north shore getaway + thoughts on leaving minnesota (pt 1)

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Two days after we decided to move from Minnesota to Maryland, I texted my oldest friend and asked “what’s been the hardest part about leaving Minnesota.” He answered, “Leaving Minnesota.”

On Monday, I turned 26, and on the Tuesday before, my partner surprised me with a two-day getaway to the North Shore, so I could see Lake Superior one last time. He knows this lake is sacred to me (as it is for so many). Growing up, my parents called it our “happy place,” and it remains a place of peace and power for me.

His plan was for us to spend Tuesday in Duluth, and Wednesday visiting my favorite spots along the shore. A day to connect, a day to explore.

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Duluth is special to Chris and I as the place where we solidified our budding relationship. As much as this getaway was about my birthday and saying goodbye to Minnesota, it was a quiet celebration of us. It was easy, once we reached the lakewalk, to slip into some of our nostalgia. Last summer, the bay sparkled. We arrived at the golden hour, and the sun lay on top of the water like a silk. This year, the bay was stained red from iron and mud kicked up from weeks of torrential rain. Different a year later, but so are we.

We did what you do in Canal Park: Walk to the piers, walk the lift bridge, watch it rise for sailboats, walk the boardwalk until the crowds thin. We visited Vikre Distillery in the shadow of the lift bridge, and sampled gin, aquavit and whiskeys distilled in sight of the cocktail room. Later, we ate at Canal Park Brewing, a brewery with an excellent menu. Vikre was beautiful, the spirits an homage to passion and knowledge, and Canal Park Brewing Company is always a treat. (The food in Duluth trends heavy and American.)

We talked about everything. This next year will be big for us, but the way we talk about moving reminds me of what a friend once said about her pregnancy: it’s too big to talk about every day. Having hours without agenda let us roam. This is the beginning of something we can’t fully see. We agree that Maryland is temporary, but how temporary? And what comes after Maryland? We’ve each had thoughts about school or about my writing that excite me as much as they scare me. It’s the most fantastic learning curve to have a partner who actively supports the dreams that, six months ago, I didn’t think were worth pursuing.

As the afternoon stretched into evening, I grew quiet, so quiet Chris asked me if I was upset. Of course not, of course not. I process the world through words — if I’m not talking, I’m writing — but their volume can sometimes be an assault.

Admittedly, I barely understand how to be present in a moment, but I think it’s something like this. The experience of the evening — cool air off the lake, and lapping water, and his hand in mine — was too complete, too exquisite for more words. It was enough — it was everything — to just be in it. Happy, I told him, so happy.

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I wrote too much for anyone to read in one sitting. Part two coming soon.

packing a life into boxes

 

I’ve done it so many times I don’t have a count anymore, but every time I pack my life into boxes, I’m flooded. Both with the amount of stuff I own, and, as I touch every item in my home, the emotional terrain each item comes with.

I’m not a pack-rat or a minimalist. I live for the feeling of clear cupboards and manageable drawers, but I’m hesitant to toss stuff that I’ve spent my money on, because will I kick myself in a month when I need to purchase a new fillintheblank? A cousin once told me that if he’s considering discarding something he can replace for under $15, he lets it goo. But I also grew up watching my mom be meticulous about our possessions — sometimes to the point she was discarding items we very much need in our daily life.

I don’t have answers. Our relationship with our stuff is so complicated. It’s fraught with our own layers of emotional complexity, but also with socio-economics and the politics of wealth inequality.

Our objects tie us to the multitudes of who we’ve been. I have a bookmark with a giraffe a mother cross-stitched for me when I was nine after I lent her daughter a piece of clothing at a summer camp, because I like being reminded of the first time I remember consciously choose to set aside my own anxieties for someone else’s inclusion. Last summer, I filled trashed bags of clothing, because I didn’t want my closet to remain a reminder of of all the ways I compromised my worth. My boyfriend and I are moving two full sets of Harry Potter books across the country (plus the beginnings of a third, illustrated set), because this story shaped our childhoods and adolescences in separate, but powerful ways. Do we need three copies of the Sorcerer’s Stone in one house (especially when you consider I’ve read it so many times I can repeat the first page from memory)?

At the beginning of the year, I had a vision of white space. I wanted to clear room. Why, I wasn’t sure, and for what, I didn’t know. If I’m learning to have faith in anything, it’s that we are receiving preparation for what comes next. I was creating space between the narratives that frame my life, and the desires those narratives found conflict with. I needed clarity to make the decision we made three months ago.

We’re weeks away from the materialization of that “white space” I wanted. A cross-country move, and a place to live where we know no one except the HR departments who hired us. I said to a friend that this move feels less like an outright opportunity, and more like the opportunity for opportunities.

Six months ago, I cleared my home of anything that was unnecessary or reminded me of pain. Now that I’m packing what’s left, the question has shifted “do you need this enough to haul it cross-country,” and the answers aren’t as clear. There’s math I need to consider, how much does the trailer hold, what can we afford to replace, what must we just part with, but then the equations get messy. How do you fit what you need in a trailer, but first, how do you know what you need when you leave home for the first time? How much of you collection do you keep out of comfort? And how warm is that comfort, really? How do you carry all your history with you, and still keep space for new places to become a kind of home?

The question I’m really asking is how to I love the home I’m leaving and still leave room for something new to grow?

odds + ends: holiday weekend edition

I had something else entirely written about the five day weekend I’m starting today, but my partner showed up as I was leaving work yesterday, and whisked me away to the North Shore.

The days are passing fast, and while I loathe the refrain of “I’m so busy,” it comes to mind frequently. We’re in single digits for weekends left in Minnesota (including this one). Three before traveling, then one before we leave with a trailer. Alongside all the work of moving (packing, sorting, donating, selling, measuring, etc.), I have an almost anxious desire to soak up as much of Minnesota as I can. I love my home. I love being from here, and as excited as I am to be leaving (for a while), I sometimes can’t believe I actually will.

We’ll be north today. Being here, in places that have grown sacred to me, I feel sensitive and humble. All this beauty, all this history, all these places my own ghosts haunt. There’s so much more to say, but I’m not saturated to find the words. Already I’ve yelled for Chris to stop the car so I can walk the fields of lupine.

I’m finishing researching our upcoming trip. I’ll forever love my Lonely Planet guides, but I’m scouring travel blogs for the spots the guidebook missed (or, on the flip side, the guidebook hotspots that should be avoided). I love reading travelogues, but dislike prescriptive advice. Hand-Luggage Only is my go-to for quick lists + recs, followed up by A Lady in London for, as the name suggests, all things London. For food, I’m hounding friends to give up their favorite joints, and checking out everything French Foodie in Dublin + Canal Cook recommends. I’m whittling my list of literary haunts, because if it were up to me only, we’d spent all fifteen days chasing literature’s ghost. I’m not researching New York with the same fervor, as that leg of the journey will be a different beast. We’re visiting friends, and soon we’ll be on the right coast to visit more often.

Chris laughs at me when I explain to him that I want our trip to feel like the freedom to play. Turn down that street, take a rest in that cafe, visit this bar or church or open gate. He knows how much I crave a plan, and how badly I manage change. Maybe a better way to say it is: I want to know everything while maintaining the freedom to do anything.

I’m slogging through Star of the Sea, which started promising, but is dragging on, while craving the slimness of short stories. Elsewhere, I’m reading career advice to alleviate the fears of leaving my first job, catching up on the newsletters I subscribe to (then fall behind on), and building an at-home yoga practice (because that studio life is expensive). An essay of mine was published to the Invisible Illness site, and I’m starting to feel the stirring of fresh creative life after finishing my novel. I’m scribbling down fragments of sentences and stories, hoping they’ll become something.

Finally, because it’s Independence Day, let’s take a moment to feel patriotic. Last Saturday, demonstrators gathered in 700 different places to protest inhumane immigration practices. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s workout is intense (because fighting fascism takes work, y’all). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the face of hope this week, and midterms are coming soon.

can i tell you what i’ve been working on + why it scares the hell out of me?

Last weekend, I wrote  complained about the business of creativity in the age of the internet. All of the social media and the metrics and the followers and the numbers. Basically, all these indicators I didn’t care about, because what could a “follower count” have to do with the stories I write?

Clearly, I’m behind the times, but, people, I didn’t get hip to Instagram until late 2016. My best friend in college was all over it right away, and I watched all the filtering and the sharing, but she was so much trendier than me. Leave that for the cool kids. Until last week, I didn’t know how many followers I had anywhere.

In sixth grade, a classmate told me “nobody likes a try hard” after they saw the score at the top of the “descriptive essay” I wrote about my house at Christmas time. 98 out of 100, and my teacher docked those two points because I used the word “scintillating” to describe the lights on the tree. He said he didn’t know what the word meant. I needed a dictionary, why wouldn’t you? This was year I was called “dictionary” instead of by my name, because classmates caught me with an OED during homeroom.

What does this have to do with promoting my writing? I’m not sure, but it’s what I think of every time I hit send on a new essay or post.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I was four when I told my best friend that I wanted to “make books.” When I love something, I love it hard, and when I go after something, I go after it hard. I think I’m so hesitant to share, promote, beg for readers, because at some point I began to conflate earnestness and effort with something to be  ashamed of. Another mark against Torrie, the weird kid who read the dictionary, who keeps sharing even though can’t she take a hint, nobody cares.

I have Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls in my head: “[Least Complicated] is a song I wrote thinking about my little boyfriend Danny in 6th grade. He was so cute, and I went to Woolworth’s and I bought him a ring with my allowance. And as soon as I gave it to him, I knew it wasn’t the cool thing to do. And that was just the beginning of the rest of my life.”

This is the locked room I’ve been circling.

I know in the deepest parts of me what I want: To write. To have a readership for my writing. I want my writing to find life outside myself.

I spent this week getting fired up about the whole of the “writing life.” My strategy so far has been to hit send and see what happens next. I’ve gotten a few short stories out of this strategy, but that’s about it.

So here’s where I am now. I’m working on upping my game, expanding my repertoire, building myself a brand new bag, if you know what I mean. I’m sharing this both as a request for support if you like what I write, and as an explanation if you’re feeling spammed.

Learning: Above all else, I’m learning. The goal here is steady, practical education. While I love the accumulation of knowledge, I don’t (yet) enjoy the process of learning new skills or systems. I frustrate easily, and want to skip ahead to the part where I know what I’m doing.  Since I can’t do that, I’m trying to avoid my usual pattern of obsession + burn out.

I’ve downloaded half the Jenna Kutcher Goal Digger library, and am listening between episodes of The West Wing Weekly and My Favorite Murder(a woman can only hear the word “girlboss” so many times in a row). I’m reading Jane Friedman for the smart truth that it is, and have subscribed to Felicia Sullivan’s newsletter (though her wheelhouse is geared towards freelancers and brand/business strategists). I’m vetting a handful of other resources tailored to education I’m looking for. Other recommendations? Send them my way!

She Breathed Deeply: Did you know I changed the name of my blog last year? I’m upping how frequently I post. You know what I write about: what I’m reading, what I’m learning, how I’m growing or healing. This summer, you can expect some travel, lots about leaving home, lots about living in the DMV. Other perennial topics include mental health (anxiety + depression remain my specters), creative writing, the odds + ends of what’s capturing my attention. If you’re a frequent reader, let me know what you like and what you don’t like! I love feedback. I need feedback.  Seriously, give me feedback.

Medium: This is basically a different and more elegant form of blogging. I’ve read voraciously on Medium for several years, but have only published sporadically and without strategy. I’ll be sharing more essay-length pieces here, as well as some of my fiction. Check out one of my favorite essays I’ve ever published and follow along over there too.

Instagram: I’m going to be all over Instagram, and I’m going to be uncomfortable as hell about it. I’ve talked about followers, and while I understand the value ascribed to followers from a “platform” standpoint, I’m not looking to just jump my number.  I’m learning about the vibrant communities on Instagram, about how it can be a platform for connection. Follow for flowers, Ferris wheels, and the occasional photos of me.

Creative Writing: I have a few short story ideas I’m developing, but my biggest focus is still what comes next after I finishing the latest draft of my novel. I had several kind people ask to read my manuscript (gift upon gift, people), and those who finished had positive, constructive comments. The resounding response is don’t stop now.

I won’t lie, that’s pretty amazing to hear. I was ready for a “good effort,” and a polite suggestions that I throw the towel in. I want to hear from a few more people (offer still stands – you want to read 272 pages about a woman finding her way back home, I’ll send you the PDF) before I fully commit to a fifth draft, but I see that on my horizon.

Elsewhere, I’m focusing on the ideas I have for what I want to write about. Already, I’m finding myself granting “permission” to explore aspects of my writing I wouldn’t have pursued before. Why not write about what I’ve learned about money? Why not submit essays to suitable publications? Why not respond to requests for books reviewers, for help reading submissions? I’ve had so many rules — fiction writer only, submit short stories only, stay inside your zone, why would anyone want to read that?

The great permission I’ve granted yet? The permission to stop asking these stupid questions.

Maybe nobody will want to read that. Maybe I am wasting my time on something that I’ll never receive traditional success for. Maybe I will stay outside the circle, and my metrics will stay low, and that will mean something for my writing career. Maybe, maybe but maybe not. Years ago, I listened to Cheryl Strayed interviewed about the success of Wild.

“There’s a long history, of women especially, saying ‘Well, I just got lucky.’ I didn’t just get lucky. I worked my fucking ass off. And then I got lucky. And if I hadn’t worked my ass off, I wouldn’t have gotten lucky. You have to do the work. You always have to do the work.”

I think about this a lot, because I know I can’t control the luck, but I never want to wonder what would have happened if I’d worked harder. So here’s me digging in the to the work. Want to give me feedback? I’d love to hear from you. Want to follow along? I’d love for you to join me.

what i’m reading lately

on my bookshelf.jpgRight now, this country is all jagged outrage and impotent heartbreak. I wrote about my bookshelf before yesterday’s Supreme Court decision (although, obviously, after the waves and waves of coverage on detained asylum seekers, babies in cages, and outrageous government-sponsored human rights violations). Books can be escape in desperate times. I hope, instead, they’re lightposts, wisdom to combat all this injustice and pain.

There was a time when books were my safety. I read constantly, voraciously. Friends would joke: I can see from Goodreads that you’ve read four books in the time its taken me to read one. Do you do anything else? I brought books to parties, because knowing I had one near was enough to stem the anxiety that crowds created for me. I referred my bookshelves, in unguarded and un-ironic moments, as my oldest friends.

In college, I made my roommate wait while I ran back into our apartment. When she saw me tucking a novel into my bag, and she laughed. We’re running errands. What do you need a book for? What if something happens, I tried to explain, and I have time to kill?

So you’re saying that we get into a car accident. I’m so badly hurt I can’t carry a conversation, and you’re going to whip out a book while you wait for an ambulance?

Last year, my reading life shifted, and it’s taken me the year to acclimate. When I stopped needing books to smother my pain, I stopped reading. I wasn’t the walking wounded anymore; I didn’t need the band-aids.

It’s been a joyful process to rediscover one of my earliest loves. It’s led to a deeper relationship and, antithetically, less attached relationship with the texts. It’s not an anesthesia, so I’m present for language and wisdom and plot development in ways I wasn’t. I’ve been rereading books to savor them in new and cleaner ways. I’m purging my shelves of what I don’t like, expanding my diet to explore what I do, getting more life of everything I read.

In other words, I’ve found my groove again.

Under the Tuscan SunBella Tuscany, Frances Mayes: I didn’t read these books when they were released a decade ago, didn’t see the movie, wasn’t old enough to get tired of the Tuscany-as-lifestyle frenzy they created. My mother passed them to me in a stack she was discarding, and I grabbed the first before a work trip I wanted some “light” reading for. Mayes is a fantastic writer. A poet, she operates at the level of the sentence, and I get why these books (the first, in particular) sent the world into paroxysms of Tuscan-fever. Everything is beautiful underneath her pen.

But beneath the language, and all the talk of wines and linens and the cucinia povera and the Etruscan walls (as an aside: I found this all fascinating, even if it was extraneous and vaguely pretension), I found in these memoirs a meditation on home, and who we are when we locate ourselves elsewhere. I’m moving this summer, and Mayes did for me what I ask literature to do: Her memoirs provided shape and language for the hopes I have for our move, for the dreams, the anxieties, the questions, the reasons.

The Good Mother, Sue Miller: Like the Mayes memoirs, The Good Mother is decades old, scavenged during one of my $0.50 per title book bin benders. This novel about a woman who became awake: After a dispassionate marriage, Anna Dunlap begins to lay a new foundation upon which to build a life for herself and her daughter, only to have this new life thrown into chaos by a decision made by her lover. The central crisis of this novel isn’t as nuanced as Miller likely meant it to be (although I’m speaking from a vantage point of thirty years), but the intensity of character’s experience is. Miller writes  a traditionally “female” story without any of the traditional sentimentality. Motherhood brings deep, radical love, but also compromise and limits. Romance is obsessive and consuming, but there’s no prince charming who will save a woman’s life. Familial ties are complicated. Love, in all its forms, is complicated. It’s a story that embraces, but doesn’t try to smooth, the rough corners of our experiences.

Vida, Patricia Engel: This is best book I’ve read this year. Engel is a sharp, beautiful writer who knows how to make language detonate. I read this very short collection of interconnected stories (140-ish pages) during an April snowstorm that left me snowed in. There’s nothing Engel won’t touch, and nothing she can’t make both beautiful and broken: prostitution, domestic abuse, death, immigration, heartbreak, girls who feel out of place, boyfriends who let you down. I read this book months ago, and still haven’t gotten over it.

This spring, I also reread Felicia Sullivan’s superb Follow Me into the Dark, Cheryl Strayed’s gorgeous memoir, Wild, and slogged through a few so-so titles that immediately wound up in the give away pile.

Currently, I’m reading Star of the Sea, Joseph O’Connor + The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison. The first, a novel I’ve had on my shelf for years, is one of my pre-move “read now or toss” books. I will haul the books I love across oceans without regret, but I really don’t want to get out to DC with boxes of books I’m going to disappointed in when I finally read them. So far (as in 50 pages in), Star of the Sea, historical fiction about a passenger ship crossing from Ireland to New York, is better than I expected.

The second, I’m reading slowly. Do you ever “save” the books you’re most excited for? I’ve wanted to read The Empathy Exams since it was released, but even though it’s been on my shelf for a year, I was hesitant to start it. When I buy a book, I put it on my shelf and wait for months, maybe years, for the “right time” to read it. I’m not sure if this is a sweet piece of my character (the anticipation builds my love) or another way I reinforce the beliefs that I don’t deserve to have I want. Either way, I’m finally reading Jamison’s essays, and they’re as gorgeous as I expected. I’m savoring each essay, one at a time.

Other books on my “to be read: special moving edition” pile: Joyland, Stephen KingIn the Country We Loved, Diana Guerrero, The Wonder Spot, Melissa Bank, A Box of Matches, Nicholson Baker.

What are you reading? What should I be reading?

thoughts on the business of creativity

Torrie June 2018 605 (2).JPGDo you ever become obsessed with productivity? The need to keep vaulting forward? Believe me when I tell you that, as I write this an hour after waking, and already I’ve felt myself pitching into the anxiety of industry.

I tried to explain this to my partner: I feel like I’m fragmenting. My brain is this hive, a colony of operations, except I’m the only bee inside and can’t visit every chamber. There’s the business of leaving: the leases and the jobs and the moving boxes and what you do with all the stuff you own when half of it you love and half of it you hate, but it all seems to necessary. But then there’s all the stuff that has nothing to do with moving, and everything to do with just living.

How do you make enough money to earn the freedom of unencumbered hours to create? If, by some miracle of economy and privilege, you have that freedom, how do you cut away the noise of the world to let ideas populate your wilderness? If by all the miracles of economy and privilege and focus, you actually create something, how do you get anyone else’s attention?

I sound like I’m complaining that “no one” reads me writing, but really, I’m not. More people read my writing than I can even imagine. After I wrote about finishing my novel, several people emailed asking for the PDF. What a gift that was. Doubly, triply so when those miraculous readers wrote me to say they saw the kind of beauty in my story I’ve worked so hard to create.

No, it’s all the business of creativity. The social media presence and the digital analytics and the “cultivating community” (versus the actual, valuable process of finding people who are as excited about the same things as you). We’re inundated constantly with all these stories about people who “hustled” their way into their careers, who built brands and followings and presences and parlayed them into other opportunities. I want to write, and I’m not saying I should be be able to do this without any work (because I’m shouldn’t), but I’m saying what does my Instagram following having to do with the stories I write about broken people? And if one means something to the other, how do I marry those bright squares with the emotional excavations of my fiction.

I’m creatively restless in the blank spaces that finishing my novel opened, and I’m uncomfortable and confused by the landscape of digital creativity. (What even does that mean? Again, I write. Does that make me a digital creative? Does simply being creative in 2018 mean you are, automatically, a digital creative?)

Yesterday, I sat in a garden for two hours, and finally left, because I couldn’t still my mind. These two trajectories, moving away and building my writing, are linked, because I’m looking at this move as an opportunity to refocus my time and energy. My brain is a to do list a mile long, and it’s an internet browser left open on too many tabs. 

I’ve questions I want answered and stories I want told. How do I drill down past all the extra stuff to think as deeply as you need to write? And then how do I pop back above the surface, and make space for myself in the already crowded room?

did you hear the news?

We’re moving! This August, to the East Coast. Get ready, people. Get excited.

After we made the decision to move, I kept asking my boyfriend “are we really doing this?” Even though we were doing all the things you do when you leave (told our parents, told our bosses, signed contracts, applied for housing, etc.), it didn’t feel real. How could it? We said we’d do this one big thing, and now we’re just doing it?

This will be the first time that either of us move away (away, away, not just to the next zip code) from our homes. I know people move away all the time, but for us, this is the ball game.

We spent last week in the area to which we’ll be moving. Even though we were there for work and at least thirty miles north of the community we’ll be moving to, just being in the same region felt surreal. We descended, and I kept saying “this will be the airport we’ll fly in and out of when we live here.” We walked outside: “This is what the trees will smell like when live here.” We grew sticky in the heat: “This is what the air will feel like when we live here.” Minnesota is my home is such profound and deeply rooted ways that I can barely, barely imagine what it’ll be like to live anywhere else. I looked up at the blue sky, and again: “This is what the sky will look like when I live here.”

Already, I’m enamored with magnolia leaves. They’re thick and glossy, and stand at attention in ways I didn’t expect from tree leaves. Already, I’m intrigued by the history, so much military, so much politics. Our federal/political past has always interested me less than our socio-cultural past. Already, I’m mapping transit stations, because so much is going to be a train ride away. The whole east coast, it seems, will be just a train ride away.

Seeing our soon-to-be state, doing the cross-country move housekeeping, playing tourist in our new backyard. It made it seem – not more real, because it’ll take months to shake the not-in-Minnesota surrealism – but more tangible. This is really going to happen. This is what I was feeling this January, when I said I wanted room. Space, space, more blank space. For what, I didn’t know them.

For this, I guess. For all this.