Billboards and truck stops pass by the grievous angel

 A little baby euphorbia is growing out of a crack in the sidewalk on my street. This intrepid little plant inspires me every day.

A little baby euphorbia is growing out of a crack in the sidewalk on my street. This intrepid little plant inspires me every day.

It’s been a while, I know. I’ve written a few things between now and my last post (which was in AUGUST! Where does time go?) – and I totally planned to share them with you. I wrote on good days, I wrote on bad days. But when I read these potential posts over again, something kept me from sharing them. Keeping this blog and getting so personal with my writing has been a trip. It’s scary. And I’ve had a challenging few months, which doesn’t make being vulnerable on the internet any easier.

Over the past few months, I’ve written about anxiety and feeling trapped. I’ve written about home and belonging. I’ve written about being hurt and silenced. I’ve written about getting lost in the desert but finding something along to way – about falling (literally) and getting back up again (literally and figuratively). I’m not sure why I didn’t share my reflection on visiting Joshua Tree. It was the most beautiful, hopeful thing I’ve written in a while. It was all about love and cherishing the imperfect, incomplete moments that make up so much of life. Here’s a piece of it:

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Last weekend in Joshua Tree National Park, I scolded myself for spending so much time staring at my feet while the sun set over the desert below me. I looked up. I looked around. I took a deep breath, gazed at the purple-blue sky...caught my foot on a rock and spilled onto the ground like the graceful, inexperienced adventurer I am.

I can’t stop thinking about that hike, and not just because my right leg is now one giant bruise. I can’t stop thinking about how red the rocks looked in the sun before it started to set behind the hills. About how the bushy green tops of California fan palms would appear and disappear behind rocks and hills like a real-life mirage. About how, once we reached the oasis, the sound of water and birds and bugs bloomed where there’d been silence.

And I can’t stop thinking about how falling on my face, ripping my favorite leggings, and crying just a little amidst all this beauty and peace is just the metaphor I need.

I don’t spend enough time looking up and appreciating my present. I’m afraid that if I do, I’ll fall down. I’m so afraid of what comes next that I hardly ever stop to take stock of what I’ve got.

Life is more than the beginning and end of things. It’s more than one misstep that slams you into the ground; it’s more than waiting for gratification or starting something new just to feel like you’re beginning again. It’s the moments in the middle of things that matter most.

***

I’m so happy. I just went on vacation with my best friend to a place I’ve never been before. We had summer in January. We hiked to that oasis. We visited Gram Parsons’ death place. We sat on Elvis’s bed. We drank tequila and ate queso fundido like someone was paying us to do it. And I’m so in love with my best friend, and with our will to wing it and ambition to make it count.

And I felt so at peace with myself. I felt so happy to enjoy my life. I felt like myself for the first time in a really, really long time. And I don’t know if it was just being away from work, or basking in the sunlight - but I feel like I’m finally accepting things for the way that they are. And accepting that things will always change, and that’s ok, because Right Now is pretty incredible when you just stop to think about it.

I’ve felt out-of-place and lost when in fact, home is where you make it. Right Now.

In the middle of the desert, the earth cracks itself open and slams itself shut again. Piles of rock form sharp hills and steep mountains - and out of chaos comes wildflowers, cottonwood, pine, palm trees, and snow. In an instant, everything is lost - and in moments, or months, or years becomes something beautiful.

I resolve to appreciate all those moments in between.
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Ok – Reading this again, I do know why I didn’t post it. I guess sharing feelings of joy and growth and hope can be just as scary, if not scarier than sharing feelings of pain and doubt. The day after I wrote this, I slipped and fell into a real dark place and couldn’t get out. Hope lost. So why share something that’s so fleeting anyway?

Because the moments of hope and light matter most. And I’m back from the darkness. My big project at work is over. I don’t feel like I’m hanging on by a thread. I want to catch up with my friends and family and find out what’s been going on in their life for the past 5 months – rather than ranting to them about my life loudly and without taking a breath… like, all the time.

I want to be the person I know I can be, who I’ve been working to become for so long. It’s been a challenging few months, but I feel more confident now than I have in a while. It feels good.

All of this is to say that I am here, and I want to keep writing. And I hope that I can start writing here again with more intention and not make posts that cause everyone I know to call me to tell me I scare them. My goal is to post here every other week to start… hold me to it, friends!

Love and light even in the darkness,

Z

God save our young blood | My Winter 2018 playlist. Follow me on Spotify as I update my new Spring playlist! The list below was born on my trip back east for the holidays. It's old, new, weird, kinda one-note at times, but it's gotten me through a lot!

List for life

I’m in mourning. Two baristas left my coffee shop. There used to be a 16-ounce cup waiting on the counter for me as soon as I walked in - now I have to re-establish my joke of calling a “large” coffee a “big” coffee for a whole new audience. I’m heartbroken. I miss the short barista with curly blonde hair. I miss the tall girl with pink ends. Sure, I see them around the neighborhood all the time. But starting my morning with friendly, familiar faces made a lot of difference some days.

Godspeed, baristas. I’ll miss you.

I’ve been thinking more and more about the ubiquity of change. Change happens all the time: The Buckman skyline grows taller each day; Stark Street alone is home four new apartment buildings and four fewer parks. But these days change feels bigger. It’s not just my block, it’s my life. The implications feel more significant. I feel an urgent need to brush off my adaptability skills and make contingency plans.

The best change by far is the weather. This week, the sun finally came out - like, for real this time. The 10-day forecast is nothing but sun, blue skies, and temperatures meant for May. The changing of the seasons always calls for some sort of celebration - for me, before I chug six or seven beers on a patio, it's making a playlist.

I’ve made playlists for every occasion under the sun since I got my first iPod in 6th grade. Once iTunes came into my life gave me the power to sort, sync, shuffle, and burn, I’ve been an unstoppable force of putting music into lists. It’s a thing for me. Ask my mom how many different mix CDs I made just for running errands with her on the weekends. Ask my little brother, who had to suffer through so many mix CDs the one year we drove to high school together (“Bobby, I swear this one is different, this one has a Strokes song before The New Pornographers. Pay attention”).

Ask my high school crushes how many unsolicited mix CDs wound up in their backpacks or car windshields complete with liner notes - all the lyrics that encapsulated my tortured heart and soul highlighted for their reading pleasure.

(Yes, I've always been this crazy.)

To this day, my first instinct upon befriending someone is to make them a list of music. It’s the truest way I know to express the way I feel.

Music is more than just something in the background. It captures a time and a place; It captures a moment, a mood. I’ll listen to a playlist I made years ago, like right before I left for college, and all of the sudden I’m back on Palatine Hill unpacking my first dorm room - I can feel the stiff carpet beneath my feet.

When I could finally switch from my massive, walk-to-work-in-the- pouring-rain-and-walk-home-again jacket, I made a playlist called “Thaw.” Check it out below.

This playlist came with my to Vancouver, Canada, and to Omaha, Nebraska. One Monday morning as I was flying into Portland, “If it’s Monday Morning” by Lee Hazlewood came on. I could have cried. I opened the notes app on my phone and wrote the first blog post for this blog. Some days, the sun would come out in bursts, for small half-hours at a time between hail and rain, and I’d blast “Love” by Lana Del Rey and feel an optimism for the months to come. In March, Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible turned 10 years old - so I added “Intervention.” The bounce-y new song from The Shins “Name For You” is my anthem for days that feel impossible but not bad enough for me to give up: “Even if your plan is successful/ Have you really got room in your life?/ Yeah, it’s a bland kind of torture/ You’ve played the mother and wife/ But what do you really dream of at night?” When the new Kendrick Lamar album dropped, I wanted to add the whole thing. Same with Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy. My playlists come everywhere with me, and when I have no where else to turn, they're there for me to escape to.

The beauty of the playlist is that all your favorite songs live together and flow into one another seamlessly. Playlists are magic. I’m somewhat intentional about the order of my lists, especially if they’re intended for a specific person. The seasonal ones are mostly chronological. Sometimes I put them on shuffle and Spotify forms killer transitions that make me feel warm and full of life. Like yes, algorithm, you get me right now! Sometimes I listen to the most recent 10 songs over and over until I know all the words.

My latest playlist will take us right into summer. I’ve called it Talking trash to the garbage around you, in honor of the Beck song “E-Pro” which is one of my favorite songs to listen to at work (loud af)  when I’m on the verge of a stress meltdown.

My top five from the list as of this moment:

  • "Omaha" by Toro Y Moi - Thanks Chaz for releasing this song the month I went to Omaha three times. “Baby left in Omaha/ She’s got too much just going on/ All these options forcing me to find myself/ Why on earth would I ask you for any help?”
     
  • "Sixteen" by Diet Cig - This whole album is great and I would recommend it to anyone. In this song, the narrator sleeps with someone with her same name. He’s the kind of guy “who would meet me at a party/ and forget my name/ and try to take me home/ all the same.” He steals her friends and she has no one to invite to her BBQ: “I’m standing in the grocery store/ Wondering who I’m buying all these hot dogs for.” Girl, I feel you.

  • "You’re Dead" by Norma Tanega - This gem came to by way of Spotify Discover Weekly. It’s my go-to rage song lately.

  • "I Love You" by Wavves - I don’t care what you say. I love Wavves. I love any kind of sunny surf song that makes me wish I was in LA.

  • "How to Boil an Egg" by Courtney Barnett - All hail the queen of the mundane, Courtney Barnett. There’s a Courtney Barnett song for every occasion, mood, feeling. Find yours, she’s incredible. “Yeah I’ve been trying/ I’ve been trying really hard/ Oh tell me, tell me, tell me/ When’s it gonna change.”

Follow along on Spotify! Whether you need a soundtrack for your own life or want a window into mine, I’ll be updating my new playlist for a while. I’m pretty proud of my collection. Feel free to Spotify-stalk.

What are you listening to?

Forced perspective

Most weekends, I’m glued to my couch. I don’t blame it all on my mood. Work is stressful. I’m an introvert and I have to spend eight hours a day around people - always on, always performing the most glittery, sociable version of myself. It’s exhausting. So I often tell myself that spending all day on the couch is not just well-deserved, but necessary.

This past weekend was an ideal couch weekend for me. I traveled to Omaha the last two Saturdays for work. Don't get me wrong, it’s nice to sleep in a king sized bed with cable and a company credit card, but it’s not relaxing. I missed my couch so much those two Saturdays. I missed the glow of my TV, my cat in my lap, Bath & Body Works candle burning away. All day long.

But I surrendered my day of doing absolutely nothing in an attempt to hold myself accountable to my goals and - just maybe - be a good friend and like, a normal functioning member of society.

It was worth it.

On Satuday, my Lyft driver and I got lost trying to outsmart her GPS. “Do you like living here?” she asked. This keeps coming up. “No,” I said. She agreed. She’s lived here for thirty years. The winters are hard, she said. But as we worked our way through Irvington toward Killingsworth, we were both struck by the sun in the sky and the pink flowers bursting from the trees, scattered on sidewalks and in the street. Even when it rains and the petals get crushed into the pavement, there’s something beautiful about it.

 Hannah and I got brunch at Milk Glass Market. There's something really annoying about a sundry place that calls itself a "corner store," but I'm excited to visit again.

Hannah and I got brunch at Milk Glass Market. There's something really annoying about a sundry place that calls itself a "corner store," but I'm excited to visit again.

I met my friend for brunch somewhere new to me - a place way west on Killingsworth, hardly a thing below it but the interstate. Hannah chose it because she saw it on a list of Portland businesses owned by women. I admire that so much about her. She just made some big changes to her life and she's so happy; she's so brave. We sat in the window and ate biscuits and butter lettuce and I felt the harshness of my week leave me.

Later that night, I emerged from hours of pacing and pep talks to join some friends for a birthday party at a karaoke bar. Even on the way there, I considered flaking. Going out, for better or for worse, is less fun now that I drink less. But by the end of the night I was mostly sober, belting out a well-choreographed “Fergalicious” while people I’ve known for years and years danced along with me.

It’s easy for me to understand things from the outside looking in. As I write about my day on Saturday, a day packed full of much more social activity than I ever seek out or desire, it seems so easy. I feel silly remembering that I felt so anxious about it.

I’m a processor. It takes me hours, days, months to understand things to their full extent. It takes me forever to untangle the nuances of every interaction. It takes me forever to investigate just what people meant when they said that one weird thing. I spend an eternity trying to figure out something someone said to me in passing, something they never think about again.

When I got home from the karaoke bar, I didn’t think. I fell into bed and slept. I woke up the next morning and I felt refreshed. I wasn’t spinning from remembering how awkward I acted, or how self-absorbed I can be in conversations. I didn’t feel guilty or embarrassed about the way I behaved. I felt fine. I felt relaxed. I felt at peace with myself and everything I experienced the day before.

Weird, right?

On Monday, I felt confident. I give the sun a lot of credit for my boosted mood, but I’d like to take some, too. I worked hard this weekend. Not on anything necessarily tangible - just on myself. I took time to myself. I made time for other people. I cleaned my living room. Looking back on it, I feel like shaking my pre-karaoke-Saturday-night-self and shouting THIS WILL MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER!

There’s nothing to process - I can do this. I can be myself and be with other people, and be kind to myself and be kind to other people and it’s okay! It’s really okay!!

 RIP funeral home, I'll miss your Jeffersonian ways.

RIP funeral home, I'll miss your Jeffersonian ways.

The funeral home I walk by every morning and every evening to and from work is coming down. Just today they removed the big ornate windows on the top story. There’s front-end loaders packed in the parking lot. The trees are cut down. And they put a fence around the whole thing, enveloping even the sidewalks. The route I take every morning and every evening doesn’t exist anymore.

As a result, I’m forced to see things differently; to figure out a different route; to see new sidewalks, strange overgrown gardens and unfamiliar front porches.

I guess it was time for something new.

This weekend, I felt something shift inside me. I refuse, as is usual, to see my outgoing, social self as a one-off. I’m a woman who can feel confident in myself, in the presence I bring, in my humor and in my company.

I needed to see things differently. I needed to take a step back and watch myself succeed in the places where I constantly feel that I fail. Now maybe I can stop waiting to see my life from the outside. Maybe now I can believe that I’m capable of participating, not just observing.

A change in perspective can change everything. It’s the difference between looking up when you walk, or looking down. I’m looking up.

 

Add a little somewhere to me

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Yesterday morning I was on an airplane. My phone told me it was 8 a.m. in Omaha, the city I’d just left. But I was miles from there, somewhere above some state somewhere, one I couldn’t even see. The sky was blue above me, and below the world was nothing but a layer of white clouds. I felt comforted by it. I was as nowhere as I could possibly be, but I felt safe and sure. For three hours and fifteen minutes, I was at peace with my place in the world while far from any point of reference.

I’ve been reflecting on my (short) life as I prepare to enter my 25th year, and I’ve come to realize that I’ve never really felt like I belong. Anywhere.

I grew up in an aggressive place. My classmates were the children of politicians and diplomats. Old money. New money. Families who’ve lived in the same sheltered, wealthy reality their entire lives. I grew up in a place where it was normal to apply to 25 colleges – and god forbid you land on the waiting list, or worse, get rejected. Growing up I was taught to wear my failures as shame. Failure wasn’t an option. Every brush with failure was met with some sort of silent punishment. Not just from my loving and well-meaning parents, but from the community generally. In some ways I’ve always felt like failure – but those are posts for another day.

My environment felt so restrictive, and I’ve never been one to go with the grain. I loathe authority. I reject the status quo. The moment I realized what “rebellion” was, I was all about it. Somewhere along the way I learned to take pride in being different – being an “other.” I was a weird kid. I was bullied and teased. I learned to be confident in my quirkiness. I was that kid with an adult sense of humor; with tastes and interests beyond my years. And though I felt cool and smart, all of these things only served to distance me from everyone else. At the time, I liked it.

Now I’m an adult with a bevy of dysfunctions and a frustrating inability to let go of my hangups and live my life as a social person. I’ve got an all-too-healthy case of imposter syndrome, and an utter disbelief that any accomplishments I make are remotely worth celebrating, in fact, they’re pretty much failures because they aren’t accomplish-y enough. Whatever that means.

When I left home for college, I told myself: this is it. I’m going to belong. I’m moving across the country to be around people who I feel like are just like me – misfits, outcasts, those who believe in “keeping it weird.” But after my first day of freshman orientation, I knew my dreams of belonging were far out of reach. I met up with my parents for dinner—not in the dining hall like all the other frosh—at an off-campus restaurant where I complained that everyone I’d met so far was participating in some elaborate performance.

Every conversation was like this: “I first heard Fleet Foxes during accepted students weekend in some senior’s basement in southeast and I swear to god Robin Pecknold was there. You know he lives in Portland, right?”

Christ. Get me out of here.

Honestly it could have been me that said that. I was trying so hard. Probably too hard, which is why I ended my freshman year with approximately one friend who ended up transferring before we came back in the fall. Of course.

So, campus wasn’t my scene. I tried inserting myself into what I saw as the be-all-end-all of my place in this world, the Portland music scene. But I was 18, and most venues were 21+. I went to my fair share of house shows but spent most of my time standing awkwardly in a corner (this is still my M.O., btw). And it turns out that cool 20-something musicians don’t really want to hang out with quiet 18 year old girls who wear clogs and hoodies exclusively and know entirely too much about them—you know, if they’re not creeps.

My obsession with fitting in in Portland probably made my fitting in at college that much harder. I always had to be one step ahead of my peers when it came to cool Portland stuff and hanging around town. Thank god I discovered I was pretty good at running the newspaper toward the end of my sophomore year. That’s one of the two places I’ve ever really felt I belonged, but that’s another post, too.

In the three years since college I’ve felt alienated from all familiarity. People moved away. Friends stopped being friends. Coworkers moved on. I’ve learned that consistency is something you chase and never quite grasp day after day after day.

I’m sick of not belonging. I’m sick of feeling like I’m always on the outside looking in. Believe me, I know that the secret unlock to all of this is buried somewhere deep in my soul, and someday I’ll “adult hard” and make that therapy appointment I’ve been putting off for two years. In the meantime, I’m keeping a blog.

I decided to start this blog after I cried in the Bolsa Chica State Beach parking lot in Huntington Beach, California, when my boyfriend told me, after months of humoring my day dreams, that he didn’t want to move to Los Angeles.

I’d been plotting our theoretical move and picking out our new neighborhood for at least four months. But that day at the beach, he finally put his foot down. It’s not the right time, he said. We can’t afford it, he said. (Can you tell I still think these reasons are BS?) But most importantly – he wants to stay in Portland. (I can’t blame him. He’s from Southern California and if he were begging me to move to suburban Maryland I’d probably be like “hell no” too.)

I wiped the tears from my eyes and thought about why returning to Portland made me feel so miserable. My escape plan just went to shit. I had to go back. And besides, I love Portland, right? Right?

I guess I don’t. Not right now. Not the way I used to.

I want to fall in love with Portland again.  I want to wake up in the morning, greet the grey sky with a smile, and feel happy and excited to be a part of my community. I want to try new things. Meet new people. Stop being so scared of fitting in, of being a part of something bigger than myself.

This blog will document my search for my place in this world, my place in this community, in the city I’ve called home now for nearly seven years.

Maybe by the end of it all, I’ll feel like I’m not shoving my square-pegged self into a circle-shaped place, like I have forever.

This blog is also an exercise in vulnerability. A place for me to be honest with myself and with the world about my experiences, my shortcomings, and my successes. I don’t do that nearly enough.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride.