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A Chapter: San Francisco

I moved to San Francisco in early August. I drove in from the south, watching the temperature hover at a steady 112 degrees. Suddenly, I rounded a corner and saw a line of thick, white cloud pressing down on the land in front of me. The temperature plummeted to 59, and I drove in, literally blind to what was in front of me.

There were cracks in my foundation, and I was doing my very best to ignore them. I left Houston and didn’t think twice as I careened toward San Francisco. The longer I’ve lived here, the more I’ve heard similar stories from other people; San Francisco is the kind of place where you don’t really move with care and deliberation. It’s a place to run to, a place where the misfits have rewritten the rules. It’s a bit like Neverland, accepting lost boys and girls who swear they’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up… not me! And it slows time in the strangest way. The seasons and the years bleed together, until suddenly you realize that it’s been nine years.

Nine beautiful years. Nine years of pinching yourself every day, remembering that you have the awesome honor of living here. Nine years of being chilled through to your bones. Nine years of feeling like every day has magic and possibility. Nine years of ignoring how damn difficult every transaction is: getting to work, standing in line to buy groceries, finding parking at 9pm, getting the bulk pack of toilet paper from the store to your house. Nine years of falling in love with a place every single day. 

It all feels like a blink. And yet, when I do the accounting, I see how I grew up, grew up, grew up… meIn that first year, my foundation shattered. I broke my own heart and someone else’s, and took a wrecking ball to a dream I’d nurtured since childhood. I changed every single thing that could change. It took years two and three to reassemble myself. I started this blog. I found other people, online and in real life, who were reflections of myself, who made me feel less weird and alone. I met the Horse Whisperer, and — in years three and four — learned what the word “partner” means. In year five, I found a career that I love and discovered that the things I thought were weaknesses were actually my strengths. Somewhere around year seven, I became a San Franciscan – someone who knows this town like the back of my hand, who can pinpoint exactly which person on the bus is going to make a scene, who can tell you exactly where to get this or that item. And I thought to myself, “This is my place. This is where I’ll grow old. I’m one of the ones who will stay.”

And yet, quietly, somewhere around the eight year mark, I looked around and thought, “I could be ready for the next thing.” It felt like an insidious joke, that first whispered thought. I vehemently denied it, refusing to give it any room to grow. But a few weeks later, there it was again: “I could be ready for the next thing.” And it grew and grew, Jack’s beanstalk tempting me to leave Neverland. I just couldn’t figure out where it was going. “I could be ready,” I kept thinking, but there were other factors. I work in a relatively narrow field, and the Horse Whisperer’s industry is extremely limited. He’d made it clear, in our first month of dating, that there was only one job for which he’d be willing to leave the Bay Area.

Which was why I knew where the beanstalk went the moment that they called.

And so, we are leaving San Francisco. In a few months, we’ll say goodbye to this incredible place that formed us, both as individuals and as a couple. We’ll pack up our house and our hearts, because loving San Francisco doesn’t mean leaving your heart here. We’ll drive south, and we’ll plant new roots in San Diego. And we’ll look back forever, pinching ourselves that we had the amazing privilege of living in San Francisco for nine glorious years.


Adieu, thirty-two

I’m turning 33 tomorrow. Thank goodness.

Look, I’m not one to wish away time, but 32 has been A Year. But for all its drama, I learned a lot from 32. I guess that’s the tradeoff. A few lessons from this year:

  1. Pick up the phone and call. I’m a terrible phone caller. Intellectually, I realize that calling someone that I love is not an annoyance to them. But on some really primal, visceral level, I get entirely paranoid about calling. I will probably always battle this – I still do, even as I type this – but this year has reminded me, again and again, that it’s always worthwhile to pick up the damn phone. The night before my Memo died, I talked to her on the phone, and I think I’ll be grateful for that for the rest of my life.
  2. Save your money, honey. We hemorrhaged cash this year. Some was planned, most was not. There was (minor, but expensive) surgery, planned and unplanned trips, large-ticket maintenance on things, surprise repairs, outsourcing of professional services, and a let-us-never-speak-of-this-again traffic ticket. And yes, we blew through well over half of our savings account, but at least we had a savings account to destroy. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that cushion. It was not glamorous saving it up over the past few years, but wow. So, so grateful. (And now, to save it all again. Headdesk.)
  3. Sometimes, hunker down. For part of this year, I was not fit for human consumption. Pretending that I was A-OK was not working. So, I went into slight hibernation. I read many library books. I cooked a whole lot. I set some pretty firm boundaries around my time and space. H-dubs wasn’t the hugest fan of this phase… see number 4…
  4. Admit your s#%t. Finally admitting to the Horse Whisperer that I felt like I was about to have a nervous breakdown wasn’t my favorite conversation ever, but it really helped. For a while, my general not-okay-ness was bleeding over into everything. The hunkering down was annoying for other people. Saying aloud that I felt like I needed this for my basic well-being was a conversation I’d been avoiding. Explaining what was going on helped frame everything as temporary. Poor guy… I think he was starting to think that this was the new status quo.
  5. Choose your partner in life carefully, because when things are tough, they’re your touchstone. Y’all, I can’t stress this enough. After I finally came clean about how I was feeling, the Horse Whisperer became basically the greatest cheerleader in the history of the world. We’ve become such better friends this year, if that makes any sense.
  6. As we grow older, we basically just become more and more concentrated versions of ourselves. Protect that. I’ve suspected this for a long time, but this year really confirmed it. I have realized that it is critical for me to live with intention, thoughtfully considering who and how I want to be in the world. There is a baseline of who I want to be that I have no interest in compromising. When I notice that something is actively preventing me from being the best version of myself, it’s time to cut bait.
  7. Likewise, other people also become more and more concentrated versions of themselves. Expecting otherwise is futile and unfair. That’s all there is to say about that. Love people for who they are instead of who you want them to be, and things get a lot happier and easier for everyone. And again, if Who They Are is forcing me to compromise Who I Am, it may be time to move on.

So, onward to 33. I’ve been excited about this upcoming birthday since I was about seven years old, for reasons that I’ll share tomorrow.


Still here!

I’m six days away from my second huge event of October. (If you’re in the Bay Area, I highly encourage you to attend. It is going to be really beautiful, interesting, and cool. Tickets are available here.) Yesterday, we started installing the third phase of Anne Patterson’s huge art piece, Graced With Light, that has been ongoing since March. Today, projectors get added. Tomorrow: the world! (I have no idea what I’m saying at this point. I’m on my second cup of coffee, and I still feel like I’m dreaming.)

 Installation day for the projection panels!

Beautiful panels - Graced with Light

A dynamic view

In my addled brain, that third photo looks like we are in space, and have just hit “warp speed.” Child of the eighties, much?

Working with Anne Patterson has probably been my favorite project ever. Not only is she an extraordinary artist, but she’s also a genuinely lovely person. We had a fascinating conversation yesterday that’s given me loads of food for thought: how challenging it can be to be a creative person who also possesses high administrative/business savvy. I’ve been struggling with this a lot lately. I feel like the creative portion is really “my thing,” but I often take on more admin things because they are easy for me. And, despite being able to do both, I’m finding that the admin is tipping the scales. I’m struggling with setting boundaries, both internally and externally. It is difficult for me to see work going undone when I know I could do it. But, by taking it on myself, I’m cutting my creative work off at the knees. The other odd side of this issue is that, in many cases, people assume that those with business/admin savvy must not be particularly good at the creative stuff. It’s very strange, but we all sort of automatically do it. I face this a lot with my background in music: people assume that the reason I’m working in arts admin is because I “can’t hack it” as a musician. It used to bother me a lot more than it does now. At this point, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I can’t change other people’s opinions, and I feel like I’ve cheated the system by getting to do so many creative, fun things. But, at the same time, I would like to be taken a bit more seriously as a musician. And I don’t know how to do that without causing the perception that arts admin is my day job, a job that is a necessary evil. Because that’s not accurate at all. I guess… I guess I just want both. Or, more accurately, all. Not a tall order, eh?

I don’t know if there’s a point here. Just thinking aloud. At any rate, I’m so proud of the work Anne and I have done together, and I can’t wait to see this next phase come to life. I’ll miss Anne when she’s no longer visiting every month or two.

As soon as this next event wraps, I have literally two days to get all of my collateral done for Christmas. The upside: it may be possible that I return to human form for most of November! Hard to imagine, but there is potential there! I hope you’re having a good month, friends.


2013 Goal Number Four: Eat Paleo-ish for one month

For the month of September, I (mostly) followed a Paleo diet, and y’all? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I loved it.

At the beginning of the month, I set a daily check in list that included noting my skin itchiness, the ringing (oh, the eternal ringing) in my ears, my heartburn, and my sleeping patterns. I also tracked what I ate and when, and how much coffee I drank.

Day four was the low point. I woke up with a raging headache, and could barely drag myself up the one hill from my bus stop to my office door. On day five, however, I felt like a million bucks. Over the past month, my skin improved (both in terms of itchiness and cosmetics), I had zero heartburn (!), my joints stopped aching, and my clothes started fitting better. I lost a whopping four pounds, which doesn’t seem at all fair given how much delicious stuff I gave up, but there you go. My ears did not stop ringing, nor did I sleep much better than normal, so I guess those two things are not related to my diet. Or, maybe it just takes more time to get them under control. I also found myself less enraged by things, which was surprising. I never thought of myself as a particularly angry person, but last month, I felt downright pleasant. I did add dairy back into my life mid-month, because I love it and my body loves it. It fell under the “limited use foods” umbrella, but I credit this flexibility with helping me get through the month.

I also heavily credit Diane Sanfilippo’s brilliant book, Practical Paleo, and her website. The recipes in her book are absolutely delicious. The Horse Whisperer, who was not adhering to this 30-day plan, adored every single thing I made for dinner. In one notable occurrence, I suggested that he taste a bit of the “cauli-rice,” the shredded cauliflower cooked in coconut oil with seasonings. I had eaten it night after night, and he had turned his nose up at it repeatedly. For some reason, he took me up on the suggestion, tasted a tiny bite, and immediately loaded two large spoonfuls of it onto his plate. Practical Paleo includes meal plans for a month’s worth of meals, but we just sort of flipped through the recipes and chose what looked interesting. We may try out one of the plans next, as we tend to stick to two or three recipes over and over. I also found myself riffing off some of her ideas to create my own recipes, which was enjoyable and kept things interesting.

Last night, I returned home to a solo evening, and decided to celebrate the end of my experiment with homemade nachos and a glass of red wine. It was delicious. And this morning? This morning I hate everyone. (Just kidding. Kind of.) I have a headache, a stuffy nose, and my stomach doesn’t feel good.

I don’t think I’ll ever go full-Paleo, primarily because I absolutely love a variety of foods. I do, however, think that this experiment helped me recalibrate the meaning of “treat,” and I’d like to limit said treats to once or twice a week. Overall, I think we’ll probably stick to this basic outline of eating, at least for the immediate future. I’d love to lose more than four pounds, but more importantly, I’d love to keep feeling like this. I feel like I can take on the world, and I love it.

Goal number four: check!!!


Two Grandmothers

When my Memo (pronounced Mee-mo) died on August 1, I didn’t write about it here. I referenced it in my last post, but I figured that I had some time to come up with what I wanted to say. And then, on August 29, my Grandmom died, too. So. Here’s a post about my two grandmothers.

Memo wedding

Memo (my maternal grandmother) was an artist. She painted porcelain – plates, bells, ornaments, you name it. She smelled like turpentine and something earthier, in a way that was incredibly lovely. When I was little, we would go camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She would bring little porcelain items and paints, and during quiet times we would sit around the camper table and work away on some project or another. At other moments, we would leave the camper behind and wander along the trails throughout Loft Mountain, the campground where she was a volunteer park ranger. Loft Mountain was teeming with blackberry bushes, which we would often pick as we walked. We would return to the campground with our fingers and lips stained deep purple.

Memo kept everything. And I’m not talking about piles of garbage. Her house was (and still is) filled with treasures in every nook and cranny. In most of my life, I recognize that stuff is just stuff. I keep sentimental things, but I also have no problem giving things away and holding on to the memories. But Memo’s stuff is a different story. Each item is imbued with magic. Even the items that are gone are filled with a kind of legendary power. There’s a story about her dollhouse, long since discarded, and in my mind it is the most fantastical structure ever built. I have an old Spanish tortoise shell comb that belonged to someone in her lineage, and I imagine who wore it and when. What else was happening then, I wonder? And beyond the treasures, her house was like a fairy kingdom. There are huge (HUGE) old trees surrounding it. The backyard was full of secret little areas when I was a kid – small groves of trees that had been grown over with ivy, periwinkle, and wisteria. Papayo built several stone slab staircases when my mom was a kid, and finding them was like an expedition. I remember once, when we were staying at Memo and Papayo’s house for about a week, I decided to excavate one of these little areas. I spent days pulling up ivy and vines, unearthing an old concrete bench and a clothesline. I felt like I’d discovered King Tut’s tomb. “Memo,” I shouted, my excitement probably raising my voice to a shriek, “Did you even know this was here?” She always, always played along. And if she minded that I was literally destroying her yard, she never let on.

Afternoons at Memo’s house consisted of painting in her workshop area. She painted at a huge table with a thick, brown, faux-leather top. She would stir little pots of porcelain paint with a tiny knife, scooping a bit out and spreading it on a white tile for us to use. She never, ever said “no, you can’t paint that.” She would, however, insist that you finish a project once you’d started it. We would leave with dozens of Christmas tree ornaments, at various quality levels. The ones she painted were always prized jewels. Putting up our Christmas tree every year was like a treasure hunt. My brother, sister, and I each had our routines of what ornaments we loved the most. For me, Christmas still isn’t real until my nativity ornament is up on the tree.


Sometimes, instead of painting, we would take imaginary trips. Memo would prepare a picnic lunch – turkey sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper – and we would read up background information on Yosemite, or Muir Woods, or some other faraway place. The places seemed so distant that I couldn’t imagine ever seeing them – something that still makes my heart skip a beat when I pass the exit for Muir Woods. She would pop in a VHS tape, and we would eat our sandwiches and pretend we were walking through the forest. Other times, we would watch my all time favorite childhood movie: a recording of The Nutcracker On Ice. Professional musicians are disenchanted by Nutcracker, almost without exception, due to the frequency with which it is played. But to me, Nutcracker will always remind me of Memo’s basement, the smooth, cool cement floor, and sitting bundled up in her crocheted granny-square throw blanket.

Both of my grandmothers were named Frances. Until I was about 10 years old, I thought all grandmothers were named Frances. I also thought that Memo pads (the little notepads labeled “memo” on the cover) were called Mee-mo pads, as though she had invented them or something. Every time I see something that says “Memo,” I still smile.


The other Frances, my Grandmom (my paternal grandmother), had the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. They were clear blue, almost the exact color of the topaz ring she always wore. (My cousin, Rebecca, comes closest to having those eyes.) She smelled like baby blue, too, some mixture of powder and something else I can’t describe. She had the softest hands I’ve ever felt. She gave great hugs, and always kissed me with her lips smooched way out, a real “kiss face.” Whenever we arrived, she lit up like a thousand watt lightbulb. I’d run in for a hug, and after squeezing me, she’d hold me back at arms length and really look into my face. Within thirty seconds, she’d say, “Why are we all standing out here like this? Won’t you come in?” We would pour into the house, bypassing the living room for the screened-in porch. Sometimes, she had set out a port wine cheeseball and Triscuits or Wheat Thins. Later, when my Uncle Mike started working for Keebler, the Triscuits were out, and we moved on to something else. Every time we ate cheese and crackers after that, she would explain how great Keebler products were, and how she was proud to be supporting Uncle Mike with her choice of crackers.

Grandmom was an amazing maker of clothing. She sewed, smocked, and knit. When I was little, she made me a pale blue dress with smocked flowers on it. I wore it over and over and over, until it could no longer be altered to fit me. Then, she made me an identical one in a larger size. I particularly loved wearing my blue dress with the softest white cardigan in the world, which she’d made around the same time. I wore the cardigan until it was stretched to oblivion. It now lives in my cedar chest, and every time I find it, I think, “Wow, I’d really love for someone to make me another one of these.” I have an apron, emblazoned with native birds of Virginia, that she made me years ago. I wear it almost every day. She spent years (decades?) making a quilt out of her children’s old clothing. It was king sized, with a white background. Every 8 inches or so, there was a leaf (a maple leaf?) made out of some kind of sentimental garment. That quilt had reach myth status by the time it was finished. When I walked into her room one day, there it was on the bed. I remember feeling like it couldn’t possibly be real.

Grandmom was a singer. She met my Granddad during one summer break from Westminster Choir College. She had come to Natural Bridge, Virginia, for a summer job. I don’t know the details of their meeting, but I will never forget Grandmom’s description of the drive to Natural Bridge. She and two other girls were piled into the back seat of some old car. The back seat was essentially just a plank of wood. The three girls were all Westminster students, and they sang three-part harmony the entire way down. I have no idea who the driver was, but I envision this scenario like a Broadway musical version of The Notebook. In my imagination, the driver has rolled up sleeves and a wool cap, and the girls in the back are wearing scarves and hats and lipstick. In this dream world, everyone is full of hope and promise, heading out on a new adventure. There is singing and dancing, and of course, a handsome romantic love interest in the end. I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard that story, and developed this extended reality in my mind, but it informed basically everything about my adolescence. I became determined to be the star in my own musical, and spent hours - hours – I cannot emphasize enough THE NUMBER OF HOURS – playing the piano and wailing singing, imagining my own romantic storyline. Whenever I knew that Grandmom would be visiting, or we would be visiting her, I’d up the practice sessions to a manic degree (my poor, poor parents…), anticipating the moment when I’d get to show her what I’d learned. She was enthusiastic without exception.

I love this photo. My mom just sent it yesterday, and it makes me laugh - at least I come by it honestly!

I love this photo. My mom just sent it yesterday, and it makes me laugh – at least I come by it honestly!

She loved and hated making Thanksgiving dinner. I once asked if I could bring a friend with us, and she said yes. She then became so anxious about hosting an additional person that she increased the quantity of mashed potatoes by TEN POUNDS. And then? My friend didn’t attend. She could shoot daggers straight out of her eyeballs at my Granddad, but loved him with every bit of herself. Until the day he died, he called her “my bride.” She would roll her eyes, but she always blushed. She made dozens of varieties of Christmas cookies every year. Snickerdoodles will always be Grandmom’s cookies in my mind.

With Memo

With Grandmom and Granddad

There is no good way to wrap up a post like this, is there? Two grandmothers, both huge parts of me. From Memo, I inherited a boundless imagination and a sense of wonder at the beauty of the world. From Grandmom, I inherited a deep appreciation for handmade things and a soul-crushing love of music. Last weekend, someone important to me was talking about his grandmother. He said, “the parts of me that you are talking about are my maternal grandmother.” He went on to describe her, and how she impacted everything about who he continues to be. I aspire to that. I hope I can live my life in such a way that these two wonderful women, the two Frances-es (the plural of Frances? Franceses? Francii?), can continue to shine out of me like a light.