachella culture that it seems to garner just as much attention as the performances themselves. When I saw this photo on The Atlantic, I cringed. A pack of rich, skinny white women striding in imperial lockstep across the field, outfitted in head-to-toe Bohemian Muse™, refusing to break the fourth wall and even acknowledge the photographer (kneeling in apparent fealty) before them. Looking at it tells you absolutely nothing about the festival. It's images like this that scare otherwise enthusiastic live music fans away from Coachella. Hell, it briefly scared me, before I tore my eyes from Alessandra and Co's cheekbones and noticed the reassuring averageness of most everyone else in the photo.

Coachella's excess is undeniable. But what I've experienced in the last three years is that those corporate dollars buy a lot of production value. The festival truly delivers in terms of spectacle, talent, visual and audio design. Also in terms of cleanliness, accessibility, and organization, which are no small considerations when you're exhausted, overheated, dehydrated, and on day three of self-abuse. I for one am happy to pay a little more for a ticket if it means substantially shorter bathroom lines, easier to navigate grounds and exits, less trash, and more shade structures. And the fashion thing? Yes, it can be tiresome. But it's hardly fair to crucify Coachella for glorifying style when the flower children of festivals past are to this day admired as, well, Bohemian muses. Personally, I inwardly snicker when I see girls sweating under the weight of clingy crochet tops and leather fringe bags, dancing stiffly in heeled boots lest they dislodge their headpieces. And if those paper dolls want to blow $7k on a "Safari" tent vs. taking an actual safari, more LOLs for the hoi polloi. (Though I'd happily take their money and their cheekbones.)

Your social media feeds don't lie. Yes, some people at Coachella really look and act like that. And unless you check out the Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, etc. coverage of the festival's raison d'etre, those obnoxious selfies are probably your sole impressions of Coachella.

As a festival lover, this makes me sad.

Coachella could certainly use some tweaking, by everyone from organizers down to attendees. Skip the obnoxious publicity stunts and set up some truly noteworthy reunions and surprise appearances. Kill the over-the-top lodging packages, which attract scenesters and spoiled trust fundies. Stop making it about the clothes and satellite parties.

These failings notwithstanding, however, Coachella is an incredible experience. Seventy-two hours of pure potential: to bond, to explore (within and without), to be surprised, to feel and love and listen intently. This is what every music festival offers - even one whose hype has outpaced its maturation.

The Atlantic photographer who focused on the Coachella Heathers and blurred out everything else got it exactly backwards. If he'd stepped back and taken a wider shot you would have seen, albeit mixed in with the occasional douchebag, thousands of everyday people, concerned with much better things than matching outfits. I know because I notice them. Especially when I'm alone. I see tiny stories unfold, all day long. Some I'm even a part of. And I'll tell you a few, though they might well seem pedestrian and schmoopy. But first, you know what you have to do. That's right. You have to slog through Ellie's Carefully Curated Selection of 'Same Shit, Different Year' Festival Photos, because that is the tradition around here. Now look, goddamnit, LOOK AT THE PRETTY COLORS.

You have to admit that on the scale of obnoxious to cute, a circle of kids with their heads together for a group selfie is definitely at the cuter end of the scale. 


Look at these disgusting, multi-color, multi-size people, milling about all normally and shit. It's like they don't even care that The Atlantic needs clicks.


Are you frightened? It's okay if you are. I was. And I was completely sober. Did I mention it moves?


I heard this variously described as "the earth mover statue", "the machine from Aliens", and "the crane thing." Whatever it was, at least it stayed put.


They keep shoving the Do Lab further and further to the fringes of the festival. At this rate it'll be in Riverside by 2020.


"Hey Ellie, did you finally ride the Ferris Wheel, like you've been promising you would for forever?" "What's that? Oh hey look over there, free popsicles!"


I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that no one could possibly be so messed up at a festival such that alternately seeing a butterfly and a caterpillar could, like, totally screw with their mind and trip them the eff out. You go right on believing that. 

I was glad to see the Corporate Headquarters hippos back this year; they are a hoot. Here's an interview with the people who do it. 


Instagram's hardest working balloons right here, folks.


I rarely insist on being close up but for my first time seeing Ryan Adams? Hells yes.


I think that's the helicopter they used to airlift Drake to the hospital after Madonna sucked out his trachea. 


Not pictured: a mercifully cool breeze.


They ain't pretty, but they is comfy!


Sahara Tent, EDM headquarters of Coachella


"Okay, everybody, since it's almost 4/20 we're gonna put a spotlight on each of the weed smokers in the audience! Remember, it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you!"


Rainbow. Bright.









You made it! You made it through my shitty, indiscernable-from-all-the-others festival photos. Your reward? A recap of the 2/3 of a day I spent there. Next post, though, because the hour is late, recovery is incomplete, and your Festress will be much more apt to produce purple prose vivid description and adjective abuse imagery without foto filler distracting her.

Newbie Cooks

The cooking class is held in a loft in an artists' complex about a mile north of downtown. When we walk in, I'm momentarily dazzled by the racks of colorful cookware lining the walls until I realize that everything is stacked in multiples, and brand new. It's all for sale - not for use in the class. Indeed, the space looks more like a shop than a kitchen; there's an oven and a refrigerator, but no proper stove. Just a couple of portable camping burners on a semi-circular wood-topped island. These burners are on, with food already cooking in them. Several cups of milk warm in a Le Creuset and a massive saute pan simmers gently with a colorless stew of leeks, onions, and bok choy. Steam issues from the mixture but no smell. The individual cooking stations I had imagined are nowhere to be seen, and I start to realize that the format here is more observation, less participation.

Clustered around the island, one couple per cutting board, are our classmates. We join them, smiling hello and taking an empty spot in the middle, directly across from the instructor, Tory. Tory is friendly but not particularly effusive. If not exactly on autopilot, any enthusiasm she once had for the gig seems as faded as the leeks. Her voice rarely rises above medium-low. Perhaps to belie her flavor-challenged personality however, Tory assures us that the goal tonight is fun. "Fun! Because if you're not enjoying yourself in the kitchen, you're not going to want to get in there and cook, right?" Right, we nod dutifully. As if reading our minds, Tory then adds that the wine promised in the syllabus will be available after we complete the knife skills portion of the class. In the meantime there's water and tea. Terence gets us some tea but gives me a look: Really? I give him one back: Apparently. I'm only thirty minutes out of a deep nap followed by a scalding hot shower (our plumbing is jacked). I'm cranky and hungry and starting to suspect Hipcooks is not as hip as we'd hoped.

Tory launches into a lecture on the importance of hygiene while I size up our peers. To our left is Hipster Cooks: she placid and wide-smiling, in a porkpie hat and Anthro ensemble; he a Warby Parker model, frowning obsessively over the contents of the Le Creuset which he's been assigned to stir with a figure-eight motion. To our right is Second Date Cooks: impossibly tall, exhaustingly earnest. They smile a lot but stand further apart than any of the other couples. Beyond them is Sporty Cooks: buff, sunny, giggly. They poke one another and whisper, though there doesn't seem much to whisper about - we haven't touched a single piece of food yet. I tune Tory back in; she's still on hygiene. She encourages us to wash our hands often, warning that it's a must if we accidentally touch our faces, our hair, our phones. She demonstrates the correct way to sample a bite of food: by tipping one's head back and dropping the bite in rather than putting hand to mouth. Tory urges us to always use a clean fingertip for tasting, and when she splays the digits of her right hand one by one to illustrate, I am reminded of a song from sixth grade chorus:

Gloves / on fingers and thumbs! / we know that these highly useful tools with never get numb!

I sip my tea, wondering how long knife skills will take and whether it would be inappropriate to nick a grape from the bowl in the middle of the island. I also wonder what the grapes could be for; tonight's menu is coq au vin, mussels, a two-bean salad and pots de creme. J'aime Paris is the name of the class, which Terence found online and booked as a gift to me, knowing coq au vin is one of my very favorite dishes. He's spent all week listening to me speculate on the likelihood of whether we'll make it properly, with rooster not chicken ("There's no way they're gonna have actual rooster. No way.") Tonight while getting dressed I asked him if he was ready for Cock In a Van class. I may have made the same joke four additional times.

We take turns introducing ourselves and telling "the last yummy thing" we ate. I look at Terence in a panic. Last yummy thing? "Korean BBQ," he whispers. Oh yeah. Hipster Cooks, Second Date Cooks, and Sporty Cooks all name impressive-sounding homemade dishes. Whatever. I help myself to a grape, popping it quickly into my wide open mouth, challenging the others with my eyes while I chew. What? I'm fucking starving, okay? There is no way Tory has four goddamn roosters in that fridge.

For knife skills, each couple is entrusted with a sharpened, 8-inch Wustof chef's knife to share. "Make sure you each get a turn practicing these techniques," she instructs. Unless at some point I blacked out due to hunger, I am fairly sure we still haven't laid hands on a single piece of food. Tory spends some time extolling the virtues of the blade, enlightening us as to the differences between German and Japanese cutlery. She passes around a honing steel, which we obediently glide our Wustofs against once, twice, three times. Terence, recently fed, is in a better mood than I am. Tory has tasked him with periodically stirring what she's now identified as the "sauce base" for the coq au vin. (That is, for the cornmeal-breaded chicken thighs already washed, cut, seasoned and breaded, and ready for the oven.) He laughs, self-deprecatory, at his ineptness. Tory laughs too, more enthused than she's been all night, telling Terence he's doing great. She maintains eye contact with him for longer than it took me to eat the grape. I test the knife's edge with a very clean fingertip.

We chop. We slice. We chiffonade. We do all of this on handfuls of grapes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, bok choy, herbs. To help us remember the correct, safe way to cut, Tory pretends her clenched fist is a bunny, jumping out of harm's way at the last second. "Hop, hop, slide. Hop, hop, slide." There is still no wine in sight. Each couple contributes its efforts to the prep bowls passed down the line. "Wait, is that the basil or the tarragon?" Amidst the low-level, sober chaos, Tory disappears and reappears with two massive platters covered in wet white kitchen towels. Mussels. Ten pounds of them. Alive.

It's finally time for wine.

For the next ten minutes, I clutch my chardonnay and watch in horror as my boyfriend, similarly horrified but gamely partaking in the exercise, prepares shellfish to be cooked. My horror, born of the realization that we are boiling animals alive, is too much on an empty stomach. I feign interest in the process, which involves snipping off the mussel's "beard" with scissors and cupping questionable specimens to makes sure they are in fact alive. Terence glances at me, stifling laughter, his eyes wide. What the fuck. He ventures a "This is so weird!" but none of the others seem remotely disturbed. Tory picks up on our reticence and we are forced to confess: neither of us has had mussels before.

The sauce for the chicken thickens and starts to give off an enticing aroma, but I'm stubbornly noting the lack of red wine, carrots - of any of the traditional coq au vin markers, in fact. Tory says something about it being a "mediterranean version." Ah. She dribbles mouthfuls of the broth from her large spoon onto our smaller ones, for tasting. "We'll mama bird it like this, so no dirty spoons go in the pot," she explains.

We pile the mussels into two Le Creusets, one of which catches on fire a few minutes into cooking. No harm no foul though; nothing gets burned. There are now multiple dishes being prepared at once, and multiple glasses of wine being drunk. Tory manages and directs. We watch. I lean against Terence, weak with hunger. He smuggles me another grape.

A salad is made. We're invited to put in "as much or as little" of its ingredients as we wish. The "as much or as little" directive has been a theme all night, actually. Rather than give us specific portions, Tory has her students guesstimate how much of each thing we "think will taste good" in each dish. Terence looks adorable in his apron, and the burgundy we've moved onto is actually quite good...

---

We eat at a farm table, on benches Terence has some difficulty climbing in and out of. I slide over wordlessly to give him room, my head down over my plate like I'm in trouble. Which is what it feels like. I pick at the mussels, nibbling dry bread, privately impressed by the lack of Instagramming going on. No one seems to notice or care when we casually switch plates. We are clearly the odd ones out; the others are discussing recently made (or invented) recipes. Second Date Girl asks the group what everyone's specialty is. "Dr. Pepper ribs," say Hipster Cooks. "Waffle iron sandwiches," say Sporty Cooks. "Microwave burritos," I say. Terence snorts.

The chicken tastes like Shake and Bake. The sauce is barely more than watery, white-green mush. The pots de creme, however, are undeniably bomb. Someone, I think Hipster Cook Guy, suggested we add cayenne. And the flakes of salt we sprinkled on top are almost making me forget that there is no cock in my vin.

---

Outside, Terence is energized, playful. He picks me up, howling, wrapping my legs around his waist and pinning me against a brick wall near the car. "Nooooo!" I laugh. I'm still hungry, we both know the class was a total bust, but the wine's loosened us up. I realize I left my wallet in the kitchen and we sprint back to get it. As we walk to the car, breathless and silly, we compare notes. "Where were the carrots??" Terence wants to know. I'm still hung up on Tory's cleanliness fetish. "It's cooking for Christ's sake. It's supposed to be messy."

We agree that the next class we do will be in our own kitchen, just the two of us, with as much wine as we want, following an actual recipe, start to finish. We just need a name.


headbangers bawl

I am at a goth punk rock show. I am at a goth punk rock show because a friend of mine has just run the LA Marathon, and we are celebrating. We are celebrating at this goth punk rock show because I, in charge of the evening's festivities, didn't realize it would be quite so goth punk.

My friend (around whose neck is the race medal I insisted he wear, and which I am having great fun shining the flashlight of my phone on as we walk into darkened bars, bragging to anyone who'll listen about his 482nd place finish, which among 26k runners translates to the top ~1%) is an '80s music fanatic. It's Sunday; there's not a lot going on; I thought it would be more new wave and less headbangers ball. I tried.



But we are making the most of it, the three of us. We venture gamely into the throng and watch one and a half sets, from a lineup of five bands. We don't understand a goddamn word of any of the songs. We joke a little, but we're careful not to be obnoxious and disrespect the scene, which from the seriousness of the faces around us, is clearly not to be disrespected. I take notes. Literally. On my phone, in two or three recesses while I withdraw from the crowd and slink off to the shadows, so as not to be disruptive. These are the ones I've since run through the filter of sobriety:

Everything is smoke, black, and damaged hair. 

Save for some halfhearted head bobbing, no one is dancing. Wait, one guy. Thrashing with his head down. The others make room for him but none seem interested in joining. Everyone looks so terribly sad, so glazed. Is this really as holy for them as EDM is for me? 

When you find yourself in the wrong church, you may as well see what you can learn from the prayers. If only I could make them out.

On stage: a waif-like blonde tries to seduce a microphone that wants nothing to do with her. She twists and dips around it, but any softness in her voice has been bullied down by drums and screeching guitar. I want to give her a cupcake. Some sugar, anyway. She looks like sugar, spun and spun and spun into near oblivion. 

A background scrim with visuals evoking fire or blood - or bloody fire. Just flashing blobs of light, really. (I've no business judging, though. The graphic I gawked at, captivated, two nights prior at Eric Prydz? A grotesquely skeletal face, gaping mouth and hollow socket eyes. The creepier the animation, the better IMO.)

Watching from the fringes, it's a sea of ripped denim and slouchy jersey. I studiously avoid eye contact on the way to the restroom, in my pencil skirt and tennis white pointelle sweater. Fucking white pointelle. What an obscenity I am in here.

---

We call a Lyft before the third set starts.

game

Three women in a trendy Los Angeles bar are playing a game. The point of the game is to make the other two women feel invisible. This can be achieved through any means necessary, and there is only one rule: never directly acknowledge the existence of the other women.

The players don't speak to one another. There is no explicit agreement to engage in the game, which begins spontaneously and will only be played in the company of men. Indeed, the secondary objective of the game is to gain the attention of those men. Scoring is subjective, but the women know when they've won points. They've been playing the game for years. They're very good at it.

Witness Round One:

Two of the women are seated with their dates across from one another at a U-shaped bar. The third has just walked in, and joins a small group that stands near the well.

Woman One sips her cocktail and, in between flirtatious exchanges with her date, surreptitiously assesses the other female patrons. She mentally dismisses nearly all of them as non-threatening. Two of the women, however, have registered on her radar, and she straightens in her bar stool. 

Woman Two is aware of Woman One and has been for several minutes. She's angled her body slightly sideways in her seat, forcing the man beside her to turn as well lest he appear uninterested. In doing so, Woman One slips completely from his view. Point, Woman Two. She dips her head, and her long, thick hair swings forward - a silky blond curtain to shut interlopers out. Point, Woman Two.

Woman One receives this message and accepts the challenge. Though the room is cold, she sheds her coat, slowly sliding out one bare shoulder at a time. Her provocative movements have caught the eye of the bartender and of her date, who feels a small surge of excitement laced with pride. Point, Woman One. Her coat hung, she casually reaches up to gather her hair, twisting it in her fingers before letting it fall. The action puts her beautifully toned arms on full display. Point, Woman One.

Woman Three is at a disadvantage. She's standing, not elevated in a bar seat like the others, so her body is mostly hidden from view. But she is exceedingly pretty and knows it. When one of her companions makes a joke, she laughs loudly enough to garner glances from several male strangers. Point, Woman Three. She leverages the attention, leaning unnecessarily low over the bar to order her martini. She giggles at something the bartender says before swinging upright again with calculated playfulness. Point, Woman Three.

okay I guess I'm going there after all

Quickly want to share an excerpt from the best thing I've read yet about the attack in Paris: The Blame For the Charlie Hebdo Murders. Now, I try to be more or less apolitical with my blog ever since I realized, with the help of some constructive criticism, that I have a problem with tone where religion is concerned. But twelve people are dead and it's difficult for me to sit on my hands when more influential, further-reaching internet pundits are victim blaming and spouting off ignorant shit about tolerance and moderation and the "sacredness" of "rich traditions".

So in the interest of doing what little I can to counter-disseminate:

The murders today in Paris are not a result of France’s failure to assimilate two generations of Muslim immigrants from its former colonies. They’re not about French military action against the Islamic State in the Middle East, or the American invasion of Iraq before that. They’re not part of some general wave of nihilistic violence in the economically depressed, socially atomized, morally hollow West—the Paris version of Newtown or Oslo. Least of all should they be “understood” as reactions to disrespect for religion on the part of irresponsible cartoonists. 
They are only the latest blows delivered by an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades. It’s the same ideology that sent Salman Rushdie into hiding for a decade under a death sentence for writing a novel, then killed his Japanese translator and tried to kill his Italian translator and Norwegian publisher. The ideology that murdered three thousand people in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. The one that butchered Theo van Gogh in the streets of Amsterdam, in 2004, for making a film. The one that has brought mass rape and slaughter to the cities and deserts of Syria and Iraq. That massacred a hundred and thirty-two children and thirteen adults in a school in Peshawar last month. That regularly kills so many Nigerians, especially young ones, that hardly anyone pays attention. 
Because the ideology is the product of a major world religion, a lot of painstaking pretzel logic goes into trying to explain what the violence does, or doesn’t, have to do with Islam. Some well-meaning people tiptoe around the Islamic connection, claiming that the carnage has nothing to do with faith, or that Islam is a religion of peace, or that, at most, the violence represents a “distortion” of a great religion. (After suicide bombings in Baghdad, I grew used to hearing Iraqis say, “No Muslim would do this.”) Others want to lay the blame entirely on the theological content of Islam, as if other religions are more inherently peaceful—a notion belied by history as well as scripture. 
A religion is not just a set of texts but the living beliefs and practices of its adherents.

(emphasis mine) 

Thank you for reading. And thinking.

---

confidential to Kelle: Yeah you bet your phony ass this is in response to that ignoramus of a co-exploiter you call Dad. I know you read here, because you're too frantic of a whitewasher to not keep track of your detractors. I know your ex-fans read here, too, because my blog pops up as the number one search result for "Kelle Hampton criticism" - a distinction of which I'm proud and one backed up by the emails that trickle in, slowly but steadily, from those ex-fans.

While I have you: fuck you, for the disgustingness that is publicly monetizing your children's baths. You accepted money to post on the internet, for the uncontrolled consumption of thousands of strangers, intimate photos of your children. In the bath. LOOK AT YOUR LIFE. LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES. 

seven things I am aware of as the year comes to an end

1. If a tree falls in the forest and no one was there to document it, it still made a sound. 

Quitting Instagram turned out to be a surprisingly educational experience for me. When I took away that push-button validation, it got weirdly...quiet. And in that quiet I had plenty of time and space to consider why and how I document my life. What my motives are, what if anything I'm trying to show - to prove - to myself and to others. I got honest with myself about some of my longstanding insecurities, particular those surrounding friendships and what has, pathetically, persisted as a never-ending need to prove I have them.

I went through some shit growing up, with friends. And not-friends. And frenemies. Some awful, awful shit that launched me into adulthood frantic to fix that part of my life. And I do feel miles away from where I was, as recently as my twenties. But I certainly don't need to fuck with the precious, mysterious thing that is friendship by making it any more of a spectacle than it already is here on overshariquent.

Not being able to announce, immediately, HEY GUESS WHAT I HAD DRINKS WITH MY FRIEND KERRY, WHO LIKES ME, BECAUSE SHE IS MY FRIEND, BECAUSE I HAVE FRIENDS is really good for me. It took some getting used to, because I was so warped by the Insta-machine that not documenting my good times made them feel, at first, somehow less real. But eventually I was able to just chill and let go of the need to SHOW and TELL, and I know I became a better friend for it. More present and relaxed and engaged. Less distracted by the need to Make Sure and Get a 'Gram Out of It! Nowadays I don't even blog about every "bloggable" thing I do. I'm just doing things and enjoying them, like a normal fucking person. Imagine that.

Whether or not I blog it or Instagram it or Twitter it - the good moment happened. That's the thing to remember.

2. Reading fiction makes me a better person. 

My reading habits aren't what they used to be, but I'm fighting to earn back my bookworm badge. It isn't always easy to find time, and distractions abound. But when I do make the effort to plunge into a novel, to persevere until I feel its hooks sink gloriously into me, I marvel at myself. Psst, dummy! How can you forget how good this feels? How can you not want to do this ALL THE TIME? 

A good book occupies my thoughts and distracts me from the annoyances of daily life, making me less irritable. Even when I put it down, the back burner of my brain has something more satisfying to chew on than whether or not I should reorganize the spice cabinet. Fictional characters feel like temporary friends, and the (often epic) challenges they face smack some perspective into me.

I feel more open-minded and cheerful when I'm reading fiction, and I suspect I'm more pleasant to be around. It leaves me feeling peaceful and thoughtful, which probably primes me for more loving and engaging interaction with the people I care about. Compared to how I often feel after an hour or two on the internet (depleted, agitated), that's a very welcome change.

3. Being precious with things wastes them. 

For as long as I can remember, I've had the notion that "good" things need to be reserved for special occasions. It's only now starting to dawn on me how crazy this, because I'm looking back at the last few decades of my life and realizing how little I've utilized some of those good things. The expensive, the rare, the treasured and beloved. The "good" china. My "nice" sweaters. For a while after I bought it, I even avoided sitting on my own sofa, because I didn't want the cushions to wear out.

It's all fine and good to value your belongings, but what's the real value of something that you don't even use? When you think about it, disuse is about the saddest fate you can assign to some material thing. I mean, if you were a thing, wouldn't you want to be used and loved and appreciated to your fullest extent? Would you want to sit collecting dust in a cabinet, or in a jewelry box, or on a closet shelf? Wouldn't you revel in being taken out and given a chance to shine?

Losing my parents unexpectedly in quick(ish) succession has absolutely driven into me that life. is. short. Embrace what you've got here and now because you never know when it'll be gone.

4. Crowding out the bad is easier than cutting it out.

I first came across this concept in Hungry For Change, a food documentary espousing an approach to diet and exercise from a place of health and self-love, vs. one of deprivation and self-recrimination. And it was sort of revelatory for me, because it absolutely did work. When I stopped focusing on restricting bad foods and concentrated instead on slowly integrating in better ones, my life changed. And yeah that's dramatic, but it's true. I have never felt so consistently healthy as I have the past year, and that, I believe, is due to what I've added to my diet (which in turn has crowded out some of the worse stuff). It's easier not to fixate on avoiding unhealthy choices (thoughts which veritably consumed my food-disordered twenties) when they've been upstaged by healthy ones.

This idea has worked in other areas of my life, too. I'm as addicted to my phone as the next person, and much as I try to cut back on screen time, it's difficult. So rather than continuing to just rebuke myself for making poor choices (tap tap on Safari, oh look here I am surfing TimeWastersAnonymous AGAIN...tap tap on some shopping app, oh look here I am being a materialistic asshole AGAIN), I've added in some good choices. Duolingo. An awesome, super simple flashcard app for (NERD ALERT!) learning new words I've picked up while reading. I also only recently realized that I can save web pages, such as to news sites (or my blahg), to my home screen. But - and this is where the crowding out comes in - in order to do so, some other apps had to give up their prime real estate. Result: when I reflexively grab my phone in a free moment, it's that much easier to choose curiosity or creativity over mindlessness.

5. Curiosity and creativity are muscles that have to be worked. 

Sometimes I criticize myself for not being more up on current events, for not reading more articles, for not being better in touch with popular culture or knowing more quirky, interesting things about the natural world. The thing is, curiosity comes naturally to children, I think, partly because they have so little else on their plates. And since learning is so empowering, it becomes addictive. But the older we get and the more we have demanding our time and attention, the harder it is to keep this habit of learning up. It takes more effort to read the whole Times piece, for instance, and not just glance at the tweeted summary. But I think that just like any other habit, it can be strengthened. So rather than beat myself up for not knowing ALL THE THINGS, I accept that I can only know some - and even knowing those will take work. But educating myself about one issue is such a confidence booster that it feels less daunting to move on to another, and so forth.

Same thing with creativity. I believe writer's block exists, but I also know that forcing myself to sit down and create content sometimes produces the best stuff. No fairies are going to flutter down to my fingertips and take over. There's plenty of inspiration to be found in the world, but no magical muses. And the more I flex my creative muscles, the stronger they are and the braver I am about breaking out my guns. Even for silly stuff the point of which begins and ends with my own amusement. 

6. Good enough is a great stopping point for me.

A few months ago, Terence and I were checking out at the grocery store when a magazine caught my eye: Domino (a home decor magazine that was wildly popular but inexplicably retired in its prime). I was obsessed with Domino back in the day. I subscribed and saved every issue, only giving them up with great difficulty when I got married and wanted to pare down.

Anyway, when I saw the glossy cover on the rack, I audibly gasped. "What?" Terence asked.

I pointed. "My favorite magazine ever. Well, after Jane. I had no idea it was back!"

Terence grabbed a copy off the shelf and tossed it on top of our items, assuming from my reaction that I'd want one.

"No!" I exclaimed, shaking my head vehemently. "I can't." He didn't understand. "I'll want to redecorate our entire place," I explained. It's too much."

"Too much" is a place I can go to, too easily, and be too dissatisfied...and too spendy. Too much is Apartment Therapy and Pinterest and Domino. Where my home is concerned, I've learned that comfortable, organized, and welcoming to friends are good enough. I could make myself insane (and broke) trying to make it the most OMGstylish and amazing space ever, but that way madness lies.

Accepting its imperfection frees me up to better enjoy the home I've already got vs. obsessing over some future-perfect version of it that may never exist.

7. I want to be a fisherman.

A few weeks ago I told Terence about an interesting website I'd stumbled across. The Center for a New American Dream's tagline is "More of What Matters" and it sponsors initiatives having to do with things like community collaborations (sharing resources, strengthening regional food systems) and post-consumerist culture (better work/life balance, protecting kids from the marketing machine - even an alternative giving registry where experiences take the place of material goods).

But most exciting to me is their "Redefining the Dream" program, which is about what you'd imagine, and has a number of thought-provoking resource pages exploring the capital B Big questions (how much is enough? what really matters in this life? how fulfilling can an earn-and-spend existence be?) that, the older I get, the more I ponder.

Anyway, when I told Terence about it, he told me the story of the rich man and the fisherman, which I'd never heard. There are several versions of it floating around, but I like this one best. And if you're too pooped to click over, in a nutshell it's a story about a businessman who's too blind to see that the best things in life are free. (I'm not doing it justice though, because it's a powerful little tale and you really should read it because wow is it some food for thought.)

I've known a lot of rich men in my life and a handful of fishermen, and I've seen what it means to be each. I'm pretty sure which I'd rather be.  

kinda though

A Pair Of Gross Oversimplifications 
(each containing a grain of truth)

1. Being stylish requires little more than having the patience to endlessly chase denim hemlines up and down, in and out, all while scrambling to pair them with "on-trend" shoes of the appropriate fucking heel height.

2. Everything I need to know about you, I know from how comfortable your dog's collar is. If you put your pet in a stiff, heavy leather collar because you think it looks better than something soft and pliable (such as nylon) - you are a terrible human being. 

life, styled

Calm down, lifestyle photography subjects.

Look, I don't doubt that the smiles in your family cuddle puddle are real. I don't doubt that there's genuine love, despite there being an outsider wielding a $5k camera just inches away from everyone's faces.

But the minute you invite a professional photographer into your home, your business, your favorite "meaningful spot", you are turning that space into a stage. Artifice is built right into lifestyle photography. So maybe chill out with the manic laughter and props? Maybe just relax and interact normally? You can't spin emotion out of thin air, and it becomes rather silly when everyone knows you were prompted by a stranger, at a cost of several hundred dollars an hour, to emote on cue.

Photography that seeks to honestly capture what is truly there looks and feels a lot different than photography with something to prove.

Signed,
someone well versed in both kinds

stockist

I used to get Campbell's Cream of Mushroom condensed soup almost every time I went to the store. I grew up on it; my mother prepared it with whole milk, and she often used it in casseroles with rice and chicken. It remained a favorite comfort food well into my adulthood, and I faithfully kept my cabinet stocked with a can or two for years...until I didn't anymore.

When I stopped buying it, I just stopped buying it. I didn't go to aisle 17, pick up a familiar red-and-white-labeled can, and explain all the reasons it wouldn't be coming home with me anymore. I didn't tell Campbell's Cream of Mushroom everything that was wrong with it, or why it no longer served me. We parted ways without ceremony. I'm sure the hole I left in the ranks of CCoM purchasers was immediately filled by someone else. The whims and dictates of my own demand have no effect on the world's supply of condensed soup - or its supply of anything else.

When something that's been a part of my life for a long time no longer fits into it, my inclination is to analyze why not. To dissect, explain, and justify. But one of the things I've learned the hard way is how fruitless all that effort is - not to mention exhausting. It would take an awful long time to get through grocery trips spent defending the hundreds of exceptions to my shopping list. I'd probably be so overwhelmed I'd lose track of what should stay on it.

But that doesn't change how Campbell's Cream of Mushroom tasted, sitting at the family dining room table, or standing in the kitchen of my first apartment. And it tasted really, really good.

the me I see

I was thinking the other day about why relationships (romantic or otherwise) end. About the people I've passively let drift out of my life and those I've forcibly cut out, and the reasons I've done so.

Sometimes it's an easy decision. When someone has hurt me too deeply and too many times that my capacity for forgiveness is exhausted, it isn't difficult to put up a wall and self-protect. I've been doing it since I was a teenager, necessarily. Live without limits, they say, but that's such an ambiguous expression. Live without limiting yourself, maybe. But recognizing and respecting the limits on my patience and compassion is essential to my mental heath. I like having boundaries. I'm okay with telling repeat boundary breakers to take a hike. Doing so frees up space in my life for people who'll treat me with care and respect.

Sometimes I let someone go because I realize his or her values don't align with my own. The older I get the easier this becomes. (And I'm not talking about beliefs, which I think of as inward conclusions we draw about the world around us. Values are what I consider the outward expression of qualities we prize in ourselves, and for which we want to be honored, by others.) If someone had asked me at twenty-nine what my values were, I don't know that I would have been able to answer. I don't think I had a clue back then, and I'm still learning now. Perhaps strangely, much of what I've figured out about my values I've done so by identifying what they're not. By seeing their counterpoint demonstrated in someone else. Like, Oh wow, what s/he just did? I don't want to be that. Nope nope nope. In fact, what is the opposite of that? Because that's what I want to be. It's a weird way to come to understanding myself, I guess, but sometimes it's more useful than trying to straight out name what I consider most important.

But sometimes I disconnect from someone because they reflect back at me a version of myself that I've outgrown - or our relationship, to me, represents a painful time in my life. When this happens, I feel conflicted. I feel ashamed for my inability to overcome the past and for "punishing" someone who didn't do anything wrong. But at the same time, I feel incapable of keeping them close. I haven't found a way to say It's not you; it's me - the me I see when I look at you - but that's how I feel.