Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


Eye of the Storm

The house is a quiet, empty mess this afternoon. All of the books, boxes and furniture were picked up yesterday by the PODS drivers, and all that’s left in the house is an air mattress, our iMac, some clothes and a bunch of trash and old junky furniture that we are throwing away. Our container of belongings started its journey west just this morning. Ours doesn’t begin for four more days. The way the world swirled around us these last couple of months makes today feel like the eye of a huge storm.

The old home office. This used to be my favorite room in the house, but right now it’s pretty empty and sad.

As I was clearing out my cubicle at work yesterday afternoon, I got the text from my husband that the container had been picked up, and was driven off to our new home. By then I had already invited my coworkers to strip the valuables from my area (bulletin board, shelving, bookcases, printers, etc.) and I was sitting in my green chair in front of my computer at my desk for the last time. But it didn’t look like mine anymore. And it was right then that everything became very real for me.

We went out for drinks after work and a few of my coworkers were there, as well as some cherished friends who came out just to see us. And I was just as surprised by who came, as I was about who didn’t show up. There was a moment or two of absolute irony as I looked around me and saw some friends whom I’d had disconnected with some years ago. They were here. But then, some whom I had taken for granted would want to see Shawn and me for the last time before we left, they were absent. I have more to think on this, but it was a strange dichotomy that left me feeling both disappointed and…sadly, rather unsurprised.

These last few days are filled with awkward goodbyes. Goodbye is something I have never handled well. Many of my biggest goodbyes have been left unsaid. My mother and my father, for instance. My grandmother too. As a result I often show the most inappropriate emotional response while in the moment. I giggle, crack jokes, pull away from the teary hug just a little too early. I generally don’t cry, but leave the other person a mess while I remain stoic and uncomfortable. In a way it seems much worse than just letting myself feel sad in the moment.

I dunno. Crying by myself later in the car just seems so much more appropriate. 🙂

We have four more days until we take off for our big drive. I am in a holding pattern of boredom, unhealthy food and cleaning. I’m sluggish, I don’t feel much like running, and I can’t sleep past 6am. The dog is restless. So am I. I’m writing this blog post right now because I literally can’t get myself motivated to do anything else. I know it’ll be over soon, though. The “goodbye New England” phase will be through, and then we will finally be able to look forward to the “Welcome Home” feeling instead.

I’ve already planned out our stops along the drive. Ohio, Nebraska, Colorado and Nevada. I’m excited to see the progression of changes from one state to another, from ocean to trees to flat land to corn fields to mountains to desert, then to ocean again. I’ve seen very few places in the U.S. I’ll be glad to say I’ve experienced this journey, even if I am just driving through without really stopping.

Shawn and I are already talking about what we’ll do when we arrive. Shop for new furniture to replace what wouldn’t fit through doorways or inside the container. Drive down to Mission Beach and buy ourselves a carne asada burrito from one of the taco stands. Have drinks with our newly local friends. Get California driver’s licenses.

And I’ve already got a few plans of my own. I can’t wait to get my feet onto some trails out there. I’m saving a bunch of reviews I need to write, because I want them to be from my new San Diego perspective. I want to finally meet Vanessa and Shacky, and their adorable dog Ginger. I want to buy myself a bike for cross-training and errands, and a hammock for relaxing afternoons.

I can’t wait to find out what I’ll love about San Diego. I want to smell the air in October and know if it’s anything like the fall air in New England. I want to relish in a winter without snow. Drive 15 minutes to the ocean.

Right now my life is at a complete standstill, and full of nothing but potential. This is the feeling of starting over. And it feels fine.


The NEW New Goals

One thing to know about me is that while I’m really good at setting goals, I’m not always too spectacular at keeping them alive. Kind of like if you bought a really pretty bonsai plant for your house and then only watered it for a week. Some goals are just impossible for me to complete without first getting bored or otherwise distracted.

Sometimes my goals are met, though, at least partly if not fully. As planned, I completed my first 50K race this year. Also I ran a better half marathon. And in about two weeks my husband and I are moving across the country to San Diego, a goal we have had in mind since sometime around forever. Not too bad for 2012, I’d say.

And then there’s the goals I never completed: lose 30 pounds before the Pineland 50K. Finish a 20-mile training run. A 30-day running streak. 100-ups. The Paleo diet. Learn to love gardening.

All of these things were somewhat of a failure. And I think that’s because they were all things I thought I should try, rather than what I really wanted to do. They are all similar, though, in meaning: a way of working toward self-improvement, and added self-awareness.

(Well, except for the gardening stuff. I’m never going to learn to love mowing the lawn and planting flowers. Forget it. So instead we are hiring a gardener to deal with the new place.)

It is a good thing to always aim at improving yourself. No matter where you are in life, there’s always room for a challenge or a change. So I have revised my short-term list of goals, based on my own current version of self-improvement and upward change. It’s not your list of goals, or Scott Jurek’s, or Vanessa Runs’…it’s mine. It’s not a long one, either. And I think that is why it just might work.

1. More Ultras

This one is simple. I want to run more ultras. 50k’s, 50 miles, and perhaps beyond that. Or perhaps not. Thing is, I don’t have a set time goal for any new distances (beyond 50K), because that’ll just set me up for stress and ultimate failure. Also I haven’t signed up for anything at all, yet. And I still like my half marathons and 10k’s, so I’m not sure I’ll ever completely eliminate them from my repertoire like some of my ultra friends have. I just know that I have so much more to learn from the ultra marathon, and I’m finding that I very much look forward to the experience.

2. Trails + Hills

This year I fell in love with the trail, which is very awesome. But I am still really fucking bad at running up and down hills. It’s not that I can’t do it. I really just don’t do it. Not very often, anyway. There aren’t a lot of hilly trails near me, and I don’t spend much time looking for them, either. So as a result, when I do find myself at the bottom of some hills, I run out of gas pretty quickly. But I can get better, I know it. I am strong and enduring. All it will take is some practice and some dedication to the other goals I’ve got listed here.

3. More Challenges

I have a lot of very talented mountain-running trail monkeys as friends. Shelly and Jason Robillard, Jesse Scott, Mr. Shacky-Shackleford, Vanessa Runs, Pat Sweeney, et al. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t want to be them. I don’t care if I run as fast or as far as any of them, ever. But, what they’ve shared about their journeys is very helpful to me. I have learned a lot about myself by watching them, following the goals they have achieved, and even by getting to run with some of them. I want more challenges, I want to experience more of the things that running can offer me, and I want to grow as a person because of it. I want to be faster, fitter, and to enjoy longer runs. And once I get there, hey…I guess I’ll have those crazy monkeys to thank for it.

4. Healthier Eating Habits

Yeah, I say it every day. I really gotta stop eating pizza and chocolate. Start counting calories again. Get back on Paleo. Maybe try vegan. Soon. Next week. Once we move. before my next ultra. Someday. Blah, blah.


It never works. So, to hell with diets. It really just time for me to grow the fuck up and stop eating like a twenty year old. I’m 33 now. Pasta makes my belly fat and my belly fat keeps me from running fast. With the rest of my goals shifting towards better training and ultras, this is my goal to eat for the purpose of running fuel. Chances are, if I do this right and run as often as I want to, I’ll lose weight reasonably fast. And then I’ll finally be able to run reasonably fast.

5. Cross-Training

I am notoriously bad at cross training. I tell people that I don’t run for exercise, because if I did I’d probably only run twice a year. I don’t do well with exercise for the sake of exercise. It has to be a challenge, a game, or an art form for me to even consider wanting to do it regularly.

But I really need to get stronger to become a better runner. Something has to change. So next week I am cancelling my gym membership in Boston, and I’m not getting another one in San Diego. And I’m not joining any expensively ridiculous Crossfit gyms, either. Nope. Instead I’m buying myself a mountain bike, and I’m going to ride it on off days and for simple errands to cut down on gas usage. And I’m going to make myself a slosh tube (thanks for teaching me, Jason!) and get better at things like burpees and squats. I don’t need a gym membership to cross train. I just need some fucking motivation.

And that concludes my list. My hopes are that the change in scenery, the complete overhaul of my work hours and lack of commute, and my ultra-badass friends living nearby will all be helpful motivating factors. If nothing else I’ll be totally out of excuses.



16 Things I Won’t Miss About New England

I just wrote a lovely post ruminating on the 14 things I will miss about New England, when we move to California at the end of this month. It was all very positive and complimentary. But it was only half the story. Seems only fair to also mention the things I won’t be missing, while I’m out there eating cheap avocados and lounging in my hammock suspended between two palm trees.

1. Interstate 93

North of the city, south of the city, at the 95 split, on the New Hampshire border….doesn’t matter where you are, I93 sucks during rush hour.

2. The accent

Yes, in some ways it’s endearing to hear your relatives mispronounce words like “harbor” (haaa-bah) and “chowder” (chow-da). But after awhile it just sounds like you’re surrounded by morons, even if everyone in the room has a PhD.

3. Fucking snow

You were waiting for this one. There it is.

4. Humidity

I will never miss feeling as though I’m running through a vat of tomato soup.

5. Rain dates

Sure, New England gets summer. It gets really hot for two months, to break up the really cold rest of the year. But guess what? It rains all the freaking time. For every three nice summer days, we get two crappy ones. And they’re usually Saturday and Sunday.

6. Boston pride

As I mentioned in my other post, New Englanders are a proud and hearty bunch. But there’s a flip side to every good quality. People in Boston truly believe that their shit doesn’t stink, and it’s always the most obnoxious of them who like to make sure you hear about it. We might even see a few of them in the comments section below. 🙂

7. The Red Sox

Sometimes I like to compare myself to living in Nashville, Tennessee and not liking country-western music. In other words, I hate sports (and I especially hate those stupid pink “B” baseball caps). But I am, per usual, in the minority.

8. The Patriots

What a ridiculous name. As if only New Englanders can be “patriotic.”

9. The Celtics

Irish name. Not exactly patriotic.

10. The Bruins

I actually liked hockey, until the first time I logged onto Facebook during Hockey season.

11. My neighbors

Meet my neighbors: Bob, Bobby, Robbie, Billy-Bob and Cletus.

Fireworks every weeknight from May to October. Screaming fights in the front yard, cars skidding through the 4-way stop sign at midnight. Harley Davidsons with pipes the size of weiner dogs waking me at 5:30 each morning by bumbling up and down the circle for 20 minutes. And the dogs! I once ran around our block, the equivalent of half a mile, and counted 14 separate dogs barking at me from their back yards. I swear our neighborhood wasn’t this bad when we moved in. What happened to all the quiet little old couples that used to live here?! Looks like we’re the only quiet old couple left.

12. Boston drivers

Nobody here knows what a directional light is. They took that whole section out of the Driver’s Education books, and they stopped checking for them during state vehicle inspections. And you can just forget about the word “yield.” Bostonians live by the law of the middle finger.

13. New Hampshire property taxes

Our house sits on 1/10th of an acre of land, is nowhere near a body of water and is over 30 miles from a major city. But we still pay over $5,000 per year in property taxes. And they don’t even pick up our garbage. But hey, good thing there’s no sales tax! That way everyone from northern Massachusetts can save a bunch of money by shopping up north.

14. People who love to ski

I just dislike them. End of story.

15. Martha’s Vineyard and The Cape

If I never again have to hear someone talk about their summer home “on the Cape” (on Cape Cod), it’ll be way too soon.

16. Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts coffee tastes like brown water flavored with a jelly doughnut, and it’s almost always burned after 11am. I’m a Starbucks lover, but I’m one of few. I’ll tolerate a cup of Dunkin’ coffee because it’s typically my only choice. In most cases I have to go 3 or more miles out of my way to find a ‘bucks, while passing by 32 Dunkin’ Donuts locations on the way.

California is thankfully the land of Starbucks, so when we found our house in San Diego the first thing I did was check to see how many Starbucks locations there were within a half mile of our address. Six. Yes!

Anything I missed?


15 Things I Will Miss About New England

This may actually be a bit of a faulty title, because a lot changed in the days between conceiving this post and writing it. Until Monday morning I really had no idea how my employment would be arranged once we moved out to California. Would I be able to remain a full-fledged employee and keep my status as art director? Or would I be relegated to the post of a contract worker and have to essentially set myself up as a business, buy all my own equipment and pay my own taxes? All in all, I wasn’t extremely worried about the outcome either way, and knew it would work out (like everything else inexplicably has).

But, as it turns out, California laws will allow me to remain an employee to the company in the way that I am now, my boss can give me a computer, a happy raise and vacation time, and all is well. And that also means that I’ll be visiting the Boston office a few times a year, and will be able to delay some of the finality of the big move.

It’s natural for someone who is moving far away to focus on all of the exciting things that the new place will offer, and I certainly am doing that every day. In fact, several lyrics from the song “California dreaming” have already snuck into a few of my recent Facebook updates. Not to mention how glad I am to get out from under my upside-down mortgage, the sump-pump in our basement and our unbearably annoying neighborhood.

And then the other day I thought to myself: but what about all of the things I still love about New England? Surely there must be a few upsides, other than the obvious family and friends. And then after not too long, I started to get nostalgic and the list got longer in no time.

If nothing else, it was a nice exercise in remembering the most positive and wonderful features of good ole’ New England, where I have spent the first 33 years of my life.

1. The smell of the woods in the morning

Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved being outside. Sure, I had a definite city-girl streak in my early and mid twenties…but that warm, clean scent of pine, dirt, bark and dew on New England summer mornings always brings me back to my outdoorsy self. It reminds me of camping in tents as a kid, of waking up at 6am on Saturdays to take the boat out with my dad and brother before it got too crowded at the lake. It’s driving to work every morning with the windows down, inhaling the fresh New Hampshire air. And it really makes me smile.

Of course, that’s not to say the smell of West Coast sea air makes me smile any less. 🙂

2. The fresh atlantic seafood

Stop staring at me.

Maine Lobster. Freshly caught that morning, thrown in a pot and served shell-on at the local beach-side restaurant by the afternoon. Seasonally priced and worth every penny. There’s really nothing like having sand in your hair from a day at the beach, a nutcracker in your hand and a whole lobster and a cup of melted butter to all yourself. Only in New England.

3. The cities

I used to be able to see this from my bedroom window.

Boston is one of the most intellectual, fashionable, culturally diverse cities in America. New York City is another. And they’re both really close. In many ways I’m sick of cities, and I’ve never really loved going to New York as often as I do for work. But I have learned a great deal from being close to such trendy and relevant cities (like where to find the best sushi). And although San Diego is one of the most amazing cities, and L.A. is in its own way a mecca of sorts, there’s really nothing like the very singular grit and soul of an East Coast city.

4. The soul

Speaking of grit and soul, New Englanders have a rare and wonderful version of it. People who are from cities on the East Coast have a sturdy valor to them, one that is unflinching, unapologetic and undeniably intelligent (well, there are exceptions to the intelligent part – ask me about that another time). East Coast folks don’t trust you right away, but once they do they’ll never leave your side. They are proud, and not just of their sports teams, but also of their family members, of their well-manicured lawns, of their 60 year old family-owned restaurant.

East Coasters drive to work in blizzards and pay shit-loads of money to heat their homes. They also go to some of the best colleges in the country and become some of the best doctors and scientists in the world. They’re a bunch of hard-working people who make the best of what they’ve got, which is probably the only way to get through that miserably cold and damp month of February.

5. The “Bahston” accent

I don’t have one (and frankly I’m glad), but there’s definitely something to be said for this very singular accent. It is almost a dialect of its own, one that is exclusive to where I grew up. Moreover my entire family has one, so therefore it will always have a wicked place in my haaaaht.

6. Halloween

The chill in the air. Brown leaves crunching underfoot on the sidewalks. Pumpkins carved into evil faces glowing spookily on window sills. Halloween theme parks with nighttime hay rides and creepy haunted houses. I know Halloween exists everywhere, but in New England it has almost the same buildup of Christmas (but without all the snow and Christian influence).

7. The first snow

A New England snowfall in fantasy land.

I fucking hate snow. There is quite possibly only one thing I hate more than snow (namely, the ear-splitting sound of my neighbors speeding up and down the street on motorcycles at 5am). However, every winter we have our first snow of the year. And yes, I’ll admit it is always quite beautiful. It drapes the world in a perfect white blanket of chill. Inexplicably, everything goes quiet. It’s almost as if the snowfall puts a muffle on the sounds of the world, so it can be experienced by all in silent tranquility. It’s just stunning. That is, until the next morning when you’ve gotta go scrape that shit off the hood of your car before driving to work.

I’ll miss the first snow. But – really, I’m okay if I never see snow ever again in my life.

New England snowfall, in real life. Get out your ice picks and hair dryers!

8. White Christmas

Speaking of winter, a list like this isn’t complete without a nod to the much adored White Christmas. In California I’ll likely be wearing shorts on Christmas day, and that’s probably going to be a little weird. But then again, in recent years we haven’t seen much snowfall until January anyway. Although, decorating a pine tree with the windows open might seem totally wrong. And fun.

9. The landscape

I’ve always been completely enthralled by topography. Whenever I enter a new place I love to examine the world beyond the dashboard of the car. How much sky do I see? What kind of trees are around me? Everywhere I go, stuff is different. Even when I drive to New York City a mere 3.5 hours away, I notice different foliage. Not surprisingly, Atlanta, Georgia has so many more flowering trees and plants than we do. Vermont has nothing but hilly mountains of green fur trees. Salt Lake City is disturbingly pancake flat, with enormous amounts of sky and resounding purple mountains in the distance. Wherever I go, I see what’s around me and immediately compare it to what I know.

So, all my life I have essentially lived in the middle of the woods, nestled a few dozen miles inland of the ocean. Except for the years I lived in Boston, everywhere I go, there are trees. Roads and highways are swaths cut from the edges of deep forest. Growing up, just about everyone’s back yard ended with some gnarled bushes, ancient trees and the darkness of the woods beyond.

I don’t know a lot about the land in San Diego, other than what I picked up from the few times I’ve visited and some photos from friends who live there. But what I’ve gathered so far is that there aren’t as many trees as there are bushes and canyons, and that there is a hell of a lot more beach and sky. I’m excited about the change in scenery, but I also know that I’m going to wake up every once in awhile and really miss running through the quiet, shaded woods.

10. The architecture

In New England, the city buildings are old. Many of them have been around for a few hundred years and they’re still made of stone. For these buildings, gargoyles and carvings still exist. Churches are still creepy, gray and very tall. The old architecture around here is just beautiful, and I’ll likely miss it in California, where the buildings are much newer and tend to have that Mexican-inspired adobe style. Not that there’s anything wrong with Mexican-inspired adobe style.

11. Knit hats and Uggs

And stylish winter coats. Big, fluffy sweaters. Scarves knitted from yards of thick, warm wool. I hate the cold for sure, but I do really love burying myself in some uber-warm winter attire. I know that it gets chilly in San Diego in the winter. Like, maybe 45 degrees. But, considering that you don’t even need to wear running tights to run in 45 degrees (well, at least I don’t), chances are my favorite pair of knitted Uggs probably won’t be seeing the light of day ever again.

12. The first perfect day of spring

Spring rocks.

Also known as the biggest smile on my face all year. You know the day: it’s somewhere between May 15th and June 1st. The day just springs up on you when you’re least expecting it. The sky is impossibly blue and you remember what the sun is. You tentatively open the windows and a fresh, warm breeze floods the inside of your house. For the first time in months you don’t need a jacket, and it feels exhilarating, almost naughty, to leave the house for a walk or sit in your car without the extra layers on.

The adjective I always tie to this day is “triumphant.” Because it feels like I have triumphed over something (the dreadful and dark winter), and that I’m a renewed person, ready for anything. Ready for those 11 nice days of summer.

In San Diego, every single day is the first day of spring. Some would say that might take the special-ness out of it a little. And perhaps it will. But, I have decided that I am willing to tough it out and deal with 365 days of sunshine. I know, big sacrifice.

13. The fall

Photo credit: Vered Galor

Speaking of seasons, Autumn is really my favorite, for obvious reasons. The air gets cool and dry, the trees do their colorful changing dance, and the ground turns into an orange symphony underfoot. I love the smell of fall, and I love the traditions that follow. Apple picking, pumpkin carving, impressing others with my one and only baking trick (old-fashioned apple pie). I suppose I’ve been lucky to experience all those New England autumns, because they’re just not the same anywhere else in the world.

14. No sales tax

Well, in New Hampshire anyway. What’s the sales tax in California these days? 23 percent?

15. Living close to history

About two miles from my current home in Derry, New Hampshire, lies the farmhouse of the late and great poet, Robert Frost. For several years my commute to work cut through the site of the historical battlefields at Lexington and Concord. I once went on a school field trip to Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau imagined some of his best writing. I got one of my tattoos in Plymouth, the first town in America. The colorfully historical witchy town of Salem, Massachusetts, where Halloween is at its hallowest, is located less than 25 miles from where I live. And so forth.

Massachusetts is the oldest place here, and filled with so much cultural significance. I am lucky to live in a place of such rich American history. I can’t exactly put into words why, but makes me a little sad to give up that small glory.

What do you love about New England?


You Can’t Always Get What You Want…


…but sometimes, you actually do.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything personal in this blog, and there’s two major reasons for that. The first is that I’ve been overwhelmingly busy with the stressful process of selling our house, organizing our move to California, a huge busy season at work that involved travel, and squeezing in as much meaningful socializing as possible with folks we love here, prior to rolling out of New England for good at the end of August. The second reason is that with all this cool stuff that is going on, I haven’t been able to decide what topic to write about that would reflect the climate of my thoughts, without coming off sounding braggy or trite to my readers.

As much as I would like to believe that people always understand where I’m coming from and are genuinely happy for me when good things happen, that’s just not always the case. There will always be some folks who think you’re being a douche bag if you seem to be glowing in the positivity of the life you’ve made for yourself, even when all you’re trying to do is show your excitement and appreciation for it.

As a response, I try to remember that I do deserve all of this. I deserve it karmically because the universe seems to be finally balancing out all the shitty things that happened in my early life with some good stuff, and I deserve it literally because my husband and I have actively sought out and worked hard, on our own, toward all of these positive changes. In other words, anyone can be happy like us if they just try harder.

So if you’re reading this you’re probably thinking one of two things:

1. fuck this bitch
2. I should leave this girl a comment to tell her she deserves everything coming her way and that she shouldn’t let negative people bother her.

If you’re a number 2, you’re right. But the fact is, I probably spend too much of my life trying to satiate those number 1’s because I very much dislike being misunderstood. For example, I have wasted many hours of my life adding my outlier opinions to message boards and Facebook comment threads, even while everyone else reading disagrees with me, because I constantly seek that feeling of mutual understanding in a conversation. Too often, as a result my original intentions are miscontrued anyway, as well as my political stance on the issue itself, and people just think I’m being defensive and argumentative. It’s very disappointing.

But I digress. This post was supposed to be about working toward what I want in life, being brave enough to take risks for it, and knowing how to be appreciative of the good stuff that comes from it. So on with it we go.

Shawn and I have been talking about a move to San Diego for several long years. Shawn grew up there, so for him the idea held a sense of closure, cyclical rightness. But there were a few things that held us back, and the overall theme of them was that there was really nothing telling us definitively that our lives would improve if we moved there. I mean, we both had decently-paying jobs in Boston, friends and family here, and there was just no outlying reason to move. No neon signs in the sky, if you will.

Why fix what’s not broken? Right?

And then the reasons started coming. Slow and hidden at first, but soon enough it was like a shower of neon signs coming out of the sky. It all started the day that Shawn finally quit his crappy day job back in February, to do sculpting full-time. We had been terrified of the change for years, but then we made the choice and all of a sudden I wasn’t scared anymore. Then, the day after he did it, all I could think was, “so when are we moving to California?”

Finally, it seemed to make some sense for us to move because then Shawn would have better access to prospective clients in the film industry, something he could do to supplement his freelancing income. But we still questioned whether the whole plan could come together enough to make sense. I mean, a move across the country is kind of a big deal. And although moving to a place isn’t exactly unretractable, we are both pretty sure that once we leave New England, we don’t want to move back.

So we sat down and created a list of needs for the move to make sense, as well as absolute idealities for the move to become our ultimate dream life. The list wasn’t long. We knew we needed to have a viable way to get rid of our house, preferably without foreclosure. We both needed to have work, and for Shawn the ideal was to keep his freelance job and also begin to network in the film industry. For me it was a little more complicated. I would need to get a new job – and ideally, I didn’t want to have to take some crappy job I hate just to make money. My ultimate (and mostly secret, until now) career goal is to work as a freelance designer and perhaps a writer as well. But either way I needed some kind of job that doesn’t suck. And lastly, we needed to rent an affordable single-family home in a nice neighborhood, with a garage that Shawn could convert into a studio.

So here’s how it all went down for us.

First thing we did was put our house on the market. We knew we would have to go through a short sale, because we bought this house at a very high price that it will likely never see again. We wanted to sell it rather than just walk away, but we also knew we were not going to keep paying the mortgage after we left. So we decided that if the chips fell such that the house never sells before we foreclose, then we would just accept it as a lesson learned.

Well, the house received bids two days after we put it on the market, and the best of those bids went out to the bank before the weekend. We still don’t have a final answer from the bank, but we are hopeful. At any rate, the fact that our house found interested buyers so fast was a great sign that we made the right move.

And that we are excellent interior decorators. 🙂

Next thing was Shawn’s career. Just as we were silently spreading the news of our big move, one of Shawn’s good friends out in Los Angeles decides to open an FX studio, starts placing bids on small films, and asks Shawn to be his principal sculptor once we arrive.

Then, mine. Once the bank received our bid I walked into my boss’s office to tell him the news. I had already interviewed remotely for a couple of jobs in San Diego but I didn’t get them. I was prepared to ask the boss to let me work remotely for one to three months so I could still earn some income while I looked for a new job out there. And I was so afraid he would throw me out of the office that I almost made myself a cardboard box beforehand, to carry my things out to the car. Instead, my boss surprised me by telling me he doesn’t want to lose me and would love to take me on long-term as a design contractor to the company. So not only do I not have to look for a crappy job after all, but I even get to become a freelancer and work from home.

This was starting to look better every day.

The most stressful part of this whole process has been finding a house. For a solid month I searched, applied, talked to landlords, emailed and faxed, collected bank statements and pay stubs, photocopied drivers licenses and paid innumerable credit check fees. We encountered so many roadblocks – some landlords didn’t like my credit score, some didn’t like my dog. Two owners decided last minute that they weren’t going to rent their home after all. But the biggest roadblock was that I wasn’t physically there, and we had such a huge disadvantage to the locals, we just kept getting overlooked.

Finally, right before I left for my business trip to Atlanta, I told myself that when I get back, I’m booking a flight out to San Diego and I’m not coming back until I find a place for us to live. Then something strange happened.

A little back story: we had four potential homes on our list at the time. Our #1 (favorite) home had just turned us away after a week of stalling, because the tenants decided not to move out. Our #2 and #3 places rented to locals. Then our number 4 place accepted us and asked for a deposit. I loved the landlord, she was a sweet, kind lady with a huge heart, and her home was a nice low price. And even though we accepted it, the house was so small that I questioned whether there would be enough room for Shawn’s enormous amount of stuff. And it had only one bathroom, a very small garage, a rather unkempt yard that we would be entirely responsible for, and it was in a town that I’d heard a lot of not-so-great things about.

So while I was away I laid awake in bed every night, worrying over whether we had settled on a house we weren’t going to love. But after looking for such a long time I was exhausted and just wanted somebody to accept us as tenants. And it was one of those things where, even though everything else seemed to be going our way, just the fact that I wasn’t totally happy with our choice of home made me question the viability of the whole move.

Then on the third day of my business trip I woke to an email from the owner of our #1 home: it would be available a month later than before, but the tenants were definitely going to be moving now, and we could have the house if we still wanted it.

A choir of angles started singing over my Marriott Buckhead hotel bed.

And what’s the best part of getting the house we wanted the most? It was also affordable for us! Go figure that. Actually, I really am confused by this, because from the second we uttered the words “We are moving to California” all I have heard from people around me is that cost of living is sooooooo much higher there. I guess I should be learning that it’s time to stop listening to people’s advice about housing, anyway – four years ago everybody told us it would be a great time to buy! What a laugh.

Anyway, here’s why I’m scratching my head about all of this housing affordability stuff: we will be going from a 1,200 square foot, 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath duplex in southern New Hampshire (50 minutes from a major city), with a cramped galley kitchen, a shitty unkempt yard, expensive oil heating and a sump pump that barely keeps water out of the basement … to a 1,700 square foot, 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom single-family home in a gated community in beautiful southern California (30 minutes from a major city), with a loft, fireplace, two-car garage, large kitchen, gas heat, no basement, shared swimming pool, palm trees and a bi-weekly gardener included.

All for roughly the same price.

Actually it will turn out to be a little less because we won’t have to make a monstrous down-payment or cough up for master insurance, property taxes, wintertime heating or maintenance and repair. Sure, gas is more expensive out there, but if you’re working from home…well, you get the picture. And…we can leave anytime we want.

(Oh, and let’s not forget the trails located right across the street from the new house, ones that are unpaved and hilly and so very undeniably West Coast.)

Yanno, when I get real quiet with myself, I really do wonder why the hell we ever decided to become homeowners in the first place.

So then once all the big stuff was taken care of and I could breath again, there were all the little details left to consider. How are we going to get our cat across the country, since he can barely make it down the street in a car? Suddenly my friend Breha offers to take him into her home for a few weeks and pop him on a plane for us. How are we going to drive two cars and not die of boredom? Poof! – my cousin Alysa offers to accompany us on the drive. Now, I’m not the Religious/superstitious type, but if I was, I’d be telling you that somebody “up there” was making attempts to answer every conundrum we run into with a quick and definitive solution, to keep us moving smoothly toward our goal of dipping our feet into the Pacific Ocean with a Carne Asada burrito in each hand.

The signs are everywhere. I know that we will be happier once we move out to California next month. I mean, sure there will be setbacks, challenges and bad days. We will miss some things about the East Coast, and we will feel some holes where people we love used to be. But there is no question in either of our hearts that San Diego is our home. We expect there will be an improvement in just about every facet of our life once we are there, and I know a lot of it will be due to the fact that we made a choice just for us. Not for anyone else, and not because of anyone else’s shitty opinions.

It’s amazing what happens when you stop listening to everybody else’s advice about your life, and instead start living it like an everyday experiment. Even if you make more mistakes, the results are so much more explosive and rewarding when you discover them on your own.

…if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.


A Dog, a Cat and a Credit Score

This is my dog, Oscar. Doesn’t he look ferocious, disobedient and destructive?

The past week has been an absolute sensory overload for me. Since breaking the news to my workplace about the Reeves Exodus to California, I have started making early preparations for the cross-country move. My life has been since upended into a windstorm of Craigslist ads, booking movers, emailing and calling realtors, signing things, taking photos, moving money around, getting quotes, calculating funds, cleaning, making appointments, filling out paperwork, paying application fees and tearing apart my house for really important things I either put away, lost or inexplicably threw out years ago.

And, in good Trish Reeves form as always, I have learned some things. These are in no particular order or congruency. Just pouring it all out over my keyboard. This is going to be one of those unformed, train-of-thought posts, I apologize in advance. But then again if you know me at all, you probably figured this was coming:

I have become suspicious of banks

True, I have always been suspicious of banks. And politicians, insurance companies, Crossfit fanatics and people who drive really expensive cars. That aside, considering how much we bought our house for 4 years ago, how little it’s worth now, and how many billions of dollars in tax revenue that my mortgager was bailed out with a few years ago, every time I hear the words “your bank must review and accept the buyer’s offer on your home” I feel as though my body has been coated with a thick layer of slime.

I have been reduced to two animals and a credit score

My husband and I are polite, intelligent, hard-working people who make good money and don’t make a lot of noise, mess or trash, always pay our important bills on time, exercise frequently, eat our vegetables and generally stay out of everyone else’s way. But when we are applying to rent a home from 3,000 miles away, it’s hard at times to get past the fact that we don’t have faces…instead we have a large dog, a cat, and both our credit scores aren’t perfect (well, mine).

The rental application is such a barrier! There are no boxes to check for tidy and cozy home keepers, responsible pet owners and better than average personalities. I cannot find a way to bring up the fact that my dog has made less noise and mess than most dogs under their seemingly arbitrary 20lb animal weight limit, and has destroyed far fewer walls, upholstery and furniture than the average toddler (that being none).

I just can’t find the appropriate phrasing for “we are boring and grateful, please rent your home to us.” There’s no real way to prove to someone that we will be the kind of tenants they want to rent to, because the only information they have on us is a dog, a cat and a just-average credit score.

I remembered how much I like my job

When I finally decided to break it to my boss that we were leaving for the left coast, I expected to be thrown out of the office and handed my walking papers. But per usual, I rather underestimated myself. See, I didn’t really want to leave my job, but I didn’t think there would be any other possibility available to me. I mean, the awesome possibility of working remotely is something that happens to other people, not me.

Well, I was wrong. And although there are still a lot of logistics left to figure out, it turns out I am not going to have to leave my job after all. My boss showed me a level of loyalty and honesty that I didn’t expect, and it was a very positive meeting. It made me feel secure in our decision to move, that it was really meant to be. And what I thought was holding me back before, it turns out it wasn’t after all.

I have decided how to deal with the inevitable opinion-ators

No matter what happy or exciting thing is going on in your life, there will always be a few haters Debbie Downers tapping you on the shoulder, offering up their negative view of your exciting new thing, with great big grins on their faces. In the past I’ve allowed those people to get under my skin, and sometimes I even let their words destroy my happy feelings altogether. And especially when it comes to moving to California, I have heard it all:

“Yeah…I’m all set with EARTHQUAKES.”

“Everything is so much more EXPENSIVE in California.”

“California’s ECONOMY is going down the tubes.”

“You’re going to miss the four SEASONS.”

“Everyone is so SUPERFICIAL in California. You’ll never make any FRIENDS.”

Well not this time. This time, I’ve been around long enough to recognize all that noise for what it really is: a lot of insecurity, sour grapes and jealous spouting. People who say those kinds of things to me aren’t looking out for my best interests, they are lashing out at me to protect their own perception of their best interests.

One unfortunate side-effect of being human is this intense urge to resent those around us who exude happiness, joy and success in the areas of life where we ourselves feel we are lacking. This is especially true of people who feel “stuck” in their lives, yet unwilling to change anything. They want to keep everyone else’s joy at bay, behind the fence where they can monitor it from a distance. You know, all that “misery loves company” stuff.

I feel like the day I realized all this, I finally grew up.

I started thinking of my future life as “my dream”

As in: “My Dream Job,” “My Dream Home” and “My Dream Life.” For the first time ever, I’m making a decision about something that doesn’t feel like settling. Instead I’m going for the Ultimate Dream Everything. Not coincidentally, this move is also the first truly selfish thing I have ever done for MYSELF. I have always been the kind of person who considers everyone else first. Because of that I’ve lived in homes I disliked, I didn’t enjoy my wedding day, and I’ve missed out on tons of little things that I could have had if I had just grown a backbone a little earlier in life. So no, I’m not worried that my family will disown me for leaving, and I don’t think I should continue living where I don’t want to any longer, just to please other people.

Unlike most people who leave their dreams behind on their pillows, I’m finally going to try and live mine.


The Big Move and My New Rules for Life

This post has been a long time coming. It’s a pretty big one for me, so I considered starting it with some trite quotations about making your own happiness and following your dreams, but then I remembered that posting quotes is what you do when you’re trying to convince yourself to change your life for the better. But I’m already convinced. A change is coming.

Shawn and I are in the process of moving to the West Coast.

We’ve been saying it for years: we’re moving out to Cali. We love San Diego. We’re going back to where Shawn grew up. We have had it up to our eyeballs with shoveling snow and wearing wool socks. You know, all that glass-eyed bullshit that everyone says at one time or another. The promises they make to themselves (and to each other) that one day… yes, one day soon, they are going to make a change, dammit. And nobody really believes you when you’re the one spewing it, because hardly anyone ever follows through. I’m sure almost nobody believed us. In fact, I bet half of you reading this still think I’m talking out of my ass.

But no matter. In a few short months, we will be 3,000 miles away from the doubts and nay-sayings, anyway.

A bunch of years back, my husband Shawn found his calling. He discovered that his interest in superheroes and movies and his boundless artistic talent translate exceptionally well in clay and urethane. He started to build a portfolio of character masks, busts, monsters, superheroes, makeup applications and props. Turns out they were good. Very good. And soon enough he started attracting attention from FX companies, famous comic artists and even celebrities. Of course, they are all located in southern California.

Meanwhile, I met an incredible group of people who love to run barefoot and experience more of life than the average, ordinary American worker ant. I watched them leave jobs they hated, move out of states they didn’t love, get rid of their burdensome mortgages and the enslaving shopping-mall-bound obligations of the typical “American Dream.” Of course, most of them are located on the west coast.

(Anyone else see a pattern here?)

And then one day last October, I had dinner with two of those incredible folks, Jason and Shelly Robillard, and I told them about our American Dream. Our dream to live in a place where the sun shines all year round. Where palm trees grow in the yard and the sun sets over the ocean. A place where Shawn can find proper work in his field, and where I can find people to run barefoot with me in the middle of nowhere, under the warm February sun.

I told them how I have visited the city of San Diego three times; and how each time I stepped off the plane my first thought was always “this is home.” All my life before this, I have never belonged to any place. I’ve never heard a town call my name. But San Diego? She is my siren song. I love her already, and I think she will love me too.

When I was done talking, Jason and Shelly just looked at me.

“Well,” Shelly finally said. “Tell me this: what are the obstacles holding you back? And more importantly, how are you going to remove them?” Okay, that’s not exactly what she said, but that was the handle of it. In other words, she and Jason forced me to look at our life through a cleaner pane of glass. What was holding us back?

  1. Shawn’s job, which he hated but liked the pay and benefits
  2. My job, which I liked and didn’t exactly want to leave
  3. Our home, which we own and have a mortgage for
  4. The fabricated notion that we need to work typical nine-to-five jobs and make a certain amount of money to be happy

“Okay,” they went on, “then what are you going to do to eliminate those obstacles, to have what you need to be happy? And if you fail to get what you need, what is the worst possible outcome that could result? Then, take a moment to really think about that outcome. In all honesty, would it really be that bad? Wouldn’t there be a feasible way to resolve it?”

Turns out, the answer is no, it wouldn’t be that bad. Moreover, just about any situation can be righted, almost every risk can be minimized. And in fact, the biggest risk of all to our happiness is never taking any risks.

In addition to being a couple of exceptionally caring friends, those Robillards…well, they’re just plain brilliant.

Just the act of removing some of our self-imposed obstacles has turned out to be more of a source of happiness than we ever imagined. In February, Shawn found himself no longer employed at his job. So he started sculpting full time. And he has never been happier. His only regret? Not having done it sooner.

I have a feeling that we will echo the same thoughts once we move to California: why did we not do this sooner? What were we so afraid of?

Well, it’s time to stop being afraid. Time to stop carrying around the remains of whatever confining rules of adulthood that our parents and teachers have pounded into our heads our entire lives. It’s time to make some new rules.

In fact, I’ll start with a few now. And no, these aren’t a bunch of trite quotations. They are my own. And I encourage you to create a few for yourself.

Live how you want, because nobody else can make that choice for you, and nobody else will be responsible for it later

A bigger house, an expensive car and designer clothes don’t make good people love you more

don’t sabotage your own personal growth by asking others for assistance instead of working through problems on your own

stand far enough behind the crowd to see which path everyone else is taking, then take the one nobody did

You don’t have to have children to experience the joy of caring for someone who loves you unconditionally

Making choices based on someone else’s desires won’t satisfy either of you

Work hard enough to challenge yourself, but not so hard that enjoying life is a challenge

Just because you were born here doesn’t mean this is where you belong now

apologize to no one for the person you are, and especially not for the one you plan to become


How a Tough Life Makes a Tougher Person: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1

Well I survived that night, and the next morning I went to school with those bruises on my face. But nobody really took notice, they probably just figured I’d lost another fight with one of the other female students. Go figure, all the people who wanted to hurt me, and I never learned how to fight.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, I really hated going to public school. I was used to my small class of kids who would at least get in trouble when they called me Mount Killaminjaro. Despite my friendly demeanor and my numerous attempts to latch on to anyone willing to talk to me, by the end of the year I hadn’t even made a single friend. Looking back on that school year now, I frankly don’t know how I made it through. I sat by myself at lunch every day, and tried not to piss anyone off. It sucked.

And even though I told the guidance counselor at my entrance interview that I fully intended to go to college, there was no evidence of that in my grades. I went from being a bright, A-B student to failing out of two classes and barely passing the rest. But thankfully, public school didn’t have to last much longer for me anyway.

You see, obesity and early-onset heart disease runs in my family, especially on the male side. Here is a good place to mention that by this point in time, my father had already suffered his first heart attack when he was 33 years old. No, that’s not a typo. I was twelve years old then, and he scared the living shit out of me. He scared me even more a few years later when he’d been arrested one too many times for DUI and went to jail for two months, awaiting trial. Because he was raising two kids on his own, they let him come back with an ankle brace and for several months he was only allowed to leave the house for work.

My father put a lot of fear into me. His lifestyle was so obviously reckless, even to me, that it seemed I was always waiting for something really bad to happen to him.

But nothing, not the threat of jail or of death, ever scared my father. Never stopped him from smoking two packs a day, drinking, snorting and living his life the way he wanted to. Not even the responsibility of raising two children.

Or maybe he really just thought that nothing could ever happen to him. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

On September 26th, 1994, during a late-night hockey game, the last bump of cocaine he’ll ever snort still highlighting his veins, my father suffered a massive coronary and died. He went down right on the ice at the Wallace Civic Center. Skates, goalie pads, helmet and all.

I awoke to the sound of the phone ringing that night, and answered it. It was someone from the local hospital, but she wouldn’t give me any information. But fate was merciful, because my grandfather and his partner Marge had been staying over that night, and were able to talk to them. They both disappeared from the house without telling me what was going on. A few hours later they came home to tell my brother and I that we no longer had any parents to take care of us.

That was the second time I saw my grandfather cry.

Soon after that we began the game titled “Who’s Going to Take In the Kids?” It was a fancifully demoralizing game of tossing the ball back and forth between this family member and that. My grandfather was in his sixties, retired and too feeble from his own struggle with heart disease to be taking on two teenagers. My father’s sister and brother-in-law were my Godparents, and they had a great big house out in the country for themselves and their three daughters. They were very well-off and financially able to take us in, but they weren’t about to make any alterations to their lifestyle just because my father decided to die so much younger than planned. The sibling rivalry between them was never more apparent to me than then.

For a week I stayed with an aunt from my mother’s side whom I’d never met before, and her daughter who was exactly my age and went to my high school. I hadn’t known before that she was my cousin, but now I was potentially moving into her bedroom and she understandably did not like it.

I think at that point it had become clear to my grandfather that we should be taken out of public high school. He knew that I was sneaking out at night, skipping school and getting bad grades. I had dyed my hair jet black and shaved parts of it down to my scalp. I wore gobs of black eyeliner and shapeless clothing that would have been baggy on a 200-pound man. I was headed straight into the cesspool my parents lived in before me, complete with abusive boyfriends, teen pregnancy and a lifetime career as a night-time gas station clerk. And if nothing else, at least he knew better than to send me there.

Instead he sent me to my Aunt Pauline’s house. Aunt Pauline was his brother’s wife, but his brother had died back in 1978, in his early 40’s (heart disease, shocker). All their kids were grown now, so Pauline had a giant Victorian house all to herself, located less than half a mile from the Catholic High School.

Pauline was well into her 60’s then, full of caffeine and tough as a bull whip. She was barely tall enough to ride the adult rollercoaster, but as soon as we moved in she put a noose on us so tightly that we could barely breathe. She wanted us to focus on academics and become upstanding members of society. But because she had heard the story of our dad’s parenting style from my grandfather (who has an all too familiar penchant for “remembering big”), she went totally overboard with the regulations.

She liked to call it the “thumbs down” approach.

First, she had our grandfather give away our dog. Then she took away the televisions we both had in our previous bedrooms and forbade us from spending time upstairs, something most teenagers usually do to be alone. We couldn’t talk on the telephone for more than 15 minutes a night and our calls were monitored. I wasn’t allowed to go out more than two nights per week during the school year, and working late at my part-time job counted as a night out. I had to sign up for as many honors classes as I was accepted into, and if I didn’t make the Dean’s List (all A’s and B’s) I was grounded until the next report cards came in. I couldn’t have a boyfriend until I was 16, but once I turned 16 I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend if I was cheering that semester. The way she put it, I didn’t have time for more than one “extra-curricular activity.”

She meant well, she was the best parental figure I ever had – but I didn’t like it even one bit. Naturally, we fought a lot. She sent me to a psychologist who ended up telling me I was a surprisingly well-adjusted teenager…and hinted that I should try to go to college in another state.

So I did. College was fun. I caused a lot of trouble and skipped classes on my own dime (which I still haven’t fully paid back yet). I did get through school in four years though, and with fairly good grades to boot.

It wasn’t until after college was over that I really had to face my mother again. Over the course of my teen years she had popped in once or twice, sure. Once she had a three year old child with her, Bo, who was taken away from her by Social Services and later adopted. Lucky kid. Another time she came to watch me cheer at a high school basketball game. It was weird.

My gorgeous mother.

But when I was an adult I got curious about her. I wanted to get to know her, I wanted to get over being angry with her. After a few strange visits, introducing her to my boyfriend or going out for dinner, it became clear to me that my mother was even more lost than my dad ever was. She was impossible to dig into – it was like she had a pane of glass covering her body. Nobody got inside.

Eventually I gave up trying to figure her out and continued on with my life. Then a few days after my 31st birthday, she died too. Of cervical cancer. I’d go into more detail, but I already wrote about it here.

And then there was just me.

Yeah, you’re probably thinking “that’s not true, you’ve got your brother.” But unfortunately, I do not. He never grew out of whatever it was that made him enjoy watching our dad kick my ass over the Kool-Aid he spilled on the floor. When I went to college he stole all of the jewelry from my bedroom and gave it away to some girls in his class. Then, after pushing our aunt across the kitchen floor, he ended up in a foster home. And then another. And then another, until he turned 18, dropped out of school (he was only a Junior, since he’d repeated 4th grade) and proceeded to wreak enough havoc on the state of Massachusetts that he still has warrants out for his arrest if he ever returns.

He served some time in Georgia for raiding a pharmacy for Oxy. Then he moved to upstate New York, where he still resides. I’m not sure where or how he lives, only that he repudiates the idea of working for a living and prefers living off “the land.” Which probably means he grows, smokes and sells a whole lot of weed.

Either way, he and I still get along like cats and dragons. We just do not understand each other. He blames me for our shitty upbringing, and I stay the hell out of his way. I check up on him every month or so on Facebook, just to make sure he’s still alive and kicking. And then I mosey on before he has the chance to ask me for money or remember how much he loathes my elitist, working-for-the-man, sell-out ways.

Meanwhile, I learned that I have a strong eye for design, and an even stronger capacity for writing. I’ve been admonished with compliments, awards and even some cash for my writing, and I managed to put my college degree to use, by scoring a full-time job as a designer.

I also love to run. And while I’m no Scott Jurek (heck, I’m not even fast enough to pace him during his 130th mile at Badwater), I still can run farther than a majority of the American population, so that’s something. And maybe I have something else in common with Jurek. With Mark Twain. And that is this: my childhood royally sucked. And I think those guys would agree with me when I tell you that I wouldn’t change a thing about it (well, maybe I would take back that ridiculous house party. And the black hair dye). Know why? Because it taught me about being tough, about sticking things out and about the art of bouncing back, more than it ever did make me cry.

I don’t usually tell people this story, either. In fact, an old friend I’ve known since 4th grade, someone I knew through most of the bad days, was utterly shocked when she read the first part of this post. She didn’t know about everything, and I never even thought to tell her. Why not? Well, you might think that I don’t tell people because I’m ashamed, or because it’s too sad for me to think about. But it’s neither of those things. I don’t talk about it with people because it’s not my life. Not now, anyway. It’s the story of the child I started out as, but it’s not the story of who I am today. It’s not the story of my future. That sad, sorry tale is what I see when I look backward. But I’m not the kind of person who sees any point in looking backward.

I am the kind of person who is ever moving forward, moving faster and faster toward the dawn of my future. Like my friend Vanessa once wrote, it’s just one foot in front of the other…forever. I think that’s probably my favorite phrase in the English language. And I especially like that it was written about an ultramarathon.

I suppose in some way my life has always been like an ultra (or perhaps it was always preparing me for one?). If you make it through the rough spots, the unbearable lows and the back-breaking hills, there’s nothing but glory at the end. Glory to last the rest of your life.

I mean heck, maybe that’s why I love running so much.

now I’ve seen both my parents
play out the hands they were dealt
and as each year goes by
i know more about how my father must have felt

night falls like people into love
we generate our own light
to compensate
for the lack of light from above

and every time we fight
a cold wind blows our way
but we can learn like the trees
how to bend
how to sway and say

I think I understand
what all this fighting was for
and I just want you to understand
that I’m not angry anymore
no, I’m not angry anymore



How a Tough Life Makes a Tougher Person: Part 1

There is something I have always wondered about life: why is it that, throughout history, some of the brightest, strongest and most talented people alive (and some I know personally) so often arrive at success only after a series of brutally traumatic early life struggles? What makes it possible for these people to overcome such dire obstacles? Is it their very struggles that cause them to become so talented?

In school I always excelled in English and writing. I loved to read and write, as I do today. During one year in elementary school, each of us had to write a paper on a historical author. I chose Mark Twain because I happened to be reading Huckleberry Finn at the time. While researching his biography for the term paper, I realized that he went through this absolute monster of a life before becoming the epic writer whose stories we still enjoy. Four of his six siblings died as children, and his father died when he was eleven. Then, his close brother died as a young adult in a steamboat accident, for which Twain always blamed himself. And that was just the first half of his life.

Fascinated, I started to examine the early lives of other brilliant historical figures and found that many of them also had some pretty sad beginnings. Eventually what I learned was enough to form a theory in my mind, that those of us who are cursed with a rough and tragic childhood are thereby given the gift of learning how to endure, persevere and gather insight more aptly than most regular, well-adjusted people ever do.

Lately as I’ve been busy living the course of my adult life, I haven’t thought much more about that theory. But then last week I started reading Scott Jurek’s memoir “Eat and Run“, a story about how his early life prepared him for the triumphs of his running career, and it has reintroduced me to my original wonder and awe at the strength of those with unusually harsh childhoods.

Like myself.

Similar to Scott Jurek, Mark Twain and many others I know and admire, a huge chunk of my life has been downright tragic. And like them, I have been granted the gifts of profound insight, inner strength and creativity. Then again, it was a gift I had the choice to either recognize and take advantage of, or leave behind. My younger brother and I were both given this choice, and the years since have shown how differently we have each perceived it. Sometimes, like Twain, I blame myself. But that’s a story for another  time.

But now I will tell you, in a few truncated parts, the story of how it all began for me.

I arrived to this world by inconvenient, if not sadly commonplace circumstances. My mother and father were dumb, wild and barely out of high school when they fell pregnant with me. They weren’t really serious about marriage or each other, they had no money and when my dad’s father found out, he ordered my mother to go get an abortion.

My grandfather, having none of it.

They didn’t listen to him, but having me around didn’t make their lives any better, either. Both of my parents loved to party and get high, but my mother was into it more. They got married a few months after I was born, and had barely given birth to their second child before their loud, cocaine-clouded fights attracted police officers to the house on reports of domestic abuse and public intoxication. Soon after, my mother decided to head for the hills and leave us all behind. She moved to Florida and I didn’t see her again until I was a teenager.

By then I was almost four and my brother hadn’t even celebrated his first birthday. My father needed help with us so we moved in with my paternal grandparents.

Just the three of us.

My dad and grandfather were a volatile pair; they fought ceaselessly, and sometimes we would be caught in the middle of the arguments. I remember once being dragged out of a dead sleep at 3 a.m., to be told that we were getting thrown out of the house. There was clothing and a mattress lying out on the lawn and my father was punching walls. The only thing that could settle the two men down was my grandmother. She was always so soft-spoken, but reasonable enough to keep them from killing each other for one more day. But when she wasn’t around, my grandfather often took his stresses with my father out on us. If I didn’t clean my room to his satisfaction he would grab my hair by the nape of my neck and toss me down the hallway toward my room to go fix it.

When I was nine, my grandmother died of a pulmonary embolism. My six year old brother was the one who found her body, naked in the bath with the cordless phone receiver in her hand. That was the first time I ever saw my grandfather cry, and it terrified me even more than losing the only maternal figure I had left.

My grammy and grampa, back in the good old days.

Without my grandmother around to calm the angry tides, the fighting became unbearable. Eventually my grandpa no longer wanted to live in the house among the sad memories of his lost wife, and knowing that my dad had no savings, he gave the house to us and moved out. Now we were on our own.

Things just got worse for me in school as well as at home, after that. Without my grandmother around for me as a guiding motherly figure, my grades went down steadily, along with my self-esteem. I became overweight and my classmates routinely made fun of me for it. My father didn’t allow me to join the cheerleading squad because, as he told me, nobody likes a fat cheerleader. But he also wouldn’t let me join a street hockey team like my brother, because he didn’t think girls should play boy sports. However, I was still expected to find a way to lose the extra weight, even though we were getting our dinner at McDonald’s three times a week.

Our little house on Mechanic Street.

In addition to the daily brow-beating I would receive plenty of real beatings, too. At age 11 I learned how to make my father’s White Russians, and learned how to drive his motorboat, on the occasions when we were out on the lake and he had gotten himself too drunk to get it back to shore safely. Eventually I became fully responsible for keeping the house, doing laundry and taking care of my brother while dad was at work, playing hockey, out getting hammered or away for the weekend with one of his many girlfriends. If he came home to a messy house or a hungry son, I would pay for it handsomely.

My brother and I, before he learned how to milk the brother-sister inequality.

Obviously, my brother was spoiled and favored by our father. But he also had ADHD, and I believe, a touch of bipolar disorder. After awhile he caught on that he could get away with a lot more than I could, so he would play Nintendo all day while I picked up after him. And then about twenty minutes before our father was due home he would make a disaster out of the house, just so he could watch me get slapped around with a satisfied grin on his face.

Over time my father got drunker and more lost to the real world. He kept his day job at G.E. without much of a problem, but mostly because my grandfather worked there and would straighten him out when needed. He made good money too, but he would spend it all on booze, dope and hockey. One night when I was about 14, he came home after getting trashed at the bar and was moving about so loudly that he woke me up. When I came out of my room the house was filled with smoke, all the way down to the hallway where the fire alarms had been disconnected years before. In his stupor, my father had put a dry pot on the stove at high heat, with a frozen package of meat inside it. The pot was on fire now, the flames rising less than two feet from the ceiling. And there was my blitzed father in the living room, busy tripping over himself and giggling like a school girl. I screamed and cried for his attention, but he was too out of it to help. Finally I ran into the kitchen, lifted the burning pot off the stove and doused it under the sink, lucky as hell that there was no oil in it. By the time I was able to put out the fire and open all of the windows he had passed out halfway on his bed, fully dressed, both feet still on the floor. My brother and I sat outside on the swing-set for the rest of the night, because the house was too smokey to breathe.

When I was high school age, my father could no longer afford to send me to Catholic school, where I had been sent by my grandmother to avoid the terrible public schools in the area. A newbie and a Freshman at Leominster High, I was routinely beat up by tough girls who interpreted my terrified quietness as Catholic school snobbery. One morning I came to school and my locker had been spray-painted with the words “TRISHA IS A SLUT.” This was because I had unknowingly sat next to someone’s boyfriend on the bus to school the day before.

No doubt, all of that was a terrific recipe for my upcoming teenage rebellion.

With nobody else to accept me at school or at home, I made friends with the kids from the local projects about a mile from our house. These kids’ parents were absent enough that they would easily get away with every kind of bad behavior under the sun. They stole cigarettes from the corner store, smoked pot, drank their parents’ liquor and stayed out late without repercussions. Not surprisingly, I wanted to do all those things too. I would walk up there after school to hang out with them until it got dark, and then I would sneak out of my bedroom window a few times a week to cause trouble all night. Then I would skip school the following day and forge my dad’s signature on school paperwork.

And things kept getting worse as my rambunctious teenage years ensued. My father arrived home earlier than expected a few times, and caught me with boys in the house. He would chase them out the door, hurling death threats at them. One time the police had to call him home from a vacation with his girlfriend of the month, when they arrived to answer a public disturbance call. I had been hosting a 30-person house party that had gotten completely out of control. There were people on the roof throwing snowballs at cars, somebody had put my dog into the oven, and my father’s truck had gone missing for almost two hours.

When my dad got home that night and the police officers left, my father beat me so hard that he left bruises all over my face. After his rage lulled he made me get into the car with him. The way he was driving (drunk) made me fear that he meant to kill us both. But he didn’t kill us. He just didn’t want me to run away from home while he was out at the liquor store buying more booze.

Click here to read Part 2


Why I Regret Becoming a Responsible Adult

What’s so wrong about always seeing life like this?

“Yeah, soon I’m going to have to become a REAL adult.”

This is a sentence I overheard the other day from someone several years younger than I, during a group conversation about homeownership. Because I know the speaker, I was able to safely assume he was also referring to things like marriage, childrearing and owning a BJ’s shopping card. I didn’t say it out loud, but my initial reaction was, “Why? Why do you have to do that?”

The saddest part is that the comment was uttered with a tone of trepidation. Foreboding, even. Like it was something he knew he had to do, but just didn’t want to yet. Truth is, just about all of us risk get sucked into that “you must do this” mentality once we become adults. We get the sense from others that if we do all of these seemingly responsible things that we are expected to do, then we will be somehow rewarded later on. But this reward we are seeking, what is it really? Is it the approval we gain by other adults or by our parents? Is it the reward of being seen as “responsible”? I’m really not sure…because it’s certainly nothing tangible, from what I can tell.

‘We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.’
– Joseph Campbell

Leaving that unanswerable question aside, what does a “responsible adult” look like, anyway? What makes buying a home more responsible than renting? What makes staying in a job we hate more responsible than making less money at a fun job or doing freelance work? Why are we considered more “adult-like” if we have children and save for their educations, rather than saving for vacations or retirement homes with our beloved spouses?

‘Life is too important to be taken seriously.’
-Oscar Wilde

And, more disconcertingly, why do we make our life decisions based on what other people will think of us? Why does what we think of ourselves matter so little by comparison?

‘This above all, to thine own self be true.’
-William Shakespeare

In my travels I have watched well-educated people destroy their lives making decisions based solely on what they want others to think of them. I’ve seen people live miserably unhappy existences in an effort to appear wealthy, well-dressed and successful, stay in a loveless marriage to circumvent the appearance of failing at something, and even have more children than they wanted just to satiate a family member. It’s one thing to make seemingly reckless decisions in order to enhance your eventual happiness, but to do so just to augment another’s opinion of you, and thereby decrease your own happiness…well, that’s just downright irresponsible!

‘To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.’
-Theodore H. White

In my ripe old age of 33, I have come to realize that the most responsible “adult” decisions I have ever made have turned out to be mostly gainless and ineffectual. I have purchased two homes, and I have lost tens of thousands of dollars on both while never increasing my happiness at all. I spent my entire savings on a big (to me) wedding and at the end of the day, every penny felt wasted. I invested in a 401K and lost most of it when the stock market stumbled. So far, none of the things I was “supposed” to do turned out to be worthwhile for me.

‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.’
-Joseph Cambell

On the other hand, some of the decisions I’ve made that would be viewed by the world in general as irresponsible, wasteful, juvenile or foolish have brought me significantly more happiness. Going to college for art. Renting an apartment (before the idiotic decision to buy). Standing behind my husband while he quit his job to become a freelance artist. Deciding not to have children. Heck, even running barefoot.

‘Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.’
-John F. Kennedy

Turns out, every time I turn doggedly away from the things I’m “supposed” to do and decide my own path, the rewards are manyfold. And because of this, in the near future I will be revealing more ballsy, life-changing decisions that may have others up in arms, but will bring me happiness beyond what the average “responsible adult” behavior can appreciate. Sure, being cheered onward from friends and family is great, but approval from others is not my ultimate goal in life. Not anymore, anyway.

‘In order to live free and happily, you must sacrifice boredom. It is not always an easy sacrifice’
-Richard Bach

Now, I’m not saying that everyone should quit their job or live in a hovel just to buck the system. I just believe that there is no one true path to everyone’s happiness. Some people love the idea of living their entire lives in the same town, but not everyone. Some people love children and want many, but not everyone. Some enjoy the security of a long-term employment in one place, and of a long-term retirement savings plan, but not everyone. Some believe in the benefits of a plant-based vegan diet, but not everyone. See what I’m getting at here?

Everything is right for some people, but nothing is right for everyone.

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in Nature’
-Helen Keller

The American Dream is not one dream. It’s millions of dreams, held by billions of Americans. Forcing everyone into one ideal “responsible adult” lifestyle is ridiculous and irrational. And that is why, by its own definition, I don’t plan to “buck up” and become a REAL adult. Not now, not ever. In fact, it’s the worst thing I could imagine for myself.

Instead, I plan to undo the decisions I’ve made in this vein, as much as I can. I plan to retrace my path back to where I started before any of that outside interference, and make careful steps along my own path. And I’ll draw my own map from now on, thank-you-very-much.

‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’
– Mark Twain