Sunday, December 29, 2013

Maybe This Year Will Be Better Than the Last


This year...

I was published in the New York Times, even though I forgot to tell you about it here. I was honored to remember my grandmother in this way, both highly public & painfully personal.

I went to Israel for the third time, & it was just as incredible as ever.

I accidentally paid more than $200 for a haircut.

Like so many twentysomethings, I expressed the cliche but real fear that I'm not doing enough with my life.

On the eighth anniversary of my ex-boyfriend's death, I finally began to feel some distance & healing.

I took a trip to Ohio, where I saw my brother for the first time in more than a decade. It was just as wonderful as it sounds.

I attended SXSW Interactive for the first time, & although I again forgot to blog about it, it was a truly unforgettable experience. A party bus was involved.

My friends & I mourned the death of our dear friend Elissa - but more importantly than that, we celebrated her life.

The season finale of HBO's Girls spurred me into some real-talk about mental illness, including the main character's & my own.

Six months after Hurricane Sandy hit, I visited the storm-ravaged towns of Asbury Park & Seaside Heights. The haunting Ferris wheel you see in these photos was taken down that same week.

No blog post for this one, but I lost more than 20 lbs. with the help of Weight Watchers & a few sessions with a personal trainer.

After years of hoping & wishing, I finally attended Bloggers in Sin City, a Las Vegas gathering of the Internet's finest.

I visited my cousin in London! We went to the Harry Potter set & took a million photos, & I didn't want to leave.

Surprise spring fireworks led me to write this post on gratitude & acceptance & living in the moment.

I visited D.C. & wrote this piece about it that I really, really love.

I was honored to be a presenter at my friend Emily's 30th birthday conference. Yes, birthday conference.

There were at least 29 great things about my 29th birthday, which I celebrated with my boyfriend & my mom on a sunny summer day at the beach.

On a regular old workday at Starbucks, I met two totally unrelated celebrities in downtown Red Bank. Who says nothing exciting ever happens in suburbia?!

I ruminated on the emotional difficulty of living 14 months in New Jersey without any friends.

I launched a new blog, leaving SuburbanSweetheart.com behind after six years & welcoming GreatestEscapist.com. Here's how I chose the new name.

I was really rattled to realize that I'd stumbled upon the scene of a suicide attempt. (When I wrote this post, I wasn't sure if that was, indeed, what I was seeing, but a later newspaper article confirmed it.)

I kept a list of all the times I apologized in the span of one week & committed to not being so damn sorry all the time.

I moved back to D.C. & admitted that I'm having a really hard time.

It was a good year, a terrible year, a hard year, an emotional year - a year that taught me a lot about myself, in the most painful of ways. I don't know what 2014 brings, but I do know that "Long December" has been playing in my head for weeks now. May this new year bring some healing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Under the Weight of Living

It’s been a long year.

Actually, it’s been a long few years.

I’m tired, & some days, I don’t recognize myself for the person I seem to have become. The anxiety, the fear, the dishonesty, the unsureness, the anxiety.

I was blissfully, unfathomably happy once, the happiest I’d ever been. It wasn’t that long ago, & yet it feels like ages – a different person in a different time. Somebody else’s life.

I used to think I was the sort of person for whom happiness would never be an option – that I just didn’t have it in me. I was growing to accept it, sort of, cultivating life hacks that created an illusion of contentedness that fooled even me.

But then I stumbled into it, the sort of life I never imagined I’d make for myself, & the healing process began without my even realizing it. It was alarmingly, unexpectedly easy; I almost didn’t even have to try. Life happened around me, & the end result was that I loved it & myself in equal measure.

So how did it comes to this, the place I find myself in now? Did I get sloppy, lose focus, become complacent? Having stumbled upon it the way I did, I suppose I hadn’t realized that my positive emotional state was so fragile that it would require my careful attention & maintenance.

How do we become versions of ourselves that we never wanted to be? It can’t be an overnight process. You don’t wake up one morning, new & different & worse. It’s a slow burn, a gradual forfeit of small pieces of yourself along the way. And then one day, when you wake up, you realize that in time, all your cells have regenerated, & none of the old pieces remain.

Some days – so many days – I worry that my cells haven’t regenerated but have warped, taken over by a lecherous sort of personality cancer. Those are the days I feel like I’m going crazy again, like I used to be in the days long before I figured out how to be happy. Those are the days I worry that the pieces of me I thought I’d left deep in the past have somehow reassembled themselves & returned stronger than before, to bully the healthy, happy bits out of the way.

I want to know her again, that person I thought I’d become. That good version of myself, the one I was finally so proud to know & to be? It’s been so long, & I’m afraid she’s left me.

Yes, I used to think I was the sort of person for whom happiness would never be an option – that I just didn’t have it in me – but then I learned differently, & I can’t go back to believing otherwise anymore.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Time I Was a Big Weirdo About Potatoes (& Also Met a Supreme Court Justice)


Way back in the winter of 2008, I attended my then-boss's Hanukkah party. He's fairly well-connected & has a lot of cool friends, both DC-famous & actual-famous (see: the Clintons), so it's always a topic of office conversation to wonder who will make an appearance at his annual soiree. That year, I was totally overwhelmed by the DC-ness of the whole event, & so I spent most of it talking to coworkers.

And eating latkes.

I don't consume latkes very often (uh, once a year), but I can definitively say that these latkes were the best that I had ever eaten ever. I think I ate seven. Seven latkes. That's, like, three whole potatoes. Starch par-tay!

I've basically been talking about these latkes ever since. I repeat: I've been talking about latkes since 2008. And I haven't been to that Hanukkah party since, so I haven't eaten those latkes except for that one time - but every holiday, I remember their glory & how other potato pancakes fail to stack up.

You know where this is going. This year, newly returned to the District, I was invited again. Circa 8pm on Wednesday, I decided I wasn't going to attend. Too much work to do! But at the last minute, I reassessed: "You've been talking about these latkes for half a decade." So I hopped a cab & headed deep into the abyss of Cleveland Park, hoping to catch the tail-end of the event.

It took so long to get there that by the time I arrived, everyone was on their way out, the party clearly winding down. My coworkers were still there, though, & so was a special guest: Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan. As I stuffed my face with three of the World's Best Latkes™ , Justice Kagan introduced herself to a group of five recent college grads working in a fellowship position at my old office (the same one that brought me to DC back in 2007). As she made her way through them & turned to those of us standing nearby, I quickly wiped the grease off my grubby, latke-loving fingers so I could shake her hand. She was kind & funny & also a fan of the latkes.

As Justice Kagan held court with my colleagues, I approached my former boss's wife. My long-winded introductory monologue went something like this:
Hi! I'm Kate, & I used to work with David. I mean, I sort of still do. I was just wondering, do you make these latkes yourself? You do? Oh, man, well, I just wanted to let you know that I haven't been to your Christma- I mean, Hanukkah party since 2008, but I really loved them & have seriously been talking about them ever since because they are that good. Like, they're the best latkes I've ever had, & I thought for sure they were catered, so well done.
You should imagine me sounding very enthusiastic & rambly while saying this, & also being a little sweaty & out of breath, because I'd arrived, like, four minutes prior & was actually in a rush to eat every latke in sight. It was one of those things that could've gone OK if she'd just, like, laughed at me a little bit & seemed amused. Instead, she seemed horrified. Later, she whispered to her husband, "Yes, Kate really likes our latkes."

Yes, I spent $24 on a cab ride just so I could spend 20 minutes at a party where I ate nine latkes & made a total weirdo fool of myself to my boss's wife. And... yeah, nine latkes. I don't even want to know how many potatoes that is. I know that it added up to, like, a bazillion Weight Watchers points & that I can basically never eat food again - and still, I opted to have more of them for lunch the next day.

At work on Thursday, a coworker walked in on me loading a plate with a few of the leftovers.

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Latkes made from a boxed mix! Your favorite!"


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Here's to Change: Win a Brand New HTC One Phone!


I've owned an iPhone for more than six years now. I remember swearing in 2007 to my now-BFF Sean, who was then my boss, that I'd never get one. I had a "fancy" flip phone at the time, the kind with a full keyboard & a nice-for-the-time camera &, obviously, no Internet access. Those were the days when I called friends for directions, texted my tweets to 40404, had to be at an actual computer to check my email - almost unfathomable to me now.

Yes, my iPhone revolutionized my life (albeit not always in a good way. Hello, texting thumb & relentless connectivity!) For the better part of a decade, I've been a dedicated user: I've owned four models, shattered three screens, had one phone lost or stolen (still not sure which), been gifted a replacement from a kind Internet stranger... Needless to say, my iPhones & I have been through a lot. But despite it all, I'm one of those people who consider my cell phone absolutely indispensable, & the iPhone in particular - using it is second nature, an extension of my arm, the easiest thing ever.

So when Laura, a representative from HTC, reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in testing out the new HTC One, I was initially wary. Me, willingly forfeit my iPhone?! It was almost unthinkable, especially considering that I'd purchased a new 5s on the day they were released, just a couple weeks prior. But HTC's newest campaign, Here's to Change, is all about embracing the unknown. (They've even done a bunch of fun commercials & videos with Robert Downey, Jr., about it.) Embracing adventure & stepping outside my technological comfort zone, I told Laura I'd love to take an HTC One for a spin.

I never thought I'd be pulled away from my beloved Apple products, but let me be the first to say that the HTC One gives iPhones some stiff competition. Here are some overly verbose thoughts about the difference between the two: what I liked, what I didn't, & how they stack up against one another.

Typing

Let's start with the negative: I had a really hard time getting used to typing on the HTC One. In my first three weeks with it, my friends made fun of me hard for the ridiculous typos & poor punctuation that is so uncharacteristic of my text messages to them. After about a month, I discovered the Swype function, which allows you to just drag your finger across the keyboard to the letters you want, without raising it - & then "connects the dots," if you will, to spell out your words. Once I got the hang of Swype, all my typing trepidation disappeared, & I was back on track with proper spelling & the use of commas. 
  • Winner: Initially, iPhone had a major edge for me in this category, but the discovery of Swype was a total game-changer. Someone with less-ingrained habits and/or more dextrous thumbs might catch on more quickly.

Texting

In all honesty, losing iMessage was, in my view, the single worst thing about switching away from an iPhone. I have an unlimited texting plan, but many of my friends don't, & with iMessage no longer an option, we've had to cut down on our communiques or switch to third-party apps like WhatsApp & Google Hangouts. Those are easy to use, but they're just not as easy as iMessage. 
  • Winner: iPhone. Although actual texting on the HTC One is fine, the lack of iMessage was a hard hit.

    Screen

    I thought the HTC One screen, at  4.9", would be too unwieldy compared to the 4" iPhone screen I was used to. The first time I put the HTC One in my pocket, I thought, "Or are you just happy to see me?!" With further use, though, I find that I actually prefer the HTC One's screen, as it gives me a little bit extra to hold onto (TWSS?) For someone who's dropped her iPhone(s) countless times, having enough to hold onto is the difference between a shattered or intact screen. It also makes for better-than-the-iPhone video viewing.

    • Winner: HTC One

    Coolness

    There's just something about being an iPhone owner, you know? I've always been a little bit pretentious about it, so going into my HTC One ownership, I was admittedly a little nervous about whether I was sacrificing my yuppie status. I needn't have worried. While owning an iPhone is certainly trendy, I find that it's a bit of a conversation piece to use a phone that's slightly outside the norm. I've gotten a lot of questions about the HTC One since I started using it, & it's sort of fun to be able to introduce people to a new phone that they might love. 
    • Winner: A tie, to my surprise!

    Photography

    While I really love the iOS7 function that allows me to take a square, Instagram-ready photo, I have to say that the HTC One's camera is awesome - like, just awesome. I'm not a pro photographer (as evidenced by the fact that I use my phone as my primary form of picture-taking), so I don't know all the technical terms, but I found this camera to be a lot more reliable in terms of focus, lighting, editability, etc. The HTC One's UltraPixel Camera features "HTC Zoe," which lets you create four-second moving images, sort of like in Harry Potter, & the ultra-wide front-facing camera lets you fit more people into the image than you can with an iPhone. 
    • Winner: HTC One

    Apps

    I thought I'd have a hard time getting used to Google Play, the Android's app store, but it was just as easy to use, & all of the basic apps that I use most often are available through it. I missed the A Beautiful Mess app, which isn't yet available through Android, but my life will not suffer greatly from an inability to prettify all of my Instagram photos. 
    • Winner: An easy tie

    Dropability

    Did I mention that I drop my phone a lot? I drop my phone a lot. I haven't had a case on the HTC One the whole time I've been using it - & because of its size, I haven't dropped it nearly as often as I typically drop iPhones, but when it has hit the floor, it's proven much sturdier than its Apple counterpart. Case in point: While using my iPhone 5s to take a picture at the beach, I dropped it, & it shattered. My brand new phone, totally devastated, its insides showing behind pieces of fallen-off glass! I wouldn't go throwing my HTC One against walls or anything, but with its aluminum body, it seems easily more hardy than any iPhone I've ever owned. 
    • Winner: HTC One, far & away
    Of course, there are plenty of other differences between the iPhone & the HTC One, which can be compared to the differences between using a Mac & a PC. In my experience, the HTC One feels more like a tiny computer; using it feels similar to working on my laptop (which is not a Mac). Increasingly, I've learned that my initial inclination toward the iPhone has been based only in comfort & familiarity: I know how to use it, so I think I prefer to use it. The reality, though, is that phones like the HTC One offer just as much (if not more) functionality.

    Here's to change, indeed.


    If you want to learn more about the HTC One, here's the full rundown. And if you like what you learn, you can join me in using the HTC One, because HTC is giving away a brand new HTC One to a lucky reader! This giveaway is open to readers worldwide; the HTC One is available on all four major US carriers & also in Europe & Asia. There are a few ways to enter over the next two weeks, & I'll announce a winner on Wednesday, Dec. 18th. All I'll need from you upon your win is your physical address (no P.O. boxes, sorry), phone number, email address, & the name of your cell phone carrier. HTC will ship your new phone by December 20th, & you will rock out.

    May the odds be ever in your favor!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway
    Disclaimer: HTC provided me with an HTC One to use & one to give away, but as always, all opinions are my own. Ain't nobody pullin' these puppet strings.

    Saturday, November 30, 2013

    No (Wo)man is an Island


    This was a weird time to move back to Washington, D.C. By Monday, when I was finally settled enough to want to see people, there weren't many people in town to be seen, thanks to the fast-approaching holiday. I had drinks in Adam's Morgan with newlywed friends that first night & grilled cheese sandwiches at Tryst with another friend on Tuesday, & I worked from my old office all three days before the long weekend, so there were familiar faces to be seen & Starbucks-&-gossip breaks to be taken.

    Still, it's been feeling more like a vacation & less like a relocation. Holiday travel has kept me from seeing many of my closest local friends, & to top it off, this week revealed some annoying (though ultimately meaningless) gossip about me that left me feeling like a lepery loser. Dramatic as it sounds, that nasty combination of social barriers resulted in my spending a large portion of my first days back wondering whether I have any friends here at all. More than once, I spiraled into a dangerous mental rabbit hole: "Why did I come here? Does anyone love me? Guess I'll go eat worms. I made the worst decision ever." (I told you it was a little dramatic, but transitions are difficult, OK? And I am a fragile flower.)

    But then I start thinking of all the people who helped me get here, all the friends who went out of their way to be friends to me - people near & far who reached out to me in a billion different ways, letting me know they cared about me & supported me & were rooting for me. How dare I lament the absence of friendship in my life, when the last two months have shown me that I have more people in my corner than I'd ever realized?

    And so, in the slightly belated spirit of Thanksgiving - & to remind myself of all the incredible people who grace my life - I want to take a minute to thank you.

    Yes, you.

    You, who said to me in passing, "You're an adventurer," & believed without an iota of doubt that it was true, even when I didn't.

    You, who helped me look for apartments & furniture, who answered all my questions & addressed all my anxiety-driven worries, who painted a picture for me of what life could be like upon my return.

    You, who recently decided your life's calling was to travel the world & who reminded me, whenever I thought I wasn't strong enough, that I, too, was brave enough to make big changes.

    You, who broke up with your longtime girlfriend & struggled to regain your sense of self, who reassured me that I, too, could strike out on my own and not just survive but flourish.

    You, who talked me down from the scariest panic attack of my life, who reminded me that we all go through periods of upheaval & that I just had to make it through today.

    You, who checked in with me by phone or by text or by Gchat or by email, nearly every single day for a month, to be sure I wasn't falling apart like I continuously threatened to.

    You, who I hardly know but who has a knack for taking care of strangers in need, who taught me the power of meditation & drinking games & relentless belief in myself.

    You, who were worried by the tone of my vague tweets & sent me a private message to be sure I was doing OK, to offer support & suggestions.

    You, who read my blog post announcing the move & sent me an email of support & concern, despite the fact that we hardly know one another.

    You, who checked in periodically to ask, "Are you here yet?" & who offered to to help me shlep furniture in your SUV and bring over burgers & beer after I got settled.

    You, who brought over bananas & and Pop Tarts & a block of cheese on my first day alone in my new apartment to tide me over until I could make it to a grocery store.

    You, who organized a dinner with our mutual friends on my first night back so I wouldn't sit alone, wallowing, & who followed up when I tried to ignore the invitation to, well, wallow.

    You, who took me out for drinks & offered me your old pots & pans to populate my empty kitchen cabinets, who invited me over for beer & friendship & cable & continued support.

    You, who whispered to me in quiet, sincere confidence after my first two days in the office, "I don't know if I've told you how glad I am that you're back."

    There are so many of you: you who left a comment on my blog post; you who sent me a quick text of good luck; you who reached out to make return plans or just to welcome me back. You - all of you - who reminded me that you care about me & that I am strong & that change can be positive.

    On Sunday, I'll return to D.C. after a long weekend with friends in Virginia, & my social calendar will be waiting for me, more populated than its been in a long, long time. There are Hanukkah parties to attend, drinks to be drunk, movies to be watched, & lunches to be eaten, all with people whose presence & friendship enriches & brightens my life immeasurably.

    Today, when I changed my Facebook profile to reflect my move & pressed "save," this is what it showed me:


    Eighty-seven people in the District who I know & presumably love, plus countless others afar. How dare I feel lonely or alone for even a minute?

    Tuesday, November 26, 2013

    The Magic Dragon

    In the weeks leading up to this move, I was feeling pretty down. Actually, “down” is both a massive understatement & a bit of a misnomer; what I was feeling can better be described as “all-consuming panic” as I tried to come to terms with making the conscious decision to leave a life of relative peace & comfort for one of upheaval & unknown. Needless to say, I was not always in a great place, & while I tried to conquer those fears by confronting them, recognizing them, admitting them, the fact remains that I was… well, just not always in a great place.

    In the interest of self-care, sometimes you need to do ridiculous things to try to make yourself feel better, even if they’re just Band-Aids solutions to much bigger problems. That’s why, last week, to try to raise my own spirits, I purchased a dragon onesie – adult-sized, you know, for myself.

    Yep. A dragon onesie.

    I’d read about Kigurumi.ca, a onesie site, on Abby’s blog, & I’d been hankering to get in on the weird, fleecey, cartoon-costumed fun ever since. As it turns out, lots of other great people also own animal onesies, so either A) it’s not that weird after all, or B) I know a lot of weird people & am in good, weird company. Thanks, Internet.

    I had my onesie shipped to my new address, & it arrived yesterday. What better way to begin a Monday? As it turns out, the extreme drop crotch makes me feel a little bit like a dragon incarnate of Justin Bieber, but overall, how can I complain about a dragon onesie?

    That's right. I can't.

    Brb while I rap Lil Wayne lyrics.

    Monday, November 25, 2013

    MacGyvering My New Life

    Everything I brought with me to D.C. fit into a 10-foot U-Haul truck. I forgot a lot of things back in New Jersey - my Northface fleece  framed photo of my family, my grandmother's engagement ring, any books or movies whatsoever - but for the most part, I brought the important stuff (except for the boyfriend & the cat...), & I'm all settled into my new studio apartment.

    What I neglected to consider, though, is just how many life staples I was leaving behind. Nathan is still living back in New Jersey, & the majority of our shared household items are staying there with him - everything from bath towels & trash cans to the Swiffer & the plunger. Cue "not prepared to live in an apartment alone" panic.

    As we unpacked on Saturday, I kept a running list of Stuff I Need to Buy to Survive. While I hung clothes into my new walk-in closet (!), Nathan headed to the grocery store around the corner & purchased some food to populate my pantries - mac & cheese, tuna, beer, Diet Coke, bananas. He also picked up plastic cutlery & paper plates to tide me over until I buy real ones, as well as a small pot & rubber colander to begin my new collection of kitchen necessities. A few meager but vital items to get me started.

    Still, when I began making Velveeta for dinner last night, I encountered a few problems.
    1. I wanted to add canned in chili, but I realized that without a microwave or another pot, I had no way of heating it up. Scratch the chili. 
    2. Upon adding the uncooked noodles to the boiling water, I realized I didn't have a wooden spoon to stir them with. I was wary of stirring the pot with a plastic spoon (because melting), so I used the one real knife I brought with me in lieu of the proper utensil.
    3. When the time came to eat my magnificent, healthy, adult meal, I realized I didn't have any bowls, either - which is how I came to eat a dinner that looked like this:
     

    Oh, & one last issue. I don't own any Tupperware! Instead, I slapped some Saran wrap atop a Solo cup to refrigerate the other half of my "meal"- which I shall have to consume as cold leftovers, given my aforementioned lack of microwave.

    When I was done with dinner, I headed to my building's workout room to watch The Walking Dead - because I don't have cable or Internet yet, & there's a nice, big TV down there for folks who are taking advantage of the treadmill & elliptical. I considered, you know, actually working out while I was down there, especially given my choice of dinner, but... well, I was tired, OK? Moving is exhausting. So this happened:

    Friday, November 22, 2013

    There's No Place Like Wherever it is I'm Looking For


    I remember the night before I left for college, crying in the driveway of my childhood home while my mom hugged me close & kissed my hair & told me it would be all right. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop the tears, couldn’t fathom a life in which I did not live in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, like I always had; I couldn’t imagine being away from the people & places that had made up my entire 18 years. My boyfriend, Dave, showed up to help me pack, but when he reached the foot of the driveway & saw us standing there in that moment of raw emotion, he turned & left & came back after I’d calmed down.

    Oddly, I have almost no memories whatsoever of the day in my junior year when I left Ohio University to transfer to Kent State. I know that no one came to help me move & no one was there to say goodbye, either, because I didn’t have a lot of friends by that point. I know that I cried alone in my car as the little town of Athens faded behind me, certain I would never return to it. What I do remember, vividly, is the phone conversation with my mother in which I decided to transfer – screaming & crying & heaving & hyperventilating, telling her I couldn’t & shouldn’t & wouldn’t, & then ultimately deciding to forget ahead & do it anyway.

    I remember the day I moved to Maryland, less than 24 hours after commencement, to start an exciting new job in Washington, D.C. My mom & my aunt loaded all my belongings into my Honda Civic & my aunt’s minivan van, & together we made the seven-hour drive to my new, sight-unseen home, a condo I’d found through the short-lived Facebook Marketplace. I held it together while they helped me move in, & as soon as they drove away, their van just out of sight, I opened the floodgates & spent my first two hours in the Old Line State crying alone on my bedroom floor. As excited as I was for the new beginning, I was also terrified for it. (I only made it three months in Maryland before upgrading to a studio apartment in the city, just a block away from the National Zoo, in a move that was far less traumatic & emotional than any of my others before or after)

    I remember the day, three years later, when I left Washington, D.C. to return to Ohio, because I’d quit a job I hated & my roommates were moving out & I didn’t know what else to do. I sold my bed on Craigslist & spent a week sleeping on an air mattress; I packed all my belongings into boxes while listening to Jimmy Eat World’s “Movielike” on repeat, sobbing intermittently as I said goodbye to my best friends & the city I’d come to call home. And again, my mother arrived in a white rental van to take me home, just the two of us, loading & unloading everything I owned as I started anew yet again.

    I remember the day, just a few months later, when I moved to New Hampshire, waiting for Nathan to pull up in front of my mom’s house to help me take my stuff up north to move in with him. Before he arrived, I wailed to my mother, “I don’t know if I should do this!” but I did it anyway, moved to a state whose existence had never even permeated my consciousness because I wanted to try to make a go of a relationship that came with geographical tethers. I didn’t cry when I left Ohio, & I didn’t cry when we reached New Hampshire, but I cried a lot afterward, trying to make a life in a place that never quite felt like home, much as I grew to love it.

    I remember the day I moved to New Jersey, driving the five hours alone in the dark to meet Nathan at our new apartment (sight-unseen again), where he was already living. There were no tears that time, only a midnight arrival & deep, permeating sense of exhaustion. Eight moves in less than 10 years is a whole lot of moving.

    And I’ll probably remember tomorrow, too, the day I leave New Jersey to return to D.C. I don’t have any explanations or excuses as to why this move is happening, & I know that you, whoever you are, reading this, will interpret my story as you see fit. All I can say is that I am tired – so, so tired – & that I can’t keep living in places that don’t feel quite right. There are so many things & people I miss that life in this admittedly adorable New Jersey suburb just can’t provide me, try as I might to find them here. And I have.

    So I made a choice, to go back to the one place, in the last 10 years, that has felt like the best fit for me. I don’t know if it’s the right choice, but it’s one I made, & just like each of the choices before it, it fills me with terror & sadness, clinging to the past while trying to bring the future into focus. Just like every other time I’ve done this in the last decade, I’m absolutely paralyzed by fear of the unknown, by fear of making the wrong decision, by fear of never in my whole life finding a place that feels like a goddamn home, a place I can stay.

    I’m tired of moving, but I will keeping doing it until it feels right to settle down & just live

    Monday, November 18, 2013

    Sorry I'm Not Sorry: A List of Things I've Apologized for This Week

    Because I have a notoriously terrible memory, I'm prone to keeping lists of things in my phone, just so I can keep track of them. Sometimes the lists are "important," like workout routines & stuff I need to pick up from the grocery store. Most of them, though, are less vital: to-do items before I turn 30, things I'd rather spend my money on than car repairs, scenes from Dawson's Creek that have made me cry. Recently, I added a new list to the, uh, list: "Things I've Apologized for Lately." After a week of keeping this list, here's a peek at what it looks like.

    I have apologized for:
    • Taking more than one tweet to finish a sentence
    • Telling someone my name was Kate when my account was listed under Sara
    • Missing the initial call when a delivery guy rang to let me know he'd arrived
    • Pushing my cat off the couch
    • Using an exclamation point in a text where no exclamation point belonged
    • Spelling my name too quickly when the Apple guy was making an appointment for me
    • Being a huge bitch to the two Apple employees who were trying to help me get a new phone after I shattered mine 
    • Ugly-crying at the Apple store in front of a lot of people
    • Walking sort of in the vicinity of another person on a public sidewalk
    • Leaving work an hour early after I had a legitimate & terrible panic attack
    • Coming home from work early on my boyfriend's day off (you know, in case I'd interrupted his me-time)
    • Asking a busy barista a totally valid question about Starbucks' Veterans Day discount
    • Not responding in a timely manner to a text asking about Nickelodeon's GUTS
    • Almost being slammed into headfirst by a guy who was texting & walking
    • Being too busy during the workday to have a full & focused phone conversation with my mom
    • Gchatting with a friend & rambling about some things I've been stressed about
    • Canceling a session with my personal trainer
    • Napping for an hour longer than I meant to
    • Not making pumpkin cheesecake for my boyfriend to take to work, like I said I would
    • Taking five days to respond to a personal email
    • Not knowing the difference between registered & certified USPS mail
    • Asking a stranger at Starbucks to keep an eye on my laptop while I ran to the bathroom
    • Following up with someone for a third time after I didn't hear back from her on a fairly time-sensitive request 
    • Saying something to my boyfriend that hurt his feelings
    • Eating a sandwich during a video chat meeting
    • Taking sort of a long time to remove files from my iPad & reset it
    • Not being prepared to discuss something my boss sprung on me at a meeting
    • Emailing the IT department with a sort-of-dumb question
    • My debit card inexplicably not working & a cafe worker having to manually type in my card number instead
    • Working late (er, 6:30pm)
    • Not having the emotional energy to travel home to Ohio for Christmas
    • Tweeting while drunk
    • Being sick on a weekend 
    • Dragging my boyfriend to Urgent Care with me on a Saturday
    • Not turning on my video during a conference call because I was sick
    • Arriving two minutes late to a conference call
    • Muting myself on a conference call because someone was mowing the lawn outside my apartment window
    • Asking my boss to re-send me a password because the one she'd previously sent was incorrect
    • Asking a coworker if we could have a one-on-one call to discuss something he needed me to do for him because I wasn't totally clear on it after a fleeting team conversation
    • Using the phrase "Twitter famous"
    And these are just the ones I thought to write down. Do you know how many of these "apologies," out of the thirty-nine of them that I recorded, were actual apologies that needed to be made? Two. Yes, two. I shouldn't have made that comment to my boyfriend that hurt his feelings, & it was rude of me to yell at the Apple folks who were trying to help me, even if they were telling me I owed them $300. The rest? Were wholly unnecessary.

    It's colloquial, I suppose, the word "sorry." We say it when we mean "excuse me"; we say it when someone is going through a difficult time, even if it has nothing to do with us; we say it about little things & big things alike; we say it about things that certainly don't require us to be sorry or even apologetic; we say it when what we really mean is, "I know this has been a small inconvenience upon you & I want to absolve myself of any guilt for my involvement in that."

    It is apparently a widespread myth that the Eskimos have an unusually large number of words to mean "snow." Still, I can't help but think of this claim when I think more about the word "sorry." How often are we really sorry? What does "sorry" even mean? Isn't there some other word we could use for "I know this has been a small inconvenience upon you & I want to absolve myself of any guilt for my involvement in that"? Because that's too many words to use 39 times a week, but I'm also tired of saying I'm sorry when I'm not really sorry at all.

    When we say we're sorry for 37 ridiculous things that do not require our apologies, do we demean the two that do? Does "I'm sorry" lose its meaning when we use it for everything? Because I don't think "using an exclamation point in a text where no exclamation point belongs" & "hurting the feelings of someone I care deeply about" deserve the same reaction from me.

    I'm tired of apologizing for my existence. I'm not sorry anymore - unless I am, in which case, you'll know that I mean it.

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    Hobo Clothes & an Ego-Crushing Consignment Shop Experience


    Consigning clothes seems like such a genius idea - make money by throwing stuff away! It's like eBay with less of the work (& admittedly less of the profit, but hey, less work.) My little New Hampshire town boasted no fewer than five adorable consignment stores in the downtown area alone, & here in New Jersey, I often end my workdays by walking from Starbucks to the chain consignment boutique next door for a quick look at whatever's new. At this point, about a quarter of my wardrobe comes from such stores, so it makes sense that I should also finally try to consign some items of my own.

    You can only do this, of course, if your stuff is nice. I happen to think mine is, though it's not particularly high-end - mostly GAP & LOFT, with some better & worse brands on either side. I've recently lost a bit of weight, too, so everything that once fit is now too slightly big (what a terrible problem to have, I know), including a number of pieces I bought just last winter, when I was at my heaviest. It's nice, new stuff, like striped sweaters & crisp button-downs & brightly colored cords, stuff I would wear if it fit me; stuff I would buy again if it fit me, especially if I found it at consignment prices. There's jewelry, too, these pretty statement necklaces, & shoes, like a pair of brown leather boots & green, snakeskin Nine West stilettos I've never worn. I have good taste, I think, certainly good enough to consign at a store that also sells brands like J. Jill & Lands End & stuff you'd find in the section of Macy's reserved for middle-aged moms.

    I lug an overstaffed bag into the shop on a Monday afternoon, taking a quick break from my workday. On the walk there, I'm the target of a few "What are you doing?" looks from passersby who surely wonder why a put-together girl in Frye boots & a "BE AMAZING" sweater is lugging what appears to be an oveersized hobo bindle down main street. When I get to the store, I find that the staffer who's doing the consigning isn't particularly friendly, but she isn't rude, either, just kind of overworked & focused on efficiency. Still, as I set my boulder-sized bag on the counter to begin the process, I realize my hands are shaking a little bit & tingling, like they do when I'm really nervous. Because this all feels kind of judgmental, doesn't it? Here's a total stranger, about to tell me exactly why my wardrobe is or isn't good enough to be shared with other shoppers. I don't particularly want to hear her reasoning behind the pieces she rejects, so I wander through the store while she goes through my items, taking to the sweater rack & hoping for the best.

    After 10 minutes or so, she calls me back over. "We can take this jacket & these four necklaces," she tells me, gesturing toward five items laid carefully upon a table to her left. In front of her is the discard pile, practically towering, my sweaters & jeans & those fancy heels all in a heap that announces they have no worth, aren't fashionable or well-kept or desirable enough for resale.

    The store employee is looking at me expectantly, as though I should know the rest. And I do: Suddenly, I remember that the store's policy is that you must have 10 items to consign.

    "So..." I begin.

    "So collect some more stuff," she answers flippantly, beginning to stuff my items back into the bag. I stop her, ask if I can take a minute to refold them, & as I ready my reject wardrobe to return home, she pipes up again.

    "This Old Navy stuff? No. We don't take that. But maybe try bringing back some of the GAP & Banana Republic stuff in the spring." I keep looking down, don't make eye contact with her judgy face as I neaten my pile & pack it away. Her colleague chimes in: "We'd also be very interested in your Longchamp bag," she says, pointing at the massive tote I'm trying (& failing) to stuff all my clothes back into.

    "It's..." I should just tell her I'm not looking part with it, but my brain takes the more honest route. "It's not real." In fact, it has the name of a California synagogue stamped on the side she can't see, a gift from a colleague I once helped & a surefire giveaway that it's a knockoff that's not even trying very hard. Upon my response, both boutique employees look at me with what can only be described as thinly veiled disgust. One of them opens her mouth, as if to speak, & then, thinking better of it, closes her lips with a wet-sounding purse. In coordinate heel-spins, they turn away from me & return to the front desk, leaving me at the back of the store to clean up the mess that is my fashion sense.

    I give up on folding. There's not enough room in the bag anymore, because my tingling hands have made me clumsy, so I shove the boots & stilettos into my purse (which is, by the way, an actual Longchamp bag). My eyes are burning now, too. Desperate to leave, I slink behind a rack of dresses & winter coats, but my necklaces, the ones I shoved into the bottom of the bag, are tangled together in a mass that jingles when I walk, & their sound gives me away. I pass the boutique employees on my way out the door & they say nothing; is this better or worse than if they'd chirped, "Thanks for coming in!"? I can't decide. I cross the threshold back onto main street for the long walk of shame back to my car, & as I pass some of the same people who watched me walk into the store, I can't help but feel like I've got a scarlet letter upon my chest - a U for unfashionable maybe, or an R for reject.This is stupid, of course, because no one is paying attention, but try telling that to my wounded pride.

    I discard my snubbed clothes into the trunk of my car, where they'll remain in hiding until I drop them off at Goodwill next week. I wish I could hide, too, but the closest I can get is to sequester myself in my home until I'm confident that I don't look like a hobo & feel qualified to reenter the world. In the meantime, for today, there will be no coffeeshops for me as I work from home & nurse my damaged ego in leggings & UGGs & an oversized grey sweater. Because, hey, sometimes looking like a hobo is sort of cathartic.

    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    Waiting for Daylight


    There's no easy way to come to terms with the revelation that the life you've planned for yourself isn't going to pan out. It's just... not that kind of revelation. Once you realize it, allow it to sink into your skin instead of just hovering in the air around you, it becomes this painful, all-consuming reality that has to be dealt with, acknowledged, lived.

    That's where I am right now. There's too much happening underneath the surface - too much to talk about, too much to think about, even, & I wake up out of breath, struggling to catch up before the day's even begun. I'm in a constant state of panic. The questions never stop, just beget more questions, & no answer feels secure enough to satisfy me.

    Sometimes, it feels manageable, surmountable. Some days, I'm able to sort of float out of my body, away from this moment, to look at this point in time from one further down the road. A year into the future, what will I think about right now? Will it feel worth it? Will I be OK? I know I will be - at least, I think I will be - & for a few minutes, that brings me pacification, is enough to calm the static that eats through the soundwaves. It doesn't last long, though, & soon, I'm buzzing again, trying to breathe again. I've always believed in futures but I've never been particularly adept at planning for them, & so for now, there's only this. There's only fear & self-doubt & did I mention fear?

    Right now, I'm not OK. I will be, soon, because that's how life works - either you're OK, or you're dead, & there is no in between, not for long. So I'm trying to focus on that moment, months or years from now, when I'll look back at today & think, "You did that. You made it through, again, & goddamn it, you are strong & brave & admirable." I wish I were the sort of person with enough perspective & peace of mind to recognize those things right now, but I'm not. I never have been, & now's not the time to try to change myself, not when I'm trying so hard just to survive.

    I know, though, that for better or for worse, I'm the kind of person who excels at retrospect, & a year from now, or two or three or 10, this will be one of those times that stands out as life-altering & praiseworthy. In the meantime, I breathe & panic & breathe & panic & repeat, indefinitely, waiting for the day I can take in air without choking on it.

    Sunday, November 3, 2013

    The Time I Had a Tarot Card Reading



    Hokey though I recognize it may be, I've long been fascinated by all things psychic. As a kid, my best friend & I even created a fake guide to psychic activity, authored by Ima Foné (genius), to try to... I don't even remember. Trick her brother into believing that psychics existed? (Sorry we were sort of mean to you, David. I love you.)

    It follows, then, that I'm fairly obsessed with the idea of visiting psychics. Don't worry, I'm not doing it on a regular (or even a semi-regular) basis, but I like the idea of it, & so whenever I pass one of those "PSYCHIC READINGS, $5" signs on the front of some hole-in-the-wall joint with beaded curtains, I'm sorely tempted. Occasionally, I give in - which is what happened earlier this month when I forked over $12 to have a tarot card reading done at a hippie store in downtown Red Bank.

    Let me set the scene for you: This store sells dreamcatchers & incense & tumbled-smooth rocks & palmistry books & lots of handcrafted silver jewelry & small stone statues of faeries. I like it because it reminds me of my college town, where old beatniks abound, but I can't think of a single thing I'd ever be likely to buy there. And yet... it was a Saturday, & the sign in the window read something enticing & succinct, like, "TAROT CARD READINGS TODAY!" & I fell for it. I paid my cash, put my name on the list, waited 15 minutes or so, & was eventually ushered into... a dressing room with beaded curtains.

    My psychic - can I call her that? I'm gonna call her that - was a slightly disheveled but friendly-looking woman of unidentifiable age, clothed in black velvet. [Sidebar, if I may. If I've never told you how I feel about velvet, here it is: I think touching velvet feels like petting a cat backward. It shouldn't be done, it's horrible, get it away from me. However, because I recognize velvet as a culturally important fabric to those who believe in the super- & preternatural, I tried to overlook this grievous textile offense.]

    Her cell phone alarm went off. "Sorry about that!" she exclaimed. "I just got my first iPhone, & I'm not sure how to use it yet." I leaned forward, ready to try to help her out when I realized that it was actually an Android phone. This was the moment I learned that technologically unsavvy individuals sometimes refer to all smartphones as iPhones, even when they're not of the Apple variety, since confirmed by a friend who works for Verizon & lists that as one of her primary pet peeves. I assigned negative two points right off the bat to my psychic, although I suppose a psychic doesn't necessarily need to have a profound mastery of modern technology.

    She asked me a lot of questions, more questions than I think a psychic should have to ask, but I'm not in the business of telling people's futures, so I tried to be helpful while staying as tight-lipped as possible. I didn't want to give her any emotions or added commentary that might color my reading. You're the psychic, lady, you tell me. I'm not giving you anything to work with! When she asked me how old I was, though, I answered ("29."), & she seemed taken aback. "Wait, really? I thought you were a lot younger. I'm 32 &... well, I thought you were a lot younger than me." Now, I don't look particularly young - in fact, I'd say I look exactly 29 - but in fairness, if pressed, I would've guessed that she was about 42, so maybe one or both of us has a skewed perspective.

    Anyway, the reading went well, I think, in terms of her not telling me I was about to kick the bucket, or anything. The first card I pulled was "Chaos" (of course), so she spent a lot of time talking to me about the mess that is my life & all the things life has planned for me in the near future, & it was all so alarmingly spot-on that I had trouble hiding my surprise. In fact, it was actually a reassuring experience: Oh, the stars say everything will turn out OK & I won't end up financially destitute & miserable? Thank God. Then again, she also told me she can see that I'm very close to my parents (Note: My father died in 1995), which helped ground me in the recognition that such readings are to be taken lightly. Still, I left her fitting room - er, psychic lair - equal parts rattled & reassured.

    Have you ever been to a psychic? Do you want to hear about the time one freaked me the hell out by telling me about my personal guardian angel slash child ghost? How about the time I got a reading in a New Orleans park by a turban-clad woman who called me "my dear" every five words, such that I couldn't pay attention to the rest of what she was saying?

    Like I said, um, I'm prone to falling for these things.



    Top image: Candles And Cards by Katrina Joyner. All other images my own.

    Friday, November 1, 2013

    Remembering Bill

    I got a text message this afternoon from a childhood friend letting me know that my former neighbor died. To say it took me by surprise is an understatement; certainly you never expect to receive such devastating news via such a casual delivery method on a sunny Friday.

    My neighbor's name was Bill, & right up until I left for college, he & his wife, Christie, lived in the house next door to the one where I grew up. They moved sometime shortly afterward, to a condo in the next town over, & we didn't see them much after that, but throughout the years, I've thought of them with some regularity. In such a small, tight-knit Midwestern neighborhood, they were a huge presence during my childhood, part of so many of my memories.

    Bill was a big personality, always quick with a joke & a loud laugh - our Wilson next door but without a fence in the way. He worked nights at the local newspaper, something to do with printing or delivery, so he was often home during the day. My parents used to joke that Bill knew everything about everyone on our street, always the first to relay the scoop on who among our other neighbors was having an affair & whose kids had gotten in trouble with the law & all the other small-town goings-on that people try to keep under wraps. Today, when I blog about things like drug dealers next door & neighbors who have loud sex, I sometimes think fondly of Bill; I like to think that he would get a kick out of what a busybody I seem to have become.

    Bill kept their lawn meticulous, & sometimes he'd mow ours, too, though maybe that was just so we didn't make his look bad by proximity. Often, I'd go to their house after school, doing homework at their living room table & playing with their dog, Brandy, until my mom came home from work. Their home was full of collectible pigs, which Christie loved, & I made a habit of counting how many I could find, oftentimes more than 100 of them. One year, after they'd built an add-on room with high ceilings, they brought home a towering, monstrosity of a Christmas tree & decorated it straight out of a Martha Stewart catalog, the most beautiful Christmas tree I'd ever seen. Within a day of setting it up, though, they noticed that it was emitting an occasional pop, pop, pop sound, one that had everyone concerned an animal was living inside. Bill, BB gun at the ready, was going crazy trying to figure out the origin of the noise. Imagine his relief when they discovered it was just a bunch of tiny pine cones, opening up along the branches!

    When my dad was sick, & later, after he died, our neighbors helped take care of my mom & me as much as they could. This meant that more than once, Bill stepped in to rescue us from sure disasters - & he always did it with a laugh & a friendly tease. There was the time we returned home to find our back door wide open, afraid someone was lurking inside, & he came over to inspect it before we went inside. There was the time my mom called him, frantic & terrified when she discovered a bat flying in circles around her bedroom, & he ran over, armed with a giant fishing net, to catch it. And there was the time my freshman year of high school, when my mom & I tried to set up a Christmas tree & found ourselves in a state of near-collapse. Bill came over that time, too, fishing wire in hand, & he tied that sucker to the window frame, tight enough that it wouldn't tip over.

    Isn't it funny how you can think you don't remember much about a person from your past? And then it all comes rushing back, like it was just yesterday - full, colorful versions of a lifetime ago. When I got that text telling me that Bill was gone, that he'd died at a hospice care facility I didn't even know he was in, suddenly I was 10 years old again, trying to climb the big tree in his backyard & smelling that cigar smoke from his porch & excitedly accepting the blank rolls of newspaper butcher paper he brought home from work for me to use for extravagant craft projects. He was a good man, someone I loved & trusted & whose presence in my life was constant & positive, & although it's been a long, long time since I last saw him, I'm surprised to find that I can still recall his voice, that laugh, & all kinds of packed-away memories I'd nearly forgotten.

    I don't know whether I believe in heaven, that there's some happy, shiny place beyond this world where we pass on & spend eternity laughing & singing & dancing with angels, or whatever it is that other people believe about life after death. I know, though, that if such a place exists, there's an old neighbor & a chocolate lab waiting there with a smile, welcoming Bill to join them.

    Monday, October 28, 2013

    Playing Dress-Up, Halloween-Style

    In 2010, I blogged about my cousin Emily's incredible "Dunkin' Donuts" Halloween costume, in keeping with our family's preference for punny Halloween costumes (see also: the time I was "fishing for compliments"). Emily's costume has since appeared in a number of Internet round-ups of clever costumes, including a piece this year from Huffington Post. Feeling the heat to live up to some of my old glory days, I decided I needed to step up my Halloween game this time around.

    While my end result didn't involve a frosted donut inner tube, & it wasn't my best ever (because "fishing for compliments"), it was a pretty solid effort.


    Get it? GET IT? OK, a lot of people actually didn't get it ("Are you an iPhone?!" No.), but those who did seemed to appreciate it. SOCIAL BUTTERFLY, y'all! How appropriate, I know.

    Not to be outwitted, Nathan went the clever route, too. He had to do a lot of explaining ("Are you Sergeant Pepper?!" No.), but I loved watching the lightbulb go on over people's head when he told them what his costume was.


    SEASONED VETERAN. Genius, I know. And yeah, he smelled like chili powder & black pepper all night, but good costumes sometimes require sacrifice, guys. I, for example, wore a nightgown in public.


    Happy Halloween, friends. 

    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    Lives Between Lines


    I've read so many beautiful blog posts lately. Posts that are compelling & inspirational & encouraging. Powerful posts about people finding themselves, figuring themselves out, following their hearts & going on to find their version of happiness. And every time I read one of these posts, for a split second, they make me feel great - they compel me, inspire me, encourage me. And then, immediately afterward, they piss me right the hell off.

    It's just that... either these people are lying, or I'm doing life totally wrong, & frankly, both of those prospects feels equally despairing. If these smart people are all lying, then all that inspiration & encouragement feels like bullshit, pulled from the fantasyland of wish-I-could instead of the reality of I-actually-did. And if they're not lying? Then basically everyone is doing a better job of keeping themselves together than I am, & they've all progressed at a pace that's on par with where society says we ought to be but which I always thought was an exaggeration. I like to imagine that everyone else is terrified & messy, too, because it makes me feel like just another terrified, messy cog in the twentysomething machine, but if they're not? Then I'm alone in this, &... well, that's not what you want to hear, ever.

    I have this problem - & maybe it's not a problem, always, but it usually feels like one - where I see every situation from every participants' perspective, whether I know all the players or not. When I read a blog post about someone's relationship gone bad, about the breakup that propelled them into The Best Version of Themselves, I find myself thinking about the ex-boyfriend in question: "I wonder how he feels about being called a manipulative sociopath. He probably thinks she's clingy & weak." When I read a post about someone who moved across the country on a whim & wants to share life lessons, I think, "I wonder if her real-life friends think she's this put-together, or just her Internet ones." I want to know the rest of these stories, because no one is that black or white. Of course, each of us can only tell our own side of any given story - but every single situation is written in the grey space, & as outside viewers, we only get to see one side of the spectrum, depending on which side of the prism we're given to look through.

    It's not lying to show people only the pretty parts, in blog posts or otherwise; we do it every day, because it's the perspective we prefer or the one that best fits the narrative we want to construct for the public. But I want to know more. I want to know whether the stories that compel & inspire & encourage me are built on truth or perspective & what's on the other side of them. I want to know what the other people think, the people who are tangential to these stories, because maybe that would give me a fuller picture, help me to better contextualize the narrow angle I've been given.

    Slowly, I'm starting to realize that I can't compare one-dimensional views of others peoples' lives to this fully three-dimensional view I have of my own life. Naturally, I have a broader, more complete view of the life I live than I do of anyone else's. How can I compare the bad in myself to the best of what you show me? It's not fair to compare the intimate, messy minutia of my life to the polished, prepared remarks of someone else's.

    But behind the scenes, behind those pretty facades, every story - every real, fully dimensional story - is written in the grey space. Especially mine, I know, & even yours, I'm sure. Each of us is more than the words we choose to share, the limited perspectives we allow. There is so much more, but does it matter? All I can concentrate on is my own.

    No comparisons. Just live.

    Saturday, October 12, 2013

    How I Chose My New Blog Name

    And this one is certainly an interesting story
    It starts with an ending.
    And we're both characters in play
    On the same stage, but on a different page  
    At almost-30, I don't like to consider myself someone who's "been through a lot" - because aren't we all? Haven't we all had our share of hard times, of the sort of times we thought we might not see the end of? Whether they came when we were young or didn't set in until adulthood, I can't think of a single person who hasn't been through a lot. Because life is a lot.

    But there was a time in my life when I was a person who had been through a lot, & most of the people I knew weren't yet. When you're 10 & your dad dies of cancer while all your friends still have both parents, alive & well & married, you're the one who's going through a lot. When you're 12 & starting middle school in a back brace, beginning that awkward phase with the usual acne & heartache & also a plastic outer shell, you're going through a lot. When you're 20 & your first love hangs himself in his garage & sends you into a mental & emotional tailspin of depression & grief, you're, you know, going through a lot.

    In other words, we've all been through a lot, but a lot of my a lot came before everyone else's - and in so many ways, that defined me, both then & now.

    But here I am. I know I'm not necessarily the most stable, well-adjusted, or successful adult (um, are you?), but I also know that I'm doing pretty damn well, especially given all the times I thought I was on the verge of total mental meltdown. Every once in awhile, I remember all of those "a lot" times, & I think, "I made it. Holy shit, I made it."

    Like so many others, music helped me make it, standing in as my best friend during the difficult times & guiding me through by reassuring me that others feel the way I do, that beautiful things can eventually come of pain. It was Dave, my high school boyfriend, who first introduced me to the kind of music that jump-started my affinity for connecting the words in the songs to the thoughts in my head. Even now, more than a decade later, the two bands he first introduced me to, Brandtson & Jimmy Eat World, are my favorites. In particular, Brandtson's album "Send Us a Signal" & Jimmy Eat World's "Futures," which both came out in 2004, remain atop my list.

    They weren't at the time, though. "Send Us a Signal" was something new for Brandtson, an emo-rock outfit from nearby Canton, Ohio, whose previous sound was grittier, harder, less dancy. I loved the updated vibe, but Dave disagreed heartily. On the other hand, he was smitten with "Futures," and I couldn't get through it because I hated it so much. The AIM conversation in which we argued about those two albums, at the start of my junior year of college, is the last I remember having with him before he died.

    There are two songs from those albums that feel personal to me: the title track to "Futures" & Brandtson's "Escapist." They speak to related themes of living a meaningful life, taking risks, looking objectively at loss, and having faith in whatever's coming next. They remind me that I can rise above the difficult times. They assure me that it won't always be like this, as terrible or as scary or as sad as it is right now, whatever right now may contain. And they've always been right.

    It's from "Escapist" that I decided to name this blog, representative of the music that has defined & defended me & of the lyrics that have described me so well. "Greatest escapist" signifies that I am more than where I have been or what has been happened to me or even what I have done. To me, "greatest escapist" represents brave exits & bold new beginnings.

    And yes, I know that this whole blog post has basically been the cheesiest, most cliched thing I've written in a long time, so it's fine by me if you're rolling your eyes realllllly hard right about now. But I know that you have one of these stories, too, & that even if you're kind of making fun of me in your head, you're also relating. So there.

    We've all been through a lot. This is me owning it.
    This time around, I’ll meet you halfway
    And I won’t spend my life lying awake at night
    And I’ll say I’m the fabled one that let you down.
    The greatest escapist the world has ever known.

    Wednesday, October 9, 2013

    The Time I Reclaimed My Old Domain Name So It Didn't Become a Porn Site

    There are a lot of things I love about Google, but as it turns out, their ability - or, rather, their utter inability - to be a functional & responsible domain registrar & web host is not one of them.

    It wasn't always like this. For years, I wrote at SuburbanSweetheart.com with no problems. Every August, Google auto-renewed my domain, & I kept on writing, like always.

    Except for this year.

    As in the past, I assumed my domain had auto-renewed, but I never checked on it, because sometimes I'm not that good at keeping up with life stuff. When I decided in September that I wanted to change up my blog, my designer, the fantastic Bobbi of Ready to Blog Designs, quickly ascertained that there were some problems going on behind the scenes - like, for starters, that my domain hadn't been renewed & didn't actually belong to me anymore, even though outwardly, everything seemed to be working just fine.

    When Bobbi told me it would cost me $95 to reclaim the name, I made a big decision: I was going to let it go. I was all set to let SuburbanSweetheart.com fade into the Internet abyss, to just tweet you  senseless with reminders to subscribe to the new feed & to just let six years of blogging at the old domain fall by the wayside. Cut the cord, Kate, I told myself, & I was planning to. A new beginning!

    But.

    The rest of the story is muddled because I'm technology-averse & also because it's not that interesting, until it gets to the part where a random guy emailed me to tell me that he'd stumbled upon my domain in an online auction. He was willing to bid up to $300 to own it, he said, because my existing search engine optimization was really good (yes, yes, it's hard to pat your own back, but not that hard, don't worry). What gave him pause, he told me, was that he realized the domain was still active - you know, because I was still blogging there - and hey, did I mean to put my URL up for sale?

    Um, no. I didn't.

    Yet there it was, listed on GoDaddy.com with 12 bidders. And when I imagined this guy owning my domain, within days of my blog changing names, I sort of freaked out. I was prepared not to be SuburbanSweetheart.com anymore, but I wasn't prepared for someone else to be SuburbanSweetheart.com - so I decided to reclaim my domain.

    When I called the good folks at GoDaddy - who are, by the way, far more dignified & respectable than their company's notoriously chauvinist commercials - my panic ("HELLLLP, IS MY BLOG GOING TO DISAPPEAR?") was met with a heady combination of confusion & compassion. When the tech asked for my URL, I could hear the discomfort in his voice upon my response.

    "Oh!" he exclaimed. "Yeah, um, I can see why people would be eager to own that domain. It would do pretty well with, uh, a certain segment of the Internet."

    It took me .6 seconds to process that comment, & as soon as it sunk in, I started to cry, because someone was going to use my beloved domain & my awesome SEO to start a porn site. And then I started to cry harder.

    The tech was so, so nice, & it probably helped that I couldn't stop crying, because I think he felt even more compelled to help me find a solution. We established a friendly rapport in which I sobbed & then apologized profusely for it, & he kindly offered more reassurance & assistance than his pay grade required of him. Before we hung up, he told me, "All this has made me want to check out your blog!"

    "Don't worry," I assured him. "It's not porn."

    "Oh!" he exclaimed again. "I... no, that's not why I wanted to read it. That's not what I meant. I'm so sorry."

    "No! I was just trying to reassure you, like, just in case, or something, in case you thought I was crying about, like, a porn site." Stutter, stutter, stutter.

    He cleared his throat a few times. "Well, now I'm a little embarrassed."

    I apologized three times in a row, & then I stopped talking.

    Twenty-four hours, $95, & a bucketful of tears later, SuburbanSweetheart.com belonged to me again, & it now redirects to GreatestEscapist.com - because if it's gonna be a porn site, it's gonna be my porn site, goddamnit.

    Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Step Back From That Ledge, My Friend


    I was already in my car & headed to Starbucks when I realized I'd left something at home. Rather than re-parking in my complex's lot all the way back down the street, I instead pulled into the courtyard behind my building. Is "courtyard" the right word? It's a glorified driveway for the residents who pay $150 extra a month to park in individual one-car garages. There's a big "NO PARKING" sign there, but if you pull up close to the brick wall & leave your flashers on & make it quick, you'll be fine. Our super, Anthony, is friendly & forgiving, & plus, he likes me even though I don't know how to use my dishwasher.

    As I pulled up close to the wall, I spotted my downstairs neighbor, Barbara, who likes me a lot less than the super does. When she started motioning toward the back of the lot, I rolled my window down to talk to her: "There's a man back there!" she told me frantically. "I wanted you to see him. I think he fell. An ambulance is coming."

    Indeed, a man was lying, legs splayed, toward the back of the lot. Quickly, my brain calculated options: Park your car here, go wait with him. Park your car somewhere else, come back to him. But before I could process a decision, I heard sirens closing in behind me & three police cars zoomed into the lot, surrounding my car. Carefully, waving apologies to the officers as they navigated the tiny space, I maneuvered my way out & parked my car on the street, away from the growing chaos.

    And then I went up to my apartment, ostensibly to retrieve what I'd forgotten... but also to peer out my window, which overlooks the courtyard lot.

    I watched for nearly an hour as policemen tended to the man, who was initially unresponsive. Immediately upon awaking, though, he tried to sit up & began to scream - "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," over & over & over, echoing off the brick & reverberating through that small, enclosed space & carrying up into the open windows above. More police cars arrived; two ambulances followed. As EMTs tried to load the man onto a backboard, his screams continued: oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. "Stop trying to move," I heard medics tell him. "You're making it worse." Each time, he stopped for less than a minute, & each time, the wailing began again.

    I could only hear pieces of the conversations that surrounded his screams - a neighbor yelling down that the man had jumped, the police pointing to a nearby apartment complex where they thought he lived, my super collecting empty beer cans from the area where he'd fallen, a medic mentioning a broken ankle, broken legs. Once he'd been backboarded & wheeled into an ambulance, I watched as they secured him down & stuck him with needles. And all the while, he kept screaming.

    I don't know what happened. I don't know who he is or whether he lives in my building or how he ended up lying face-up in my driveway. I don't know if he jumped, or if he fell, or if maybe there was no descent at all - maybe he was drunk, maybe he tripped, maybe it wasn't as bad as it all seemed. Maybe it was something else entirely, something I can't imagine. No, I don't know anything except how scared he sounded, how sad, how utterly racked with pain, & how I felt listening to him & watching, horrified & helpless, as first responders tried to assist him.

    Finally, I had to leave, not only because it was the middle of a workday but because I'd begun to feel physically ill, my lack of breakfast roiling in my stomach & threatening to rise. I've always been a little nosy - you've got to be, I guess, to ever aspire to be a journalist - but it's never manifested itself in this way, in watching so closely as another human being suffers so badly. Why did I feel so compelled to look on, to listen? As I exited my apartment complex, I hoped to run into neighbors who might also have overheard the whole ordeal, thinking I could find some solace in "Can you believe it?!" small talk with strangers who were also struggling to place their feelings.

    But it was just like any other Tuesday at 10am, no one milling about in the lobby or the front yard or anywhere at all. In fact, from the front of the building, where my car was parked, the bright police lights & chartreuse ambulances were hidden from view, no visible signs of the tumult still happening in the backyard. Everything was silent, just another day, the world carrying on as usual.

    Before I shut my car door, though, I heard it again, more faintly this time, carrying from around the corner: Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God...

    I haven't stopped thinking about him all day. It's going to take a long time, I think, for those words to fade.

    Sunday, October 6, 2013

    This Is Why I Can't Have Nice Things

    I stood outside my friend Julia’s vacant apartment midday on a Friday, holding a stack of freshly ironed dress clothes & surrounded by luggage, trying to figure out how the gate lock worked. After a few minutes of severe fumbling - the key wouldn't even turn - I realized I hadn't double-checked the apartment number with her. Suddenly, a terrible thought barreled into my consciousness: "Is this the right apartment? AM I BREAKING INTO SOMEONE ELSE'S HOME?"

    As it turns out, I was at the right apartment, which was a relief both for my ego & my criminal record. But as it also turns out, the right apartment was much swankier than any apartment where I've ever lived or stayed. That first experience, in which I briefly felt like a fancy hobo (see inset), really set the tone for the rest of my stay, which looked a little bit like this.
    • The apartment is a beautiful English basement right on Logan Circle, with its own entrance, so the entrance is covered by a gated door for added security. The gate’s a little tough to unlock, though (see above), & more than once, I struggled to enter & exit, tugging & pulling & muttering like a crazy person. Perhaps my least suave moment, though, came when I couldn’t get the gate open from the inside (as in, I could not leave the apartment), so I asked the guy delivering my Thai food to just pass it through the bars to me. As though I were imprisoned. Oh, just pass me my food through this wrought-iron gate like I’m a felon & my dinner is contraband, sir, thanks.
    • For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the light in the bedroom closet. I didn’t even remember turning it on! And yet there it was, on, bright, mocking me. I left it on for an entire 24 hours (sorry, Julia) before deciding, “Oh! I can at least close the closet door while I sleep to try to block it out.” As it turns out, the two are connected: The light turns off when you close the door. I found that out, um, when I closed the door. So.
    • The massive shower, which is bigger than my entire bathroom, doubles as a steam room with just the push of a button. Eager to relax (is that an oxymoron?), I pushed the button & sad, naked & expectant, on the wooden bench that lined one wall. Anyway, after about 10 minutes of sitting there, nothing had happened, & I was just... a weirdo sitting, naked & expectant, in the shower. (I know, you’re welcome for those visuals.) A text to my friend told me I had to wait a little longer for it to steam up - & confirmed that I didn’t actually need to sit in there waiting for it to happen.
    I think it’s safe to say that I’ll never be royal.

    Saturday, October 5, 2013

    Announcement: I HAVE A NEW BLOG!


    Oh, hello, there. How are you? I know, I know, it’s been a little while. I’ve been positively itching to write to you, but some things have kept me away. Life things, making-time-for-things things, technology-related things. Related to that last point, my silence has been due, in large part, to some changes around this space, staying quiet until all the kinks were worked out. Now that everything’s mostly settled, what I really want to tell you, in case you haven’t noticed already, is that this blog is no longer Suburban Sweetheart.

    Welcome to Greatest Escapist!

    This blog is new & different & exciting. This blog is its own person. Errr, its own site. I mean, kind of. It includes all the old content I couldn’t bear to part with (check out those archives on the lefthand side), but it’s also a fresh start. After six years of blogging at SuburbanSweetheart.com, I was feeling restless, as I am sometimes wont to do. I mean, six years. That’s a pretty long time, y’all. Do you know how much a life can change in six years? As it turns out, a lot. But then again, not so much at all.

    The thing is, I’m going to be 30 next year, & I guess I just felt like “Suburban Sweetheart” didn’t really suit me anymore. Did it ever? “Suburban,” maybe, though for much of my time writing there, I was a city-dweller - & for all the time I wasn’t, I wanted to be. As for the “sweetheart” part? Well, let’s just say that when I chose my blog name, I apparently valued alliteration over honesty. That’s not to say that I’m not a nice person, because I like to think I am, but I don’t know that anyone has ever described me as “a sweetheart” & meant it.

    So here I am, “the greatest escapist the world has ever known.” How did I choose the title of this new blog? It’s a long, personal story, & I’ll write a full post about it some other time, but for now, I’ll give you the basics: I wrote a list of about 50 possible names. I agonized over it. I said every possible new name aloud to determine whether it would embarrass me to answer the question, “What’s the name of your blog?” I consulted via text & email with witty friends whose opinions I value (thanks, Emily & Lindsey & Kristen). I actually lost sleep thinking about it.

    In the end, I just jumped. I wasn’t totally sold on this name, which is based off a lyric from a song by the now-defunct, Ohio-based band Brandston, but I went with it anyway. I decided I could live with this moniker for the foreseeable future. I decided it suited me, that it sounded sufficiently badass but also a little bit, I don’t know, sensitive? I decided that it had a nice aurality to it, that it was pleasant to speak aloud instead of embarrassing. In other words, I just decided it would work.

    So here I am. And here you are. If you haven’t already done so, please click through to see my clean, fancy new design, masterminded by the lovely, talented, & oh-so-patient Bobbi of Today I’m Bobbi & Ready to Blog Designs. Please note that I’ve changed (most of) my social media handles from @heysuburban to @heyescapist. And perhaps most importantly, please update your reader so that you continue to receive updates whenever I, um, update you.

    Oh, yeah: And thank you so much for coming along for the ride with me.

    It feels weird to leave Suburban Sweetheart behind, but also, it feels completely right. Let the next adventure begin!

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    My New Blog Is Coming - SOON!


    Cue the fanfare! I've got big news.

    My new blog, GreatestEscapist.com, will launch this week, & I could not be more thrilled about it. Rest assured that the content I post will largely remain the same, & all archives will remain intact. The only things that will change will be the layout, designed by the fabulous Bobbi at Ready to Blog Designs, &, of course, the name.

    Oh... & the URL. Unfortunately, due to some issues with Google being the worst ever when it comes to domain management, the URL SuburbanSweetheart.com is going to disappear entirely - no redirect, nothing. That means that you should plan to update your readers ASAP to start following me at GreatestEscapist.com. This is a bit tricky, because there's currently nothing at GreatestEscapist.com, but basically, as soon as that page starts working, this one will stop working.

    If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I'll be reminding you a few times in the coming weeks so that you can update your reader accordingly - especially when the new blog actually launches. If you don't follow me there, though, & you want to keep reading my blog? Well, you're just going to have to remember the make the switch whenever SuburbanSweetheart.com stops working. Again, that's going to happen sometime this week. Don't say I didn't warn you!

    I know, I know, the URL stuff sort of sucks. But you know what doesn't suck? Launching an awesome new blog. I'm really excited about it, & I hope you are, too, & I hope you'll keep following along, commenting, engaging, & being a part of this six-year blogging adventure with me. See you at GreatestEscapist.com!
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