Soon.

So very much to tell, so very much to say.



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.

























north towards Eureka

(continued from here)

On the day after Thanksgiving, we find perfect. Rather, we make it. We carve it out, hour by hour, along the two-lane highway heading north toward Eureka. Avenue of the Giants Scenic Byway. I am selfishly thrilled to have him all to myself for the day. One hand stroking the back of his neck while he drives, the other on the playlist running through my phone.

Townships tick by. Mostly quiet, we absorb the majesty of our surroundings. Towering redwoods, rivulets that fill out to creeks that suddenly become the latte-colored Eel River. Criss-crossing it through Phillipsville, Miranda, Myers Flat. Every roadside tourist trap inducing us with the promise of cornball laughs. Chainsaw Carvings. Drive-through Tree, Five Dollars. We buy buffalo jerky from a manic-seeming local whose warp speed spiel (Alrightyfolksletmejusttellyoualittlebitaboutourjerkiesgoaheadandusethetoothpicktospearyourselfapiecenowgoaheadandturnthattoothpickaroundthatsitjustlikethat) lends itself to a Kate McKinnon character. I consult a map.

"Would you rather see the Immortal Tree or the Eternal Tree?"

"Immortal, probably."

"Would you rather be immortal or eternal?"

"Eternal, definitely."

The rain flushes most of the traffic from the road. When other cars do stack up behind us, Timo pulls over to let them pass. We just want to cruise, just want to take our time.

We wonder aloud about the sorts of people that live out here, and how many inhabitants it takes to make a town, anyway. We joke about murder-y looking motels, which triggers Timo to tell stories about backpacking through Australia and New Zealand. I press my face against the window, watching the tops of trees whiz by.

In a turnoff somewhere along the state reserve route, we grab hats from the backseat and climb out into a strikingly silent grove. My rain boots sink into a forest floor of soaking pine needles, and Timo withdraws hands from warm pockets to pull me up beside him. On the ageless carcass of a fallen sequoia we survey the grove. The afternoon has brought just the right amount of rain, which we're mostly protected from anyway, under the canopy. There's something sacred about the space, the isolation and quiet. We take advantage of it, feeling brazen in the lush, wet wilderness, despite being so close to the road.

Later, stopping for snacks at a grocery store in a Stepford-esque sawmill town, I get the creeps. Something about the hollow way the music drifts down the aisles. The tinny, sad echo of it, getting lost among banks of fluorescent lights lining a disproportionately high ceiling. Everything and everyone seems cold and stale.

"Let's go," I say edgily, garnering a curious look from Timo. After we pay the dead-eyed teenage cashier for a bag of potato chips, I try to explain my unease. "It just feels like a place time has forgotten. But for circumstance, I could be here, living here, shopping here."

"Don't move here, and you won't live here," he replies in his problem-solved tone.

We play questions on the way home - his lighthearted and forgettable, mine studied and serious. I practice the art of not reading too much into his answers.

Back at the house, he fixes us plates of leftovers, cubing the roast pork and frying the mashed potatoes in little pancakes. He joins the others in front of the TV, and I drift away to the bedroom to blog. A huge, unbroken chunk of time for me just to write, and for him just to read, watch movies, and hang out.

We agree it's a pretty perfect ending to a pretty perfect day.










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.








I'm a dime. I'm fine.

Sitting cross-legged on the rug, she tipped the oversized mason jar once used for cold brew coffee onto the floor. The sound made the dog look up briefly before dropping his head again.

An avalanche of copper. A buck or so of nickels, dull and thick in their near worthlessness. She spread the pile with her fingertips to unearth what was left of those precious glinting slivers. Dimes were always her favorite. Tidy little discs that like to hide behind pennies, surprise you in a winking flash. That pleased feeling of suddenly jumping ten cents closer to the object of one's vending machine desire.

There were no quarters. Quarters had their own special home, in the footed antique desert dish where they gathered strength in numbers before giving their lives in service of clean sheets, socks, sweats.

The indignity of the moment bit, though she re-packaged it cheerfully as frugality. Legit a week's worth of Metro rides in here! She glanced at the dog, as if to check whether he could read her true thought, which was closer to a solitary, sighing Christ. If so, he remained poker-faced about it.

A curious imposter in the jumble of coins peered up at her: a lone googly eye. Lidless. Lost. Laughing? Oh, knock it off. Don't be dramatic. No bigger than the nail of her pinky finger. Hard transparent shell protecting a flat black circle. She resisted an urge to crush it with her thumb, watch the clear plastic turn milky the way it will when bent. Cheap things give easily under pressure.

Instead she picked it up and carried it to the kitchen trash. It wouldn't help her get to work in the morning, and she doubted she'd come across its mate any time soon.

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.

of airlocks and currents

I have a tendency to react too quickly, and often negatively, in situations where I feel threatened in some way. Not in the sense of bodily harm, but emotionally. Threat of loss, threat of pain, threat of shame. Something like that. Because that's what all conflict comes down to - a fear of some kind.

In working on this, I came up with a visualization that helps. I think of an airlock, on a space shuttle. The small room between the body of the ship and the universe outside. It's a safe, secure threshold where astronauts can take their time suiting up before unlatching the door and heading out into the stars.

When something upsets me, I try to remember that I have an airlock, too. I have a space where I can get prepared, quietly, at my own pace. Where I can hesitate, if I need to. Where I can adjust to changes in pressure. Where I can calmly plan before unlocking the door to the world.

If you, too, struggle with being reactive - remember your airlock. And don't open the door until you're good and ready.

---

Along those same lines, here's another metaphor I find useful:

I know enough about myself to question my first, and sometimes even my second, impulses. I just have too many unresolved issues to let them be reliable guides for behavior. The problem is, they're impulses. They are so very beguiling; so seductive. They can overpower me with temptation, because they're right there. They appear suddenly and organically, so they must be trustworthy, right?

Wrong.

Impulses are like pretty little fish that swarm around you in the ocean. They're captivating, sure, but if you're not careful, they'll lead you astray in dangerous waters, distracting you from other potential perils. They're close to the surface; superficial. Observe them, but don't follow them.

Currents, on the other hand - those are your instincts. Always heed those. Currents we feel deeply, with the whole of our bodies. We can't ignore them. They are the underwater winds that pull us in one direction or another, warning us when we've strayed too far from shore.

It's not a flawless metaphor. It's one you can't think too much about lest it unravel. But it's something.

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. 

late october phone dump

Things are settling down. The chaos that has dominated the past few months is subsiding. Within a couple of weeks I'll be able to share more, but for now any worriers can stop worrying. (I'm looking at you, Bill.)

All of my free time lately has been sucked up by scurrying about, looking for work. Which I've found. And now that things are falling into place I hope to have more time, for more substantial posts. But in the meantime, to prove that rumors of my demise have been great exaggerated, here's a very boring photo dump of some of the stuff I've been up to since June.

New place. Around the corner to the left is the kitchen, and I'm standing in the office / closet-y area. Behind me is a full bedroom. It's a pretty cute little place, but my building has negative curb appeal. Not the greatest street to be on.

Poor Chauc has had a big adjustment lately. New place, mom gone a lot more. He's definitely slowing down, the ol' pup.

"Are we going back on Instagram?? No? Ok never mind."

"I guess this neighborhood isn't so bad..." 

Big drooly goober. 
FYF! Went with my friends Steve and Allison, mainly to see LCD Soundsystem 


It ain't Bonnaroo, but they put on a decent gig. 

Allison, being as big a scheduling nerd as me. 


IG Repeat #1

IG Repeat #2

Snuggles 4ever.

Cam came to visit! Terrible shot of me, but good good look at his big blue peepers. 

Alfie turned 40! Being the fabulous man that he is, he chartered a boat and took his friends to Catalina Island. 

I can't keep up with these stylish bitches. 

Tequila, white wine, something else I can't remember. The thing was the size of a casserole. 

Yep.

Team effort.

Birthday boy making it happen.

Aftermath.

OF COURSE there'd be a rainbow at our send-off. 

I really need to get to Catalina more than once every five years.

Six selfies, six totally different hair colors. Yay, filters! 

I promise he's not always as depressed as he looks.

Recently engaged. :)

Of Montreal at The Regent on Monday. Ridiculous fun.