Long Overdue

Let me start this with an apology: I’m sorry I disappeared without a word! I have not stopped reading blogs, but my own last post was in March?! I should have spoken up before now, providing some kind of explanation.
Contrary to what some may have assumed, I have not at all stopped writing. I’ve actually done more writing in 2014 than any other year of my life that didn’t involve working on a degree. I just haven’t written here, on this blog. Most of what I’ve written hasn’t made its way to the public eye in any way, yet. Hopefully that will change.
Let me start my explanation with the best thing that happened to me in 2014: I was accepted into the MFA in Writing program at Pacific University! It has been my dream for as long as I can remember to fully pursue writing. I spent months working on the application material and still convinced myself I wouldn’t get in. I lived in shock for weeks after the acceptance letter arrived. Now I get to live out that dream, starting in January.
At the same time all of this applying and celebrating has been going on, I started pursuing other ways to put my writing out into the world. Doing that means not “publishing” it here first. Many of the places I hope to eventually have some writing accepted will only take work that has never previously been published, and a blog is considered published. This was part of the reason for the lack of writing here.
But also, life just turned exceptionally bizarre after my last post, on top of what had already been a difficult year before that. I should have listened to the part of me saying “Don’t do this” when I first decided to move to the suburbs. Intuition exists for a reason, and ignoring it lead to a lot of pain. It also led to putting quite a few things that had once been important on the back burner. I moved back into the city in July, minus one friend and a lot of drama. Being back in Portland and living alone is the second best thing that happened to me in 2014 as life immediately started looking up in ways it had not in quite a while.
Between dealing with the situation that led to moving for a 2nd time in 6 months, the actual move itself, trying to get into an MFA program, traveling home to GA/TN twice in less than a month for family things, continuing to write things that I hope will one day be read by people other than my writing group (though I am grateful they keep reading!), and that thing called a job that keeps me pretty busy 40 hours a week, there has been no time to concentrate on writing anything for this blog. To anyone who occasionally showed up here or wondered what happened, I’m sorry.
With all of that said, I am here today to also tell you that the silence will only continue as I simply don’t have the time to put into keeping it up now. I’m not sure what my literary future holds, whether blogging again will be part of it or not. I know that 2015 starts with chasing my dream, and we’ll see what develops from there. I’m excited ecstatic, and scared out of my mind. It’s a feeling I can’t replicate at will, and one I haven’t felt since I arrived in Portland almost six years ago. Thank you to everyone who has traveled this writing journey with me, especially those of you who have been reading since I first started many websites ago. The encouragement and support so many of you have provided over the years played a large role in deciding to go for it.

I may not have kept up this blog like normal in 2014, but I still want to end it (it being the year, and also possibly the blog) in a similar fashion to years past: with an end of the year list!

Liza’s Random Favorite Things of 2014:

Favorite thing someone said to me about reading in general: “You’ve ruined me for bad books, Liza.” Mission accomplished.

Favorite books, in no particular order:
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
(This is just a sampling of what I read; if you want the full list you need to by my friend on goodreads)

Favorite new people: My writing group/friends Jen and Ashley and my writing teacher/friend Jenny. Also my landlords, Alex and Monica. I kind of knew them before 2014 but not really, and I like them a lot.

Favorite new snack shop (not that I had a favorite old snack shop before): Cheese and Crack

Favorite spot: Anywhere in my apartment, but especially if that anywhere is my couch. My first real grown up couch that I bought in August after moving into my perfect apartment.

Favorite cheap, cheap eats: $1.50 tacos from King Burrito which is so conveniently located on my walk home from one of my bus options.

Favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood I live in now: The Arbor Lodge, where you can find me about once a week, usually.

Favorite pandora stations: The holdovers from last year-Brandi Carlile, Mumford and Sons and The Civil Wars, but currently it’s the Friendsgiving station which I hope is going to stick around well past the holidays because it is the perfect combination of all of my favorite stations.

Favorite new piece of technology: the Samsung Galaxy s5 phone I got in April. It does everything. Most recent favorite use of it: catching up on the podcast Serial while I wash dishes of cook dinner.

Favorite uses of the internet overall: 1) Skype and google chat/hangouts. I love being face to face with people across the country when I talk to them, especially those who really hate to talk on the phone but are really great with chatting when we can look at each other. 2) Watching The Mindy Project on Hulu.

Favorite days of the month: when my writing group meets and when my Literary Society meets.

Favorite interaction with a stranger on the max: seeing a man reading The Rosie Project, leaning over to tell him how much I loved it, then watching him laugh out loud a few seconds later as he was reading.

Favorite text received when boarding a plane (from David as I was leaving Phoenix where I had just spent my birthday weekend): “I love being able to talk with you and share life in the immediate tense.”

Favorite moments of laughter: several that occurred during the week I spent with my parents in August, over things that were only funny if you were there, but one of which involved my mom saying “We never got that duck in his May, June or July clothes. He’s still in his April rain gear.”

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Favorite last minute plans (that turned out to be incredibly fun): Karaoke with coworkers.

Favorite in-person response to my acceptance to school: “You have a glow, a positive energy around you right now. You look like you just won American Idol and can’t believe it. I’m so honored you chose to tell me about this.”

I hope you are looking forward to many good things ahead as we close the door on 2014. Whatever changes, adventures, plans and goals await you, may your 2015 be full of peace, love, friendship, coffee and good books. Happy New Year!

Books this quarter

Shhhh, everyone is sleeping. Everyone but me. It’s the middle of the night, and I’m awake. Wait, does 11:55 count as the middle of the night? That is the time I am starting this. It counts as something, when I have to be up in less than four hours to take my dear friend Jennifer to the airport. Whether it counts or not, I am awake when I should not be. But it means I’m here, posting a little something, which is needed as it’s been a while!

Remember how I moved to the burbs and started commuting by max? I’ve given up driving as much as possible. I’ve driven around a bit the last few days with Jennifer being here, and a few weekends ago when my friend Nicole was here. Outside of that, I have been largely commuting by max, especially after the day I was pulled over while driving to work. I definitely deserved the speeding ticket the cop was trying to give me, but his machine went down and I was sent on my way without a ticket and with the suggestion that I should purchase a lottery ticket. I didn’t, but I did decide that this was just one more reason that max commuting was better.

I’d like to tell you that I take the max in an effort to save the earth. But that is not the main reason. I take the max because I can read more. I mean, a LOT more. And I love it. It dawned on me the other day that if I continue at this pace of reading, my end of the year list is going to be so long that no one will read that post. So I decided I should break up my book talk of 2014 into quarters. And here we are at the end of the first quarter of the year.

I’ve read 14 books. Don’t worry, I am not going to tell you about all 14. Just the ones I really loved. If I gave it one, two or three stars on goodreads, I won’t mention it here.

Four star books:

“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion: Oh it hurt. It caught my breath, caused tears and made me say “oh shit” several times-always at the end of a chapter, as if saying any more about it would just be too much to handle. 4.5 stars. Profound insights into grief, even if much of her life is not relatable to many of her readers. I read it in three days.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith: I tried to read this about a year and a half ago and could not get into it at all. However, this time I instantly loved Francie and her love of the library, so I fell much easier into her story. It is, at times, a very simple and slow story, but beneath that is much depth. On the surface, I don’t have many things in common with any of the characters, but I still found them all quite relatable. This one took 13 days, but they were lovely days.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate” by Justin Lee: I read this is 9 days but then spent 3 months trying to figure out how to review it. What I keep coming back to is just that it’s important. If you’ve ever spent even a minute thinking about this topic, no matter where you currently stand, I think you will find this interesting, insightful and helpful.

“The Days of Anna Madrigal” by Armistead Maupin: I am happy and sad. A good ending to the series, but I am going to miss these characters who have been with me for a decade. This is the final book the much loved Tales of the City series.

Five Star books, in which I would like to point out that two out of three are happy, which should counter act some people’s opinions that I only like sad books.

“I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith: Absolutely Perfect. I loved it! I read it over 14 fantastic days in which it’s all I thought about. And it has one of the best opening lines ever: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

“Bastard out of Carolina” by Dorothy Allison: Shit. That was the first word out of my mouth when I finished the last page (yes, I realize I cursed at the end of another book too. Don’t judge me. Reading is powerful). This book is very difficult to swallow at times, and it hurts. If you are sensitive to child abuse, be warned that this is largely a story of just that. But ultimately it is a story of survival. Amazing writing. I felt like the characters were often in the room with me. It took 14 days to read, just because it is one that you have to put down often just to let it all sink in.

“The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion: I just loved this. It made me laugh all the way to and from work on my max commute, two days in a row. Fast, delightful and fun read. I’ve recommended it to at least 10 people since, one of whom is a coworker who read it last week and loved it, showing up at my desk on her lunch break with tears in her eyes because of how much she was laughing.

Thus ends this quarter in books. It’s 12:30 now. Maybe I can catch a few hours of sleep. If not, it’s ok because there are four books on the end table next to me.

This week in “Find Me Some Love, Internet”

I don’t actually believe in dating “games.”  There should not be any rules on how long you have to wait to answer a text or an email or to call the person you are interested in. But can we all agree that when someone you have never met (and are not yet sure if you want to meet) answers every message in a series of emails within a minute of each one you send, instead of waiting a day, a few hours, even just a few minutes more than one, it sends a message something along the lines of  “I’m far too eager and there is a very good chance I am desperate and potentially have no life at all”?  Oh I know that sounds a bit awful and potentially snarky. But it’s too much. It’s just a little too much, especially if there wasn’t much about his profile that really had you very interested to begin with but you are trying to be open minded. Trying can only go so far.

When you’re on the site that offers you “guided questions” instead of just a blank email in which you have to come up with your own way to start a conversation, you get this odd little opportunity to quickly learn a few snippets about both yourself and your potential dates, simply by what questions you choose to ask, how they answer, and how you feel about both their answers and the follow up questions they picked for you to answer. For example, if you tell me that you are 1) always late 2) read 0-3 books last year and 3) never want alone time but instead want constant socialization, I am annoyed and exhausted before I’ve even looked at what questions you wanted to ask me. Or if you’ve sent me a list of questions that get very personal very fast, don’t be too surprised when my reply is “this is far too personal” since I’ve told you in my profile that I’m an introvert and it takes a bit to get to know me.

Yesterday on the 6:06 a.m. blue line train to work, a very attractive guy almost fell, nearly landing on me, and promptly sat down in the empty seat next to me. “Oh!” I thought. “This is it! I don’t have to do online dating! He’s just going to literally fall in my lap!” Until I managed to look sideways and realize he was now asleep, which was the state he stayed in for the rest of my 50 minute ride. So much for that.

Find me some love, internet.

Ask a group of people about their experiences with online dating and you get a myriad of answers. Gay, straight, male, female, still single or happily in a relationship, almost everyone has a story, even if it’s about someone else. And while there are those that most would consider “successful” stories-the ones where the happy couple met 7 years ago online and have been married for 4 years and have two beautiful babies…we can probably all agree that the more interesting stories are the ones that leave us wondering what, exactly, is wrong with the world?

There’s the guy who showed up in dirty jeans, admitted immediately that he never looks at profiles beyond the pictures, and when his date informed him she had gone out with 4 guys while trying online dating responded with “Seriously? I mean how long does it take to find someone.” Or how about the tagline on a profile that says “I would like to have a pretty woman to be with me so that I can be very happy.” Sounds pretty catchy, right? Maybe there’s the chance taken by a well educated and articulate woman with a career she is passionate about, when she decided to try one of those free sites in an effort to be open to new experiences, only to end up with a gym shorts wearing bushy eyebrowed guy with no job, no car and very little intellect who hung around for three months, leaving her feeling rather embarrassed that it had occurred at all, yet glad that she had been able to provide him with food and shelter, at least on the weekends while they were dating.  What about the guy who, as soon as he received a phone number, called three times trying to meet up in the next hour, and when finally the first date occurred, revealed that he was committing tax fraud on his state taxes, was awaiting a bootleg copy of P90X from China because it was cheaper that way, and oh by the way when he carries his cell phone in his pocket, he turns it off because keeping it on can cause infertility. How about the guy who shows up to the jazz club already on his way to drunk, seats himself and his date in the front row next to the band and then proceeds to talk so loudly that not only is his date embarrassed, but he is slipped a note from another patron in the club asking him to shut up. There’s the story of a first date that was short and only ok, but ok enough to say yes to a 2nd, only to have it cancelled because he went to happy hour with his friends first and got too drunk to take his date out. There’s the guy who won’t meet up with the girl because she won’t give out her phone number until they’ve met in person. There are the stories that don’t just border on scary but actually start to creep over that line, where the guy drives the girl who knows nothing about him into a sketchy part of town and makes a supposed joke about having a duffle bag in the car that she would probably fit in. There’s the classic 2nd date where the guy asks the girl if she will bring over some needle nose pliers, only to learn as she arrives that they will spend the next two hours putting together an Ikea bookcase and he will, in the midst of it all, call both his mom and sister for their opinions on whether the door is supposed to be 2mm off at the bottom, and then when he finally gets around to starting to cook dinner for her and she offers to help, he asks her to wash the dishes-the week’s worth of dishes covering the entire counter with crusted on oatmeal needing to be scraped off. Sometimes it’s just a simple story about a guy who initiates a conversation, and responds to all of the girl’s follow up questions, but never once asks another question about her, leaving her to wonder why so many men are so inept at conversation and leaving him wondering why she stopped replying.

If you ask me for my own stories, the worst you will get is that on a 3rd date with a guy I met online, I realized halfway through that I really just wanted him to leave so that I could curl up in bed and read the latest Entertainment Weekly magazine (feel free to use that as a test on whether you want to keep dating someone or not). And the best I have, which is a story I love, is that my own best friend, David, met his husband, Greg, online and there was a perfect email exchange between David and me that occurred when they first had contact and it wrapped up shortly after their first date. Last summer we read that email exchange together during his speech at the wedding reception, recapping those initial moments and feelings that eventually turned into a beautiful love story.  

Knowing the horror stories, albeit sometimes hilarious adventures, that can come from online dating, what is it that makes so many people continue to return to it? Why do we feel that a website is able to match us with potential partners better than we are able to do on our own? A quick google search of why to try online dating will reveal statements like “It’s easy to find the kind of person you are looking for” and “You can make a great first impression every time.” Well, thank you, internet. It’s good that we all know we’re not supposed to believe everything you say.

For most people, it’s often hard to meet anyone new just by chance in our often times too busy day to day lives. Oh sure, there’s always the possibility that your office will catch on fire and a plethora of attractive firefighters will arrive on scene, and the one who happens to be single will help you escape by sweeping you off your feet. But in the far more likely scenario where that probably never happens outside of your dreams, and the only new people you encounter are the occasional new waiters hired by your favorite restaurant (the one you have on speed dial because of how often you get take out), online dating continues to sound like the best possible scenario for meeting anyone new. It’s also a somewhat safer environment for the more reserved or fearful, who want to hide a bit behind the screen. It can be a faster way to sort through those you are not compatible with. But it can also be overly exhausting and draining, and leave a lot of single people feeling as if they are simply paying money to be rejected.

Those who only have successful stories seem to enjoy trying to convince the single people in their lives that there is no reason not to try it, either again or for the first time. After all, it worked for them! But for those who have had less than stellar experiences or have known friends and family who have, it’s easy to find these success stories as a mixed bag. Who exactly do they think they are, finding love and happiness online? But oh, maybe, just maybe, the 164th time will be the charm, since it somehow worked for someone else. It’s a bit like a raffle, I suppose. Someone is going to win, and it definitely won’t be you if you haven’t bought a ticket. It must be the hope, the ever so slight possibility, the off-chance that it could happen, that continues to draw even those who have sworn it off multiple times before, right back to it, not quite like a moth to a flame, but close.

When David and Greg sent out their save-the-dates, they made a video. It was a reenactment of their first date, and the song playing over the scenes was Rihanna’s “We Found Love in Hopeless Place.” I’d say that sounds just about right. 

On Moving

Moving is stressful. I know, I know. Everyone is aware of that. I guess I had just forgotten how stressful, since it had been a few years since I last moved. And in those years, all of my belongings multiplied. Completely on their own, with no help from me. Worse than the packing, though, is figuring out the actual logistics of moving. The unpacking part I like. But everything that comes before it literally created a pain in my side-a pain that started in my back and moved to my side before it eventually went away. I say all of this to make this one point: If you have encountered me at all in the last week, really two, then I am sorry. My stress level was way over its normal amount and I was anxious, tired, in pain, tightly wound and overall not pleasant. I don’t function very well living out of boxes. But I am all moved in now and almost everything is put away (it will be after one more Ikea run tomorrow), and I am feeling pretty close to settled. I even got to cook dinner tonight for the first time since Christmas. So I think I am a happier person to be around now!

Why did I move? People keep asking me that, mostly because I’ve moved to the suburbs, and since we all know my love of the city of Portland, that part comes as a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t looking to move to the burbs. I was, however, in need of a change.

My (now former) apartment had been a good little home. It was really good for the first two years. It wasn’t the same for the last year and a half, due to various circumstances. I kept trying to figure out what to do about that, to make it more of the home it used to be, more of the place I wanted it to be. But it just wasn’t getting there. A couple of months ago, Sheena suggested that I move to her condo in Beaverton, as her 2nd room was available. I had my usual “I don’t do suburbs” responses, but also I said I’d consider it. So I came out and stayed for a few days to see just how crazy the commute made me. And it did make me a bit crazy. But what outweighed the drive was the fact that I really liked being here with Sheena, and the cozy and comfy condo is fantastic, with its inside washer and dryer (that don’t require quarters), and its dishwasher, and a bathroom I only share with guests who come over, and its quality windows that don’t have to be covered in plastic in the winter and its insulation that actually keeps heat inside, and basically all of the amenities that, for more than three years, I thought I was ok living without. When I had the chance to no longer go without those things, I decided it was time. And so, here I am. In a lovely home, with a lovely friend. Happy. Able to think enough to write at least this little post, and hopefully able to concentrate on a book again soon (right after I watch this week’s Downton Abbey and Sherlock). It’s good to be home.

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How I Welcomed 2014

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When I was in Phoenix this summer for David’s wedding, and we were running around like crazy having a blast, I said “the next time I come to Phoenix can we just do nothing?” 

When Alaska Airlines had an amazing sale a while back, we decided that New Year’s was the perfect time to do nothing in Phoenix. I got to spend almost a week there with David, Greg and Annie the dog, who I may have fallen in love with. And who I know loved me back because her favorite thing to do was wake me up and she did nothing but pout and cling to me the day I was packing to leave. 

We did a lot of nothing and a good amount of somethings too. We talked. We shopped. We ate out. We cooked. We drank a lot of coffee, some of which had Baileys in it. We rang in the New Year with friends. We slept late and showered late into the day. We had happy hour with more friends. We drove up South Mountain and enjoyed the view. We talked. We sat outside in the afternoons and evenings, reading. We also read inside. Greg watched football. We wore loungy clothes a lot. We watched “Tales of the City,” something that is just a thing between David and me and can’t be explained. We watched a few movies, a good bit of CNN, some House Hunters, and the Wheel of Fortune episode that Greg was on years ago. We drank out of glasses that lean over. We listened to music. We talked and laughed and loved and I only cried once but it was a sweet cry. We talked more. It was the best do nothing vacation I could have asked for and I hated to leave. 

Most of the pictures I took were on instagram, though I have a few on my camera that I need to upload. Uploading might be awhile as I’m currently in the process of packing up my apartment in preparation for moving. But here are the instagram pictures, which I think pretty well convey what our week was like. 

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As the year ends

“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer. -Zora Neale Hurston

I don’t know who Zora was, but I like that quote. When I saw it a few weeks ago, I thought “yes, this year asked a lot of questions, and I hope 2014 answers them.” And then I thought about it some more and was reading back over my end of 2012 thoughts and I realized that actually, 2013 answered a lot of questions that 2012 had asked. It’s just taken some looking back to notice that.

It was a roller coaster of a year. There were a lot of ups, but there were a lot of really deep downs too. To quote one of my closest friends, Nicole, who said this recently in an email, “Life is a serious bitch sometimes. It’s worth it all and has some really fantastic stuff, but it hurts like hell.” That’s pretty much how I feel about 2013. John Green also has some words I like: “Maybe there’s something you’re afraid to say, or someone you’re afraid to love, or somewhere you’re afraid to go. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt because it matters.”

2013 mattered. I had no idea what it was going to hold, and it blew me away at times, both in joy and in pain. But it mattered. I am not the same person now as it ends as I was when it started, and I’m betting most of you would say the same thing about yourself.

What it held, for me, in a nutshell: Some kick-ass times with friends, all throughout the year. Travels. Really great conversations. Seeing and spending time with my old roommate, seeing Eastern Montana and North Dakota. I surprised my parents and showed up in GA on the 4th of July and ultimately got to see them 3 times this year since I was also there in February and then cruised to the Bahamas with them in October. I visited with my brother and sister in law twice. I had some amazingly perfect conversations with my niece and nephew. I saw my oldest and dearest friend and got wrapped around the little fingers of both of her children. Later in the year I cried with and for her as her dad almost died and then rejoiced with her when he survived. I inherited a best-friend-in-law when David married the man he loves and I had more fun being a part of that than can be described. I gained a few more friends through that time as well. I saw New York City as an adult (the last time I was there was 8th grade). There was some hiking and some snowshoeing. I quit running (but that’s not a forever quit). I made some really tough choices. I made a few desperately needed changes, and some others came about more as a consequence of the intentional ones. Some of those are still being worked on. Closure came about in two situations that needed it, both very different, both very difficult, one of which I’m still healing from. I barely scratched the surface of some goals and dreams. There was a promotion at work and most days that is a good thing. I read a lot of good books and watched a lot of good TV and movies, along with some not quite as good. I saw Mumford and Sons in concert for the 2nd time and loved it as much as the first. I wrote. And I made plans to write more. I made a blanket for a precious little boy who peed on me the first time we met. I cried, a lot. But I also laughed a lot. I talked about a lot of books with really intelligent women. I drank a beer in the shower one incredibly hot summer afternoon and it was perfect and for some reason many of my friends find it to be both hilarious and wonderful and so I thought it should make this end of the year post. My library fine was paid off by Alisha for my birthday. I wore a funny hat and sold Christmas trees. I lived out of two places at the same time as I prepare to move in a few weeks (more on that later). I made a lot of lists. I wrote quite a few letters. 2013 was busy.

Usually I make a list of to-dos for the next year. And they are pretty specific. Honestly, I’m not in a place where I think I can do that for 2014. I don’t want a list to check off or to fail in completing, even though there are already some ideas on a list in my head. For right now, I just want to think about the not-so-specific-things that I am fairly certain will go on.

I will listen to more music. I will watch more TV and movies, and maybe I’ll go see a show or two. I will read, a lot, and I will talk about those books with others. I will write. I will have opinions that sometimes get shared and sometimes do not. I will sing out loud when a song I like comes on in the car and I am alone, and maybe even if I am not alone. I will dance to music that is playing when I am at home. I will dream and I will pray and I will search and I will think deeply. I will go to work and do the best job that I can. I will cook and bake and eat out. I will love with all that I have and I will work on forgiveness more and more. These are the things that are not on a 2014 to-do list as they don’t have to be.

2013 was hard and beautiful and difficult and lovely and it was worth it. 2014 is a fresh start, a new beginning, and holds a lot of potential. I’m excited to see what it holds.

See you next year!

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