Saturday, December 26, 2009

It Takes Two. Really?

Dear Pottery Barn,

Greetings from my new home in Flagstaff, AZ. Yep, that’s me, gleefully crossing the border into Arizona, nearing my final destination after approximately 2,500 miles of driving with my good friend, Jeff. Thank goodness he volunteered to come along—I was all set to do it alone. That would’ve been a long haul.

Why Flagstaff? There are a few reasons, none of which are terribly earth shattering. It’s there, it’s beautiful, the people seem nice, and I think I can eventually make a happy life for myself for a while…or maybe forever. Who knows? But you see, Pottery Barn, I’ve gotten this question a lot. In my estimation, 93.4 percent of the time, it has been immediately followed in rapid-fire succession with: Is there a boyfriend there? Are you moving for a job?

The answer to both those queries is a definitive “no.” For the record, I make a decent living as a freelance writer, which I can do anywhere I please. And, sadly, most folks just don’t know what to do with that. Why the heck would a single lady move the whole way across the country to some mountain town, where she knows next to nobody, for no other reason than to give it a try?

Because I can and I want to. And if both those things are true, then I don’t see any rational reason to wait until there’s a man or a job or a ready-made group of friends to legitimize the decision. I could either spend the rest of my life on the East Coast wondering what it would be like to live out west, or I could live out west and find out. Doesn’t seem like rocket science to me.

I’m not a bitter woman. I haven’t watched too many episodes of Sex and the City. OK, that’s probably a lie. I have, but I promise I’m not jaded. I’ve had good relationships, none of which turned out to be Prince Charming. Maybe he’s out there. But I’m not going to sit around waiting for him to show up so I can get on with the rest of my life. I’d miss out on a lot of fun if I did.

As such, I’ve learned to do all sorts of things myself. All by myself. Like, I figured out which new SUV to buy, then I hitched a U-Haul trailer to it. With my own two hands. I drove it home and backed it into a garage. Have you ever backed a trailer into a garage—or even just a parking space—Pottery Barn? It’s not easy. I loaded that trailer up with furniture and boxes that weighed a lot more than I do. Alone. And when a blizzard dumped 2-feet of snow on Flagstaff within 48 hours of moving in, I shoveled it. Numerous times. I have forged on with my Boston Marathon training schedule, despite not making friends with the 7,000 new feet of altitude in my life. A few days after the blizzard, I completed my first long run, battling ice, snow, 30 MPH headwinds, and more than a couple of hills. I admit, I was dangerously close to tears during the first mile, wondering why I had willingly made my life so difficult in so many ways. It all seemed like it was finally too much to handle all by myself. But then I hit the halfway point, turned around, and felt the wind at my back. It would be OK. I even figured out how to install new toilet seats later that day, after I lugged a coffee table up a flight of stairs.

Here’s the thing, though, Pottery Barn. I was really excited when my new desk showed up, right on time, with your logo emblazoned on four boxes, each bigger than myself. UPS dropped them off on my driveway. I shoved them into my garage and let them sit there for a few days, trying to decide how, exactly, I’d be able to get that new desk into my new house. Had I reached the final stop on my lifelong independent streak? I thought I had. Those boxes weren’t just big, they were also really heavy. And, honestly, I’ve started feeling a little exhausted.

Then one night, I mustered the energy and I spent the better part of the evening wrestling everything out of the boxes and into my new office. A few new bumps and bruises later, I was almost finished. Until the directions you included slipped out of the last box. And there it was: “It takes TWO to assemble this furniture,” the piece of paper declared, followed by a nice graphic of a couple of folks putting my desk together.

I wondered who that other person was in the picture. Maybe it was somebody I hadn’t met yet. My new best friend? The man of my dreams? A friendly neighbor? The possibilities were endless, but the truth remained: whoever that nice, helpful person was, he wasn’t going to show up that night…or maybe even in the next six months. Inspired to write my way to fame and fortune on that desk (or at least make enough to pay the rent), I hoisted the top of it to its rightful place and finished the job that I had started.

Please don’t misunderstand, Pottery Barn. I have the best friends and family a girl could ever ask for—they make it impossible to ever feel true loneliness. It’s just that 99 percent of them don’t happen to live within 3,000 miles of my house. But they send me endless love and support no matter where I go or what whacky thing I decide to try next. It’s precisely where my strength and courage comes from, of course.

Alas, this world is designed for two, Pottery Barn, and I know that it’s not your fault. I agree that when the stars align, life is usually more fun that way. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to find that guy in the picture. He looks kind. And stronger than me. In the meantime, maybe you could include an addendum or disclaimer to those instructions, for those of us who find ourselves alone every now and then. It only takes one person to put that desk together. One with determination, a healthy sense of humor, and a certain amount of confidence that she’ll look back on this time in her life and know it is precisely when she was finally convinced, without a doubt, that she is capable of anything.

Thanks, Pottery Barn.
Erin S.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Go West (Part V): Into Thin Air

“Too often…I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.” –Louis L’Amour

I don’t think my eyes were capable of opening wide enough to take it all in. I had never seen anything so beautiful and foreboding all at the same time. Intimidating. Inviting. Awe-inspiring.

I wasn’t even 10 years old, in the back of a white rental car my father was driving somewhere toward Park City, UT, my face practically glued to the window.

“Dad, are we skiing on those mountains?!” I asked, not at all sure whether I wanted the answer to be yes or no.

His blue eyes smiled back at me in the rearview mirror.

“Yes, we are,” he said, matter-of-factly, with a hint of eagerness to share his love of the mountain west with his uninitiated daughter.

I had so many questions, yet had nothing to say. I just kept staring out that window, trying to comprehend how my skis—not even long enough to put on the roof rack—were going to get me down such steep, powder-covered slopes. My East Coast skills and sensibilities were clearly of no use here.

At the top of our first run, I stood close by my dad, the tips of those tiny skis hanging over the edge of the trail. We stood there in silence for a minute or two, surveying a landscape beneath us that was beyond anything my young self had ever imagined.

“Gorgeous, isn’t it? Take it all in. Appreciate it,” he said. “And don’t be afraid. You can do this.”

With his quiet confidence, and a gentle nudge, I was on my way.


Anybody could try to throw out a bunch of words to describe running on Waterline Road. But they’d just be a bunch of words. No meaning. No context. No emotion. No regard to what it really is: an experience; and my guess is that it can often be a personal one, depending on what kind of day you’re having.

We stood at the bottom of the trail on Friday morning, once again feeding off the enthusiasm of our coaches, who have probably logged hundreds of miles on the dirt road before us and still can’t stop raving about it. We’d climb to 9,000 or so feet, depending on how far each of us went. On a clear day, you can see the Painted Desert. The thick Aspen groves, the views of Flagstaff below, the steep, rocky cliffs dotted with huge Ponderosa pines…all of it encapsulated in a solitary morning ascent, twisting up the side of the mountain.

It was the only run all week that I found myself alone, with a few people so far ahead, I couldn’t keep them in view, and some who were far enough behind, that I never heard their chatter. I had it all to myself, this ridiculous scene. It was as if somebody was kind and generous enough to let me in on a big, special secret—the type that you feel honored to keep.

Maybe it was the ever-thinning air, but my mind felt free to wander all over the place that morning, opening up to all sorts of possibilities. My surroundings were daring me to make decisions and be brave. Stagnation was not an option. I had to keep moving forward, keep climbing as far as my body would allow, so I could see it all.

There are times when life’s options suddenly become clear—and it usually happens during those rare moments when the noise in your mind is quiet and all you can hear is what your heart is telling you. These are the moments that can’t be forced—you have to be lucky enough to recognize them and simply listen.

There was nothing about that week or that run up Waterline that felt comfortable to me. Perhaps the physical challenges wreaked some havoc with my perceptions, but nothing I experienced in those six days that made Flagstaff seem like home. Nonetheless, as I neared the end of the first half of that morning’s run, something told me quite clearly that I’d be back.

For many years there had been valid reasons to push away a dream and an instinct to move west. Those valid reasons were beginning to diminish—the one still weighing heavily though was a desire to stay close to my grandfather for as long as possible. What I didn’t know on that Friday morning was in just few weeks time, he would unexpectedly be gone.

I discovered that when all those reasons no longer exist, all that’s left are excuses. Most of those excuses just boil down to nothing but fear, anxiety, and insecurity. Moving by myself, far away from everything I know and everybody I love would be scary. Perhaps one of the most frightening things I’d ever do. Moving back to New York, where everybody and everything was comfortable and familiar, would be the easy choice. Somewhere deep down I knew that it was time to take a risk, make myself uncomfortable, and stop being afraid of making a mistake.

I turned around to head back down Waterline Road, to find Mike and Vince running up behind me.

“Keep looking left all the way down,” Mike urged, as they continued on. “Enjoy that view. Take it in.”

“And don’t be afraid,” I thought, as I started my descent. “You can do this.”

With a quiet confidence--and a few gentle nudges--I was on my way.