A Tender Heart

These past three years, the question most on my mind has been: “How can I ever again have a tender heart?” It’s wild how wide the gulf has been between that question and its answer.

I approached this problem the way I approach any problem of importance: data, brute force, self-recrimination. The problem, I was sure, was that I'd become too wise. To be tender, I needed to make myself stupider. I needed to unlearn what I’d learned: to believe again that a lie is not a lie, that love will never leave, that what we trust can never cease to be.

What I found, of course, was that the problem wasn't what I'd learned, but what I'd failed to.

A few nights ago, someone held my hand. It was a casual gesture, almost without thought, but it cracked something open inside me. I realized the path to a tender heart isn't asphalt and gravel; the path must itself be tender.

Thich Nhat Hanh says one of the goals of mindfulness is to look at the rot and decay of compost and in it already see the flower it will become. This is beautiful. What’s harder is the reverse: that in the flower, we must already see the compost.

Everything that’s born is already dying; everything that’s dying is already being reborn. It’s slipping through our fingers even now. A tender heart isn’t about believing we can hold on; it’s about trusting that we can let go.

Knowing Without Knowing

Last Monday was my last day at Upworthy. It was a tough decision to leave a place that's meant so much to me for almost 2.5 years. I actually put in my notice five months ago, and then three months ago, and then kept not-leaving.

It's always hard with any big decision to know if you're doing the "right thing." I put that in quotes because most likely there's no such thing as THE right thing. There are probably many possible right things, and hopefully the thing you do turns out to be one of them.

But you do get those moments of clarity. You know the ones I mean. You're washing dishes or reading a book or folding laundry and suddenly you stop and you look up and you set down whatever is in your hand and though you can't know, you just KNOW.

But the thing about those moments is that they pass, and that's when the doubts start creeping in. The fears. The logic. It's so hard to ever know anything for sure, and harder still to hold on to that slippery knowledge through everything that comes after.

I think a big theme of 2018 for me is going to be about trusting myself. It's been a tough nut to crack my whole life. I always want data, evidence, validation, preferably in the form of a .csv export. At the very least: a roadmap. Even when I know something in my bones, when I nearly vibrate with the trueness of it, I still look for someone else to give me permission.

But I have a feeling that for some of the things I need to do next, there will be no permission. I will screw up, and I will fear, and I will think "what in the ever loving fuck have I done." No one is going to clear the path and say, "This is the way to where you're going." I will just have to clear it myself, not armed with data or proof or permission, but simply with the memory of that moment at the sink. The looking up, the setting down. The knowing, without knowing.

Los Angeles

My first night in LA, I walked to dinner with my friend Charlie, who had lived here a year already, and as he rattled off bus routes and highway numbers, I wanted to somehow download it all to my brain. I thought if I could memorize it all, it would be mine.

Six months later, I'm realizing I'll never learn it all. I'll live a thousand lifetimes in this city and still feel it's just beyond my reach. What I have instead is a daily, never-ending wonder.

This isn't something I'm trying out, which I think helps. This is endgame. When something is endgame, you approach it differently in your mind. You're not evaluating. You're not looking for Reasons Why Not. You're saying, "This is what is. How many parts of it can I find to love?"

Where the Sky Ends

I walked home tonight in the thinnest coat I've worn all year, just a layer of cotton between me and the cold. It's been a long winter, gray skies and icy streets, the promise of spring fainter by the day. When I got home, I sat on my stoop for the longest time, head on the highest step and staring at the starless sky. The sky is so round from that angle, like the top of a snow globe, like if I reached far enough I could touch where the sky ends, hand smudging the glass.

There's a special kind of lonely when you're never alone, a layer between you and anything you touch. Sometimes I wish we could break open our brains and see each other's dreams, our pain and our joy and the ways we try so hard. I wonder if we'd love each other more or if we wouldn't need love at all.

It was cold for nearly April, bare branches and snow still in piles, but there was whiskey in my blood and one layer was enough. Head back, eyes open, I looked through my snow globe at the inky, empty sky. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, a single star appeared, a pinpoint in the black, and then another, and then a hundred one by one until the sky was full of lights, shining like glitter against the glass.

Thirty

I turned thirty today. I always thought my twenties would be too hard to leave but you know? A decade's a mighty long time. I'm ready to say adieu. This year was the nicest birthday I can recall. I was woken at 7 by birthday candles and a bottle of champagne, friends around the table and me in the least flattering pajamas I own. The day was filled with balloons and phone calls and unexpected kindness, chocolate-covered strawberries and the sagest advice.

I've learned a few lessons these past few days and I learned them in the right order, if that makes any sense. I am humbled and honored and so very okay. It's time to think more about loving and less about being loved.

Thirty used to sound like forever but the older I get, the younger I realize I am. I have wrinkles now, but only in the places that crease when I laugh.

A New Year

I rung in the new year with a purple wig and a 5 a.m. curfew. I danced, I laughed, I kissed a strange boy at midnight and never got his name. I'll be 30 this year, for whatever that's worth, and I guess it's time to get real. I don't have resolutions for 2012; just mantras I'll be singing every day.


be vulnerable.
don't pretend to be aloof. don't pretend not to care. chin up, heart open.

be present.
stop compulsively checking my phone. stop living in the future and the past. stop distracting myself. when I'm reading a book, when I'm eating dinner, when I'm spending time with friends - be just where I am, and no place else.

be quiet.
I've learned how to tell people what I think; now I need to learn how to listen.

be compassionate.
stop being such a harsh judge of the people I love. stop being such a harsh judge of myself. we're all on a journey and what we need most is acceptance and love. plus: sometimes I'm wrong.

be brave.
talk to strangers. ask for what I want. remember that the best things in my life were the reward of the scariest things I've done.

 

I hope this year is everything you need it to be.

Copy of a Copy

ME: so my bank is still in tampa for various reasons that i promise make sense
ME: (long, boring story about a stupid thing at my bank)
ANNA: oh JEEEEZZZ
ANNA: also "my bank is still in tampa for various reasons that i promise make sense" = lol
ME: it's because every time i tell someone that, they spend 15 minutes trying to convince me why i should move to a bank in madison
ANNA: like, who am I to tell you where to bank
ME: right??
ME: why do people even care?
ME: there are only two things people care about
ME: me having a bank in madison
ME: and me seeing "fight club"
ANNA: I have stopped being like "WHAT OH MY GOD YOU'VE NEVER SEEN _______"
ANNA: because it's really fucking annoying
ME: it is super annoying!
ME: but i can't stop doing it
ME: every time someone tells me they didn't see something, i have this immediate reflex to be like "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THAT"
ME: even if it was just, like, an episode of Montel
ANNA: I think of it how my mom taught us to talk about other people's food
ANNA: like, never be like "OMG GROSSSSSSSSSSS"
ANNA: if they are literally eating it right there
ANNA: like, even marmite
ANNA: if someone was eating marmite in front of me I would be like "I don't care for that"
ANNA: though it is satan food
ANNA: so I try to make my reaction more like "oh, how interesting that you haven't seen Jurassic Park and I have seen it 100 times"
ANNA: while in my mind I am like 'ARE YOU HUMAN AT ALL'

The Fall

Fall has been magical this year. The leaves hung on forever, red and yellow against the bluest sky.

I'm head over heels in love with this city, with this house, with these people in my life. I don't know how I got so lucky, but I'm thankful every day.

I've been listening to this album on repeat for months. For the rest of my life, when I hear these songs I'll think of this moment in time - a cozy house, laughter around the table, and more joy than I thought I could fit in my heart.

My first year here, I thought I knew where I was. Six and a half years later, this city is a different world to me; both bigger and smaller than I imagined it could be.

I bought a real coat this year. I bought salt for the sidewalk and an umbrella for the rain. I'm more here than I used to be.