Meet Barb, The Voice in My Head

I recently got back from a family reunion in Missouri, where I got to see some of my favorite people to whom I’m fortunate enough to be related. This meant reconnecting with the very small population of Planet Earth who – thanks to legally-binding Family Member Terms & Conditions – are familiar with (and occasionally even read!) my blog.

Inevitably, then, I was forced to answer the question, “Where have you been? Why aren’t you posting? What’s going on?” from kind and well-meaning relatives. To which I awkwardly and insufficiently responded, “I don’t know! I’ve been busy. Life is crazy.”

Which is true, to be sure: Work has been excitingly hectic, Taylor and I moved back to the city and are now rock-throwing distance from our friends, summer has brought about a half dozen new vacation opportunities, and the days of devoting an hour a day to writing seem far behind me.

But that’s not the whole truth.

I left that reunion with hugs and promises to get back on the horse – but in the meantime, I thought I’d devote a post to answering their question more fully. Why is writing so difficult? Why, whenever I consider picking it back up, do I have a distinct inclination to run for the hills instead? Why, when I do finally sit down at a computer, do I become infuriated with the blinking cursor and its toe-tapping reminder of my inadequacy?

I’m pretty sure (and I consider myself a notable expert on the topic) that it’s because of Barb.

You know that old saying, “You’re your own worst critic?” That’s not even true about me. I’m not my own worst critic, you see, I’m my own assassin. There is a little voice inside my head (I call her Barb), whose entire role in my life is to convince me – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that I will never be Good Enough.

Barb is sometimes me, sometimes not exactly me, but she represents everything mean and awful about myself. She is cold and calculating and knows exactly what to say to make me feel miserable and inadequate. I picture her with yellow eyes and blades for lips, and she is the reason I can never get any writing done.

Let me give you an example: Sometimes, in an effort to get the creative juices flowing, I peruse some of my old writing. This is a profoundly bad idea. When I read through previous work searching for inspiration, one of two things happens:

  1. The work sucks. Sometimes I read through blog posts from three years ago and I want to physically gag. I’ll wonder why anyone ever trusted me with a keyboard – why anyone has ever trusted me with anything, for that matter – and I will actually toy with the idea of deleting this blog forever. In these cases, Barb sits in the corner looking smug, arms crossed, and says, “See? I told you so.”
  2. Or, the work ain’t so bad. I’m as surprised as you are, but sometimes it actually happens: I’ll read a piece and be moderately impressed with myself. (I used to write a lot more, you know, it was just statistically probable that sooner or later I’d stumble upon a successful writing endeavor.) Rather than being encouraged by this fact, however, Barb uses this as infallible proof that I should never write again. She reasons that these accidental talent spasms are as good as it’s ever going to get, and that trying to recreate them will only end in failure → frustration → depression. Best to accept this inevitability and avoid it altogether, she says.

Barb and I are very close these days. She’s taken residence in the crevice of my right clavicle bone, within reach of my ear should she need to claw her way up and hiss into it. For the most part she lays pretty dormant – occasionally lifting her head to sniff the air whenever an opportunity for self-hatred draws near.

Her real time to shine, though, is at night. Each time I lay my head down on my pillow, it’s as if a door has been left wide open – and all the insults I successfully kept at bay all day come flooding in. She pulls out her clipboard and checks them off one by one – reminding me dutifully that I am a waste of space: inept, overweight, and unlovable. Her speech doesn’t vary much from one night to the next, but it doesn’t have to – she spends the day sharpening and tuning these words so that they sting just as much as the first time I heard them. I lay in bed, nodding my head in agreement over and over (I’ve learned not to argue these points with her – she’s a relentless debater, and she’ll hammer them home until your ears bleed), as sleep drifts farther and farther away from my grasp.

Barb was purpose-built for this job, and she didn’t take it grudgingly. It’s not as if she’s only doing it for the paycheck, and off the clock she’s actually this really stellar character. No, Barb applied for this role the same way club bouncers do – salivating at the opportunity, flexing their muscles and admiring their uniform in the mirror. She was born to do this; my undoing is her life’s work.

All this to say, she doesn’t make writing particularly easy.

And so, family (and anyone else who may have accidentally landed here), I apologize for Barb’s behavior and its subsequent effect on my blogging cadence. I appreciate your endearing interest level, and I will try to bludgeon her into submission long enough to word vomit more regularly.

…No promises, though.

Pugna Saeculorum

I picture us then like trapped birds – ricocheting against the walls and each other. Biting and clawing and trying to escape, but unable to do so in the chaos.

Our shouts drowned out the sounds of rain against glass, of cars below, of trains passing. All we heard was our own words echoing cruelly back at us, reverberating until the very air felt thick with rage.

It’s funny, isn’t it? How brief the path from hurt to anger. My hurt began in the pit of my stomach, dark and heavy – but was quickly engulfed in a white flame of fury that rose through my chest. It nestled at the base of my throat, hurling spite and meanness through my lips.

Your hurt followed suit.

A red mist tinged the corner of my vision. My fists were clenched, my jaw taut. I tasted blood once. I seemed to metamorph into something smaller, harder, more dense and compact – while you appeared to take up more space as time went on. You paced and flailed, throwing your hands up in exasperation, your body somehow becoming longer, larger, more spread out.

And so it went, hurt and anger, anger and hurt, like some massive undulating balloon shifting power back and forth. You could almost feel the gravitational exchange between us.

I don’t know how long we went at it like that – until we wore ourselves hoarse – before the tenor of our voices began to waiver, then fall. Silence filled the space more entirely than noise ever had.

It was as if the shouting made us weaker, like sails without wind. We collapsed, still panting slightly, refusing to make eye contact. Our gaze darted around the room as if searching for another battle. We sat tensed, posture not fully relaxed, still poised for a fight. But the ferocity of it had rubbed us raw.

All that was left was the ashes of our hurt, the burning embers of our anger.

We sat on opposite ends of the couch – on opposite ends of the world – and watched the embers glow.

Days 7-9: All Roads Lead to Rome

Full disclosure, I was bursting at the seams with expectations for Rome – since I fell vicariously in love with it in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat Pray Love. Anne Lamott says “expectations are disappointments in waiting” – but what does she know, anyway?Rome did not disappoint. It didn’t even come close to disappointing, didn’t even flirt with the distant twice-removed cousin of disappointment. 

In fact, it wildly exceeded every unfair expectation I had of it.

If Paris seemed just out of my reach, it felt like Rome welcomed me with open arms. And it did, in fact – we heard the word “prego” more often than any other… and all my memories of Rome are filled with smiling, open-armed people. 

***Taylor even mistakenly hugged a waiter that welcomed us in to the restaurant, thinking he was asking for a hug ***

The whole city just oozed homeyness. Out of every upper-story balcony you could see fresh laundry billowing in the breeze, and at almost every street corner stood a heavyset woman – exasperated, shouting at her husband, or greasy-haired son, or kids squirming out from under the legs of a crowd. I felt like an adopted American daughter here – Welcome, come in, sit down, eat something.

And you guys… the food.

I was warned of this. It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it. Here’s how I was told to prepare for Italy: “Just imagine the best meal you’ve ever eaten in your whole life. Now imagine eating the best meal of your life for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” I was told! And yet nothing could possibly have prepared me.

You guys… the food.

It’s taking 100% of my willpower right now not to detail to you every bite of every meal we ate in the last three days… but I have neither the time nor the necessary culinary vocabulary, so I’ll leave that to the food bloggers. But what I WILL tell you is, we’ve been doing it all wrong.

… The whole food thing, I mean. All of it. It’s all wrong. I don’t even know exactly WHAT we’re doing wrong, but I know this: I swear to you I had not actually TASTED a tomato until this trip. I’ve eaten maybe hundreds of thousands of tomatoes in my lifetime, before now I might have even counted them among my favorite salad ingredients… but I tell you, I DID NOT KNOW WHAT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO TASTE LIKE. 

Looking back, the tomatoes of my past seem like bland carbon copies of real tomatoes. A sham, a mere imposter. I was living in a fool’s paradise – frolicking through life all tra-la-la thinking I knew my way around a tomato as well as I knew my own belly button. But boy, was I wrong. Hopelessly and desperately wrong.

I didn’t know that something as simple as a tomato could be a delicacy, all by its little self. I grew up around vegetables you had to slather in something else to make edible – but these crisp, fresh, delightful little buggers could’ve kept me sustained for the whole trip.

Luckily, they didn’t have to. They were accompanied by mozzarella (good god, the mozzarella), and pizza (please don’t get me started on the pizza) and pasta and garlic bread and gelato and a dozen other meals that made me want to kiss my fingertips in gratitude for such entirely unmatched flavor.

All I’m saying is, American food, you better step yo game up.

But even aside from the food, aside from the city’s grinning and well-fed inhabitants – Rome left me positively breathless. Its ancient, crumbling structures juxtaposed against the backdrop of modern, colorful apartments was a sight I never could have gleaned from Elizabeth Gilbert, however powerful a writer she is. 

Sitting in a sunny cafe eating stracciatella and looking out at Europe’s most timeless skyline, or walking shamelessly into other tourists as I stared straight up in awe at the Sistine Chapel, or returning to the same restaurant twice in three days because it was amazing and darnit we’re on vacation and we do what we want… these are the things I’ll never forget about Rome.

It’s with a heavy heart (and sad tummies) that we say goodbye… but can’t wait to see what London has in store.

***Taylor’s Recap***

Title: Rome – when in Rome, do as the Romans do, unless you want to live long. 

4.13.16-4.15.16 Ok, so last time I wrote I mentioned that I left Paris a better man. Well folks, I left Rome a fatter man. Pizza, pasta, gelato, and wine. Nonstop! Don’t leave, don’t even expect the waiter to deliver a check unless you’re plate is clean. I won’t fight this however, the food was some of the best I’ve ever consumed. Be it the best pizza in the world in Naples or the made from scratch pasta near the hotel in Rome. 

Let’s get to Rome; it’s quite the city. It’s a rather ancient place with many of the monuments we visited ranging from 80AD-150AD. My favorite spot was the Coliseum – from the outside it’s epic, from the inside it’s eerily real. My imagination quickly took over as I imagined being all of the different parts that played a role in a day at the coliseum. I wondered, if I was rich where would I sit, and how would my view be. If I was a slave, I thought my fear of heights would probably kick in, and of course if I was a gladiator, I imagined the rumble of the crowds when my name was announced, but also the fear of death. It was a sad life for many. 

It was remarkable how this ancient stadium still plays a part in now we construct how stadiums today. 

Between the Trevi fountain, Pantheon, Roman Forum, and Vatican, Rome was a picturesque journey of crumbling buildings soaking in history, it made me a little regretful that I didn’t study up before partaking on this journey.

1 small tip for Roman Travel: If you don’t like smelling the smoke of cigarettes, I’d recommend you stay far, far away from Rome. They’re everywhere friends! 

Days 3-6: Paris, Mon Amour

Have you ever been somewhere so absurdly beautiful that it almost made you sad? F. Scott Fitzgerald once said “I remember riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall buildings under a mauve and rosy sky; I began to bawl because I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again.” 

Paris was like that for me – so pretty it made my eyes hurt, so magnificent that it rendered me prematurely nostalgic (even with two feet on French soil).

Everywhere we went I was struck dumb by unrelenting beauty, and simultaneously filled with an unprecedented sense of longing. My heart twanged like a rubber band.

There are no imperfections to take comfort in here – no ugly plot of dirt upon which to rest your eyes. From the exquisitely manicured landscapes, to the breathtaking architecture, to the priceless masterpieces dropped like pebbles at every street corner, every inch of the city is beautiful – almost confrontationally so. 

The people are also good examples of this. Never have I come across more poise and polish than I have in Paris. The men have a graceful but somewhat bored look about them, as if they demand your attention but also don’t have the slightest patience for it. The women are so flawless – their outfits carefully put together, not a strand of hair out of place – that it makes you want to stand and applaud when they walk by. 

There’s an unattainablity to it, the whole city just out of your reach.

But my god – if you can grasp it like we did for a few fleeting days, what an experience.

Here was our first day: 

We hailed a cab from the airport, and our driver was a very amiable Haitian man. The ride was pleasant enough (if you don’t count going 90 miles per hour on the freeway) until we got into the city. That’s where, apparently, all driving rules become guidelines and all common courtesy goes out the window. ***there must be 10-15 car accidents on each street daily***The streets of Paris are built in such a way that it’s almost like the city planners were aiming for the most accidents possible. The lanes are so narrow that I don’t think I exhaled the entire ride, and the cab driver shouted at every third car or pedestrian, “With CAUTION, my god…” while blaring his horn. We would come to learn during our time in Paris that this was not at all uncommon – we had similar experiences in every taxi.

Even still though, we arrived at our hotel in La Ville de L’amour in one piece, and with enough daylight to still do some exploring. 

The concierge recommended an “after work” (which we think means “happy hour”) cafe within a couple blocks from the hotel, so we set off in the light rain. At the cafe we ordered a cheese board and red wine (two foods I would have much more of in the days to come).

The rest of the evening can be best characterized by the word “yes.”

We passed a back alley bar with no name and no patrons – did we want to go in? Yes. The proprietor gestured to us in incomprehensible French – would we like to sit down? Yes. The special cocktail of the night was served out of a ladle from a big glass punchbowl on the counter. Do we dare to try it? Yes.

We moseyed our way to the next venue for dinner – a classy joint with that quintessentially French script font. Taylor shocked and impressed our waiter by ordering the special reserve vintage bottle of wine from the top of the menu.
After dinner, risotto leftovers in-hand, we passed a man on a petty cab – who asked, “Do you want a ride to the Eiffel Tower?”

Yes, yes we do.

He blasted his French pop music and toured us over every bridge for the views on the way – Taylor and I squealing and giggling in the back like overexcited toddlers. *** even after discovering the ride was 3 times what he quoted is initially and needed near an ATM for his convenience. Who cares right?***

We got to the Eiffel Tower just past sunset, when it began its famed light show. We stared up at it for a good few minutes, mouthes agape.

Then we were asked if we wanted to purchase Eiffel Tower souvenirs. Yes, in fact, we did.

Did we also want a selfie stick? Yes.

Did we want a bottle of champagne to drink on the grass? Yes.

(But paying full price for anything is against Taylor’s personal religion, so at least we got all of it for a deal)

We sat on French grass, drinking champagne and watching the Eiffel Tower light up, and I felt fully immersed into the magic of this city. No WONDER this is the subject of so many romance novels and blockbusters. No wonder it makes my heart ache. No wonder, as the Casablanca line goes, “We’ll always have Paris.” 

… And this was all in the first five hours of stepping off the plane.

The next two days had me weak at the knees for this incredible town – we paid Tribute to Napoleon’s tomb and his famous Arc de Triomphe, and laid eyes on some of the world’s masterpieces at the Louvre and Musée de l’Orangerie. 

We ate dinner at apparently the only restaurant in all of Paris open on Sundays, 400 square feet and housing approximately 50 people. We knocked elbows with the people on either side of us, and I ate quite possibly the butteriest, flakiest, most delicious fish I’ve ever had in my whole life.

We locked our love at le Pont Des Arts Bridge, and (like the cheese balls we are) threw the keys in the river. And on our last night, I made Taylor try escargot.

Paris, I have trouble believing that any city could compare to you – but I’m willing to give Rome a fighting chance.

***Taylor’s Recap***

Title: Paris so special— it can’t be broken down daily. 

4.10.16-4.12.16 When I first booked this trip, I knew Paris was a must-see. I knew Susie had always wanted to see it and that if I didn’t add it to the list, it would spell trouble. Little did I know, when I left I would have completely changed my opinion for Paris and France. 

In short, I always thought Paris was a wonderfully historic place, with people using this fancy language with incredible historic museums and landmarks.

However, what I didn’t understand was just how amazing I would feel while experiencing all of these things. 

Look I like to consider myself a true blue American, not the kind that believes we need to make america great again, or that the 2nd amendment is our most special right to freedom. But instead someone that is so proud of where I come from and the culture I’ve grown up with. This might even make it more hard to enjoy the culture of other countries… However Paris found away to break that shell and show me something wonderful. 

Favorites: 

* Napoleon tomb and war museum. I loved it, always a fan of the history of Napoleons reign in France, this was on the must see list for me. It did not disappoint. 

* Bistro and cafe meals – be it an afternoon coffee or beer, or an actual dinner I loved eating out in Paris. 

* The Museum de Orangerie. Cinderella story I know – in comparison to the Louvre. However, the quality of art was exception and totally over delivered and my expectations for this little museum. 

Underwhelming check-in: the Mona Lisa? So you walk, and walk and walk searching for the room that has the Mona Lisa painting. Then when you find it, the room is full of hundreds of people all staring and looking to take a pic of a relatively small painting. Obvs, it’s a historically famous piece of work – I just think the build up to see it was too much. 

Whether it be art, history, beauty or genuine kindness from the people Paris was second to none. In my entire life, I’ve never stood in front of a piece of art and just stared at it looking for the meaning. I found myself becoming a better version of myself, intrigued by the unfamiliar and astonished as to why my mind had never been open to seeing this before. 

I leave Paris a better man, I leave Paris a less ignorant person and I thank Paris for showing me a time that I will always remember.

Travel Notes while in Paris: 

Edinburgh to Paris CDG via easyJet Airlines. Taxi to Marriott Ambassador Opera. Public metro throughout Paris. 

Day Two – Ye Olde Edinburgh Golf

Taylor and I have been on a melatonin regimen for three days to ward off jetlag… and yet, our eyelids snapped open at 2:40am this morning like they were spring-loaded. Which makes this the second day in a row with just plain too many waking hours.
But that was handy in a way, because we needed to depart our London hotel early – since this is the day we head to a brief overnight stay in Edinburgh. I bought Taylor a round of golf at St. Andrews for Christmas (which makes me the second-best gift giver in our relationship, right after him gifting this WHOLE DAMN TRIP to me).This bit of traveling was relatively easy compared to yesterday – our taxi driver was waiting for us outside the hotel (sitting on the wrong side of the car, of course)… and the drive to the airport was short and sweet. We should’ve been suspicious there, it was wayyy too good to be true.

We got to the airport, reached the ticketing line, and swiped our boarding passes through the handy self-serve machine. An ominous red X appeared on the screen, with the message “See Attendant.” 

We warily approached the friendly, cogney-accented man. He swiped our boarding pass himself, and again a definitive burgundy X flooded the screen. He seemed as baffled as we were, squinting at our tickets for some error. “Oi!” he called his other ticketing colleague over, “What’s today’s date, mate?” The man responded, with impressive certainty, “the 8th.”

The cogney man returned our tickets to us and said matter-of-factly, “these were for yesterday.”

I’d booked the wrong date – it was impossible. How many times had we gone over this itinerary together? How many excel spreadsheets had we built detailing every flight, hotel, and minute of this trip? And what’s worse – 99.9% of this planning was Taylor. He entrusted me with only two things – our park and fly reservation in Seattle, and this flight. I was 1 for 2.

We made our way back to the ticketing counter and received good news and bad news – the good, there was an identical flight today with two seats available. The bad? It was going to cost us £80 to change… roughly the cost of the tickets to begin with.

We chalked it up to “it could be a LOT worse,” and added a tally to our number of unfortunate traveling woes so far.

We landed in Edinburgh safely, and went about renting our first and only car this trip. (Note: on our way to Alamo, we found a discarded luggage trolley to relieve our aching backs – the first sign of our luck turning around!)

You guys, driving on the wrong side of the car AND the wrong side of the road was a trip and a half… and I wasn’t even behind the wheel. Without fail I tried to get in on the driver’s side every. single time. And even as a passenger, I felt like a daredevil being able to flail my arms and legs without a wheel and pedals in front of me. We drove about 20 below the speed limit, me gripping my seat and constantly cautioning Taylor “you’re about to hit that curb! That sign! That parked car!” through clenched teeth… but eventually made it to the golf course.

Oh my gawd, was it ever beautiful. Just green, rolling hills as far as the eye could see… except when your view was obstructed by a massive stone castle. I played with Taylor for most of it, although at times my attention span drifted (this is reflected in the scorecard – “What’d you get on that hole, Tay? A par? Okay great, you win, I got a heart smileyface.”)

Overall a truly lovely (short) trip. Scotland will definitely be on my list the next time we’re not trying to cram four cities into 12 days.

And now, bonjour a París!

***Taylor’s Recap***

Title: Home of Golf – well worth the extra commute. 

4.8.16 Word to the wise: there’s no correct amount of preparation that you can put into a vacation to Europe. Things will inevitably go wrong. Therefore, instead prepare for how you’re going to deal with the adversity when it arrives. Day 1 was a nightmare and I didn’t react well, and thus probably didn’t enjoy it like a first day of a vacation should have been enjoyed. However, day 2 started equally bad, but I changed my reaction and the result was a much more pleasant day overall! 

Unbelievable! That’s the one word I’m using to define golfing at St Andrews. It was an experience that I won’t soon forget. We’ll get back to that. I can’t believe how much more difficult it is the drive on the other side of the road. It totally changes the depth perception being on the other side of the car and as an American, I just wanted to hug the outside line to avoid a head on collision with the other lane. All things considered o only hit one curb and the enterprise lady said “returned in perfect condition”. Good thing, because you can bet the minute I set out of the journey of driving to St. Andrews, I was regretting declining the insurance. 

Back to golf; the home of golf and birthplace of golf did not disappoint. From the minute we walked in and were greeted by James to the 18th where we seen off by Marc, the service at the Home of Golf was second-to-none. The folks at St Andrews are like long time friends that just want to ensure that you have a memorable experience. We sure did: Imagine looking out at a links golf course seeing clear skies, open water, pristine greens and your best friend and maybe even #1 fan next to you. That was my day in the nutshell version (no pun intended). It was amazing, and my golf game was even on point. It was as if I was possessed by the Scottish golf ghost and every decision was the right one. I would say to Sooz “I’m gonna hit a bump and run here” and then I hit one on the green within 6 feet. Moreover, I’ve never putted as well in my life. That was the front 9 though. We won’t talk about the back 9 in the journal. 

Daily Travel Notes:

Taxi to London City Airport, Flybe Air to Edinburgh. Rental car in EDI, Mazda 6. Drive Mazda to St Andrews, 1.5 hours away. Drive car back to Marriott. 

Annnnnd we’re off!

Remember that Europe trip Taylor bought me for my birthday? Six months later and we’re on it! I’ll be using the Nutshell Version to provide periodic (albeit brief) updates along the way. As a special Nutshell Version edition, Taylor will also be contributing – you’ll see his additions notated with ***. 🙂

We just arrived last night and a vast majority of our time so far has been spent traveling, so I don’t have a whole lot to report… except that the last 24 hours has been the most incredible comedy of errors, and it just needs to be documented.
I’m laughing as I type this, though, because there is no possible way I could encapsulate the absurdity of our trip so far in a blog post. But I’ll try:

Here’s what was supposed to happen:

Susie and Taylor arrive at London Heathrow and pick up their handy traveling wifi hotspot to use on the trip.

They take the brief 30-minute trolley ride to their hotel, check in, and live happily ever after.

Here’s what did happen:

Unfortunately we and our wifi hotspot arrived in opposite terminals. In any other airport, this might have meant a quick jaunt on a moving sidewalk… but since London Heathrow is roughly the square mileage of some African countries, getting there brought about a navigational adventure for which we were wholly unprepared.

Also of note, before I go on: We are lost, gullible souls and let our friend Will talk us into buying the end-all be-all European carryon for this trip – allegedly perfectly shaped and sized for any airline, and conveniently convertible from backpack to handbag to duffle. Not so convenient, however, is the fact that it doesn’t have wheels… and so we trekked our way through London Heathrow with these weighty monstrosities on our backs, looking for all the world like big bulky turtles. (I’d like to issue a formal apology to the dozens of innocent passerbys whose elbows and faces fell victim to this pitiless beast of a bag.)

***wheels in Europe = happiness*** 

All this to say, here we were coming off a 10-hour flight and 2 hours in customs, in a foreign airport and with only a very foggy idea of where we might find this hypothetical wifi hotspot in the distant mythical land of Terminal 4… and to top it all off, we’re both hobbling along like ankle-cuffed prisoners under the weight of 12 days’ worth of clothes and belongings.

***14 kgs or 29 lbs***

Suffice it to say, spirits weren’t high.

40 minutes and a crowded train ride later, we did in fact arrive at Terminal 4. And – aha! – there was the pickup location of our golden wifi hotspot. Things were looking up… until we received the device and realized it didn’t work. We realized this when it failed to provide directions to our hotel.

Exhausted, grumpy, and hunchbacked, we decided we would figure it out later… and instead used the spotty airport wifi to search for the hotel address. That’s when we learned that in traveling 40 minutes to our technology meeting point, we had put ourselves 40 minutes farther away from a bed. 

We spent the next hour and a half becoming intimately familiar with the London Underground, accompanied by what appeared to be the entire population of England on the train. “Sardines” isn’t even an adequate comparison, since at least sardines don’t have armpits or hacking coughs. We caught brief, shining glimpses of the city through the train windows… but ultimately 5 hours in, had yet to step foot on British soil.

And then, like a lighthouse’s shining beacon to sea-worn sailors… we reached our stop. We staggered out of the platform, weary and disheveled, and began the search for our hotel.

…Except that, oh yeah, we didn’t have internet. And that the train station was in the middle of a corporate office park – no friendly cafes to ask for directions. We cobbled together our meager bearings and began walking in what we thought was the right direction – with 30 pounds of baggage each.

***based on earlier review of maps, it was a 10 minute walk****

A mile and a half later, there was still no sign of the hotel – nor any of the landmarks we knew to look for. Our backs and feet ached. I threw my hands up in defeat and decided it was worth it to use international roaming data to figure out where the heck we were. We checked the map, and to our horror learned that we had walked a mile and a half in the wrong direction.

Despair settled over us like an X-Ray blanket.

We kept it to just one foot-stomping scream sesh before trudging, reluctantly, back the opposite way. 

By the end of it, my shoulders were screaming in agony. My feet had formed a union and were threatening to go on strike. I’d been awake for 21 straight hours – and while during that time I didn’t come across a single mirror, I felt qualified to guess at my current physical state. 

Finally, finally, we saw it – a friendly Marriott logo looming on the horizon. A tiny spring of hope began to blossom in my chest, we’d made it! Three miles of walking, half of which was in the wrong direction, and here we were at the hotel at last.

But wait, those steps looked awfully familiar. And I could’ve sworn we’d seen that JP Morgan building before. And isn’t that the same plaza we walked through when we first got off the train?

We almost collapsed with our mighty backpacks under the weight of this realization – we’d spent over an hour walking in needless circles when our hotel was steps away from the train station.

Just like we’d spent 40 minutes moving infinitely farther from our hotel on the train, for a wifi hotspot that didn’t work.

There were some good parts, though… like the flight attendant who stole some *** (a bottles worth)****champagne from first class for us to make mimosas, and whispered conspiratorially that it was Winston Churchill’s favorite brand (he reportedly drank a bottle every day). Or the fact that when we finally did get settled and had dinner, Creedence Clearwater Revival was playing in the restaurant. Or that even through the nightmarish underground train ride, we were at least entertained by the festive trolley line names (our connections were Piccadilly and Jubilee).

So now, we sit in our hotel room, treat ourselves to some overpriced room service, and toast the highlights of a comically bad day. Here’s to an outstanding trip ahead!

***Taylor’s Recap***

Title: Travel is a devastatingly challenging to make perfect.  

4.7.16 Whoa! You’ve heard of planes, trains and automobiles right? Well today we did all of the above plus 15k steps with a bag on the shoulders weighing 10kgs. Ouch! Plus I never really realized how dependent I’ve become on the Internet. Literally felt worthless without it. Sleep? Naw. Fall asleep at 10:30 wake up at 2:30. Stayed up thru the night. Jet lag is real folks. Melatonin regimen? Please. No matter what things you do to ensure perfection, ease and comfort, it just might not be fully achievable. 

Daily Travel notes:

Delta airlines to Heathrow, Piccadily Line to Green Park- Transfer to Jubille line – to West India Quay Marriott. 

How To Make an Informed Political Decision

I’ve considered writing this post for a long, long time. I always stopped myself for some reason or another – not wanting to ruffle feathers, maybe, or trying to steer clear of such an emotional topic. But something happened recently that caused me to become so appalled by myself that I feel like I need to speak up.

The last time I heard Trump speak was earlier this week, at the umpteenth GOP debate – where I sat on the couch, head-in-hands, and listened to the same hateful blather we’ve been hearing since June. Someone else in the room shook their head, let out a low whistle and said, “If he gets elected, it could very well lead to an assassination.”

The words tumbled out of my mouth before I gave them a second thought: “We can only hope.”

I’m ashamed to admit that. Ashamed to type it out, specifically, but also ashamed that I’m apparently capable of such despicable thoughts to begin with. I heard myself say those words and almost physically recoiled. I challenged myself, in that moment: “Really, Susie? Did you just wish death on someone?”

How can I purport to be a compassionate, thoughtful, open-minded person if I just flippantly disregarded someone’s life just because I don’t agree with them?

Make no mistake – I do not want Donald Trump to be president. I don’t even want to see his face anymore. His incredulous ignorance would be the downfall of our country – and I can’t understand how any president could possibly be successful when he was almost banned from the UK for his flagrant hate speech. In my perfect world, Trump would slither back into his gold-encrusted rat cave and never be heard from again.

…Okay, I’m guilty of some hatred myself. But death? That’s low, even for me.

And yet – it’s not even that uncommon. This type of wrath, hatred, and absolute intolerance for the opposing side of a political argument has been steadily growing for 150 years. In fact, the American public is more politically polarized today than during the Civil War… so me casually dismissing the idea of a presidential assassination is not altogether surprising. It’s merely a product of the growing ideological gap that has enabled us to view each other as if on opposite sides of a barbed wire fence.

Since I’ve been alive, party affiliation has become as rigid a part of a person’s identity as their ethnicity. With the social networks and the media offering a platform for only the loudest and most extreme voices to be heard, we’ve come to expect the same of the people around us: What are you, red or blue?

But when I was younger, it was not entirely uncommon to meet someone who considered themselves a moderate – or at least, was capable of holding both Democratic or Republican viewpoints depending on the subject matter. (As Chris Rock famously said, “Crime? I’m conservative. Prostitution? I’m liberal.”) Growing up, I tended to admire these people – it seemed to me that someone who saw beyond party affiliation when forming their opinions was slightly more evolved than those who based their entire ideologies on which side of the aisle it represented. Even when it came people who leaned pretty heavily to one side or another, I found greater respect for them if they could point out the merits of the other side’s perspective… then respectfully disagree.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

But now? We’ve mutated so entirely into “us versus them” that you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t so busy slinging mud that they even have the capacity to entertain the possibility of respect. We don’t just disagree with our opponents, we abhor them. They aren’t just wrong, they’re downright stupid.

This is strongly reflected in the landscape of political rhetoric right now. Not only has the percentage of Americans with a “very unfavorable” view of the opposing side more than doubled in the last 20 years alone… but among those people, a vast majority actually see the opposing party as a threat to the nation’s well-being. This has consequences for our personal relationships as well: Between 49-63% of Americans say that most or all of their close friends share their political views. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that those who don’t share your views are uninformed, psychotic bozos who don’t understand the way the world works. Right? We belittle them to the point of dehumanization – which I suppose makes it easier for us to… I dunno… wish death upon them.

So why does this matter? Why do I care? Why can’t we just go on hating one another? Because – and this is where my point will become a little ironic – discourse is a good thing. It’s actually a really healthy thing. When done right, it fosters thoughtful progression and critical thinking. But when we’re all so cemented into our beliefs, entirely unwilling to entertain the opposing position – and moreover, when we’re of the mind that those opponents are the spawn of the devil himself – any hope of common ground or collaboration goes out the window.

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.” – Leo Tolstoy

Not only does that land us in in a presidential tug-of-war where each new commander-in-chief spends their term unraveling the accomplishments of their predecessor… it also becomes a self-perpetuating societal problem, wherein we only surround ourselves with like-minded people who reassure us of our existing belief systems (rather than challenging us to think differently).

Left unchecked, this will only lead to more antagonism, less compassion, and increasingly siloed political gangs which do little to move our country forward.

I don’t care who you vote for. (Unless you’re voting for Trump. Then I care a little.) But whatever you choose, let it be after rational, open-minded consideration. Find someone on the opposing side and invite them to coffee. Ask them questions until you fully understand their position. Try to articulate areas in which you do agree, then areas you don’t – and why – while being respectful. Then use that intellectual prowess to make an informed, level-headed decision – both in this election and for the rest of your life.

“Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.” – Bill Bullard

If you only read one of my blog posts ever, make it this one

*I’ve never used my blog for this purpose before, so I hope you’ll forgive me – thanks in advance for taking a few minutes to read through this.

I’ve made no secret of how wretchedly awkward I was as a kid. (And as a teenager, and as an adult.) I was a pigeon-toed, bookish, hyperactive dweeb who on any given day could be found participating in a number of cringe-worthy oddities… like crab-walking my way from one class to the next, or accessorizing my backpack with keychains the size of dinner plates. I was, to put it kindly, a spazzy little weirdo.

Which is to say, making friends wasn’t always easy.

However, when I was 12 years old, I met my now best friend Jessi – who introduced me to Young Actors’ Theatre. It was a marvelous nonprofit organization, founded by Jessi’s own mom… which existed to take spazzy little weirdos like me and expose them to the absolute miracle of theater.

The several years that followed were peppered with performances – during which I learned to sing, dance, act, and bring ancient masterpieces to life on stage. More than that, I was taught some priceless life lessons: Dedication, when I stayed late to perfect my high kick as a dancing napkin in Beauty and the Beast. Commitment, when I had to turn down social activities for rehearsal. Humility, when I didn’t always get the part I wanted. And of course, appreciation for the arts – and the creativity, talent, and genuine hard work that goes into them.

But most of all, friendship and fun, and the satisfaction of contributing to something bigger than myself.

Not to mention – these experiences introduced me to a group of truly wonderful, talented people… who didn’t appear to care what an awkward dweeb I was (and in fact, were pretty awkward and dweeby themselves)… many of whom I’m still lucky to call my closest friends today.

During the very last scene of the very last performance of the very last show I ever participated in at YAT, my character was supposed to cry. I was playing Lady Capulet in Romeo & Juliet, and was supposed to bawl when I discovered my daughter’s lifeless body. The thing is, crying on command is actually a pretty sophisticated acting skill… and one I didn’t possess. Therefore, in all the performances up until that point I heaved what I’d hoped were convincing sobs, screwing my face up with contrived, tearless emotion. But on that night, for that show, it struck me that this was likely one of the last times I’d be performing with this group… and I didn’t have to pretend one bit. Thinking about how much I would miss it, I clung to my friend playing Juliet and cried actual, flowing tears – likely one of the better moments of my young stage career.

All this to say, those years and experiences were some of the best of my life.

Young Actors’ Theatre taught me that it’s not only okay to be spazzy and weird… it’s actually encouraged. We need more weirdos, more rebels, more dorks – because those are the people who grow up to make the world a brighter and more interesting place to live. And it’s through continued commitment to the arts that we can foster this among future generations, and make sure that every child has the same opportunity to grow and thrive.

As a nonprofit, YAT only exists because of contributions from the community, and people who share a passion and commitment to their purpose. Which is why on this #GivingTuesday, I’m asking that my followers consider donating $5 (or more) to this organization which has played such a huge role in my life – and the lives of countless others.

Even with my relatively short tenure there, I credit YAT with shaping much of who I am as an adult – and it is my sincerest wish that it continues on forever… to give kids like me a creative outlet to develop character, and become the best versions of themselves.

Please click here if you’re interested in donating, every little bit helps! If you do, I can personally promise that it will go to good use – and you’ll be helping some spazzy little weirdo like me find a place in the world. 🙂

A word about getting back together with your ex

So here’s some gossip-worthy news, if you haven’t put two and two together yet: Taylor and I (yes, the boyfriend I was with for just shy of four years, then broke up with, then spent six months learning who I was without) are back together.

I’ll start by saying that I hate that terminology – the way you might characterize a sitcom romance. “They’re back together” like it’s just another ordinary day at the park, like it’s equally as temporary of a situation as the one that preceded it. “Back together” the same way that some wayward friend is “back in rehab” or “back to old habits.” More, even, than its temporal qualities – I hate that it implies regression. Why not “forward together” or “beginning anew”?

I’ll stop there – but suffice it to say that this hasn’t felt much like being “back” to anything.

It started in May. I was hesitant, the way that only a broken heart can be. Pessimistic and cynical, I treated the whole thing like a bubble about to pop. “This is nice,” I thought. “This will be nice for awhile. And when it all comes crashing down, well – at least I’ll know that I’ve gotten through it before, so I can do it again.” I traipsed through this new affair like a minefield. Sooner or later (and that inevitability weighed on me at every turn) this would have to end, and end badly.

In the meantime, though, I accepted love back into my life the way a recovering addict might entertain the idea of just one more heady dose of the good stuff: Yes, I’ll regret this later. I’ll be worse off afterward than I was before. But right now, right at this moment – isn’t it nice? Isn’t this delirious ecstasy absolutely, incontrovertibly worth it?

Because it was. It was better than I even let myself admit.

I feel I can best describe this sensation by likening it to an unfortunate stereotypically female trait of mine. Growing up, my mom always used the same car mechanic: a shop owned by a friendly pair of guys who were, coincidentally, both named Dave. My mom always took her car in to the Daves, and – when I got old enough – referred me to them as well.

Being only 16 at the time, and a typical girl when it came to cars, their garage was like the Starship Enterprise to me. How was it, that when I described a problem to them (with all the eloquent precision of: “Um… it goes ‘ee-err-ee-err’ when I first start it”), they were able to hoist my car up toward the rafters, dive elbows-deep into its greasy underbelly, make a few tweaks here and there and just fix it? The interworkings of my Toyota were as unfamiliar to me as the infinitesimal anatomy of a human brain cell, or the exorbitant vastness of the universe. I would stare at them, astonished, as they wiped their hands with a blue rag and told me I was all set.

It had all the makings of sorcery.

Which is why to this day, I still imagine auto shops to be a magical place where you bring broken things of all shapes and sizes to be tweaked, tinkered with, and tuned up – then returned to you in their best possible form. Things that otherwise would be doomed to remain unfixed forever can surely be mended at the hands of an adept mechanic.

This is what it felt like to be back in my relationship. Like I hadn’t actually ever left it – just placed it in the capable hands of some wizard at a relationship-fixing garage for awhile, letting the Daves do their work. And unbeknownst to me, my love life was undergoing heavy diagnostics. The engine was being polished, oil changed, brake pads replaced.

And when it was returned to me, it was like my beat-up old jalopy was back in the brightly-lit showroom of the dealership all those years ago. Its freshly-waxed paint gleamed and winked at me almost smugly – like, “What? You didn’t think I was still capable of this?”

It was, truly, even better than new, because it still bore all my favorite memories – the drive-ins, the road trips, the mistakes made and lessons learned. Everything we’d been through together had made it stronger, and the time apart made it invincible.

And it wasn’t the Daves I had to thank for this, of course; it was Taylor himself. He’d lifted the hood of that old clunker and brought out the toolbox – tuning and tightening what had become loose over the years, giving some much-needed TLC to parts that had rusted over from neglect.

At the risk of deviating too far from the metaphor (off the comfortable path of analogy and into the perilous jungle of factual testimony), Taylor had undergone a transformation and reinvested in ways I hadn’t thought possible… and without my involvement, no less.

Needless to say, coming back was like returning home and falling in love with a whole new person all at the same time.

Likewise, I’d gone through something of a personal upheaval myself. Small and lost in a new city, alone for the first time in my life, I’d faced truths about myself I can’t say I would have unearthed in a hundred years otherwise. I’d filled my life with enriching new experiences, animated new characters, and desires I hadn’t dared to voice before (like “I think I’d like to learn to play the guitar”). Questions about love, God, writing, life, and the human experience littered my journals in disorganized but impassioned scribbles. I was forced to face the question, with increasing urgency: “Who are you, Susie?” (The answer to which, you’d have to agree, would undoubtedly inform the success of any future relationship – romantic or otherwise.)

We were being simultaneously tweaked and tuned up, he and I –  and when we climbed back into that car, the engine purred.

I knew how this sounded. I’d been on the receiving end of this conversation before, and I knew what it was like. Sure things are better now, of course they are. It’s completely logical to think that people change, and two tumultuous souls can just split up for six months and come back to the world’s best relationship. Things are perfect, life is great, nothing could ever go wrong… call me when you wake up.

It was, frankly, too good to be true. Anyone listening would be doing so with jaded ears. Hell, if I were my own friend, I would be listening with jaded ears.

My friends were there, after all. They saw the hurt. They’ve heard these claims before. Like the addict trying to convince the world that after dozens and dozens of false alarms she is finally off the stuff for good (“really, this time, you guys!”) – the world shakes its head sadly, pats her on the knee and says sadly, “Sure, honey.” I heard my own initial skepticism echoed in my friends’ voices, and I didn’t blame them one bit.

But can you blame me, then, for being timid about sharing the news? I tiptoed around this conversation with my friends and family with such delicacy that it was months before the majority of them even knew. We gallivanted around Portland like convicted criminals, wearing hoods and sunglasses and peeking around corners for anyone who might recognize us. I waited until the last possible second to admit to myself – and, shortly thereafter, the world – that this could maybe possibly actually be real.

I made my final announcement in (characteristically) the most immature way possible – by posting a photo on social media with no explanation whatsoever, other than the hashtag “#bringontheinquisition.” Comments and texts flooded, and I answered their probing curiosities with as much grace as I could muster. I was honest when I conceded “You’re right, it is crazy. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe this is all a glorious hallucination, and I will wake up any minute.”

But it’s been five months now, and I haven’t woken up yet. Things are more wonderful than they ever have been, and I’ve stopped expecting the bubble to pop.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no delusions of perfection. I know that – like anything worth having in this life – love takes work. My love will not always be this glimmering display of glossy paint and a purring engine. It will take periodic check-ups and oil changes. The tires may need to be replaced.

But maybe the difference is in the acknowledgement that one broken carburetor isn’t enough to trash the whole car. Maybe it’s understanding that it takes two to tango, you get out what you put in, and the machine is only as valuable as the work you invest into it. Maybe it’s the recognition that it’s evolved from a junker to a rolls-royce… and that’s something worth protecting.

But in any case, this is me telling the world that – yes…

Taylor and I are back together.

Turns out age 26 is actually the greatest

I’m sorry. I’m going to disappoint you all. I’m not going to talk about a single thing I said I would in my last post.

Because the fact is, I’m frankly incapable of talking about (or thinking about, or reading about, or dreaming about) anything other than what I’m about to tell you.

…You guys. I’m going to Europe.

No need to adjust the settings on your computer monitor, folks, you read that right. Exactly six months from right this moment, I will be traveling to London, Paris, and Rome with the greatest man who ever walked the Planet Earth.

On my 26th birthday last week, while I was busy having a quarterlife crisis – lamenting my lost years and wondering when the heck I’m going to get around to being an adult – Taylor was preparing to give me the greatest gift a human being can give another: a plane ticket, a binder full of hotels and attractions, and four travel books detailing the different European hubs we’ll be making our way to in April… forcing every other boyfriend, from here on out, to live in this gift’s perpetual shadow. Taylor makes even Ryan Gosling look like a common street corner scrub. (Upon hearing the news, a friend of mine even exclaimed, “What the hell? My husband got me pajama pants for my birthday.”)

I unwrapped my gift with tentative enthusiasm, then genuine confusion, followed by utter disbelief. As realization set in and my eyes bulged out of their sockets – I leafed through the travel binder carefully, timidly, afraid that if I turned a page too quickly or jostled the giftbag in my lap the whole fragile thing would crumble. “No,” I said. “No. No. TAYLOR!”

He told me, giddily, that we would be leaving in exactly six months to the day – my half-birthday, in fact – and that we would be seeing the most beautiful and romantic sites the continent had to offer. (Including, forgive my dweebiness – PLATFORM NINE AND THREE QUARTERS AND THE BEATLES MUSEUM)

Tears followed, along with a breathless call to my mom. Taylor ushered me through the rest of my birthday celebration – including sunset cocktails and dinner Portland’s nicest rooftop restaurant overlooking the city – and it was all I could do not to babble to every stranger I met about our plans. Everyone from our Uber driver to the hostess who sat us at our table inducted him into the Boyfriend Hall of Fame.

So, for some background: I’ve been to Europe before, with my high school vocal ensemble. It was an honor, to be selected to travel halfway across the world and sing hymns as old as the buildings we occupied – hearing our voices reverberate around high-ceilinged domes, walls lined with frescoes, itching in our long choir robes.

However, I was 16 – and with all my best friends and a handful of really cute boys. And admittedly (and perhaps characteristically), we were much more consumed with the tapestry of young love stories being woven around us than the thousands of years of history beneath our feet. We scampered past timeless works of art without pause, whispered to each other as our tourguide pointed out monumental statues, peeked around the corners of architectural masterpieces to giggle at the sight of our crushes.

I even remember, jetlagged and sorely uninterested, actually falling asleep at the pulpit of a grand Spanish cathedral… because why should I care about some historic Catholic Church – with its breathtaking ceilings and intricate stained glass windows – when, like, Stephanie and Gabe were totally holding hands under the table of that last cafe?

Youth is wasted on the young.

Not to mention – even if I’d had a more mature grasp of the setting around me… we ventured to the parts of Europe that (at the risk of sounding like a spoiled American brat) I might not have sought out of my own accord. Poland was gorgeous, to be sure – but seeing the mountains of shoes and eyeglasses of victims strewn about Auschwitz, and the horrifying chambers  – labeled on one side “Able-Bodied Men” and on the other “Women and Children” weighed heavy on my young heart.

An earth-shattering experience, no doubt about it… but it didn’t jive well with the Lizzie McGuire version of a European vacation I’d come to expect.

Needless to say I’ve been itching to return, from the moment my feet landed back on American soil a decade ago.

But Europe – Europe – that’s the stuff of miracles, isn’t it? Boarding an airplane, crossing an ocean, and landing on a foreign shore… replicating in reverse the journey our ancestors made generations ago… entering a continent with such rich history and culture, buildings that are more than 300 years old?! It was a dream, sure – but the kind of dream that only presents itself once or twice in a lifetime. I thought would come true again maybe for my honeymoon, or as a faraway work assignment from some yet unidentified future employer… or maybe in retirement, when I would think up the idea in a lace nightgown while sipping tea.

But for my TWENTY-SIXTH BIRTHDAY?! Not in a million years.

I’ve been asking everyone I can think of – from my neighbors, to my entire extended family to the FedEx guy – what recommendations they have. With only 11 days to make it through 3 (possibly 4, we’re mulling over Edinburgh) cities, I need all the advice I can get.

My travel books are dogeared, torn, folded, crossed out, and scribbled all over. I’ve got a jetlag-avoiding Melatonin regimen from one friend, a packing guide from another, a language-learning app from a third, and a long list of attractions, museums, and restaurants. Taylor and I have an entire movie marathon – from Eurotrip to French Kiss – to get through by April, and all of my friends and family are tired of hearing me talk about this.

So I pose it to you, faithful readers: What should we do, where should we go, what can’t we miss?

And also: AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH I’M SO EXCITED!!!!!