There is No Such Thing as Lost


Once upon a time, a lifetime ago, I was walking in the wrong direction from my intended destination on a Paris street when the phrase that became my life motto popped into my head:

There’s no such thing as lost. You can always get where you’re going from where you are, it just might take a little longer than you’d intended.

I am a cautious person. I don’t like to travel without having accommodation booked in advance. I leave the house well before I need to and always arrive early. I stock back-ups for most household necessities in the pantry. And I really, really hate feeling lost.

I have a vivid memory of hot panic swelling from my stomach into my throat after taking too many wrong turns out of an unfamiliar parking lot once, until I couldn’t even find my starting point anymore. I pulled into another parking lot, breathing fast, and dug my Thomas Guide (remember those?) from under the passenger seat, frantically scanning the pages for the name of the street sign I could see.

Clearly, I made it home.

It took a few awful minutes before I started to calm down, finding the street on the map that would take me back to familiar territory – and remembering my old motto.

I can’t count the number of times since that circuitous route in Paris that “there’s no such thing as lost” has calmed me down (long before getting a leg-up from Lexapro), and it occurs to me now, closing out this shitstorm of a year, that perhaps the saying ought to apply to causes, too.

This past year has been hard on me personally in ways that pale in comparison to the grand scheme of things, but that personal difficulty has been amplified by the ugly that comes at us right now from all sides. John Scalzi wrote an insightful piece in October about how his writing process had slowed this year, and why, and it resonates with me something fierce. My friend Pam Mandel wrote about her foggy 2017, a combination of personal things and “existential crisis about America,” and that resonates, too. The cautious me is having a hard time being overly optimistic about much right now, and I know I have to try. The alternatives are too bleak to consider.

So, here goes.

There is no such thing as lost.

This work slump? It, too, shall pass. I’m fortunate to have a wee cushion, plenty of supportive family and friends who would never let it get so bad that I’m living under a bridge, and the aforementioned Lexapro. Sure, I worry about how long it’ll take for work to pick up again, for me to find new clients, for my former drive to plug away at my own projects to return. And?

There is no such thing as lost.

This overwhelmed feeling? It’s heavy. It’s easy to peer into the abyss at everything and everyone crying out for our much-needed attention and decide the only rational thing is to just crawl back into bed. It’s a frenzied game of whack-a-mole, and – yeah – it can feel pretty hopeless.

I spent a couple days after last year’s election more depressed than I had been in years, before I poked a few buttons on my computer to set up a recurring monthly donation to the ACLU. That small act made me feel better. It was the bottom rung of the ladder I hadn’t even known was there. I’ve been slowly climbing it since, partly by knitting (to date) 24 pussyhats for people in exchange for more than $800 in donations to places like Planned Parenthood, ACLU, NRDC, Southern Poverty Law Center, and more. I’ve made more of an effort to get the hell out of my house more often, getting to know my community (my guiding word these days).

Yes, the barrage of bad news is heartbreaking. There’s too much for any one of us to carry the weight alone. There have been so many times in the past year that I’ve felt like there’s no way I’m making a difference to any of the causes I believe in. And?

There is no such thing as lost.

This national mess? We got ourselves here, and we can get ourselves out. This is a cause worth fighting for, and a battle I remain confident we’ll eventually win. This will be painful, yes, and there will be setbacks. Wrong turns. Panicked moments when we don’t know where we are and we have to pull into a weird parking lot to scan the map with our index finger until we see a way out. And?

There is no such thing as lost.

Good riddance, 2017. You set up road blocks, but we’ll get around them. It’ll take longer than most of us intended, but we’ll get where we’re going.

Say it with me.

There is no such thing as lost.

45 || creative commons photo by Seth Tisue

Happy About Nothing

45 || creative commons photo by Seth Tisue

45 || creative commons photo by Seth Tisue

I have long since given up on the idea of posting regular updates here, on my personal blog. I’m busy enough with client work and keeping up with Italy Explained, and – let’s be honest, here – I’m not good enough at time management to get all my work done quickly and use that leftover time to write something on this blog.

(Lately, I’m using that time for knitting.)

And yet? Every year, on my birthday, it’s a thing that I do. And, before I sit down to write said birthday blog post, I review the past few years’ worth of birthday blog posts to see what I said back then. It has become one of my favorite parts of my birthday which, if you know me at all, is basically my favorite holiday after Thanksgiving.

(A whole day dedicated to wishing me well? Oh, yeah, I’m in.)

This year – 45! – seems momentous. Any multiple of five seems momentous, for reasons maybe only mathemeticians could explain, and I certainly don’t expect to live past 90, which means my mid-life was probably a few years ago. Still, 45? It feels like it should be a big deal.

And yet? I banished the word “should” from my vocabulary years ago, encouraged by my mother, who sagely warned it’s a bad word that only serves to make us feel bad.

Which is why I’m telling myself – and you, since you’re here, I mean, and can I get you something to drink? – that if 45 continues on basically like 44 then I’m good. That’s fine. I don’t need momentous. I’m not really sure I want momentous. I had momentous a few years ago, and that might just be enough for me for one lifetime, thankyouverymuch.

I liked 44. I mean, 43 was a big deal – it felt like a big deal, back then, to be honestly, genuinely, optimistically happy – and then 44 was a sort of stasis. Which was… Fine, really. Desirable, in fact.

When you get to a place you like, doesn’t it make sense to just, I don’t know, stay there?

I am in an exceptionally sweet and comfortable relationship with a man I love deeply. I feel like I’ve been in this cozy spot my whole life, rather than just the past few years, but it helps that we’ve known one another for more than two decades.

I have settled into the role of being a step-parent to an incredible kid, a kid who loves food (even the weird stuff) as much as I do, which makes her a pretty kick-ass travel companion, especially for someone who’s only 11.

I’m still never going to get rich doing what I do, and – one of the hazards of being a freelancer – I lost a big client just last month. And overall I’m still doing just fine, loving my day-to-day work and not missing a full-time office job in the least.

I’m saying “yes” to more suggested outings, when before I might have stayed in because I didn’t feel like showering or putting on outside pants. (It’s a thing, ask anyone who works at home.)

I have started reaching out more in my community (thanks, agonizingly depressing 2016 election!) so as to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of being too isolationist, and it feels way more energizing than I expected it to. (Bring an apple pie to your neighbors, you guys, it does your heart a world of good.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if nothing much changes in my life this year, I’m really okay with that. One could say that’s a bit boring as far as mid-life crises go, but it turns out “boring” might have been my ambition the whole time.

Back in 2014, when my pal Casey and I were in Pittsburgh, we spent a couple hours in the fabulous Andy Warhol Museum. I left with two souvenirs that, it occurs to me only now – some two-plus years later – not only beautifully capture the same concept, but that also speak to this place I am currently in. It is not where I was in 2014 when I chose a mug and a photo (both with Warhol quotes) from the gift shop, but evidently a part of me knew that this was my aspirational goal. I present the quotes to you now, without further comment.

warhol happy about nothing

warhol little things

A Week With My Mother Post-Back Surgery, By the Numbers

  • Hours spent at the hospital: 9.5
  • Horrible excuses for bulgogi beef eaten in the hospital cafeteria: 1 (which was 1 too many)
  • Staples in my mother’s back: 16
  • Disposable hospital gowns & pairs of gloves I went through: 5
  • Trips to Burgerville: 2 (twice as many as I typically make in a year)
  • Minor fainting spells (hers, not mine): 1
  • Fuzzy caterpillars seen: 7 (2 were squished)
  • Hours at the DMV: only 1 (seriously, if you have any DMV needs, go to Corvallis)
  • Profanities yelled at the TV during the second presidential debate: all of them
  • Bags of apples picked: 6
  • Times I was vaguely threatened by a rooster: 3
  • Times I was leered at by a cow: 2
  • Trips down memory lane: 12
  • Gilmore Girls episodes watched: 28
  • World problems solved: so many… if only people would consult us first
  • G&Ts consumed: oh crap, was I supposed to keep track?

with thanks to my pal Katie Hammel, from whom I swiped the “by the numbers” idea

The Great Smoot

The Great Smoot


“Have you ever seen Totoro?”

“The animated movie?” I asked, “No. Why?”

“He looks like – what were they called? – little black puffballs in that movie – something like Smoots, maybe?”

The boyfriend and I both looked down at the cat, and I started Googling things. It turns out the creatures to which he was referring were not called Smoots, but Soot Sprites. And an image search of “Soot Sprite” turns up the fact that other people think their cats look remarkably similar to the puffballs, too.

soot sprite vs smoot

It’s hard to tell the difference, I know.

Once uttered, however, Smoot could not be unheard. And so it came to be that our newest cat has finally revealed his true name to us. I’d like to (re)introduce him as The Great Smoot.

Of course, first he was just Smoot. Then Wee Smoot (he is so little, at least in comparison to the great monster cat), but this little guy has an outsized personality. And that’s putting it mildly. So, it was only natural that the name would evolve.

As it turns out, a smoot is a real (if somewhat farcical) thing. Our Great Smoot is far smaller than an actual smoot, but – at the same time – so much bigger.

The Great Smoot

winston c underfoot

Introducing Winston C. Underfoot


After we had to return Tallulah to the shelter when she turned out to not be a good match for Aloysius (or our busy, travel-loving household), we knew we would have to be really careful about choosing another cat. With lots of help from Animal Aid – where we got Aloysius – we now have a new kid in town.

Everybody, meet Winston.

winston c underfoot

Winston C. Underfoot, né Cole

Winston is a playful guy, though he’s not as instantly gregarious as Aloysius. He’s notorious among the people who know him best – at the shelter and his foster home – as a lover who purrs and drools copiously when happy, and who even hugs like a koala. I’m still waiting for a hug, but he’s already been really affectionate. His fur is super fine and silky. He’s not as easygoing about manhandling as Aloysius is, but he does like being petted.

At the shelter, he was called Cole, so his middle name is now Coltrane. (He will no doubt have 17 nicknames in no time, of course.) He’s had a bit of a rough time of life so far, having been in the shelter system for two years before we brought him home (they think he’s about 3.5 years old). He had a family before that, but they had to give him up when they lost their house due to a fire (no one was hurt, thank goodness). He’s got one cloudy eye that doesn’t alter his ability to see, and the shelter didn’t know if it might have been because of the fire.

So, yeah – it’s understandable if he’s a little slower to warm up to people. We haven’t always been reliable.

Winston is a little guy – he last weighed in about 10 pounds – but there’s a lot of personality in that little package. The more he warms up to us and gets comfortable, the more playful and spunky he is. I’m excited to have a lap cat around, and also one who may just give Aloysius a run for his money.

When we first visited Animal Aid to meet Aloysius, we were looking for one boy cat and one girl cat. When we realized later that Aloysius’ big personality was going to require a certain kind of buddy, the folks at the shelter pointed us to Cole. The two of them had been friends at the shelter, so it seemed like a good fit.

So far? It’s going well, though it hasn’t even been a week. Fingers (and paws) crossed.

winston c underfoot

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

Forty-four. Fancy, that.


Every year for the past few I have written a blog post for my birthday. A few of those years were pretty grim, so last year’s was a welcome change.

On the eve of my 44th birthday, I’m wanting very much to put together one of my annual blog posts while simultaneously feeling extremely guilty that – sitting in front of my computer – I am not working. See, I leave for Italy in less than two weeks, I’ll be gone for a month, and I’m doing as little work as possible during that time… Which means I’m cramming undergrad-style right now.

(Okay, not quite undergrad-style. I’m actually sleeping. Or trying to, at any rate.)

So, in brief…

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

Work is going very well, I got to travel quite a bit last year, and I’m looking forward to even more stateside jaunts after the Italy trip (which I am crazy excited about). I now have two ebooks published in conjunction with my Italy travel guide, and more in the works.

I remain happy, and even a little more settled than I was last year. I’m no longer in my transitional apartment. I am building a home and future with a wonderful man and his fabulous daughter. We aren’t a normal family, but it’s a sort of family. I never pictured myself as a family person, but now that I’m here there’s much about it that I genuinely love.

Fancy that.

A little anecdote from the other night demonstrates a bit of how much my life has changed, I think.

At dinner, the boyfriend was talking to the 10-year-old about impending adolescence, and how it’s almost her job to be surly due to body and brain changes, but that he hopes she’ll buck the trend and still be nice to her parents.

“And me,” I chimed in, as a joke.

“You’re a parent,” she said, not as a joke.

Years ago, that comment might have given me hives. The other night, it made my heart swell.

Once upon a time I lived in a town surrounded by wealthy families, and thought the only way I’d be happy was to have an entire Esprit or Benetton wardrobe like my classmates did. Once upon a time I sang in a struggling rock band, and thought the only thing that would make me happy was to be signed to a record deal. Once upon a time I was thisclose to living in Italy, and the achievement of that goal seemed the only thing that would make me happy.

Turns out there are many roads to happiness, and some of them might start out looking like that weird back alley your mother told you never to take even though they may open up onto a glorious field of flowers just around that corner.

Life takes us in funny directions sometimes, you guys. And I’m finally learning to not only follow that weird back alley, but listen more closely when life is practically yelling directions in my ear.

(44 and still learning. They say learning new things is good for the brain. That’s my excuse this year, anyway.)