Thanksgiving is so weird


As a kid, sure, Thanksgiving made sense. We hadn’t yet reached the point in our collective culture when we would tell the larger story of what happened between European refugees and the people indigenous to this land. Pilgrims and Indians being friends sounded nice. There was a lot of food.

As an adult, man, Thanksgiving is so weird. We have to ignore the whole genocide theme, which means ignoring the origin story as well, and how do you justify celebrating a day in which you don’t support? Food, family and friendship is the answer typically given – people love a good reason to gather, eat and, on this day, give thanks. And I endorse all those things! I think we should practice them all the time.

In fact, I’m often bugging people to get lunch, come over for dinner, do brunch. My friends probably get tired of hearing how much they mean to me. I strive to appreciate all the goodness in my life – granted, in part because I know that people who take note of their happy fortune tend to be happier people, but also because to not acknowledge life’s gifts seems like the characteristic of a real jerk and I am not, I hope, a real jerk.

Self-indulgent, maybe, as this post is quickly confirming. Ahem.

So Thanksgiving tends to throw me off a bit because I am never sure how to make it different than any other particularly nice day and it’s supposed to be a holiday so… Also I quit eating turkey 24 years ago. But my children – and many of my friends – love it. Apparently it feels festive to them. Which suggests I’ve underestimated the value of the day.

I thought about this when my two kids who are away going to college both said they couldn’t make it home. Work, school, lack of rides. This had never happened before – the news landed with a blow. But they started talking about at least getting my son to my daughter’s for the occasion, and that alleviated some of the sadness I felt about everyone being so far flung.

And then I came up with a plan decidedly not in line with what a usual Thanksgiving celebration looks like, but one that would appeal to my people – “my people” in this case being husband and older daughter (and her two dogs). Great. I shall succeed as a mother and American.

Then around 11 p.m. last night, my son called to tell me he found a ride on Craigslist and will be here after all. A succession of thoughts stampeded through my head: Hooray! Wait. What about his sister? Oh my god, he’s going to be in a car with some stranger on the most-traveled day of the year and what if the person is sketch or a bad driver or both and my children dying in car wrecks is my biggest fear and now I can’t sleep and also will be a mess all day till he arrives safely but have to pretend I’m cool and work and oh my god. Also, this means a shift in the plans we’ve made. How will this all work? He’ll be so happy to be home. But, oh, the lack of the other daughter will cut more deeply now. Will she have roommates to celebrate with? Etc., etc.

Here I am this morning, on little sleep, dizzied. Through the window, the sunrise paints the beach pines orange. Drops hang off needles. I can see the trailhead that leads to the beach. I could walk out of my house right now and be at the ocean in 10 minutes with nothing in between but nature. The fire my husband built kept the house warm all night. The soup I made from our farm share veggies is so good that I reheated it and called it breakfast. We were invited to share Thanksgiving with friends, a lovely gesture. I think we’ll still be able to pull off our plan to surf and hike in one of the world’s best places. My son shall arrive safely – I will tell myself that all day – and my younger daughter has never lacked for friends. All will be well.

And so once again, I find myself giving thanks.


Media consumption: How do you decide what to eat?

“Junkie” would be an exaggeration, but I probably think more about media than most – a result of spending much of my life immersed as a consumer, writer, listener, talker. An early and compulsive reader, by elementary school, my parents’ L.A. Times complemented my Eggo waffles and Frosted Flakes on the daily. Drawn in by the comics, I also absorbed the Opinion columns, the Entertainment sections. Similarly I loved radio, a lifeline to places larger and better than the physical one I resided in. No wonder I drifted into journalism in college. I wanted to be one of those people telling the stories, building the bridges between the collective world and the individual experience.

Fortunately, I have a couple friends who not only indulge my fascination, but share it – always good to have those people willing to follow you down the same roads. Sometimes we talk about how media fails, sometimes share links illustrating when it succeeds. We share a belief that how issues and events are covered matters, that how stories are told make a difference, but – and this is important – we don’t always agree on which stories are done justice or need to be done at all. (They may be willing to accompany me down the path, but will still argue about which turn to take.)

A recent such debate got me thinking about what I look for and why.

As a reader I can’t discard my identity as a writer. That translates into, for me, style mattering as much as content; I seek out writing that is a pleasure to digest. The subject matter doesn’t necessarily have to relate to my life; good writing can make anything fascinating.

Jon Ronson‘s work is a great example of this.

Another example – I recently picked up a New Yorker “True Crime” compilation despite having no prurient or professional interest in crime candy. One of the stories in there about a New York detective solving a cold case decades after the murders was particularly great, gripping. Like a movie that sucks you in – and like the best movies, the best writing will take you elsewhere for a moment, expand you, resonate in unexpected ways. I love that. I kind of live for it.

But of course I’m also concerned about what affects me personally (environmental crises, elections, neighborhood crime, road closures, social opportunities, etc.) and what’s happening in the greater worlds through which I move (toxic algae blooms, homelessness, corruption, missing red pandas, etc.). I want that stuff to be well-reported – but even poorly reported is better than not at all… maybe…

But my interest in all the above also wavers depending on the specific issue and how close it is to me. I care greatly about what’s happening with our schools and rivers, not so much about yet another hash lab bust – unless the people busted are folks I know, but I’m not one of those people gleefully scanning arrest reports to point and laugh, and the prevalence of “those people” saddens me as does the pleasure taken in catering to them.

Which leads me to, if you’ve ever stepped back from news consumption, you’ve realized how little most news truly affects your day-to-day life. (Hence my “maybe” above regarding bad reporting being better than none.) It seems so important when you’re immersed in it, but try quitting the news for a month and most likely, the consequences will be minimal. (On a purely practical level, the Journal’s “Table Talk” is more likely to affect my life than the dozens of local news stories being produced every week.) In fact, the argument for minimizing exposure is strong, with some studies suggesting that “the news is to the mind what sugar is to the body.

So then we’re back to Why bother?, and for me, the most compelling reason remains that what I’m devoting a chunk of time to is worthwhile – so much to do and life is short! – which demands smart writing or at least well-written enough that I’m not compelled to fling something out the window because to reading it hurts.

I may be choosier than the average consumer.

So where do you turn? And why? What do you love? How much does it matter?


surf sessions #32, #33


#32: Oof. When your friends that surf tell you the evening before to expect shoulder-high longboarding conditions and you show up to see a near double-o set barreling through, you may experience the following reaction: “YES!” Or, you might be like me and think, “Ack!” and wish you’d brought your gun and a different mindset. And then paddle out on your 7’6″ funboard anyway to catch a few non-set waves and freak out about the color of the sky, how it goes from a purple so hazy you can barely see the pulp mill to the north into a lighter purple to a deep blue overhead fading to a lighter blue as your glance turns southward to the jetty above which is now yellow-green and behind which gold and orange flare. You know words will not do it justice, but you try to describe the scene to yourself in your mind in hopes of relating later anyway. You exit the water wishing you were braver, wishing you had more words.

#33: You get up and dawn patrol because you are going to be braver today. And you are. You note the waves are soft despite their size and remember you’ve caught a hundred waves like these and what is wrong with your head that you keep regressing into such a scaredy cat? You take your longboard because you’re tired and because the waves are soft and you paddle out and and you see many friends – these are your people – and one of them hoots you into a wave right away, a happymaking right, and you catch another and another and you aren’t scared at all, because why would you be scared doing something you’ve done a hundred times before even if the sets are head-and-a-half and you get caught inside a couple times with your longboard, never fun, but you recover and once you even turn and catch a set wave because you’re the only one positioned and it’s glorious but also bumpy like you’re surfing down a staircase, but whatever. You catch waves until you can’t lift your arms and your calves cramp. You are still only competent at best, but competent is fun and the sun is out and the ocean is glimmering and your life is beautiful right now.

SoCal October, 2015: an Instagram essay

15 On the puddle-jumper from SFO to ACV, last of a two-legged flight. Filtered through black and white to highlight SO TIRED while still minimizing actual unattractiveness of SO TIRED face. (Dramatic eyes!) Aching from bad bout of insomnia the night before – I am alternating between taking various remedies and not – but that did not mitigate the happiness of seeing an old friend, visiting Nick and generally upbeat work meetings. Mostly I dozed through the flight. In my joy at landing and seeing Bobby waiting for me, I dashed through the revolving door completely forgetting to grab my carryon from the runway cart. “Don’t you have a bag?” Bobby asked. “Oh, no!” I cried. “Yes! It’s… there.” I could see it, but you can’t get back out once you’ve come in – security! – so we had to wait until they brought the luggage in so I could pick it up and we could leave. My husband did not point out my stupidity, which is why our marriage has lasted.

14 An impulsive riff on Ryan Adam’s “La Cienega Just Smiled” from my favorite of his albums and aimed at like-minded friends, including Lila Nelson, an exquisite singer-songwriter who once wrote a great blog post deconstructing her own fascination with that song, which I wish I could find; alas, the Internet has let me down. (“See you around…”)

13 I’m broke right now, so broke from having a gap between jobs and taking a vacation and realizing a greater need to stretch my dollars in hindsight than I did in fore-. Nonetheless, work travel afforded me a 10th floor view of the Ventura coastline for two days. I woke to this sunrise Tuesday morning and when I pulled the curtains wide to soak it in, noted the palm tree sticker – to keep people from crashing into the glass on their way to the balcony, I theorized. And appreciated.

12 Sunset from the C Street surf break, into which a gorgeous little south swell came, all glassy chest-high rights lasting for days. Did I have a board with me? No. Did I include renting a board in my plans? No. (See previous “broke” note.) Was I frothing jonesing craving aching wanting losing my mind? Yes. Definitely, yes.

11 Since I couldn’t surf, I took a lunch break walk and swim instead. The sun warmed my back, my bare legs. The water was that temperature where you gasp a teensy bit getting in, then immediately feel only refreshed, buoyant, jubilant. I dove under waves, swam out past the breakers, grinned to be alive and in the ocean. Let the waves pick me up and tumble me back toward shore. On the way back, I noted roses dotting the waterline. A bouquet tossed? In celebration? Rejection? There’s a writing prompt here.

10 Just classic SoCal, all palm trees and tequila sunrise colors. I’m 16 again.

The Crowne Plaza in Ventura (see previous “10th floor” note). My room wasn’t ready yet, so I sat outside answering emails and sipping a margarita while waiting. The patio has glass panes to shelter guests from the onshore breezes; I liked the catching of the reflection. From these small moments of creativity come sustaining pleasure.

Upon arriving at my room.

Having meetings in Ventura offered me the chance to visit Nick in Santa Barbara. We grabbed tacos and then took a long stroll around Campus Point, marveling at how people will surf the tiniest waves and wishing we could join them. Talking school and work and life. I don’t worry any less than I always do, but this watching my children transform into adults brings some lightening, sort of like when they cease being toddlers and turn into children who know not to run into the street or stick keys into the electrical socket. You can leave them playing in the living room while you make dinner and they’ll probably be okay. This is much more profound, of course – the realization that brutalizes all parents at some point: you have no control over their fate. All you can do is provide layers of love (and, if you have it, money), but they are their own people. The sooner we realize that, the better, because what we must do is support who they are, the dreams they have, not the ones we’ve been nursing for them. The thing I always wish, at wells and when blowing out birthday candles, is that my children are happy, healthy and outlive me. This is an obvious wish and okay to tell.

6 Tacos!

I’d stayed the night at a hotel in Agoura Hills because I’d had a workshop in Calabasas. Someone tipped me off to hiking trails nearby. I spent about half an hour panting up hillsides, happy to stretch my legs and ever appreciative that open space exists in the L.A. basin before saying to myself, “Why am I hiking around in the desert when I could be at the beach?” So I left.

4 Room with a view. Of this adorable couple loving it up in the hot tub. In the background: screaming children, a barking dog, a boisterous wedding party. I brought a glass of wine up from the bar and worked.

3 Quintessential SoCal in El Segundo. (I did not leave my wallet.) This hotel – a Marriott Courtyard – was surprisingly great. The next morning I convinced myself to do laps in the pool and spent 40 minutes swimming and treading water, a perfect antidote to the hours of being cramped in planes. (They were short flights. Not that bad.) It’s strange how I sometimes have to talk myself into doing things I love and know will make me happy. Relocating one’s body can be such a struggle when the mind is being lazy.

2 A snafu in my hotel reservation left me hanging in the lobby for a while. I was tired of looking at my computer and phone, had read all my magazines, so meditated on the salt and pepper shakers instead.

Arrived at LAX, caught the Hertz shuttle to pick up my rental car. The driver had waved me onboard despite the already packed-in crowd. I clung to the handle next to him and hovered, my reflection above me marking me as just another chick with artful blonde highlights and black shades, not as beautiful as The Beautiful People or I’d have a driver, not a rental car, because that is the way we think when we sink back into the tanned, golden embrace of El Lay.

surf sessions #29, #30, #31


#29: South Beach, peaky little rights off the jetty and more waves down the beach. The main attraction was watching my friend’s 10-year-old catch everything in sight, popping up in such a way as to suggest gravity has less effect on him than normal human beings. Tacos after. Life is good.

#30: A long time looking, trying to suss out which peak was most consistent, most make-able. That the four guys already out weren’t catching waves added to my reluctance. But then one of my more ambitious friends showed up, so of course I followed him out. Besides, the day stretched sunny and the color of the ocean invited. We snagged small, hollow lefts for a while, then the rest of that crew showed up and opted to paddle for the peak proper, the one that had been cleaning up with the incoming tide until now sets rolled in consistent and consistently double-over. I wasn’t ready for that, didn’t have the right board or proper frame of mind. Aimed for the in-between waves, some rights, mostly lefts, found myself caught inside a bomber set, washed most of the way to shore, called it a day. Maybe next time I’ll bring a gun and go bigger. There’s always a certain recalibration of the mind that has to take place – I wonder what makes one brain hungry for the rush and another brain anxious to get out of harm’s way?

#31: And a much milder, pretty day longboarding nearly solo – the only other person out was a couple peaks north (in prime shark territory!). I caught a dozen-plus little waves, some faded, some zipped. I saw a crab swim by past my feet, the water was so clear, the breaking waves nearly turquoise in the light. I only stopped because my calves cramped up. Lovely, lovely evening.

tiny travel writing moments


A Train

The A Train rumbles toward the Far Rockaways. I scrawl in my notebook, pen slipping as we lurch to a stop, rekindle up to speed. People clamber on and a surfboard passes through my periphery. I look up, watch as the surfer strides to the end of the car, leans his bagged board against the glass door. He sits hunched over, baseball cap and blue hoodie, hands clasped, headphones in.

I imagine the long ride to the beach, surrounded by people doing what one does when on the subway: hold the body still while the mind goes elsewhere.

I want to be gregarious, tell him I am one of his people. But I’m tired and have to pee and want much more to simply be home where a surf trek is a short drive to a place where my body moves without ceasing while my mind holds still in the moment.

Airplane haikus

aisle seat row 10
I finished my book too soon
bored, ordered a drink

plane over Utah
window partitions are up
no one wants to see

an upgraded seat
legroom, free movies and booze
offsets impatience

two seats up, over
a trashy show unravels
I’m fascinated

a cheap blue notebook
purchased while drunk in New York
marred by bad haikus

New York 2015: The Bobby Edition

(Again, I am slow to post my adventures. Also, I write this under pressure – the to-do list is long and I am behind – and so the narrative exists more as a recording for me to reference as my memory fades than a travelogue inviting immersion. Sorry.)

After my brother moved to New York five years ago, I started making an annual trek back to visit him and his wife. The first year, I took Kaylee. The second year, I took Nick. The third year I would have taken Chelsea, but she was too busy and laden with pets, so I split a two-for-one ticket with my friend Grant. Last year I went alone. Each visit served up new places to explore, eat, admire. I would text and call my husband from MOMA, the East Village, the Staten Island ferry. “You would love it here,” I would tell him.

This year I insisted he join me. (more…)

California travails


To live on the Northern California coast is to be far away from everything. I like this. Except when two separate kid-related emergencies happen in Southern California and to be far away from everything means getting from the point A of here to the point B of there demands the sort of money and time that would typically result in a woman waking up on a tropical isle or amid charming European ruins.

This is the point where typically I’d slip in a nod to “first world problems,” and yes, the following did unfold in literal and metaphorical places of privilege, but given what prompted me southward was having one child who’d been hospitalized with a mysterious bacterial infection and another who’d been hit by a car while riding her bike, I won’t bother with guilt. I was grateful to have the resources (barely), family and friends to make this trip happen.

To fly to Santa Barbara from Humboldt on a day’s notice means departing from the Arcata/Eureka airport, landing in San Francisco, taking a 15-minute flight from there to Monterey, then flying to LAX for a connecting flight to Santa Barbara. The one-way ticket cost $622. Estimated time between leaving home and arriving at my final destination was about nine hours.

If only. (more…)

still learning

If I were to invoke surfing as a metaphor – a risky invocation given the prevalence of cheeseball slogans centered around the sport – but if I were to write about the emotional turbulence of the past few weeks in such a way – the result would read like this:

Sometimes I paddle out thinking the sets will be challenging but manageable. Sometimes I push myself into a wave that scares me because it’s bigger or heavier or steeper than I am used to, telling my brain to stop flailing and my arms to keep paddling and my heart to just commit goddamn it as the wave lifts me up from behind and, amazingly, somehow, all the past experience embedded in my body manages to manifest in the drop, landing me on my feet, my weight shifting and my arms arcing up, and I’ve pulled off a bottom turn and the wave and I go on and on together and the experience is like a miracle except one that I’ve made possible by going and going and not giving up and this moment expands the collection of similar moments as the bliss bubbles up unrestrained and whole.

Far more often, I find myself navigating the currents, trying to hang on the corner of the channel, thinking I’m dialed in and then a bigger set appears on the horizon, blocking out the sky as it steamrolls in, standing up farther out than any other has before and everyone is scratching toward it, some hoping to turn and catch their wave of the day, some, like me, just wanting to avoid getting smashed, but that hope is futile because despite all my experience, the ocean is beyond my control – I know it is beyond my control and yet still I despair for a moment as I look up at the now-pitching wave that is coming down like a giant fist on my head. I have never learned to duck dive under the wave – I don’t have the right board for that anyway – and so all I can do is try to hang on enough to keep my board from ricocheting into someone else and in such a way that my shoulder won’t be ripped out of its socket when my strength is inevitably overpowered by the wave that has me tumbling like a rag doll underwater.

I know better than to panic. I know I can hold my breath, that people generally can hold their breath, longer than we think. This knowledge does not completely mitigate the fact that I would prefer, very much, to have my head above water and air coming into my lungs. When I arrive back topside, hand-over-handing the leash to bring the board back to me, I hopefully have a moment to get my bearings, paddle out of harm’s way and back to the channel. But sometimes, that first wave is followed by another and another – all I can do is keep taking them on the head, diving, surfacing, not panicking, until the cumulative power is spent and the ocean navigable once more.

Often these extremes happen within the same hour. I tolerate the despair and work through my fear because that’s the only path to rapture. There are other types of joy in the world – a good game of Frisbee can engross me without all the drama. My nature not that of an adrenaline junkie; I am hooked on the waves, not the fear. But I live in a place where the waves get big, so if I want to surf, staying within my comfort zone isn’t an option.

Still, I could use a breath.

surf sessions #27, #28

Last weekend, a taste of fall arrived in the form of a sweet long-interval swell. I surfed Saturday night in the kind of beauty that is almost more than the soul can bear. The sunset turned the ocean purple and gold as the nearly full moon ascended and hung over the sand dunes, the perfect backdrop to the foghorn’s repeating bleat. The waves marched in slightly from the west, providing rights, real rights, for the first time in what seems like ever. I cavorted.

Today, the wind whips from the north, brisk and annoying. Instead of surfing, I lie on the futon in a patch of sunshine, grow fat and sleepy in the heat, wait for the wind to turn again.


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