*Story not about weed
After five sleep-deprived-yet-lovely days spent exploring western Iceland, we packed up shop and headed to southeast to Amsterdam. By “packed up shop” I mean that we woke our toddler up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning, which I highly recommend if you want to hate everything about your life. While we were sad to not have more time hiking Iceland’s captivating shores or eating fresh seafood along the waterfront in Reykjavik, I’m not too proud to tell you I missed Yelp. In navigating what to do on the beautiful island, I felt wholly handicapped in having to rely on old-timey methods like reading the internet and asking around for recommendations. I know that Yelp is flawed, but at least it’s a starting point.
Upon arriving at Amsterdam’s Schipool airport, we hailed an Uber to our flat in the city’s Jordaan district. Sure, Uber runs about 35 euro more than public transit, but Jonah got free orange juice, so. Our Airbnb host, Anne, met us at the bottom of the four-story walkup we’d be renting for the next few days. The stairs were harrowing in the sort of way that if at one point in history they passed code, that point was in the 17th century. Eventually we made it up all four flights, and as soon as we got into the apartment, Jonah zeroed in on the row of small blue and white porcelain houses perched toddler-high on the entertainment center. It’s like kids just know.
“It’s fine,” she assured us, which told me how much time she’s spent with two-year olds.
Anne kindly walked us through her recommendations on an actual physical map for where to get coffee and the location of the closest bike rental shop in Amsterdam. She followed with where to go for the Saturday farmers market and directions to Amsterdam’s hip Noord district, but goddamn if I heard a thing she said while Jonah ran in circles around the coffee table clenching a tiny house in each hand. We finally coaxed the porcelain figures from his grip and he screamed. Anne left.
If you have heard anything about Amsterdam besides Anne Frank and special cookies, then you know that it is pretty much the definition of bike culture. Where NYC has a rat for every human, this Dutch metropolis rivals that in bicycles. They’re literally everywhere. Cars and walkers yield to them. Students and old people alike whiz through designated bikelanes with ease. So common are bikes here that I lost count at the number of times I watched someone texting and riding, or saw a parent fearlessly pedaling their helmet-free infant through the streets. We spent our first day hoofing around the Nine Streets area, envious of our two-wheeled peers. We resolved to rent bikes of our own.
It’s probably a good time to tell you that over ninety percent of the scars on my body are from bicycle accidents. My earliest cycling memory was at about five years old when, riding a borrowed Huffy, I lost control going uphill and plowed into a speedboat parked in a neighbor’s yard. Since then I have flipped over handlebars on mountain bikes and ten-speeds and have inexplicably fallen down sideways while riding down a sidewalk. Every scar on every knee and elbow is attributable to two wheels. I’m really bad at it. And I know this about myself. Still, I want to be good at riding a bike.
Ryan and I got up early-ish Friday and walked to the closest rental place, three blocks away. The Ukranian shopguy first fitted Ryan for his cruiser, then Jonah in his seat, and finally me. I sat on my bike seat like a boss. In heavily accented English he told us it would cost about 20 euros per bike per day, plus 100 euros deposit on each, in case they got stolen. In Amsterdam the percentage of bikes stolen is nearly 100 percent. So basically, go into the bicycle business.
We spent the early afternoon winding around the Rijk and Van Gogh museums, on our way to a coffee shop in De Pijp for a (really) late breakfast.
After a lunch where my son tried to punch above and flirt with our twenty-something, very cute blond waitress, we decided to head toward Central Station to catch a ferry for the Noord. The interesting thing about Amsterdam, well, I’m told the Netherlands as a whole, is that English is ubiquitous. Communication is really easy. Most things are dual-language, and there is not the stigma that you find in say, Paris, of relying on English. Traffic signs, as in the rest of the world, are in symbols. So I can’t blame language barrier for the fact that I tried to ride across a busy intersection when it wasn’t my turn to go.
I remember seeing a signal across the street light up with a green bicycle. I assumed it was pointing towards me. I headed north, oblivious. A car in the opposite direction honked at me. “Dude, my light is green,” I sneered. I pedaled forward and then heard a really, really loud horn. A different sounding really loud horn. I looked to my left and a f*cking tram was coming right for me. “My light is green!!” I shouted in futility.
I will never understand why my brain is wired like this.
I froze, dead in my tracks. I could hear Ryan shrieking behind me in a voice I have not heard before. The tram carried forward, honking. I could see the engineer’s nervous expression. I tried to back up, but a Fiat and two motorcycles barreled forward in the two lanes behind me. I was about to die and Jonah would witness the whole thing.
Seconds moved like years. Somehow I scooted backwards on my bike to the sidewalk where Ryan and Jonah had prudently waited. Shaking, I tried to justify what had just happened. “Babe, I thought I had a green light,” as if it mattered, like, at all. He pointed just to the left of where I was gesturing, and calmly explained that I had looked at the wrong signal.
And that is when I raised the white flag and admitted what I already knew but have been loath to acknowledge: I’m really not cut out for this whole two-wheels thing.
Welp, there goes my airbnb rating. Whoever (me) tells you it’s a good idea to bring a toddler to a place where the sun does not go away is lying. We are going on our third straight night where he is not only up at 2:30 a.m. but he’s either a) using wooden puzzle boxes as floor toms or b) screaming. I swear he’s never like this.
Today I set out to head to the health food store here in Reykjavik, conveniently located at the end of our block. My mission was simple: find a semi-natural way to knock this child out. I hit a parenting low last night at about the same time (5 a.m.) that he was taking decorative rocks that were perched on a shelf and throwing them one by one on the floor. In Reykjavik most things close by 6 p.m. so I left at 2, allowing myself plenty of time. Unfortunately, it turns out that most things are also closed on Sunday, which I would have known had I been able to read Icelandic.
My son is about to turn two in August. This is a significant because it marks a time that we will have to buy another seat on the plane. So in June we booked a last hoorah as it were, electing for a vacation of vowels: Iceland, Amsterdam and Antwerp. I wanted to go to places I hadn’t been before (Iceland, Belgium), and Ryan wanted to go someplace where he knew someone (Amsterdam). In retrospect, our money would have been better spent in Bali or wherever they have a Disney resort where a stranger can watch your kid while you nap for the first time since pregnancy. This will be my life until about 2025.
I know I deserve a giant eyeroll. These are first world problems and I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to travel at all. What I’m experiencing now, and have been over the last two-plus years, is the ever-evolving surprise of adjusting to a new life, one in which I find myself a parent and unable to do things like drink through the entire first day of vacation to get a leg up on jetlag. I should get it by now, but remnants remain.
Anyway, I can’t really complain. Here are some things that have gone right:
Which reminds me, I should try and force sleep. We’re headed off the Golden Circle in the morning.
On Wednesday I became somebody.
I had been home from work for about fifteen minutes–long enough to change clothes and then change again when Jonah insisted I pick him up, hands sticky with the remnants of smooshed banana. “Gross,” I told him. His black irises gazed back at me. “Gwosss,” he said.
I glanced down at my phone and saw a notification on the Somebody app which could only mean one of two things: either a message was delivered to Leslie or Joslyn (fat chance, Utah), or the much more likely possibility that someone selected me to deliver a message on their behalf.
There is a moment, well, forty-five moments, when you’re asked to decide if you will accept the mission. And this is where I learned that I am a giant wuss. In the two times previous I had tried to use the app–perhaps emboldened by selecting messages on my own terms–the anxiety of new connections didn’t occur to me. Yet this time, all I could think about was, crap, I have to meet strangers. I quickly rationalized reasonable excuses for ignoring the request: 2.6 miles away? In Los Angeles? At rush hour? How ’bout asking for my second born while you’re at it.
But I felt like a Texas-sized hypocrite so I clicked to accept. The app’s second tier check is to validate whether the recipient is up for receiving a message. I eyed Larissa’s profile–a Somebody veteran who’d delivered four messages herself; there seemed little chance of her backing out. She said yes and we said yes so I sac’ed up and jumped in the car. More accurately, Ryan talked me into it by offering to drive and agreeing to be the one to force Jonah into his car seat. He might have also pried my fingers from the door frame. He’s great.
I spent the drive to Atwater mulling the message over in my head. Hi Larissa, it’s me Pamela. I’ve escaped! Kisses, Sophia Winestria. Who is Sophia and what did she do with Pamela? I said it aloud first the way I say everything, then I tried repeating it in a British accent. I didn’t expect it to be hard; I’ve visited London probably ten times in my life and worked there for almost a month last year. I’m practically native. “Babe, that’s really bad,” Ryan said. We have been together for six years and he still doesn’t understand that I will cut him.
Nervous, I sought coaching: I called my actress friend Sachie who, owing to the fact that she’s Taurus, (her words), is really good at dialects. Unfortunately I got her voicemail so I turned to my only remaining advisor, Google. A YouTube video came up for British accents. I played it repeatedly, rehearsing the mission in my head.
Nearing the pin, Ryan found a parking spot. My pulse quickened. I begged him to come with me but he refused. “You can do this,” he coaxed. If it hadn’t been so goddamned hard to get Jonah in his seat to begin with, I would have leveraged him as my human shield. Instead I set out walking the pavement on my own.
Sachie called back. I ducked into a storefront and shoutwhispered into the phone: “CAN’T TALK. SENT TEXT. HOW DO I SAY THAT IN BRITISH?!” With the poise of a seasoned professional, she repeated the mission back to me in a beautiful lilt, and also in a way that didn’t sound anything like what I had made up. Fearing near failure, I repeated to her how I had practiced. “Oh that works too,” she lied.
As I looked down at the map, I began to realize that the pin was inside a bar–a wide open bar with a sidewalk patio, teeming with too many people. If there is a tenth circle of hell its name is Anxiety and it is a place which requires walking through a crowd looking for someone I’ve never met to deliver a message from a separate, also unknown person with a potential personality disorder. If you’ve ever been in this position then you know the desperation of trying to catch the eye of strangers who don’t want to be caught.
Finally I saw her: Larissa. She looked up from her beer and smiled brightly. She knew the game.
“Hi Larissa, it’s me Pamela. I’ve escaped! Kisses, Sophia Winestria.”
Larissa clapped and squealed and smiled. She hugged me and introduced me to her friend. And that is when my unofficially-diagnosed Aspergers kicked in to high gear: she hadn’t asked but I proceeeed to recount in alienating detail my two previous missed connections with the app. Turns out, to be simultaneously proud of oneself and to also want to punch yourself in the face until you stop talking is a thing.
In the end Larissa’s friend snapped our picture, and I left the restaurant feeling like Los Angeles is just a teeny bit smaller.
I did it. I feel like typing that about 175 times to hit the 500 word mark, but I won’t. I made it 30 (stretched to 34) days. Yay, me.
Today I tried to use the Somebody app again. I’m failing at this slowly. I signed up to deliver a message from Miranda to Clare. I dressed Jonah for the occasion, otherwise known as exiting our house, and coerced him into saying he was ready to undertake a mission. He confirmed this to me by declaring “Mission!” and raising his right index finger to charge forward.
I need to stop manipulating him.
I was wearing what can only be described as hillbilly chic: Lee brand “vintage” overalls that I scored in East Nashville and cut off into culottes, worn with a sleeveless tee. Basically my favorite outfit ever. I hit “Deliver Message” because Miranda wanted Clare to know that she loved her and that she knows they don’t see each other much anymore. That’s a message I can get behind. I have lots of friends whom I adore and yet I see my dentist more often. Though truth be told I have a cute dentist.
So I signed up to deliver the first message in my neighborhood and waited. Then I waited some more. If I had one complaint about the Somebody app it would be that from the moment you select a “Floating” message to deliver, you have to wait 45 minutes for the intended recipient to acknowledge that this is, yes, a great time to have a total stranger tell you something. I don’t know if it’s possible to hedge and apply to two message at once, but the Virgo rising in me gets twitchy at the thought of breaking rules.
That moment didn’t come. She was both 1/3 of mile and forever away. I suppose she could be in a house with a xeriscaped yard at the end of my street doing life, but I pictured her down at Intelligentsia pouring over her unfinished screenplay and fighting with her sister-in-law over email, side-eyeing the women around her in their casual-perfect dress.
I waited around until Clare’s non-answer became an answer. Nearing the 45 minute mark, I hopped in my car and went to the store, taking Jonah with me. Truthfully I sort of thoughthoped that maybe she would respond, and I’d have to drop my leeks and pink coconut water to fulfill my mission, but that moment never came. I really like to complete things and so far my two attempts to be Somebody remain just out of reach.
Today’s day 29, except it’s not 29, it’s actually day 33 and I’ve just been really slow at posting on time, because apparently I like to self-impose torture, slowly.
Last night I went to see a show like a boss. It’s only noteworthy because I go to see shows about the same frequency with which I go to the dentist for a teeth cleaning. Yet I still carry earplugs around in my wallet ‘cause you just never know when the mother of a two-year old and full-time busy body will have a concert to go to. Coincidentally, I also got my teeth cleaned yesterday morning.
Anyway, my boyfriend manages a band called Motopony. They’re great. He knew most of the guys in the band from his Seattle days but only started managing them after he moved to LA. They played at a really great venue here called the Troubadour. A band called Jon de Rosa opened before Motopony and since my old roommate was on drums in that band, my other old roommate on bass, and my third, other old roommate was filming it, I felt like I was living in a Chateau Shaman (the enchanting, witchy manse in the hills the four of us shared) dream.
I go out so infrequently these days that for me, f*cking amateur night. My friend Scarlett and I ubered to the show, and while it’s not her fault per se, we do have a history of troubs when we’re together. We drank four tequilas. I ended up running into a bunch of people I know who are affiliated with Motopony in some way and I might have blathered on and given a few too many hugs. Tequila always sounds like a really good idea at the time.
Until the morning hits, and then I remember why I need to pull it together. I woke thinking about how my neighbor, who had graciously watched Jonah at the very last minute, must have questioned entrusting my own child back into my hands after I wouldn’t stop complimenting her on her hair at 12:30 in the morning. You know how some people find themselves with the tell tale signs of a walk of shame? (Btw, if you want to witness this, be at Erewhon at 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday.) My version is oil pulling the hell out of some coconut oil. Twice, just to make sure I don’t have a hangover.
Ryan doesn’t—or rarely—drinks. He never has to swish his oil in the morning recounting his stupid enthusiasm in painfully slow detail. But then also he doesn’t pull oil, so that probably says something else. (Like he’s just not a hippie? I don’t know.) Anyway, most times I go out, I have this really fun time and I think, “I should do this more often!” and then just as quickly I forget about that and slink back into my social anxiety hole.
I cannot think of one single thing to write. It’s already past midnight and I’m having a panic spiral about the fact that I need to go to bed, and I’ve started this post enough times to erode my self-esteem, to little avail. God I need to get a grip.
Number of times I’ve started writing this post over from the beginning: 12
Post attempt position at which my self-esteem began its steady decline: 3
List of things I would rather be doing than writing right now: Falling asleep on my vaguely masochistic Shakti Mat; literally anything, like literally. anything. Send help.
Number of times since hunkering down to write that I have gotten up to get just one more cookie: 4
Number of cookies I’ve consumed: 11
Times I’ve rationalized, “Oh well, at least they’re organic”: 11
Pounds I’ve gained–seriously–in the last two weeks: 7
Excluding myself, number of people who are surprised by this: 0
Number of times I’ve asked my boyfriend if I look fat during that period: 3
Number of times he’s answered, “No, you don’t look fat at all“: 2
My boyfriend’s third, final response: “Well, I noticed you gained a coupla pounds.”
Number of fathers my child now has, given that I murdered the only one he did have: 0
Duration of time I intend to spend in mourning: Brb, checking etiquette.
Sometimes I play this game called Early-stage Dementia or Mom Brain. Basically I tag examples in my life where I can’t remember something to either one camp or the other. Then I try to recall the frequency with which these things happen between occurrences, like a sort of proof that everything is just fine as long as I can keep a mental log. Up until getting pregnant, I hung my hat on my memory. While it wasn’t Jeopardy-class, it was sort of my thing. I had heard about the memory loss and general absentmindedness that accompanies pregnancy and the subsequent childbirth. I seem to recall that it lasts at least as long as you’re breastfeeding, but I think you can guess that I can’t be trusted right now with my memory. I’m told that there’s a vaguely scientific reason for the memory loss: because there are so many things going on in your brain that you start forgetting trivial stuff. I wish there were a clinical definition of trivial.
So. A partial list of things I have mistaken or forgotten within the last month:
I’m not at the sticky note phase though, so I think we’re safe.
If I have to be honest, one teensy little thing I absolutely loathe about my neighborhood: the f*cking helicopters flying overhead for an extended period of time. We live a short distance from the Children’s Hospital, and I can’t take issue with that, but right now there is a helicopter that’s been circling for a half hour. And sometimes that happens a lot. Grr.
*Title has nothing to do with content.
I am one of those people that absolutely loves Los Angeles. It is possible to be at the ocean or nestled in the hills or hiking in the canyons or skiing on the slopes, all within the same day. Theoretically. The particular area of the city in which I live–Silver Lake– is my favorite sliver of our fine city. It may not be the edgiest anymore, and baby strollers now outnumber high-water jeans, but it’s sweet and inviting. You know how everyone jokes that no one ever walks in LA? Not here. Unless I have acupuncture on the weekends or some palm reading workshop at my friend Sachie’s house, I park my car in front of my house. It stays there until Monday morning.
But this post isn’t about how awesome LA is, Kirk. It’s about how I saw Jimi Hendrix perform at the Silver Lake Talent Show this weekend. If you didn’t know that Silver Lake even had a talent show, you wouldn’t be alone. 99.999999% of Angelenos didn’t either. I spend a fair amount of time walking the streets here–I mean, going on family walks–and I didn’t see any advertisements leading up to it. I’m assuming their marketing budget went into the cost of a (non-existent) green room and city tap water for the talent.
So we found ourselves this past Sunday in the little triangle where they usually have the farmers market. We noticed a guy setting up a stage and a PA so we asked about it. “I don’t know. Some talent show,” he answered, belying the performances ahead.
As the hour wore on, contestants formed on the curb. It was Pride Day, so there were two separate cabaret singers, and another who could’ve been mistaken for your average busker. And that’s when we saw Jimi. He walked up, queuing with the others, skin older and darker than I had seen from pictures, but with his unmistakeable headband and a guitar.
It’s a big deal when you have a chance to see Jimi Hendrix. At first I was skeptical–didn’t he die a really long time ago? But if Jesus could come back, then surely one of the greatest guitarists of all time could too. We have a special affinity for Hendrix in this household: my son is his namesake (middle name, tho), owing to the fact that his dad is a huge fan. Ryan proves it by wearing the most eye-rapey Jimi Hendrix Experience t-shirt that no one in their right mind would ever willingly buy, let alone wear in public. Anyway, he went third.
Jimi sound-checked and tuned up because I guess his guitar tech didn’t get the message. And then he started: Foxey Lady. The electric twang of his guitar rang through the open air. Jonah, lover of all things amplified, ran towards the stage. “Whoaaaaaa,” he said as he stared. A medley of hits from decades ago played on as Jonah danced in a crowd of one–Jimi’s youngest groupie.
A few years ago my mother started taking issues with my writing, which she made known to me in the form of comments on my blog (prompting me to now require comment approval), and also emails. The thing about my mom is that when she writes to you, she really writes to you. If she chooses email, I will receive five or so in the span of hours. Be it letter, at least three will arrive on the same day. The next day can bring four. And so on.
Usually my mom takes issue with my opinion on her faith, a religion that I haven’t practiced in two decades, but that I hold a strong opinion of based on my experience. If I were to ever return, you’d know I had completely lost my marbles and check my house for hoarding, please. I figuratively think it’s the worst.
But she doesn’t like when I talk about it; she finds it disrespectful. I suspect she’s also embarrassed of what she thinks it means about her. So she demanded that I stop writing about Jehovah. For a writer, being told what to write about, or more importantly, what one’s opinions should be, is maddening, creatively soul-crushing and violates the most basic of human rights. Je suis Charlie.
She won though–I took a break from writing altogether. Writing publicly held consequences that I just didn’t feel like dealing with at the time. I surfaced some time later, long enough to pen a piece about a friend of mine who’d recently found out she had stage IV cancer. In truth, I can’t even remember what she had said that lead me to hear that she had somehow manifested her cancer. Having recently left the yoga industry, I was newly emboldened to rail against the trappings of New Age precepts and I had to set the record straight. While I believed in mind-body connection, I didn’t believe that we “manifest” disease in our bodies, and I needed the five or so readers of my own blog to know about it. I didn’t mention my friend by name, but she knew I meant her. To be honest, I hadn’t considered how she’d feel, because I was right.
She wasn’t happy. She sent me a long email asking me to take it down. She said that I’d misunderstood her. I stewed for two days before writing back: I’m a writer and entitled to my own truth. I left it at that. But I know I can sometimes be hard-headed, so I asked another friend, much more compassionate than I am, to give me his perspective. “Vaness, is your opinion greater than her struggle,” he asked. I took it down, begrudgingly.
Last summer, my friend passed away. If you have ever sat beside a person as she lay dying in her hospice bed, you know that it has the effect of putting things in perspective. “I’m sorry,” I told her through tears. Three years had passed since the incident, and though she hadn’t mentioned it, I guess I needed, I don’t know, redemption? “It’s okay,” she smiled sweetly, faintly. I’m certain she had other things to think about.
As a storyteller it’s difficult for me to reconcile that words hold effect. In my mostly introverted world, sharing my experiences and thoughts and opinions is how I connect with others. They are personal bumper stickers which claim, this is who I am today. To say my words shouldn’t matter seems naive, but to curb them because they might offend feels the enemy of art. And so I write on in the only way I know how, hoping along the way for insight, compassion and humor, always humor. Come what may.
WARNING: Whining ahead.
Is this writing every day thing over yet? That’s how I feel. I’m on a flight back home and the guys in the seats behind me have literally being chatting every inch of this flight. I don’t have earplugs thick enough. I’d rather be sitting in front of a chair-kicking toddler. Which is saying a lot.
We started this effort maybe twenty-three days ago, so I only have seven left. I’m definitely I’ve been doing it. At the beginning of the year when I set my goals, I said that I wanted to do a creative project this year. I envisioned a large scale, sort of public thing, with a friend. And that’s true. It took a different form from what I expected, which I suppose is often the case with goals. Over the past three weeks I’ve gotten faster at writing (which is not to say fast) and have become less self-conscious about writing solely because stress takes longer.
But today, I’m just in sort of a sour mood and the last thing I feel like doing is sharing. Except that I would like to share my fist with the guy behind me who won’t shut the f*ck up. We’ve been in the air for four hours, bro. Your Costco/chicken cacciatore conversation cannot sustain your seat neighbors for the remainder of this flight. I’ll bet you’ll try, though.
Sometimes I have this thing with travel. I love New York City and the feeling of sheer possibility that comes from walking its crowded streets towards uptown until I finally give up and catch the 6. Later, by the time I got to the airport, I had already begun the process of disconnecting; of retracting from the city. It was as if I hadn’t exhaled in days.
Moving through the security line, I was selected for a random screening. The TSA agent was clearly annoyed at having to pat me down. “Sorry this is irritating to you,” I snarked as she rolled her eyes. She directed me to the floor pad with yellow foot imprints on it. “It’s not irritating,” she said, but I didn’t believe her. “No, it’s not irritating. It’s just that I’m pregnant and it’s uncomfortable bending down to pat your legs.” I looked down at the thickness of her belly, something I hadn’t noticed earlier. “Congratulations,” I told her. Really I wanted to say I was sorry.
I thought about my own baby, who’s not much of a baby anymore. I wanted to squeeze him tightly and listen to describe the hip-pa-poth-a-muth and elepanth he saw at the zoo yesterday. I wanted to feel his head rest on my shoulder as he tells me, “Mommy. Hug.” Instead, I collected my laptop and luggage from the cold metal table and walked the long walk towards my gate.
I spent the better part of eighteen months traveling cross country for work every week. The frequency has waned, but as a result I still carry certain rituals both by airport and type of flight. For example, I always fly American. I have a much better chance of getting upgraded. In Nashville, I stop to watch the live music before getting potato skins and a beer in which I pick off most of the bacon. At JFK, I stop at the Dunkin’ Donuts in American’s baggage claim. The beauty of this particular Dunkin’ Donuts is that it’s open twenty-four hours so I never have an excuse not to go.
Yesterday I had just gotten off of a five hour flight after virtually no sleep the night before. So it’s possible I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. What transpired is an actual conversation with a Dunkin’ Donuts cashier. It’s me, right?
Me: I’d like three glazed donut holes, please.
Her: We don’t sell three donut holes. We only sell ten.
Me: *staring at piles of donut holes in bin* So you’re telling me that I have to buy ten even though I only want three?
Me: What about if I pay you for ten but you only give me three?
Her: I can’t do that.
Me: *confounded* You physically cannot do that?
Her: Well, it’s too expensive.
Me: I’m okay with that.
Her: But you have to pay $2.99.
Me: *defeated* Fine. Can I just get a strawberry donut?
Her: You want one donut?
Me: Yes. Can I buy just one donut?
It’s not lost on me that yesterday was the day Mercury went direct. The rest of the day pretty much turned out the same until I met a former client for happy hour across the river in Hoboken at a place that our (consulting) team used to go to win karaoke tournaments. I should clarify that I didn’t win any tournaments–Kate and Bret did–I only watched and secretly recorded them to post on YouTube later.
As a consultant it’s sort of foolish to get really attached to any feedback you get, good or bad. I’m about to do a pisspoor job of recounting a fable I once read in an old yoga book. There’s this story of the Chinese farmer whose eldest son has to go off to war. The townspeople say, “Very bad luck.” But then the son’s leg is broken and he comes back. “Ahhh, very good luck,” they say, discounting the fact that broken legs are painful. But then the horse runs away and they can no longer pull the plow. The townspeople say, “Very bad luck.” But then that horse comes back and brings ten with him. “Very good luck,” they say. And it goes on. The moral of the story is–and maybe this is how the farmer ends it–“Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” This is a protracted way of saying that we are taught to contextualize positive and negative feedback.
But I’m a seriously horrible people pleaser and a perfectionist so naturally I only take feedback personally. The year and a half we spent at this client was incredibly challenging. It was the largest (in scope) strategy project I had ever worked on and I poured my heart into it. I grew tremendously. And I always questioned if I was doing a good enough job.
I remember my boss once telling me that: “As a consultant, when you do a good job, someone else may take credit for it. As a consultant, when you do a bad job, you’re an easy person to blame.” I’ve remembered that advice when times were tough and when they were good. I’ve passed on that advice.
So last night, having dinner with the guy I worked closely alongside (and for) from a few years ago, I tried really hard to not take it personally when he said that we were some of the best consultants he’s ever worked with. But I couldn’t help myself: I walked home a little bit happier.
I am 37k feet in the air right now on my way to NYC. This morning I caught an Uber at an unnatural hour. I have this thing about flying where I compulsively drink fluids so my skin doesn’t look like a cracked desert floor when I get off the plane.
Typically, I drink a huge glass of water before I leave, then bring my Sigg bottle with me or buy a liter bottle of water at the airport, then order more water onboard. It’s a time-released hydration program. But at 5:20 this morning, my Uber driver arrived, I hadn’t had any water and I couldn’t find my Sigg lid. I grabbed the next best thing for the ride to the airport: a bottle of kombucha. This kombucha:
I have been drinking GT’s kombucha since either 2004 or 2005. The tatted, dreadlocked dude at the hole by my work recommended it. “It’s an acquired taste,” he said. I loved it. It was a time in my life I was obsessed with sauca and drawn to anything purported to purify the body.
In 2010 my kombucha days came crashing down. As lore goes, Lindsay Lohan failed a court-ordered test for alcohol in her system and she blamed it on the fermented yeasty beverage. Whole Foods and other retailers pulled it off their shelves, the government got involved, and it was basically like prohibition. A year or so later, when the product was finally re-introduced, the GTs that I knew and loved just didn’t taste the same. Or maybe I made that up, but it fell flat. Until they introduced their original recipe, re-branding it as the kind for the over 21 club. I am not sure where on google I read this, but I recall reading that their new formulas had two probiotics missing. Moreover, the original recipe didn’t necessarily have 0.5% ABV, it’s that it couldn’t be consistently measured to not have 0.5%, hence the labeling. In short, the alcohol version is better.
I have staunchly defended the practice of drinking brown bottle GTs. (In my own head.) When I was pregnant I asked my midwife if it was okay to drink the original formula. The fact that she admonished me for having a glass of wine at a friend’s birthday dinner at five months pregnant gave me confidence that she would have told me if it were unsafe. She said it was fine, so throughout my pregnancy I would pick up a bottle with the rest of my groceries. Twice I had male checkers tell me that alcohol was harmful to my fetus. I wanted to say, “Probiotics, duh,” but I only ever stared in return.
So anyway, this morning. I got in the front seat–is that weird?–and immediately clarified the type of kombucha I was drinking before six a.m. I explained about extra probiotics. He hadn’t asked. “Look,” he said, “I don’t care if you pull out a Schlitz’s malt liquor right now.” We drove to the airport and listened to jazz.
I have loved fashion my entire life. My mother, seamstress/wedding dress designer/wearable art creator/milliner/maker of my clothes growing up/hoarder, always had bolts of fabric piled in her bedroom. As a child I would break into her room to snip a swatch from a roll of a beautifully printed peach silk fabric and fashion strapless dresses for my Barbie dolls. If you have ever sewn anything, you know how problematic it is to find a random rectangle cut from the yardage you had purchased for a specific purpose.
From an early age I was raised on a diet of high-brow magazines: We might have been subsisting on butter sandwiches, but I knew the difference between French and American Vogue. Ironically, my senior year in high school I won the award for worst dressed, a direct result of rolling out of bed every day and throwing on sweats. I felt weirdly proud. Art has no rules, man*.
The first time I let my son pick out his clothes, he was just over a year old. He chose a navy blue t-shirt and swimming trunks. I let his choice stand, reasoning that if you want to cultivate a child’s sartorial voice, you have to take the good with the really bad. Sometimes he’s on point though, like the time he picked his Union Jack leggings, turquoise Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, and red Pumas. He breaks my heart daily.
Do you remember that Saturday Night Live skit about mom jeans? Ignoring the fact that mom jeans are currently sold out in every Williamsburg thrift store, I’ve often wondered what mom decline looks like. Does it start out subtly at first, with some innocuous sensible shoes? And then, too busy picking non-GMO Cheerios off of clothing and baking gluten-free cupcakes for a class of 20 kindergartners, you get the rare Saturday night out so you put on your best sparkly shirt? I’m not exactly sure, but with every (sad) ounce of vanity in me, I’m not ready for it.
A month or so ago I found myself at the airport, just landing from a 6:30 a.m. flight. I remember throwing my clothes together before barely catching the Uber. In my head it all sounded fine: maize-colored dotted shirt, blue knit hoodie, navy and white harem pants, neon pink Nike Frees. Obviously this doesn’t print well. And that’s when it happened–waiting outside baggage claim for my friend to pick me up, I looked down at my outfit andddd…fucking MOM DECLINE.
I have no idea when it happened. It must have been a series of imperceptible changes at the hands of convenience, exhaustion and travel. Whatever. The point is that there are very few things I count on in this life, and one of them is my ability to pull together an outfit for crissakes. I don’t even know who I am anymore. But at least I don’t have any Cheerios on me.
*”Art has no rules, man” is how my nanny answered my question recently when I asked her why she let Jonah dress himself in one of those swim shirts, effective in protecting him from sun exposure, but no less hideous. Touché.
One of the countless creative projects I’ve undertaken was an advice column called Dear Brutal Truth. I started it with my friend April in 2006 as a way to rail against skinny jeans and people who didn’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Boy, was I wrong. I’ve now worn skinny jeans for almost a decade.
As it goes when you start most projects, we couldn’t help but dream big: The new Dear Abbies! And then as it goes when you have to manage most projects along with things like work, reality set in. Somewhere along the way we lost the steam necessary to keep it alive. Also the questions started getting really hard.
April and I have bonded many times over making fun of thingsokaypeople and the fact that both of us best deal with most emotion through humor. But it’s really hard to find the light side of someone being beaten by her boyfriend. In truth, we weren’t exactly ever qualified, unless you consider that we had previously consulted each other for advice.
I have yet to let being qualified stop me though. There was the time I started an ill-fated lady t-shirt and undies company called Boys Can Tell with my friend, Sonya. I suggest not googling that on a work computer. We had zero background in fashion but we had a love of soft, white fitted tees and visions of petal pink piping so we found a Sikh Kundalini teacher who also happened to be a pattern maker. It was the first time I had seen a white lady in a turban. She drafted our prototypes. We traveled to LA from our homes in Austin to buy a shitload of cotton modal which was ahead of its time. We found a really lovely sweatshop housing ten people pouring over sewing machines behind a garage door in an unsavory part of Los Angeles. We placed our order and never heard from our seamstress again. We lost about five grand.
Years later I told my friend Jessica this story. Jessica is an incredibly talented shoe designer who went to FIT and is, among other things, legit. Jessica now runs her own line and consulting company where she has to fix and counsel the mistakes of people like me. Getting into fashion without any training is, as I understand it now, sort of like opening a restaurant because you have a good chocolate chip cookie recipe. I had known Jess about four years before I admitted what we’d done. I didn’t tell her about the time I started a menswear line with my friend Heidi.
For years I measured the time in between creative projects, afraid of starting another one that wouldn’t “succeed.” I had watched my mom–an artist in every sense of the word–try her hand at literally dozens of endeavors over the years, only to have them inevitably be scrapped when she had either mastered her craft or hit a roadblock, always short of financial solvency. Thus, I thought of my own varied interests as a character flaw. But I am not her. Not entirely, at least. I have been fortunate to have fallen into a career that repeatedly forces me to finish things and over the years, I’ve developed the business sense to identify that which is set up for failure or success from the start. Most importantly I’ve learned to divorce being creative from needing to make it anything other than what it is: just another expression of my current interest. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I went to a birthday party last night in which I knew like four people out of probably twenty-five. Two of those four were the hosts and I didn’t want to monopolize their time but I really wanted to monopolize their time. Instead I stood by the food table fumbling through conversation with one of Jessica’s really lovely friends, compulsively stuffing caviar tarts in my mouth. I cut off a piece of brie to eat, but I made the mistake of placing it on my napkin. When I picked it up to eat, it had made itself inseparable from the paper. Rather than look wasteful I awkwardly shoved the whole napkinbrie in my mouth. Then I pretended like I didn’t just eat napkin to Jessica’s friend who had watched the whole thing go down. I needed a drink.
The problem with being borderline co-dependent is that while I could see the booze on the counter behind her shoulder, I just couldn’t get to it. She wasn’t drinking and walking to get a drink meant leaving her on her own. So I stood there making eyes with bottles who didn’t even know my name, nervously twisting apart the remains of another napkin.
This yoga teacher I used to know would tell a story in workshops about how he was sitting on a plane in conversation with the man next to him. At the end of the flight the man said to him, “Wow! You’re so interesting!” The yoga teacher told us, “And you guys, I hadn’t said a word!” Hahahahahaha. He then offered up one of the many platitudes designed to be a slogan on t-shirts and tank tops, “If you want to be interesting, be interested.”
That has stayed with me. Whenever I find myself at a party or in any other social situation in which there are strangers, I do my best to think of things to ask about. The problem isn’t typically with my company. It’s that there are words swirling around in my brain that could form questions, but those words don’t necessarily go together or have anything to do with the conversation at hand. PLANTS…BRAINS…NO HAVE? MY DRESS WAS ON SALE.
I happen to be the only person in my house who is mostly an introvert. This is a problem because Ryan, who has lived in LA less than a quarter of the time that I have, knows more people here than me. I frequently find myself in conversations that I might want to have, but can’t. I have tried to give Ryan the signal before that it’s time to go or hey, can we not stop in the first place, but bless his heart, he can’t be trusted to lie. There are few times when he’s awkward in conversation, and it’s when he has to make up a reason for why he can’t talk for an hour. “Oh. I’m sorry. We have to go somewhere…else. We have to go. We have to do stuff. Jonah.”
In my next life, otherwise known as having a child, I’d like to think I’d handle social situations with conversational ease and grace. Without having to eat napkins for strangers.
*Holy jesus. I literally used this title to talk about my social anxiety five years ago. Sadz.
This morning I hosted a palm reading workshop. Lest I be accused of being too New Agey, I served carbs. Alexi, our palmist, took pains to caveat what this type of palm reading will NOT get you. Writing to a decidedly LA audience, she offered: You will not learn when you will become famous or make millions of dollars or when you will meet The One. Cool, dawg. Rather, she teaches that subconscious patterns are represented as lines on your hands and you can use the knowledge of those to be more aware of your own choices. Years ago my friend Jenny used to do handwriting analysis. “If it’s in the writing,” she’d say, “it’s in the person.” I drew imaginary parallels. And because I am nothing if not borderline neurotic, I needed to learn what my hands revealed.
Alexi began class telling a Jack Canfield story. Someone mentioned that he wrote Chicken Soup For The Soul. She recounted the story of a research scientist named Robert Something-or-other known for his innovative approach to problem solving. The scientist, when asked to what he attributed his success, told about an early experience with his mother. At about two years old, he was trying to remove a bottle of milk from the fridge. He lost his grip and the milk spilled all over the floor. His mother, rather than getting annoyed, invited him to play in the milk for a few minutes. Then, after he had played, she encouraged him to return the mess to its proper order and asked him if he’d like to choose a sponge, towel or mop to clean it up. Once it was cleaned up, she offered that he just had a failed experiment and then took him out the backyard to try and carry the milk bottle again with water. Consequently, Robert grew up unafraid of making mistakes.
You know that thing where you sign up for something expecting one thing and then get an entirely different thing but it’s exactly what you needed? That.
Jonah has been in the midst of potty training. He has it mostly handled, except for when he doesn’t. Like the other night as he stood peeing on a chair in the kitchen, five minutes after I had taken him to the potty and he insisted he didn’t have to go. So I was pissed (ha!) when he looked back at me while the urine pooled around his feet and dripped onto the kitchen mat I had just washed. “Oh no!,” he said, once he finished. “Not even cool, Jonah,” I scowled. “Why didn’t you just tell me?” My tone scared him and his bottom lip quivered. He started to cry. I could not have felt smaller.
When I was four years old, I was trying to reach for a pencil that had rolled under the blender. It was small and green without an eraser, the kind used for keeping score at miniature golf. As my little hand reached under the machine, the glass jar tipped over and shattered all over the counter. I remember the white flannel nightdress with pink carnations I was wearing at the time my dad got out of the shower, found the mess and spanked me in punishment for being so careless.
This is not THE reason I am a perfectionist. It’s a thing in my past that I remember vividly that seems somewhat connected. As an adult, I understand that my parents did the best they could. As I do with Jonah. But as an adult, I also know that it’s my job to learn for myself that it’s okay to make mistakes if for no other reason than not passing on a fear of screwing up to my sweet little boy.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Alexi gave each of us an assignment until the next workshop. I had not told her about the impact of the Jack Canfield story. “Your lesson, Vanessa,” she said, “is to make at least 20 mistakes this week.”
In an effort to avoid further writing about LA traffic during this 30-day challenge, I finally attempted to use the Somebody app. If you haven’t heard of Somebody, it’s basically IRL social media developed by one of my favorite artists, Miranda July, in which you compose, deliver and receive messages to/from friends/total strangers. Seems safe.
First I tried to compose a message to be delivered, but I don’t have any friends on the app. Please join.
So then I went to the Floating section to find a message to deliver. I chose the first one at the top because they’re sorted by proximity to your current location. It was a message from Pachy to his friend Cheyenne. He wanted to tell her that he still had Kressy’s pants only now they had cat hair on them.
How were Kressy, Pachy and Cheyenne even living their lives for the last month while this information was just sitting out in the ether. I had 45 minutes to make things right. I grabbed Jonah and we headed down the street to deliver the message.
FYI, Jonah is not a very good Somebody companion. First, he insists on walking but his legs aren’t very long so it takes him a while to get anywhere. Second, he’s easily distracted. For instance, he will strike up conversation with the first piece of fallen palm tree in his path.
I scooped him up and we continued.
Nearing Cheyenne’s location, I pulled up the app again to make sure I could identify her. Cheyenne’s image peered back beneath pageboy bangs in a vaguely French, this-never-ends-well kind of way. We arrived at her pin and waited. Though we were surrounded by cars and pedestrians, Cheyenne wasn’t there. I opened the app again. Her pin had moved about a mile to the west.
It occurred to me that I had left the house, toddler on hip, with only my phone. What if I needed to buy something? Or show my drivers license? For reasons I still don’t understand, we pivoted left and walked toward the new location with 28 minutes on the clock. We got about 30 feet when Jonah needed to stop and hug a yellow fire hydrant. I took the opportunity to call Ryan who had stayed home nursing a migraine. I will tell you at least two things I love about Ryan: One, he can always be counted on to answer the phone. Two, he is unfailing in his support of creative endeavors. Despite his blinding headache, he arrived in minutes and drove us to the new pin.
On the corner of Sanborn and Sunset in Silverlake, there is a huge sign marking the location as Sunset Junction. Except the real Sunset Junction is a messy confluence of seven different crosswalks amongst Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards and Virgil Avenue. It is marked by a Vons, an AutoZone, the historic Vista Theatre and a Crossroads Trading Company, where they will mockingly pay you 55 cents to take those nylon Prada sandals off your hands. It is where Los Feliz meets Silverlake. This is where Cheyenne chose to perch. She could be anywhere.
We parked at the Auto Zone. I got out alone and looked across the corners. Finally, with 11 minutes remaining, I spotted Cheyenne sitting across the street on a ledge near a busstop, typing on her phone. She looked up. I smiled excitedly. We were separated by two intersections. She looked down. I pushed the walk signal and waited to cross the streets. If you know this particular spot in Los Angeles, you know that it is an excruciating wait between lights. I rehearsed the message in my head. Pachy said that he still has Kressy’s pants but they’re covered in cat hair.
And then, while I sat waiting at the busy intersection for the signal to cross, a bus approached the other side. I looked up at the light. Still green. I looked at her. I watched as Cheyenne got up and walked towards the bus, disappearing behind it.
I’m not sure why I still crossed the street. I knew she was gone. As I made my way over anyway and then back to Ryan and Jonah waiting patiently for me at AutoZone, I could see the pin moving its way back down Sunset with two minutes left.
A couple of days ago I bought some Stumptown cold brew from the hole to use in a pinch when I didn’t have my own cold brew already steeped in the fridge. This morning was that pinch, otherwise known as an 8 a.m. company wide google hangout in which I’d have to speak words recognizable by humans. In preparation, I poured some raw cream into my mug, then added the coffee, which turned out to be cold brew with milk, a distinction lost on me until I saw it streaming from the carton. I do not recommend cold brew with milk, and especially cold brew with milk with raw cream unless you have a thing for soupcoffee.
Los Angeles is not the land of sunshine and lollipops. At least in June it’s not. In Angeleno speak, this month is called “June Gloom,” a nod to the fact that it is the most overcast month of the year. I develop SAD once a year, and now is it. June Gloom colors the way we view most things–you would think that being in the middle of a drought we’d all be excited at even the hint of rain. But this time of year, the rain lightly drops on our city and it’s like, why is life so hard. If you’ve ever had to drive in LA when there is even a hint of precipitation, you understand the sheer hopelessness. It is dire.
Maybe this has nothing to do with the bleak nature of the weather, but on my extended drive into the office today, I thought about how difficult this exercise has become. When I started out, I thought of writing 500 words a day as a fun exercise in storytelling. Surely I have 30 different, really humorous stories. This’ll be fun. Turns out it’s harder than I expected. I’ve heard all of my own stories (in my head) a million times before, and they’re neither insightful nor entertaining. What can I say that hasn’t been said?
But, I am nothing if not a pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of gal, so rather than throw in the towel, I decided today that going forward, I’m going to look for an opportunity every day to create the experiences that I would like to recount. I walked away from my pep talk for one newly invigorated!
And then I sat in traffic for a long enough period to not only crush my soul but crush my offspring’s offspring’s souls as well. The oppression is future generational. Suddenly, the tiny glimmer of hope I had mustered collapsed under the weight of an hour plus commute. I might be exaggerating only slightly.
Since then I’ve reset, and as I said I can’t wait to take the remaining two weeks by the horns, and really write with purpose!
I’ll get on that as soon as possible.
Like tomorrow. Probably.
Around the time when I completed my first yoga teacher training course, I started accumulating healing modalities like some people collect mason jars (just me?): cranial sacral therapy, color therapy, sound therapy, flower essences, crystals, meditation practices, hypnotherapy, Osho cards, vibrational cleansing. If there were an award for volume of healing types tried, I’d win life. Future Vanessa would have told Past Tense Vanessa that really, it’s excessive, but Past Tense Vanessa would’ve only listened had the message been delivered in the form of a shamanic guide. So.
Somewhere along the way a healer told me that I was picking up too much negative energy from others. “It’s weighing you down,” she said. She meant physically: I was carrying an extra 15 pounds. At the time, nothing spoke louder than a spiritual excuse for my ample thighs. She recommended a series of crystals (smoky quartz, obsidian), which I carried on my person daily. She also trained me to “cut negative cords.” “Be weary of energy vampires,” she said. I learned to smudge myself with the smoke of burning sage from the bottom of my feet to the top of my skull, then visualize cords attached to me by negative people, (sort of like sticky ropes binding my limbs), and release them one by one, returning them to their proper owners. It’s a vaguely superstitious practice.
If you don’t know about negative cords, I suggest pretending like you never heard a thing. Once you feel like you have something stuck to you, it is a consuming distraction. Argument with a co-worker? Negative cord. Get into an ill-advised relationship, ignore the flashing neon warning signs, then dude gives you the high hat? Negative negative negative cut cut cut. I became so adept at spotting negativity that often I would find myself weighed down mid-conversation. I knew where this was going.
One of the best things that has ever happened to me was becoming a yoga teacher. A colleague recently asked me what I thought was the key to being successful at business consulting. While this probably wasn’t the answer she was looking for, I had to credit the teacher trainings. They show you how to be aware of what’s going on in a room and with people in the room, how to observe when you’re undermining yourself; to a certain degree they teach you personal responsibility. One of the other best things that has ever happened to me was walking away from yoga.
Guess how much the business world cares about negative energy and crystals and smudging oneself? Turns out, zero. I’ve tried. Ironically, it wasn’t until I existed solely in this secular world–where I divorced myself from the competition for healing and spiritual evolution–that I experienced the space needed to see just how neurotic it was for me to get so wrapped up in my own process. I had developed a sort of spiritual hierarchy that I thought I could win.
I was steeped in a rightness that is now (thankfully) increasingly uncomfortable. (Admittedly, it’s a hard habit for Enneagram 1-me to break.) Since stopping this practice of cord cutting a few years back, I have wondered about the people who have felt the need to cut the cord from me. And that’s pretty humbling.
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Here’s a cute video of my kid. I tried to embed it but I’m not really using the native WordPress and it proved too difficult for this time of night.
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