winter woods.

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The second day I’m home, my father takes me to where the beavers are making their dam. There is a half-finished one that someone has pulled out of the water and left dried out and useless on the shore. There are beaver tracks around but no beavers. I called the town, my father says. They’re going to cause a flood.

I haven’t been home for Christmas in three years. Last year S and I spent Christmas Eve on the beach and then went back to his apartment to make stuffed shells and twice baked potatoes and other things I can’t remember. We had a Christmas tree made of felt with felt ornaments and a lopsided, felt star on the top.

I got back to the East Coast on Wednesday and I am still jet-lagged, spending the mornings in a haze of leftover sleeping pills, fingers weighted and clumsy. My lips are perpetually dry and I’ve taken two baths already; last night the water was bright pink and sparkly and smelled like flowers.

S landed in Boston last night and took the bus up to Vermont and I laid in bed and finished a book I wasn’t impressed with. I have wrapping left to do and baking and decorating and I can’t find any of my winter hats.

There are two or three half-filled water glasses in my room and my brothers and their wives and their babies all arrive this week and I’m enjoying the house to myself, every minute until I lose it.

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IMG_7776photographs taken in Connecticut. 

 

faerie glen.

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Almost two years ago, my trip to the Scottish Highlands was bookended by visits to the Faerie Glen, a tiny little set of hills and small lakes that is often forgone in favor of flashier scenery. But this was a place my travel partner and makeshift tour guide had been before and fallen in love with, and I’m glad she suggested we go (and then go back- to say goodbye). In the winter, the entire Isle of Skye was grey and brown and a ruddy, lifeless green. But the weather was unexpectedly mild and it was also essentially deserted- our own private corner of the world.

More than anywhere I’ve visited, I think about Skye. Its one-way roads, its painted sheep (so the farmers know whose is whose), its cliffs and its water. More than anywhere I’ve visited, I think I’d like to go back here.

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photographs taken on Skye and edited with VSCO‘s newest film filter collection for Lightroom.

 

the last of the year.

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It is raining in Los Angeles, which in reality is a very good and useful thing but in my brain becomes conflated, too-meaningful, drenched in metaphor. Like the city is being cleaned away, being readied, being prepared for a brand new year- two thousand and fifteen! An inconceivable amount of time and yet just a drop in the bucket of so much more time, time before me and time before humans and time before dinosaurs and time before this planet even dreamed of holding life.

Last night I slept weird and woke hot and with an aching back and from a dream in which I had pleaded with a young police officer not to give me a parking ticket and finally won, triumphant I watched him rip up the tiny square of paper and then I opened my eyes and didn’t know where I was until I did- oh yeah, Santa Monica and it is still raining.

I booked a very long trip to the East Coast for Christmas, long enough for the place where I board my cat to be like- that is a very long time. I feel bad about leaving him but he always seems to have a good time. The person who watches him notes, on his report card, that he enjoys anything with catnip in it and he prefers not to play with the other cats but to watch them from a high vantage point. This seems somehow perfect.

For Thanksgiving S and I went to Palm Springs and it wasn’t hot enough. Like- it was hot but not burning, and I wanted to be burned. And then when we drove home the skies over our city seemed so dark and then it started raining and it hasn’t really stopped, just paused.

Yesterday we saw Birdman and it was just fine, so I’m not sure why everyone is so all about it.

Anyway there’s under a month now until I am thirty years old and that is an even smaller drop in the aforementioned bucket of time and so it doesn’t seem like the biggest deal. Things will go on like they are going on, I will continue to write stories and make music and take pictures and still feel, at the end of the day, like I am not quite contributing enough. But to what? The bucket? I don’t know.

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IMG_7766photographs taken in Joshua Tree

 

mt. tamalpais.

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A half hour after I land in San Francisco, I’m sitting on my brother’s couch watching my niece in her swing. She’s almost three months old and she doesn’t like to be held. If you pick her up, she generally responds by wailing dramatically until you put her down. And then the waterworks stop instantly and she is smiling, happy, looking around. It’s mildly annoying because nobody wants to sit and look at a baby. I’m hoping she’ll grow out of it by Christmas.

So I am sitting and looking at a baby when the first pulses hit. Optical migraines are one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced. This is what they look like: a jagged ring of light that starts out small and contained and spreads out to obstruct your entire field of vision. They last for twenty or thirty minutes and they’re painless. Just annoying, because afterward everything is blurry for hours and you can’t finish the Tahereh Mafi book you’ve been so far devouring.

I sit and look at the baby and she is ringed in lightning flashes and white halos.

A week before this I had a few drinks over the course of a three-hour dinner and woke up the next morning profoundly nauseous, the kind of stomach unrest that lasts the entire day and into the evening and follows you even when you try and go to sleep. And so I think maybe my ulcer is back because one of its less endearing qualities is that it makes me extremely intolerant to alcohol. And also each day I wake up starving, like I haven’t eaten in years.

On Sunday we drive to Mount Tamalpais, up winding roads that snake and slither and twist and turn until, in the backseat, I am one switchback away from throwing up. When we park I walk to the bathroom, that extra saliva in the back of my mouth that signifies I am about to lose it. It helped that the air was so cold and slicing through my borrowed fleece.

So I spend the whole weekend in San Francisco in a moderate state of discomfort. But Saturday night I took a bath in a claw-footed bathtub and used a bath bomb that turned the water a deep shade of sparkly blue and I made the water too hot and I kept sliding underneath because my feet couldn’t reach the other side and that was nice. Like sometimes I just want things too hot and too deep and too blue. My skin red and warm and nobody bothering me until they hear the water draining.

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photographs taken in Mount Tamalpais State Park

baby’s first museum.

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This weekend I flew up to San Francisco to spend a few days with my brother, sister-in-law, and my niece, Harper, who’s almost three months old. We took her to her first museum- the California Academy of Sciences- where she quickly became enthralled with the aquariums. Longer post to follow, but for now…

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photographs taken at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

mt. san jacinto, part 2.

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Maybe an hour and a half into the return hike, I fell.

It’s weird because I don’t fall that often. I mean, as adults I guess we should all pretty much not fall that often. I tried to remember the last time I fell and couldn’t (but then I did—it was in Scotland, also during the second half of a hike: descending Arthur’s Seat). It happened very quickly and I can’t remember anything that might have caused it. No loose stone underfoot, no lost balance. I was just walking one moment and on my face the next moment. I was holding my camera and it crashed so hard against a rock that the sound echoed through my body. I knew it had cracked in half and that was the first thing I checked—not my bleeding palms or already swelling knee but my camera—which was somehow, miraculously intact.

(A PSA about lens’ hoods: they are a lifesaver. My hood is scratched and clawed but not even bent. And my camera is, somehow, unscathed.)

I wrenched my arm and smashed my knee and scraped up both my hands and now my body is sore in an irritating way, because I can’t tell if I’m sore from the hike, from the fall, or from some combination of both. I want to know how my body would feel if I hadn’t almost broken my face, but of course that’s not going to happen. So I microwave heating pads and lay them over my thighs and I pay particular attention to the bruise on my knee, how it spreads and changes, how it turns different colors every few hours.

We run out of water two hours from the aerial tramway that will take us down down, gloriously down, back into the valley of Palm Springs. I thought I’d been rationing my two liters appropriately but it’s hard to tell with a Camelbak, and suddenly I’m sucking air. Then the breeze, warm and inviting until then, starts dropping in temperature as the sun starts setting. The sweat on my tee shirt turns cold and sticky.

When we pass the rangers’ station, they question us about a lost autistic hiker. She is deaf, they say, and her group reported her as missing. One of my friends spoke to her in sign language at the top, she remembers. I thought it was strange she was all by herself. But I asked her if she was okay, and she said she was.

In the tramway building, I use the restroom. There’s a woman with blonde hair who presses things one by one. She presses the soap dispenser. She presses the sink. She presses a spot on the wall. She presses the trashcan. She acts like she can’t stop pressing things.

The only description of the missing woman I can remember is blonde hair, autistic. I go outside and tell the man letting people in for the tram, I think she’s in the bathroom. They said they have a helicopter out looking for her, but I think she might be in the woman’s bathroom.

He didn’t seem particularly concerned. He said thanks. I never found out if that was her.

The return tram takes a thousand hours (but really just ten minutes). Every time we pass a tower, we swing dramatically. Everyone in the tram lets out a collective ohhh. It’s a little scary, but the minute we hit the bottom I feel eleven miles of stress lift off my shoulders. I am practically floating. I don’t even really feel tired anymore. I drive S and myself to the pizza restaurant and when we’re there, we gulp water glass after water glass after water glass and later wash off our arms with wet wipes in our freezing, freezing tent.

It feels so nice to be lying down. The next morning, I’m the last person to get out of bed.

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photographs taken on the way down Mount San Jacinto.

the july.

10321582_783611421698659_1486383841467373962_oOur band played its first show the day after Halloween. We made music as Woody & Jessie (with help from a barbershop quartet-er) and it was among the craziest nights of my life. So much fear and anxiety and nervousness leading up to this event, but it all dissipated in the minutes before I played those first few notes. Eternal thanks to Blood Red Sky for putting everything together and letting us open for them. This was a night I’ll remember forever.

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photo 3-2-2

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photographs courtesy of Studio Bancs & friends. 

haunted.

IMG_7999I dream about my grandmother’s house often. The cheap blue siding. The rock wall that lined the backyard. The shed I only saw open one or two times, a cobwebbed structure that smelled of mold and damp. A basement that was half-finished and half-unfinished, the unfinished side stretching back for what seemed, at my young age, an impossible distance.

When I dream about this house now, as an adult, it is usually the backdrop of a family gathering. It is unchanged and perfect in its details, with none of the distortion that dreams sometimes inflict on familiar places. The brown recliners are still in place in the den. The living room is still pristine and off limits. There is still a trail of stained carpet in the hallway that leads from the kitchen to the bedrooms. My grandmother still eats bowls of white rice, an excuse to consume her daily requirement of butter. There is a white cat named Fluffy that will eventually be eaten by coyotes or run over by a car, I can’t remember which.

In the most recent dream, I’ve given birth to twins. Two little girls; I can’t remember their names.

When I was younger I felt the need for children more distinctly, but I can’t be sure it was a genuine desire and not one imprinted upon me by the expectations of society. From an early age I was taught the order of things: school, job, marriage, children. Sometimes those things got a little switched around but they were always there and, in the proper order, each subsequent step was meant to take the place of the one before it. Marriage trumped job. Children trumped marriage. After that, I had only death to look forward to.

When I was six or seven years old, we had to give a presentation about what we wanted to be when we were older. Bonus points if you came to school in costume. I wanted to be an entomologist but, upon quizzing some of my classmates, realized that all the girls wanted to be nurses. I ran the distinct risk of being labeled weird if I came to school dressed as a studier of insects.

You’re supposed to want to be a nurse, one of the little girls said to me.

So, when the time came, I dressed in a little white hat and said I wanted to be a nurse. When my teacher asked me why I wanted to be a nurse, I shrugged.

I’m supposed to want to be a nurse.

I spent my middle school years dreaming of how many kids I’d have, what I would name them all, how much money my husband would make. It took up a good chunk of my daily energy: constructing this future life for myself. My wedding, my house, my car, my pets. As I’ve grown up, as I’ve evolved, all of that has faded. Eventually the thought entered into my mind: but what if I don’t want to have kids? Is that OK? Is that a viable way to have a productive, fulfilling life? Or is it only a recipe for, one day when I am much much older, a sudden surge of regret? The feeling that I haven’t done what I’m supposed to?

So why my grandparents’ house, and why these infants in my arms, filling up my dreams with their tiny fists and feet. Is it me, some biological clock inside me ticking away my last years of reproductive viability, or is it the outside influence—every movie and TV show and book and magazine suggesting that my self-worth is somehow compromised if I don’t dream about putting two hands on my full belly, buying a rocking chair and practicing my breathing.

I haven’t seen my grandparents’ house in years. They’ve both passed now, but the house was given up years before that. My grandmother couldn’t walk down the cellar stairs anymore. My grandfather could barely make it down the hall to his bedroom.

When my aunt sent me this picture (I asked for something old) I commented that it looked haunted. She responded: There were times it may have been—

and as dramatic as it sounds, I feel that way about every house, about every dream of babies.

mt. san jacinto, part 1.

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An hour into the hike, I had mentally given up. The elevation was the toughest part; I couldn’t catch my breath unless I was completely motionless and sitting. But once I sat, it was hard to get up and start walking again. I compromised by leaning against trees, counting to thirty, making myself move again.

I felt betrayed by my body. I was telling my legs to move faster but they were doing the exact opposite. So I told them to go slow, take it easy, and they stopped entirely. That’s when I looked up and saw the deer, staring straight at me, a funny look on its face that is the expression of all deers. Its meaning: do you pose a threat to me, or can I keep eating?

Just like the deer in Yosemite, this one ultimately decided I was unimportant. Its friend joined him and they ate together, slowly munching at the vegetation while I took photographs, later using them as an excuse to why I had fallen so far behind.

I saw a deer! I insisted. I have proof!

But I think everyone knew that was really code for, I am so so tired. I don’t think I can do this anymore.

Two and a half hours into the hike I felt some modicum of strength returning to my muscles. My father always talks about getting a second wind and whether or not you believe in that particular phenomenon, I suddenly went from dead last to the front of our fourteen-person group. I tried not to outdo myself while also taking advantage of my suddenly tireless body. We hiked an uphill mile in about thirty minutes and I felt for the first time like I might actually make it to the top.

The last switchback revealed a mile marker that boasted .3 miles to the top. The elevation was listed as 10,000 feet and that is where I again became convinced I couldn’t do it. I wondered how stupid it was to make it 1,500 feet from the top only to go no further.

Later Dan told me that reaching 10,000 feet hits your body extra hard, that everything gets immediately more difficult. But I don’t know if he was just being nice.

But I made it. Very slowly.

When I finally sat down at the very top of Mount San Jacinto, my legs wouldn’t stop quivering. I didn’t know how I would manage the hike back down. I spread out across a rock and closed my eyes and thought about how much closer I was up here to the sun. The elevation of Los Angeles is 233 feet. Here: 10,834.

I wanted to be back at sea level again.

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photographs taken on the way up  Mount San Jacinto.

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