Blinking at the icicles


Yesterday when I woke up and dove across the room for my alarm, the windows of my house were glistening — early sunlight barely catching on condensation frosting in the corners.

For the first time in a while, I’m looking forward to the snow. I’ve been buying apple cider and candles, pulling my mittens out of storage. I’ve been throwing open the curtains so my home will absorb as much glancing bright light as it can, wandering outside to see the red traces of the sunrise as the air grows sharper.

I’m sure the novelty will wear off after the first great whiteout, and I’ll lock the doors and burrow under a pile of blankets until May like usual. But now, with winter only promising and not yet corporeal — it makes me think of change, action, opportunity.

There are two reactions to the cold: cover your skin and hide from it, or dress warm and embrace it. It can close you down or wake you up. Neither is the right reaction — just two options, and all winter long, we’ll pick one every day.

This has been a year of small changes for me — new home, new things to learn, new goals being made and met. It feels some days like my bones are growing into my skin and it’s beginning to fit properly, like I’m finally figuring out the calibration for the internal circuits. I’ve been reopening old hobbies and setting others aside, trying things and rediscovering past loves I didn’t know I still had.

After college I stopped reading for pleasure for a while — a little, here and there, then back to Netflix and nature walks. Besides, I read enough at work to fill up my daily quota of words.

In the last few months, though, I’ve begun again. I’ve been working my way through new stories that catch my eye, books on my shelves I skimmed a chapter of and then set aside. Two weeks ago I looked up on a Saturday and realized it was dark out, and I’d read four books in a day.

I’m still trying to figure out how that happened.

I’ve gotten in the habit of baking to relieve stress (it helps, honestly — I highly recommend it). But lately I’ve started baking again without the pressure, purely for the joy of it. Last week I experimented with the perfect homemade brownie recipe; I’m not there yet, but I’m close. (If you have it already, feel free to help a girl out — my email is

And I don’t mean to brag, but I watered my house plants twice this week, and none of them are dead yet.

I’ve been angry for a long time, I think, as I’ve watched myself and the people I love try to patch together the cracks worn into our skin by the people who promised they knew what was best for us. It still scares me, after all this time; fear and anger are two sides of a coin. It’s a toss up which one I’ll get on any given day.

I’ve been thinking, though, that this is the time for me to figure it out. Anger is healthy, and those who say otherwise are often selling a weak replacement — but anger is a sorry stopping place. And fear can be healthy, truly; but a good love drives it out.

It’s a little confusing to me that “fitting my own skin” looks a lot like childhood to me — reading and making, getting work done and playing. Having the freedom not to worry about the scrapes on our shins; probably just signs of getting into trouble.

Of being awake.

This feels a bit like writing New Year’s resolutions — it’s all fine and dandy until the third weekend after, and then that gym membership begins to lapse. Maybe it’s an exercise in futility.

Just now, though, winter’s peeking over the windowsill, and we’re nearly prepared for the first big storm.

This could be a really good year.

Scrubbing out the faith


We’re going to talk about religion, but first we’re going to talk about dead things.

When I was young we had a bird feeder outside the wide picture window in our living room. We’d watch the chickadees, admire the squirrels’ ingenuity and, occasionally, hear the “ping” as sparrows confidently dive-bombed the glass. If we turned quickly, we’d see shaky flashes of feathers as they bounced off dazedly and flew away.

Once, after a particularly loud “ping,” a bird dropped to the grass. My siblings and I ventured outside (under strict instructions from Mom to “not touch it, it could have bird diseases”) and found it lying sideways under the window, shivering, flapping feebly.

We wrapped it in a cloth napkin (“Careful!” Mom shouted after us) and tried to keep it warm.

It was dead by evening.

My siblings and I decided to have a little birdie funeral. We dug a small hole in a trail in the woods behind our home. We may have said a few words; I don’t remember, but it seems like something we would do. Then we tipped it into the ground, careful not to touch it to our skin and under strict orders to return the napkin to the kitchen.

When the carcass thumped into the dirt, the underside was crawling with maggots.

We walked back to the house for dinner.

“Wash your hands,” Mom reminded us, and we shuffled into the bathroom. When we returned she assigned me to set the table, and I pulled out the plates, fingers running over porcelain.

Maggots, I thought, and left the plates on the counter, running back to the bathroom sink to wash my hands again.

And again.

And again.

It was my Dad who finally noticed what I was doing, who stopped me and smiled and said, “Your hands are clean; come and eat.”

Maggots, I thought, and looked at my hands, skin cracking, crawling, then grit my teeth and sat down to dinner.

I was a kid then — I don’t remember how old — but sometimes, to this day, this is the memory that hits me when I walk into a church.

I’ve spent a lot of time in churches. I’ve gotten to know the women who have confident opinions on modesty, who begin instructions with the words, “God says.” I’ve gotten to know the men who attend because their wives do. I’ve seen kindness, and I’ve seen compassion, and I’ve stood by as, after a visitor walks away, the women’s ministry leader exclaims, “Good heavens, did you see her neckline?” I’ve been taught that God forgives and, in the same breath, the best cure for sin is not sinning.

I’ve taken dedicated notes as holy folk talked to me about love and belief and the behaviors I needed to modify; I’ve listened and absorbed and felt aching guilt for the things I’ve done, or wanted to do, or thought of doing.

I’ve washed my clean hands so many times I know by now that it’s worked into the layers of my skin, embedded in the crevices, and that phantom shame isn’t going away.

Here is the secret, the bit left out at the end of the sermon: the only way to keep your hands clean is to do nothing. Better to keep still, clear and silent and perfectly still, than to do something wrong — wash and wash but good heavens, try not to collect any more grime.

And here is a second: motionless hands catch dust.

For every church leader who compiled lists of new sins for us to feel ashamed of — perhaps frantically washing his own hands after services — I know an elder who cried when he spoke of his friend’s missionary work, a mischievous mother of four who teased me mercilessly until I startled into laughter, a pastor who welcomed me into his home and showed me the scars from his mistakes before we were really friends. These are the church, too. Sometimes it is strange to me that these can coexist: kindness and cruelty, trust and self-flagellation, full-bodied happiness and unremitting shame.

“I like the pointed sermons,” a friend told me once. “It gives me something to work at.” I think sometimes we get so used to fixing ourselves that the constant weight of it, running water over raw skin, becomes normal. Sometimes legalism looks enough like goodness to get invited home.

Just thought we should talk about it. To live, we have to stop washing our hands.

Malice and Harry Potter


Wax-sealed menus of Harry Potter recipes. No friends were seriously injured in the making of this project.

Last week was “one of those weeks,” a delicate term for a series of days that makes you want to stab your eyeballs repeatedly with a fork.

We’ve all had ’em.

I started each morning by inhaling unhealthy quantities of caffeine, and around lunchtime I got the day’s influx of bad news, extra work memos and “surprise” expenses. I spent evenings watching from the sidelines as the amount of work I had to do multiplied far past the amount of time I had available (or my rapidly dwindling energy supply).

On Thursday night — the start of my weekend — I drove home angry and stayed up late, furiously drinking herbal tea and penning roughly 500 words of an indignant semi-political blog I was determined to finish for today’s paper, and then read angsty prose until my eyes wouldn’t focus on the page.

But on Friday, I slept in. I cleaned and baked mini pumpkin pies and set up my home for a small Harry-Potter-themed party. It was part of a progressive dinner — each home served a part of the meal, and mine served appetizers. Friends came over to help me decorate, drop off supplies, bring food and — I am still impressed with this step — wax-seal the handwritten menus.

The rain poured on Friday night, flooded the streets a little; we were cocooned in the dry house. Then we traveled to the next home — hair dripping, curling at the neck as we splashed up the sidewalk. The host offered us slippers at the door.

The tempting aroma of potato soup someone else had made wafted through the room. I could hear the rain through the propped door, and I was warm and drowsy, listening as my friends told stories, teased.

A little belatedly, I remembered I was trying to be angry — savor the mood, finish that blog. It felt like looking at myself from the outside: Here, a woman stares into space and contemplates her emotions. But I couldn’t seem to manufacture it. I was surrounded by people I like, people who — and we are all surprised — seem to like me, and I couldn’t engineer enough negativity to counter it.

And dessert certainly didn’t lend a hand with the bad mood, either.

When I got home that evening, my phone buzzed with a message from out-of-state friends: Get on Skype, we will deal you in. It’s hard to play card games via Skype, but they managed it, holding mine up to the screen so I could tell them which one to play — “Left— no, other left.”

It was a really good weekend.

Impossible to revel in a funk, though, when you’re feeling practically snuggly.

I’ve said before that having friends, having people you care about who care about you, always comes to me as a bit of an afterthought. Yes, of course, I’ll be there in 10. We’re friends, aren’t we?

In the first Harry Potter book — it’s been sitting on my end table, as I prepared for the party — Ron and Harry have a conversation Christmas morning.

“Will you look at this?” Harry said. “I’ve got some presents!”

“What did you expect, turnips?” Ron said.

Surprised, and also delighted.

The angry blog was tabled, after all. I couldn’t engineer enough hostility to finish it.

Four smartphone apps for tech novices


I tend to be a little behind the curve when it comes to technology, and my recent transition to a smartphone has been a pretty steep learning curve.

Honestly, I love it. It’s made communicating with the people I love who live far away so much easier, and it’s allowed me to keep up-to-date with the daily news even when I’m not at the office.

Still, I feel like I’m under-using the technology. The power of the sun in the palm of my hand — and I’m paddling around on the surface of its capabilities. I mean, some people are trading stocks on their phones, and I’m still figuring out the camera. (I discovered the flashlight feature by accident… That took a while to shut off.)

I’m learning, though — and if you are, too, here are some of the most useful apps I’ve found. All of them can be found (for free) in the Play Store or App Store on your phone.

QR Barcode Scanner

This one is exactly as advertised — it allows your phone to scan an item’s bar code and find the item online, or links your phone to a webpage via the QR code. I’ve found it helpful for comparing product prices and for connecting easily to photos, videos and websites on my phone.

(If you decide to download the app and want to test it, this QR code will direct you to my last blog post.)



If you play guitar, there are several free apps that will help you tune your instrument. This is the first one I found, and it’s worked beautifully. I think it also works for other stringed instruments, in case any cellists or, say, banjo-players are reading along.


My bank, AffinityPlus Credit Union, has an app that allows me to check account balances, transfer funds and actually deposit checks securely from my phone. Since I live in a city without an AffinityPlus bank, this has been extremely helpful. I don’t know how many banks have similar apps, but I’d encourage you to check it out.

Caribou Coffee

And, finally, I can’t help but mention that Caribou Coffee has an app that notifies you of deals and occasionally gives you a code for a free drink. “Never turn down free coffee” is a good life motto, I think.

If you have another app that you think I’d find useful, let me know! I’m still trying to harness the power of the sun here — I’ll take all the tips I can get.

Moving in

This weekend I emptied my little apartment into boxes, bins and borrowed pickup trucks and, with the help of a few wildly underappreciated friends, moved into my next home.

I think a lot about place these days. Location. Where I stand and what I can see has a great deal of influence over how I think, what I feel, how I act.

It’s why grocery store designers carefully orchestrate their indoor pathways to take us past most of the merchandise (and all the cheap candy). It’s at least partly why old cathedrals were built as they were: soaring towers and arched ceilings draw your eyes up, tilt your head back. It’s why interior decorators sometimes take a ridiculously long time to select the exactly perfect shade of cerulean mid-periwinkle sparkle blue, or whatever — they’re aware of how the details of our surroundings influence us.

My new place is an apartment in an old house, with high ceilings and tall windows. It’s small, with no hallways: the rooms are connected to each other. The kitchen is a pale sunny yellow, and the floor slants a little toward the heating vents.

On Saturday, as we unloaded furniture, my new landlord was still wrapping up construction; my friends were, I think, a little surprised to see the toilet sitting on plastic on the bedroom floor as hammers pounded in the bathroom.

I wasn’t worried.

My old apartment was a practical place — functional appliances, squared corners, a window in each outer room. It was a reliable apartment; I think someone else has already taken it.

My new place, though —

Late last night when the temperature dropped, I tried to shut a window that had been propped open all day. The wood was stiff and started to squeal as it scraped against the outer frame — and kept squeaking, in one continuous, painful noise, for the full twenty seconds it took to force the pane by inches all the way down.

I opted to close any other open windows in the morning and bundle up for bed. I can only hope my neighbors are heavy sleepers.

The place has a sprawling feel about it, like the architects set a solid foundation and then let the house decide how it wanted to grow.

I keep trying to talk about the house like it’s alive — it decided, it grew. It has character — and believe me, that’s a good thing.

It reminds me of the college I stayed at in England, the last place I’ve felt at home — history and quirks, space for bookshelves.

When I tried to explain the house to my friends — particularly the kind ones who saw the toilet in the bedroom and said, um, listen, will you be OK — I felt a little like a ship’s captain, expounding on the merits of a sea-weathered tub.

Some, though — some get it.

I think the place you live matters — it’s where you spend the most time, where you wake up, the first thing you see.

My old apartment was consistent, utilitarian, efficient. It was a place you stay.

The new one, though — this is a place you live.

Racist like me

A year ago I volunteered to help out at the Daily Globe booth at the county fair. It was early afternoon, and no one was in a rush; we sipped at chocolate malts while subscribers dropped by to chat and take advantage of the newspaper deal.

Honestly, there were a lot of people, but one conversation stands out: a nice man who reminded me of a relative, who stopped to purchase his subscription for the next year and then chat about politics.

“We need a new president,” he shook his head, smiling. “Only a few more years —” and then followed it up with one of the worst racial slurs I’ve ever heard, and one I’m not willing to print.

I think I stopped moving, smile suddenly frozen in place. He nodded his head, friendly-like, and wandered off to enjoy the rest of the fair. I swallowed and turned to my coworker, who made a face, but not a surprised one.

Racism: still a problem, folks.

There are extreme cases, much worse than the one above. What comes to mind, of course, is the Texas high school student recently arrested because he brought a clock he built himself to school, and authorities believed was a bomb (oh, yes, and his name was Ahmed Muhamed).

There are smaller cases, too — daily assumptions made about people who aren’t white or dress differently or don’t have a European last name.

I know I’m a part of the problem.

I like to think of myself as a good person — I mean, I’m no Mother Theresa, but I like to think that I wouldn’t intentionally hurt or marginalize anyone because of — what, skin color? A culture different than mine? A different religion? I’m not so petty, I think. I’m better than that.

But I know, sometimes, in the way I notice things after I’ve already done them, I have avoided the cashier who speaks with a thick accent because it seems too hard to decipher. I know when I walk into a room, my eyes immediately scan for people who dress like me and have similar hair, the same mannerisms — because I feel most at home with people who look like me.

“My eyes” scan the room, I wrote just now; but it’s me. I control my eyes. I think it feels like if I create a little distance from myself, my actions, I won’t have to take so much responsibility for the things I do wrong.

It’s really, really awful to think of myself as part of the problem.

I have trouble figuring out any problem I’m inside. I can tell when people belittle me for my gender, my age, my religion, but it’s harder to pull apart the problems I cause. I can’t get far enough away from them to get perspective.

As a white girl with a German last name and a thick Minnesotan accent, I’m not going to be mocked for my race or culture here. And if I’m not the one suffering, it’s easy to ignore. People tell me racism is systemic, pervasive, capable of infecting every aspect of the way I live my life — but I don’t want to think about it. I’m a good person, remember? I’m not exactly Ghandi, but I don’t, you know, shoplift.

I keep coming back to the county fair, when I froze. In some ways, silence is tacit acceptance. Sure, I hated what he said — but I didn’t stop him.

In Worthington in particular — a community blending fifth-generation local farmers and refugees fresh off the plane — I think it’s something we need to talk about.

I often hold back from speaking out of fear I’m going to speak wrong — it’s safer to say nothing than to get dragged through the coals for something I said accidentally. I’m sure even here on the page, though I feel like I’m dancing around the sharper edges of the topic, I’ve said a few things that won’t sit well with others.

I’m aware that it’s much safer for me (as previously mentioned, a white Minnesotan-born woman of European descent) to talk about racism than someone on the receiving end. In some ways it feels like pseudo-piety, like by pointing out the problem I’m pretending I’m Mother Theresa. I’m speaking from a position of privilege here.

And I don’t have a game plan here, other than to notice when I start to shy away from one line at the supermarket and choose it intentionally. (It’s not a very thorough game plan. I’m accepting game plans right now, submit yours today.)

But if silence is acceptance, then perhaps saying something — however clumsily — is better than nothing at all. The lesser of two evils.

I know the man at the county fair would say, “I’m not racist.” And I know it’s far easier to talk about this than to do anything about it.

But convenience isn’t a good enough reason anymore. We can do better.

Not small enough

Every few months I get around to remembering that I am me, and not someone else, and it’s always a bit of a surprise that I forgot.

I mean, it’s not exactly rocket science.

But somehow, that little detail gets swept up in the flurry of living and working and relating to other people, and then I sort of wake up and realize I’ve been living someone else’s life.

Note for readers who happen to be psychologists and/or my parents: this blog is not about fugue states. Also I’m fine, and thanks for the chard — it was delicious. Psychologists, do with it what you will.

For me, it shows up most clearly at work. I’m an editor, and I like being an editor. I like working with words and learning things and explaining things and understanding things — what’s not to like?

Sometimes, however, I become “the editor”: I show up to work and lay out the paper, quickly and competently and effectively, and I don’t realize until the day is over that I haven’t shared any personal information, asked any personal questions. I’ve put on my editor suit, my editor tie and my editor face, and I’ve been her for the day, not me.

If I have a lot of busy work to get done — filing paperwork, correcting to AP style — she’s very good at doing it. But creating a newspaper is a form of storytelling, and maybe robots or neckties tell stories (how would I know), but I bet people tell better ones.

It worries me more when it happens with friends. I’ve been good, before, at filling other people’s spaces.

When I moved to Worthington I didn’t know anyone here beyond a few college acquaintances, and I remember a moment when I was “out making friends” and someone told a convoluted story about how much they hated board games, and I thought, I’ll have to make sure you don’t find out how much I like them.

Not, I’ll find someone else to play them with, or even, We’ll find something else to do together. Instead it was a clean break, an almost subconscious decision to be someone else, someone they’d like.

It still scares me, when I think about it. If I hadn’t noticed that thought, would it still be there?

“You don’t really get angry,” a friend informed me recently, offhand, and it took several hours for me to realize that he was serious — he’d never actually seen me display one of the primary human emotions.

When I tried to correct the mistake — yes, actually, I am angry rather a lot, sometimes at you — I got a wave of the hand and a, “sure, I know you get stressed sometimes,” and I couldn’t think of a way to persuade without overemphasizing it until I sounded like I had a rage problem or something. (“I get angry! Like, all the time! I’m angry RIGHT NOW! BELIEVE ME!”)

It’s so much easier to be other people. We’re adaptable — I can be the exacting editor, the competent organizer, the distracted artist, the affectionate friend. And all of them are me — the roles we play aren’t just skins we put on for awhile each day. But the person is a bit more complicated than the sum of the parts.

I have tried, before, to fit into the gaps other people leave for me. I have convinced myself it’s less of a bother to others if I stay out of the way, if I become the person they think they need for awhile, see if it fits.

I can never get small enough.

I’m guilty, too, of demanding that people be people they aren’t. If I’m being someone else, I’m too focused on the work of it to check and see if other people are wearing their own faces. Being someone else is a form of self-absorption, I think. Too caught up to look around.

When I first started this job, I was stressed and tired and nervous, and I remember telling a friend, “I don’t think I have a personality at work.”

“That’s OK,” she said, “but remember she’s pretty great, too.”

This is for the next time I forget.

Get smart

The power of the sun in the palm of your hand.

The power of the sun in the palm of your hand.

I’ve reached a sort of milestone lately.

In college I never had a cell phone. Halfway through freshman year, a friend gave me a broken early-generation touchscreen iPod that could text in wifi zones. I was perfectly satisfied with it. My friends, though, were annoyed — sometimes it was faster to search for me across campus or text someone I was with than wait for the iPod to blink awake.

So I didn’t officially acquire one until I moved to Worthington, straight out of college. I thought about it and selected a cheap pay-as-you-go phone in Wal-Mart. (If you’ve ever watched a crime thriller in which the protagonist purchases a “burner phone” to make a call on and discard, this was that phone. I had it for 18 months.) It was a temporary measure, I told people who asked, a phone to use until I researched something more permanent, more broadly useful.

I didn’t do any research.

I kept putting off the upgrade for a lot of reasons — picking out the perfect smartphone requires effort, funds, a commitment to researching the best possible decision… And I was getting by just fine with my little flip phone. I was also a little concerned about becoming glued to my phone.

However, the permanence also bothered me: if I was going to invest in a smartphone, I’d plan to be consistent, dependable… be around in a way I hadn’t before. Even though getting a good cell phone opens up the possibilities — access to maps, reviews, the whole of the Internet — it felt like putting down roots. It meant being accessible to others in a way I felt I hadn’t agreed to be, didn’t want to be.

I’ve always enjoyed the freedom to drop off the grid — not just in a no-social-media kind of way but in a disappearing sort of way. I’ve never liked responsibilities that made me stay wired in all the time, and investing in a smartphone seemed like it would require that. I could have people relying on me, and I’ve never felt ready to carry the weight of that.

It took me awhile to figure that one out, and I’m still thinking it through, even now.

But at the end of July, a fumble at the airport left me phone-less after midnight in St. Paul, and I started to rethink the delay.

I purchased a Moto X smartphone from Republic Wireless on a plan that’s fairly affordable on a student loans budget if I use wifi instead of data. I had to Google how does data work, but all in all, it was a success.

(While the flip phone was gone and before the smartphone arrived, a technological mix-up at the office and the falsely optimistic words, “Roberta can fix it, she has before,” and my coworkers’ inability to call me led to one of them a-knocking on my apartment door frantically at 11:30 p.m. I wasn’t quite asleep yet, but it sure took me awhile to sleep after.)

The phone arrived in a shiny white box, and honestly? I’m loving it so far.

I get emails on my phone, so I can take a walk on my lunch break and still stay in the loop at work. I’m starting — slowly — to use that Twitter account I started ages ago. I love Instagram, and I love having a camera available all the time. (And one of my coworkers gave me a brief tutorial on Snapchat, so maybe I’ll figure that one out, too.) (No promises.)

And the permanence thing? I’m still shaking that idea out, seeing where it came from. I’m not as opposed to the idea as I was before. Still, I don’t plan to be wired in 24/7.

There’s something to be said for jumping the grid now and again.

If you want to find me on Twitter or Instagram, I’m listed as @robertafultz. Snapchat… I’ll let you know.

Summer’s in the details

Hidden vista at the end of our canoe trip.

Hidden vista at the end of our canoe trip.

Late start, late arrival, pitch tent by flashlight. Whispers, sleeping arrangements. Family. Hard-packed ground, slanted sleeping pads, stretch, backache, relax — twigs rustling, trees creaking. Darkness hums. Loon call. Don’t remember fading out.

Awake at sunlight, asleep/drowsy/asleep, scrabbling at tent zipper. Pour-over coffee, tired affection, easy. Cousins, multiplying. Squeaky pump for cold water: not as difficult as I remember.

Lake time — morning, afternoon, evening. Tippy canoe, strong wind — flip in shallow water. Drenched through, skin sun-roasted damp. Swimming in clothes. Dogs in water — affection with a lot of splash. Black leech — unnecessary panic. Sister squeezes its head so my skin doesn’t tear open, tiny teeth unclenching.

Crossword, group-sourced around campfire. Camp food — quick and ashy, toasty, messy, utterly delightful. Twenty-second rule for fallen morsels. Red Vines become a food group. Sleep until I wake up; awake until I sleep.

Aching muscles, “shower” onshore beside lake, carefully rinsing soap before we jump in again. Slackline — I survive one-and-a-half-steps. Kayak and water lilies. Fishing, boat race — Dad lets me drive. Sunburn on an inflatable raft until boredom strikes, then drop in, clothed again — there’s a theme here. Fresh watermelon, catchup talk. Family teasing turns to debate turns to argument turns to conversation — I worry, but I really believe some things stay.

Playing card games, word games, lying games. Winning and losing. A book — by lakeshore, by fireside. Dad cradles his guitar. Hymns, a new soloist; we rib Dad for shifting keys higher, straining our alto voices.

Clear solitude at night, bright moon wide over water. Wolf howl, far away. Thin pillow clouds cruise across sky, borne by steady wind. Reminds me of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, inhuman; I won’t forget. Zipping up our tent while someone snores.

Driving home — back to civilization, running water, cell service. Sleeping hard, waking early. Long drive back to Worthington, coffee traded for consciousness, but I haven’t felt this awake in ages.

It doesn't quite feel like summer until the annual camping trip to Clubhouse Lake in the northlands -- no wifi, no running water, no stress.

It doesn’t quite feel like summer until the annual camping trip to Clubhouse Lake in the northlands — no wifi, no running water, no stress.

Sea change


On a clear day.

I fly into San Francisco Thursday morning, muscles sagging with the weight of more than 24 sleepless hours and the knowledge of a full day to come. I’ve traveled this far for the wedding of a close friend — and even as I can feel the exhaustion climbing its way up my spine, I reach for the caffeine and carry on. I don’t want to miss anything.

That isn’t to say I’m functioning at the top of my game, and the thought, “These people would be so lovely if I was awake to appreciate them,” passes through my mind more than once. We immediately set to the final stages of wedding prep — laundry, last-minute decorations and those wedding expenses you can never really anticipate. (I spend ten minutes in the children’s aisle at Target comparing the yellow-green My Little Pony with the purple sparkly one. I can honestly say I didn’t expect that errand — and also, the purple sparkly one is prettier.) I steal maybe 45 minutes of precious sleep in spurts over the course of the day and crash early Friday morning when I hit the mattress.

The wedding is lovely. Guests sit on picnic blankets on the grass, everyone brings something for the potluck reception and we finish constructing the bouquet maybe 20 minutes before the ceremony starts. The bride dazzles, the groom is grinning, and the flower girl adorably misunderstands her “scatter petals” instructions.

A few of my friends are married; several are in long-term relationships. Many of the men and women I know lay claim to serious relationships early in life. Sometimes the idea feels like closing a door, not swinging one open. I like change, but permanent change… No one approaches it lightly.

Having never, well, married anyone, I’m not in a position to talk about it. Take this with a generous handful of salt. But from the outside — sometimes I see a couple that makes each other better, steadier in ways they themselves don’t notice. That’s not a locked door; that’s fresh air. The bride wears a lavender gown. The boutonnieres are Lego superhero figurines. It’s their own wedding day and they’re making time to hug everyone, snacking on cookies, setting standards for generosity, kindness. From the outside, it looks like doing it right.

The next day a few of us make plans to go to the beach. I’ve never been to the California coast; I haven’t seen much of the ocean at all. But the sand is hot and the water is salty, and I picture the planet as a gigantic punch bowl — the slightest tilt slamming waves high into the shore.

“If I lived here, I would never leave,” I say. I can feel my eyes stretching wide to take in the different shades of blue, blending together, framed by mountains.

One of my friends keeps finding creatures — sand crabs, I think they were called — and offering to let us hold them. “Watch,” he says, and drops one on the wet sand. It turns tail-up and burrows in before the next wave comes, leaving a tiny, shallow dent in the sand. It’s gone in less than a second.

I laugh. And I keep laughing — at the tug of the undertow on my ankles, the family playing tug-of-war with seaweed, one of my friends trying to learn how to float. I get a mouthful of water when I turn, still laughing, directly into a new wave. That makes me laugh, too. It takes me a while to realize that I’m not laughing because things are funny; I’m laughing just because I’m happy.

I sit on a towel on the beach, insulting my friends, eating far too many gummy candies. My skin is tacky with salt. A few of us walk down the pier, taking pictures of seagulls and unsuccessful fishermen. I chat about space pirates with a kindergartener; I clearly think it’s a more acceptable life plan than he does. When we leave we eat ice cream and fancy quesadillas, and I — apparently — fall asleep mid-conversation on the drive home.

It’s been a while since I laughed like that — not to be polite or to fulfill a social requirement or even because things were funny or surprising, but because I liked the people I was with and the place where I was. “I would never leave,” I said then, which is preposterous and not a viable option but still seems true, an accurate statement, as I write this sitting at my kitchen table.

I’ve got one more trip planned — this one up north, to family, a week by a quiet lake at a quiet campground. I’m looking forward to cold morning swims and guitar nights, food flavored with a little campfire ash. I expect to sleep a lot, and also to be woken up by a crow right outside the tent at daybreak. I won’t worry too much if things happen differently, though. It’s good to leave a little room for surprises.


Seagull feet :)