About SusieWittbrodt

Susie is an aspiring writer, poet, and avid Beatles fan. She is best known for coming in 2nd place in the Hillsdale Middle School 6th Grade Spelling Bee in 1999. Her hobbies include long walks on the beach, eating avocados with a spoon, and replacing the empty toilet paper roll when she visits other peoples' houses.

Aeronautics

The news of Tom Petty’s passing hit me hard. Maybe its intensity was magnified in the wake of the Las Vegas tragedy — our collective human suffering still a raw wound. Maybe it was because it struck me as so unexpected — not that any death ever really is, he was 66 for crying out loud. Maybe his was just the most recent of a series of catastrophic losses in music and entertainment — maybe my heart just couldn’t take it anymore.

I think the likeliest reason, though, is that some of my earliest memories are of listening to Tom Petty in the car with the top down — singing the opening lines of Breakdown with a heavily exaggerated French accent and then collapsing into a fit of giggles. Tom Petty, with his sly smile and ridiculous hat and unadulterated grit, comprised a great deal of my musical upbringing.

In any case, it was a major blow — and I spent a week on the brink of tears. And amidst my sorrow I was compelled, as I often am, to write about it. But I struggled with how to put any of it into words.

Then it occurred to me… what if I used his, instead?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been quietly assembling a poem — I say “assembling,” and not “writing,” because this verse isn’t mine, per se. I listened to some of my favorite of his songs, revisited his lyrics, and started to craft something from them that felt like a tribute.

It turned out to be an extraordinary and wholly therapeutic exercise — I rediscovered songs I hadn’t heard in years, and even stumbled upon a few I’d never heard at all. It was actually a lot harder than I expected, but throughout it I felt like I was paying my dues somehow — laboring over a project that I hoped would express my gratitude to the man who provided a soundtrack to so much of my life.

I wasn’t sure if I would even share this, since its creation was sufficient to help me process / grieve / cope / move on, and that sadness is mostly behind me now.

But anyway, here it is.

He taught me that good love is hard to find,
And that it can be good to be king.
To grow up tall, and to grow up right —
And then how to fly without wings

I learned that waiting’s the hardest part,
Not to stay in trouble town.
To get going when grass grows under my feet —
Keep the world from dragging me down

He was out of a dream, out of the sky —
Had a mind with a heart of its own.
He was the boy in the corduroy pants,
And it was too cold to cry when I woke up alone

I’d do anything to have him here again —
Sail a storm, while strapped to the mast.
But you can’t sell your soul for peace of mind,
And it’s a drag to live in the past.

He belongs among the wildflowers,
Somewhere he feels free
There is no sense in pretending —
I can’t repay what he’s done for me

He’s gonna write his name in the sky
Where the bulldog barks, and the canary sings
Gonna leave this world for awhile
Still learnin’ to fly, but this time with wings.

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Okay Carina

In Mrs. Reynard’s 2nd grade class at Hill Creek School in 1996, there was a girl named Carina Vickery.

Carina had long brown hair that fell symmetrically to the middle of her back, and perfect bangs that were always trimmed on time. She was just a little taller than I was, stood just a little straighter, and she held her notebook at her chest instead of carrying a backpack…which I remember thinking looked oddly sophisticated for a 2nd-grader.

(My pink plastic backpack straps would suddenly feel tight and suffocating when I saw her — I would swing the bag off one shoulder and try to hold it like a purse, or drop it at my feet like luggage in an effort to distance myself from it in her presence. That tacky, bubblegum monstrosity.)

My mom, who was a schoolteacher, had had Carina in a previous year – and introduced us in line on the first day of school. She hugged Carina, and told her mother in not-so-hushed tones that she was her favorite student she’d ever had. She nudged me to say hello.

I kept my eyes on my Minnie Mouse tennis shoes, awkwardly toeing the ground as Carina stood in bright-eyed anticipation. “Hi.”

“Hi!” she chirped with a jovial confidence well beyond her years. Her voice was like the peel of a bell. “We’re going to be great friends.”

We were close, I guess. Our desks were next to each other, we sat in the same shade at recess, and I went to her house a few times after school. (She shared a fence with the campus, you see, and went home for lunches. Her life was like that.)

I remember she and her mom also shared the same birthday, and her mom always said that Carina was the best birthday present she’d ever gotten. Her life was like that, too.
For all accounts and purposes, we were the friends she’d predicted we’d be.

The following year, my mom would get remarried and move across town – and I’d start a new life in a different district. Truthfully, I wouldn’t remember Carina at all if it weren’t for a specific scoring mechanism embedded in my identity from age 7.

In Mrs. Reynard’s 2nd grade class, assignments were graded on a four-tiered rubric: “Excellent,” “Good,” “Fair,” or “Needs Improvement.” We would get our week’s work back in a white envelope with our name at the top – and one of the four boxes would be checked in Mrs. Reynard’s handwriting.

I ran into an existential quandary with this scoring system.

…Which is to say that I became intimately familiar with the word “Good.” 

If I put every single iota of effort I owned into an assignment, it was “Good.” If I shrugged it off and gave it no thought whatsoever, it was “Good.” If I tried to emulate Carina’s work to the very last loop in her lowercase-A, anticipation would grow in me like a gas-filled balloon…

…until I saw Mrs. Reynard’s markered X next to the box labeled “G-O-O-D.”

There’s nothing wrong with good. It’s better than “Fair,” which is when parents would start to worry. Certainly better than “Needs Improvement,” which any schoolteacher knows is a recipe for being held back. 

Good is just that: by definition, good. My mom, who admittedly shoved me toward greatness, didn’t complain about “Good.” Who knows? Other students might have even killed for a “Good.” I get it, okay? I shouldn’t be bringing it up.

…but do I even NEED to tell you what Carina got?

Excellence showered down upon Carina like confetti at a parade. She exuded those “Excellent” markers at every turn, with every wave of her perfectly manicured hair. She actually even got annoyed with her “Excellent”s, annoyed with me asking at the end of the week. Because “Excellent” was beneath Carina’s concern; behind her.

I don’t have a logical way of wrapping up this post. I’m not going to share some grand philosophy on reward mechanisms among elementary school kids, nor do I have some kind of gratifying ending where Carina found her Achilles’ heal. I moved away, we grew apart, life went on.

But I still think about Carina – or more specifically, of being “Good” – about once a month. And if there’s any version of that for you, if you’re struggling to break through to excellence no matter how hard you try… know that I think “Good” is GREAT. It’s marvelous, spectacular, and exemplary – and you are enough.

…And If it turns out that Carina is out there somewhere collecting “Good” performance reviews from her job at McDonalds, I guess that’d be fine too.

How To Be Happy (Also “Why” …If You Need That)

The other day I was on the phone with a client, and was going over next steps for their branding project. I finished with the words, “…and then we’ll move into your website, which is the most exciting part!”

The client responded teasingly, “Susie, is anything NOT the most exciting part for you? It seems like everything is your favorite thing.”

I had to give that some genuine thought. On the one hand, I guess it’s worth evaluating my sincerity – am I creating false enthusiasm, here? After all, this project will represent an awful lot of work for both of us. But on the other hand, dag nabbit, it really is exciting! I shrugged him off and said, “You’re onto me – everything is my favorite thing. It’s just a good way to live life.”

And it’s true: I believe that the most fulfilling lives are those lived in a state of perpetual marvel.

This isn’t exactly the first time my incessant optimism has been pointed out to me, though – and not always in such a nice / teasing way. In fact, overall I think happy people (ironically) get a bad wrap, for a couple of reasons.

For starters, take it from me: trying to find the positivity in everything can really gnaw at the people closest to you. (As my dad once asked my mom in exasperation, “Will you please stop trying to put a silver lining around my black cloud?”) I think some people wear their unhappiness as a badge of honor, as a proof of their human legitimacy… so being told to look on the bright side offends their sense of self.

Secondly, it doesn’t help that having a cheery outlook on the world tends to be associated with naivete (see: just about any role Ellie Kemper has ever played). I was once in a book club with a bunch of women a generation or two ahead of me – and when I always liked all the books they hated, they said, “Wait until you have some more life experience under your belt.” As if cynicism and negativity were somehow synonymous with maturity? Because, I suppose, if ignorance is bliss then bliss must also mean ignorance???

Along that same vein, I think there’s also an implication that overly happy people lack the emotional fortitude to deal with disappointment or frustration. That their contentment, in all its pristine glory, must also bear an inky ‘FRAGILE’ stamp: Like a sweet little puppy, this person’s psyche must be frail, weak, in need of protection.

If you’re a subscriber to this particular belief system, buster, have I got news for you:

You could not be more wrong.

I emphatically reject the notion that happiness is (a) a sign of ignorance, or (b) a sign of weakness, if only by virtue of the simple fact that – write this down – HAPPINESS IS HARD. It takes conscious energy and relentless attention. Happy people aren’t puppies, they’re goddamn warriors.

As humans, our natural propensity is toward unhappiness… we are psychologically predisposed to be doubtful, judgmental, and combative. So people who are able to overcome those powerful evolutionary inclinations, and lead a life that’s driven more strongly by curiosity than fear? Those people should be revered; we should have holidays in their honor.

Lest I sound too self-absorbed, here, please note that I don’t even consider myself a member of this admirable crew. Despite my efforts, I don’t exactly pretend to be immune to unhappiness. I’ve waded through pools of depression so thick you could pour it over pancakes.

(It’s probably worth noting that depression, by definition, is something different than what I’m ultimately describing here – one’s a mood, the other’s a disease.)

Nevertheless, I am a firm believer that we are the architects of our own happiness – and I am in active pursuit of that happiness whenever possible. As humans, we need to learn to appreciate the value of our own joy – and seek it out, tirelessly, forever. If we don’t, we risk falling into the pit of absolute, crushing despair that is sometimes referred to as life.

As the poet Jack Gilbert writes, “we must risk delight.” In fact, we must be downright stubborn in our gladness – to fortify against “the ruthless furnace of this world.”

Let me give you an example: Not one but three family friends died this year. Two belonged to the same family – mother and son, and as present in my childhood as Mickey Mouse. The same day that I found out about the most recent of these deaths, we lost a client at work… and I also got into an unrelated but brutal fight with someone very close to me. To top it all off, I contracted the worst flu I’d ever encountered – rendering me completely bedridden for days.

Consider all the negative conclusions I could’ve drawn about that week, had I been in the mood to ruin my life: I could’ve assumed the universe was mocking me, while bestowing love and blessings upon everyone else. I could’ve said, “I am fortune’s fool while they are fortune’s darlings, and such is the eternal injustice and tragedy of my cursed existence.” I could’ve turned inward, finding that quiet but all-too-intoxicating indulgence that sometimes accompanies sadness. I could’ve luxuriated in the exquisite victimhood of it all.

To be fair, I did do that – for a little while. I’m human, after all. But it wasn’t long before I figured out how absurdly unproductive it was.

I know how this must sound to people who are currently unhappy. I do. In fact, it’s taken me a few weeks to even write this post because I’ve been going through bouts of unhappiness myself.

Re-reading it in that state of mind reminds me vaguely of having asthma attacks as a kid, when well-meaning adults thought it might help if they just demonstrated how to breathe correctly. “Like this, see? Do this with me.” I would watch them take deep, luxurious lungfuls while I wheezed pitifully, clutching my chest… thinking, Are you TRYING to taunt me?

I imagine the same to be true when a happy person gives a sad person advice. “All you have to do is look on the bright side! It’s so easy, see?”

But that’s the thing: I’m not saying it’s easy. It is decidedly NOT easy. It’s actually really, really, unbelievably, unequivocally hard. You might not even accomplish it. Or maybe you will, but it’ll take a lot of time.

But given the option, wouldn’t you kind-of… rather be happy? If it was in your control?

And if you could somehow know, with absolute conviction, that it was within your control, wouldn’t you do something about it?

So what are you waiting for?

 

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