Archive for August, 2012

Mix Tapes

                I’ve always lived my life to a soundtrack of sorts.  Ever since the technology became available, I’ve been making mix tapes…and then mix CDs.  In the early days, I would wait for a song to come on the radio and then frantically hit the ‘record’ button on my boombox, hoping to catch the first notes of the song without getting the last notes of the previous song.  Thankfully, it’s evolved to simply dragging and dropping the perfect song into the desired playlist on the left side of my iTunes.  But the sentiment remains the same…those cassettes and CDs have become a catalog of those years and the emotions held within them.

                Though I haven’t owned a tape player in a very long time, I still have most of my mix tapes, sitting like time capsules waiting to be opened.  My CDs fill up three large binders, blank silver discs scrawled with my handwriting; they have titles like “Back to WB” or “Listen to Me!” or “For Driving Through Kansas.”  My favorite part about these nondescript titles is that when I pop in that CD and the sound starts to fill the car or the living room, I am immediately transported back to, say, my first year in grad school.  Each song that begins to play is another clue to the events that occurred in that time.

                Chances are that if you were a boy I had a crush on between the years of middle school and college, I made you a mix tape….but it was never for your ears.  It was filled with professions of love from singers with more courage than I would ever have.  If you’ve been my friend for a while, I have probably made you a mix CD.  It might have been filled with upbeat running songs, or my favorite female singers, or perhaps just my favorite songs at that very moment.  

Just last night, I promised a friend a copy of a mix CD I made called “Stronger.”  It’s….well, it’s a break-up CD.  I’ve made a few copies.   The title of the CD comes from a Kelly Clarkson song (you know, the bed feels warmer sleeping here alone) and the songs are all upbeat and easy to belt out while dancing around the living room.  There’s Katy Perry singing about a part of me that you’ll never, ever take away from me.  LaRoux promises that next time I’ll be bulletproof.  P!nk says that I’m still a rock star and I don’t need you. 

                But break-ups aren’t all Kelly Clarkson and dancing around the living room.  I mailed the “Stronger” CD to a friend last week who is having a tough time in her relationship.  But I also mailed her a CD I called “Cath…”.  It’s filled with songs about loss, about ambivalence, about not knowing how to leave.  The title is from my favorite Death Cab for Cutie song (Cath, it seems that you lived in someone else’s dreams).  There’s a song by Semisonic about a girl going to the movies and not coming back and how the boy is a fool for not going to find her.  Mat Kearney sings that nothing worth anything ever goes down easy; John Hiatt says Adios to California, Patty Griffin talks about Letting Him Fly.

                In the package to my friend, I included a note with the CDs.  I told her I cried to “Cath…” for months before I could dance to “Stronger” and I still listen to both.  In sharing these songs, though I didn’t write the words, I’m sharing feelings.  And that’s the amazing thing about music—the fact that a complete stranger can capture an emotion so personal, yet so universal, that we can connect through those notes.  It will leave me running for the ‘record’ button and creating new playlists for years and years to come.

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There’s something about birthdays that make us reflect on years past and years ahead.   The greeting cards give us wishes of a happy day, hopes of a wonderful year.  Then, there are all the cards that joke about getting old…older.  We are to embrace the day as a celebration of us and bask in the love of those that bestow the wishes upon us.  We get the gift of a new year.  We tie a bow on the year behind us.
                I just celebrated my birthday.  And it’s probably no surprise to any of you who read this blog that I was more than ready to put my previous year behind me.  It was eventful to say the least.  When I thought about how I would want to spend this birthday, how I would want to celebrate myself and the start of a new age, there was no question as to what I wanted to do.  I wanted to run straight to the arms of the ocean. 

                My parents tell the story of taking me to the beach for the first time.  I was three years old and when they set my little feet in the sand, I took off at a sprint for the water.  Thirty years later, things haven’t changed a bit.  I arranged for some time off work and made the drive to the coast a few days before my big day.  About an hour away from the ocean, I imagined I could smell the salt already.  The topography along the highway shifted to long tall pines and the road became completely flat. 

I changed into my bikini in a bathroom at a McDonald’s where the kid working the register took my order for iced coffee in an accent so thick that I could barely understand him.  I opened the sunroof and pressed the gas pedal relentlessly until I reached a parking spot at the beach where I met a dear friend, also celebrating her birthday.  The car engine was still warm probably by the time I’d thrown off my shoes and ran arm in arm with my friend into the waves, laughing as we both fell in.

                I spent the next few days letting the warm, crystal blue waters of the August Atlantic Ocean do its trick.  I floated on my back and let the waves gently pick me up and put me back down.  I lunched with friends on my actual birthday and the manager bought us dessert.  I had him wrap my cheesecake and took it down to the beach. 

                To be honest, I was a little worried about this birthday.  Though I knew I would be surrounded by love and wishes from friends and family near and far, it was my first birthday in a while in which I was truly on my own.  I guess I wondered if I still had the ability to celebrate myself, to take care of myself.  In that moment—savoring every last bite of that cheesecake, sitting in the sand, smiling at the water—I knew I had my answer.  It was the most perfect gift I could have given myself.

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been” – Madeline L’Engle


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I’m not so sure what it was about the news of the purple house that got my brain in such a tizzy…but it did.  You see, the house that sat next door to mine in Colorado was purple—bright purple, kind of periwinkle.  It served as a landmark to guide in new visitors.  We’re right next door to the purple house, we’d say.  Talking to my friend in Colorado the other day, she told me that the house was on the market.  I remembered the purple house lady telling me last summer that she was going to probably sell in about a year.  And I remembered that at that point, I took it as a given that I would still be living next door as prospective house buyers calculated in their head how much it would cost to repaint.

                But here it is a year later.  And it’s been almost eight months since I lived next door to the purple house, lived in a house that I had loved dearly.  I lived there with a husband and two dogs.  It’s hard not to look at that as a loss of inventory of sorts as I get the news of the purple house sitting alone in my new apartment, no dogs curled up at the foot of the sofa, no husband to debate the night’s dinner options with.  I still believe that I made the right decision.  But it doesn’t make things any less difficult sometimes.  There are just certain things that happen in my life that make me feel like I am simply on an extended vacation from my “normal life” in Colorado.

                The day after the news of the purple house, I made a road trip to Cincinnati to visit friends.  They left Colorado right around the time that I did—last December, before the snows started to fall.  Naturally, we talked about how our new surroundings were so different than living in Aspen.  I joked with them about still having ski racks mounted on the top of their car.  They spoke of starting a blog about the weirdness of leaving the Aspen bubble and living back in “the real world.”  Because it is weird. 

I never imagined that I would spend eight years of my life living in a Colorado ski town.  It was a place like no other and I have no doubt that living there will forever influence the being of who I am.  However, I had this feeling that never went away that for all the amazing things that it held, it was a place that just wasn’t mine.  There were many mornings—it got less frequent as the years wore on but never quite disappeared—-when I would wake up and feel like living in Aspen was just some crazy dream.  How was it that I lived in Aspen?  It was just so….weird.

On one of my last nights out in town before I moved  back to West Virginia, I ran into an old friend at a bar that was playing trendy dance music at a volume nearly impossible for conversation.  But I leaned in close to her ear and told her that I was leaving for the winter; that I had to see what it was like to not live in Aspen for a while.

“How is anybody ever really OK with living here?” I shouted into her ear.

“No one is ever OK with leaving here!  It’s why so many people eventually come back,” she yelled back to me.

“No!  I said LIVING here.  How is anybody ever OK with LIVING here,” I said.

She laughed.  “No one is ever OK with living here either.  It’s like purgatory!”

The conversation sticks with me and I have a feeling that it always will.  My decision to move to Aspen was kind of on a whim and a hope.  It worked out for me.  My decision to leave was filled with extremely tough decisions and hope that it would all work out in the end.  Neither decision was a bad one; I try to live my life without regrets.  After all, regret is a silly emotion, one that has no use for moving forward. 

Still my heart resides in many places and all I can do is follow where it leads me.  There will be times when something happens and my heart will yearn for the high, jagged peaks of the Rockies.  And there will be times when these rolling hills of West Virginia wrap me in like a bear hug.

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Pineapple Mojitos

I should be in Puerto Rico right now.  Not as in “I had a trip booked and it didn’t work out.”  Nope.  My best friend went there for business (I know, we all need a job like that right?) and put the offer out there weeks ago that she had a free place to stay if I wanted to join her.  I didn’t look for tickets; I guess it just sounded too extravagant.  Then, on Sunday, she sent a picture upon her arrival.  There was a blue ocean, white umbrellas and mention of a pineapple mojito.

                I looked for flights leaving the next day.  I gave myself a price limit on what I would spend to jet down to a tropical paradise on the spur of the moment.  Unfortunately, all the tickets I found exceeded that price.  And suddenly, my week ahead looked quite sad compared to the fact that I should be sitting on a beach ordering cocktails from a cabana boy (my best friend tells me there are no cabana boys, just cute bartenders but it’s my broken fantasy and I picture cabana boys). 

                And then Monday happened (as Mondays tend to do).  I got an upsetting phone call and though everything ended up working out fine, it left me feeling helpless and angry and sad.  It left me drinking a glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon in tears.  There are days in which I face the difficulties that I have been dealt in the past few months with strength, optimism and forgiveness.  And then there are days in which they get dropped right at my feet, as if to say “Here, deal with this.”  Monday was one of those days.  And the fact that I felt like I should have been sipping cocktails while tinny island music played in the background didn’t help things one little ounce.

                I don’t have an answer for this one.  Apparently, life can’t always give you tropical paradise and I believe I’ve already accepted that fact.  But life doesn’t always give you bad Mondays either.  We have to take them both.  There are plane tickets we coulda shoulda booked and phone calls that will have to be answered.  I will be spending my week sans cabana boy serving up icy cocktails and that really stinks.

However, these little trials offer up different things on a platter— lessons in forgiveness; lessons in trusting myself.  They come disguised as crappy days but if handled correctly, they can give me strength.  And this strength—one day it’s going to taste more delicious than the finest pineapple mojito money can buy.

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