Nicole Krauss & Hydrangeas

Goddamn I have good taste.

If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms – if you find yourself at a loss for what to do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignness of your own body – it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up: all artifacts of ancient gestures. Holding hands, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it’s too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other’s bodies to make ourselves understood.

– Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

This is me, copping out on writing a blog post on a Friday night because I bought myself flowers and I want to read pretty words.

You’re welcome.

I Could Have Been a Softball Legend

At work today, I was furiously concentrating on a project, zoning out to The Decemberists while my coworkers chatted. It was around lunch time, and past the time I should have taken a break, but I hadn’t gotten to a decent resting spot. In an effort to start drawing myself out of the zone, I took out an ear bud to listen to the conversation around me. “Did I ever tell you about the time I shut down three volleyball games because I biffed it so bad that the refs couldn’t even talk?” “Nope.” “Oh my god…it was so funny.”

I had never heard that story, but its introduction reminded me why I don’t participate in group sports. I admire people who do, but I just don’t understand the motivation. Failure in group sports is so public. The entire audience knows what you have to do and they get violent when you didn’t do your one job: catch the ball, block the person running your way, etc. I consider myself a fairly confident person, but I’m just not willing to risk that level of embarrassment just for the right to say “Yeah, my team won.” If I’m going to win, it’s going to be because of my own work. The same goes for my failures. Sure, I get embarrassed about things momentarily, but I have no problem moving on. It’s because I’m smart about what I do. I don’t do things that people would talk about years later if I failed. Few of my failures have been theatrical.

Once, when I was living in Milwaukee, I was walking down Oakland in the rain. I had no umbrella, just a coat with my hood pulled over. I was listening to something beautiful and sad, most likely (it was just what I did), and I had my arms crossed tightly over my chest when I saw that a good-looking boy was walking towards me. Feeling girly and oddly confident, when we passed, I locked eyes with him and smiled. His eyes lingered for longer than I expected.

“He’s going to go home and daydream about me,” I thought contentedly. I was feeling pretty good about  myself as I rounded the corner to my street. “I should always wear ballet flats when it rains. It’s so practical,” I probably also thought, because I was 19 and an idiot. When I got home, I put my things in my bedroom, then went straight to the bathroom to take a hot shower. In the mirror, I saw why his eyes had lingered. Black streaks of mascara stained my cheeks. “I don’t think he’s going to daydream about me,” I thought aloud.

image via ObviousState Etsy

image via ObviousState Etsy

I’m not an athlete. I just don’t really have faith in my body. I don’t run fast. I have no arm strength, core strength, or any physical strength now that I’m listing it all. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m clutsy, but I’m only aware of my body movements enough to not injure anyone. I don’t trust myself enough to be on a team where people are counting on me to throw myself in front of a ball or another human who is going a place my team doesn’t want him to go.

In school, kids who were good at sports were also the cool ones who weren’t very smart. I took a personal pride that I read better books than they did. You know how teenagers are always beefing about that. My one athletic moment took place my junior year of high school during a softball game in gym class. I took my usual spot out in left field, as close to the batter’s opposite wall as I could get without the gym teacher telling me I had to pretend to participate. I was zoning out, probably thinking about which emo lyrics I was going to write in the margins of my algebra notes, when I realized the ball had been hit high and far and was headed straight to me. Not knowing what else to do, I just stuck my hand in the air. I didn’t think I would actually catch it. But I did. I caught the damn ball.

I was so impressed with myself. I actually considered it when my gym teacher encouraged me to go for softball. “Maybe I’m a natural athlete whose ability is just now surfacing at 16,” I thought. Then I remembered the time I tried running around the block without stopping, and I decided to just play violin for 2 hours a day instead.

I’ve been “writing” for the last two hours and this is all I have to show for it.

I started writing a really nice post about how I am returning to writing because I want to exercise that muscle again because I love words and the way it feels when you can describe something in a way that illuminates it in a way that readers who weren’t there go, “Goddamnit she’s right.” But I had to do a little bit of mental preparation first; Reading the archives of my high school xanga turned into reading the novel I tried writing at seventeen. That turned into laughing at myself turned into trying to validate myself again which lead in a temporarily fruitless search for the first piece that won me a flash fiction contest. I like the first one better, but the only one I can find is the second piece that won me a flash fiction contest. THE STRUGGLE IS SO REAL, YOU GUYS.

I found myself clad but naked that caramel August evening. With iced espresso bitter on my tongue, I watched as you arranged vibratos for strings note by note. For a dollop of a moment, you and your thoughts were mine to taste – tart and airy like a meringue. As your fingers volleyed the piano keys, the saccharine words slithered to my pursed lips: I love you.

I think I was hungry. At the very least, I really wanted dessert.

Falling in Love on Summer Street

The first time I fell in love, it was to a soundtrack of Sufjan Stevens, The Shins, Nada Surf, and Broken Social Scene. Our first kiss happened in the front bedroom of a house on Summer street with a group of hardcore straight edge guys playing video games in the living room below. Chicago was playing, because why would it not be playing during a first kiss?

His name was Eric and he made me feel like the manic pixie characters I was constantly writing about in my fiction at the time. In his eyes, I was thing to be constantly in awe of. It began so tentatively, I can’t remember exactly how we met. My earliest recollection of Eric-induced butterflies were his responses to my away message on AIM that I read upon returning a youth symphony performance. He somehow found out I wasn’t going to senior prom and wanted to take me, but couldn’t afford it. I was embarrassed by his enthusiasm. Not only was I not accustomed to attention from boys, but he was three years older than me and had graduated from another high school. I imagined introducing him to friends and classmates. I told him I was flattered and thanked profusely, but told him that I was fine. When you’re 18 and awkward, romantic attention is impossible to process.

We started spending time together under the guise of starting a band. He wanted to write songs & I had no idea how to accompany unwritten music. Somehow we got promo photographs taken without so much as a name or song established. Eventually we stopped using song-writing  as the reason for spending time together and then we just started kissing a lot.

This probably would have been our band's first album cover.

This probably would have been our band’s first album cover.

He wasn’t the boy I thought I would date. I was acutely aware that my parents didn’t understand my attraction to him. He gardened. He had a pair of male and female vintage Schwinn bicycles just because. He wore slim-fitting Levis, tired Converse sneakers, and a perpetual red hooded sweatshirt. He had a habit of making sly observational remarks that surprised new acquaintances.”You just don’t get him,” I felt compelled to explain when I saw this happening. “He’s just commenting on the absurdity of life! It’s just what he does!”

Our timing cultivated the perfect setting for a doomed first love: dewey sunsets, rickety vintage bicycles racing down the hill by the river, ipod classics and auxillary speakers, dusty box fans, virginity’s farewell, and my impending first semester of college just months ahead. Though I maintain the swing shift job I worked that summer was my worst ever, my only memories are those of complete bliss. I was carefree – I had two hilarious best friends, a boyfriend, a convertible car, and an endless supply of mix CDs. I didn’t need anything more.

It’s been ten years since this brief relationship, but some of my most vibrant romantic memories are with him. They’re embarrassingly innocent and naive. I think that Eric was (and perhaps still is) an extremely self-aware person who translates well only to a niche audience. Sometimes it felt like he was directing the scene, ensuring maximum nostalgia for years to come. Sometimes he would change a song before it ended, only to arrive on the one I realized should have been playing all along:

  • Sufjan Stevens: Chicago –  for our first kiss
  • Nada Surf: Your Legs Grow – a sticky night, tacking photographs to his wall
  • The Shins: Those to Come – the timid and moon-bright night when I inaudibly told him I loved him
  • Broken Social Scene: Shampoo Suicide – the night I wore a lime paisley boatneck tank and he breathlessly told me that I was amazing
  • Kenny Chesney: Summertime – driving to Woodman’s in his truck, listening to something like the Getup Kids, and Eric saying he had heard a country song that made him realize he liked the way my toes looked on the dash
  • matt pond PA: Lily Two – sitting on a quilt in some field off of highway 76 with our instruments, Eric trying to get me to loosen up by singing “leaves of grass, leaves or grass, leaves of grass…” at the top of my lungs
  • Silence – lying on our stomachs, watching rain fall beneath a streetlight, then him saying “You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die? I hope this is one of those moments I see.”

Eric was mindful about creating memories. He was a complicated person, someone I don’t think I ever fully knew or understood, but I knew that if he was choosing to spend time with me, he thought I was special.

I only have the one, but I think it’s safe to say that first loves are magical. I could go on to describe its end, but it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that it happened and that it was special.

On the Verge of 27: Expectations vs. Reality

So, the last thing I left you all with was a brief, barely edited & segue-free piece about my family needing to put our family dog to sleep. It was real uplifting, I know. I thought it would keep you happy for at least six months. My parents have since adopted another dog – a yellow lab named Duke who often prefers a too-small cat bed to his memory foam futon contraption and loathes isolation so much that he attempts to slyly crawl on your lap while you’re working on your taxes or reading. If he succeeds, he falls asleep on top of you.

He had been snoring for 20 minutes when I took this picture.

He had been snoring for 20 minutes when I took this picture.

It feels a little blasphemous to have a dog so soon after Jack was gone. I try to visit my parents once a week, and I keep catching myself calling him Jack. He answers to it half the time, so I guess it works. I often wonder how the two dogs would get along. I’d like to think that they would, but I think Jack may have experienced some kind of puppy-envy. Jack spent years earning the right to crawl on the bed or couch. Duke’s been around for about a month and has practically forced his way up. He’s so pitiful that it seems cruel to say no. He’ll walk up to you, rest his head on your lap (or keyboard, crochet project, book, etc), whine, and stare at you until you resign and invite him up.

Other than that, I’ve been doing a lot of the same things I talk about each time I return after a blogging hiatus: working, reading, dating, crocheting, justifying Target purchases, and eating ice cream. It’s life. My only real goals for 2015 were to learn all the lyrics to Kanye West’s Graduation & get super skinny. I’ve made progress on one of those.  (WAKE UP MR WEST, MR WEST, MR BY HIMSELF HE SO IMPRESSED) Notable exceptions are as follows:

  • Deciding to read one book at time rather than six
  • Discovering that emojis are not an app I have to pay for – they’re just on my iPhone
  • Signing up for Stitchfix, & keeping everything in my first fix.
  • Getting a In-Home Try On from Warby Parker and finding a pair of glasses that make me feel unstoppable.
NO ONE (WO)MAN SHOULD HAVE ALL THIS POWER

NO ONE (WO)MAN SHOULD HAVE ALL THIS POWER

While for the most part, I love my life, once in a while, I take a step back and look at myself through the eyes of 18-year old Ashley. She doesn’t get why I’ve been spending so much time with Excel and so little with a notebook and RSVP pen. She also doesn’t care about self-imposed midweek curfews or sensible casual office wear. Car insurance is something that Dad apparently makes the payments on, and rent will never be a responsibility. She thinks I should read more Chuck Palahniuk (she’s wrong) and fewer Vice articles (she’s probably right).

I’ll turn 27 at the end of the month. Eighteen year old Ashley assumed I’d be married and pregnant with my first child by now. As far as a career, I wouldn’t be doing anything really. My husband would take care of all of the expenses – including all my student loans – because he’s a gentleman like that. Though her ability to be incredibly self-absorbed without a speck of self-awareness is impressive, I wish she would have had her heart broken earlier in life. It would have saved the universe fewer re-readings of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But whatever – she was too busy being oblivious and trying to prove to baristas that she was cool.

Self-deprecation aside, I just assumed my life would be filled with more creativity and music than spreadsheets and metrics. It surprises me how much I love my job sometimes. I assumed I would never lose my drive to journal or wax nostalgic while listening to Beck. As college was wrapping up, I sometimes imagined living in my own sunny studio apartment, baking ginger scones in the morning, and reading Flannery O’Connor stories as the sun rose, not caring that I was just barely making rent & student loan payments while working as a barista. (That sentence is hilarious for two reasons: 1, I own way too much crap to ever fit into a studio apartment & 2, don’t be absurd: baristas can pay one or the other: rent or student loans.) I didn’t imagine leaving the office at 8:30 after Excel froze because of too many countifs formulas on a tab of an executive summary page.

I miss how my younger self disregarded margins and completely filled notebooks with her thoughts. Though she was meeker and far more impractical, her only real aspiration was to live vibrantly. At 27, my life is now vibrant in different ways than I expected: A fulfilling career has replaced my housewife pipe dream, and independence has replaced my assumptions of comfortable monotony and security. I still read a lot of books. I laugh often. I’m comfortable in my own skin and am comfortable articulating my thoughts. Is that really so bad?

Canine Cancer

Last night I learned that my dog has cancer.

When my dad told me, I didn’t really feel anything for about a minute. News like that never feels real until you hear your father’s voice crack.

Jack’s a 100lb black lab. He’s about 8 years old and blindly adores me and my family the way only dogs can. I visit my parents a few times a month and if Jack sees me from the top of the driveway, he just about plows me over. If I were to match his excitement, he’d squeal for an hour. He’s a happy dog. He has the same amount of energy now as when we picked him up from the shelter seven years ago.

According to the vet, he has a really aggressive form of cancer. Realistically, he only has a few months left. I’m too scared to look at anything on wikipedia about canine cancer, so I don’t know what his life would be like for the next few months. My family has decided that we’ll be putting him to sleep.

Discussing when to schedule euthanasia makes you feel helpless, though you’re basically playing god for a few moments. It’s something that has to be done. We don’t want him to suffer through another bloody nose. They started in July and escalated to what my parents describe as a looking like a crime scene on the front porch, the living room, the back of the car, and the exam room.  But when he’s wagging his tail and excitedly chewing on a stick while dad putzes in the garage, it’s hard to accept that he’s dying. He’s too damn happy to be dying. It makes me sick to think about Jack no longer greeting me when I stop by, but I know it has to be done.

While my family discussed this, I kept thinking about how weird it is to say that we put our animals to sleep. That phrase is stupid. I know it’s supposed to soften euthanasia, but it kind of cheapens it. It’s not sleep. It’s death. The emotional blow isn’t any less harsh just because you use a pleasant euphemism. “Letting him go” seems more appropriate, but if we’re talking semantics, letting him go would mean more that we just let him die naturally. But that’s not what we want, because if we were to let him go that way, it could potentially be by a very traumatic bloody nose that never stops. Though it might be natural, it’s not humane. But what the hell does humane mean in this scenario? Horse doctor? White Fang-style disowning? Because I clearly have excellent coping mechanisms, this is basically what was going through my head while my brothers were sharing how they felt things should go: the language and cultural expectations surrounding dying pets.

We’ll be having the vet come into our home to do the procedure, then we’ll pick up the remains later. I wish I could shut my brain off sometimes, because then, as soon as the remains were mentioned, I recalled a This American Life episode in which they investigated whether or not families truly received their pets’ remains. It’s been a few years since I heard it, but I’m pretty sure they arrived at the conclusion that you’re probably not getting your pet’s ashes. I had to force myself to shut up about it because though that tidbit is probably factual, it wasn’t going to do anything but frustrate my family and remind them that I can be an insensitive ass.

I’m not sure when exactly he’ll be put down, but probably within the next month. As with all things, this sadness, too, shall pass. But right now, it’s kind of heartbreaking.

This was taken earlier tonight. He knows something's awry. Just look at those eyes.

This was taken earlier tonight. He knows something’s awry. Just look at those eyes.

My little brother wrote and addressed this card to Jack from summer camp a few years ago. The bond between boy and dog doesn't get any stronger.

My little brother wrote and addressed this card to Jack from summer camp a few years ago. The bond between boy and dog doesn’t get any stronger.

Typical Jack. Taken in July. Clearly this isn't a dog who has cancer, right?

Typical Jack. Taken in July. Clearly this isn’t a dog who has cancer, right?

He's patient, but not coordinated. I think I've seen him catch four out of about fifty treats that rested on his nose.

He’s patient, but not coordinated. I think I’ve seen him catch four out of about fifty treats that rested on his nose.

Chill out, bro.

Chill out, bro.

Inflate My Ego, B*tches.

So I know it’s Friday night and you guys are all “Yo, I deserve beer!” but you actually deserve some really good bourbon. But you know what else would be cool? Listening to the podcast I recorded last week with my friend Leo Costello!

Podcast

Photo courtesy of Leo Costello. Soon to be in a literary pinup calendar near you. By soon, I mean never. Unless someone pays me (and Leo) a lot of money.

Maybe you just want to know how often I say “like” or “ummm” (spoiler alert: it’s a lot), or maybe you just want to know what my voice sounds like. Maybe you want to be like the dude I just dated for the last two months and only listen to 20 minutes of it. Maybe you really want to hear about the freaky dreams I had when I was young. Or maybe you need a really brief synopsis of Lolita. Or maybe you want to know how Leo and I know each other. You’ll learn about all of those things. And more.

Enjoy! You can subscribe to Leo’s podcast on Soundcloud or iTunes.