Category Archives: Moody Musings

A Parable Of Talents

I sit down at the keyboard my parents bought me — a thoughtful gift meant to let me continue doing something I loved as a kid. But as I squint at my well-worn music binder with its Xeroxed music, the notes have become a foreign language. My fingers feel stiff, my eyes get lost between my hands and the pages. The instrument now feels like little more than a bitter reminder of a gift I have lost.




I used to be really good at the piano. I mean pageant-girl good, with the dramatic banging of chords and the swaying to and fro. When was 18 I even did an hour-long solo recital, where I played Liszt, Ravel, Grieg, and Gershwin, plus a ten-minute Bach concerto alongside my teacher.

Weeks prior, my teacher had suggested we film the recital, but I flatly refused, because I knew by then that I fell apart under pressure. I’d get nervous, my hands would freeze up, then I’d botch a piece I’d played well a million times at home and suddenly the joy of my talent would be tainted. I thought if I was being filmed, I would get too nervous and not be able to play well, and so I refused to let her record it. I invited a few friends and my immediate family, and the memory of myself as the solo-recitalist has all but faded into obsolescence.

My love for the instrument had nothing to do with performing it. My love developed as I sat alone at the piano bench, safe in my parents’ home, in a world that felt like my own. My love grew as I plunked out note after note, enthralled in the puzzle of black dots that, when sorted out, created something beautiful. It was a sort of therapy for me; my mind engaged, and yet free from the woes of teenagerhood. Eventually I got better and the puzzle grew more puzzling, scribbled over in a neon mess of marker that still calls to mind my teacher’s passionate voice saying, USE YOUR WRISTS or DON’T RUSH! I spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours practicing the piano, and it taught me the joy that is using my mind and body to create.

Three months after my senior recital I went off to BYU, where my talent for the piano was as ordinary as my blonde hair. The most available piano was conspicuously placed in the Cougareat, where hundreds of kids sat eating every day. It shocked me how often the bench was occupied by some over-achieving BYU student playing Jon Schmidt or The Man From Snowy River. I’d sit eating my L&T wrap and think, what a showoff.

My fingertips became otherwise occupied by my new major and minor, typing up stories and poems, headlines and taglines, all at the breakneck WPM that was the undoubted result of so many scales.

I threw my next ten years into developing a talent for writing, and it’s strange, because even though it is an entirely different art, I still find myself paralyzed by the fear of sharing it.




A few months ago, I went to a church activity centered on sharing talents. The flier made references to how we should not hide our lights under a bushel, but place them on a candlestick for all to see!

Before it started, a friend expressed her nerves to me – she’d been asked by the gung-ho activity coordinator to sing the song from Moana.

“Wait – do you sing?” I asked her.

She shrugged, “I mean – in my car.”

She took the stage and sang anyway. She sang the Moana song, complete with strolls across the stage and looks off into the distance. And everyone stood and cheered and sang with her, and it was such a joyous three minutes.

As I watched her and others that night, I saw women reclaiming talents as nothing more complicated than that – a source of joy. I saw them saying to hell with perfection and finding more pleasure in sharing than skill. It struck me as sad that I hadn’t been asked to perform, not because I would have agreed to, but because under the guise of modesty I had done such a good job hiding my talents, no one even knew I had any.

In the days following the activity, I got thinking about my lapsed talents. I remembered my very first piano instructor, with her hairsprayed bouffant and pink frosty lipstick, who would stand before each recital and say, “Now remember, there is nothing tragic about making a mistake. The only tragedy is in playing your piece without expression.”

I remembered her basement music school – how we got to shop for candy twice a year with the Music Bucks we’d earned. I pictured her signature drawing of a curved finger, and how she would exclaim, “hot dog!” when I played with an especial amount of expression. I thought of her coming to my wedding, and how touched I was she’d remembered me after all those years.

From so early on, I was taught there was nothing wrong with making a mistake. Why did I not internalize that message?




I didn’t want to post this piece. I was worried the mere mention of having talents would sound like a humble brag, or even an overt brag. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to not put it out into the world.

But then in yoga today, my instructor Lisa told a story about an ancient sage, who spent his lifetime studying yogic philosophy and became an expert, but died alone having shared his knowledge with no one. The gods grant him another life, which he spends the same way – filling his mind with knowledge but dying alone. Finally in his third life, the man decides to share his knowledge. He becomes a teacher, a guru, and after this death, the gods grant him the exaltation of a sage – having finally found the purpose of life, he can finally move on from it.

I love the way Lisa weaves stories into her classes. She gives them to us in snippets, sharing another chapter each time we come to down dog, theming each class so that your peak pose coincides with the yogic parable that inspired it.

Her theme in yesterday’s class was that true joy lies not simply in having gifts, but in sharing them. I felt an amen in my body, and then it struck me – she calls them gifts, not talents.

There is a difference between those words.

It struck me that perhaps I have acquired so much grief around my talents because I see them as things that win beauty pageants.

I see them as things to be shared only when or if they can be flawlessly performed. I see them as things you put on a resume, things you earn and then turn around and use to earn more praise and adoration.

Lisa sees them as gifts. “Gifts” implies a level of grace and godliness and divinity. Gifts are inherently social – their purpose is to be shared in order to bring joy. Gifts are given, not earned.




I unearth my piano binder again, with its broken spine and sticky plastic cover, and flip it open to my favorite of the pieces from my old repertoire – a sprawling Liszt dazzler I don’t quite remember well enough to play with expression, however imperfectly.

It is torturous, how clumsily my fingers now play it. I am forced to play one hand at a time, slowly, using the cursed metronome.

Playing it with fresh eyes, I now see that the piece is an essay. The first page is its thesis statement, and each section thereafter an iteration on the theme of those original eight notes. It is something my brain would never have noticed had my fingers not spent so many years writing.

I sit at my keyboard, puzzling over the tangled mess of music, re-engulfed in that old familiar world of my own, where I look at the clock to see an hour has passed and wish I had more time to give.

I don’t quite know how to reconcile my talents with the fear that always accompanies sharing them. Maybe it simply takes practice. Maybe they don’t always need to be shared. But I am trying to shift how I view them — from performing to creating, from something earned to something given.

From talents, to gifts that are meant to be shared, with mistakes and much expression.



Water At The Roots

I remember when I first realized as a little girl that in order to make a flower grow, you had to water its roots.

It didn’t make any sense.

But what about the petals? I thought. The petals are the pretty part! The part everyone sees! Surely they were the part that deserved the water.

It seems such an obvious foreshadowing of the person I became – always chasing perfection and approval, dousing my petals in so much useless water.

I care much more about my roots these days. I will say it is a much less glamorous existence.

It means going to therapy and unfollowing certain accounts and having hard conversations with difficult people. It means taking jobs I like instead of jobs I could brag about. It means accepting hints of wrinkles and trying to remember that my body is just a body.

As with any habit, my petal-watering will take time to break. But I do feel it breaking. And I feel myself starting to grow.

Water at the roots.

Water at the roots.

Water at the roots.

Plant Killer

I’m a plant killer. The evidence is now irrefutable.

I feel wronged by this reality, because the recipe for keeping a plant alive seems so simple: pour water onto dirt.


I always thought I would be a plant person because my mom is a plant person. Growing up, I loved watching her garden — the pride she took in it, how she’d dream for weeks about which flowers would bejewel our yard that year. I loved going to the nursery with her to pick them out — petunias, pansies, snapdragons, marigolds, day lilies. She taught me their names, as well as which were the toughest, which needed special care, which the deer liked to eat. Of course I became less interested once it was time to actually plant the things. But I loved watching as she removed each precious flower from its plastic carton, cradling the dirt pods with their fledgling roots as she transferred them into a little hole in the earth, a home prepared just for them.

Having lived in an apartment for the entirety of my adult life, I don’t exactly have access to a garden, but I’ve still tried to cultivate my green thumb.

When a recipe called for fresh basil, I bought a basil plant instead. I daydreamed of being a person who knew which dishes could do with a dash of fresh basil, plucked right off the stem. I saw myself casually tossing it into my gorgeous, sizzling pan, to the delight of all who would taste some signature dish.

The basil plant died after one use.

I tried to decorate with cute mini succulents in trendy little pots, but within days they inexplicably withered.  I thought succulents were cactuses? Aren’t they supposed to survive anything?

For a while I made a habit of picking up a potted plant from Trader Joe’s — a mini rosemary bush or poinsettia at Christmas or springy baby roses, before killing them all and finally moving on to cut flowers instead.

And then a few months ago, Scott and I bought a house plant. A 5-tiered Dracaena that would prove, once and for all, that I am not the angel of death. When we brought it home, it was like the entire apartment was transformed. There was life! Inside! It was green, it was cleansing our oxygen, why I had gone so long without knowing the simple joy of a house plant?! We bought a tool to measure the light and soil, we Googled how to care for this species. We filled a big pot full of water and let it sit overnight just like the internet said. We watered until we saw drainage.

We drowned it.

The shortest tier died first. The leaves went droopy and then flopped completely flaccid and finally in a moment of rage, I pulled them all off. The next tier followed, and the next, but I told myself the top two might still make it! They had to make it.

Now, the top two tiers have started drooping. I avoid walking by the plant, because to touch it, even gently, is to cause a cascade of falling fronds. I should throw it away but it’s heavy. Which is a metaphor for it being super depressing.

I’m a plant killer; there’s so much proof. It’s making me sadder than it should.

P.S. I’ve Lived In Orange County For A Year

livin that billabong life!


Recently a friend asked how close I lived to Marina Del Rey.

Me:         Uh, an hour. Without traffic.

               We moved to Orange County, did I not tell you?

Friend:     Wait what? When? 

Oh just…it was only…it was last July.

It’s been eleven months and I’m still not telling people. It’s like I’m dating someone who is super hot but dumb.

The idea behind the move was that it was maybe time to settle down a bit. That we were nearing our thirties (super old) and thinking about a family (all current joys will cease) and it was time to leave the hustle of L.A. for the beautiful, boring suburbia that lies beyond the Orange Curtain.

At first I said, it’s just temporary! And it was. But I really settled into that word — “temporary” — telling myself we would never live here long term. We were city people! We went to museums! I mean, sometimes. We sometimes went to the museums and ate the food and saw the movies that hit theaters a week earlier in our neighborhood than the rest of the nation. But whether we actually did those city things or not, we were cultured through osmosis.

After I found not one but two (!) possible OC jobs in offices on the beach, I gave up both for a gig in DTLA. And now I drive an hour both ways on the dusty 5 freeway behind behemoth semi-trucks to a warehouse off Alameda that I would not walk around alone at night. It’s a good job, and I like the work. But it was also the city fix I needed when temporary became permanent.

I tell myself I am still an Angeleno – I can access city life whenever I want, I have the same friends. And then I meet up with said friends after work and am livid at the traffic. I am enraged at the existence of a parking meter and I grimace at the questionable smells wafting up from sewers along the cracking streets. I go floating down to my ocean-side bubble and must resist admitting that what I feel is deep relief.

I don’t want this change to happen, this settling into some idea of suburban life. I am scared of it – of my dwindling tolerance for city grit, of the possibility that I may be getting boringer.

I don’t care to live in Surftown, U.S.A. I don’t need famous shopping malls. I am dead on the inside as evidenced by being immune to the “happiest place on earth.”

I don’t tell people I live here, and yet it’s becoming home.

I don’t know what that means.


Sad About The Internet: Barnes & Noble Edition

I think I was meant to be born before the internet. I feel this every two weeks when I remember that Snapchat exists and open it to find long-forgotten snaps, to which I dutifully reply although their jokes are so dead.

I felt it today when I tried to go to Barnes & Noble. I was out running errands and realized with delight that one of said errands would take me next door to the book store. I had cozy visions of wandering the shelves, the air buzzing with literacy and proof that people do get books published.

I wasn’t planning to buy anything, but I did need to check on a few things. See, I’ve been listening to audiobooks (hi, endless commute!) and though they are rescuing me from certain misery, they leave me just a teaspoon unsatisfied. I recently finished The Underground Railroad. It was so brutal and yet so poetically written, I felt I needed to see the words, as though somehow my ears’ attention wasn’t adequate respect to the author. Before that I listened to Hillbilly Elegy, which was fascinating but left me with a nagging question — how does the author spell his wife’s name? He pronounces it “oo-shuh.” Usja? OOSHA? I have googled to no avail. And suddenly, although she is among the most minor of characters, she is the only one I’m left thinking about. My eyes needed answers!

And so I walked out of errand #1 with much anticipation, approached Barnes & Noble to find a horrifying sight: closed doors with ugly white stickers spelling, “NEW RETAILER COMING SOON.”

I stood there for a solid minute, not wanting it to be true. Was there some sort of misunderstanding? Had they merely switched locations? It’s the year 2017 and I’ve had what, a decade to get used to book stores going under? It’s not like I haven’t seen You’ve Got Mail, but what happens when The Shop Around The Corner AND Fox Books go down?

Image brought to you after 20 minutes of reading You’ve Got Mail quotes. What a classic.

I felt genuine sadness. I wanted to hold Cora’s story in my hands and I NEED TO MAKE SENSE OF YOU, OOSHUH!

The worst part was knowing that I am complicit in Barnes & Noble’s demise; I had no intention of purchasing anything today — I already did so, through the internet. The internet made it possible for me to not only purchase both stories without having to leave the house but listen to them, while I drove. Without the internet I likely wouldn’t have had (read: made) time to read them. Without the internet I couldn’t be complaining to you now!

And yet the internet has taken away my cozy, neighborhood Barnes & Noble. It has filled, but not satisfied my yearning to read books. It has made life easier and yet so much less.

I pulled out my phone to snap a photo of the closed book shop to my Story (crying emoji, angry emoji, book emoji), but decided against it.

I hate you, I love you, dear Internet.

Grace, Again

Download this and other gorgeous © Jessica Cardelucci images here


My hamstring flared up during yoga the other night. Again.

I was moving from one-legged Tadasana to Warrior 3 when the sirens sounded.


I scrambled over to the wall, shaking my leg furiously, come on come on don’t do this, please. I waited for the alarms to quiet. I hobbled back to my mat, rolled down onto my back and…I…started to cry.

It surprised me. The immediate crisis had been averted, I was out of danger, and most of all, this was nothing new.

But see, that’s just it.

I hurt my leg in October of 2013. (Running, if you must know)

In the years since, I have seen doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors. The doctors tell me the MRI shows nothing out of the ordinary. The physical therapist has me doing dinky little exercises with a theraband. Kevin the chiropractor wore Hawaiian shirts that somehow did not instill confidence.

The pain no longer keeps me up at night, hasn’t for a while, but still — it’s a dull ache, a constant impediment that I have carried for 1,155 days.

I think of a conversation a married friend recently recounted. She’d been at a wedding, chatting with some single girls who were watching forlornly from the edge of the dance floor. She’d tried to console them, saying that while marriage was great, it would also bring new problems (truth).

“We know,” they’d said. “But we’re so tired of this problem.”

I think of Pete, from my old writing group, there trying to make sense of his wife’s death. She’d been a hippie, devout in the teachings of Eastern religion, while he was a neuroscientist. When asked about the concept of heaven, he’d furrowed his brow and said, “I should think an eternity of anything would be miserable.”

I wonder if it’s more the eternity than the anything that constitutes our misery.

It’s the reason I don’t listen to the radio. It’s the reason people don’t like their jobs, the reason marriages fall apart, the reason I can’t eat a Subway sandwich post college.

It’s the repetition, the monotone of the child practicing the same piano piece over and over that really drives us mad.

And yet what do we do? What do we do about the nagging weaknesses we don’t choose and can’t change?

I cannot break up with my leg. I can’t buy a new one. My last doctor thought there was a possibility my hamstring was detached. He said this with great worry, suggesting that we might have to do surgery.

“Great!” I’d said. “Surgery!”

Something, anything new!

I’ve mulled it over in the days since my breakdown, wondering what the answer is. And the word that keeps pinging my conscious is grace.

Grace, that pesky word. Since I’ve opened my eyes to it, it won’t leave me alone.

I don’t want it to be grace. I want it to be a quick fix, some magic elixir I find on the internet — a pill, an essential oil, some form of the acai berry — I would pay anything.

I don’t want it to be grace, because grace (among many things) means acceptance.

It means living around an injury I may not be able to heal. It means holding back when my ego wants to push further. Most importantly, grace eschews the very idea of achievement in favor of experience.

I have learned that grace can heal many hurts, but I think it specializes in the repeat injury. Because the repeat injury has the added pain of saying this hurts, still. You’re struggling with this, again?

And grace simply says yes and goes along with its day. No judgment, no fixation, no spiraling out of control. Find comfort in the discomfort. Give effort, then let go of the result.






**I find it worth noting that the friend who has gotten me all excited about grace, Jill, has much prettier things to say about it than I do, and on the same day, no less. Read her words here. 

The New Conquistadors

I went to Machu Picchu over the summer and it was spectacular. It did what travel does better than vacation, which is to enlarge your puny mind. I gained an appreciation for Peruvian culture and some guilt for having exploited it — a strange juxtaposition which I will attempt to explain.

I grew up dreaming of going to Machu Picchu.

My mom went there in 1968 when she was nineteen years old, and she reminisced about it so many times I came to know the story by heart — how her parents decided to take her at the last minute (and during finals week, no less!) How they traveled twenty hours from Lima to Cuzco on a bus full of chickens. How she and her 21-year-old brother hiked unmarked paths in the mountains and got lost in the maze of ruins.


The cutest 19-year-old Mother!

That’s why when my in-laws invited us to go, it was a no brainer.

I didn’t do a lot of research or trip planning. Instead I mostly daydreamed about the picture my mother and my father in law (who also saw Machu Picchu in his twenties) had painted in my head.

For convenience, I ordered a fanny pack. For safety, Scott bought a water bottle called a LifeStraw. We packed our carry-ons with essentials — Nikes, travel-sized hand sanitizer, a Spanish 101 book, and were on our way.

Most of what follows is taken from notes I jotted on my iPhone.

When we land in Cuzco we are greeted by the travel guide my in-laws have arranged. As we exit the airport, a Peruvian man begins snapping photos, grapevining in and out of our group, paparazzi style. We giggle nervously, surprised this was part of the deal until the man walks away and we realize it wasn’t.

Paloma, our guide, takes us to see Inca ruins all over the Sacred Valley. As we drive, we spot them everywhere — massive terraces cut out of the sides of the Andes, so high I can’t fathom how they got up there; we can barely manage the climb in our rented 10-passenger van.


For a little perspective — each of these terraces is 2.5 humans tall

Paloma educates us on Incan architecture, pointing out pyramidal angles and the way each rock is cut into perfectly interlocking shapes — like Legos, she says — all to protect against earthquakes.

Notice how perfectly they all fit together. Legos!

Photo taken by my brother in law, Zac Taylor, who should work for National Geographic

She tells us the Incas built lavish temples out of stone and covered the most sacred ones in gold leaf. They ruled their empire from the capital of Cuzco for hundreds of years until the 1500’s, when the Spanish Conquistadors invaded. It was guns against spears, men on horses versus men on foot. It wasn’t even a fight. The Spanish tore down every Incan structure and built Catholic churches in their stead.

The jerks tore down every single Incan structure — all except for one.

We visit a textile factory inside an adobe home in a cobblestone town called Chinchero. The air is thin at 12,343 feet and the surrounding mountains are solid brown.

There are five women in the factory, all wearing traditional garb, shockingly bright. They all have the same hairstyle — long black pigtail braids hanging over each shoulder. The older ones have faces like the apples I used to peel and let shrivel at Halloween.

We sit on thatched benches in a semi-circle as one of the women, we’ll call her Camila, walks forward and begins to show us how they make dyes. Red from a parasite that lives inside a cactus. Purple from purple corn. Green from coca leaves.


Another stunner taken by Zac

She grabs a root that looks like ginger and grates it over a bowl of water, creating a shampoo they use to wash alpaca wool, and also — she points to one of her braids — the women’s hair. She works the alpaca with an easy, habitual motion, pulling the gunk out of it, then shows us another bowl that contains already-cleaned wool — the finished product — like it’s a cooking show. The two women with apple-doll faces walk up on cue, spinning cleaned wool on what look like Peruvian yo-yos into yarn. She tells us how the women can do this all day, even when chatting or dancing!

She tells us baby Alpaca is the softest of the wools, and that you should only buy it in this factory because elsewhere, it’s probably not even real. “It’s not baby Alpaca,” Camila says, “it’s maybe Alpaca!”

Camila’s presentation ends and suddenly three more women emerge to sell us their textiles. After what I think is successful haggling, I buy a beautiful blanket for gobs of money. I won’t tell you how much, for I am ashamed.


Cloaked in the blanket I am certain can be purchased at Urban Outfitters

In the coming days, each of us finds our spoils being sold by street vendors. I beg Scott to not find out how much our blanket is going for, but he can’t resist, and the answer is that we have been severely ripped off.

We laugh to keep ourselves from feeling stupid. After all, we are educated people! We have traveled! We are not used to being had. Their presentation felt so sincere and lovely, I don’t like thinking it was a sham. And I really don’t think it was a sham — I think it was a hustle. I want to feel good about supporting these women, but the blanket I now must smother into my already-packed carry-on feels like a token of American naivete.

After more hikes and markets and unbelievable ruins, the time finally comes to make our pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. It will be the most incredible thing I have ever experienced, but to earn it we first must go slowly through hell.

We take a train that descends into Aguas Calientes, a tiny town built for the sole purpose of housing earlybird tourists eager to make it up the mountain by sunrise. My father in law tells us the town didn’t exist when he came here forty years ago. I am sure it wasn’t here when Mother came either.

The Andes seem different in Aguas — less arid, more jungle. Less of a rambling mountain range, more individual peaks jutting out of the ground; a cluster of granite push-pops covered in green.

The air buzzes with anticipation. Everyone seems to be speaking a different language; zip-off pants abound. We stroll up the main, only road as locals peddle llama keychains, llama paintings, bags, scarves, and hats featuring llamas, and selfie sticks. They speak fifty words of English and two of them are selfie stick.

I have so much trouble with the selfie stick.


I have dozens of these photos. DOZENS!

After dinner we head back to our hotel. We see a four year old boy dressed in the traditional garb of the mountain towns. It’s the cutest thing we’ve ever seen until he starts scrambling towards us shouting, “photo! photo! photo!” and we realize he is not dressed but in costume, sent by his parents to help make a buck.

We do take a photo of a traditionally-dressed family, and pay them a handful of Soles for it. It’s what they’re at the market for, will surely help feed or house them, but it still feels a little gross.


Don’t miss the baby strapped to her back. They’ve been doing this way before those solly baby things.

We go to bed at 10 PM, too wired to really sleep. The men get up at 3:30 AM to make the bus line by 4 AM. The women go to meet them at 4:30 AM and are dumfounded by how far we have to walk to find their spot. Together we stand in the pitch black for two hours until finally it’s our turn.

We board the bus at 6:30 AM and scale one of the push-pop mountains, zigzagging sharp switchbacks on a narrow dirt road. We exit the bus and see that we have not made it yet — there is yet another line to enter the park. At seeing it, my mother in law Norrie despairs, “It’s like Disneyland!” 

While in line I notice that my ticket says I am a 59-year-old man. Norrie is supposedly 27. All of our tickets are somehow off, two are even scheduled for the wrong day. We fret for thirty minutes that we won’t be able to get in, but at the ticket house they let us through without a word.

As soon as we’re through the gates, Scott and I run up the uneven steps to the Guardhouse, anxious to get there before all the tourists. We call them tourists, as though we aren’t.

I snap a few people-free photos, and can now breathe enough to take in this view.


Photos have never been more useless

The sun breaks over the mountains in rays of light so defined it looks like a kid painted them.

I am so overcome, the only ways I can think to describe it are awful cliches like ‘awe-inspiring’ or ‘on top of the world.’

I wonder how I got here. I mean, I know — there was the flight to Mexico, then to Lima, then to Cuzco, the bus ride to Ollantaytambo, the train to Aguas Calientes, the lines and the buses this morning. But still — how did I get here? How did this get here?

Norrie and I marvel at what can only be called the majesty of the Andes. We apologize to the Rockies where we both grew up, but a higher bar has been set.

A new tour guide, Mario, takes us through the ruins. He goes over all the theories about Machu Picchu, which we’ve heard by now — most historians think it was a sort of summer cottage for wealthy Incas. Other theories say it was an agricultural center. Apparently someone even wrote a book arguing it was an ancient Playboy Mansion.

Mario speaks almost reverently, tells us the reason Machu Picchu is in such pristine condition is because the Spanish never found it. It was discovered in 1911 when American explorer Hiram Bingham set out to discover a different set of ruins.

Fun fact: Bingham was outfitted by a little company called ABERCROMBIE & FITCH.

Fun fact: Bingham was outfitted by a little company called ABERCROMBIE & FITCH

The native Peruvians didn’t know about the ruins Bingham sought, but they did know about a city up in the mountains, which a young boy led them to.


The Peruvian boy who escorted Bingham, next to the Sundial or “Hitching Post”

Aside from being part buried and part overgrown by the jungle, it looked basically identical when they found it to the way it does today.




Mario tells us he’s been giving tours for thirty years, but this year has the biggest crowds he’s ever seen. He tells us legally they are only supposed to let 2,500 people in but he’s seen up to 8,000.

(Later Scott and I will find it’s more like 5,000-6,000 a day, but STILL.)

We get the Christmas Card shot.20160802_07-1-34-48

We find my favorite tree.


We figure out the selfie stick, and promptly embarrass ourselves.

us being tourists

We have a “Machu Picnic” on my blanket — tangerines and pancita smuggled from our hotel breakfast, plus a can of Pringles my rumbling stomach demanded I overpay for. We get to the famed sundial or ‘hitching post,’ and my father in law tells us he has a photo of his mustached, 23-year-old self sitting atop it. It is now roped off.

We are there for seven magical hours before it’s time to head back. But after everyone’s gone down the steps, Scott has to come back for me because I can’t stop staring.

The journey back proves as arduous as the one there — in line for 1.5 hours. Bus down switchbacks. Hour wait amidst a crush of people to catch the 2-hour train back to Ollantaytambo, then 3-hour bus ride over roads so jostling they add 8,000 steps to Norrie’s fitbit. We are more tired, more happy, more spent than we have ever been.

It is on this bus ride that I begin to have all the feelings, which I have since sorted out to be something like this:

I think the beauty of Machu Picchu is its remoteness. I think what makes it so stunning is maybe not the ruin itself but its setting — it’s the wondering how you got to be standing on top of the world. It’s the having gone through hell to get there. Machu Picchu makes an explorer out of everyone who visits her, and yet there’s a part of the equation that’s off.


My mom and her brother got quite the scolding after my grandmother got this film developed - "You could've gotten yourselves killed!"

Mother says she got quite the scolding after my Nana developed this photo

I think it’s the Disneyland part — the selfie sticks. It’s 8,000 people when even 2,500 is too many. It’s the capitalization of a place that otherwise felt sacred.

I think of the way my mother and my father in law talk about this place forty years ago. I get cynical or maybe ungrateful and start wishing I’d seen it the way they did — not one in a throng of tourists, but in solo discovery. I think it’s the way it was supposed to be seen. You don’t build a summer cottage on top of an unscalable mountain if everyone’s invited, do you?

I think about Machu Picchu herself, and wonder if she is annoyed — for so long she had peace! For so long she evaded discovery, and now we march all over her, 365 days a year, like so many conquistadors wearing Nikes.

I am torn — so enamored by my transcendent experience, I want to tell everyone in the world to book a ticket. Today! And yet a part of me feels that in Bingham’s discovery, something was lost.

What is fascinating about the Incas is the mystery surrounding them — how they built what they did, without any modern technology, without even using the wheel. I loved learning the many theories, hearing each guide’s speculation, because it gave me a sense of wonder.

I haven’t felt that sense of wonder in a long time. Why would I, when I can Google every question that has ever crossed the human mind? I think we’ve created a myth that everything is knowable, and in so doing have forgotten what it feels like to be in awe.

We’ve gotten used to fabulous pictures of faraway places, of living through others vicariously that when we feel awe ourselves, what we register is cliche.

But what I felt standing on Machu Picchu was good old fashioned awe. It filled me up, then it made me feel very small. It was a sacred feeling.

Once home, Scott and I will try to research tourism in Peru, attempting to grasp what it has done to the country, but the information is so scattered and varying it’s hard to find a through-line.

Yes, tourism has boosted the economy and lowered unemployment. Yes, there is bribery, corruption, and disorder (aha! the tickets!). Yes, our footprints are wearing the place down and they are taking precautions to preserve it. No, the numbers show no signs of slowing down.

Almost done posting photos I promise.

One more in case you forgot how magnificent she is

Seeing Machu Picchu in real life was more stunning than any of my daydreams. I will remember it forever and recommend it to anyone who asks.

But part of me secretly hopes Bingham’s original theory was right — that the first city he sought is still hidden in the Andes, maintaining the mystery of the Incas, leaving something to make us wonder, to help us remember the feeling of awe.

Into The Current

August means Bear Lake — the week of heaven my now-massive family looks forward to all year, every year. We spent our days boating on the impossibly turquoise water. (Is boating a Utah term? I am too enmeshed to know.) We waterskied and surfed and made sandcastles and ate homemade cookies out of bucket-sized tupperware.

But that is besides the point.

The point is something I noticed on an early morning waterski run. (7:30 AM, 48 degrees, yes I wore a wetsuit). My dad is an expert boat driver. He knows how to find the smoothest water. He can guide the bow within inches of the buoy when it’s time to anchor. He and my mother have a little routine — when she’s done skiing she gives the signal and he whips her around, then cuts the engine so she ends up right behind the boat and can hop back in.

But here’s the thing about steering a boat — it won’t move any direction unless it is also moving forward. Even my dad, in all his experience expertise, is bound by that law.

My 67-year-old father in his element

My 67-year-old father in his element


It’s science, right? Or engineering, I suppose. The steering wheel turns the rudder, but it is only when water moves past the rudder that it has any effect on the boat’s direction.

The more years of adulthood I get under my belt, the more I realize that I may never know the exact direction in which I am supposed to move. I’ve gone through bouts of paralysis, crippled by questions of who I am or what is “right” for my life. I have struggled against the realization that I actually have very little control over what happens.

But I can move forward.

It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over, each time pleading with myself not to go and forget it again. But see the problem is I get so comfortable. I am logical to a fault and prefer security over risk, which means that when it’s time to move I usually get so scared I stop in my tracks.

In one such six-month period of paralysis, I read this quote (most often attributed to Goethe) daily.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

There is power in beginning, in ‘definitely committing’ to the task at hand. The universe will conspire to reward boldness.

Every time I read it, it was as though I added a layer of resolve, shaved a teaspoon of weight off of my heavy feet. And then finally I took a step, and then it was as though I was walking downhill, my momentum building until it was an all-out sprint.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the only time I’d had to learn that lesson?

The last few months have been full of change. We moved. We both quit our jobs. (Ha! I still can’t believe it.) I have been excited and scared and have spent a few days in the depths of a depression that hits whenever I feel I’ve lost purpose. But I have tried to keep moving. They have been slow, ugly steps, one foot plodding in front of the other, but I’m starting to see the nose of my boat pointing in a direction.

This week I got hired to teach yoga. I actually did, I can hardly believe it, after over a year of baby steps in that direction. I am giddy with excitement, can’t think of an occupation more opposite in its level of positivity than what I’ve done for the last few years.

I got a copywriting gig for a brand I love that will allow me time and space to continue writing the things I really want to be writing.

Both are new territory, both freak me out a little, but I am trying to picture the jade-colored water moving against the white of the boat, creating the necessary drag to make it turn, to remember the lesson I have learned so many times:

Push down on the throttle.

Keep moving into the current.

It’s the only way to get anywhere, and I have too many places I want to go to spend time sitting idly in still water.


I’m Gonna Be 40


I have a birthday coming up. It’s still a few months away, but I have been stressed about it since one very ordinary day in December when I was shampooing my hair and it hit me–I’m gonna be older, again.

I thought of Sally:

“And I’m gonna be 40!” 



Why is this birthday so stressful, I wonder? It isn’t a major milestone. It’s not a number where people will supply the party with black streamers and over-the-hill paper plates. I will not feel the need to start wearing spanx more often or buy anti-aging cream. But still, I am getting older, and I am starting to not like it.

I remember when I was 15 and my ballet teacher thought I was a sophomore in college. (Was this because I was twice the size of all the other girls and had boobs? Possibly.) I remember when I was 17 working at a restaurant in a college town and a customer asked what my major was.

I remember getting my first big-girl job and having people find out I was only 23. “What are you doing here?!” They’d exclaim. “You’re a baby!”

I was so impressive then, so far above the bar my age had set for me. But now people can sort of guess my age–late 20’s.

Late. Not early. The end instead of the beginning.

Yes, I have heard that 29 was the best year of so-and-so’s life, and that another so-and-so says you don’t have to have anything figured out until 30. I am aware that my body still functions and looks all right, that I have a job and a husband who loves me and you know what? I am still just a little bit sad.

Because I am feeling very, what’s the word, average? When I wanted to be special! At 28, I am generally where I should be in my life and career. There are things I wanted to accomplish that are taking longer than I thought they would to accomplish. Maybe I don’t even know exactly what it was I wanted to accomplish, but jeez I wanted to do something! Something that I could look back and say, “I did x when I was only twenty-something.”

I’m feeling those gorgeous 20’s slip away from me. And I’m looking ahead, staring into 30’s and budgets and suburbs and child bearing and mortgages and spider veins. It feels like an abyss.

I know at some point I will talk to friends who will tell me that we are each where are supposed to be! and that age is just a number! and I will make myself feel better and come out with some insight, maybe genuine, maybe not, that will help me cope.

But lately, I feel like I’m gonna be 40, and that someday feels like it’s tomorrow.


Happy Birthday, Hot Stuff

It’s my first kiss’s birthday today. Skylar, with an A.

We were at his house cuddling on a lopsided LoveSac. His friends were there playing pool. The lights were mostly off except for a bright blue TV screen, remainder of a movie.

I wore faded boot cut jeans without back pockets, a suede belt with big metal grommets from The Buckle, and a soft tan shirt that hugged my padded bra perfectly and just barely covered all of my stomach. My hair was waved.

Skylar was hot. That was pretty much all I knew about him, and that he had kissed a lot of girls already.

I wanted him to kiss me. I wanted to call him Sky.

He kissed me on the bean bag and I pretended to like it, but what I was really thinking was, GROSS.

And, This can’t be right.

Why have they made all this fuss?

Do I have to do it again?

Smile, look pretty, you’ve been kissed!

Sky and I ‘went out’ for a few months maybe. We kissed twice.

And the reason I remember his birthday every year is because of the gift I tried to buy him. I went to Target to get something, with my mom because I couldn’t drive.

I found this tacky bright red t-shirt with a red pepper that said, “HOT STUFF” on the front. I thought it would be a funny gift. So I bought it, along with something else I can’t remember (cologne?) but ended up getting too nervous to give it to him.

Would he think it was funny? Would he get me?

So began that years-long quest.

Can I make this joke? Can I be me? Will he get it?

I kept the shirt shoved up in the highest, unreachable shelf in my closet, in case I wanted to give it to someone else at some point. But most of the time it was best to not take the risk. Smile and look pretty.

A few months before getting married, Mother demanded I finally clean out my closet, and in the midst of stuffed animals and book reports we found the shirt. She started giggling. “Remember this?”

I did.

“Do you want to give it to Scott?” She tossed it to me.

I laughed as I looked at it again. Would Scott think it was funny? Scott gets me.

But I found myself disgusted by the thing. Perhaps because the joke is 13 years old, or maybe it wasn’t that funny in the first place?

Maybe because it is a remnant of a thankfully bygone era, one of braces and padded bras and school dances, and later make outs and break ups and witty banter over text message, of trying to find the version of me that could catch whatever Him I was currently chasing.

I gave the shirt away, but I think I may always remember March 15th.

Happy Birthday, Hot Stuff.