on being awkward

No one likes to feel awkward. The word itself makes me cringe as I type it, with its strange w-k-w string of consonants that just seems more wrong the longer you look at it.  Awkward situations, awkward relationships, awkward phases… the adjective connotes something not merely uncomfortable but discordant; askew.

I-Love-Dick-Kathryn-Hahn
The inimitable Kathryn Hahn in “I Love Dick”

I have been awkward ever since I can remember. I’d like to think that at least sometimes it’s in a cute or charming way, à la Clare Danes in My So Called Life, or Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles (and yes I know I’m dating myself terribly with those references!) Although I’d love to be one of those supremely self-possessed, polished women who always says the right thing and never does anything embarrassing, I’ve come to accept that that’s probably–no, definitely–not ever going to be me, and that’s ok. As I get older, I gain greater self-acceptance with each passing year, and I try to embrace my awkwardness as one of the many personality quirks that makes me who I am.

Even now in my forties,, I still occasionally gravitate towards shows about awkward teenagers. I recently discovered two such shows on Netflix, both British, one called The Inbetweeners about four teenage boys, and another called Some Girls. They’re terribly funny and I think anyone tired of today’s polished teens (you know, where every girl has perfect hair and a dewy glow and looks like she was dressed by a stylist, and even the supposed “nerd” characters are just hot chicks with glasses) will find them refreshing. Incidentally, did anyone watch “13 Reasons Why”? I have so many issues and complaints about it (not least of which is that the main character is a perfect example of the aforementioned super-cute-but-supposed-outcast girl), but I hate-watched the whole thing anyway.

Of course there are plenty of shows for adults with awkward females as the main character, à la Bridget Jones. I find most of these pretty annoying. One remarkable exception is Chris Kraus in the new Amazon show “I Love Dick“. I suppose I identify more with her brand of awkwardness, which is harsh and painful, more so than the cloying cutesy-ness of, say, Zoë Deschanel’s character Jess in “New Girl” (derp, derp). Chris Kraus perceives that she’s obnoxious or abrasive to others, but it’s like she can’t help herself, and we can’t look away. This, to me, is an infinitely more interesting heroine, although there were times when it almost became difficult to enjoy because it brought up familiar, unpleasant feelings of being that person who no one really likes much because you can’t rein yourself in enough to fit in.

I guess at this point in life, I’ve pulled back from social interaction except with people who have mostly known me for years. It helps that I have a mate and am no longer out and about all the time. I can put my head down, not stick my neck out. I am “safer”; less of a wild card. My awkwardness is more contained and bounded.

There are so many feminist implications of the awkward female trope that I can’t delve into now, but here’s a really excellent article about the role of the “female loser” as protagonist.

birthday came early

I’ve just spent Christmas with my family, but this was a Christmas of many years ago- only my parents and siblings, no spouses or children. My mom announces that one of my grandparents has just died, but which one? Hadn’t they all passed away already? We discuss this, and conclude that they in fact have.

Although I know it’s winter, the weather is as mild as a spring day. It’s my birthday, or the day before maybe, and I’ve made no plans. So I wander in search of something to do; a little companionship. I cross through a field where someone is inexplicably walking a dolphin on a leash; occasionally they throw a bucket of water on it. My dog sniffs it for a moment and trots onward. I pass by other relatives in town for the holidays and wave hello, but don’t stop to make small talk.

I make my way into my city, which has, for my purposes, become walkable from my childhood home, and just walkable, period. Places that are miles apart are suddenly and conveniently clustered into one fun neighborhood. Strolling past all of my usual haunts, whose windows twinkle invitingly with string lights for the season, I think of guys I could call who would take me out for a birthday dinner, and we’d have a nice time. But of course I don’t want nice–I want Him.

I end up at a house party and suddenly it’s morning and there he is, outside on the patio, sitting expectantly as if waiting for me, despite the fact that we haven’t spoken in ages. As usual, I’m displeased with him for some perceived minor infraction and begin to chide him. But as usual, his physical presence washes away my annoyance like chalk in the rain, still perceptible but illegible and without consequence. He silences my faltering complaints with a kiss and we latch on to each other like long-lost lovers.

We make our way through the city this way, joined, and although he is twice my size, somehow I am carrying him like a child. I ask where he wants to go and he says, “my house”. So we go, and there is a party happening; a birthday, but not mine. His place has expanded and there are rooms upon rooms to go through to get to his chambers, but at last we arrive. Someone has left us slices of cake, and I gleefully exclaim that we’ll eat it in bed. We have to chase some children out of his rooms; the last one to go is a very small toddler who has just learned to walk and whose footsteps shake the wooden floors like thunder as she runs out.

After dispensing of all the interlopers I return to him and to our kiss. He now tastes of liquor… a hidden flask? I’m stone cold sober and want to ask for some, but don’t; it’s morning, after all, and besides, this kiss is the main thing. Our tongues reach deep, searching for each other’s souls, or maybe intestines. I could go on in this moment forever, but I know it’s not to be.

I awake, and immediately want to crawl back into the cocoon of this dream. Coiled in the warmth of our imaginary embrace, I slowly and regretfully shake off sleep, knowing that the best part of my day has likely already occurred. But although it was just a figment, the kiss is now a shiny coin that I’ll keep in my pocket, absentmindedly rubbing for luck and secretly smiling.

some items of business

Aghghg… I had a post in my head in the shower this morning before work, quickly typed it out, tried to save it and there was an error. So perhaps it was not meant to be, and I’ll just start over. I was going to post some quick thoughts along with a song that expressed a feeling I was having earlier about a certain person/ situation, but I’ve thought better of it, so instead I think I’ll just address some items of business about this blog.

First, let’s get one thing straight: It’s dumb to have to explain this, but the use of initials to refer to people in my life isn’t meant to be cute or coy. Obviously if you know me in real life, you can probably pretty easily figure out who is who. It’s mainly meant to fly under the radar of Google searches, so if anyone’s searching someone’s name, they won’t land here unexpectedly. It’s the same reason I don’t mention my business by name. It’s also just a courtesy, in case people don’t want their name used. I had a conversation with someone the other day who mentioned that a mutual friend had sarcastically said, “Gee, I wonder who — could be.” Of course you know who it is, did you actually think I thought I was being mysterious or obfuscating details? T, I don’t expect you’re reading this, but if you are, give me a little credit.

Secondly, I know this started as a travel(ish) blog and has drifted a bit into some more personal territory, but that’s just what I feel I need to write about right now.  I do have some travel-related posts in the pipeline, but the big picture is that this is about my life experiences, whether they take place at home or elsewhere. I got tired of writing my food blog, which was by and large a shiny happy place where everything was super and I rarely expressed my darker or more sarcastic side, let alone any of the real shit that was happening in my life. On that blog, I cooked and ate beautiful food with my supportive husband and went to amazing parties and potlucks with awesome friends who were also all great cooks and we ate the best food and drank great wine and lived a charmed life. Clearly some of that was true and real, but don’t expect the same gloss factor here.* That’s not to say it’s all going to be negative and emotional. Just that if I feel like writing about things not being perfect, I will.

Lastly, it came to my attention in the same conversation from the other day that there are people reading whom I’ve never met, but who know of me peripherally and have sought out the blog as a way to find out more about me (and not necessarily in a positive way). I suppose that’s the risk you run by publishing your semi-private thoughts in a public forum, but at 41 years old I just can’t bring myself to care anymore what people think (unless you happen to think I’m brilliant and talented, in which case I’m all ears!), especially those who don’t know me personally and who will never know what’s in my heart and soul. So, judge away, stalkers and weirdos. And if you somehow landed here randomly and don’t know me: welcome, I can definitely be a crazy person at times (aren’t all the interesting people, though? At least the ones I know…) but overall I’m pretty smart, fun, and every once in a while I have some interesting stories and insights and perspectives.

I’ll leave you all with this song, an anthem from my teenage years that’s been swimming around my brain for the last three days. The lyrics aren’t all perfectly applicable to my life right now, but whenever I listen to it, it always makes me feel like I have someone in my corner.

*If you prefer a little more gloss, follow my instagram– I try to keep that pretty positive!

alone again and

For the last 7 months, I’ve lived in a small one-bedroom flat, the upper half of a duplex I bought before I was married. It’s not a bad little apartment; it has some cute vintage features and built-in bookshelves and a little alcove with a window and a tree just outside. In fact, if I’d lived here in my 20s I probably would’ve thought it was near perfect. But right now, it feels pretty miserable. Of course, the circumstances that brought me here play a role in that, but mostly the thing I hate about being here is living alone.

Some people thrive on living alone, cherishing their solitude like a thick, warm blanket in a storm. I am not one of those. I grew up in a big family and had lots of roommates throughout my 20s and 30s. When I did live by myself, I had a very full social life as well as a social job (in retail), so the few hours I was home alone each day didn’t faze me. Nowadays, I’m self employed and working from home most days. The loneliness creeps in around midday, a dense fog, and by  mid-afternoon I am either stir-crazy or want to crawl back into bed. I end up going out way too often. My dog is my savior, but sweet as she is, she can’t carry the weight all by herself.

I fantasize about having a commune of sorts; a halfway house for my misfit friends where I would cook supper every night and tend to people’s broken hearts and disappointments and melancholia, or celebrate their successes and triumphs. We’d drink wine and play music and dance around the kitchen and soothe each other’s troubled souls. Or, we’d each go off to our separate rooms for a night of calm and quiet, but take comfort in knowing that the others were close at hand.

When I was married, M would work all day and then either retreat to his office to watch TV solo, or go out after work without me, leaving me to question why I got married in the first place if it meant sitting at home without company? I mean, the principal reason I thought anyone would get married was to not be alone; to have a partner in life. Ironically, I think I was worse off then than I am now, for whatever that’s worth. Being in physical proximity to someone so emotionally absent creates a depth of loneliness even greater than actually being by yourself; a concept that I couldn’t have fathomed before it happened to me.

All of this is not to say that I can’t be by myself or in my own head or that I constantly need attention or interaction. Not at all. During family weekends at the lake, I adore sneaking off to read on the beach before anyone else gets up, or taking a stroll through the pines, soaking up the stillness. And there are many occasions- after a busy work event, for example- where I just want to retreat and decompress. But more often than not, even if I’m doing something like reading or writing, I like it if someone’s in the room with me (in fact, I read a lot more when I lived with M than I do now). The key here is choice; whether or not the solitude is optional makes a huge difference in how I perceive its value.

We are made to feel that neediness of this sort is a character flaw; that it indicates you’re not “secure” or introspective enough. People who relish their singlehood are put on pedestals for being independent, strong, self-sufficient, etc. In reality, many of the people I know who prefer solitude are damaged individuals who choose to keep others at arms’ length lest they have to deal with the sometimes messy complications of human interactions and relationships. I suppose that’s their prerogative, but at what cost? Despite the pain I’ve experienced at the hands of family, friends and lovers, I don’t think I’d change a thing. The joy and inspiration and insight I’ve gained from these intimacies far outweigh any distress they’ve caused. And even with M, as painful as it was at times, I can’t say that I didn’t gain something. I learned a lot about total acceptance of other humans, something I struggled with before and which I think is such an important and worthwhile trait to cultivate. On that note, I’m sure my assessment of those individuals choosing to wall themselves off sounds judgmental; I don’t mean it to be. I don’t think they are in any way bad people for making this choice; it’s just not something I can understand or relate to at all. Even when I’ve been at my lowest and most hurt, I have always turned toward others rather than away, and I’ll always take a risk getting my heart smashed, because I know how beautiful it is to be that vulnerable with another person.

A friend of mine is fond of referring to people as monkeys. In regards to this topic especially, I couldn’t agree more. Our primate cousins are faring much better than we humans right now as far as societal structure though. You don’t see monkeys trying to “live alone”.  First of all, it makes no economic sense. Sharing resources is far less stressful than trying to support yourself solo. Second of all, you put a monkey in isolation and it becomes depressed, and why would a primate willingly inflict that upon itself? A well-known study was done on rats where they were given water bottles with cocaine that they could consume at will. The rats all went crazy for the cocaine-laced water, bingeing to the point of heart attack. The study was held up as proof of how dangerously addictive cocaine is. But the researchers in this first study neglected to take in a crucial factor: their rats were all in isolation. When scientists re-created the study but left the rats in their normal social groups, the animals consumed far less of the drug. The implications about the importance of social bonds are clear and undeniable to me.

I’ve been looking for a new house for the last several months and it’s been a frustrating search. Everything I’ve seen has been too big, or too expensive, or needed too much work, or was great but got bought out from under me by someone who moved faster or had more money. I keep telling myself that everything is for a reason and that my perfect house is out there somewhere, but it’s tough not to get discouraged. Although my apartment is small, I wouldn’t hate it nearly as much if I could even just have people over for dinner. Being deprived of one of my favorite activities- making food for people- is draining the life force out of me. Luckily I have friends who will occasionally let me cook at their houses, which is nice. But I can’t wait until I have a place where I can spontaneously have dinner guests whenever I please.

I would love to hear counterpoints from those of you who are wildly happy on your own; maybe I’m missing some component of what makes it so great? Meanwhile, wish me luck in my search for a new hearth and home; I need all the good mojo I can get.

restless legs syndrome and the wanderlust gene

croix de toulouseI don’t have any tattoos, but I’m thinking that DRD4-7R would be a good one. It’s the name of the gene supposedly responsible for my restless, never-satiated nature; the one that makes me constantly seek out new experiences and new terrain. The letters could possibly fit inside the other tattoo that I’ve long contemplated, the croix de Toulouse (where I lived for a year), aka the cross of the Cathars. In addition to this cross symbolizing the region where I spent a formative year of my life, the Cathars were a group of persecuted heretics, and although I don’t espouse their beliefs, this probably says something about why I identify with them.

The other day I challenged a friend: “I feel like you’ve constructed this quasi-hermetic life in which you inhabit maybe 5 square miles surrounding your house and that’s it… Why is that? When did you become that way?”, I pressed, with genuine curiosity but, if I’m being honest, a note of judginess in my tone. This question was posed to a person who used to travel in his youth, and even lived abroad for a couple years, but who currently takes pains not to leave the cloister of his neighborhood.

On another occasion, he had answered a similar query by saying, “I get the world to come to me”- i.e. via food and drink, namely. This time, he replied with a question of his own: “Why is it that you always feel the need to be leaving?”

Why, indeed. I thought about this for a moment. And although I think he was just diverting focus from scrutiny and didn’t care too much about my answer (I say this because I gave a flip response and the subject was changed), it got me thinking… what makes some people crave a constant change of scenery? Why am I itchy unless I have plane tickets in the bank or a road trip on the horizon?

I’ve always had “restless legs syndrome”, but after I got married I accepted the idea that sacrifices would have to be made. We were homeowners now, and not getting any younger; we should put money in savings for the house or retirement rather than take frivolous vacations. Besides, any time I’d suggest a trip, even just a short weekend road trip up north or something, M would claim he had to work, and we wouldn’t go. Towards the end of the relationship I just started going off on my own with friends since he was unwilling.

One of the first things I did after our separation was book a trip to Portugal. Buying those tickets made me giddy, and reconnected me with the person I was eight years prior. Since then, I’ve been to LA and New Orleans, and will soon be planning a trip somewhere in Central America thanks to a free ticket given as compensation for a canceled flight. Not to mention that I have enough Delta miles for a round trip to Europe. I’ve been window shopping for cheap plane tickets the way some women window shop for Louboutins.

But back to my friend’s point: Why? Well, right now I think it’s pretty obvious that travel offers an escape from certain realities of my life: that I’m going through a divorce; that I live in a cramped little apartment; that I’m single and will likely never have a family so I might as well do things people with kids can’t do, like pick up at a moment’s notice when I find a great deal. (This isn’t a pity party, by the way; just me adjusting to my new normal.) But the other day, I came across an interesting article that talked about a genetic component to all of this; a “wanderlust gene”. Needless to say, I was intrigued.

According to David Dobbs of National Geographic, the mutant form of the DRD4 gene, 7r, results in people who are “more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities.”  [Ahem.] He went on to say that bearers of this gene “generally embrace movement, change, and adventure” (paraphrased from Dan Scotti in this Elite Daily article; here’s the original NatGeo article). Another blog article tells us the gene is “carried by an approximately 20% of the human population and is linked with restlessness and curiosity along with being a named association with ADHD (Schilling, Walsh & Yun, 2011). This restlessness can cause people to take bigger risks which includes exploring new or different places.” The ADHD connection was not shocking to me at all, as someone who has long suspected myself of being on the spectrum.

Of course not all travel can be explained by genetics- there are people who travel for status, to check things off a list, or who go someplace like Cancun and never set foot off the grounds of their all-inclusive resort- but my Capricorn nature loves scientific, reasoned explanations to things, so I appreciated stumbling on this info. Now, to consult the I Ching to see where I should venture next… suggestions welcome!

face of a brand

As long as I can remember, I’ve known that I wanted to own my own business. I didn’t know exactly what kind of business for a long time, but I knew that I could never be chained to a desk, and that the many hats worn by entrepreneurs appealed to my easily distractable nature. The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in my family, especially on my dad’s side; my grandfather was a farmer, and several of my dad’s 14 siblings are self-employed. As a kid, it was rough sometimes when we had to forgo extras like class field trips or senior pictures due to liquidity issues (I particularly recall my parents cleaning out my bank account once in high school because one of the cars was getting repo’d) but I always respected my dad for sticking with it, and he now has a highly successful business… spend 10 minutes in the car anywhere in the metro area and you’re bound to see at least one of his billboards.

One thing I didn’t quite reckon on, though, was the pressure that comes with representing a brand and being a semi-public (in the tiny scene that is Detroit, at least) figure. I’m struggling right now to strike a balance between living a life that feels genuine to me, and presenting a certain edited persona to those who know me as the owner of my business (which I’m purposely not naming here because of Google). Typically, I have no problem being presented as “N, the owner of such and such,” and am flattered when friends talk up my products as they make introductions. But sometimes, the weight of that is oppressive, and I crave anonymity. I’m envious of people like my friend T, who owned a couple of restaurants and now sells vintage clothing out of her car. This is a woman with an outsized personality who gives no fucks about what anyone thinks or says about her, and somehow pulls it off. I guess my bourgeois side cares too much about public opinion to go that route, or I just don’t have the confidence or cojones to get away with it.

This is something I consider often when writing: finding a comfort zone somewhere between “I’m 41 years old for chrissakes and this is who I am, so screw it,” and thinking about what if my mom is reading, or some other relative, or business acquaintance, etc. I’ve been pretty low key about promoting the blog, but you never know who’s on the other side of the computer screen. At least I don’t have the problem my friend K has; she’s constantly concerned that her blog will be discovered by employers or clients.

This quandary of maintaining multiple identities really hit home when I was out with P last week. We’d been sipping wine since 2 or 3pm and it was around 6 when we went to meet our friend E at a wine bar in the neighborhood. As soon as we got there, P saw a group of acquaintances- a wine salesman and his wife and two of their friends, one of whom was a heart surgeon- and installed me and E at their table. After making hasty introductions, he left us there to fend for ourselves while he wandered off in search of… what, I don’t know exactly.
Continue reading

time place taste memory

Taste and memory are tricky, shape-shifting things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a bottle of wine that I thought was stunningly good, only to drink the same wine at a later point in time and be completely underwhelmed. Of course, wine is a living, natural product that changes and morphs and develops, but there is a reasonable expectation that with any given vintage (assuming proper storage), variations won’t be too drastic from one bottle to the next.

I often wonder how much of a factor external circumstances are to how much food or wine is enjoyed. I believe the experiences tied up with consuming a bottle of wine at a given point in time- company, atmosphere, mood, etc.- can clearly skew one’s perceptions for better or worse. My friend J just got back from a two-week trip to France which he spent touring vineyards and meeting winemakers; I can’t help but think that those wines will taste better to him than someone who didn’t have that experience, because of the positive associations they’ll call to mind.

mas p'alla

Recently I decided to open up two bottles of wine that I brought back from a trip to Spain, where I was lucky enough to meet the winemaker and tour his winery and vineyards. I remember being really taken with these wines at the time, and the whole story of how we met Antonio made the three bottles we were able to fit in our luggage seem precious. The trip to Spain wasn’t just any old trip though; it was our honeymoon. We had been saving the bottles to open on occasions like anniversaries, which we did for bottle #1. It tasted every bit as good that night as it did in the bar in Granada where we first sipped it, if not better, and we marveled over how great it was and how lucky we were as we enjoyed a beautiful dinner at home.

Sadly, by the time our second anniversary rolled around, things were not so rosy and we weren’t in such a celebratory frame of mind. By the following summer, M and I were separated. What to do with these two remaining bottles, symbols of our failed happiness? I feared they would taste acrid in my mouth. In the first months after our separation part of me wanted to open them at home alone, drinking to get drunk and wallowing in regret and self-pity, but fortunately I suppressed that urge and just kept them in a pantry out of sight. Continue reading