Word from my windshield

The first time I saw her do it, she was wearing blush colored cat-eye sunglasses that she found in the sale acre of Forever 21. “Four bucks!” she shared with her sister over the phone. The lenses on them had a bashful tint, and I could see that below them, her eyes skipped along points on the low hills to her left, then snaked between the dash and side mirrors in a lopsided infinity loop. She pulled down the sun visor. Flipped up the flap and pursed her lips. Given the opportunity, she would deny this behavior, saying instead that she had been inspecting the aftermath of a break out flare-up. Regardless, she looked kissable.

One stoplight past the airport, it started.

“There’s a minivan turning.” She said with reservation.

“Those guys, in orange, they’re closing down the left lane. Now, I’m turning my right blinker on. I’m drifting right, drifting right, drifting right. Here I am in the right lane without having checked my blind spot.

Tangled now in the wires of narration, she committed.

“A wide worker man with a goatee is stacking all the cones. One in the other. Then the other in another. Then three into four but four’s all he’ll go ‘cause five’s one too many cones for a wide worker man to…

I’m braking. My foot is on the brake.

Hello, lady in the silver Jetta, I see you got your car at Perry Ford. Was that a good experience? I bet you wrote a check for it. I bet your name is Georgia.”

And then I saw her breathe in deeply; her seatbelt shifted upward on her collarbone and music followed the exhale out of her lungs.


“Georgia. Georgia. The whole day through. Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.”


Through two verses of nonsensical lyrics that she made up on the spot, I listened. It was throaty but tender. At one frame, she pounded the heel of her right palm against the steering wheel—not to keep time, but to alleviate the tension when there’s

“No peace. No peace I find…

…just an old, sweet song…

…keeps Georgia on my mind.”

I recognized the look in her eye when she rolled onto the gravel in front of her driveway. Under the rose lens it whispered, I don’t remember getting here. Her left hand crossed her body and reached down for the red release button. The belt slid slowly over her twin badges of femininity, and found its place coiled in the car door. A steep driveway separated her from home, and she called her Mom to swap stories about their days. While the phone rang, she peeled off her sunglasses from behind her ears and leaned her body to the right with an elongated spine so that her eyes met their reflection in the rearview mirror. She tilted her head back and widened them slightly with both brows raised and both lids flat and without crease.

“Hi baby.” The sound came over the Bluetooth Speakers.

She shot back into her bucket seat. “Hi momma. How was your day?”

For ten minutes they talked about the ducks that keep breaching her mom’s HOA contract to break in for long dips in the pool.

“A Mallard and a…what’s it called when it’s not a Mallard? Anyway, they keep showing up, the pair of them, and I’m not sure what to do about all the swimming and pooping they keep up to. Raul, he’s the new pool guy—you gave him the check last time you were home, remember?—he’s not much help. How was your day?”

While her mom spoke, she raised her left elbow chin-height to give a light scratch to the back of her neck.

“I watched this video today, one of my favorite authors gave a talk about Self Delusion in the creative process. It was that whole “fake it til you make it” kind of thing, but much more eloquent and really… applicable.”

“What… does that mean, self delusional…?” she asked. The same shake in her voice that was present two summers ago when she wondered out loud about what, exactly, a beer bong is.

“It was all about faking confidence and security in your art, until eventually you start to be confident and secure in it. He said that he gets really anxious about his books, and their deadlines, and whether or not the stories will come together by the end of it all—and instead of egging on self doubt, he asks himself ‘what would an extremely confident person do in this situation? What would that person say? Whatever the answer, that’s how I react.’”

“Sure, okay. That makes sense, I do that everyday.”

“Well la-di-da!”

I heard them smile through the speakers.

“So he’s got you feeling, all…loony, I take it?”

“The loony tooniest, momma. No, but, okay, so then he said that he also tried meditating. But his sessions were completely half-assed and frustrating, so he made up his own type of meditation by talking to himself. Out loud. In the middle of central park—to get out of his head and into the present moment.

“Nutjob. Go on.”

“…narrating everything around him, he said it was the best way to stay present, instead of letting his mind wander to the stacks of blank pages burning pathetic frown-faces into his desk.”

“Mmmhmm.”

“So in the car, today, I tried it. I just talked out loud to myself and narrated everything going on around me. And by the end of it I was singing, and suddenly I was home, and nowhere along the way was there a thought or worry in my skull. It was nice. It was wonderful, actually.”

The exchange went on like this for a short while longer, until finally, they said their talk-to-you-laters and she clicked the off-hook button on her steering wheel to end the call. From where I was looking, the space between her shoulders and ears seemed wider. Her neck was long and smooth below her jaw and her mouth curved instead of pursing towards me. I thought to myself, if this is what self-delusion looks like, it looks a hell of a lot like confidence.

Wave parade Nicole Varvitsiotes

Travel at Home

 

wanderlust

Best paired with Eyes on the Prize – Julia Easterlin. (make it through the first minute, you won’t regret it)


 

Yesterday, I wanderlusted myself sick.

Thinking about the world and all its roads and caves, mountains and people, all the spices I’ve never tasted and languages I’ve never heard–Mother Mary, it was like suddenly I was standing in a glass box. I held that ground for a while and ate up all the air. When I exhausted the exhales for inhales, I got up and got out, to Starbucks of all places, for a change of pace.

I sat in a dark chocolate arm chair figured maybe eight inches from its twin on the side wall and wrote for hours. In the time spent seated, the world came to me through a string of serendipitous conversations with strangers. One by one, they warmed the chair next to mine, and each offered me unsolicited advice.

1. Travel

He wore a faded polo, medium blue jeans and the kind of sensible New Balance shoes men wear after fifty. He thumbed through the Wall Street Journal, tilting his head back and lifting his brows, his lips split slightly as he followed the story down the page before flipping it. He looked over at me, his skin tan and narrow mustache grey. He  asked, “Are you a student?”

I said no, I’m a writer.

We talked about my job for a bit and he asked, flippantly,  if working in advertising is sexist like it is on Mad Men. Before we finished sharing our laugh, he told me about his daughter who was a freshman at Tufts University, how she was an incredible writer–so great, in fact, that NPR called her to read a piece she wrote on air.

“She has trouble with research papers though. Her writing it too literary, she loves to use metaphors.” Then he proved his point by telling me when she was writing college essays, her professors asked her to “dumb them down” in order to be accepted anywhere, that her audience wouldn’t appreciate, let alone understand, that she was describing her parents heritage through surgery tools.

“I’m jewish, grew up in New York. My wife, she’s German. If you know anything about the Germans, they’re very black and white. I met her through a brazilian friend when I was traveling the world at 18. I started in Greece, beautiful country, walked all over the Parthenon–in those days they didn’t have much security or construction, spent a month in Crete, went up to Mykonos, and finally hitched my way to Switzerland.”

He liked to talk, so I leaned in a bit from where I listened.

“Now, i’m 62, I’d look like a bum if I hitched a place. But you, you’re young. Go now. If you wait, kids and family and things get in the way and you never end up going. Travel. I always tell my girls go travel.”

For a few more minutes, we talked about his daughters, his quest to get them to Israel on birthright, and his PHD in physics. I didn’t have much to say, but I didn’t need to. I heard what I needed to hear, and as he stood to go, he shook my hand. At the same time we said “pleasure meeting you” — I laughed and said, take care.

2. Help

A self-described business woman, in her late sixties, with a Ringo Starr haircut looked over to me and said,

“Your shoes are darling. Where are those from?”

“Thank you. Oddly enough, they’re from Target. Can’t tell, though, they’re actually pretty comfortable, too.”

“Oh I hope they still have them, I want a pair like that. I’m a size 3. See? I have to order all my shoes from Italy, and they’re $800 a pair. I try to buy them on sale, but then they’re still $500–from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to sleep, I’m in grotesque pain.”

She unfolded her hands and flipped  her palms up, then down, like a magician showing a successful trick, and said with a slight break in her voice, “the arthritis is killing me.It’s all over my body, I’m in constant pain.”

I sympathized the best I could, and I think she felt comforted. Maybe not comforted, but comfortable–comfortable enough to ask me if I’d write copy for her website once she found out that I write.

“I need the site to help me fundraise to sue the FDA for not allowing me the right pain medication.”

I listened as she spoke poorly of her doctor, and about her ugly ugly pain. It was clear that she was arrested by aches and just needed to be heard. For about five minutes, she combed through her mind’s files to deliver me the right adjectives for her life. Filthy words. All of them. And as she said them, tears came and left her eyes quick as a Denver storm. She clutched her heart as she whispered to me,

“I’ve even thought about jumping out of a building.”

At which point my thoughts spun and I tried to pull at the right selvage to say the right thing–only to realize that in this case, the only right thing was to show I was  listening and to make her feel less alone. Occasionally the espresso machine overpowered her, so all I could do was hold eye contact. Before leaving, she wrote down her name and phone number on a paper for me and asked that I get in touch to write her website for her. All she wanted was help.

 

3. Write Your Book

About 15 minutes before I was about to pack my things and head home, a middle-aged man took the hot seat. He wore a light blue shirt with opal snap down buttons tucked into working pants above working boots.

“I normally don’t dress like this. I was at my ranch with my wife and the students. She’s an AP environmental science teacher, so we took the kids for field research to prepare for their big test in May.”

He turned out to be the Mathematics Department chair, and before that, the Principle of his school for 12 years. Our conversation started by him leaning over to joke about how he has to carve time in his day just to answer emails. At which point he closed his computer and we spiraled into a web of shared sentiments on the topics of:

  • technology in the work/place classroom
  • attention spans and instant gratification
  • perseverance
  • family and traditions
  • how to be neighborly
  • travel
  • being greek (him half, I full)
  • the Oakland church where he grew up and my parents were married
  • Book themes, the best ones showing how adversity is overcome
  • His accidental children’s book about mice
  • My upcoming book about (stay tuned!)

I mean really, I was dumbfounded. The ease of conversation, the instant sense of trust and familiarity–this man was so animated, and so eloquent–his thoughts left his mouth like golden ribbons. And I sat there, with the sun in my eyes listening to a perfect stranger tell me,

“you have a gift.”

How does he know? How can he tell?

And then he said something that gave him away. He said,

“Honor differences, validate similarities.”


 

After I packed up, I walked home right at 8 o’clock. The sky was still full of leftover light. Rounding the corner to my house, I saw a single deer, strutting in the high grass. It was out of sight as quickly as it fell in, and I smiled to myself knowing the significance the deer has for George’s girls ever since his passing.

Maybe we see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear. Maybe our senses compensate for a mind in need. Why and how my evening happened doesn’t concern me. That it happened is enough to break me out of that glass box and renew me.

a Lesson in odd pairings

Typically, the Baroque Period nauseates me. The harpsichord bouncing about in lively jubilation, the echoed runs leaping from left to right hand — it’s a dizzying party at which I’ve never belonged.

But something weird happened today as I drove down to Santa Barbara: I enjoyed Bach. Somewhere near Los Olivos, strands of mist highlighted shaded mountains, and like a Kauai landscape, the heavy grey sky invited me closer. The miles moved quickly; I tore at them steadily as the opus grew like a giant flower in my mind. What I saw was strangely misaligned with what I heard, and ordinarily, I’d never put the two together. But for those brief moments, they exposed an unusual, beautiful partnership.

When the piece was over I shut off the radio.

In silence and the slow lane, I preserved a feeling and wound through Los Padres National Forest until I hit Cold Spring Tavern. That’s where we agreed to meet, the friends I made in Argentina and I. It was a halfway point, excluding Caitlin’s trek from Michigan, and it held its distance from palm trees and oversized TVs.

It was the first time we’d all been in the same place in over two years and it was a biker bar.

By the fire we drank our beers and began to buy and sell stories for the price of laughter. There was so much to share but we effectively shrunk the years we spent apart. One by one, all at once, over the blues band that played in the corner, we talked. As men with tobacco stained mustaches ate their tri-tip sandwiches, we reminisced. As deer heads watched over us, and wooden planks supported us, we caught up.  There, our South American conversations were out of context. What we heard was so different than the sights that surrounded us, but they fit and all was cozy and right.
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Momknapping: The Finale

For seven straight days, my mom and I shared the same 20 x 20 box with two beds. Whenever she awoke, I did too. Whenever she watched a Lifetime movie, so did I. Meals? together. Neighborhood drives? Side by side.

We know a lot about each other, she and I. Always have, but this trip took us to a new level of understanding.

Here’s what I knew to expect: She’s always presentable and always prepared.  She notices the colony of lint settling onto my peacoat approximately 3 days before I do. She checks for holes in her nylons before packing them on a trip, and immediately hangs up her coats, dresses, sweaters, scarfs and transient “wrinkleables” in the hotel closet. The folds of her purse are lined with protein bars and small stashes of almonds.

“Lord knows when you’ll find yourself hungry or in a bind.”

Here’s the unexpected: I felt so much like my dad.

I guess he’d take his socks off in the middle of the night and forget to find them the next day, swallowed in the sheets. I guess he’d talk to waiters and workers and people with the same spark and tenderness that she caught me with.

“You’re so much like your father,” she’d say.

But besides the quirks and traits and behavioral patterns that were passed onto him to be passed onto me, I felt so much like my dad because I felt so much love for my mom. My, my. What a mushy thing to say and extraordinary thing to feel.

Our time in Atlanta can then be lumped into two themes that are so strongly intertwined. Human behavior (my mother’s, my father’s, my own. The people, past and present, that make up the confederacy — that make up the state and the stories told to the tiny Georgia Peaches not yet ripe enough to hear the true sounds of the South) and History.

We started at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. Read the quotes to get an idea of the type of human behavior this President fought for.

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We drove through the Virginia Highland neighborhoods to stop by a house that means so much to a few we love.

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The Fox theatre welcomed us into the Cleopatra Ballroom, where we stood amidst hundreds of lit forty-somethings in sailor hats. They swayed and step-touched to the sounds of Yacht Rock Revue. The band looked like they had just stepped into technicolor, and their mustaches were unspeakably seventies.

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The next day we went to Stone Mountain. Before we knew its racist roots, we looked upon it as visitors and were charmed by it. The Antebellum plantations. The fallen leaves. The wooden planks, everything frozen in time.

I cannot even express how heavy my heart is after seeing the tribute to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson proudly etched into the stone that once held burning KKK crosses. The day evoked strong questions, emotions, sadness. But the visit was worthwhile. It was 20 degrees when we were there, but I cannot recall the cold, only the air hot, sticky with hatred.

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For the rest of the trip, I worked and worked and worked. Luckily, my main girl was always up for meeting me after a long day and trying new places to experience new eats. Together, we sampled some of Atlanta’s food jewels.

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And when all the food and fun was said and done, we’d come back to the hotel and rest our heads in unforgivably comfortable beds. We marveled at the christmas decorations and the heated indoor pool.

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I took a dip to get my heart rate up. When it slowed, I floated on my back, placing my index fingers in my ears. I listened to the blood circulate and the pool vent chew the water. Weightless, I expressed my gratitude to Work for displacing me, and to my mother and father for placing me where ever it is I am today.

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With love, Us.

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Mom Knapping Part I

There are a lot of good people in this world. More than bad, I think. They’re out there, quietly giving — caring for friends like they’re family and strangers like they’re friends. I think these people live humbly, and for the most part, rather happily. I think they don’t consider themselves generous; they hardly consider themselves at all.

Like my mom, who put me first for 23 years.

This Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to return the good. To treat her. Take her new places. Show her a side of the country and herself that have always been more than an arm’s length away.

And it’s all because the good people at my work called me out to ATL for business over the holiday weekend, and sent me with a loved one so I wouldn’t spend Thanksgiving alone eating Rolos in an AMC theater.

Grateful.

Here’s how chapter one of this holiday mom knapping went down: SFO to Charlotte, NC. Night drive from Charlotte to Asheville. Airbnb stay in see-your-breath-it’s-so-damn-cold Asheville. Leave SYBISDC-Asheville 2 days early because of the SDC weather (read: ill-equipped Jetta and Californian from beachtown, USA weren’t cut out for the surprise storm and icy road conditions/snow that came with it.)

But we made the most of our short time there. We learned about George Vanderbilt – himself, his family, his subtle and quaint home in the countryside — ate unbelievable food, drank local beer, took a few strolls around the colorful town.

Above all, Mom adroitly assumed the role of world’s greatest co-pilot/Siri whisperer and got us everywhere we needed to go safely. From downtown to down the Blue Ridge Parkway. She even let me listen to John Denver through it all. What a gal.

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Stumbled upon a ‘lil vintage shop downtown where I bought a piece of art that warrants it’s own blog post. I also bought a puffy vest. It makes me look like a bumble bee.

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Then we contributed to the Vanderbilt fortune with wine tasting and a tour of the tiny property.

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One day I’ll camp the crap out of these blue ridge mountains. I’ll have a pack and a down bag and greasy hair and really strong soles and soul.

Until then, I’ll have the fond memory of chills jumping up my spine — both from the view and from the temperature.

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Our last meal in Asheville was at Rhubarb. It was as charming and warm as a 1940’s love letter, and as hip as The Mission’s hippest hipster. The menu matched the decor: original, tasteful, daring.

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My lady likes local beers. I like that about her.

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And then…. we drove from NC to ATL. This is our South Carolina Selfie.

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More to come!

Tall Girls Camping Trip

Though I may be muscling an old phrase into something it’s not: Tall girls who camp together stick together. *

This weekend, Amy, Olivia and I spent some quality time with nature’s giants. Tucked away in the Santa Cruz mountains, Big Basin is California’s oldest state park (speak up, Yosemite?) and the birthplace of our very first tall girl tradition.

If I didn’t eat so much pumpkin pie and smores/drink so much wine, I’d undoubtedly have surfaced an ab or 8 from laughing so hard in such a short period of time. From relentless pun-makin to twerking to T-rex tomahawking, to feeling out our morning dance moves to the tune of James Brown — things were sufficiently weird.  I would willingly subject myself to a lifetime of everlasting House/Trace music if it meant spending more nights like the one we tall girls spent camping sans men.

 

Also, please find it in your heart to either send me a quality camera, or hold your scoff at these blurry, badly lit iphone photos. It’s also to blame for my greasy hair and single day’s outfit. Yeah, why not.

 

We’ll begin with several shots of my new Subaru. This was its first adventure, I was such a proud mom.

Tall Girls Camping Trip

Tall Girls Camping Trip

Tall Girls Camping Trip

Tall Girls Camping Trip

Tall Girls Camping Trip

Tall Girls Camping Trip

 

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Tall Girls Camping Trip

 

Tall Girls Camping Trip Tall Girls Camping Trip Tall Girls Camping Trip Tall Girls Camping Trip Tall Girls Camping Trip Tall Girls Camping Trip Tall Girls Camping Trip Tall Girls Camping Trip Tall Girls Camping Trip Tall Girls Camping Trip

Tall Girls Camping Trip

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Tall Girls Camping Trip

 

Tall Girls Camping Trip

*Tall girls are 5’7″ or above. These pictures are not to scale.

9

9

This one’s a good month. A bountiful month, a  proving month. A glittering crimson and jeweled month, filled with chance and truth month.

On September first, I stopped then started. It was a needed reset, and eight days in, I still feel more or less revived.

It started in Eureka when Drew and I escaped to the North Coast for labor day weekend. My first time in a puddle jumper plane started a domino effect of firsts –in a matter of days, I met droves of his family and friends, experienced cabin life in Willow Creek, hooted and hollered at small town folk in Big Foot suits, saw a night sky tightly polka dotted with stars, and witnessed a scorpion try to sneak its way into a suitcase.

We hiked and explored and played and wandered and sat by the firepit with his parents. We squeezed hands every time we saw deer minding their afternoons like they mind their babies. We drank Troublemaker and ate sliders with childish class, uninterested in time or texts or responsibility.

And I got to bring my dad to a new place. His birthday anniversary was yesterday, and like every day this month, I toasted to his life. In warm company, I remembered him as I always do. Happy birthday dad, this month’s for you.

Here’s a playlist I’ve made to soundtrack this new and ninth month. Enjoy the songs and these below sights.

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drew

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