Lacey Labels

Throughout my twenty-eight years, I have been categorized at every end of every spectrum imaginable: fat and thin, friendly and bitchy, shy and shrill, a prep and - during one very confusing interaction on the streets of London two years ago - a goth. And, excluding the one marked "goth", these labels have been true at some point or another whether I've wanted to claim them or not. I know better than to consider myself a martyr in this regard. We're all constantly placing them on each other and most of us will spend years of our lives oscillating between the anxiety that comes from trying to shuck those labels and the anxiety that comes from trying to live up to them.

But I currently find myself in a very curious situation, one that I can't remember having encountered at any other time in my life. It seems that the one label I feel should be plastered largely and boldly across my forehead will not be given to me by you all. So today, I am giving it to myself. 

I, Lacey Neel Taylor, am absolutely terrified. 

Telling you this feels like a bit of a reckoning or, at the very least, a confession. I'm not sure exactly why that is but I think it's because for the past few years I've been wielding the label of bravery like a bad cop with his badge, flashing it at anyone who dares get too close or look me in the eye. I have proudly exhibited evidence of my courageousness and flaunted anything I thought would make me seem fearless. Even my vulnerability was calculated - sharing just enough to seem relatable but never enough to tip my shaking hand. 

But today I am taking those shaky hands and using them to give all that false bravado the middle finger. The badge is gone and in its place are shaking boots. Because I am terrified. And before you get too curious about what is making me so scared, don't worry. I'm going to make sure you regret ever asking. 

I am terrified that a snake will come out of my toilet pipes and bite me in the ass. I am terrified of cockroaches. I am terrified that I will never find work that fulfills me. I am terrified that I'm going to post this and offend someone or worse, bore them. I am terrified of the fact that I'm not even thirty and am already considering botox. I'm terrified of cancer. I'm terrified that the best things in my life will fall apart and the worst things will never change. At least once every yoga class, I'm terrified that I'm going to fart. I'm terrified that my plane will fall out of the sky or my car will crash or a piano will fall through the apartment right above me. I'm terrified that I have not adequately expressed the things that I feel to the people I love most. I am terrified by what I see in the news. I'm terrified that people will think I'm fat at my ten-year reunion this month. I'm terrified I won't find friends in Los Angeles. I am terrified that I've missed whatever boat was supposed to take me to the place where I become a responsible, healthy, well-rounded adult and that another one will never pass my way again.

These are things that keep me up at night. Sometimes they seem insignificant enough to laugh off and other times they are so insurmountable that the thought of putting on real pants is more than I can handle. One might say this seems like a classic case of anxiety disorder to which I'd say yeah, sure. One might say this could all be quelled by quality time spent with Jesus or Buddha or a therapist, to which I'd say done and done and done -- in fact, I'm still terrified my therapist doesn't know how much she meant to me because I was too scared to hug her goodbye after our last session before I left New York. One might say the fact that I am 'fessing up is proof that I am, indeed, deserving of the bravery label but to end on that feels dangerously close to the thing I am perhaps most terrified of -- being cliche. 

So, instead, I think I'll just keep all of the labels every given me. I'll mush them all together and maybe I'll sort them out and figure out which should stick around once I finally get on the boat that takes me to the place where I can wear the label of confidence...confidently. But until then I'll be terrified. And brave. And friendly. And who the hell knows, maybe I'll even be gothic when it's all said and done. But above all of those labels, I'll hang the one I'm sure I am, and that I feel a little bit closer to after writing this.

I'll be human. 

A Detailed Account of My Granny, The Funeral Crasher

For as long as I can remember my Uncle Dave has given the eulogies in our family. Which, for a people who hold their annual family reunion in a cemetery, is just about the highest honor that can be bestowed. I don’t know how exactly Uncle Dave came to power, but if I had to guess, I’d say it probably has something to do with his fluency in the Southern Baptist vernacular. With characters as infamously colorful as the ones in my family, it’s nice to have the Jesus card in your back pocket. If you don’t have anything nice to say you can always say “we loved him as a brother in Christ,” and “he’s gone to be with Jesus” seems to roll off the tongue a bit sweeter than “good riddance.”

 So, when my Granny died almost two years ago, I found comfort in the fact that I knew exactly what to expect. I was on autopilot; I filed into a very beige and sanitized side room at the local funeral home. I held my mom’s hand and listened to Dave’s son, my cousin Drew, sing Amazing Grace (even Southern Baptists aren’t above a little nepotism). And then I sat down and listened to Uncle Dave’s eulogy and it was exactly what I thought it would be: where she’d grown up, the work she did as a teacher’s aide and the daughters and grandchildren she was survived by. Of course, everyone in the pews was filling in the blanks. She’d been an alcoholic most of her life. She’d been married six times, each suitor less desirable than the last. That is until Thomas, her final partner, who had left her with a beautiful house and a considerable sum of money, part of which she promised him she’d use to send each grandkid to college. He died, and she broke that promise. She’d taken up every ounce of her children’s time and attention in her final years with guilt-laden demands and false health alarms. 

“We loved her as a sister in a Christ, and now she’s gone to be with Jesus,” Uncle Dave concluded.

 Everyone Amen-ed obligingly and I started planning my strategy of attack on the chicken spaghetti and deviled eggs we’d no doubt have after Granny was laid to rest. I could even picture her grave plot and headstone perfectly because I’d been visiting it for five years during family reunions. She’d had it put up after one of her health scares. I was just about to ask my mom if she knew who’d made the deviled eggs - if it was my Aunt Marla they’d have pickles in them, which would be an unfortunate kink in my plans but meant I could possibly have a piece of both my mom's chocolate sheet cake AND the sweet potato pie - when the coup happened.

“Thank you for your words, David.”

A man I’d never seen before now stood behind the podium. My thoughts came crashing back to reality as I racked my brain for who this sweaty-pated stranger with a thick East-Texas drawl could be and why he’d Kanye’d my Uncle Dave. Was he one of Granny’s husbands? Had I seen him at the family reunions? Was Uncle Dave’s name really David? Or worse, was this a just a senile stranger who had wandered into the wrong funeral and was now missing the memorial of his own loved one laying in some other beige room? I was ready to jump out of my pew and lead this poor man to his correct destination when he explained himself.

“I’m  Mr. Ross, a friend of Jimmie’s from secondary school and I’d like to read a letter she sent me years ago in the event of her death.”

And just like that, my Granny crashed her own funeral.

--

In retrospect, it seems fitting that my career as a speechwriter began the same week as my Granny’s funeral. In fact, within the first few hours of my first day on the job, I received the call from my mom in Texas that Granny was in the hospital with what might have been a stroke. I cringe to think how callous I must have sounded in the ensuing conversation with my boss:

“Sorry about that, my Granny had a stroke.”

“I’m so sorry. Do you need to go?”

“No, I’m sure she’s just being dramatic. This isn’t the first time this has happened.”

It was the last. The small, inoperable brain tumor my Granny had been diagnosed with fifteen years before had finally decided to grow up.

Ironically, in the two years since my Granny’s passing, I’ve become somewhat of a Mr. Ross myself. See, I'm not just any speechwriter -- I'm a personal speechwriter. I write wedding vows, Bar Mitzvah speeches, best man roasts and, of course, eulogies. And while I don’t ever funeral crash, and I always make sure I have the names right, I am, or at least my words are, a foreign presence in someone else’s most intimate moments.

I used to say that my job as a personal speechwriter is a lot like being a therapist but that’s not exactly right. Therapists help people. They stay distant and objective. In truth, I’m more like a voyeur. I am not there to guide anyone - I peek into people’s lives, poking around dark corners and getting uncomfortably close. My objective is not to stay impartial, in fact, it’s the opposite. When I sit down to write a speech, my goal is to become the speech giver. I fall in love with strangers and mourn them. Celebrate their victories and feel their losses. On any given day, I’m a proud mother trying not to embarrass my 13-year old son as he becomes a man, or a groom with shaking hands promising his love forever, or a grieving daughter trying to keep her composure as she celebrates the life of a parent.

In order to do this, I have to pry. I ask a lot of personal questions and I get a lot of weird responses: bitter family disputes, messy divorces, personal addictions and everything in between. I once had a man tell me it’d be best not to mention his ex in his speech, as she was in prison after taking a hit out on him and his new wife. In fact, for any given speech, I do twice as much listening as I do writing and in all those hours of listening, I’ve learned two things to be true. One, no matter who you are, nobody gets through a lifetime without doing both good and bad things. And two, the minute details of a person's life will kick narrative’s ass every time when it comes to giving a good speech. Everyone is loyal and kind and funny. Everyone thinks their child was cute when they were a baby and everyone has a "wild night" story with their best friend. I’m not interested in these things. Give me the small details - the infuriatingly specific drink order your friend gives the barista every time you get coffee. The number of expired coupons your mom rifles through every time she goes to the grocery store. The song your dad always hums when he’s stuck in traffic. The name of the books your sister read to you instead of going outside to play while you were sick and stuck in bed. These are the things that make a speech worth listening to, that truly celebrate the life of a person you love.

--

I don’t remember what my Granny wrote in her own eulogy, other than a perfectly executed joke about a God-awful yellow skirt she sewed for herself in high school. But I think I now understand why she wrote it. My Granny was no fool, she knew the narrative of her life wasn’t great on paper and that Uncle Dave’s words that day might reflect as much. Or worse, be as beige and sanitized as the room we’d sit in as he spoke them. I think my Granny knew there was a chance the details of her life would be lost, and she took it upon herself to make sure that didn’t happen.

Because the truth is Granny wasn’t just a sister in Christ or an alcoholic or unlucky in love. She was Jimmie Watt, a woman with an acerbic wit and almost ESP-level intuition, who loved roosters and old porcelain dolls. She used to let her grandkids feed the fish in the pond behind her house and she built us a playhouse in her yard that was a perfect replica of her own, down to the maroon colonial shutters. She loved the color red. She had an incredibly green thumb and her garden was always thriving with all sorts of exotic plants, every one of which she knew the name of. She kept hundreds of pen pals throughout her life. Every one of the hundreds of books in her personal library had a sticker inside that said: “Property of Jimmie Watt” with her address below so guests could borrow them at any time. She bought PT Cruisers even though she could have afforded any car on the lot because she thought they were cute. She always had Werther’s candies in a dish and framed pictures of her family on her coffee table, even when she was in assisted living. She once wrote me a check for fifty bucks with the memo line reading "you got up" after I fell in a dance recital. She could handily beat anyone in the game of Skip-Bo and her homemade chicken and dumplings are still second to none. She taught me the magic of room temperature cheddar cheese on a Ritz club cracker. 

I wish it hadn’t been my first day as speechwriter when I got the news about Granny. I wish I’d known then what I know now, that I could have asked my Granny the questions I ask strangers every day. She experienced so much before I came around, and she endured so much before my mom and aunts were born. She lived so much life outside of the narrative we’d built around her.

More than anything, I wish I’d thought to speak these words before now. All I can hope is that Uncle Dave is right, and I’ll get to tell Granny one day when I too have gone to be with Jesus.

A Week From Today and One Year Ago

A week from today and one year ago, I got married. I wore a long white dress and I fake laughed for pictures with my friends; I ugly cried as I walked down the aisle and I promised my best friend that I'd do my very best to take care of him for the rest of our lives. It was a day saturated with magic, a spectacular performance of love set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge mountains. It could not have been more perfect; I could not have been more terrified.

When you are a child of divorce, you are acutely aware of the fact that two good people with the best of intentions could love each other at one point and not love each other anymore at another. I grew up in what I consider one of the best-case scenarios of divorce -- I was a baby when it happened so the divorce itself was not a traumatic experience in my life, more a story I told people to explain why I couldn't come to a slumber party on any given weekend. Both of my parents have been present for every moment of my life, and I never questioned just how much I was loved. Most importantly, they always did their very best to respect the role one another played in my brother's and my life despite their own disagreements, a luxury most children in our circumstance, unfortunately, are not allowed.

But the fact is, there will always be one Christmas and two sets of expectations. And you can only be shuttled back and forth between separate lives so many Sunday afternoons before you realize that this wasn't what anybody had planned for when they started out. I can remember lying awake in bed at my dad's house on his weekends and hoping that my mom wasn't lonely without me there. I know now that on my dad's weekends she was enjoying a dollar margarita with friends at the local Taco Cabana, which must have been a very close second to reminding me for the fifth time that my Raja bedspread would not attract deadly Tigers into my bedroom as far as nighttime activities go, but I still get sad when I think of my seven-year-old self, carrying the burden of loving two people who no longer love each other. 

It's really hard to admit that these thoughts were running through my head on my wedding day. Especially because my parents were a united front for the entirety of our engagement -- they even walked me down the aisle together. But it's not easy to ignore a lifetime of evidence that the whole marriage thing could fall apart, and nearly impossible to suspend your belief in the fact that sometimes things don't work out. And as the music started to play and I linked arms with my parents to head down the aisle, I couldn't help but acknowledge the irony of the situation, they were coming together to help me do the thing that had ended so badly for them.

But of course, there's one variable we haven't covered in this equation. A 6'3" variable that is warm and loving and handsome as heeeeelllll. And as soon as he came into focus that day, so too did the life we were going to have together, the one we'd already spent five years building side by side. As our friend and officiant read the story of how we met and how we fell in love to our friends and family, the narrative in my head started to shift and different evidence became more concrete. Five years of proof that we were devoted to one another, and willing to forgive each other even when it was not easy. Five years' proof that life together was a life we both enjoyed. Five years' proof that we were better people than we had been before we came together. Five years' proof that we loved each other enough to promise we'd keep it up for the rest of our lives.

This year has been a lot of different things all at once. We have celebrated victories and fought openly on the subway. Climbed literal mountains and wallowed in metaphorical valleys. We have loved each other the best we could and squeezed Liza between us when our love for her was the only thing upon which we could find common ground.

As I write this, Spence is asleep next to me under a ratty old quilt on our pull-out couch because the air conditioning is broken in the bedroom of our tiny East Village apartment. We've both gotten chubby around the middle and if I had to guess, he's going to wake up with bad breath and a headache from one too many beers. And then we are going to get up and get coffee at Native Bean on 1st and Avenue A and then come back and clean our apartment because his parents are coming to town this week. And then we will snuggle Liza and watch an episode of The Office. Maybe get some work done, maybe ride our bikes to the gym and rock climb for a bit. Then we will go watch Game of Thrones with friends and come back and get into our bed (couch). And we'll kiss goodnight and spoon for 5 minutes until I scooch over to my side of the bed (couch) to fall asleep. 

And though the TV shows will change and we'll hopefully someday have a bedroom again, and cats will become kids and then grandkids, and bike rides to the gym will become putters around the neighborhood or strolls in rascal scooters, I figure we will more or less continue doing these things every day for our whole lives.

I don't have that same fear today as I did a week from today one year ago. Yes, there is still evidence of the fact that best-laid plans fall through, and that people change and things fall apart. But the fact is, Spencer and I have a lifetime together to prove that theory wrong, and I look forward to doing just that. 

 

Stoners with Boners, Part 1

Contrary to the title, this story involves neither stoners nor boners. Unless, of course, that's the only reason you are here and are going to leave now in which case it's got both stoners and boners. LOTS of 'em. Stoners and boners galore!

Actually, no, that's not true and shame on you if that's the only reason you came here. My grandma reads this for pete's sake.*

Okay, okay, okay. If we're all being honest here there are zero boners and quite a few stoners involved. But I'm not one of them, I promise, Grandma. Regardless, this story isn't really about the stoners you'll meet or the boners you won't. This story is about how Spencer and I came to be known as Vertigo and Sass.

--

It was an average June day in the middle of nowhere in Maine, but Spence and I had woken up bright-eyed and greasy-haired, like two dirty little kids on Christmas. It was our first town day! To an AT hiker, there is nothing sweeter than hitting one of the small trail towns located along the trail after a week in the great outdoors. Especially if, like Spence and I, the great outdoors had handily kicked your ass all day, every day, for the past seven days in a row. You see, we'd made the brilliant decision to drop onto the trail at one of the hardest sections with zero experience and very minimal training. Add to this nonstop rainfall, unforgiving terrain, and the debilitating phobia of heights I've had since childhood, and you end up with a near-death experience on a mountain with the undeservedly approachable name Goose Eye, scratches and/or blisters and/or bruises on every square inch of your body, and a world record for the most tears cried in the history of ever. 

But none of that mattered today because today was town day and town day was the best day! We were only four miles from Andover, where we'd be staying at Pine Ellis Lodge, one of the hiker hostels in town. Images of showers with hot water, real beds, and food that wasn't dehydrated cow or boiled sodium danced around in my head as I deflated Spence's and my sleeping pads and pulled on my wool socks and boots. The deodorant I put on was a formality at this point - Spence and I both smelled like mustard-covered vagrants - but this was town day and I wanted to be as presentable as possible.

We finished packing up camp, inhaled a couple pop-tarts, strapped on our forty-pound packs and embarked on the 4-mile walk to the logging road where our hostel shuttle would pick us up. Since we're all excited to get to stoners and boners, I won't tell you about these four miles. I won't mention that it was pouring rain (per usual) and I was having to wear Spencer's long johns under my shorts like a weirdo freak and my rain jacket hood kept slipping in my eyes at the scariest parts and how Spencer had to stop walking and encourage me to put one foot in front of the other like a two-year old learning to walk. I won't even mention the river we had to forge with a TERRIFYING WATERFALL five feet away from where we crossed that would have literally killed us if we had slipped, and how Spencer tied a rope around his waist and then my waist like a stinky Indiana Jones because both of us were only about seventy-five percent sure I'd be able to make it across the river without plunging to my death and he'd decided he'd rather die too than have to tell my parents I died in a river while wearing his long underwear. No, no, I won't mention any of that. I'll skip to the good part where we climb the last few steps uphill and reach the logging road. 

We climbed the last few steps uphill and reached the logging road. These roads are prevalent in Maine because Maine has a lot of logs and they make all the pencils in the world there or something like that. And just as our anticipation was starting to turn into impatience, a white van rumbled up and a large, Native-American man got out and introduced himself as David, the owner of Pine Ellis. He took our packs and poured us ice-cold pink lemonade for the ride. I liked him immediately, although to be fair I probably would have held the same affection for the devil himself under the same circumstances. 

As we rode the 20 minutes from Nature Hell to Andover, David proved to be just as interesting as you'd hope a hostel owner in the middle of Maine would be. He had an affinity for turquoise rings and a girlfriend he visited frequently in North Carolina. His son lived in Guatemala and sent him weed candies and salves (see, I told you there'd be stoners!) and his favorite hobby was making moose poop jewelry. Yes, you read that right, moose poop jewelry. You probably don't know this, but moose poop is one of the purest stools in the world. I'm not going to go into the science behind that because I don't know it but I think it has something do with the fact that only eat berries, twigs and aquatic plants. Actually, I have no idea if that has anything to do with it at all, but all you really need to know is that moose poop dries in little round balls and it doesn't stink because it's "clean". Clean enough, in fact, to put the diamond from your ex-wife's wedding ring in it and make a necklace. At least it is if you're David. 

About the time that I'd finally convinced David that I really wasn't in the market for diamond studded shit, we pulled into Andover. The entire town was so sleepy you could almost hear it yawning. It was basically just one town square -- there was a general store-cum-restaurant at one end, a café at another, a hostel we'd been warned had a creepy owner who tried to get everyone in his hot tub at another, and at the side farthest from us, Pine Ellis, a rambling two-story house with peeling blue paint, a patchy yard, and two very large middle-aged women in cutoffs fanning themselves on the shabby wraparound porch**. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. In order to gain entry into the house, all hikers must strip off everything they brought with them and change into clothes that the hostel provides. This is so that you can wash the dirt and sweat (and hot shameful tears, in my case) off the two articles of clothing you have to your name. And also because you smell too terrible to be in a confined space. 

Once Spencer and I had rummaged through the cardboard box of hostel-provided apparel and picked out our outfits for the next 24 hours, we were ready to head up to our room. Spence was looking dapper in a pair of scrubs and I had an XXL t-shirt that made anyone who looked at me have to stare down the barrel of a shotgun held by a Yosemite-Sam knockoff. Underneath the image, it said "Maine's homeland security" and I am still haunted by my decision to not pilfer it when I had the chance. I followed Spence past the kitchen, where David and the two large women were already cracking open beers, and up the stairs to our room, which can only be described as a honeymoon suite from the seventies done on a budget. The walls were paneled with dark wood, the carpet below our feet was shaggy and red, and the comforter, pillowcases, and sheets were all made of red silk with gold embroidery -- all that was missing was the heart-shaped jacuzzi tub. But it was clean and cool and we may have even found it romantic had my armpits not been just as, if not more, hairy than Spencer's. But they were, and we were exhausted, so instead of making like the carpet and shagging, we fell belly-up, side-by-side onto our silky love nest and listened to David's laughter down below. 

I don't know how long we laid there, cherishing our boredom and trying to forget how short-lived our comfort would be, but I know at some point more laughter started tinkering in from the window, competing with David's. Curiosity prevailed, and I dragged myself off the bed and over to the window. Outside, lumbering across the patchy yard was a group of about 10 guys who'd clearly known each other before they landed at the hostel house. It was clear from their scraggly beards they'd already been on the trail for a while, which meant they were most likely South Bound thru-hikers (more commonly known as SoBos), who climb from the start of the trail in Maine south all the way to Georgia. And based on the the amount of jorts being worn, I assumed they'd already been to the hostel box, which meant they were staying here at Pine Ellis. But what really caught my eye was a stocky guy with a mohawk who seemed to be the ringleader. He was talking so loud that even from my room I could hear his New York accent and when he turned around to face the other group members, I saw that he was wearing a pair of women's shorts with NASCAR written across the ass in rainbow glitter.

And a chill of excitement went all the way up my aching back as realized we would be staying among legends.

"Spence," I whispered, "it's the Stoners With Boners!"

 

 

*I don't know if my grandma reads this, but she recently got a Facebook page so I feel like there's a good chance she does. If so, hello, Grandma! I love you and miss you very much.  

**We never did find out who these women were. David told us he didn't have siblings and his girlfriend lived in North Carolina. What I do know is they could drink even the burliest hikers under the table. 

Not Everybody Loves Neuroses!

I used to think I was depressed. Now I know I’m just incredibly proficient at exhausting myself.

I also used to think everyone had this same ability. Now I know there are humans out there that can actually let a good thing be a good thing.

It’s taken me approximately 26 years, 4 therapy sessions, and 1 conversation with my husband to understand how truly talented I am in this area. I won’t walk you through the 26 years, as I plan to write a book about them someday, and the therapy sessions were mainly just me crying and the therapist nodding her head until a little buzzer went off and she told me to get off her couch. So we are really just left with the conversation between my husband and me, which is actually just fine because it deserves most of the credit for my epiphany anyway.

It all started innocently enough, with both of us watching TV on the couch and our cat, Liza, snuggled in between us and me thinking in my mind, “if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is” because that’s what Kurt Vonnegut told me to do when I was enjoying life. And I was, indeed, enjoying life.

And because, again, I am incredibly talented at ruining good things, I started worrying about how nice the TV watching was. Were we supposed to be so happy just watching TV? We were newlyweds! Shouldn’t we be gazing into each others' eyes longingly while feeding each other strawberries or some such nonsense? What did it say about our relationship that we’d rather stare at a screen and turn our brains into cheese than have a meaningful, romantic moment??

And just like that, I was exhausted.

So I did what any good partner would, and I decided to ruin Spencer’s nice time too. I knew better than to just come out and say that I thought our TV habit was ruining our weeks-old marriage, so I got sneaky and posed it as a question, hoping he’d come to the realization that we were doomed on his own.

“Hey, Spence, what happens if we just always watch TV and that’s eventually all we have in common and then when our kids leave for college we realize we don’t even know each other because we’ve just been watching TV for our whole lives?”

See? Sneaky.

His response?

“Hmm…I guess we’d just have to keep watching TV.”

This answer is amazing for so many reasons. One, the comedic timing is impeccableTwo, it means that I have somehow ended up with a man that is completely unfazed by the strange workings of my brain, which is nothing short of a miracle (side note on this: if you are also a neurotic woman in search of a handsome “normal”, I strongly suggest getting a cat. There’s no scientific evidence that the cat will help, but it worked like a charm for me and Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Also, if you never find a man, you still have a cat so it’s pretty much a win-win).

But the best thing about his answer is that it means there really are people out there who can enjoy stuff without worrying about the sky falling in on them. And honest to God, this was news to me. I have lived my entire life certain of the fact that having something good can only mean something bad is lurking just around the corner. It never occurred to me that sometimes things are just enjoyable. That TV watching could truly just be watching TV.

So I laughed, grabbed Spencer’s face and kissed his cheek like an old Italian grandma, snuggled in with him and Liza and vowed to really savor this moment and all the love between us.

And then I realized someday all three of us would die.

A-one, a-two, a-three.

There are few authors whose creations have inspired me as much as Kurt Vonnegut. Reading Breakfast of Champions was, I think, the first time I truly understood the concept of words being simple, humorous and incredibly meaningful all at the same time. And pictures to boot? Yes, please. So when my brother loaned me Welcome to the Monkey House,  a collection of short stories by our good friend, Kurt, I devoured it and subsequently found a compilation of words  I've yet to get out of my head: the short story, "The Kid Nobody Could Handle".

This story revolves around George M. Helmholtz, a "fat and kind man" whose only real talent is conducting the best high school marching band in the country, and Jim Donnini, a scowling teenager with "expressionless eyes" and a very shiny pair of black boots. I won't do Vonnegut's story the dishonor of summarization here, but I will ruin the ending for you all. Basically, Helmholtz's pure and unwavering love of music saves Jim Donnini from a life of scowls. Here's their final interaction in the story:

"Think of it this way," said Helmholtz. "Our aim is to make the world more beautiful than it was when we came into it. It can be done. You can do it."

A small cry of despair came from Jim Donnini. It was meant to be private, but it pierced every ear with its poignancy.

"How?" said Jim.

"Love yourself," said Helmholtz, "and make your instrument sing about it. A-one, a-two, a-three." Down came his baton.


I don't know about you, but these words stop me in my tracks every time I read them. Even now, I've got little goose bumps rising up and down on my arm. I relate to poor Jim Donnini, shaking in his very shiny boots, terrified at the thought of failing to make something worthwhile. 

"How?" - he cries? And it pierces every ear. I know it certainly pierces mine. I feel his despair. I know it on the most personal level. It is the doubt I face when the page is blank and the cursor is blinking at me. When all I see is anger and fear and defeat regarding the future in the news and on my social media pages. When it seems all of my time is taken up with the mundane responsibilities of daily life. 

But Helmholtz has an answer for poor Jim, for all of us. And a damn good one at that. "Love yourself," he says. "And make your instrument sing about it." What really gets me about Helmholtz's response, though, isn't actually the advice he gives, as good as it is. It's what he does next, his last contribution to the conversation, that really drives the point home. 

" A-one, a-two, a-three."

Helmholtz, God bless him, did not leave time for hemming and hawing after his point was made. He did not make sure Jim Donnini felt confident or capable in the task at hand. He spoke wisdom and affirmation, and before anyone could doubt their ability to manifest the love he demanded from within them, Helmholtz called his band into action. 

And I think that's the thing, right? Whether we choose to think of these words as Helmholtz's or Vonnegut's, the universe's or those of God himself, they are a resounding reminder to us that we don't actually need time to parse through the song our soul is trying to sing. All we really need to do is make sure the tune gets out there in front of people and then trust it to do the job it has been given, to express to the world the life that we have lived thus far -- no more and no less.

Or to put it simply, we don't have to know everything before we create something. 

And, God forbid, if our instrument should emit a terrible, squeaky noise that makes everyone cringe or we run out of breath mid-song or make the last chair this go-round, these words remind us to have faith that the world is still better for it, that the universe is on our side and ready for us to try again.

And not once we've recovered and reflected the adequate amount, licked our wounds and promised not to make the same mistakes again. It's ready for us, it begs of us, to try again right now.

Helmholtz didn't tell Jim that any of this was easy. It is no small task to be vulnerable. But what Helmholtz does demand is for Jim to try and fail and try again. Because while the task at hand may be hard, it is, nonetheless, the task that we were all sent here for.

It can be done. You can do it.

A-one, a-two, a-three.

 

Snow Dogs

Now, before I start my story, I want to let you know that at some point while you're reading this, the judgy part of your brain is probably going to think, "How on Earth could an intelligent human being fall for something like this?" so I'll go ahead and let you know that when this took place I was just a wee, neurotic 7-year-old who couldn't even sleep with the Rajah side of my Aladdin comforter face up for fear of impending death by Tiger. Also, in 11 years time, I would go on to be awarded “Most Gullible” of my graduating class, which I'm pretty sure was meant to be a recognition of my unyielding optimism and faith in humanity but was also super accurate as given. Regardless, right now I need you to go ahead and tell your judgy voice to be quiet because this is a safe space and we need to get on with the story.

So it's April 1, 1997, and I'm 7 and my brother, Zack, is 9 and it's business as usual: getting ready for school in Zack's room while watching Scooby and the gang get stoned, kick ass, and surprise no one by revealing it was the groundskeeper whodunnit. We always got ready for school in Zack's room because his room had a TV and was directly connected to the kitchen, which was the next stop of the day. Zack's room also gained mad points because it had been a "game room" before we bought the house, which simply means it housed a pinball machine when the previous owners lived there. The pinball machine was long gone by the time we moved in but, in our kid logic, the room was still cooler for having housed it at some point.

Zack's room also had a door that led to the backyard which meant he could let our dog, Snicker, in the house without anyone noticing until it was too late. I say "until it was too late" because once you let Snicker in, it was impossible to get him back out of the house. He would lay down and make himself so unbelievably heavy that it was almost like he was suction-cupped to the floor, and nothing short of a depressingly 90s-era trail of cold hot dog weenies and Kraft American Cheese slices would get him back out of the house. A few months after the April Fools catastrophe I'm taking such an amazingly long time telling you about took place, Snicker would tragically die less than 24-hours after being given away without Zack's and my knowledge or permission. 1998 was a rough year for the Neel kids. To this day, Snicker is the only standard-sized schnauzer I have ever met and also the worst dog to have ever walked the earth. God bless.

So we are in Zack's room and "Scooby Doo" has ended and we turn off the TV because "Gargoyles" comes on next and we aren't allowed to watch it anymore due to the evils of "dark magic" that present themselves in the form of friendly, crime-solving statues (thank you, parents of our private school friends), and my mom walks in and tells us we need to come to the kitchen table because she has some really big news she needs to tell us. So we follow her into the kitchen and sit down at the kitchen table in front of the big window facing the backyard where Snicker is romping around, blissfully ignorant of the tragic end he will soon meet, and I know. I know what the big news is going to be. I always knew the big news on April Fools' because it was always the same thing. We were getting kittens. Now, this is not to say I wasn't going to believe my mom when she said it. Our mom always told Zack and me we were getting kittens on April Fools, and we believed her 100% of the time. In retrospect, I feel like my mom had to have been conducting some weird social experiment-y rite of passage for Zack and me, and had we ever said, "Mom, the jig is up. We know we aren't getting kittens," confetti would have fallen from the ceiling and we would have had the Southern Baptist equivalent of an April Fools' Bar Mitzvah right then and there. But if that was the case, we'll never know because Zack and I failed every single year. I'd like to believe 1998 would have been the year we called ol' Sharla's bluff, but no one will ever know. Because 1998 was the year that my mom dropped the April Fools' equivalent of an atomic bomb on the two little souls she loved most in this world.

Snow dogs.

Before you read on, I feel it's important for you to know that my mom is an incredible human and also has a track record of ruining people's lives short-term on April Fools’. For 364 days of the year, she is the most generous and compassionate human you could ever hope to cross paths with: a school-teaching, church-going angel in Chico's clothing. But come April Fools’, you better take cover, because Sharla is out for blood. One April Fools’, before I was born, my Aunt Darla (Yes, my mom is Sharla and my aunt is Darla – there is also a Marla and a Karla – more on this at a later time, I promise.) was bringing my brother home from daycare when they came across a stray dog. Darla loaded up the dog, dropped my brother off at home, and took the dog to the vet. My mom saw my aunt's goodwill as an opportunity for knavery and called her, posing as the vet's office to report that the dog had tested positive for rabies and if it had come into contact with any children it was imperative that they were tested immediately, as they were probably already dying of rabies too. My aunt called my mom in hysterics explaining the situation and confessing that she thought Zack might have eaten a French fry the dog licked. And my mom, having fully transformed into April-Fools’-monster mode, allowed her own flesh and blood believe she had indirectly cut my brother's life short. What I'm trying to say here is 9-year-old Zack and little Miss Most Gullible never had a chance.

So we are at the kitchen table and my mom lays out her big news. She's recently met a man who lives in Alaska through the classifieds and they are getting married. Furthermore, we will be moving to Alaska and acquiring an entire sled team’s worth of snow dogs. While snow dogs might seem completely out of left field to you, you must understand that this was during Zack's and my (too) long-lived phase of watching “Iron Will” on repeat. If you aren't familiar with “Iron Will,” it is a Disney movie released in 1994 that I remember absolutely nothing about other than the fact that there are snow dogs EVERYWHERE and they are awesome. So Zack and I completely ignore the small details of our mother marrying a stranger who is, let's face it, probably a serial killer and moving us away from everyone and everything we've ever known, and immediately hone in on the fact that we are getting snow dogs. We promptly lose our shit, give Snicker's sorry ass the double middle finger, and start planning our new lives filled with mushing and snow dog fur and kisses from dogs whose breath does not reek of artificial cheese product.

In retrospect, I see that our mom probably thought this was going to go quite a bit differently. Because one would think that, even as a child, the natural human response would be to question such poor judgment at least a little bit. But she really underestimated how much we fucking loved snow dogs. Once she realized how stupid Zack and I were, the Queen of April Fools' stony heart turned to flesh and she started trying to be the voice of reason, pointing out that we would have to leave our friends, not see our dad as much, and live in a house that had never been graced with a pinball machine. I appreciate the effort she put in, gently trying to make us understand that this would be the worst decision ever made by a single parent on her own. But it was too late. Snow dogs had been put on the table and for Zack and me, life was just beginning. We'd already begun mentally packing our suitcases and saying our goodbyes. Luckily, Mom didn't let us suffer long. After trying and failing multiple times to have us come to the realization on our own that moving in with an Alaskan man from the classifieds was murder-y as hell, she broke the news to us. There was no man, there was no moving to Alaska. 

Our response? "Okay. But the dogs are real, right?"

I bet telling us there were no snow dogs was almost as hard as explaining why Snicker no longer lived in the backyard.

 

 

Red-Chested

A few months ago, I had my aura read. An aura, by definition, is, "the distinctive atmosphere or quality that seems to surround and be generated by a person, thing or place." In reality, it is a Polaroid picture with swirly colors on top taken by a blonde chick who grew up in a commune and is now renting a rundown walk-up in Chinatown. Which is to say it's the absolute coolest.  

My friend, Sydney, invited me and my other friend Drea to go on a Sunday to get our swirly polaroids. Sydney and Drea are the types of people that someone who doesn't live in New York imagines in their head whenever they think about what people living in New York are like. Drea is tall and blonde and jets from coast-to-coast as a badass advertising producer. She's also the kind of person who brings cheese platters to casual girls' nights so that we always have something to nibble on. Sydney has glowing skin and the most magnificent eyebrows you've ever seen, and her PR brain knows about everything 2 years before anyone else which is, again, how I found myself paying 30 dollars for a Polaroid taken inside a renovated drug den.

I showed up right on time but not wearing real pants and unable to fully open both of my eyes because I'd had red wine the night before even though I know it makes my head feel like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan. Drea was there early, had brought an extra water bottle "just in case", and looked like a model on her way to the airport. Syd showed up late but texted us every 2 minutes with updates on her ETA and entered the room in a whirlwind of energy and perfectly blown-out hair. I honestly think the lady could have read our auras simply by our entrance and saved a couple Polaroids, but we were there for the swirls and we were going to get them, dammit.

By the grace of God, I managed to open both eyes for my picture and then proceeded to sit-lay on the couch and drink 6 complimentary mini water bottles until everyone's picture had developed and the real fun began. The blonde hipster goddess came over, looked at all of our slowly appearing swirls and began to tell each of us what our respective polaroids meant.

Drea went first - the purple rising high above her forehead meant she was a thinker, very spiritual, something of a dreamer. The orange that was covering her chest and seeping down into the bottom right corner meant she was organized and a bit of a perfectionist, someone who loved problem-solving, not just for herself but for others as well. Basically, she was the kind of person who would be a kickass producer and bring cheese plates and water to those in need. 

Sydney's was completely red and it didn't spread too far out from her body. This meant Syd was driven and a realist. Someone who knows what they want and isn't afraid to go after it. A woman completely self-possessed. I asked Sydney if she'd like to trade.

Because mine was a rainbow. Which looks pretty awesome, but I knew what it really meant. Hot.Mess. I had the same big purple dreamer cloud above my head as Drea, but down my right side was yellow and green, which meant that I was really hard on people but still had friends because I was able to hide behind a great sense of humor. Fantastic. My neck was white - a sign of creativity - and my entire chest had turned bright red. Well, at least that meant I was self-possessed like Syd, right? Wrong. My red was the bad kind, the kind that meant pressure. Big time, serious, unrelenting internal pressure. The kind of pressure that makes green swirls of judgment shoot out at friends and loved ones and takes that beautiful, purple dream cloud and squashes it into something more closely resembling a sad face.

After our pictures fully dried, the three of us did what any self-respecting person does in Chinatown and bought a disgusting amount of dumplings. Drea treated us because it was cash only and she was the only one of us who had cash (it's the orange in her) and we went to a park and continued talking about our auras. Sydney wanted a color other than red. Drea wondered if that was some yellow in her photo or was it just the orange fading away? Maybe there was some blue, or was that just the purple running into the orange? The longer I stared at my rainbow face, the brighter my red chest seemed to get. And no matter how much we googled "aura color meanings" and "different aura interpretations", the verdict came back the same - we were exactly the humans we were, the humans we had always been. 

This aura lady hadn't predicted our future or revealed to us anything we didn't know. Drea is, indeed, both a dreamer and a doer. Sydney is a beautiful she-lion, fierce and determined. And I once forced myself to color an entire coloring book in sequential order when I was 7 for no other reason than to make sure I could, so I feel pretty comfortable saying my red chest fit the bill. It's just that it's really pretty terrifying to have a stranger sit down and put your soul into words.

I still keep my aura photo on the fridge. I'm proud of the big purple dream cloud and the streak of yellow humor. I look at the white resting under my chin to remind myself that there's tangible proof of the creativity I've always known lived inside me. But mainly I reference that red chest of mine, and when I start scolding myself for not having a written a bestseller yet or browsing the police academy requirements because the thought of being a writer has suddenly become more than I can take, I just glance over and remind myself that no one but me is demanding perfection. 

Knowing my aura hasn't changed me. I'm still extremely hard on others and myself - I'm also still witty and full of humor, in case you forgot about my yellow streak already - and I don't know if that will ever cease to be that case. It's just that now when I start to feel like I'm up against the world and losing the fight, I have a beautiful swirling reminder that it's all in my chest.

 

How To Be Lacey: A Collection

Part 1:

Step 1. Pack for your upcoming trip super carefully as not to forget anything.

Step 2. Go over your packing checklist both the night before trip and morning of to be ABSOLUTELY sure you did not forget anything.

Step 3. Get chased down as you are boarding your flight by a TSA guard because you left your entire suitcase in the security line.

 

Part 2:

Step 1: Get on the wrong train to go to work.

Step 2: Do not realize your mistake. Take wrong train 5 stops until you feel sunlight streaming in through windows that should be underground, realize you are on a bridge and cannot be helped.

Step 3: Make things worse by getting off the train and wandering deep into the heart of the un-sexy part of Brooklyn that Jay-Z raps about.

Step 4: Find a cab. Pay 1 million dollars to get to work. Reflect on how far you haven't come.

 

Part 3:

1. Remember to feed your cat, turn off all lights before leaving the apartment. Pat yourself on the back for taking care of business.

2. Walk to the subway before realizing that, in the excitement of being responsible, you forgot both your keys and wallet inside the aforementioned apartment.

3. Hop the subway gate and attempt to justify your indiscretion to passers-by. Slowly realize you are the only human alive who cares about the ethics involved in gate hopping.

4. Get on the train. Listen to your Sad Songs playlist on Spotify. Mourn for humanity and the lunch you will not have today.

 

Part 4:

1. Wake up at 5 a.m. to acquire a rental car.

2. Drive 6 hours to Niagra Falls for a wedding.

3. Before the wedding, convince your fiancé to "live a little" and take you to the Canadian side because you've never been to Canada before and also maybe you can score free antibiotics for your infected nose piercing.

4. Realize you forgot your passport while you are in the customs line and already on Canadian soil.

5. Miss the wedding. Remind your fiancé how much you love him and also that your own wedding invitations have already been sent out.

 

Part 5:

1. For an entire year, store the removable fur lining of your winter coat in the most obscure and forgettable place possible.

2. Run into the fur lining from time to time. Pet it and think of the cold times ahead.

3. In a raging bout of procrastination, clean your entire apartment. Move the fur lining from its current home to a place that is much more logical so you won't have to look for it when it gets cold outside.

4. Wait for it to get cold outside.

5. Tear your entire apartment apart looking for the fur lining. Remember nothing about its new location. Stare longingly at its old, obscure home in the hopes it will magically appear. 

6. Wear an ugly jacket, curse everything furry and/or removable, and vow to never clean anything ever again.

 

Part 6:

1. Be a hot mess for 26 years.

2. One fine spring morning, realize you have lost the keys to your new apartment that can only be locked from the outside.

3. Panic.

4. Climb out of a window that can only be opened from the inside. Close it before you think through the next steps of your escape plan.

5. Realize there are no possible next steps.

6. Struggle to open the window that can only be opened on the inside from the outside. Ignore the shame radiating from your cat's soul as she watches and does nothing to help.

7. Use dark magic and/or the power of prayer to get the window open. Walk out of the apartment and wrestle the doorknob off of your door to confuse any and all lurking burglars.

8. Forget that the entire debacle was due to your own stupidity and instead pat yourself on the back for being solutions oriented. Well done, you!

 

Part 7:

1. Call a friend to discuss wardrobe options for her impending trip to visit you.

2. Become completely unaware of your surroundings despite being in a busy subway station with an arriving train.

3. Swipe your MetroCard and, when it doesn't work, swipe it again.

4. Walk through the turnstile footloose and fancy-free.

4. Hang up and settle in for the ride with your subway-friendly crossword app. Immediately become completely unaware of your surroundings again.

5. Get brought back to reality by a middle-aged man loudly and publicly lambasting you because he was behind you in line and claims to have paid your way onto the subway because your MetroCard didn't have money on it.

6. Believe him because let's be honest...that sounds about right.

7. Go to him with a sincere apology and a five dollar bill. Get called a bitch in front of the entire train car. Let your chin tremble only a little but DO NOT LET TEARS FALL DO YOU HEAR ME?!

8. Make eye contact with every other human on the train to ensure they are on your side.

9. Go back to the crossword app. Get stumped by the hint "Loamy Soil".

10. Pull out your book, lift it above your face, and let maybe just one tear fall.

Unsolicited Advice on the Importance of Creativity

Today, and every day, you must put it all down and put it all out there. 

Share, share, share. Share your hopes and fears and funny stories and all the moments you thought you would die of embarrassment. Share all of the really weird stuff about yourself that you think nobody else in the world could possibly relate to.

Share everything except your contact lenses and your social security card.

Don’t worry if it’s shit. Everything is shit if you look at it long enough. Double check your grammar and then let that baby go because shit and brilliance usually share the page.

Maybe right now you don’t want to write, maybe today you want to grow a herb garden or start a company or make a baby. All of which are great creations! So go do it. But also tell everyone you know about what you’re creating, literally everyone. Tell them your biggest dreams and then tell them when you fail or you change your mind. And then tell them the next plan. And keep telling everyone all the things you can because the fact is, people already know. They know you have dreams and faults and strengths and weaknesses. These are not secrets! But to share them on your own terms will make you feel alive.

It can be scary to share because sometimes it feels like there are a lot of people out there waiting for you to fail. But there are not. There are only people who are too afraid to share their own creations. And maybe the fear some people have will make them say mean things about what you share or make you feel like you were wrong to put it out into the world. But it’s only because fear has made their lives feel small, and so their comfort now lies in knowing that other people feel small too.

What is more likely is that your bravery will make someone else feel brave enough to share their own stuff. Chances are, your dreams will make someone else feel like it’s okay to talk about theirs. And you may not even know it’s happening, but I promise it is. Because if there's one thing that all of us humans have in common, it's that we all just want permission to run fucking wild.

I Yam in Denial

I've been in a tizzy about how to address the events of this week. It seems remiss not to comment on the legacy of the great Martin Luther King, Jr. or to add my perspective to the universe on the inauguration of our 45th president this Friday. As someone who considers words one of the most precious currencies, I have felt a lot of responsibility to make sure my voice is out there, and to choose words that bring comfort and clarity to those who come across them.

But it occurs to me now that I am holding myself to an impossible standard. Of course, I don't have words of clarity -- no one does! That's why we are all yelling at each other on the internet. And, if I had to guess, right about now you're probably begging me to PLEASE not shove my words of clarity down your throat because you've had enough of that over the past few months. 

So here's what I will say. On Friday we have a new president. On Saturday there will be people marching across the country in protest. I have people that I love immensely in both camps and that's okay. Every single person has a right to their opinion and every person gets to process things in their own way. My own personal coping mechanism has taken the shape of anonymous comments on the internet that I've written in defense of La La Land's musical numbers. Which is to say I've lost my damn mind. 

Now I won't bore you with my opinions on the talent portrayed in La La Land (yes I will - the singing and dancing are supposed to be more grounded in reality than the musicals of Old Hollywood, which is why there's no blowout dance numbers/solos. I mean c'mon people, the whole movie is about the struggle between preserving the old and embracing the new!), but I wouldn't be me if I didn't throw in my two-cents about something. And while I may not have the words to form the compass we all need this week, I do have just a few things to yell about from my soapbox while we're all here. 

1. I don't know when the rule was made that pumpkin was the official choice of America for orange pie fillings, but I do know it was a grave mistake. Switch your pumpkin pie recipes for sweet potato pie immediately. IMMEDIATELY. I recommend eating a piece right after it comes out of the oven and then another piece the next morning for breakfast. The piece at breakfast will be infinitely better, but there's no point in baking if you can't enjoy it right after it's out of the oven. Here's my mom's recipe.

2. Read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Yes, it is almost 1,000 pages but Roberts wrote it while he was in prison for 8 years and he writes with a devotion to detail that only a man who has literally nothing else to do with his time could. It's like a free vacation to India. Also, you will carry the story and its characters in your soul for the rest of your life. 

3. Adopt a cat.

4. Everyone can be a runner. No really, everyone. If you think you're not a runner it's either because you've never tried or you think the only people who can run are people who are naturally good at it. Or you have bad knees. If it's the first two, all you have to do is find some good music and learn to go easy on yourself, the rest will follow. If it's the bad knees, I might have lied when I said everyone can be a runner and maybe try water aerobics instead.  

5. The best case scenario of bangs is very rarely worth risking the worst case scenario of bangs.

So that's it, that's all I have for you this week, people. Go out and be nice to all the angry donkeys and elephants. Or stay in with your pie and your newly adopted cat, that's fine too. Maybe next week we'll all be ready for a blinding white flash of wisdom and insight. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some more anonymous comments I need to leave.

On the Heelys of Defeat

I haven't been able to make myself write since the election. Not because I don't have anything to say, trust me, all it takes is a glass of wine and one Fox News article and I can be just as obnoxious as the next Brooklyn millennial. It's just that, honestly,  I have nothing to add to the conversation that hasn't already been said. Which is to say, I just really, really don't want to. 

So I'm not. This is my creative space and I've decided and that's that. No word will be spoken on the 2016 election. Instead, I'm going to use this space to talk about...myself. And a much less significant, yet equally bummer-filled election: the 2003 election of Moore Middle School's Student Council Historian.

NOTE: I've changed the names of anyone who isn't me in this story, even though it's probably not necessary because the only person who could possibly be embarrassed by it is yours truly.

In the spring of 2003, I was a girl with nothing to lose. I'd just tried out for the cheer team and I hadn't made it. This sucked for two reasons:

1. I had been on the team the year before and was the only girl to not make it both years.

2. As is the case with most 13-year-olds, I was way too self-involved to have ever seen it coming. 

But come it did, in the form of a poem that basically said, "You tried hard but we hate you, goodbye." I guess they thought the rhyming would soften the blow of complete and utter rejection. (Months later, a new cheer coach would call my mom and let her know that the judges had made a mistake and that I actually had made the team. This has nothing to do with the story being told, but the seventh-grader in me needed you to know.) I was completely untethered. I would come home every day and sit in my room, with lights off and tears running down my face, playing "Moving On" by Rascal Flatts. If you haven't heard it, it's a very twangy story about a man who's hit rock bottom and, in an attempt to move forward with his life, packs up all his shit and cuts ties with his loved ones. I could relate. My mom put up with my moping for about a month or two before gently explaining to me that a seventh-grade girl knew nothing of hitting rock bottom and that all my crying was going to accomplish was a nice bout of dehydration. I knew she was right, it was time to face the twang-filled music. I was moving on.

And so I decided to run for Historian (read: picture taker) of the Student Council. Because what better way to move on from the rejection of a few judges I didn't know than to potentially be publicly rejected by everyone in my grade? It was risky, but I had stars in my eyes and a 5-point plan in my ELA notebook, and I'd be damned if anyone was going to stop me from being the best historian Moore Middle School had ever seen! Also, no one else was running for the position.

But the best-laid plans of mice and tween girls often go awry, and a week after the application deadline, another candidate was mysteriously allowed to enter the race: Twinsy McGee. His friends were running for other Student Council positions and he decided that anyone could point and click a camera, so why not become the historian and hang out with them at the meetings? 

I knew then that I was going to have to a run a hard race. Because Twinsy McGee was the last person you'd want to go up against in an election. Sure, I was well-respected, had good grades, was involved in all sorts of clubs and organizations, and could articulate a concrete plan to improve Moore Middle School during my time as Historian. But Twinsy McGee was a twin. An identical twin who was cute and also nice, and who every single girl had crushed hard on at least once in their middle school career. In fact, I still have a note written by a girlfriend lamenting Twinsy McGee's decision to date someone that she didn't approve of, namely because that someone wasn't her. The note is written on black paper with a metallic jelly roll pen and opens with a bible verse from Proverbs about a prostitute because nothing makes sense when you are in middle school. Point is, Twinsy McGee had a cool factor that I, admittedly, did not. And now he was allowed to run whatever last-minute campaign he came up with, no matter how sloppy it was or how little he cared about the position. Despite all of my hard work and preparation, I was in trouble and I knew it. 

Election day came and boy was I ready. I'd straightened my hair and made sure every single bit of lunch had left my braces. I was wearing an outfit straight from Lizzie McGuire's closet:  a polka-dotted skirt with a small ruffle on the hem and a pink camisole, tucked in, with a white, darted button-down worn over it. I'd picked it out a week before the assembly and had my mom iron it the morning of. I'd even bought new shoes for the occasion, red sling-back kitten-heeled pumps. Ugly as sin but appropriate, I thought, for the office of historian. When my name was called, I approached the podium and gave a memorized speech about how passionate I was about the position. I laid out my plans for office and even ended by yelling my catchy campaign slogan: "Get lucky with Lacey!!!" Even now, I can't understand why at least one brave adult didn't pull me aside beforehand to inform me that I was unknowingly offering sexual favors to the entire school, but I digress. As soon as I finished, the terrible techno music I'd found on Kazaa started, and 4 friends ran out to do a dance we'd been practicing for weeks to encourage people to get to the polls. I went back to my seat knowing I'd done everything right. I'd worked hard, I'd made sure all hands were shaken and babies kissed. Now all I could do was see what Twinsy had up his sleeve.

Heelys. That was Twinsy's game plan. When his name was called he heelied to the podium and slicked his stupid, swoopy skater hair back and smiled. And the crowd went fucking nuts. I don't even know if he said anything -- he certainly didn't give an outlined speech. But it didn't matter. Later, he would play "Swing Swing" by The All-American Rejects in a band campaigning for a Vice-Presidential hopeful and, as they strummed the final chords to a standing ovation, I knew my fate had been sealed. 

They said it was the closest race they'd ever seen, but even then I knew it was flattery. Twinsy, ever the nice guy, teared up and gave me a hug and said he didn't even really want it, it's just that all his friends were running and he thought it could be fun. And I hugged him back and said it was okay because what else can you do? And life went on. Twinsy didn't change the trajectory of Moore Middle School through his efforts as Historian but he also didn't burn the school to the ground. I got back on the cheer team and learned to not yell solicitations into a microphone. 

Yes, it sucked to be rejected. And yes, I listened to that stupid Rascal Flatts song a few more times before I finally picked myself up and put on a brave face. But I also knew I'd run a campaign worth being proud of, and I learned the hard lesson that sometimes doing the work isn't enough to get the outcome you desire.

Because sometimes people choose Heelys over sling-backed kitten heels, and stupid, swoopy hair over a solid speech. And if those kids didn't want to get lucky with Lacey, then that was their right. The people of Moore Middle School spoke and I lost, fair and square.

But I will say it's their loss. Because I would have made one hell of a lady Historian.

 

 

How to Go on a Wedding Diet

1. Find a suitor. Preferably one you are fairly confident you'll be able to spend an entire lifetime within a confined space and also won't leave you with two small children to pursue a career in Vegas as a professional poker player once your post-baby bod kicks in. Bonus points if he loves your cat as much as you do. 

2. Get proposed to and say yes. Be very, very excited. Post a picture to social media using captions you came up with 2 years ago while you were falling asleep and got out of bed to jot down just in case you needed them someday. Receive over 200 likes for the first time in your life. Feel validated.

3. After coming down from the high of your social media fame, decide that you are going to lose a million pounds before the wedding. Also decide to start your dieting efforts tomorrow because tonight is all about you, girl! Stay in this mindset for the next 6 months.

4. Buy your dress while you are still confident you'll be the skinniest bride to ever grace the planet. Have your dress reflect your delusion by being tight and unforgiving. Celebrate saying "yes to the dress" with 2 petit fours and a bottle of champagne. Eat a third petit four when no one is looking. 

5. Enthusiastically partake in cake tastings, menu tastings, booze tastings, dumpling tastings, bagel tastings, pizza tastings, cookie dough tastings, etc. Stress eat because planning a wedding is like having a second job where you are constantly on call and have to pay everyone else to not like your ideas and you cannot for the life of you figure out how to be one of those mythical creatures who "forget to eat" when being manhandled by anxiety. Gain 10 pounds.

6. Attend your dress fitting. Allow the realization that you will not be losing a million pounds to slowly dawn on you. Throw yourself a pity party. Afterward, have your mom drive you through an Andy's Frozen Custard and self-medicate with 3,000 calories worth of sugar, cream, and stale brownie bits. If you don't have an Andy's Frozen Custard nearby, you have my condolences and also a Blizzard or McFlurry should be able to do the trick.

7.  Start receiving Facebook messages from people you have not spoken to since George W. Bush was in office low-key suggesting you are fat and offering to sell you weight-loss products that can help you feel "confident" and "like your best self" at your wedding. Refrain from sending back "HOW DARE YOU" and decide instead to throw away your scale and cut back on your morning muffin routine.

8. Eat a muffin the next morning.

9. One month out from your wedding, accept that you still look exactly like yourself. Jiggle your arms in front of a mirror for 10 minutes. Decide once and for all that the muffin you are currently eating is the last one until after the wedding. Mourn the loss.

10. Wake up and have a smoothie. Kiss your fiancé goodbye at his stop on the subway and try not to think about the muffin you will not be having. Feel pretty confident you've already lost at least one pound.

Emo

Two weeks ago, I found myself drunkenly belting out the words to Konstantine by Something Corporate on repeat with the lights off in my apartment. Before we all get too bummed out, let me say that my husband was there and driving remote-control BB8 around for our cat-child to chase so she wouldn't have to focus on the current situation. Earlier that night, Spence and I had been at a bar with friends and Something Corporate was brought up in conversation. We all laughed at the fact that a few of us had been into emo music and rattled off a few bands we remembered, and then the conversation dropped. But for me, the floodgates had been opened.

You see I was heartbroken for a significant portion of my high school days. After a year of dating a boy I felt, at best, ambivalent about, I got dumped. I'll never know which came first, the realization that he had more to live for than being treated terribly by a girl who thought kitten-heeled flip-flops were a good idea or his crush on a nice girl with clear skin and designer-brand jeans. What I do know is that as soon as I received his Dear John AIM, all ambivalence had left the situation and he was quickly upgraded to the level of Love of my Life Who Got Away Forever. I'm happy to report that my heartbreak has since been resolved by a rather anticlimactic ending involving me growing up and marrying the love of my life, but I'm pretty sure the amount of martyrdom I allowed myself the year following that break up ranged somewhere between Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ himself. 

Normally, pity parties can't last for an entire year. When you throw a pity-party, friends will perform their due diligence and drop by to check out the snack table, but after a week of hearing you talk about how sad you are all the time, they tend to Irish Exit so they can gossip about how lame of a hostess you are. Plus, when you're 14, you can't even trick them into staying with booze. In retrospect, it should have only been 2 weeks - a month tops - before I pulled my kitten heels off the shelf and found another suitor to not care very much about. But, as luck would have it, there were a few circumstances that allowed me to prolong my misery. First, I had two friends who were also going through break-ups during this time, and I took full advantage of their misfortune -- the only person willing to listen to you snivel on about a boy is a person who's waiting for you to stop so that they can snivel on about a different boy. The second is that this took place in the mid-2000s, which means I had some of the saddest music ever written with which to bolster my misery. And the real kicker was that my two break-up friends, Hannah Hughes and Ivy Babineau, were more in touch with the emo music scene than Ben Gibbard was with his feelings, and that's saying a lot.

And it all got intertwined, the friendship and the sting of rejection and the really depressing lyrics. Sometimes, we'd reflect on our days while passing each other between classes:

"How's your day going?"
*Sigh* "I miss him."
"I know you do. I passed him on the way to history."
"Did he look like he missed me too but was too proud to say so?"
"Totally."

Or we might dissect the meaning behind the movement or disappearance of certain people in their MySpace top 8, perhaps even use the skill of rhetorical analysis we'd picked up in AP English to pick apart their cryptic away messages. But mainly, we just enjoyed each other's company and listened to people sing about sad stuff.  I'll never forget watching the video for Death Cab's "Title and Registration" at the computer in Hannah Hughes' parent's room and thinking, "they get me" or the first time I heard Dashboard Confessional's "Screaming Infidelities" on a CD Ivy burned for me and thinking, "they get me." I remember driving around for hours with my brother on country roads listening to the Straylight Run's album or screaming along to "I Feel So" by RaceCar. I once made my mom listen to "Hear You Me" by Jimmy Eat World on repeat for an hour-long car ride while tears streamed down my face. She spoke only once, when we passed a blueberry farm, to ask if I wanted to stop for some. Instead of responding, I just turned up the volume while staring straight ahead. The fact that she did not punch me in the face can only be explained by the miracle that is a mother's love.

After a year, things changed. Hannah moved away and Ivy and I moved on to other love interests. The nice girl with the clear skin and designer jeans that ruined my life became one of my closest friends. I reached out to everyone the other day to let them know they'd be mentioned on here, and it turns out I'm not the only one who had managed to find good in the world again. Hannah is now a badass clinical therapist who, once one of us figures out how to properly use Spotify, is going to share a playlist she'd already made with all the songs we used to sit around feel feelings about. It took Ivy and I a good 10 minutes to even remember who she was so sad about, but we both could recite every word of "The Quiet Things That Noone Ever Knows" by Brand New. And when I sent this to my brother to proof, he informed me that it was the quite the coincidence, as he was listening to Bright Eyes at the exact same moment. It was crazy how much of that year was still intact in our lives. The memories and the relationships - Ivy and I were actually in each other's weddings this past year - and, of course, the music. Notably absent from the conservations were the boys we thought it was all about. 

And so that night, as I sang about Konstantine sauntering about in her underwear over and over again, with BB8 whizzing around my feet, I was taken back to 10 years prior. But when I arrived, there were no tears or feelings of sadness, and there certainly was no longing for the one who'd gotten away. 

All I could think was how lucky I was to have received such great presents at my pity-party.

 

 

Ode to Liza

I am watching her stand on the window sill, face to the sun, letting her fur catch the rays.

She looks around in wonder at all the little particles floating in the beams hints of what's occurred in days past in the same small space she occupies every day.

Every day of her life, she travels the same short distance.

To and fro', to and fro'.

And yet, she never loses her glorious curiosity for the world that moves around her.

Thoughts That Occured While I Was High on Subway Exhaust

Happiness is always there. In fact, the entire spectrum of possible emotions is always with us, harbored in memories and future plans and fleeting thoughts and dreams we can't quite remember. We access them by simply dwelling on any given thing passing through us for an extended period of time.

Happiness is our default setting as humans because happiness is married to hope, and hope resides in the most sacred of human spaces, the soul. Unblemished and unreachable by even the strongest of the dark forces of this world, the soul is a constant spring of hope. The purity of the soul allows it to always be aligned to our purpose and our journey through the universe.

Our heart and our mind are a lot louder than the soul. They are more easily reached by dark forces -- sadness and anger and grief and jealousy and insecurity -- and because they are loud, we sometimes can not hear the hope our soul is quietly emitting over their racket. By sheer volume, our heart and mind can bury our happiness with thoughts like "I need more money" and "my eyebrows are too thin and my stomach is too fat" and "this world has gone to shit and there's no solution so we all should just sit around and complain about it until we die." And the longer we listen to our heart and mind, the louder and louder they become. And one day we wake up and feel disconnected, and happiness seems a bit out of reach.

But not to worry! We can always find happiness again. Because if in these moments of disconnect we can stop and get really, really quiet, we'll find that our soul is still there, whispering the truth of the universe to us, constantly and tirelessly pursuing us regardless of how far gone we are or how fruitless its mission seems.

Because that, after all, is what hope does.

Bold and Timid Zebras

For any of you who had the slightest notion that I was a cool human being, I am so sorry but I'm about to rip that wool from your eyes in the nerdiest way possible. 

You see, I'm reading the most fascinating book right now. About what, you ask? And to that, I respond - while pushing up my glasses and mouth breathing so close to your face that you can see every leftover lunch particle in my braces - trails. All sorts of trails. Bacterial trails, termite trails, ungulate trails, wilderness trails, computer trails. ALL OF THE TRAILS. The book is called, appropriately, On Trails, and was given to me by my incredible mother-in-law. I'm pretty sure she meant it to be a coffee table book but what can I say, it's a real page-turner. 

I'm currently on a chapter about ungulates. If you don't know what an ungulate is, it means, simply, a "hoofed animal" although, in a very strange turn of events, it seems that dolphins and whales also evolved from the ungulate family. See, I told you, exciting stuff right?! 

But that's not even close to the end of the excitement. So if you could, please lift your chin off the floor and follow me back over to the actual hoofed ungulates, and let's zero in on the beautiful and striped ungulates we all know and love  - Zebras. More specifically, a dazzle of Zebras from Botswana. That's right, a group of zebras is called a dazzle. A DAZZLE. Don't even try to pretend like you knew that. Anyway, this particular dazzle was collared by scientists who wanted to study their grazing patterns but, and here's where it gets wild (pun intended), they disappeared. Poof, gone. And when they did show up, they had traveled almost the entire span of the country! And, if that doesn't have you on the edge of your seat already, even stranger still, these zebras had followed a trail that zebra herds used to follow decades before but had been blocked off for the past 36 years. A zebra's lifespan is only 12. Which means unless the ghost of zebras past came back and directed this particular dazzle, down this particular path across the country, there is no frickin' way they should have known about it.

It's nuts, right?! How did they know about the trail?! 

Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for you.* Because before I got to the answer, a seemingly throwaway sentence completely captivated my brain. It seems that though most zebras followed the trail to find better grass and a more pleasant existence, some stayed behind. The author, Robert Moor, explains the situation in this way: "Even among zebras, there are bold and timid individuals." 

Even among zebras, there are bold and timid individuals. 

This has been stuck in my brain since I read it. And I think it's because the idea of bold and timid zebras is - and I'm so sorry for such a corny use of language (no I'm not, I love it) - so very black and white. 

You cannot be a zebra that has been talking about going to the other side of Botswana for 3 years but like, bills and rent and job and life have just gotten in the way, ya know? 

You cannot be a zebra who gets an edgy hairdo or an eyebrow ring so that other zebras think you are bold but actually just hide under your covers all day watching HBO documentaries and dreaming about the cool life you'd have if you went to the other side of Botswana.

You cannot be a zebra who is all talk and no walk. All bark and bite. All razzle and no...dazzle.

You are either a bold zebra who risks the trail for the greener grass or you are a timid zebra that stays put and gets eaten by the lion you know. That's it. You stay or you go.

And some of you are reading this and saying, "but Lacey, we aren't zebras! We are human, there's so much more nuance and I have to keep my health insurance." And to that I say, yes, please keep your health insurance. But also no, it's not more complicated. If you're in a place where the grass is lush and the watering hole is full, then by all means stay and enjoy while you can. But there will be a time when the water dries up and there's more dirt than grass around you. And just like those zebras, you'll have to decide, bold or timid. Stay or go. No nuance, just a choice:

The dazzle that dares or the dazzle that does not?

 

*Okay, I found the answer because if it was me reading this, I'd be pissed to have such a cliffhanger left unanswered. Turns out, they think elephants re-blazed the trail and the zebras followed, which further confirms my suspicion that elephants are the coolest animals on the whole entire planet. 

Cat Kisses

I am a Cat Mom.

Make no mistake, being a Cat Mom is not the same as being a cat owner. Sure, a cat owner loves their cat and makes sure they have food and water and a clean litter box, all the essential things their cat needs to survive.  But being a Cat Mom is a whole different ball game. 

The two traits I have found, in my own experience, that discern Cat Moms from cat owners are as follows:

1.  Cat Moms hold their cat and feel the breath from their angel baby's tiny perfect nostrils on their cheek and think about the fact that someday far off this precious little airstream will cease to flow and their cat's perfect, furry little soul will go up to the happy hunting ground in the sky and so the Cat Mom keeps squeezing and squeezing their angel baby even though the cat's eyes are now wild with fear and their paws are extended, smooshing the Cat Mom's face in order to keep it as far away from themselves as possible.

2. They constantly google cat behaviors.

As the self-proclaimed poster human for all Cat Moms everywhere, I make sure to do both aforementioned actions pretty much every single day. One such day, while googling what the world looks like through a cat's eyes (spoiler alert: no one knows), I came across some troubling information.

Cats hate eye contact.

Now, this fact is not troublesome in itself, but for me personally, it was extremely problematic. Because while cats may not like eye contact, they do love to stare at things. And my cat, Liza,  for whatever reason, loves to stare at me. All the damn time. I started feeling guilty that I'd failed her in some fundamental way (Cat Mom trait #3) because literally anytime I looked up, there she was. Staring. Getting out of the shower -- staring. Working at my desk -- staring. Sitting on the toilet -- staring. Every time we made eye contact, I'd quickly avert my eyes and apologize profusely, but I feared the damage already done was irreparable. Despite all of the love and litter box shoveling, I'd still somehow managed to break my cat to the point where she didn't even know that she was supposed to hate eye contact. It was like a weird, accidental, cat-version of Stockholm Syndrome. I was beside myself.                                                                

Fortunately, another Cat Mom google search brought some much-needed relief.

Turns out that cats really truly do hate eye contact. BUT should you make eye contact with a cat, especially a cat you are only loosely acquainted with, you can blink and then look away with no love lost between the two of you Even better, should you make eye contact with a cat you know well (read: you squeeze the life force out of on a daily basis while praying God will spare them and they will live forever), you can hold their gaze, slowly blink, and they in return might slowly blink back at you. This, my friends, is the ultimate gift a cat can bestow. 

This is the Cat Kiss.

Upon reading this information, I promptly morphed into a middle school boy; I'd never been more nervous for a first kiss, but also couldn't stop lurking around, trying to trick Liza into it. And, like middle school girls always seem to do, Liza sensed my desperation and stayed far, far away. One day, while I was on the couch reading a very important and distinguished piece of literature (Netflix binging), I felt little paws land on the cushion near my feet. My heart started pounding like it was the last slow song at the 8th-grade dance. I knew this was the moment I'd been waiting for.

Slowly, slowly, slowly, I shifted my gaze from the page (screen), up over my book (laptop) and my eyes locked with a pair of beautiful, green feline ones that seemed to say, "this moment is in no way special to me. Also, I'm hungry." 

I blinked. I opened my eyes. She blinked. She opened her eyes. 

There it was, proof of love. My beautiful, stoic, face-smooshing child held affection for me in her little cat heart. Liza was no Patty Hearst! She was here because she knew that I would go to the ends of the earth for her. That those terrifying daily squeeze sessions came from a place of unending, unconditional awe of the creature she'd turned out to be. And, miracle of all miracles, she was still there, staring, waiting for more. The song hadn't ended, we could keep shuffling around the gym. 

I blinked. I opened my eyes. Liza had turned around and was now showing me her asshole.

Middle school girls can be so fickle.

 

Happy Place

This morning I sit in my happy place.

I am on the long part of our sectional couch. It's an IKEA creation and it pulls out into a big ol' bed that takes up our entire living room. As it stands now, not in a bed but in an L shape, it only takes up roughly 99.9% of our living room. I'm in my favorite pajama shorts, flower-patterned and from Target, that have a matching shirt with fringe that makes my boobs look big, which is no small feat let me tell you. But today I am not in the fringed shirt, I am in a white shirt I bought from Marshall's the day before I moved into my happy place when I should have been packing but instead was at Marshall's. 

I'm on the couch and to my left is a window ledge with Spence and I's books. Among them, The UCB Improv Manual, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Be Here Now, No Country for Old Men, A People's History of the United States, Into the Wild, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. A collection of words that have reached Spence and me on some level, enough to choose these books out of the rest we owned and schlep them from Texas to our tiny place in New York. Behind the books is a temporary shade that covers the window that looks out onto Classon Avenue. The temporary shade has been there for almost two months and I suspect it will stay up until we move from this place, no matter how many years we decide to stay. It is crinkled from Liza's nose pushing it up in order for her to explore the world through a pane of glass. The closest she will ever be to the great outdoors. Everytime Spence and I walk home we check the window just in case Liza is sitting in it at that exact moment. It's only happened once. We both lost our minds and stood on the street talking to her through the window for a good 10 minutes.

To my right is the aforementioned Liza. Eliza Doolittle, the angel baby. She lays on top of the IKEA sectional couch. Completely relaxed, her eyes closed. Her head is upright, held high all on its own as if she were balancing an imaginary crown between her perfect, pointy ears. Her tail is wrapped snugly around her body and one striped leg is dangling down the front of the couch cushion. She is at peace, she knows she is safe and there is literally nothing she must do today except for sleep and eat and nudge a temporary shade already crinkled in her likeness in order to explore the world for a bit. 

Going past Liza is a little open space where my yoga mat is currently on the ground. I got it as a gift two valentines ago, and it is still one of my favorite possessions. It's red on top and pink on bottom - a color combination I wouldn't have picked for myself but also love more than what I would have picked. This is a common theme in the gifts Spencer gives me, which is why he's the best gift giver ever. There are footprints all over it and one lone cat-hairball (not that Liza coughed up, just hair that has fallen off of her and collected together to sit on my yoga mat. I'm not a monster). Suffice to say it needs to be cleaned. I rolled it out to meditate this morning, but so far have been distracted by all the other activities Sunday morning has to offer and might end up just putting it away without actually meditating. This happens sometimes, and that's okay. (This is me assuring my neuroses more than it is defending my decision to you. I feel like if you're reading this, you are more than likely also neurotic and can relate. I don't know why I assume all people who read other people's blogs are neurotic, but I also don't think I'm wrong in thinking it.)

Behind the yoga mat, leaning against the wall is Spencer's bike. It's white with blue rims and has chrome pedals because Spencer broke the black pedals that came with it when he was trying to build it. He had been so excited to build the bike and then he broke the pedal. Which was bad enough, but then, when he was filling up the tires one exploded even though he followed instructions perfectly - which he is really good at and also makes him a much better cook than I will ever be (more on this later) - and it sounded like a gunshot. So much so that I screamed involuntarily when it happened and then we were scared the police were going to get called. And so the bike was ruined and Spence had to go get it fixed which cost almost as much as the bike had itself and they had to put on the stupid chrome pedals. And in the meantime, the toilet got clogged and we had to plunge it and it had already been SUCH A BAD DAY because my ankle was messed up and we had been stressed about money and insurance and all the shit adult humans have to deal with and the chrome pedals and the gunshot and now the toilet. But then Spence picked up the bike from the bike shop and the pedals didn't look that bad and he got to ride it to pick up our dinner from the Bao place so the night didn't end all that badly. He loves his bike. He loves his bike so much that he doesn't yet trust the bike storage we've been given (which is really just an empty space in front of the laundry room that is meant for people to walk through but the people who own this building decided could hold bikes) so here the bike is against the wall of the little space where my yoga mat is laid out, mocking me, and directly in front my wardrobe.

My wardrobe is where all of my clothes live, so this means I cannot get to my clothes without first moving Spencer's bike. But I love him and he loves his bike, and I would hate for the bike to get stolen after so much drama so I move the bike when I need clothes. I also lay clothes over the bike when it's late and I'm too lazy to move the bike and hang them up right away. Symbiosis in a nutshell. Spence and I are killing it at cohabitation.

If you keep going around the apartment to the left from the wardrobe, it's our bedroom. This is used for two things: sleeping and watching Game of Thrones. That's about it. Spencer has a little clothing rack in there where he hangs his clothes and our climbing gear. Spencer has gotten into rock climbing and, because I have total fomo when it comes to activities with Spencer, I have also gotten into rock climbing. At first, I was terrified and couldn't do it and all the little kids at their rock climbing birthday parties were judging me as they shimmied past while I was frozen only two feet off the ground. Now I'm not scared and I can do some pretty cool stuff, but also still look like a bozo a lot of the time. Spencer always looks cool, of course. Except for the time I belayed him too fast and he fell on his ass and was so embarrassed we had to leave. One time, Liza tried to jump onto Spencer's hanging rack and the top part fell off and clothes went everywhere and Liza tumbled down all ruffled and rejected. Now she just stares and meows at it. Incessantly and usually at about 5:00 in the morning. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Out of the bedroom and still going around to the left is the kitchen. This is where our precious La Croix live. There is never a time where our fridge is bare of what we call "bubblies." If the world was going to shit and the zombie apocalypse started and we had one last run to the grocery store, I think bubblies would be at least #3 on our list of things we needed. Sometimes we are too lazy to go all the way to the grocery store, so we get non-La Croix bubblies at the bodega. This is okay to do some of the time but their flavor choice is limited so we can only do this once a week until we can get all the way to the store and buy the real deal. This is also where we cook delicious meals. Actually, let me clarify. This is where Spencer cooks delicious meals. I roast vegetables to go with said meals. I am the vegetable roaster.  I cannot be trusted with meats or really anything other than vegetables because it's super hard to fuck up a vegetable. I put olive oil on them and salt and pepper them and stick in the oven until they turn brownish. All types of vegetables, one type of roasting. This is my lot in life, and I bear my cross proudly.

Separating the kitchen from the living room is a little red table with a white ceramic top that I bought at First Monday in Canton, Texas (for those of you not from behind the Pine Curtain, First Monday is the World's Largest Flea Market. You can get kettle corn and embroidered pillowcases and puppies that n'er do wells steal out of people's backyards and sell under the guise of being "breeders"). The table was 50 dollars and the legs are super wobbly and it's falling apart, but I love it. Wholeheartedly. It's the one piece of furniture I moved up to New York with. I hope I can keep it forever. Sitting at the table, back to me, is my love. He is sitting in his Taco Joint shirt and boxers poring over study materials for the bar exam. Despite his back being turned, I can still see the side of his face. Brow furrowed, his beard already almost fully grown even though he had to shave it for an interview a few days ago. He looked like a baby after shaving and I called him moonfaced not really understanding that the term held negative connotations. I am already pretty positive I will never be allowed to live this incident down for the rest of our lives together. 

Since the paragraph above, he and Liza have both moved to sit on my yoga mat. Liza has her belly showing. This is a trick so that she can entice you to pet her belly and then claw the shit out of your hand. And you feel guilty because you made her uncomfortable by touching her belly, but really she was asking for it by putting her belly out. As I wrote that last sentence, I realized how much it sounds like victim blaming. But trust me, Liza has never been a victim in her life. Not even close.

Anyway, they both sit on the mat loving each other, sun shining on Liza's stripes and Spencer's freckles. And I am happy. My life could not be filled with more love and contentment than it is this morning. My neuroses remind me that there will also be shit mornings in this apartment and these two creatures that I love so much will also make me angry in this apartment, and one day the bike in front my wardrobe will seem like a burden, and the wobbly legs on my red table will make me wish for a newer, easier, replacement. I know this. 

But on those days, my hope is that I will come back to these words and remind myself of the joy these things bring me. Because at the moment everything that my eye can see is radiating love and the gratitude in my belly is bursting out through my fingertips. My cat! My books! My couch! My love! And I know that even on shit days, I can find myself back here should I really want to.

For now, I must go. Not to meditate - I gave up on that idea a long time ago - but to snuggle Spence. He's moved onto the couch (Liza is back also) and I really want to snuggle him.

Frayendz

Last weekend, I had my bachelorette party. For anyone who hasn't had a bachelorette party, I highly recommend it. It's a weekend cleverly disguised as celebrating the marriage between two people, but in reality is just a time where all of your friends come together for a weekend and constantly tell you how great of a human they think you are. I personally pretended to be bashful and humbled, of course, saying things like, "you guys, you've already done too much! I don't need all of this." But, if I'm being completely honest, I've been preparing for such a weekend my entire life.

I had a lot of ideas about what the weekend would look like. I pictured us in robes. We would be mellow and poised and mysteriously well-groomed, like the women in couch ads. We would speak to each in hushed voices as we sipped our second and final glass of red wine for the night and watched the sun go down. We would sit in nature and reflect on life and the times we'd shared together. We'd have deep discussions about the concept of marriage and the implications of me and my betrothed promising our lives to each other. We would be grown up women doing grown up things, whatever the hell that means. I even went so far as to express these ideas to my best friend, Caroline. "I don't want the weekend to be too crazy," I suggested. "Not too much alcohol, nothing too planned. Just all of us together being couch model-y, please."

Instead what I got was a flurry of temporary tattoos, Justin Bieber songs, a mechanical bull, bar dancing, cigarettes, general tomfoolery, and an abundance of penis straws. I had zero red wine. I lost my voice screaming to Cascada's Everytime We Touch at the impromptu dance party we threw ourselves in the rental house's kitchen until 3:00 in the morning. There were pictures taken that weekend that should rise up into the cloud and live out the rest of their days unseen by anyone.

It was one of the most divine experiences I have had in all my 25 years.

But here's the thing: had my best friend not known me better than myself and proceeded in planning the staring contest I'd requested, it would have been a sacred weekend all the same. The events that unfolded were incredible, yes, but the weekend wasn't made by its (extremely thoughtful and well-planned) agenda. It was made by the pure, unadulterated goodness of the people participating in it. 

And as much as I really would recommend everyone having such a weekend, I wouldn't recommend my weekend to anyone. Because my people are my people and your people are your own. My people let me give them a haircut and wore flower crowns and threw me into a mechanical bull pit by my ankles. Your people might, indeed, decide to robe you and cut you off after one glass of wine. Or give you no wine or, God forbid, no robe. Who knows? Not me, they aren't my people. But whatever the case, the people with you will be your tribe and they will speak your language of celebration. They will gather around you and overwhelm you with the joy only their friendship can bring. You will be in the comfort of their acceptance and warmth and you will literally not have to give a single fuck about what other people think for an entire 48 hours because everyone there knows you and is like, "hell yes, we are absolutely with that girl."

What a treasure. In a life that is too often filled with second-guessing and seeking to measure up, what an absolute gift it is to rest in the sanctuary of your own community.

And, as with any gift given, there is only one thing left to say: thank you.

Thank you, deeply and sincerely, to all of you who came to my side and loved me hard last weekend. Thank you for requesting Biebs at every single bar we went to and dancing on the floor with the conviction that can only come from true friendship and too much champagne. Thank you for loving me long before this weekend and for the love I know you will give long after. You people are my guiding light and my daily reminder of the immense love that this universe radiates every damn day. I am forever grateful that you allow me to call you a friend.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And really you guys, you've already done too much. I don't need all of this for the wedding weekend...