The Problem with Colorado Springs

Memoir

This piece was written in February of this year, and I’ve been debating what to do with it. I considered sending it in to literary magazines, but I also didn’t really want to work on it any more (I know, sounds awful, but there’s a lot of emotion in this piece, and coming back to it was extra work). Some of the feelings in this piece have shifted (the house is no longer half under construction, we’re starting to settle in, things are getting better), but a lot of them are the same. Still don’t like it here very much. Still feel my heart ache when I think about our old home. Still don’t know when or if we’ll ever make it back to the PNW.

“I’m looking for lucky money envelopes? The red ones. For the Lunar New Year.” When the woman stares back at me blankly, I sigh. “Chinese New Year?”

And suddenly the woman at Hallmark knows what I’m after. She leads me to the tiny (four slots, two rows) section, and explains that another woman came in and cleared out their greeting cards but left four packs of the money envelopes.

I hate this place.

Well, no, that’s not entirely fair. I hate living in this place. I liked it just fine when I was visiting a couple times a year and could just laugh at how backwards it could be for such a large city, how deluded the city council was about the area being “metropolitan,” and how it was so removed from everything I’d come to love about my home near Seattle. My home that…is now someone else’s home.

So here’s the deal. In the summer of 2020, amid the pandemic, my husband and I decided that we would sell our house, which had more than doubled in value since purchase, and move back to Colorado. We didn’t really want to leave Washington, but the sale of the house could be life changing. And there’s the matter of my step-father. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease. I recognize him less every time I see him. My mother is his primary caregiver. I want to help. I want to be there in the end. I want my kids to have some more time with their grandfather while he still knows their names.

We told ourselves that it wouldn’t be too bad as we reached out to a realtor and made plans to move in the late summer of 2021. Might even be fun. We still had friends there. Neither of us could get out of Colorado fast enough back in the early 00s, but it’s been years. Thirteen years is enough time to grow, yeah? Colorado has that new governor that isn’t a complete disaster. They voted blue in the last national election. It’ll be fine, right?

The Old House

The first month, almost every day, I stood somewhere in the new house and cried because it wasn’t my charming old mid-century modern, set in the middle of a lush lot in the far back corner of a very private, wooded cul de sac. We were in that house for seven years, the longest I have lived anywhere in my adult life, and honestly I thought it was the house we were going to spend the rest of our lives in. Sure, it needed some hefty renovation (which we couldn’t afford), but the location and the lot couldn’t have gotten better, shy of being able to afford a place right on the water. This 1970s split-level ranch, on the arid plain, where all my neighbors can see everything I do, doesn’t fill my heart like that last house did. By the end of the first month I wasn’t crying anymore, but I do look around and sigh, and wonder if I have room to plant trees. Something to block out the nosy boomers on all sides and bring some of that old neighborhood charm to this generic suburb. I know this house has potential, but right now it feels like a poor trade for what we had.

I’ve also been fighting a hard case of FOMO since we arrived as I keep up with friends back in Washington and see what all they’re doing. I’ve found some small ways around this. There were streaming options for many of the live holiday shows that all came back this past year. I kept my job at the Seattle Erotic Art Festival since it’s all zoom meetings and emails now anyway. I even flew out for the festival in October, though I sobbed like a child as I hugged everyone and said goodbye before heading to the airport.

Yes, we still have friends in Colorado, but a lot of my Colorado friends have younger children or are pregnant, and not terribly interested in museum trips or cocktail nights. My kids are grown(ish), I’m not interested in parks and playdates. The ones that don’t have kids have careers. My best friend moved from Colorado to California in January of 2020, transferring departments in her international company (she’s hoping to transfer to Seoul in 3-5 years). I pointed out that I had been trying to get her to move west for 13 years, and that her timing sucked.

But you know what the worst part is? As strange as it may sound, the worst part is the shopping. Like standing in front of the woman at Hallmark who doesn’t understand what Lunar New Year means, and whose store only carries three different hóngbāo, one of which has a turtle on it despite it being the Year of the Tiger. Or when I roam downtown, and find that my old favorite places didn’t survive the pandemic, and the shops and restaurants that have popped up to fill the empty storefronts are distressingly suburban and generic.

Scandinavian Specialties in Ballard. I miss this place so damn much.

Grocery shopping has become a weirdly emotional experience. I traded QFC for King Soopers – both are Kroger stores, so the basics are similar. That helps. The basics aren’t what break my heart, though. It’s when I ran out of garam masala, and couldn’t find it anywhere, even after going to four different stores. It’s not finding my favorite ramen (Ichiban Tonkatsu), and you can forget finding fishcake (the local Asian market way down south has one variety, and it’s not great). I stood in the produce department of King Soopers last night, dejected, because I couldn’t find golden shiitakes, which every QFC within 10 miles of my old house had. There is not a Scandinavian food store in the city, nor does there seem to be one in the state, and if I want Beauvais pickles, I have to order them from the shop I went to in Seattle and have them shipped to my house.

My preferred brands just don’t exist out here. No one carries Darigold sour cream. No one has Ellenos greek yogurt. No one has Franz bread. And every time I stand in the grocery store and reach for the most acceptable substitute, something in my brain says, “You left the place you loved and you may never make it back.” Dozens of times over the span of an hour. By the time I get back in the car, I am exhausted and fighting tears.

The last of the boxes.

Look, I don’t regret moving back. Well, all right, I regret it a little, but for the most part I still think it was the right thing to do. My children are happy. They’re close to their cousins and their grandparents, got new, bigger rooms with new furniture, and are slowly making new friends. My husband and I aren’t happy yet, but I know there’s the potential to get there as more things work themselves out and we get used to this place. The adjustment period has been rough for different reasons – work, school, the repairs the new house needed that still aren’t done, half our lives still sitting in the boxes that are currently behind me – and the persistent unsettled feeling makes that adjustment harder. That doesn’t mean it will be rough forever, though, and objectively things should get better soon.

I just never thought it would hurt so much. I never thought going grocery shopping would feel so much like emotional labor. I didn’t think it would feel like a knife in the heart every time I look out at my dead, brown desert brush backyard and remember the lush forest I left. Washington is where my children grew up, where my husband and I got married, where I came into who I was as an adult out of the shadow of my family and the expectations built in my youth. Where I made friends who wanted to talk about what the future looked like instead of what we all did in high school. It feels like a piece of myself is still sitting in my old house, tucked away on the top shelf in the bedroom closet, or down in the office basement where I used to sit on the couch with my laptop as my husband was at his desk, or on one of the high shelves in the kitchen that I couldn’t reach without a stool where I spent hours cooking and laughing with my kids. And I just don’t think I can get that piece back.

My Last Dream

Memoir

I was recently talking to my sister-in-law. One of those late, 2 a.m. talks where you both should have gone to bed hours ago. I said something to her that stuck with me. Something about my life, and my goals. I’m going to share, but some background first.

When I was a little girl, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a famous performer. Now, I never said it so succinctly. I wanted to be a ballerina. No, wait, a pop star. No, wait, a Broadway star. No, wait, an actress in Hollywood, but also still a ballerina, and maybe still a pop star. I loved to perform. My mother put me in a “creative movement” class when I was 4 – somewhere there’s a picture of little baby me in my pink satin leotard with a bandolier of scarves that I wore for my first recital. Thus began a lifelong obsession. I was in every choir, in every school and church play, I took tumbling and ballet and jazz dancing (though I stuck with ballet the longest). My siblings and I used to stage performances for our family. My friends and I would play games that were essentially singing contests. When I went to college (the first time), it was to study Vocal Performance. This was the dream. Even after I left college (re: was kicked out because I stopped going to classes due to depression following my first major break up), this was still the dream.

I wanted the stage. Nothing in the world feels like being on stage. The adrenaline, the tingle in your skin as you take your place and wait for the curtain to draw up and the lights to come on. The long nights practicing with a cast that becomes almost a family for the production run. Hearing your voice soar through an auditorium, knowing that everyone is listening to you. There is absolutely nothing like it. And when the concert ends, when the curtains fall on closing night, you feel accomplished and exhilarated and heartbroken that it’s over, but you know you can do it again.

And then I got pregnant. I was barely 20 when I married the man involved (an ill advised union to put it politely), and gave birth to my son in January of 2000. I still thought, for a little while, that this was only temporary. That I would get back to the stage. I found some solace in other creative pursuits – I started writing more. I had been writing since my freshman year of high school, off and on, but it was a thing I did with friends, I had no real aspirations there. Not even a year later I got pregnant again (I am apparently hella fertile). Had a little girl. Then I found out that my son was on the autism spectrum, and I mean the end where people weren’t sure if he would ever be able to write his own name or communicate without pictures. I tried getting a part time job, but my ex couldn’t handle being alone with my son. I got a divorce, and my ex stomped off in a pout with no contact information left behind. Obviously I’m glossing over a lot here, but we’re highlighting the significant life decisions.

I went to one audition when my children were still young, shortly after I had filed for divorce and my ex had disappeared. It was for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a paying gig at the Fine Arts Center. I’d had paying gigs before the children were born, though not many. I botched the audition. I wasn’t warmed up enough, it had been too long since I had done…anything. And that’s when I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t chase this dream and be a mother to my children. Maybe others could, but I couldn’t. I would have to give up one, and since giving up the children wasn’t an option, I had to give up the stage.

And that was it, for a long time. Oh, sure, my friends and I had pipe dreams about owning our own clubs or starting up a gaming café or whatever else got us excited at the time. But my dream, what I wanted to do with my life – that was just gone. I was a mom, and that took most of my time. I held a variety of jobs, though lost a lot of them. Even worked at Intel for a little while, but problems with consistent affordable child care saw that blow up in my face. I ended up working for my mother at her laundry business, because who else was going to let me bring my kids with me when I needed to? Later on I also worked for my future in-laws at their shop selling bumper stickers and buttons for the liberally minded. Paycheck to paycheck, frequently in debt and juggling bills, home alone at night and utterly exhausted. Friends came by for game night. Sometimes we went out. I couldn’t envision a future other than survival. Quite frankly, there wasn’t one at the time.

Things got better. I fell in love with someone who was worth it. We became one big family. Slowly, over time, it got better. I went back to school – it was hard to find work that paid enough to be worth the child care with just a high school diploma, so I applied for grants and financial aid and started taking classes again. I started writing again. Then an interesting thing happened – people other than my parents started telling me it was good. Professors praised my tone and my style. Every article I submitted to the school paper got printed. I started submitting short pieces to literary magazines and anthologies, and saw them published. It took 8 years, but I got my BA in English – Professional and Creative Writing. After a year off, I went back for an MFA (still working on that). I started working regularly as a freelance writer.

So back to the conversation with my sister-in-law. I told her that I realized, at some point in the last year or so, that writing is the new dream. Specifically, writing a novel, getting it edited and polished and submitted to an agent or publishing house. It’s an attainable dream in many ways, though you wouldn’t know it from the way people talk about it. Not very many people in my personal circle are terribly supportive of this endeavor. Most of my friends don’t take it seriously – they’re all doctors and lawyers, or married to software engineers, and when I try to talk about my writing they treat it like a hobby. My family says I’m a great writer, but they think I should be writing about my kids or my experiences, they’re not interested in my fiction. Some of the people closest to me have said some well meaning but horribly disparaging things since I started to focus on this seriously.

The thing is, though – and this is the point I made that night, that hit me like an epiphany – I can’t give this up. It took me a long time to find another dream. I can’t just let go of this one because people think I should be doing something else. My husband understands, and supports me in this. I thank the stars he does. I’m 41 years old, my children are technically adults (though my son will require some level of supervision and care for the rest of his life), it’s been a long road but things have continued to get better. I need to see this out. I need to try. If I fall on my face, if I’m wrong and no one wants my stories, then fine I’m wrong, but I need to take this time and put in the work and put myself out there. No, it’s not the most stable profession. No, it doesn’t come with PTO or benefits or a 401K. But it’s the only dream I have left.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk

Writing

More old school work! This one was for structured essays, specifically hermit crab essays. For those of you whose lives do not revolve around writing, hermit crab essays are when an essay is structured to appear as something else. Like a hermit crab hiding in a shell, get it? Anyway, I decided to write up a snarky course synopsis. It made me giggle.

TEDxSeattle Presents

Sarcasm, Thick Thighs, and RBF: Making It Work For You

Saturday, December 2, 2017
6:00 p.m. to 12:45 a.m.
Church Key Pub (Edmonds, WA)
$25.00 (tuition includes two drink tickets) / class size limited to bar occupancy

taught by Drea Talley

Drea Talley has years of experience being the Mean Girl most of us are not willing to be. The second youngest of six children, she was raised in a household where a clever tongue and sharp wit were valued. From as early as 5-years-old she was trading quips with her brothers, and over time progressed from “You’re a butt,” to “Oh, sorry, let me make this as monosyllabic as possible: you smell and no one loves you.”

Ms. Talley has also spent the last 24 years as the (not always) proud owner and manager of a zaftig figure, and has worked out a program for not hating yourself just because you don’t meet societal beauty standards as well as telling people where they can stick their comments about your weight. Ms. Talley has also developed strategies for addressing passive aggressive attempts to belittle your appearance, and the proper response for anyone who dares utilize the phrase, “I’m just saying something because I care.” Because let’s be honest, if they cared about anything other than their own perceptions and biases, they would want to know what you wanted.

Through this workshop, Ms. Talley will walk you through pushing past your self-conscious impulse not to say anything or wear drab palettes to go unnoticed. She will discuss with you your best colors, and why none of that matters if they’re not colors you like. Particular time will be spent reinforcing the mantra that black and grey are fine if that’s how you roll. Embrace the glitter. Those earrings are absolutely not too flashy for a casual lunch, and who asked Karen anyway?

Ms. Talley will help you lay the groundwork for calling forth the wild-eyed she/he/they-demon that already lives inside you and knows perfectly well that no one actually likes kale and will definitely say that to Becky’s face at the PTA meeting. While eating a brownie.

Ms. Talley’s other TEDx presentations include “Women Over 30 Can Wear What They Want” and “Tea and the Rise of Civilization.”

Relating to Winter

Writing

So, I was digging through old school papers trying to find an essay I had written, and came across this exercise from 2016. It is an imitation exercise, and I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the work we were imitating in the writing. If one of you clever darlings can place it, let me know. Anyway, as we are into December and certainly at the right time of year, I thought I would share.

Relating to Winter

This was supposed to be about moonlight filling the silence left in the wake of new snow. The kind that turns the hillside into a blanket of shimmering white glitter, unbroken save for a trail of fresh footprints. Like the girl in the stories that finds Frost in the woods and becomes his bride. This was supposed to be about cashmere scarves settled like silken armor about the neck and tucked into leather coats, about stinging kisses of wind to the cheeks and curls teased into tangles by every errant gust. About nights spent walking through the cold, sparkling city and admiring the twinkle of lights and stars. This was supposed to be about smiles and bright eyes. This was even supposed to be about driving slow through neighborhoods you would never be able to afford, hands wrapped around cups of chocolate warmth, breath fogging where little faces pressed against windows as you and your children murmured in awe over the colors and animatronic reindeer.

Or maybe it was supposed to be about watching holiday movies between contractions, or about the strangely cozy silence of 3 a.m. while wrapped in a blanket gazing at still fading embers, or sleeping through afternoons filled with gray and wind and rain on the living room couch with a child curled to your chest, and also behind your legs – a Tetris puzzle of limbs and blankets that comes together with an inborn artlessness. Or maybe it was just supposed to be about rain that only gives way to days of brittle sunlight and frozen streets with no sparkle. About tears freezing to cheeks in a hospital parking lot, stepping carefully around patches of ice before the heat of the lobby crashes over you like a wave, making your head swim. Watching holiday movies on a bigger TV now, waiting for doctors, and offering bland platitudes to a sobbing girl who keeps saying she just wants to go home.

Or maybe it was about something entirely different. The spicy smell of a candle. The weight of a fog that doesn’t lift for three days. The crinkle of a taffeta dress. The whistle of wind around the house. But disregard what was supposed to be. And know that this is not now nor will ever be about an insult and slammed door as you walk away without once turning around or looking back because he doesn’t deserve it. Not about the pointed fragments of a shattered china cup. Nor about malicious silence.

Once more, with feeling!

Memoir, Writing

Once upon a time, in an internet far, far away, there was an impressionable young writer who was told that someone with her skill and occasionally delightful way with words should probably have a blog or a personal website of some sort. And so, emboldened by the words of people who were not writers, the girl set forth and with hope in her heart, created her first personal website. It sank into the swamp – metaphorically, the swamp here being the cavernous maw that is the internet. And so she created another, and that too sank into the metaphorical swamp. Then she created a third, which caught on fire, fell over, and then sank into the swamp (still a metaphor). But the fourth one…also sank into the swamp. And here ends this lovely Monty Python reference.

However many tries later, here we are. This time the site has my name on it, and so therefore can follow me to my grave – it’s tethered now, no more sinking into obscurity if it doesn’t work out. That’s all right, though. There’s something to be said for taking ownership of your projects, however they may or may not turn out.

So then. Cross your fingers, toss the salt over your shoulder, run clockwise around a church three times, burn some incense, and wish on a star. Because here we go.