I am not an extrovert!

12118651_10155967717710478_1295989572015999684_nAre you an introvert or extrovert?
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It’s silly, sometimes, the things that provoke me. I realize that. Consider it a character flaw. I’m working on it.

A while back, for example, a couple of friends were talking about being introverts and then referred to me as a “textbook extrovert.” Which, ridiculously, made me defensive. (I should mention that when everyone was posting those things-to-know-about-an-introvert lists on Facebook, I was also annoyed, so maybe what I really am is misanthropic.)

They, of course, were right. I socialize often. I throw parties. I instigate lunches, drinks, walks, coffee, taco nights. I host brunches and book swaps at my house. I have a writers’ group. It’s not unusual for a band to crash on my couches, although less common since my days covering the music scene ended. So, yeah, all evidence was on their side.

But still, there’s something about the label that feels wrong. Maybe my discomfort comes from my outgoing manner being something learned – working as a journalist helped – rather than a reflection of my innermost self. Guys, I said, I’m super shy! Being around people is exhausting! I only make plans with people I really like! I’m insecure about all kinds of things! I spent most of my childhood hiding in the closet reading Star Trek paperbacks and fantasy novels about dragons!

I’ve found that the appearance of confidence is the next best thing to truly having it. Acting like you know what you’re doing, like you’re not bothered by criticism, allows you to attempt things you might not otherwise try – and when you survive the small failures and embarrassing moments, you realize they’re less a big deal than you thought. And real confidence grows. I have embarrassed myself a lot and people still like me, hang out with me, hire me, treat me like a person who knows what she’s doing. After years of this, I realized that the part of my brain that continued classifying me as a hopeless loser didn’t have a leg to stand on – because brains don’t have legs! Ha! – and I had to face something that surprised me: I’m doing all right.

The transformation from geeky awkward child made fun of for her big eyes and advanced vocabulary to the sort of person whose birthday is announced on a theater marquee took effort. Not all of it was positive – I traded in concern about my grades for caring about where the parties were and spent way more hours fretting about my weight than my IQ. Much of my need for social capital was driven by lack of actual funds – I spent most of my adult life struggling to pay bills, but the decades have always been flush when it comes to friendship. Also, having three small children meant adult connections served as a way to preserve my identity as a person – motherhood tends to swallow that up. My family’s distant; if I hadn’t cultivated friends, I’d have almost no one.

So, introvert becomes extrovert to survive. I think this is why those how-to-treat-an-introvert posts bugged me – and this is so, so, so embarrassingly hypocritical, but my knee jerk reaction was, oh right, like a true introvert would broadcast their innermost self on the internet and also, jesus christ, people, it’s not that bad, you’re not that special, suck it up, invite someone over for coffee, maybe get offline and go look at the outside long enough to stop feeling sorry for yourself.

This was a dickish and stupid reaction. Because – hello, self-awareness – I have made a semi-career out of writing about My Personal Issues and because jesus christ, Jennifer, people are just trying to be real and share and connect and who are you to judge how they do that?

One of the problems with being an extrovert is once you habituate to being the sort of person who puts herself “out there,” you risk the people around you informing you you’re kind of a jerk. Like I said, I have a lot of experience embarrassing myself.

Another complication is you might, as one of the more extroverted people in your crowd, be the primary orchestrater of social moments, which can sometimes frustrate you, because you spend far more time suggesting get-togethers than being invited to them. You have to remember that not everyone is driven to socialize on the daily. (Although, like exercise, cooking, mediation, reading and writing, it’s good for you!)

Others threats include rejection, becoming overcommitted and the horrible realization that while social commitments distract and friends fulfill, loneliness will still pierce your very being from time to time. You can extrovert all over the place all day long, but 3 a.m. is 3 a.m.

That’s the point I wanted to make to my friends. They might be introverts, but I see them as confident, kind, talented, successful, brilliant people who allow me to lean on them for support and goofiness equally and always. And I might be an extrovert, but I’m always questioning myself and what I’m doing in the world and I text them all day and make them go to lunch with me because without those connections, I might become unmoored. We’re not that different, guys! Call it what you will.

 

road trip: a meditation

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I’d hoped to hit the road at dawn. The 2:30 a.m. phone call blew that plan. On the other end was a situation emergency enough to require my husband to get dressed and head to the ER. Grateful to have a partner, I stayed in bed, alternating between dozing off and being afraid, one hand on my phone as I waited for an update.

The situation resolved itself enough by morning that I could still depart, mother-guilt added to my more practical luggage. I pulled out of the driveway around 8:30 a.m., bound for Pismo beach, then San Diego. When I’d considered my options for the trip, they looked like this:

a.) Drive the full way to San Diego in one shot.

b.) Divide the trip into two days.

Having spent enough time on the road to know how miserable I get by hour eight or so, I opted for the latter. And since I was splitting the trip up anyway, taking 101 and staying somewhere beachy was clearly more inspiring than slinging myself down the 5. I haven’t spent much time in SLO (did have a singular experience the one time I was in Pismo before) and liked the idea of exploring the area further.

Despite rarely coming to the Central Coast as a child – I vaguely remember a camping trip to Morro Bay – the area triggers nostalgia. Unlike all the SoCal spots I regularly visited, the view and the vibe evoke a certain 1970s California. Everything is in soft focus, weathered and golden.

I don’t reminisce much. I grew up in a place bereft of the kind of culture I sought; besides a few good friends and great parties, my memories of it are not pleasant. I was too smart for my teachers, not racist enough for my peers, too evolved to take the conventions of my Catholic high school seriously, stunningly naive regarding boys. My parents split ugly when I was 15. There was a drug phase. I left high school early because it was stupid – California proficiency certificate instead of a diploma – so no prom or graduation or homecoming to look back upon. I left the desert right before I turned 18, never looked back, not even when I had to move back for a time. My mom sold my childhood home and relocated to the Valley within a couple years after I left. I have no family there and little family elsewhere and not much contact. And this is all fine – things worked out well for me. I have my own people and beautiful life and amazing jobs. It’s just the usual situations that people look back upon wistfully didn’t manifest in my childhood. But I also, unlike some girls and boys, didn’t get molested by the priests at my high school, and I had good jobs even as a teen and my lack of a senior year hasn’t mattered and my boyfriend from back then stuck around to become my husband and this’ll be 28 years of togetherness in March, so yeah, I’m hanging in there.

All to say, this nostalgia certain parts of the coast brings out, it’s not personal exactly. I think it’s a way in which my love for this state manifests. I never loved Lancaster, but I have always been infatuated by California. The geography, the stories, the compulsion people elsewhere have to Come West. All songs about California are good songs. Sure, the state has its ugly parts, sordid history, riot, earthquakes and oncoming coastal flooding that will cause the world to come undone. Still, to stand on the beach – or better yet, be in the water – as the sky turns color and the ocean glows and a peak in the distance boasts a scattering of snow – I love that.

And I do have stories. Nights on the back of a Harley in Hollywood, New Age parties in Topanga Canyon, tripping back over the Baja border as the sun cracked over the mountains, watching that same sun drop into the ocean from one of the state to another. Beach bonfires. Sleeping in the redwoods. Going to the Op Pro. Riots. More riots. Riding my bike along the concrete sluice shepherding the L.A. River to the Pacific. Going to clubs in El Ley at 15, at 18, at 22. Moving north and diving into the Trinity River, a different kind of wildness. Learning to surf. Being surprised that beauty also exists inland. I have built a life that encompasses much of this state. I have become more and more myself with each move, from the desert to the beach, from the south to the north.

Southern California being what it is, development has reshaped the places I remember, some beyond recognition. I tend to look ahead at where life leads next, where I want to go. But every so often, some innocuous thing – a freeway sign, a row of faded blue houses, particularly robust bougainvillea or a glimpse of a beach where I once made out with a good-looking boy, skin warm from sunshine, the future a blur of promise, the present delicious – my heart warms with sentimentality.

I have a lot of stuff on this trip, the result of hurried packing. It bugs me; I prefer to travel light. But the extra clothes and multiple pairs of shoes are of no mind, really – turns out I’m carrying more than I realized anyway.

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I’ve told the story many times: We arrived in January, 1998 in the thick of El Niño; Bobby drove up in a 15-foot Ryder van, towing our Volkswagen bus; the children and I followed a week later via Amtrak; we stayed 10 nights in what was then the Vagabond Inn at Fourth and R streets before finally finding a little house in Ridgewood Heights. In 2002, we moved into a larger, lighter home in Manila and have been here since, the Pacific at times thunderous, the ocean’s edge just over the dunes. I love it.

From the minute we landed in Humboldt, I grew roots – me, who’d only ever longed to leave her hometown and, prior to here, couldn’t imagine living more than a few years in any one place. But my infatuation with the redwoods, the ocean, the rivers, the wonderful far-away-ness of it all has never worn off. After a few semesters at College of the Redwoods and HSU, I landed work as journalist, as a writer, as a radio personality. All jobs that allowed me to follow, as they say, my passions. Jobs that steadily (if slowly) led from good to better things – in this case, from writing and talking about environmental activism to getting paid to do it.

Sure, for a long time there was a lot of no money and the usual kind of problems people who are married with children face. I’d been a bit clueless as to how pervasive the weed culture would be. When our son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 11, the lack of pediatric specialists in our rural area would mean regular five-hour drives to San Francisco for his health care. Humboldt isn’t perfect – but my heart has never wavered.

And then, a few months ago, I landed my dream job. The call informing me of such surprised me. I knew my then-gig wouldn’t last forever (grant funding being what it is) and had applied for this position figuring the competition would be too stiff, but interviewing would be good practice. And it was good practice – in underestimating myself. The thrill of getting the job had me skipping around so buoyantly that Earth’s gravity might as well have been halved.

The only problem is my dream job isn’t in my dream location. The far-away-ness of Humboldt doesn’t work with the travel I’m required to do, that I love to do. The places I need to be are almost all in Central and SoCal. Hence, relocation a requirement of the position. I knew that going in – and applied anyway.

Choosing between where the heart lies and where the opportunities exist confronts Humboldt’s professionals regularly. I’m far from unique. I know several couples who live separately to pursue careers. They make it work. So I’ll be keeping a room in the City. I’ll be away a lot, whatever “a lot” means. My husband and my home will be here. Sounds hard. Then again, we’ve raised three teenagers, I keep telling people, so while hard, this will not be the hardest thing.

I’m excited about my soon-to-be second home, a cozy spot near the ocean, an excellent pizza joint across the street, a near-perfect location from which to continue fighting the good fight. But forlorn, too – a sadness, a sort of pre-emptive missing, colors my daily appreciation of the beauty and friendship surrounding me. You know when something is so beautiful that it hurts? Sometimes I’ve been in the water at sunset, the ocean liquid glass reflecting the sky all purple, pink, blue, the clouds rimmed orange and gold, pelicans sliding along the curling waves – the scene so exquisite to the eyes that my heart can hardly keep from exploding.

I feel that all the time lately. The blue of the bay is brighter, the sound of the rain on the skylights more lovely, every moment with close friends savored – nothing is taken for granted. I am packing memories in my heart like socks in my suitcase.

And I’m embarrassed by all I haven’t done! I never learned to can, to sew, to hunt mushrooms, to find my way along the Lost Coast. I have not learned all the lessons Humboldt has to offer. I am leaving other things undone. Cigarette butts still carpet parts of Arcata. I wanted to fix that. Ideas for columns, news stories, remain unwritten. I did not start a brilliant podcast. I’ve adventured much in my 18 years here and yet, I am not finished with you, Humboldt.

When I was pregnant with Kaylee, my second kid, I had no idea how I would manage – the love I felt for Chelsea, my oldest, was already all-consuming. And this will sound crazy, maybe, or cheesy, but a few months before I was showing, a woman was reading tarot cards at the salon – precursor of hipsterism or something. While my highlights processed, she did my cards. She didn’t know I was pregnant, but for whatever reason, told me exactly what I needed to hear; in short,”You will have enough love.” For whatever may come.

And I did – of course. And then some.

And as another El Niño gathers, one predicted to be even more powerful that the one we rode in on 18 years ago, nearly to the day, I prepare to depart – sort of. Moving not moving; expanding. It’s scary. But I will have enough love. For whatever may come.

Here we go, 2016.

solstice

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December twinkles. Flickering candles and Christmas lights. The rain refuses to relent. We embrace it – “Finally!” – pleased for the fish, even as we tire of the mud tracked in the house, the smell of wet dog permeating, the friction that comes when everyone is trapped indoors. Curling up against your lover while rain beats down on the skylights is lovely. Dodging drops in the Co-op parking lot in the pre-holiday shopping madness is not.

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This year, December has had me on the road twice, gone a week here, there. The first trip took me from Humboldt to Sacramento to Santa Cruz to Monterey to Santa Cruz to San Francisco to home. The second trip, I left Humboldt for San Francisco to Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz with the plan to depart for Humboldt in the morning.

Both are work trips, both overlaid with friends and family, drinks and dinners. Two times I was invited to the lighting of Hanukkah candles. A friend took us out on his boat to see sea otters and whales. I even went caroling in the rain, a madcap revelry involving many children and culminating with a boisterous “Jingle Bells” in an all-but-empty Denny’s.

In between, moments of solitude present themselves. Occasionally I use them to my advantage – a walk, a book, a string of words beyond a status update, a few yoga poses, another attempt at meditation. But mostly, work aside, I’ve been lazy. There’s been a lot of Facebooking.

I’m not surprised. December, for all its merriment, reverberates with giving up. Sweet and sentimental holiday ideas are tossed aside due to a shortage of time. Surfing gets sideswiped by darkness and too-big swells. It’s a sure bet that I will lose neither weight nor bad habits during this month. The year draws to an end and I am no closer to the usual goals than I was back in January, when optimism prevailed. Alone, I get glum, wonder if this is as good as I’ll get and if so, what that means for the rest of my life.

Dreary, I know. Then again, the darkness of winter solstice serves as a fine excuse for more somber thoughts. It’s all these long drives, the disorientation of not being home. So much thinking happens. There’s much to love about the time traveling – learning new places, the steady beauty of the coast, the chance to connect with old friends, to visit my children who’ve flung themselves into the world beyond Humboldt. But there’s a trick to it, too. The same tricks, I suppose, that make any type of life happier – holding on to morning ritual, spending your time thoughtfully.

I am not without confidence. But I grew up believing anything short of perfection was failure and so was too busy being embarrassed at making mistakes to learn from them. Understanding that making mistakes is a necessary bridge between ignorance and skill escaped me. The beautiful people seemed born knowing how to do all the things – sing, play guitar, dance, get straight As, make people love them – while the rest of us stood by watching, biting our lips and unsure what to do with our hands.

When I discovered myself pregnant at 19, at 23, at 25, people shook their heads in disapproval. I was stupid, they said – what didn’t I understand about birth control? I wish younger me had realized that I understood more than they did, being intimately familiar with the inadequacy of various methods. Instead I thought I could prove my worth by being a perfect mother to the children I never considered mistakes. So misguided, the need to be validated by one’s critics.

And yet, so human – who else might build us up as well as the people who have torn us down? I find myself still sliding back into that place where the ghost of younger me resides, hurt and angry to be devalued. “You think I’m worthless? I’ll show you,” she says, all narrowed eyes, stomping feet, clenched fists. I want to make them all confess they were wrong, that I am worthwhile. I catch myself, take a breath, step back into the light. Remind myself that the people who deserve my attention, my thoughts, are the ones whose friendship has never wavered, whose support has been like the lights strung up every December: bright, cheerful and strong.

I owe my life to my friends, my husband, my children. When I imagine succeeding for them, the determination emerges just as strong as the more vengeful version, but unburdened by loathing. It’s a lighter, transcendent ambition.

When I took up surfing is when I first learned to make mistakes. Standing on the board on a wave was a sort of coming home to myself. I wanted to do it over and over forever. Which meant going out and falling down and looking like the kook that I was (am) and still going anyway because if I kept going and going and going I might someday be okay at this thing that gave me more joy than just about anything ever had.

Likewise, watching my children play baseball and softball, seeing them strike out or miss a catch and continue to step back up to the plate or run for the next pop fly. I never had that kind of bravery as a kid. I loved watching them. I love them.

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So, December, you glittering beast of a month. You’ve put my head in a weird place, again, but it’s okay. The shallowest part of my life is lovely, the deepest parts, amazing. To get from one to the other, from the beach to where the waves are breaking means traversing the impact zone – oh, surfing lends itself to the corniest metaphors! And yet, it works.

Tomorrow I’ll drive myself, Nick and Kaylee toward our Humboldt home, stressed, no doubt, by the predicted storm, lousy to drive in. But we’ll make it and be welcomed home by Bobby and Chelsea, house warmed by the fire, rain smattering against the skylights, the days incrementally growing longer once again.

surf sessions #34, #35, #36, #37, #38

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I just need to note these happened. My surfing consistency continues to be on the decline. I want to make next year different – with regards to many things. What would it be like to finally transform effort and desire into simply a way of being?

#34: Magical.

#35: Magical.

#36: Meh.

#37: Really fun.

Will be looking for waves here in Santa Cruz today – or more specifically, there’s no lack of waves, but we will be looking for the ones less smashy. I have a fun-looking loaner board to try out and K’s stoked on us going, so anticipation of an inspiring session is high.

Thanksgiving is so weird

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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: deciding 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.

 

surf sessions #32, #33

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#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

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#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.

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