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Two Places At Once

My greatest first loves always start with music and cities. St. Lucia will always be New York for me.

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I have an uncanny ability to photographically remember where I was, and what I was doing,  when certain songs were playing at specific moments in time. It’s a bizarre, useless, auditory sensitivity I’ve grown accustom to loving and loathing. Everyone has those things. A smell. A place. For me, it’s always been music. A song will come on, and I’m standing right where I was when it first played. I’ll know what I was wearing. I’ll know who I was with. I’ll know what the mood was. There’s no undoing memories like that, however meaningless or meaningful they may be.

The first time I heard Bon Iver’s “Holocene”, I was standing alone on the Williamsburg Bridge. I was wearing a green utility jacket with leather sleeves, perched atop the pink railing. The lens of my Nikeon D3000 was pressed against a gap in the protective fence. It was meant to keep people off, but there I was scaling it for a photo.

The first time I heard Matthew Mayfield’s “Heartbeat”, I was sitting at a table for two in a Jersey City apartment for one. Messy and disheveled. Hungover and happy. I was wearing an oversized T-shirt and sweatpants. It was the first and last time I’d see the city from that perspective.

The first time I heard Sara Bareilles’ “Breathe Again” was in a parked car overlooking the city lights in Newcastle, Australia. An interesting parallel, because the first line of that song is, “Car is parked.” That was seven years ago. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I do remember this: For once, I wasn’t facing the ocean. The glittering buildings in the distance were more beautiful. That feels like a more telling detail to recall.

The first time I heard St. Lucia, I was North of Houston. It would have been 2013, the end of fall, right around this time. It was the awkward period between seasons where being outside is no longer easy and comfortable. To combat New York’s in-between weather, I wore fingerless gloves so I could control my music. This is a habit my mother scolds me for to this day.

“Carley, PROTECT YOUR FINGERS.”

I have a circulation disorder, but gloves with touchpad fingertips look lame.

As I was walking toward the train, shuffling through songs, “Elevate” came on. I stopped in my tracks. I remember stopping because that’s what I do when something grabs me. Whether it’s an idea, a person, a song, or a sweater in a window, I stop. I zero in. My excitement for the idea/person/song/sweater takes over and I can only do that one thing. In that moment, I wanted this song the way you want any great first love. I wanted it immediately and everywhere. I wanted it again. And again. And again. I stepped off the side of the walkway and waited for the song to download in iTunes so I could take it with me on my descent into the Bleeker St. station.

The only reason I remember any of this, is because of what happened next: On the dirty and crowded 6-train, I stood with one hand gripping my phone out in front of me, and one hand gripping the bar above me. It was then that a stranger behind me tapped my shoulder. I took out one of my ear buds and turned around.

“Great song.”
“Yeah! I just discovered them.”
“You’ll never get them out of your head.”

It was the type of brief exchange that makes New York the most special place in the world. A fleeting connection over a song on a screen, with a stranger on a train, whom I never saw again. He had probably formed his own love affair with the song. The song that would follow me to a different city three years later.

On Tuesday night I stood in the House of Blues in Boston. One of 2500 people, each with their own first loves. There’s nothing like that energy at a live show. I always catch myself looking around the venue, wondering which songs mean what to humans I’m surrounded by. I wait for their reactions. Unbridled elation. Unassuming tears. I want to reach out to them and say, “Me, too.” Sometimes, I do.

Halfway through the show, I left my friend at our post to hit the bathroom. On my way to the head, I heard the infamous introduction to “Elevate.” Its catchy tempo. Its rhythmic drums. It’s keyboard kick-in. Bobbing and weaving in and out of the crowd, front row became my mission. For a moment, I forgot about my friend. For a moment, I forgot about going to the bathroom. I forgot I was in Boston. I was standing outside of the Bleeker Street station with my fingerless gloves, hearing the song for the very first time.

And how magical it was in that moment, to be in two places at once.
St Lucia will always be New York for me, but last night they were Boston.

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Emptying Your Cart

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Image Credit : The Fiscal Times

I’m the kind of person who will go into a grocery store with the intention of buying two things. Let’s say grocery bags and yogurt. And you know what sucks? I was just at the grocery store, and managed to not get the only two things I needed. So here we are again.

Then I decide I want avocados. And then I see tomatoes. And then I think about how much I love avocado toast and I pick up a baguette. And for some reason I HAVE to make apple crisp like a true overachiever. I rarely bake. So I pick up a dozen apples. A DOZEN. I’m pretty sure apple crisp only requires 6 apples but what if my neighbors want some? It would be nice to be the chick who bakes apple crisp for the whole goddamn neighborhood.

I needed two things. I was literally just here. My fridge is full. My arms are full. I should, in theory, be ALL SET. Instead, I am dashing up and down aisles collecting all of these unnecessary items, and I’m already in desperate need of extra arms. When the grocery store clerk asks me if I’d like a basket, or some help, I always politely say, “No thank you. I got this!” But I don’t. I stumble on, peering over my own armload, refusing help and refusing to put things down.

You can imagine how much worse this gets when I have a cart. NEVER give me a cart. I quickly become a family of 16. The basket is my sweet spot.

This is ACTUALLY how I grocery shop, but over mescal cocktails and good conversation last week, it became a metaphor for life lately. I mentioned to a new friend (new friends are still a thing in your late 20’s) over dinner that it felt like my cart was overflowing. I just kept adding things and adding things. It was officially too full, too hard to push, and it was slowing me down.

I was about to go to New York for two lightning fast days because I couldn’t get Friday off. So technically, one full day and one sort of day. I had a Blood Orange concert, an event at GIFY, a few meetings, and also made plans to play catch up with friends in that one and one sort of day. Then, I’d make a mad dash for Boston Sunday morning to catch the tail end of a wellness conference. And much like the grocery store, I was JUST in New York. But I had made my mind up. I had things to do, and people to see, and meetings to have, and life’s ass to kick, accordingly.

And then life started very rapidly kicking MY ass. A few family health scares popped up within weeks of each other. A few work projects and freelance projects ramped up. I paid a huge ticket (awesome). I hadn’t slept more than 4 hours a night all week. I found myself on Friday morning feeling overwhelmed. My cart was past the point of being hard to push. It was literally overflowing. Wheels were popping off. Annie’s mac and cheese, ground turkey, frozen pizza, pasta sauce, Lara bars, toilet paper, Talenti everywhere. Pretty sure I dropped some diapers at some point and I don’t even own a baby so explain that one to me. I also just said “own a baby” and we’re going to leave it alone.

I did something I almost NEVER do, but need to get better at. I started to take things out of my cart. I put New York back on the shelf knowing I’ll be there in December (and if I’m being honest, probably November). I put the conference back on the shelf knowing I have a few conferences coming up. I put freelance work, and emails, and decks on decks on decks back on the shelf knowing the world wouldn’t stop if I unplugged for a weekend and focused on my loved ones.

If you know me, you know that decision tortured me for a solid six hours. My bag was packed and in my car. My wide brim hat sat on my seat. My road trip playlist was locked and loaded. My whole Saturday in Brooklyn was planned down to the last second. There would be Uber rides. And bouncing between boroughs. And finding coffee shops for quick creative jams. And good live music. And heart to hearts. And reminiscing about days when I didn’t have to leave it all. And reminiscing about days when I couldn’t WAIT to leave it all. And pondering days when we won’t have to leave whatever it is we’ve settled on. We’ll choose to stay.

But you know what my heart needed more?

A cozy Friday night catching up with my college roommate.
A Saturday morning in natural light spent writing in my journal.
A Saturday afternoon wrapped in the warmth of my family.
A Saturday evening spent laughing on the couch with my mother.
A Sunday, morning surrounded by my best friends from high school.
A Sunday evening spent baking apple crisp…for only two people.

My heart needed quiet love for a few days, so quiet love I gave and received. My cart isn’t quite empty. It never will be. But it’s a little less full right now.

In the upcoming week, try to find one thing to take out of your cart. Replace it with something that makes your heart and soul feel really, really, REALLY good. For one day, evening, or even just a moment, prioritize your needs above the stuff you need to do. All that stuff will still be there, I promise.

Like Yourself, Babe.

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Photo Credit: Sam Nute

We talk so often about practicing self-love, which I believe is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. But if we’re being real (which we always are here) loving any person, all the time, including ourselves, is hard. Sometimes, you can’t. Sometimes you’re not equipped to love yourself that deeply at the drop of the hat. Loving yourself that deeply in every moment is exhausting. Sometimes, it’s enough to simply like ourselves.

Let’s start there.

Let’s start with thinking about our best qualities, and projecting that energy out into the world. Because I’ll tell you something. I am OVER the mindset that we are all supposed to sort of hate ourselves, using qualifiers to sheepishly admit our few redeeming qualities. Let’s start with finding reasons from within to be confident instead of looking to others for validation and acceptance. Let’s look in the mirror and let go of that one glaring flaw in favor of appreciating all the things the universe got right in assembling us.

And in the name of not being the BIGGEST high and mighty hypocrite ever, I’m happy to admit that there are ABSOLUTELY things I don’t like about myself. Gobs of things. Insecurities that used to cripple me. I could probably write a blog post about those things, too, but the older I get the less those things matter. Sure, they sneak up from time to time. I once spent so long obsessing in the mirror over a pesky pimple that my roommate stopped me mid-rant and said, “Hey, stop being so mean to my friend.”

So today, we’re going to practice being nice to ourselves.
We’re going to sing our own praises for a hot sec.
Deep breath. I’ll start. And I hope you follow.

I like my eyes. They’re green with little yellow flecks in them. Last weekend a man at a bar looked straight into them and asked, “So how do you get people’s attention? I bet it’s those big green eyes of yours!”

I pointed to my temple.
“Your mind?” He asked.
I winked.

Not because I liked his attention, but because I liked my answer. I like my mind. I like that it’s mine. I like that I know how to use it.

So I like my always-tired eyes. I like my always-messy hair. They are signs that I am working hard to create end products that I feel proud of. Often that means sleepless nights and rushed departures. I like my adventurous spirit. That I say yes more than I say no these days. I like my willingness to return to a city that still holds so much of me captive. I like my readiness to return home when I know it’s what my soul needs. Right now, anyway.

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Photo Credit: Sam Nute

I like my endearing clumsiness. My outward silliness. My inconvenient spilli-ness. My brazen independence. I like that they pour out of me like an overflowing coffee pot left unattended. I like the juxtaposition of my dry irreverence, inherited from my father, and my ability to feel so very deeply, inherited from my mother. Those qualities have turned me into the kind of woman who finds humor in the darkest hours and compassion for the most tortured souls.

I like that I recognize my brother’s face every time I look in the mirror, because I spent the first half of my life trying to be a son and a daughter to compensate for my family’s loss.

I like that I failed at that. I actually fail at a lot of things.
I like that I am only capable of being the daughter that I am.
I like that I am only capable of being the woman that I am.

I like my freckles. I like the birthmark on my stomach. I like the intimate details of my body that only I, along with a chosen few, will ever know. I like my slender fingers that always longed to play piano, but found a pen and paper first. I like my flat feet that always begged to fit into pointe shoes but found high tops first.

I like my long legs. They took years to grow into, enduring names like “Spider-Legs” and “Gumby.” They have taken me to Australia three times, the UK, and Ireland. I like my full lips. I like my lone dimple. I like my dark eyebrows. I like my small breasts, and my small butt. Everything on me is generally small. That’s just the way I was built. It has nothing to do with being a “real” woman, or a “strong” woman. These are the parts I was given and it’s taken 28 years to understand the full magnitude of what it means to have all of them all in working order.

I’m not “just” a woman. I’m a woman. Period. Pun intended.
A woman who unflinchingly likes who she is becoming.

You see, we are in a critical time where the next leader of our country may very well be a broken man whose only self confidence comes in the form of tearing women down by calling us pigs and slobs, by attacking the way our bodies look and function, and by criticizing the way we choose to use them. But it won’t just be that one man. Nothing will ever come down to just one man. In fact, it won’t just be men at all. It will be people. People who haven’t yet found things to like about themselves. They will bare their ugly traits to you as a way to bring yours to the surface. They will come clawing at the bottom of your door first thing in the morning like a starving, stray cat. Your downfall will be their milk.

So I beg you, in those moments especially, to take to the street, the mountain, and the sea with the things you like about yourself. Take to a notebook, or a white board, or a word doc. Grab a permanent marker or a can of spray paint. Find the nearest building with the biggest, blankest wall. Make it a statement. Make it indelible. Make it on purpose. Have the courage to stand firm in liking yourself in a crowd of people who are trying to make you doubt yourself. Shine your self-like on them like a spotlight and maybe they, too, will find their own light. Maybe not.

But if you ask me, the most audacious thing you can be is a woman who truly, truly likes herself.

So like yourself, babe. Audaciously.

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Photo Credit: Sam Nute

Body Armor.

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I had a conversation with friends a few nights ago (over real apps) about dating apps, and can I be honest? I hate them. I’m not built for them. Do I respect some people’s affinity for them? Yes. Have I tried them? Yes. Are they amusing? Yes. Mostly because when you come across someone who is hopefully a doctor (but presumably Dexter) literally performing open heart surgery in their main picture, you have to laugh at the idea of swiping left or right based on your initial reaction.

Which, by the way is, “What in the actual living hell is this?”

But I finally realized what’s missing from the swiping and double tapping garbage that we’ve allowed present day dating standards to convince us we depend on.

Eye contact.

At a yoga festival recently (sup Wildvibes!), in the closing ceremony, they asked us to hold hands with a stranger and look them in the eyes for a few minutes. No words. No laughing. Just two softened sets of eyes showing up for each other without interruption, in complete silence. I can say for certain that it was utterly dismantling, letting someone see me that way, without my body armor.

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Eye contact is alarming.

You know why it’s alarming? Because we’re used to seeing people behind a screen and judging them based on six curated photos, a well-punctuated bio, and the perfect entry line. Unless their entry line sucks. In which case we dismiss them entirely. Imagine if we let that fly in the flesh. Imagine saying, “Hi, how’s it going?” or some other “wrong” opener over drinks. Now, imagine your friend/acquaintance/person-you-want-to-date-but-you’re-too-afraid-to-say-it-out-loud just got up and walked away mid-convo? Imagine being written off that quickly in real time. It would be ABSURD. That’s what we’re doing to each other, and it’s a real bummer.

We’d like to think we’re swipe-able, wouldn’t we? But in real life we are not always right swipe worthy. We are not perfect tens. Not even close. On good days when we’ve hit snooze sixteen times and skipped breakfast we are barely 6’s. On bad days we are 4’s pretending to be 6’s, expecting everyone we come across to be 11’s.

We have these platforms where we’re constantly sharing our highlight reels. We’re asking people to fall in love with our sunsets, and our concerts, and our cocktails without the context of whom these experiences belong to and what we’ve gone through to get here. It’s low risk to show people the parts of life we already know they like. But with low risk comes low reward. That gritty “how we got here” stuff? That’s the stuff that matters, especially if I’m dealing with another human that I want to be around for longer than 5 minutes.

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So we don’t look people in the eyes because we’re afraid of seeing too much of ourselves inside of them. When we’re in front of somebody, we’re somewhere else. When we’re somewhere else, we’re mindlessly tapping and swiping through an endless array of faces and bodies like we’re trying to upgrade our seats to “even more space” on an upcoming flight.

When we finally round up enough courage to let someone in, we mistake moments of silence for dissonance. It’s called listening. But hey, when it’s not artificially injected with watered down beer and equally watered down dialogue it’s harder to digest. Our systems aren’t used to doing that much work, so they’re shutting down entirely. We’re casually meh-ing way through life instead of giving authentic, powerful, and meaningful interactions a chance to unfold. What’s worse? We’re using this whole “Carpe diem! Life is short!” bullshit as our excuse for not getting to know anybody.

We’re being cowards. Every. Single. One of us.

Why has it become cause for consternation when someone enters our chasm of unloveable qualities and squares off with the beast we think we have become? Is it because we know very well they could devour us whole? They know deep down, we are not these calloused creatures. We are raw. We are soft. We are products of every amazing, and terrible, and shameful experience we have been through. We are tired, and poor, and starving, and filthy, and lonely. We are all missing parts. We are all misfit toys. We are brilliantly flawed. We are chaotically arranged. And we are enough, just so.

When was the last time you really looked somebody in the eyes and let yourself feel them looking back at you? When was the last time you came to the table alone, present, and bare? Your battle scars are your body armor; but armor is heavy, Darling. All that weight? Know where to hang it up at the end of the day.

Let them see you and all your gory details.

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Photos courtesy of Sam Nute [http://samuelnute.com]

RENEGADE JAMS: INSTALLMENT II

Installment II of Renegade Jams is here! Still deciding if I want to keep up with the Roman Numerals in the title. Seems cool I guess? But I know I’m going to have to start Googling the shit out of them after 5 or 6, so we’ll see. In case you’re new to this series, each week I’ll feature 5 songs I can’t stop jamming to, complete with the entire playlist below. I’ll be adding to this playlist weekly, in the event that you’d like to subscribe & rock out alongside me. (Do it!) And as promised, the 5 songs from the last installment are of course still on there. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments!

Let’s play.


#6 “Things That I Regret” by Brandi Carlile

I saw Brandie Carlile live a few months ago and let me just say…This woman slays on stage. She’s the real deal. Her fast tempo songs will bring you to your feet. Her slow, acoustic songs will bring you to your knees. Years ago, when my mom remarried, she put me in charge of the reception music. She and my now step dad asked if I would pick their wedding song, and it was probably one of the most special things anyone has ever let me do. I chose, “The Story.” Which now chokes me up every time I hear it. Thanks, Mom.

These days, I’ve been jamming out to, “The Things I regret.” While the title sounds like kind of a downer, it’s totally not. It’s an incredibly uplifting and relatable song about the times in life where we feel like we’re just not getting it right. In those moments, it’s best to just let the feeling roll over you. Tomorrow’s a new day.

Also, when she sings, “Lonely miiiiii-iiiiiiiles without you.”,  my heart burts wide open.

#7 “Flexicution” by Logic

Few songs get me as amped as Flexicution. Firstly, I’m impressed with the pun, which is probably a nerdy thing to be impressed with, but here we are. I know what I am. On a more musical note (PUNS GUYS! Have you x’ed out of this window yet? Guys?) I’m genuinely impressed with how quickly Logic raps. I’m ALSO impressed with how quickly he can solve a Rubik’s cube.

In conclusion: I’m impressed. He has an amazing life story, and if you have time, I highly recommend reading this Complex article. Okay, I’m done gushing about Logic now.

Actually one more thing: I once watched Logic solve a Rubik’s cube on stage. A fan handed him one from the crowd. He stopped the show, solved it on the spot, and then I went home and watched Rubiks cube how-to’s for like 3 hours.

I still can’t solve one.

#8  “How You Like Me Now” by The Heavy

Over drinks one night, a few friends and I were talking about what our theme songs would be if we could have any one song play at any given time walking down the street. I stumbled over about 10 different songs that night with no avail. It drove me crazy. Then, days later as I was LITERALLY walking down the street in my home town, “How You Like Me Now” came on. I may have exclaimed “THIS IS IT!” out loud to nobody. I then took my phone out and texted my friends the good news. I had found my song. How you like me now?

#9 “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes

The only reason this song makes the list is because it became one of my favorite songs by accident when I was seventeen, after a stage mishap with my best friend. We were on vacation in Florida, and we snuck into a bar under the radar. It was probably one of the most fun nights of my youthful, teen years. We didn’t cause any trouble, we just jammed out to the live music (and MAYBE snuck a drink or two…)

At one point, the band pulled us up on stage and handed us instruments. I had drumsticks, and my friend had a tambourine. We were in charge of those infamous double drum hits. (Ba-DUM! Ba-DUM!) The only problem was…We didn’t know the song. So we stood on stage like a couple of clueless morons randomly banging our instruments while everyone looked at us with confusion in their eyes.

There’s lots of speculation about what this song is ACTUALLY about 😉 but I’m going to just leave it right here.

# 10 “The One That Got Away ” by Wild Belle

The TL;DR version of this song is that Wild Belle has two middle fingers up to some dude who broke her heart. Now she’s diving across the country in a big van having the time of her life. This girl is my hero. What a little rebel.

Arrive.

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Photo Credit: Sam Nute

Turns out writing is hard when you’re heartbroken.

Doing a lot of things is hard when you’re heartbroken, actually. Fundamental tasks feel like a train you keep missing, when all you want is to arrive safely at your destination. Even if your destination is eating. Or sleeping. Or showering. Or seeing people. Or seeing yourself.

Seriously. Have you seen yourself, lately?

You’d think nothing would clear up your own heartbreak faster than seeing the threadbare and unraveling excuse for a human you’ve become. It feels obvious each time you pass your own reflection in storefront windows. You catch yourself hunched over like your backbone is folding on itself, and with that image, you’re sure you’d have enough strength to stand up straight and sever the sadness. You’d think you’d be able to kick out the uninvited houseguest you’ve turned into inside your own mind. After all, it’s YOUR brain. YOU live there. You’re certain that when all of the darkness in Pandora’s box already lives dormant underneath your eyeballs, and is re-released into the world each time you open your eyes, you’ll soon be forced to start living again.

Because you can’t just not open your eyes. You’ve tried that. People kept checking on you. And you have no more room in your fridge for lasagna and pea soup. You don’t even like lasagna and pea soup, but that just happens to be the form kindness keeps arriving in. You will be too exhausted to turn it away.

But writing, and sleeping, and showering, and seeing people, and seeing yourself won’t be the hardest part.

The hardest part of heartbreak won’t be choosing to walk away. It won’t be falling down a rabbit hole of new information. The hardest part won’t be reliving. It will be reviving. You will never be the same person you were before whatever moment or series of moments took the person you thought you were and wrung you out. You have to accept that the version of you that you’d grown attached to is gone. It stopped being yours the moment you gave it to somebody else for safekeeping. That’s the scariest part of love, really. Trusting somebody to not destroy the very essence of what you know to be true about yourself.

At times, going through heartbreak is going to feel like the scene in Billy Madison where they put dog shit in the bag, light it on fire, and leave it on that poor old man’s doorstep.

And he steps on it and shouts, “it’s poop again!”

It’s going to be just that. Poop again. On loop. For months and months…And months.

But from breakdowns come breakthroughs. If you approach heartbreak as a chance to reinvent, it feels less like condemning doom (or a fiery bag of burning shit) and more like an opportunity to revive.

Sometimes you have to give in to your own gravitational collapse before you can start rebuilding. Sometimes you have to sit inside your own suffering until you’re ready to come out of it. Sometimes, you have to become so fucking sick of your own mental and emotional state that the only way to get well is to drag your ass to the beach, or the gym, or the studio, or whatever your temple is. You’ll swim. You’ll kick. You’ll write. You’ll pray. You’ll curse. You’ll cry your whole way there.

But eventually, you’ll arrive.

When Did You Stop Believing In Make Believe?

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Photo Credit: Rachel Adams

I like to play a game when I first meet people. It’s a game of questions. For all intents and purposes, let’s call it, “The Question Game.” It’s a wildly creative title, and it’s actually pretty simple. You go back and forth asking one question, and there’s only one rule:

You aren’t allowed to ask the same question you’ve already been asked.

This prevents the forced “what about you?” monotony that comes along with meeting new people, without killing the opportunity of an interesting exchange. Added bonus: Nobody gets caught up talking about themselves for three hours, because it’s a game.

Questions start out with the basics:

  • Where are you from? (New Hampshire.)
  • What’s your favorite song? (“Holocene” by Bon Iver,  “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by Elvis, and every song by Bruce Springsteen.)
  • What do you do for a work? (This is a terrible question. Don’t ask this.)

After a few rounds, and perhaps a few glasses of whiskey, people generally loosen up.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret.
It’s never their answers I’m after.
It’s their questions.

I’ve been obsessed with asking questions since I was young. I distinctly remember the teachers in Sunday School pulling me aside and telling me that my questions were distracting to the other children. As soon as I realized I wasn’t allowed to ask questions, I stopped listening. As soon as I was old enough to answer the questions for myself, I stopped going.

In high school I was a terrible student. I mean, really awful. I was a good kid all around, I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. If you know me today you’ll know not much has changed — I just work a lot harder. I didn’t get into any real trouble, but I also didn’t get into any of the colleges I applied for. I had a 1.7 GPA. Let that sink in. One. Point. Seven. My poor parents. I think deep down they knew I’d figure it out, or maybe that’s just what I tell myself now that I actually sort of have.

My biggest problem with high school was that it didn’t matter what questions they asked, there was always a predetermined correct answer. This is why I didn’t care about precalculus. It’s also why I decided to become a teacher. There were far too many adults with teaching degrees asking kids questions that didn’t matter.

When the questions already have answers, does it really matter what you’re being asked?

At this point I could wrap this all up nicely and tell you that I fulfilled my lifelong dream of changing children’s lives. After all, I did eventually get into college. I did major in English teaching. I did wax poetic on Shakespeare for a few years there, and nary a student left my classroom confused by Hamlet. (“We know what we are but know not what we may be.” AMIRITE?) Staying in New Hampshire and teaching felt like a security blanket — it was warm and cozy and something I knew I was good at. Something I knew I would succeed at. Something I knew would always be there. I wasn’t ready to commit to doing one finite thing for the rest of my life.

“…But what else will you DO?” 

was the question my dear mother asked me on her living room couch over a cup of tea and shared stack of People magazine. Half horrified and half intrigued, I watched her face scrunch up as I explained that I really didn’t know, and relax again when I explained that the thought of working my ass off for a piece of parchment paper, only to go on and do that ONE thing for the rest of my life, didn’t really sound like me. She laughed and agreed. What can I say — the woman knows me. And she knew I didn’t have a game plan.

But I had questions that needed answering.

The only question that has ever stumped me was asked nearly three years ago by a man who, no matter how hard I tried, I was never going to be right for. We were out to dinner at Le Village, a lovely BYO French bistro in the East Village with the best roast cauliflower I’ve ever had. We shared a bottle of red wine and a deep conversation about why relationships don’t work, and we landed somewhere between timing, trial and error, and that sometimes there’s no future. For us, it ended up being a combination of all three. Perhaps I didn’t realize it because those weren’t the questions I was willing to ask myself. I left the moment I realized this to be true, which ended up being several months later. I stayed, presumably for one more question.

He asked,

“When did you stop believing in make believe?”

I didn’t have an answer. I struggled to pinpoint the exact moment the things I dreamt in my head and the things happening in the real world around me emulsified. When did my wild childish imagination and my adult need to move forward untether? I wrote the question down in my notebook the next morning. It’s still sitting there on an otherwise empty page with no answer below it.

When I moved to New York to pursue a more creative life, I slowly realized all of the questions I’d been asking myself in the last three years, ten years, twenty-eight years have paid off. Simply put, if you never ask, the answer will always be no. Hell, sometimes you ask and the answer is still no. Whether it’s your education, your relationship, or your career, I’ve learned you have to be fearless in asking big questions, even if the answers are scary. Even if the answers mean failing, or moving on, or starting from scratch. Even if the answer isn’t what you want to hear, or what you initially planned on, you must ask the right questions.

My answer to his question?
I never stopped believing in make believe.
Everything I made believe, I became.

No questions asked.

This post originally appeared on Medium