8/13/17

Hello, readers.

I had half of a drafted post written up yesterday – a cheery little thing that just sort of updated you on the nice things I was doing and thinking this weekend.

But I’m catching up on the news from yesterday, and reading back over my draft made me feel like an idiot.

The things that are happening in our country are something that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored. They shouldn’t be glazed over and they shouldn’t be something you just feel sad about, or something you tweet a requisite “my prayers are with these people” and feel like that’s enough. Fun fact: prayers are empty and entirely worthless if you don’t follow those nice thoughts with real, tangible action.

I’m just… I’m really, profoundly sick of this reality we have been living in since November. And I’m done trying to pretend like I’m okay with the people around me who make racist jokes, openly support this joke of a president, just, all of it.

If you support Trump or any of the hate-filled thoughts that fueled what happened yesterday… my blog is not for you. My friendship also is probably not for you. I can agree to disagree with the best of them – that’s a skill that any functioning adult needs to get by in this society – but when we are disagreeing over the most basic human rights? That’s something I can’t budge on.

Next week, I’ll be back with my usual brand of blog posts. Today, I’m going to reflect on what yesterday’s events mean for this country that I want, so badly, to love again. I hope you take time to do the same. I hope you recognize that us millennials are the people who continually stand and fight for change. Don’t write us off. Don’t write yourself off. Find love, find peace, find something that brings you comfort today. Then take that feeling and share it with the people around you.

 

Floating Away From My Fears

Earlier this week, thanks to the encouragement and support from my husband, I did something I haven’t been brave enough to do since 2003. I got into a pool – more specifically, the Endless River in the water park at Waldameer (the local amusement park, if you’re not familiar). 26 inches of water shouldn’t hold much weight, but nothing has ever scared me more.

This is a blog post about facing your fears.

My anxiety about water is something I’ve dealt with my whole life. Long story short… I’m really, really terrified of water. I never learned how to swim. If my childhood friends made me go in a pool with them, I’d cling to a float or the edge until I felt like I was going to throw up from nerves, then I’d awkwardly sit far enough away that no one would be tempted to call me back to the pool, and rejoice when it was time to go home. I don’t get seasick from the motion of a boat, but the churning of my nerves is enough to keep me from them now. Even flying over water sets off flares in my nervous system.

So, how in the world did I find myself agreeing to go to a water park this week?

I asked myself that (over and over) (and over) while we settled in on our lounge chairs. And the voice in my head screamed it when I leaned over to my husband and asked if he wanted to go in the endless river (he had wanted to go down a slide or two if it wasn’t too crowded, but that wasn’t the case). Louder than that voice, though, was my beautiful, perfect, reassuring husband. This guy has damn near worked miracles to help improve my life over the past four (!!) years – why should this be any different?

We took three laps in the river that afternoon. By the middle of the third one, the crowd picked up and people were getting rowdy, so I had definitely had enough and we got out. But in that half hour or so that we spent in the water, something clicked. I laughed with my husband and even almost enjoyed the sensation of floating along – I took a lot of comfort in knowing the bottom of the pool was literally right there, that all I had to do was slightly bend my leg and I could stand up.

That being said… I’m still terrified of water. I still can’t swim, nor do I have any shred of a desire to learn – the idea of going under water makes me want to scream and cry and disappear and claw my skin off (anxiety is fun!!!). The only boat I’ll consider going on is a ferry at the Magic Kingdom (and I would much rather be stuffed onto a busy monorail before that option), and our flight to Miami this fall is going to scare the crap out of me. But… I realized something, huge, that afternoon.

Fear is an important – and necessary – part of the human experience. Obviously, there are situations that are downright scary and those should be avoided at all costs. But for those fears that aren’t really grounded in anything (shh, I know anxiety thrives off this and that’s always going to be my weakness, I know that)… if you have someone by your side, someone to figuratively (or literally) hold your hand and help you experience something new or scary? Sometimes those scary things are worth it.

I’m still trapped by my anxiety triggers – nothing will change that – but now that I know that I can hang onto a pool float and enjoy myself? I feel like a changed woman. I feel a smidge braver, like I could possibly take on something new (like freaking finally starting to learn bass guitar – I finally got myself a beginner book!). If that becomes my main take-away from this experience, I won’t be disappointed – I’m capable of more than I knew just a few days ago.

Getting Lost in a Drive

Hi, readers!

To continue the trend I seem to have started in my previous post, I don't necessarily have a topic in mind for you today. But, that worked really well for me last time, so… hello! It's weekend and I'm blogging, which is what I originally intended when I started this blog – I really want to get myself into the habit of writing something every weekend.

I'd be mad at myself if I didn't start this post with a dinner/date night recommendation. A few months ago, my husband and I heard about a new restaurant that opened in the area – we finally tried it Friday and I will be singing its praises for a long time to come! If you're in North East, PA – or just want an excuse to explore one of my favorite parts of the Erie area, go to Noosa. It's small and sort of hidden on (in? I don't know boat culture) the marina, but it's so worth the drive. Their cocktail menu is incredible – I totally recommend their blackberry ginger – a spin on a manhattan with the most delightfully smoky whiskey. And the food!! I want to go back immediately so we can try the rest of the menu.

After dinner, we took a little stroll along the marina. I'll never tire of the views you get on Lake Erie. I know I'm partial, but there's nothing at all like an Erie sunset, even if it's so hazy that there's no line on the horizon (aaahh, she's got U2 jokes!!). I can already see us making many return trips, hopefully with more exciting sunset colors!

Our drive home was full of me being an emotional dummy because Where the Streets Have No Name came on the radio – my life is one big U2 joke, let's be real. I had some ~moments~ on that drive, which I think will be fodder for the rest of this post. Buckle up, readers, it's about it go all stream of consciousness up in here!

The drive in from North East is one I've done countless times; my parents and I spent my childhood weekends taking day-trips all over this tri-state area. As I grew into a more-than-slightly angsty teen, those drives saw me hiding in the back seat, first with a discman, then with various iPods. Even though those trips feel like they were an entire lifetime ago (and in so many ways, they were), it was so easy for me to remember exactly what went through my pre-teen brain as we drove home last night.

I've written before about how music has the ability to make every-day happenings feel timeless, even remarkable. When I think back on those drives with my parents, it's not the destinations I remember – it's my getting entirely lost in the music I was listening to. That's what happened Friday night. My husband, ever the good sport to my emotional, excited outbursts, just smiled at me and calmly drove, letting me wax rhapsodic about the Moment we found ourselves in.

Those moments are something I find myself experiencing – and embracing – more and more often. My favorite college professor called me out on that, in the best way, a few years back. We were catching up on all sorts of things, and after I explained to him how I feel about ~life~ as a whole, he sat thoughtfully for a moment, then told me I must operate on a slightly different plane than most other people. That's something that I'd always felt, but never really put words to before that evening, and it's exactly what goes on when I'm lost in a drive or a song or what have you.

Instead of focusing on the physical act of driving, of going from point a to point b, I instead focus on the very basic things that make up that drive – the way the trees look as they're flying by, the connection of the car to the road under it, the way the music mixes with the sounds of our 15-year-old Jeep. I get thoroughly lost in them – the way the leaves catch light, why those exact trees were planted, how many other people have driven past them in their lifetime. That's how I've always operated – I get lost in moments, in pieces of moments, and I never seem to shake them. Now, every time I drive that stretch of road again, I'm going to both attempt to re-create Friday night, as well as embrace what's different and new.

If nothing else, I think this gives y'all more a look into how my brain works. My closest friends know and embrace this part of me, and it's definitely something I've become more comfortable with expressing over the past few years – it's so much a part of who I am that I can't ignore it – but I also know that when I get lost in moments like this… I can be a lot to handle. My blog is almost a year old now, though (!), so this seems as good a time as any to make a more focused effort to share these things here. As I said at the beginning of this post, I'm doubling down on my effort to write weekly – please, hold me accountable to this, readers!

Writing About Writing

When I was in college, I had a habit of taking myself to Starbucks and free-writing – I participated in countless creative writing workshops during my years at Gannon. I anticipated writing fiction when I signed up for my first class, but found myself cranking out poems all semester. It surprised me, even as I was writing them. I actually never wrote a single piece of fiction, come to think of it.

I haven’t found much of that motivation since I graduated – I think I’ve written three or four not-great poems since 2010, and my efforts to post on this blog weekly have been laughable at best – but I’ve found myself itching to get something out, so this morning, I put on a Gannon Alum shirt, and took myself to the exact Starbucks location that saw me through some of the pieces that won awards back in the day.

So. Here I sit.

It’s wild how, in some ways, I haven’t changed at all. 20-year-old me would post up for hours at Starbucks (or Tim Horton’s – there was one walking-distance from my house), plug in earbuds, and feel more than hear the gentle clack of my laptop keys. I’m still using the same exact earbuds, miraculously (PSA: pay more for your earbuds and they will literally last a DECADE. Thanks, Bose! #notspon), but my laptop has changed to a tiny sticker-plastered neon pink machine that I adore. I’m still playing my music entirely too loudly, and I still couldn’t care less about my eardrums.

I wasn’t sure when I started this post where it was going to go… but I think this is going to momentarily turn into a not-paid advertisement for Bose earbuds. As I’m writing this, it sounds like Dave Grohl is whispering directly into my BRAIN; I can damn near feel his voice in my bones. Nate’s bass is pulsing through me… and not even a foot away, a completely unsuspecting guy is reading on his Kindle. He has no idea what’s going on right next to him (unless he’s actually reading over my shoulder); I’m having a downright religious experience over here!

I was recently ranting (having a breakdown) to my husband about the creative process, and how frustrating it can be. I’ve written before here about how much of my childhood was spent in my own head – while my other friends could play outside for days, weeks on end, I sincerely had to stop and sit quietly inside frequently – and that’s a need that’s only increased into adulthood. My best friend is someone who understands that need, and when we’re together now, we always make sure to take some quiet time to ourselves.

That quiet time isn’t always silent – like I said, I’m currently blasting my eardrums out – but my only focus right now is that music, and my laptop. I find myself glancing, sometimes staring, out the window, but I’m not really looking at anything. You could put an otherwise instantly familiar face right in front of me right now, and I would never recognize them. I guess you could consider my writing process meditation in a sense – I feel at once, connected to the world (or at least to the Foo Fighters) created by music, but also entirely isolated in a world where my whirling thoughts are the only thing that Exist. And when they Exist here, they deserve that capital ‘E’. They’re a force of their own and as I figure out the way to construct the otherwise chaotic scenes in my head into this very sentence you’re reading… that’s magic.

(Full disclosure: I wrote that last paragraph in a wicked stream of consciousness that I hope read well and not serial-killer-esque).

Writing is just… it’s often frustrating as hell, but when I write, it’s what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I imagine it’s akin to the feeling addicts chase. …okay, I guess I’m taking myself there. My dad is an addict, that’s no secret – I won’t get into the specifics, but there you go. There are a lot of factors that determine if someone is an addict… genetics is one of them. I know I have that coursing through my body, and I’m thankful I haven’t been turned onto any harmful substances… but chasing that feeling I word vomited in the last paragraph? It hasn’t been ten minutes since I typed it, and I’m already craving that release again.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I love the Process. I crave it.

Spending my childhood and teenage years doing musical theater meant that my entire life was the process. The rush of performing is something I miss every day… but what I miss the most is rehearsal. Just like writing, it was often frustrating (as hell) (some memories: sobbing while trying to learn to tap dance, screaming at directors, staging a walk-out), but I think it needed to be frustrating. Instead of me, sitting here alone, putting my brain on “paper,” you had dozens of people, each with their own brains, each trying to put those brains on a stage. Together. At once. In a way that makes sense to an audience of brains, while also telling a story that is the direct work of someone ELSE’S brain.

…ouch.

My favorite memories of doing theater are from rehearsals, not performances. In fact, when I try to think about being onstage, in front of an audience, those memories are fuzzy – I can get there, if I really concentrate, but when I look back, it’s all about the process.

I think that’s why I love the act of writing, sitting here at Starbucks, blowing out my eardrums, watching people go about their days. My theater days are behind me now (I think… I’ll never completely rule out a return), but that rush of creating something, in private, then presenting it to the world – or whoever is actually reading this – is something I’ll never stop chasing. I’m always grateful that I have a job and life that allows me to chase that word-soaked high.

…we’ll call that my American dream so this post has a bit of an Independence Day flavor. Sounds good? Alright.

PS. I suppose it’s worth mentioning here that I have finally started writing for a publication. The Erie Reader reached out to me to begin contributing pieces for their bi-weekly paper. My first piece will appear soon, and I’ll share that here when it’s online!

#MyErie is Hardly a Sinking Ship

There’s been a big conversation online lately about my hometown. Erie is the fourth-largest city in Pennsylvania (well, fifth when Penn State has a home game) (seriously). I’ve lived here my whole life – nearly 30 years – and while I’ve done my fair share of complaining – who hasn’t? – I feel inclined to write this post.

CBS recently ran a story that made me feel sick to my stomach. You can read it here, but I’ll save you the time. Erie is a “sinking ship”, the headline yells. You need to escape it. You need to get your affairs in order and get the hell out. You won’t make more than a Walmart employee here (also, sidebar, but what the hell? Don’t look at Walmart employees as less-than you. Look at the company’s horrible treatment of their employees however you want, but do not insult the employees themselves).

I’ve experienced the family devastation of a parent losing their job. I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. It’s a horrible experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it’s not the entire human experience, and it would be terrifically sad if that was the case.

The Erie that I know and love is so much more than the loss of manufacturing jobs. It’s significantly more than the crime and violence that, for some reason, people think is only here? (There’s a definition on Urban Dictionary for Erie that zeroes in on crime here… hi, have you been to literally any other city in this country? Crime is everywhere).

Many of my high school classmates vowed to leave Erie after graduation, and to never return. If they’ve found their happiness in other places, that’s wonderful! But so many people think they have to pair that move with sincerely ridiculous trash talk. It doesn’t stop after they leave, either. I’ve been told my life here isn’t “impressive” (newsflash: I don’t care). I’ve seen countless tweets and posts ridiculing Erie and its residents. A super fun thing is the way many of these tweets dive headfirst into racist and sexist discourse, but that’s another post for another time.

This post goes hand-in-hand with one I wrote previously – I don’t care what you do with your life. If you’re happy and fulfilled, do whatever you want, as long as in the process, you’re not harming anyone. If you’re unhappy here in Erie, or if it was a terrible place for you to grow up? Get out! Forge a new path for yourself. But, that doesn’t give you a free pass to think any less of anyone who is doing things differently than you are.

If, for whatever reason, you want out of Erie, but have to stay, let me share with you some of the reasons I have come to love this city. Note that I said I’ve come to love it here? For several years, I wanted out, too. Clearly, I’m still here, and I’ve found more than a handful of reasons why I’m now more than thrilled this city is my home.

Probably the most known beautiful part of Erie: our Bayfront and Presque Isle. They’re a photographer’s dream, and our sunsets are famous, for good reason. Driving the peninsula is a rite of passage for every 16-year-old here, and now that I’m an adult, those drives have become sacred catch-up time with my best friend. There’s been a ton of development on the Bayfront over the past several years, and it’s now one of my favorite places to spend a summer evening. Watching the Brig Niagara sail to and from port very sincerely never gets old.

The resilience. It’s probably cheesy, but, thanks to the War of 1812, Erie’s slogan is, “Don’t give up the ship.” The current attitude about Erie is nothing new. Even now, with the attitude toward the city being unnecessarily negative, there are beautiful things happening here, all the time. The arts are thriving – our local community theater continues to win awards. There are so many unique galleries and performances spaces. Our local sports teams have huge followings, and do you know the name Connor McDavid? We got to watch him play here for four seasons! Young adults are finding so many new ways to change the scope of this city, and it’s incredible to watch and be a part of .

Erie is a Sanctuary City (and we are so much better for it). There are over 10,000 refugees living in Erie. That’s 10,000 people adding to our economy, buying houses, working in all sorts of jobs, enjoying entertainment, and making the city a diverse place. In this current political climate (mess), it’s more important than ever to recognize the important role these people play in our community. Erie wouldn’t be the same without them.

We get to experience all four seasons, without the scary storms other places get. Okay, I’ll admit that I don’t drive in the snow unless I have to – it’s a big trigger for my anxiety. That being said, winter is actually my favorite season! While there’s something to be said about the year-long pleasant weather in desert and tropical climates, there’s something even more beautiful about watching the city come back to life every spring. And, honestly, I would go crazy if every single day looked the same. Even though we see every sort of weather, things never get as severe here as other places. There have been some tornadoes that I can remember, and we do get a lot of snow, but I’m so thankful natural disasters aren’t in the mix.

Our close proximity to so many more cities. My husband and I recently made up a summer bucket list – mainly full of day-trips to the surrounding area. We’re two hours from Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, and four hours from Detroit and Toronto. Do you know how many cool little places you find in between? While we love visiting big cities, the wildly unique smaller cities and towns we find are what keep us on the road.

The damn millennials and their go-getter attitudes. Okay, I did my share of complaining about my old classmates who don’t like Erie. But, us millennials aren’t all bad! I know so many people around my age who are doing some incredible things here. There’s actors, musicians, tattoo artists, restaurant and store owners, journalists, web designers, photographers… I could go on and on. Nothing makes me sadder than when Baby Boomers paint our generation as lazy and entitled. We are changing this city and we are making it better, every day.

Erie has historical significance. Historical significance means cool architecture, big old trees, and lots of lore – a photographer’s dream. I could gaze at the architecture downtown and in the county for hours on end. It’s important to remember that us current Erieites are a part of something. I think when you remember that, you realize that while things may not be overall perfect here currently, we are simply a part of a much bigger story, and that’s what makes #MyErie a place I am proud to call home.

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Treating Anxiety With a Big Apple

A few weeks ago, I took my husband to New York City, for his first time ever. I’ve been to the city six times now, and each time, I’ve loved it more than the previous.

For a really long time, I wanted to live there. When I started my current job, I was so excited, because I found out how easy it is to transfer between stores – and my company has over 700 stores across the country. I told myself I would work here for a year, then figure out how to move to the city of my dreams.

For myriad reasons, that didn’t happen – but I’m not upset about it. I love my life. I love the house my husband and I share, and I love the people who are around me every day.

That being said… there’s one very specific thing I’ve only found happens when I’m in NYC – and I’m trying like mad to replicate that here in the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania. This most recent trip allowed me some time to really think about what I had been noticing on previous ones, and I’m so glad to have finally figured it out.

When I am in New York City, my anxiety all but disappears.

The first time I really noticed this happening was on a trip in 2011, with some of my dearest old friends. We were going about our day, enjoying the city, and taking our time getting ready for the evening. We had tickets to a Broadway show (Mary Poppins, I believe), and for whatever reason, we all assumed and believed the show started at one time… only to check the tickets while we were getting ready, and seeing that it was actually starting a half hour earlier than we thought – aka, in about five minutes. Our hotel was in Times Square, so we didn’t have to go far, but you try fighting through primetime crowds in the center of the city. It was a situation that, here in my city, would have caused me to break down and freak out – I hate being late, and a lifetime in theater means nothing makes me more ashamed than sneaking into an already-dark venue.

I found myself as the leader of our group, pulling my friends behind me through literal hoards of people (I think Times Square was more crowded than New Year’s Eve that night). We made it to the theater a moment before curtain, giddy and out of breath, and I realized that I felt truly awesome. 

That feeling is what I think I’ve been subconsciously chasing since.

This most recent trip was especially important to me, for a number of reasons. As I said, it was my husband’s first time, so everything felt a little special and new – I love showing him places that hold a lot of meaning for me, and I especially love when he comes to enjoy them as much as I do.

My previous trips to New York felt like a whole lot of tourism. While I love taking cliche pictures of famous sights as much as the next person, there’s only so much of that you can take – and, in a place like New York, you are missing so much if Times Square is all you see. For this trip, we stayed with friends who live in the city, so our time felt much more leisurely, and it was so nice knowing where to get the good bagels and burgers!

The biggest reason this trip meant so much to me, though, was my utter lack of anxiety. I know that’s partially due to my symptoms being far more in check now than they used to be, but a larger part is because I don’t have time to be anxious in New York. The parts of my brain that fill with entirely unfounded dread at home (or anywhere else, let’s be real) are full of subway routes, dinner ideas, and the general buzz of a completely alive city. I don’t do well when I’m left alone with my thoughts – I need things outside me to be at least pleasant to keep myself in check.

This was something I noticed to a lesser extent in Disney World – there’s a ton of stimulation there, as well, but it’s a little more in-your-face than New York, so THAT in itself gets to me after a while. But in New York… I can just BE. The city itself is the exact balance I need of things to do and see, white noise, people-watching, and beautiful things to photograph. There’s something to be said about the way New Yorkers interact with each other, as well. Instead of being in other people’s business, everyone is just trying to make their own way the best they can. That mindset works really well with me.

It doesn’t take much thought to acknowledge that, all things considered, moving to New York would make sense for me. If money wasn’t an object, I think we would already be there by now. But, I’m not as disappointed as you might expect. This trip was a great way for me to do a hard reset on my anxious brain.

Usually when I come home from a vacation, I crash (hard, in the case of Disney World). That didn’t happen this time. I’ve felt nothing but clear-minded and happy with where my life currently is – a nice change from the constant dread that usually takes over! I’m sure part of this is due to the wonderful company we had in the city; getting to reunite with some of your favorite friends is bound to leave you in a really good place. That place means just a little more when it’s somewhere you always struggled to get to before.

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It’s About the Journey (aka: A Love Letter to Amtrak)

It’s 2017 and I’m a millennial. You’d assume that I would want everything to be fast and direct. While that’s the case for my iPhone and communication (please, please, don’t be indirect with me), for travel, put me on a train and I am happy as a clam.

I’m currently on the Lakeshore Limited, an Amtrak headed toward NYC. My husband and I are spending the long weekend with some of our closest friends, and we couldn’t be more excited.

At the same time, though, I can’t help but laugh at myself, because honestly? I’m just a teensy bit more excited about the journey than the destination.

This is my fourth (long) trip on Amtrak. I’ve gone to NYC twice, and Chicago once. Each of those trips was wonderful and exciting – full of Broadway shows, comedians, museums, lots of wine, and incredible memories.

That being said… the memories that come to mind first? The ones that are the warmest, craziest, happiest? They’re the ones from the journey.

My previous trips to NYC were with a group of my dearest friends. One had taken the train numerous times before, so we trusted her to make our travel plans – and we were never disappointed. We spent hours in the lounge car, playing card games (that to this day, I don’t think any of us actually understood), laughing like maniacs, and eating Girl Scout cookies. Maybe it was because we were somewhat (okay, literally) trapped for 10 hours on the train, so we made do with the entertainment we could create, but there was never a moment I was anything but thrilled.

Going to Chicago solo is something I’m forever grateful I did. I’ve written previously about doing things by yourself – a long-distance train trip tops that list. I’ve also written before (on a now-defunct old blog) about the almost surreal experience I had on that trip – I’ll give the short version here.

The train to Chicago travels throughout the night; the motion lulls me to sleep, but around 5am, I needed a snack. I headed to the cafe car, but one of the panel doors between cars wouldn’t budge. After a few minutes of struggling, the gentleman who came up behind me finally helped open the door. When we got to the lounge car, there was only one open booth, and he suggested we sit together and watch the scenery roll by.

Those next few hours are some of the most cherished of my adult life. Evan, as it turns out, is a composer, train enthusiast, comedy enthusiast, life enthusiast… basically, an instant friend and a true kindred spirit. I’ve always been able to jump into small talk easily, but it typically takes me significant time to really open up to someone – unless they’re meant to come into my life. We’ve now been friends for almost six years, and I’m grateful every day that such a random interaction wound up becoming so much more.

Traveling by plane is infinitely faster, sure, but you’d never get that sort of moment. And it’s not just the big, loud memories that make me love Amtrak so much. More than half my time writing this post has been spent gazing out the window. The way a train cuts through the landscape is something you don’t get in a plane, and certainly not on the highway. I’ve seen endless fields, backyards, office building, even the remains of a freight train that derailed last week (omg…). Aside from my phone and laptop, I didn’t bring any sort of entertainment for myself this trip, because, well, my husband is sitting next to me, and the scenery is more than captivating enough.

As the train crosses and parallels roadways, I’m reminded of this post by comedian Chris Gethard (the post is lengthy, and definitely a recommended read, but the portion I’m referencing is toward the end). Geth beautifully explains how and why he’s found life worth living, and his story of driving across the country has always stayed with me. While he was driving through the desert, in the middle of the night, he kept crossing and driving next to a freight train. I’ll let you read his words yourself, because he does a far better job with them than I ever could. I will say, though, that being on a train and staring out the window is an easy way to have a similar experience. There’s something very profound, that I can’t quite put to words, about moving forward, next to homes and businesses, and people who have their own stories and words and feelings.

I know our long weekend in my favorite city is going to be incredible. We get to spend time with our friends, take hundreds of photos, eat ALL THE FOOD, and just enjoy our time together. That being said, I’m going to enjoy the rest of my train ride there (and back home). I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and if you ever have the opportunity to take Amtrak, DO IT. I promise you won’t regret it.

Date Yourself

When my husband told me he was going to visit his sister this weekend, my first response wasn’t “Oh no, I’m going to miss you.” It was my brain whirring into action, thinking about where I’m going to take myself on a solo date tomorrow night.

This is a blog post about doing things by yourself.

A few weeks ago, the topic of solo dates came up with one of my seasonal coworkers. She’s a retirement-age, married woman, and she was sincerely appalled by the idea. “I couldn’t imagine going anywhere to eat by myself besides fast food,” and “That’s what I have a husband for!”

Let me back track to my childhood to give some context for why I love my solo time so much. I’m an only child. I have two half-brothers, but they’re significantly older than me and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually seen them. I had friends while I was a kid, but I very much valued my solo play time. One time, I was playing hide-and-seek with a neighbor, and I got sick of it… so I just went and sat on my relatively private patio and… stopped playing.

I’ve talked before on here about how I was also very much an indoor kid. Sure, I had my warm summer weeks spent running around outside, but at the end of those days, I more-than happily retreated to my room, where I had notebooks and American Girl books and craft supplies. Even as an adult, when I visit my best friend, I’ll spend an evening just sitting quietly in my hotel room.

Traveling by myself is also something I’ve come to love. There’s the stigma that being alone in an unfamiliar place is terrifying or uncomfortable. I hate that stigma. I’m a smart traveler – I have my parents and our many trips to Toronto to thank for that – so I plan things well, and make sure I have plenty of transportation options available to myself before I even arrive in a new place. And, on a smaller scale, I love quiet Saturday mornings full of running errands or just driving around solo.

Now that I’m married, I don’t have to do those things alone anymore… but when I get the opportunity to spend even a few hours solo, I take it. My husband has family in Pittsburgh, and when he goes to visit, I march myself to one of my favorite restaurants, sit at the bar, drink too much wine, and order too much food. Usually, I start texting my best friends since they all live out-of-state, and before I realize it, I’m having as much fun as I would if my gang was with me.

But… here’s the beautiful part: they’re not with me. No one is. I get to create and curate for myself the exact evening that I want. I love my husband and my friends, but since I’m a person who struggles with anxiety, when I’m with them, I care exclusively about their experience. I’m sure 90% of the conversations I had with Scott while we were on our honeymoon were me asking if he was enjoying himself. I guess you could call that sweet, that I was worried if he was having a good time… but it became entirely too consuming.

So, when I had the chance to spend an evening in the Magic Kingdom by myself, I gleefully took it. I looped around the same path over and over because the lighting kept changing and I couldn’t take enough photos. I KNOW Scott would have been fine with my crazy meandering, but my anxious little brain would have felt bad and cut my paths short. I loved that evening so much that I’m actually planning a solo trip to Disney World for sometime next year!

If you’re reading this post and thinking about how sad that must be, or that you can’t imagine going on vacation, much less to dinner, alone, I challenge you to try it. Make sure your phone is charged, or bring along a book if that’s more your speed. Go somewhere you know you feel comfortable – hell, just go to Starbucks, deliciously alone – or, if you’re feeling adventurous, go to a new restaurant.

Take some time to sit quietly (read: stay off social media), and do what we used to do before smart phones. Take in the ambiance. Watch how the staff interacts with the customers, play “Guess the occupation” for other people there. Then, right before your brain goes completely crazy, shoot a text to a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with, but just haven’t found the time. I’ve found there’s something really beautiful in clearing your head for a bit, in an otherwise social setting.

I’m so excited to enjoy my solo date tomorrow night… maybe I’ll see you across the bar, dear reader.

Some Words on Love

“There is no greater hope for the survival of humankind than in our ability to show each other unconditional love.” -Andrew W.K.

Today, quite appropriately, I’m going to talk about love . I’ve learned a lot and I have a lot of feelings, so here we go.

You don’t necessarily learn to love in your childhood home.
Maybe your family was the perfect American cookie-cutter, and maybe yours wasn’t. Regardless, there are few things more harmful than the belief that you are solely the product of your upbringing. No matter how incredible (or not) your parents were when you were a child, your future is up to no one but you. Did you spend your childhood fearing your dad, fighting with your mom, wishing your siblings would leave you alone? You do not need to live your adult life like that! The love your family shares is a very specific type of love, one that is inherited, not requisite. Repeat that. It’s inherited, it’s ingrained in you, and maybe you are lucky enough to have a supportive family, but it it is not the only love you’ll know. You will be able to look back, as an adult, and recognize imperfections and you will love that familial love for what it is, and maybe nothing more. And that’s okay.

Loving yourself is not required before you find romantic love.
How many freaking “inspirational” (heavy emphasis on those quotation marks) quotes have you seen, proclaiming it impossible to be loved by someone if you are anything but blissfully happy with yourself? I can tell you from personal experience… that adage is sincere bull. When I met my husband, I was on the path to realizing I wasn’t so bad, but I wasn’t comfortable enough in my own skin to preach self-love until about two years ago. I certainly have always listened to my body, physically and mentally, which has made me tuned-in to what I need at any given time, but would I call that love? Definitely not. I credit my husband with helping me realize that I am worth my own love.

You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) fight with your partner to prove you’re in love with them.
You hear, so often, about how arguments are a necessary part of relationships. It would be crazy to say that you shouldn’t argue with your partner, ever – that’s not what I’m talking about. I’ve lost track of how many of my friends have come to me after having serious, frightening fights with their significant other… only to tell me they’re back together again, a short time later. That terrifies me. My husband and I have had our fair share of disagreements over the last four years, but I’ve never considered them actual fights. After living on this planet for 29 years, I can confidently say that no pros are worth the cons of screaming, arguing, hurt feelings, and definitely not any amount of abuse. (Real talk, if you are in an abusive relationship, get. out. of. it. There are resources and people who will help you.)

Friend love is just as important as love love.
I would be nothing without my closest friends – they were the subject of my previous post, if you’re so inclined to read a little more about how awesome they are. My husband has had to understand that he’s sharing space in my heart with some other very important people. There’s this mindset that you have to focus all your love on the person you’re romantically involved with. Guess what! The more you love the people around you, the more love you have to give. Tell your friends you love them. List their qualities that shine for them, and go out of your way to make their days better. That love will be returned to you, ten-fold, I promise.

When you DO figure out how to love yourself, you will find greater joy than you knew was ever possible.
Let me summarize my journey to self-love for you. When I was 10 years old, I developed horrific depression. Crippling anxiety soon followed. I coasted along moderately alright until college, where I realized the thing I thought I always wanted to do was a terrible match for me. College and my first few years post-grad were a super fun spiral of doubt and low self-esteem, paired with debt and no sense of purpose. It wasn’t until I was about a year into my current job that it hit me – I was okay. And, after I realized that… I was able to let myself feel more than okay. I was able to take a step back from myself, so to speak, and look at my choices, where I’ve gotten in life. I realized I really like the woman I’ve become. And, as with other relationships, that like eventually turned into love. I used to look back on some choices and cringe… now, I see them as things that helped shape me into the woman I am today. I love that woman.

I hope you’ve found some sort of love today, dear reader!