“By going the way of your wishes, from one to another, from first to last. It will take you to what you really and truly want.”*

This post was written on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, a day after Loy Krathong. I’m currently in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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When I opened up Facebook on my phone at three a.m. today, a message from the FB team was waiting for me on my news feed. Turns out, since the social media service knows where I am at all times, it Spidey-sensed I was in Thailand, and wished me a happy Loy Krathong.

When you’re drunk and tired and your contact lenses are glued to your eyes, and Facebook wishes you a happy holiday you don’t know, you stare at your phone like a dog stares at humans when they try to speak long complicated sentences to it.

Derp?

So I Googled “Loy Krathong.” On the night of the full moon of the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar, Tai cultures (Thai, Laotian, and people from various parts of Myanmar), launch krathong on a river, canal, or pond, and make a wish. Krathong can be anything but is usually a little boatlike basket made of banana leaves and containing incense, a candle, and sometimes a coin. Some folks translate loy krathong to “to float a basket.”

A large part of me wished I’d spent the night launching little banana-leaf baskets onto a river instead of drinking vodka out of a plastic pail more suitable for sand-castle–building children. A smaller part of me now wishes I’d made a Kaitlin-size krathong and floated myself somewhere, just to see where I would go.

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The first time I went to Southeast Asia, I cobbled together vacation days, sick days, and personal days at my nine-to-five in order to take an eighteen-day trip first to Cambodia and then to Thailand. Before I got to each of the six cities I’d crammed into less than three weeks of traveling, I read up on what I should see and how to see what I wanted to see, and when I got there, I was hungry and I was listening. My mouth and ears and heart were open, and my expectations were low. I stayed in hostels. I walked everywhere, maybe even places I shouldn’t have. I talked to people, tourists, locals as best I could. And all I hoped for was that I would figure out a little something about myself and my life, and if I didn’t, I at least went on a kick-ass trip, one I worked hard to take, and one for which I was grateful.

Of course, if you know me, you know I figured out more than just a “little something.”

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So far this trip has been different.

I took a minibus to Ko Pha Ngan’s half moon party my first night on the island, but after that, the farthest I’ve been from my hotel (not a hostel) has been about three-tenths of a mile. I haven’t met anyone I’ve spoken to again following our first meeting. I’ve been working, copyediting, yes, as work doesn’t stop just because I’m in Thailand, but when I have had time, and when I considered venturing out, scared wasn’t the word I’d use to describe how I felt. Reluctant, maybe, or apathetic. Uninspired, for certain. So far I have used paradise as the backdrop for my work, my daily routine, and have all but ignored it, its people, and what it values. Hope. And making wishes.

I’ve always liked the concept of making wishes. The word making implies effort, creation, and I think that wishes are more often silent pleas for the strength to achieve a wish, instead of the wish itself on a platter. I worked on a poetry book recently in which the author said that dreams don’t come true but are made true, and wishes, I think, are fashioned much in the same way as dreams.

Embarking on this trip, I saw it as an opportunity to get a lot of work done, finish my book, and really start creating my business, which is, if I haven’t said, dating advice and coaching for women. I expected—no, more like demanded—that Southeast Asia drop a pat of inspiration and motivation on me (as it had the last time), while I shuffled around the grounds of my hotel, didn’t make a single friend, and vowed that tomorrow, yes, tomorrow, I’d stop making my first question in restaurants, “What is the Wi-Fi?” and then reading on glamour.com about what Reese Witherspoon’s real name is. My mouth and ears and heart have been closed, and I’ve sat like a fat cat, trying to get an entire continent to write my book for me. And I have been, up until now, ungrateful for its unceasing beauty, lack of frivolity, and smiles.

Tomorrow I take a ferry to Ko Samui, where I’ll get on a flight to Bangkok, and then Luang Prabang, Laos, a city known for markets, coffee (ahhh), and quiet, the bars closing early. No full moon parties. No half moon parties. No neon T-shirts with Kanye West sunglasses on them and quotes like Sex with me = free breakfast. I haven’t yet said to myself, Things will be different in Laos, as they will be different only if I make them so.

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On December 2, Todd and I will fly, I from Laos and he from Thailand, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the country I went into loving and hugging, from which I asked nothing, only to receive everything I didn’t know I needed. And there, I’ll float, my arms open, no expectations, pushing a banana-leaf boat with my wish to the fore, poised to ride the current of an inspiration entirely of my own making.

*From The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

Photos: View of Laos from the plane; full moon party on Ko Pha Ngan; the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 2013; the moon at six a.m. over the Ko Pha Ngan port

“And Meanwhile Time Goes About Its Immemorial Work of Making Everyone Look and Feel Like Shit.”*

Graffiti in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I had another blog before I had this one, and when I think about its personality, I decide it had split-personality disorder: young, inexperienced, I-want-to-be-a-published-author-but-my-life-is-too-boring Kaitlin—and angry, heart-breaking, lunatic, drunk, running-at-five-a.m. Kaitlin. Both, scary enough, make up Kaitlin.

Tonight I read a bunch of old posts, because sometimes for me to wrap my ahead around me now, I have to look at me way back when.

The first me (2009–2011) wanted to quit her job and become a “Starbucks person” (is that what I am now? What the fuck?) and go live in California (Nevada’ll do). She of June 2011 wanted to get another tattoo (check), pierce her nose (check), dye her hair darker (check), and still party until three a.m. (check—or five a.m., as is the case nowadays). I’d mixed skydiving, traveling alone in a foreign country, and visiting San Diego in there, and with an impending move of a friend to SD in August, I’m sure I’ll knock out that third one by the fall.

These items seemed faraway, mere coins tossed into a fountain. I hoped to check them off, but maybe (probably) I thought I never would. Twenty-eight was so old to start, I thought, and now, at almost thirty-two, I’m worried I’m too old to embark on various other ventures I have in mind.

They are, of course, a lot more ambitious and difficult than getting my fucking nose pierced. Kaitlin of 2011 was such a little bitch.

The sun rises over Vegas yet again.

For the past five days I’ve felt a bit out of sorts. People usually follow this phrase with “And I’m not sure why,” but oh, I know why. And I think anyone who says, “And I’m not sure why” sure as hell knows too. You don’t get out of sorts by crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s with hearts.

This past weekend at a Wet Republic pool party I blacked out from drinking for the first time since lunatic drunk Kaitlin was making the rounds circa 2012, and I hurt (and have seemingly alienated) a friend who I haven’t spoken to since Monday. These two events, you might imagine, coincided. I desperately want to text this person a million I’m sorry messages, and the idea has even occurred to me to go over to his apartment and give him a hug and not let go until he forgives me. Kaitlin of 2012, without a doubt, would have done both.

She was crazy. And terribly impatient.

I finished copyediting a children’s book a few days ago, one in which the main character travels back to Ancient Egypt. While there, he must solve a riddle (his life depends on it): “What makes you sad when you’re happy and happy when you’re sad?” He’s a clever kid, and he figures out the answer is: time.

One day back in the summer of 2012, after several months of awesome decisions on my end, a friend called me at work and essentially told me to get my act together. I was being a shitty friend, and I was selfish and rude and irresponsible. I cried in my office, and I remember thinking I didn’t know how I’d redeem myself. I tried to keep her on the phone. If she hung up, I wondered, would she ever speak to me again? I think I might have even considered calling her back once we’d hung up, but I thought better of it.

I sent this text message to someone a few weeks ago. Time clearly hasn’t taught me to stop acting like a twelve-year-old boy.

My feeling isn’t so much that time heals, as the saying loosely goes, but it does alter and it does teach. I’m still very much friends with the girl who torched my ego on the phone back in 2012, but I’m pretty sure that even though she doesn’t think I’m rude or irresponsible anymore, she does think I’m selfish. And that’s fine. Because in the meantime, in addition to helping to mend our friendship, I also accomplished heaps of other things on a bucket list that, until today, I’d forgotten I’d even made.

I feel less out of sorts now than I did on Monday. I hope soon I’ll feel . . . more in sorts—and have my friend back. But, at some point, inevitably, I’m sure I’ll feel whacked out of balance again, and write a post about how 2015 Kaitlin was pedantic and annoying and didn’t write enough in her blog but also grossly, grossly underestimated what ventures—even those both ambitious and difficult—she could take on.

*Martin Amis

why making friends as an adult is totes difficult

i wrote this post in the early morning of january 9.

i have to preface this post by saying that i didn’t allow myself to sit down and start properly writing it (properly, because i’d taken notes on my phone already) until i’d cleaned my room. my bed contained

  • clothes
  • books
  • a manuscript
  • my computer
  • vitamins
  • jewelry
  • a power cord
  • mail
  • and a few red pencils

and my floor was more of the same. i couldn’t sleep—i wonder why—and it was as if all that shit were cluttering both my room and my brain. i feel better now, but my bed has also become habitable, so i’m torn between writing and sleeping.

writing is winning, luckily.

my first reaction when i’m upset about something is to run away. i used to be a let’s-talk-this-shit-out, confrontational type, but now that i’m less volatile and more “zen” (in quotes because i actually kind of hate when people describe themselves as such), i retreat. or, at least, i fantasize about it and just delete my facebook account instead. i always come back, though, mainly because without the link to facebook, i can’t continue to cultivate my tinder habit. but anyway, budget, time, and an overall sense of rationality usually cull my urge to book a flight to ecuador.

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from the movie “i love you, man”

yesterday, after having spent five days in a row at my boyfriend’s apartment, it was time for me to return to the place i actually live, a place where in the fridge i had only feta cheese and almond milk and, at that time, my worldly possessions had erupted all over my room. my boyfriend is traveling for work this weekend, leaving me to my own devices for the next four and a half days. while seven days ago i thought of this weekend as a time to catch up on writing, be social, and be productive, yesterday afternoon i had a slight panic attack that aside from a few loose plans, i didn’t have much to do this weekend in terms of actually interacting with other people. though it was more than that; because what i was truly upset about was the fact that other than my boyfriend, there was no one within a thirty-mile radius who i could call and talk to about the fact that in the three months i’ve lived here, i haven’t really made any friends.

okay, so i have, like, two who are my homegrown friends and not friends of my boyfriend. and i did call him, and it didn’t really go well. which is what usually happens when you expect someone else, especially your boyfriend, to put a bandage on your problems for you.

so i considered driving to orange county to see my best friend. i looked at flights to places in the west (la, san diego, denver, santa fe, seattle, san francisco, and reno) and checked out driving distances and times and hostels for places like the grand canyon, phoenix, and flagstaff. i googled “good weekend trips from las vegas” and “good places for writers in the southwest” (i was really stretching with that one), and i even looked into going to mount charleston in nevada, which is only thirty miles away. anywhere, really, seemed better than here.

i ended up making no decisions and trying to go to bed five hours before i normally do, which resulted in my waking up at my normal go-to-sleep time, maniacally cleaning my room, and writing this post.

the last thing i ever want to identify myself as one of these awful things, but at four a.m. i googled “how to make friends as an adult.” because i was thinking maybe this isn’t a problem only i am having. when i saw that writers at publications from buzzfeed to the new york times had addressed the subject, a small part of me wanted to kick and scream and say, see! it’s not just me! but mostly, i just wanted some fucking solutions that didn’t involve a meetup group that makes you and twenty other people paint the same goddamn thing, like a lamp or a snowman.

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i don’t know these women, but they’re really happy about just having painted the ugliest high heels on record.

 

i’m not going to apologize for hating on those painting classes.

plenty of people enjoy them.

i am just not one of those people.

 

 

“when you are self-employed” is probably a search term i should have added, because unfortunately, one common suggestion was make friends at the office. it’s okay to mix business and pleasure! my “office” is wherever i want, and that includes my bed, the kitchen table and counter, a coffee shop twenty minutes away (to say las vegas has no coffee shop culture would be an understatement), my boyfriend’s apartment, and recently, the poker rooms at various casinos. surprisingly, casino staff lets a small girl (adult?) with a laptop full of children’s book manuscripts hang out there due to the small chance she’s helping her boyfriend count cards.

even if you didn’t recently move across the country to a city filled with crazy people, apparently, according to my web research, it’s straight up difficult to make friends when you’re older. our standards are higher (because “someone to party with” isn’t our only requirement once we’re no longer in college); our time is more limited because of jobs, kids, and other obligations; and the means for making friends as an adult are really fucking awkward.

my suggested meetup groups. the harry potter one is tempting.

i won’t feel bad about shitting on those painting classes, but i do feel bad about shitting on meetup. i want to like meetup. i want it to work (and to be fair, one of my two friends is someone i met through the app, but only because he took the initiative to message me outside of a writers group we’d both joined), but there is something inherently creepy and forced about it. i don’t want to be in a book club with 567 members. i don’t want to try salsa dancing. i don’t want to learn krav maga or needlepoint with a bunch of strangers. i want a group that’s called “let’s sit around and have wine or coffee and talk about shit!” and i don’t want to find it on the internet. i just want it to happen.

it’s possible that my veruca salt approach and unwillingness to be a joiner are not helping me out here. the truth is, i’m very social. i have a lot of amazing friends scattered around. i like talking to people, and i often end up making friends or connections with complete strangers in random places. my friend from australia, who now lives in the united states, remarked the other day that she had trouble making her own friends as well when she moved, but that she and i became lifelong friends in a foreign country in about a day. so we’re clearly capable. it’s just better when the art of friend-making happens naturally and not like some bizarre playdate you set yourself up on.

since last night i’ve done a few things. i inquired about getting put on a co-ed softball team, even though i’m half scared i don’t remember how to throw a ball; signed up for a site i found on the huffington post online called girlfriendcircles (i know, i gagged too); and joined a young professionals toastmasters group. i’m also considering going to a bar or a library solo, because those seem like normal places to meet people, and i can practice meeting them by shouting and whispering. it’ll really expand my vocal range and put me out of my comfort zone, both of which will help at my toastmasters meetings. or i can just combine the two and bring a book to a bar. nothing says, “be my friend!” like a young adult novel and some vodka.

is that weird?

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this is scotch. but you get the idea.

girlfriendcircles asked me to pick one of the following and only one of the following adjectives (annoying) to describe myself: sanguine, choleric, melancholy, or phlegmatic. while the main entry in merriam-webster’s for melancholy is “a gloomy mood or condition,” “quietly serious thoughtfulness” was also listed (and i’m definitely not sanguine, choleric, or phlegmatic). i’m going to take this weekend to quietly and seriously have some thoughts—

 

i’ve decided to stay in, and not run away from, las vegas—

about what it means for me to have a life here and who might fit into said life. while i still can’t stop myself from calling new jersey the h word, i live in las vegas now, and it’s about time i start considering this glittery insane asylum, and its residents, my home.

why leaving the “perfect” person isn’t crazy/why i hate love actually

i want to start this blog by saying one of my favorite words:

fuck!

one, because i haven’t written, let alone published a post in three months, and two, because this particular post has been the hardest i’ve ever had to write. it might be because i’m worried about offending people. when you set out to shit on such a gooey movie like love actually, you’re bound to infuriate pretty much everyone.

the idea for this post began two weeks ago while i was visiting my friend in orange county, california, a place where people actually say shit like right on and gnarly! and my pronunciation of the word water sorely sticks out.

wor-ter.

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this is me on the couch-bed sleeping with my friend’s dog.

i sat on her couch/my bed for the weekend and tapped a bunch of random notes on my phone’s notepad. they looked something like this:

movies, reaching for the same bottle of wine

jerry seinfeld dating himself (janeane garofalo)

relationship “résumés”

compatibility vs. boredom

eharmony

cracking knuckles

opposites attract?

and then we were sitting in a breakfast spot called the old vine café, talking about what we always talk about: relationships. we generally take a hacksaw to them and their origins, trying to figure out why most pairings slacken, the honeymoon phase is just that, and boredom can delicately wind itself into our lives in such a sickening, slow way that we don’t realize it’s there until we have been nearly strangled.

i remember a time not long ago when i had vivid daydreams in the aisles of grocery stores and subway cars, and between the shelves of bookstores. i’d think about what it would be like to meet someone in places like these. maybe we would both reach for the last unsweetened coconut almond milk. or we’d both be reading a young adult book no one else had ever heard of, our eyes catching as we finished the page we were on. or we’d simultaneously go to touch a book like goodnight moon, and the first moment we’d both had it read to us would play like a vhs tape in our heads.

i took to heart the compatibility ratings on match, okcupid, and e-harmony. and when i messaged men who i thought i couldn’t go wrong with—

he also likes tennis and lifting weights. he speaks spanish too! and, like you, he’s an only child with the same birth month!

—i took pains in writing first messages and responses, only to be disappointed many times over.

lots of women, and men, too, to be honest, live their lives as if love will—and should—be found and cultured within minutes in a modern fairy-tale setting (i.e., serendipitously in an a&p, the adult equivalent to a child finding a key to a magic kingdom in a clichéd chapter book). we also take common interests and the coincidences of having the same “favorites,” and mistake them for chemistry.

you like unsweetened coconut almond milk too?!

compatibility, sure. chemistry, not necessarily.

for the record, i learned how to crack my knuckles when i was ten because the guy i liked cracked his. i thought having this in common would make him like me. i am sad to admit this.

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in the changing room at urban outfitters

at the end of the day, you can have the same cultural background, religion, political ideology, and fiscal opinions, love red wine but hate white, and be obsessed with curb your enthusiasm, but it can still equal not right. and many people, when they realize this, are dumbfounded. their mate, on paper, is perfect for them. you’d be a 100-percent match in nearly every how compatible are you? relationship quiz in cosmo magazine. you guys just makes sense! your families get along really well! you both like parrots (for whatever reason)! you think ugly christmas sweater parties are stupid and passé! you both think using a word like passé isn’t at all pretentious! he’s a really great guy! he treats you like gold! he knows how to cook and you can’t scramble eggs!

relationships, my friend and i have hypothesized, successful ones, anyway, are less about compatibility and more about not getting bored.

so you’re all like, isn’t that uppity of you to think you know what’s a successful relationship and what isn’t!

probably. so i’ll let this quote from the huffington post online say it instead:

“a successful relationship is where the honeymoon period continues to snowball, not where the honeymoon is but a fond memory.”

one night when i was in college, i was in a car driven by our designated driver and a friend’s then-boyfriend/now husband, and we’d just left one of the two bars worth going to within a five-mile radius of our college. the girl and my other friend, plus another girl (i’ll call her acquaintance for accuracy’s sake) were also in the car, and acquaintance was knocking a girl whom a guy she liked had “chosen” instead of her when the lights had gone up after last call. she was spewing all kinds of nonsense that would have caused a person listening but who hadn’t met the target to think this girl had three eyes and the personality of a baby jellyfish. such ridicule included the following types of statements (types because i was a bit too drunk to remember specifics):

  • “but we both love the mets! she doesn’t even like baseball!”
  • “she’s cute but she’s not that cute”
  • “doesn’t she have kind of a funny-looking [insert arbitrary body part]?”
  • “and we’re both poly-sci majors!”

this rant went on for a mile or so, and while my two friends and i stuffed our mouths with quikchek sandwiches as both a method of distraction and to prevent ourselves from yelling, “shut the fuck up!” my friend’s then-boyfriend finally snapped. at a red light, he didn’t even bother to turn around. he simply said in a calm, rational voice: “do you ever think that maybe he just really likes her?”

acquaintance stopped mid-insult and unwrapped her quikchek sandwich, joining us in food shoveling and quiet reverie.

i was twenty-one. and at that time, my ideal mate would think dashboard confessional wasn’t just for moody high-schoolers; would believe the yankees, steroids and money-grubbing aside, were the greatest baseball team of all time; and would be italian and from new jersey—otherwise you just wouldn’t fuckin’ get it. i looked at guys i liked who chose girls who weren’t, in my opinion, as good of a “match” as i was, and thought, i don’t get it. we’d be perfect together.

which is also what people in failing relationships often say to themselves when seemingly they inexplicably want to leave their significant others.

i don’t get it. we’re perfect together. what’s wrong with me?

nothing is wrong with you.

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a california sunset

with regard to love actually, had i seen it when it came out, when i was twenty-one, i would have adored it. i’d have cried and found myself wishing i could fall in love with someone who couldn’t even speak my language. or someone who i’d never spoken to at all! (the prime minster and his housekeeper—really?) the only good part about the movie is emma thompson.

that’s it.

on christmas day i’ll be with my atheist boyfriend, plus his family and jewish videographer, watching home alone, actually.

“i have to see a thing a thousand times before i see it once.”*

i was telling someone the other day that somehow i’m always surprised to find mistakes, sometimes egregious mistakes, in a book i’ve been working on when i read it a second time. if i could go through a book a third—or even a fourth—time, this would be ideal, but given that it takes already thirty hours (if not longer) to copyedit a three-hundred-page book, this isn’t realistic. it’s especially difficult to spot errors on the first read if the book is enjoyable because i can get caught up in the story. lucky, and unlucky, for me, i am usually assigned good reading.

but when you read something a second time, and those errors seem to spring up as if out of nowhere, you start to 1. hate yourself—

how did i miss that?—

and 2. hate the book—

well, if you had paid any attention to yourself, any attention at all, i wouldn’t have had to find that error in the first place. you stupid, stupid book.

you’re thinking (and my mom actually said, “aw!” at the above as i read this post to her), the book didn’t do anything! it was the—

now you know why i can’t say that word. though i hope to be one myself, i notice the same kinds of errors in my writing, even after i’ve read it ten times. i can be a stupid, stupid book often.

as i was wondering why the hell i didn’t add a period to the end of a punctuation-less sentence—i had clearly fallen asleep for a second—i remembered that i’d brought a specific book to north carolina, my current location, to reread.

in my personal life, i never reread books (with the exceptions of shiloh and the outsiders, both of which i’ve read so many times, the binding has disintegrated). but this book is one i read two years ago, soon after i’d broken up with my ex-boyfriend. like any starry-eyed girl, i saw myself in the main character, who is essentially given two paths: stick with her stable life, the one with the stable intellectual man and comfy flat in england, or choose the less distinguished man, a traveling drunk, a player of both women and snooker, though a professional of only the latter.

while i’ve loved many, many books, this author’s writing is one for which i would do a series of inhumane things to emulate. any writer who uses a word on nearly every page that i either have to look up or work hard to define in context is both my hero and sworn enemy. i’ve been chided by friends when i’ve used a lesser-known, more obscure word in favor of its go-to synonym, even though i do this simply because i like language, and i like playing with it, and one word is always a better choice than another. it just is.

and maybe in some cases the best, and simultaneously easy, way is to pick the dumbass substitute and not its distinguished cousin. because sometimes it’s far better to say fuck and not dress it up. sometimes fuck is what you need and only fuck will get your point across.

so far, the book (the post-birthday world by lionel shriver) is just as well crafted as i remembered, and a few parts, which i’d obviously forgotten, have pulled at the strings again, though i can’t imagine they’re pulling in the same way they did the first time. it’s funny that i am rereading this in the outer banks, a place i haven’t been to since i was nineteen, and which had been, up until that point, where my parents and i went nearly every summer. days that used to be packed with hours of sun-filled beach, aquarium visits, and lots of family togetherness have been replaced with an hour of beach time, freelance work, and general lounging/writing/reading, my dad going off to play tennis or do a jigsaw puzzle with my uncle, and my mom and aunt going to thrift stores.

(the contention of the freelance work, by the way, has not gone unscathed, and seemingly no one can imagine why i’d be doing work on what is supposed to be a vacation. the facts are: i up and quit my job less than a year ago and can’t afford not to work, and i genuinely like working, and when i’m not, i tend to get jittery and crazy, and only more work or a workout will calm me.)

i started thinking—upon my second reading of the sci-fi young adult novel i’m copyediting, revisiting birthday, and failing to re-create the summers of my childhood—just how important it is to reread, or reevaluate or reassess, everything. no one thinks twice about reassessing his or her property value, but, and i’m included in this mix, few people reread relationships of any kind, be they romantic, platonic, business, or familial.

ah, the errors you find on a second read.

it’s always sort of assumed, if you’re in a relationship with someone (any of the four above makes up a relationship), you’re together and that’s it, and it’s only when you have a fight or a falling out that you sit there, a screwed-up pursed-lip look on your face, and wonder where things went wrong. how two people could go from tight-knit to nothing in an hour or a few weeks or years of impassive drifting.

why didn’t i see the signs? is usually the question we pain ourselves with. of course, it’s difficult to step back from a relationship in the middle (or maybe it’s closer to the end than you think) and prod it. the danger is that we will find something wrong.

it’s like when old people don’t want to go to the doctor because they’re afraid the doctor will “find something.” fucking old people! go to the doctor!

anyway.

rereading the same manuscript in a three-week time period, i’ve spotted errors and inconsistencies. and not only those, i’ve spotted chunks i didn’t appreciate the first go-round, lovely phrases or great dialogue i glazed over. and, as i’m rereading birthday, the visceral reactions are plenty, but i doubt that i two years ago received the same emotions and gained the same lessons i am now. the writing may be the same, but i am not.

sometimes, in life as in books, you can get caught up, so caught up in the story that this whirlwind of emotion and passion takes precedence over the events and details themselves and what they truly are, and what they mean, positive or negative. but as humans, once something sets in our minds, it’s hard to imagine it another way. the job that no longer fulfills us. the marriage that isn’t working. the friendship that had begun to fail from nearly the get-go. it was all so good at first—when did it take a wrong turn?

and then sometimes you realize you’ve managed to grow something beautiful in what started as a pile of shit.

when you’ve had a chance to be away from someone or something, you have time to reflect on him, her, or it. i, for one, can’t reflect if i’m not alone. i liken it to being lost yet continuing to stand in the middle of a crowded intersection, rather than pulling yourself into whatever starbucks is closest and reassessing the situation. once you do, you might reread it as positive. or maybe negative. or maybe you simply conclude that you need to keep an eye on it. that you need not forget to reassess.

the greatest danger is to take anything at face value, and purport that value for years—even with things we can’t change. i’m sure, were someone to find a glaring mistake in the post-birthday world, that the publisher would fix it. largely, though, the work will stay unchanged; it is only the reader, therefore, who changes, and thus, the reader’s assessments, emotions, and conclusions associated with the work. the same principle should be applied to relationships . . . to anything, really. we can never expect a thing to remain constant, especially when we are constantly growing.

to grow together is wonderful, and possible (i hope); but to grow apart is not unlikely. and we can avoid the pitfall of surprise at a failed anything if we continuously look at what’s in front of us for what it truly is at that time, and not at any other.

two years ago i rooted for the snooker player. the womanizer. the bad boy. today, despite knowing the ending, and however foolish it makes me, i find myself still hoping for the same.

 

*thomas wolfe in you can’t go home again

“‘well, i sort of made it up,’ said pooh. ‘it isn’t brain,’ he went on humbly, ‘because you know why, rabbit; but it comes to me sometimes.'”*

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f. scott fitzgerald’s dedication in the great gatsby

for christmas this year, i gave someone what i dubbed the most self-centered gift i could ever possibly give, which was to be chosen as the person to whom i dedicate my book. my book, whether it forever stays a word document on my macbook or becomes stitched, bound, glued, covered, stamped, jacketed (and let’s hope there are some fantastical special effects on said jacket), boxed, shipped, and shelved. i gifted this present by way of an exceedingly long, handwritten letter, and i hoped that the receiver would realize just how important a gift it was, how much of an honor it is to be recognized as someone’s inspiration, or muse. the significance was more than clear to this person, and much appreciated, and i knew i had given the perfect gift, in that it was perfectly suited for this particular recipient.

it’s rare to find a book without a dedication, in fact, and the few times i’ve seen it lacking between the copyright page and first chapter have been memorably in james joyce’s novels and in children’s books that are part of a longstanding series. the author, i would surmise, by book ten knows what he or she is doing and might think handing out a tenth dedication for the same characters and setting takes away from the weight of such a profession of gratitude, as if dedicating a book to someone at that point has become akin to shooting t-shirts out of a cannon at a minor league baseball game.

the idea of dedications, and in particular, the muses that inspire them, had me wondering if muses come about naturally or if we desperately seek them, and either way, do we (and by we i mean creative types of any kind, be they artists, musicians, writers, and the like) need them.

the muses are the nine daughters of zeus and mnemosyne in greek mythology, and are the personification of knowledge and art, notably literature, dance, and music. in history, muses have mostly been the women behind the men, including ladies like zelda fitzgerald, wife of f. scott fitzgerald, and double muse pattie boyd, said to be the inspiration for george harrison’s “something” and eric clapton’s “layla,” “wonderful tonight,” and “bell bottom blues,” four songs which, you know, are just okay.

or beautiful. brilliant. although “wonderful tonight” was my junior high school prom song and has since been ruined for me as a result.

anyway, muses have journeyed down a long and winding road from being just pretty faces with botticelli bodies, and i like to think that things or places can be muses too. if new jersey wasn’t such a swampy, tragic hellhole, would bruce springsteen be bruce springsteen? i think if bruce had been sprouted in someplace sunny and lovely like san diego, he wouldn’t be as gritty, raw, or emotional. he might be, actually, the male version of katy perry.

up until recently, the array of muses i’ve had have consisted of teachers of sorts, beginning with my dad, the original and most powerful, who will never be dethroned, and who has been followed by middle-school teachers and college professors.

during my first semester of college, my rhetoric professor, an older adjunct faculty member who quit her job as a successful lawyer later in life to go into teaching, asked much more of me than any other teacher i’d had before. she assigned a five-minute speech on a controversial topic; the speech could not be memorized but had to be delivered from sparse notes on a few lined cards and needed to be free of movement behind the podium and devoid of ums, likes, uhs, and any other utterances that would add nothing but piffle to the argument.

while it might be hard to imagine that i had trouble speaking in front of people, i used to be one of those folks who would have certainly rather died than stand up in front of one person, let alone twenty-five, and talk about anything, even a topic on which i was an expert. so that fall i sat in the supposedly haunted basement of my dorm for hours, preparing, practicing, and standing behind an invisible podium with my feet shoulder-width apart (a tip from my short story professor that same semester who guaranteed this pose would not lead to swaying, weight-shifting, or any sort of distracting physical behavior like hopping around).

i desperately wanted to impress this woman, this professor, whom i admired for having had the guts to quit a high-paying, cushy job and follow her passion, and i sought, finally, to stop being afraid. after giving the speech and receiving her evaluation, all boxes in the excellent column clearly checked and a bubbled note at the bottom reading you’d make a fantastic lawyer someday, my public speaking fears vanished and have not once reappeared. i’ve googled this professor many times since 2002. i can’t find her, but my gratitude remains eternal nonetheless.

why her, though? i don’t doubt that i had it in me for years to go on a solo mission to get over this fear. i was more than capable. what was it about her? what was it about my fifth-grade english teacher that got me absolutely hooked on properly punctuating sentences and declining verbs, nouns, and adjectives? or my sixth-grade spanish teacher who somehow communicated to me without saying so that spanish, not french (though i really liked my french teacher as well), was the language i must learn, that somehow, even eighteen years later, i would still be using it—to work on spanish children’s books, write letters to the child i sponsor in ecuador, communicate with locals when i travel, or practice the language with my boyfriend, whose father taught it to him. then there’s my sixth-grade english teacher who put a one-sentence mark twain quote on the board about the difference between the right word and the wrong word, the teacher who made me realize that no matter what else i ever did, it would always, always be writing and i.

we creative fools are often a self-loathing bunch, our biggest doubters and critics, even if we’re exceptionally talented. one of my best male friends asked me a few days ago why i love my boyfriend, and one of the first things i said was that he inspires me. he encourages my writing, and he tells anyone who will listen to look out, because one day i’ll have my name slapped on the cover of a bestselling book. i’ve written more in the ten months i’ve known him than i have in ten years, even those few semesters in college when i was so emotional, poetry practically bled out of my fingers. to this my friend said:

“there’s about 2/3 of that first part that i hope you realize is all you and has nothing to do with him and everything to do with you and how awesome kaitlin is, boyfriend, girlfriend, or no.”

it is, to date, one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. but while those qualities have most likely always been there (i mean, i hope they have been—i’m not saying my boyfriend is a magician, jeez), maybe they needed to be mined by the person with just the right ability, strength, and set of tools. and just as i didn’t choose those teachers as muses any more than they chose me, it was them, and no one else, coupled with the kind of chemistry you can’t seek out, manufacture, or wait for, who i needed. if it makes me weak to admit i’ve required, and sometimes continue to require, the push i haven’t quite been able to give myself, then call me as such. i have a feeling that someday, even just to one person, i’ll return the favor.

my boyfriend and i both remember being, on our first date, the wittiest and most clever we’d ever been. and even now, nearly a year later, i’ll often open my mouth and speak, and out something tumbles, to which he’ll say:

“write that down.”

three of the nicest words in succession any writer can hear. i doubt i’ll ever tire of them.

*a. a. milne from the house on pooh corner, in which pooh is inspired to write a song after seeing tigger in the woods

“miracles happen on christmas, pat. everybody knows that shit.”*

i began writing this post during a terribly early, god-awful time on the morning of saturday, march 23, 2013, four days after i had returned from thailand and while suffering from severe, severe jet lag. i just found it yesterday, december 24, 2013.

when you’re born, it is probably going to be the best birthday you’ll ever have. everyone is excited you’re here (and, god, they don’t even know you yet) and they give you gifts and kisses, and they pass you around like a coveted loaf of bread as though you are (and, well, you are) the best thing ever because you were shoved out bearing all limbs, only one nose, and obviously, an already-infectious personality.

6a0120a5dc5821970b0147e364c474970bi think birthdays ride an inverted bell curve (i looked it up and it is a real thing, but to be honest, i wasn’t sure because i’m not so good with the numbers), with your actual birth surfing that high rip curl at its peak, then moving to everyone’s general enthusiasm for the anniversary of your birth decreasing exponentially as they pretend to care that you’re twenty-five or thirty or forty, and then somewhere around fifty, when they realize you’re here to stay, they give more of a shit as you pass into old age, which is a feat in this society with its cancer and smog and unicorn accidents and what have you.

but inverted birthday bell aside, in general, americans, and pretty much the rest of the world, are flat-out obsessed with holidays and the anniversary, whether it’s a positive one (like a birthday) or a sad one, like, say, memorializing 9/11 during the tenth anniversary of its occurrence.

i’m about to board the optimism train (and quickly disembark, don’t worry) as i wonder why we must concentrate so heavily on one holiday or the anniversary of any one thing or any one person. we throw all our love and affection and remembering into the pot once a year, recalling more intensely and vigorously on round years—ten, fifteen, and twenty, because celebrating a prime like seventeen, or god forbid, thirteen, of anything would just be coo-coo bananas (something my friend always says—that’s a shout-out to you, buddy)—because we want to make sure we don’t forget loved ones, whether they’re still here, kicking, or they’ve been gone for a round number of sorts.

what if, instead of saving all our energy for one day, we make it a point to remember these people every day? i rarely applaud anything about organized religion, but saying your prayers every night is a pretty good way to make sure you don’t forgot anyone, and the prayers help remind you that these people are worth mentioning. i haven’t prayed, well, in some really large non-round number, i’m sure—but i’m not keeping an anniversary for that—yet i’m wondering if could make a list of folks i want to give a little think to each night and just call it “saying-some-shit-that-may-on-the-surface-seem-like-prayers-but-is-most-certainly-not.” we put so much pressure on ourselves to make holidays and birthdays and anniversaries vastly important, but i grow curious about if this defeats the purpose of celebration. we will often go too hard or overboard on the exact day, or we panic and buy someone something ridiculous like oven mitts for a gift because we’re looking for the “perfect” present to show just how thoughtful we are and how much we care. “but you love to cook! and i don’t want you to burn your hands because i love your hands! i mean, i love you!”

the reason i’m thinking about this is because i met someone recently who could not seem to muster any ounce of concern or enthusiasm about his birthday. i don’t know him very well yet, so i didn’t, then, know his birthday, but when we were talking casually about other things, he said, completely deadpan:

“well, i’m almost thirty-one. . . . actually. i am thirty-one. today is my birthday.”

if i had been the animated version of myself (there isn’t one, for the record, though come to think of it, why isn’t there one?), i would have fallen down (unscathed, obviously, because i’m fictional), outraged, steam coming out of my ears, at the thought that someone could barely even recall his birthday and, more important, why the hell he wouldn’t have told me about it, like, maybe the day before? when he asked me why it mattered and what i would have done had i known, i said something like:

“birthdays are a big deal to me. my own and those of everyone i love. and i don’t know, i would have gotten you . . . a card?” (oven mitts?)

as the words bumbled out over my lips like a drunk freshman girl stumbling into a dark dorm room, i felt as though i were about five years old and possessed by a twisted combination of veruca salt, augustus gloop, and violet beauregarde, demanding cake and streamers and pony rides—now!

thirty is more important or significant than twenty-nine. being married for fifty years trumps forty-nine (or even, somehow, seems better than fifty-one). but . . . why? while it may seem odd for me, the girl who’s planning to take a trip solely because it’s her birthday, to hate on this whole thing, i think i’m really going because i want any excuse to travel.

christmasend march 23, 2013. begin christmas day, 2013.

for the record, yes, it was just an excuse to travel. and yes, being in costa rica on my birthday with one of my best friends was—but i hazard a guess that spending any time there would be—amazing.

i was thinking yesterday that i wanted to write a post about how holidays are overrated, and a little elf on my mind’s shelf told me i may have already started one on this subject. lo and behold, when i checked my draft posts, there it was, a deliriously crafted blog about just that. the person who forgot his birthday was my now boyfriend, and that conversation took place in a cab the morning after our second date, if you count meeting in the airport and having an adult sleepover and ordering food at two a.m. after not seeing each other for three weeks a date. he’d call it a rendezvous.

anyway, we aren’t spending the day of christmas together, though i will see him on friday, and at first this was hard for me. “you’re an atheist,” he said when i pouted about it, and i answered with, “i know, but . . .” and then couldn’t finish the sentence because there was nothing to put at the end of it. why did i care so much?

i still care a little. and by the way, if you think this post is cynical, in last year’s holiday blog i fantasized about lighting my presents on fire. but as i sit here, my bronchitis-laced mom at the stove cooking and coughing on the green beans she’s making (just kidding—she’s coughing on her hands and then touching the green beans) and my dad playing ray charles in the other room, it feels like just another day. and really, it is. i plan to love and make fun of them as much today as i will tomorrow.

so it is on christmas, but also on every day, that i love my holiday-hating boyfriend, and i’m more than a tad excited to meet him in chicago on friday. i just hope he likes the gift i didn’t get him.

*matthew quick in the silver linings playbook