My uncertain history

You might have seen that Seinfeld episode where Jerry talks about the mark of a bad Christmas gift: when the recipient sort of narrates it out loud, as in, “Ohhhh, crew socks! Great!” I usually laugh at that joke because I see the truth in it. But it wasn’t true for me in December 2001, when I opened a Christmas present from my college boyfriend. As the torn wrapping revealed a distinctive red box, I read aloud from the label, “It’s Fun … It’s Challenging … It’s Scrabble!” I was grinning shyly as I gazed at it, unsure of the proper etiquette of expression. It was a unique situation. I was eighteen, and he was the first guy I’d ever dated.

We had made it official just a couple weeks before our gift exchange. In his single dorm room, which was notably absent of visitors that night, despite the open door, we confessed our feelings for each other. It came as a sort of relief to some of our friends, who had noticed the attraction and debilitating shyness between us and had not-so-quietly encouraged the union. After our anxious and awkward declaration, I ran upstairs and squealed the news to my friend Jessica, doing a manic little dance inside her room. I was exhilarated and completely innocent. (more…)


I’d ask the world to dance

There was a strobe light on me the first time I enjoyed dancing. My college friends had bought the light and were testing it out with a three-person dance party in the living room of their rental house. I had joined them after spending an earlier part of the evening at the computer in my own rented bedroom, in a house across town wtih absent roommates. I was about 21 at the time, still very shy, with a self-image flattened by the depression I’d been suffering for two years. On nights when I didn’t have to study or work my job at the mall, I was typically alone and adrift. But I did have friends, and on this particular dull night, one of them contacted me on AIM saying I should come over for dancing and margaritas.

It was a small thing, but it may have been one of the first times I was able to listen to the inner voice that begged for fun and camaraderie, without letting it be muffled by fear. Exacerbated by depression, the inertia that settled upon me every day was hard to overcome, and it was powerful when combined with my general timidity toward life. I  managed to break out and drive to my friends’ house that evening. They liked me in spite of my asocial tendencies and wouldn’t care if I was a terrible dancer, which I was sure I would be. (Prior to this I had taken half a semester of swing dance, in which a friend of mine remarked, “Kristen, you’re very stiff!”) The strobe light was a welcome surprise, as it made everybody’s moves look otherwordly and not subject to the rules of what was actually good. (more…)

Bucket list

In 1998, at the age of fifteen, I started compiling my bucket list. Written on a twice-folded sheet of notebook paper, it fell out of one my old journals the other day as I was searching for material for an upcoming appearance at “Mortified.” On the outside fold I had written My Life’s To-Do List in capital letters, and included this faux-legalese preface: Subject to updates at any time. Items may be carried out at any point in time, whether I’m 19 or 90 years old. Items may be, and in some cases are recommended to be, carried out more than once.

Inside is a list of thirteen items. Most of them were written at the same time, but judging by the slight change in penmanship, I think the last two were added later. Then, using a different pen, I’d begun putting stars next to the things I’d achieved. After a quick update to account for the intervening years, I can report that my current stats include 4/13 items completed, 2/13 partially completed, and 7/13 incomplete. The list is mostly modest and eminently doable, especially this contingency-laden goal: “Take my kids (if I have any) to Yosemite (if they’re interested at all).” Apparently, I’m off the hook for that one if my future children disdain the idea of seeing one of our most beautiful national parks.

Here are some successes that my fifteen-year-old self would be proud of. (more…)

Question marks

The first time I met him, I knew I was in trouble. He had fantastic curly brown hair and gorgeous brown eyes, and he charmed me by doing handstands at the beach. It was Labor Day, and this stretch of Humboldt County sand was nearly empty except for a woman who wore fairy wings and hopped through the surf while another person photographed her. I had, on a whim, taken the afternoon off work to come here and meet this boy from MySpace. He had emailed me while I was at the office, given me his phone number, and said that he was tired of studying and could use an outing. Work was slow, so I called him; ten minutes later I was on my way to the beach.

We’d been exchanging emails for a few weeks by that time. He was into scuba diving, and the starfish photo on my MySpace profile had caught his attention. At first I was wary of his messages. He kept asking how I was doing, and telling me about his day, and sometimes inviting me to go on a random trip with him and his friends. I tried to fend him off, but his persistence worked. He seemed friendly and interesting, and—like I said—he was extremely cute. (more…)

When coffee was good for my heart

I don’t remember the first time I visited Powell’s, that enormous City of Books in downtown Portland. The most memorable visit happened a couple of years later, in early 2008, when my friend Jenny lived in the Portland suburbs and offered me a couch to sleep on. I was still living in Arcata, California, and growing increasingly restless. My plans for moving to Portland had nearly solidified by that time, but I wanted to have one more look at the city. It was like I’d seen some mildly impractical item at the store that I really wanted, and kept talking myself out of buying it even as I returned to admire it over and over again.

Almost on a whim I decided to take a weekend trip there. Since I was already car-free by that time, and couldn’t fly anywhere from Arcata without paying through the nose, I turned to the ridesharing board on Craigslist and accepted a ride from a girl named Nathalie. When I told my mom about the plan she asked, “Do you trust this person?” Oddly fearless, I didn’t hesitate to answer “Yes!” (more…)

Classic angst

My friend and I were talking, recently, about Mortified: the live-performance series in which people read excerpts from their teenage diaries or share their adolescent artwork. When I first heard about this, it immediately struck a chord as I recalled the volumes of handwritten journals and poetry that I have stowed away. It’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes painful—often both—for me to revisit those writings.

In the spirit of humility, I’m going to share here a couple of poems that I wrote circa age fourteen. I will say, with all seriousness, that I actually was rather depressed back then; but it was a depression magnified by adolescent hormones and the experience of being a lonely high-school freshman. These two poems are probably the most self-pitying I’ve ever produced. Both were left untitled. (more…)

Old routines

Thirteen months ago I was a jobless newcomer to this city. It was mid-June when I moved into my rented room with a spare key that my roommate kept outside. He was out of town for work, and instructed me over the phone how to let myself in. (Actually, we hadn’t even met in person yet; an astounding degree of mutual trust was required for this arrangement to succeed.) The house was mine for weeks at a time, including a comfy bed and every amenity in the living room, kitchen, garage, basement and shared bathroom. I’d sold all my furniture and many other possessions before leaving California, so this was an ideal living situation. There were grocery stores down the street and a 24-hour taco joint a block away in case I wasn’t up for cooking, which I typically wasn’t. Using the stove never sounds like a good idea during summer in a house with no air conditioning.

I was lucky enough to remain unemployed for just three weeks, but I was a little sorry for that period of freedom to end. I developed a semblance of a daily routine. In the mornings I would brew some Kona coffee that I’d recently brought home from Hawaii. Until that, year I’d never drunk coffee at all. Even after I started I found most of it too bitter, but I could drink large quantities of the Kona stuff from Kyle’s wide-mouthed OPB souvenir mug. The whole morning ritual was new to me—measuring out the grounds, pouring in a few cups of filtered water, and letting the machine drip while I wandered across the hardwood floors in my pajamas. Breakfast had to be put off for a while because I wanted to drink my coffee while the house and its atmospheric envelope were still relatively cool. I savored the novel buzz I got from the coffee, although it was clearly less healthy than deriving energy from breakfast foods. (more…)


There was a boy who liked me when I was about fifteen. He was in my Internet class (do they still have those in high schools?), and he had the nerve to sit next to me and make small talk and even, once, invite me to go surfing with him. (He’d have had to teach me, of course.) A couple of his friends were in my chemistry class and they tried to persuade me to give it a try. I wasn’t moved. I did my best to brush off the guy’s attempts, and I was so agitated that I wrote a poem called “Intruder.” Nobody asked you to be here—what are you doing in my life?

I was too scared, and/or judgmental, to accept this from anyone. Dwayne, from my freshman year ceramics class, wore big sunglasses and a tattered denim vest adorned with Led Zeppelin and AC/DC patches. He came straight for me on the first day of the semester; I was standing alone and unprotected. I thought he was strange, or at least strange-looking, but somehow he ended up walking me home one day. (more…)

My year of concerts

Yesterday I heard an Oleander song on the radio. Does anybody know whatever happened to them? (Mental note: Try to find them on Wikipedia.) It was an Internet radio station called “Gen X Rock.” I don’t think that being born in 1983 places me in Generation X, but that song—called “Why I’m Here”—took me back to a formative time in my life. I guess you could say it was when I really got into rock music. Feel free to snicker because most of what I listened to was on the “alternative” station beloved by everyone else in my peer group. I was truly obsessed with Third Eye Blind, for example. If only I had known back then that Modest Mouse existed. (Actually, I need to backpedal a bit; I still really, really like Third Eye Blind’s first album. I just don’t make Web pages about them and keep scrapbooks of their photos and interviews anymore.)

It wasn’t just about the music. I was fifteen years old in 1998, and finished my first year of high school that spring. I hated high school then. Freshman year was before I started making friends, taking honors classes and getting involved in extracurriculars. There must have been plenty of other kids who felt like misfits, who didn’t want to party and drink, and who felt unusually mature just because they weren’t complete a-holes. Some of them must have been in my ceramics class, which was my only refuge during the school day. I was a sad girl, though, and I didn’t really know how to reach out to people. (more…)

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