we bring ourselves wherever we go: four days in dublin

dublin (4)We arrived in Dublin on a Sunday morning. A fine, flat rain punctured the surface of the Liffey, and the streets were all but empty. We passed three elderly women, each wearing raincoats the colors of jewels. They, and the doors in Merrion Square provided the only color.

We’d flown overnight, a plan that seemed ingenious when I booked the tickets in February (fly out at one country’s dusk, arrive at the second’s dawn), but in reality, it was as brutal as it sounds. We didn’t sleep on the flight. Chris’s restless legs got the best of him, and he described his skin feeling as though it were crawling. The man next to us complained that this was the smallest plane he’d even ridden, and while we have less frame of reference, we were inclined to agree. We landed the walking dead. I was so tired that, even now, those first few hours seemed surreal. Compared to the constant movement of New York, the empty streets were a relief. It took a two mile walk (with suitcases, on small sidewalks and cobblestone–I still have bruises on my ankle) to our Airbnb to orient myself to the clock, to the day, to our trans-Atlantic position.

dublin (3)dublindublin

Dublin quickly became for us a city of lessons. The four days we spent here were decidedly rocky. Jetlag made us susceptible to the anxieties we’re both having about our move, and neither of us handled well the discomfort of the unknown. While Dublin is a small, walkable, charming city with English speakers everywhere, the simple fact that it wasn’t home was enough to dislodge our equilibrium. On our second day in Dublin (the sixth of our trip), we looked at each other and said we just wanted a break from all the decision making. Breakfast — but where? And lunch — but were? And what should we do today? Where is that? How will we get there?

The short of it: Dublin is where we had to admit we didn’t have a groove.

dublin (15)dublin (3)dublin (2)

As we planned this trip, we both acknowledged how much we had to learn. This was to be our first trip as a couple, the first (large) trip for either of us without parents, the first we we’re taking as adults. I’d hoped traveling would come as easily to us as so many other aspects of our relationship, but it didn’t. It took some learning.

Our first day in Dublin corresponded with our one year anniversary, and in retrospect, I like the timing. Dublin stretched us, made us grow. We started our second year in a place of vulnerability. We had to get tender with each other, and honest with ourselves. Why were we at odds? Why were we on edge?

A mother once said to me that from raising children, she’d learned that most problems between people can be solved with food, water, or a hug. I thought about that on our third evening, after we’d bickered our way through Temple Bar and ended our evening early so we could talk, uninterrupted by the movement of the city.

Our anxieties are always over connection. How do we tell the other what we want? What we need? How do we ask each other to hold the places too bruised for us to even name?

And as much as these tensions manifested themselves in our traveling (we are kings and queens of “but I want to do what you want to do”), they weren’t about travel. They hadn’t anything to do with travel. We bring ourselves with us wherever we go. It’s the great myth of escape that we could ever lose our pain. In Dublin, we bickered over plans, but when we stopped to address the tension, we talked about deep-rooted insecurities, the mixed fear of and desire to be known. We talked about our move, and about how excitement is starting to blend with anxiety, with sadness.

dublindublin (4)send (1)

While Dublin ended up being less about Dublin and more about our relationship, I should clarify: Our days here were good days, punctuated by tension (not the other way around). After my anxiety to see everything! do everything! lessened, our days mellowed. Dublin is a charming city with an understated beauty. Compared to New York, it felt like a village, and we were so happy getting lost in down these twisting streets.

Our first four days here in a nut shell: Irish War Memorial Gardens were an oasis along the Liffey. The Little Museum of Dublin was delightful, and because it’s made up entirely of donations from Dubliners, it’s a fascinating perspective on this city’s history. I wish we’d gone the first day as an orientation to this city. We’re in Dublin, so we had to drink Guinness. We toured the storehouse on our second day here, and as much as the tour was an advertisement for its brand, it was fun, and the best way to share a pint. Temple Bar was far too crowded for us. The Winding Stair Bookshop was lovely; the swans in St. Stephen’s Green made me squeal, and the best food we had all week was the scones. Irish scones have ruined me for all baked goods. I’ll never be the same.

My favorite moment of all though was the quietest. After attempts at two museums failed (one was closed, the other required advance booking), we found ourselves in the Irish War Memorial Gardens. The rain showers of the morning had given way to blue sky, and a sun so warm I shed layers until my arms were bare. We found a rock on the bank of the Liffey and dangled our feet over the clear water. I watched a bird’s small, webbed feet pedal underneath the water. In so many ways, this could have been any other afternoon in the sun, but after spending six months saying to each other “baby, we’re going to Dublin!,” we were here. In Dublin! In Ireland! In the middle of this adventure! Forever let that be enough.

dublin (11)dublin (10)dublin (9)dublin (12)dublin (7)dublin (8)

on the challenge of new york city: thoughts + photos from the first leg of our trip

new york rooftops“In the absence of love, I found myself clinging hopelessly to the city itself: the repeating tapestry of psychics and bodegas, the bump and grind of traffic, the live lobsters on the corner of Ninth Avenue, the stream drifting up from beneath the -streets.” Olivia Liang, The Lonely City

In my teenage-hood, I planned to live, someday, in New York City. I studied street maps and photographs of the city, choose books written by writers who lived there, and tried to write my own stories about the life I imagined must exist there. All week, I thought about that verve, that determination. What had I expected, at fourteen, to find in New York City? And if I had moved, would I have found it?

We arrived in New York City at noon on Wednesday, and immediately, the city felt like an onslaught. We tried to keep our suitcases out of the way, and around us, people moved with such velocity I felt like it was the beginning of a bad movie. Midwest girl comes to New York, retreats to the corner, because the cornfields never moved like this.

This intimidation dissipated, thank god, once we found the correct subway station and dropped luggage at the apartment we were staying in, but what remained was the feeling of being challenged.

For much of the week, my experience in New York resisted any narrative or structure. I tried, several times, to journal (a habit I’m bribing myself into building with pretty stationary), but I couldn’t reconcile. There was the extraordinary beauty of a city designed to live up to its reputation, the layers of neighborhood and street that peeled back as we walked, and the sense I couldn’t shake of not being able to see the city for all the towering buildings. There was the activity of tourists (like us, I won’t pretend we were anything but)—Fifth Avenue a melee of money and cameras, but I kept thinking of all the people who live here. Cynthia Nixon once said that eleven or twelve (I can’t find the quote) is the golden age for a kid in New York, because they’re finally old enough to ride the subway alone. The foreignness of that experience—at twenty-five, I felt barely capable on the subway system, having hailed from the land of freeways and multi-car families.

I’m reading Olivia Liang’s excellent memoir/meditation on loneliness, which colored my view of the city. Never have I been in a place where I’ve seen so little personal space, and yet, such a collective preservation of what does exist. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, I’ve learned to avoid eye contact when I don’t want a conversation on the street or in a cafe, but in New York, I was liberated to realize that proximity wouldn’t necessitate small talk. By that same token though, Liang wrote of New York as a “city of glass, of roving eyes,” and I quickly saw how atomizing this city can be, how lonely it could become.

Then there’s the size of the city itself. The bewildering depth of history, culture, experience. That we walked above the footprint of the original Dutch colony just blocks from the site of the World Trade Towers attack on our way to board a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the entry point for 30-40% of people living in America. That hours later, we passed the Stonewall Inn and a townhouse James Baldwin once lived in and the fictionalized site of a TV show was too much to hold. I’m not sure how anyone, let alone a tourist passing through here and there, can ever try to hold the breadth or depth of what New York is or has been.

high linehigh line view

Our few days in New York righted itself as the plane lifted off from JFK. We flew at dusk, and when I looked out during takeoff, I saw the city. A gray line of skyscrapers cut out from the pearl grays and pinks of dust. So fine and so flat a sight it looked like a page from an illustrated book.

This is how the city positioned itself for me—there’s the city itself, and then the shadow of it. Our experience being the shadow. What is New York? What makes it special, makes it unique, defines it? I have no idea. We saw Central Park and Fifth Avenue, bought books from Three Lives & Company, ate brunch at Sarabeth’s. Walked fifty miles across this narrow island.

I’ve loved this city from afar for long enough to know what’s said of it: that you don’t understand this city unless you’re born there, that you don’t get to call yourself a New Yorker until you’ve lived there ten years, twenty years, unless your parents too lived there, unless you’ve cried on the subway. Any version of New York that a tourist seems is a slice, a pale version of its totality.

I don’t say this begrudgingly. I’m not sure New York is meant to be an easy city. The friend I visited said our first night “this city is gritty and harsh; it’s not meant to be pretty.” To visitors, it poses a challenge: what did you come for?

We came to do nothing more than see the city, but even that was dizzyingly broad. No, we came to see slices of New York: Bleeker Street and the High Line. Fifth Avenue (the busy stretch) and Madison Avenue (the quiet stretch). The Statue of Liberty, and the eastern edge of the island from the back of a retreating ferry. My friend took us to a sports bar so busy on a Wednesday night it had a bouncer, and to one of her favorite bakeries (Levain—the cookie so rich I couldn’t finish it in two sittings). I met her eight years ago, and she moved to New York two years ago. I watched in awe as this Midwest girl I met in the dorms navigated the subway, the intersecting streets.

statue of libertymanhattan in the distance

The city that seemed so inaccessible yielded slowly. The green of Bryant Park after the crush of Fifth Avenue. The café we went for coffee, baseball on the TV and Childish Gambino on the stereo. The surprises of Central Park, and the Upper East Side’s empty streets on Saturday morning. The two bottles of wine we split on Thursday, and the ways we talked—old friends—about leaving, returning, growing.

New York came to us in pieces. There was no way we were going to experience it as a whole, but even though I knew this, I still felt a pang of sadness. It reminds me of the limits of travel. For as much as it expands you, there’s only so much a tourist can receive. There will always be the hidden city, the one that operates outside the reach of the visitor, exists between buildings, behind streets, out among the crush of bodies. There’s always going to be the inaccessible experience, the totality of what it means to live somewhere like this, not just visit.

surprises of central parkthe lakebrooklyn bridge (2)

tomorrow, new york city: pre-travel thoughts on travel (because i’m so excited)

zadie smith
of course I spent more time selecting books than selecting clothing

defaultTomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. We booked tickets from New York City to Dublin in what feels like a separate life. It was dark at 7 pm (funny, too, how that endless winter now feels so long ago), and July seemed as far away as the cities we’d were visiting. When I told my parents in May that I’d be moving in August, my mom said “but there’s so little time.” There were fourteen weeks, and I think about how I view time like I’m a child, but experience it like an adult. Fourteen weeks was an ocean of time, even twelve (the number of weeks until now, the eve of our trip) seemed like a sea.

Tomorrow, we board a place for New York City, Saturday, one for Dublin, and the following Thursday, London. When we get home, we’re here for three days, and then we move.

When we booked these tickets so many months ago (so many decisions ago), I talked in binary terms. Here and there, and how I hoped that being there would change how I saw here, this place I’ll be forever returning to. I talked to my partner about how travel changes you, not because you’ve gone away, but because you’ve returned home, how it was in the returning that the leaving makes sense.

Here I go talking about leaving again, but how can I not? I was born in Minnesota, lived here twenty-five years, and when I boarded a plane tomorrow, I do so knowing that when I return home, I’ll only be there for three days, then gone again.

I’ll be traveling as a novice, and it’s humbling to admit this. I’m 25, and save for a very few times, I’ve never boarded a plane without a parent. I recognize that I am traveling from privilege to privilege, to countries that share my native language, and to metropolises that are as large or larger than the one I currently live in. We’re not roughing it, and the chances of us encountering any problems — but especially one we can’t easily solve — are low.

Chris is skeptical when he hears me talk about this trip. In all aspects of my life, I want a PLAN, but about our time away, I keep saying “let’s play it as it lays.” Yes, I’ve a list the length of both my arms of museums and landmarks and restaurants for all three cities, but I don’t want our trip to be a checklist. Even now, I don’t have a clue how we’ll spent our first (partial) day in New York. Get to my friend’s apartment to drop luggage, but then? It’ll be enough that we’re there.

Last year in Rome, I was bewildered by the city, by its size and the depths of its history. After I gave up any hopes of “seeing” the city in something resembling totality and decided instead to just see the streets in front of me, our days mellowed into something lovely and free. My mom and I wandered neighborhoods and poked our heads into shops and cathedrals and down alleyways.

We won’t see all of Dublin, we won’t see all of London. Why do any of think we can somehow get our hands all the way around the places that we visit? I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for twenty-five years, and for all that these cities are home, I still only know them in parts.  Yes, in Dublin, we’ll visit the Guinness Storehouse and in London, the Tower, but dear god, don’t let our trip become a carousel of tourist traps and photos ops. I want this trip to reveal itself in hours and days, the cities by neighborhoods and streets.

I’m new to traveling like this, and Chris and me are new to traveling with each other. Right now, the night before we fly anywhere, it’s all hopes and philosophies. I picture parks and cafes and long hours in museums. I want time to read, or write, or watch the city go by. I see our days loose. I want the hours to stretch. I want us to be bowled over.

But then, this is what my whole life is right now. Hopes and dreams and visions of what may come. Tomorrow, New York, then Dublin and London, and then, instead of home, the east coast, and whatever meets us there. I want to not be consumed by the move, but how can we not be? Twelve weeks ago, it was surreal to think that this is how it works: that first, we tell everyone we’re doing this monumental thing, and then we just do it. It’s still surreal.

But that’s all for tomorrow’s tomorrow, because you know what else feels surreal? That I’ve spent my lifetime dreaming of three of these cities, and finally, I’m seeing them!

Follow our trip: I’ll be sharing all over Instagram + writing a bit here. And as always, if you know where I can find good books, good food, or anything beautiful in these three cities, tell me everything and tell me now!

“you’ll miss the water + the trees”: north shore getaway (pt. 2)

palisade head 4It’s summer, the fourth of July, but cool temperatures and the possibility of rain had us awake early on Wednesday. Day two of our little getaway was my to play. I wanted to drive northeast to Palisade Head, and pick our way back south, stopping as we wanted.

Palisade Head rises in sheer cliffs, three hundred feet above Lake Superior. On clear days, it’s a stunning panorama. The Sawtooth mountains and Shovel Point to the northeast, Split Rock Lighthouse to the southwest, and across the lake, the Apostle Islands.

We only stop once on our way up (for me to jump out of the car and snap photos of lupine along the shore — the first I’ve ever seen growing wild), but by the time we reached the lookout, the lake had vanished. Banks of white fog obscured everything, leaving only the base of the cell tower, and the rocks immediately in front of us clear.

A man with Ontario license plates shook his head at me when I joked about the view.
“Waste of your holiday,” he said, then warned me of coming storms.

The man had a camera on his neck, and I understood his gruffness. This lake is unruly, dangerous. It has its own weather patterns, and if you expect anything from your visit, you’ll likely be disappointed. I didn’t care though. That we couldn’t see the water, but could hear the waves roll over boulders at the base of the cliff was its own experience, gave the day its own beauty. We didn’t leave, but climbed down the billion year old lava formations.

img_3807palisade head 5palisade head 6

In the white fog, I thought, strangely, of death. This lake is, historically, treacherous. The “graveyard of the Great Lakes,” Superior has more than 500 ships on her floor, and as Gordon Lightfoot said, Superior doesn’t gives up her dead. The water is too cold for a drowned body to release the post-mortem gases that would, in a kinder lake, bring it to the surface. (As I told Chris on our drive up, I was really into shipwrecks for a while.)

I tried to explain how its in this space between beauty and danger that I find my love of Superior. It’s like the mountains, or the Grand Canyon. Like any wild place of beauty, we come to it, because it dwarfs us. We come to it, because we need it to dwarf us.

Lake Superior exists separate from us. Beyond our intervention or desires. It’s unruly and dangerous, and in this largess is its majesty. This lakes is powerful in the ways that it is, resonant and restorative and clarifying, because it exists beyond and beyond and beyond us.

Climbing these cliffs with so little visibility, I felt closer to the raw power of the lake. It’s large enough to have its own ecosystem, its own currents, and the fact that it’s landlocked and not ruled by global tides makes it somehow more powerful, more set apart from all its comparisons. It’s 2018, and we don’t navigate by lighthouses anymore, but this lake still demands respect. Just a year, a girl slipped from the very place we were climbing, and died on the rocks below.

wild blueberrieswild lupine 4wild lupine 3

We were quiet in the fog, careful on the rocks, and cautious when we looked over the edges on our hands and knees. There was so little lake to see, but still, it was there. Just before we were about to leave, the fog shifted, and I could see the low waves that, previously, I’d just heard. The eddies of fog broke, and the lake to the northeast opened for us. Behind me, the cliffs we came to see.

For all I’ve said about the lake not existing for us, this felt like a gift, like the lupine on the highway felt like a gift. I didn’t expect it, didn’t need it, but oh my god, to receive it. The cliffs rise up, reds and oranges and grays, above sheets of hammered metal. You see the forests that rise and fall with the low mountains, and the lava formations that stand above the water. The fog kept the coast and water hidden, but I’ve seen, on clear days, the shore recede to haze and the lake stretch farther that you can see. I snapped photos furiously, then put my camera down. It’s a kind of worship, to sit before so much.

The clearing only last ten, maybe twelve minutes, and when the fog returned, we climbed back to the road. Growing between the lichened rocks, I came eye level with a blueberry bush, the berries still waxy and green. I snapped a photo, and kept climbing. I took hours for me to realize that I’d be gone by the time they ripen.

split rock lighthouse 5split rock lighthouseimg_3927

Preparing to move away has left me with so many separate pieces. There’s the deep sadness of being away from family, but that sadness doesn’t diminish the sense of adventure. The waves of fear that we’ll fail (finances are my anxiety) are separate from the excitement that we’ll will be building something entirely our own. I hadn’t yet tried to reconcile all these jagged pieces, but they were with me as we picked our way down the shore.

Heavy rains truncated our plans, but we stopped once more to visit Split Rock Lighthouse, a Minnesota icon Chris has never seen. We skipped the tour to walk the grounds on own own. The thick white fog that had obscured the lake at Palisade Head was gray and heavy here. It hung over the trees and buildings, and turned everything to shadow.

Here, again, is a shore I know so well. Even under blankets of fog, I can trace the outlines of the cliffs and rock patterns. I’ve seen this beach on hot summer days and in crisp fall weather, with fat snowflakes falling on and in the earliest spring when the ice was breaking up. Its broken pieces made music riding on small waves.

For two days I felt this returning. All the ghosts of who I’ve been, from my childhood to my adulthood, are here. This lake is part of me. All these memories, all these stories kept coming to me. That’s my favorite beach, and if you climb past the no trespassing signs, it stretches all the way to the mouth of the Beaver River. When he was a toddler, my brother wore his flippers and goggles on the walk to Gooseberry Falls, but when he got there, there was barely a trickle  of water coming over that wide terrace. Six years later, he and another almost-brother scaled that rock face. We watched waves on this beach the year my dad turned 50, and if you keep driving north, that’s where we spent Thanksgiving.

On the beach beneath Split Rock, I submerged my hands in the water, a holdover from childhood when I wanted the water, the lake itself on my skin. We were getting ready to leave, fog heralding more severe weather on the way. I expected to be bowled over by grief. How many times in the last nine weeks have I asked myself ‘am I really leaving? And I really leaving the home I love, the land that feels apart of me, the family to whom I’m anchored?’ That we’ll be back is a given, but when? I’ve never left home with a plan to return.

The water was cold and clear and bracing, and with my hands in it, I felt clarity instead of sorrow. All the pieces of fear and hope and sorrow and excitement and possibility, all gathered into something that felt whole.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild came to me. How she wrote, “Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.”

I think about what my friend told me about leaving: It’s not easy, but it’s not scary, and the doors that open make it worth it in the end.

But I’ll miss the water and the trees.

img_3807img_3924img_3986split rock lighthouse 4

ps: read part 1 here

north shore getaway + thoughts on leaving minnesota (pt 1)

IMG_8699 (2).JPG

Two days after we decided to move from Minnesota to Maryland, I texted my oldest friend and asked “what’s been the hardest part about leaving Minnesota.” He answered, “Leaving Minnesota.”

On Monday, I turned 26, and on the Tuesday before, my partner surprised me with a two-day getaway to the North Shore, so I could see Lake Superior one last time. He knows this lake is sacred to me (as it is for so many). Growing up, my parents called it our “happy place,” and it remains a place of peace and power for me.

His plan was for us to spend Tuesday in Duluth, and Wednesday visiting my favorite spots along the shore. A day to connect, a day to explore.

Duluth PierIMG_8655.JPGimg_3492IMG_8693

Duluth is special to Chris and I as the place where we solidified our budding relationship. As much as this getaway was about my birthday and saying goodbye to Minnesota, it was a quiet celebration of us. It was easy, once we reached the lakewalk, to slip into some of our nostalgia. Last summer, the bay sparkled. We arrived at the golden hour, and the sun lay on top of the water like a silk. This year, the bay was stained red from iron and mud kicked up from weeks of torrential rain. Different a year later, but so are we.

We did what you do in Canal Park: Walk to the piers, walk the lift bridge, watch it rise for sailboats, walk the boardwalk until the crowds thin. We visited Vikre Distillery in the shadow of the lift bridge, and sampled gin, aquavit and whiskeys distilled in sight of the cocktail room. Later, we ate at Canal Park Brewing, a brewery with an excellent menu. Vikre was beautiful, the spirits an homage to passion and knowledge, and Canal Park Brewing Company is always a treat. (The food in Duluth trends heavy and American.)

We talked about everything. This next year will be big for us, but the way we talk about moving reminds me of what a friend once said about her pregnancy: it’s too big to talk about every day. Having hours without agenda let us roam. This is the beginning of something we can’t fully see. We agree that Maryland is temporary, but how temporary? And what comes after Maryland? We’ve each had thoughts about school or about my writing that excite me as much as they scare me. It’s the most fantastic learning curve to have a partner who actively supports the dreams that, six months ago, I didn’t think were worth pursuing.

As the afternoon stretched into evening, I grew quiet, so quiet Chris asked me if I was upset. Of course not, of course not. I process the world through words — if I’m not talking, I’m writing — but their volume can sometimes be an assault.

Admittedly, I barely understand how to be present in a moment, but I think it’s something like this. The experience of the evening — cool air off the lake, and lapping water, and his hand in mine — was too complete, too exquisite for more words. It was enough — it was everything — to just be in it. Happy, I told him, so happy.

IMG_8733img_35367c338b1b-d76a-4cd4-bd99-0587c534d1beCanal Park BrewingIMG_8851IMG_8966IMG_8990IMG_8999.JPG

I wrote too much for anyone to read in one sitting. Part two coming soon.

packing a life into boxes

 

I’ve done it so many times I don’t have a count anymore, but every time I pack my life into boxes, I’m flooded. Both with the amount of stuff I own, and, as I touch every item in my home, the emotional terrain each item comes with.

I’m not a pack-rat or a minimalist. I live for the feeling of clear cupboards and manageable drawers, but I’m hesitant to toss stuff that I’ve spent my money on, because will I kick myself in a month when I need to purchase a new fillintheblank? A cousin once told me that if he’s considering discarding something he can replace for under $15, he lets it goo. But I also grew up watching my mom be meticulous about our possessions — sometimes to the point she was discarding items we very much need in our daily life.

I don’t have answers. Our relationship with our stuff is so complicated. It’s fraught with our own layers of emotional complexity, but also with socio-economics and the politics of wealth inequality.

Our objects tie us to the multitudes of who we’ve been. I have a bookmark with a giraffe a mother cross-stitched for me when I was nine after I lent her daughter a piece of clothing at a summer camp, because I like being reminded of the first time I remember consciously choose to set aside my own anxieties for someone else’s inclusion. Last summer, I filled trashed bags of clothing, because I didn’t want my closet to remain a reminder of of all the ways I compromised my worth. My boyfriend and I are moving two full sets of Harry Potter books across the country (plus the beginnings of a third, illustrated set), because this story shaped our childhoods and adolescences in separate, but powerful ways. Do we need three copies of the Sorcerer’s Stone in one house (especially when you consider I’ve read it so many times I can repeat the first page from memory)?

At the beginning of the year, I had a vision of white space. I wanted to clear room. Why, I wasn’t sure, and for what, I didn’t know. If I’m learning to have faith in anything, it’s that we are receiving preparation for what comes next. I was creating space between the narratives that frame my life, and the desires those narratives found conflict with. I needed clarity to make the decision we made three months ago.

We’re weeks away from the materialization of that “white space” I wanted. A cross-country move, and a place to live where we know no one except the HR departments who hired us. I said to a friend that this move feels less like an outright opportunity, and more like the opportunity for opportunities.

Six months ago, I cleared my home of anything that was unnecessary or reminded me of pain. Now that I’m packing what’s left, the question has shifted “do you need this enough to haul it cross-country,” and the answers aren’t as clear. There’s math I need to consider, how much does the trailer hold, what can we afford to replace, what must we just part with, but then the equations get messy. How do you fit what you need in a trailer, but first, how do you know what you need when you leave home for the first time? How much of you collection do you keep out of comfort? And how warm is that comfort, really? How do you carry all your history with you, and still keep space for new places to become a kind of home?

The question I’m really asking is how to I love the home I’m leaving and still leave room for something new to grow?

odds + ends: holiday weekend edition

I had something else entirely written about the five day weekend I’m starting today, but my partner showed up as I was leaving work yesterday, and whisked me away to the North Shore.

The days are passing fast, and while I loathe the refrain of “I’m so busy,” it comes to mind frequently. We’re in single digits for weekends left in Minnesota (including this one). Three before traveling, then one before we leave with a trailer. Alongside all the work of moving (packing, sorting, donating, selling, measuring, etc.), I have an almost anxious desire to soak up as much of Minnesota as I can. I love my home. I love being from here, and as excited as I am to be leaving (for a while), I sometimes can’t believe I actually will.

We’ll be north today. Being here, in places that have grown sacred to me, I feel sensitive and humble. All this beauty, all this history, all these places my own ghosts haunt. There’s so much more to say, but I’m not saturated to find the words. Already I’ve yelled for Chris to stop the car so I can walk the fields of lupine.

I’m finishing researching our upcoming trip. I’ll forever love my Lonely Planet guides, but I’m scouring travel blogs for the spots the guidebook missed (or, on the flip side, the guidebook hotspots that should be avoided). I love reading travelogues, but dislike prescriptive advice. Hand-Luggage Only is my go-to for quick lists + recs, followed up by A Lady in London for, as the name suggests, all things London. For food, I’m hounding friends to give up their favorite joints, and checking out everything French Foodie in Dublin + Canal Cook recommends. I’m whittling my list of literary haunts, because if it were up to me only, we’d spent all fifteen days chasing literature’s ghost. I’m not researching New York with the same fervor, as that leg of the journey will be a different beast. We’re visiting friends, and soon we’ll be on the right coast to visit more often.

Chris laughs at me when I explain to him that I want our trip to feel like the freedom to play. Turn down that street, take a rest in that cafe, visit this bar or church or open gate. He knows how much I crave a plan, and how badly I manage change. Maybe a better way to say it is: I want to know everything while maintaining the freedom to do anything.

I’m slogging through Star of the Sea, which started promising, but is dragging on, while craving the slimness of short stories. Elsewhere, I’m reading career advice to alleviate the fears of leaving my first job, catching up on the newsletters I subscribe to (then fall behind on), and building an at-home yoga practice (because that studio life is expensive). An essay of mine was published to the Invisible Illness site, and I’m starting to feel the stirring of fresh creative life after finishing my novel. I’m scribbling down fragments of sentences and stories, hoping they’ll become something.

Finally, because it’s Independence Day, let’s take a moment to feel patriotic. Last Saturday, demonstrators gathered in 700 different places to protest inhumane immigration practices. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s workout is intense (because fighting fascism takes work, y’all). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the face of hope this week, and midterms are coming soon.

can i tell you what i’ve been working on + why it scares the hell out of me?

Last weekend, I wrote  complained about the business of creativity in the age of the internet. All of the social media and the metrics and the followers and the numbers. Basically, all these indicators I didn’t care about, because what could a “follower count” have to do with the stories I write?

Clearly, I’m behind the times, but, people, I didn’t get hip to Instagram until late 2016. My best friend in college was all over it right away, and I watched all the filtering and the sharing, but she was so much trendier than me. Leave that for the cool kids. Until last week, I didn’t know how many followers I had anywhere.

In sixth grade, a classmate told me “nobody likes a try hard” after they saw the score at the top of the “descriptive essay” I wrote about my house at Christmas time. 98 out of 100, and my teacher docked those two points because I used the word “scintillating” to describe the lights on the tree. He said he didn’t know what the word meant. I needed a dictionary, why wouldn’t you? This was year I was called “dictionary” instead of by my name, because classmates caught me with an OED during homeroom.

What does this have to do with promoting my writing? I’m not sure, but it’s what I think of every time I hit send on a new essay or post.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I was four when I told my best friend that I wanted to “make books.” When I love something, I love it hard, and when I go after something, I go after it hard. I think I’m so hesitant to share, promote, beg for readers, because at some point I began to conflate earnestness and effort with something to be  ashamed of. Another mark against Torrie, the weird kid who read the dictionary, who keeps sharing even though can’t she take a hint, nobody cares.

I have Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls in my head: “[Least Complicated] is a song I wrote thinking about my little boyfriend Danny in 6th grade. He was so cute, and I went to Woolworth’s and I bought him a ring with my allowance. And as soon as I gave it to him, I knew it wasn’t the cool thing to do. And that was just the beginning of the rest of my life.”

This is the locked room I’ve been circling.

I know in the deepest parts of me what I want: To write. To have a readership for my writing. I want my writing to find life outside myself.

I spent this week getting fired up about the whole of the “writing life.” My strategy so far has been to hit send and see what happens next. I’ve gotten a few short stories out of this strategy, but that’s about it.

So here’s where I am now. I’m working on upping my game, expanding my repertoire, building myself a brand new bag, if you know what I mean. I’m sharing this both as a request for support if you like what I write, and as an explanation if you’re feeling spammed.

Learning: Above all else, I’m learning. The goal here is steady, practical education. While I love the accumulation of knowledge, I don’t (yet) enjoy the process of learning new skills or systems. I frustrate easily, and want to skip ahead to the part where I know what I’m doing.  Since I can’t do that, I’m trying to avoid my usual pattern of obsession + burn out.

I’ve downloaded half the Jenna Kutcher Goal Digger library, and am listening between episodes of The West Wing Weekly and My Favorite Murder(a woman can only hear the word “girlboss” so many times in a row). I’m reading Jane Friedman for the smart truth that it is, and have subscribed to Felicia Sullivan’s newsletter (though her wheelhouse is geared towards freelancers and brand/business strategists). I’m vetting a handful of other resources tailored to education I’m looking for. Other recommendations? Send them my way!

She Breathed Deeply: Did you know I changed the name of my blog last year? I’m upping how frequently I post. You know what I write about: what I’m reading, what I’m learning, how I’m growing or healing. This summer, you can expect some travel, lots about leaving home, lots about living in the DMV. Other perennial topics include mental health (anxiety + depression remain my specters), creative writing, the odds + ends of what’s capturing my attention. If you’re a frequent reader, let me know what you like and what you don’t like! I love feedback. I need feedback.  Seriously, give me feedback.

Medium: This is basically a different and more elegant form of blogging. I’ve read voraciously on Medium for several years, but have only published sporadically and without strategy. I’ll be sharing more essay-length pieces here, as well as some of my fiction. Check out one of my favorite essays I’ve ever published and follow along over there too.

Instagram: I’m going to be all over Instagram, and I’m going to be uncomfortable as hell about it. I’ve talked about followers, and while I understand the value ascribed to followers from a “platform” standpoint, I’m not looking to just jump my number.  I’m learning about the vibrant communities on Instagram, about how it can be a platform for connection. Follow for flowers, Ferris wheels, and the occasional photos of me.

Creative Writing: I have a few short story ideas I’m developing, but my biggest focus is still what comes next after I finishing the latest draft of my novel. I had several kind people ask to read my manuscript (gift upon gift, people), and those who finished had positive, constructive comments. The resounding response is don’t stop now.

I won’t lie, that’s pretty amazing to hear. I was ready for a “good effort,” and a polite suggestions that I throw the towel in. I want to hear from a few more people (offer still stands – you want to read 272 pages about a woman finding her way back home, I’ll send you the PDF) before I fully commit to a fifth draft, but I see that on my horizon.

Elsewhere, I’m focusing on the ideas I have for what I want to write about. Already, I’m finding myself granting “permission” to explore aspects of my writing I wouldn’t have pursued before. Why not write about what I’ve learned about money? Why not submit essays to suitable publications? Why not respond to requests for books reviewers, for help reading submissions? I’ve had so many rules — fiction writer only, submit short stories only, stay inside your zone, why would anyone want to read that?

The great permission I’ve granted yet? The permission to stop asking these stupid questions.

Maybe nobody will want to read that. Maybe I am wasting my time on something that I’ll never receive traditional success for. Maybe I will stay outside the circle, and my metrics will stay low, and that will mean something for my writing career. Maybe, maybe but maybe not. Years ago, I listened to Cheryl Strayed interviewed about the success of Wild.

“There’s a long history, of women especially, saying ‘Well, I just got lucky.’ I didn’t just get lucky. I worked my fucking ass off. And then I got lucky. And if I hadn’t worked my ass off, I wouldn’t have gotten lucky. You have to do the work. You always have to do the work.”

I think about this a lot, because I know I can’t control the luck, but I never want to wonder what would have happened if I’d worked harder. So here’s me digging in the to the work. Want to give me feedback? I’d love to hear from you. Want to follow along? I’d love for you to join me.

what i’m reading lately

on my bookshelf.jpgRight now, this country is all jagged outrage and impotent heartbreak. I wrote about my bookshelf before yesterday’s Supreme Court decision (although, obviously, after the waves and waves of coverage on detained asylum seekers, babies in cages, and outrageous government-sponsored human rights violations). Books can be escape in desperate times. I hope, instead, they’re lightposts, wisdom to combat all this injustice and pain.

There was a time when books were my safety. I read constantly, voraciously. Friends would joke: I can see from Goodreads that you’ve read four books in the time its taken me to read one. Do you do anything else? I brought books to parties, because knowing I had one near was enough to stem the anxiety that crowds created for me. I referred my bookshelves, in unguarded and un-ironic moments, as my oldest friends.

In college, I made my roommate wait while I ran back into our apartment. When she saw me tucking a novel into my bag, and she laughed. We’re running errands. What do you need a book for? What if something happens, I tried to explain, and I have time to kill?

So you’re saying that we get into a car accident. I’m so badly hurt I can’t carry a conversation, and you’re going to whip out a book while you wait for an ambulance?

Last year, my reading life shifted, and it’s taken me the year to acclimate. When I stopped needing books to smother my pain, I stopped reading. I wasn’t the walking wounded anymore; I didn’t need the band-aids.

It’s been a joyful process to rediscover one of my earliest loves. It’s led to a deeper relationship and, antithetically, less attached relationship with the texts. It’s not an anesthesia, so I’m present for language and wisdom and plot development in ways I wasn’t. I’ve been rereading books to savor them in new and cleaner ways. I’m purging my shelves of what I don’t like, expanding my diet to explore what I do, getting more life of everything I read.

In other words, I’ve found my groove again.

Under the Tuscan SunBella Tuscany, Frances Mayes: I didn’t read these books when they were released a decade ago, didn’t see the movie, wasn’t old enough to get tired of the Tuscany-as-lifestyle frenzy they created. My mother passed them to me in a stack she was discarding, and I grabbed the first before a work trip I wanted some “light” reading for. Mayes is a fantastic writer. A poet, she operates at the level of the sentence, and I get why these books (the first, in particular) sent the world into paroxysms of Tuscan-fever. Everything is beautiful underneath her pen.

But beneath the language, and all the talk of wines and linens and the cucinia povera and the Etruscan walls (as an aside: I found this all fascinating, even if it was extraneous and vaguely pretension), I found in these memoirs a meditation on home, and who we are when we locate ourselves elsewhere. I’m moving this summer, and Mayes did for me what I ask literature to do: Her memoirs provided shape and language for the hopes I have for our move, for the dreams, the anxieties, the questions, the reasons.

The Good Mother, Sue Miller: Like the Mayes memoirs, The Good Mother is decades old, scavenged during one of my $0.50 per title book bin benders. This novel about a woman who became awake: After a dispassionate marriage, Anna Dunlap begins to lay a new foundation upon which to build a life for herself and her daughter, only to have this new life thrown into chaos by a decision made by her lover. The central crisis of this novel isn’t as nuanced as Miller likely meant it to be (although I’m speaking from a vantage point of thirty years), but the intensity of character’s experience is. Miller writes  a traditionally “female” story without any of the traditional sentimentality. Motherhood brings deep, radical love, but also compromise and limits. Romance is obsessive and consuming, but there’s no prince charming who will save a woman’s life. Familial ties are complicated. Love, in all its forms, is complicated. It’s a story that embraces, but doesn’t try to smooth, the rough corners of our experiences.

Vida, Patricia Engel: This is best book I’ve read this year. Engel is a sharp, beautiful writer who knows how to make language detonate. I read this very short collection of interconnected stories (140-ish pages) during an April snowstorm that left me snowed in. There’s nothing Engel won’t touch, and nothing she can’t make both beautiful and broken: prostitution, domestic abuse, death, immigration, heartbreak, girls who feel out of place, boyfriends who let you down. I read this book months ago, and still haven’t gotten over it.

This spring, I also reread Felicia Sullivan’s superb Follow Me into the Dark, Cheryl Strayed’s gorgeous memoir, Wild, and slogged through a few so-so titles that immediately wound up in the give away pile.

Currently, I’m reading Star of the Sea, Joseph O’Connor + The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison. The first, a novel I’ve had on my shelf for years, is one of my pre-move “read now or toss” books. I will haul the books I love across oceans without regret, but I really don’t want to get out to DC with boxes of books I’m going to disappointed in when I finally read them. So far (as in 50 pages in), Star of the Sea, historical fiction about a passenger ship crossing from Ireland to New York, is better than I expected.

The second, I’m reading slowly. Do you ever “save” the books you’re most excited for? I’ve wanted to read The Empathy Exams since it was released, but even though it’s been on my shelf for a year, I was hesitant to start it. When I buy a book, I put it on my shelf and wait for months, maybe years, for the “right time” to read it. I’m not sure if this is a sweet piece of my character (the anticipation builds my love) or another way I reinforce the beliefs that I don’t deserve to have I want. Either way, I’m finally reading Jamison’s essays, and they’re as gorgeous as I expected. I’m savoring each essay, one at a time.

Other books on my “to be read: special moving edition” pile: Joyland, Stephen KingIn the Country We Loved, Diana Guerrero, The Wonder Spot, Melissa Bank, A Box of Matches, Nicholson Baker.

What are you reading? What should I be reading?

thoughts on the business of creativity

Torrie June 2018 605 (2).JPGDo you ever become obsessed with productivity? The need to keep vaulting forward? Believe me when I tell you that, as I write this an hour after waking, and already I’ve felt myself pitching into the anxiety of industry.

I tried to explain this to my partner: I feel like I’m fragmenting. My brain is this hive, a colony of operations, except I’m the only bee inside and can’t visit every chamber. There’s the business of leaving: the leases and the jobs and the moving boxes and what you do with all the stuff you own when half of it you love and half of it you hate, but it all seems to necessary. But then there’s all the stuff that has nothing to do with moving, and everything to do with just living.

How do you make enough money to earn the freedom of unencumbered hours to create? If, by some miracle of economy and privilege, you have that freedom, how do you cut away the noise of the world to let ideas populate your wilderness? If by all the miracles of economy and privilege and focus, you actually create something, how do you get anyone else’s attention?

I sound like I’m complaining that “no one” reads me writing, but really, I’m not. More people read my writing than I can even imagine. After I wrote about finishing my novel, several people emailed asking for the PDF. What a gift that was. Doubly, triply so when those miraculous readers wrote me to say they saw the kind of beauty in my story I’ve worked so hard to create.

No, it’s all the business of creativity. The social media presence and the digital analytics and the “cultivating community” (versus the actual, valuable process of finding people who are as excited about the same things as you). We’re inundated constantly with all these stories about people who “hustled” their way into their careers, who built brands and followings and presences and parlayed them into other opportunities. I want to write, and I’m not saying I should be be able to do this without any work (because I’m shouldn’t), but I’m saying what does my Instagram following having to do with the stories I write about broken people? And if one means something to the other, how do I marry those bright squares with the emotional excavations of my fiction.

I’m creatively restless in the blank spaces that finishing my novel opened, and I’m uncomfortable and confused by the landscape of digital creativity. (What even does that mean? Again, I write. Does that make me a digital creative? Does simply being creative in 2018 mean you are, automatically, a digital creative?)

Yesterday, I sat in a garden for two hours, and finally left, because I couldn’t still my mind. These two trajectories, moving away and building my writing, are linked, because I’m looking at this move as an opportunity to refocus my time and energy. My brain is a to do list a mile long, and it’s an internet browser left open on too many tabs. 

I’ve questions I want answered and stories I want told. How do I drill down past all the extra stuff to think as deeply as you need to write? And then how do I pop back above the surface, and make space for myself in the already crowded room?