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Of Pit Bulls and Posies

18 May

I’m going to tell you a secret.


Everyone in my real life knows this secret about me; even all of my co-workers even are fully aware. But I still get nervous when I meet new people and trying to figure out how to tell them. And sometimes I get angry, like when I am on the bus and people are talking about “those kind of people” and I get a nudge from an old woman that tells me that she expects me to agree with her, maybe because I look so polite and so sweet and so, “not one of those kind of people.”


Except I am.


For the last two years, I have owned a Pitbull. Tucked away, next to my front door, beside my hand-woven snood from a little shop on Queen’s Street in Edinburgh and my green velvet coat with the hand-embroidered flowers all over the sleeves from Harvey Nicks, is a pincher collar and a leather, police issue, lead. It’s burgundy, not black, because I thought the color was nicer and as it ages, its starting to have a lovely soft patina.


I was not the sort of person who is a breed advocate, or particularly political with animal rights, but my little ginger Pit has started to turn me into that sort of person. I grew up in Upstate NY, as I am oft heard saying, and that meant that hunting and farming were the norm and, part and parcel of Upstate is that Pits are also normal. Blissfully so.


High school and college friends alike adopted dogs, many of them pit puppies. Others got Dobermen or Rotties. Big dogs that you took in the back of pick up trucks. My college boyfriend’s sister had two kids and an adopted Pitbull female. A homeless man had asked her to take his dog (she works as an advocate) and she obliged. A few years later she got a second. I remember sitting in her living room, petting that big goofy head, and watching her play nicely with the kids. No one, absolutely no one that I knew of had a problem with Pitbulls. We all read in horror what Michael Vicks had done and wrote that off as a twisted man, not as an issue with dogs. To us, saying it was the dog’s fault was a cop out that lazy people made. We wrote off Pitbull haters as an issue bred in cities where people had no idea how to hunt or fish or do a keg stand. In other words, what we called “assholes.” In the UK, at least in Scotland, people have pits left and right, and maybe they wore muzzles, and maybe they didn’t, but the familiar wide head and goofy smile was easily spotted all over Leith, which is where I made my home for most of my time there, although there was a man who walked his pits around The Links where I lived as well. The rest of Europe had wild packs of dogs that were shaggy and wolf like; those scared me, the way they would run loose through the streets at night, howling.


When I came “home” from Europe two years ago, I was breaking down. I had left what I had hoped would be my home for life, Scotland, to making my way through London, and surviving my way through Eastern Europe and Greece and then back again. It wasn’t a physical hardship as much as it was a complete shift for my mind. Being Upstate, I think, had made me crave a home, stability, to see familiar faces. And then the nomadic, military brat in me was pushing away those edges and making me restless. I didn’t know where I belonged or what I was going to do. I could write, yes, and I could make friends, and try out things, but I was also mostly stuck in my hometown with just a few suitcases, unpacked into my grandmother’s dresser in my parent’s spare room, my own childhood bedroom a quilting/computer room.


The whole time I lived overseas, and even before then, I had been day dreaming about a dog. I thought I wanted a little dog, when I lived in a tiny apartment, but as I walked across Europe, I saw big, fuzzy, fluffy dogs, especially in Oia, where everyone had a beautiful dog. We rescued puppies at the book store, and my Ukrainian friends took a set of golden puppies that had the same marking as my future dog would have. I dreamed of a Shepard or a Husky, or what my father had had when he was fresh out of the military, a Malamute. I dreamed of hiking and swimming and camping with a dog. I was tired of doing these things alone.


Nearly in tears every day, as girls who don’t know what the fuck they want to do with their lives once everything around them has been shuffled around irrevocably, my parents agreed to take me to the animal shelter. I think they were desperate to give me something to focus on. Like a five year old set free in a toy store, I only thought about the getting, not about the later. I was a nervous, wide eyed, whippet of a person when I got to the Humane Society.


I don’t know why they gave me the dog, I don’t know why the shelter let me walk out with her and her big floppy bunny ears. Maybe they trusted my parents; that my big, 350 pound, 6’7”, ex-AirForce father could handle whatever was given to us. Maybe they just didn’t know what else to do with her. Her tag read “Ruby” and the guy who lived around the corner from my parents, the guy who bred Red-Nosed Pits himself, told me I had saved her from certain death. He said that people will pay for puppies, but if they can’t control them, if they can’t train them the way they want and give them up, and no one will take an adolescent pit, especially not one built like a brick shit house, like “Ruby” was.


When I was walking down the aisle in the “Big Dog Room” (no terrier for this girl, I wanted a monster sized dog to keep me safe and warm) I was drawn to a pit/great Dan mix named King, that at 8 months, already weighed 80 pounds. I was sure, and still am, that he was a gentle giant. But from the end, my mother was squealing, “This one has bunny ears!”


And so she did. While most Pitbulls are short, stocky, and even, dare I say, on the small side, “Ruby” was tall, with a greyhound body, and the most gloriously tall rabbit ears that cocked this way and that way. She was underfed and looked sorrowful, her spirit was super still when we met, but she tilted her golden eyes at me. She is not pure Pit: she is Red-Nosed Pit and Pharaoh Hound, which may be the most fucked up mix to ever exist. I instantly fell in love. She was a creature drawn straight from the dark crevices of the mind of Hunter S Thompson: “Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” I felt instantly connected with her and I wanted us to start again. I named her Ava, for Ava Gardener, an idol of mine, and a woman I think who was also, a rare bird, revered for her beauty, but with a toughness that could pack a wallop (there are tales about a frying pan and her then husband, Frank Sinatra’s head).


When I take Ava out these days, well fed, and bright eyed, people stop and tell me that she is built like a race horse, with long running legs, defined by muscle on top of muscle, but slender with the curving chest of a Pharaoh Hound. And she can run; she gallops like a horse, stomping across the ground at a speed that is terrifying if you do not know that she means no harm once she reaches you. My father and I would take her to the abandoned air field by our house and let her run the length of the tarmac. She was in-fatiguable. We go on hikes that last for hours, up hills and through the woods and at the end she is ready to run more.


Who bred her and why, we’ll never know. Maybe as a hunting dog? She is fast, she is focused, and yes, she is prey driven. Where we live now, she can not run free, it’s not the same here. In Syracuse, people have their dogs in yards and they run with them on trails, safely leashed. There are wide open spaces where there is no one and no other dogs. People have farms and yes, abandoned airbases where dogs can roam and run and be dogs. I think she was very happy there.


But life changes and there is not any work in Syracuse, not for someone like me, and so, after more journeys and more hunting of my own, I found work and a home in Portland. I am also prey driven, and when I set something in my sights, I can’t be still until I have it. A home for us, a job I loved, I wanted this for us, no matter where it was. When I found my little cottage near the woods, I felt satisfied that I could stop running. My parents drove across country to bring me Ava. But she was not instantly happy here. She had left a big house and a good sized yard and daily runs on the base to come live in a studio apartment in the NW of Portland. I lucked out with where we live, because it is ground floor and we have a little yard, but nothing like she had. She was sad, crying, whining, barking incessantly. When we walked, she tried to drag me along. She was uncontrollable, inconsolable. I felt like we had never been friends and that, like a child of divorce, she blamed me for everything terrible that was happening to her. We had to start all over again.


And so I have to work with her. While my parents let her run free, hardly ever using a leash, here she had to learn manners and to not pull my arms out. She did not like that one bit; I am too slow for her and she dreams of racing. I sneak out of the house early to take her to the tennis courts by our house, which have a locking gate, so she can run and run and run, but it’s only in circles and I don’t think it’s enough for her. 5:30 in the morning we leave the house and walk and run and circle the woods we live near for at least an hour. Then we have breakfast together: I have eggs and she has raw turkey and veggies. And then I have to leave her while I go to work, from which I hurry home every day, never going to happy hour with my co-workers or having dinner with friends.


On weekends we have lessons with an amazing team who knows how to handle my hell-hound, and Ava is now working on agility lessons, like jumping over picnic tables. We practice with other dogs, so she can learn to be calm and obey me no matter what else may come: she is learning to trust me above even her own instinct to bolt, to freak out, or to attack to protect herself from strange creatures that run up to her. I think she had a bad experience as a puppy, but we’ll never know, so all we can do is train her and work with what she is now. She has dog friends, and if you are slow and introduce your dog to her sweetly and with patience, she will be extremely friendly. But I am the first to admit: she shocks easily and a dog running up to her, off leash and yapping, looks like something she wants to tear into. I have to be ever vigilante.


Like me, she has a short attention span, easily amused and totally enraptured by everything and anything,distracted by the wind blowing an interesting scent across her nose, or a leaf dancing fantastically to her right. We have walks together where she and I become lost in looking at the leaves and birds. She is anxious when left alone, terrified I won’t come back for her. Her favorite thing to eat is vanilla ice cream and bananas, same as me, but she won’t turn down strawberries either. When I am sad or scared or lonely, or in pain, she lays with me in my bed, protective and calming. She stays awake most of the night, keeping her ear cocked to the door and windows, murmuring her growls at the people who walk by at 3 am. We are both nervous creatures who often do the wrong thing based on our fears and mis-perceptions. Cesar Milan once said that you “get the dog you need, not the dog you want.” And some days, when I sink down onto my couch, crying and freaking out that I cannot take one more day of Ava and her behavior, I have to repeat that as a mantra to myself. My trainers tell me that if I choose to not keep Ava, the kind thing to do would be to euthanize her because she could not be re-homed again with her separation anxiety and who else would take the time I take with her? They are good trainers, who have themselves adopted and trained dog-aggressive dogs, Pits and other breeds, but they know how different life is for a Pitbull in Portland than it is in NY.


I know I am doing something right, that what was once a high energy wind up hell-hound psycho dog, can now walk down a busy street, go into dress shops with me, and be told, by elderly couples, by men playing softball, by construction workers, and by little girls who love her ears, that I have a “beautiful dog.” That when she automatically sits when I stop walking or lays down when I say, “Plotz!”, people marvel out loud at how well mannered she is. She smiles, her goofy, lolling smile, and waits, not patiently, to be petted, loved, and fed treats (which the shop keepers kindly do).


But I am still told, at times, that my dog is the devil, that her jaw locks and that she will someday devour me in my sleep. Mostly I read these thing online, where people don’t have to show me their faces when they say these words. Worse than people who might come up to me and be cruel are the cowards that hide behind websites and forums and comment boxes. In real life, no one would come up to me and say anything nasty, partially I am sure because Ava’s exact breed confounds them and most people, people who do not know and love Red Nosed Pits, do not know what she is. But also, I think an owner dressed in a floral dress and a cardigan go a long way in making a dog look friendly. But still, I brace myself, ready myself to pull out the angry NY Italian that resides in my heart, ready to fight, to defend my dog’s honor.


My friends tell me that no dog should take up so much time. People on the street do walk away from me. Sometimes she does get into dog fights, because unleashed dogs run up to her, their owners shouting from 500 feet away, “Don’t worry, she’s friendly!”…well, mine isn’t and you should have asked…although luckily she is a shaker, not a biter, so she’s only ever been the one injured. Sometimes, it’s just enough that she sneaks into the grocery bags and eats all the turkey I bought for the week in one sitting. Sometimes I am tired from running 4 miles a day with her, rain or shine, and I just break down. She is not the dog for the weak of heart.


And so, I repeat the mantra, you get the dog you need. Because maybe I was too weak-hearted before I met Ava. I didn’t know where I belonged. I fell for men who were unkind. I had the sort of friends who slept with those unkind men. I allowed emotional and physical abuse into my life. I took advice from people to heart, as though they always knew best, not always thinking for myself. And now, I am purposeful, even if my only purpose is to take care of this ginger furred, golden eyed, rabbit eared, horse dog. I write on this blog, this rabbit-hearted, self imposed title of weak willed woman-hood, and yet I know that this isn’t entirely true anymore.


I am now the sort of person who takes great, purposeful strides across the pavement as I handle a 65 pound dog who is pure muscle and teeth, and I know she will obey me. She is not perfect, but I have the inner strength, matched by the physical strength, to correct her, to be loud, and un-apologetic about who is in charge here. I do these things with a smile on my face and a dress on my body, but I do these things forcefully and with great strength. I am re-habbing a wounded, emotionally scarred throw-away who laid homeless on hard floors while people said she was not worth rescuing and I am doing this with the help of an incredibly beautiful and graceful dog who happens to be a Pitbull.

Of Spiders and Things…

19 Sep

“Experience is never limited and it is never complete: it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue”.
~Henry James

Friday at my job, as it is at many offices, is “casual Friday.” To me, that meant that I would wear leggings under a skirt with a sweater. It felt casual. To me.  I guess not to my co-worker and friend, L.  She came up to me as I was typing away and asked, “Have you always been so…prissy?” And it sort of took me aback. Me, prissy?

Do I wear dresses? All the time? Yes. Absolutely. Except when I am wearing a skirt. But since I have worn dresses while hiking, while breaking the neck off a turkey carcass and pulling his little turkey guts out, while on my hands and knees scrubbing a rooftop clean, while carrying a bleeding child home from the park, and a zillion other situations, I didn’t really think that this made me “prissy”. I thought it made me the type of girl who could eat 5 plates at the Chinese buffet without have to worry about my jeans digging into my stomach. I looked at my co-worker with a quizzical eye and wondered why this was a question. Didn’t she know me?

It sort of reminds me of my favorite bit of Christmas. You see, my mother is German and our tree was always very staunchly “German”. When we had lived in Germany, my mother had collected many beautiful things that you simply could not find in America, things like a gorgeous wax angel with luminous skin  and bright eyes, delicate candle holders, and most importantly, the tale of the Christmas Spider.

You’ve never heard of the Christmas Spider? Well, that is the whole reason you have tinsel on your tree. Yes, my mother, who is not a tacky woman, let me start off by saying, would delicately swath our tree in tinsel as the final touch before we set the angel atop. And she would always tell me the story of the spider as she did so. You see, when all the other creatures came to see the baby Jesus in that manger, they all brought what they had to share. Wool to keep him warm, milk to keep him fed, you know the tale. And when the spider came, the animals did not know what she could share. And so she spun. She spun her delicate web here and there and made intricate patterns that she hung from the plain wooden rafters. As the northern star shone down, light reflected off her beautiful webbing and caused the whole manager to glow and shimmer and look much more beautiful than it had been before.

I thought of this story as I walked to work today because I saw spider’s web, strung up in a strange alcove of a building where the spotlights were set up. One spot light was just right underneath this web, where the spider sat in the center, causing the whole web to look golden. It really stood out to me and made me remember the story and how much I do love spiders just because of that childhood memory. And yes, that is sort of the point. Because my mother told me that tale over and over again, because we have delicate spider ornaments tucked away on our tree right beside Santa’s and snowflake encrusted bulbs, whenever I see a spider, I smile. It’s changed my whole outlook on how I view them. I think to myself, pretty web and thanks for eating the icky bugs that try to crawl in my house. And sometimes I have to sweep them outside, but I never squish them with a shoe or a book.

I think that when people do kill spiders it’s because they don’t really know them and every time I hear someone make a statement about me and my dresses, good or bad, I feel like they don’t really know me. It’s true, sometimes people are extra kind to me because of my dresses.  And sometimes they are less than kind, acting as though I am offering up an excuse of incapability to anyone looking at me.

I think it’s both. I glamorize the spider and her lovely little web, but I am fully aware and incredibly thankful that she’s also using that web to trap the bugs that I do not like and keeping them away from my house. I like that she’s strong and willful and protective and that she did not build an ugly little weapon to do it all with, she did it with a flair for design that could not be learned in a decade at Parson’s.

Read this, Save the World

1 Sep

I have written about my love of London on here and I think it’s pretty clear about my romantic feelings towards Scotland. But today, I want to take a minute to really hone in on what is the best part, for not only me, but for hundreds, thousands of other people in Edinburgh: The Forest Café.

I came to Scotland after a terrible a breakup. There I said it. It’s on paper.  So, let’s imagine that, shall we? Broken hearted, 24, in one of the coldest, darkest cities in the world, struggling with the idea that there is no Mexican food or insulation, I wandered around the cobblestoned streets for a few weeks before my classes started. I felt overwhelmed: what had I been thinking, to sign up for a year of this place? No matter how much Scotland had touched my heart on my first trip there, no matter how in love I had fallen with the wet fields, the moody grey sky, and the fairy tales that twisted their way through the air like Fourth of July sparks, it still struck me as insane to have moved away from my whole life. It’s important to remember that even though I have traveled through a lot of countries in my life, until I came to Scotland I had barely even left the town I had grown up in.

I was born in Germany and then my Air Force dad moved my family (which is only my parents and me and whatever animals we collected on the way) to Cornwall and then to New Mexico and then to New York. And there we stayed, in my mother’s hometown of Syracuse. I went to a college only 40 minutes away. I dated boys who were from Syracuse, even all through college. My first trip to Scotland, I had my hand held by my Syracuse boyfriend of three years.  Was I scared? Or had I just not thought to do anything else? I’m not sure. But I do know that the first time I ever stepped into Edinburgh I planned on never leaving and it lit a fire in my heart.

Of course, walking the streets alone, exploring without a map, still left me feel fearful. And then classes started. And I met Ryan. Now, don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of lovely, wonderful people. Obviously, because it’s the people that glue you to a place and I am well stuck on the city. But Ryan was and is different. Ryan is a friend who will visit you in Greece, spend Christmas Eve with you, drinking port, bring you spinakopata for breakfast, let you crash at his house when you miss your train back to London, introduce you to amazing people like Deborah, and read your stories and tell you they are good. Ryan is, above all else, good.

But he is also more than just a friend to me, he’s a great friend to Edinburgh. He helped create and run The Forest Café. It’s beautiful there and it’s a home away from home for not just me, but for everyone who enters the place. It’s a feeling of pure comfort when you wander into the dimly lit rooms.

Free computers and internet, because everyone deserves to be able to access information. Amazing vegetarian food, (including burritos!), free space to do yoga or Spanish lessons or to build your own robot, gallery space, a free dark room, community projects, fund raising, books published, music heard, lectures given, people met. Oh yeah, and you can bring your dogs.

When Ryan brought me to the Forest, I was scared. Really scared. It’s a huge space and there are so many people who always seem to know everyone else. They are bustling in the kitchen, getting food out, and they are stomping around, dragging furniture or amps upstairs and downstairs and people are taking pictures and making music and dishes are clattering and art is being made and laptops are being used and books are being read and there will be people getting hair cuts or massages in the tiny “shops” set up in the hallway.

And I didn’t know if I would ever fit in.

In NY, I was a big fish in a small pond. And even if I didn’t exactly feel like an “adult”, I didn’t feel like a child and I felt like I was very in control of my life. I knew everyone around me and there were few unfamiliar faces. I felt confident about the persona I had built for myself: perfect student with lots of extra-curricular activities, including being in student films and writing on the school’s literary magazine. I had my own apartment off campus, which I loved. I ran at least 5 miles a day and I had plans on going to grad school and then working at a magazine, hopefully Martha Stewart. I worked a few jobs, one of which where I was a manager and worked on all aspects of the business. I felt completely together.

I got to Scotland and BAM! I was a kid again. I lived with flatmates, all of whom had real grown-up jobs, while I was in school, going to class all day and working part-time at a retail shop on the weekends. I drank and wrote and slept and ate heavy cream based foods and danced until late at night and got myself a boyfriend who promised not to break my heart and I felt so young that whenever I entered a room I felt small and insignificant and like I had no experience in comparison to everyone else in the world. Everyone had traveled and written published things and some people were making music while others were starting hip, underground bars where you could drink gin out of tea cups. It was all very amazing.

Possibly the most amazing thing was that people liked me and were willing to talk to me. When I was asked to help decorate for a party at the Forest, I felt like I had just won something fantastic. When Ryan asked me to help him publish books and then it turned into me getting to talk to local bookstores and do readings myself, it started to make me feel like I could do all sorts of magical things. Magical things like move to London or live in a bookstore in Greece.

It’s hard to fully explain the Forest, except to say that it is magical. It gives people permission and space to be themselves and to be creative. It also, even more importantly, gives a lot of people resources to use to be creative.

I have written about my amazing friend Deborah before. She is a playwright and an excellent cook and a good travel companion. And she also is in charge of the Forest Fringe, something that has been called, by a newspaper man at the Guardian, “an ongoing miracle.” But as she says, it’s not a miracle, it’s a product of how amazing the Forest Café is. The Forest gives Deborah the space to put on amazing, free shows that stimulate the growth of art that is so important in Edinburgh. You may have heard of the Edinburgh Festival, which takes place every year in August. And that is a very cool thing indeed. But what makes the Forest Fringe even better than the regular festival is that it is FREE. It is art for anyone, anyone at all, and it is art that anyone can make.

And that is the joy of the Forest Café. It is a beautiful wonderful jumbled up mess of an existence that can and will change your life, if only it gets the chance.

And right now, it might not get the chance.

Developers in Edinburgh want to take the building away and today, yes, today September 1st, every part of the home I remember, has been dismantled and put into boxes. Despite the best efforts of SNP politician Marco Biagi and all of my hundreds of Edin-burgers, enough funds were not raised in time to buy the building before the lease is up.

But all hope is not yet lost! The good news is: The building is historic. Changes cannot be made to the structure, so it makes people not want to buy the building! There is still time for US, for you, for me, to buy this building and continue the co-op. I implore you, to make the Forest Café your home. Because this place does not exist elsewhere, it really doesn’t. I have traveled the world and this sort of thing, at this size, with this many volunteers working seamlessly to make it run, simply does not exist anywhere else. Save the Forest and Save the World! Dramatic? Yes. But please, it’s amazing. And it needs your help.

You can help by going here:


How to Make Life More Interesting

23 Feb

Reading my favorite blog this morning, Penelope Trunk, I saw that she had re-posted an entire article by The Friendly Anarchist. I loved it. It was entitled: How to Make Life More Interesting. It basically said that most people do not want interesting lives, they want normality. Which, I tend to understand. I want normality in my life too, I just feel like my normality is sort of different.

For me, I know that I am not going to be happy owning a house in the town I grew up in, having a kid with someone I went to high school with, and watching football every Sunday. This is not saying that I don’t think anyone should be doing that, far from it. Having kids IS a very interesting and high stress experience, so my saying that I don’t want kids shouldn’t lead anyone to believe I don’t want them because I want something “more interesting.” Nope, I want something more normal.

It’s been a struggle for me for the last year, trust me on this. It was a little over a year ago that I started this blog, thinking I would be able to blog daily and feel productive. And while I was working in London, that was completely true. I had a very structured day and it was easy to see where writing fit in, at least this sort of writing. And then I began traveling. And I had no idea how long that would be for.

I started off on a train to Brussels. I wandered through gardens and side streets and saw Alice in Wonderland in the cinema. I moved right along to Koln and Wiesbaden, and then to Vienna and Budapest and Brasov and Bansko and so many other beautiful little towns in between, until I got to my final destination of Oia, on the island of Santorini. And then back to London and back to Edinburgh and then finally, back to New York. Which was normal, so normal. To sit in my parents house and suddenly have everything familiar, it was relaxing. But it was as though my body had made a strange sort of adjustment during my travels. Where what is “normal”, “relaxing”, and “easy”, made me feel stressful.

A friend, who shall remain nameless because I find this advice distasteful, but true, said something to me when I was still living in London.

“Come home. Settle down. Get a job. Or else, the longer you stay out there in the world, the more impossible it will be to ever sit down.”

I hated him when he said it, because it was frustrating to me how he had suddenly changed. He had always been just as big of an adventurer as I have been, if not more. He joined the navy, he traveled the world, but he gave up a post in Italy so he could settle down in a seaside town just bordering being southern. And he’s happy with that. He’s happy with going to school and having barbecues and taking cute pictures with his girlfriend and their friends. And in some ways I envy that, that ability to have made the shift.

I left New York and moved to LA, only about a month ago. I liked the sun, but I disliked having a car. I wasn’t used to it. And LA is a city of cars. I rented a car to drive to job interviews, to parties with friends, to go hiking along the beautiful canyons. I was spending about 6 hours a day in a car. It made me want to cry. No, it actually made me cry. For me, going from Edinburgh, a place where you can walk from one end of the city (Leith) to the other end (Murrayfield) in about an hour, to a place where it takes an hour just to drive from my house to where my friends lived, was impossible. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I struggled with my experiences of London to understand why public transport was so abysmal. I was wracked with the pain of having lost something and trying to replace it with what I felt to be an inferior product.

And this is not to disparage LA. My amazing friend Nils came from London to move to LA about two weeks ago. I picked him up from the airport and his unabashed enthusiasm about the city, from the moment we got in the car, was magical. Perhaps that was the problem: when I was picked up, it was by a snarky former boyfriend who took me on the 405 the whole way and then dropped me off to a couch where I was staying with another friend. With a welcome “LA survival kit” for my friend tucked in the backseat, I took Nils down Sunset Blvd to where we picked up his rental car and then I brought him to an amazing Mexican restaurant where the ceiling hangs low like a cave. We were joined by my friend Zach and then we drove off to Echo Park, where Nils had a room of his own, over looking the Hollywood sign. In every way, I feel, the universe was conspiring to make him feel at home in LA. And he’s adjusted so well.

As for me? I changed my mind again. I packed up my belongings in my rental car and took the 1 up the coast. I saw Big Sur, I camped in the redwoods, I ate cherry pie in a log cabin, and I took long baths in hotel rooms. (I always feel more at home in a hotel room). And then, I turned up in Portland.

I suppose maybe I work best in a cold, rainy, grey city with good public transportation and coffee galore. Because I feel pretty content here. I live with two guys I went to college with and their two kittens. We drink beer and make soup and go out and do things. I am optimistic that this is going to be a good city and that I fit in nicely. And I am hoping, beyond hope, that all the scribbles I have made in journals these last 8 months can become something more solid, more permanent.  After all, I am still a writer, still a creator…but I think I am looking for the sweet normal of disruption and confusion. I like the push and the shove and the mess it makes everywhere. But I am hoping to maybe stop moving so much.

As I rearranged and decorated my new bedroom today, I made a note to make a conscious change. Whereas I almost always hang up a map or foreign postcards on my wall, instead, today, I refrained from this act and placed an Oregon travel guide beside my bed. At least if I get wanderlust, I can maybe just stay in state.


Back in the Saddle

7 Oct

Today is Thursday, so it should be a clear and simple Things I Love Thursday post, but I also wanted to address that I haven’t really written in a very long time as well. Oh, and also that it is Lightcasting day!

As most of you know, I started traveling back in April. I didn’t bring my laptop with me because I wanted to travel light and I wanted to know that if I dropped my bag or it got kicked, or worse even, stolen, that I wouldn’t have lost a very expensive piece of equipment. This is probably good, because when I got to Greece, I actually lost my phone… that was a nightmare for about 5 minutes and then suddenly I felt very free. No phone, no personal computer, just me sort of roaming around. Almost all of the travelers I met along the way were busily keeping up with a travel blog, either with words or with photos, and I really envied the way that they had decided that there was no better time then RIGHT THEN to start chronicling their lives out loud. But I’ve never been one to be able to write anything even vaguely interesting in a room full of people, and that is right where most hostels/hotels plunk their open use computers. Which is why the only real updates you got from me along the way were when I was in Budapest and in the quiet darkness of Katie’s computer lab or Germany, when I had private access on a super rainy day. Most of the rest of the time I scribbled in my notebook when I found the time, mostly on trains, sometimes in poppy fields when I sat to take a rest, or on rainy afternoons curled up on a hostel couch when everyone else was out braving the storms or drinking heavily in the lounges.

When I finally got back to the UK, all I wanted to do was again, be out on the streets of London and Edinburgh, to see my best friends and the places that I loved so dearly. I wanted to sneak into Harvey Nicks again and eat jelly beans. I wanted to go look at pretty paintings in the Victoria Albert Museum. Make pancakes for Becca and Nils. Eat Indian with Nick or Mexican with Jason. I wanted to drink vodka in a Polish vodka bar with all my friends, or just wander the wet streets of Scotland, listening to Frightened Rabbit.

But now I am back in NY, once again making life plans and sorting things out. I feel like I am constantly having new beginnings and start overs, but I’m happy for that. I’m happy that a lot of the time I get to being brand new, even though I suppose, over the years, it has been stressful. But just being back upstate has, surprisingly, been fun. I got to reconnect with my amazing friend Rhea and her awesome husband and their super sweet dog Riley, make a few new friends, and develop some amazing plans for what’s next. I even got a new dog, something I have been dying for the entire time I lived overseas. You just can’t have a dog when you don’t have a permanent visa, so the first thing I did when I got back to the states was mark my commitment to being here with the adoption of a shelter dog. Her name is Ava and she mostly a pretty good  :)

So these are all things I love right now. Beautiful, amazing people that I have managed to fill my life with so much that it seems like everything is bursting at the seams, but I think that’s the best bit.

And best of all, today is Lightcasting Day, and according to Chris, the cutest man on the internet, today I should be focusing on setting boundaries in my life for the nest eighteen months! My god, that is a long time! But he’s totally right. When I was thinking about what today was and what to think about whilst laying in bed, petting Ava’s head, and watching Twin Peaks last night, I was doodling out thoughts about defining what it was I wanted, not just from the outside world, but from myself, and it did all have to do with setting boundaries for how I wanted to be treated. Living on people’s couches, sleeping in friends beds, and oh yes, sharing communal space for two months inside of a bookstore, have all broken down my personal boundaries so much that I think I am due for building up some new ones. Certainly, the walls I am putting up today around myself will not be the towering structures I had around me previously, maybe they will be low, like the sort of fence one has around a herb garden in the back yard, but they will still be there– definite lines drawn in the sand.

So to recap:

Lots of love, new experiences, and above all, new cooking recipes, will be showering this blog very soon and with great frequency.


The Ethics of Truth

1 Apr

As a fiction writer, I am rarely concerned with the ethics of what I am writing. I worry about my characters, I worry about my plot, I worry about keeping people’s interest. I’m not telling a real person’s story and I don’t need to be delicate with the details. I can say whatever I want.

But blogging makes it a whole different can of worms. I’m writing about my own life, but I am involving all the people around me as well. So, I have to try and keep a lid on things, although I think my fiction speaks volumes about me and how I’m feeling at any given moment. But I try to keep my blog a bit less personal than a diary would be, partially because it’s boring to ramble on about deeply personal things that are not easily relatable to a wide audience, partially because I like to keep some privacy, and partially because I want to keep my job, whatever I am doing at the time.

But I am also being frustrated recently because I am not a very good fiction writer. I am not good at hiding my heart, I wear it right on my sleeve. And all I can write lately is full throttle, my life splashed across the page, like blood you just cannot wash away. And I know that for anyone who knows me, it’s never been more than thinly disguised, but I was at least able to pretend to myself a little bit. Especially when people guessed wrong. It’s sort of like that Carly Simon song: everyone thinks I’m writing about them. Like a horoscope, you can poke your nose into any line and find yourself if you look around hard enough.

What I have been trying to write for the last few months, holed up here in London, was absolute fiction. Light and happy, a novel that was silly and endearing and…can you understand why I have run out of steam? It’s actually finished, just unbelievably boring and not much of myself can be found anywhere in it. And I returned from a weekend away, just full of stories and energy and darkness, but I can’t quite bring myself to post any of that, because it is all so painfully true and at what point do writers need to start hiding the truth? Because at some point, everyone you know and love ends up on the pages and then you aren’t going to have any friends. Or worse yet, all the enemies you have accumulated over the years (and trust me, all interesting people have a huge stack of enemies and I like to think of myself as interesting— if only because so many interesting people have taken the time to make me the bane of their existence) start to know too much about you. Then again, maybe that is what being a writer really is: being brutal honest with everyone in the world, even yourself, and having to admit that this is the way things are. This is the way things have unfolded and we are all idiots to pretend it all any different.

So what are the ethics of truth? When is it okay to lie? When is it okay to smudge the edges of truth, so we don’t hurt each other? And when is it okay to be brutally honest and can we expect forgiveness for that? Or do we even want to be loved by people that have a preconceived notion about who we are and don’t let us tell the truth? Strangely, the people I lie to the most are the people who think I share too much; if only they really knew how much I already do to protect them, let them live with this image they have made of me. But then again, they never read anything I write.

Gin and Commas

3 Mar

At times, drinking far too much can result in some very strange situations, and the best of these times are the ones where you end up having a discussion with high school seniors (or whatever they are called in England) that melds together pop music and grammar.

My birthday, while mostly a strange Jason Morton Experience (see below for a definition), had a few really amazing moments, one of which was just such a time, where I started speaking very randomly to two 18-year-old girls and the conversation progressed into a conversation about the band Vampire Weekend and the Oxford comma and how much we all love the comma. Yes, that is right, 18-year-old girls love the Oxford comma. So, now, all you boys out there that were wondering how to woo such a female, you have this powerful knowledge. Although, to be fair, I am pretty sure those girls were Latin and Russian majors, but still…

But back to the comma. I’m not drunk now, but certainly, I’d never be able to as elegantly explain why the comma is golden as this fellow, Gabe at Motivated Grammar, has done. I don’t know who he is or what he looks like, but I am fairly sure I love him. His post on the Oxford Comma makes me willing to rethink my stance on having babies, just because I at least know that they would be reared with an unfailing sense of duty to the Oxford Comma. And in a world such as ours, I couldn’t ask for more.

First, a bit of background. The Oxford comma is so-called because it is standard in the style guide for the Oxford University Press, and has been for over a hundred years. The Oxford comma is attested in the 1905 edition of the OUP Style Guide, and remains there to this day.  The comma also goes by a few other names. Those of a less Anglophilic bent can call it the Harvard comma — although as a loyal Princetonian I would never sully my reputation by doing so. Those who seek to remain neutral in such Anglo-American affairs can call it the serial comma. And those who don’t much care about minor punctuation issues refer to it as “that extra comma” or “that stupid extra comma”, depending on whether or not they use it.

But whatever you call the comma, is it right or wrong? There’re fair arguments on both sides.  One might be concerned about limiting ambiguity. Alas, including the Oxford comma can lead to ambiguity, but omitting it can lead to ambiguity as well.  Consider (3) and (4):

(3a) I own pictures of my friends, Hugh Grant, and Dolly Parton.
(3b) I own pictures of my friends, Hugh Grant and Dolly Parton.

(4a) I am writing to my Congresswoman, Alia Shawkat, and Michael Cera.
(4b) I am writing to my Congresswoman, Alia Shawkat and Michael Cera.

It is clear, thanks to the Oxford comma in (3a) that I am not friends with Hugh Grant or Dolly Parton. In (3b), though, they could potentially be my friends, listed as an appositive phrase, and the sentence is thus somewhat ambiguous. Deus ex Oxford comma! On the other hand, in (4a), if you don’t know who Alia Shawkat is, then you may reasonably conclude that the commas are intended to indicate an appositive and that Alia Shawkat is my Congresswoman. (4b) is clearer; since Alia Shawkat and Michael Cera can’t both be my Congresswoman, it’s clear that I was constructing a three-item list. Diabolus ex Oxford comma!  In the first case, the Oxford comma dispels ambiguity, but in the second it induces ambiguity.  So ambiguity doesn’t push us one way or the other.

He does end his post with some silly prattle about it being okay either way, but I don’t think (a.k.a want to believe) that is how he really feels.

I used to get terribly upset when I would see posters, especially for movies such as Me, You and Dupree (which is so upsetting to me that I cannot believe I just wrote it out there), because I like the nice, easy readability that the ‘extra’ comma adds. Grammar is, as my imaginary friend Gabe writes, made for helping stamp ambiguity out of language. It’s there so that knowledge and information is accessible to everyone. EVERYONE. Not just Oxford kids, not just people who speak a language as a native (trust me, it’s when you start having to read other languages that you start to really appreciate when someone writes in a straightforward manner),  and not just for writers either.  Did you catch me using my comma? Good.

So here is why I love the Oxford comma: It erases all ambiguity. I can focus less on the structure of the sentence and more easily get to the point. This means I can digest the information quickly, pocket it away in my brain, and move on to the next bit of information. It’s a wonderful thing when you want to read quickly, and I do. There are a lot of books out there in the world and I would like to get through quite a few more before I die.

Now, as Jason Morton (of the Jason Morton Experience) will tell you, journalists rarely use the Oxford comma. He works in magazines and newspapers, so I let it slide for him. I’m not sure why they like to skip it, as the point of a news article is to be easily digestible by the masses, but I’ll try to fake an understanding, just for him.

I would like to say, however, that my love of the Oxford comma has nothing to do with any sort of Anglophilia that was mentioned as a possible source of affection by Gabe. In fact, my first visit to Oxford made me feel a bit upset (really, no, I do not give a flying fuck about the damn Tolkien bust! What do you mean you don’t know who John Donne is?) and my second was mainly a loved up wander through some gardens and a great deal of wine drinking in an old man pub.  I could call it the Harvard comma, it would make me feel okay to do that, except then when I argue how great it is with English people, they simply say it is a stupid American creation and the Scots will argue that it is a stupid English creation. They love to argue that, since Edinburgh is the first university to properly teach English. Although mainly they just like to argue. (I just thank god everyday that it is not called the Essex comma or I would want to eradicate it as well…but that’s just the ol’ SNP in me that a certain Mackenzie put in me that I cannot seem to get out of my system, no matter how London tries to squish it out).

Anyway, the rest of the evening was not nearly as much fun as that one moment and I have to say, I do feel terribly happy that I was able to converse with some lovely people (although other than my new friend Niall, I seem to only remember the name Josh, possibly because I have a picture on my phone of us….). Now, where did I put that comma?

*Jason Morton Experience: a situation where a person loses all track of time and logic, due to unsavory dealings, and ends up with a non-linear memory of a night, or day.



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