Ugh.

Okay guys, I’m gonna be honest here.

I just spent 2+ hours writing a witty and wonderful post about Natalie Portman, but when I went to post it my ancient computer crashed, and I lost it all. I spent exactly 26 seconds thinking about trying to recreate the post, but then decided to just start crying and cursing technology instead.

I’m sorry that I’m leaving you post-less today.

In lieu of a new post, however, feel free to check out my new Contact and FAQ pages.

…Please excuse me while I go set fire to my laptop.

Advertisements

So, no big deal guys, apparently I’m just gonna jump out of a plane.

I’m going skydiving.

I’m going to dive from the sky. Toward the ground.

I should have seen this coming, really, when I started working for a company as deliciously unorthodox as mine. I should’ve known what I was getting myself into when I signed my offer letter. It should’ve had fine print that said, “WARNING: This company is really cool. In fact, probably too cool for you. You should probably just know that now, so it won’t come as a surprise later when free falling from 15,000 feet is considered a team building activity.”

For one of my parents’ (early) anniversaries, my mom bought my dad a pair of skydiving tickets. He opened the envelope, looked up at her, and promptly slid them back across the table. “There are two things you should know about me,” he told her. “I’ll never board a sinking ship, and I’ll never jump out of a perfectly good airplane.”

Mind you, my dad is a 20+ year military vet, whose hobbies include hunting and collecting knives. And even he found skydiving to be not his cup of tea.

And who could blame him? By some accounts, it goes against our most primal human instincts to leap from a flying vehicle and plunge toward the Earth. Many would (understandably) prefer to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground, where gravity is a close friend and not something to challenge and tempt. It takes a very specific kind of person to be drawn to this experience. My mom is one of them, my dad is not.

It sounds like history is doomed to repeat itself, because Taylor had a similar reaction when I told him about my pending adventure. I imagine he looks at skydiving the same way you might perceive people who practice self mutilation. Dangerous, confusing, and inconceivably enjoyable. Suffice it to say he wasn’t especially thrilled with this idea.

I can’t deny that when this activity was announced to the group, some butterflies certainly sprung up in my esophagus. My eyes bulged out like water balloons. I clutched the edge of my seat like someone might just push me out of it right then and there. And I wasn’t the only one – around the conference table, some immediately refused, others’ hands shook, still others just sat in horrified silence. 

That night, I laid awake in bed imagining what it would feel like to board a plane with the intention of jumping out of it. I wondered about the oddest little details – what color would my parachute be? Would I have to walk around strapped to someone, or does that happen right before? How long is the plane ride before you jump? Will my ears pop?

My heart pounded in my ears just thinking about it, and I wondered if maybe Taylor and my dad were right after all.

But then I remembered my mom.

Upon my dad’s reaction, my mom didn’t return the tickets. She found another partner, took the leap, loved the experience, and that picture is still on my parents’ fridge to this very day.

So, regardless of the absurdity of JUMPING FROM AN AIRPLANE as a RECREATIONAL ACTIVITY… I’m in.

Because at the end of the day, I am my mother’s daughter.

Throwback Thursday: The Day I Died

***The following entry was written in my journal at age 18, after a near death experience at Yosemite National Park. In an effort to preserve authenticity, it has not been altered. I’ll provide no preface other than this: I ask that you keep an open mind.***

 

January 5, 2008

I died today.

I don’t expect you to believe me, I probably wouldn’t in your shoes, but it’s true. I’m willing to bet my life on it… again.

We’re still in Yosemite. One of my favorite parts of the trip has always been to worm my way up and around the large and plentiful boulders that nature dropped like pebbles around the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. It makes me feel like a warrior, trekking my way up toward the thundering waterfall, past the sign that said in big crimson letters: “DANGEROUS TO CLIMB BEYOND THIS POINT.”

This is the first year that Christianne, at age 8, was deemed old enough to attempt the feat, walking single file in between me, leading the excursion, and my mom, bringing up the rear. Dad, with his failing back and sore ankles, was left to hold the purses and wait at the trailhead to take pictures of us by the waterfall once we reached the top.

It was halfway up, about, when my breathing got a little ropy. A lifetime asthmatic, I generally have a firm grasp on my lungs’ limitations, and was confident that I could hold out until the top. At which point I would stop, pose triumphantly for a picture, and then hasten back to my dad and purse and breathing inhaler.

Just a few too-steep rocks later, though, and my pace had slowed enough for my mom and Christianne to have caught up with me. I contemplated sitting down for a minute and catching my breath, but we were just so close. We were already past the halfway mark, and I was sure I could almost see the base of the waterfall. My breathing had been short before, and I’d certainly suffered much worse than this. I pressed on.

I didn’t make it another ten steps before involuntarily sitting down on one of the wet boulders. Snowflakes settled in my hair and shoulders. The oxygen around me felt poisonous, each breath coiling around my lungs in sharp tendrils. It became abundantly clear that the absolute only way this problem was going to be solved was with the little plastic blue miracle-worker in the front pocket of my purse. 

My mom disappeared immediately to retrieve it, and Christianne stayed – doing her best to comfort me without wholly knowing the problem. Her tiny mittened hands patted my now-dripping back, cooing phrases she only knew because they had at some point been similarly cooed to her. “It’s all right, you’re going to be okay.”

Her words melted into the wet ground around my feet without entering my consciousness – all of my mental energy being narrowly focused on inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Each curtailed breath was so pitifully noisy that it almost drowned out the roaring sound of water against granite. I ached for the medicine that would wrench my lungs free of the cold fists that clutched them.

I willed myself not to think about the fact that I would likely be wheezing for the better part of the next hour before deliverance came.

Don’t think about where Mom is on the journey at this moment. Don’t think about her, right now, reaching into the front pocket of my purse and darting back toward the trailhead. Don’t think about how long it’ll take her to climb back up. Don’t think about it.

My fingers and toes were starting to grow numb – a sensation any asthmatic is all too familiar with. My body was so devoid of oxygen that it was giving up on supplying blood to my appendages, and instead concentrating on keeping my vitals in working order. I labored over each breath in desperation, and waited.

Four breaths.

Ten breaths.

Eighteen breaths.

Each inhale was like a bouquet of needles blossoming in my lungs, and yet I choked for air like a drowning man. At some point Christianne left, perhaps to look for my mom.

I was alone with my murderer, and he took hold with a vengeance I had never before encountered. The pressure on my chest was so great that I was sure someone was actually holding my lungs down. I kept bringing my hand to my heart, expecting to feel some invisible force field pushing against my ribcage. My breathing came in short panic breaths, like a dog’s panting but musical – like trying to inhale through a wet sponge. My hands and feet were so stiff and numb that to flex my fingers in front of my face, and to see them being flexed, were to actions so entirely separate from each other that it gave me chills.

I knew from experience that the next step in oxygen deprivation was hallucination… and sure enough, before long I was dizzy and light-headed, and the mossy rocks in front of me were swimming in my vision.

Time became abstract. How long had it been? Hours? Days?

Tears welled up in my eyes as I accepted with absolute certainty that I would die here. They would find my body among the rocks, my face dropping with snow and lips blue, eyes probably still open but my chest at least relaxed.

The tears came faster now, dripping with the same intensity as the wet snowflakes that showered around me.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my most immediate thoughts were superficial. I’d never voiced any particular wishes for burial versus cremation. If they buried me, what would they dress me in? A thought occurred to me then, one that horrified me more than death itself – they would read my journal. Suddenly every secret I’d ever held reared its ugly head. They would know. Everything.

The worst part of all of it was that no one would ever understand. From what they could tell, I was just out of breath and gave up on catching it again. (How many asthmatics have been told, with increasing exasperation, “Just breathe“?) They could never know the pain I was enduring, the evils I was expected to face on my drenched chunk of granite in the snow.

It was at this moment that I died.

The rocks were still blending into each other, weaving to and fro, when one broke free and wiggled into the sky. I followed it with my eyes until it exploded into a bottom black that rained around me, until the world was drowned out.

I was not in pain, I was not cold; I was not anything.

I had a sensation I didn’t recognize, until it presented itself more familiarly. It was sound… music, in fact. Not just any music, but – as I realized a few moments in – Brick House by the Commodores. But then the music shifted, immediately, to Kokomo, by the Beach Boys. The moment I identified that song, it changed again. Yesterday, the Beatles. The world of blackness had become a medley of every song I’d ever loved. Was this what they meant when they said your life flashes before your eyes? Every song generated a new memory, each genre represented a different stage of my life.

I was not unhappy here. It was far from how I imagined Heaven, but it most certainly was not Hell.

I heard the faraway voice of my sister. At first I thought it was part of the afterlife – maybe you heard the voices of loved ones the same way you heard the choruses of favorite songs. I listened more carefully, and she was calling my name.

And suddenly my eyes opened, and the door to my black musical world snapped shut, and the roaring waterfall and wheezy breathing and cold, wet snow were back. I was aware that I was looking at a moist ground covered in twigs and mossy boulders, and Christianne was yelling my name from a few rocks away. My mom was running precariously, arm outstretched, inhaler in hand. I reached toward her, and in one dramatic moment my savior was passed.

Needless to say, I did not die. It took a few minutes of pumping the medicine into my chest in short desperate gasps, but eventually my wheezing cleared. Still lightheaded, hands still numb but now shaky with the effects of too much medicine, we started back down.

My dad was especially sensitive when we arrived back at the bridge. Being the only one not having bore witness, his visions of the situation probably mirrored mine. He walked with my hand at his chest as if he thought I was about to topple over. Mom and Christianne, similarly, kept looking at me as though they still half-expected me to fall back into convulsions. I stopped trying to convince them I was fine.

I wasn’t fine, though. My breathing had steadied, my toes and fingers would surely have feeling again within the hour, but I was upset. Embarrassed, first of all, that I hadn’t made it to the top. Or at the very least, died, so that I’d have a better excuse for making such a fuss. I was mad at myself for not being stronger – or smarter, to remember to throw my inhaler in my pocket. I was mad at the universe for creating a thing like asthma.

But, to be completely honest, I was mostly just sad that the door of my black music box was shut before I knew what it was or had time to ponder over it.

Don’t get me wrong. But if that was death, I can’t imagine why I was ever afraid of it.

On Grieving, Coping, and Very Good Dogs

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting author and TEDx speaker Greg Bell, who shared (among many other wisdoms), this fundamental truth: 99% of the world’s problems can be distilled down to the failure of human relationships.

On the other hand, he pointed out, dogs have this relationship thing figured out.

Dogs love easily and trust easily. They give you their whole heart, and if you come home late or forget to fill the food bowl, they forgive you. They don’t hold grudges. No matter what happened in between, or how long you’ve been gone, they will always greet you with the same level of unguarded enthusiasm when you walk through the door. They’ll comfort you when you’re sad, celebrate with you when you’re happy, and selflessly ask for minimally little in return. Dogs are the friend every person should strive to be.

It is with the heaviest of hearts that I report that our family’s dog, Stella, passed away this weekend. My family (and in particular my 14-year-old sister), called me in hysterics on Saturday night, and we bawled together the loss of such a tremendous addition to our family.

Stella was six years old, a tiny white papillon and sparkplug of bouncing energy. She loved nothing more than using the crease between your legs as her own personal hammock, resting her little chin tenderly on your knee.

She knew exactly 9 tricks, and my mom rounded it up to an even 10 – saying that the 10th one was “Stella, BE CUTE!” (which was arguably her most impressive trick; she could do it in her sleep.)

Stella was the very best dog anyone could ask for, and she was was taken from our lives swiftly, without warning, and well before her time by a coyote attack in my parents’ rural neighborhood. Hearing my loved ones in such pain from 1,000 miles away was nothing short of torture. I held the phone with two hands, I cried until my face ached, I could scarcely croak out a goodbye when we hung up.

Afterward, I was struck with the same notion that plagues many other grievers: the world kept spinning. There were still chores to be done (although of course in this case my saint of a boyfriend did them), the World Cup still wrapped up the next day, I still had work this morning. Not that I expected the Earth to stop in its tracks, but it seemed somehow bizarre to me that the whole world wasn’t grieving along with us. Shouldn’t we all shut our doors, turn off the lights, and sit in silence awhile? How is it possible that everyone is just going about their lives?

The most profound conclusion I can conjure from this is that it taught us all how precious and fleeting life can be. How crucial it is that I see my family as often as I possibly can. How we have to hold each other tight, every second of every day, because not one of us can promise a tomorrow.

…That, and I can only hope to honor Stella’s memory by being the same friend to others that she was to us.

stella 2

What Happens When I Work Out, Part 2: Let The Awkwardness Ensue

(*Note: This is (apparently) part of a two-post series. I didn’t actually realize that when I wrote the original What Happens When I Work Out post earlier this week… but since it seems like all I ever do lately is work out, I guess I have a lot to say on the subject.

This time, though, instead of discussing how much I absolutely abhor exercise, I’d like to embark on an awareness campaign about how ripe the gym is for awkward situations.)

For those who don’t know me (which, arguably, is about 95% of you… hi by the way, my name’s Susie), I’m kinda prone to awkward situations. I may have actually mentioned this once or twice. I can’t explain it – but for some reason these uncomfortable, throat-clearing circumstances always find me, like flies to honey. If there were an awkwardness olympics, I would take home the gold. If I had a nickel for every awkward situation I’ve ever been in, I’d be a nickel-aire. 

turtle

I do understand that on some level (or, okay, on every level), this is 100% a psychological manifestation. Maybe I find myself in these predicaments because I’m just an awkward human to begin with.

I can admit to that. It would explain why I get physically squeamish when somebody stands too close behind me in line, or why I’m completely incapable of taking a compliment with any semblance of normalcy. (“You like my hair color? Oh, er, thanks… my mom gave it to me.”)

So, okay, I can accept some responsibility here. Maybe I just have a cognitive bias for observational selection (also, a thesaurus), and the reason I find awkward situations is because I’m subconsciously looking for them.

Sure.

But I don’t think that accounts for every awkward situation I’m in.

Take the gym, for instance. I can’t be held responsible for every cringeworthy happening in a place like that. Between the physical exertion, close proximity, and locker rooms, there are enough external factors to bring the awkward-o-meter to a solid 10 – with or without the help of my socially inept tendencies. 

Here are three things that happened to me at the gym today, all within 40 minutes of each other:

  • For the first few minutes of my gym experience, I was walking around with my headphones not plugged in. Meaning that my music was blaring for everyone to hear, and I was the idiot wondering why my earbuds seemed so quiet. Everyone around me had the joy of listening to Weezer for at least a song and a half before I realized my mistake – no doubt sharing uncomfortable glances and wondering who should tell me.
  • Two dozen empty treadmills, and an older gentleman hopped on the one right next to me. There are rules about this, aren’t there? The same ones that apply to movie theaters and (I’ve heard) urinals. If there is an unoccupied alternative not in the immediate vicinity of another person, you’re supposed to take that one. Right? I don’t need somebody close enough to me to listen to every breath and grunt, if I can avoid it.
  • I caught the same girl’s eye in the mirror three separate times. Enough said.

It’s situations like this that give me an immediate urge to curl into a ball and hide, and the more time I spend at the gym – the more ball-curling I want to do.

I know, I’m being a baby. Adults don’t worry about this kind of thing. I just need to grow up and face the facts that life is awkward, and there just ain’t nuthin I can do about it.

…That, or I just start working out at home.

What Happens When I Work Out

Confession: I’m not the most athletic person in the world.

In fact, full disclosure… I’m probably not even in the top five.

But I nonetheless understand the importance of developing a healthy diet and a consistent fitness routine, to promote immunity and longevity and metabolism… and when you frollup around with snartithicus and kerplunkitude there’s a high likelihood of hipperdashing your wargle.

(…Did you stop caring? Me too.)

I KNOOOOW health and fitness are good for me, okay? I really do. Honest. You should drink water, and get up from your desk once an hour, and Cheez-its aren’t a food group. I got it.

Which is why Taylor and I have recently been making an effort to go to the gym daily.

But knowing that working out is good for me doesn’t make it any easier, and going to the gym is still the worst part of my day life. I spend every watt of brainpower festering about how much I hate what I’m doing, for every second that I’m doing it.

I understand that these thoughts aren’t constructive. I should be thinking about how much good I’m doing, how much my body will thank me later, how cool those colored-sweat-people look in Gatorade commercials. I should be high on endorphins and adrenaline, I should be reveling in my physical progress, and I should be PUMPED-period-UP-period.

There are actually people in the world who claim to love working out, who actually get some kind of sick pleasure from it… so why can I barely tolerate the experience for 40 minutes a day?

It isn’t like I don’t try. I’ve adjusted my iPod strategy from hip hop, to stand up comedy, to the actual Pandora workout station… I try to distract myself by prioritizing my to-do list for the day, people watching, remembering what we need at Target (or planning my next blog post…) if my brain is psychologically incapable of enjoying exercise, it’s not for lack of trying.

I somehow developed a theory recently that maybe if I work out harder, I’ll reach some kind of physical nirvana where my brain will just shut off – and I’ll go into an elevated level of consciousness and all that will matter is my pounding heart. Maybe that’s the secret of those gym freaks enthusiasts.

But I’ve tested this theory on my last few gym visits – and I have yet to experience physical nirvana. Instead, all it does is shift my brain function from creating to-do lists to counting down the milliseconds until I’m done. It is absolutely all I can think about.

I start employing external forces to measure the time I have remaining: I’ll stop as soon as that TV goes to commercial. The next time that running guy makes another lap on the track. As soon as this song is over.

I became intimately familiar with the anatomy of a pop song. Verse – bridge – chorus, verse – bridge – chorus.

Then, they make you think the song is over – then comes a big break, vocal, drum building, and another chorus.

Mother of god, it makes me pine for the days when songs were just made up of four eight-counts and a few claps. (What ever happened to Mary Had a Little Lamb, anyway?)

I run and jump and grunt for so long and with such vigor that my vision starts to go blurry and I suddenly have the overwhelming urge to fall asleep. I start to ask questions like, “Can a person actually die from working out? Is that a thing? Cuz I’m pretty sure I might be dying right now. In fact, I might already be dead.”

After such a session, I am such a useless blob that I can do nothing more than stand in front of a fan for ten minutes like a dog sticking his head out of a car window. I trudge through the gym like a mouth-breathing knuckle-dragger, incapable of even mustering the necessary energy to suck my tummy in under my too-tight-fitting workout wear.

I usually seek refuge at the ab machine, where I lay down and “isolate my core”… and by that I mean, gasp for air and stare into oblivion for awhile.

And good news, everybody! I get to do it all over again tomorrow morning!

Whatever, though. I’m just gonna go have some cheez-its.

Happy Throwback Thursday!

Welcome to the next installment of Throwback Thursday, where we take a nostalgic glimpse into one of the many many journals of Childhood Susie.

photo 3

This week’s entry comes from 16-year-old Susie at the start of her senior year of high school, during which she had the immense pleasure of taking her first short story class – arguably the single most solidifying factor in her quest to become a writer.

IN FACT, the teacher of that class – Mr. Tom Waldron – is on WordPress! If you enjoy my blog even the tiniest bit, you will love his. He’s retired now, but I owe so much to Mr. Waldron – and the letter he wrote for my senior scrapbook very nearly brings me to tears. He was also the one to bestow upon me the Literary Appreciation Award, which I allude to in this post.

So go follow Mr. Waldron right now, and totally disregard the rest of what I’m about to write.

Everybody gone? Phew. Because this post is a little embarrassing. In one of my very first creative writing assignments EVER, Mr. Waldron issued the following challenge: He encouraged us to write 150 words describing a single emotion – without actually using that emotive word. And here was my submission:

There are eight-seven and one half tiles on the ceiling. If you count the half-tiles as wholes, there are ninety-seven. Nine and seven, whose average is eight, which is exactly the number of freckles on the left shoulder of the boy in front of me. Five on the right, which makes a difference of three.

Three worms. Three worms I would eat if they would let me go home. Four, if they would let me have a glass of water, too.

Four, times itself, the number of people present in the room with me. Sixteen, with seven asleep. That leaves nine, four with wandering eyes. Two with wrists pressed lazily into their cheeks.

Three. Three left, listening attentively to the vague murmuring sound that I’m pretty sure started as words, but slowly melted into a gray puddle of random mumbling, punctuated by occasional arm movements and the shifting of weight from one foot to the other.

I knew what the man was talking about, an hour ago. I’m sure of it.

Boredom. That’s was what I was trying to convey here. In hindsight, probably not the best choice – since Mr. Waldron’s first reaction was “I hope this wasn’t written about MY class…” (Which I maintain, to this day, that it absolutely was not.)

Mr. Waldron read my submission aloud to everyone, which drew up a grin so big that it made my jaw hurt. In fact, that probably explains why I immediately ran home to transcribe this first creative writing venture in my journal.

I’m still a little squeamish about sharing this… but when I found it, I felt it was immediately necessary to document one of my first creative writing attempts. So here you go, readers.

(And thanks again, Mr. Waldron, for igniting that fire within me.)

Introducing Susie’s New & Improved Blog: The Nutshell Version

I’m thrilled to announce that after much deliberation, I’m officially rolling out my (not so) new blog: The Nutshell Version.

Don’t be alarmed, faithful readers, this is still the ‘Hullabaloo and Susie Too’ blog you know and love tolerate. I just felt it was time that I cast off the shackles of my n00b WordPress appearance and come up with a non-tongue-twister name that people can actually remember and spell. (Fun side note: Now, for all the times you’re recommending my blog at a party, you can just reference NutshellVersion.com instead of susiewittbrodt.wordpress.com. I imagine that happens pretty often, so I thought I would mention it.)

Picture 5

‘The Nutshell Version’ was actually inspired by this post, in which I reminisce about my wordy nature in childhood – and my older brother would occasionally interrupt one of my lengthy stories with a friendly reminder: “Susie. Give us the nutshell version.”

So as an ode to my brother, and my childhood, and my perpetual verbosity – I’ve decided to do just that.

The Build-Up

Deciding on a new blog name wasn’t easy. This decision stems from literally months of psychoanalysis, overthinking, asking every person I’ve ever known for advice… not to mention spending WAY too much money on domain names that I wasn’t even that crazy about but what-the-hell-I-better-buy-it-before-somebody-else-does-so-there-goes-twelve-dollars.

This name change is one of several recent monumental changes in my life – most notably: getting a writing jobmoving to the Portland area (particularly when following a year of three moves in nine months), developing some semblance of a healthy lifestyle, and… uh, well, starting a blog to begin with.

With all of these drastic transitions, my poor widdo brain has been continually thrust from its home of comfort and familiarity into entirely new situations and challenges. This is good for me, a healthy workout for my gray matter – but it nonetheless has sparked some pretty in-depth internal conversations about who I am and what I want my place to be in the world.

It seems like most of this has stemmed from the sheer volume of decisions I’ve had to make lately. What kind of groceries should we buy? Should we recycle? Where should we hang this picture? Paper or plastic? It seems like around every corner there is a new choice to be made, a new opportunity to reaffirm my beliefs and priorities. And in case you’re new here, decisions aren’t my strong suit.

So you can imagine that something as simple as a blog name was enough to throw me into an existential crisis. What would I like to portray here? How do I want to present myself to others? What are my goals and values? Who the hell am I, anyway? On the surface it seems like out of seven billion people in the world, I should be the one most equipped to answer these questions. …And yet, when faced with these pressing dilemmas my very first course of action was to ask someone else.

Hello, excuse me… Could you tell me who I am, please?

I would like to believe that this was my first instinct because it is a logical solution, in a way. I do not know who I am from a third party perspective, similarly to the fact that I have never looked at my own face beyond a mirror image. It makes sense to enlist an outsider, who can grasp my identity more effectively and help me see the forest through the trees.

But I’m afraid that might be giving myself too much credit. I fear that a bigger part of the reason is that I did not know the answer myself. And the reason I was grappling with these decisions is because until now, I didn’t have any need to identify these core personality traits. I was living in a world of limbo, just as curious as everyone else what kind of person I would turn out to be.

In any case, I did enlist the help of others – and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you to Taylor, who put up with every new name idea with unrelenting enthusiasm, to the ongoing group chat with my best friends who offered candid feedback on my not-so-amazing ideas, and to my boss Shawn and cousin Kristin, who contributed their incredible marketing expertise to these efforts. (Double, triple, quadruple thanks to Kristin, for also designing my fabulous new blog banner.)

And so I present to you, internet, my brand new blog and the Life and Times of Susie.

…or at least, the Nutshell Version.