Monday, July 29, 2013

You know you're a Bieber fan

when you add one of Justin's CDs to your Amazon Wish List and receive this message:

"Since the item you added was already on your Wish List, we moved it to the top. (If you want more than one, change the Quantity Desired.)"

A middle of the night plea for cleanliness

I need to keep the environments around me clean.

My home, my car.

My purse.

I am a neurotic, anal-expulsive* (look it up**), Myers-Briggs type ENFP person, and I am only making things harder for myself by not keeping things clean. It only takes a second to pick up one item that is out of place, but it takes hours to clean up several of them, and the time I spend thinking about it, consciously and subconsciously, takes hours away from my (relative) sanity.

I am writing this here not because you necessarily care but because it is 12:41 a.m. and I am trying not to lose my mind -- again -- and I am about to embark on starting to clean because I can't sleep anyway and have a headache and I am overwhelmed by the constant churning of my brain,


I am making this public, declarative statement. Because when you say something to an audience, you feel a little more accountable.

I need to keep my environments clean.

This madness needs to stop.

I can't make myself less neurotic, but I can make my physical environment less crazy. I am not a toddler. And frankly, even toddlers are capable of putting things back in their toy chest.

Do I wish I had a life coach, therapist, or boyfriend/husband to tell me to pick up my toys? Well, no, because I don't like being told what to do. But really, at this point in my life, yes. But I can't afford the first two people on that list and I don't have one of the third.

*I'm not getting in a conversation now about the literal "anal"-ness of that theory, or whether I believe in all or any of Freud's theories. I just know what it feels like to need to have everything you're thinking about, creating, doing, eating, reading, watching -- all of it -- in front of you and in front of your mind, and at the same time to feel like you want it all to GET OUT OF YOUR FACE so you can breathe.

**Please don't take that as a bossy statement. I'm clearly not in a great state of mind right now. I will give you a hug as consolation if you found that to be bossy.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


When people ask me about my dream job, I always wince a little before I tell them that I want to write spiritual memoirs. A lot of times their reaction is initially positive, actually, because they think I want to write books about other people’s stories.

But then I tell them I want to write stories from my own perspective about faith and family, and I wish that I could disappear from the conversation as I wait for that confused look to come across their face.

“You mean you just want to write about yourself and your life and this is your dream? This is what you’re aspiring to do?”

They don’t actually say that. This is what I imagine they are thinking, and I cringe and wonder just how arrogant and self-absorbed I am.

But let me just say one thing (OK, many things). I have studied the craft of memoir for a long time. This isn’t something I just started casually thinking about recently. I have my reasons for wanting to write from my perspective about things that have happened to me and pieces of wisdom that people I love have passed on to me.

I’ve been reading memoirs and autobiographies as a hobby since high school. I went to journalism school, where students usually do their master’s projects about Twitter, or major historic journalistic happenings like the investigation of Watergate and “All the President’s Men,” or how women aged 18 – 34 respond to depictions of women in magazines like Cosmopolitan.

My master’s project was about spiritual memoirs. I don’t know that there ever was a master’s project about that subject before in the journalism school or if there ever will be one again. Why? Because it’s not exactly a journalistic topic. But I really wanted to focus on that, because it’s my passion.

During, before and after my work on that project, I have read and continue to read memoirs, memoirs, memoirs. Often about faith. Almost always about family, because family is everywhere inside us – we cannot escape the influence of family.

When I read these memoirs, I don’t generally think that the authors are arrogant, or annoying, or wasting their time. The books that I love the most are the really honest and analytical ones, and if they are both of these things crafted with amazing writing, that is the jackpot.

My reaction to all these books is: I’m so glad someone put into words things that I have thought before, things that I have struggled with, rejoiced over in my own life. My other reaction is in a manner similar to that of how we feel when we stop and reflect on how grateful we are that a musical group we love decided to perform music. I think: I’m so glad this person, who is clearly an incredibly talented and gifted writer, decided to write. I don’t get hung up on the fact that these people are writing about their own lives instead of others. I think there is a time and place for each type of storytelling.

I am a writing freak. I get so drunk on the written word. I love it, love it, love it. I get totally geeked out on this stuff. I drive down the freeway and think about how I am yet to read Buechner, Nouwen, L’Engle, Augustine, and how I want to read them all right now. I look forward to author appearances the way many of my peers get excited for concerts. I get giddy over books. I fall in love with them. It is a romance all its own, one that crooks my neck uncomfortably on a pillow as I lie in terrible posture at midnight, fighting fatigue to read just 20 more pages.

Over time, since I started this here blog, I’ve been told – not a million times, but enough – by people that something I said made them happy, touched them, and that they were glad I said something.
Even writing that statement makes me feel arrogant. But let me just tell you that is why I write. When I have read the writing of Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Jay Bakker, Phil Vischer (yes, the Veggie Tales guy), Lauren Winner, etc. etc. etc., I have thought so many times: YES. There is tremendous, incredible comfort which makes me able to move forward in life when I read on a page the words of someone else who has been somewhere I have been. I write not for the “fame” of writing, but because when I read something and it touches me I know how powerful that is, so who am I not to do the same for others if I am getting clear feedback and requests to do so?

When I took my introductory reporting class in journalism school, I was prone to say ridiculous and obnoxious things during lecture in our classroom full of probably 200+ people. In more private moments, during some of the countless occasions when us tired, crotchety master’s students got together for drinks, some of my friends would mention to me that they enjoyed listening to my comments in class.

I felt ridiculous (and then again, not so ridiculous) making the comments, but apparently I was saying things that other people wanted to say but were too afraid to raise their hands and actually say themselves.

Believe it or not, I was a shy kid. At least that’s the way I remember it. But around the third grade mark, I got sarcastic, and from there on I have always been obnoxious. I talk. I’m loud. I’m not shy, and I will be that person in a group to finally say, “All right, everyone, we are going to Taco Bell for lunch and that is it! No more discussing our options, let’s go.” I have opinions and I share them. Sometimes people find this funny, probably sometimes they want me to shuuuuut uuuup.

Let me just say I wish I could shut myself up sometimes. I don’t understand sometimes why I have this impulse to just make something known outside of myself, why I must tell those around me what I am thinking and feeling, why I am so verbal.

But when it comes to writing, this is the only thing I have ever felt called to do. It is the only thing that I have received continuous, specific words of encouragement about. And yes, I want to shut myself up on the page, too, sometimes. I worry a fair amount about how words can hurt others and make people who don’t agree with me hard and thus not willing to listen again. I really believe that God is more than my words will ever say, and I absolutely do not want to step on His toes or get in the way of the things He is doing for us by opening my big mouth and saying something that will lead His sheep astray.

Anne Lamott, in her book about writing called “Bird by Bird,” says something about how writers are simply just really observant people. I think she says something in addition about how it’s our job to share those observations, but it’s been a long time since I read that book and I don’t have my copy here with me to reference and check, so don’t quote me on that. But I remember the thing about being observant.

I am a neurotic person. I observe. I think all the time. I cannot stop. I feel burdened by it a lot. Sometimes I am OK with it because I am grateful that I was selected to be a creative person. Whatever the reason this incessant thinking is here inside me, it’s here. Two things I can say about it: 1) When I write down my observations, they are not only in my head anymore but also on paper, and this offers tremendous catharsis and relief to my nonstop and sometimes tortured brain. 2) Sometimes people respond to this, positively.

So I write.

I get up in my unemployment and instead of heading straight to the job listings, I head to Microsoft Word. I put the date at the top of the page, I save the file, I sit, I head to the Internet to dink around, and then eventually I get to gettin’. I write something. You know why? Because so many of these trusted writers who I am so grateful for say that you’ve got to write every day. Make it a habit. Do it at the same time every day, to create a mental environment that recognizes when it’s writing time. Do it to practice, to use the muscle, to keep limber. Do it because if all you ever do is talk about it you’ll never actually do it. Do it because this is our job, and in this particular line of work no one is going to make us do it but ourselves.

Writing is a lonely profession. It provides temporary freedom from neuroticism, but it also breeds it. Anne Lamott says to call your writer friends when you feel like sh*t about yourself and your writing, because someone eventually will answer the phone, and they will understand. I practice this in general, not just when I’m freaking out about writing. I’ve been known to dial 10 numbers or more in a row, just to get the human on the other end of the line who can get me out of myself for just a sweet second. The ones who I can cry to and who can make me laugh are on speed dial. (Theoretical speed dial – as if I know how to activate speed dial on my phone. I still haven’t figured out where the speaker phone feature is.)

I hope that my writing is something of that voice on the other end of the phone line for some people.
I will still feel arrogant on occasion, like a fool, hating so much that look on the faces of people who don’t comprehend how I can be so bold to say that I want to write books about my own observations, instead of interviewing some really interesting person and writing his story instead. My hope is that either some really gifted writer out there will write the story of that really interesting person, or that he will write it himself. Because when someone speaks from her own perspective, it is honest. It is not hindered by the thoughts of someone else, and it speaks to people. And I love that. That type of writing specifically has served me as a reader, and a writer. If I thought these memoirists were all arrogant pricks, I would have stopped scouring that section at the library a long time ago. But there are a lot of people who know how to tell the world about something they really understand, something that for better or worse they just get, and personally, I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

Do I still feel weird, arrogant, as a writer? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes I feel like a fool. An arrogant prick who thinks maybe I should just write in a cave and not ever provide my stuff to an audience, because all this talking about me makes me uncomfortable to think about and broadcast. But that defeats the purpose, I think. And every once in a while that audience says, “Please keep going. Keep writing.”

I really try to write around themes* – faith, family, mental health. It’s not so much that I’m writing about me. I am simply the narrator, speaking to things that affect us all but that some of us are afraid to talk about. I have needed writers to say before, “I feel crazy, I feel like a jerk, I am so f*ing lost in this life,” and they have said it, and I have heaped kisses of gratitude upon them from afar. I am simply carrying the torch to keep saying those things so that people won’t get so utterly lost in their anxiety, their depression, their irrational fears, their doubt of their faith that they have had for so long and so desperately don’t want to lose.

“We read to know we are not alone,” said C.S. Lewis.

I might be going against the norm, in a pretty hardcore fashion most of the time. Very few people walk around this place saying, “I want to write spiritual memoirs.” But as far as I can tell, I have a calling and I am following it. I have been made somewhat obnoxious. Sometimes obnoxious people are simply obnoxious, and other times they are asked to speak up. And 2,118 words later, I have accomplished my task for the day, to write. The Word document is no longer blank, no longer contains only a date.

*By the way, in case you’re wondering, one of the major differentiations between a memoir and an autobiography is that a memoir tends to be focused on a major theme or a snapshot in time. Autobiographies tend to be chronological, birth-to-present stories. I picked up a bit of this trivia during my master’s studies…

(A small) P.S. This is my 1,000th Daily Bailey post. If you’ve been here since the beginning, thank you. If you just got here, thank you for stopping by. And welcome. Xo, Bailey

Friday, July 26, 2013

That which calms me

I woke up around 5 this morning. Not on purpose or thanks to an alarm, just one of those many occasions where I wake up earlier than I want to.

I won’t get into it right now, but I will say that being alone in the middle of the night is one of my least favorite things.

As I was lying in bed, waiting for sleep to return and wondering if it actually might, I heard a sound on the roof and outside. I thought maybe the wind had picked up, and I pictured dried leaves and such being carried across the pavement. I thought maybe there was an animal – or more than one? – outside.

I went to look outside, and may have realized before I actually reached the window panes that it was raining!

I quickly opened a window to bring the sound of pattering drops inside. I wasn’t awake much longer.

It doesn’t rain very often in Southern California, and when it does it’s more likely to rain in certain sections of the region and usually during the winter. I live in “The Valley,” where it seems to rain more than in other sections of LA, and I love this. A brief July water shower was oh so welcome today.

I moved to LA – get ready, here comes some information you’ve already heard before – in large part for its daily dose of sunshine. Sunshine keeps my spirits up. I love that there are so many days of sunshine here. Even when I take them for granted, I am still aware that the continuous presence of brightness each day is helping me out. The way a multivitamin or daily glasses of water help us out. It’s not obvious in a highly theatrical, emotional way that they’re helping, but cut out the vitamin or the water and we’ll notice the difference eventually.

I do not miss the snow of the region where I grew up. Maybe in 10 years I’ll be able to appreciate it again, in the way that I think a solid 5+ year break from listening to Ace of Base tunes will help me get back to a place of appreciation for the band. But right now, I don’t want to hear about snow, see it, feel it, think about it.

This past winter my hometown and several areas around it got pummeled with snow. Each week they got a new dumping. And this news was all over Facebook. I legitimately got annoyed and probably angry in response to this. I thought, “I left that area for a reason, I really don’t want to hear about this on Facebook.”

I’m not kidding. I’m a total grump sometimes, if you haven’t noticed.

So I don’t miss snow. It makes me cold, the grey clouds make me depressed. Let’s not talk about it anymore.

But I do miss the rain. I have loved rain and rainy days for always. It’s soothing. It’s cool: (non-frozen) water falling from the sky! It makes us (or me, at least) sleepy and friendly, kind of like Snow White’s seven dwarfs, or Muppets.

I don’t know where that analogy just came from, but I’m going with it.

Rain, even though it’s associated in all the great weather metaphors with depression and, sometimes, danger, for me it has the opposite effect. It makes me happy. It makes me calm.

One thing I have loved about rain for a long time is that it slows us down and brings us together. When it rains, all plans to go to the beach or the amusement park are called off. Not that I don’t love the beach or roller coasters, but they will be there when the rain lifts.

Yes, snow brings us together inside, too, and calls off our plans when it traps our cars in its frozen, gross grip…grrrrrrr. But there is a difference between snow days and rain days, so to speak. Snow, to me, feels like a trap. Rain is usually not something that comes and stays for days and months. The ground drinks it up, our cars get a fresh glisten on them thanks to the free bath, and we head back out to our lives, with a fresh whiff of delicious post-rainness to accompany us.

I might seem like someone who is hard to pin down. I talk a lot, I talk fast, I have a lot of ideas that churn around and spew out of me. I know a lot of people and like to keep in touch with many of them at once. But I love quality time with people – particularly with one person at a time – and it is very hard for me to tell people directly that I need some attention.

When it rains, quality time can’t help but show up. Think about what you do when it rains. If you’re at home, you grab your roommate, make popcorn and pop in a movie, right? If you’re babysitting, you whip out a board game or build a fort or go sit by the window and just look out and listen. You find your cat for a fresh round of cuddling. Even at the office, it seems to me that an extra pot of coffee gets thrown on the burner when it starts to rain. People take a break from their bill processing, their phone calls, and meet in the foyer or the break room to look outside and talk.

Rain brings us inside, together, and calms us down.

I love the sunshine now, but I didn’t always love soaring temps or appreciate the simple necessity of sunlight. The turning point came around the time I studied abroad in Africa, before which I told myself I better get used to sun and heat. Today I love lying on the beach or by the pool, working on my “tan,” people watching, talking, listening to the waves. The way hair warmed in the sun feels on the palm of my hand. Making senseless patterns in the sand with my fingers, barely realizing my habitual motion as I talk on the phone to Mom and Dad 1,500 miles away.

But when I was younger and still today, I thought and think that summer is kind of a season of feeling left out.

Wow, I really am a Debbie Downer, aren’t I?

In the summer people are running around. Beach, amusement parks, picnics, BBQs. This is all great, but if you don’t have a specific group that you’re a part of, you only land in these activities here and there. And the moments of waiting for these events can be pretty lonely. Or pretty damn lonely, depending.

When it rains, everyone has to come inside. Sometimes people complain. And with those people, especially out here where rain is such a rarity and, in my mind, a hugely precious gift, I have to say I kind of want to ask them what is wrong with them. We get something like 350 days of sun a year out here, and these people can’t keep it together for an occasional sweep of rain or cloudy day? But generally, when I get past the want-to-shake-them stage, I don’t actually mind the complaining. I just ignore it, and enjoy a hot beverage and the sound of the drops, and the fact that we’re all together.

Probably on some deep, unseen level, it makes me feel like I am back in my childhood home, with all of my siblings and parents in one home, before we were even old enough to think about leaving home for college and spouses and grand adventures to California. I’m visiting my parents in two weeks, and in their house with coffee and wine and three cats and themselves, I so hope it rains while I am there.

When it rains, for a moment – for 20 minutes or a day or a week – I don’t have to pin anyone down and beg for their attention. And if anyone else needs some attention, I am there to share a hot beverage with them and offer them some attention.

I’m getting blissful just thinking about it. 

Friday, July 19, 2013


What is it that keeps you from focusing?

For me, I can’t even focus on what is at the core of my lack of focus.

Off the bat, some obvious things that keep me spread thin and nonproductive:
  • Technology
  • Overstimulation
  • My ADD nature
  • My extroversion
  • Social media
  • A wide variety of interests
  • A society that is constantly waving things in my face, saying "Look at this! Now look over here!"
Even as I write this, I am distracted by the tabs open on my Internet browser.

We are a creative, talented lot, us human beings. Gifted and creative in different ways, but we all have something to offer that is meaningful to life’s conversation. But how do we harness it?

I enjoy so many things – writing, reading, needlecraft, talking, exercising, singing, cleaning, animals, meditating, mundane things like filing papers, lying in the sun – but here’s the thing: I rarely tell myself that I should set most of them aside, for a moment, or (here’s a provocative thought) for several months, in order to focus on one thing that might be more of a service to people if I really bore down and focused on it.

There’s a problem here I already see with this idea. One can’t skip the everyday activities in order to focus on one’s art or craft. We have to keep our surroundings clean and functional, take care of our hygiene, pay our bills, talk to our kids (mine are yet to be, but I know a lot of y’all have them) and our friends. We have to do these things in order to maintain our well being and to keep ourselves as, well, ourselves.

If I don’t talk to people every day – and I’ve decided recently that it’s very important that I physically see people each day – I am not completely, fully Bailey. I won’t die if I go a day without talking to someone – and thanks to a blizzard that I would like to forget I have gone several days without seeing people in person – but it’s really helpful to my nature if I do. I need to laugh every day, and praise the good Lord I have some funny people in my life who keep me laughing.

Meanwhile, all my little rituals and hobbies keep me up and bubbling with ideas, etc. etc. I also know, though, that some of these rituals like meditation and sitting still and praying and writing are so good for keeping my racing mind in check. I don’t like to be bubbling with ideas all the time. It makes me crazy. I can’t shut my mind off in those moments. I don’t have the patience or the energy or the wherewithal to write down all of my ideas for things to write about, videos to make, people to send fun mail to, when my mind is going super fast ahead of any pen I could use to write these ideas down with.

Recently I made myself a new and improved “unemployment schedule” that is overall too ambitious in its entirety, but I don’t expect myself to hit nearly all of the things on it every day. What it boils down to, though, the things on it that I am trying my best to hit every day, are:
  • Writing in the morning
  • Morning meditation/prayer/stretching time, on some days
  • Lunch (yeah, I have to write this one down)
  • Job searching/networking in the afternoon
  • Sometimes exercise
  • Dinner and free time (seriously, this sounds like a camp schedule for kids, but these are the kinds of ridiculous drill sergeant steps I must take with myself)
  • Reading
  • Bedtime
I’ve thought for a long time now about the irony of our world’s ability to get things done so quickly through the benefits of technology and the fact that we as humans can’t move any faster in our thinking or writing or doing simply because there are technological tools to help us.

Let me tell you what I mean. Email. Twitter, Facebook, etc. Many moons ago – you know, around 1985, when some of us were born – if we wanted to communicate with someone who wasn’t right in front of us, we had to either call them or sit down and write or type a letter. We had to put that letter in an envelope, look up the address (in our Rolodexes that we had better hoped were organized, otherwise it would take us all afternoon to find the address), write that address on the envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail it.

Then, then! We had to wait for the person to receive it! And then wait for him or her to call us or write us back!

Today? You have something to say, you say it. “Blah blah blah, 140 characters, POST.” Whoops, maybe shouldn’t have said that. Too late.

It used to be that when we wanted to go somewhere, we had to look up details on a map, or talk to a trusted local who knew every road and landmark nearby. (Let me just stop here and say that while I use Google Maps almost daily, I am also a proud owner of a Thomas Guide for the streets of Los Angeles – awesome tool.)

The fact that we can look up things on Google Maps – or, for some of you advanced people, have your smarty pants phone look it up for you – doesn’t mean our cars can drive faster than they did 20 years ago. It doesn’t mean we won’t possibly have trouble finding the place once we get near the appropriate cross street. If a Yelp review says the drinks at said place are delicious, it doesn’t mean our taste buds are robotic and will agree with those taste buds of the Yelp reviewer.

When we press ‘send’ on an email message, it travels in seconds, or less, across the world if need be. But we still have to take the time to think about what we’re saying in that message. We might be typing our messages, which is faster than handwriting, but we still have to sit to compose it long enough to get our full message across, to proofread it, organize our thoughts and convey appropriate, civil, kind tones.

I was reluctant to join Twitter, which I did last month, because I knew it was just one more social media outlet to heap onto the pile. I don’t even want to look at how many Tweets I tweeted yesterday – it was my first real day of getting a little crazy with my rate of tweeting. But as a social person, and as a person who uses the Internet for entertainment in general and in this time of unemployment, and as a writer who wants to get her writing out there for consumption, I wanted to try out this Twitter business.

I think it’s hard, in this time where we have so many stimulations around us, to say to ourselves that we should take our hands off the keyboard for a moment (or, for us writers, maybe keep our hands on the keyboard but only keep that one Word document open!) and focus on one thing. I think that’s a pretty radical thought for our time, yet I don’t think that’s radical for the way we are designed as humans. We have these great new tools, thanks to our creative human design that allows us to think these things up and make them, but our bodies and our minds aren’t designed to just suddenly – or ever – keep up with this new pace we’ve set for ourselves.

I can find hundreds of jobs to apply to each day on the Internet, but I can only meaningfully put together application materials for one or two of them each day. And that’s of course assuming I’m not dinking around on Facebook, yakking on the phone with my friends, or even doing other valuable things like exercising or volunteering. Yet, because the tools are there – I can send an email with one click, and for that matter I can email a recruiter who I’ve never met because his or her email address is publicly available – we don’t tell ourselves that we should move at a slower pace than that which the tools themselves can keep.

I’ve been trying recently to focus on my writing as my real work, the work that I feel I am called to do and the work that my creative capacities are most aptly attuned to.

But at times it’s really radical for me to think that I need to temporarily sacrifice some of my other gifts and talents, or interests, to focus on that work. Not necessarily even for just a couple of hours, either – maybe longer, much longer periods of time. Just because I can agree to help a bunch of people out with various projects doesn’t necessarily mean I should. With Facebook in my face, and the fact that my friends know I use it, it’s harder to say “No, I’m going to sit this one out.” Obviously I’m there in front of them, I seem available, so why should I tell them I’m not? Because if I make myself too available, then I can’t really offer anyone quality time or assistance, friendship or focus.

Before I wrote this, I tweeted that I needed to turn off the Justin Bieber Pandora radio station if I was planning to get any real writing done. My hashtag?: #focus

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Happy birthday, Madiba!!!

The incredible Nelson Mandela is 95 today.

We love you so much.

Mandela Said to Be 'Steadily Improving' on 95th Birthday

Check out the video and pictures with this article:

Nelson Mandela spends 95th birthday in hospital

So simple, yet so deliciously rejuvenating

I’d like to take a moment to ask us to all stop what we’re doing, think about the topic which I am about to discuss, and then give it up…for grooming.

Go ahead, clap your hands in your cubicle, don’t be shy.

Now, maybe you don’t care so much about grooming, but, well, maybe you should.

First of all, I’m not talking about primping. I have little patience for primping, and about as far as I get in that regard is curling my hair about once every 4 – 6 months, and oftentimes the curls fall out by the end of the night.

In a recent conversation with my friend Morgan, we were discussing how much we like short hairstyles and how we think that short hair makes women look sophisticated. I told her that I think men will think women are hot even if they are bald, so really, who cares if our hair is long? So for that matter, who cares if it’s curled or not? In my mind, A)Life is too short to worry if your hair is curled, B)Men might appreciate curled hair but they also appreciate straight hair, and C)Curling hair is obnoxious and takes a long time.

(That said, I love gal pal bonding time, and if someone else wants to curl my hair, I will happily sit there and let her do so.)

To that end, I don’t plan to start wearing makeup anytime soon anymore than I plan to start curling my hair every day. That’s for a whole bunch of reasons which I will not get into now.

So. Not talking about primping here. I’m talking about grooming. Clipping your fingernails, washing your face, putting lotion on your feet, or forearms, or stomach or hands. Shaving your legs. A swipe of an astringent-soaked cotton ball over the lines of your cheek and across your jaw line, feeling it evaporate and provide a cool burst of refreshment on a hot and possibly humid summer night.

Despite its simple aesthetic pleasures, let me tell you specifically why I so very appreciate the act of grooming:

I am a talky person. A people person, a person who doesn’t always shut up easily. If you put me with people I will perk up.

But it must be said, to you fine people of the world, that eventually you wear me out. I need a time to reset. I get cranky, my voice gets tired, I need to spend some time with my TV, and my books, and my cross stitch and my nail polish.

Generally it is my practice to reserve evenings – or, these days, the daytime, since I’m usually not at an office during the day – for my meditative recharging. An evening with dinner, some Internet time-wasting, perhaps a phone call, a book and maybe some crafting is enough to get me back out into the world the next day at my Chatty Cathy best.

But sometimes I am not afforded this luxury. For example, sometimes my family likes to have these 48 hour marathon get togethers (and these can be literally or figuratively marathon in nature, as we often gather around the marathon races that my dad and several siblings run each year). Tight quarters, lots of talky, opinionated people in one place. Ergo, no place for extended Bailey-style alone time.

Other times – and this happens more rarely, since I’m not a college kid anymore – I get in situations with my peers where there is a lot of goofing off and carrying on that goes on for more than just one night. I have one of these situations coming up, actually, for a college friend’s wedding next month, in which six of us are going to crash at my parents’ place, road trip three hours away, party at the wedding, crash in a hotel for two nights, and then road trip back to continue the goofing off and carrying on at my parents’ place.

[I’ve also noted to my parents, who are so graciously hosting all of us, that my friends and I are all pushing 30 and so we are likely to eventually crash, offering them some relative quiet in their usually-empty nest.]

I won’t lie to you. While I am super stinking excited about this, my 28-year-old frame and personality is nervous about this, too. I’m not a kid anymore and I know it. I’m not used to all night gab sessions for several days on end. I checked out of the dorms in 2006, and now I notice that my throat gets sore after more than three hours of conversation.

Now, I think the super stinking excitedness for this upcoming reunion will help me power through any fatigue, conversational or otherwise. But for those moments when coffee won’t cut it, and when I realize that I won’t get time to myself for another five days, I will take solace in the fact that I have grooming.

When I feel like I can’t stop talking, when I feel the crankiness creeping in, I’m going to exit the conversation, head to the hotel bathroom and get to grooming. An extended shower, an unnecessary yet necessary manicure, some hydrocortisone cream on new bug bites. Whatever it takes.

When I don’t have time for my normal, several hours-long routine of personal recharging, I will exchange it for some grooming time. If I have to go to a party that I am not ready to go to, I will be so much more ready if I am granted twenty minutes to do some not-immediately-necessary grooming. Let me take a quick shower, or wash my face and spritz on some perfume, and I will be a much more amiable party guest.

Grooming lowers my blood pressure and simultaneously perks me up. So, a note for you to take: if you see me get that look in my eye, that “Get me out of here now” look, send me to the bathroom. Hand me a glass of wine, too, if you’re feeling like an exceptionally awesome human being at the moment. Give me some time to groom, and I’ll emerge like a hyper (or very calm, one of the two) poodle with unnecessary bows affixed behind her ears.

Bring it, world. I’m freshly groomed and comin’ atcha.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Notes from the yard

I’m not a gardener, but I’m currently on plant watering duty where I live. I’ve made some observations in the last couple of weeks as I’ve spent some time with the plants.

Watering takes patience. The job will get done when it gets done. Meanwhile the smell of dirt, leaves, and water works on its own to slow me down.

I realize as I water just how many details of plants are right in front of me. I’ve lived here for nine months, but until I started watering I didn’t realize just how many things were growing – and thriving, even in a really dry, hot climate – right in the front yard.

As I was walking toward the plants recently to grab the hose and get to work, I saw from afar a bunch of red spots among the leaves in the strawberry section of the garden. I got genuinely excited and went straight over to pick the berries off the leaves. It is sincerely amazing that plants grow and produce fruit. Simply incredible.

Even really small thorns have the ability to grab onto clothes and rip skin. Just like really small things in life.

I’m starting to understand the point of top soil, and why each plant needs to be tended to with a specific water pressure. I’m not generally a “put two and two together” type of thinker, so I am being serious when I say that this recent job of plant watering has, kind of for the first time in my life, got me thinking about the fact that trees and larger bushes don’t really need to be watered by a human. I was never one to really think about deep versus shallow roots before. You guys might be laughing at me for just now thinking about something that might be obvious or elementary to many, but my brain just doesn’t naturally think that way. I am learning in this garden. I mean it.

When you get close to the ground, or to tree trunks, you see lines of ants racing past each other, carrying food. Like a crowded highway.

The other night I saw a spider making a web – not in the garden, but in the backyard; close enough. I could actually see it moving around the center of the web in circles, attaching a fiber of silk every inch or so. Crazy amazing.

It’s hard, for me anyway, to just open my eyes and look around and notice things that I wouldn’t otherwise notice, despite my tendency toward observation. But when I have a task in front of me, particularly a mundane, slow one like plant watering, there’s not much else to do while holding a hose but look around. So then, later, when I go in the backyard to make sure the chicken is in her coop, I become more likely to notice a spider web being made right in my path. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Some thoughts on dialogue

I’ll tell you why I like the movie “Message in a Bottle”: It’s the dialogue.

The way the characters converse in that film is real.

Without ruining too much of it for you – in case I’m not the only one who only recently came across this film that came out in 1999 – a good chunk of the story chronicles two people getting to know each other. These people don’t really know what they’re doing together, neither one is used to dating, they’ve both experienced some big pain in their own lives.

They can feel something between them, though, both chemistry and something that helps ease their respective pain, so they keep on with the hanging out and the conversing.

And they stumble through it.

This, to me, is real. And this, for me, is why I watch the film. Why I own the film. “Message in a Bottle” is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, and I’ve never read one of his novels (I did read his memoir, “Three Weeks with my Brother”). I’ve liked or disliked, to varying degrees, some of the other movies that have been made based on his books, but “Message” is the one I like the most and the only one I own.

There is a scene and line in particular in this movie that I think is probably more reflective of actual life than most of what we see in movies. In this scene, Theresa, the female lead, wakes up in the middle of the night on Garret’s couch, where they had been talking earlier that night. She realizes, remembers where she is, and goes into his bedroom where he is sleeping.

She crawls in his bed with him, fully clothed in her outfit from their date, and says, “I just want to be close.”

They don’t have sex. They just lie there together.

People, that, to me, is real. I’m not saying the sex thing doesn’t happen in life, and that we don’t sometimes bypass the vulnerable, stumbling lines of dialogue for something else (sex or otherwise – anything that takes the conversation factor out of time spent together) so that we don’t have to feel vulnerable and messy and awkward. And obviously there is a huge vulnerability factor in physical contact with someone, too.

But when we just say something simple, maybe stumbly, to another person who we are getting to know – or, heck, someone we’ve known our whole lives – I think that is what a lot of conversation is actually like.

I think we – or at least I – watch movies with dialogue between romantic partners that, yes, is very romantic and poetic and something to be praised and admired, perhaps. And we/I see it and think it would be great if we could have those things said to us and say those things to someone else.

And I’m a word freak, so I love a good string of words that just gets it so right or so beautiful, but for me, my reality with men – in my limited experience of having actual, somewhat romantic conversations with them – is that I’m more likely to say something like Theresa says to Garret (“I was nervous, so I drank too much wine” is another of her lines) than something more poetic that is said in other movies that I also love and enjoy watching.

The other thing about the “more beautiful” dialogue of most movies is that the situations surrounding them often involve people getting together – either physically, or as an established couple – really quickly. That makes it less authentic to me. Again, some people in this world do get together quickly, either in a casual way or a real way, but not me.

What I’m saying is I can’t work off a script. I just want to be close with someone, and nervous, rather than pretend I’m a character in a movie who smoothly transitions from one line to a sex scene to another line, with everyone’s makeup looking perfect.

That is not I. “Message in a Bottle” is more my speed.

(But, to be fair, Robin Wright’s fingernails are perfectly manicured in that film, in regards to my comment on makeup. I always notice that.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Date One

I wasn’t sure about my last boyfriend for a long time. For a long time I would not have pictured us ending up together at all. Then at some point we were dating and I could cry with him and be held by him and wasn’t self conscious of the way I looked at any moment after a certain point that I can remember. Etc. Things changed for us, in how we acted together and talked together, but it didn’t happen overnight.

It is scary in the beginning of a relationship, or before one starts, to imagine what it might be like in the future. But it’s like what I’ve said for a long time about first dates: They don’t make sense. You’re taking two people who have never kissed each other, touched each other, talked about much of substance. They could essentially be strangers. Even if they’ve been friends for a long time, there is a whole land of conversation and vulnerable boundary crossing that hasn’t happened yet. So if you put these two people in a romantic setting, at a swanky restaurant or what have you, it’s going to be uncomfortable simply because you’re trying to put two people in a place that doesn’t fit their timeline.

Sometimes I can get myself all worked up thinking about stupid stuff like what someone was like when he was a kid and how that might affect my opinion of him now. Who cares?! I’m not looking to date the self-conscious 8-year-old version of the man I’m interested in today. If he was a spoiled brat then but he’s not a spoiled brat now, well then guess what? The spoiled brat is gone. Just as he is not dealing with the Bailey from two years ago or 15 years ago, it is only fair for me to deal with the man in front of me today.

At the beginning of a relationship, it’s scary to think of how you and this other person will match together, and if you will at all. But just as we change as individuals over time, we can change together in our relationships. We can become vulnerable together, we can start talking comfortably about things that would have been really weird to discuss on Date One.

I will pause here and say that I believe in second dates (as long as you feel at least potentially attracted to the person and feel SAFE and respected with him or her). I also will offer some unsolicited advice and suggest that you try to have your first dates in natural, casual environments whenever possible. Save the 4-star restaurant for date No. 6, or later. That is at least the suggestion of this woman right here. Too much pressure on a first date will make everyone feel just that: pressured. Yick.

I’m lucky to have experienced a relationship with a truly wonderful person who was very patient with me and who I grew to be vulnerable with over time. I’m lucky to have been loved, and I’m also lucky to know that transformations can happen. I didn’t get myself on the dating gameboard for a long time, and this is for several reasons, but one of them I can tell you confidently is that I was scared. I could talk myself out of dating any guy, coming up with a reason for why it wouldn’t work, and when it came to the guys I really pined for, I never spoke up.

Now I know that we don’t see everything on Date One, or Date “Minus Three” (this is my name for all those times you hang out with someone before you actually decide to date). In my case, a lot of times this number is more like Date “Minus 83.” I’m a slow, scared little girl.

I believe in giving people a chance in general, whether we’re talking romantic situations or not. People have given me a chance, time and again, including one very patient man who let me hang out with him 83 times before I finally, though still scared, agreed to date him. We didn’t stay together, but I am grateful for the lessons I learned from our time together, including the clarity that Date One is not all that clear. And I’m not sure it’s meant to be. Personally I love a good surprise. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Day 3: Dunkin Donuts coffee, brewed at home

There are a handful of ways to effectively wake me up in the morning.

As a child, my dad thought it was a great idea to throw on the lights and sing a song involving a hickory stick:

“Reading and writing and ‘RITHMETIC! [Something about a] hick’ry stick!”

This got me up, and while I see the humor in it now, I can’t really say that I fully enjoyed it at the time. Although I did find it a little bit funny even then.

This method is still exercised in the Brewer clan, and my brothers have gotten in on the act. The brothers also like to rip the covers from my bed, which I do not appreciate. This past Christmas my dear brother Riley woke me up to open presents by kicking my air mattress. Sweet, really.

Are you getting a sense here of my motivation for living alone? Sure, alarm clocks are not the most pleasant sound, but at least I can keep my covers on me.

I will say Mom is much sweeter about the waking up process. One morning while I was in high school, she crawled into bed with me and said, “I don’t want to get up either.”

Another effective way of waking me up has not actually been tested, but my hypothesis is that it would work. And that would be to turn on Peter Paul and Mary’s “If I Had a Hammer” on full blast. Man, that song gets me going. Some other songs that would probably be effective: Celine Dion’s “That’s the Way it is,” Dire Straits “Money for Nothing,” Sister Act 2’s version of “Oh Happy Day.” “Country Roads.” Oh yes, Country Roads.

These are just off the top of my head.

There is of course the most obvious way to wake me up: coffee.

I was staying with my bestie Nick a couple of years ago, and we had both been up for a while chatting, he sitting at a table with his computer, me from the comfort of my rented futon space. Eventually Nick decided it was time to get a move on and greet the outside world. I looked at him with some surprise and said, “Nick, you know how to solve this problem.”

Shortly following, a mug of coffee was brought to my futon, and later the outside world was greeted by Nick and Bailey.

And finally, there is something that can effectively wake me up and that is something that never fails to get me chattering in a ridiculous language:


When I see an animal, I can hardly help myself in talking to it. “Hi, Baby/Pumpkin/Booger.” Birds, cats, dogs, horses. Cows in fields on the side of a road I drive along. Bugs, sometimes. I once even greeted the ocean in this excited manner and my mom laughed and said, “She talks to it like she talks to the cat.”

When I stay at my parents’ place, which is currently equipped with three cats, I can hardly walk through the house or leave to go somewhere because I have to greet and smooch on every cat every time I see them. I would say I should work on this, but I don’t really know that there is anything in this situation that needs work.

Once when I was staying at Nick’s parents’ place in Ohio, I was awoken at least one morning by the family pets. My bedroom door was opened and a Maine Coon cat crawled across me and a Chihuahua sniffed and licked me. Tozer, the sweet lumbering dog who has since gone before, shuffled slowly along the carpet, not sure how he was supposed to be involved but present nonetheless, the Snuffaluffagus of the animal tag team. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Day 2 writing beverage: Half-caf Ralphs grocery store coffee

I had a dream last night that my car was stolen. I was at a stop sign, and I turned the car off but left the key in the ignition as I got out and ran to give my brother Kelly an Alicia Keys CD. When I turned around the car was in someone else’s possession. Panic set in, I screamed. I may have ran a short distance after the car but knew that I would never catch a Corolla on foot nor would it be returned to me. I knew I shouldn’t have left the key in the car.

Simultaneously I was thinking about the fact that I could not afford to buy another car, and there I had just had one that was in perfect condition to last several more years and now it was gone. I think it was my brother Riley who showed up in the dream next and I lectured him, heatedly and with some meanness, telling him how lucky he is to have a car paid for by our parents, or something, and how he should be grateful. This doesn’t make sense – of course not, it’s a dream – because I don’t think anyone but he and his wife have actually paid for the cars they own in real life. But nonetheless I was berating him for having something in his life that I also had had and had now lost due to no fault of his.

OK, dream sequence over. I’ve found that it’s important to tell people when you’ve finished telling them about a dream – and for that matter, when you’ve begun – because otherwise they get really confused and sometimes horrifically appalled if they can’t decipher the difference between what actually happened to you and what happened only in a dream. If you can imagine, I’ve come across this type of miscommunication several times thanks to my Chatty Cathy tendencies, talking way too fast and not always chronologically.

So, just so everyone is clear, from here forward in this post I will be discussing real life, not my dream involving a car and an Alicia Keys CD (although I might reference the dream for comparison purposes).

In real life, my Corolla is still sitting in the driveway, messy trunk and backseat intact and undisturbed. The bottle of conditioner I bought two days ago but was too lazy to bring inside is still on the floorboard of the front passenger seat.

I woke up this morning so grateful that my car was not actually stolen. If it had been stolen, I don’t know how exactly I would react. I’m not sure I would cry, because I’ve felt in shock and on edge these days and thus I don’t cry very often but rather just kind of pulse, numbly. My thoughts are like a dog’s panting, except that on the exterior I’m sure I look normal. (This, by the way, is the nature of someone with an anxious mind, so if you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to have constant racing thoughts or wonder why people who say they’re anxious don’t seem to have any reason to say so, now you know just a tiny smidgen of what we’re getting at.) If my car were actually stolen, I would eventually call my parents, and then I would most likely cry. I can cry on my own, but usually what gets me finally to perspire from the eyeballs is when I start saying out loud what it is that has happened or what I am feeling. Then crybaby mode sets in. Vulnerability in its nature requires the connection of other people.

So in this dream I felt this crazy panic, thinking, “I don’t have money for another car.” I felt this crazy panic that reminded me how dependent I am. My parents pay for my car insurance, my cell phone. Dad just wired me money this week. I can hardly listen, due to raging jealousy, to a word about friends’ vacations that are supplemented by their parents’ money, but I live off my parents’ dime, too. I live off the generosity of my surrogate family in Los Angeles. I have a roof over my head thanks to generosity. Friends have bought meals for me. I do not stand on my own two feet without hundreds of hands holding my limbs to keep me steady and upright.

My mind was racing yesterday morning. Racing, racing, racing. I was working, making some pay thanks to my temporary placement agency who found me a place to help with filing for two or three days. I am grateful for the work, for the really nice staff there who put me at ease and thanked me for helping to get the file cabinets back in order. I was wearing heels one day and the jokester of the office said to me as I clicked along a hardwood hallway, “You’re noisy.” I told him he’ll always know it’s me coming around the corner. Yesterday he was wearing a star spangled top hat.

I am grateful for the work, for a touch with humanity, for an office clown. But as I was making labels and alphabetizing folders I was thinking so clearly: “I need sanctuary.” I need to go home, for a time. I have some obligations here still, including some work next week, but later this summer I need to give in and fully lean on the people and the financial support at home.

Los Angeles has been a breath. Its size and its many sushi restaurants have given me the chance, for the first time in my adult life, to feel like I truly have my own space. I went after something I wanted, something that was not someone else’s suggestion or idea. This is so huge for me.

When a woman grows up with all male siblings she becomes both strong and, at least in my experience, a little self-conscious later on in life. As a teenager, learning the lingo for football was power to me. I knew something other girls my age didn’t know. I could talk and play with boys, naturally. Mimicking my brother’s sarcasm made me funny. It also earned me an award for “Most Sarcastic” at after school care during elementary school – no joke. I walked into adolescence with a confidence that not all of my peers had. This was not due to my brothers’ influence only. My parents have always been extremely supportive with daily verbal reminders of how and why they love me; this will serve a person for miles and years.

But, in my experience, which I will speak for here, as I’ve gotten older I’ve watched my brothers do things more boldly than I have done. My brothers decide they want to do something and they do it. When there is push back, they push back. As I have gotten older and seen the amazing and ambitious things that people around me everywhere are capable of doing, I back down. On rare occasions when I join them – get into a certain school, get a certain job – my reaction is surprise. I wave off compliments in recognition of my accomplishment, because to me it is an exception not a rule.

Los Angeles was a city I had admired as a tourist. I loved the sunshine and the beach. I had my eye on this place and wanted to come here and amazingly I did. Several months in to my stay, I was driving down the Hollywood Freeway, maneuvering my way around a giant place with mountains to my left and November fog in front of me and I said to myself, “I love it here.” It has been a breath to be here. A stretching of my arms outward. A thought: I did it. I got here, I did something I didn’t think I would have the guts to do, and I was right in thinking that it might very well be a good fit.

Right now LA is not a breath. People are still here showing me in very clear gestures that they support me. I still love them very much. It saddens me to think I might move away from them and not come back. But I’m not breathing easy right now. So I need to go, for a time, and see if it’s right for me to come back. I might get a job offer very soon and then I may very well come back after a visit home. I just need to see.

I have two grandmothers at home who are getting on in age. I want to see them. I want to see my cat. I want to see my parents, my siblings. I want to connect with old friends. I want to hold that nephew of mine and read stories to my niece. I need sanctuary.

I have the mind of a panting dog. It goes and goes and goes. The calm presence of people I love on a steady basis can sometimes aid in slowing it down. Every time the panting comes back I get reactive. Angry. No one understands me. I wish that I had a person to sit near to as I wait for my breath to slow. Ultimately this is just the mind I have, though, and I am trying not to curse it but rather harness the thoughts that are meant to be used to serve and hold really close to God as I breathe through the panting.

I feel like my faith has been taking a shift in the last several weeks. It has felt like an accessory for a long time. I keep after it, because I don’t want the peace that surpasses understanding to be fake. I want it to be real, so I don’t deny that it’s there just because I can’t feel it. I so desperately need that peace.

When I am panting, I cannot feel the calm. But I am trying to feel, as I drive and my mind races, that God is in the car with me. I want to believe with all of my being that I can have sanctuary everywhere, because He is everywhere. And He will put me where I need to be with the people who can help me breathe. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hear the booms

I can hear the July 3rd fireworks outside.

I'm inside watching my new favorite show -- which you are not allowed to ruin for me whatsoever in the comments, by the way, because I am a newbie and totally in love and want it to be a surprise -- Friday Night Lights.

This year I don't need to go out. Sometimes I need to race on holidays, this year is not one of them.

Content to just hear the booms right now.

(When my precious baby brother was about 5 years old we were watching fireworks from a hotel room and when the adults started talking too much he asked (or told, I'm not sure) them to be quiet because he couldn't "hear the booms." Ugh. Love him.)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Day 1 beverage: Chai

New goal. On days that I don’t have work, write first thing in the morning. Grab a beverage, then write. Today’s drink: Trader Joe’s chai (super tasty, by the way).

While largely unemployed these days and thus having thoughts pent up and few routine escape routes for energy or creativity, my brain is just churning churning churning. This has a number of effects, one of which is doubting my writing ability. Another is extra pressure on myself to write, because I’m thinking all the time and have all kinds of time to write. This instills guilt, since my response to the pressure and the overwhelming amount of thinking is usually to not write.

I have to remind myself, in rare moments of clarity and sanity, that not every writing idea I ever have is going to hit the page. I may not be the next Nora Roberts, who wrote fiction and nonfiction and journalistic pieces and, let’s not forget: one of my all time favorite cinematic scripts, “When Harry Met Sally.” I may not become a peer of Anne Lamott or Donald Miller or Jan Karon or Kelly Corrigan or…

But I have read a lot of stuff by writers I love, and so many of them say you have to write every day. So here I go. I may not put everything on my blog, because in order to write some real stuff I might have to get into issues with people, issues that I won’t post publicly. Some (most) of these things will never get published, other things will get published if and when I ever have a legal coach to guide me through the details of libel. It is never my goal to make people feel badly about themselves, or to ruin their lives by making certain things they have done or said public. However to get real with readers I have to be real with what I’m talking about, so I can’t just write about the good stuff. It’s a terrifying line to toe, and I want to carry the responsibility of writing responsibly.

That said – what a responsibility. The fear of the effects (mostly fear of the negative ones, but also some fear of the positive ones) my writing can have is another thing that keeps my fingers off the keyboard. Especially because I write about faith, and God. If someone disagrees with me about God – and of course several of them do – or doesn’t fully understand what I try to communicate about Him, I don’t want to be responsible for ending a conversation when it is my goal to begin one. I realize it is not my responsibility, nor in my mortal ability, to control what others’ reactions will be to my writing. Nor do I have some delusional view that everything I say is right and that all should agree with me. My faith is not something I can prove to anyone, it is something I choose to try to believe (a lot of times just straight up believing is honestly not possible). In writing about it I am just hoping that God is merciful and cares for us and makes the most broken and awful things right. I am hoping that when I write about it I do so from a place of sincerity. I am hoping that the reader reaction is not to walk out on the conversation.

God is in charge of all of us and this world. There is a song called “Forever Reign” and I have considered making the following lyric the tagline on this blog: “You are more than my words will ever say.”

God is in charge of how people react to my words. He’s in charge of each of their lives. But I still have fear of this job I have. I write because I understand the power of words, as they have touched me in life-changing ways. I also think – sometimes, and based on what some people here and there have said – that it is my gift and calling to do this (my goodness this sounds arrogant); that is the other reason I write. As a freakish reader I understand how words can literally change lives. And I know that words can have incredible effects, both positive and tragic. I hope mine don’t ever cause the latter. And if you feel as if they might, speak up. Let’s have a conversation. I don’t want to hurt people. That is never my goal.