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All things new

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Just the other day, I was reminiscing with my mom about 2011 (i.e. The Worst Year Ever) – and while she said that she has blocked out a lot of those memories, to me they’re still vivid, still shocking. Cynthia Monahon calls trauma “the occurrence of the unthinkable,” and if we’re using that definition, 2011 was traumatic in so many ways. While the events of that year aren’t as viscerally painful as they once were, sometimes I still can’t believe that they happened.

In early 2012, I remember praying that God would “throw me a fucking bone,” because God doesn’t mind an honest swear, even if some people do. And while I don’t necessarily credit that prayer with the change, I have to admit – today, things are different.

2013 was good, so good, in so many ways.

I made it through two sisters’ weddings, as well as the remarriage of my father. I experienced four different managers at work. I bought a house. I lost a beloved dog, and gained another. I found myself in Los Angeles, Nashville, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Austin, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, a beach in Florida, the summits of Colorado mountains, cocoa farms in the Dominican Republic, the shore of Lake Superior, and the seat of a bicycle (of all places). There were hours and hours of walking, hours and hours of silence, hours and hours of friendship, and many bottles of wine. I barely went to church, but I read my bible more than ever before. I chopped off my hair, and started the long, slow work of growing it back. I played my guitar. I met so many new people.

It was a rich year – not without heartache, but somehow without heartBREAK. And that was a welcome change, a gentleness I’d forgotten was possible.

Today, as I retire my 2013 calendar to the bookshelf that holds 10 years of its companions, I look ahead to 2014 – and I’m so excited. I’m just so excited for what’s on tap for this year. I can’t wait to see what the time brings – because despite my sparse church attendance this year, if there’s any promise that I love, it’s that all things are being made new.

new_year

Evergreen

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Major changes at work. The tragic death of a guy from my hometown. The Austin Sigg sentencing. Stress and uncertainty. Too many work dinners, not enough exercise. Men being straight-up disappointing. A puppy that barks from 4-7am. And a high of 20-freaking-degrees yesterday.

This week wasn’t my favorite.

Next week, the holiday season begins – which, in the past few years especially, has felt so horrendously sad. Who can celebrate when so much is wrong? How disingenuous can we be? Gone away is the bluebird, here to stay is a cuss word. The weather outside is frightful, and I’m feeling rather spiteful. Follow me in merry measure, while the world kills all our pleasure. Faithful friends who are dear to us disappear to us once more. And will someone bring me some damn figgy pudding already?

The halcyon years are over. We know too much. And whenever the saccharine feels like overkill, I tend to overcompensate in the other direction – choosing the bitter over the sweet.

But, you know, I bought a pumpkin. And it’s still sitting in the middle of my dining room table, reminding me that this life is marked by seasons. While “autumn” makes me think of blazing colors, crisp air, and Anthropologie sweaters, “fall” feels like the beginning of deadness – the literal falling of what used to be so alive. And as I watch the world around me expire, trees stripped bare and everything left shivering, I remember that something has to die in order for something new to live.

So I’m trading in my pumpkin for my very first tiny Christmas tree. I have no tinsel, no lights. But I’m placing it on my mantle as a reminder of what is unchanging – an evergreen in the midst of transition – a sign that even when everything around is dying, some things are constant. And if we stick around long enough, something new is sure to begin.

After Thanksgiving, maybe I’ll start by hanging an ornament.

Sunrise into day

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Things look different here (you might need to refresh your browser). After 6 years, it was time.

I loved that photo, the one taken in a Kansas field, sun-drenched and vibrant and glamorous – because who wears heels in a meadow? That girl was a great girl, bold and impulsive. She had so many wonderful things ahead, things that she couldn’t have dreamed even if she tried. She was running full speed into the unknown, and the latter half of her 20s was sensational, to say the least.

She was happy, and she didn’t know it.

But then again, her life was censored. She didn’t know that, either.

The field was eventually plowed over, and townhomes went in. That flowered chair ripped apart, and so did her family. Her free spirit was trampled into the dirt. Her skinny thighs got a little bigger, while her confidence got a little smaller. And one night, the left stiletto on those red high heels snapped right off.

Uncensored reality can be ugly. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that the last several years have been dark for me. You’ve tracked along with what I now know to have been seasons of crippling depression and despair. And when the struggle got to be too much, I just went on auto-pilot, choosing monotone over minor chords through a variety of anesthetics.

But Brené Brown says, “We cannot selectively numb emotions.” She’s right: when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb joy, love, and compassion. And what kind of a life is that?

So I’ve taken that idea to heart, and have spent the past year plowing forward into the darkness – which, by the way, has been about as fun as venturing into my spider-infested cellar with nothing but a Zippo. But at least I’m seeing things for what they really are, or at least closer to the way that they really are. These days, the veil is lifted, for worse and for better – and there is a “better.”

So it’s time for this space to be fresh.

Life is quiet these days, and largely uncomplicated. It’s also lonely, although that’s probably mostly by choice. If I told you the last time I went on a date, you would cringe. I have more questions than answers, and the things that are unresolved – the broken relationships, the questions of purpose, the nagging insecurities – peck at me from time to time.

But somehow, there’s an element of contentment. I am rooted – not necessarily geographically, but in who I am and what I’m willing (and not willing) to wait for. I can’t say exactly when it happened, but I feel a simple confidence that just like there are good things behind, there are good things ahead.

The light is soft, the colors gentle, and the good hair days abound.

Thanks for being here through the slow, slow changes. Here’s to more light and laughter in the midst of the quiet unknown.

Change comes slow,
And sometimes you don’t notice
The twilight into darkness,
The sunrise into day
-Jill Phillips, “If You Were Here”

Labor Day

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

I don’t feel much like getting up from this bed. My legs are stretched out in front of me and crossed at the ankles, left over right, giving me a good view of my newly pedicured toes. I broke one of them a few years ago – stubbed it on my couch, the one I bought brand new – and it still juts high above the other four, like an adobe hill out of the desert, the kind that gutsy kids use as a bike ramp.

It’s been years since I’ve ridden a bike, even though the Trek I got for my 14th birthday is currently crammed into the mudroom of my house, the front wheel turned perpendicular to the rest of the frame, blocking the doorway. I step over it whenever I go into the backyard, which is infrequent now that Toad is gone. I keep thinking I should put air in these tires. I should ride to work. Or I could try to sell it. Homeowners can always use extra cash.

It stresses me out, money. It always has. When I was a kid, I would pull the dollar bills out of my piggy bank and count them, splaying them across my bedspread, the ones together, the fives. Then I would walk across the hallway to the laundry room, set up the ironing board, and turn the iron to low. The literal smoothening of my money somehow translated, and when the stack of bills was crisp and orderly, so was my spirit – at least, so I thought.

Last night in a church pew, I wrote my September budget on a Post-It note. I had not been to church in – months? It must be. And already, the rhythm of the service felt unfamiliar. Do we really stand for this long? Funny, I went to church nearly every Sunday for 30 years, but take me out for just a few months and all of a sudden attending feels new.

I like it when things feel new and fresh. I also like it when things feel familiar and routine. This desire for both roots and wings is a tug-of-war, and I’m right in the middle of it, and I don’t know if I’ll be pulled to one side or the other or just torn in half.

They – three different friends now – say that they think I’m “on the verge.” Of what, they don’t really know, and it would be silly to speculate. But I feel it, too – the sense that something is almost. I wonder if it will feel like roots or like wings.

So I pray. I think that prayer is important – not so much because I think God will do what I ask, but because it reminds me that I’m not him. Not so much because God is a shelter from the storm, but because I hope he’ll stand out in the rain with me. Not so much because it leads to the absence of pain, but to the presence of love.

How to be Social: A Guide for the Introvert

Monday, June 17th, 2013

I love a big party. I’m far from shy. I can carry a conversation, nail a job interview, draw a stranger out of her shell, and tell a good story.

But I am also an introvert, which means that if left to my own devices, I would hang out by myself basically all of the time. I don’t hate people, I don’t hate fun, I’m not (always) socially awkward – I’m just more content than the average person to be alone. I like being alone. I need it. When I’m alone, I feel creative, laugh out loud at jokes I make up in my head, drive my car in silence, and sort through my emotions like a boss.

But just because I’m an introvert doesn’t mean that I’m immune to loneliness. And just because my tendency is to choose solitude doesn’t mean that it’s always the best thing for me.

So I’m learning how to occasionally combat my natural disposition, because I believe that people are actually pretty spectacular creatures and it’s worth it to spend my time with them. Go figure.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts on How to be Social (and So Can You!).

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PLAN AHEAD
When it comes to social activity, introverts aren’t the best with spontaneity. For example, if I drive home from my open floor plan office where I’ve been within arm’s reach of people all day long and I don’t have any evening plans, chances are that I will turn down any last-minute invites to spend time with friends because LEAVE ME ALONE.

But when an introvert puts something on the calendar and has an opportunity to mentally prepare, the chance is greater for social success. So I’m trying to project out a week or two in advance and agree to at least one event each week. And then I spend the days before gathering up every ounce of energy I can muster in hopes that I’ll be happy and personable when I attend the event. Sometimes it works, sometimes it…

Sometimes it works.

TAKE RISKS
I don’t like to do things that I don’t know I’m going to enjoy or be good at, so I tend to stick with what I know. I eat the exact same thing for breakfast every single day, I don’t go wakeboarding, I ignore volunteer opportunities, and I hike alone so there’s no chance of awkward conversation with a companion. Then again, there’s more chance of death by bear mauling. I suppose that’s the trade-off.

But I’m learning to just say yes, even if I’m not so sure about it. Go see a band I’ve never heard of? Yes. Look a stranger in the eye at the grocery store? Yes. Head downtown to an event even though I don’t know exactly where to park? Yes. The little risks add up, and all of a sudden, I’m meeting new people and doing new things and the story of my life has literally changed.

HIDE IN THE BATHROOM
When I find myself surrounded by people, I’ve decided it’s okay to take breaks to clear my head. I politely excuse myself, shut the bathroom door, and lean my head against the doorframe like a crazy person about to lose her mind. It’s okay.

But I’m not allowed to escape out the window, and neither are you.

Take a deep breath, fix your hair in the mirror, and get back out there. Take it from me: introverts are fabulous, and it would be rude to withhold ourselves from the world.

SPEND TIME ALONE
Counterintuitive, yes. After all, aren’t we talking about how to be social?

But introverts are wired a certain way. We will self-destruct if we don’t take the time to refuel in solitude. If we pressure ourselves to DO MORE! SAY MORE! HANG OUT WITH PEOPLE MORE! all of the time, we will fall apart and probably be a miserable person to the people we’re trying so hard to interact with.

Hole up sometimes. You’ll thank yourself later.

:::::

Yesterday, I didn’t leave my house until 4pm. I spray painted a picture frame and played guitar and watched three episodes of “The Bachelorette” (a topic for another time) and wrote a few emails and organized my bathroom and did laundry and reveled in extravagant silence.

Then, when it was time, Toad and I walked out the door and we drove to a party in Boulder. I chatted with people I had never met, caught up with the few I knew, and put two chicken breasts on the grill so I would have dinner for a week. Later on, I drove to Lafayette and walked into a house I’d never been and met a bunch of new people, and I took out my guitar and we all played songs and sang, and I learned 4 chords on the banjo so I could be as backwoods as I’ve always known I am, and I whispered about heartbreak to a new friend, and when the clock read close to 11 and I finally left, I put Toad back in the car and we drove through the darkness in silence and I thought, “Whatever today was, I want more of it.”

Shotgun

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Over the weekend, I traded in my dollhouse for a real house: as of Friday, I’m the owner of a shotgun row home. I’ve spent the past few days vacillating between absolute elation and a full-on panic attack – mostly for irrational reasons, like What if it’s built on a sinkhole? and What if I’m murdered?? Because obviously there is a direct correlation between owning a home and being murdered.

Back in February, I was not looking to buy a home. It was not a thought in my mind. You know me – I’m a rolling stone, a vagabond gypsy, a tumbleweed of a girl – and the thought of “settling down” makes me break out in hives. Of all of the feelings, trapped is the worst one I can think of.

But there’s a difference between being trapped and making a decision. When you go to a restaurant, you can’t keep staring at the menu forever just to “keep your options open.” That would be dumb, because LAY OFF ME I’M STARVING. There is goodness to be enjoyed and life to be lived, and sometimes you just have to choose.

Two months ago, Greta was here for a visit and we walked past an open house. I can’t resist an open house, because apart from becoming a lawyer, it’s my only legal-slash-socially acceptable chance to be nosy. I took two steps into the house before I realized I was in love.

Built in 1900, the house is 11 feet wide and 55 feet long, four rooms stacked one right after the other: living room, dining room, bedroom, kitchen. It has hardwood floors, 10 ft. ceilings, 3 skylights, a brick wall, and the tiniest backyard perfect for a 3-legged dog. Two minutes from downtown, the Jefferson Park neighborhood has a history of violence and crime, but it’s in the process of development and change. The area is still gritty, but right now is an exciting time to buy here (even though you know I’m still using the Club on my steering wheel).

It all happened pretty quickly: I got a realtor and a lender, sent off a bunch of paperwork, had an inspection and an appraisal, wrote some checks, and bam, signed on the dotted line. Call me crazy, but I didn’t look at a single other house; I saw this one, loved it, and bought it.

The entire experience has been surreal, and I have a lot of emotions swirling around in regards to buying a house as a single woman, the financial commitment, the fact that this house is in Denver, and the dead mouse decomposing on the cellar floor. I also have emotions about the skylight right above my bed, forcing me to wake up with the sun (I welcome your solutions to this problem).

I’m sure that I’ll write about these things in the future, but for now, I just wanted you to know where I am. Home.

Hanging

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Not to be dramatic, but my goal of having zero nervous breakdowns in 2013 is hanging in the balance.

Fine, that was dramatic.

They say the only constant is change – and I hate them for it – but it’s proven true in my life time and time again. In the past few weeks, I’ve experienced changes at work, changes in relationships, changes in my bank account, changes to my reality. I’m about to be a bridesmaid for the 13th time, our family changing yet again – this time the addition of another brother-in-law. I’m in the process of purging my closet and household items, preparing for yet another move. I’m behind on all forms of personal communication, and the thought of catching up is exhausting. I just got a haircut that surprises me every time I look in the mirror (not in a good way). All the while, I’m working my tail-end off at work, coming home so mentally drained that all I want to do is turn off my phone and lean my forehead to the doorframe.

Life is going fast, and I can’t keep up. I’m trying to do everything well, which leaves me doing nothing well – and man, I love to hit the mark.

All this to say, thank you for being here, no matter how much or how little I have to offer. Right now, it feels like very little. But the opportunity to share a little sliver of my life and have it received for whatever it is (currently Crazy-Town) helps me breathe just a little bit easier.

Hanging in there, cat on a tree branch,
Annie

Soul-stomping

Friday, February 15th, 2013

I recently took my car in for a major repair – one that required taking the engine apart, and then putting it all back together. I knew that it was going to cost a painful amount of money, so when the mechanic called to tell me that the clutch was shot, too, I lowered my forehead to the table. “Uh huh,” I said. “You can fix that, too.” TAKE EVERY DOLLAR, man. It’s all yours.

Later that day when I picked up the car, I asked the mechanic if there was any way I could have known that the clutch was on its way out. He said, “You should have felt it in the pedal.” I shrugged, saying, “It felt normal to me – just the way it always feels.” I settled the bill and headed to the car.

As I drove away from the shop, I was surprised at how different the new clutch felt. It was so easy to press down; my left leg barely had to work. All of a sudden, shifting was no longer a full-body effort – it was a breeze. Everything seemed quieter, easier – and I realized that this wasn’t some fancy luxury, this was just the way that it was supposed to feel.

It’s funny how dysfunction can sneak up on us. We go about our busy lives, from one distraction to the next – and just as long as we keep moving, we don’t have time to notice what might be falling apart right beneath our feet. The growing noise becomes normal. The increasing struggle feels standard. And before we know it, something inside is burned out, worn down, used up.

These days, I’m becoming more and more aware of the beliefs and thought patterns that have made my life feel hard for a really long time. Years? Always? It’s hard to tell. All I know is that the mantras I’ve repeated for so long, framing the way I think about this life and my place in it, have advanced to a point that has made everything feel like a fight.

Just like my stubborn clutch, life has gradually become a soul-stomp. And I just thought that was normal.

Famously hard on myself, I have a habit of self-pressuring to be better, be more, do more. I have pushed myself hard and fast, aspiring toward a place where there is nothing left requiring relief, all the while ignoring the ever-growing trouble inside.

And sometimes, it isn’t until we experience something the way it should be that we realize just how bad off we’ve been.

I’m going through somewhat of a personal renaissance these days, feeling revived and encouraged and all-around refreshed, and through this, I’ve had a taste of what feels right. It makes me sad that I have spent so much of my life fighting against things that were broken to begin with – things that could have been easier, should have been easier. I want to live differently.

So today as I drive my car to work, with each easy push of the clutch I will remind myself that it’s okay to go easy. It’s okay to quit training for the half marathon for the sake of my back. It’s okay to fall a little short of my monthly savings account goal. It’s okay to order the bridesmaid dress in the size that I am, not the size that I want to be. It’s okay to be a beginner at something. It’s okay to not know what’s going to happen – because whatever happens, it’s not worth the soul-stomp.

Fostering beauty

Monday, February 11th, 2013

I’ve decided to start painting my fingernails. This may sound inconsequential, but it feels significant: it’s a tiny symbol of an effort toward beauty.

I’ve lived in Denver for three years, and while by no means have I “let myself go,” my circumstances during this time have not exactly required me to bring a fashionable A-game. I worked from home for a long time, which allowed for days upon days in my pajamas. When I would venture out of the house, 9 times out of 10 it was to go running – so why would I ever bother with hair and makeup?

Just over a year ago, I started working from an office again – and while it’s required me to actually, oh you know, GET DRESSED every day, I happen to work with all women. There is no pressure to look awesome – so I don’t. T-shirts and jeans every day, whatever’s comfortable, hair in a ponytail. Done.

It’s interesting what the world’s focus on physical appearance has done to me. For a long time, it was a standard I was trying to meet. Then, when I realized that perfection was unattainable, the pendulum swung the other way: I just shouldn’t care at all. Who am I trying to impress, anyway?

But I’m realizing how deeply my lack of personal effort has been sinking into my psyche. Go for months without feeling put together, and one is bound to start falling apart.

The past 6 months of my life have been marked by some significant decisions toward health. I see a counselor on a regular basis. I paid off all of my debt. I am making changes in my calendar and my habits and my thought patterns. These developments feel beautiful.

I just want my outside to match my inside.

I keep thinking of the phrase “fostering beauty.” To foster does not mean to strive, to strain, to struggle, or to contrive. To foster means to cherish, to cultivate, to nurture and uphold. It suggests that the thing one is fostering already exists; it does not need to be fabricated or manipulated. It just needs to be cherished. Cultivated. Nurtured. Upheld.

So today, my hair is curled, and I’m wearing a new shirt. My fingernails are a dark, dusty pink – the color of Ibuprofen, an accidental homage to the trusty pain killer.

And I’m telling you, just like Ibuprofen, it’s making things better.

The chair

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

It was love at first sight, really.

I was wandering through a vintage store in Kansas City when it caught my eye. I made a beeline for it, and bought it the same day. It made no sense – because how would I ever get it back to Seattle?

It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. The chair was made for me.

That was the spring of 2004, and it wouldn’t be until the summer of 2005 that I would drive nearly 2,000 miles from Seattle to Kansas City in my Honda Accord just to fetch the chair from my parent’s basement where I had left it underneath a sheet. I drove back to the Northwest, and the first thing I did was head to my new apartment building in Wallingford. I muscled the chair up 3 flights of stairs, unlocked the door for the very first time, walked into the empty studio, and set the chair right by the window on the hardwood floor. It was the first and only piece of furniture I owned.

But slowly, my little home began to build around it.

The chair became the centerpiece of my décor, the first thing that people would notice when they walked in – then outwardly show their disappointment when I told them it was from the 50s, and that no, they could not find an equivalent. When I eventually decided to leave Seattle for Nashville, the chair was the only piece of furniture I moved with me. I stopped in Kansas City on the way, and carried it to the middle of a field where my sister-in-law snapped what would become somewhat of an icon in my life.

I built a new life in Tennessee, and as I moved around, started using the phrase “Home is where the chair is.” And it’s true: each humble place that my chair graced truly felt like home.

At the end of 2009, I loaded the chair for yet another move, this time to Denver. From Franklin to Hooker to now Alcott, the chair has traveled with me, and has remained my favorite piece of furniture. I’ve talked about how I want to keep it forever, picturing it in various reading nooks, or maybe a daughter’s room someday. This chair has been woven into the story of my life, and I have never run across another that could compare with how much I love it.

But this year, something tragic happened. Blame it on years of use, blame it on age, but the seat of the chair wore through and split open. The threadbare fabric finally gave way, and just disintegrated beyond repair. I tried to pull and stitch. I brainstormed how to reupholster it – but it was no use. This chair was done for.

I fought it for months, the raggedy chair keeping up residence in the living room, guests commenting on how the stuffing was coming out. I didn’t want to get rid of it, and tried to think of any way I could resurrect what had become such an important item to me. But I knew that the day would come.

And that day was today.

I bought a utility knife. I walked into the living room, turned the chair around, and took a blade to it – I felt like Fantine cutting off her hair. When I was through, I had removed the back panel of fabric, the only piece that was still in good condition. This memory, this scrap, is now lying in the living room.

My future brother-in-law Michael carried the half-naked and now-destroyed chair out to the alley and threw it in the dumpster. It’s over. It’s gone.

– – – – –

I have some dreams that have not come true. Like the fabric on the chair, no matter how I’ve tried to pull, the fiber of my life just won’t reach far enough. No matter how I’ve tried to stitch, the threads unravel. If it were up to me, my dreams would come together seamlessly, creating something good and unique and beautiful, something that others would comment on, something that I would love.

Just hours before I cut up my chair, I talked to Greta about the importance of letting certain dreams die, or at least transform. If the dream no longer holds together, if it dissolves despite our best efforts, then maybe it’s time to let it go. If forcing the pieces only tears them further, then maybe it’s time to be open to something new – and to be open to that something new being GOOD, even though it isn’t exactly what we’ve valued in the past.

As I look ahead to a new year, I don’t know what to dream. But I know that it needs to be new.

Tonight, I mourn the loss of my chair. I stare at the panel of fabric that I saved, and wonder what to do from here.

But whatever it is, I have to believe it could be good.