Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, must go through it

(WAYNESVILLE, NC) — Is anyone still out there? I hope so. God, I feel pretty low about not writing in so long. I just feel like I haven’t had anything good to say. I’ve fallen into a bit of a holding pattern, and no one wants to hear about that. It’s like someone forcing pictures of his or her grandbabies on unreceptive friends. What makes it complicated is that I really I like the people I work with, and I have an editor who believes in me. I am a somebody in this small, mountain town, and I feel that most folks around me are open and friendly. Sure, this is an all-American, conservative area with not a lot of young singletons, but I do feel embraced to a point, and that feels good. Doesn’t it always, though?

It also helps that this area is pretty. The scenery isn’t gorgeous but is easy-on-the-eyes and approachable. When I drive around the county’s winding back roads, which I love, I’m always struck with how the kudzu vines blanket everything here. They cover tall trees and bushes and fences, making them all look like amorphous topiaries. I marvel at that.

If only I weren’t spectacularly unhappy.

I don’t blame anyone but me. I just have inserted myself into a job that doesn’t pay my bills at all, but that I love certain aspects of. I know this is the common story, but I haven’t had to do normal in so long that part of me is kicking and screaming here. I don’t know how you slay this dragon, but it’s not by hiding, and that is what I have done for the last few months. I know there is only so much beer I can drink, Netflix I can watch and friends I can call before I finally settle into what I can’t avoid:

I have to solve my own life. What a tall order.

It’s funny, though, because at least my recent downer has snapped awake a certain part of me. I do appreciate that. It reminds me of what I want. Even more than the teddy bear-like husband, the little plot of land somewhere in the desert and the kiddos, I want myself. I want to feel this completely and come out better on the other side. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I really don’t care what I do for a living or where I do it, just as long as I’m happy. I know this sounds massively unoriginal, but it somehow feels new to me, and I’m tingling with knowledge that’s eternal but seems strangely fresh. I can do anything. The only caveat is that I have to feel alive while doing it.

Man, if only these life lessons weren’t as painful as they are cathartic.

One year

(WAYNESVILLE, N.C.) — Oh my God. It has been a year. I don’t know what to write, not at all. But I just want to mark tonight as special, because it is. I left Moab, Utah on my trip one year ago today.

I’ve spent half an hour writing and deleting words here, which tells me I don’t really have any right now. I guess that’s fine. I will soon, surely, and I’ll fill up this blog once again with recollections of that year and stories of my new life. The only thing I need to say now is simple, anyway.

I am so happy I took that trip.

End of the line, start of a new one

(NOTE: I am sorry to everyone who reads this blog that I simply dropped off away for so many months. I was stuck in some sort of quagmire that was Austin, and I was too embarrassed or perhaps too lazy to work it out in words. In case you’re curious, in case you’d like to know more about me and my trip, I am going to spend the next few months re-creating the last little bit of it. Please stay tuned for more stories as well as some pictures. And thanks. )

(WAYNESVILLE, N.C.) — Last weekend, as I sat in an artsy movie theater in Asheville, I had this random thought that actually scared me for a split second. Perhaps it was due to my sleepiness, or maybe it was that beer I was drinking, but I imagined waking up one morning and being right back in Austin. I felt an immediate sense of loss.

Right now, I honestly can’t tell you what feels more like a dream, the fact that I live in North Carolina or that I lived in Austin for five months. They both seem equally improbable and foreign to me. I think I know what suits me better, though. It’s here.

OK, let me explain. I am now a writer and photographer at The Mountaineer, a thrice-weekly newspaper in the small town of Waynesville, one of the many little places tucked into North Carolina’s swath of the Smoky Mountains. I’ve officially been on the job three weeks, and it already feels like my life. For the first time in so long, I feel like digging my heels into what’s around me. I want to do everything here. I want to hike and explore and take photos and do long drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I want to learn to do my job well. Of course I’m still thinking peripherally about my next big adventure — New Zealand is always my favorite fantasy — but I don’t feel a need to leave this place any time soon.

I haven’t felt that in so long.

If this all sounds random and sudden, that’s because it is. Two months ago, I was still deep in Magnolia Land, and I was still coming to work every day at that restaurant without any real dream for my future. Most everyone there was so generous with me, and I loved the human interaction and the money. I was so lucky to have that job, but I always felt like it wasn’t my real life. That’s why I was able to volunteer for so many doubles and extra shifts, because no matter what happened, that person who was so desperately trying to do that job well wasn’t really me. That person was the part of me that wants to apologize for everything. That person knew that she was not in her element, and I think everyone around me knew it too, though most at Magnolia were unfailingly nice about it. I tried really hard, I promise, and I think I did get better at the end. But I’ll tell you, the mixture of trying to be socially adept, confident and coordinated for eight to nine hours a shift very often kicked my ass.

All of this is why, when I stumbled upon the listing for this job in Waynesville, I went for it. I had actually flown out here to try out for a job once, back when I was 23 and in another life. I didn’t get the job then, which of course was perfect in its own way. But the editor remembered me, and this time, when I showed her my clips and references, she chose me. I still can’t really believe it.

Now I’m doing a job I want and know, and so I care so much that everything feels difficult. I spent most of the other day writing and re-writing the first few sentences of an 800-word article about a man and his gluten-free business. It was so painful and frustrating that I felt practically worthless during the process. But then I broke through something, and the story took shape, and I remembered how damn lucky I am to be here.

This is my first job in a year-and-a-half with strict hours and expectations. Part of me wants to run away, but the bigger part of me wants to embrace it. I guess, in all practical ways, this means my trip is over. I think that’s why I have been putting off writing this posting for so long. I didn’t really want to internalize that. Even writing it now feels like the death of something small and precious. At the same time, I am yearning for the this life. I want the structure. I want the difficulty and the pressure. I want to have to perform. Tame me, please, I find myself thinking.

I kind of feel like screaming. I also feel like I’m exactly where I should be.

Awake again

(WAYNESVILLE, N.C.) — So, I’m about to go run. It has been months and months since I have, but as I find my shoes and put on a raggedy shirt that I love, I already feel like a runner again. It occurs to me now that running and writing are so much the same. It’s the act of doing it that makes it part of who you are. Even though I haven’t touched this blog in so long, just writing this little bit already makes me feel that this site is mine again. Just as this impending run has made the runner part of fantasize about doing a marathon sometime in the future, writing this paragraph makes me want to write so much more.

So, I really hope you folks reading this are still out there. As always, thank you so much for reading. I have an incredible amount to tell you, and I can’t wait to.

For one, I now live in North Carolina …. I’ll save the rest for after my run.

You are a part of me

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Hello again, and thank you for reading. I just got off the phone with my father, and he stated in a way that rang a little too true that I am in a morass. Part of me hates those words because they sound so final, and part of me nods my head at their appropriateness. Here is what I know: I am lightly settled into Austin. I am a waitress and host at a restaurant here, as well as a freelance writer and photographer, just getting started. And I don’t want to complain. And I don’t want to be angry and pine for what isn’t. But I do want a dream. The absence of one not only makes me feel lame but a little crazy.

In many ways, I’m glad to be here. I like having a slight understanding of a city and the time to actually make some friends, see some movies and bake things. There are opulent movie theater brewpubs here, for God’s sake. I mean, that’s amazing. In Austin, the food is great, the cost of living is reasonable, and the video store I frequent is far hipper than I could have ever hoped for. But still, every time I see a large map of the US (as I did recently at the visitor’s center in nearby Wimberley), I get downright hungry and antsy, and I yearn to travel. When I look at the colored blocks of Utah and New Mexico and imagine those wide-open spaces, I have to fight to stay present in my Texas world. I don’t want my traveling to become a neurosis, something I can’t control, but God, it only takes one whiff of drama in this town to make me want to hit the road. I have my job, and I have my younger brother staying indefinitely with me (he’s recently out of college and is looking for something as I am — but this is another story). Both these experiences are absolutely amazing and rare and feel like huge opportunities. They also, at times, make me want to hitch up my trailer and drive west. Alone.

So, in lieu of having some great bit of philosophy for you or a beautiful game plan to share, I’m going to focus this posting on something beyond what’s going on with me right now. This happened a few months in the past, but for whatever reason I couldn’t bring myself to write about it until now. It’s the story of my grandmother’s funeral.

It’s really not a sad tale, I promise. It’s more about discovery than anything else.

I didn’t know her that well, but I have this sense that she affected me more than I understand and will continue to do so. Her name was Vi Klasseen, and she was 88, and she was a world traveler who had lived in Redding, Calif. for decades. Everyone expected her to live much longer, for her death to be a drawn-out and gradual process, as it had been with her mother, who died at nearly 100. But she surprised us.  She fell and broke her hip and sometime during her convalescence, she just went. She had already requested not to be put onto one of those breathing machines, and so she wasn’t, and she died before my grandfather or any of her five kids could see her one last time. This happened a few months ago, and I didn’t write a bit of it down then but instead seared certain moments into memory as best I could. I can’t decide whether this story is complex or simple. While I was visiting California, I kind of felt like I understood things a bit, but maybe that was just wishful thinking. Or maybe I was in that comfortable place I often am where I know just enough to know that there is so much I won’t ever understand.

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Here is some of what I do know. My grandmother was an impressive lady. From what I’ve heard, she was at least six feet tall in her heyday and had feet that were size 12 or more. She had degrees from UCLA and Northwestern. When she was my age, she bicycled around post-war Europe and fell in love with France, to which she would return many times. Not long after Europe, she met my grandfather at an intentional farm begun in part by conscientious objectors to World War II (Grandpa Ted had a been a soldier during the war, but I think the two of them became pacifists). They were engaged in a matter of weeks. When Grandma died, they had been married 62 years. Before Grandma’s death, I honestly did not know that much about her, just a bit more than was obvious. She traveled; she had taught kindergarten; she was active in the Methodist Church. She lived in a dirt house that she and Grandpa had built themselves. She was generally an out-there person, and yet we never got too close. That’s the beginning of the part of her I don’t understand. There was always some barrier between us, and it makes me sad. She used to send me money along with letters that were sprawling and personal but never really warm. I should have written back more than I did. In my guilt, I had actually knitted her a hat recently. I had been meaning to send it but hadn’t yet. As soon as I heard she had died, that’s the first thing I thought about. That did and does make me sick to my heart. As my mom told me about Grandma Vi over the phone, the only words running through my head were “I’m such an asshole.”

I think that’s one of the big reasons I went to the funeral, to make up for something I wish I could have given her when she was alive. I didn’t have the money or time, and I was the only one in the family traveling from outside the state. I had already seen all these folks at my grandparents’ wedding anniversary a few months before, and both my parents were telling me that I didn’t have to come back again. But my uncle spotted me the plane ticket, and my work granted me the days, and I did feel that strong sense of duty or guilt or whatever you want to call it. So about a week after Grandma Vi passed, I boarded a plane to San Francisco.

It was a tiny catharsis toward the middle of the flight that let me know I was doing exactly what I should be. A few hundred miles out of Austin, I woke up and looked out my window onto a brown, barren, snow-dusted world. It was covered with ripples of mountains and canyons and completely free of houses or roads. It didn’t look familiar at all, but it seemed friendly to me, and I instantly felt protective over it. I had feeling it was Utah, and so I asked the flight attendant, and she confirmed this. I don’t know how long I sat there looking at my old home, my smiling and sleepy face pressed up against the glass. It was one of those pauses in time when everything felt connected.

An hour later, I was walking out of the terminal at SFO when I heard a woman calling my name. I looked to my right and saw Jen Sadoff, a friend of mine from Moab. She had just arrived in California to pick up her father who was moving back to Utah with her. I was dumbstruck. I hadn’t seen her in nearly a year, and she looked exactly the same — a bright, friendly burst of Utah sticking out against my old life of California. We talked a bit and made tentative plans to get together while we were both in town. This never materialized, but that’s fine. Seeing her was enough to make the beginning of this trip feel like magic.

Not long after, I was in the back of my family’s old Toyota camper, and we were driving north. My mom was at the wheel, and my father and I were sitting at the dinette set and drinking beer as we watched videos of Centennial, a 1970s mini-series based on an old James A. Michener book. These movies were an integral part of my growing up, and something about seeing Lynn Redgrave and Timothy Dalton in their prime always makes me optimistic. Anyway, the five-hour drive was goofy and near perfect — except for the absence of my brother, who was still motorcycling around Mexico by himself then. At the funeral the next day, no one would seem miffed about this, however. In fact, the general consensus would be that he was respecting Vi’s memory by being on the road. People would leave it at that.


Everything felt new and strange in Redding. The grandparents’ dirt house and their intricate maze of gardens perched on their hillside were quiet or lacking in vibrancy or something. Without my grandmother as the rudder, the family seemed scattered. For years, Grandma Vi hadn’t been very physically active and had been losing her hearing. She was not, to say the least, the spryest person, but she was someone around which we all revolved. Now, there was no one filling that role. I hung out with Grandpa and aunts and uncles, and everything felt so final. When would so many people from this family get together again? I couldn’t imagine then, but I can now, and I don’t want to think about it.

In contrast to this solemnity, the funeral was amazing. Every pew was packed, and all kinds of people were there, from former teachers to former farmers to Redding police chiefs, past and present. In front of me was proof of how much this woman had affected this town, and I was crying before the minister even started. When he did, his presentation was fair and sweet, a mixture of adoring and real. He did a little prayer in French, and I strained to follow along. Led by my aunts, there was singing, a lot of it, as would have been my grandmother’s want. At one point, the women joked that they had originally wanted to make the entire funeral a series of hymns, and I believe it. Strong singing is something the Klasseens hold dear.

Then there were the remembrances. A microphone was passed around and my aunts talked, their words a mixture of grief, pride and humor. Aunt Joanna did a pitch-perfect impersonation of Grandma chiding Grandpa, and crowd’s laughter was seasoned with personal experience. Then some other people spoke, people I didn’t know. And then, instinctually, I knew it was my turn. I hadn’t really planned on it and didn’t know what to say, but I stood up and grabbed the mic and looked out over the very full church. Soon, a hand belonging to an elderly lady I barely knew was touching my arm tenderly. This was because I wasn’t talking. I was just standing there, silently sobbing, unable to utter anything.

This pause was somewhere between 30 seconds and a year, depending upon your perspective. Eventually, something changed, though I don’t know what, and I was able to talk again. My words came out in fits first and quickly became smoother. I didn’t touch heavily on how much I regretted or how desperately I wished my relationship with my grandmother had been deeper. Instead, as I collected myself, I told the group how incredibly supportive she had been to me, her first grandchild. As this was all rolling out, I realized how true it really was. She had always been there for me, in her way.

“I ended up working for newspapers in the middle of nowhere,” I told the crowd. “And instead of asking ‘Why are you doing that?’ — she would subscribe.”

That got a kind laugh. In my relief, I decided to only talk for another 30 seconds. In the wake of this, my father got on his feet and started crying as well. He praised the job my grandparents had done raising their kids and said through sobs that from the moment he met my mother, he knew he could trust her. I had no idea how all this was received by everyone at the time, but later, as the audience dined on finger foods together, I heard that people thought my father and I had brought a lot of heart to the ceremony. Strangers kept coming up to me and thanking me for my words. I felt like someone I hadn’t ever really felt like before, like my grandmother’s granddaughter. I have always felt a bit disconnected from my mother’s family, but there I was, one of them. And I was proud of it.


So now it’s a few months later, and I want that feeling back. I know that’s part of why I’m writing this. As I my trailer sits, settling into the soil of this friendly, out-the-way RV park, I worry that my sense of wonder and adventure is ebbing away, dissipating into all the traffic and people and cool neon signs of Austin. I can’t quite explain it, but something about being in California, in the presence of my family and my grandmother’s memory, was a reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way. Looking back, I feel this collective force giving me permission to take risks. It’s permission to be different, to not settle down, to make art. It’s permission get the hell out of Austin if I want. What’s surprising is how easily I forget these things sometimes.

OK, I’m  awake. Now all I need is a dream.