I Just Want to Write About a Tapir

I have experienced about 52 major life events in the past month that I want to tell you guys about, and I will, but right now the thought of tackling those topics is so daunting that I can’t even begin. Right now, what I’m feeling in my heart is that I just want to write about my childhood experience with a tapir. So I’m gonna.

For about one week when I was nine, a tapir lived in my neighborhood. It was albino.

“Mom! Dad!” I shouted the first time I saw it peak its little tapir head out from behind a tree in our backyard. “There’s a tapir outside!”

If you were to ask my parents about this, they would say it was not a tapir. They would tell you it was a possum and that I only even knew the word “tapir” because of a recent school unit on South American wildlife.

I disagree.

I may have been nine, but I was not a fool. I knew what a possum looked like. A possum looked like this.

Possum

The albino tapir living in my neighborhood looked like this.

Tapir

I saw the tapir many times that week when I was outside playing. It liked to walk around my yard in broad daylight (very un-possum-like), seemingly not at all bothered by the fact that it had ended up on the wrong continent thousands of miles away from its nearest tapir kin.

I enjoyed his presence and felt that we were friends in some distant sense. My feelings for him were similar to my feelings toward the Santa Clause look-alike homeless man in Iowa City who I see wherever I go; his mere existence was a comfort to me, and if I ever didn’t see him I’d get worried and sad.

And then, on the sixth day, something very bad happened. I saw the tragedy coming from a mile away but there was nothing I could do to stop it.

CarHittingTapir

I watched, stunned, as a speeding car ran right over my tapir.

I will never forget the sound of tire rubber hitting tapir. There was a piercingly loud CRUNCH.

I was devastated. I walked over and peered at my poor, flattened tapir. I don’t know how to draw a flattened tapir, but this guy was as flat as a popsicle stick. As flat as my pre-pubescent chest. As flat as a pressed clover.

And now this is where the story starts to get weird.

What happened next can only be explained as a miracle—perhaps the only one I will get to witness on this side of heaven.

The tapir got back up.

He just fucking pulled his shit together and got back up. Just like that, he wasn’t flat anymore. Or injured. He wasn’t even concerned. He was one badass albino tapir if I ever saw one. He just continued crossing the street as he’d intended to before the incident and wandered off into my neighbor’s yard. I never saw him again.

I still have a lot of questions about my tapir friend. Was I the only one who could see him because I was the only one who believed? Did he ever find his way back to South America? Were his bones made of elastic?

I’ll never get to know.

All I’m left with is his memory, which comes rushing back to me every time I hear the loud CRUNCH of chewed cereal, balled up tin foil, or crisp leaves beneath my shoes on a chilly autumn morning.

How a Trip to a Small Town in Iowa Changed my Outlook on Travel

I had a very unusual blogging experience this week. On Monday afternoon, I realized I was getting hundreds of hits on a post I wrote two and a half years ago about a trip Doug and I took to Lansing, Iowa. I was getting many angry comments from people in Lansing who thought I was insulting their city. (The day did, however, end with a very nice email from the mayor inviting me to come back and give their town another try.)

I was so confused by these responses, mostly because Doug and I loved our trip to Lansing. We went back a year later to take our best friends who were visiting from Florida (they loved it too). We’ve recommended Lansing to all our friends in Iowa City. We plan to go back several times over the next few years. We talk about it all the time.

As I went back and re-read the post from 2012, I could see how some of the wording I used could have been interpreted as elitist, though that was never my intention or my outlook. My intention of the post had largely been to mock Doug and myself for our own unpreparedness for small town travel, not to insult the city. This misunderstanding has been upsetting to me, but it has also given me a chance to reflect on how my post failed to convey how much we loved the town. 

I would like to take this opportunity to clear the air with the people of Lansing, and to hopefully do a better job of describing what we loved about our trip and the impact it has continued to have in my life. So, without further ado:

How a Trip to a Small Town in Iowa Changed My Outlook on Travel

The year Doug and I moved to Iowa, I wanted to take a trip during his spring break. We didn’t have much money and Doug couldn’t be gone long because he had a lot of work to do. So he told me I could only plan a short trip and that it had to be somewhere in Iowa.

So I went online and soon learned that northeastern Iowa is incredibly scenic with its tall bluffs lining the upper Mississippi River. I figured the region would be perfect for Doug and me since we prefer natural beauty over big city travel any day. Next I needed to find a place for us to stay. I couldn’t find travel reviews for any of the small river towns except for one extremely positive review for a town called Lansing (population 999) written by a man who’d visited there from San Francisco and fallen so in love with the town that he’d quickly sold his San Francisco home and moved there. That review, combined with some photographs I saw taken from Mt. Hosmer, were enough for me to book a reservation at a hotel in Lansing.

Driving into Lansing via a series of bridges was a beautiful experience. The river is unbelievably wide up there, filled with marshland and islands. We immediately knew we had chosen the right destination.

We stayed in a lovely, modern room at McGarrity’s Inn. The building has been renovated from an old photography studio, so the rooms were decorated with leftover photography artifacts, which gave us a taste of the local history.

We hiked through the Effigy Mounds (about a 30 minute drive from Lansing), which includes over two hundred American Indian mounds and offers spectacular views of the bluffs, the river, and bald eagles. We happened to be there during an unseasonably warm week for early March, which made it perfect for hiking.

Effigy Mounds

We also had a great time hiking to the top of Mt. Hosmer, which is right in Lansing and offers an incredible tri-state view.

Mt. Hosmer View

Our trip to Horsefall’s Lansing Variety Store was unforgettable. The store is jam-packed and known to have more than a million different items for sale. Doug bought some rare toys from his childhood, and I bought some bowls that always remind me of our trip. We loved the cashier who worked there—a very friendly man in measuring tape suspenders (I also bought my dad measuring tape suspenders) who told us we could mail him a check later if we didn’t have enough cash on us. I loved that—I have never been on the receiving end of that much trust in a business transaction.

We had lunch at Safe House Saloon where I had an AMAZING slice of s’more pizza, which I still dream about. The restaurant owner said she invented the recipe herself.

Overall, we found the land to be beautiful, the pace to be laid-back, and the people to be friendly. Although we were only there a couple days, we really felt like we had gotten away.

As we drove home, I realized that one of the reasons this trip had been so enjoyable was because it had been so unexpected. We hadn’t known much about the area when we arrived, so it felt so serendipitous to uncover all the lesser known treasures the region has to offer. Anyone can pick up a guide book to New York City and hit up all the typical hot spots, but to me there is something more special about going to an area whose appeal is lesser known and more subtle. It feels like you are uncovering a hidden treasure, or being let in on a wonderful secret.

That experience has altered my entire perception of what travel is and can be. After Lansing, I was hooked. I now own three Iowa guidebooks and plan Iowa getaways all the time.

iowabooks

Doug and I have kayaked in Decorah, hiked through the Loess Hills, ridden the world’s steepest railroad elevator in Dubuque, toured the Star Trek museum in Riverside (birthplace of Captain Kirk), taken a private bald eagle tour of Davenport, observed the Amish in their horse-drawn buggies in Kalona, and stayed at the only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright designed hotel in Mason City.

We have now been more places in Iowa than some native Iowans. It has provided us with many great adventures and memories, but even more than that, it has made me feel like this state really is my home.

I am always stunned when people tell me there is nothing to do in Iowa. There is so much to do in Iowa that I actively worry about not getting to do it all before we move in a few years. (Next up on our list: the famous bridges of Madison County and the Great Lakes of Iowa.)

I have become a huge advocate for exploring your home state. In a country where we are always pressed for money and vacation time, I think in-state getaways are a great way to combat the “no-vacation nation” problem.

It’s so easy to pack up and go on an adventure somewhere completely different, and really feel like you’re getting away, even if all you have is a weekend and a couple hundred dollars. I encourage everybody to try it. Every state has its own hidden treasures. There’s a lot to experience beyond the typical guidebooks and internet forums, and your life will be richer for it.

I have Lansing to thank for teaching me that.

When The End of Summer No Longer Brings a New Beginning (Or: Last Week I Walked Into a Staples Store And Almost Traded My Soul For A New Trapper Keeper and Pack of Glue Sticks)

Back to school season was always my favorite.

I loved summer too, but by early July I’d be longing to go back like a mosquito longs for the sweetness of human blood.

I’d wait for the day my class list was posted (elementary school) or my schedule came in the mail (middle/high school) with an all-consuming anticipation that is now reserved only for… uhh… there’s gotta be something I still look forward to besides the eventual relief of death, right?… hmmm… OK THE JIG IS UP I HAVEN’T BEEN HAPPY IN YEARS. Just kidding. Kind of? Let’s move on.

Back to school shopping was the best part. I am literally almost having an orgasm right now thinking about how it felt to buy new mechanical pencils and white-out pens. (Click here to read about my love affair with Trapper Keepers.)

And the clothes! Oh my goodness, the clothes. The look and feel and smell of a crisp new pair of jeans on your legs after a summer spent in swimming suits.

But it wasn’t actually about the supplies or the clothes. It was about the fantasy. It was about the new friends to whom you would write notes with those pencils, and the parties you’d go to in that new pair of jeans.

And it wasn’t entirely fantasy—there was a lot of truth to it.

Every school year did bring new friends and new experiences and was guaranteed to be vastly different than the last. Every August, the universe hit the re-set button for you and rolled out a whole new expanse of possibilities at your doorstep.

I’ve been thinking about all of this lately because of two events:

1)   I walked into Staples last week to buy a new scanner and HOLY CRAP THAT STORE SMELLS LIKE BACK TO SCHOOL. If the devil had materialized at my local Staples that moment and said “Let’s make a deal,” I hands down would have offered my soul in exchange for a new trapper keeper and pack of glue sticks (and, of course, the promise of a new school year).

2)   Doug and I have been packing to move to a new apartment. Moving apartments was the back to school shopping of college. In college I moved every single year, so I associate the act of moving with new beginnings just as much as I do trapper keepers.

While packing today, I could feel the excitement of new possibilities instinctively rising in my body. I realized that I was physically and psychologically conditioned to be looking forward to the start of something new, just because I happened to be moving in July.

I had to keep pausing to remind myself that—except for a new apartment—nothing in my life is actually changing. I will keep going to the same job, and there is no reason to assume I’m about to make a bunch of new friends or suddenly get invited to cool parties.

This is only the second year that the universe hasn’t re-set itself for me. After college I had two years of grad school. The following fall I started my new life in Iowa. The fall after that, I started my new job.

But now life has plateaued, and one of our tasks at this life stage is to figure out what to do about that. Life will always bring changes, but it will never again be as easy or guaranteed as a fresh start every August. From here on out, it’s up to us to create the movement in our own lives. To be intentional about the way we live so that one year does not blur into the next into an indistinguishable infinity.

My friend Marnie once said, “If you want to live an interesting life, you have to put work into it. It won’t just come to you.”

I’m still sad that the school phase of my life has come to an end. It’s not a small thing to lose the system that raised you, and always promised to keep you safe and hopeful. But I also see it as an important challenge.

So here’s to paving my own ever-changing life, learning how to press my own re-set button when I need to, and occasionally sneaking into Staples to press my nose up against the sweet hard plastic of a trapper keeper. (They’re back, you know!)

FreshmanYearofCollege

^My first week of college, 2005.

Quotes From my Boyfriend 5 (Or: Is my Life the Big Bang Theory?)

Doug Skeleton

**When Doug discovered a forgotten king-sized Snickers Peanut Butter Bar in our pantry**

Doug: What is this? The Anne Frank of candy bars hiding in our cupboard from Adolf Hunger?

***

**When I was opening a package that came for me in the mail.**

Doug: What if it’s a tiny cat tuxedo for Ketos?

Me: I think I would remember ordering that.

Doug: You don’t have to order something for it to arrive. Nobody ordered the Bubonic Plague, but it showed up at Europe’s doorstep all the same.

***

Doug: I can’t think of lyrics for my next song.

Me: Want me to flash you my boobs? Boobs have been inspiring men for millions of years.

Doug: Millions? You must be including the earlier hominids that pre-date anatomically modern Homo sapiens.

***

Doug: I don’t like watermelon. Never have.

Me: But it’s so delicious! It’s God’s candy!

Doug: Maybe if it had more sugar. And if it were made out of the stuff Skittles are made of. You know, the red ones?

Me: *SIGH*

Doug: What? Sue me. I’m an honest man in a world full of lies.

When Dreams Don’t Come True (Or: All I wanted for the 4th of July was a Book Deal, But All I Got Were a Bunch of Unsolicited Phone Calls From Hewlett Packard)

I had two big goals for the week of the 4th of July. The first was to buy and install a new scanner, and the second was to land a life-changing, preferably-six-figure-but-I’d-settle-for-five book deal.

My dream for a new scanner was born sometime around mid-June, when I stood by my old trusty scanner’s side for the last time as it took off for that big open warehouse in the sky.

My dream for a book deal was born sometime in the early 90’s, when I spent my afternoons lying face-down in the hallway outside the upstairs bathroom (I loved the smell of carpeting) and imagined overly dramatic plots for my future bestsellers.

More recently, it was re-born last summer while I was working furiously on what I hoped to be the final draft of the book I’d been working on for years. I was so determined that summer. I had a critique partner, a professional editor, and enough gumption to email my girlfriends to say I had to sit out on that season’s episode of The Bachelorette so I could write. (I even read the spoilers, which I never do, so I wouldn’t be tempted.) I had momentum. It felt like my book could go places, fast.

On the 4th of July last summer I sat under the fireworks with friends in LA and thought, “I wonder where my book will be by the next 4th of July.”

Between January and June I sent letters to many literary agents. And I got five of them to request to read my manuscript! By late June, it was starting to seem quite feasible that I could get news by the 4th. (Once an agent requests your manuscript, the average time span for them to get back to you is between one day and never. That’s one of the worst things about this process: you often don’t even know when you’ve been eliminated from the game. It’s the worst. Even Bachelorette rejects get an awkward ceremony and a limo ride to the airport.)

So I’ve continued life and work as usual.

A few weeks ago I bought and installed a new all-in-one scanner/copier/printer. I was feeling quite pleased and surprised by my success at installing it myself. Until I realized the scan function wasn’t working. (That’s the only function I actually need. How else am I going to upload supplementary documentation for my patient assessments share my pornographic self-portraits with the world wide web?)

So I called HP support, where I screen-shared/phone chatted with a Filipina woman named Faith who tried to fix my problems. For three freaking hours.

We progressed through the three typical conversation phases of screen-sharing/phone chatting with a HP support professional as they try to fix your problems from the Philippines.

Phase 1: Friendly banter about the weather patterns in your respective countries as you ride off your excitement at the prospect of your problem being easily fixed.

Phase 2: Conversation becomes significantly more forced now that you have run out of obvious discussion topics and are coming to grips with the reality that this process might take a long while. (“My friends say in your country there is… Bigfoot?” Faith asked as we waited for a painfully slow re-install progress bar to make its way across my screen at roughly the speed of elderly buffalo with cinderblocks tied to their ankles.)

Phase 3: Frustration so palpable you can taste it as you both sigh heavily into the receiver until Faith suggests she just call you back after the software finishes re-installing for the fifth time.

Now I’m no computer science major, but I couldn’t help but notice that all Faith was doing was uninstalling and reinstalling the software over and over again. Which leads to my theory that HP support people aren’t allowed to just throw their hands up and say, “Screw it! This thing is just a broken, effed-up piece of shit!” but are instead required to go through the motions repeatedly until you, the customer, have to eventually proclaim that you have to pee or eat or return to life on planet Earth. (Or maybe, true to her name, she really was just that hopeful.)

It was surprisingly difficult to cut Faith off between installations/uninstallations, and when I did she was very insistent that I speak to her supervisor so he could send me a new scanner, which I did not want to do because I’d already decided I’d just return it to Walmart and get a Canon PIXMA. But I didn’t have the heart to tell her that, so I just said I’d just call back if I decided I wanted to pursue that. But she wouldn’t let me get off the phone until I at least gave her a time that her supervisor could call me, so I said 5:00 on Tuesday. (Because I would have just gotten off work but not yet headed over to my friend’s house to watch The Bachelorette, leaving just enough time to quickly tell her supervisor thanks but no thanks.)

He didn’t call 5:00 on Tuesday. He called 2:00 on Monday. And 12:00 on Tuesday. And 9:00 on Wednesday. And 1:00 on Thursday. I never answered because I was always working. The calls always came up as UNKNOWN, and he always left a message. It was the week before the 4th of July.

When you’re a writer trying to find an agent, you read a lot of stories about how writers got their agents. Partly because you have to keep reminding yourself it is something that actually happens despite all evidence to the contrary, and partly because you have become a professional fantasizer— always dreaming of the day your writing ship will come in. Stories of writers landing agents are random and spectacular. Writers get that call when they least expect it. At the grocery store. At the bus stop. In the dentist’s chair. That’s how life changes.

When you are a writer whose manuscript is supposedly being read by five agents, you become hyper aware of your phone activity. Any call from an unfamiliar or unidentified number, and you instantly leap into OMG-I’M-QUITTING-MY-JOB-AND-GOING-ON-BOOK-TOUR mode.

That’s how it was all week before this 4th of July. Each time I saw that missed call and Voicemail from UNKNOWN, I became elated with hope all over again. Even though I knew it was almost definitely Hewlett Packard—there was always still that chance. I am a professional fantasizer, after all.

I’d even wait two hours before listening to each message just so I could live briefly in the possibility, semi-believing my ship had come in. There’s something beautiful to be enjoyed about those moments when something could still go either way. It’s the closest we ever get to some dreams.

This 4th of July I sat with a friend under the fireworks in Nashville and thought of the eager hopefulness I’d had last year. I wasn’t depressed or torn up about it—I was genuinely having a good night—but my book was not where I’d hoped it would be, and I had to say that to myself.

There are things I could say here for the positive spin. At least I completed a major revision! At least I got multiple agent requests! At least the 4th of July always finds me traveling with good friends!

Yes, yes, and yes. But that’s not the point. There has been a loss here, and it deserves to be felt. It needs to be acknowledged so I can figure out where to go from here.

I haven’t given up, per say. I’m quite aware that it takes most writers years and years to get published and that most never publish their first book. It’s just so hard to tell in this business when your big break is right around the corner, and when you’re essentially just installing and uninstalling the same scanner software over and over again.

Over the course of writing and attempting publication of my book, I have gradually done all the things I didn’t want to do but that all the writing sites told me I must do:

I built a following.

I found a critique partner.

I executed major revisions.

I got on Twitter (this one was the most painful for me).

I followed each of these steps one by one, as I gradually accepted that I wasn’t going to be the exception to the rules.

I followed all of them except for one. Except for the last step that all the writers say you must do after you have done all the others:

Move on. Write the second book.

I’ve resisted this. I’ve been afraid of giving up and of plunging in. I’ve made several half-hearted attempts.

But I can’t even tell you how hard I’ve been running from writing this next book. Every few days or so for the past year, I’ve gotten this feeling like something is missing from my life. So I tell myself that I need to make more friends. Or volunteer. Or take up that new version of surfing where machines blast you fifty feet into the air.

But it’s none of those things, and I know it. What’s missing is that I need to be writing a book again. It’s my thing. It’s my only thing.

So why do I resist it?

Writing a book is a lot like being in love. It’s nice to be in love, but it’s also nice not to be in love.

The pros are that it’s exciting and all-consuming and dangerous and teaches you things about the world and yourself.

The cons are that it’s exciting and all-consuming and dangerous and teaches you things about the world and yourself.

Last week, just for fun, I wrote out the query letter for this hypothetical second book. Then I sat back in my chair and thought, “Whoa. Now that’s a book agents would want.”

I know there’s something big there, waiting for me, if I can just make myself reach for it.

This week, I started my next book. For real this time.

I also asked Hewlett Packard to stop calling, and I bought a new scanner.

It works.

Nashville Fireworks

Blog Makeover!

“I’m going to give my blog a makeover and make it all about the weird issues we face in our late twenties,” I told Noemi this weekend after we’d had a rousing debate over whether or not to eat a cucumber out of a stranger’s refrigerator.

“What would you even have to write about?” she asked as she popped a hot Twizzler in her mouth.

“Oh, you know,” I said. “Never meeting any of your goals, never having enough money, feeling bored and useless at work, feeling bored and useless after work, watching your ex-boyfriends get married, not having friends, trying to make friends, not really wanting to make friends, watching your parents age, having recurring dreams about your first love, feeling jealous of people whose lives are more interesting than yours, news feed full of babies, fantasies about how life could have gone, trying for three years to buy a couch, summers not being fun anymore, losing your memory, losing your personality, losing your sense of humor, and feeling unreasonably depressed that you’re not as hot as you were when you were sixteen.”

Noemi glared at me. “That sounds super depressing.”

“It won’t be!” I said. “Well, maybe it will. But I’ll also make it light and funny.”

So, here we go. Depressing and light and funny and honest. Welcome to the journey.

QuarterLifeCrisis

This Post Includes a Semi-Pornographic Picture of Me. Or: Why Not To Order Swimsuits From China.

Hi friends. I’ve broken down this review of my week into several different categories. So, like, you can pretend its an awards show or whatever. Here we go.

Most Shocking Fruit-Related Moment of the Week:

Cutting open my watermelon and finding that the inside was yellow.

YellowWatermelon

I was pretty stunned, and figured this is what a watermelon must look like before it’s ripe. But then I saw the sticker on it that said, “I’m Yellow Inside!” Guys, is yellow watermelon a thing that everybody else knows about? Because never in my life have I ever.

Best Prank I Pulled This Week:

Leaving doll heads in my co-worker’s office while he was on vacay. I like pranking this guy most of all, because he has so many military history artifacts to work with.

head1  head2head3head4

Most Educational Moment of the Week:

Learning what a “pannus” (pronounced pane-iss) is.

I was doing one of my hospital assessments and was asking one of the nurses about the patient’s medical condition. “She has open wounds on her thigh and her pane-iss,” the nurse said.

Um, wow. I figured I’d misheard her but didn’t want to ask so I moved on to the next question. But then I came back to it at the end.

“Now, you said she has wounds on her thigh and her… what else?”

“Her pane-iss,” the nurse said matter-of-factly. I nodded. And wrote down the word the way I heard it so I could Google it at home, like I often do with medical terms I’m too embarrassed to ask about. Now that I know what it is, I’d say it’s aptly named. Click here if you’re interested ;)

Weirdest Delusion of the Week:

Doug and I took a pretty hike through Wildcat Den State Park.

Wildcat

It was lovely, but it was so hot and humid that by the end I was feeling confused and delirious. When we got home I took a nap and Witten slept on my legs. When I woke up, my first thought was, “Oh no! I’m going to get sued by the person who invented cats sleeping on people!” I sincerely believed this, and continued to believe it for the next twenty-six minutes.

Most Regrettable Purchase of the Week:

So a while ago, a swimsuit ad popped up on my Facebook feed. It was so cheap and looked so great on the model that I decided to take a chance and order it all the way from China. But when I tried to pull it on this week… well, is everyone in China like two feet tall? I mean, I took the daintiness of Chinese people into account and ordered an XL, but guys, this sucker barely made it up my thighs/pannus and did not even come close to reaching my boobies.

I really wanted to post the photo of me trying to wear it, but Doug said I couldn’t do that because then there would officially be a photograph of me on the internet that people could masturbate to, and apparently you can never un-ring that bell. So I just drew a picture. Who would you say wore it better: me or the model? Please cast your vote below in the comments section.

Picture 3

(Picture on left from SammyDress.)