the other half of my life

I leave my house at 6 in the morning, gliding in an absurdly fancy town car with a paper cup of coffee in my hand, wearing a smart black jacket and a scarf. My bag is packed neatly with papers and spreadsheets. I'm bound for Akron, Ohio for work. 'The buckeye state is lovely this time of year,' says my boss, dryly, from his office at the opposite side of the country. 

I never make it to Akron.

Instead I fly directly into the sleeting heart of Winter Storm Luna, which is punishing the city of Chicago in sheets of ice and crashes of thunder. The scene at the airport is dismal, business men and women slumped in their seats watching the weather deteriorate. The little commuter jets are sprayed down with thousands of gallons of orange de-icing mist. Some poor soul is wandering around giving out samples of Tylenol decongestants. The flight to Cleveland is delayed, then cancelled. Shortly after, all planes are grounded. There's an uproar. A stampede to the ticketing desk. I throw my elbows out. 

In an instant, someone new emerges from within me, the person that I rarely ever get to see- efficient, clipped, polite but steely. I'm on the computer snatching up a hotel room before they all disappear, pushing numbered tags to harried desk workers, demanding my luggage, shouting on the phone to the airline (bad connection) while simultaneously insisting to the cab driver that the airport suites should really be closer than the length we're driving. 

There are no workable flights to Cleveland. I make a snap decision- I give up and grab the last seat on the last flight to Seattle. (It's always the last seat on the last flight.) Actually, I reserve that ticket three times in a row, my confirmation evaporating from their system each time. 

From the seventh floor of the hotel I watch the sky seize with white lightning and a brick square of a bar pulse neon blue in the deserted parking lot below. I turn the TV on and off. Then, overtaken with a sudden energy: alone in a hotel room, a gal on the go, a real person! I spread out all my papers on the giant white bed which could fit eight of me. Quite chipper, I write a magazine query, some book work, I drink a corona with lime sprawled out on the bed, typing away, happy as can be. I decide that being stranded outside O'hare in January is the quintessential American experience, that I'm very lucky. I order room service.

The next morning I fly to San Jose, then Seattle, having spent two full days traveling and going absolutely nowhere, a big useless triangle on the map. "Such is the way of these things," says the new me, the business me, tightening my black pea coat and ordering an airplane cocktail. 

In less than a week I'll be back to Chicago, another training session, another meeting. Then California, then Kentucky, then Massachusetts. Again and again and again and again.


On Sunday there was an enormous inversion and the world flipped on its head. On top of the mountain the weather was warm, sixty degrees and blue, while below the normally tepid city froze stiff and smothered in fog.

On saturday I was nearing the very bottom of things, curled up on the kitchen floor in the early afternoon, my head filled with black sand. Then the world did its somersault, and suddenly I was on top of the mountains, looking down at the city as if it were a little map. Suddenly I was okay again.

It was jarring.

Standing on the summit on Sunday morning with a friend, I didn't feel sad. The air was soft and warm and light. My lungs expanded as the weight of the black sand disappeared from my chest, they unfurled like the white wings on a hollywood angel. The snow was old, and it gleamed under an icy crust like meringue. "Such terrible conditions," said everybody. Our skis hissed through grainy piles of snow, like sugar.
On the last run of a long day, I started to think about the workweek ahead of me. I dangled my legs back and forth on the lift, wondering if I'd end up at the bottom of the ladder again, back on the kitchen floor with the cat clock swinging its paw back and forth between seconds. Then I had a brilliant idea. I could just come back here. I work remotely, after all. Why not?

On the way home I called my friend Cindy. Her work is transportable too, and we're both tired of coffee shops and lonely at home. She agreed in an instant.
Morning comes, and we're out of the city before dawn. The inversion layer remains for a second heavenly day in a row and we spend the morning on the back side, neck deep in sunshine.

It is so warm that, pushing through a particularly steep run, heavy with spring slush, we become completely overheated. We stop in the trees, strip away the last of the layers and lie down in the snow. Face against the ice, back against the sun, it is intoxicatingly warm. I am feeling voluminous.

"Hey," I say to Cindy. "Maybe I'm manic!"

"I don't think so," she replies cheerfully. "I think you're just skiing."
Two days ago, my roommate came home in the afternoon and found me on the rug. She knelt down, a flash of black in torn stockings. "I think you should get up," she said gently. This alarmed me; she never sounds gentle. We've known each other since we were seven. "Maybe have some cereal?" She has great big eyes, like an owl, and they were focused on mine. I turned my face to look at the wall. The black sand shifted from one side to the other.

"Sounds complicated." I said.
Now here I am, I'm whirling down the mountain in the middle of a January thaw so warm it feels like I'm swimming. I'm all smiles and laughter and talking a big talk about new writing ideas, new publications, new articles, a book. I'm telling Cindy about seeing Andrew one last time, how I got bombed on martinis and cried at dinner, now I'm wiping my hands together briskly of all that, all better now. Turning to look at the bright dome of the limitless world, breathing deeply. All better!

(It's amazing what the sun will make you think.)
Cindy and I work for a few hours at the lodge, snap together a little office in seconds with coffee and chords and laptops. I squint at spread sheets in my ski boots; we are surprisingly productive. Then the sun drops behind the mountain, and the tiny disk of the moon slides up the side of the sky. We keep skiing into the night, a warm blue basin swimming with stars. I can't explain it, but I feel so strangely new. Like the beginning of someone.

Allow me to introduce myself.


Welcome to Vajanuary, the very special month I invented back when I was the only girl on the staff of an outdoors high school in South America, enduring a never ending onslaught of flaunted muscles, man-fests, bonfires, shirt-lessness and bearded men who were forever declaring their love for whiskey and driving with one elbow out the window NO MATTER HOW COLD IT WAS.
(Why did I leave that place?) (What is it with men talking about whiskey?)

Vajanuary was my antidote to this unending Movember- a month dedicated to spending time outside in the company of ladies, doing essentially whatever you want to do and ordering your drinks extra girly with a twist.  It's a holy month. And I began this year's in Missoula, where Nici and I indulged in all good girlfriend activities.
Late at night, we lay side by side on the living room floor and wrote, both pushing our deadlines to the breaking point. We were constantly interrupting one another's concentration with just one more thing- one more thing we have to discuss about writing or life before I swear, I'll let you work, and she kept putting a fresh martini in my hand until, sometime around midnight, I couldn't figure out what the hell I'd been sad about lately. Life was fantastic!

The thing is, at Nici's house, life is fantastic. I'm tossed awake up from a very peaceful sleep to Margot and Ruby jumping on the bed and pulling away the covers, and Andy puts a double espresso in my hand and then we go sledding. Sledding is followed by more coffee, and food, and card games and books and writing and talking and writing and talking. Then we go to sleep and do it all again.

And my God, but that woman makes a good Martini.
On Monday evening, Nici gathered up her girlfriends and we met a brewery for the things girls do best: talking. At length. About everything. Telling stories about ourselves and everyone we know. Leaving the table only to get another pint of beer, chasing it with red wine and the best burgers in Montana. Becoming louder, our laughter out of control, waving our hands around to get the point across.
No simpler way to say it: I love that woman and her sweet, chill, gorgeous family. I love the way she invites me so warmly into the workings of her household, the way she generously shares her friends with me around a wooden table covered in peanut shells, the way she gets me all liquored up on Montana Juniper and forces me to confront my fear of olives.

Happy Vajanuary! Are you celebrating?

the stories

this post aims to answer some frequently asked questions about storytelling. I hope this connects you to some good listening or even a live show. people throw around the term around 'this will change your life' until it's d-e-a-d, but storytelling will change you. it takes every aspect of life- pain, loss, embarrassment, love, joy, the whole deal, and gives it all a purpose. a tool to connect with others, or at the very least, entertain.

inspiration:: story swoon

I listen to stories constantly. Way more than I read, at least these days. There are the obvious radio offerings, the trifecta of american storytelling....

this american life.

radiolab. (start with memory. than placebo.)

the moth. 

You should also listen to the brilliant show selected shorts, where famous actors read aloud from pieces of short fiction. I've made it easy to begin by choosing a recent show I enjoyed, The Private Paradise. Andrew and I caught the middle of this while driving home from downtown, and we ended up sitting in the driveway in his car, unwilling to turn off the radio till it was over. Most notable is the Dave Eggers piece read by the late David Rakoff. Listen to that and then listen to the This American Life dedicated to Rakoff, our friend david. 

Rakoff is a storytelling icon, and it's not too late to get into his work, even though he died 2 months ago. In 2013 his final novel will be released. It's written completely in rhyming couplets and it's titled: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die; Cherish, Perish, a novel by, David Rakoff. (Isn't that great?)

If you do listen to Ira Glass's tribute, a box of tissues will serve you well.

Fitz Cahill's the dirtbag diaries are all stories of adventurers and people who make their living in the outdoors. I wholeheartedly recommend checking this out, whether or not you're of the outdoor persuasion. To be honest, I haven't listened to many of these, probably because the stories are so similar to mine and I get envious. Could be.

The list goes on: the vinyl cafe, storycorps, a prairie home companion, snap judgement and even the savage love podcast.  Storytelling is a huge and magnificent realm which also includes comedy, which I can't go into now because it would be like trying to throw two big parties at once. so instead I'll just say this- sleepwalk with mike birbiglia as soon as you can.

The american storytelling tradition is irreverent, personal, relaxed, intense, raw, funny, and modern.

my stories::
I've been telling stories live for about two years. most of my stories are adapted straight from this blog. so far, everything I tell is autobiographical. the stories are about 98% true. Sometimes I add or subtract (mostly subtract) a few details.  I might rearrange dialog or the order of things for the purposes of  condensing a scene- it's worth it to keep a story short and tight. The intent of storytelling is to connect and entertain and enthrall- it's not journalism.

there are a few stories I perform that I have chosen not to write (so far.) They are mostly adventure stories gone awry, and they would call into question the decisions and motives made by others. it's one thing to call myself out for being an idiot, quite another to bring someone down with me.  sometimes i choose to do it anyway. I always change the names of people when I do that. but that's what everyone assumes I'm going to do. so, in an unexpected twist, i change the names back to the real ones. that way, no one knows what's going on.

oh yes, i've attended legality seminars for bloggers. and i think for a long time (and write many drafts) before publishing pieces about my job, like this one.

there is one story I haven't written because it's just too embarrassing. It involves getting really sick in the sleeping bag of a beautiful boy on the grand canyon. I can't bring myself to write it, but for some reason telling it to strangers is no problem. Counter intuitive perhaps, but I'm keenly aware that whatever goes on the internet is there forever. I recently told this one at the moth (the theme of the evening was surprise!) and it was a big hit.

there is a growing storytelling culture in seattle, including the seattle moth where I performed my first moth story on a first date. a guide to visitors is similar, only more vetted (and now it's a radio show!) most recently I performed at the storytelling southeast festival in Ireland. I've studied improv with unexpected productions, and the best advise I can give to anyone, hands down, is to take at least one improv class.

but the best part of storytelling for me is just the informal stories we tell amongst friends. it's my favorite thing to do. my life has been full of campfire tales, stories shouted over beers in raucous bars and whispered between crewmembers, belowdecks on the boat where there was no tv or radio.

there is a particular cave that I discovered on a particular trip to goldmeyer hotsprings, where wild storytelling is at its finest. the cave is filled with hot water and steam, dark and sunless but illuminated by candlelight, and there you can tell stories to friends and whoever else happens to be having a soak.  (and it's naked, which does not detract from the experience.) I'm lucky to have friends to like to wander up there in the winter, or to island cabins for the weekends just to hang out and tell stories.

Ireland was absolutely the highlight of my storytelling 'career' (that's just not the right word) and first time I've been paid to perform. I told three stories to four different audiences. The last two shows were sold out, with a crowd lining the walls and sitting on the floor up front. I signed autographs, had my photo taken with audience members and had radio interviews. there was nothing cavalier about the experience- I was so excited and pretty amazed to be there. the whole thing was a bit dizzying. 
This group was from a local kid's book club 
my sister and I at the local radio station
I have a l-o-n-g way to go with storytelling. I recently heard a story on the Moth about a man and his cubicle mates getting addicted to 3-D Tetris. that was the whole story and it was hilariously engaging. I have to learn not to lean so hard on the 'big' events in my life (freezing, drowning, death) and instead learn how to take ordinary things and make them relatable. 

I suppose that's what this blog is for. and by the way, happy four years, blog! celebrate by sharing your favorite posts and joining the wilder coast facebook page. it's really helpful for me, and it's full of photos you won't see on the blog. 

Happy listening!  


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. 

Guinness and Whiskey

I'm drinking Whiskey and Guinness on a Saturday night in Dungarvan, Celebrating my last show in Ireland: Sold out, people standing lining the walls and sitting on the floor, a real success. The director of the festival ran into me tonight on the street, shook my hand and invited me back for next year.

 I have a few more days here on my own; I'll be sure and write more very soon.

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. 

Southeast Storytelling Festival

Last Autumn, the producers of the Southeast Storytelling festival in County Waterford, Ireland invited me to perform in a brand new division of the festival called Stories From the Wild. They were interested in the kind of adventure epics found on this blog.

Like the complete amateur that I am, I wrote back and said that while I was honored and could not imagine a more exciting opportunity, I would not be able to afford the cost of travel.

I'll never forget the email I got in return, one of the best surprises of my life. The producers were a bit bemused. "We're inviting you as an artist," they wrote. "We're hiring you. We will pay for all your travel. And we'd like you to stay and perform for all five days of the festival."

Keeping this quiet has been tough, but, unlike everything else, I decided to wait until the funding was secure before broadcasting it everywhere.

Finally, here at the very beginning of March, I got the go-ahead message. "The funding for international performers is coming along well," they wrote. "Put it on the calendar!"

So, it's official. I'll be traveling East at the end of September to perform here, alongside a very talented roster of artists and performers, including the best singer on earth. I can't wait to return to Ireland- it was the first foreign country I ever visited, fourteen years ago. I've wanted to go back ever since.

So, from now until September....I'd better learn how to tell a story. How to really tell a story, I mean.

Arcless: Without Arc

Last night I climbed at the brand new, high walled, rad but crazily crowded Vertical World which is, thankfully, just across the river from me in Magnolia. For the past nine years I've been a devout follower of Stone Gardens, but in the last year the scene exploded and now there are new gyms everywhere and I belong (in a roundabout way) to all of them. I used to know everybody at Stone Gardens, either by name or by face or by reputation. Now I'll climb to the top of the wall and look down at a room filled with people who dress like my friends and act like my friends but who are actually total strangers. Like a little alternate reality.

A few of those strangers introduced themselves last night. They told me they read this but had never met me in person. That's got to be the best perk of writing the blog ever, when that happens, it's always a burst of energy and happiness. I had to laugh, though, because three people last night - three!- told me they particularly loved the previous post and they wanted more like that.

My god, so do I! Those posts are the absolute most fun to write. They practically write themselves. I do hope that one day- preferably when I'm still pretty enough (oh, I'm going to get slammed by that sentence)  the man will be a boringly perfect fit. Until that happens, whenever life delivers in the realms of dating disasters and poisoned hamburgers, I'll keep writing about it.

But what do I write about in the meantime?

Because I mean most of the time, I'm not out on a bad date, or any date at all really. They take so much energy. You have to schedule yourself a recovery week after those things. And by date, I'm really referring to any of the things that are fun to write about: big climbing trips, traveling, barfing, girl friends morphing into guy friends. Things that have a story arc.

A lot of my time is spent just going along, with no clearly defined rising action or falling action. No action of any kind. They look like this:
And this:
And lots and lots of this:

But I think I'm going to go ahead and write about the normal things, even if they don't have that neat little arc. The whole point of this blog is to write everything. So here we go, Arcless.

Last night I actually climbed. This was a big surprise for me. Imagine a climbing gym, if you can. Now imagine spending every evening of every weekday there, getting really strong and pretty good. Not crazy good, but good enough. And after a while, naturally, you start to get to know the people there. Everybody who works there and everybody who climbs there. Now picture a little drain in middle of the floor. And imagine yourself slipping into the drain and disappearing.

This is what I did. I fell into a hole. Ever since this past summer, all I've really wanted to do was write, work and take walks by myself. I don't know what hit me, but I went with it. I'd go to the gym every now and then, or stay late after work to boulder, but I was mostly just dicking around. The only time I felt truly happy climbing was outside, but that became difficult when winter came. I lost a lot of strength and the thought of building it up again, and getting those painful blisters that turn into callouses was depressing. I was like oh, shit, forget about it. Let's just do something else.

After Christmas though, I really started to miss it. I went a few times to different gyms and started getting it back. And last night, when I fought, fell but ultimately finished two 11B's and led a bunch of easier but overhanging stuff, I was like- oh, right, this! I really like this. I really like this. Everything about it. Maybe if I don't get exactly what I want- which is to be the head writer of SNL and live in New York, marry a Seth Meyers look alike, have two beautiful children and then retire and live richly outside of Montpelier Vermont without ever having to work again- I can still be happy.

It was quite the revelation.

And after the gym shut down, we went to the High Life. I think there were ten of us all together, and I knew less than half of them. So I met a few more people. We had nine pound porters, and these little pizzas, and some other things, and since nobody ever brought us a check we stayed there till almost midnight.

It must have tired me out, because I went home and slept for thirteen hours solid. In my dreams, I came up with a comedy piece about describing my own physical heart in an extremely complicated manner. It's not worth writing, of course, but I always to mention when I write something in my sleep. Something in there deserves the credit.

And then today happened, and it was a very slow and, as you can see, very dark. I woke up, basically, just in time for sunset. That's gloomy. I had no pressing deadlines, and the real job I have keeps getting pushed back and pushed back because of funding issues. So it's alright if I wake up late.

But I don't like it. It's disconcerting and disorienting. Why is it that I'll sleep and sleep and sleep for more than half the day? I don't know many people who do that. What is my brain doing? I'm certainly not getting any taller, sadly.

It makes me think of that Tom Waits song: What's he building in there? 

So there you have it. The dreaded second act. Are you still reading? Are you still here? 

Writing Update, or, Getting Your Period While Rock Climbing

Just look at John's expression. . ."Oh, you think you're done working for the day? How interesting." 
Here is some of my recent writing news, from the heroic attempts to the almighty failures. Just in case you're keeping track. I know I should be.

The Onion Application
I applied for an intern position at The Onion, the word's most hilarious satirical newspaper. The internship description made it abundantly clear that this would not be a creative job. It specifically requested that applicants do not send writings samples. It did say, however, that small creative writing jobs might be given to the intern if they were deemed worthy.  Wanting to write for The Onion, just like any exciting writing job, is a long shot,  if not a virtual impossibility. An unpaid, noncreative internship at such a renowned establishment would be a major break into the nearly impenetrable world of comedy writing. Plus I'd move to New York!

Proud of myself for having spent all day writing the perfect cover letter, I announced to my friends via Facebook that I'd applied. The next day, three different people stepped out of the woodwork and connected me with their friends who currently work at The Onion. My cousin's husband Todd put me in touch with the paper's Digital Director, and my friends Paul and Cecily both emailed their writer friends. I cannot stress enough just how grateful I am to them for doing that.

I bet the slush pile that accumulates on the editor's desk during the intern application period is six feet deep. I imagine the editors paddling around in the office in row boats because of all those resumes and cover letters. It seems that everything worth doing these days, work wise, is almost sure to be met with rejection, but we do it anyway. If you don't apply you have no chance whatsoever in getting in the door. And at the very least, I want a chance.

Getting Your Period While Rock Climbing
I wrote a very detailed story pitch to a women's adventure magazine. I really wanted to write an article about working in the male dominated outdoors industry, my experience teaching at the kayak high school, the risk and emotions that are intrinsic with a sport as dangerous as kayaking, and what happens when tragedy strikes. It sounds a little broad here when I write it out, but it all wrapped together nicely. I waited a few weeks and then, after I'd given up and moved along with my life, I got a terse email in response. They said that while they they appreciated the pitch, they were more interested in things "Like getting your period while rock climbing." So yeah, hold on to your seats people, there may be a mind blowing expose showing up in a future issue of a certain women's adventure magazine about the unthinkable combination of rock climbing and lady business. And it will not be written by me.

Fiction Class with Holiday
This fall I've been taking an online fiction class from the awesome new site  My teacher, Holiday Reinhorn, is an LA-based author from Portland. She studied creative writing at UW, (just like me) and then attended the prestigious Iowa Writer's workshop for grad school.  She is the author of Big Cats, and is married to Rainn Wilson, my boss over at Soulpancake. I signed up for this class because I'd grown totally terrified of writing Fiction. Terrified. And I needed someone to help me back to those college days when I was churning out poems and stories all over the place.

The class is awesome. She provides class lectures, writing prompts, things to read, articles to look at, and lots and lots of insights. It's incredible just to talk with other writers. Last night I got off an hour long conference call with Holiday and some of the other writers and felt so much relief. A reminder that my own weird lets hide in the closet where the paper can't see me reactions to my work is totally normal.

The best thing to come out of the class is I have a real, working, first draft of a short story. It may take another six months or so to 'perfect' it, but I really like it so far, and I'm going to try and stick it out. Maybe I'll have a submission piece if I want to go to grad school at NYU, or something to send to a literary magazine or maybe I'll drink a whole bunch of dayquil and write a whole book of short stories, sell the movie rights to Hollywood and get super rich!

My Own Site....? 
I announced on Facebook a few weeks ago that the people over at Trailsedge were offering me my own site!  Which they did! But after a bizarre exchange of information, I turned it down. That's a whole other story. I asked to keep writing for Trailsedge instead. I love writing for them, I've published 34 articles so far on that site! Sadly, they are scaling it way back due to budget issues, and now they're publishing a lot less frequently.  Luckily, my articles always brought in a great readership, so they asked told me to keep sending one article in per week.

A few days ago the editor asked me if I would be interested in writing for a new site, a site about safe traveling. I sent them one article which they published, and am just waiting to see what will happen next.  But that's a useless sentence, isn't it? We're all waiting around to see what will happen next. Maybe I'll go back some time and delete that sentence.

Mindy's Contest
Positive association product placement. You're welcome, Mindy
I entered a very quick writing contest (I wrote it over dinner) that Mindy Kaling was hosting to help promote her new book. And I won! I was one of the winners, anyway. I got a  free signed copy of the book in the mail, and when I met Mindy at the show I worked last Saturday, I asked her to sign it again. Write girl, write! She wrote. You MUST! I put the book on my desk next to the picture of John Stewart. Sometimes I pretend that John Stewart is my loving but hard-driving boss and Mindy is the girl in the cubicle next to me. From time to time we act conspiratorially.

Gear Gal
During my extremely brief stint as the GearGal on Trailsedge, I got to review one thing. I was told to choose something from the Trailsedge retail store for review; I'd get it in the mail, use it, write about it, and it would be mine. I could choose anything, and after I reviewed that one thing I could choose another thing! And on and on forever!

But I knew too much about the industry to get too excited. A set up that good is not going to last. So I chose accordingly, and picked the one thing I wanted more than anything. Sure I could have reviewed a new belay device or water purification system or something useful, and I would love to do that, but I already have all the outdoor gear I really need. And the memory of my Kokatat botch is still fresh in my memory.

When I worked at the high school, I sold a photo to the Kokatat Watersports gear company. They used it in their print catalog, which was kind of a big deal. In exchange for the photo I could choose any piece of Kokatat gear I wanted. So I chose a neoprene top. It was probably worth 60 bucks. I could have chosen a 1,000 dollar dry suit! But I decided to be polite about it and choose something cheap. After all, it was just one photograph, and I wanted the company to remember me as a great person to do business with. Well, do you know where polite gets you? Freezing cold on a river in a damp neoprene top staring enviably at the people wearing expensive, mango colored dry suits. That's where it gets you.

Lesson Learned. So I mined the Trailsedge site and found these absolutely kicking Ariat Rodeobaby cowgirl boots. They were shipped to me, as promised, and I wore them, wrote about them, and then my job as Geargirl quickly evaporated as the site shrank. And my editor wouldn't put up the review because it wasn't outdoorsy enough. (He has a point.) I may post the review on this site instead so you can all see what my Peppy Review Writing Looks Like! If the personification of my normal writing self is a leg-warmer wearing slouched over the desk back of the classer, my review writing self sits with perfect posture in the very front row. Squeaky clean stuff.
And that's it for now! Check back in six months to see if I'm published, famous, or maybe I've given up the dream and settled for a nice boy instead. Let's all just wait and see what happens next. 

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.

I read that blog

The writing conference, the whole reason why I came to New York in the first place, was a giant, work affirming, connection making, ground breaking, tiny little Tiramisu gorging success. I met with agents, authors, editors and marketing directors. I scribbled down notes for eight hours straight, almost delirious from lack of sleep, sensory overload and the stunning amount of information being put forth. Also, I could drink as many mini-bottles of San Peligrino as I wanted and when they started to pile up at my table, someone would come and whisk them away.

In my normal life, I spend all day at my desk. I used to write in a coffee shop which added a shot of social interaction into my work week, but those days are over. I'd end up spending too much money, drinking too much caffeine, and as each hour passed I grew less productive, unbearably jittery and increasingly neurotic. ("Hey! Hey! Can you quiet down a little over there? I can hear you drinking!

I've since moved my office permanently into my bedroom where I can sit and work for days at a time. As a treat, I'll get up and fold laundry. Receiving an email from my editor is a momentous occasion. Conference calls with Soulpancake writers are delightful. If I know I'll be getting feedback about a story over email on Friday, I'll lay awake all Thursday night, wild with excitement. But most of the time, I just sit at my desk.

My work life, which is quickly encroaching on all other parts of my life, is a social desert. But the conference? The conference was a tropical retreat. I was in New York! At the Hilton! With a hundred other writers! And it was catered! There were trays and trays and trays of little tiny desserts. We were given bags full of books! And I wore a name tag!

Without question, the most valuable insight I learned was how well respected blog have become within the publishing field. Honestly, this was not what I was expecting to hear. I even straight out asked about it to a panel of Penguin agents: "How do I make my blog actually register with an agent? Because I'm sure you don't go home after a long day at work and peruse the Internet for blogs."

And then, and I've never been so excited to hear these words, the (intimidating, poker-faced, fancy-suit wearing) agent leaned forward and said into the mic, "You're wrong."

Across the table, heads nodded. "Actually, we get paid to look through blogs. And then we go home, and we look through more."

In that one reply, almost every disparaging remark I've made about blogging in the past three years was contradicted.

One of the most remarkable moments in my career occurred during lunch.

Lisa Stone, the co-founder and CEO of BlogHer, was on stage leading a discussion with Dominique Browning. Dominique is an author and publishing veteran: she was editor in Chief at House and Garden, an editor at Newsweek, and recently published a memoir called Slow Love. Both women were professional, accomplished and poised, with enough elegance and grace between them to give Meryl Streep a run for her money. 

After the interview, they took a few questions. I lunged for the microphone.

"What I really can't stand, when I mention that I write a blog,  is when people say wow, blogging sounds so self-centered! It's a pretty common response, and I have a hard time countering this, because on a certain level they're correct." I asked Dominique if she had an intelligent response to this type of negative comment.

Before Lisa passed over the mic, she paused. "Wait a minute. You write The Wilder Coast, right? I actually read that blog. I really like your blog. And if anyone gives you a hard time, just direct them to the essay you wrote about eating your power animal on your birthday. They will shut up."

I was stunned. BlogHer is huge. It's enormous. And Lisa is very high up in the publishing world. It knocked me off my feet that she read my work, even more so that she could single out a specific post. There were a hundred and fifty other writers in the room, along with the agents and the marketing directors and the editors, and they were all looking at me.   

Then Dominique then gave me a gorgeous reply about how this style of personal writing is following in a grand tradition that goes back to the beginning of books. Write what you know.  I wish I could be as eloquent as she was, but I cannot remember her exact words. Maybe if she reads this, she could leave a message and remind me, and all of us who write.

So I'm back at my desk now, in front of a very cold, leaking window and a picture of John Stewart from the cover of Rolling Stone magazine tacked to the wall. He's looking at me with that face he makes, incredulous, eyebrows raised, and every time I glance up I imagine he's saying "You better keep working, kid. You better work, right now." I have a copy of Dominique's book on top of a stack I keep at my desk, along with the memoirs of Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling. I read a few pages when I feel discouraged, and I remember being at that conference room with all the other people in my field, and I think about Lisa saying "Yeah....I read your blog. I really like your blog."

It's so simple. I just want to write things that people want to read.

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 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.

Soulpancake is on Oprah!

I am so supremely excited to announce that Soulpancake has gone Oprah! We have a spot on the OWN Network's super Soul Sunday ever Sunday morning. 

I think announcing that one of my projects is on the Oprah network needs no further intro. Check out the first episode here, it's only minutes long. Also, check out Soulpancake's new look, or get a glimpse of one of my most recent prompts.

My Live Journal

Kelle wrote a book. She wrote a book! It's going to hit the shelves April 3, 2012, and judging from the enormous (think TV appearances and millions of hits) popularity of her blog Enjoying the Small Things, I predict this book will make the national best seller list fairly quickly.

Kelle is a professional photographer raising two girls in Naples, Florida. Her Blog has all the rich, soothing qualities of a perfectly made cappuccino. The writing is energizing, it's fun, and it's capped by these deep, velvety images of a very colorful, very pretty everyday life. Just like coffee, it's best to enjoy it first thing in the morning, then for a few hours afterward you walk around with this feeling like, Okay, another day, this could be alright, let's give it a go. 

Which is way better than those days when you wake up around 11am and go What? It's no longer night time? No. No I don't want to.

Anyway, I cannot wait to stand in the aisle of Barnes and Noble, hold the book over my head and announce to all the other mid-day shoppers, "This is my Friend. This is my friend Kelle and I know her. No big deal but she wrote this book." It will be the literary equivalent of me watching kayak films while bouncing up and down on a friend's couch saying "I know that guy! I know that guy! I know that guy too!" Which is something I never do.

Something spectacular about Kelle: she responds to emails. That sounds like a little thing but it's not. I write her these pestering messages that are like How do you do this? How do you do that? Even as I write them I can picture the words reaching out of the screen and tugging at her pant leg. But she always writes back. For someone raising two kids, writing a blog full time and also writing a book, this is an extremely generous gesture. The image thumbnails on the left bar of this blog are thanks to Kelle, who walked me through them step by step. When I found out she'd written a book I sent her a particularly pesky email with a lot of questions. She responded with a very thorough run-down of the whole process, from writing the thing to finding an agent (in her case, choosing an agent) to the publishers auction.

And here's the most important thing she wrote:

"YOUR BLOG IS SO IMPORTANT.  You never know who's reading it, and tomorrow you could have a book deal.  Yes, it's your space and you treat it like that, and you do what you love and have to not think about what people think or who's reading it.  But, at the same time, you have this dream and you know what you want, so your blog is your place to display what you do."

Your Blog is So Important. I want to make a poster of that and hang it right over my desk. Because sometimes I get really down on the whole thing.

Blogging is weird. I hate the word blog. I really do. Louis CK does a whole stand up bit about terrible words and I really think blog should have been included. It is the low man on the already low-standing totem pole of freelance writing. Blogging has evolved since its humble livejournal routes, it's so evolved, but that doesn't seem to matter. It's still associated with nineteen year old college students writing enormous essays with no paragraph breaks discussing their opinions on breakfast, Moammar Gadhafi, and surfing. 

I've tried to reclaim the word the way Eve Ensler tried to reclaim the word Cunt but, like Eve, I just haven't been successful. When someone asks me what I write, I still rock back and forth on my feet, look down at the ground and say, "Well I write a um...a blog?"

Yeah, I do that. I say it like a question. A blog? Will you please validate me? And bear in mind, I'm the same girl who makes this face during sports:
I used to teach high school English at a boarding school, and whenever my girls spoke with that upwards inflection I'd smack them across the face and say "WOMAN UP! WHY YOU SPEAK IN QUESTIONS!"

Probably why I'm no longer a high school teacher.

Granted, these issues are mostly self generated. I'm lucky to live within a very supportive, well insulated little world. I have two parents who are proud of me. I have friends who text me just to say that they laughed out loud while reading a post.  Just yesterday I ran into two guys at a cafe, and they both congratulated me very sincerely on the recent success of The Wilder Coast.

What exactly they were referring to, I don't know. I haven't won any awards or had any major breaks recently. But they both said it, totally independently of one another. Both of those dudes work about 80 hours a week and still read my blog. (How exactly do they do that? I work considerably less than 80 hours a week and I still can't get my laundry from the washer into the dryer in less than 48 hours.)

However, even inside this supportive world there will always be the people who, to put it bluntly, suck at being nice. The ones who look me right in the eye and say, "Well that sounds like a total waste of time." And I'm so stupidly agreeable I find myself nodding along with them. " is....." Coming from me! The girl capable of making this face while doing a fun activity:
Then there is the other group of people, probably well meaning individuals, who go right for the kisser.  "A blog? Cool. Do you make money on it?" Blamo! First question!  Cue the feet rocking. Eyes to the ground. "Yeah..?" I say/ask, "...A little?" "Enough to pay the bills?" "Well...No?" "Well what do you do for money then?"

So let me get this straight. You'd rather hear about the janitorial duties and billing policies at a local bouldering gym than three years worth of stories and effort on my weblog? I totally get not giving a shit about what I do or what I write. You're in the vast majority, and that's fine. But you're standing here asking me questions, you are giving me your time, and you're more interested in what I have to do to afford Internet at my house than what I love to do, and plan to do with my entire life?

I could go on about the tremendous importance of building a portfolio, visible platforms, and how online publishing is like the printing press in the way it's revolutionizing the craft. But somehow I feel like that would be lost on these people.

Enough about them. This week I'm honoring the start of my 4th year as a blogger by recognizing the supportive people in my life. People like Kelle Hampton. Kelle, thank you for being an example of what a tangible and important thing a blog can be. I appreciate your guidance, I'm grateful for your generosity, and I applaud your success.  I'll see you in the headlines, sister.

(And speaking of Visible Platforms, check out The Wilder Coast Facebook Page and give it a like. Sometimes I tell tiny, two sentence stories that are really magnificent and sadly true.)

The Wilder Coast Turns Three

The Wilder Coast is three years old today! I'm leaving now to celebrate by scrubbing walls at a climbing gym- sort of like the Emmys or the Oscars but with a bigger emphasis on hard labor. Check back tomorrow when we begin a whole week of special programming. Happy third birthday to you for reading!*

* I wonder how many of my friends will email me thinking that last sentence is a typo. It's not.

The Arts and Crafts Hour

Hello again. I recently wrote a little piece for Trailsedge called The Arts and Crafts Hour. My editor changed the title to Arts and Crafts for the Outdoor Enthusiast to make it sound more appealing.

I'm pretty sure this piece is doomed. It's not going anywhere. Not because it's not funny but because it's too funny. It's totally lost on the outdoor world. 

But you might enjoy it. I know I sure did. Please head on over and take a look at my soon to be critically acclaimed little darling formerly known as The Arts and Crafts Hour. Oh and before you go, here's a fun fact: that absolutely unbelievable torso is real, and it belongs to Pangal Cristobal Andrade Astorga, the number one Chilean reality TV star. 

Click on me, I'm such a lovely little sketch piece

A Promising Start

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011. Henceforth referred to as The Night I Cried With The Homeless. I was crying because I could not find my improv class, and if that is not the most pathetic sentence ever written then I don't want to know what is.

I wasn't supposed to be taking improv 200 on a Tuesday night. I was supposed to be taking a Sketch Comedy Writing course on Saturday afternoons. I found the class through Unexpected Productions (UP) and happily forked over 200 dollars to get my name on the roster, figuring it'd be a quick jump from there to a boardroom at 30 Rockefeller Place where Lorne Michaels would be sliding a contract towards me across a big wooden table.

Signing away Saturday afternoons for the next eight weeks would mean sacrificing half a season of weekend climbing trips. My friends would be out in the mountains in the beautiful fall weather bonding and getting really fit, while I'd be stuck in the basement of some 2nd rate theater writing political sketches about alien piglets. I was happy with this idea because I wanted to sacrifice for my career. I wanted to give it my all.

Since Saturdays were shot, I decided to schedule my "day job" for the remaining hours of the weekends. (If you want to be a successful artist you have to refer to all other work as your "day job" even if it's mostly at night, like mine). Last Saturday I went into work with a fresh notebook and a special fountain pen I'd bought as a you-go-girl gift for myself. At the end of the shift, I went into the changing room to preen. I put on the "artsy" outfit  I'd chosen that morning: dark skinny jeans from the Gap with foot stirrups and a sweater. Then I headed across town all a twitter, only to have a guy named Derick call me to say the class had been cancelled. "Low turnout."

I slumped over the steering wheel. I had already sunk 200 bones and two months' worth of weekends into this class.

Then I had a great idea. I asked to be put in Improv 200 instead. From my thorough background searches on all the SNL writers and performers, I've learned that most of them come from "a background in improv." I had missed one class already, but there were still seven left and then a live performance in a real theater. The only problem was that the class was held on Tuesday nights, and I was scheduled to work on Tuesday nights.

That afternoon, fiercely determined and high on Dayquil, liquid courage and cough relief, I began a "Shock and Awe" email campaign on my co-workers. I typed out a small essay about the recent events and my feelings regarding them. I wrote poignantly about the debilitating disappointment I felt about the writing class cancellation, and how earlier that day my parents learned that the puppy they were scheduled to pick up had kennel cough and had to be kept in isolation for three weeks. Combined, it was just too much, and the only thing that would make life bearable again was this improv class.

Not surprisingly, nobody was biting at the heals to take my four-to-midnight shifts. I upped the ante. I offered to cover the undesirables: wall scrubbing shifts, birthday parties, 6am openings. I promised to bake something really special for whoever came to my aid.  Days passed. I added another incentive: an inconveniently timed airport pick up, good for any time in the next year.

That did it. In Seattle, land of terrible mass transit, airport pickups trump banana bread any day. I had my schedule covered.  This past Tuesday evening I triumphantly drove to Seattle Center to start my new life. I too would one day be an SNL writer with "a background in improv."

If you've never been to Seattle Center, it's one wacky place. Some forward-thinking city planner decided to crush the Space Needle, science museum, Experience Music Project, ballet halls, theaters, and concert venues onto one campus and scatter a handful of rides, fountains and a weird carnival themed food court into the mix. "Let's give the alternative crowd these seventy four acres," was the thinking behind it. "And the computer nerds can have the entire rest of the city."  Then someone realized this wasn't fair, so they built a brand new city across the water and gave that to the computer nerds as well.

Here is Wikipedia's image of Seattle Center, and I promise you it's forged. At least on a Tuesday evening in mid September, it is not nearly so lit up and festive.  Those mountains are real though.

Seattle Center is a fun place during the day, if fun to you means screaming gobs of elementary school field trips. But after nightfall it becomes weird. It's dark and vacant and the rides only go when someone feels like working them. There is no schedule for the rides. I learned this during one extremely sad evening when I was in college. After 6pm, the "Center House" with the food court is populated by homeless people and their shopping carts. I think it might be open 24/7. The whole place is a Sherman Alexi short story come to life.

The UP website said class would be held at the Puget Sound Theater (PST) classrooms on the 4th floor of the Center House, with fine print recommending I call and double check because classroom locations are subject to change. The guy on the phone told that indeed they had changed, and I should go to the Intamin Playhouse instead. From there someone would direct me where to go. "Really?" I asked. "There will be someone at the theater standing there telling intermediate improv students where to go?" He said yes and hung up very quickly.

There wasn't. I know! Who could have guessed! When I found the Intamin, every single door was locked. I was already late because I had a hard time finding the place to begin with. There are no less than seven theaters at Seattle Center, each in a different quadrant of the park. Finally I found a glass door through which I could see some sort of acting class going on. I pounded on the glass shamelessly. It was Improv 100; so close. The teacher was very nice and apologetic. He explained that the whole schedule had been "entirely fucked" by their director. He recommended I check the Black Box theater in the basement of the Center House.

I found nothing in the basement except a locked children's museum, incidentally the lamest children's museum in the nation. I used to go there when I was a nanny. There's an "African School Hut" with a chalkboard and a video of African people playing the drums inside of it, and in the corner there's usually some toddler chewing on an electric chord. That's about it.

Back upstairs, a flamboyantly gay man suggested the TSA classrooms on the fourth floor and pointed me towards an elevator. Feeling hopeful, I got in and saw that this particular elevator only went to floor three. Floor three was dark and silent. By now it was forty five minutes into the class. I don't know if you are familiar with theater people but I am. As a high schooler I was deeply involved in the Yoh Theater Players and, as you can see from this picture, a very cool and important person.

Here's how it works. After a sub-group is formed within the community, for example a performing troupe or the cast of a play, group members bond and immediately dislike and distrust all outsiders. This was already the second week of Improv, minutes were ticking away, I was completely lost and I had awful, red rodent eyes. The situation was grim.

At this point I did what anyone would do. I went back to the shut down food court, took a seat between two catatonic homeless men, and wept.  Then I took the expensive, nearly full smoothie I was drinking, marched over to the trash can, and slammed it in. The homeless men blinked. And after that I felt somewhat better.

My adventure continued when I found a sneaky back stairwell that lead to the elusive fourth floor. There I found a redhead named Kevin who was scratching at the wall for a hidden panel that might lead to our class.  It was like being in 28 Days Later and finding another uninfected human: the game had changed. We were now a team. Emboldened by this fortuitous turn, I whammed on a door behind which I could hear laughter. An irritated lady opened it and explained that yes, this was an improv class but it was advanced improv. Behind her I could hear someone dramatically reciting John Mayer's "Your body is Wonderland" and just for a second the thought "This is what I'm fighting for?" flashed through my head.

Annoyed Lady Teacher told us to look for a small theater on the first floor. Kevin knew the place a little better and after about fifteen minutes, we found it. It turned out that our class was held in a room directly behind the stage where a live performance of The Pirates of Penzance was being performed to an audience of children. Another thing about theater people: they don't like to be disturbed during Show Time. They're always running, always frantic, always looking for a missing prop and they do not! Have time! For you! Lucky for me I have terrifying eyes and I look either like the Anti-Christ or like a person who is severely Ill, depending on your political views. When I stare at a person and ask for something, they become very subdued and very compliant.  Kevin and I were led to the door of our classroom.

When you reach the conclusion of a long, trying journey, everything is forgiven. You realize that the whole thing was just one great, big, Three's-Company-esqu mix up. After all, what worthwhile thing in life comes easily, without a wasted smoothie and a good cry and some screaming episodes inside a demented elevator? Feeling immediately more relaxed, it suddenly dawned on me that I had thrown away half a smoothie while in the company of hungry people. But I brightened up immediately when I entered the room and saw my fellow improv folk standing in a circle, passing around invisible objects. I bonded with them immediately, and I now dislike and distrust everybody else. It was my first, exciting step forward in a pathway forged by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Ol' demon eyes had arrived.