The XX

Remember when The xx first got big?

I was a sophomore in college, living in a condo near BYU campus my aunt owned called Chandelle. It was not where the cool people lived.

I slept on the top bunk, somehow so much higher than the bottom one I had to borrow a ladder from my dad’s garage to get into bed.

We spent most our evenings across the street at what we called the “House of Nine Men.” Two of said nine were in a band, so we got free, front row shows whenever they rehearsed. It was either that or listen to them wide-eyed from the top bunk at 2 A.M.

I don’t think college is supposed to be the insecure phase of life, but for me those simple memories are rife with it.

The xx released a new album today. It’s good, and different, and I am glad we all got to move on from 2009.

 

 

10 Book Reviews, In 10 Words Or Less

I set out to rank all the books I read in 2016, but that was a bit like trying to pick my favorite Lemonade from Lemonade. (Have you attempted this? It’s impossible. I’m currently stuck in a terrible dilemma between Blood Orange and Cucumber Mint.)

Instead I bring you a mere ten reviews of some of my favorites. Do text me about them later. I have much more than ten words to say.

1. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

 

So good I almost quit writing. Mandatory for all females.

“Finally, I asked how you got a boy to like you back. She said, ‘Just be yourself,’ as though I had any idea who that might be.”

“Robert and I can only talk during the intermissions in hurried exchanges: I learn that he’s a cartoonist, and I have to tell him that I work in advertising.”

 

2. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

First-generation Chinese immigrant paints the plight of Chinese women.

“Not many women got to live out the daydream of women—to have a room, even a section of a room, that only gets messed up when she messes it up herself.”

“The immigrants I know have loud voices, unmodulated to American tones even after years away from the village where they called their friendships out across the fields. I have not been able to stop my mother’s screams in public libraries or over telephones.” 

 

3. When Breath Becomes Air

Dying words from a brilliant mind. Have tissues ready.

“Only later would I realize that our trip had added a new dimension to my understanding of the fact that brains give rise to our ability to form relationships and make life meaningful. Sometimes, they break.”

 

4. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

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Hapless, self-absorbed Brit searches for meaning among vinyl.

“It’s easier to have parents if you’ve got a girlfriend.”

 

5. Open by Andre Agassi

Boy who hates tennis becomes Number 1 in the world.

“I think older people make this mistake all the time with younger people, treating them as finished products when in fact they’re in process. It’s like judging a match before it’s over, and I’ve come from behind tooo often, and had too many opponents come roaring back against me, to think that’s a good idea.

What people see now, for better or worse, is my first formation, my first incarnation. I didn’t alter my image, I discovered it. I didn’t change my mind. I opened it. J.P. helps me work through this idea, to explain it to myself. He says people have been fooled by my changing looks, my clothes and hair, into thinking that I know who I am. People see my self-exploration as self-expression. He says that, for a man with so many fleeting identities, it’s shocking, and symbolic, that my initials are A.K.A.”

 

6. Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff

Charismatic he & conniving she share two sides of their marriage.

“Perhaps it was always there; perhaps it was made in explanation, but all along she had held within her a second story underneath the first, waging a terrible and silent battle with her certainty. She had to believe of herself that the better story was the true one, even if the worse was insistent.”

 

7. On Writing by Stephen King

Stephen King inspires you to write until you write Carrie.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

 

8. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

McSweeney orphaned at 23. Must raise 7-year-old brother.

“We are disadvantaged but young and virile. We walk the halls and the playground, and we are taller, we radiate. We are orphans. As orphans, we are celebrities. We are foreign exchange people, from a place where there are still orphans. Russia? Romania? Somewhere raw and exotic. We are the bright new stars born of a screaming black hole, the nascent suns burst from the darkness, from the grasping void of space that folds and swallows — a darkness that would devour anyone not as strong as we. We are oddities, sideshows, talk show subjects. We capture everyone’s imagination.”

 

9. Lit by Mary Karr

Mary Karr finds God; I lament not majoring in poetry. 

“In the end, no white light shines out from the wounds of Christ to bathe me in His glory. Faith is a choice like any other. If you’re picking a career or a husband — or deciding whether to have a baby — there are feelings and reasons pro and con out the wazoo. But thinking it through is — at the final hour — horse dookey. You can only try it out. Not choosing baptism would make me feel half-assed somehow, like a dilettante — scared to commit to praising a force I do feel is divine — a reluctance grown from pride or because the mysteries are too unfathomable.”

 

10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Timeless female coming-of-age. Must read every 5 years.

 “Buddy Willard was a hypocrite.

Of course, I didn’t know he was a hypocrite at first. I thought he was the most wonderful boy I’d ever seen. I’d adored him from a distance for five years before he even looked at me, and then there was a beautiful time when I still adored him and he started looking at me, and then just as he was looking at me more and more I discovered quite by accident what an awful hypocrite he was, and now he wanted me to marry him and I hated his guts.

The worst part of it was I couldn’t come straight out and tell him what I thought of him, because he caught TB before I could do that, and now I had to humor him along till he got well again and could take the unvarnished truth.”

 

What should I read in 2017? Share your favorites please.

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.

ABORT! ABORT! THIS THING’S ABOUT TO BLOW!

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.

Grace.

Yoga.

Synonyms.

 

 

**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 Exact Emotional and Monetary Cost of a Good Pair of Jeans

It all started with a little Facebook post.

I take it back — it started with a year of semi-consistently complaining to my husband that I didn’t own a good pair of jeans, then him encouraging me to just buy a pair I loved, who cared how much they cost! And then also maybe we can stop talking about it?

And so I turned to Facebook to ask my ladies where they bought their favorite jeans. The response was overwhelming! Clearly I was not alone in this struggle.

Some said to go to Nordstrom or Bloomingdales and the right pair would “find me”, some said Nordstrom Rack, a lot of people said Madewell was the place to go.

I took their advice to heart and have spent the last two plus months trying to find the pair of jeans that will transform me into Charlize Theron. What follows is a detailed account of this unexpectedly arduous process.

Week following Facebook post:

-Contemplate the advice I’ve received and make some key decisions:

-Realize I have only ever felt intimidated in Bloomingdales. I don’t know if I can face my cellulite in those Nordstrom 3-way mirrors. Both are pricey, and why fall in love with something I can’t afford? I strike them from my list.

-Nordstrom Rack seems like the same options but for less — I decide I will go there.

-Madewell seems specialty enough that I am potentially okay spending more to get something better, if it can live up to the hype. I will brave the Madewell denim bar.  

 

Thursday, September 1st:

-Go to Nordstrom Rack. Am immediately overwhelmed.

-Gather a pile of jeans heavier than anything I’ve ever picked up at the gym, making sure to get the recommended brands — but how can I be sure I found all the options when I am surrounded by 17 rounds of denim?? What if my magical pair is buried somewhere, mislabled?!

-Try on 18 pairs. Go through the slow process of elimination by making a yes, maybe, and no pile.

-Whittle it down to Joe’s, which are indeed the most comfortable things ever, and cost $80, which seems respectable enough. The problem is I have to decide between a smaller size, which fits my legs, and a bigger size which fits my waist. Story of my life.

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Body shape has been exaggerated for emphasis, but you get the point.

-Decide I am an adult, and can no longer respect myself if I continue to live life with my top button undone. Buy the bigger size.

-Take them home, try them on with all my shoes. Only then do I realize they’re not cute. How did this happen? I don’t understand. I wear them all day anyway because they feel like freaking pajama pants.

Friday, September 2nd:

-Try the Joe’s on again. Am frustrated they didn’t become cute while I was sleeping.

-Wonder if I am to the point where I care more about comfort than style. Who do I have to impress anymore, I sit home most Friday nights! But I know in my heart I’m not there yet, and it makes me both happy and sad.

(September 3-4th I spend regaining courage)

Monday, September 5th:

-Hear Madewell is having a Labor Day sale. Text my friend who we’ll call Meg to see if she wants to go. We go, with her adorable 1-year-old son who will never have to experience what we’re about to.

-The Madewell Gals look trendy as ever in their ponchos and vests. They prowl along the line of jeans, asking if they can get me anything. I repeat what I’ve been told by my FACEBOOK LADIES WHERE U AT, maybe I’ll try some 9″ skinnies? They tell me this is a great choice.

-One asks if I want to try the “skinny boyfriend.” I know I should say no to any variation of boyfriend, but in spite of myself I ask her what they’re like. She walks out from behind the denim bar to show me she is wearing them. Those are weird, I think. “Those look cute!” I say. I’m not lying, not intentionally at least. They do look cute in the way that my brain knows they are trendy, they just don’t look very cute to my eyeballs. “They run a few sizes small,” she says, which is enough for me to agree to try them on.

-Meg and I enter our “dressing room,” which is more like a poolside cabana whose curtains are never quite closed. We try all different styles. We try the same styles in different washes, which somehow all fit differently?

-We find that the same two pairs look COMPLETELY different on us and the Traveling Pants were either extremely magical or it’s all a total sham. I can’t let myself believe it’s a sham, as I am still in love with Kostos.

Quatre filles et un jean The sisterhood of traveling pants 2005 Real : Ken Kwapis Michael Rady COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL

My heart actually fluttered while picking this image.

Meg and I recall a time years ago when we went bra shopping together at Victoria’s Secret in an especially dark period of singlehood. We each picked out the most expensive, bejeweled contraption of a bra we could find, and in a beautiful moment, discovered we fit into the same size! You would not guess by looking that she and I could fit into the same size bra. This renews my hope that the Traveling Pants are possible, and we continue.

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Which sister are you?

-The boyfriend jeans throw me off. They are sort of actually cute? Or perhaps just so comfortable that I am fooled. They are so comfortable…I could pull these off…okay no, SNAP OUT OF IT. I am not a Madewell girl, I’m not ready for this level of trend.

-Find that my favorite pair is grey. This is a problem because I have come here for JEANS. Jeans are not supposed to be gray. Meg’s favorite pair is denim, torn at the knees, and fit her great.

-Am really starting to like the gray jeans and it’s making me sweat because they cost over one hundred dollars. Suddenly I remember the $50 Visa gift card I won at work that’s sitting on my dresser at home. I fall to my knees and wail “NOOOOOO!” because that could have made this purchase somewhat palatable.

-Grab a blouse to try on with my 2nd favorite pair of jeans. It’s the cutest thing in the world, and suddenly I am this girl:

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I’m not wearing this outfit, but I am her in spirit you know? I have her essence.

 

-Decide I will get the blue denim. I probably also have to get the shirt too, until I look at the tag– it’s $80. I put it down, gently, as my heart rips in two.

-Meg texts her husband to forewarn him about the upcoming credit card charge, just so he doesn’t think it got stolen. I cringe imagining the trying-to-be-supportive-but-still-confused look on Scott’s face when he sees how much mine cost. We lament having not spent all our money on clothes while single, are uneasy with this strange new guilt.

-We part ways, a little giddy, a little dazed at having spent $128 dollars before tax on jeans. I go home and try them on with all my shoes. They look great. Phew!

 

Tuesday, September 6th:

-Wake in a panic, knowing I’ve made a mistake. I was supposed to get the gray ones! I liked them best, they fit me best, and who needs “blue jeans” anyway?

-I blitz to Madewell, gift card in hand. I walk in, grab the pants, but the salesgirl (thankfully different from yesterday) asks if I need any help. I tell her no, I just want to try on one pair real quick. She asks if I’ve tried the Skinny Boyfriend Jeans. I decline politely, but while trying on my grey pair she appears outside the curtain, saying she brought the boyfriend pair “just in case.” I agree to try them on because I am spineless.

-She brings me a pair of white Puma sneakers to try on with the boyfriend jeans, and she’s right — it’s so cute. It’s so cute and new! I love it! But I can’t buy sneakers AND jeans, and without the sneakers the jeans are not. I try to tell her that skinny is the cut for me, to which she responds she recently read an article in Refinery 29 about how skinny jeans are expected and boring now.

-Presented with these facts, I suppose maybe I just need to try them on at home. I buy the damn boyfriend jeans, and the grey jeans, making sure to secure the receipt.

 

Wednesday, September 7th:

-I, a 28-year-old woman, put on music while home alone and try on all the jeans with all my shoes.

Saturday, September 10th:

-Have a brilliant idea to do my fashion show for Scott. He says kind but unhelpful things like, “I think they all look good on you — just keep them all!” I appreciate his support but cannot allow it.

-Briefly yearn for female roommates.

-Make the mistake of also trying on all my Zara jeans. I’m struck by their cuteness and the fact that they cost 1/3 of the price.

-Exclaim, “I HATE CLOTHES!” from the bedroom, loud enough to make sure Scott and The Universe can hear me.

-Go to text all my friends pictures asking for their opinions. Realize the only ones I event took a photo of were the boyfriend jeans. Is it a sign? 

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They’re cute. They are, aren’t they? Don’t tell me I don’t want to know.

 

-Long to live in a world where we all wear tunics. Give me a nice, shapeless bag of burlap, I will wear it every day and never complain about life in District 12!

 

Sunday, September 12th:

Have a moment of clarity where I realize that to be stylish you must invest a significant amount of either a) time or b) money. My behavior has demonstrated that I am willing to invest neither of these, which means I deserve clothing from Zara and Forever 21.

No mere mortal can resist.

Monday, September 13th:

-Wake, serenely, and put on the grey pants. They feel right. They’re not perfect, but no one is, and expecting perfection is not realistic. I’ve been through so much here, I would like to have something to show for it. This is a commitment, and I must choose to be committed each day. I choose the grey pants. I take everything else back.

Sunday, October 2nd:

I see a group of girlfriends, many who commented on my Facebook post. They ask excitedly, are those the new jeans?! They’re so cute! I have to tell them no, these are from Zara, $40.

Tuesday, October 18th:

I wear the grey jeans publicly but the tags are still on. I catch a reflection of myself and must admit they are one fine pair of pants, but see they still tug just so around my tweedle dee tummy.

Thursday, October 20th:

I take them back and get a size bigger. They are comfortable, they are almost as cute as the smaller size, I am taking steps towards maturity.

Today, October 28th:

Find myself looking at the photo of the Skinny Boyfriend Jeans.

I will probably go to Zara next time.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Christine and The Queens

Since I’m constantly hunting for new music (especially with this new yoga thing), I decided I’m going to share some of it here.

I’m loving Christine & the Queens lately. Something about her voice — and her French — just really gets me.

I played Jonathan at the end of yoga the other day and it was perfect.

Her whole album is good, but some favorites are Science Fiction and Paradis Perdue, a Kanye West cover if my ears are working correctly??

I recommend listening on full volume while in traffic. Enjoy!

 

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.

 

Tresmatized

In 7th grade, I took a Ballroom Dance elective. I’d never been interested in Ballroom before, but it was a cool class, one “everyone” took, so there I was.

We only ever danced to two songs — an awful, breathy Britney Spears remix of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and Sammy Davis Jr’s The Candy Man. It was a disjointed playlist, but efficient: one song for the Cha Cha, the other for Swing.

It’s Cha Cha time, and in a stroke of luck, I’ve been partnered up with an 8th grader, a really cute boy with an Italian name so perfect it could be on a pasta box.

I stand there, worrying my hands will be slippery when he goes to hold them. I am annoyed, because they were perfectly dry before I started worrying about this.

The teacher begins demonstrating the Cha Cha, which requires the girls to move their hips a little. Hip-moving comes naturally to me, I know this from my other dance classes, and I wonder if he’ll notice. He does. My hands become slippery-er.

He starts joking and flirting as we step forward, cha cha cha, backward, cha cha cha — star-crossed partners amidst a sea of peers in a brightly lit gym on a Tuesday. He comments on how well my hips move, saying I’m such a natural dancer, it’s like he is “tresmatized.”

I stop for a moment, breaking our rhythm, because tresmatized is not a word. I know which word he means, of course, and cannot tell if he is joking or not.

He’s not joking, and I wonder if I should correct him. It feels like two paths are appearing before me.

I don’t correct him. How can I? He is Marco Niccoli.

 

A Love Letter for La La

Like all fabled love stories, we hated each other in the beginning.

I was a bright-eyed baby fresh out of Dodge and you were larger than life. So complicated, so distant and, although the sun was always shining, somehow so cold.

I came to follow my dreams but instead you gave me nightmares. You acquainted me with deep disappointment and sometimes depression — things I’d known existed, but had never known.

You did your best to run me out of town but I dug in my heels and said sorry, I’m staying.

And I did. And it was awkward. But we tolerated each other, then got used to each other, then one day wondered if we might like each other, though neither of us would admit it. You showed me the secret spot at Ocean Park, the beauty of Temescal Canyon, you fed me the most delicious food. You taught me to cook Broccolini and do yoga, and gave me just enough cloud cover to accomplish my morning run without a sunburn.

You gave me friends I found family in, who filled in so many cracks.

I clumsily grew up, became more independent — stopped needing your approval so much. And then when I thought I was done with you, you gave me Scott. And I finally told you how I felt when I married him on your turf.

Because he married the me you turned me into — the one who knows bad things will happen and that she will survive them. The one who is less idyllic but a little more real.

I had no idea what you had in store for me when I came here, had I known I wouldn’t have come.

I’m so glad I didn’t know.

I love you, Los Angeles, despite the fact that STREET SWEEPING IS A LIE.

Here’s to five years.

 

HOLLYWOOD

An early and very heavily-filtered LA-gram

When Breath Becomes Air: A Book Report

[THIS IS NOT REALLY A SPOILER POST BECAUSE YOU KNOW ON PAGE ONE WHO DIES. BUT IT SORT OF IS SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, READ THE BOOK AND COME BACK]

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Ten pages into When Breath Becomes Air, I started texting friends, Have you read this? You have to read this! It is beautiful and thought-provoking and haunting, but one of the most powerful takeaways for me was simply how important it is to tell our stories.

Over the last year I’ve begun reading more creative non-fiction, and I’ve developed a love for the art form. Maybe partly because it feels validating to someone who writes mainly, uh, about herself.

Yes I’ve written about other things, for work I’ve had to write about many things I am not necessarily interested in, but I’ve found that my best, most motivated writing is usually about me or my life. At one point I got into my head the worry that this is narcissistic, and it’s been hard to shake.

I’ve started asking, why do I have this urge to turn my life into an essay? Or a short story or a blog post? Do you think your life is that interesting? A mean little voice asks. I don’t know that I think people need to read it so much as I need to write it. It is how I make sense of the mess, how I flame my creative spark.

As I read When Breath Becomes Air, what struck me most was the author, Paul Kalanithi’s voice. It had this rapid, breathless pace. It felt so focused, and I wondered how he’d had the restraint to only tell the most pertinent details and leave the rest behind. Because he leaves a fair amount of details out. (I think, let’s be honest I read it too quickly and too tired because I couldn’t put it down) His wife and family, while at the heart of the story, are given fairly little air time. I gobbled it up, as many have, and when I got to the “ending,” I came to understand his voice.

I say “ending” because before he can really finish writing the book, his body is consumed by cancer.

And the reason for his writing in the voice he did was because he was actually racing death.

!!!!!

In the Epilogue, his wife says how when she reads the book, she sees a part of Paul, but not all of him. She says we don’t quite get his sense of humor, or his tender disposition. Perhaps that was a choice he made — perhaps he didn’t have time to develop it.

We all inhabit different selves in space and time, she says. And that is just what makes his story so powerful. That only he, at that time, could have written this book, this raw, wondering psalm that asks more questions than it answers. It is the story he had to tell. And I am so glad he chose to tell it.

As the book is coming to a close, Paul writes:

In the end, it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one, the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic a sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer an eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. And Truth comes somewhere above all of them, where, as at the end of that day’s Sunday’s reading,

‘the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.’

We need each other’s stories to understand life, to approach truth. None of us can sow or reap everything — we have to take turns. I reaped so much from Paul’s story, but I hope to never sow it. In turn I can write what I have sown, and maybe someone else, or maybe just me, can reap a nugget of insight from it or maybe just a laugh.

This book has validated for me the special relationship between writer and reader, and the importance of telling our stories. I feel newly inspired to get over my laziness or procrastination and put words on a page. Case in point I am writing a non-sponsored book review on a blog I don’t even check the analytics on, but I needed to write it! And maybe someone needed an extra push to read this amazing book.

Like I said, not a sponsored post. But I’ll just help you out and tell you to click here.