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

Liberté

Tango at Luna Red

My intent wasn’t to to sit fireside at a Spanish tapas restaurant

on a day that commemorates Mexico’s triumph over France.

It wasn’t to sink sweetly into Argentine nostalgia,

while pulling salt from the rim with a light touch of tongue.

But when a couple on the patio excused itself from the only set table

to tango under suspended lights,

I dissolved into inky darkness

and watched, invisible, as they traced the outlines of their kingdom.

Reina, his only subject.

Rey, her every move.

 

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.

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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Bridesmaid Day

There’re no two ways about it, Laura and I were high school choir nerds. And the more time that separates us from those hormone haywire days, the more evident this truth becomes. What else do you call kids who’re excited about spending 3 out of 7 class periods a day in the Music Building? Who else comes home from school and sits together in front of the piano to sight sing and make up harmonies?

Six years later, we still geek out over choir music, (King Singers on repeat, anyone?) but I think it’s safe to say that Laura and I are a comfortable distance away from the enthusiastic crescendo-circling  Chamber singers we used to be.  As we’ve grown, we’ve managed to keep a strong bond and friendship, and I am so happy for her as she enters the next chapter of her life as a happily married homeowner.

 

Meet Laura & Raffi. Newly engaged, total babes.

Laura & Raffi

Laura & Raffi

Laura & Raffi

When I received this (quintessential Laura) pretty-in-pink invitation to stand up at their April wedding, my heart did a somersault inside my chest.

Bridesmaid Invitation

My answer: OF COURSE. My first “duty”: Bridesmaid Day!

 

it. was. amazing. Low key, low stress, and extremely hilarious, sweet and thoughtful.

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A French Adventure

After two weeks of radio silence, I’m back on the microphone to get a little French with you all. In the time I spent off the air, I’ve packed and unpacked moving boxes, settled into a new home, worked 70-hour-weeks and still managed to get outside long enough to get the most gruesome sunburn my olive skin’s experienced since Stingray Swim Camp, 1997.

It’s been a wild ride, but I’m ready to recount the Wonderful.

I’ll start by acknowledging my employer, Rosetta, for shipping me off to the South of France to attend the 60th Annual Cannes Lions of Creativity Festival. It was an enormous honor and opportunity, and I think I’ll always have a mild case of the pinch-me’s about this experience. Astounding presentations, calm coastal waters, Creatives walking around in their loafers and oversized Tortoise frames —  it was just what I expected: surreal.

To set the stage, here’s what  happened while I was detained in a floating cylinder above the Atlantic:

  • Despite being a lowly coach riding scrub in sneakers and yoga pants, Air France rewarded me with glasses full of champagne, personal merlots, and a fudgesicle. All. for. free.
  • Thanks to in-flight silent farter bandits mysteriously dispersed throughout the cabin, the air was in a constant state of perma-stink. Oh, the eleven-hour linger.
  • I shared an arm rest with a really nice woman from Sonoma, and supplemented our intermittent chats with music and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams.”
  • Some people just didn’t give a damn. Like the seven I saw walk into the lavatory barefooted, or the 12 I caught slippin in just wearing socks.

Once I landed, I made it to my hotel, showered and had no more than 15 minutes before I was off to meet the Rosetta crew for our first dinner in Cannes. I was over dressed.

And now, Mesdames et Messieurs, I give you Cannes — land of extravagant people and possessions.

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Our group spent between 6 and 8 hours a day nerding out to keynote speeches, interviews, and presentations. Thought leaders, CEOs, innovators, risk-takers and game changers were welcomed to the stage –– I’ll let you place Martha Stewart, Mel B and Nick Cannon into whichever category you see fit.

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Highlight: Gloria Steinem. “Violence against females normalizes all forms of violence.” Check out this project, Makers, she’s been working on with AOL.

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Highlight: Not seeing Zach Galifianakis but seeing the other fat, funny guy instead.  Jack Black, everybody.

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The Cannes Connect rooftop bar — the place to go mingle with little and bigwigs from all over the world. Free Rosé and Riviera views.

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The Google Beach parties, equipped with real You Tube sensations. I was significantly upset that no one invited this corgi or this hamster to perform. As you can see, when you’re a Cannes Lion, mingling is the name of the game and the word of the week.

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Highlight: An intimate setting to stare at and listen to the infallible Lianne La Havas. A voice like a rabbit foot, that’s what she’s got.

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Eye contact, a thing of the past.

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Highlight: Meeting Arianna Huffington after her talk on finding a healthy balance between worklife and lifelife. We bonded over being Greek and are slated to vacation together next month.

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Only in Cannes is an open bar Dj’ed beach party just, you know… casual.

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And now, I put to practice what I learned from BBDO’s presentation titled Hemingway, Dickens and Michelangelo: The Best Agency Ever?

They said: All you have to do is write one true sentence.

Cannes was all-inspiring and sleep depriving.

And when it was over, I went to Paris and stayed in an art curator’s Montemartre flat. Les swoon.

Paris, France flat

And I lost myself down narrow streets that serpentined around buildings older than America.

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Highlight: Visiting the Musée d’Orsay. Impressionist art makes my heart beat like rollerblades in the dryer, and when I saw Degas, Rousseau, Renoir, Tolouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Manet, I was besides myself with joy and disbelief.

Each painting brought me further into an unworldly dimension, and I stopped often to marvel at the way these artists immortalized culture. I felt connected. The brushstrokes revealed backstories that were previously inaccessible to me, and I felt myself  melting into the warped realities of their time.

Below on the right is a self portrait of Degas. He was 19.

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To top off an already unforgettable day in Paris, I managed to be there for France’s Music Festival — a day dedicated to celebrating the summer solstice. Pop-up performances littered the streets and unsuspecting venues and little old me caught as many as I could.

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I gave George a Seine River view.

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As I walked home from the subway station, I stumbled upon a little Montemartre theater about to open its doors to play-going-patrons. I paid my way and enjoyed a show I couldn’t understand. It was perfect.

And after a particularly French encore, I exited the theater just in time for the Music Festival to hit the streets of Montemartre. Everyone had wine in one hand and someone in the other. DJs spun an all-night-soundtrack to a street party dance affair, and under my breath I wished a Happy Summer Soltice to the hip kids lining historic streets.

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up in l’air

Off I go, up in l’air to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, listening to this here playlist to mask the guttural sound of my in-flight French practice.

Over the next week, I’ll be in back-to-back workshops, seminars, awards ceremonies and shmoozing sessions, so please pardonne moi if I don’t blog for a bit. You can, however, follow my real-time updates from the Palais here or here.

[Had technical difficulties this morning uploading this playlist for your downloading pleasure. See below and stream how you will!]

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Photo credit: The sensational, talented, traveller himself @dr3wross