happiness

Happily Ever After

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“Did you ever imagine we would be here?” My mom asked my dad as we reclined on pillowed chaise lounges gazing out at the silhouetted desert landscape, the unusually humid September air blanketing our bare skin in the late evening hour. The question dangled momentarily, hovering over the glowing pool, dancing around the blue neon light sculptures my dad had recently created and installed. I knew the question was meant unambiguously, referring specifically to this exact location, this house in this corner of the California desert, looking at these particulars mountains on this perfect early fall night. But the brief space between the inquiry and the response allowed just enough time for the sort of free wheeling, existential rabbit holes of thought my mind liked to take me on. Imagine… Here I was, living, breathing, experiencing. Here we were, specks of sand along an infinite beach, our brief windows of consciousness merely the smallest moments ticked off by an endless clock. Here they were, my precious parents, still together after all these years, more than half their lives spent by each other’s sides. Imagine!

*. *. *. *

Today, September 29th, 2014, is my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary. For three decades, my mom has put up with my dad’s snoring, tolerated his ridiculous burping songs (don’t ask), dealt with his sweat drenched laundry and boyish tendencies. For 30 years, my dad has struggled to figure out the female species, weathered many a PMS storm, attempted to keep up with my mom’s incredible passion for all things cultural. For almost a third of a century, they have trusted in each other, supported and relied on each other, laughed and cried and shared nearly every part of themselves with each other. It’s mind blowing, really, especially for someone who’s never done anything for 30 years, not even breathe. Marriage is a commitment indeed!

I remember the first time I heard the origins story. Not any specific details, like how old I was or where we were when they told it, but rather how I imagined it. My dad was this handsome young man, full of chivalrous intent and Prince Charming like charisma, my mom this fun-loving, insanely brilliant, 80s fringe haired goddess, and as fate would have it they both lived in Seattle. One sunny day (the Seattle of my imagination never experiences rain), my dad waltzed into my mom’s Marais-worthy frame shop, print in hand ready to be outfitted, and fireworks exploded. One single glance and the world shifted, catapulting them into each other’s lives. But not just quite yet, because even though it was love at first sight (of course), my dad was a gentleman and therefore shy and therefore waited until a few days later when he returned for the framed photo to ask my mother on a date. And then he showed up at her door on his white horse, threw her on the back, and rode off into the sunset. (Okay, maybe that last part didn’t happen, but everything else is true.)

Even though I’m grown up now, I still see my parent’s meeting as a fairy tale. It really was love at first sight, the kind you see in movies. After three months they were engaged, within a year married, and now, a little over 31 years later, they are leaving on a month and a half long Mediterranean vacation tomorrow. Happily ever after does exist! I’d say the big difference between how I viewed my parents as a child and how I view them at 28 is that I no longer take their marriage and happiness as givens. Back then, I just assumed all parents were the same- fated, healthily dependent, and together forever. I think maybe every child believes this, for some deeply rooted, shared DNA reason, until proven otherwise. And since my parents never actually have proven otherwise, I’ve only learned about the possibilities of failure and misery in marriage through outside sources, and through my own difficulties navigating relationships. What they managed to make look so easy and effortless – unconditional love, raising children, running a business together and owning a home – I now understand was anything but. They were my age when they met, and when I think about how far away I feel from those things, it makes me shudder. How did they do it?

Well, for one thing they recognized the things that were truly important to each of them, and saw that their values aligned. They honored and respected each other’s qualities and beliefs, and knew that at the heart of things they were well matched for this thing called marriage. They had differences – my dad could be content living off the wilderness in Alaska, my mom could spend the rest of her life in a museum – but they were willing to make compromises (and to a certain extent, honestly enjoyed them.) Instead of creating unsolvable equations, their variables were like pieces to the same puzzle, fitting together to make a more perfect whole, always adding up to one. And when conflicts did arise, the answer was never shouting (which I maybe heard once in 18 years sharing a roof), but fair discussion and resolution and forgiveness when needed. And finally, they’ve always supported each other in their spiritual journeys, my mom as an artist, expressing herself through her paintbrush, my dad in his communion with nature, leading him up mountains and across countries, from one trail to the next. They didn’t just sit there staring into each other’s eyes after “the glance;” no, they looked out and charged ahead, side by side.

*. *. *. *

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” The crescent moon hung low in the sky, enjoying its splendor alone with Venus before the other celestial beings joined them. I looked at my mom, my dad, their joy, their sense of wonder. The years had only served to strengthen them, bring them closer together, illuminate their best selves. I had asked them many months ago what their favorite age was, and they had both said “now.” (Elkhart Tolle would be proud.) I’ve thought about that a lot since then, as I move through my 20s, growing more and more aware of the one way path we all head down, and it’s filled me with hope. My parents’ road hasn’t always been easy- there have been struggles and heartaches and illness and loss, all of the elements of the human experience- but it’s led them here, to their own little piece of paradise, their own magical place in the universe. Imagine that.

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Home Sweet Los Angeles

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I sink into an inevitable depression every time I return from traveling. It’s one of the ramifications of being abroad – in getting to experience the world in a larger sense, my own small life back home takes on a glow of insignificance. It’s like being shown a buffet of all the best offerings of cuisines from Thailand to Turkey to Timbuktu, and then being told I will only be served chicken and steamed vegetables for the rest of my life (or until I can afford that next plane ticket). Not that I don’t like chicken and steamed vegetables. In fact, after three weeks of subsisting almost entirely on carbs, meat, beer, and wine, chicken and steamed vegetables sound like downright heaven. But as the bloat subsides, so does their appeal, and pretty soon I’m left hungering for one more slice of jamón ibérico, one more pain du chocolat, one little stein of Austrian brew…

Knowing this about myself, I made a concerted effort this time around to change my mentality. Even before I left Europe, I devoted a small chunk of time on a Seine river bike ride planning my return strategy. I would take my newly acquired rosé-colored glasses and use them to see afresh the city where I had spent my entire adulthood. I would write a blog about Los Angeles illuminating all of the things I had missed before in my day-to-day complacency – architectural details on downtown buildings, neighborhood coffee shops with handcrafted soy candles, funky galleries featuring hip young artists. There were angels somewhere out there in LaLaLand, and I was going to locate them. For too many years I had been decompressing from travel the wrong way – lamenting the end of my exotic experience instead of embracing the beginning of a new perspective. Well, not this time! I told myself, pedaling fiercely along the cobblestones of Île de la Cité. This time I’m coming home happy! And you wanna know something? I did. I came home happy.

For about 36 hours.

I touched down on the evening of July 11th, a huge smile across my face. Mostly I was relieved to survive yet one more harrowing excursion in a big chunk of metal hurtling through thin air 30,000 feet above the ground. But I also found myself in awe over the golden light basking the urban sprawl. I’d forgotten just how expansive Los Angeles was, how many places I had yet to explore, people to meet, restaurants and shops and museums to patronize. The mountains beckoned me to come hike them, the ocean to run along its sandy beaches. There were so many wonderful things to do in my hometown, and with the new enthusiasm Europe had gifted me with, I would do them all!

But not that first night. That first night I would just drive home with my friend, try and form coherent sentences about my trip, pick up a few groceries, then collapse on my bed. My bed. Of all the things I’d left behind over the past month, my bed was probably the thing I had missed most. Aside from the Carlton, most of the beds I had been sleeping on hardly deserved their title. They had been more like… cots. I snuggled up with my teddy bear, turned off the light, and passed the eff out.

I was so excited to begin rediscovering Los Angeles that I woke up that first morning at 4:30. (Alright, fine, I had jet lag, but I was trying to reframe things.) I made a damn good gingerbread cappuccino, watched the sunrise, spent a couple of hours on one of my stories for my acting class, worked out while watching the pilot of The Leftovers. It felt good to be back, and it was nice having the time to myself, knowing everyone was still asleep and I didn’t have to reach out quite yet. I was enjoying the quiet.

Around 10am, I decided it was finally reasonable to start texting people. The malaise had begun to creep in after only 5 hours, and I knew I needed to act fast. Luckily, my friend Jairo quickly picked up the ball I was dropping, and invited me down to his place in Culver City to go for a bike ride along the beach. He showed me his regular route, a wonderful pedestrian path stretching essentially from his backyard all the way down to Redondo Beach, and we conquered a solid 25 miles, broken up by margarita pit stops. We got back to his place around 6, took a little nap, then headed out to Malibu for an outdoor screening of Back to the Future for a friend’s birthday. It was exactly the kind of LA outing I had had in mind only a few days before in Paris. Ahhh, Paris…

The next day was a little harder. The World Cup and my friend Hannah helped alleviate things a bit, but I could feel the quicksand of depression beneath my feet. By 6pm, I grew so tired of flailing around in it that I gave up. I left the lovely people at the porch party I was at and returned home, exhausted, sad, defeated. Why was I already crossing over into the dark side? How was it possible that I was already becoming jaded?

Over the next 48 hours, I tumbled head first into the black hole I’d been so afraid of. There were flashes of glorious light – throwing a spinning descending angel on the pole at S Factor, tap backs with the beautiful Jenny C. at SoulCycle, the insightful lecture from my profound mentor Diana Castle at The Imagined Life – but it couldn’t seem to stop the plummet. What was I doing in Los Angeles? What was I doing with my life? Who am I, what am I, why am I? I skipped from news article to news article, website to website, put 20 books on hold at the library. I read 15 pages of Romeo & Juliet, then 10 of the Silicon Valley pilot, then 5 from a Richard Linklater script. There was so much to do and see and read and watch and people and places and restaurants and plays and artworks and and and – – –What was I going to write?!

I felt crushed by the weight of my own desire for experience, immobilized by the sheer vastness of the world and the shortness of life. My body ached, my mind ached, my heart ached. I was mad at myself for not being stronger, for succumbing to my old tendencies, my old insecurities. Why hadn’t I been able to bring Europe home with me? Where was that joie de vivre? I laid my head down and cried…

I woke up several hours later to the sound of my phone vibrating. It was a text from a friend, asking about dinner that night. I rubbed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, still groggy. I listened to the whir of the washing machines coming from next door, the soft Spanish murmurs of two neighbors on the other side of the fence. Laughter erupted between them, a joke I would never understand. I smiled, thinking of the various languages I had just been immersed in the last few weeks, the places I had been. Six different cities in 24 days. No wonder I’m exhausted, I thought, reliving the culturally-packed days and fun-filled sleepless nights. No wonder it’s hard to readjust. I forgave myself for the nap, the tears, the tumbling existential thoughts, and picked up the phone.

Sure, what time? I texted back, and watched the three little dots on the screen. 7, any preferences on place? I thought about it for a moment, then responded. No, not really. The dots reappeared, then- great, let’s do Sugarfish. I grinned, immediately excited by the prospect of one of my favorite sushi restaurants. That sounds amazing, I replied. See you at 7.

I reached across my bed, grabbed my computer, and opened it up, finally ready to get to work. Maybe Los Angeles doesn’t have centuries old boulevards, beautiful parks brimming with roses, and awesome public transportation, but at least it has more than chicken and steamed vegetables.

 

Father’s Day

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When I think of my dad, I think of the outdoors. I think of mountains, and trails, and lakes full of fish, and trees. I think of vast open skies and shimmering rain and air so crisp it almost hurts your lungs. I see beaches extending for miles, stretches of highway leading nowhere and everywhere, sunsets scorching the desert. I can smell the musk of the forest floor, the sweetness of wildflowers, the crackling smoke of a campfire. It feels like the exhilaration after a long run, the cool shock of jumping into the ocean, the rewarding pain of a blister from a day’s hike. And when I listen, I hear his laugh. Pure, childlike, contagious, ringing through open fields.

When I think of my dad, I think of compassion. I think of him as a missionary, in Africa in his 20s, then again in Thailand with my mother and me as a baby, and my brother born in Bangkok. I think of how he’d give away every cent he earned if we would let him, of the tenderness he feels towards those in need. I hear him talk about his sisters, my aunts, his parents, my grandparents, and I feel the weight of his love, his desire to ease their suffering.

When I think of my dad, I think of food. I think of pancakes and waffles and fried eggs on toast. (How lucky I was to have a dad who made us breakfast before school every morning!) I think of grilled cheese sandwiches, and hot dogs and hamburgers, and all those bachelor foods he cooks so well. I see him going back for seconds, and thirds, finishing everyone else’s plates, a human garbage disposal. It’s that Dutch metabolism – eat and eat and eat and never gain a pound. I taste ice cream and brie and chocolate chip cookies and all the things I shouldn’t eat but can’t help myself when I’m with him. In his world, the concept of dieting has never existed. So much the better.

When I think of my dad, I think of honesty. I think of the time my parents came home from the symphony and I lied about walking the dog. The look of disappointment in his face- I never wanted to lie again. I think of the business my parents ran, and how he never in a million years would rip anyone off. And if an accident was made, an overcharge here, a misstep there, he would be the first to correct it. For him, honesty isn’t the best policy, it’s the only policy.

When I think of my dad, I think of sports. I think of marathons and tennis and golf and skiing. I picture him on the court, racket in hand, 7am down at the club. My jaw drops when I hear he played 106 holes of golf in a single outing… in 105 degree heat. I remember Columbia Park and batting practice and learning how to field grounders and catch pop flies. I see him cheering at basketball games, and track meets, and cross country finish lines. I taste the sweetness of the win and the bitterness of the loss made so much better by his embrace. I still want to call him after every long run, every hard work out – “Dad! Look what I did!” He’s always proud.

When I think of my dad, I think of traveling. I think of Thailand and France and Mexico and cruises. The Cruisemeister, we call him. Always searching for that great deal, that next getaway. I think of happy hour on hotel balconies, fresh snow on the slopes in Canada, hiking through the forests of Angkor. I hear his snoring in shared rooms in Dordogne, and it bugs me and comforts me and I feel grateful. I smile at his fanny pack – the money belt – and label him the Original Hipster: Mustache Not Ironic. We twist his arm to take a photo at the Alhambra, and he obliges, grumbling. My dad is so handsome, I think, pouring over travel albums made by my mom with love.

When I think of my dad, I think of happiness. I think of ridiculous songs sung in minivans on road trips, tears of laughter streaming from my eyes. I think of inside jokes and outside jokes and silliness and teasing. “Wibbly wobbly” and “beddy bonkers” and “crab bites” and tickling, so much tickling. He smiles and I smile, he laughs and I laugh. He calls me Baby Amykins and my heart practically breaks with joy. I’ll be 55 years old and he’ll still be calling me that and it will be as true as the day I was born. How wonderful to be his Baby Amykins. How blessed to have him as my dad. How lucky to be his beloved little girl.

I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.