Don’t call it a comeback

It’s been so long, I don’t even know where to start.

Part of me is even timid about typing these first few words, because I imagine you all out there with pitchforks and torches – ready to take to the streets and call for my head. Because how dare I just disappear for months on end and then pick right back up where I left off like not a day has passed? The gall – the wretched, appalling nerve of it!

Or worse: There’s no one out there. Not a soul noticed my absence, the internet has carried on unfettered, another blog bites the dust, and the wheels on the bus go round and round.

Whatever the case, I am sorry. My last blog post was – GASP – over seven months ago. The things this world has seen since I last wrote! How far we’ve come, how much has transpired!

Some brief highlights, since the last time my fingers graced this keyboard: Caitlyn was still Bruce, and Ben & Jen were still together. The world had not yet been struck dumb by the maddening viral sensation known as the dress (#whiteandgoldforever), and the possibility of parallel universes as proven by the Berenst#in Bears. Donald Trump had not yet given every comedian in the world liquid gold joke fodder for months to come… which is a shame, because both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were still on Comedy Central. Portland was a comfortable, breezy 70 degrees (not this current mid-autumn sauna absurdity), and my tummy was a little bit smaller ’round the middle (miss you, Pure Barre!).

It’s been so long, in fact, that I can scarcely remember how to do it. Did I usually ramble like this? (Yes.) Did it always take this long to piece together sentences? (Most likely.) Was I always draped in a blanket like a five-year-old playing superhero? (Yes, but now with wine.) How did I ever decide what to write about? In looking at my blog for inspiration, I’m pathetically unable to identify any kind of theme or pattern. Why was I sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes instructive, poetic, or ridiculous? What was that thing where I did a Throwback Thursday feature for a hot second… and then just let it taper off like a Raiders fan’s dignity?

My fingers feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz when he rusts up – I need to take an oil can to my wrists to even remember what my muscles are supposed to do.

But a lot has gone down since I last said hello to the world, and I feel an obligation to my followers to keep you in-the-know. (I’ll also take this moment to give a shoutout to those followers – hello Mom, Dad, and kidnap victim I keep chained in the basement!)

As such, with any luck you can expect the following posts in coming days:

  • The Bearded Ryan sequel (the saga continues!)
  • My inevitable quarterlife crisis when I turn 26 in two days (I thought I was freaking out last year. Now I’m very definitely in my late 20s and I’m already hyperventilating about it.)
  • I got promoted! So you get to hear me drone on more about how much I love my job and my coworkers are so great and I’m so happy and blah blah blah Susie we get it.
  • I am also no longer alone (hubba, hubba), have spent my life’s savings on vacations this year (Denver and Dallas and Seattle, oh my!), and went WHITE WATER RIVER RAFTING IN CLASS 5 RAPIDS NBD EVERYBODY.

So here’s hoping my blog continues to be interesting (actually let’s manage our expectations – here’s hoping I can just keep it current).

Thanks for reading, y’all, and hope to see you again soon!

Why Portland is the Greatest City in the World, No I’m Serious, Stop Arguing You’ve Already Lost.

So next week marks a full three months since I moved to Portland.

I know, I know, that’s not completely true. Technically I moved to the Portland area a little over a year ago, but aside from my god-awful daily commute, I didn’t do a whole lot of exploring in the City Proper. Which is nothing short of a travesty.

But since then, I’ve upheaved my whole life and plopped my lost little self down in the throbbing heart of the city… and believe you me – I’ve made up for lost time.

I considered trying to tally the number of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, food carts, and shows I’ve been to since beginning this exploration… but just the thought of that task overwhelms me.

Instead, I’m just going to sit down for a moment and explain to you how absolutely, unequivocally, head-over-heels in love I am with this incredible town.

Elizabeth Gilbert taught me that when keeping chickens, there are some circumstances where you have to introduce a new hen to the flock. And you can’t just toss it in with the old chickens, or they’ll see it as an invader – instead, you slip the new bird into the coop in the middle of the night while the others are asleep.

In the morning, when the chickens wake up, they don’t notice the newcomer – thinking, “She must have been here all the time, since I didn’t see her arrive.” The thing is, awakening in the flock, the newcomer herself doesn’t even remember that she’s a newcomer – thinking only, “I must have been here the whole time…”

This is exactly how I arrived in Portland.

Without further ado, here’s why Portland is the absolute best city on Earth, no arguments, I’m not even listening to you anymore:

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Friends. Before moving here, I was so nervous about starting a brand new life by myself, so worried that I wouldn’t know where to go or what to do, so terrified of being alone and so far from everything I knew and loved. I’ve had the same group of friends since I was 12 years old, and I’m not historically good with new people… so before the move, I caught myself awake in bed at 1am, reading articles entitled things like “How to Make Friends as an Adult.”

But as it turns out, Portland was basically built for people just like me. Want endless new activity options like haunted pub crawls and underwear bike rides? Check! Looking for somewhere with a rich culture, and inhabitants who are immensely passionate about art, music, craft beer, or all of the above? Check check! Need a city where 60% of the population are fellow transplants from other states, so literally everyone you meet is on a let’s-explore-and-try-new-things-and-go-on-adventures kick? Check, check, check! Living in Portland is like having a making-new-friends starter kit.

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Weirdness. They’re not kidding when they call Portland weird – the whole city is an island of misfit toys. If America were a high school lunchroom, Portland would be the table of eclecticism – it would include a few band geeks, some sign-carrying activists, brooding artists, gregarious performers, bookworms, that guy who goes barefoot because he thinks shoes are a sign of oppression, and probably a unicyclist. If the whole rest of the country asks you to fit into a stereotype (“Oh, you’re from San Diego? Do you surf?”), Portland is where stereotypes go to die. It’s the type of city to open its arms and say, “Yeah – we know you’re a freak. It’s cool, though, we are too. Come on in.”

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Weather. Speaking of San Diego, the main thing I was warned about here was the rain. In fact, it was more or less all I heard about. When I finally arrived here, and I kept hearing about the rain, I actually got really defensive about it. I told all my San Diego friends that it didn’t even rain that much, we actually went 125 days in a row last year without a single rainy day, and that it was beautiful and sunny a LOT of the time and that they shouldn’t believe everything they hear.

But as a bona fide Portlander now, I’m not going to say that anymore. In fact, I think I’m contractually obligated to tell you the following:

It rains. SO. MUCH. All day, every day. Portland is a horrible, gray, rainy city all the time. Tell your friends. No sunshine, EVER. Nothing to see here, people. Move along.

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People. The other thing? Portland people really are the best people in the world. I don’t know what it is, maybe there’s something in the water. Maybe we’re all just so relieved to finally fit in somewhere, maybe we’re all just collectively exploring who we are, maybe we’re just sharing this adventure together. But Portlanders are a special breed – legitimately kind, genuine and curious and dimensional.

And good people. Remember that time when a complete stranger went miles out of his way to help me change a flat tire? Remember Bearded Ryan, the superhero who embarked on a wild goose chase to track me down and return personal documents to me that he’d found on the side of the road? And of course, the person who had every right to screw me over, but instead left me a friendly reminder to be a better person:

These were all Portlanders. Do you get what I’m saying?

The city. You guys, I get to walk to work every day. Which is something I’ve never had the privilege of saying, and it’s freaking oh-my-god-crazy-fantastic.

Have you ever lived in a city before? I mean in an actual living, pulsating city with an actual heartbeat and a personality? Have you ever walked through that city by yourself on a lively evening? Have you done it in boots and a peacoat, with really good music in your headphones, and the kindest people on Earth nodding at you cheerfully as you pass?

I have!

The country. Little-known fact (actually it’s probably pretty widely known, I’m just really in the dark about everything, all the time): Portland is the largest city in Oregon. And even Portland, in fact, is pretty tiny with all things considered: it’s made up of approximately 584k people – about 18% of the population of, say, San Diego County for instance.

And the rest of Oregon? Get this: the entire state is made up of less than 4mm people. Meaning Portland makes up roughly a sixth of the population of Oregon, even though the city itself only accounts for 0.14% (less than a quarter of a percent) in total square mileage.

All this to say, a lot of my state is made up of the polar opposite of my quirky urban setting: quaint, rural towns where people raise livestock and farm Christmas trees on acres and acres of land. Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a pie auction in one of these towns – the proceeds of which went to a modest scholarship fund for high-achieving youths at their local high school.

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pie auction, you guys. Pies that had won awards at county fairs, women who I’m sure had perfected recipes over generations, a hundred people crammed into what used to be a high school gym – where everyone knew each other by first name and teased one another affectionately (“Next up – a chocolate fudge pie, which we all know is going to Hank…”). It was wholesome and authentic and it absolutely warmed my heart.

The forest. Last but not least, Portland would be incomplete without the glory of nature that surrounds us. They don’t call them evergreens for nothing – the Pacific Northwest is overgrowing with life. Vines creeping around light posts, rogue leaves peeking through cracks in the sidewalk… and moss, endless and everywhere.

You get the sense that if the apocalypse came tomorrow, it wouldn’t take long for the Earth to reclaim this city – the land is practically twitching with anticipation for it. In literally every direction there is green, trees and plants who seem almost smug in their assuredness. And it only takes a short stroll off the beaten path, into another world where long leafy tendrils are draped across great mossy branches – to be reminded of how small we really are, how trivial our problems, how life will continue going on long after we’re gone.

That’s what Portland is, really – the perfect blend of city, country, and forest. The most amazing people, the most incredible culture, and the most delicious food carts. (Oh right I didn’t even talk about those…)

Long story short, here I am: three months in, surrounded by a collection of truly amazing people and with a ton of new experiences under my belt… and I’m actually awed at how anxious I originally was. Because now that I’m here, it seems odd that I’ve ever been anywhere else.

I slipped into Portland like a bird in the night, and it feels as if I must have been here the whole time.

Throwback Thursday: The Nutshell Version Turns 1!

GUESS. WHAT.

After the next Hunger Games movie comes out, they’re going to start releasing prequels so the ADVENTURE ISN’T OVER YET. (In unrelated news: I have the literary and cinematic maturity of a 13-year-old girl.)

That’s not actually what I was gonna say, though. Guess what else!

That’s right – this week marks my one-year anniversary of starting this blog!!!

This fact was brought to my attention by Timehop, perhaps the greatest social invention of our generation.

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“You LIAR, I’m looking at your archived posts right now and they go all the way back to December 2013!” – Nobody

Well, Nobody, technically you’re right. I had a full two months of blogging under my belt before I worked up the courage to tell anyone. But I’m still counting this as my anniversary because uh… well, because this is my blog and I don’t have to answer to Nobody. (baddum, tsssss)

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I thought I’d pull a 90s-sitcom-series-finale and do a flashback montage of all its greatest hits.

The thing is, guys, this blog changed my life.

This blog post got me a job (a job I absolutely love). This one was featured on Freshly Pressed, which catapulted my love of blogging to a new dimension. This one helped me cope with my tumultuous year of three-moves-in-10-months, and this one and this one acted as writing therapy as I went through my recent break-up.

I wrote not one open letter but two – and I went through this weird phase where I really wanted to share my thoughts on random things like happiness and motivation and decision-making. I’m honored and humbled to report that my schoolteacher aunt used this post to demonstrate the literary term “hyperbole” to her students.

I also got the opportunity to publicly reminisce about my childhood via journal entries dating back to 1997, tell a heartbreaking story of 5th grade love and loss, and unearth an old Girl Scout project that hadn’t seen the light of day in 10 years.

And finally, I talked about being awkward an awful lot… because I am. I am really awkward.

It’s been a pretty sweet year, y’all – thanks for humoring me. Here’s to many more random posts to come.

Okay fine let’s talk about Tinder.

I’ll be honest, you guys. I debated for a long time whether I should write this post. because (a) My family, friends, and coworkers read my blog… and I’m not sure how eager they are to hear of my online dating exploits, and (b) “Online dating exploits” would be one thing, Tinder is another.

Up until a few weeks ago, all I knew about Tinder was that it was a dating app… and, more specifically, that it didn’t exactly have a reputation for creating deep, successful, long-standing relationships. It was suggested to me as a way to meet people, now that I’m a single gal living alone in a big city.

But being on Tinder is vaguely akin to reading 50 Shades of Grey or watching Magic Mike – everybody knows that everybody’s read/seen it, but there’s still something of an unspoken understanding that no one openly talks about it. You don’t do it in public. And if it does ever come up in conversation, it’s selective and deliberate.

I even heard that here in Portland, “We met at New Seasons” (a local organic grocery store) has become code for “We met on Tinder.”

Which is why, when I joined Tinder, I told myself I was joining more as a social experiment than anything. I think I even used the words “it’ll make a good blog post” at some point in my internal reasoning.

First of all, here’s how Tinder works:

You fill out a comprehensive questionnaire detailing your values, passions, and personality type…

You’re given the opportunity to profile what you’re looking for in a partner, likes, dislikes, and…

You just swipe. Right if you like them, left if you don’t. And what information are you given to make this decision? Family history, religious affiliation, political views, life aspirations… picture, name, age.

So in other words, being on Tinder is kinda like saying, “Here, lemme just sit down and pass superficial judgement on complete strangers for a few minutes. NBD.”

To be fair, you are also given a 500-character description, and you get to see whether you have any shared interests or friends on Facebook.

…That is, if you take the extra step of clicking on their profile.

But as one of my more Tinder-savvy friends pointed out, there’s a reason that requires an extra click. The idea, she tells me, is to just make a split-second gut decision. When I explained to her that I open every single profile, read every single description, and scroll through all of the available photos, she said, “God, that sounds exhausting.”

And she was right. Tinder is exhausting, in so many new and interesting ways.

My two least favorite features of the app:

  • When you swipe left, it stamps the picture “NOPE.” Which would not have been my specific inflection, okay? I’m not a jerk. It should be something more like “I’m sorry, you seem great, but I’m just not that into weight lifting…”
  • When you’re notified of a match, you are prompted to (a) tell your friends (which seems odd) or (b) “keep playing.” Like the whole thing is a game. Which I guess it kinda is.

And it’s exhausting, most of all, because it’s starting to make me lose faith in the male race. Or just humanity in general. To save time, I created a few ground rules for myself of what would qualify someone as an automatic no:

  • Mirror selfies (I know, I’m sorry. You probably just don’t have any pictures of yourself so you’re improvising. But I just can’t get over seeing a toilet and towel rack over your shoulder. I can’t.)
  • Spelling errors (I try not to be a nazi over this, but if you have 500 characters to display yourself to the world and you do so with a typo, we probably shouldn’t hang out.)
  • The words “no drama.” (You boys are JUST as dramatic, don’t be insulting.)
  • Pictures of you lifting one corner of your shirt to show your abs.
  • Actually, come to think of it, any picture that only exists to show your muscles. (Are there really girls out there who swoon over this?)

IMG_1426This was an ACTUAL guy’s ACTUAL profile picture. I’m not making this up.

After awhile I started noticing trends – like “looking for a down to earth girl.” What does that even mean?

Like, what would the opposite of a down to earth girl be? An up-in-the-sky girl? Cuz that’s me.

Also, “adventure” is a word that comes up a lot. As in, “I love adventure” or “Let’s go on an adventure.” I’m not sure what to make of this, but for me it conjures images of Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

Not every guy’s profile falls into these categories, though. I’ve come across a few good ones…

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Some guys feel honesty is the best policy…

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Some use it as an opportunity to express their poetic side…

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This guy, who used his four pictures to make a zoom-in meme:

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And then there’s this old gem:

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It’s also exhausting just based on the sheer volume of possible interactions. No joke, here was my very first hour on the app:

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The number of human beings on this app is staggering. And since I’m not exactly the best follow-up person in the world, having to keep up with dozens of conversations at once isn’t exactly my strong suit.

Luckily, some guys make it really easy by weeding themselves out for me:

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IMG_1429Okay, that one was kinda funny.

I could list more, there are a lot of creep-os on Tinder, but I’m already toeing the line on appropriateness here so I’ll stop. And anyway, not all conversations are bad…

Like the guy I had a serious, very technical, in-depth conversation with about how to rate potential romantic partners…

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Or this guy, who used my only weakness against me…

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All in all, the whole thing has been super bizarre. I have not met the guy version of Tinderella, I have no success stories to report, and I still feel squeamish even posting this because Tinder is so taboo. In fact, now that I’ve got my blog post written I might just go ahead and delete it.

…Maybe just after a couple more swipes.

Wherefore art thou, Bearded Ryan?

To the really solid, upstanding individual who broke into my car this weekend:

Hey, you. Good old you. How ya feelin? Is your arm sore, from that rock you hurled through my car window? Any cuts or scrapes from kneeling in glass shards as you rifled through my glove compartment? Did you pull any muscles lifting my junk out of the back seat? Any pinky toe blisters from the shoes you used to run away?

How’s your conscience, knowing that you pulled this crap ten steps away from a preschool?

No matter. I hope this letter finds you in good health. I’ve known a wayward soul or two in my time, and I know there’s probably more to your story than throwing rocks through windows.

Maybe you’re a teenager and it was a dare, and you’re just trying to fit in with the wrong crowd. Maybe you’re a single dad just trying to provide for your family the only way you know how (after all, the Notorious B.I.G. dedicated his Ready to Die album to “all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustling in front of, that called the police on me – when I was just trying to make some money to feed my daughter.”) Maybe you’re struggling with a crippling addiction, and it’s taken hold of your life so entirely that you don’t even realize what you’re doing anymore.

Whatever the case, it is my sincerest hope that you’ll straighten up and fly right before it’s too late.

In the meantime, though, I’m going to offer you some unsolicited advice. Businessperson to unethical businessperson.

First of all, I’m curious how you landed on my car as an ideal target. I drive a 2007 Toyota Yaris that hasn’t been washed since the last olympics. I literally go WAY out of my way every day to park a half a mile away from work just because parking is free there. And my car’s cleanliness is the biggest embarrassment of my life, to the point that I used to have nightmares about giving my boss a ride somewhere and him finally becoming privy to what a disgusting creature I am. My ex boyfriend lovingly nicknamed my vehicle “the garbage disposal.”

And you thought – hey I know, I’ll just go ahead and bypass these BMWs and Lexuses scattered around the PAID parking spots of Portland and go to the cheapskate neighborhood instead. Look there! A dirty, decade-old car full to the brim with empty Gatorade bottles, chip wrappers, and parking tickets? JACKPOT!

How long did it take you to figure out that I’m just as broke as your sorry ass?

…30 seconds? A minute, maybe?

Then, I imagine you grabbed the only item of potential value you could find, a box of random documents, and tore out of there.

Just really poor choices, all around dude. Take a minute to reevaluate your life.

But this story isn’t about my car getting broken into. Let me tell you a better story about Superman a bearded guy named Ryan.

Mr. Loser Rock Thrower didn’t make it far with my box-o-documents before ditching them around a corner. There they sat, for who knows how long, until Bearded Ryan came across them while walking his dog. He curiously nudged one of the envelopes open with his toe, and my passport went skidding across the sidewalk.

Alarmed, he picked up the box and the remaining documents and brought them home.

…Where he proceeded to go all storybook hero and track me down Liam Neeson style.

I’m admittedly filling in holes here, but here’s the story as I understand it.

Get this, you guys: When he got home, Bearded Ryan did a Google search for “Mary Wittbrodt” which yielded about thirty thousand results (there are a lot of Marys in my family), but he was still somehow able to track down my dad’s old company in San Diego. He called them, and they told him my dad had retired, but he still somehow obtained his contact info. He called my parents’ house but they were out of town, so he left a message.

This would ALREADY have been way above and beyond what any average human being would consider going through in a situation like this. Hitting a road block (like my parents’ voicemail) would have been completely rational justification for calling the search quits.

But did he call it quits? EFF no, this is Bearded Ryan we’re talking about!

He saw on my college transcript that I go by the nickname “Susie” (BINGO) and then started his search all over again with that name instead. Lo and behold, he found me through my company’s website – which is how I got a call from our confused receptionist at around 11:30 this morning.

“Hi… Susie? I’m sorry to bother you, but I figured you’d want to take this call. I’ve got a man named Ryan on the phone who says he was walking his dog and found your passport…”

Minutes later, I was at the scene of the crime, surveying the damage and broken glass… when Bearded Ryan called out behind me, appearing like the angel Gabriel with documents in-hand.

If my life were a movie, this would be the part where that blossoming romance riff would play (you know the one I’m talking about, the music the Sims always made out to), and we would run into each others’ arms and live happily ever after and have literally THE BEST “how we met” story of all time.

But because this is real life, and I am real awkward Susie, that’s not exactly how it went down. We gathered the papers together, most of them smeared with rain, while I kept thanking him over and over again (Bearded Ryan, how do I thank thee? Let me count the ways…). The extent of our conversation was him giving me some rock-solid advice for how to avoid identity theft now that Mr. Loser Rock Thrower probably has all my information. I asked him if there was anything I could do to repay him and he said, repeatedly, “I’m just glad I found you.”

Then we shook hands (I think? It’s all a blur to me now…) and he rode off into the sunset while I stood there gaping like a goldfish.

A few hours later, my parents got home and heard Bearded Ryan’s concerned message – and promptly called their daughter, who was (regrettably) in a meeting.

Put yourself in my parents’ shoes for a moment – just returning from a vacation, 1,000 miles away from their eldest daughter who isn’t answering her phone, and a message on the answering machine about some stranger finding her passport on the street.

Yeah, they might have panicked a bit.

But have no fear, everyone, because Bearded Ryan came to the rescue again. My parents called the number he left and had a nice, long, buddy-buddy chat. He assured them that their daughter was, in fact, safe – and filled them in on some of the finer details of my unfortunate predicament.

When I finally got their frantic voicemail a little while later, I called them back immediately thinking I would have to talk them out of total hysteria. But to my surprise, they were cool as cucumbers – just wanting to talk insurance logistics and to scold me, again, for not renewing my AAA membership.

Damn you, Bearded Ryan, you’ve done it again.

My conscience still feels totally out of balance about the fact that I completely failed to express my gratitude in any tangible way. I mean, the guy talked to my dad’s old employer from like seven years ago halfway across the country. There aren’t even enough italics in the world to convey the lengths he went to… just to return a passport to an idiot girl who was stupid enough to leave sensitive documents unattended in her car in a sketchy part of town. And then, to top it off, he talked my parents off the veritable ledge of absolute terror while I jabbered away, blissfully ignorant in a work meeting.

I’m tempted to go on a similar Liam Neeson-type scavenger hunt to track him down… but all I know is (1) his name is Ryan, (2) he has a beard, (3) he owns a dog, and (4) he lives within reasonable proximity to my work.

Which basically narrows it down to, oh, a third of the male population in Portland.

Le sigh.

Bearded Ryan, if you’re out there, thank you. And also…

I love you
Let’s get married
And have upstanding-citizen babies
Let me buy you a drink!

Here Lies Susie, Rest in Peace. Cause of Death: Pure Barre.

You’ve heard of Pure Barre.

I feel I can safely assume that, because I’ve heard of Pure Barre, and I’m usually the last person to hear about things.

But for those of you still in the dark, Pure Barre is an exercise program created by masochists to torture women under the facade of being a distant cousin of ballet.

…Or something. I don’t know. Look it up.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get in shape ever since my doctor called me a fat lard a few weeks ago… and I’ve been hearing a lot about Pure Barre lately.

And since I pretty much do whatever I want these days, I went ahead and signed myself up.

I’ll be honest, I went into this thing all cocky. My limited exposure to the program had informed me that it wouldn’t be cardio, there would be no jumping or bouncing, and they I would only be using 2-pound weights. Pshaw. I spent like two weeks working out this year, and I did dance… oh, a decade or so ago, so I GOT THIS, right? Should be a piece of cake, a la mode.

But it was not a piece of cake a la mode. It wasn’t even cake a la no mode. It was… slabs of concrete on a plate.

My first impression walking in is, damn. These girls look GOOD.

I don’t mean runway model skinny, I mean FIT. I’m talking, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider fit. These girls look like they’d be right at home with loincloths around their waist, traipsing through jungles with a machete. The movie Avatar comes to mind, only these girls aren’t blue.

And hawt. Oh my god. Easily a room full of the prettiest girls I’ve ever seen. I suddenly feel overwhelmingly self-conscious in my sweats and oversized T-shirt. They make me jealous of turtles, how they can just hide inside themselves at whim.

Boys, I’ve uncovered the secret. If you want a hottie, hang out outside a Pure Barre studio and thank me later.

Then it occurs to me: there’s no way all these girls are this fit, and this hot. This is fake, this is part of the gig. They pay these girls to come to these classes the same way beer commercials use subliminal advertising with big busty blondes – to make men think, in caveman-style logic: “Me drink beer. Me get pretty girls.”

Me go to Pure Barre studio, me become pretty Avatar-fit girl.

Luckily, all the fellow-attendees-slash-possibly-paid-actors are really nice. They twirl around me as I stretch awkwardly on the floor, and give me enthusiastic encouragement for my first day.

The instructor pulls me aside to give me a basic overview of what to expect – and she says, two or three times, “Don’t worry. All these girls in here – every one of them had a first day, too.”

Translation: You will suck at this.

The class begins, and we go to the bar to perform a series of leg strengthening exercises.

Did I say “leg strengthening exercises?” No no, that’s the wrong name for it. You’re probably picturing squats or burpees or some nonsense.

Nope, what I mean is – we just stood there. Just stood there, with one leg down and one straight out. Or on our tip toes with knees bent. Or with flexed feet, turned out feet, pointed feet. We barely even moved. The most tiny, miniscule movements – tighten and hold, tighten and hold.

From outside, it probably looked like we were doing barbie doll impressions, twisting the leg socket by a half an inch and then just standing there like a statue.

Which made it all the more infuriating how unbelievably, indescribably HARD it was.

At Pure Barre, they have an expression called “embrace the shake.” What they mean by this is, by the end of the class you’ll have exerted your muscles to the absolute breaking point – and your muscles’ way of expressing this to you will be to shake uncontrollably.

We’re meant to embrace this.

I am embracing the shake within the first eight minutes of class. Not just slight twitching, mind you, but absolute violent spasms. I look like a frightened cartoon character, my knees knocking together. “Way to go, Susie! Embrace the shake!” the instructor tells me.

I don’t know what this means. The shake isn’t something I can control. I’m not embracing anything, I’m just trying to stay alive. If I could send the shake away with some cab fare, I’d do it. I want to spit in the shake’s face.

After days and days at the bar, when I’ve given up all hope of my legs ever returning to normal function and I’m starting to forget my name, we retreat to the mats.

I’m no anatomy expert, but I truly did not even know there was this much sweat inside my body. Where does it all come from? And how is it produced by doing nothing but standing?

On the floor, we do more teeny tiny movements – this time working itty bitty muscles in my abs I didn’t even know existed. Sweat is dripping off the tip of my nose like a leaky faucet.

After weeks of impossibly miniscule gestures involving a ball and a resistance band, mercifully, the class comes to a close.

I practically collapse on the floor. I am dying I died I’m dead.

The same girls frolic up to me cheerfully, asking me how I enjoyed it. Gathering my remaining pride, I can only muster a single syllable: “Tough.”

They laugh conspiratorially. “It gets easier, we promise!” Then they skip tra-la-la back into their Avatar forest while I lay helpless on the ground.

Exiting into the crisp Portland night air is nothing short of heavenly. The icy wind laps my pink face like a loyal dog, and any remaining drips of sweat are stopped dead in their tracks.

It’s wonderful… until I realize home is 17 blocks away.

And I suddenly realize I can’t walk. I can’t even remember what it’s like to walk. I’m like an infant re-learning my first steps. Even swinging my arms hurts.

I somehow stumble awkwardly home, and climb into the shower practically on all fours. As I type this, I’ve been sitting in the same position for the last 2.5 hours because getting up sounds so unbearably painful.

I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into here. This has been horrifyingly intense, and completely overwhelming. I’m exhausted, weak, and I ache all over.

…And, truthfully, I can’t wait to go back tomorrow.

What it’s like to be alone

What is there to say?

What is there ever to say?

It’s been so long since I dipped my toe in the murky waters of chronicling my life that I can scarcely remember how to do it.

But since time is a weighty currency not one of us can spare, I’ll get to the point:

Due to a set of circumstances I am nowhere near ready to disclose on this blog… I am single. And now living alone in a city apartment in Portland.

Having been in my most recent relationship for just shy of three years, and the one preceding it for four, and the one preceding that for one… I’ve been somebody’s girlfriend for eight of the last nine years, and my entire adult life.

In other words, being single is entirely unfamiliar territory.

And, let me tell you: it’s hard.

It’s hard not having an automatic recipient to your random thoughts throughout the day. It’s hard not having a witness to your life, a sounding board who knows all the right backstories to every character in your story. It’s hard not having someone to wonder about, to care for.

Being alone – which I count as a separate entity – is also hard. Even surrounded by people, the world can be a lonely place. What if I told you that you had to spend the rest of your life, every single moment until the end of time, with the same person? More time than even your best friend. More than your significant other. More than any member of your family combined.

And the weird thing is, that person is you. YOU are the person you’re going to have to spend eternity with, forever, regardless of the presence of others. And, consider this carefully… do you even like yourself? If you were someone else, would you want to spend eternity with you? Or do you even know yourself to begin with? What kind of person are you? What do you like to do?

That’s what being alone is like, and it’s terrifying.

…But, okay, it’s also awesome.

Being alone – as far as I can figure (having had about two weeks under my belt) – is also an awfully exhilarating adventure.

I feel thoroughly unqualified to adequately express my experience thus far… so by way of explanation, let me just describe my day today:

I woke up by my own accord.

I don’t mean to say that I didn’t set an alarm, because that’s been true of most weekend days in my life.

I mean that when I got out of bed, it wasn’t because I knew someone else was up and puttering around in the kitchen. It wasn’t because waking up was the polite, considerate thing to do. It wasn’t because on some unconscious level I knew it would be improper to sleep any later, and that it was “time” to start the day.

I woke up for the luxuriously simple reason that I was done sleeping.

Once awake, I asked myself a deliriously wonderful question: “What would you like to do today, Susie?”

And as bad at I am at decisions, I knew the answer right away. Gosh darnit, I want some eggs benedict.

And here’s the crazy part; are you paying attention? I got some eggs benedict. I walked to a locally acclaimed breakfast joint just a few blocks from my apartment, and asked for a table for one.

Because I wanted to watch the Charger game (no, I don’t want to talk about it), I was situated in the far back of the restaurant with my very own dedicated TV.

I was in heaven.

eggs benny

This restaurant (not that I’m in the business of promoting random restaurants) offers bottomless mimosas for $9.

mimosaThe secret to bottomless mimosas is to make sure you get your money’s worth. $9 is a pretty penny, UNLESS you have a fair few of them to balance it out. #lifetips

Also, while most boring places will offer you breadsticks or some nonsense while you’re waiting… this place serves complimentary homemade doughnuts. So, no big deal or anything.

doughnuts

Gee whiz, I sure hope nobody’s paying too close attention to me photographing all this food.

After swallowing my last bite of eggs benny and watching the Chiefs return a Chargers punt 50 yards, I made my way back into the misty sidewalk and headed home.

Before reaching my building, I stopped off at the local supermarket and treated myself to a some fresh veggies and (because I won’t be kissing anyone anytime soon) cheese curds entitled “Garlic Cheddar – Vampire Slayer.”

I munched on them while watching (who am I kidding?) crying over Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

After I was all cried out, I started to get sleepy, and (because there was no one around to suggest otherwise) I went ahead and took a two-hour nap.

When I woke, I dolled myself up, grabbed a book, and walked down to my favorite vietnamese restaurant. I reveled in every last nanosecond of slurping my pho (because why hurry?) as I devoured Truman Capote.

bat

The pho place is the hokiest hole in the wall you’ve ever seen, and their source of music is YouTube playlists. I made it through two of them (I know, because the proprietor had to yell at her son to change it twice) before pushing my bowl away, thoroughly satisfied.

When I left, the owner gave me a bright, genuine smile and shouted, “Happy holiday! Happy holiday to you!” as I walked out the door.

On my way home, I passed a bar and – what the hell? – grabbed a glass of wine. I met a girl named Jennifer, Asian and gorgeous with dark-rimmed glasses, who spent the evening convincing me that I should care more about the Blazers than the Chargers. (I am absolutely not convinced, but A+ for effort.)

When I arrived in my over-budget, outdated, turn-of-the-century brick apartment, I cranked on my noisy radiator and plopped on my horribly uncomfortable couch to write a blog post.

And you know what? I absolutely adored it. Because it’s mine, all mine, and this day is mine, and this life is mine, and every decision I made or will make in the future will be mine.

This isn’t a novel idea. I’m sure there are people all over the world – in the most remote African villages, even – who wake up in the morning and decide what they want and then go get it for themselves. This is probably very simple for some people. You might be reading this right now and think, “What? You had to double your rent and move into the throbbing heart of a new city to learn this? This is Adulthood 101, you idiot.” And you’d be right.

But the thing is, when you lasso your life with someone else’s, you forget how to want something and go get it. Your life becomes this multi-colored mishmash of desires, and everything becomes gray after awhile. “Do I want this? Or does he want it, and I only want it because it’s what he wants?” You truly can’t tell the difference. Because there is no difference. You are one being, a single floating amoeba.

But now, I’m forced to press the question, over and over again, “What do I want? What is important to me?” And I keep surprising myself with the answer.

So as terrifying as it’s been so far, it’s also like some part of my subconscious – the adventurous, spunky, ‘why-the-hell-not’ part – has been locked in a closet for the better part of the last decade, and has finally been let out to start stretching her legs.

And boy, is she ready to run.

What They Don’t Tell You About Life

Here’s what they tell you about life:

You can do anything you set your mind to. Good things happen to good people, and vice versa. When you fall in love, “you’ll just know.” Cursive is an important thing to learn. Humpty Dumpty is an egg, even though absolutely nothing in the nursery rhyme ever indicates this.

But I’ve come to learn that while the adults who shaped my formative years certainly meant well… they left a lot out.

And so, in no particular order, here are the things they forgot to mention.

1. There isn’t just right and wrong, good and bad, black and white. In children’s books and movies, you’re often spoonfed the appropriate reaction to every ethical or existential dilemma. We know we’re supposed to hate Ursula because she stole Ariel’s voice and tricked Prince Eric. She did bad things which made her a bad character.

But the thing is, the world is a chaotic tapestry of all colors and shades, and not every action will be purely good or bad. People, likewise, aren’t conveniently plopped into precategorized buckets of good and evil. There are veritable saints who do terrible things, and murderers who commit good deeds. There are people who do bad things with good intentions, and those who have just lost their intention along the way. In your post-Disney-movie life, expect to encounter a lot of gray area.

2. Some questions don’t have a right answer. In school, and particularly with the invention of scantrons, we were taught that there is ONE accurate response to every question, while the rest are incorrect. And so we were primed, at an early age, to believe that every situation has one correct path – and that with enough preparation and intuition, we’ll know which one it is.

But in reality, sometimes when you’re making a decision, both options will have an equal list of pros and cons. You’ll survey everybody in your life, get a ton of conflicting advice, and be even more confused than when you started. There will be no clear, obvious direction and you’ll be forced to ask a question that as children, we’re never taught to answer: What do you actually want? What would make you the happiest?

3. You will make mistakes. I can’t stress this enough. Maybe this was just me – but as a child, a part of me honestly believed that adulthood meant you reached a time when you were all done screwing up. Like there was some tally being kept somewhere, and at a certain point you reached your quota, and now it was time to move forward into being a grown-up… where mistakes were a thing of the past, and instead you went around punishing kids for their mistakes.

But mistakes are a part of life. Without them, we’d be stagnant creatures. Never moving forward, never learning. Here’s the thing: you WILL fuck everything up, and you’ll feel awful, and just when things are starting to turn around you’ll fuck it all up again. You’ll blow off friends for stupid reasons and you’ll forget to call your mom back. You’ll say things you don’t mean (or things you do, but that you should have kept to yourself anyway). You’ll make messes. You’ll hurt feelings. Something important, at some point, will be all your fault. It’s just a fact of life.

4. Your heart will break. Inevitably. Maybe it’s just the kind of thing that is impossible to prepare someone for, which is why I’ve always felt so utterly unprepared. How can you tell a sunny, bright-eyed child that someday, without a doubt, they will give their heart to someone only to have it thrown on the ground and stomped on?

But it will happen. The rug will be pulled out from under you, and it will be the most damnable, pitiful thing. You’ll feel like someone hollowed you out with an ice cream scoop, and there will be a big gaping hole where in your middle where laughter once was. Colors will lose their vibrance, food will become tasteless, and days will slog on like a funeral march. You will feel like you’re the only person in the history of the world to have experienced this acute pain – and simultaneously, you will know for an absolute fact that every heartbroken love song was written for you.

5. Sometimes you’ll be lonely. Did we even know the word “lonely” as kids? I was an only child for the first six years of my life, and I never remember uttering it – I had my books and journals to keep me company. But somewhere along the way, we started needing other people around to feel whole, to obtain a sense of belonging.

And as such, there will be times when you’ll feel the twang of loneliness at your heartstrings. Maybe it will be after a breakup, or maybe it’ll just be after moving to an unfamiliar city. Loneliness will get you in a chokehold and won’t let go. You’ll be so lonely that you’re sure you’re the only one left, that everyone else has progressed without you. The rest of the world matured and moved on and now lead happy, fulfilled lives – and you missed the train, it’s too late, you’ll never have what they have. Loneliness is a sickly-sweet poison, and it will taunt and immobilize you.

6. You really SHOULD do all the things your parents bug you about. Sometimes I wonder what my mom and I would even talk about if I would just go ahead and get an oil change already. Because well-intended or not, parental advice begins to coalesce into an annoying gray blob of jabber after awhile. Yes, I’ll take my car in. Yes, I’ll ask my boss about insurance. Yes, I’ll call Grandma. I just can’t help it – as a daughter, I assume it must be written in my DNA that whenever my parents instruct me to do something, it gets filed in a mental folder entitled “sure, when I get to it.”

But KIDS. You need to GROW OUT of this habit. You should floss, because one day teeth cleanings will be your financial concern, not your parents’. You should wear sunscreen, because there will come a time in your life when you actually do start to notice new freckles on your shoulders and it will worry you enough to start googling “early signs of skin cancer.” If someone gives you an article of clothing as a gift, you really SHOULD wear it the next time you see them. You should sit up straight. You should watch less TV and spend more time outside. You should eat your vegetables. You should say “please” and “thank you.”

7. Life is hard. Maybe I was told that, I don’t know, but if so it certainly wasn’t spelled out. I thought “life is hard” was just a quaint cat poster pinned to an office wall. I thought I understood it, back then, as a funny little inside joke that was-true-but-maybe-wasn’t-exactly-true.

But it is. Life is really, really, unequivocally, unexplainably hard. Life will be so hard that you’ll feel betrayed or cheated somehow. You’ll think everyone else has it easier, that you got the short end of the stick. You’ll constantly compare yourself to others, and you will always lose. You’ll start to lose hope for the future; you’ll start to wonder what the point even is.

8. But, life is also amazing. For all the trials and tribulations and confusions and heartaches life brings… it also blows your mind with its joy and surprises. The human experience is one of constant discovery and connection, and without all the crappy parts of life… we’d never appreciate the peaks.

I am writing this at a time in my life when numbers 1-7 are intimately, excruciatingly familiar to me. But the moral of the story is, there’s always tomorrow. And historically speaking, tomorrow is when # 8 rears its beautiful head.

Throwback Thursday: Senior Poetry Contest – The Final Poem!

Alright, y’all… here it is. The final installment of the three-poem series that won me the Senior Poetry Contest in 2007.

I know you’re probably dying of anticipation.

Your lips are plump and crisp, like purple grapes that dot the vine.
And when we kiss, I can’t help but to bite them in my mind.
And their juice flows thick and violet, down my chin and down my spine.

It puddles ’round my toes, and makes a sea of crimson waves.
And two porcelain flower pedals are the only things it saves.
And out of them, the ocean makes two tiny porcelain slaves.

The pedal-salves serve as your eyes, with two black circle-stains.
That gaze at me, and out the window sadly when it rains.
And they cry, because they’re being held by heavy, sightless chains.

They drape around your shoulder blades and dangle to the ground.
Shuffle dirt around your ankles – drag your posture down.
And wrap around your poor weak head, like a pitiful iron crown.

When you sleep, I run my fingers through the tangles in your hair
And I kiss them, like my children when they tell me life’s unfair.
You smile at me, and in my head I scream a silent prayer.

“Dear God, let the man be happy. Let his days run safe and long.
And when night falls upon him, Lord, I beg you. Keep him strong.
And may he never hear the words that litter my mind’s song.

Because his hands are like great diamonds with his palms against my cheeks.
And his voice could rattle mountains in the heavens when he speaks.
And because a single touch from him could haunt my dreams for weeks.

So I ask this in your name, Lord. Do consider this last plea.
Create his happiness a lock, and let me be the key.
I’ll ask nothing of you, evermore. Yours sincerely, me.”

And as I live life next to you, and watch events unfurl,
I’m reminded of a tale my mother told me as a girl.
When on her bed I’d sit with her, and by her leg I’d curl…

She would tell me of a woman who had loved a man to death
And had killed him with the deadly poisoned sweetness of her breath
Which was tainted with her love itself, and all its dangerous depth…

And so I retreat to watching as your eyelids flutter shut.
And I suppress the silent fire burning deep inside my gut.
I’m thinking thoughts about you… but I’ll never tell you what.

Throwback Thursday: Senior Poetry Contest, Part 2

Happy Throwback Thursday, readers!

For those of you who missed last week’s installment, we are recounting the three poems that I read during the Senior Poetry Contest during my final year of high school. I went on to win the contest… most likely because I was perhaps the only person taking the class because I was a legitimate geek, rather than just for an easy A.

Here is poem # 2:

I’m sorry – was I daydreaming?
I do that quite a bit.
Oh, what about? Like I would tell!
Well… this much I’ll admit.

There was a tree. And in its shade,
We lounged like ladybugs.
And our time was punctuated
By a dozen lengthy hugs.

We were by a lake, I think.
(I hadn’t gotten that far yet)
And we were reading Dorothy Parker
…Or Walt Whitman, I forget.

A picnic basket held our things,
Among them ham and cheese.
And we wandered over to our feast
While dusting grassy knees.

NO WAIT! We watched a baseball game.
And I asked, “Who’s on first?”
And you said something witty
And completely unrehearsed.

Then Mark Loretta got a run,
And then we got four more.
The game was legendary!
But… we didn’t know the score.

OR better yet, we walked the beach
With salty, windbown hair.
And we couldn’t look directly
At the water for the glare.

So we settled underneath the dock,
And watched the tide roll out.
We sat there for awhile, and well,
Then we talked about…

Oh – goodness gracious, I don’t know!
It’s all about the same.
I guess that’s just what I deserve
For playing the daydream game.

It’s a nasty cycle,
This imaginary life.
‘Cause you wake up – to the real world.
To death, and pain, and strife.

But I guess it’s better that way.
You know, when all is said and done.
What’s that saying? “Falls no shadow,
Where there shines no sun?”

Well, I’m back inside reality…
And my imagination’s shrinking.
But could you do me a favor?
Never ask me what I’m thinking!