My grandmother.

I’m not sure how much longer she has left.

Yesterday, she had another stroke. My mom caught her.

Last year, almost to the day, no one caught her. She spent the next few months in the hospital and it’s only by a miracle that she’s still here. That and her crazy determination.

My relationship with her is complicated. She’s a complicated person.
But she’s determined. Oh, so, determined.

And she’s hilarious. She can have an entire room crying from laughter in a matter of seconds. When her and my mom really get going, grab the popcorn and sit back. The two of them together is one of my favorite things to witness.

I imagine in her younger days, if her and I were the same age, we would probably be friends. She might intimidate me a bit–her vivaciousness, charisma, unfiltered opinion–but I think she’d probably encourage me. Perhaps not vocally, but with her personality. Her determination would inspire me to be louder and more unfiltered in moments that I’ve been quiet.

She’s loyal. She can also hold a grudge like nobody’s business. I used to think I was nothing like my grandma, but I see those two characteristics in myself now, the latter being one I’m working through so it doesn’t one day become the existence of my old age.

She shows her love through food. I have eaten so much food at her house. Beanie-weenies with cornbread, biscuits and gravy, spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, fried chicken…all of these which I have eaten at 8am when she’s knocked on my door first thing in the morning because there is a plate of spaghetti and meatballs ready for me.

Last winter was really challenging after she fell. The damage done to her brain came out in painful ways. Salt on old wounds. Words you must forgive again because you realize time is fleeting. Family is fleeting.

I don’t know if Row will meet her before she goes. It’s a painful realization I’m wrestling with, one that is heightened because I know how much my grandma means to my mom. We are each four daughters, three mothers, two grandmothers and one great-grandmother, tied together through blood, tradition, time and memories.

I hope she can find peace inside of her. Her fear of death is real. It’s real to us, too. Real because it’s inevitable. We know it’s coming. We can’t stop it. We can’t protect her. We can’t give any of us a different fate.

And so I ask for peace.

Amen.

Pondering serious things.

I’ve began to ponder serious things, although I’ve always pondered serious things. Too serious and too sensitive, these are words I often hear, and yet I still find myself wondering what is wrong with either of these things. 

Perhaps, though, the seriousness, is because now I can imagine all of these things with some sense of reality. I know age plays a factor, and the time of life I’m in and my friends are in. The things we are walking through individually and together, of our parents growing older, getting sick and dying, of pregnancies and miscarriages, of marriages and divorces, of things like that. Things that are serious and real. Things that I am only at the very beginning stages of. Things I didn’t think much about as a kid, but that are now creeping in. My husband tells me he is starting to feel old, his birthday is only a few weeks away, and yet I wonder how my father feels. Today is his birthday, and he’s almost twice our age. Dad, do you feel old? I wonder if I could ever ask him these questions candidly, as a friend, and if he could ever answer me candidly, as a friend, or if he would choose an answer that only a father would give a daughter in order to protect her, one that would hide his fears in order to alleviate any of her fears. I wonder if he even thinks the way I think, or rather, if I think the way he thinks, and if we ponder these things together, separately in our own spaces. I wonder if he realizes that he will eventually be the oldest in our immediate family line once his own mother is gone. I wonder if my dad thinks about the fact that he’s entering the latter part of his life, and if he is scared and thinks about death. I wonder if it feels like standing in a line at the DMV or at the bank, both business and fatigue circling the air, waiting for that voice, next, and next again. Then again, my father is only 56, and for as serious as I am, I am optimistic, and I am determined that each one of us, myself, my father, and my husband included, will live to be one hundred. Perhaps death is not near for any of us, and this brings me a sense of relief.

But it isn’t death I think of lately. The serious things right now mostly revolve around building something greater. That’s what marriage feels like. It feels like being crazy enough and in love enough to choose to marry someone, no matter what comes our way, in order to build something greater. A home, both literal and as a feeling, a family beyond just us and our two dogs, careers, holidays, family get togethers. History. It feels like I’m building a history that for the first time in my life, I can now start to picture.

Because when I wasn’t married, I could only imagine. Maybe we’ll live here and maybe he’ll look like this and maybe we’ll do this together and maybe our kids will be like this and maybe our thing together will be that and maybe we’ll never fight and maybe this and maybe that and, other than my own personal goals, the rest has been a bunch of maybes. 

And so the seriousness, the seriousness comes like this: I know who my husband is, I know where we live, I know what our careers are, I know the things we enjoy doing together and I know what makes us fight. I also know the things we do to not fight and instead the ways we choose to be humble. I know that we could move and I know that our careers could still change. But even now, I feel like I can picture our kids, which I’ve never been able to do before, because I know the parts of him and the parts of me and the how these will mix and make kids who will probably be like this or that and even though I’m sure they’ll be entirely different than I could ever imagine, I feel like I can sort of sense what they will be like. Somehow. Someday. 

I continue pondering. I ponder the seriousness of life and how it’s so much more exciting when you don’t let things get under your skin. I ponder the seriousness of life and how it’s so much more fun when you try something new. I ponder the seriousness of life and how it’s so much more vibrant when you embrace the unknown. I ponder the seriousness of life and realize that no matter how I try to picture it, it’s always going to be changing and surprising me, and the best I can do is not to hold on but to let go. To let go and let things happen how they are supposed to happen in order to feel the joy and also the sorrow but then once again the joy that comes after the sorrow. 

I’ve changed since I have gotten married. I honestly don’t know if every married person feels this way or if it’s just me and my seriousness. I know I am the same person I was before I was married and yet, I don’t feel at all like the person I was just months ago. Maybe it’s because marriage felt so unknown and now that I’m here, I see who I am rather than imagine who I will be. And as much as I am the person I imagined I would be, for I am still me, I feel different. 

Maybe I feel different because now I know that every single decision I make personally affects another human being, and whatever human beings we are able to create. I knew that would happen, but I didn’t know it to happen. With dating, there was always the option to abandon ship, and that’s what was always chosen. Rather than continue to stay in different individuals' lives for better and eventually for worse, we could end the worse and simply move on to other things. I can’t do that anymore, and so I certainly feel different. 

Maybe I feel different because marriage has taught me how selfish I can be. It’s no longer about my ambition alone, it’s about both of our ambitions, whether I like all of his or not, because again, I can’t leave and I won’t. Maybe to some that sounds awful, but it’s actually quite beautiful. It’s a love I’ve never fully known until now. To sacrifice so much of one’s self for another, that takes a whole lot of beautiful and crazy and entirely raw love. It’s a type of love that has allowed me to understand God in a new light, because before I was married, I could hardly even utter (type) the word God if I knew it was going to be in a blog post, but now I can most certainly type God and know that His love is as real as anything in this world. Recognizing my selfishness isn’t a bad thing either. It’s taught me to be a better human, not just for my husband, but for others, and also for my own self. Marriage isn’t suffocating like I thought it would be. It’s sad to say I even thought that way, but it was a fear of mine, a deeply rooted fear that took months of serious inner-dialogue for me to confront and move past. Instead, marriage has actually been quite freeing. So freeing, in fact, I wonder why more don't do it.

And as it goes, I continue to ponder. I continue to ponder what life will be like in one year and five years and ten years and thirty. But I also stop to remind myself that life only exists right now, and so to be in this moment and embrace this moment and try new things and to always let go.

Because as it goes, when we let go, we create new space for all those beautifully serious things to come in. And we shouldn’t be afraid of them, oh no, because that is what life is: a collection of tiny and big and confusing and bright moments that whether experienced with another or completely on our own, are building something greater.

On being a writer / wanting to be a writer.

I don’t know what makes one a writer. I call myself a writer on my Twitter bio because I write, a ton, both online and offline, but I’ve never been published. Does being published make me a writer? I take that back, I have been published. I was published in 1999 when I was eleven or twelve years old and submitted a few poems to some children’s poetry club and received a letter back saying, Congratulations! We have accepted your poems into our such-and-such-collection and you will be published in such-and-such book. I was over the moon, and to this day I don’t know if every eleven or twelve year old who submitted poems to that book was being published, or if my poems really were a magical and unique collection. But never-mind that. 

 

I’ve often thought that it must be age that will make me a writer, because, with age comes experience and wisdom; years and years of knowledge and trials and information and hardship and also joy. I’ve longed to be older than I am purely so that I could be more knowledgable on certain topics, a right of passage, in a sense, to write without naivety. I hate being naive, and yet I often am, although, perhaps not as much as I think, because I know I am constantly painting myself with doses of reality. Sometimes I am too realistic and in the same breath, sometimes I dream too much. I’m a serious, emotional and sentimental optimist… I think. 

 

But I know I can’t long to be older than I am because once I am older than I am I will only wish to be younger than I am. At least that’s what I think, or at least that’s what magazines tell me. They tell me that being old isn’t cool anymore. You’ve missed your chance. You’re no longer young and pretty (“you’re not in your prime!”), and so you only get certain parts in the movies. But I don’t know if any of that is true, or if that’s only what media wants me to believe. You see, I read the most beautiful essay by Roger Angell called “This Old Man” that was originally published in The New Yorker and was republished in a booked called, “The Best American Essays,” edited by Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, which I bought while I was on my honeymoon (I know, that was a mouthful). I read the intro and the first essay while I was in the bath, after a long day of hiking through freezing cold and pouring rain forests with my new husband (it’s still new). Then we returned home and had Christmas and the holidays and New Years and work and routine and rearranging furniture and just last night, over three weeks later, I finally got around to reading the second essay and I cried. Roger’s essay (I prefer to call him Roger than Angell because referring to someone by only their last name sounds so impersonal) was beautiful and the most honest account of death and love I have ever read in my entire life. He’s ninety-three and he’s “feeling great.” No really, he is. 

 

You see, I’ve wanted to be older than I am because being older than I am means I can write on topics with authority, and yet, I do not wish to experience things like death anytime soon, of myself or of a loved one. I’ve been lucky and have been mostly untouched by death in my short twenty-seven years of life. My grandfather’s death was my first one. We got along great. He was the funniest, old man I knew, and thankfully gave all that humor to my funny father. He died quickly, and I’ll never forget the look on my grandmother’s face a week later. She looked like she had died, but there she was still walking and moving and breathing and getting up from one spot to go sit at the next spot (say, the dinner table). She looked so sad and she was so pail from grief that I thought it would only be a small matter of time before she would die from a broken heart. But, over ten years later, my grandmother now has seven great grandchildren and I believe another is on the way (gosh, I hope I haven’t forgotten about any). She’s happy and teaches exercise classes and is just as alive as she was before my grandfather passed. And that’s exactly what Roger said, “the accruing weight of these departures [death] doesn’t bury us.” The next death I experienced was one of the worst experiences of my life, and it was only that I was present when a friend found out her mother had passed. I could write on this more, but it’s not my story to tell, and she continues to amaze me how she’s moved on, and yet I can only imagine that she doesn’t at all feel like she’s moved on, for “moved on” are not the right set of words at all, but I can’t even begin to accurately describe what it must really feel like for her. And then there’s just this past year, where my husband and I each had one of our best friend’s lose a parent, and that was just awful, too. But yet again, neither of those are my stories to tell. 

 

Death is this strangely complex topic that I do think about often. Not too often, not in a weird way, but in a way where it crosses my mind from time to time. Again, I’m realistic and I like to be prepared. Not for disaster, but simply for reality. I hope and I pray each night that my loved ones will be safe, healthy and happy, and afterwards I fall into a never-deep-enough sleep but still deep enough to then wake up in the middle of the night and realize that I had no idea that I was gone (sleeping), and that that must be what death feels like. Unless, of course, you believe in the afterlife, then death must feel like one of my really, really great dreams I have every now and then. Like the one where I am flying and I am able to lift my body higher up into the sky, and then control it as I race down and almost hit the dirt, but right before it’s too late, whisk myself back up in the air again. It feels divine. I haven’t had that dream in years, though.

 

I admit that getting married had me excited not only for the marriage part of it, but also because suddenly I could start writing on a new topic. If not something so grave and heavy and mature and life-altering as death, but still something complex in its own way, something also life-altering, and I hope to maintain a happy marriage, forever, both naively and realistically. 

 

So, perhaps, now, I am a writer. I am married–that grants me new knowledge and therefore authorship, right? Then again, some of us get married really young, before we’ve had a chance to fully know who we are. Some of us get married because we get pregnant, and instead of simply becoming a spouse and learning things spouses must learn, we instantly become parents. Some of us have a lifetime of experiences and don’t get married until we’re older, or at all. Some of us marry and discover ourselves right away, some of us marry and never discover ourselves or even lose who we are. So perhaps marriage is not what makes me a writer. I do feel different, though. Just last night I asked Eric, “how does it feel, to you, to be married?” “Different,” he said, “and yet I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s something I could have never adequately explained to my single self, but I know I feel it now. It’s even different than living with someone and not being married.” I agreed, or maybe I said that and he agreed, I can’t remember, but we both continued stirring the brussel sprouts in the pan and cutting the tomatoes for our salad, silently pondering just what it is that makes marriage feel so different. “God… It’s God, for me, that makes marriage feel so different,” I said, “although I don’t know what someone would say about marriage feeling different who doesn’t believe in God.” “I don’t know either,” he said.

 

I still don’t know, but suddenly, after reading Roger Angell’s piece, “This Old Man,” suddenly I do not wish to be older. Yes, he wrote the most beautiful piece on death and love I have ever read, as I’ve already said, but so much so that I no longer wish to be older in order to have access to additional knowledge, because I realize now, that I will always be experiencing something. And if I don’t write now, when I’m still young and only twenty-seven and newly married, who knows what might happen. I may get Alzheimers or die young or lose the ability to use my hands, and then I will be so mad at myself that I didn’t simply write. Just write, already. It doesn’t matter if I’ve never been published except for when I was eleven or twelve years old and can’t even remember what the publication was called or if I haven’t experienced things that others have experienced. I can still write what I have experienced, no matter how boring/insignificant it may seem. After-all, I don’t personally find it that boring or insignificant. I don’t wake up each morning going, ugh, god, another boring day to get to, no, I usually wake up with either a plethora of things to do, or I create a plethora of things to do, and that is what makes life so interesting. The day to day. The simple and somewhat insignificant moments. The moment where I was both annoyed at my husband because I was so tired and yet found myself hysterically laughing at how silly he was being and how much I love him (he’s always trying to make me laugh, and he does, without fail, even when I don’t want to laugh, but it’s never really him that I’m annoyed with anyway, it’s my own personal opinion of something and how I like things to be, and besides, it’s not always about me, nor should it be). See, it’s not necessarily about marriage or death or xyz, it’s about the collection of the events, and how we go about the events. The marriage itself took place when we said our vows, signed a piece of paper and then mailed it in. The actual death of my grandfather was that he had cancer and then one day, he took his last breath. Both of those events may not be so interesting, but instead, it’s the laughter, the playing, the joking, the doing, the living, the fun, the twists, the turns, the memories, the in-between and sometimes unseen moments that make love and death both so interesting. 

 

And so, maybe being a writer is simply continuing to write. Maybe being a writer is being able to slow down and recall and then write words together in a way that paint beautiful pictures and tell grand stories with letters on a page (or at least I hope my writing will paint beautiful pictures and tell grand stories). Maybe being a writer is allowing myself enough silence and solitude to voice my inner being, the true version of my self, the self that only ever comes out through these collections of words and the deep, intimate and contemplative conversations I have with other writers like me, and the friends I feel safe enough to share with. Maybe being a writer has nothing to do with my age or my experiences, for I would never want to tell my child one day, you’re not a writer! You’re only seven years old!, because how could I ever limit their abilities or dreams of not only becoming someone, but already being someone. A very real and feeling human being. Because when I was a child, I wanted to be a photographer when I grew up, or maybe it was a journalist, or no, a photojournalist, hmmm, it was something to do with photos and words and here I am, taking photos and writing words and I’m still trying to become something and someone. Maybe I already am that someone. Maybe I’ll never feel like I’m that someone. Maybe being that someone is continuing to do the day to day, ticking off small boxes of goals and accomplishments and tedious to-do’s. Maybe being that someone is simply being here, present, in this very moment, and not wishing to become someone, because right now, I am someone, and this someone is me. 

Begin with the end in mind.

Begin with the end in mind. 

The other day I was reading pointless articles online (you know, the rabbit hole of the Internet), but then I came across one called something like “35 celebrities you didn’t know who died.” I clicked it immediately and for the next hour found myself googling name after name, reading everything I could read about their lives and their deaths. I was telling Eric about it later, too, about my weird fascination with death. I tried to justify my statements, saying that I wasn’t into death in like a super weird way but that I just found death to be an… interesting topic. Something none of us can avoid. Something many of us fear. Something none of us have any idea about what it’s like until it happens to us, but then we’re gone, and we can’t even describe it or write about it. And it’s the ones that are left to watch the rest of life unfold. 

This past year, Eric and I have both had our closest friends lose a parent. It’s heartbreaking and surreal and you feel helpless for them. You feel pain, but it’s pain for your friend, and it’s only a fraction. You can’t truly understand their pain unless you’ve been through it yourself. Your words only can mean so much, and sometimes you probably say the wrong thing, but you try. You try and be there so they know that they’re not alone in their darkest pain.

Begin with the end in mind.

This is the phrase that circles my thoughts this morning. We, as humans, crave change. We crave change that gets us from A to B, B being what allows us to finally “make it.” Making it being where we are finally successful, finally where we want to be. Whether it be marriage, graduating, having a baby, buying a home, getting that dream job… We think that when those moments happen, life finally begins.

But no. Oh no, no no.

Someone said today that, “what’s unsaid may not ever be said, and we only know this in a house of mourning.” This really resonated with me, and it made me realize why I have a fascination (if that’s even the right word, perhaps, curiosity is a better word) with death. It’s because death keeps me grounded. Death reminds me that each morning, when I wake up, I have to begin my day with the end in mind. Because I won’t “make it” in life when a certain goal in life happens. That goal may never happen. I may be gone tomorrow, I don’t know. But I do know that I have *right now*. Right now, this very moment. I have this very moment to choose to live. To choose joy. To choose joy despite facing the worst circumstances or the most annoying circumstances or whatever those circumstances might be. 

Live each day as if it’s your last. I think this phrase has become so popular that it has lost all of its meaning. It’s pasted across tee shirts and Pinterest boards. It’s a catch phrase meant to pump you up. Stating this statement makes you seem like you’re living life to the fullest, but are we really? Are we really when we’re arguing with one another over whether to sleep with the fan setting on one or two? Are we really when we’re spending hours online each day comparing our lives to others, or even reading articles on death? Are we really living life to the fullest when we respond in anger rather than in patience?

Each and every single one of us are going to die one day. We all have this in common, and as hard as it is, it isn’t something we should fear. A few years ago I would have nightmares where I felt like I was dying and I would wake up literally gasping for air in a complete panic. I was so scared of dying or of a loved one dying. It paralyzed me with fear.

But one day I realized I had to let go. I had to let go of this fear in order to live again. I had to let go in order to begin each day with the end in mind. Not as something haunting me, but as a reminder to stay grounded. To accept both life and death, as they are, and instead, try my hardest to live, and not as if it were my last day, but simply with the end in mind. 

It’s the end that grounds us. It’s the universal commonality we all have. It’s something so terribly heartbreaking that it probably teaches us more about life than anything else in this world does. It’s something that can bring us all together. It’s something that can give us patience, love, exploration, curiosity, adventure, perseverance, motivation, kindness…

Begin with the end in mind.
Begin with the end in mind.
Begin with love in mind.
Begin with patience in mind.
Begin with kindness in mind.
Begin with the end in mind.

This is what I choose to do.

Life and death and this earthquake.

So there’s going to be an earthquake, and a really, really big tsunami, and this New Yorker article has been spreading like wildfire. 

I’ve always had an earthquake phobia. I don’t entirely know where it came from, but I think it’s from when I was a kid in the 1994 earthquake that hit L.A. I remember waking up because it felt like someone was violently shaking the headboard of my bed back and forth. I ran downstairs to find where my mom was, and was met by her and my grandma. The fountain in my grandma’s house (yeah, she had a fountain in her house) had cracked right in half. 

I remember as a teenager going on road trips to Vancouver and being terrified of going in any underground parking garages, my best friend constantly telling me to calm down.

I remember in my early 20s moving to San Francisco, my earthquake nightmare. And then earthquake after earthquake hit. They were small, but each time they left me feeling desperate and helpless. The first one was when I was living on a boat parked behind Pier 50. I was in my cabin which was underwater, and felt the entire place vibrate. The next one I was in my friend’s apartment and it felt and sounded like a semi-truck had crashed into the building. The next one I was laying in bed in an Airbnb on Broderick Street and the building softly rattled like a truck had driven by. Another one, I was sleeping on my friend’s couch and a 6.0 hit Napa Valley. From San Francisco, I remember sitting up and seeing the white walls wave back and forth like they were doing the wave. Strangely, I don’t remember ever feeling any earthquakes in my own apartment. But I remember studying the cracks running outside the front door, and part of the ceiling that was sinking in the living room, and knowing exactly where the emergency kit was located under the bed in case I would be stranded on my back porch for days and days. It never happened, thankfully.

After so many small earthquakes, I eventually got over my earthquake phobia. Not that each time I didn’t still become fearful of the thought of the earthquake having been stronger, but eventually, I stopped thinking about it on a daily basis. Eventually, all my anxiety surrounding earthquakes went away. Eventually, I began to understand that San Francisco gets 2-4 earthquakes per day and that this was a good thing, because with each little earthquake, the pressure of the two plates pressing up against one another was lessening. Lots of little earthquakes started to feel like good news.

Here I am now, living between Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA, and we don’t get lots of little earthquakes. And this very well written but very terrifying New Yorker article has been circulating all over the Internet about the doom coming to Seattle, and it doesn’t leave me feeling afraid… 

it leaves me feeling sad.

It leaves me feeling sad because I don’t want fear to control my life. I know I live in an earthquake zone, I know I could very well die in the big one, but I also know that I could die in another earthquake while on holidays, or get hit by a car, or from some disease. All of the above would suck, but eventually, one of the above, or some version of the above, will be inevitable. And I just can’t let whatever the inevitable is influence my desires to experience life to its absolute fullest.

It took me a long time to get to this realization. I felt like I had overcome my earthquake fear and then this article started circulating and people on Facebook started debating it and predicting the doom of all of us Pacific North Westerners, and suddenly, in the same way an earthquake ripples, fear started to ripple back into my body and heart.

I asked Eric about it, curious to know his thoughts. We’ve decided Seattle is where we want to be right now (or at least for the first few years of our marriage), but I couldn’t help but wonder if we were setting ourselves up for disaster. I don’t know what I was expecting him to say, but his answer surprised me. It was something along the lines of, 

When I take my last breath, I know I will have lived a full life. I know I will have served the time I was always going to be given on this planet, and that in itself is a huge blessing. I cannot control how long I will live, but the fact that I was given even just one breath on this earth makes me happy. 

Eric is a huge example to me of someone who lives each day to his fullest. His answer touched on life and death in such a real way that it comforted me. 

Because it’s true.

Death is something we fear. Death is something I hate thinking about. Death is something I cannot comprehend. But death, as natural as life is and as natural as love is, is also natural. Death is this incredibly painful and strangely beautiful thing. 

I don’t really have a conclusion for my thoughts, I just know that the decisions I make, the life I live, the passion I have for life… I don’t want these to be limited due to fear. I want to live my life to the absolute fullest. I want to recognize each and every day as a blessing and a new adventure to experience. I want to not be afraid and let life happen and find things to celebrate even when I’m mourning. I want to feel each breath and know that life is short and temporary, and I am blessed to be here. I want to be prepared, and take precautionary steps and make responsible choices, but I also want to know that life isn’t perfect, and it’s indeed, so fragile, and to just do the best I can. 

I love the Pacific Northwest. I’ve lived in so many places, but the PNW is my favorite. It breaks my heart at the thought of it crumbling, but it breaks my heart even more at the thought of leaving it. It’s like love. What’s that saying, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? I guess that’s how I feel about living here. I’d rather live and love and have faith and know my life is full.

~

Thank you, Kara, for helping inspire this piece. I love all of our conversations.