The Trees for the Forest

I walked through the bar doors planning for a beer and a quiet patch of time to write this. I needed to write this; I’d already missed my deadline once. I’d been driving through mountain canyons for the last three days without a spot of time or internet, and was really hoping I could bang this out in the twenty-four-person town of Lowman, Idaho. I planned on that.

A small bunch of adults and several mediumish children greeted me with pizza in their mouths and cards in their hands, not asking but telling me to sit down. The dogs that had charged my truck now laid curled at my feet. I thought to thank them for including me, but I really had some work I needed to do, that I’d planned to do.

Fourteen-and-a-half-year-old Max asked if I’d have a slice of his homemade pizza. Kevin and Darcy, Max’s parents and bar owners, brought me a tallboy and continued with conversation as though they’d seen me yesterday and were just catching me up. Paul, topped with a floppy brim and a kid latched onto both his front and back, insisted they put the PBR on his tab. Debbie gave me an exaggerated wink as she regaled the time Quentin Tarantino (adoringly, QT) slipped into her pajamas, while on a movie shoot up the river a ways. She and Max loudly whispered to Colin, Kevin’s dad, that I was pretty and had a cool knit hat. Colin’s blind. When I mentioned that the John Denver in the background radio was my favorite karaoke song, Kevin turned it up, not quite loud enough to match the ten of our swooping voices. Max’s little brother, Mickey, danced along on the bartop better than I ever have. A couple of card games and slices later, they sent me off to my truck bed with one of the dogs so he can scare the wolves off when you have to get out and pee in the middle of the night. I’d only planned for bears. 

When I walked through the doors of The Lowman Inn, I had the bones of this piece already laid out. It was about the paradox of constantly planning the next thing before the present one has even finished. Of being so excited for all the things ahead that it overtakes whatever emotion might have naturally formed from being right here, right now. Sure. Well played. 

With Duke curled next to me, I listened for wolves, forgetting for a second about missing yet another deadline, grateful for Darcy’s promise of tomorrow morning’s coffee.

Home is a Stream of Unfettered Consciousness

Home is the moments of deep impenetrable silence while riding alone on a chairlift, watching the snow fall onto and off of the pine boughs. Home is the void between the trunks and limbs with untouched powdered crystals, where the embrace isn’t human flesh but biting air. Home is when you put your head into glassy water and slowly count the increments of exhale until you’re summoned back to the aboveland. Home is the first sip of coffee in wool socks and sleepshirts. It’s the bitter touch in the back of the mouth that makes you pucker both in the tongue and the space behind the eyes. Home is the half, maybe three quarters second of weightlessness in the transition from inside ski to outside ski—rare, to get a truly fluid, gliding, up and over motion. Home is peace. Home is the buzzing in your ears as you walk from the stovewarm insides to the snowdamp outsides. The tingle in your nerves as you jump from frigid river to boiling spring. Home is the sudden soft dry breath of wind that comes around the corner on the hiking trail. You weren’t expecting the juniper and sage, but now you wonder how without it you ever sustained. Home is finding a combination of words that join perfectly without any rewrites. Like they were meant to fit together the whole time. Maybe they had been together and we just separated them accidentally one day and forgot to put them back where we found them. Home is not making edits. It’s where the things simply fall into place and there isn’t any shuffling and repositioning to be done. Home should be easy. Or, home is easy, and anything that’s not isn’t quite home—it’s an approximation. Home is having a campfire without having to put together the campfire. It’s the smell and heat and ash of the fire, but not the effort. That’s the building of the home, not the home itself. Home is the brief and fleeting interim moments where you feel with all that is in you that the building is finished. The home is the shelter, the place where all the work is already done and all the thoughts and considerations have already been thought and considered. It’s the refuge. The rest. The place where the table is already set and there’s already a seat for you. There’s no “can I get you anything,” because everything is already there. You already have every single thing you could possibly need. You’re content. Home is contentedness. It’s the place where all you must do is be. You don’t have to contribute or produce or improve. Home is where you can hang pictures on the wall and not have to plan for how you’re going to patch the hole, because it doesn’t matter. It’s yours. Home is where you don’t have to ask for permission to plant a bush or paint a wall or have a baby or raise a chicken or cat. It’s where you can do the thing you want at the time you want to do it without fear of someone or something telling you “no” or “later.” Home is a state without consequence. A state where there is nothing to prove and nothing to earn. Nothing to sell but everything to offer. It’s a belief of abundance. There is no lack. Home is not yearning for a single thing, because how could it get any better than this? Home is the sweet spot. The just right. The all you need is a light jacket. The it’s already been taken care of. The feeling, the moment, the state of being. Just full and gentle being.

A Woman on the Edge of Panic Desperately Floundering to Find Her Legs Before They Float Up into the Air to Join the Whirling Worries of Worthlessness and Grander Anxieties of Nothing Actually Mattering So Why…Just, Why: A Case Study

Alternately Titled: Grounding

6:30 Wakes up.

6:31 Searches mind for the feelings she fell asleep with. Runs through the usual questions: Did she drink last night? Should she be feeling guilty about anything? Is there a thing to be sad about?

6:40 Cracks her back while pooping. Notices the toilet needs cleaning. Cleans the toilet. Cleans the sink while she’s at it.

7:35 Queues up three podcasts: one unbiased news, one very biased news, one philosophical sermon to give her soul something to chew on.

7:38 Grinds coffee beans.

8:00 Pours medium-light roast from Chemex into the mug with the sculpted clay boobs.

8:05 Washes dishes. Breaks one glass, but not till the end when the other plates are out of the sink already, so only shitdamnits a little while collecting the shards. Rinses down basin. Notices the counter needs cleaning. Cleans the counter. Cleans the stovetop while she’s at it. Sweeps the floors, beats the rugs, bleaches the bathtub, vacuums the baseboards and couch cushions and under the beds and in the small cracks of the cat’s scratchpad, scoops the litterbox, dusts the wine shelf, launders the bedsheets, sorts the mail while she’s at it.

10:35 Showers. Scrubs the grounds, dust, dried leaves, pet hair, and sweat off her with the exfoliating cloth and peppermint Dr. Bronners. Shaves her legs while she’s at it.

11:10 Figures she’s clean and the bed is made and she made good time, so jerks off a couple times. Tries to use this as a meditation of sorts to try to abandon plans and be fully present but she has to snooze several alarms which kind of defeats the point.

11:50 Puts on the blue dress with the pockets. Checks her credit score.

12:02 Calls mom on the way to the grocery store. Calls grandparents while parking. Wonders if it’s weird to call her mom after jerking off. Ignores it.

12:30 Picks produce and meats. Checks items off a list. Adds impromptu items like figs and tea to the list so she can check them off instead of just putting them in the cart and saving an entire two steps but lets herself do it for consistency’s sake. Spends a considerable amount of time in the flower department.

14:15 Arranges various bouquets while listening to the soul podcast. Chops the produce and cooks the meats and stores them in sturdy glass containers. Finishes the last of the coffee in the boob mug.

16:00 Unintentionally spikes her caffeine and needs to move her body, and decides jerking off doesn’t count as real exercise, so takes a run. Changes soul podcast to the Aesop Rock album that makes her cry a little bit and then Lil Wayne to balance it out.

16:38 Cold shower. A few moments of tingling as the blood warms up in her skin that feel like maybe today was good and she did her best and the lists are done, and even if she didn’t do anything of import and really just sort of broke even by doing the same things she did last week and will have to do again next week if she thinks about it which she is, at least she told people she loved them and the flowers look nice in the windows.

Power, Privilege, and Prosciutto

Returning through airport customs, a dog sniffed our bags. Meat. Which falls under food, which we did not declare, which is a crime. We went through four agents, each with increasing condescension and intimidation. I seethed. I ran the conversation in my head with different comebacks and rants. I thought of them walking into my bar, how I’d refuse to serve them, how I’d vengefully remind them that they were in my house, now. I played out how I’d take their drink away before they were finished, and laugh loudly at how I should just give it to the dog.

We sat outside the airport waiting for our bus. I said I’d be right back, I needed to fill my water bottle. I walked back inside, eyes open for an officer. I wanted to know the name of the current customs supervisor, wanted to let him know…fuck him, I don’t know. Just fuck him for being a fucking spiteful, malicious authority figure who wasn’t helping anything really. I rounded a corner and saw a small, sixty-some woman asking a passerby where she could find her equipaje. She kept trying. Not frantically, but persistently, and with not a single word of English. The man floundered for a minute before I stepped over and translated that she was looking for her luggage. I started to speak with her directly, and she said she needed her big bag, and that she’d come from Guatemala. At that moment, a massive badged man came up, and I thought to demand that he put me in contact with his buddy who’d belittled me and put me on a future screening list downstairs. I asked him for baggage claim instead. Her tiny, resilient frame turned to follow my translated directions. The officer thanked me.

And then I sobbed. I walked back to the curb, heaving. They took my prosciutto. What if it had been my kid? What if I didn’t know the words for the comebacks? What if every time I bought my plane ticket I knew I’d get stopped at the gate? What if every time I got in my car I had to make sure my tags were current? What if those grooves in my tongue were permanent from biting it every single day? I hated them all. All the authorities, all the systems, all the arbitrary fucking rules.

Sure, I’d done a kind thing. I’d helped someone. I’d redirected my anger for the half second that mattered, and that woman hopefully got exactly where she needed to go. And in theory, if we all did that, everyone would get where they needed to go. But what about the asshole downstairs who gives his dumb beagle my salami?

How to Pivot Your Career (without ruining your savings)

One of my favorite authors and creative people I follow on the internet is none-other than Eat Pray Love author Liz Gilbert. We all know a lot about the book right? The woman quit her life and went on a pasta-eating, spiritual, romance-filled adventure. But if you listen to her podcast, read her book on cultivating creativity, or go see a talk she’s given– she echoes one piece of advice:

“Don’t quit your day job.”

Why the hell is a woman who did the thing telling us not to do the thing? Why can’t I just quit it all and follow my every whim?! It’s not fair!! You’re right friends, it’s absolutely not fair. But there are real reasons why it makes it harder to just quit and go write a novel. There are real reasons and things that prevent us just from “doing it right now.” That doesn’t mean we can’t overcome them. It just means it’ll take a few things before we can. So, here are some happy tips on how to get to the point where you can actually follow your dreams.

For starters: expertise. Gilbert was a seasoned author working at GQ and other major publications before she decided to write this book and travel the world. It would be silly to say that you should quit without having a few years under your belt, consider the ways you can work on something a bit before you go all in– volunteer in a field you are interested in, asking for small gigs in the industry you hope to move to. These things do help!

Another real constraint that most us millennials feel: Money and security. Sluggish and uneven wage growth has made it difficult for us to feel comfortable moving industries or just quitting and restarting. I can’t give you all the advice on money saving. BUT I can tell you things I’ve tried:

  • Putting a % of my paycheck directly into a Savings Account (automatically, so you don’t get tempted)
  • Living at home or with roommates longer (sux, I know, but saves so much)
  • Cut those eating-out habits a bit (or give yourself a limit)

Lastly, when you make the jump to another place/job/industry– make sure you have someone to catch you. When I impulsively left my job in LA and moved to the Bay Area, I had a friend’s couch to sleep on, and a few freelance gigs lined up before I was ready to leave. You need to be safe, fed, and healthy before you can ultimately make time and space for following that dream.

The goal now is to continue to invest in the things I love, while slowly but surely moving closer to the thing I want to do MORE of. Because let’s be real, we can’t all quit our day job, but we can follow our dreams.

How to Make Friends

I’m a military kid, I’ve moved over 14 times in my over 26 years (that’s an average of 1.8 years in one place and a lot of packing). There are lots of formulaic things you learn after moving a ton: 1. pack the essential items and send them to the movers first, so you get them first when you arrive. 2. Unpack all your cute things right away so you can start feeling at home 3. Go to the new public library- it’s the best way to get connected to your community and lastly 5. Make friends, and fast.

When I was a kid, making friends was relatively easy. I would just find the kid sitting alone on the swings (I also love the swings) and I’d ask them what they had for lunch or if they wanted to play horses or if they liked kickball.

In middle school, it gets a little bit more tough but same concept. You find a girl in a similar discount-rack Aeropostale tshirt and you offer to lend her your favorite gel pen.

High school, you force yourself to join clubs. You join band, show-choir, regular choir, filmmaking, recycling club, drama, dance team and student council. You find someone who also joined out of fear of being left (or who’s parents forced them to go) and you talk to them.

So why is it so damn hard to make friends in adult life? We forget this method. We get inside our dumb adult brains and we think everyone else in our very transient city has a bunch of friends and they are probably texting them right now!

I still (personally) struggle with this, even though I used to consider myself a pro. I spent a year in one transient city not making many friends at all and relying on my long-distance partner for all my emotional needs. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS.

So, do the thing that small me did in elementary school. Walk up to the random alone kid at the park eating lunch by herself. Join the club/group/org in your new city. Download a friend-finding app (and then actually meet up with someone). Put in the work. Go say hi. Setup that coffee date. There are a bunch of humans walking around in this world, just looking for a friend like you.

Memes are My Love Language

When we talk about love languages we sometimes forget to think about how those expressions can show up– especially in the digital age. While loads of people argue (via the internet) that internet communication “is such a cheap expression of communication” I would like to argue “ok BUT think about the last time you received a really dank meme?!! Didn’t it make your heart flutter?!”

In the same way that sometimes we can sit next to our partner and enjoy a particularly good movie or TV show, we can also participate in some good internetting with our partner. My partner enjoys getting me into long YouTube seshs. And our most-recent internetting togetherness has evolved into a nightly “let’s watch TikToks!” We giggle at teenagers’ new dance trends, weird memes of girls a little too obsessed with their hydroflasks and cute little animals bobbing across the screen.

The internet can also be a great place to forge new connections, interests and hobbies. My partner knows I have a favorite internet cat. His name is bonebone and he’s often in pictures wearing a backpack that is way too big for his fluffy, chubby body. Naturally, I’m smitten. So when it was announced that bonebone had a tumor and was going in for surgery? WE FUCKING RALLIED AROUND THAT KITTEN. Don’t worry, reader, bonebone got it removed and is in much better health now. Though I’m not saying rallying around bonebone forged the connection between me and my boo, what it did was it gave us something to talk about besides our 9-5 jobs. The same way that other forms of media can connect and inspire conversation.

I’m not saying please stop giving real words of affirmation or spending quality time with your partner, do those things too. But love can show up in so many freaking ways, and the internet has a plethora of giggly-fun-silly expressions of creativity to share and experience together. So give your best meme-sender a hug today (physical touch)– you’d be so lucky to have them in your group chat.

Siri, are you a feminist?

She wakes me up in the morning. She puts on my favorite music. She turns off the lights for me and tells me goodnight. She’s not my mother, or even my roommate. She’s my Google Home.

“So what do you think about the fact that all of these AI devices are voiced by women?”

Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it until my boyfriend asked me one night. I had spent several years of using Siri, and owning a Google Home and even as a self-proclaimed feminist it never crossed my mind that the voice-assistant devices we were listening to all happen to have female voices. As our relationship with technology enters a new stage of intimacy it’s important to take stock of what that means for our lives, but it seemed so natural of a creation that it didn’t even cross my mind.

That’s because engineers built the voice we wanted. A soothing, calm, agreeable voice that would abide by our every whim. “We tested many voices with our internal beta program and customers before launching and this voice tested best,” an Amazon spokesperson told PCMag when discussing Alex. We grew up listening to the nurturing voices of our mothers attending to our more domestic troubles, so why not make the voice a natural fit?

Ok well, let’s tie this to real-life-gender-dynamics now. Women are the majority of the domestic workforce– 75 percent of all unpaid care and domestic work is performed by women, with an average of up to three hours more a day doing housework than men. Are virtual assistant replicated because of these dynamics?

The problem with only-female voiced AI devices is that these stereotypes are enforced. Domestic work = female work continues to be reinforced just by listening to the sound of the weather report.

As an experiment, I did ask my Google Home if she was a feminist. “I believe in equality for all. So yes, I’d say I’m a feminist.” Thank you at least to the human that programmed that response. Now can we build a way to unload all the systematic problems of having the voice of a woman at our beck and call will cause?

👨🏻 On Male Allyship in the Workplace

This is from our MEN issue, published in the SPNSTER newsletter.

It was 4:39 PM on a Friday, I was starting to wrap up my to-dos when I got an email from a male director-level coworker.

“Hey Nicole, new timeline for that email push, it goes out tonight!”

After rushing to produce all the copy, build the format of the email, combining all the images, creating the A/B test, my male coworker gave it a quick check and I sent it to the director back.

“Great work on this, Kevin*!” was the email response we got back. This director-level guy had come to ME for help, and even though I did that majority of the work it was Kevin’s work that was worth congratulating. It felt like a total dismissal of my contribution to a late-Friday ask.

Kevin’s response cooled me down though, “Hey, actually, you should send your thanks to Nicole. She did all the great work on this one.”

If I responded and stood up for myself to get credit where it was due, it would have seemed snarky and aggressive. In this simple acting of pointing out my work, and calling out the other to recognize it, Kevin gave me the floor and politely pointed out my contributions. And it stuck with me.

We live in man’s world, really. And until we can have a matriarchy 😉 we need to rely on our allies to help lift us up.

*Names have been changed to protect identities 😉