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  1. You write in an effervescent, breathless style that makes you think of tiny, tiny bubbles in champagne that tickles your nose. You know it tickles your nose because hundreds of writers have insisted this is so.
  2. You must repeat words. Especially adjectives. Especially simple yet descriptive adjectives like fresh and soft and tiny and smooth.
  3. Also fragments and short sentences. As many as you have the stomach for. A firm, taut stomach or a poochy, loveable stomach. Any kind of stomach. The type of stomach does not matter.
  4. Lists shine like chronicles of diamond brilliance. Everyone loves lists because NUMBERS and PERIODS. Even if you actually have no structure whatsoever, a list will make it seem like your mind works in an orderly yet quirky fashion.
  5. Irony oozes out of your articles like fresh, fresh honey. It hardens into impenetrable armor that allows you to say what you want with fewer repercussions because no one can entirely tell where the irony ends and the truth begins.
  6. Or fuck, you can also just swear a whole fucking lot so you sound like you have a goddamned edge, like maybe you’re a little angry but also you’re just so fucking cool that everyone should shut the fuck up and listen to what you have to say, which is good old-fashioned hard-nosed no-shit wisdom, y’know?
  7. But if you’ve already got some of the manic pixie dream girl vibe going on, then the gentle sarcasm-dripping flow of honey armour is definitely the way to go. People will love you. They will love you so much, they will share your article on Facebook without ever knowing your name. Eventually you can start the next Toast except named after a different breakfast food or maybe crème brûlée.
  8. Your irony is like a scythe if you’ve ever used a scythe. Otherwise it’s like the X-acto blade in sixth grade art class. You make long careful cuts against the grain of society’s bullshit. Long, smooth cuts. Long, incisive cuts. Long, insightful, sharp yet understanding cuts that are way healthier than the way physicians used to practice bloodletting on sick people via cupping or leaches.
  9. You can also use ridiculous metaphors and not-very-obscure historical and pop culture references that may or may not apply. Either way you will be creating sly but searing commentary. People will think you are clever.
  10. It also helps if you include a refined and artful graphic related in some way to the past. Here is an 18th century painting. Here is a bucolic landscape. Here is a brass lamp that is definitely more than ten years old. Even better if you can insert either a sweet sense of superiority or a relevant allusion to one of today’s societal woes.

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    Each one of these objects holds a profound yet subtle significance.

  11. Suddenly you know how to write tongue-in-cheek articles about Seattlites’ obsession with bridges, men’s urges to make a pass at you while you’re crying, Burners’ conviction that by not going to Burning Man, you are missing out on the greatest experience known to man, and the strange propensity to want others to admit you have it worse than them while simultaneously acknowledging your innate and glowing greatness.
  12. You also begin to plan the most ironic post on dating that has ever been conceived by a human mind. It will be scathing but human. Bitter but sweet. Absurd but relatable. Your single friends will read it and laugh. Your married friends will read it and polish their rings.
  13. Bubbles. Fresh. Fresh fresh bubbles. We all love bubbles and freshness and everything about this post that makes us remember that pleasant sensation of being too clever and fresh and laundered to breathe. Like a magazine ad. Like crisp ironed cotton. Like a blog post that has gone at least one list item too far.

Birthday time!

While I was moving, I missed talking about a few big milestones: my birthday and this blog’s birthday.

My birthday first, shall we? This is the first birthday I have not had a birthday party in…oh, maybe fourteen years, give or take. But throwing myself a party while moving would have been dicey at best, and in any case, I was more in the mood for some quality one-on-one time with close friends. I had birthday sushi, and birthday cake, and birthday chai, and birthday BBQ, and birthday pie, and birthday steak, and my friend took me to see one of my favorite musicals (Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, for those curious). And I got jammed and sung to at my regular weekly dance venue. From all this, we can divine that I really like food. And most importantly, I got to spend time with some of my closest friends.

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Taken on my birthday in an empty apartment.

That being said, all this birthday celebrating was doubling as farewell meals, and the farewell aspect often overshadowed the birthday aspect. So it was a weird birthday. And without its usual marking, it doesn’t entirely feel like it actually happened. I find myself hesitating an instant longer than usual before being able to answer the question of how old I am, because in my head, the number hasn’t completely flipped.

Last night someone suggested I throw a housewarming party, and that there could be cake at this party. Like a stand-in birthday cake. There’s no way I can pull anything like that off until the fall, but we shall see….

Meanwhile, while I was making the drive from California to Washington, this blog turned six years old. Yes, this is the 610th post on the Practical Free Spirit, and I’ve been posting here regularly since 2010. When I began, I had no idea what this blog would become or how it would change my life.

I gave some serious thought to closing down the blog this spring. I simply wasn’t feeling it; the majority of the themes and issues I was thinking about at the time were not ones I wanted to write about, so I was left struggling to find things to write about that I felt were worthwhile. This was the first time since I started the blog that this had happened, and this combined with the conventional wisdom that blogging is dead and mostly irrelevant made me wonder whether it wasn’t time to close up shop and move on to something else.

Obviously that didn’t happen. I knew I was going to be moving, and I thought my continued blogging would help my California friends and I stay in touch. I also thought making such a big life change might potentially lead to some interesting topics to write about, in addition to some topics I already had in mind to write about in the future.

And finally, I know this blog occasionally makes a difference to someone, and that matters to me. I know people sometimes feel isolated. I know it sometimes helps when I write candidly about emotions, about trying to overcome the past, about grief, about things many of us are thinking about or experiencing but that we don’t always get to talk about. Normalizing these things is important work. It helps us process, work through feelings of loneliness and shame, and build empathy.  It helps us learn more about what it is to be human.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the future year brings, both for me and for the blog. Happy birthday to us!

A bumpy road….

Well, my stuff came on Thursday, and it was…not good. Nala hurt herself in the morning, and she really freaked out, which it made it seem like she might be a lot more seriously injured than she actually was. (She seems totally fine now.) I hit a wall dealing with bureaucracy and customer service representatives, and there’s just been so much of that over the last few weeks, along with stuff I can’t fix and problems with no optimal solution.

And then the actual move was not what I’d call smooth. Not by a long shot. When the movers finally left, I ran after them to give them their tips, which I’d almost forgotten, and then I came back upstairs, sat on my couch, and cried for half an hour. After which I didn’t really feel any better. And then the news of the shooting in Dallas rolled in, and I couldn’t get my new microwave to work, and all the stress and strain of the last few months caught up with me in a big way.

I am so very tired.

On the plus side, at least I’m no longer sitting on the floor.

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And like the grandfather in The Princess Bride, I will now reassure you that in spite of the seemingly dark situation of our heroine, all is not lost. She does not get eaten by the eels at this time.

Instead I am trying to sleep a lot and take it easy and not push as hard on…pretty much everything.

One interesting side effect of this exhaustion is that I can’t make as much social effort as I’m used to making. As in, I am literally incapable of it right now. I have trouble reaching out, I can’t really initiate plans, I can’t ask people to dance, I’m not tracking my friends as well as I normally do, I can’t be bothered with any situation that smacks of pressure or complicated scheduling. I am just too tired and using too many of my resources to recover from moving overwhelm.

What I can try to do is receive, respond, and show up. And it is very touching how much I am being offered right now. To be honest, I really need it, and for people to be so generously offering what I need, well, it is both humbling and inspiring.

A friend of mine texted me on Saturday to ask how everything was going, and I answered with the truth, that I had been having a rough few days. And he said, well, this was a big move, and big moves are difficult and extremely tiring. And I thought to myself, “Oh yeah. They are difficult, aren’t they?” And then we talked about some of the problems I had been having, and by the end of our conversation, I felt so much better. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a huge difference. Validation–oh yes, this is actually challenging–is golden.

Several friends have been checking in semi-regularly to see if I’m doing okay. And then they tell me what they’re up to, which I love hearing about. One friend lent me her toolbox. Some other friends offered to lend me some furniture before the truck came. Some new dance friends have been letting me know about other dances in the area. I’m being invited to parties and events, and then friends are watching out for me at those events. People invite me to dinner, and then they are the ones to figure out where we’re going. (By the by, that advice about making specific offers and invitations to people who need support? THAT IS SUCH GOOD ADVICE. It is so much easier to just say yes or no.)

One of the best things is when someone looks me in the eye and tells me how glad they are I moved here. It makes me feel like I’ll be able to find a place for myself here.

And slowly I continue the process of turning a place into a home.

Yay Stuff!

My moving truck is supposed to arrive sometime today, so by this evening I will theoretically have a REAL BED. And also a couch! And also places to put things! And more sweaters! And trash cans!

This is very exciting for me. I can’t wait to start nesting properly. I can’t wait to have a sock drawer again! I can’t wait to turn this into a real home.

Here, have a photo of Nala sunbathing:

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Yes, it turns out there is sun in Seattle. Once in a while, at least.😉

I am in Washington! As I write this, I have been at my new home for about sixty hours, and so far, it has been quite a whirlwind.

Less than four hours after I picked up my apartment keys, I hopped into my car and drove across to my first Seattle party. So far I have been to two parties and am about to go to my third. I have gone to Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, Safeway, and Pet Smart. I have enjoyed the view from Lake Union. I have gone dancing. I have explored a bit of the downtown of my little city, and I have played a bunch of air hockey. I have seen several friends and met a bunch of new people, almost none of whose names I can remember. I have, most important of chores, set up the internet. I have done a load of laundry to clean up the end-of-road-trip doggie vomit mess.

Nala and I have established our new daily walking route, and it is so exciting! There are some old abandoned railway tracks right behind our building, and if you follow them a little ways, they join with a lovely gravel walking path. The area is surrounded by trees, and it is the best daily walking spot we’ve ever had. We’ve been taking longer walks than usual because it’s so pleasant.

My apartment is not quiet. The downstairs neighbors play music all the time. The neighbors who share my bedroom wall had a lovers’ quarrel at 1:30am on Saturday night. Ear plugs are my friends. My allergies are acting up because of all the pollen-producing plant life around here. I woke up in the middle of the night when my air mattress deflated and ended up breaking my fingernail below the quick while fixing it, resulting in a throbbing and bleeding finger at 3:30 in the morning. Nala is nervous. One of my dance partners threw me around in an unexpectedly rough manner, and I hurt my shoulder before I could compensate for his use of force.

I am either too hot or too cold, but very rarely completely comfortable. Everyone in Seattle hangs out outdoors at night, even though it’s cold. I sleep with my electric blanket turned on, even though it’s July. I wish I had packed more sweaters. But then sometimes the sun comes out and because of all the layers from the time it was cold, it becomes suddenly sweltering.

Everywhere I look there is beauty.

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I feel like I am living in a picture book my mom used to read me every year the night before the first day of school. “Will you be my friend?” I don’t know who I’m going to see once in a while, and who I’m going to see all the time, and who I’m mostly going to see at parties, and who I’m going to see one-on-one. I don’t know who to ask to watch Babylon 5 with me, and I don’t know who would want to go to the theater with me, and I don’t know if I know any live music fans. I do know that I will be able to play board games to my heart’s content and then some.

I know a lot of people here, and everyone so far has been so thoughtful and helpful and wonderful. And I see my friends, and I think, with a small jolt of surprise, oh my goodness, I really like you! This shouldn’t be a surprise, since this is one of the reasons I moved here, but nevertheless, it feels like an unexpected gift. I’ve spent the last few months managing my expectations like a pro.

I take comfort in the things that are the same. Nala is my touchstone. I listen to familiar albums in the car. I have a friend I message almost every day, and we still message almost every day. I still love pie, and otters, and Disneyland. The “i” key on my laptop still pops off all the time in a really annoying way.

Last night I dreamed it was Valentine’s Day, and I was feeling sad, and then my friends threw a spectacular surprise party for me, and I was so happy to see everyone. And then I woke up, and I thought to myself, yes, of course. It feels like you are all right here with me.

On Packing a Life

You burn your arm on the oven when you’re taking out the pizza. The burn turns into a weird blister. You put a band-aid on it and don’t look at it again because you don’t have time to have a burn on your arm right now.

You also have a mysterious bruise on your shoulder, sore arms, a sore neck, a sore back, sore legs, and you’re wearing your ankle brace all the time again because you don’t trust yourself to walk properly and not hurt yourself.

You have driven past your street or driveway by accident at least four times in the past week. Maybe more.

You struggle not to lose your patience with customer service representatives who take a ridiculous amount of time to do something that should take two minutes. You throw things away you never would have considered throwing away even a few months ago. You try to convince people to take random stuff because you know that otherwise it will go into the landfill, and it all feels like a huge waste.

You play and play and play your piano. And then you can’t bring yourself to play even though this is your last chance because it’s just too fraught.

You cry when you think about selling your piano. You cry when you get a voicemail from your friend saying he thought maybe you could use hearing a friendly voice, because you could use it and then some. You don’t cry when they carry your beautiful table away because by this point you are somewhat numb.

You do cry after you get off the phone with the emergency vet tech, who tells you, yes, you  need to bring your little dog in right away because the crack in her fang could be serious and there are no appointments available on the weekend so Friday night it is. If there is anything that can break you, it is your little dog’s health. You stand there and cry for five minutes, and you wish you had housemates or a boyfriend or family nearby, and then you coax the dog into the car and do what needs to be done, and now there are antibiotics twice every day, which isn’t so bad but is one more thing to remember.

Speaking of dogs, your dog is unhappy. She barks at the ceiling fan. She barks at the people who come over to get stuff. She barks more frantically than usual when she realizes you’re leaving. You tell her every day she’s coming with you, but she doesn’t speak English so communication is problematic.

Communication is difficult even when you speak the same language. You send endless messages to people. It’s all scheduling and logistics, and while you are okay, even good, at these things, you kind of hate them. You stare at your phone waiting for people to get back to you. They mostly get back to you after you’ve pretty much given up on it happening. It must be like water not boiling until you look away.

You spend one miserable night lying there unable to sleep, which means you have way too many hours to think about every detail of the move. Now you take melatonin every night before bed. It seems to help.

People have a lot of opinions, and you disappoint some of them, and you are too tired to care. The weather in Seattle is bad. The weather in Seattle isn’t so bad. What, you’ll move again if you don’t like it? What are you thinking? Why did you get an apartment in Bellevue? You should throw a goodbye party in your copious (read nonexistent) spare time. You should put your stuff up for sale on Craigslist. You say no a lot because there simply isn’t any wiggle room. You have the time you have, and it is extremely limited in quantity. At this point, if the other person in any given equation doesn’t make a lot of effort, it’s not going to happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You receive your first few invitations for Seattle, and you think, hmm, I’m not going to know anybody there. And then you think, wait, this is going to be the next several months of my life. And you get ready to steel yourself. In the meantime, you get to see a few of your closest friends more often than usual, and it is lovely, and you almost wish you could always be on the cusp of moving so you could always spend this much time with them.

You drink sparkling cider and you eat cranberry sauce from the can. More and more of your stuff is in boxes. You can tell how much you care about an object by how much paper you use to pack it.

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As I type this, Nala is lying in her bed and I am sitting in my easy chair where I always write, and we can see each other. She is drowsing, half sleeping and then cracking open her eyes to look at me. I am making silly noises at her and calling her nicknames.

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We have lived with each other for seven years. Today is our adoption anniversary.

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I have lived longer with Nala than I have lived with anyone aside from my nuclear family.

I feel like you can’t know me well without being aware of Nala’s existence in my life. I share photos of her all the time because they make me happy and I want to share that happiness with all of you. She is an essential component to the rhythm of my days. She loves it when I have friends over because she is so curious about people. Oh, and also she’s fond of getting more belly rubs.

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We’re moving out of state in less than two weeks. My days are filled with logistics and scheduling and making big decisions and packing and saying goodbye. Meanwhile, awful things are happening out in the world, and when I think about it (and how can I not think about it?) I feel like crying. Sometimes I do cry. And then I have to focus instead on whether I should pay to move my Billy bookcases or whether I should give them away, and what health insurance plan should I sign up for, and why hasn’t the welcome letter from my new complex come yet. And I have several friends who are having a difficult time right now, and I’m worried about them, and I don’t want to be dealing with moving, I want to be next to them giving them support. But I can’t because I have to be here. It’s a weird time.

In the middle of so much turmoil and change, I am especially appreciative of the things I can depend upon. I am afraid. I try not to problem compare, but I think of all the people who have so much more to be afraid of than myself right now, and this complicates my feelings even further. Even so, this is my reality. I am afraid. I think of being all alone in a new city in an empty apartment (because who knows how long it will take my stuff to arrive) and I am afraid.

And then I think of Nala. “Nala will be there,” I tell myself. And that fact, the fact of Nala, makes the fear navigable. She will roll around on the carpet and make funny snorting sounds. We can sit together on the floor in the dark. She will lick my arm. We can discuss her sentience or lack thereof, and she will be there when I cry and then realize I forgot to pack any Kleenex and end up draping toilet paper around the apartment like ghostly tear trails.

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The ones we love can’t take away the fear or the pain or the struggle. What they can do is make it easier to sit with these things.

What they can do is make us feel like we aren’t alone.

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I am so grateful to have Nala in my life.
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She gives me something to emulate. I hope my words can make a few of you feel a little bit less alone too.