I left Boise at three, hoping to make it back to Portland before dark. I drove away from the scrubby brown mountains, the Treasure Valley dipping out of sight behind the southern ridge. A few tumbleweeds drifted over the highway, and I tried not to think that it might mean something.
My camera is broken, so during my visit I didn’t take pictures of the pretty white petals falling off of trees, or of the Boise is… installation, boasting that the city is “rad,” and “growing,” and “most dope.” I didn’t take pictures of the mountains, or the blue sky, or the river meandering through town. I didn’t take pictures of the thrift store skirt I wore for the first time or the wind turbines spinning wildly.
Heading northwest out of Idaho, the speed limit jumps to seventy-five and my palms were sweaty on the steering wheel as I zipped past semi-trucks and pickups and sedans. As I crossed into Oregon, I saw the rest stop where N and I stopped when we first arrived in September, taking silly photos next to the sign welcoming us to the state. I saw the hotel where we slept the night before we drove to Eugene, and I sped up, ready to get home to my sweet boy.
Around LaGrande, you begin to climb. There are rolling hills, dried-out yellow and dulled green. Sagebrush grows here and there, and cattle graze on grass that looks mostly dead. What goes up must comes down, and before Pendleton, a steep downgrade twists and turns and I steeled myself for the sharp curves, wishing it were over. After Pendleton, it’s a long, straight, flat drive, and I count the miles down. I stopped for gas just before leaving, and I think I can make it on one tank. I wait for the mile marker to equal the amount of miles I’ve driven—half way there.
I am delighted when the Columbia River comes into view. The landscape turns lush green, and rocky cliffs loom above me. To the right, the river, and then Washington state. I drive through the Dalles and Hood River, and the sun dips lower. Out of the corner of my eye, the three-quarter moon is a whisper in the blue sky. Mount Hood comes into view, a towering, snowy peak. I feel like I am almost home, and I feel like I will never get there. I think about how nice it is that Portland has started to feel like home, that I don’t hide out crying on Friday nights anymore. I think about cooking meals with the cool tile floor under my feet, dancing to old school soul and funk. It’s a different life, but it’s a good one.
The sun disappears beneath a cliff and then reappears as I meander westward, tracking the river’s course, and the sky begins to blush purple and pink and orange. The moon glows brighter. Everything looks gorgeous in the light and it’s the first time I truly appreciate the beauty of the Gorge. I wish I had my camera, and I wish more that N was with me. Driving west makes me think of him, the times we have traversed the country together. The muddy Kentucky lake we swam in, the time we unknowingly drove a wooden horse trail in N’s too-heavy pickup truck in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Mosquito bites and campfires and beers kept cold in the snow. I wish that could be real life.
I look at the sunset, and I think: I want to be happy. It’s something I’ve only ever sort of been, and the thought makes me cry and then I feel a little ridiculous. Again I wish that N was with me; I don’t want to see anything beautiful without him beside me. And I wish that I could at least take a photograph. I worry that I will forget this moment.
The next day, N and I climbed to the top of the Gorge, looking down at the River and the cliffs and the trees. The cars on the highway looked so small. The sun was shining, a small miracle in Oregon, and I wished we could stay to watch it set, capping a better version of the day before.
We put on Waking Life a few nights ago, a movie that I had previously seen once before, when I was a senior in high school. It was a movie that meant enough to me, apparently, that I bought the DVD. (And never watched it again, until now.) I was so curious about what things meant when I was younger. I stockpiled philosophy books, which I could never make it through. I took Metaphysics my first semester of college, and I never knew what was going on. I didn’t understand why a hypothetical arrow mattered. I knew that I was eighteen and that I was a college student in Sarasota, Florida, but I didn’t really want to know what Being meant. I didn’t know how my Reality might differ from the things I did day to day—read for class, hope no one noticed me in class, cook a block of tofu, walk to the bay—and I didn’t think it really mattered. I turned in a poorly-edited final paper cluttered with asterisks and question marks and bracketed notes to self. [WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?]
When I first watched Waking Life, I wanted to figure out how to dream lucidly. That was the thing, right? But now I’m happy to drift off and in the morning, I usually remember my dreams, and when they start to slip away, after I’ve uttered them to N, or maybe before I’ve even had the chance, I don’t mind letting them go.
I like to read essays and books and articles. (I still struggle with poetry.) I am regularly astounded by the gorgeous words so many writers are able to spin. I want to be like them. But I’m beginning to realize that I’m a simple person. The perfect words don’t come to me and anything I write seems wholly inadequate. And would it be so bad to be the girl who reads the books, rather than the one writes them?
photo via sound on sight
In a few months, I will be twenty-seven. I’m starting to feel more like a woman and less like a girl, except that there are too many days where I stay in leggings and a tee shirt all day, when my hair goes unwashed and the day passes slowly but also very fast. And then it’s nearly nine and I finally decide to let myself get a burrito for dinner. I hate myself as I drive there, and in the car on the way back I spot a white bicycle, decorated with flowers, chained to a post. Whenever I think of bicycle fatalities, I think of a boy from my college who died on his bike. I didn’t know him, but it broke my heart. It still moves me. Just after it happened, I sat in my room doing homework while a friend consoled his girlfriend in the living room. I cried as quietly as I could, and when my friend came in to say good night, she said I had some pen marks on my face. It was the non-waterproof mascara I was wearing. I didn’t tell her that I couldn’t stop crying since the accident; it wasn’t mine to be sad about.
And then I am thinking that I ought to buy waterproof mascara, which I still don’t wear. I reason that I probably cry at least four times a week. It’s no big thing, it’s just the way I am. If I’m not crying for myself, I’m crying for someone else, or at the end of every movie. During television shows. At parades. It’s not so bad.
I got an e-mail from my brother today. He leaves tomorrow to trek through Nepal for two weeks. He says that maybe next summer—the one that is more than a year away—we might find some time for a trip of our own. I have dreamed of going to Thailand with him for years, and it has started to feel like something that will never happen. I am driving home and there is a burrito in the front seat and my mind is moving so fast and I begin to cry. Biggie comes on the radio, and it’s even worse, because listening to Notorious B.I.G. with my brother sort of seems like the most quintessential experience of my childhood.
Do you ever feel so sad about all of the things you will never do? People say do it, just go for it. Open that bookshop. Take that trip. Say “I love you.” They say life is short. I don’t believe them, because to me it feels very long and here I am, not even twenty-seven (but soon), and I am just so terrified of fucking the whole thing up. Of sitting in my room waiting for things to happen while I feel too much.
I guess my one redeeming quality is that, yes, I will be a crying mess in bed, on the floor, in the movie theater, in the car (Oh! In the car! My favorite place, perhaps, to cry.) But I’ll also need to step out of the room to dry my teary eyes when things are good, when my heart is full to bursting and I am overjoyed. Last night, I sat around a cozy fire with a peculiar mix of strangers and friends, older and younger. A woman in her eighties told us about her partner, and how they were together since she was fifteen. They married at eighteen, she said, and after he died two years ago, she is learning how to be an adult, alone. He was the greatest man, a special one, she said, and her daughter-in-law nodded in agreement and I hoped no one saw my eyes go all misty. Later, we went down to the basement where the boys played guitar and young voices and older ones joined in, singing classic folk songs and Radiohead and the Talking Heads, and of course I didn’t sing because I’m too shy, but I set aside the worrying and the stress and the uncertainty of it all and I was happy. Everyone had these beatific, easy smiles and our bellies were full of beet hummus and roasted asparagus and pasta salad and the weird, ugly cookies I made (of course!). I felt all right.
A woman I had just met touched my shoulder and she said how pretty my long hair was. I didn’t apologize for myself or say that it was only just okay; I said thank you, and I tried to feel like I had qualities of merit. That I was an okay person in a room full of okay people.
I’ve been clutching certain books around like precious tomes, touting them to anyone who will listen. They are evidence for my newest theory, one I so hope is true, that maybe everyone’s mid-twenties are sort of a disaster. I’ve spent all my life waiting for things to get better, but instead I’ve been just a sad, weird, lonely person in high school and in college and in law school and now as an almost adult (oh, please).
You should read Anagrams, I tell my girlfriends who are a few years younger, and I paraphrase the quote that meant so much to me when I read it a few months earlier. I hope that I am wise and sage, that in a few years they will realize that things at twenty-three weren’t as final as they think. That the relationships they tout as very serious might end and that they won’t necessarily be engaged or with child or in escrow. That they will be as lost and confused as I am. That things won’t be what they expected. One friend looked at me conspiratorially and said that even the friends whose Facebook statuses change from In a Relationship to Engaged to Married, or the ones with perfect jobs and smooth, glossy hair are just as aimless, if only in different ways. Maybe the big secret is that I’m not alone in this.
When I was nine, I decided I wanted to be a model. Probably it would be more accurate to say that the girl who lived across the street decided she wanted to be a model, and so I dutifully trekked home to tell my mom about the Barbizon info session at a hotel in south Tampa. She rolled her eyes and said it was a scam, but ultimately she agreed to take me. I wonder if she knew even then that I was so not model material—strange in the face and gawky in a way that wasn’t at all attractive. The night before the Barbizon meeting, I slept with my hair wet and tried to tame it the next morning with a thick white headband. (Things I thought my hair resembled when I was a child: Albert Einstein’s, a Jello mold, rainbows.) I pulled my glasses on and wore a floral-printed skirt and a yellow tee shirt. I would never be a model. In the backseat, next to my neighbor, I was too aware of the ways she was pretty and the ways I was not. Even now, she is far more gorgeous than I could ever wish to be: Tanned and very thin, with sleek, brown hair, perfect teeth. She posts photos on Facebook—drinking wine with girlfriends in the park, at a hockey game with a boy, finishing a 5K. She’s a goddamn Barbie. As kids we dreamed of driving around in a classic Beetle, but now I hardly know her.
I sat, rapt, attentive, in the hotel ballroom and a tall, pretty girl talked about agents and headshots and exposure and runway and editorial jobs. I was nine years old, and I think part of me, deep down, sort of knew the whole thing was bullshit. I knew my mom was right, and I knew it was a waste of time and money, and I knew I was a weird little nine year old girl and that I wasn’t pretty or even, like a model should be, interesting to look at. I was always letting people talk me into things.
If I ever have a kid, I don’t want her to feel like I’m impatient with her, or like I don’t believe in her. Of course I would never walk a runway or be featured in an advertising campaign, even a local one for Bealls or Burdines, but it would have been nice to believe it was possible for just a day or two. To think that I might have something special.
The thing is, I remember that they gave individual critiques, but I don’t at all remember what they said to me. It was probably bullshit about my potential and opportunities Barbizon girls would* have, things I would learn as a Barbizon student—poise and makeup application and how to dress and walk. Some woman the age I am now probably looked into my weird, young face and told me that I had what it took to be a model, and I don’t recall it in the slightest. I’ll never be sold on myself.
I know Edith Zimmerman’s name well, seeing it at the end of so many Hairpin posts, but I’d never seen a photo of her until I read her piece My Oracle at Ludlow. I didn’t know that she was so young (or so lovely)! This is really terrible and unhealthy and wicked of me, but I tend not to like young writers. I don’t know if it’s that I simply don’t enjoy their writing, or if I’m instead jealous that they’re prolific and published and lauded while I’m not. (I’m the worst, I know.) But I don’t even begrudge Ms. Zimmerman her perfect hair and skin and eyebrows and her success, because I love her writing, and the Hairpin. If I ever have a daughter, I’ll name her after my late grandmother, who shares Ms. Zimmerman’s first name. Except, knowing me, my little Edith would be awkward and chubby-cheeked and unpopular, making the name perhaps less charming. (You know the kind of girl who could pull off the not-so-melodic names of yesteryear? I hate them all, the beautiful Gertrude’s and lovely Beatrice’s and pretty Maude’s.)
Anyway, what I’m really trying to say is that I could really use an oracle of my own right now, and I haven’t a clue what he would say if I found him.
photo via the new york times
I want to know which of my things—the clothes in my closet, my CD’s and MP3’s and books, the recipes and cocktails and photographs and hairstyles—are going to be classic. What I’ll wish I had saved for my kids, if I ever have any. When I was fourteen, I tried on my mother’s wedding dress, a lacey, off-the-shoulder number that was actually really gorgeous. My brother put on the three-piece suit my dad wore to the wedding, and we stood in my parent’s bedroom, preening and posing as my parents laughed. I didn’t think about how strange and wonderful it probably seemed to them. They had stood together and made vows to one another in these clothes that had this symbolic importance, and now the kids they had had together were wearing them and being goofy teenagers and standing barefoot in the bedroom in the house that is my parent’s dream home.
When an old song comes on the radio, or when my sweetheart puts Bob (Marley or Dylan) or Ella or Johnny Cash on the record play so that we can dance in the living room, I wonder if anything current will ever be so great. Like, no way is Justin Bieber going to play on 103.7 All the Greatest Classic Hits, right? Is everyone ever going to stop being so damn earnest all the time? What’s going to happen to all of the Jeffrey Campbell Lita booties and the Coke Zero cans and my Yelp reviews and will my kids care that I saw Phish or David Byrne or the Dead?
I read through a lot of the posts on the previous iteration of this blog this morning, and it made me feel uneasy—so much of it seemed so hazy. There’s so much I can’t remember, and these were things that happened and that meant a lot to me, then. I read about old boyfriends and heartbreaks and fights with friends that don’t matter at all anymore. No one read that stupid blog, and I think I was more open and honest; I didn’t care if the things I wrote were stupid or poorly-written or uninsightful. Is it strange that I sort of found myself charming and so much more likable than I think I am now? I wasn’t horrified by even sort of terrible photos of myself, and I was genuinely me without worrying about seeming cool or witty or interesting—three things I’m truly not.
How am I not myself?
Lorrie Moore, Anagrams
Maybe it’s a thing, you know, feeling sort of adrift and uncertain at twenty-six. I can’t decide if that makes it worse or better. I feel more unsure and worried and sad than I did this time last year, or as a college student unable to speak or move, or even than I did in high school, when I was sure that things would get better—get this—when I was in my twenties. Actually, then eighteen seemed like that magic number. I was sure I would get exactly what I wanted: freedom and independence and confidence and maybe, I hoped, I would even finally get pretty, or at least less ugly. When I started college, I sat all day on my twin bed reading the Catcher in the Rye and hoping no one noticed me. I pushed my get-it-together age back to twenty-two. I’m still waiting on all of those things I was so sure I’d have by now.
I just started reading Anagrams, and I know you’ve already read it, and that I’m years behind the curve, as always, but the book feels like it means a lot, like it was written precisely for me, to read in this exact moment, which seems especially interesting because it was published the year I was born. (And maybe the year you were born, too. Of course the book wasn’t written for me, but it’s nice to feel like it was.)
Yesterday I had an especially hard day. A lot of days feel tough lately, but I couldn’t do a thing but lay in bed and read and feel so sad and low. Later, I sat across the couch from N, reading while he watched a documentary, and as I read I began to cry. I held the book in front of my face so he wouldn’t know. I’m always crying about nothing at all, but it felt like I was crying about something, and I didn’t want to talk about it. About the way I feel, just like Ms. Moore wrote, stupid, and untethered, and misguided. Right now, it feels like every day is really hard to get through.
I’d like to think that if I had this desk to work at, I could pen a million words and create infinite lovely things and be the absolute best version of myself. I’ve stayed true to my goal for this year to write a little bit each day so far, but mostly I feel like a whiny broken record, and I worry about what the emerging recurring themes mean about me. I wonder if I want less than I thought, and if I am more timid and afraid than even I imagined. It’s just that it’s hard to imagine myself with a full-time job and a well-decorated house and an expertly curated closet. I don’t know how I could ever have time to dry my hair and moisturize and put on makeup and accessorize all in one morning. I don’t think I’ll ever offer a quip or observation or witty remark without being cut off and wondering if I should start it over again. Instead my words hang in the air and ring in my ears and I say them over and over to myself until they lose meaning and then I realize that probably no one cared in the first place, anyway.
photo via design*sponge
Ugh, so I know this is sort of unbearable, but I do have a few goals as the new year begins.
Wish me luck. Happy New Year, my dears!