December 24, 2014

I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed

I've been trying to post these last passages since December 20, the day I saw the movie. I wanted to wait until I knew how exactly to describe the experience of reading this book and watching the movie, both things which I did by myself. It was much like the experience of reading Tiny Beautiful Things -- of feeling that you are understood and not alone. And also in some cases, that you are lucky. That you are OK. I identified with her intense, undying love for her mother. Her passion for words. Her desire for love, sex, purpose, and adventure. Curiosity mixed with enchantment of the natural world. Her insecurities. I mean, there was even Box of Rain! A song I often looked to for comfort in my earlier 20s. Wild is a story that's as heartbreaking as it is empowering, and the latter feeling more so by the time it ends. There are tons of great passages, including some funny ones involving the people she meets on the trail. They won't be here but they are great reminders that many of the people in the world are kind and trustworthy. I wonder if I'd be so lucky if I embarked on a similar journey. 

"There were so many other amazing things in this world.
They opened up inside of me like a river. Like I didn't know I could take a breath and then I breathed. I laughed with the joy of it, and the next moment I was crying my first tears on the PCT. I cried and I cried and I cried. I wasn't crying because I was happy. I wasn't crying because I was sad. I wasn't crying because of my mother or my father or Paul. I was crying because I was full. Of those fifty-some hard days on the trail and of the 9,760 days that had come before them too.
I was entering. I was leaving. California streamed behind me like a long silk veil. I didn't feel like a big fat idiot anymore. And I didn't feel like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen. I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too.
(p. 233)

"It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That it was enough to trust what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life--like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be."
(p. 311)

It was the thing I wished for when I had a wish to make.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed

This falls into the category of "made me cry." (This also marks the second passage on this blog detailing a horse's death. Ugh.)
Tragic and beautiful.

"I whispered to Lady as I put her halter on, telling her how much I loved her as I led her out of her stall. Paul shut the gate behind us, trapping Roger inside so he couldn't follow. I led her across the icy snow, turning back to watch her walk one last time. She still moved with an unspeakable grace and power, striding with the long, grand high-stepping gait that always took my mother's breath away. I led her to a birch tree that Paul and I had chosen the previous afternoon and tied her to it by her lead rope. The tree was on the very edge of the pasture, beyond which the woods thickened in earnest, far enough away from the house that I hoped the coyotes would approach and take her body that night. I spoke to her and ran my hands over her chestnut coat, murmuring my love and sorrow, begging her forgiveness and understanding.
When I looked up, my brother was standing there with his rifle.
Paul took my arm and together we stumbled through the snow to stand behind Leif. We were only six feet away from Lady. Her warm breath was like a silk cloud. The frozen crust of the snow held us for a moment, then collapsed so we all sank up to our knees.
"Right between her eyes," I said to Leif, repeating yet again the words our grandfather had said to me. If we did that, he promised, we'd kill her in one clean shot.
Leif crouched, kneeling on one knee. Lady pranced and scraped her front hooves on the ice and then lowered her head and looked at us. I inhaled sharply and Leif fired the gun. The bullet hit Lady right between her eyes, in the middle of her white star, exactly where we hoped it would. She bolted so hard her leather halter snapped into pieces and fell away from her face, and then she stood unmoving, looking at us with a stunned expression.
"Shoot her again," I gasped, and immediately Leif did, firing three more bullets into her head in quick succession. She stumbled and jerked, but she didn't fall and she didn't run, though whew as no longer tied to the tree. Her eyes were wild upon us, shocked by what we'd done, her face a constellation of bloodless hole. In an instant I knew we'd done the wrong thing, not in killing her, but in thinking that we should be the ones to do it. I should have insisted Eddie do this one thing, or paid for the veterinarian to come out. I'd had the wrong idea of what it takes to kill an animal. There is no such thing as one clean shot.
"Shoot her! Shoot her!" I pleaded in a guttural wail I didn't know was mine.
"I'm out of bullets," Leif yelled.
"Lady!" I shrieked. Paul grabbed my shoulders to pull me toward him and I batted him away, panting and whimpering as if someone were beating me to death.
Lady took one wobbling step and then fell onto her front knees, her body tilting hideously forward as if she were a great ship slowly sinking into the sea. Her head swayed and she let out a deep moan. Blood gushed from her soft nostrils in sudden, great torrent, hitting the snow so hot it hissed. She coughed and coughed, tremendous buckets of blood coming each time, her back legs buckling in excruciating slow motion beneath her. She hovered there, struggling to stay grotesquely up, before she finally toppled over onto her side, where she kicked her legs and flailed and twisted her neck and fought to rise again.
"Lady!" I howled. "Lady!"
Leif grabbed me. "Look away!"he shouted, and together we turned away.
"LOOK AWAY!" he hollered to Paul, and Paul obeyed.
"Please come take her," Leif chanted, as tears streaked down his face. "Come take her. Come take her. Come take her."
When I turned, Lady had dropped her head to the ground at last, though her sides still heaved and her legs twitched. The three of us staggered closer, breaking through the snow's crust to sink miserably to our knees again. We watched as she breathed enormous slow breaths and then finally she sighed and her body went still.
Our mother's horse. Lady. Stonewall's Highland Nancy was dead.
Whether it had taken five minutes or an hour, I didn't know. My mittens and hat had fallen off, but I could not bring myself to retrieve them. My eyelashes had frozen into clumps. Strands of hair that had blown onto my tear- and snot-drenched face had frozen into icicles that clinked when I moved. I pushed them numbly away, unable even to register the cold. I knelt beside Lady's belly and ran my hands along her blood-speckled body one last time. She was still warm, just as my mother had been when I'd come into the room at the hospital and seen that she'd died without me. I looked at Leif and wondered if he was remembering the same thing. I crawled to her head and touched her cold ears, soft as velvet. I put my hands over the black bullet holes in her white star. The deep tunnels of blood that had burned through the snow around her were already beginning to freeze.
Paul and I watched as Leif took out his knife and cut bundles of reddish-blonde hair from Lady's mane and tail. He handed one to me.
"Mom can go to the other side now," he said, looking into my eyes as if it were only the two of us in the entire world. "That's what the Indians believe--that when a great warrior dies you've got to kill their horse so he can cross over to the other side of the river. It's a way of showing respect. Maybe Mom can ride away now."
I imagined our mother crossing a great river on Lady's strong back finally leaving us nearly three years after she died. I wanted it to be true. It was the thing I wished for when I had a wish to make. Not that my mother would ride back to me--though, of course, I wanted that--but that she and Lady would ride away together. That the worst thing I'd ever done had been a healing instead of a massacre."
(pp. 160-3)


December 06, 2014

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed

"I was her daughter, but more. I was Karen, Cheryl, Leif. Karen Cheryl Leif. KarenCherylLeif. Our names blurred into one in my mother's mouth all my life. She whispered it and hollered it, hissed it and crooned it. We were her kids, her comrades, the end of her and the beginning. We took turns riding shotgun with her in the car. "Do I love you this much?" she'd ask us, holding her hands six inches apart. "No," we'd say, with sly smiles. "Do I love you this much?" she'd ask again, and on and on and on, each time moving her hands farther apart. But she would never get there, no matter how wide she stretched her arms. The amount that she loved us was beyond her reach. It could not be quantified or contained. It was the ten thousand named things in the Tao Te Ching's universe and then ten thousand more. Her love was full-throated and all-encompassing and unadorned. Every day she blew through her entire reserve."
(p. 13)

"I scooted over the carpet and situated myself on my rump right in front of my pack, wove my arms through the shoulder straps, and clipped the sternum strap across my chest. I took a deep breath and began rocking back and forth to gain momentum, until finally I hurled myself forward with everything in me and got myself onto my hands and knees. My backpack was no longer on the floor. It was officially attached to me. It still seemed like a Volkswagen Beetle, only now it seemed like a Volkswagen Beetle that was parked on my back. I stayed there for a few moments, trying to get my balance. Slowly, I worked my feet beneath me while simultaneously scaling the metal cooling unit with my hands until I was vertical enough that I could do a dead lift. The frame of the pack squeaked as I rose, it too straining from the tremendous weight. By the time  I was standing--which is to say, hunching in a remotely upright position--I was holding the vented metal panel that I'd accidentally ripped loose from the cooling unit in my efforts.
I couldn't even begin to reattach it. The place it needed to go was only inches out of my reach, but those inches were entirely out of the question. I propped the panel against the wall, buckled my hip belt, and staggered and swayed around the room, my center of gravity pulled in any direction I so much as leaned. The weight dug painfully into the tops of my shoulders, so I cinched my hip belt tighter and tighter still, trying to balance the burden, squeezing my middle so tightly that my flesh ballooned out on either side. My pack rose up like a mantle behind me, towering several inches above my head, and gripped me like a vise all the way down to my tailbone. It felt pretty awful, and yet perhaps this was how it felt to be a backpacker.
I didn't know.
I only knew it was time to go, so I opened the door and stepped into the light."
(pp. 43-4)

"Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn't long before I actually wasn't afraid.
I was working too hard to be afraid."
(p. 51)

November 27, 2014

Read deeply. Stay open. Continue to wonder. Google it yo.

Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
By Austin Kleon

I remember the feeling of discovering Austin Kleon's newspaper blackout poetry a few years ago: excitement and awe - it was just so wonderfully creative, and how had no one else thought of it before? Why hadn't I? Poetry has comforted me many times, and sifting through Newspaper Blackout was especially comforting, moving, special. Austin's poetry art is the epitome of "creativity is subtraction."

I spotted this book on a trip to San Francisco in September, while visiting a good friend of mine who I've had the most open conversations with regarding the trajectory of my life -- what I want to do & who I want to be. This book resonated in that moment, and still does now, as I try to figure out what makes the most sense for me moving forward, how to shake the feeling I sometimes have of being stuck, how to pursue what makes me happy and the conflict that comes with making decisions that honor my happiness but are also logical and realistic. The decision I've come to most recently (which can change any second TBH), is that I like where I am now but, on the side, I have to start pursuing the interests and hobbies I let go by the wayside. Slowly but surely…

This is a short, fun book with the best of intentions and every page holds advice worthy of an excerpt. One of my favorites via pages 18-19 below. It reminds me of my childhood because I asked so many questions. We had a comprehensive A-Z collection of encyclopedias, and my dad would very often point me in the direction of them and say "Look it up" when I asked him for information. I think his response was due to equal parts exhaustion & him wanting to make me stop nagging, him not always knowing the answers, and him wanting me to learn on my own. It was so frustrating sometimes, but there is no denying that the satisfaction of discovering the answers by myself trumped being told. Same sentiment here, but now we have Google:



November 24, 2014

I think if you can dance and be free and not embarrassed you can rule the world.



Yes Please
By Amy Poehler

LAST YES PLEASE POST. First, I must link to another excerpt I didn't post, instagrammed by my friend Mario. Super funny. I won't type it but here it is for me, for you, for future reference.

How I wish young girls' organizations like Rookie Magazine, Kind Campaign, and Smart Girls at the Party, existed when I was younger. That age range between 11 up to about 16, 17, 18 was rough. I might not have felt so crazy or alone. Or felt I had so much more to offer without knowing how. Or felt there must have been people like me out there in the world, reaching, but I didn't know how to find or connect with them. Often I desperately needed that little bit of empowerment, understanding, support from like-minded people and to feel my quirks were OK. I'm glad they exist for young girls today.

"2. We beat them at their own game. 
This theory was the impetus for Smart Girls at the Party, a Web series and website I created along with my friends Meredith Walker and Amy Miles. We wanted to build a brand that attempted to combat the deluge of shit young people see every day online. It actually all started with the idea of one simple show. It could be a Charlie Rose-type interview show for girls that ended in a spontaneous dance party. We wanted to celebrate the curious girl, the non famous, the everyday warrior. At first we only knew a few things: we wanted to make content we would have watched when we were younger, and we wanted to end our episodes with a dance party. Spontaneous dance parties are important in my life. I have one in the makeup trailer almost every afternoon on Parks and Recreation. Dancing is the great equalizer. It gets people out of their heads and into their bodies. I think if you can dance and be free and not embarrassed you can rule the world. Smart Girls is growing and changing, and Meredith and I have big plans to open up camps and create more content and connect with more and more young people. Our hope is to provide something for people who can't stand to look at another awful website highlighting some fame-obssessed garbage person."
(p. 325)

He recently asked if he could marry me and I said yes. I couldn't help it. I would marry him anytime.

Yes Please
By Amy Poehler

Most of Amy's book consists of memories and life lessons interlaced with comedy. A lot of it feels like a lengthened stand-up routine (not a bad thing). But when she starts to talk about her children, the tone changes, becomes more serious. She sounds like a different person. I loved those parts just as much:

"My boy Archie has eyes the color of blueberries. He has a solid sense of design and is only months away from his first cartwheel. When he was just two weeks old, his dad and I took a picture of him in his crib with the New York Times draped over him like a blanket. The headline read OBAMA: RACIAL BARRIER FALLS IN DECISIVE VICTORY. He loves to run and strongly identifies with Luke Skywalker because they "have the same hair." He recently told me, "Mama, do you want to know something funny about me? I am afraid of little things and not afraid of big things." I think he was talking about bugs and elephants, but I understood what he meant in a very deep way. He deals primarily in poop and fart jokes, and insists these things will never fail to make him laugh. He is absolutely right. He is delighted when I laugh at him, but he is no ham. He is sensitive and stubborn, and as of this printing would like to be a police officer and a veterinarian and also Iron Man. He once asked me," Are you sad that you don't have a penis?" I told him that I was happy with the parts that I had. I then reminded him that girls have vaginas and everyone is different and each body is like a snowflake. He nodded in agreement and then looked up at me with a serious face and asked, "But did you once have a penis and break it?" I was tempted to make a joke that would screw him up for life. "Yes, my son. Your mother once had a penis but it broke because you didn't love her enough." The bond between mothers and sons is powerful stuff. I firmly believe that every boy needs his mom to love him and every girl needs her dad to pay attention to her. Archie needed to figure out if I had ever owned and operated a penis. I get it. His penis is important to him. Anyway, he starts college next year. Just kidding, he's six. He recently asked if he could marry me and I said yes. I couldn't help it. I would marry him anytime.

My boy Abel has eyes the color of a pine forest. He is a red monkey who named himself. I went to a psychic before he was born and she told me I was having "another big boy. He wants to be called Abel." We agreed. As he was born, the song "Young Turks" played on the radio and Rod Stewart sang, "Young hearts be free tonight / Time is on your side." Abel has chocolate chip freckles and hair like a copper penny. He loves to dance and sing and recently composed a song called "I'm a Genius." He is a big hugger. He doesn't mind when I stick my head into his neck and smell him. He smells like a love cookie. He recently told me he "really like[s] it when girls wear nice blouses." He has a deep laugh and thinks Darth Vader is funny. He cries big tears and sweats in his sleep. He makes friends on airplanes. He is four. The first thing he does when he wakes up in the morning is look for Archie. He loves his big brother so intensely. His big brother protects him and tortures him. Abel feels like the wisest and oldest member of our family. When he was just starting to talk he used to ask me if I was happy. He has dreams that he is a different little boy with black hair and one eye. My beautiful  Tibetan nanny, Dawa, believes he has been reincarnated many times."
(pp. 300-2)

Now playing:


November 23, 2014

They sit on the same bench I sat on and feel the same good feelings of family and home.

Yes Please
By Amy Poehler

Yes Please
By Amy Poehler

""Relax is a tough one for me. Another tough one is "smile." "Smile" doesn't really work either. Telling me to relax or smile when I'm angry is like bringing a birthday cake into an ape sanctuary. You're just asking to get your nose and genitals bitten off."
(p. 236) YES

"The only thing we can depend on in life is that everything changes. The seasons, our partners, what we want and need. We hold hands with our high school friends and swear to never lose touch, and then we do. We scrape ice off our cars and feel like winter will never end, and it does. We stand in the bathroom and look at our face and say, "Stop getting old, face. I command you!" and it doesn't listen. Change is the only constant. Your ability to navigate and tolerate change and its painful uncomfortableness directly correlates to your happiness and general well-being. See what I just did there? I saved you thousands of dollars on self-help books. If you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier. Maybe I should have called this book Surf Your Life. The cover could feature a picture of me on a giant wave wearing a wizard hat. I wonder if it's too late. I'll make a call."
(p. 280)

"I believe you can time-travel three different ways: with people, places and things."

I grew up with an organ & we threw it out when my family moved out of my childhood apartment while I was in college. Lately, I've missed the organ/piano so much & a part of me has always regretted quitting. I've been considering taking lessons again. For that reason and also a few others, I found this passage to be special:

"Places also help you time-travel. My grandfather Steve Milmore was a wonderful man. We called him Gunka and he was a Watertown, Massachusetts, firefighter and served as a machine gunner in World War II. He married my grandmother Helen and went overseas for five years until he came back and put his uniform in the attic and never spoke of his service again. He had three wonderful children, including my wonderful mother. He died of a heart attack on my front porch on July 4, 1982, when he was only sixty-five. I was ten. He was the first important person in my life to die, and when he did, it was the first time I realized that life is not fair or safe or even ours to own. I miss him.
Gunka had a Wurlitzer organ, and he loved to play. His grandchildren would sit on his lap and he would play Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole. Lots of Christmas tunes. He wrote songs for us when we had the chicken pox. He went through his songbook and put numbers over the notes and then made a corresponding chart on cardboard that he laid over the keys so we could play songs ourselves. For a while I thought I was a genius and could totally play the organ. The reality was that I was the luckiest girl in the world because I had a grandfather who was a magic maker.
Sitting on the organ bench was important. Now that I think of it, benches are cool. Sacred by design. Benches are often a place where something special happens and important talks take place. Look at Forrest Gump. Or Hoosiers. Or outside a brunch place. Brunch benches are where it all goes down. After my nana passed away in 2003, my family took Gunka's organ and put it in the basement of the house they shared. And it sat there for ten years, waiting for its chance to travel.
And now it lives in my apartment in New York City. My boys play it all the time. They sit on the same bench I sat on and feel the same good feelings of family and home. One night I was feeling lonely and stressed, and the organ started buzzing. I think Gunka was trying to talk to me. I sat on the bench and felt better. Inside the organ bench is old sheet music with my grandparents' handwriting. I also found a song that I wrote when I was seven. It is a poem that has numbers written above it, so it can be played the special way on my special organ. I wrote it in the past and put it in the sacred bench so I could pull it out at just the right time. Time is just time. Time travel, y'all."
(pp. 282-4)