Blog

The pod person cometh

Now that I’ve outed myself as a woman in love, let me let you in on another dirty little secret: I’m afraid of turning into one of those people who turn their backs on their friends as they retreat further and further into their relationship.

I’m afraid of becoming a pod person.

That’s what I call them, those people who share an e-mail account, don’t go anywhere without their partner, are rarely available for a planned evening out, heaven forbid something spontaneous. Nesters.

Now, on the other side of the relationship fence, I see that these people are happy, content. But I can’t shake the feeling that they are also hella-lame. My friends have been paramount in my life, inspiring, buoying, humoring me. I refuse to let that change or let those relationships erode.

But things have changed. While I am still in touch with friends and we regularly get together, I don’t have the same drive. I have become, at 47, that happy woman.

It’s so weird.

People admire my vast social circle, or circles as the Venn diagram may be, but those people who marvel at my busy schedule are usually coupled up. I had to have a lot of friends and a lot of happy hour and shopping and mani-pedi and writing and movie dates. I needed to go to networking events, if not for the business contacts, for the conversation. I got monthly massages for tendons that snapped loudly when manipulated but I also sought rubdowns just for the human touch. As a perpetually single gal, getting my flesh pressed was a rare-to-nonexistent occurrence unless I coughed up a Benjamin every now and again.

The alternative was sitting at home, cat and computer on my lap, even on a Friday night.

Then I met Carl and my social circle sort of wobbled as all my needs were met on the homefront. I’ve been keeping it going, don’t get me wrong, but seasons have passed before seeing pals that I was used to seeing on a monthly basis. There are friends who I haven’t actually seen in person since I met Carl on November 8. I’ve been throwing relationship Band-Aids at them in the form of texts, e-mails and the occasional phone call but I fear the friendships are suffering as I snuggle up in my cozy pod.

Sigh.

I’m human. I fell in love and in the process, fell into a warm, satisfied life. No one is more surprised about that than me. My friends, however, are a key piece of what fulfills me so I’m going to pick up the phone but this time to make plans for lunch and gabbing and pedicures. A woman in love needs to have a polished pedi, sure, but she absolutely must have her peeps.

4 Comments

Taking flight

I’m usually a content machine, but sometimes life gets in the way.

In other words, I fell in love.

Fell deliriously, deliciously, full-heartedly in love. I know! I can’t believe it, either. Me! A snarky middle-aged singleton whose hope was ebbing away a little with each passing year. Like the Grinch, when I met the guy, my heart grew three sizes that day.

As my heart and my life became full, my writing seemed less important. With a popular book and blog called Things I Want to Punch in the Face, I was suddenly at a loss. I couldn’t muster up more than tepid irritation over anything, and that’s saying something, seeing as Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump exist. I’ve been writing a memoir about my teenage years, which seemed farther and farther away as my lovely new life left less and less room for memories and musings.

Instead of writing, I spent time with my guy, finding ways to be brave off the page. We traveled to a remote island in the South Pacific, where I drove a scooter and snorkled for the first time, trading in my anxiety for wind in my hair and tropical fish before my eyes. When I got bit by a 200-pound trevalley, I gave Blackjack the finger. Our boat captain taped up my bleeding middle finger and put a work glove over it and I got back in the water. I wasn’t going to miss seeing a giant clam.

I generally feel alive, present and engaged on the page, as words unspool from my fingertips. Here, now, I was bruised and scraped and bleeding and I didn’t feel like writing about it. I felt like living through it.

Since then, I ziplined despite my decades-long fear of falling. I loved it. I know! I was shocked too. I was prepared to say, “I told you so! I told you I’d hate this!” but instead, with a toothy smile plastered across my face, I said, “Let’s do it again!”

Through all this, the biggest big-girl step isn’t strapping myself into a zipline and praying to sweet Jesus not to toss my cookies or fall to my death; it’s letting myself be completely, joyously smack dab in the middle of a relationship with the love of my life. I’m letting myself be loved, even if I deep down doubt I deserve it. I have no plan B, no safety net. I’m all in.

That is some scary shit.

But as I told him yesterday, there’s a beautiful giddiness that constantly runs through my body because of him. My toes curl, my stomach flutters with butterflies taking flight. To paraphrase a card I gave him, “he makes me feel as if kittens are exploding out of my head.” But I also feel calm, grounded, certain.

Ben Affleck said in the screen gem Bounce, “It’s not brave if you’re not afraid.” Well, I’m going to continue being brave in my life and as I turn my attention back to my computer screen, I’m going to bring that attitude into my writing. Stay tuned for the next installment of my glorious adventure.

4 Comments

A little knife music

I’m a phoney foodie, a phoodie if you will. I’ve swooned over a perfect sticky spicy bite of charred octopus at Pomerol, I’ve wanted to take a long walk off a short pier if it meant I could dive into a bowl of Momofuku ramen. I might even pee a little when I get a chance to tuck into a slice of Whidbey’s marionberry pie. Yes, marionberry is not just a former coke-snorting mayor.

Get it? I love food. Food that’s so perfectly what it was destined to be, whether that’s slow-cooked pulled pork or the most delicate Grand Marnier soufflé with hot caramel sauce that I ate earlier this evening at Violin d’Ingres. I’ve learned a lot by watching Top Chef. I’ve cut my teeth on amazing restaurants and out of the way treasures.

But let’s be honest. I can’t cook. I can follow a few recipes over and over, so much so that I have some signature dishes. But they aren’t fancy. My lasagna’s secret ingredient is cottage cheese—and requires no creativity or skill on my part.

I have zero knife skills. I don’t own a Vitamix and I don’t care that my counter isn’t chockablock with colorful Kitchenaid appliances. I actually want to punch pretentious foodies in the face when they want to fancy-pants up my mac and cheese.

But I do love to eat, so I’m going to the belly of la bête and taking a weeklong cooking class in Normandy starting on Monday. Chef and author Susan Herrmann Loomis runs On Rue Tatin out of a converted convent in the village of Louviers (that’s her in the photo). The focus is on apples, and we’ll drink cavaldos, learn to navigate the farmers market in nearby Rouen under the shadow of its famous cathedral, drink wine, eat cheese, cook.

While I suspect my knife skills will only marginally improve, my understanding of food and cooking will deepen. I’m also pretty sure I’ll hit my kitchen and local farmers market, infused with a new curiosity and passion for more. More instruction, more cooking, more bites out of what is a most delicious life.

Bon appetit!

 

 

2 Comments

Channeling my inner Frenchwoman

My first trip to Paris was really before the age of blogs and smart phones took hold. I know; hard to imagine. It was 2003 and it was my very first trip outside of North America. I went with my friend Fil, a seasoned traveler, who gamely let me drag her all over the city. In a week, we hooved it to the top of the Eiffel Tower and L’Arc de Triomphe. We sped through the Louvre and lingered in the Musée d’Orsay. We ventured into a far-flung arrondissement to hit a flea market that snaked along a neighborhood street for a mile.

Then were there the churches. Notre Dame, Saint-Chapelle, Sacré Coeur. We ate pretty crappy meals because we didn’t prepare or research. We shopped, we sat in cafés for café au laits and pain au chocolats. We rode in a bateau mouche down the Seine, passing under one famous bridge after another in the soft dusky light. I took lots of photos with black-and-white film. Yes, film.

I was manic.

I had to see everything for fear that it might be my only time there, or anywhere for that matter. I was sightseeing out of fear. It was only when I stepped into the dark recesses of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, dotting my forehead with holy water, that I calmed the fuck down. I was in the oldest church in Paris, established in 542 with the present church dating to the 11th century.

“Perspective, Jen,” I told myself. “This moment, right now, here, in this holy place, is what matters.”

I left there altered, and walked to nearby Les Deux Magots for another frothy mug of café and started really breathing in Paris. I stopped feeling on the clock and started feeling in the world.

I hope I can set that intention here, now, at my layover at Schiphol Airport, so that I can savor every last morsel of ma belle vie.

After weeks of stress and preparation, I can feel anxiety ebbing away, being replaced with a lovely sort of “come what may.” Maybe my American energy is surrendering to the charm of French puttering, of a lingering pace and pulse of life.

All that’s left to do is to cue some Edith Piaf and peace out.

1 Comment

An obsessive-compulsive goes abroad

My friend Kathy asked me today what I need to feel safe and secure while traveling. I didn’t even have to think twice.

“I have to keep things organized. I have to stick to my rituals.” As an example, I don’t let anything stray more than a couple of feet from my suitcase (shoes get lined up next to the suitcase, toiletries are corralled into a tight formation on the bathroom counter). I just heard an interview with David Sedaris, who said he does the exact same thing when traveling to avoid leaving anything behind. I found this incredibly comforting.

My OCD starts way before I buckle into my cramped seat in coach. I think about this shit ALL the time as I prepare for a trip. My mind, when it sees an opening, beelines toward obsession. As you can imagine, a two-week trip to France with multiple stops is catnip for my OCD.

First come the lists.
My packing list, my “things to do before I go” list, my “things to do and see and eat when I am en France” list, my “people to buy souvenirs for and send postcards to” list. You get the idea.

I like everything about lists. I like to check and cross items off them. I like to revise and rewrite lists, creating various subheads and columns. The whole process calms and reassures.

Then comes the packing.
The shoes take precedence. Sadly, as I’ve marched on wobbly heels into the plantar fasciitis and brittle bones of middle age, I have to rethink my take on shoes that show off my figure and opt instead for sensible brogues that will suffer the cobblestones of Paris. #firstworldproblem, je sais.

I’ve added a new wrinkle to my packing plan. At this moment, I’m wearing three pieces that I plan on taking with me. As I dressed in this outfit of cargo pants, sweater, and drapey jacket, I had a sad epiphany. “Over the next week, I’ll try wearing all the items I plan on packing to see if they really work with each other and are worthy of claiming a spot in the rolly bag!” At this point, I realized I had ascended to a new level in my compulsive planning, much like Tom Cruise becoming an Operating Thetan Level 8.

In a word, crazytown.

But I own my choices, both in life and my wardrobe. So after I’ve roadtested outfits, I’ll turn my attention to actually packing the suitcase.

With the help of aforementioned friend Kathy, a world-traveler with impeccable taste and an enviable jewelry collection, I’ll lay things out on my bed to optimize garments’ and accessories’ mix and matchability. We will edit things down mercilessly, until we have the most versatile and practical garments, scarves, hats, and jewelry.

Once something makes the cut, it will get rolled up tightly and without wrinkles and put in the carry-on bag, starting with heavy items like jeans and shoes (stuffed with socks or small wrapped gifts) on the bottom and working up through t-shirts and unmentionables. I leave careful ruts for my makeup bag and stuff extra Ziploc bags in the suitcase flap. Over this glorious mess, I lay my empty duffle, deflated but full of the promise of Parisian purchases.

I close the top of the suitcase and then pray that I can shut the fucker. It’s expandable, but I only want to use those extra inches on the way back, when I plan on loading it up with French skincare and body products and perfume and checking the bag. At that point, the poor Samsonite will resemble my favorite pair of teenage Guess jeans, with all my stuff straining against the seams as I struggle to zip it closed. But in this instance, laying on the floor isn’t going to do much good.

Then comes the checking and rechecking.
Do I really have my boarding pass, passport, and all the other things that I find necessary to travel with these days without incurring massive anxiety? Did I really set my phone alarm properly? I always sleep horribly before every early morning flight, kept awake by the possibility of an iPhonefail, where my alarm—the one that I checked at least three times before I turned off the light—didn’t for once go off. Laying there in the dark, eyes wide open, I figure I can avoid caffeine and just sleep on the flight. Then I turn the light back on and check that I packed Ambien in my carry-on bag.

In addition to normal stuff like snacks and Ibuprofin, for this trip I’m also packing:

  • Febreze
  • Band-Aids
  • My vintage Pucci scarf (to pull the eyes up from those flat-heeled wingtips)
  • Empty nylon Sportsac duffle (for bringing back all my loot)
  • Some cash to convert (in the rare instance my ATM card doesn’t work at Charles de Gaulle)
  • Small guidebook and map
  • Digestive enzymes, Prilosec, Tums and green powder (acid reflux + wine + cheese = heaven on a plate, hell in the gut)
  • Stevia packets for all those cafés au lait
  • Lock for my suitcase (in case I store my bags at a hotel before check in)
  • Una’s wrist warmers (so my hands are warm while fingers can hunt and gather)

For the plane:

  • Antihistamines (after one stealth sinus infection mid-flight, I’m taking no chances)
  • Knitting project (small shawl pattern that fits in a quart Ziploc)
  • 1-2 books
  • Heavy clothing (While traveling, I wear my bulkiest items, like overcoat and knee-high boots, to free up room in the suitcase)
  • Shawl (doubles as a blanket or pillow)
  • iPhone (loaded with podcasts and the Learn French app to practice phrases and pronounciation when I have WIFI)
  • laptop & hard copy of my memoir in progress (in case muse strikes)

I’m obsessive, compulsive, and neurotic, but I’ve learned to use it for good over evil. Do you overthink your travel? What makes you feel safe and secure while traveling?

5 Comments

How to host a public reading

I was thrilled to be invited to write a post for Hedgebrook’s blog. I discussed the terror and the thrill that comes with sharing new work. And I offer up concrete tips for hosting your own public reading.

Reading from my work-in-progress puts me one step further on my path to publishing my memoir. Setting up a reading is, in some ways, straight-up event planning, something that appeals to the OCD detail-oriented control freak in me. But as someone stepping up to the mic as well, I find it brings insecurities and fears to the surface. My post addresses all of this, giving concrete tips for planning a great event for both readers and listeners and offering up ways to ensure that the event moves the needle forward on your project, rather than scratching it.

And if you don’t know Hedgebrook, you should. It’s a magical, mystery place for women writers on Whidbey Island. A literary nonprofit, their mission is to support visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. Hedgebrook offers writing residencies, master classes and salons. In other words, it’s the shit. I want to go to there.

Have you read from your work? How’d it go? Any tips you’d like to share?

 

Leave a comment

Join me for Lit Crawl Seattle

As many of you know, I’m petrified about reading from my upcoming coming-of-age memoir, There Must Be Some Misunderstanding: A True Tale of Double Ds, Straight As, and a Whole Lot of BS.

Until I’m actually at the mic.

Then, along with my words, I come alive. I’ve done a handful of readings over the past year and each time, I’m find myself on a high the likes of which I’ve never felt before. I feel exhilarated, buoyed, and motivated to keep creating and connecting with readers/listeners.

So naturally, I’m thrilled (read: petrified) to be speaking at this year’s LitCrawl Seattle, a night of more than 20 readings around town. The venues are chockablock with crazy talented writers so I hope you’ll hit one (read: mine) or several. I’ll be emceeing “No Place Like Home,” readings centering around family. Deb Caletti (Secrets of Wedding Ring River) and Sam Ligon (Drift and Swerve) will be reading fiction, and I’ll be reading a chapter from my memoir-in-progress. I hope to see you there!

October 23, 7–7:45pm | LitCrawl Seattle, “No Place Like Home” Reading
Ltd. Art Gallery/Raygun Lounge, 501 E Pine Street

Leave a comment

Hear a piece from my memoir during Family Matters: Works-in-Progress

I’ve written about the challenges of writing my memoir before. I’ve been knee deep in writing the manuscript and have made significant progress. But with paying gigs taking front and center, it’s not always easy to stay the course and keep things moving forward. You know, life gets in the way and all that. One of the most effective tools I’ve found to keep me motivated is to bring my work into the world through public readings. I participated in two last year and felt terrified before and high after each event. So I’m doing it again. Here are the deets:

Family Matters: Works-in-Progress
May 1, 7-9pm
The Rendezvous, 2322 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121

It’s a family affair! Well, sort of. Join 5 local writers—Allison Ellis, Jennifer Haupt, Jane Hodges, Kristine Lloyd & me—as we read brand-spanking-new creative nonfiction, all centering around our various ideas of family. Be the first to hear memoirs as they develop and take shape. If that’s not enough of a draw, it’s all going down in the Grotto, the groovy downstairs space at the Rendezvous in Belltown (there will be a cash bar and our own bartender). We aim to put the “fun” in dysfunctional during this lively, moving evening! Please feel free to spread the word.

Here’s the lineup of amazing writers:
ALLISON ELLIS writes about fashion, travel, home décor, overpriced coffee, “hot parenting controversies” and other lifestyle topics of great importance. Her essays and articles have appeared in Redbook, Working Mother, Fodor’s Travel Guides, ParentMap, and the Seattle Times. She is currently working on a memoir about her yearlong journey as a young widow in hot pursuit of a new husband.

JENNIFER HAUPT has been interviewing women who nurture the world for more than fifteen years, telling their stories in magazines and books. She’ll be reading from her new e-book, Will You Be My Mother? My quest to answer yes, which includes three stories from her own journey from daughter to mother. Author profits from this mini-memoir (available on Amazon.com) through May 2014 will be donated to mothers2mothers*, a non-profit organization that educates, employs, and empowers mothers living with HIV in sub-Sahara Africa.

JANE HODGES is the West Seattle-based author of Rent Vs. Own: A Real Estate Reality Check for Navigating Booms, Busts, and Bad Advice (Chronicle, 2012). She’s currently working on a memoir about money, eldercare, and the South. Her fiction has appeared in The Brooklyn Review and her essays have appeared in two Seal Press anthologies, The Seattle Weekly, and The Magazine.

Librarian by day, writer by night, native Alabamian KRISTINE LLOYD loves to tell stories about her family. Kristine earned her MFA at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University in 2000. She has written for local blogs and Seattle Bride, and she is currently working on a memoir about the fact that her parents get laid more than she does.

JENNIFER WORICK writes about things that blow her skirt up. Named one of the four funniest bloggers in America by Reader’s Digest, she is the New York Times-bestselling author of more than 25 books, including the recent “Things I Want to Punch in the Face.” She has written for everything under the sun, including the Huffington Post, Salon, and Allure. She is currently writing There Must Be Some Misunderstanding: A True Story of Double Ds, Straight As & a Whole Lot of BS, a coming-of-age memoir.

* Since it was founded in 2001, mothers2mothers has reached more than 1.2 million HIV-positive mothers with essential health education and psychosocial support in nine African countries, putting mothers at the center of the solution of ending pediatric AIDS and keeping mothers alive. For more information visit: www.m2m.org

It’s going to be a fun, potentially rowdy, and moving evening. It’s always scary to bring such personal material into the light and it’s helped me more than you know to have friends be witness to my process and provide feedback. I’d love to see you there.

Leave a comment

Paying the bills and providing shelter

If you’re a fan of Things I Want to Punch in the Face, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I haven’t been ill or in the witness protection program.

My heart has been elsewhere.

Specifically, I’ve been writing my memoir. I’ve talked about writing a coming-of-age memoir for years and years, working on it on and off. But I committed myself at the beginning of 2013 to make this manuscript a priority.

And believe me, it has been no easy task.

While I’ve always been able to find time to write a funny blog post here and there, it’s a whole ‘nother enchilada to write a deeply personal long-form narrative. I had to have help. I set up a small support group to help me stay accountable. We were to send each other new chunks of writing each week. I have taken one-day and ongoing workshops to give me more tools around structure, dialogue, and characters. A few friends and I have even set up public “works-in-progress” events, where we read new pieces from our memoirs.

Even with all this, I continue to need accountability. It is far too easy to let life—travel, crisis, health issues, and paying gigs—get in the way. When I have a deadline for a freelance article or need to show up for my part-time job, my memoir gets the boot.

I work around all of this, writing at night or on weekends. And I also push through the emotions that arise when writing honestly about difficult events from my past, a past that includes people who I love and hope to not hurt or offend in the process. But one of my writing instructors, a celebrated memoirist in her own right, said that the feeling of discomfort that we get while writing tells us that we are doing the right thing, we are providing shelter to others.

That is part of what drives me. Yes, I want to create a work that has value and is beautifully written. But I want to give the gift of my story to others, who can be entertained (particularly when they read about the tragicomedy that was my prom), but who can also recognize themselves in my own painful adolescence.

So I persevere, even if sometimes I have to write corporate marketing copy first. I’m bringing the same determination that saw me through my teenage years to completing a draft of my memoir by next year. I’ll keep you posted.

Leave a comment

Seattle’s Book Ecosystem

I recently was tasked with writing an article on Seattle’s publishing scene. I wasn’t quite sure how to tackle it, seeing as Seattle wasn’t home to scores of big publishing houses and literary agencies. But it does have a thriving community around books. And when I talked with Gary Luke, President and Publisher of Sasquatch Books, everything became clear. “I think there’s less of a publishing scene and more of a book ecosystem in Seattle,” he told me. Rather than just editors and agents comingling, the publishing landscape in Seattle is more of a literary pastiche, and the result is a vibrant, active community of people and businesses coming together around books in all their various forms. “There are publishers here,” Luke said. “But along with that, I’d include bookstores, the Richard Hugo House, food bloggers, 826 Seattle, the libraries, Hedgebrook, Town Hall and, of course, Amazon.”

With this, the article took shape and the result is a profile of a literary, creative, generous, book-lovin’ community. Read the article here.

(Photo: Josh Trujillo/Seattle P-I)

1 Comment