the house suspended in amber

I'll remember this Christmas for the snow and the chaos of dogs. I'll remember that I gave David a magnesium fire starting gadget and he loved it, and he started a fire that morning and every day after, in front of which would amass a pile of snow-wet boots and scarves and sweaters. This was his second visit to our home in Vermont- he met my parents for the first time last year on Christmas morning, something I've always felt he should receive a reward for- but this is the first time I was able to relax and not worry that he was going to run full steam away when he discovered that my family, like all families, is nuts.

When my sister and I go home, we get a little lost figuring out whether we're still technically children- we're not, but we're my parents children, and sometimes we'll regress just a bit, out of old habit.

I think only the appearance of grandchildren will cement into place a sturdy organization of generations- we'll be the parents, little kids will be little kids, and my parents can be grandparents and get old. It seems suitable that grandparents be old. But for now, my mom and dad are just my mom and dad, nothing else, and when I stop and realize that they're aging, not suspended in time like flies in amber, as they should be, and how one day we'll be celebrating Christmas without them, well, that's just not what I signed up for.

Being home is so wonderful, but thoughts like this drift through my head all day long like passing snow flurries, and make me feel a certain sharp anxiety that is much more muted during my normal life. In addition, my dad is going through an intense phase of Anglophilia, and every night he tries to get us to watch British comedies, and my mom refuses, and the whole family erupts in an argument that leaves dad acting all wounded and everyone else on edge, except for David, who, from his place on the couch, seems to float above it all.

Such are the holidays.

But mostly, it's books and sledding and cousins. It's an entire extended family wearing Darn Tough Vermont socks, tromping through the woods and drinking champagne around 5ish. It's endless bananagrams, maple syrup bottles in the stockings, cherry juice and Cabot Cheddar and that certain joy that comes from watching short legged dogs try and hop through deep snow.
But this Christmas has come to an end and tomorrow morning we strike for home. Leaving is always wretched, like that terrible moment when you declare your hot bath has run its course and you have to get out of the tub, shivering inside your towel in the freezing cold house. Only one hundred times worse.  

But there's some relief that comes along with it, because deep inside you know you can't live forever in the bath, alone and peaceful in the steam. Eventually you have to return to your real life and get back to Getting Things Done.

That's where I'm at now. The last night in the warm house in the deep snow, itching to get back to my life and wanting to stay here forever. 

And now to announce the winner of the Vermont Themed Mystery Prize! Reading about all your Hygge was so fun- my favorite prompt yet. And when the post-Christmas depression rolls in, I'll read them all again for the comfort. Thank you for writing. I wish I could send you all a box of maple pops.

 Congratulations Jess! I agree that the best route to Hygge is to decline any invitations, and dive under the covers with some books and movies. And yes, coziness is next to godliness for sure! Please email and I'll get your mystery prize in the mail.

Now, I'll be driving from Ithica to Asheville all day on Monday, but I'll see you here very soon. Merry Christmas everyone, and to those who suffer from the post Christmas depression, best of luck, I'm right there with you. Feel free to reach out.

Hygge! & a Christmas Mystery Prize

It's Monday, it's late at night, and this is the very first time I've been able to steel myself away from all the Hygge. Hygge is a Danish word with no English translation, but it means something like 'being warm and cozy inside while outside it is dark.' And it's my very favorite thing in the entire world.
I made it to Vermont after fifteen hours of white-knuckling the steering wheel through a rainstorm which did not let up once between Durham, North Carolina and White River Junction, Vermont.  My route took me through Manhattan, which I did not become aware of until I was crossing the Tappan Zee bridge, listening to the audio version Growing up Duggar because I have a morbid fascination with that bunch, and wondering, "What the hell happened to Pennsylvania?"

Now I understand that the route from Durham to home is quite different than the route from Asheville to home. One includes a lovely glide through Pennsylvania Dutch country, and the other, a miserable crawl through the Bronx at 13 miles an hour.

Once I crossed over into Vermont, the rain turned to ice and coated the empty highway with a slippery gloss, and then my car couldn't make it up my road and we slid backwards, the dog leaping out of her seat and into my lap, coming to a crunching stop against a snowbank. We had to go the rest of the way on foot.

My dad, who had waited up for us, was very agitated because he doesn't like when I drive long distances, and while he waited he'd watched the Wolf of Wall Street which he found very upsetting. In the morning I found out that my car had slid off the road because no one had sanded or plowed the road because two Vermont townships were having a sort of turf war, and the whole thing was a big mess.

But it was worth it for all the Hygge that's been happening since I made it home.
The snow has been coming down for days and the sledding is perfect. David went into town and bought a smooth-bottomed sled called the Easy Glider which can ramp up to terrifying speeds and is impossible to control. My brother in law claims to have broken his neck on it. Dave has an affinity for sledding through the woods, which is actually terribly dangerous. Today while we were out playing in the field, he put his arm around me, surveyed the steep, thickly wooded hill behind our house and said cheerfully, "If I'd grown up here, I definitely would have died."
We've spent these days before Christmas in the woods, in the general store in town choosing buckets of candy for our little cousins' presents, kicking at rat-king-esque piles of snarling corgis when they fight, baking, playing banana grams, and listening to my dad say things like, "It was too easy to find a parking spot, Kid. Small town life is decaying," And "steak houses are a cult, kid," and "life just gets worse and worse, kid. Worse and worse."

But still, such Hygge!
And now if you don't mind, it is cold outside and inside this warmly lit house, there is coziness to attend to. But first! In keeping with our Make More Mail initiative, let's do a giveaway- a Christmas Mystery prize! And if you don't celebrate Christmas, you can call it something else, like a Cozy Fun Pack.
To win, simply leave a comment and tell me what sort of Hygge you're up to this winter.

Are you drinking porter in a ski cabin in the Grand Tetons? Pouring tea in your city apartment? Curling up with a good book under the blanket? Snuggling away with your companion watching a little something on the TV? 

The winner will receive a Vermont themed mystery prize. It may be delicious, it might be fun, it could even be drinkable, it's bound to be rustic, and I promise, it will enhance your Hygge. 

I have a feeling that this week, there will be a smaller group of us writing. The holidays are a festive and busy time. But that's okay. It will be a small group of good friends and I'm happy with that. Small is cozy.

 I hope you are having a very warm and very entertaining time, wherever you are and whatever you're doing! I cannot wait to read about your coziness.  I like you all a lot, have a safe, peaceful and hygge Holiday.

The Worst Journey in the World / drawing winner

I'm going to tell you what happened and I'm going to make it quick. I promise you, you won't want any more details.

Over the past week, I've enjoyed reading about why you love where you live. So much so, in fact, that I was inspired to knit your words together with mine, and write a whole post about all of us, scattered across the map, going about our happy everyday business. I asked for you to send me a photo of the place you call home, and I was rewarded with beautiful shots of snow and sunsets, street corners and oceans and outhouses. (That last one was from a Vermonter.)

The timing was perfect. I was about to embark on my annual Christmas Expedition to the North: a 17 hour drive from Asheville to Vermont, just the dog and I, listening to audio books and eating a bag of snacks picked with careful deliberation from Whole Foods. The snack bag is a splurge, bought with cash from the AB Tech textbook exchange, a Christmas present to myself.

Because the journey is long and the days are short, I drive in darkness for the majority of the trip. Sometimes, sailing alone down interstate 95 in the blackness, a certain loneliness will seep through the car windows and fill the space around me. On either side of the highway, the land rushing by looks bleak and unfamiliar, occasionally illuminated by fast food restaurants. I begin to feel very far from home.
This year, things would be different. I heard from many of you who live in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, and all up and down the Northeast Corridor. Now as I drive I can picture your bustling town just over the hill, the woods laced with running trails, your five roommates all cooking dinner together, and you at the grocery store, or at the late night coffee shop with your head bent over your work, drinking an Americano. Your words made the long road between my home and my other home feel familiar, friendly.

This year I broke up the trip into three days. I injured my back while putting my mountain bike on top of my car ("a bike accident that involved a car", is how I like to put it), and I can't sit down for long periods of time without pain roaring down my spine. My first stop is Durham, to pick up David's Christmas present I'd commissioned from his best friend, Ann. I planned to spend the night with David's parents, then drive up to Ithica to see my sister. On the third day I'd make the final push to Vermont.
The last week was a rigorous one as I doggedly tried to keep up with final exams. I had a test every day and ended up with straight A's, even in Chemistry, which I thought would do me in. So it had been a few days since I'd last posted. As I flew around the house getting things ready for departure, I tried to write something about the upcoming trip, cheerful sentences like 'the dog and I are about to do what we do best- drive!' But I couldn't swing it. Too many other things to do.

Finally, we pulled out of the driveway and made our first stop at Whole Foods.

I would tell you about all the nice things I chose to sustain me over the next three days, but it would make me too sad now. Let me just say this: I am so skilled at selecting road snacks that when I drove across the country, from Seattle to Asheville, I was never even tempted to stop for food.

When I left the store, the bag was heavy and I was brimming with optimism and holiday cheer. I sang along to the radio as we pulled onto the interstate. The dog sat upright in the passenger seat, smiling.

Then, not two hours into the trip, it hit me: this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and the desperate urge to shut my eyes. I rolled down the windows to let the cold wind whip me awake. At 5:30 in the evening after a good night of sleep, this was completely out of the blue. Maybe it was the stress of exams hitting me after the fact, or the accumulation of medicines I'd been taking for my back.

By the time I made it to the Greensboro countryside to pick up Dave's present, I knew things were about to get ugly. This was no post-finals fatigue. I walked into Ann's house, and there on the mantle was the gorgeous knit piece that she'd dreamed up, designed and been working tirelessly on. She had put the final touches on the frame just a few hours before I arrived. As I stumbled in the front door she was holding her breath with excitement, anticipating my reaction.

"I think I'm going to barf," I said, and ran into the bathroom.
I threw up like, right after this.
Half an hour later, I was driving the winding dark road back to the highway, David's present carefully wrapped in plastic in the back seat. Ann had given me pieces of crystallized ginger and offered me a barf bag for the road. But for some stupid, illogical reason, completely unfathomable to me now, I'd turned her down. 

Twice on that country road I pulled over and dry heaved into the ditch, but nothing came up. I felt dread as I merged onto the wide, busy interstate. "Eighteen miles," I chanted. "That's all I have to do. I can survive for eighteen miles."

I lasted four miles. And then it was all happening. I tried to get off. I safely merged three lanes over and reached the off ramp but it was too late. I grabbed the only bag in the front seat- the one from Whole Foods full of my snacks and coconut waters, and threw up with a terrific slosh. The bag sat warmly on my lap until I found a gas station.

Crying and wiping my nose, I got out of the car and threw the bag and all its contents into a trash can. I bought a blue flavored Gatorade. I managed the rest of the trip to Dave's parents house without further incident, and that's where I am today. Marooned in Durham, too sick to continue.

As it turns out, David also got sick that evening, as did a number of our friends who attended the same company Christmas party last Friday. One that was richly catered by a local restaurant. "We never get to eat this kind of food," I recall whispering to Dave. "Dig in!"

So we all ended up with food poisoning. But I am the only one who ended up with food poisoning at 70 miles per hour.
For more photos of this girl and this dog and all the fun they have, find me on Instagram @melinadream

This week we are taking a break from the giveaways, for reasons that should be apparent. Next Monday we'll be back with a Christmas Mystery Prize (or two).

Until then, I'll be inching my way up North, slowly and less exuberantly than I'd intended. I look forward to that moment when I can sit down at the Cafe in White River Junction, Vermont, watch the snow pile up and type out the post about Home with all your words and photos.

Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing. And thanks to Appalatch, a company of true integrity and talent. The winner of the Custom Fit Sweater is....

Congratulations Grace! I understand that love of change- Vermont has four distinct seasons and the years felt dull without them when I moved away. Minneapolis sounds lovely, and you seem to be in good company- there were a wealth of comments from some very content people in Minnesota. Please email and we will get you all sorted out.

Thank you everyone for reading and writing. The make more mail initiative has been a smash hit so far! I hope you're having a safe and warm Holiday, and I'll see you back here in a few days.

think of a place

Thank you this week to Steve and Paula. You make it possible. Keep an eye on your mail!
I love it here at night, when the whole neighborhood is asleep but I am awake. I can hear the strains of The Crane Wife coming from the living room where my books are laid out on the table, the pair of ugly terriers at the end of the street barking at the night, and every now and then a siren wailing from town a few blocks away. Other than that, it is remarkably quiet. 

When we first bought the house, we spent a week pulling up the heavy grey carpet, which was spongey with decay. Now I can glide from room to room in the lamplight, not making a sound on the polished wood. 

We wanted to live in a place where we could walk everywhere. This proximity usually translates into noise, the sounds of traffic and people shouting as they come home from the bars.  The quiet of our street is unexpected, a bonus. In Seattle I lived in eleven different houses and each one was on a roaring bus line; at least that's how I remember it. 

I do miss Seattle, but I don't talk about it, because who doesn't miss a place? It's surprising to me how I miss it- not in words but in vivid and specific images. I'll wake up in the morning and a picture will have emerged, floating belly up and glistening in my head: a ferryboat lit up at night. A charcoal sky with a torrent of water rushing down the street, swamping the gutters, the sound of a city swallowing itself. 

In some ways our neighborhood, West Asheville, is like Seattle shrunk down to the head of a pin. There is one of every thing I need, instead of hundreds.

Instead of water everywhere there are mountains that turn purple at sunset.

But it doesn't have the slickness of Seattle. It costs less to live here, and it lacks the brilliant shine of a city well nourished by Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing. The houses I pass as I walk into town are small and, for the most part, falling apart, with leaning door frames and sunken roofs. Their inhabitants sit on the porches and smoke cigarettes. They'll nod as I pass by, but not always. 

The main street of West Asheville is a mix of new restaurants and empty brick storefronts. There is an organic food co-op, and a tiny shop called the Asheville Bee Charmer where you can sample honey from a row of tiny jars. There is Buffalo Nickel, a restaurant that glows invitingly each evening but always seems to be empty. The old barber shop with its striped pole rubs elbows with the West End Bakery, crowded and fragrant and loud with voices and the hiss of the espresso machine. The ceiling is covered in cotton spider webs from halloween, which was five weeks ago, and the glass cases are crammed with so many cakes and tarts and round loaves of bread you wonder why a small town bakery could ever need so much. 

Although, is Asheville a small town? It hasn't decided that yet. That's one thing I love about it; it can be a small town when you need it to be a small town, and a much bigger one when you need something new to look at. I shared this place with an ex boyfriend for a year and, conscious of one another's corners, we never had a run in.

At our favorite bar, Pour, an entire wall of different beers flow from silver taps when you wave a wristband in front of them. There are darts and shuffleboard and a giant, life-sized Jenga game that collapses loudly every ten minutes, sending a roar of screams and laughter throughout the place.  The cafe where I study is in the same building. When I am done for the day I can pack up my papers and step smartly into the next stage of the evening without even going outside. 

There is is a bookstore, a cider house, a pinball museum. There is Ingles and shabby Save-a-lot food stores and the sprawling new Whole Foods that glitters with salt out near the box stores. UNCA is tucked behind the botanical gardens, while just across the river and up a hill you'll find the squat, colorless buildings of the community college where I go to school. From its perch I can look out over the Biltmore Estate- America's biggest house, a castle, with its sprawling, 8,000 acre grounds. It is brilliantly lit up for Christmas, but I only know that because of a billboard on I-40. It costs seventy dollars just to visit.    

There is much more to this town and to our house, with all its cheerful oddities, but I have plenty of time to tell you about it later. Looking at the calendar I can see that it's Monday, and I have something up my sleeve for you.  

Photo Credit:
This week I am partnering with Appalatch, a local clothing company that makes exquisite wool shirts, sweaters, capes and scarves. We have a unique and lovely giveaway to brighten these dark days and keep you warm this winter.

Photo Credit:

First a word about AppalatchI am enamored with this company not only for their luxurious, handsomely made products, but also for their dedication to environmental responsibility. Every piece of their operation, from the farm where their wool is sourced to the textile mill, is certifiably sustainable. Their clothes are soft, long lasting and handcrafted in small batches.

This week we are giving away a gift card for a custom-knit sweater, valued at $189 dollars.

Appalatch will take your measurements, chat with you about your specific wants, and then custom knit a gorgeous sweater just for you. "Clothing companies tend to generalize our shapes, and tell us what is good and what is bad," the marketing director, Ella, told me over coffee. "This sweater is designed precisely to fit you." Literally, a perfect fit.

In addition to the giveaway, from now until December 17th, go to and enter coupon code WILDERCOAST for 15% off.

In keeping with the theme of 'A Perfect Fit,' this week's prompt was inspired by a photo, taken by Maggie Jones. Maggie loves where she lives, and does a terribly good job of making me homesick for Washington State. Follow her on Instagram- Theruralroost. She comes highly recommended. 

To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment and tell me one reason why you love where you live. 

I know we can't all live in our ideal place, but it's good to recognize at least one thing that you makes you happy where you are.  I'm looking forward to reading them and taking a virtual trip around the country and beyond. I savor these comments. They're like jewels or chocolates to me. 

The winner will be chosen at random and announced in one week. Go to town and good luck!

bad road

I'm writing this on a bus from new hampshire to the airport in boston, in the heart of an absolutely phenomenal blizzard. Another goodbye to New England, another crack in my heart. I'm counting the cars that litter the sides of the highway, the white swirl ahead of us is broken only by the red and blue flashing lights of emergency vehicles. (Some people have this delusion of safety when they're inside their cars. I've never felt that for a second. I have, if anything, a gradually but steadily accumulating phobia of driving.) 

Here are a few last photos from my home in Vermont, a day well spent sledding after a snow storm. A far better way to spend a blizzard day. 

water and gold

Cassandra comes for a night. She steps out of the Vermont winter night into the old farmhouse, clunking down the steps in snow boots, clutching a grocery bag full of colorful bottles of alcohol.

'Let's play a game called Goldshlager,' she says by way of hello, and opens the bottle. 'I just made it up.'

She scrounges around the shelves for shot glasses and comes up with an egg cup and a little porceline creamer. 'These will do. Here are the rules. For every bad thing that happened this year, take a shot of goldschlager. For every good thing that happened, take a sip of water.'
We met as flat-chested seventh grade girls who loved theater. We declared ourselves soul mates. Then came many years where we were not allowed to see each other. Someone very dark and terrifying kept us apart. It was a shame. I'm happy that person is dead.

We pour out the shots. Jobs quit, love lost and mysteries of the universe left unsolved add up; two hours and one full bottle of booze later, we're rolling around on the kitchen floor in loud, uncontrollable fits of laughter. We wake up the house. Then we're outside tumbling around in the storm with snow up our shirts. Then we fall into bed and sleep in a tangle. We're as drunk as they come.

But when morning comes we're bright and cheerful and we bounce out of bed. A whole house full of people study the empty bottles and the mess we made and scratch their heads. "How are you not dead?" They ask. We drink a cup of coffee and go walking in the woods to consider that question ourselves.

We're not dead because we drank an ounce of water for every triumph of 2012. Every dollar in the bank. Every greyhound through Montana. Every article published. Every date that ended with a man on the street corner shouting "YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL!" as you walk away.

We must have drank our body weight in water. That's the way to do it, we decide. Take the gold with the booze and the booze with the water, as we always have.

Photo Book: Wild & Dismal

As far as I'm concerned, you can never be too melancholy or too bored as long as you have your camera with you. I think most photographers would agree with me that the camera becomes something of a comfort object; when you're too tired to face the world, you can sort of melt away behind the lens. 

It's also effective in social situations when you don't want to make small talk. Secret's out- half the time I'm standing at the edge of a party with my back against the wall, frowning at the view finder in concentration, my camera's not even turned on. I'm just trying to avoid talking. (Oh, and one more thing- about a third of the time I was 'taking a picture with my camera' on the boat, I was actually clicking around my email, begging for a flash of service out there on the ocean. It happened occasionally.) 
Of course I neglected to bring my camera to Ireland, even though it's the most wild and dismal and gorgeous country (an excellent trifecta for photography) because I didn't have to time to pack. Anything. It was crushing to walk through the haunting fields of nettles and sheep, the dizzying little convenience stores of day-glow candy and the town full of old stone and dark pubs without it- I was constantly thinking about angles and lenses and framing. I did, however, have my phone, and so I captured Ireland the best I could, and instead of brining home one thousand rich, saturated shots on my computer, I have one hundred little tinted, filtered squares on a phone screen:

I've been getting a lot of questions lately about storytelling and what kind of stories I told. I'll get into that in the next post. For now, I'm too busy coughing and complaining about the wicked cold I must have caught on the airplane. Avoid me. 


A few days after I got off the boat, I went to Ireland. Suddenly, I no longer worked on a cruise ship. Instead I was a professional story teller. For a week.
The day I was to leave Seattle, I slept peacefully through my flight to Chicago, having misread my itinerary. I begged and cajoled with delightfully accented Aer Lingus employees, shelled out a whole lot of money, wept at the counter at Sea-Tac until they grudgingly allowed me onto the next flight without the requisite 90 minute early arrival for international flights, raced through security, last one on the flight, dashed through Chicago in a cartoonish frenzy until I finally slumped, a deflated balloon, into my seat on the flight to Dublin.

A cheerful "Heading to Ireland, wish me luck!" Facebook status masked the whole thing and nobody knew what a terrific ball of incompetence I was. Facebook, you little wall of white lies, you're so magical. The little back of seat entertainment system cheered me immensely, I watched a dozen movies and all was well. Except for that, with no time to pack, I had no clothes or shoes or books or anything, no toothbrush. I'd stuffed a suitcase with whatever had been lying on the floor of Andrew's garage which turned out to be a lot of long underwear- useless.
Then came rainy Dublin and the first radio interview, many teas and jogs around the block to keep myself awake and I finally ended up in Dungarvan, where I succumbed to a fierce case of jet lag and overall jet-confusion.
Each day I woke up deep into the afternoon, completely sideways in my big white hotel bed. I wasn't alone- my sister, Anna, and her Italian guitar player Danielle and his friend Drea were sharing a guest cottage with me.
Thank goodness, because I was a helpless being with no clothes and I was never certain what day it was. Each afternoon, I'd dress out of my sister's suitcase, stab myself in the eye with an eye pencil, wander into a cafe in town and prepare for my performances by jotting down notes and drinking strangely thick cappuccinos and trying to pep-talk myself out of nerves.
The writing calmed me down, but nothing soothed me like walking alone up and down the streets of  Dungarvan. A cold, wet, autumn wind breathed through the streets where bright, multi-colored shops piled up against one another like dominoes. The houses looked like music boxes. To get from one part of town to the next you walked across the cobbled town square and through dark alleyways lined by crumbling castles. There were tiny boats moored at the edge of town, and the pubs were all named The Anchor and Lady Belle and The Moorings.
A walk to the outskirts of town brought you to a checkerboard of green fields and purple thistles that rolled straight into the ocean, and in the distance glowed the pointed lights of town so small and insular that the kids all grew up speaking only Irish. I'll admit, even though I've been to Ireland before, I didn't really know that Irish was a language that people spoke. I thought people just sang it.
Anna and I explored together when we could, both of us kept very busy with the festival and interviews and me being asleep until after noon. She sang during opening night of the festival and I sat with her backstage with a few other musicians and the Irish storytellers. I drank as much wine and French cider as possible and tried not to think about the next day, the first of my four shows. My stomach tightened at the thought- what if nobody shows up? I forbid Anna to attend, wanting to save her the disappointment of seeing me perform to an empty room, if that was the case. It very well could be,  I had no idea, and neither did the festival director, who was tall and very serious, a notable genius who may have lived inside of a grandfather clock. He had taken a great chance by inviting me, and I so very much wanted it to work out well.  
At the very least, I assured myself in the black painted backstage of the town theater, I got myself here, and that is worth noting. Somehow my writing and my incessant need to tell stories got me all the way to Ireland and even paid me to be here, even though I almost blew it at the starting gate and I don't have any underwear.  All I can possibly do now is to tell an entertaining story and that much- even if I'm a whirling ball of incompetence in all the other things- that much I know I can do. 

Dublin Smogs and The Last Word

Rainy Grafton Street, Dublin
I had about seven hours to kill between getting through customs and arriving at the studios for my interview on The Last Word with Matt Cooper.

I was super jet lagged and honestly couldn't figure out whether it was Monday or Tuesday. It was cold, wet and raining and I was wearing sort of nothing. No rain coat. I had this little incident with the plane schedule- let's just say I broke out all the stops and actually prayed this morning that I would get to Ireland, and I did get to Ireland, which means....well, what does that mean? What happens when I pray and it works? Do I file a report or something? Please advise.

So, seven hours in a rainy city. I talked the radio station into stashing my bags, then went wandering till I found a cafe with a chatty barista who called me "love" and took great care of me. I ordered three Dublin Smogs, which are just like London Fogs only they've changed the name. Earl Grey tea with a shot of vanilla and steamed milk. Lovely. Everything here is "lovely" and "you're very good." If I shuffle back to the counter with an empty tea cup, the barista says: "Lovely. You're very good."

Since I felt terrible, there was only one cure: massage and a hair cut, both of which I found right away, both of which could take me immediately, both of which were full of cheerful blonde women who told me I was "lovely" and "a very good girl" when I tipped.

For the past twelve hours, I'd sprinted through airports, begged security to let me cut in line, thrown people out the way, cartoon-style, cajoled myself onto flights that were closed and self medicated with those expensive little cocktails that used to be free in International Flights before terrorism ruined everything. Now all I wanted to do was throw up or sleep but I had that interview, so yeah, I'm getting that massage.  The storytelling festival is graciously paying for my trip and all my amenities, so why not.
At the studios, interview ready

It was magic, I tell you. No food, no sleep, still not sure what day it was, but I was back to being a normal person. At the studios, a very profesional woman whose heals clicked loudly when she walked ushered me through thick, double-walled sound proof doors into those rooms you see on TV with the head sets and giant microphones. Matt Cooper jumped in right away and I had to wave my hands back and forth and whisper- "waitasecond- is this Live?" 

He laughed and said, "It's not live, but it may as well be, we won't be recording twice."

I said, "Okay....great. I've never done a radio interview, is all." And then, so I didn't sound like a total novice, I added, "I mean, I've done television interviews, of course." Which is true. Once. I've done one television interview. It was in 2005. It was about frisbee. 

"Well, this is much easier than television. No cameras to worry about! Now." And he put his headset back on.  He did this great intro to me, and asked me a bunch of questions about storytelling, writing, a little about the blog, what brought me to Ireland, extreme sports, and kayaking. A lot about kayaking. Which is funny, since I don't consider myself a kayaker anymore, but you know what? This whole thing is so surreal, I just went with it. 

Then I got in a car and somebody, I'm not exactly sure who because I slept the whole time but I am grateful to them, drove me three hours over to Dungarvan, a rainy town on the coast. Now I'm in a big beautiful room in a house that I'm sharing with my sister and her Italian Guitar player, Daniele. And the minute they saw me, they arrived a few hours after, they both broke into a chorus of "waiit why do yooooouuuuu get the big roooom????" and they kept bringing it up at dinner, how unfair it was for me to get the big room when they've been on tour for five weeks (I was on a boat for four months, I shot back) and gradually things seemed just a little more like real life. 

Leaving the Endeavour for a Short Spell

It's been a week since I ran up the steep gangway that led from the docked Endeavour into the town of Juneau and the rest of the world. I held my duffel bag over my shoulder like a sailor on leave- I was a sailor on leave- and bounced into the first bar I could find, a bar so close to the ship that I could practically wave to my crewmates as they sped along the decks, frantically going about the chores of another relentless, exhausting, 15 hour turn day.

Now, safely on the other side of the country- may as well be the other side of the world- I lie in my bed,  covered in aloe from head to toe but still burning from a ridiculous sunburn that I was stupid enough to bring upon myself earlier in the day. I thought that the warm red glow of a sunburn might feel somehow comforting, a quaint reminder of my life before Alaska, before Seattle even, a time when summers meant blistering sun and nights spent splayed before a fan. Three hours on the shores of silver lake in Barnard Vermont, lost in a book about King Crab Fishing, occasionally ordering an ice cream bar or another hot dog from the tiny state park concession stand, nearly flamboyant in my efforts to exist in high gear vacation mode, earned me a stunning, ten-point, lobster red sunburn that throbs constantly in a sleep-depriving, wincing, embarrassingly brutal sting.
Still, it does little to cut through the giddy haze I've felt since leaving the ship, a happiness that borders on disbelief: five solid weeks of 12 to 15 hour days, with no rest, no reprieve, very little palatable food, no alcohol, no clothes other than the scratchy and unflattering blue uniform and no privacy except what's afforded to you on your six foot by two foot bunk behind the drawn canvas curtain, has finally come to an end.

That's five weeks with no friends besides the crew, no swimming, no evening barbeques or all day rock climbs, no pleasure reading, no cooking or listening to the radio, no television, no jogging or driving or hiking, no exercise at all that raises your heart rate or breaks a sweat, no cold beers with lime after work, no baths, no restaurants, no sleeping in or napping, no sushi with friends for lunch, no book stores or grocery stores, no planning out weekends with the boy you're dating, in fact, there is no boy you're dating any more, and, worst of all and most damaging to the human spirit- no dogs. 

And that's not including the four long weeks in the shipyard.
I have not quit, nor am I going to. But I have earned, and I mean earned possibly in a deeper sense than I've ever meant it before, three whole weeks of sun and sleep soaked vacation. I just need to remember not to soak in the sun while sleeping.

Thank goodness for three weeks off, because one, I'm learning, is hardly enough to shed the effects of the ship on the brain. I dream every night of work. Boring, tedious stuff, as if I slip out of my body every night and return to the decks of the Endeavour for a night's worth of chores and menial tasks. I consume calories like a freight train, if you can imagine what that means, needing not only a great quantity of food but also a vast array of choices to be set before me at all times.

And the sleep- when I first returned to Seattle and to Andrew's welcoming home, I was 135 pounds of uselessness wearing an Alaskan Amber sweatshirt. Bright warm days floated by in the bustling city I'd missed so much as I lay semi-conscious on the couch in front of episodes of The Deadliest Catch. I fell asleep in the car on the way to climbing, a sleep so deep that I didn't even wake up when the car bounced and ricocheted over deep ruts in a washed out access road. "I was impressed," remarked Andrew, and probably annoyed as well, when I announced my determination to remain awake on the  car ride home the following night and then fell immediately into a sleep that I'd pop out of every five minutes to declare loudly, "SEE I AM STILL AWAKE" and then drop away again.

But the most difficult element of this vacation by far has been sitting with all the stories from my time at sea so far, all of the events and moments and vivid descriptions of the weird little world brimming inside of my head like ladend crab pots, and having no idea how to start telling them. Much of what I want to write I simply can't, my better senses prevent me. The season is not yet halfway over and much of the red-hot material is still being played out, and my attitude towards everything is shifting so much that I can't find a perch steady enough on which to form one solid, cohesive attitude or tone.

What I can say now is that boat world has thrown the writer inside of me into overdrive, but deprives me of any time to write it down, and I'm looking forward to the day when I can finally pull the plug and see what exactly spills out.

I can also say that I'm very, extremely, extraordinarily fond of my crewmates, and returning to the Endeavour in two weeks will be an occasion laced with joy and excitement over working alongside them again.

My Life in Little Photographs

Here is what you need to know  what I want to tell you. A picture book of the year 2012, as it's been so far:

Walking Alone with Colin Meloy 
Between writing and walking with the dog, I spend a lot of time completely alone. When I don't spend a lot of time alone, I get really mean and cold to the people around me. Lately I take a lot of photos of things and listen to The Decemberists. I got to meet Colin Meloy a few weeks ago.  


Things That Maybe Can't be Classified
Like drinking alone, Ella, reading Murakami Sedated on an airplane. 

Boys Who Love Boys
Once a year in January the Sockeye boys throw a party that lasts three days. Old friends and people we played against for years fly in from across the country. This year had everything: black dresses with lace in Pioneer Square, a trip to the zoo, somebody throwing up behind the Moon Temple. Everything in between.

I think citrus is important. It's pretty and it's good for the skin. My New Years Resolution of 2012 is to eat more of it. 

There are two things that make me feel as if I have everything I've ever wanted. One is standing at the bow of a sail boat with wind in my face. The other is bonfires. I spent New Years at a bonfire in a snowy field in Vermont. This winter, my friends and I, we'll pay more attention to the weather in the evenings. When it's not so rainy we'll go down to the beach and build fires.

Climbing & Food
A few hours of climbing with friends, then out to eat with the same friends. That combination is unbeatable.  Still brings the most absolute joy into my life. 

And beyond that?
I have a new job now- a real job that pays money. I'll be traveling a lot, across the country, and I can work from wherever I want. Whatever city I choose. So, I can always go back home. Just in case. 

(Then again, why would I want to do that?)


Not pictured: Nutcracker

My friend So is a total bro-brah.

Which is particularly fun considering that growing up, So was my best friend. And he was a girl.

A few days after Christmas, the two of us were in a warm bar on a cold Vermont night. I was explaining something extremely important about my life: "Well, I think I kind of, but maybe, well I could make it work but- what if- however, then again-" and picking at the sugar crystals on the rim of my glass. So leaned back, crossed his arms and shook his head.

"Oh, you ladies." He said. "You're always saying things like this."

We really are.

I'm sure there's a lot to say about his transition into bro-hood. I keep trying to type it out, but each time I loop back to the same conclusion: I don't really care all that much.

Bare with me. I care enough to brag about him. I care enough to be really proud of him. And I love that he's willing to talk about all of it, answer all of my questions, no matter how straightforwardly I pose them. Sometimes he'll launch into a monolog about gender identity and queer stuff and I'll have to stop him and say, "What on earth are you talking about Sophia I mean So? Are you a boy? Are you a girl? Does this make you straight now? What exactly is going on here?"

Always, he'll stop, smile at me, and say, "Ahh....that's why I love you, Lina."

Thank God I don't have to be all, "Well, I celebrate the spirit that is you that is unnamed that is unlabeled that is pure creature that is hardwired that is learned." Because what the?

Curiosity and pride aside, I don't care. At all. Maybe because it's not a total surprise. Maybe because I'm shallow as shit and whenever we talk about gender I mostly want to steer the conversation back to me and whether or not bangs would be a BIG mistake. (Talk about a transformation!) Or maybe because people are people regardless of what goes on in the pants. Whatever. We'll never know.

Yesterday, So and I were drinking hot cider with ginger brandy and orange zest. What we were drinking has nothing to do with the story but it was really very delicious.
So has a deep voice now, an adam's apple (who knew!!) and a ridiculously ripped stomach. I know he climbs hard but come on. These are new additions since the last time I saw him, when he came up to Seattle for a visit in September. At that point, he was relatively early in the 'metamorphosis'.

I really regret using that term.

Anway, I asked him the changes that T brought on and he said, "Well, my stomach is rock hard, the bone structure in my face is more defined and I can eat a lot more."

Jesus. Sign me up.

After he went back to LA I got to thinking. I think I read a few pages of a book about it while eating sushi alone.  "Okay," I decided, "Let's be sad because we're losing Sophia and then be joyous because we're getting a So, a boy!" I'm a little proud of how many successful friendships I have with boys, so having one more will be peaches.

Boy, that was a bust. That sort of reasoning was totally lost on me. First of all, I don't use the word 'joyous' unless we're discussing waffles with stuff on them.

Secondly, and arguably more importantly, both So and I have lost people people before, as in they are dead. It's NOT THE SAME.  So and I lost our first climbing partner, Ben, after he fell off something tall, and we miss the shit out of him. God damned it we miss him! But I don't wake up in the morning missing Sophia. Not at all. Although some people might.

I know that gender matters. Totally. I'm a girl through and through and oh, I love being a girl. And getting away with things that only girls get away with. Here's an example. At the restaurant last night, there was a life sized nut cracker. I really wanted to take a photo booth photo shoot with my iPhone with So and I and the nutcracker.

He was not into that idea.

I can think of more than a few girls who would totally do the nutcracker shot.  Then we'd probably make a collage out of it and text it to each other. And my friends and I aren't even particularly girly.

I can't think of one single boy who would participate in such a thing willingly.

Another reason I know I'm all girl: I frequently browse Facebook looking for the opportunity to write this: Oh what a great pic!!! I love you soooooooo much!! xoxoxo. Usually on a photo of someone I haven't seen in six years.

Funny thing is, I always mean it.

That's a girl thing if ever there was.

You wanna know what a 'boy thing' is, by the way? A boy thing is to text: Oh I loved that story you told I think I'm in love with you. So then you, the girl, text them back about New Years plans and maybe having a bonfire and they don't get back to you for TWO DAYS and then they say something like, "Oh, sorry, I was on the bike trainer."

You were on the bike trainer for TWO DAYS?

God, boys are such pains in the ass. And now there's another one! Oh, man, So! Why??!

But as you can see, those are my own issues.

In conclusion, I love that boy. Gender matters but I really don't care which gender So is.  I do trip up a lot when talking about him:"She said- wait- He said, I mean sophia said, not that's not right- well-" but it's only because I've had 14 wonderful years of calling So Sophia. That's all.

Otherwise, eh.....whatever. I love you!

Now, let's get back to the issue of my bangs. Yay? Nay?

The Big God Damned Christmas Post

Well it's another white Christmas here in the mountains of Vermont. Tradition calls for me to write a post about Christmas celebrations on the hill, and I get to write whatever I want with no style whatsoever. It's my Christmas gift to me. Do you see how I just used the word Christmas three (four) times in one sentence? Any other day of the year that would be verboten. But not today!
All of my cousins come home for the week and we spend it together, spread out over three houses on 200 acres of land. We bake, cook, eat, and drink constantly. It never stops. It's complete mayhem at all times.
My cousin got married about two years ago, and she and her husband celebrate every Friday of every week by drinking Champagne. So, this past Friday, Christmas Eve Eve, we celebrated too. I love weekly alcohol rituals- Taco Tuesdays and Whiskey Wednesday are the best part of my life in Seattle. Champagne Friday? It sounds doable.  
After the toasts we moved on to a new killer Christmas combination: flan and Words with Friends on the floor. Our homage to Alec Baldwin.

Then of course, there are the lights. Sweet Jesus, growing up in the dark winters of this corner of the country, we needed the lights. People always say things like "Oh, yeah, enjoy your presents and whatever but remember the reason for the season!" I think they mean religion. Well, let me tell you, that's not what it's about in this family. The reason for Christmas was to keep everyone from staggering out into the woods alone and dying by their own volition during the extremely long, extremely dark, bitterly cold winters. It can get...grim. That's why we do Christmas as if the whole family had drunk from our own private steroid-laced water source. 

Of course, all of this hysteria gets exhausting and has to be tempered with quieter activities.

And walking three dogs outside in the 18 degree sunshine.

Peter KL came by the other night and I plied him with eggnog, rum, Margaritas, cheesecake and Jimmy Fallon ice cream. As ice fell and the roads glossed over, we spent the night telling outrageous stories of online dating and watching 30 rock.

My dad's favorite tradition is to take me to the Harpoon Brewery for beer samplers and chocolate stout. I'm not...I'm not losing weight on this trip.
Speaking of, it's Christmas Eve and the Chocolate stout is waiting. By the way, I didn't completely give up on my camera when I got the camera phone. But I did forget to bring the connector cable this year so, it's a Hipstamatic Christmas. Merry Christmas everybody!

City Unfolding

I'm getting the feeling that my dog has started to think of me as her den-mate.  That's because I've been living like a caveman, or a psychiatric patient, or possibly both at once. Our house is like a cave, set back from the garden in a grove of pine trees. Despite the abundance of windows it's constantly dark inside my room now that the rain has started. When I wake up in my bed, I can never tell from the watery, grey light slushing through the clouds what time it is. It could be six in the morning or mid day or three in the afternoon. And because my body refuses to set itself on a fixed scheduled, on any give day it could be any of those times. It could be midnight. I'm never really sure.

I can't make coffee for myself. Does anyone else have this problem? Because for me it's a hopeless pursuit. Every morning I give it a try; I've got the individual drip thing and the filters and every other day I walk down to the grocery store, the nice one up on the ridge, and buy Zoka coffee beans in little batches so they don't get stale. I grind them right before I make the coffee. I've messed around with quantities and the temperature of the water, the ratio of milk or cream and no matter what, it tastes terrible, like brown water. Like dirt. Either too light or too dark. And I've lost touch with the root of the issue, I mean I can't tell now whether the coffee is bad or maybe I just altogether don't like coffee anymore. I can't tell whether the problem is inside or outside.

So every morning, after I throw the coffee down the drain and rinse out the cup, I give Hometeam her breakfast and we walk down the steep hill outside our house and a few blocks north to Cafe Bambino. It's a tiny place, so small that you can't sit inside. If you want to stick around you can sit on their porch, which has a roof that is lined with heat lamps so can you drink espresso and read a book outside in a rain storm. Two baristas, Pepper and Tyler, work in the pocket sized space behind the register. They make me a cappuccino with cinnamon. We talk about Pepper's music and what's been going on at the cafe. There's one man named Bruce who had a recent stroke, he comes in every morning, takes twenty minutes to order his coffee and leaves every day without ever picking it up off at the counter. It's like a ritual.

Sometimes I know that this interaction with the baristas will be my only conversation for the day. Some days. Not every day.

Then Hometeam and I walk home and go into my room. I light a few tea lights (everyone deserves candlelight, I once read,) and roll back the enormous bookshelf that serves as a door. The grey, spitting sky is depressing to look at so I usually pull the blinds down. And then I proceed to treat myself like a crazy person.

A few weeks ago I was writing a short story for a fiction class. I worried about it for a whole week, scared to death that I'd sit down, open up a notebook and discover I didn't know how to do it anymore. Fiction is a totally different animal than memoir. It's an alien. Anyway, once I got started I was happy to find out that it wasn't all bad. I could keep the pen moving for twenty minutes at a time, then sit back and take a breather, and low and behold the story was working itself out.

And then came sinister phase two, the reaction that everyone gets after they find something they love, be it a person or a career or an animal or money:  I became very afraid that I'd lose it. I was convinced that something was going to jump out from behind the furniture and steal away my ability to concentrate. So I took great care not to startle myself. I kept the lights very low, candles lit in the same pattern on the desk, and I listened to nothing but very pretty but very sad musical scores. No loud noises or sudden gestures. I'm so easily distractable, I had to shrink the world down to the size of my room. The dog became depressed and curled up in resignation under the bed.

But It worked! I wrote a first draft of a story that I really liked. And I can forget about the story for now, because once you finish a first draft you are supposed to print it out, stick it in a drawer and not look at it for forty days. But now I'm sort of stuck in this cave, this asylum, I'm afraid to pop on the lights or play loud music in case I can't find my way back. It's weird. I know.

In this quiet, soft room, I can't help but think about my last bright, vivid days in New York, after the conference was over. I lean back in my seat and drink the end of the cappuccino. It's nice. Mornings, or what I call mornings, are always the nicest part of the day. Mornings and night, because they are so definitive. It's obvious what you're supposed to be doing: winding up for the day, winding down before bed. It's the middle hours that can scramble me.

New York! The days flew by so quickly. I was always in motion, and I was never alone.

I stayed out in the Bronx with the Zamcheck family. I ate Shabbat dinner with them on Friday and watched as their lively conversation zinged about the table, after the candles and prayers and blessings, like a manic bird that began as Occupy Wall Street Movement, transforming mid flight into Lenin, was he an orator? What would he have thought of the Human Microphone? Folding like origami above our heads into the beat poets and Israel and I was lost, watching this careening free wheeling debate fly between Norman and Fran and their daughter Ariela and their two sons Abby and Akiva, and then everyone calmed down and we finished dessert and Ariela suggested we all go for a beer out her favorite bar in Riverdale.

Norman had ripped out a flyer for me about the graduate writing program at NYU. I told him I wasn't too interested in going to grad school, but then I read the list of faculty and visiting writers at NYU right now, a list that included Jonothon Safron Foer. So I asked Abby and Akiva to take me there. We took the long, silver train into the city and they showed me the brilliant new library with the fenced off floors (to prevent finals week suicides) and Washington Square park where the OWS movement had begun to spread.

We drank beers inside a bar that was so dark my eyes were never able to adjust. Candles threw little circles of light onto the crowded tables and walls, illuminating patches of a gold gilded, biblical mural. Gregorian chants were playing over the stereo, and we were only allowed to to speak in a whisper. Every few minutes the bar tender would climb on top of a chair and shush everybody from above.

They called a friend who is a writer to join us and we all went out to dinner. Then Ariella led me down the streets of the village and up a narrow flight of steps to a rooftop party. The deck was dripping with colored Christmas lights and everybody was wearing remarkable hats. The night was breezy and warm, more like early spring than late autumn. Our view from the roof was dazzling, New York City rolling out in every direction. I pointed out a splendid building all lit up with floodlights and asked, "What building is that?" And someone answered, "Uh...the empire state building."

I appear to have more friends here than I thought, but really, I know absolutely nothing about city. This pulsating, vibrating, flashing city. It can't always be this good, all the time. This city drives people insane. Was I insane for even thinking of moving here?

Then Zoey called and I ran down the narrow flight of stairs and met her in the middle of the street. Zoey is this unearthly beautiful girl, half Greek, half German, who paddled the length of the Grand Canyon with me one frigid February. She took me back over the famous bridge to her spacious, high-ceilinged home in Brooklyn. She had written little poems to herself with reminders to water the plants, and things of that nature, and the poems were all over the kitchen. There were spices hanging from the ceiling and plants in the corners and books everywhere. As I sit here in Seattle, I'm sure I'm reconstructing it in my mind. I remember Zoey's place as being almost too perfect, as if it were a set for a sitcom about a quirky, beautiful 20 something girl who works for a mad scientist and dates a red-headed jazz musician. (Which is indeed Zoey's life.)

She took me for coffee and pear juice in the morning. I kept updating my facebook status about it until my sister called and said I had to stop, I was driving everyone crazy. "You'd drive yourself crazy with all this if you could hear yourself."

My sister is always right.

So I caught a ride home back to Vermont from Pete's parents, who just happened to be visiting. I fell asleep in the back seat and woke up five hours later in a cold, quiet, starlit Vermont night. My mom picked me up from Pete's parents, and there's something about your mom picking you up, something about waiting on the porch for the familiar car to pull up on the gravel driveway, that makes you feel like you've gone back in time.

The Upper South of Lower West Houston

 Have you ever planned a trip to New York City? If so, than you have experienced the barrage of people demanding that you visit a certain restaurant, or theater, or street corner, for the sake of their nostalgia. Everybody is an expert on the hottest spot to visit: people who used to live there, people who have friends and relatives who live there, people who visited there once, people who switched flights in Laguardia, people who watched one episode of Sex and the City, once, in 2001. "I'll tell you what, you've just got to go to---" (Fill in the blank. Magnolia Bakery, the Margarita Mill in Mid-town, Crab Dungeon on lower 53rd in East Harlem.) And some of them get really pushy about it. "Call me when you're there! Call me! Ask for Louis, in the kitchen? Yeah, tell him I say hi and then both of you call me, together!"

I know it's just excitement, good intentions on their part. But I want to say, 'Listen, that sounds fantastic. When we go to New York together you can take me there. But on my own, the chances of my finding that place and eating that particular bagel at that particular window table are slim. Mischa Barton slim. Calista Flockhart slim. Not from lack of desire, but because I don't know my way around that place.'

I mean, I'm still trying to figure out what exactly a Borough is, and if there is any correlation between a borough and an island. To me, as to any New York rookie, all those villages sound like Ben Stiller's fictitious neighborhood where he throws his VIP Halloween Blow out,  SoWoHoBeLowHoWo. South of West Houston Below Lower Hoboken, Woah. Which, when found on a map, turns out to be in the middle of the Husdon river.

However, things are considerably different when you share an obsession with somebody. A few days before I left, I saw a show at the Intiman theater in Seattle Center called Build Your Own Musical. It's an improvised musical with choreographed dancing and singing numbers and everything. After the show I met the lead performer, Paul, who kindly offered to get together and give me the inside take on the Seattle improv scene.

It turns out that Paul used to live in New York as an actor. Among his many insights about life in the city, ("Don't try to throw a potluck. Nobody knows what that is.") he suggested that I check out the PIT- People's Improv Theater. Sometimes, he explained, they'd even pick a name out of a hat and call up a member of the audience to perform with them. (Don't get your hopes up, that didn't happen.)
 So, of all the recommendations I got from homesick East Coasters or disillusioned Ex New Yorkers who "Really can't stand that city except the cigarette shop on-----", the only one I held onto was the PIT.

When I arrived at Peter's apartment that first morning,  I mentioned offhandedly that I wanted to see an improv show while I was in the city. Peter said, "Talk to my roommate, he's an improv guy!" And on cue his roommate,  a clean cut Tarron Killam look alike, appeared at my side.

"My show is playing tonight at the PIT." He said, handing me his card. "There will be 2nd City guest performers and SNL writers there. I'll put you on the guest list."

I can't tell you how excited I was to hear PIT, 2nd City and SNL Writers in one sentence, and that the sentence ended with "guest list."

My first night in New York and I'm guest listed! VIP! Like a supermodel! Here that, all the boys who have broken up with me and old bosses who used to tell me I did a consistently bad job mopping the kitchen floor? Guess what! I'm on a guest list!

I don't see your sorry names on any guest list!

The PIT is a bar, lined with curtain and doors that all lead to multiple downstairs theaters. Different shows happen at all times inside the theaters. It made me think of a complicated bird house where all the birds are on different tracks going in and out at the same time. The bar was full to capacity, with loud music and people dressed in black and colorful drinks. You know, bar stuff. 

I met up with Julius Constantine Motal at the theater. Julius Constatine Motal could easily be the name of my fictitious photographer friend who's always available to go to shows with me on a whim. It's close to the truth, only he's a real boy. He writes for Soul Pancake, and we've been collaborating for a year and a half without ever having met in person. We saw the show together, a number of one act plays all in various styles of theater and authorship, all improvised.

After the show, Julius Constantine Motal and I went to a little upstairs Japanese place and drank beer and ate blackened quail eggs off tiny spears. It was past midnight, but the energy out on the streets seemed to just build and build and build. We talked about fiction and Soulpancake and writing and did a lot of banging our beer glasses down on our table for emphasis. After that we found a convenience store for ice cream which seemed bizarrely fun and spontaneous and hip, even thought it was just a convenience store. Then Julius saw me to the subway, and once again I shot through the city underground and got home at 1:30 in the morning.

When handsome, red-cheeked Peter came home from his Studio a little while later, we watched an old episode from Saturday Night Live in his bed and then I fell asleep. I don't remember exactly how, only that one minute I was laughing, the next minute I was dreaming, and I think after the TV was off Peter asked, "So how was your first day?" but I was already asleep.

A string of small, fortuitous events

On my first day in New York I stayed with my friend Peter, a boy three years older than me who grew up in the next town over from mine in Vermont. Peter graciously allowed me to stay at his neat little Park Slope apartment, and I do mean neat, as in tidy. Him and his two roommates were somehow able to pack everything they need- a functional living room, a decent kitchen, computers and beds and bikes, plus a dash of style into cramped, three bedroom apartment. I was instantly envious of the place. Peter was running out the door when I arrived and he gave me his only set of keys. "Just be home when I get back from the studio, probably....I don't know....1:30 in the morning?" Then he jumped on his bike and took off.

Peter is where handsome, flannel-clad Vermonter meets Pratt school of design. He has the most naturally flushed cheeks of everyone I've ever met, as if he exists in a constant state of apres-ski. He's all health and vitality and hipness, and maybe I would have searched through his clothing drawers to find his dark secret but I was too tired. It was nine in the morning and I fell asleep immediately on his bed. 

What happened that first day in New York, after I woke up refreshed and put on and a killer pair of tall boots, was a string of small, fortuitous events. I will regale them to you henceforth.

First there was the perfect place to eat I found on the corner of something and something in Brooklyn, and the bartender who gave me all my drinks for free. He talked to me about his projects as a Foley artist and we worked out a game plan for me if I decided to move to the city; what jobs I could take, where I could consider living, and so forth. "You really should consider moving to Brooklyn," he said as I was putting on my jacket to leave. "It's so feasible, you'll love it."

I took the train into the city and smartly stepped off at the wrong station. In that moment I learned a valuable lesson: time, space and math, all things that I had considered to be concrete elements of the world, are very, very altered in New York. To give a specific example, avenue 6 is woefully far away from avenue seven, and although they run parallel, they also intersect at random intervals.

Bewildered and already running late for the first event of the writer's conference, a Meet and Greet at the Hilton bar, I flagged a taxi. There was a little television set inside the taxi. On the screen, a reporter was interviewing a scientist. The scientist, white coated and safety goggled, was explaining something and holding up a frothing test tube at the camera. Then he lowered his goggles and pulled a lever that caused a row of pumpkins to explode in a chain reaction. I leaned a little closer. 'That's funny,' I thought. 'I think I know that guy.'

I did know that guy. The white coated man was Bob Pflugfefelder, the science teacher from my days at the Learning Project in Boston, a small, profoundly liberal little elementary school where we called our teachers by their first names and the sex education began the first day of first grade. Bob, as it turns out, has now become "Science Bob" and lives in Hollywood, tutoring Hillary Duff and that kid from Malcom in the Middle and popping up on shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live.

I absolutely saw this a gesture from the universe, beckoning me with a godly hand towards New York. Or at least the entertainment industry.
I arrived at the Hilton's gilded, bustling lobby twenty minutes late. It was another ten minutes before I found the right bar.  Due to my tardiness, the social groups inside the meet and greet were already firmly established. Women with name tags were standing in small, tight clusters, occupying leather seats and packed shoulder to shoulder around the bar.

I didn't know one person, not one single writer in the whole mix. I realize that for most people, this sort of situation would set the alarm bells of social anxiety peeling, but not me. In my world, free food and no obligation to talk to anyone is just about as good as it gets.

As I'm sure it will not surprise you, I can get a little carried away at social gatherings. At a recent housewarming party where my three roommates and I hosted an elaborate set up with a front yard barbecue, in-house Oktoberfest with 100 types of beer and outdoor fire pit in the back yard, I spent the entire evening trying to get one bun for my one hot dog. But with the constant stream of new people to act welcoming towards, getting from Point A: hot dog off grill in front yard, to point B: bun inside bag on kitchen counter, proved impossible. For the duration of the party I entertained  my guests while holding a cold hot dog skewered on a fork. I was terribly hungry. I never made it to the kitchen until the next morning, when in the harsh light of day it was revealed that all the food was gone, gone to much less social, much luckier people than I.

So tonight, at this fancy bar in this fancy hotel in the fanciest city in the world, I straight skipped over the social responsibilities and went right for the food.

And boy or boy, did I hit the food. I hit the food hard. Those trays of crab puffs and chive squares and bruchetta never saw me coming. I lunged at the cocktail waitress with the Chicken Satay. I threw 'bows. Overcome with a sugar and contact high that I misconstrued as a sense of freedom and unflappability, I threw caution to the wind and ordered three rounds of my signature drink, the Shirley Temple. I could have put on an air of haughtiness and cringed my way through a Manhattan or a dry martini but who did I have to impress? No one! I wanted grenadine and ginger ale to go with my shrimps and, by the glory of God I was going to get it.

And in the end, some of the women did talk to me and it was pleasant. I mean, I'm constantly hungry but I'm not a monster.

An hour later my friend Zach, who I used to spend holidays with in Seattle, picked me up at the Hilton and we walked a few blocks down the avenue of the Americas. He took me to eat (that's right, eat) at a lovely Vietnamese place where everything was shaded light green. "If you want to stay in New York, our couch is yours." He said, emptying a bottle of beer into my glass. "You can stay there as long as you want while you're looking for a place to live."

Zak offered to walk me to the theater where I had tickets to see a show, which was good of him because I had no idea where I was. We were waiting for the light to change somewhere in ...Midtown? Maybe? There were a lot of tall buildings? when another small, fortuitous event occurred. Right there on the street corner in the throngs of people, I ran smack into my friend Kelley.

I had tried to make plans to get together with Kelly, an old friend from Vermont, but unfortunately our schedules were complete opposites. It was looking like meeting up was going to be impossible, which was disappointing because she's enormously successful and she works for a company called Trip Films I was very curious about. Trip Films sends her to different countries around the world where she eats local delicacies and films sharp, funny little TV segments. She has perfect bone structure.

And we just happen to walk right into eachother.

We walked a few blocks together, and after the initial thrill of coincidence subsided she asked, "So, why the interest in moving to New York?"

"Because I want to write for SNL." I told her. I know how this sounds. It's like saying, "I want to move to DC because I want to be president." Most people respond with the same tone they use to tell little kids in halloween costumes how scary they are. But I think in Kelley's world, things like that are actually possible. "That's great," she said with sincerity. "My best friend was a writing assistant for SNL. We were both NBC pages." (In case you didn't know, becoming an NBC page is famously more difficult than getting into Harvard.)

"Well," She said, "This is where I catch the subway. You ought to make videos for Tripfilms. We'll pay you!" And then she hugged me and, like a dream sequence in a sitcom, she melted away.

And then I arrived at the Pit, the People's Improv Theater, which is something I'll tell you about in the next episode. So please, don't touch that dial, we'll be right back.

How does she do it?

Before I leave my home in Seattle for another city, I always have a little panic about what to wear. I know that what I consider to be a wardrobe here in the Pac NW wouldn't even begin to count as a wardrobe for anyone else who lived in any city, anywhere. Seattle's just that out of it relaxed.

So the night before I left for New York, I mined my friends' closets for clothes that would make me look hip and pulled together. I may never be on the cutting edge, but at least I can up there somewhere, maybe a few strides back from the edge, behind the safety railing, but still with a nice view. I brought home a nice haul of sweaters, legging, boots and layering pieces and threw them onto a pile in my bedroom, thinking I'd go through and sort out which outfits I'd wear on each day of my trip. I never got around to that. The stress of trying to predict my mood and what the weather would be for each day was too overwhelming. So instead I brought everything. I also had this idea, for some reason, that it was going to be extremely cold so I brought along a few extra jackets. The next day I threw it all in my giant trekking backpack and checked it onto the airplane.  I felt pretty good about it.

Then something horrible happened upon my delayed, 2 AM arrival. They gave it back to me! To take! This enormous backpack with things strapped on the outside was just sitting there, waiting there to be collected. It was then, in the harsh light of the Newark airport, that I realized my huge mistake. I had to run all around the city with this load. How would I fit into cafes? How would I stroll? The whole trip was going to be crushed under the weight of my own vain attempt to look appropriate.

You know those girls who own simple, elegant outfits for travel,  and they bring them around in little suitcases that roll? They don't own shirts or pants, they own 'pieces.' Most of their pieces are black and can be rearranged into any combination of business, formal, cocktail, casual. I'm not that girl. My 'pieces' are for sitting around, winter hiking, and attending funerals, and never the three shall be mixed and matched.

How do they do it, these elegant girls? These are the same girls, I'll bet you anything, that sleep in tight tank tops with satiny trim. I own a number of those sleep tanks, but they're not actually for sleeping. Everyone knows that. They're for wearing around when a boy is over in the evening, so that he'll think you're the girl that falls asleep cute and wakes up peppy. But who actually goes to bed in those things? I wear a big t-shirt and then I kick off my pants in the middle of the night. Guaranteed.

In any case, my attempt to blend as a New York gal on the go totally backfired. Instead of this:

I got this:

On the early morning train from Newark to Midtown to Brooklyn, I was all teetery and pushed around and in the way. I couldn't sit down because my bag wouldn't fit in my lap. My shoulders hurt. And I was sweating. 

There was only one way for me to turn this around. I decided that I was a visual arts major from Cooper Union and this 'situation' was my performance art. I'm constantly reinventing myself in little ways, so as the train made its many, many stops, I thought up little details for Cooper Union me. I was in my third year, I had a slight Adderall problem, and somewhere in the upper west side I shared a loft with my androgynous boyfriend who rode a bicycle. This morning's performance: A rumination on the Burden of Life and the Baggage We Carry.  By Melina Coogan copyright 2011.

So, yeah, in the end, I think I pulled it off.

I always pull it off. 

I'm a hero.

How television brought me to New York City

 At some point towards the end of the summer I began a relationship with comedy television. Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Fallon, Louis CK, Tina Fey, The Lonely Island boys. I spent nights watching shows, taking volumes of mental notes on what's funny, what's not, what causes some skits to work and some skits to flop. I read a huge book about the history of Saturday Night Live called Live from New York. It's around 500 pages of excerpts from writers and performers, and I read it in four days, calling my dad from time to time to discuss Belushi and Akroid and Chevy Chase's unwelcome return as host.

I took my dog on walks that lasted for hours, circling the muddy hole in the earth that used to be a duck pond out in Lake City. The dog chased the last of the late-molting, lamenting ducks as I listened to Moth podcasts and the Tobolowski Files, stories of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Comedy television, and television related books and podcasts, replaced my former interests of eating, exercise, and friendship.

I was raised without a TV. My family didn't own one. I passed my years of kid hood playing with blocks, reading books, and building forts. I was a good student, killed it in extra-curricular activities and demonstrated robust social skills. I don't mean to brag, but I did win the Jump Rope for Heart all school competition at Pomfret Elementary and was elected mayor of the treefort village my fifth grade class constructed behind the playground. So yeah, back then, God did give with both hands. But all of these wholesome activities away from the television were setting me up for failure. The type of failure that befalls macrobiotic-raised kids when they grow up and discover cake. A sugar soaked free-for-all followed in no time by morbid obesity.

A cautionary tale: my sister and I playing outside in Vermont, haplessly missing vital programming on The Children's Network.
Even after high school when I could exercise free will, I remained abstinent. Through college and for quite a few years after, I remained that person who shook my head when there was a TV in a restaurant and said things like, "I wish I could tell that waiter to turn that thing off and do us all some good!" And now, thanks to Hulu and Youtube mixed with frequent periods of unemployment, I've finally arrived. About 22 years behind everyone else. I go to work and say things like, "Did you guys see that SNL sketch about Monica Lewinsky? Hilarious!"

As the hours of SNL piled up behind me and my climbing muscles atrophied, I comforted myself with my involvement in Soul Pancake. A year ago last summer, I discovered The Office. I rented a big stack of The Office DVDs and some confetti cake mix boxes as ammunition against a heart wrenching break up. I had no job, no place to live and very little direction. As I saw it, my only purpose to be on earth was to take care of my 2003 Subaru Outback, which I considered to be my one meaningful possession. Also my dog.

Alone in Vermont, I spent each day hiking to the same field, and all evening watching The Office. Or maybe I spent each day reading US magazine and all evening watching The Office. But if that were true, then where did this photo come from? 
Either way, to my utter surprise, I was very happy. Inappropriately happy, given my pathetic young life.

After I'd watched all the Office episodes and all the Office episodes with commentary, I started searching for information about the show on the Internet. Because I'm creepy and I'll turn the Internet inside out to get the info I want. The search led to Rainn Wilson, who caught my attention because he went to University of Washington, my Alma mater. That led to Soulpancake, which led to me becoming a writer for Soulpancake, which recently led to Oprah. So, that went well.

By the way, here's a never before seen photo of Rainn, Holiday and me. Pretty awesome, huh? What a great eyebrow I have.
So back to the current fascination. This time around, it wasn't a writing job that came out of my online trolling, it was improv. After a thorough background check of all current cast members of SNL, it was revealed that improv, in particular Second City in Chicago, the Groundlings in LA or Improv Olympics in New York, was the preferred ticket to studio 8H. So I signed up for an improv class here in Seattle. And that led to real live interactions with other humans and a talented, caustic, darkly hilarious teacher who'd studied at Second City. Tuesday nights were given over to little backstage classrooms, acting games and laughter shared with 20 other people, which is admittedly nicer than laughter alone under the covers with a computer. 

Improv was great but as always, I like to take things to the next level. Of course you've read my insightful, poignant piece "Ten Levels Of Everything". Here's an addendum:

Level Eleven:
At level eleven, you become in expert in wanting something so bad that you become totally miserable. You make huge life decisions based on goals that are almost guaranteed to be unobtainable. You prefer listening to music tracks on repeat for hours, if not days, at a time. Orange juice mixed with beer replaces coffee for your morning beverage.  

I'm totally the mayor of level eleven. At two in the morning when I close my laptop after a couple hours of 30 Rock I never think, Sleep time! I think, I must move to New York. I start worrying over real estate. Fortunately, in a rare moment of clarity, I decided I should first visit New York before looking for a sub-letter for my room. 

When I saw that BlogHer and Penguin Publishing House were hosting a writing conference in New York City, I jumped at the opportunity. I signed up before I had the money to pay the registration fee.

This is where my good luck began. I announced here on my blog that I was going to this conference and if anyone was thinking of donating, now would be a fantastic time. And they did! Donations from readers covered a good portion of the registration fee. Then BlogHer wrote me and said they were offering a discount on the conference and I got the rest of the money back. Now there was the plane ticket to New York to grapple with. For this I had no answers, no plans except finally taking out a credit card. Then one morning, just as I was beginning to panic, a reader emailed me and said he'd like to give me his frequent flier miles to get to New York. And just like that, I had a flight. A non-stop flight, by the way.

To the extent that I write about scrape ups and rejection letters and being mistaken for a midget, I do recognize the great fortune in my life. How heartening it is to have people support me like this.

So, I was off to New York. I had this idea that if good luck found me during my visit, I'd start making plans to move. I didn't think this would happen; I thought for sure I'd get squashed by the city, lost in the subway, elbowed in the face, run over by a truck. But, just to make life utterly confusing, good luck turned on like a faucet the moment I touched down in Newark. For five days I found myself in a pile of roof top parties and impossible coincidences. I shot through the city in a daze, rode beneath Manhattan and over the bridge to Brooklyn, met with agents and editors, ate little spears of quail eggs with other writers, saw live improv and collapsed each night in the tiny apartment of a handful of friends across the city.

New York! I'll be the first to admit, I never saw this coming.