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. Read the full post »

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. Read the full post »

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.
Read the full post »

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.

surf sessions #22, #23, #24, #25, #26


I think next year I’ll return to noting these on a wall calendar as I do want to tally my time, but am running out of ways in which to write about what a particular surf was like without resorting to the same descriptions as before – truly, the words were all used up a while ago.

In brief:

#22: Fun. Lefts. A few too many people in the takeoff zone.

#23: Even more fun. Fewer people in the takeoff zone. Lefts.

#24: I take the 6’2″ out in front of my house. Blackberry vines and coyote brush stretch across the trail. One bend narrows to less than a foot wide, eroding on one side into a shrub-filled valley. Stickers wedge between my feet and sandals. I stop several times to remove them. But the ocean stretches out glass when I trundle over the final dune. The waves are small until they hit the sandbar, where they jack up into head-high shorepound. I’m challenged. This board is beautiful, paddles well, but so much smaller than what I’m used to. When I stand up, my back foot wonders where to land. I fall down. Sometimes I don’t. The sun sets. Even without the glowing orange sky, the beauty of being on the edge of the world, the taste of salt on my lips and the caress of the waves would have made the trek worthwhile. I have never become a better surfer by standing on the sand; I will never learn to ride this board if unwilling to wipe out trying. I stride home, beating the dark.

#25: I paddle out with a friend at Ocean Beach, San Francisco. It’s micro – my hair doesn’t even get wet and I’m on the outside. This is an unfamiliar Ocean Beach, a welcome respite from the usual effort the place demands. I’m on a borrowed 7’4″ that works like magic. I want a new board, I think. Like this. I need a new board like this. My 7’6″ is slow and and the 7’5″ is battered and I am due for a new board that paddles well and responds quickly and whose deck is unmarred by patch jobs. Not that I can afford such a thing at the moment. I have been spending my money wrong, I realize (again). I have been spending my time wrong. Why do I do anything other than take every extra minute of my day paddling around and catching waves? Especially when the conditions are so very sweet and easy like this? My friend had only time for a quick surf – he had to get to an appointment. When he mentioned that as we were changing into our wetsuits in his garage, I said, “No problem! I have a lot to do anyway.” After half an hour, when he had to go and he said I could stay out with his board as long as I wanted, I said, “Yes. Yes. Thank you.” And I stayed out until my arms and knees said, “Enough!” and then I went in, grinning and laughing because the day was so beautiful.

#26: Back home, back to the lefts, back to a knot of people angling for position. But everyone took turns and so some of the bumpy, bowly waves were mine. I happened to be nicely placed when a set came and paddled into a wave late, made it – a 21-year-old complimented me on my “sick drop,” which is not a thing I normally hear, so – bonus! After riding a wave till its conclusion, I noticed a beginner paddling and paddling in the triangle of doom. “Are you trying to get in or out?” I asked him. “I’m trying to catch a wave,” he said. I explained he needed to paddle parallel away from the jetty or he’d end up in the channel. He thanked me and angled in that direction. This thing people do – put themselves in the ocean without understanding – frustrates me. I stifled my further desire to advise him, but kept a bit of an eye out in case he needed help. By the time I went in, he’d given up, gotten out. I drove home.



And into the wilderness we go...

And into the wilderness we go…

This was a trip of firsts: first time backpacking, first time in the upper reaches of the Trinity Alps, first time passing by a waterfall while being pelted by a thunderstorm, first time swimming in an alpine lake.

Under normal circumstances, a two-mile hike would have passed quickly. With a backpack weighted down with a too-heavy tent better suited for car camping, I found myself playing mental games to stave off collapse. For a while I counted every hundred steps, then allowed myself 5 seconds of rest. I counted every 25 and switched my water bottle to the other hand. I took photos of the trail every 200 steps, envisioning a post-adventure visual project, time-lapse-style, in which I could show people what hiking in looked like – but I had to abandon that dream when, two-thirds of the way in, the sky flung hail-sized raindrops at us. I called out to my friend Shaun, way ahead on the trail, to help me put my camera away.

In the midst of wincing at the pressure the backpack put on my hips, the heft of it hammering at my knee caps with each step, I thought about my friend Scott and his son Owen, 10-year-old Owen, who had just died in an ATV accident while visiting grandparents. I’d caught the news on Facebook and had to re-read the words many times before my unwilling brain would accept the fact of what it was seeing.

The outpour of love, support and grief in the comments included many variations asserting the unthinkability of such a tragedy. Unfathomable. Unimaginable. Beyond comprehension. And yet, the horrifying part is how easily it is imagined, like how one can picture falling when standing on the edge of a cliff – but the difference between toppling over and not is everything. And the truly horrifying part exists in that distinction.

This weight on my back is nothing. The clouds recede. We reach the lake.

One of our many lakes.

One of our many lakes.

The view overwhelms, blue sky reflected in blue lake, wildflowers in purple, yellow and white dotting the surrounding green meadow, giving way to spruce and pine that climb up red-brown walls to the blue sky the lake shimmers beneath. We rest for a moment, scout campsites. The guys determine we should move to the upper lakes. I curse them as I struggle back into my backpack. The rain returns.

We huddle under a tree. I haven’t been in warm rain since I lived in the desert, no, since visiting Taiwan, no – wait. New York in the spring of 2010. That was not warm like this, however, where the thin air dries the thin layer of clothing in minutes, even as the rain continues to fall.

Eventually the clouds move off to the next valley and we set up, eat, watch the sunset, share whiskey. I fall in love with this experience even as I struggle, oh so slightly, with being out of range. Emergency scenarios hover. I shove them to the edge of my mind and the less avoidable guilt moves in. I hope my children are okay. I wonder if making up for the mistakes I made raising them is possible – or if history exists in stone, unable to be challenged or rewritten. But no one past exists, only multiple stories, so maybe hope for a better edit isn’t undue.

I wish I’d been more patient, less angry. Not placed as much value on keeping up appearances as a reaction to poverty and the judgment of others. I would like to retroactively assure them they were always loved, always, even when, exhausted, I was losing my shit. If nothing else, I would write more harmony into the narrative, weave an unbreakable thread through their lives to spare them the worry I never meant to put them through.

What kind of mother I was, am, is an impossibly subjective exercise. I definitely yelled too much. I absolutely did not know what I was doing for much of it and only at some recent point emerged from that uncharted territory blinking into the sunlight. But I fed them along the way. Very well, even. And they were read to and exposed to beauty of many sorts. We had river days and beach days and cozy nights in front of the fire and movies. Those things I know.


On top of the world.

On top of the world.

The rock upon which I sit is rough through my sarong. The sun has risen over the ridge, illuminating the cirque and warming me despite the breeze.

Mike convinced me to accompany him to the top of the ridge, where the Pacific Crest Trail passes by. When I reached the top, the view resulted in a literal taking of my breath. Photographers and painters have an advantage over writers in times like these.

Back below, I walked through grasses that tickled my calves, between purple daisies, yellow and pink flowers whose names I will have to ask a botanist when I get back. Three lakes lie within the meadow and I found a spot under a spruce by the largest. Birds chirped. Leaves rustled. Rocks remained frozen mid-tumble along the steep wall of the bowl. I stretched out on my towel, legs in the sun, back in the shade and read, losing myself in my book save for the occasional ant crawling up my arm. Bees buzzed.

After a while, I shifted to a rock, situating myself in a broken part that formed a natural chair. Ripples spread across the lake. The breeze also blew in cumulus clouds, puffy white things hurrying across the sky, shadows moving over me as I sit watching.


And into the wilderness we go.

Hello, chipmunk!


Dark-eyed junko

I want to know the types of trees, flowers, birds, rocks. I wonder how different the future would be if nature was a core school experience on par with math and English. Would our treatment of the environment change and how quickly?

I’ve been cultivating more outdoors into my life, surfing again, biking, making time for the river and now this. The calm, the bigness, provides space in my brain for creativity – ideas swell. Outside is the antidote to my usual state of stress, provides the perspective helping to manage my responsibilities, reminds me who I am and who I want to be. Ants keep crawling on me and I don’t mind. I am grateful for everything.

lake near sunset

surf sessions #17, #18, #19, #20, #21

Five times in seven days and I remember this was the life I wanted.


Thoughts prompted:

Oh, this is fun.

I should probably sell my car. Do you know how many boards and board bags and trips I could take if I didn’t have car payments?


Seriously, I need to reconfigure my life.

It’s so beautiful.

It’s so beautiful.

It’s so beautiful.


The ocean glassed out for a solid week. The waves were small, mostly only about shoulder-high on the sets, tiny on the final session of this bliss streak. The ocean floor glittered, bait fish leapt, pelicans dove, seals popped their heads out like ocean labradors waiting for an ear to be scritched. (Don’t actually pet the seals.)


Of those five days, the highlights:

A morning surfing my favorite break with just a few friends while it worked like the magic carousel it occasionally can be.


Walking out from my house with my 2013 birthday board tucked under my arm and catching waves in front of my house.

The photo Bobby took from that session of me wiping out; I’d pearled badly and he caught me upside out, legs sticking up out of the top of the breaking wave like a sad cartoon.

Reliving a magical July from eight years ago, when the ocean stayed small and glassy for an even longer chunk of time and we took the Nick and Kaylee out almost daily. They were little then, eight and 10, just learning to surf, and giddy with the delight of it. I would have surfed elsewhere this day, but a friend called, saying his own 8-year-old wanted to go surfing and where should they go? I thought about it, what the swell had been doing, how the bar was working, and said, You know, I think this spot could work. No promises. It could be flat. And it’ll almost definitely be too small for adults.

I did them right. When I showed up, they were already suited – her in Kaylee’s hand-me-down wetsuit – and in the water, knee-high waves peeling left and right through the ocean smooth as a lake. I grabbed my camera and skipped out to water’s edge just as my friend pushed his daughter into one of those bitty swells. She clambered to her feet, thrust her arms out and rode down the line, grinned etched on her face, as my friend whooped and I shot photos (“Ah! I’m capturing this for them, yes!) and a surfer parked on the beach honked in enthusiasm. Everything was as it should be in the world for a few fine moments.

Stoke, exemplified.

Stoke, exemplified.

And then it stayed fine. I joined my friends in the water (at an all-time high of 61 degrees) and the waves were almost definitely too small, but had just enough to them for us adult types to goof around. I noticed two boys playing up the beach slightly while their folks sat on the beach next to a parked quad and a BBQ. I told them about the couple extra boards in the back of my truck. “You can grab them if you want.” They wanted. The younger caught whitewater on his belly, the older tried to stand up, they held on to those boards for at least an hour, their fun made exponential. When I emerged from the ocean and returned to my truck, they ran over to thank me. They were from Redding, they said, where there’s no ocean.

My heart brimmed with joy from this day. I swear, I didn’t even need the 4WD as I drove away – my lightness of spirit lifted my truck right off the sand as we made our way off the beach.

And I remember this is the life I have.


on politeness and the fallacy of political correctness

In other news, I wrote about intent vs impact a while back, which prompted this response from someone I know:

The only reservation I would have about what you had to say, there, is that I fear “politeness”…
Seems innocuous enough, politeness.
But we don’t love our friends because they BEHAVE

Which I interpreted to mean that if people are too on guard, afraid of offending, friendship suffers; if you can’t be “real” with someone, how can you truly connect? Sometimes people are afraid of debate, turning disagreement with someone’s ideas into labeling that person as inherently disagreeable.

I’m quite possibly wrong in my interpretation, and, of course, being a woman, I felt compelled to point out that girls know better than anyone the pitfalls of politeness. If you are raised to be “polite,” the parallel consequence is, standing up for yourself feels “rude,” which means you can be taken advantage of. People that grew up able to speak their mind don’t understand how the trained among us might find ourselves wordless in the face of abuse, but that is what happens; the cop who hassles you unfairly, the guy who shoves his hands onto your body, the boss who demeans you – if you’ve been discouraged from making others feel uncomfortable, you learn to absorb the discomfort yourself.

But that’s definitely not what my colleague meant, so let’s step back and address politeness between friends. I believe in the higher principle of etiquette; making others feel at ease is a good thing. Being able to assess a situation and respond accordingly is a skill of the highest order. Don’t confront someone at a wedding, for example. Talk to the person who looks lonely. Arrange your face into a sympathetic visage when the child in front of you breaks down into the tantrum to end all tantrums and the mother is helpless in the face of it – if you have children, you know how insane they can be, and if you don’t, revel that you’ll never have to know. In either case, the high road is the right road.

But again, I digress. Who are we with our friends? That, I suppose is the question. And yet still, I tend to err on the side of being polite. I love my friends. They matter to me as much as clean air, drinkable water and windless, sunshiney days. I know that friendship means accepting people when they are less than their best and in return, the same people continue to love you despite your insecurities, flaws, ridiculous drinking habits, but still – if someone loves me so much to tolerate my endless texts about the same tiresome problems, wouldn’t I want to return the favor by being kind, thoughtful? Take our interactions as an opportunity to reenforce how much I value and respect them?

Politeness that results in timidity? Bad.

Politeness as a way of being a functioning, compassionate human? Good.

Maybe it’s all semantics.

Which leads me to the concept of “political correctness.” First, I thought we were done with that term – it seems outdated, a way for the politically conservative to reduce new and important conversations about race and gender to eye-rolling – but then a friend posted a link to a column in which several comedians decried political correctness as “killing comedy.”

I think what’s killing their comedy is a refusal to evolve. Robin Tran wrote a response in xoJane that reflects my own thoughts:

I know lots of comedy fans who are just yearning for something new and different, and they’re tired of hearing the same old clichés and stereotypes. There are only so many times you can hear jokes about black people stealing, Asians’ inability to drive, and heteronormative dating jokes where “women do this but men do that” before it gets exhausting, boring, and unfunny. These comedy fans are generally progressive-leaning, and they’re oftentimes unfairly accused of being humorless.

Many progressives love Inside Amy Schumer, a show that is not “PC” at all, and more liberal-leaning websites are constantly posting articles about what a genius Louis CK is. A few of these liberal comedy fans may take some jokes too personally, but to brush this entire group as humorless and PC is dishonest and lazy.

I could go on, but I need to hit the road and besides, funnier and smarter people are already on this one, so let me leave you with a clip from one of my comedy heroes, Aziz Ansari:

surf sessions #15, #16

wetsuit in the tree = good

wetsuit in the tree = good

#15: Oh, man, the waves were terrible. Seriously. If not the worst I’ve paddled out into, at least close. But I hadn’t surfed in weeks and the air was 68 degrees and the sun was baking the peninsula and I said I’m going. I’m going no matter what. So I did. And it was wonderful. I mean, it was terrible, the waves part, but being in the ocean, paddling, getting smacked around by overhead closeouts – I was reminded of how stupid fun being in the ocean can be. Even when the waves are terrible. The post-session bliss lingered for hours.

#16: I took out a friend who wants to learn to surf, got my truck stuck for a minute while trying to show him around – embarrassing – decided that was probably as valid a reason to choose the spot we were at as any. Waist-high peaks looked inviting. Unfortunately they lacked enough energy at first to make catching them easy. As the tide filled in, however, a nice little (and I do mean little) right started to corner up. I hopped on the carousel and smiled in the sunshine. My friend paddled around, caught some whitewater, practiced standing, practiced reading the ocean – the latter, I explained to him afterwards, is key. Seeing the currents, the peaks, gaining an understanding of how it all works, knowing conditions can change on a dime so that everything you think you know is accurate one second and wrong the next – that’s the head part of surfing. Once you begin to grasp that, you find yourself better able to feed your soul.


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