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Driving at Night

photo 1While we drive to the ranch I watch out the back window at the sunset, glorious in pinks and golds, setting the wheat fields on fire as we race along the highway. It’s long enough to make my neck hurt after awhile, but I can’t make myself move, can’t force myself to break the spell that’s keeping me here, petting Dexter’s head as he breathes slowly, in his dog way, while my Dad talks about his Dad and all the sadness that’s left there. I think about what that must be like, to not have your Dad like you and I can’t imagine it, which is something I think would make my Dad happy to know. At the very least, he hasn’t made the same mistakes that his Dad has. My siblings and I live in a world where we have a soft place to land, someone to guide us and give us rules, and of course, we’ve always had lots of love. What else do kids need? I wonder, because really I don’t know, and I don’t know if anyone knows for sure—but it seems like my childhood was a pretty good place to start. The problem is, of course, I think while the highway is fading into a thin black ribbon, cascading behind us, rippling through the hillside and out into the sun while we head into the dark, that eventually you stop being a child even though you still have your family. The reason this is a problem is that you have to learn how to be a part of a family when you’re all adults. It changes things, it really does. I wonder, as dusk settles in and deer start dotting every field, at what point you stop needing your parents? Two huge bucks appear, eyeing us while they pose in the lower fields, and Dad tells us they all come down at this time of year to the open fields because their antlers are in velvet and very sensitive, so they avoid the timber, where branches are thick. We pause by the side of the road and then keep driving towards the ranch, hitting Condon before dropping back down into the canyon and wending our way along the river. Never is the answer here, I think. You never stop needing your parents, which is I think, one of the hardest realities of life we all face.

Fossil is the same as it always is, although cooler now that the sun has pretty much gone down and night has started creeping around the edges of the houses and the trees. Highway 19 welcomes us in, the burned tree a talisman and a practical marker for where our gate is. When we pull in, gravel crunching under the wheels of the truck, Rachelle spots a huge herd of elk eating in our lower field. Quick, my Dad says, quick how many were there? We stop, barely breathing, Dexter’s nose pressed against the glass and look for their big bodies shadowed in the grass and trees. One bull is there, although I don’t see him, but Rachelle has sharper eyes than I do and she spots him.  I can barely see in the daytime, so now that it’s almost full dark I’m pretty much useless, although I imagine I can see the curve of the road as it follows the lower field, and I can pick out the outline of the ridge against the sky. Little pricks of light are starting to hover above the horizon, guide lights in the night. It’s almost been a year since I stood on this same porch and looked at the sky, hoping for a sight of my Grandma. I think of my Dad and how he needed his Mom, and still does I think all the time, even though she really only nailed one of the three.

It doesn’t seem like a year ago that I was leaning on the rail, thinking about Brian Doyle and all those stars. It seems like it was both yesterday and a lifetime ago, that it all happened to a different person. Maybe it did. It’s been a big year for growing in this family, of figuring out how we’re going to live and love each other. And I think part of it is because in the last year we’ve seen, I’ve seen, my parents become people. Not just my Mom and Dad, but Claire and Nathan. And it’s horrible, a painful thing sometimes, something you want to rail against. I’m lucky, I think because I’m 23 and just finding this out, although there have always been glimpses of those people—when they’ve been angry at each other, when they’ve dropped a piece of your life puzzle, and when they’re desperately sad. Some people find out too soon, that their parents are just people and not Gods, not the sun and the moon, not the reason for why the world turns. But when you start growing up, the way it should be, you start becoming a person with wants and fears and hopes, dreams and love of your own, and you recognize that your parents and your siblings and everyone around you have their own wants and fears and hopes and dreams. When you start to grow up all the pain and sadness and lost hope begins to reveal itself to you, the injustice in the world, the death in life, it all becomes apparent. Your Dad cries at funerals and your mom tries to put him back together, and they talk about the things they still have left to do before they die too. But will I ever want them to stop being those raw, complex beings and go back to being only my parents, my Mom and Dad? Simple, my soft place to land? Yes, always.

All this that I see. But still, this weekend at the ranch, I don’t believe it, not really. Here we are all together, my life still revolving around this sun and moon I have been so blessed with, my sister and brother anchoring lights in the little constellation we make up. And so I leave the drive behind, smell the juniper in the air, wake up early and we go for a family walk.

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Here Comes the Sun

san diegoThis time two weeks ago I was laying on a beach in sunny California, did you know that? It seems an especially cruel memory now, bathed as I am in artificial light from my computer with only a glimpse of sky outside the office window. To add insult to injury, it’s actually a beautiful day here so the aforementioned sky is spectacularly blue. To add even more insult to injury, I thought for a minute there today was Friday. A double-edged sword: I’m slightly cheered—actually this time two weeks ago I was sitting at my desk. But now I’m faced with the realization that I tomorrow I’ll be here too, instead of enjoying a Saturday like I originally thought. Some days I really do have to curse this rotten brain. Oh well. I like the work that I get to do, and they pay me, and as a result I get to take trips to sunny southern California. So really I can’t complain too much. But I will admit I love a good hot beach, so when I was there it was difficult to imagine why I would live anywhere else. The sun! I would think. The palm trees! The blinding, engulfing, overwhelming light! The laid-back people! The possibilities! What, I wondered, could I make life be like in California? Who would I meet? What neighborhood would I discover? I’ve found lately that I can’t quite reconcile myself to the fact that I may be done living anywhere but Portland, and though this may be exacerbated by the sun and palm trees and wide boulevards, it’s a thought I’m giving some consideration to. I’ll quote the age-old refrain of someone just about to make a terrible decision—well, why not?

Kyle, the cousin we visited, promised us sunny San Diego wasn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. He said this, though, while we were at Sea World, so we weren’t really paying attention. Dolphins are hilarious, in case anyone was wondering, and I think are definitely the dogs of the ocean. We found a quiet spot to watch them play with their trainers while we were there, and at one point, I swear it was Dexter in sea creature form. They too had the singularly adoring stare that characterizes all idol worship that Dexter adopts every time Dad walks in the room. The trainer was talking to someone, but every so often she would flick her foot into the shallows and splash the dolphin, and the dolphin would then splash water back. It was great. We stood for a long time watching them swim and play, the sun and water glittering off their skin as they effortlessly moved back and forth in the water.

We saw a beluga whale, and a handful of Orcas, that were equally mesmerizing but wildly different. They were all solid, concentrated movement though still fluid, as if a part of water itself. No land-bound creature moves that way, I don’t think. We can’t meld with their environment quite as wholly. The liquid cougar is the closest I’ve ever seen, but even he was an entity separate from his surroundings in a way that sea creatures aren’t. I dream a lot about whales. Nothing happens really, in the dream, except I see whales swimming in tandem, a la Mickey’s Fantasia. But that’s my most frequent dream, which helped contribute to the surreal feeling that accompanied me on our SeaWorld excursion.

I really have been lucky in the cousin realm, and now we’re old enough to choose to see each other, which has been an unexpectedly delightful consequence of aging. So it was fun to be in this new place with a very old friend who we saw completely of our own volition. We also were really excited to go to San Diego, but that’s neither here nor there. So we laughed and ate a lot, and drank and talked about our families, and our friends, and made fun of each other. Fun was had by all. We went to the beach, and walked down the pier and watched the ocean crash on all sides of us, and watched the light change from too bright to dark and mellow. We went to dangerously glamorous bars, one of which was underground and hidden, and whose praises I can’t stop singing. We learned the ropes of Kyle’s hulking and lonely ship. We went to the beach again and watched the water stretch away from us into bright blue nothing. I loved it.

But now I’m here. I’m here, and I love it here too. The quality of light has changed into fall, and the trees are bursting into flame right before our eyes. The cool and crisp, all the things I forgot I loved, are back in my head again. I see and feel a whole world I had almost forgotten. I smell autumn at every turn, and moments like that make me pause—why would I ever leave here again, I wonder.

Fast forward about three weeks into the rain and I’d be happy to tell you why. But for now, I am all too happy to leave that bright white light of the sun to California while we’re enjoying this season as much as we can.

Xoxo, Lauren

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Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand

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I just want to put it out there--I'm exceptional. Everyone says so. Ask anyone--the chatter about me has been good. I'm on a roll these days, blending authoritative decision making with efficiency and startling good looks. I'm feeling downright chuffed with the amount of attention I've been receiving lately. It all started with the weekend we went to Brew Fest--a man approached me and said, not kidding, "You are really f****** hot"*--to today, when I was walking (no, strutting, because I've been feeling so cocky, remember) down the hall and our CMO said Lauren, I've been hearing such good things about you, people are literally singing your praises. After briefly wondering who would literally sing my praise, I accepted the compliment with a gracefully disarming wave of the hand and a "well that's so good to hear." Dare I say I'm exuding grace and charm wherever I go, whether it's Brew Fest, a cesspool of humanity if there ever was one, to my corporate office? I'd certainly like to say so, despite a significant career setback--I interviewed for a permanent position that I didn't get, despite being so exceptionally wonderful, efficient, an asset to any team I'm on, etc, etc. I hesitate to fully claim the grace and charm, however, because honestly if one more person told me how great I am yesterday, I might have punched them out. So I think that kind of ungratefulness probably negates some of the aforementioned wonderfulness, but hey. We're all just doing the best we can.

I spent some time on the floor of my sister's room, face down and only able to breathe because I was balancing on my cro magnon brow, while processing this rejection. It was particularly difficult to be analyze the situation from an emotionally detached standpoint at that point, as I like to do my most pressing life problems, but I managed to wrangle the left and rights of my brain into enough submission to come up with the following: Rejection is difficult to swallow regardless of the context, but especially difficult when there seems to be no plausible explanation for the rejection--when they told me someone else was filling the position, they took twenty minutes telling me why I was a fantastic candidate, and gave me not even a second of why I wasn't. It's the isn't I'm more concerned about, because how does one progress if they're always good? All I wanted to know was how I could improve, and they gave me nothing--only all the ways that I was deserving.

That is probably why I was most annoyed leaving the office yesterday, and frustrated above all else. This isn't even a case of me construing what I'm hearing to best suit my own needs, I was actually looking to hear what it was that I did wrong, or why I wasn't right for the position. Now I'm just wracked my self-doubt, and every time I hear something good said about me, I say a mental, "so what?" after. What's being so great worth, if nothing comes from it?

Luckily, I got an e-mail from a woman I work with that I respect very much, and, among other things, she said, I know you will do well wherever you land. Though it seems inconsequential, in that moment it was a perfect perspective clarifying point. My horizon before that line was limited to this job, this company and this peculiar rejection/non-rejection, but really, it's just the beginning, isn't it? And I am really, really good at most things that I put my mind to--good enough to sing praises about, to spend twenty  minutes rejecting in the nicest way possible. So what? is right, but so what I didn't get it, not so what I'm great.

Now I'm full of vim and vigor, brimming with possibility, anxiously anticipating the future! Who shall I be! This, I think, is how I should have been feeling about six months ago. I've been a little complacent, but that is no longer! I am amazing! I will do amazing things! Just you wait and see!

Unfortunately, this new found ambition is coupled with absolutely zero patience, so I may throw up my hands in disgust in about 72 hours. If change is coming fast, why change at all! Said no one ever.

xoxo, Lauren

*Rumor has it that beauty is in the eye of the beerholder, so take the statement with a grain of salt. And goggles.

Hold On

I turned 22 yesterday, or so they tell me. I'm feeling rather existential these days, so I have to ask--what is a birthday, really? Wait, no, I turned 22 two days ago. This is embarrassing, I don't even know what day of the week it is. Clearly I am not prepared to be 22, nor am I good at being existential. A birthday is obviously the day you were born, what kind of question is that? I don't really feel older or wiser, although I generally feel more tired, and I've noticed that my metabolism has already taken a nose dive since the big day, so that doesn't bode well for the future of my waistline, now does it? Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I have eaten three quarters of a carrot cake in about 36 hours, so that could explain the metabolism drop. I'll probably go polish it off here in a minute, right after I get done with this. I have horrific self-control when it comes to things I really like to eat--like, for example, carrot cake. Actually, I don't know if it's my self-control so much as my resignation to the fact that at some point, I know I will eat the whole thing (if it's cake) or all of them (if it's reese's pieces) eventually, so I might as well just get it over with while it's still fresh and delicious. Also I have a bad habit of leaving a fork right next to the cake at all times, so whenever I pass by I can just eat one bite--that's not so bad, right? Well one thing leads to another, and twenty minutes and 12 passes through the kitchen later equals half a cake down. Sometimes my friend and roommate Lindsay will say You can do it, Brucey! when we're eating cake or other things that aren't healthy, from that scene in the movie Matilda. There's a part where Brucey has to eat an entire chocolate cake in front of the whole school, because he's a greedy little kid and Mrs. Trunchbull wants to teach him a lesson about excess. So she tries to force him into hating cake (he has to eat the whole thing or be locked in the Chokey), but instead, with the support of his classmates (you can do it, Brucey!), he eats the whole cake and loves it. I think you can guess which character I am here. Except my cake is carrot, and not chocolate, because I have an invested interest in improving my eyesight. Also cream cheese frosting and walnuts are my kryptonite.

Anyway, back to my failure of being an existentialist 22-year-old. Well, here's the thing. I'm feeling a little concerned about my level of preparedness for my impending adulthood. I think I've said this before, but I have to say it again, because I am just really astonished as to what has happened here. I just thought I would have it figured out by now! Whenever I think of being an adult, in my immediate future, it's not actually me I see. It's like this better dressed, pulled together version of myself, who seems capable and witty and fun, who doesn't use sarcasm as a defense mechanism and who can actually stick to a day schedule. This person also happens to be like a foot taller than I am, and she has, I am not kidding you, a killer wardrobe. She also doesn't look like someone who forgets to put deodorant on in the morning, and she probably also doesn't have to hang signs all over her house that say TAKE YOUR PROBIOTIC. She really seems like a great girl, a real go-getter, and she walks around in a classy office setting looking professional and murmuring indistinct comments to people, and those people laugh and do exactly what she says because she very obviously knows some things. And you know what the real kicker is? She looks like the type who knows what her signature drink is!

She probably also is aging really gracefully, and I just cannot say the same for myself. Do you know how I decided to think about my 22nd birthday? As the first anniversary of my 21st birthday. I am only slightly better than those people who say they're counting down instead of up once they hit 30 or whatever. That thought in itself is demoralizing and makes me want to throw in the towel and live in my parent's basement for the rest of my life.

Perhaps I'm being overly dramatic, but you know, I was really looking forward to my birthday as a day of rest and relaxation and reflection, and it was anything but. Instead, life handed down a one-two punch of bad weather and zero fun, and that was depressing. Here's what happened: my house and car flooded on Sunday morning, so I spent the morning of my birthday trying to wet-vac about six gallons of water out of the bottom of my car while it continued to rain. Then, while I rolled around in the bottom of my little silver bullet, covered in dog hair from a dog that died like three or four years ago and flood water, which is the most disgusting water in the world, hands down, I looked up and said, you know what, it's time to get out of this city. And burn this car, because I'm never going to get all the water out and as we speak it's molding and bugs are hatching in it, I just know it. So then, naturally, I called my Mom and told her that, and she said don't worry I'm on it, which was a relief--but the saga was not over. She found a nice man named Tyrone who could help me with the water/car problem, but Tyrone was out in Metairie. Metairie is far, and I was out of gas and my debit card got stolen last week so I had no way to pay him, so I had to go to Loyola to get money from the Credit Union. While I walked over I realized I was hot because it was so humid, and it was raining, and everyone I knew called to tell me Happy Birthday!! in such bright and happy voices, and I didn't know how to say it's my birthday and I am so sad, and I know I should be happy because it's my birthday, but I hate this day because it doesn't feel like my birthday, it feels scary and really, really sad. Because my car flooded and I have to take it in and spend my afternoon waiting in a mean cold room for someone to get the water out, and I feel too young to be this old, and I feel totally and utterly helpless in the face of the future that is racing towards me at an alarming speed, and I don't understand the world anymore, because I was sitting in traffic listening to Alanis Morrisette and then someone put a bomb in a bag and killed a little boy at a marathon, and Whole Foods forgot to write happy birthday on my birthday cake. And where in this day is there any room for me?

I know that in my life I have been lucky, exceptionally lucky, to have always had beautiful, wonderful birthdays. I love my birthday. Every other birthday has felt like the world has stopped to smile at me, say hey, you're doing alright kid, happy birthday! We love you. And I love that. Who wouldn't? So this year, as I sat in traffic and cried and cried because I was lost trying to get Tyrone in a car that sloshed every time I hit the gas, on a day that I was supposed to be in love with a world that was in love with me, running errands and dealing with a situation that was totally out of my control and just not fair, I started to think, is this it? Is this what being an adult is like? Is it always this miserable and will I always be dealing with something? Is this awareness? Because if it is, you can have it back.

Later, I walked around Target for an hour and a half while Tyrone fixed my car, and I started to feel better. There is something infinitely soothing about that kind of solid, middle-class commercialism--everything was normal, everything looked familiar. I found a shirt on sale. The world hadn't completely imploded, Target was proof. But I still felt so tired, and I'm still working out that feeling, I think. Because you know, I'm not the girl in the vision, I'm still just me. And it's just me that I will forever be dealing with things with, if that makes sense--I can't be anybody else but me, and I guess I'm the kind of person that breaks down on birthdays when nothing goes as planned, and I didn't know that about myself until Monday. I'm a little anxious about this kind of thing, because what will happen when it's just me and my Mom can't help, and I have to do all these things that happen when you're in control of your own life? Who will be the responsible one? Who will know what to do? Surely not me. I still squeeze the toothpaste from the middle of the tube! I eat entire cakes single-handedly!  I forget what day it is on the regular!

Perhaps I'm dragging my feet as I move into this next phase of my life because I am all too aware of my own shortcomings, and I don't know how much I can change about myself, or if I want to at all. Where's the fun in being six feet tall and an indistinct murmurer? What would you laugh about if everything was ok all the time? What would I tell my therapist if I had it all together? Right? I think my only option is learning how to be ok with me, which is sort of an unsatisfactory answer but the best I can do right now. And you know, I think I have to just keep reminding myself that everything is not happening all at once, although it might feel that way. Life is gradual, so I just have to take it one little piece at a time. And if that doesn't work out, I'll maybe cry about it or laugh about it, or maybe do both, and when someone comes over and asks if I'm ok like they did on my birthday, I'll put on my sunglasses and say I'm fine, I'm just having one of those days. And then I'll have to pep talk myself, which will involve the phrases "white girl crying" and "in public" and "pull yourself together, this is pathetic".

Also perhaps I'll just take the advice of Michael, who told me after I complained for an exceedingly long time about my day that it's high time I figured out that the world doesn't stop just because it's my birthday, and that's the way it goes sometimes, so what I should do is make the next really good day I have be my birthday. And I really couldn't respond to that without sounding like a completely self-centered whiner, so I said ok. I'll just have birthday life. Every day a birthday. And that weirdly made me feel better. So I guess I'm feeling better about being 22. I don't know if ya'll know this, but Taylor Swift wrote a song about being 22, and I think it's really obnoxious. This may have colored my opinion on the day too, because everywhere I went she stalked me on the radio. It was tough.

xoxo, Lauren

 

And What Do You Do?

Since I've been fixated on dreams lately, I'd like to take this opportunity to announce that I had a dream last night that Steve Martin was my boyfriend. Old Steve Martin. Banjo playing Steve Martin. I started my day confused enough by who I was dating that I had to state, in my head, Steven Martin is not my boyfriend.

Riddle me that.

Sometimes I go for runs and that's when I do my most inspired thinking. We have an indoor track at our gym here that I love--my sister says running on a track bores her, going in circles for that long. I find it meditative. The track is three stories up and surrounded by glass on three sides, so I get to see the elements but I don't have to be a part of them, and there aren't usually very many people up there so I don't have to deal with the fray. Today it was raining outside which made me happy, perhaps you've heard that I'm only happy when it rains. I never run very fast because I don't like to be in pain if I can help it, which is why I never made a great endurance athlete. Also my lungs are the size of peanuts, but alas, that's a story and excuse for a different day. I know the mind though mind works in mysterious ways, though, and I know this because of the weird and wonderful paths my funny little consciousness wanders down when I go for runs. I know you're supposed to get to a runner's high or whatever when you run for long enough, where you get to a place where you don't think anything, but I much prefer the inner narrative that starts when I pick up the pace. It's unfortunate though, because much like a dreaming, I can never remember very clearly what it is I think about when I'm running. Those thought and ideas start dissipating as soon as I slow, and I can't chase them forever. I get tired. My feet give out much past 40 minutes. But for awhile I'm a wry comic, a genius, sometimes I think up long, elaborate plot lines, sometimes a philosopher. Sometimes I describe everything I see, with me in it.

Today though, the run thoughts floated through, they wandered from how the best way to break a culture is to rape the women and produce a generation of bastard children to the comment Michael made the other day--he thinks I look like my Dad but my facial expressions are taken from my Mom, to what separates humans from animals and that is perhaps the concept of love, and needing to be loved. Today there was no rhyme or reason, I just needed twenty minutes to think. I can't clarify exactly what it was now that brought me to each thought or the specifics of anything--that's not how run thoughts work. But for a while I was churning the world through the wringer in my head and that feels good to me, that makes me happy. I get to put my observations and experiences into a format that makes sense, I like to listen to the stories I tell myself whenever I get the chance, and not just because I've long held that I'm the funniest person I know. I just like to.

I have a confession to make--there are days that I think my mind is special. There are days that I know I have the mind of a writer, that I will forever be telling a story even if everyone stopped listening. Even if I never wrote another word. This is what I've got. This is what defines me. I can become dull and old, ignore that ever narrating voice, and still know that who I am and what I do is write. My Uncle told me that this is my job, that writing is my profession. I am the next Pam Houston, the next Goldberry Long. He just told me that but I've been thinking about it for a long time. I have to write everyday. I know it won't be easy. They say nothing worth doing is--I'll hold back some inappropriate comments and let you know when I'm a starving artist. He told me a long time ago that he's waiting for me to write just to write, too--it hasn't happened yet. But you know, I do keep a journal.

Perhaps someday when I'm rich and famous and very-well known, Steve Martin will read about being in my dream and be offended I was sort of of freaked out that he was floating around my subconscious at all. Who knows. If nothing else--I'll tell my therapist.

xoxo, Lauren