One of a Thousand Scars

You’re 12 years old.

That summer, you can’t believe your luck:

You go to Chile.

In the summer (your least favorite season).

Where it is winter (your favorite season).

To go skiing (your favorite thing).

There, with your family, you play in the snow. You ski, wondering at the jagged Andies, the air salted with a language you do not understand. You have chocolate hazelnut spread for the first time, scooping it from a tiny plastic carton the same size and shape as the single serving jams at your hometown’s diner.

Your luck doesn’t run out.

You happened to be staying Portillo at the same time as the US Olympic team. They’re young. They seem young. Some not even as old as your eldest brother. This surprises you, but they still seem so big and bright and fast.

Was this before or after you started ski racing? You only did it for a few winters. You never had a coach, just your dad shouting pointers from the sidelines, but you tried. You might have already given up, outsized and out practiced.

Whether or not you were racing at the time, you don’t actually follow ski racing very closely. In the winter, you spend your days and nights skiing and swimming and reading and going to school. You don’t watch much TV.

But you know what it means to be on the US Olympic Team and being in their presence makes you shake

One night, they open the building they’re staying in to the public. Your dad encourages you to walk in. He stands close, making sure you don’t bolt.

You are clutching a note pad and a purple gel pen.

You can’t believe the only pen you have is a purple gel pen. How embarrassing…

The first person you ask for an autograph jots her name down quickly. You have no recollection of who she was.

But the next, a young man with a bright, smiling face says, Hold on. I can do better than this.

He gets you a mini poster and personally walks from racer to racer, collecting autographs. (With your purple gel pen.)

You clutch that piece of paper tight, tongue tied, heart racing.

When you leave, a young man on a balcony says, “Goodnight Elizabeth.” (You manage to wave, but stumble over your own feet.)

When you go back to school, you bring the poster with you; it is, after all, your most prized possession. The gel pen is smudged in places. You try to show your classmates – Look! I met the US ski team!

What was it, exactly, that they said?

“So what.”

“That’s stupid.”

“No one cares.”

Those words crush you.

That afternoon when you get home from school, you stuff the poster in the back of your closet. You cry.

It doesn’t make sense to you. If they, the other kids, had met the US Soccer Team or the Red Sox, wouldn’t that have been cool? Wouldn’t that have been a story worth sharing?

Why isn’t mine worth sharing?

You throw the poster away because you came across it one day and you feel that crushing pain all over again. You hope you forget about it forever.

But you don’t.

And you still wonder if you did the right thing.

The things that haunt me, the memories I really hate, all seem so trivial in the retelling. So what? It’s stupid to feel the pain still. No one should care about something that happened almost 16 years ago.

But I remember these things, and I wonder why they mattered, and I wonder if I’ll ever forget.

I like to write about the bright things. The seeking things. The joy that restlessness can bring. I like to write about reaching out to fear and discovering myself to be, yes, alive.

From a young age, I was discouraged from writing about the dark. Don’t show the painful things. So, obediently, I don’t tell the stories that are behind the times I cannot be brave. The meltdowns, the tears, the mean reds.

But so many boil down to this:

You are stupid. The thing that brings you joy is dumb. Why won’t you just fit in?

And yet, I keep going. (Please keep going.)

I don’t have a lesson for you, dear reader. I can’t tie this up in a bow. This isn’t about facing fear or suddenly experiencing the revelatory moment of overcoming a petty childhood scar.

I just felt like you should see: I’m not all café crèmes and rappels and love songs to speed.

I am small, senseless scars. Like the pock marks on my knees from when I fell of a bike as a little kid (resulting in a decade long fear of bicycles). Like the burn mark on my right wrist from the worst Christmas I can remember.

The big things–the dog bite, the unfortunate collision with a bed post, removing the supernumerary nipple, the appendectomy, the concussion–seem to fade. It’s the big stuff that I can fight. These are the marks that become part of my epic songs, the stories I tell at parties to be cool and funny.

Perplexingly, it’s the ones that should be insignificant that remain.

Don’t worry. There is plenty more light on the way. There are sunny days and patches of snow and laughing until I cry and standing in streams with a fishing pole. There are bike rides up Sunshine Canyon and plane tickets and words. There are strangers and old friends. There are dogs and sandstone and granite and cluster flies.

I just really hate saccharine sweetness of motivational, positivity blogs. They feel dishonest. They show you the least interesting facet of a diamond that is more beautiful for its flaw.

Okay, here’s a lesson. Don’t take it as something sad or melancholy. Take it, perhaps, as a proof of bravery. Take it as the fact that we “in this captious and intenible sieve” still go forth. Your lesson: behind every beautiful thing is a thousand scars.

None of them are shameful. Even the small ones. Especially the small ones.

‘Cause hey.

Chicks dig scars.

∆∆

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What I Know About Being Afraid (or, Mars in Retrograde)

There is something I know about fear.

One of my greatest gripes about personal blogging is that I think we, public journalers, myself included, tend to speak in absolutes. We repeat our mantras over and over again as if they are carved into our bones. As if we never forget them.

We forget them all of the time.

In this week’s episode of This American Life, Ira Glass said:

We have this idea that when we discover the truth, it hits us all at once. You know; we see what’s real and what’s not in a flash of understanding. In fact, the thing we call an experience like that is the moment of truth. That’s what we say: a moment of truth. We do not say the dragged out year and a half of the truth. That’s how it goes sometimes. Sometimes you come to accept the truth slowly. In stages. Sometimes we have reasons to hold on to a lie. We’re not ready to let go of the world the lies preserves. The people the lie keeps to us. And we release the lie from our hand one finger at a time.

It’s true.

Not just for the hard lessons of falling out of love, as covered in the episode.

But for the hard lessons of living by love, as e.e. cummings invites, though the stars walk backwards.

And it has everything to do with living in fear.

(And the stars, by the way, do walk backwards. That’s retrograde.)

There is something I know about being afraid. I have learned it over and over again, and I wish that I could carve it into my bones.

Mars rose in the east, bright and red. If felt so close, closer than the moon, and on it, Curiosity.

We snuck into Goblin Valley and as the sky darkened. The park was closing, but we were arriving. Venturing out into the forest of hoodoos and sand. We were looking for Goblin’s Lair. An appropriate adventure for the cover of darkness, don’t you think?

When I was little, I was afraid of the dark.

I imagined werewolves outside of my bedroom windows. I locked and unlocked and locked and unlocked and locked the front door, side door, every window in the house.

But I didn’t like being afraid. No one likes being afraid.

I didn’t like cowering in my bed imagining robbers and murders and the vampire that lived in my closet and the crocodile under my bed.

So, I started my nights by sitting cross-legged on my bed with the lights out. I stared out into the dark corners of the room as my eyes adjusted, thinking: I am not afraid. There is nothing there. I am not afraid.

It wasn’t until I was 21 and looking up at the Southern Cross for the first time that my fear of the dark really disappeared.

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

– Sarah Williams, “The Old Astronomer”

We didn’t find Goblin’s Lair that night, but we did get lost. Lost in the dark, squinting into the west trying too find landmarks, anything, that would lead us back to the car.

The Big Dipper above our heads.

Have you ever noticed that running in the dark feels like flying?

Mars in retrograde at our backs.

We made it back to the car, hours later than we intended. (I sent a silent thanks to Mars and on it, Curiosity.)

The next morning, we went back for Goblin’s Lair. We found it, eventually.

From above, it’s a wide hole in the ground hidden in a forest of hoodoo pillars, a labyrinth of sandstone and silt.

A large outcropping. Four lengths of webbing wrapped around an soft, sandstone anchor.

Keese sets up the ropes as I slip into an unfamiliar harness. I’m hot and sweaty and starting to shake.

The rappel is 90ft from lip to floor. I haven’t rappelled since college. The grigri is different from the grigri and belay devices I’m familiar with, but the figure eight seems far too simple to be safe.

I’m shaking.

He ropes himself in. He shows me how to use the belay device).

I say: “I’m afraid of heights. You may have to talk me through this.”

He says: “I’m not going to be able to talk you through this.”

My mouth goes dry and he descends over the lip, and did I mention I am shaking?

In New Zealand, a friend and I decided to go bungy jumping. I didn’t care how far the fall, so I let him pick. Michael chose the Nevis, a 134 meter drop into a dingy brown gully.

I didn’t know I was afraid of heights until we took the rickety cart out to the jumping station. The clear plastic floor made my head spin.

When I jumped, there was no rush of adrenaline. No intoxicating rush of endorphins. There was no sensation of flight. There was only fear.

I’ve been well aware of the fear ever since. I know it like an old regret, worrying at the edges of my consciousness.

“Off rappel!” Keese must have called. I heard him, but didn’t register the words.

I had no choice now. My friend was already in the hole. I could probably find my way out of the labyrinth by myself, but it wouldn’t be fun. SoI clipped myself in, locking the carabiner and checking it twice, three, four times.

I didn’t look down until I was over the lip and the rope took my weight. I didn’t look down until I was away from the wall and dangling free, suspended in a cave. And then…

Look down. Look around. And I’m in a beautiful cave, descending from the sky. Hikers on the floor gaped up at me. It felt like flying.

P1010298
Photos in this post were taken by Keese Lane.

There is something I have learned about fear.

Move towards it.

Back towards it.

Don’t look down until you’re over the lip towards it.

Step forward and make small talk towards it.

Stand up and give your speech towards it.

Look down, look up, look around towards it.

After 9/11, my father called me into his bedroom. He must have had a long day, because he was already in bed with the lights off.

We lived in suburban Massachusetts at the time. I went to school in Rhode Island, but he worked in Boston. I’m sure it was a long, frightening day for him.

He asked if I still wanted to travel, to fly with him, just the two of us, like we had done for years. He asked if I was afraid.

I said I was afraid, but that I still wanted to fly.

He said, Good, then said a line I would hear repeated over and over. From him, from others, from the television in the coming days: “If you stop, then they win.”

I thought they meant terrorists, but I learned that they really meant fear.

If you stop, then fear wins.

The nameless terrors in the night, the anxiety that stops your breath and races your heart.

Someone asked me recently if I had learned to avoid the things that made me afraid and anxious.

I laughed.

That’s not how it works.

Go towards it.

Not always. Some days, many days, I curl into my safe places and I read my safe books and drink my safe tea and whisper my safe words into the leaves of my precious plants.

I may stay for days, weeks in a place of comfort without shame or apology. I do it so that I may have the strength to stretch out my hand to grasp fear’s arm.

Fear is there to pull me up over the rocks. Fear is there as I back over the edge, refusing to look down. And, beautifully, fear is there to watch me fly.

In Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, our heroes journey into the underworld. There, they meet their deaths–invisible specters that are with us from the moment we are born, morose shades who accompany us to our end.

I imagine my fear a little like that, a minor and malicious specter. And I turn to it, my specter, and I reach out to touch it, and I choose flight.

Not all of the time. But as often as I can.

Please. Even if you have to back over the edge. Even if you refuse to look down.

(Even stars walk backwards. Even planets move in retrograde.)

Choose to fly.

I won’t be able to talk you through it.

But I believe in you.

∆∆

The One Gray Hair

It’s easy to write letters to our younger selves. It’s easy to say the words we wish we’d heard when we were younger. How often do we write a letter to our older selves?

A few weeks ago, I made a discovery. Hidden in my hair, just above and behind my right ear, is a single gray hair. This is the first undeniably gray hair I’ve found. The first one that is definitely not just a sun-bleached blonde traitor in a sea of brown. No, this one is definitely gray.

I froze, straightening iron poised in the air. I squinted at my reflection and considered pulling it out. Immediately, that thought was followed with, “what for?”

My mother’s hair is beautiful. It’s thick, but pin straight. The light color of her childhood darkened into strawberry blonde as she grew older, then streaked artistically with gray. She never colored it, never highlighted it, never low-lighted it, or whatever that’s called. And yet, when the gray first became apparent, an acquaintance asked her where she got her hair professionally frosted.

My father’s hair is also beautiful. It’s thick with the loose, wavy curls. His hair was dark, almost black, and in old photographs he looks rugged and mischievous. I don’t remember it being all that gray, but then I left for college and every year since his darkness is taken over by silvery white. He’s far more salt than pepper now, but it all happened so fast.

When I decided to leave the gray hair where it grew (slightly crimped. Why are my gray hairs crimped?), I did so to say, I love you, to my parents. Because they are two of the most wonderful people I know. Because, let’s face it, I’m probably directly responsible for a third of those gray hairs. Because I want them both to know that I think they’re better now than they’ve ever been before.

I hear rumor that our culture fetishizes youth. That we should all want to be young and beautiful forever. That seems sort of silly to me. The passage of time will bring age to me, wearing down my bones until I shrink and stoop. But it will also bring wisdom. It will bring gray hair, but it will also bring laugh lines and crow’s feet that, I think, will be their own reward.

To my older self, to the person I will some day be:

Don’t color your hair. Don’t make a fuss over fine lines and wrinkles. Find something more interesting to spend your time worrying about.

To my one gray hair:

Welcome. It’s about time you showed up.

To my parents:

Happy (belated) anniversary. Sorry for all of the gray hairs.

Say Yes.

Night riding deserves a quiet night...
Night riding deserves a quiet night…

One of my first public blog posts ever no longer exists on the internet. It was published on the blog of the company I first worked for after college, which has since undergone a massive (and kind of perplexing) rebranding. Fortunately, I saved it: From Ugly to Design: Draplin Design Co. Rocks Vermont.

It was a run down on a presentation Aaron Draplin gave in a Burlington basement.

In the original blog, there are five direct quotes, but I frankly forgot about all but two. The two that, really, sum up the rest.

Say yes a little bit more than no.

Do good work for good people.

DnDCharacterSheet

Some days, the hardest part is saying yes more often than no. I have a deep appreciation for the word no. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as negative as people make it out to be. No is as much positive as it is negative (just as yes can really, honestly and truly, be a negative). That said, sometimes it feels so good to say yes.

Some things I have recently said yes to: 24 Hours in Chicago, Talking to strangers,  Cutting half my hair off, Extra hours in the office, One more cup of coffee at Ozo, Owning my geekiness (no matter how dweeby), Late night bike rides to clear the sickness from my throat.

What will you say yes to?

27 in 27

My birthday stalked me like a catamount this year. Following my footsteps and tire marks across the Green Mountains and through the midwestern plains. I’m a little surprised it found me at all.

27!

Do you know they say the brain doesn’t fully mature until age 25? Have you felt it – your gray matter settling into one place? The connections solidifying, their assertions becoming fixed? The simple fact that you really don’t do stupid shit anywhere near as often anymore? I’ve felt it. I swear.

So. My birthday list. 27 things I’d like to do this year for no other reason than Why Not.

I mean, who doesn't want to hang out at a place named "Loveland."
I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out at a place named “Loveland.”

1. See divvi (my primary freelance obsession project) launch

2. Travel with Rob

3. Ski Loveland

4. Make a soufflé

5. Watch the next season of Dr Who (The 12th Doctor!)

6. Read Man’s Search for Meaning

7. Get my ring fixed

8. Become a Colorado resident (yes, I know. I still have to do this.)

9. Learn to play at least two songs on the ukulele

10. Play tennis with Mom

11. Have divvi break 1,000 FB likes

12. Go to a meditation class

13. Try pole fitness

14. Become a regular at Ozo

15. Make or build a physical object

16. Mountain bike

17. (private)

18. Complete one full draft of Galatea

19. Join a club

20. Finish Rosetta Stone (French)

21. Travel for work

22. (private)

23. Do yoga regularly (+ once a week)

24. (private)

25. Go rock climbing

26. Pay off 1 student loan

27. Keep waking up early.

To be honest, I’m surprised I completed as much of last year’s list as I did. I’m under the impression that these lists are less to be completed than to look back and realize how far I’ve come.

And just because I’m a ripe ol’ 27 doesn’t mean I am going to stop getting irrationally excited about museums. Particularly when they involve model camels to sit upon.

CAMELCHAIR
It’s not a party unless there’s a CAMELCHAIR

What do you want to do this year?

Give Thanks


The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

(Poem by Mary Oliver)


It’s easy to be thankful for the good things. Health, a smile, a family, a lover, friends tucked in so many corners of the world.

What about the terrible things? The things that made me cry, made me spend all night tossing, turning, pacing. Broken hearts, shame, fury that knew no bounds.

This year, I’m thankful for that. For my temper, my pettiness, my fierce inability to just be still. For disappointments, for mistakes, for falling down more times than I can count.

What’s bringing this strange appreciation on? Well, today I went pawing through my old journals. I’ve kept one, more or less faithfully, since senior year of high school. One, more or less, for every year. I avoid looking at my journals.

While I keep writing in them and carried all of them from Vermont to Colorado like a jealous, possessive, paranoid lover, I avoid reading them. I’m ashamed of them. Ashamed of the things I’ve written, the thoughts I had, the mistakes, the whining, the way life occasionally blindsided me in my naiveté. I hate reading them.

Except, today I flipped through them looking for a poem I half-remembered copying down among the pages. As the sheets turned, worn out spines cracking, I read sentences, paragraphs, entire pages.

I surprised myself with my own tenderness, looking back not with disgust but with patience. I found poetic lines, honest struggle, bravery, and above all the sincere desire to do good. To try with all my might, even if my trying was misplaced.

All this newfound sweetness is probably due to being in the midst of a grand adventure, maturing so much in just a year, and overflowing with love. But, for what it’s worth, today at least, I wouldn’t change anything. Not a single line in any of those black moleskine books.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

I’m several weeks late with my birthday list, I know. I know. I’ll post again soon. Promise. xo

The Girl on Silver King

This story occurred before the invention of cameras, so I do not have appropriately dated imagery for the occasion. Here. Have a map instead.
This story occurred before the invention of camera phones, so I do not have appropriately dated imagery for the occasion. Here. Have a map instead.

Once upon a time (as all important stories begin), a little girl stood on a ridge line high above the tree line. She was 13 years old, and she was terrified.

“I’m not going,” she said. “We should turn around,” she said.

“No way,” her eldest brother said.

“Just a little farther,” her father said.

The little girl tried every excuse in the book, anything except admitting that something about walking along the ridgeline made her feel dizzy and sick. On either side, the drop seemed impossibly sheer, the rocks impossibly dark and sinister against the beautiful, powdery white. (She realizes almost ten years later that she is afraid of heights.)

Her brother took her skis. Her father prodded her along, offering words of encouragement and promises and threats. She knows that they don’t know anything about avalanche danger, but she knows, too, that arguing this fact is useless and doesn’t want to think of it anyway.

To her, it feels like an hour before her little troop catches up with another group. First, two men carrying two pairs of wide powder skis and one sit-ski. They take turns carrying the heavier equipment. The men smile, laugh, and wave the little girl ahead. “We’ll catch up,” they say, as if this meeting was planned

The lump in the girl’s throat sinks into a pit of dread in her stomach. Shame starts coloring her face before they even get to the third man. Moving along the path in front of his friends was Jim. His legs stopped at his knees, but he navigated along the narrow path with the ease of familiarity. He looks up and says hello cheerfully.

The girl considers flinging herself off the edge of the next cliff in humiliation.

Unlike so many locals, Jim and his friends welcomed the three outsiders into their group. Their smiles were large and genuine and without hesitation they invited the little group to join them.

She stood there feeling like an idiot (because, obviously, the little girl was me). She spent the entire hike psyching herself out and making her brother and father miserable, and yet here was someone with a physical impediment who had made the very same climb with a smile on his face. She was thoroughly ashamed.

She stuck close to the locals, in complete awe. When they dropped over the cornice, She followed without question and landed her first 10 footer completely by accident. (“Oh, it’s just a little drop,” her father said. Her father is a liar.)

That run is seared into her memory as the best run she’s ever taken. Almost a foot of fresh snow had fallen overnight and even my straight east-coast skis floated through the fluff like a dream. She followed the white clouds kicked up by the locals, delirious with the feeling of flying through powder snow.

Several in-bounds runs later, maybe after a bathroom break, she was walking to catch up with her family. A snowboarder with long, straggly blond hair held out a hand to stop her. a”Excuse me,” he said, “Were you the girl on Silver King?”

It took her a confused moment to answer. He wasn’t one of the locals we skied with, and she hadn’t seen anyone else on that part of the mountain. “Um. Yes?” she mumbled, already trying to move on.

“That’s awesome,” he said.

She felt a jumbled mix of shame and pride, a strange combination of sensations that is as seared into her memory as the heavenly run itself.


 

I’ve tried to write this post so many times. I’ve started, and stopped, and put it away. Sometimes I saved the draft. Sometimes I deleted it immediately. While I’ve told this story countless times, but for some reason it’s difficult for me to place it in written words. Part of this is because I still feel that uncomfortable mix of emotions. I hardly deserved the praise. But I was a 13 year old from Massachusetts, a long ways away from big mountains and powder days in the double digits.

That day marked a turning point for me, as if that day I became The Girl on Silver King. Three years later when I hiked Tuckerman Ravine for the first time, I insisted on carrying all of my own gear, although that same brother offered to help. I also made sure that I carried my share of water, wine and food. I learned my lesson.

It’s crazy to think that I’m already double the age I was on that peak. I still think of myself (with pride) as The Girl on Silver King.

Silver King is adjacent to Crystal Mountain. I do not recommend or condone out-of-bounds skiing for those without avalanche training. Mountains are big. Always tread lightly around things that are bigger than you.