There are many reasons I say I can’t cook and they are all called Brussels sprouts

Up until I was planning the move to NZ, I was super gung-ho about living a life of adventure and long-term travel. I was going to NZ and then Oz and then who knows – Thailand? Columbia? Vietnam? It was all up for grabs. Who wants to settle down and stay put and do horrid things like have traditions and friends who can come over when you’re sick and bring you soup?

Me, it turns out. I want that. I want all of that and a house I can decorate and a dog. God, I want a dog. I want a big fluffy duvet and cute plates and dinner parties. I want to cook good food and have a well-stocked pantry and to be able to make more than scones and chocolate chip cookies.

In short, I got old.

To cement the fact that I am apparently turning into an NPR-listening, house-decorating, cheese-making homebody, my favourite thing about Wellington is the farmer’s market. It’s down by the harbour, so I get to walk along the water, and there’s food trucks and farmers and butchers. It’s heaven, basically. Not only is it heaven, it’s cheap heaven. Vegetables that would cost $40-50 at the grocery store are $12-15, so I try to pick up a few things that I haven’t cooked before and see what I can do with them. I got tamarillos last week. This week I got Brussels sprouts.

I blame my friend Donovan for my obsession with Brussels sprouts. I went to visit him in March to help set up his trapeze rig (yes, my life IS awesome, thank you for noticing) and he forced them on me the same way he forces me to do things like learn to drive stick shift or try the flying trapeze. He tells me it’ll be good for me/fun/delicious and then he mocks me until I try it. It’s surprisingly effective. Anyways, he roasted a pan of them and fried up some bacon and hello, new favourite vegetable.

But then I got lazy and didn’t cook them. Ever. So when I saw them at the farmer’s market this weekend, I thought, “Why not?” I’ve been inspired by Queen Nigella, long may she reign, and thought I could totally tackle the world’s most finicky vegetable. So I looked up recipes and found this awesome recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts and grapes.

Looks good, doesn’t it?

So I did a little mental math, preheated the oven, tossed the Brussels sprouts and grapes with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar for no other reason than because I’m adore it, and popped them in the oven.

Spoiler alert: I’m apparently really bad at math.

Fail fail fail fail fail
This is what failure looks like

See those grapes? No, not the ones that look like grapes. The other ones. The weird, flat black ovals at the top of Mount Godawful. Those grapes are so hard you can’t even crunch them under your shoe. The ones that look like grapes I added at the end, in the vain hope that I could still eat this charcoal mess. I tried! I really did. But the insides of the Brussels sprouts were as mushy as the outsides were burned and I just gave up and made poached eggs.

Tell me I’m not the only one to fail so badly at this vegetable. Please?

Anybody?

Bueller?

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Writing is a strange beast

The first time I tried to write a novel, it was NaNoWriMo and I had a vague idea about writing something. Mostly I just wanted to see if I could write that much and possibly string together a narrative. I had a (terrible) idea and I got to writing.

(It didn’t go well, if you’re wondering.)

I have it somewhere, I mine it for parts when I need to, but for the most part? It sits there, doing nothing. But I learned from it – I learned the dedication I’d need, I learned to let myself just write and let it be shit sometimes (all the time), I learned how to enjoy watching the word count stack up. It was a vital exercise, but that’s all it was. An exercise.

Now I’m writing the book I want to write. Now I’m writing the story I’m passionate about, the story I’ve lived with for just over two years. (I’m not kidding about that, by the way. I got this story idea in July of 2013 when a friend put out a call for kind of creepy stories for a magazine she was starting.) I know this story backwards and forwards. I know where it starts, I know where it ends.

If anybody has ever written a book before, they’re laughing at me. I know they are.

You know how I know they’re laughing? Because novels do not do what you expect. Characters do not do what you expect. They have minds of their own and you just have to sit back and let them do what they need to do. You might have a plot point in mind, and it might be the right thing, but they have a totally new way of getting there.

I tried explaining it to my friend Jen a week or two ago. Jen is kind of the perfect person for me to try to explain things to when I want to get really concrete images because we think really differently. She’s also basically the biggest cheerleader I have when I’m working on a project, so even though I don’t really talk about big projects while I’m working on them (people don’t seem to accept “I don’t know yet” as an answer, nor do they love “Well, it’s kind of about arranged marriages, corrupt societies, what happens if you separate justice from mercy – or if you even can – feeling out of step with your surroundings, anger management, the Japanese space program, and the line between love and obsession”) and I was trying to explain this phenomenon to her.

“It’s like you’ve been given directions and somebody told you where you were going, but you got distracted and didn’t totally hear them. So you’re following the directions and you see where you thought you were going and say, ‘Oh! I’m going to New York! I thought I was going to Newark.’ Same basic direction, totally different destination.”

That’s what this is like. I think I understand things, I think I understand the characters and then I have these all-caps revelations (no, seriously, my notes in Scrivener are often in all caps because I just can’t get over the shit I’m figuring out about this society) and suddenly I’m as surprised as anybody else about what’s going to happen. I mean, sure, I know it a little sooner, but dang. Daaaaaaang.

But, as my friend Stuart tells me, first thoughts are wrong thoughts. Projects should change and grow as they develop, and that’s reassuring. I’d hate to think I had everything figured out – if I did, there’d be no reason to write things down.

An Answer To The Impossible Question: Why?

15-ish hours ago I boarded a plane and landed 12.5 hours later in a different hemisphere, thousands and thousands of miles away from the people I love.

Why did I do this?

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? That’s the question I’ve been trying to answer for months now. I’ve been telling people the same rote answers – because I can, because it’s pretty, because who am I accountable to, because when will I get to do this again? These are all true, but they are not the truth. Until I got on that plane, I don’t think I knew why I had to come.

I’m running away.

I am every child that has ever shoved their stuffed animals and favourite t-shirt into their backpack and walked to the end of the driveway. I am every teenager who stared longingly at their car or stopped a little too long in the train station, wondering what they could put in a note to make people understand why they had to go. Because when you need to run away, when everything in you says, “Go, go, go!” the people who don’t hear that chorus pumping through their veins have trouble understanding just what could make you want to leave. It’s nice where you’re at, it’s comfortable. But there is something in your heart screaming and it drowns out everything else.

I’m not running from people or a place or a situation, though. I think I’m running away from myself. I’m running away from the person I’ve been – I’m going halfway across the world to sacrifice her to the gods of travel and the ocean and the written word. I’m running away from the person that made her decisions because somebody else wanted her to. I feel like I’ve spent so much of my life basing my choices around other people that it feels incredible to make them for me. And selfish. And stupid.

But I keep getting the feeling this will be the last time I run away. This will be the last time I look at my life and say, “No, I can’t do this, don’t make me do this anymore.” Because now I’m not making plans based around anybody else – wherever I go from here, whatever I decide, it will be for me. It will be a choice. I will not fall into a place or a job just because it’s convenient or because I think I should want it. Fuck shouldShould has no place in my life.

I don’t know what I’m doing here. I have pretty much no plan. But I need to prove to myself that I can do this – that I can take off and do something totally unfamiliar and be okay. If I’m ever going to feel like I’m choosing my life, I need to do this. And wherever I go from here, it’ll be what I want and I’ll choose it for my own reasons, and that is far more than enough for me.

Two skies, two storms, and a new set of stars

There is a storm coming. Thunderstorms arrive here after days of build up, coming in only after the air has grown so thick with moisture and the promise of rain that you wade through it. It sits heavy on your skin and you look at the sky and exchange the same words with every stranger you see.

“Is it going to rain?”

This means not just is it going to rain, but when is it going to rain and how long will it rain for and where is the storm we’ve been promised and how did we get so lucky. 

Southern storms are chaos and catharsis. They rage above your head, lighting the sky in flashes and the lingering brightness behind your eyelids that traces lightning bolts after they’re gone. They are a sudden release from the tension you didn’t realise you were carrying while you waited for the heat to break.

I never saw these storms in Scotland. I never felt the build up: rain was a constant, damp was forever. Rather than lay on top of you, it was in you, a deep chill that took days to disappear. It lingers in me even now, I can feel it when I see pictures of Edinburgh’s bright grey sky.

In fact, I don’t know that I’d ever say I felt a storm in Scotland. Rain, yes. But a storm that takes days to build and crashes through the sky, announcing itself for all to hear? No, I can’t say I ever felt one of our brash American storms out there.

Soon I’ll be buying a ticket to sleep under another set of stars, to grow familiar with another kind of weather. I will be by the water again, I will see the change from winter into spring. What do they call the haar there? What sound does the air make before the rain begins to fall?

And how many stars are there that I haven’t seen?

I’ve slept under southern skies before, I can find the cross, but I have never called them home. I have slept under northern stars for almost 29 years and though I couldn’t count them all, they are familiar. But I will be facing a different side of the universe, seeing the other half of the vastness of creation that I still cannot fathom. And yet two of the happiest nights of my life, two of the nights where I stopped and just let myself sit with the wonder and beauty and thrill of the world, two nights where magic felt real – they happened under southern stars. They happened in the blackest black of the night when I looked up at the enormous sky and thought that the whole world was designed for that moment.

I have missed the southern storms and I miss the Scottish skies, but even knowing that this adventure has meant letting go of other dreams, I am ready to sleep under strange stars again.

Relationship Insanity; or, Getting Tired of Making the Same Mistakes

The funny thing about being single in your late twenties is that people suddenly feel like they can – and should – give you advice. As if being single is some horrible disease and with the right combination of positive thinking and flat-out refusal to accept the diagnosis, you’ll be cured. It is so ridiculously fucked up that I’m not even really going to address it, except to say this: Back off. I mean it.

But the problem is, if you’re single and don’t really necessarily want to stay that way forever, you have to do something. Dating is up there with flat hunting and applying to new jobs in my Top 3 Most Demoralising Experiences on Earth, so that’s out. I’m bad at it anyways. I just want to get past the bullshit and be able to talk, and dating just seems to be rehashing the same boring bullshit small talk over and over and over. I’ve been on one good date in my life, and I’m 99% certain the reason it was good was because we both knew I was leaving.

However, clearly the way I’m doing things isn’t working, so I got on the phone with my best friend to try to sort this issue out/ask for her help. You see, she is the person who can consistently tell me why a relationship is going to end – but doesn’t. She knows me well enough to know I’m basically not going to do shit just because somebody else says I should, so she keeps her mouth shut. Which means she both knows me well enough to know what I need and she knows that it’s very different from what I want. So when it came time to try to figure this out, she was a natural person to talk to. And what she said was that kind of lightbulb moment that you see in cartoons when suddenly everything is illuminated.

“Sarah, the thing is, I think every girl is raised on the dream that a guy will change for them. But the thing with you is, they always change for you, at least for a little while. They try, and you see that and that’s the image of them you keep in your head. I know a lot of girls who will date douchebags because they’re smart and driven, and you at least know how to pick nice guys, so you’ve got the hard part down.”

She said that and it was like – yes. Yes, that’s exactly how it goes. I feel like I’m constantly dating guys who have to try – try to be what I want, try to keep up, try try try. They try past their natural inclination, and then orders of magnitude past that. And then they’re exhausted, but I’ve seen what they seem capable of and I keep pushing. And when they go back to who they naturally are, I get confused. And I push. And each time it doesn’t work, I get more frustrated until it all falls apart.

And I’m tired. I am. I’m so tired of feeling like I need to help somebody become. I’ve got my own work to do, my own set of things to work towards. I no longer have the emotional energy to put towards their becoming. I want to see proof now. I want to see that they have laid the groundwork.

But let’s be honest: I’m a sucker for the chrysalis stage. Becoming is fascinating, and if you add in a cute smile and good banter, I’m done. So I’m not doing this on my own anymore. A few trusted friends have been notified (in writing, because there’s nothing I love so much as a legally unenforceable contract) and we’ll see where things go from here. Maybe it’ll be a failed experiment, but the next time something sparks, I want to see if it’ll catch without me constantly fanning the flames.

A brittle kind of peace

I’ve been trying to think of the word “brittle” lately. I knew we had a word that meant more than “fragile”, that implied that something was easily shattered, but it wouldn’t come to mind. It ran and I chased it, and I only just caught up.

Brittle is how I feel. The peace in my life right now – the knowledge that I did what I could, that the path I wanted isn’t meant for me – could shatter at any second and cut everybody around me when it breaks.

Most of the time, I’m living an adventure. Exploration has always been the name of the game, after all. Most of the time I think about the wide world opening up in front of me and I’m happy. Excited, even. For a while I let myself lose sight of it, I let myself think that settling down and putting down solid roots could be an adventure. I thought that it was going to be okay for me, that I’d be able to do it just right. And maybe I could have. Maybe I could have settled in, gotten comfortable. But visa restrictions being what they are, I couldn’t do it. I had to leave. And so I boarded a plane and told myself I’d be back one day.

I hope that’s true.

I’ve been in Sweden for the past week, recuperating. I’ve been sleeping as long as I need to, feeding my body good food, laying off the booze. I’ve been reading and writing and letting myself dream. And I’ve booked a ticket home.

What a funny word, “home”. What odd implications. I always thought it was the place you wanted to go back to. The place your adventures started from. But I think maybe Robert Frost is right – it’s the place that can’t turn you away. Scotland doesn’t want to be my home right now. I don’t want North Carolina to be my home. I want the whole damn world to be my home, I want Edinburgh to be my home. Can I have both? Can I explore and be rooted, especially to a place that won’t have me? I don’t know. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.

The people that tie me to a place have always been important. I’m going back to NC and I get to see some of the people I love most in the world – my family, my friends, my Amazons. I get to spend time with them and snuggle babies and meet new boyfriends and girlfriends and pets. And I get to do it knowing this is a temporary stop, and that makes it scarier and more precious.

I have a growing allergy to things. I am getting rid of them, giving them away, selling them when I can. I can’t stand the idea of stuff clogging up my life. I want to buy a backpack and wander. I wish I’d done it earlier, actually. I wish I’d downsized ages ago, then maybe it wouldn’t be so hard. Maybe I wouldn’t be so restricted. But I believed in the path I was on, and I embraced it whole-heartedly. And I believe in this path even more.

And so I am heading off into a world of adventure with a restless spirit and the knowledge that if I look back, I’ll turn to salt or shatter, and I think that maybe that’s exactly how it should be.

How do you measure time?

I was talking to my mom today and I was telling her that I’m trying to get out there and date again. After having my heart broken and nursing the wounds for almost a year, it’s time to think that maybe, possibly, somewhere out there a guy exists who is better than the one who left me. The one who will tell me he still loves me but can’t be with me, as if that will somehow make this easier instead of pouring an ocean’s worth of salt on the wound.

And at some point in our conversation, she told me I measure time in relationships. That my dad measures it in music – he will remember a time in part based on what songs were popular, as if his life has a playlist only he and the top 40 charts can remember – but I measure mine in men.

This is frighteningly true.

In a lot of ways, I’m fiercely independent. I will do what I want, when I want to – unless there is a guy in my life to take into consideration. And, spoiler alert: there is almost always a guy in my life. I remember some better than others, and some weave their way in and out of my life at different times, but there is almost always some guy at least in the background.

And that’s a weird thing to acknowledge. I want to say that I don’t need a guy, that I can live a perfectly happy life without one, and I am determined to make at least the latter half of that true. But I think I’m the kind of person that does need somebody – I think I’m better in a relationship. I’m more considerate, definitely. I have to squash the petty annoyances and selfish habits that I am prone to when I’m on my own, and I think that’s a good thing.

If things don’t work out the way I want them to – if I don’t get to stay here, if I can’t make Scotland see me the way I see it – I have a back up plan. And this is the first plan in 10 years that isn’t dictated by a guy. When I moved over here (partly for the guy I was seeing at the time), I said to anybody who would listen that New Zealand was my back up plan. If I couldn’t find a way to stay here, I’d go there.

“New Zealand is our back up plan,” my then-boyfriend once corrected me.

“Oh, yeah. Our back up plan. Sure.”

(You could say that’s proof that I *don’t* actually squash the selfish part of me when I’m in a relationship. I say it’s proof that I was already starting to understand that the relationship I was in wasn’t a good one.)

I still hope it doesn’t have to happen. I still want to stay here. But it’s nice to think that I could make a decision for myself for once. Because when I think about this year, there are two things that define it for me. Writing is the first – it was the primary goal when I came here: to give myself time to write and time to be around other writers. But the second? The second is an Irish guy with bright blue eyes who always remembered the things I told him (but let me tell him the same stories over and over anyways) and made me laugh even when I didn’t want to.

If I have to get over him, if I have to give up the place that I love most and move past the person I still want the most – well, I’m going to do it from someplace breathtakingly beautiful.

Insert Interesting Title Here

I can’t believe this weekend happened. I just can’t.

A year ago, my life was so different. So different. The people I hung out with were incredible, but the city I was in was not for me. The job I was doing was no longer for me. I was only just starting to think about the reality of changing my life, of moving to Scotland, of focusing on my writing.

And here I am, a year later. I have a dissertation that will eventually turn into a novel, a short story project that I’m having a blast with, and the kind of nerdy, passionate friends any writer would be lucky to have. I live in a city that I’ve fallen in love with with teenage intensity.

And I read at the Book Festival.

I was so nervous, y’all. I knew maybe 1/3 – 1/2 of the crowd, I knew they were there because they were excited for me and proud of me and wanted to support me, and I was still terrified. I was wearing a dress I felt confident in, my red lipstick of power and glory, and shoes  probably wouldn’t fall in. And I was shaking like mad. I was recovering from a sore throat, my voice sounded strange in my own ears, and I thought for sure my hands would be shaking so much I’d drop my notebook on the way to the podium.

But I didn’t. I walked over like I knew what I was doing (in my head I was Meryl Streep playing the part of a woman comfortable speaking in front of crowds) and I introduced myself and I read my stories. And I only screwed up once! Well, maybe twice. But still! I call that success.

The biggest gift of all of this is, of course, the confidence boost. The feeling that the voice that says Yes, I’m good at this. Yes, I can do this, is right and that I’ll make it work. Because this can’t be where I end. I won’t let it be. Story Shop was an honour, but it can’t be the biggest one I ever get. I want it to be a jumping off point.

So I’ll make it happen. I don’t know how, or what I’ll have to do, but I’m going to make it happen.

I Am Not A Poet, Except For Maybe Sometimes?

About a month ago, I went to an open mic night I’d heard about. I like open mic nights. I like the combination of experience and knock-kneed newbies, the featured poets and the new storytellers. You’ve got five minutes and a mic, and whatever happens, happens.

The whole time I was there, I was kind of in awe. Poetry is not my forte. I like prose. I like the way I can go on and on and on or keep things short and simple. I like the look of a paragraph, the indentations on the page, the way thought after thought can string together. Poems intimidate me. They’re so visual, every line break adding meaning, enjambment giving emphasis or double meaning or….well, yeah. Poetry is hard and scary and beautiful and wonderful and I rarely try to write it. Mostly out of respect for the form, but also because I hate failing at things, and I think I would fail as a poet.

But something about that open mic made me say, “Hey. I’m gonna give this a shot.” So for the last month I’ve been working on a poem. Yes, you read that right. One poem. Sometimes people get confused and think that poetry should just flow out, that it’s all emotional and not about storytelling at all, that poetry is some kind of lazy form that just gets spouted out and left alone.

Wrong.

I have stared at some of these stanzas far, far longer than I’ve ever worked on a paragraph. I sat for two hours one night and changed three words. And then I changed two of them back to what they’d been originally.

So last night I let people read them for the first time. I went on a killing spree yesterday, you see, I killed all my darlings, every line I loved from the very first draft of this poem is gone. And I needed to see if it worked. I was completely terrified, I’ll admit it. You see, I’ve gotten to know a lot of really talented poets over the past few months, and I’ve seen incredible performers. What makes me think that I can do that? What makes me think I deserve to be a part of that world? Aside from arrogance, that is. Aside from some part of me saying, “You’re talented, too.” I mean, it’s just 5 minutes and a mic. It won’t kill me.

I sent my scary little poem off to two trusted friends, caring people and talented poets, and I waited. I’m in the middle of submitting stories to contests and sending out job applications and waiting for grades, and this terrified me more than any of those things. And the crazy thing is, they liked it. They liked my poem. My poem with its month of revision after revision, the poem that I have recorded myself reading over and over, that I have painstakingly read out loud and listened to over and over and over again, looking for a faulty rhythm or a repeated word…they think it works. They like it.

Now I just need to figure out how to read it in public without dying of stage fright.

A tale of two crows (and other random goals)

Once upon a time, a very active girl had a very bad injury. She hadn’t listened to her body, she hadn’t rested it when it needed rest, and the punishment was severe. After surgery and after a lot of pain and rehab, she was given the green light to start yoga. She’d never done yoga before, but she was finally allowed to do something with her body again, so yoga it was.

Intimidated, she walked into the yoga studio and asked to go to a class. She was shaking, but she didn’t know why. She had a cheap mat like every other newbie, she had yoga pants and a tank top, she had everything that could mark her as Somebody Who Had Done Their Research. The woman behind the desk – a woman this girl would eventually practice with, be friends with, spend hours on a mat with – was very kind and welcoming and told the girl not to be afraid. She’d love it.

And she did.

From February – August of last year, yoga was part of my life. I was in the studio three times a week, taking hot yoga classes and Pilates classes and aerial yoga classes. I learned about inversions and arm balances and spinal alignment. The first time I saw somebody do crow, I thought, “No way. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to do that.” And then, a month later, I got it. Not for long, just long enough to say, “Oh!” and fall. But I got it. I worked at it over and over and over, until I could goof around in the climbing gym and do it. So I did. Often.

July Crow

When I moved to Edinburgh, I was so overwhelmed I did not go to the gym the first four months I was here. I joined it, but I didn’t go. I didn’t find a yoga studio. I didn’t climb. I did nothing. And then, after more drama than I could take, I realized my body desperately needed to move. I was sitting in my favourite bookstore shaking because I had so much pent-up energy racing through my body, and I realized I needed to climb. I needed to boulder. I needed to move. So I did. My friend Hayley and I started climbing together about 3 times a week. I put all of my workout eggs into that pre-paid basket, and I progressed. I progressed in a major way. From January-April, I went from being a 4+ climber to a 6A+ climber (soooo for my American friends, that’s going from about a 5.8 to a 5.10c).

But I’d forgotten about yoga. I haven’t even unrolled my mat since leaving the US. It’s funny, because yoga was such a calming experience for me, but it was a challenge in the same way climbing is. You have to focus on what you’re doing, think it through, experiment with body positioning and balance, and be willing to fail. Be willing to fail over and over and over again until you don’t fail. When the guys at the gym set new routes, they’ll ask Hayley and I  to test them out. “Fine,” I’ll say. “But you’re going to watch me fail a few times.”

Their response? “Good.” Every time.

The thing is, it’s not fun if it’s not a challenge. It’s not fun if you don’t have to work at it, experiment, think your way through. It’s why we continue to climb harder grades – it’s no fun when things are easy.

So yesterday, after a really successful day climbing and finding a new project (a route I couldn’t complete that I want to be able to climb), I wanted to try something.

I wanted to try crow again.

Like I said, I haven’t done yoga in ages. I haven’t tried crow in ages. I haven’t paid any attention to make sure my body could move the way I wanted it to move, but I wanted to try it anyways.

April Crow

Well, will you look at that?

I came to this program with a story to tell. I have a book in my brain that nobody has written, and I desperately want to read it. I’ve tried to write it a few times, getting a few thousand words in before giving up. It’s a tricky book, a scary one, a book that I believe in so badly but have never been the kind of person who could write it. Since getting here, I haven’t tried to write it once. I haven’t let myself go into that world.

But I’m ready now. Or, if not, I’ve spent so much time thinking about other stories and other characters that it’s time to revisit the big one. The important one. Because the thing about trying crow at the gym was getting it prompted me to try a few other things I’ve never tried before. I tried side crow. I tried dragonfly. I failed at both, but I’m energized to keep trying. I’m going to write this story and it’s going to be clumsy at first and it’s going to be awkward and I’m going to fall on my face in front of my friends and my professor, but I’m going to get it written.

This book of mine will have a birthday. This body of mine will do a handstand. And these things will happen because I know what it feels like to fail – it feels energizing. It feels scary. And it feels more exciting than anything each time I get just a little bit closer to success.