Our Happy Was Too Loud

Sometimes surprises are not-so-good, like when your kid goes in for a check up and you discover she has an ear infection, or when you find a strand of hair in your burrito bowl.  Others are terrible, like waking to your car spinning across all lanes of traffic, and the grass median, to the opposite shoulder of the highway.  And then there are the good surprises.  The ones that make you smile at worst, and inappropriately snort with laughter at best.  My weekend away was this kind of surprise.

We were in Mexico for my friend’s 40th birthday celebration – eating, drinking, talking.  Just what a group of nine women of a certain age need to do from time to time.  Without children or husbands or the constraints of our everyday lives.  We sat by the pool, ordered guacamole and chips and an assortment of tropical drinks.  And we laughed til our faces hurt.  We were splendidly ridiculous in our adolescent-like silliness, and it felt like breathing in a lungs-worth of fresh air.

I only knew half of these ladies before the trip began, but I’d count them all as my friends now.  Perhaps it was the generous amount of caipirinhas and margaritas (by the way, when you mix them, they go to a whole new level of yum), or the freedom we felt with the all-you-can-eat set-up (the humor in each person ordering two appetizers…before we ordered two entrees each, was not lost on our giggly group), but we bonded immediately.  There were different personalities – some quiet, some boisterous, most both at turns – but we meshed unpredictably well.  I wasn’t sure the result of throwing together this assortment of women would be good, let alone fabulous.  I was cautiously optimistic.  But my hesitation was overcome as early as the first night.  I knew I liked all these people.  And I knew the weekend was about to get amazing.

One evening, after a day of shopping in sweat-drenching weather in Cabo San Lucas, we showered, dressed up, and headed to dinner on a farm.  It was a lovely set-up with twinkly lights and paving stones, a bamboo-covered canopy, star shaped lanterns and the best (and only) watermelon Julep’s I’ve ever had.  Much farm-to-table food was consumed, many yummy drinks were tried (the smokey Mezcal margaritas were also incredible), and so much stinking laughter was shared.  Fairly loud laughter.  There may or may not have been lawn acrobatics occurring.  At one point I stepped back and saw the scene we had created for the first time.

I had been in the mix of silliness for a while and hadn’t noticed the circus attraction our group had become.  As I took in the scene, I was a bit embarrassed.  Three waiters stood, arms crossed, likely making sure we kept our antics to the outskirts of the outdoor restaurant.  The table of girls who were there celebrating someone’s 30th birthday, the younger version of our wise old group, had vacated.  Likely due to our celebratory volume.  It made me think of a favorite quote from a movie I love: “Their happy is too loud.”  Our happy was, by all means, too loud.  But in this instance, at this age, in this far-away place that seemed outside of time and space, I realized I didn’t much care.  If your happy is too loud, it seems to me, life is pretty darn good.  I decided to go with it.

The rest of the patrons seemed unaware of our revelry – the waiters were doing a good job.  So no harm, no foul.  When was the last time I’d been truly silly?  I didn’t know.  Therefore, it had been too long.

As the weekend ended and we said our goodbyes, I realized I would not see any of these people for a long, long time.  I was the only one coming from Kansas – seven out of the other eight live in L.A.  And I felt a loss.  I began the trip slightly unsure.  But I ended it with several new friends, and with friendships of the past rekindled.  Many of them can recount with each other our lovely weekend together, but I’ll have to store it away in my heart.  Ready for the next time I see these fun and funny women.  Under the category of excellent, mile-marking experiences of my life.  Thanks, ladies, for a weekend outside of reality.  Outside of Kansas and responsibility and serous, adult behavior.  What a pleasant surprise it was.


My Old Friend

We haven’t lived in Los Angeles for almost nine years.  I only lived there for eight.  So really, I should feel less at home there than I do in Lawrence, Kansas where I’ve spent the greater part of my life.  And mostly, I do.  But on this trip back to the land of my twenties, my young newly-married self, the landscape has felt surprisingly familiar.  The landmarks have seemed less like famous places to visit than old friends I haven’t seen in a while.  The magnolia trees and neatly trimmed bushes, the tropical flowers, even the bermuda grass bring nostalgia.  Not that my twenties were so great – they weren’t (marriage was hard, I felt awful, I didn’t know yet who I was).  But this place has clearly carved a place in my heart I didn’t know the depth of until this trip.

We drove north from Calabasas along the coast today.  Stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch (hello, sunshine and delicious grilled veggie sandwich), past countless rvs parked on the side of Highway 1, grabbing a slice of ocean view for themselves.  Past surfers and surf to the left, parched hills and shrubs to the right.  The drought has made the landscape different, like a friend who has gone gray and wrinkled with age, whom it takes a minute to recognize.  But as you stare you see that familiar face, beneath the wear and tear, and smile.  As we turned inland toward San Luis Obispo, our destination for the night, a rush of “Oh yeah…I know this,” hit me like the waves I had just been watching.  I remembered this exact drive from many trips to the Central Coast for wine tasting and fabulous, frivolous wandering.  The high hills that rise into mountains in the distance.  The curve of their backs lit up by the sun.  They welcomed me like a relative coming home for a family reunion.  “It’s so good to see you.”  Hug.  Kiss on the cheek.

“This could be the Flint Hills,” Marc said as we drove north of Morro Bay.  Perhaps why this place has always felt so familiar.  Like a taller version of my beloved, treeless rolling scape in Eastern Kansas.  With an ocean to one side.  Enough sameness to be instantly comforting when I first glimpsed the area at twenty-five, but different enough to be new and completely alive.  And on this July afternoon in my 40th year, happier in almost every way than when I was twenty-five, the Central Coast of California feels like a worn, nubby blanket from my youth.

The next phase of Highway 1 rises in elevation, craggy and majestic above the Pacific.  It’s a bit more foreign to me.  Grand and romantic.  Flashier and louder in it’s “look at me” popularity.  I’ll enjoy the drive along it’s cliffs, taking in the scenic views.  But my heart belongs to it’s lowly neighbor to the south.  Less dramatic, but dearer to my heart.  Quietly beautiful.  Full of air and sunlight and space.  I’m even more at home in crowded, crazy Los Angeles, where I spent a good chunk of my younger years peeling back it’s layers.  Southern California and the Central Coast are my second home, I was surprised to realize on this trip.  More a part of me than I knew.  Surely willing to welcome me back like an old friend the next time I get to visit.



My fabulous friend, Dar, sent me a message this week.  It was a pep talk in the form of a text.  It made my day.  My whole week.  And all she did was say what’s true.

Sometimes we need reminding of the truth.  The facts, or more subtle realities, that we can stand on.  Sometimes we can remind ourselves, and sometimes we need others to do the admonishing.  When the truth is lost to us.  Because life has us swirling outside of our ability to get perspective.  And then we come across a perfectly applicable line in a novel, or hear lyrics to an honest and thoughtful song, or read a psalm that seems was written only for us.  Or a friend texts with some good ol’ encouraging straight talk.  And perspective is restored.  At least for the moment.

Speaking truth in love is always recommended.  It can be brutal, and therefore should be handed out only with good intention and a gentle touch.  A month ago I received news that was hard to hear.  It was true, and needed to be addressed, but it hurt.  It was the brutal kind.  At other times truth is the sweetest sound, raw and unfiltered.  No careful delivery necessary.  This is the kind of honesty I received from Dar on my iphone screen.  Say what you want about technology ruining a generation’s ability to communicate, but I was glad for it on Wednesday.  She, sitting in Los Angeles, sent me a message.  I, sitting in Kansas, received it almost instantly and responded.  And so forth.  Five minutes was all it took and my head was turned in a new direction.  I had something new to ponder, and firm ground to hold me up instead of the miry muck of fear I was walking around on.

There are some basic ingredients necessary in this whole speaking-the-truth-in-love thing.  Starting with knowing what the heck you’re talking about.  My friend and I have a history together.  She met me when I was fresh off the U-haul from Kansas to L.A. and, admittedly, even less cool than I am now.  And yet we became friends.  She knew me when I felt like crap every day but didn’t know why or really want to admit it.  We went through the roller coaster years of trying to have kids, having them, adopting them, me being insensitive, her being mad, us making up.  And then I moved away and we knew we were in this thing for the long haul.  Even from far away.  Emailing, calling when we could, visiting, loving each other from afar.  She has earned the right to speak the truth to me.  She knows me, my past, my present, and I know I’m safe in her care.  And she’s safe in mine.  She can tell me hard things, or sweet things, and I can receive them because the source is reputable.  The check out lady at Target could say the same thing and I’d know she was a nut job.  You have to earn it.

You also have to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.  When to speak and when to zip it and just be.  Sometimes the truth can wait.  Until the person is ready to hear it, is open to that piece of reality.  When someone is hurting, sometimes she needs to hurt for a while.  To do the work, the push and pull of dealing with a mess.  But a good truth-teller can wait, can sense the right moment to come in with some tough or lovely honesty to cast the person’s vision in a new light.  And that person is priceless.  That friend should be kept.  Even if they live a thousand miles away.

That’s what smartphones are for.

The Mess It Makes

Our good, good friends who moved away last summer are staying with us this week – two adults and three children added to an equal amount of Us.  It’s a bit of a zoo, but I would not have it any other way.  My kids waited anxiously for weeks, counting down the days for their best friends to arrive.  They made detailed plans involving Frozen, the pool, lego, Minecraft, ice cream, Rudy’s pizza and sleeping arrangements.  My six-year-old picked out clothes she and her bff would wear together.  Hopes were high.  And now they are here, have been here for four days, and the love is still flowing.  The kids are getting tired and cranky, a bit sassier than I prefer, but there’s still nowhere they’d rather be, no one they’d rather be cranky with.  When Lily’s little mate wasn’t home yet for bedtime last night she said “I feel like something is missing.”  She tossed and turned and couldn’t get comfy.  And when she walked into Lily’s room, with a big sigh of relief…”Ohhhhh.  I know what was missing.  It was Elsa.”

Sometimes chaos and pain and the messy things of life are worth it.  Because they mean you’re really in it.  Living inside of life instead of floating around its edges.  Having a house full of five extra people, three of which leave underwear on the floor and talk at elevated volumes at all times (in addition to three of my own who do the same), is a mess.  It’s chaotic.  And it’s what life is all about.  I could have a clean, quiet house.  I could have the brain space to make one decision at a time instead of constantly multi-tasking.  But it would be clean and quiet because I was alone.  Because I was choosing to sanitize my days instead of jumping in and getting dirty.  I could back away from friendships that are real, because they make me vulnerable to pain, to disappointment.  But I would miss all the good, messy, fun and funny moments.  I would miss out on being known.  And it’s just not worth it.

So what will we do when they leave?  That’s the hard part.  I know there will be days of withdrawal.  Crying and missing and aching.   A bit of wandering aimlessly with nothing to do but piles of laundry and feeling that “something is missing.”  That’s to be expected.  That’s the cost of attachment.  The offering you make to someone you love.  “Here, have a piece of me,” you must say.  Hold it out in your hands, be willing for it to be plucked away and done with whatever the friend chooses.  That’s the risk.  And the blessing.  Because, when the person is right, you get a piece of them, too.  You can stuff it in the very place your piece was, to stop the bleeding.  Ease the pain.  It’s not an exact match, but it helps.  That’s the way it is with these friends.  They have a piece of us, we have a piece of them – each and every one.  The saying goodbye hurts more than we want, but we have each other for the long haul.  These are forever friends, together or apart.  And that, despite the mess it makes, is worth it.


This weekend we had a house full of people.  A party for about 30.  Good food, kids playing, a beautiful night, jazz, old fashioneds, a fire in the fire pit.  It was a lot of work, a mess afterward, and so much fun.

We moved into our new house in November with a huge sigh of relief over the space upgrade.  Exactly five people (one in a high chair, in the corner) fit into our old dining room.  In the warmer months we could host more outside, but heat and bugs made that less than ideal in late summer.  Which left us with about three months, maybe, of having-people-over possibilities.  Which sucked.  People are our thing.  Not just seeing them, or knowing them in an acquaintance way, but hearing their stories, sharing a good meal, hanging for hours on end.  That’s what we dig.

We were really good at it in our twenties.  Late nights of food and drink and talk when we lived in L.A. With good friends who we still treasure.  Then we had kids – we all did – and the parties changed.  Diaper duty, bedtimes to keep, kid disputes to diffuse – not as much hanging as grabbing snippets of conversation and connection.  It was a new kind of wonderful – family created and developed and shared with other families.  Deeper in some ways.  But certainly not as relaxing.

But now.  Yes.  There’s a glimmer of hope of hearing a full story again.  Of chillin.  While the kids get filthy running barefoot in the yard, sneak cookies, get out all the princess dolls upstairs, we can talk.  Have a glass of wine and discuss movies.  Or music.  Or politics.  Or laugh profusely.  It may seem a small matter, but those with kids will understand the significant shift.  The sudden combination of our children getting older and having more space.  We can gather people again.  We can create an inviting place for friends to get to know each other, and be known after that.  Like Cheers.  But at our house.  And with less alcoholics.

The party on Saturday helped me feel this switch, and I’m so glad.  I love my family.  Love movie nights with pizza – just us.  And weeknight dinners with third grade jokes, and our highs and lows of the day, and hearing only our stories.  That’s the meat of life.  The main, best part.  But I’m glad to know we can have the other, too.  Happy for a chance to be with family and friends at the same time, and get to experience it in full.

So yay for a larger house.  And the ability to gather.  And for people, who we dig.

It’s about time.

Celebrating that cute couple in the front.


          I wrote a post about a year ago regarding our dear friends who, at the time, were deciding whether to move out of state.  I knew if they did we’d be saying some tearful goodbyes and it would hurt.  For a long while.  And the update is that they did, in fact, move, and it does, in fact, hurt.  About the same amount I suspected: immensely.
          A few weeks ago, the mom and two daughters visited.  It was like nothing had changed – laughing, talking, kids making a mess, swords and barbies and ice hockey on baking pans – but the knowledge of limited time ran like a current through every moment.  I was nearly able to ignore it, but not entirely.  The crackle of “tomorrow they’ll leave” got louder with every minute, until the tomorrow came, they packed in their car, and again we watched them drive away.  I was in a rush to get my kids hustled off to church, so the reality didn’t sink in for a bit, but when it did it sure did.  The rush of sadness came back, the feeling of loss, the ache of knowing they couldn’t come over tomorrow or the next day or the next.  And whenever we saw them again the same electric feeling of time slipping away would exist.  The easy, every-day part of our friendship was gone.  Replaced with a special, every-once-in-a-while one.  And that just hurt.  And still does.
          Luke and Lily made welcome-back signs for the kids and taped them to the front porch, watching for their minivan, bursting with anticipation.  When the girls did arrive the squeals and hugs and pure excitement made me realize the significance not only for me, but for my kids, of having friends like this.  The look on Luke’s face when he gave his buddy a hug was the one he saves for the people he loves most.  Not just likes, not just gets a kick out of, but truly, deeply loves.  This was a loss for my children, too.  I knew that.  But sometimes you get hit in the face with the truth of something.  This was one of those times.  And it left a bruise.
          I know that it is not the end of the world.  Not literally.  But it feels like the end of our world.  Like the end of an era.  The closing of a fabulous chapter.  There will be others, and this is not the falling action part of the story – like a novel, life has many little climaxes and resolutions.  This is only one.  But tell that to my heart, because it feels like death.  You may think that’s ridiculous.  Overly dramatic and an insult to those who have actually suffered the death of loved ones.  If so I apologize for what seems like naivete or outright disrespect.  But I can’t take it back.  To me, this is how it feels.  And whether you, or I, or my kids like it, it’s going to feel this way for a while.
          I can chalk it up to another of life’s frustrations and disappointments that will, in time, lead to wisdom and compassion and perseverance.  It is and it will.  But for now it just burns.  The hard part is willingly letting it do so without trying to put up fireproof walls around my heart.  I’m going to keep trying.  I can’t say I’ll succeed – I may need to take a sledgehammer to brick and mortar from time to time.  But even now, writing this, I’m letting myself feel the pain.  In all it’s heat and miserable glory.

Ever So Glad

          I attended my 20th high school reunion last weekend.  Gulp.  When I was in high school I couldn’t imagine ever being old enough to have a 20th reunion.  I still can’t actually.  I was describing a woman to a friend recently and said she was “old, like in her 40s,” to which my friend replied with a laugh “Uh, you’re almost 40.”  Oh yeah; I forget that sometimes.  Because I don’t feel that old.  Because 18 seems like yesterday.  Until I take a few moments to really remember myself at that age.  So insecure, so uncomfortable in my own body.  Looking ahead to the next stage when I would go to college, get married, have kids, start my grown-up life.  And here I am fully engulfed in adulthood and a world away from that unsure young woman.
          I can’t think of one thing I miss from being in high school.  Zits?  My mom being sick?  Short-term, immature boyfriends?  Drinking til I puked?  Never having the most popular clothes?  Always feeling dumb compared to my uber-smart friends?  Pegged pant legs?  Nope, nothing.  I kind of came alive in college, as many people do, and even more after I graduated, got married, moved away, had babies and felt the fulfillment of my maternal longings.  That’s what really did it.  Being pregnant, giving birth and raising kids.  It made me feel like a woman instead of a girl.  Made my relationship with my body about more than the way it looked – it could make people, which was amazing.  And empowering.  My child-bearing hips didn’t just make jeans shopping suck.  They were, in fact, made for a purpose.  So, I discovered, they were beautiful.
          I walked into the reunion with the familiar butterflies of 20 years ago, wondering if I would recognize anyone, if they would recognize me, if anyone would care.  I went with my best friend, which helped – two women, nearly 40 but annoyingly submerged in our 18-year-old insecurity, leaning on one another for support.  Soon, though, I saw old friends, people whose very faces brought a smile to mine, people I hadn’t thought of for years but was happy to remember.  There were some I didn’t recognize at all, and many of the people I’d hoped to catch up with were absent.  But I didn’t have any zits, no one made me feel dumb, I had a sweet husband at home with the kids instead of a short-term boyfriend, and I wasn’t anywhere near puking, so all was well.  I quickly left behind my 18 year-old self and welcomed back the current Me, just fine with who I am and what life looks like these days.
          When I was fifteen I got a perm.  Oh yes.  A perm.  I’d had very long hair since I was little, with body but no curls since my two-year-old ringlets, and when I entered high school I decided I needed a change.  I chopped it off and permed it in one fell swoop which, in retrospect, was probably a little drastic.  I cried all the way home, and I never really warmed to my new look.  Not the best way to begin sophomore year.  And from then on it was curly.  A freak chemical reaction with my pubescent hair follicles?  The natural consequence of cutting off so much weight?  I’ll never know, but my hair remained curly from that day on, to my chagrin.  I still straighten it – you always want what you don’t have.  But seeing that perm in photos instantly takes me back to the way I felt when I got it, and every day of my high school career: ill at ease in my own skin.  Oh the blessedness of growing up.
          I left the reunion rejoicing in my life.  Glad for my family and friends, my health, my faith, the experiences I’ve had, the very block I live on.  The whole 38-year-old package.  I much prefer being nearly 40 to being 18.  My knees feel their age at times, and I can’t say I am excited about wrinkles, but I’m happy to have traded my young body for a more secure one.  As most do, I wasted that smooth skin and super stretchy cartilage on unfounded fears and worries.  I cared too much what people (as human as myself) thought of me.  I’m trying to help my kids see what’s great about them, even if no one else notices, but they are human too and will struggle to find their place in the world, just as I did.  As we all do.  I hope they will be able to avoid some of the drama – surround themselves with encouraging voices and ignore the negative ones.  I’m sure all parents hope for this.  I wish I could transport them to the self-assuredness of nearly 40, but I’ll just have to wait and see.  Pray lots, be an encouraging voice myself, and remember what it was like to figure Me out.  And be ever so glad I’m not in high school anymore.
20 Years Later
20 Years Later


Love in Moderation

          We have dear friends who are thinking about moving away, and it breaks my heart.
          I had a friend in Los Angeles who had to deal with this often.  Eventually she decided to only make friends who planned to stay in L.A. for the long haul.  Too many friends – couples who she’d known as singles, whose weddings she’d attended, whose children she had seen born – moved away over the span of a few years and it was too much to bear.  She couldn’t keep her heart open for just anyone new – and there is always someone new in L.A.  She had to be selective, to protect herself.  I knew it must be hard, but as one of the people who was planning to leave I didn’t really know how it felt.  We had a going away party when we first decided to move back to Kansas, and announced at said party that we would, in fact, be staying for a while longer as Marc was going to shoot a documentary.  A year later we had our second annual going away party.  This time we actually moved.  It was a long-time coming, and for me a mostly exciting change.  I was the one leaving.  Not being left.
          But now I’m feeling the impact of being left behind.  I planned on raising my kids with these friends, taking family vacations together, being able to say “remember when” with them every year of our grown-up lives.  And now they will be packing up their things and the irreplaceable spot they have in my heart and driving away.
          In his soaring song Land of the Living, about dealing with the death of his father, Matthew Perryman Jones sings “You cannot love in moderation/ You’re dancing with a dead man’s bones/ Lay your soul on the threshing floor.”
          I agree.  That’s the problem.  To love someone you have to give your whole heart, and take the risk of having it ripped away.  It doesn’t matter what sort of love you’re dealing with – romantic, friend-friend, parent-child, person-dog (actually that one’s a little easier) – for it to be real, you have to be vulnerable and raw.
          C.S. Lewis writes about this in The Four Loves
                    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly
                    broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an
                    animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it
                    up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless,
                    airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable,
          So awfully and wonderfully true.
          I tried the casket route for a few years.  When my mom was sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I decided not to feel.  I would be strong and keep the sadness at bay.  That didn’t work at all – it only produced anger, which is itself a feeling, and a terrible one to have.  Even a broken heart is better than anger, because it’s a release.  It’s not bottling up, or stuffing in, or avoiding.  It’s cathartic, and real, and necessary.  I don’t know when the tears broke through, but I remember they did.  All of a sudden, after years of very little crying, I let it out.  And out, and out.  And it made all the difference.  It made me a better daughter, a better friend, and eventually able to be vulnerable enough to fall in love.
          In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet the friar cautions the young lovers “Therefore love moderately.  Long love doth so.  Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”  He is trying to save them from their passion.  To temper their lust and love into something that will last.   His words are wise, but as we see in the rest of the play, even if it comes to a tragic end, loving fully, passionately involves abandon of the heart at some point.  In my love for my husband, my kids, and my friends, I choose to give the whole bloody thing over to them, because I want to be real.  I don’t want a hard heart, even if it saves me pain.
          So I’ve given my heart to my friends who may leave, and if they do they’ll take it right along with them.  I know it will hurt.  It will sting and throb and there will be no medicine to help.  I could cut them off now, as with a tourniquet, to stop the blood-letting.  But that would cut off the joy too.  It would hurt them.  My friend in L.A. didn’t cut me off before I left.  She let it hurt.  She was real.  And we are still friends.  That is what I will hope for as I watch their car turn the corner, away from me, if and when it goes.  I will choose that over feeling nothing.  Take the risk and let the pain come.  And cry, and cry and cry.


          My mom’s best friend was in town last week from Connecticut, for the first time in sixteen years, and for them it was as if no time had passed.  They didn’t need to get reacquainted.  Nothing, though everything, had changed.
          Mom and Jude didn’t click when they first met: Mom was quiet and serious, Jude was outgoing and funny.  Mom loved poetry, Jude loved a party.  But when they started dating roommates they saw each other a lot, and as often happens, opposites attracted.    Though they were different on the surface, they recognized in one another a similar soul.  It just took some time to uncover.  They soon became deep friends, and roommates.  When Mom married after her sophomore year, Jude was her maid of honor.  When Mom’s young husband died just six months later, Jude moved in to take care of her.
          It was the kind of friendship you wait for your whole life, and then hang on to for the rest of it.
Then they both married, Jude moved far away, and life happened.  Kids, jobs and a thousand miles made visits wait.  Now Jude has retired, and last week was their 40th college reunion, so a visit was finally planned.  It was wonderful to see them together, instantly picking up where they left off all those years ago.  The same women, but older, wiser; talking about grandchildren instead of boyfriends, telling different jokes but laughing with the same voices as before, with a shared history that makes even laughing more fun.
          It’s beautiful when someone is given to you as a gift, allowing you to know and be known, deeply.  Someone who has your back no matter how far away, who you can call at any hour, blubbering with tears or squealing with joy, who knows by the tone of your voice, in two seconds, that something is up.
          Julie showed up my sophomore year of high school, fresh from California and therefore cooler than anyone else.  She wore black babydoll dresses, listened to Jane’s Addiction and had been to Haight-Ashbury.  Whoa.  She was a novelty, but I soon realized she was also a real person.  We had met as little kids, in ballet, but as we remember it we didn’t like each other then.  Now as sixteen-year-olds, the older versions of us found a similar soul, too.  It didn’t take long to be inseparable – getting ourselves into trouble, getting ourselves out of trouble, making each other laugh ‘til we peed, holding each other up when the drama of adolescence brought us down.  We were roommates in college, too.  She married our junior year and I was her maid of honor.  And when my now husband told me he didn’t “want to pursue a relationship” with me and I was a wreck, he dropped me off at Julie’s because he knew I needed her.
          Now, after each getting married, having babies, living twenty years more life (gasp), she is still an essential element of my sanity, of lifting me up, of making me laugh.  She knows me better than anyone other than my husband – even better in some ways, as a woman.  She’s got my back, I can call her in joy or pain, she knows by my voice when I’m having a bad day.  She is a gift, as much as any other I’ve received.  I know my Mom would say the same of Jude.
          What would life look like without a bestest best friend?  I don’t want to know, actually.  I’m hoping Julie and I get to our 40th college reunion, post-kid-raising, with a bit of time on our hands to spend together, and realize that the years haven’t changed what made us friends in the first place.  That having someone who’s in it for the long haul is a gift indeed.

From the Outside In

          My first couple of years living in L.A. I found I had nothing to say.  It was hard for me to write in that city.  Part of it was due to my surroundings – buildings all around don’t start the creative juices flowing in me.  Views have always been a part of writing for me.  Being able to see a long way off, especially if the scenery is green and lush and sweeping, has always prompted words.  Certain trees, or stretches of the sky, or images in a photo have jump-started many stories and essays and poems in my brain.  Finding  the meaningful in the beautiful motivates me.  Mid-century architecture, in pastel, doesn’t.
          It also takes a while – years – for a person to know a place enough to write about it.  “Write what you know” is common writing advice, and I didn’t know L.A. enough my first several years there to say anything worthwhile.  It’s a complicated city; It takes a while to absorb.  I also struggled with liking it at first – that didn’t help.  I moved to Los Angeles a new bride, to a teaching job I wasn’t trained for, to a city my husband had already lived in for two years.  From Kansas.  It was culture shock, marriage shock, career shock and lack-of-friends shock all at once.  In a apartment in Alhambra with decades-old shag carpeting and no phone.  It seems like it should have been fodder for a lot of good writing, but instead it left me speechless – quietly taking in all the new, all the different, trying to understand my changed life.  There was no room left in my brain for processing.  For overflowing.
          Four or five years in to my time in L.A. I enrolled in a writing class through UCLA Extension.  It was the first time since college that I felt a twinge of being able to throw some words down on paper that weren’t inner ramblings.  It felt great.  I wrote some decent sentences in my classes there, but more importantly, I wrote.  Pieces with structure and craft involved.  I remember driving home from class one night, which I went to in the evening after a full day of work, feeling more alive and awake than I had in years.  And more connected to my city and the people in it than ever.  I had something to say for the first time in a long time.  Hallelujah.
          A couple of years later, when I had my first child – my son – my heart broke open with all sorts of new feelings and met yearnings – longings I didn’t know the depth of until they were realized in my baby boy.  I knew I wanted to be a mother, but I didn’t know what a primal need would be met in having a child.  That it would open up another valve and pump new blood into my life.  That it would answer an unanswerable question in my soul.  I spilled over with things to say, things to write, about becoming a mother.  The floodgates opened.  I wrote a love letter of sorts to my son about nursing him – the labor of love that it was.  It is probably horribly written – cheesy beyond forgiveness – but I still can’t see past the utter passion I felt at the time.  It still makes me cry.
          I’m beginning to be able to write in any kind of room these days, with any kind of view.  Even at a desk in the basement, with the computer and dirty laundry looking back at me.  Sitting in my dining room full of windows, looking into my back yard with kids’ toys, a swing set, bushes I’ve neglected trimming and the silly-looking pear tree I planted when we bought our house is my new writing spot of choice.  I could write there for hours.  I’m not sure why I don’t need sweeping views anymore.  Figuring that one out will be another essay some years down the road, I assume.  I wonder, though, if it has something to do with settling into myself.  Having three children made me take a step back and see myself differently, from a different angle.  From a more distant view, I suppose.  I was filled up by giving myself to my kids, and I witnessed that happen.  I still like sitting on top of a hill and seeing what thoughts pop into my head.  It’s magic for me.  But the empty screen and a few things to say are enough these days.  My family is my muse.  For now, watching them from the outside in is as good a view as any.