A long way to go for a cup of coffee

A long way to go for a cup of coffee I felt myself falling off the side of Mt. Elgon in Uganda, my foot and arm lovingly, firmly, desperately wrapped around the roll bar of a Toyota Tacoma, gravity winning, a good burn in my core as the sun’s last rays disappeared, leaving the valley below in darkness. The truck lurched forward over a rock, returning us more or less to even, while the steep dropoff …

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Swahili

Tomorrow morning I have my first class in Swahili.  It won’t be my first time with Swahili (I still remember  “Jambo” from my week in Kenya!), but for all intents and purposes, I’m as beginner as beginner gets.  But if everything goes according to plan (and almost nothing has gone according to plan in the last year), it should be the first class of many as I get ready to spend time this summer in …

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The last time I was jealous

A friend from a former kid-lit writing group published her first book this week. That means a draft I’d read way back when has become a real, in-the-flesh book. And she’s not the only one from that group finding success. Of the five of us that were in it, the other four now have agents, and most have at least sold a first book, putting them on track for publication. Along the way, I realized …

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Apartment hunting in France

A few months ago, I arrived in France at an Airbnb studio apartment situated to the north of Paris, and just like that, a clock started ticking. 12 weeks to find a real apartment.  (And if I’d known then what I’d end up having to text real estate agents about…) 12 weeks to get out of the Airbnb meant we should start looking before the end of November, so the clock skipped forward a few …

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A Way To Wander While You’re Stuck

Bonjour from France’s second confinement. Yesterday we walked one kilometer to a park to eat some mandarin oranges and watch the ducks waddle around. Then it started to rain. Nice weather for ducks, of course, but less so for sweats and sweatshirts so we headed the one kilometer back to our apartment. One kilometer is the limit for non-official excursions right now. One kilometer and one hour. There’s an app for it and everything. (Though it’s …

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One Day Or Day One

I’d just handed the security guard my new ID, fresh off the printer, with a blown-out photo, flopsy hair, and a big, dumb smile (due in part to the university assistant’s answer to my question about whether she thought un sourire ou une grimace would be better … a smile or a grimace).   “Quel beau sourire!” he said, a cigarette hanging from his lips.  I laughed, saying I’d just escaped the States, a joke that was true in the very real sense …

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How To Write The Best Craigslist Car Ad Ever

I didn’t set out meaning to write the best craigslist car ad ever.  In fact, I didn’t set out to write an ad at all.  All I had was my car and a ticking clock. I leave next week to move to France, after all, and there’s no spot here to leave it. Not wanting to engage with sixteen years of history, my first and only thought was just to leave it at a Carmax, …

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Some News While I Wait To Eat This Cronut

I’m sitting here at the park across from the apartment where I’ve lived for two years, waiting on a blanket for a friend to get here and help me with this cronut and this muffin while I wait for my apartment’s property manager to give me the heads up that there are no longer people meandering through my apartment, judging the wall of whimsy that hangs over the couch. I’ll be leaving this one-bedroom, the birthplace …

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We’re The Ones Who Change

Of the memories I have of my closest junior high school friend Jason – the friend with whom I rollerbladed aggressively and watched Brink on repeat and first talked about girls (often while rollerblading)  – two stick out.  The first is sleeping over at his house, not just because it was the first time I had ever done so with just one other friend, but because it taught me two facts of varied importance: one …

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Beginning Again

It’s been a little while. I hope you don’t mind me writing to you again after taking a small break. A lot’s been happening, and I’ve had a lot on my mind, and I’m sure you’ve been thinking about a lot of the same things, too. Like, for example, apple crisp. I baked one today because I had a few dozen tiny-to-small apples that didn’t seem worth the trouble to cut up and eat with …

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While The Body Works, The Mind Wanders

It is 6am and we are in the vineyards, the sun a pastel orange smudge on the horizon and the reason we have been coming hours earlier than the previous week. The forecast for the afternoon says 37, and 40 for the day after (100ish in Fahrenheit), and those are untenable temperatures for tending vines. To squeeze in the work, we start at dawn and plow forward. The day’s task has three stages, all with …

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A Sunday in Aveyron

I didn’t get to run before breakfast. When we agreed to a Sunday morning meal with Claude, the father of the host we’re staying with for a few weeks here in Rignac, we were warned about just how heavy this petit dejeuner would be, especially at 8 in the morning. So, the day before, I started planning a route I could run before breakfast to clear up precious stomach space. But as the sun sets …

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Learning Obvious Lessons

I’m in Paris now, and have been for a week or so. Last week, I said goodbye to the goats and goat cheese, packed my bag, and headed to the capital to learn French a bit more officially than the off-the-cuff exchanges in the middles of vineyards in the Loire Valley and the Aveyron region. While I still have three weeks here before heading back to LA to start up the new TV season, in …

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Parallels

On that particular weekend, we had a day off, and on that day we’d gone into town, delighted to explore more of the Ecuadorian coast, to hike, and to drink fresh fruit smoothies from plastic baggies. We were a group of teenagers, volunteering for part of the summer at a conservation and community project. Our days were a combination of painting murals, teaching English, and taking a small boat onto the water to track migrating …

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Never not surprised

It’s raining here in LA. The river outside of my apartment is threatening the limits of its embankments with milky rapids, a striking difference to the concrete-ensconced trickle we’re used to. In certain parts, it has flooded over and rendered the Glendale Narrows bike path unusable. Earlier today, I ran through Griffith Park. Thanks to some flooding, several portions of the road were closed off to traffic and I got to luxuriate (I like to …

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Decelerating into my 30s

I was an hour and a half late for our holiday party because I went to get a haircut. Recently I’ve been getting my haircut at a barber down the street and found it to be serviceable and affordable and it’s fun to chat in Spanish with the husband and wife owners and to take the occasional tequila shot at 10 in the morning, but I haven’t yet figured out how to communicate how I’d …

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Some after-dinner thoughts

For the week after, I didn’t feel anything. I asked her why I didn’t feel anything, given that the night was supposed to be such a big night, the crowning moment on a fun run of dinner parties. The 15th dinner in the 15fiftyfive dinner series. A chance to raise up to $1,500. She told me I hadn’t cared about it from the beginning. I wondered if that could be true. At first, the assessment …

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Pursuing happiness

It’s weird what can make me happy. Sometimes it’s the totally expected. Of course peach pie makes me happy, even as the season winds down and the peaches ripen and rotten faster than ever. Of course mail makes me happy, even if it’s just that subscription box I can’t bring myself to cancel. Of course being outside makes me happy, even if it’s just getting to the park across from my apartment at sunset as …

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What if I were better

I wonder what it would be like if I were better. A better designer, a better partner, a better brother, a better manager, a better cook, a better baker, a better photographer, a better son, a better writer, a better traveler, a better runner, a better friend. It’s not that I feel objectively bad at any of those things, but I frame the situations and relationships I find myself in and wonder what someone better …

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Jambo from Mombasa

The buses line the Mombasa streets at night, engines running and exhaust pouring out, a thrumming, pulsing presence for blocks and blocks on end.   People swarm to them; passengers, vendors, employees. The bus operators hawk overnight journeys to Kampala and Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. Vendors sell water and peanuts and electronics to grabbing hands reaching from dark windows upon high. These are the long-haul buses, each idling in front of a storefront branded with the …

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Letter from a volcano

I was tired and I didn’t want to go. The day after 12 hours of driving through a safari park filled with hippo sightings, cooped up kids and potholes that stressed the axles of the Landcruiser Prado and the core for those lucky enough to be sitting in the middle seat left my body complaining. So when I heard we would need to take one of the country’s infamously cramped minibuses for our weekend away …

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Summer so far

For the first dinner party, I killed a rooster. This was the first time I’d killed an animal. I have tried on many different eating ideologies over the years, and whether or not to eat animals, which animals, and with what frequency to eat them are the usual variables. In the relative obscurity of a big city, it’s easy enough to have these ideas without much struggle, and killing an animal is never part of …

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Why not ask why not?

She and I sat side-by-side in plastic chairs in a circle of eager faces watching us. On the floor two women sat with three black gourds. Each gourd had a decorative, woven top; inside, one had yogurt in one, the other, milk. She went first, holding the gourd by the bottom. We both laughed, a reaction to the moment, to the settings, to their expectation of how we’d find this milk (what’s pasteurized?) and the …

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Adventures in international domesticity

Their babysitter asked if I had gone on any adventures. I think she meant traipsing up volcanoes, tracking gorillas, and crossing borders. So far, I said, I haven’t done those things. The adventures I have had have been a sort of domestic adventure where I find myself as the de facto babysitter, marriage confidant, and target of teen girl mockery. In one instance, I’m at a local supermarket with a husband and wife as part …

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For a day with no plans, what a day

The day started like a missed connection. We’d met in passing the night before. She was in from Sweden on a work trip but soon to be fun trip, and I’m here from Los Angeles on a fun trip which happens to include work. The next morning, we ran into each other at the poolside bar. We talked about plans (I had none) and agreed to meet there again in 45 minutes to go exploring. …

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Who we keep in our orbits

I fall out of touch with the people I care about. Without sustained effort and energy, without the two it takes to tango, without mindful attention or being present, I trend toward knowing less about the people I once knew a lot about. Facebook (when I was on it) and Instagram are a crutch. They aren’t peepholes that grant us unlimited access (unless you ARE Facebook…) to friends and former flames, co-workers and castmates of …

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Finding a voice

After Monstrous Me, I thought I had figured myself out. Here, in book form, was tangible proof that I was better at projects with clear ends and established goals. Despite years of pursuing serial projects that all withered on the vine, I had finally gotten to a good place with my compulsion to make. The projects I work on are a reflection of what’s happening in my life. In a sense, they have helped me …

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Cannonballing into another life

I’ve been back for two days, and I haven’t had any epiphanies about the significance of How I Spent My Summer Vacation. I had hoped to think more about the trip on the 37-hour return journey home, but I watched Isle of Dogs, Early Man, and slept. I had hoped to think about how to condense the trip into a pithy sentence, so when people ask, “How was it?” I would have refined insight into …

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The recipe for a kitchen catastrophe

My first kitchen catastrophe didn’t involve any actual cooking. I intended to cook a several-course Mexican meal from scratch as an apology to my family for being an especially sulky teenager one afternoon (nevermind that I hadn’t actually solo-cooked a single-course meal before). I soon had all the ingredients, only to discover I didn’t know how to “warm the skillet.” In a panic, I abandoned the whole meal and scattered the ingredients throughout the pantry. …

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This may be a little repetitive

When Sophie asked me to introduce myself in French on my first day in Montpellier, I was a stumbling, halting mess.  Then Severine asked me to introduce myself to our class. And Maud did the same. Then this week our new teachers Fanny and Louise did, too. The last time was the least stumbling, the least halting, the least messy. My sentences were clearer. Connecting phrases, noticeably absent before, have started cropping up to make my …

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An Afternoon in Montpellier

The afternoon I arrived in Montpellier was full of magic.  After getting picked up at Les Sabines (the bus station) instead of Gare de Montpellier Saint-Roch (the train station), a result of me misreading my ticket and missing the train in Barcelona, Coco (short for Nicole) drove me to her two-story home just west of Montpellier. In disastrous French, respectable Spanish and no English, we talked about my trip, why I’m in Montpellier for three …

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France, una vez más

At some point in learning foreign languages, a book called Francés para viajar came into my possession. I don’t remember if it was given to me or I bought it; I just remember looking at my bookshelf a few years ago and realizing, “Oh, that French book is in Spanish.” I’ve been taking Spanish classes and traveling to Spanish-speaking countries for years. I baked a pineapple pie with an Ecuadorian family using Spanish. I’ve cried …

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I think too much when I think about the future

When I left for the trip, it felt like love. There were pies baked and trail runs past sleepy rattlesnakes and big promises made in broken French – what more did I need? More, evidently, as I ruined a good thing by wanting the immediate thing. I chose to blow up a problem rather than work through it. A spark that began long-distance ended the same way. We didn’t write for a month, and then …

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Curiosity

Like a text message marriage proposal, some questions are too big for the medium in which they’re asked. Last week, a question so big and unwieldy took my inbox, and me, by surprise. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. “Where is your curiosity taking you?” Isn’t every decision influenced in at least some small way by curiosity? I wonder what that job would be like, what life would be like if …

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You are not your February

After months as challenging as February turned out to be, I tend to spiral. I spiral when I look back at the month because I can only see what I didn’t do. I didn’t really read. I didn’t really write. I couldn’t run. I wasn’t awake long enough in the evenings to cook. All those ways I describe myself – avid reader, writer, runner, food-heater-upper – ring hollow. One framework that I return to is …

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