Just about everything that could go wrong did on my first major international trip three years ago. Missed connections, 10 hours stuck in the Madrid airport, stolen goods, train-worker strikes, companion tiffs, wrong turns that ended in prostitutes and a tearful realization on the phone with my Mom while in a gorgeous Italian monastery that maybe I’m not as independent as I think.

With that rational understanding of travel/self, I set out to China this weekend. My 6-year-old cousin taught me how to say “I need help” and J. has promised to spoon feed me before I starve from lack of chopstick skills. I’m so ready to go go go, but now I always travel with this in mind:

“Fear values traveling. At a given moment, very far from our country and our language, the fear and the instinctive desire to find again the shelters of the old habits, spreads all over and conquers us. That moment we burn in fever, but we are full of pores. The slightest conflict shakes our very foundations. A cascade of light brings us in front of eternity. This is the reason why no one should say that one travels for pleasure. I would see in traveling rather an exercise. We travel for our education, if by the term of education we mean the sharpening of our inmost sense, the sense of eternity.” — Albert Camus


I picked the wrong week to temporarily swear off coffee. Turns out it’s harder to get good, cheap morning coffee in Beijing than it is to get black-market panda meat, so I’m weaning myself off it to prevent any caffeine-deprived grumpy sprees on the trip. The airlines search your bag for sharp words and devastating glares now, I hear.

Unfortunately, this coincides with my choice to start working out at 5:30 a.m. instead of p.m. — because there were always a million better options after work than fighting the crowds at the YMCA, and most of them involved cheese on my couch. On the plus side, I’ve been working out every day again and feeling strong. Downside, there are points in the day I get so fuzzy-tired it seems dangerous, to myself and my stories’ facts.

I’m not crazy for doing it, though. It feels great to get outside during that pre-dawn, flashing-red-light hour and great to go straight home after work to my cozy couch and string-cheese binges, guilt-free. But now there’s this coffee-free week from Hell. I’m preempting evening headaches with morning painkillers, but there’s no way to stop the tired.

As I walk out of the gym when the sky’s just started to lighten from black to dark-wash denim, the sign of the nearby hospital shines down: MERCY in gigantic neon-red letters. As in “Have it.” On my poor weary soul and anyone I eviscerate this weekend with my crabbiness.


There’s something about this gorgeous spring weather that makes Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” sound breezy and fun instead of apocalyptic. My last week was bursting with great new/old tunes I couldn’t wait to share, like the Of Montreal-born Kishi Bashi, which reminds me of Jonsi, which sounds like rainbowsunshine.


My sister used to work at a company that published materials for grief counseling after death of a loved one. It’s not as dark as it sounds.

Anyway, one of her former coworkers was responsible for collecting fan mail of sorts for the company’s founder, who wrote these books to get people through tough times. She passed this snippet of a letter onto my sister, who passed it on to me, because it’s really too precious and insightful not to share. The setup: It came from an older gentleman whose wife passed away and who read the materials to help with the grieving process. He thanked the company and had this to add (paraphrased):

Now she’s gone, this man finds himself missing the things that most annoyed him about his wife when she was with him. His pet peeves about her are the things that now bring him to tears.

How comforting to know even our worst habits, our screaming matches and the moments when we feel absolutely unloveable can, with time or loss, become items to treasure. We can be weird and foolish and imperfect and still absolutely right for each other.



Bad country music is really bad. The worst. Just about the only music I can’t stand besides the Bruno Mars “Grenade” song. But good country music — really good — makes my soul feel warm and fuzzy.

In tents.

Rain falls on tent material with a distinct plunk — a plunk unlike any POP you get on plastic siding or hissss on shingled roofs. Last night’s early March thunderstorm brought me back to a lot of rains on tents during yearly family vacations. It never fails, there’s a day the sky falls down and the six of us spend the evening eating sandwiches and playing Apples to Apples, shouting over the clamor of pouring rain on the vinyl sides of our pop-up camper. We’ve been inundated in Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, San Francisco, and absolutely soaked in a malfunctioning tent in the wilderness between Minnesota and Canada.

Because of these rain-induced quarantines, the sound now brings a sense-memory of warmth and well-being: close quarters and family and laughing and time away. Before we go to bed snuggled in sleeping bags in neat rows, Dad reads aloud — usually with his weird and wonderful miner-style headlamp and usually a haunting story of shipwrecks or gold rushes or, years ago, tales of the Ingalls family in the big woods (a story of four girls in the wilderness we could relate to, as wild children ourselves).

The morning after a rain would wake us up at dawn with its golden, misty light filtering through barely walls and birds singing and Dad already awake, drinking coffee by the remains of the fire. And I would think, safe and dry, “How wonderful, life!” And also, “How many minutes can I hold it before I have to leave my warm bunk, walk the quarter mile to the camp toilets and pee?”