what james taylor means to me

I.

I am eleven years old, dancing around the kitchen with my mom, listening to my parents’ old CDs. It is a Sunday afternoon and I am helping her make banana bread from scratch. My mom is a terrific baker, and I have inherited a love of baking from her. We have turned our giant three-CD stereo onto “shuffle” mode. There is one singer that I especially like. His voice is smooth and filled with emotion, and his lyrics sound like poetry, and the acoustic guitar makes me feel peaceful. “Who is that?” I ask my mom, as the man sings a lullaby about a sweet baby.

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

“I like his music,” I declare. Up to this point, my musical tastes have existed on a decidedly separate plane from my parents’ music. My CD collection includes Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, and N’SYNC. Now, I add James Taylor to the list.

The smell of banana bread baking in the oven mingles with the sound of James’ crooning. I come to associate his songs with the warm feelings of childhood and family and comfort. In a word: home.

II.

I am fifteen years old, on the bus to an away game with my basketball team. I always get supremely nervous before games, worried that I’m going to screw up, make a mistake, get yelled at by my coach. The entire day at school, I have been dreading this afternoon’s game. To calm myself down, I pull my portable CD player out of my backpack, slip on the headphones, and press PLAY.

James Taylor’s rich voice fills my ears, reminding me that I’ve got a friend, no matter what happens.

I don’t know anyone else at my school who likes James Taylor’s music. He feels like my own special secret. When I feel lost or self-conscious or alone, his music reminds me that this period of my life won’t last forever.¬†Listening to his music reminds me of the wider, richer world out there beyond the confines of high school—and certainly beyond high school basketball games.

My favorite part of away basketball games is listening to his CD on the bus ride there and back home again.

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III.

I am sixteen years old. James Taylor releases a new album at the same time I am going through a tough time with some friends at school. New music from him feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, many of his songs are about autumn—my favorite season. The magic of autumn is amplified by the beauty of his voice. I listen to “September Grass” and “October Road” on repeat. I imagine one day meeting a boy who loves and appreciates James Taylor as much as I do—who, in turn, recognizes my beauty and uniqueness the way none of the boys at school seem to.

Dad surprises me with tickets to see James Taylor in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I am the youngest one there by at least a decade, maybe two. But I don’t care. I feel like James is singing directly to me. He plays for more than two hours and his voice sounds even better and richer than it does on the CDs I’ve memorized by heart.

It has been one of the hardest and saddest seasons of my life up to this point, but sitting at that concert next to my dad, feeling the breeze on my face and watching my favorite musician light up the night with his beautiful music, I feel hope burgeoning inside me. I am going to be okay. I am going to move on and find new friends. Life is going to expand and keep getting better. I feel sure of it.

IV.

I am a freshman in college, and life has expanded greatly. My world has gotten wider and fuller and more exciting. I have made many new friends and every day, I am soaking up new knowledge and new experiences.

Still, sometimes I feel lonely or stressed or homesick. So much newness can be overwhelming. Whenever that happens, I click over to my James Taylor iTunes playlist. His music makes me feel like I can close my eyes and be transported back to the kitchen with my mom, baking banana bread, dancing around with my silly dog Gar—like I can be my child-self again, even for just the span of a song.

 

V.

I am in graduate school now, living halfway across the country from everything I have known. Here in Indiana, the autumn is more beautiful than any I have experienced. The reds and oranges and yellows explode from the trees, and the sky is crisp and blue. My favorite season should feel more magical than ever.

But it doesn’t. I am lonelier than I have ever been. Most people in my program are married or coupled-up, and I am the youngest one. I feel so single and so naive. As hard as I try to make friends, the close bonds I forged easily in college seem elusive here. I try throwing a party, but it is only mildly successful. The weekends stretch out interminably; the highlight is going shopping at the grocery store.

I get a lot of writing and reading done. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The weather turns grayer and colder.

I turn on the heater in my little apartment. I bake banana bread. I play James Taylor’s music and feel a teeny bit more at home, a teeny bit less alone. His songs are my touchstone.

VI.

I am twenty-six years old, living back in California. Northern California this time, the Bay Area. I am living with my grandparents and I make friends and I am not lonely. But I am still searching for a partner to share my life with. I listen to James Taylor’s songs—“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Your Smiling Face“—and I feel hopeful that I will find the person I am meant to be with. I think back to high school, when I felt like the only person my age who liked James Taylor. Now, I’ve met quite a few people from my generation who enjoy his music—Taylor Swift {who, I’ve learned, was named for James Taylor} even has a line about his records in one of her songs!

I join an online dating website. On a blustery February evening, I meet up with “Oaktown A’s Fan” at an ice cream shop. He is even more handsome in person than in his profile picture. He has kind eyes and listens to me intently, asks questions and makes me laugh. Quite suddenly, and easily, and wonderfully, we fall in love. Before long, I know that he is the one I want to spend my life with.

Allyn is a very agreeable and open person. When it comes to food or movies or music, he likes pretty much anything.

Almost anything.

“James Taylor?” he says. “I’m not a fan.”

I think at first that he’s joking—teasing me, pulling my leg. But he is completely serious. James Taylor’s music… annoys him.

“I don’t know, something about his voice gets on my nerves,” Allyn explains when I ask, in wide-mouthed astonishment, how he possibly can dislike my favorite musician of all time. “His music puts me to sleep.”

I guess nobody—not even my perfect guy—is perfect. ūüėČ

When Allyn lets me listen to James Taylor on our road trips, I know he truly loves me.

 

VII.

C√©line, one of my best friends, dies in a car accident. I never really understood “Fire and Rain” until now.

Even two and a half years later, I still can’t believe I’m not going to see her again.

VIII.

Dad flies into Oakland and we take BART together into San Francisco. James Taylor is playing a concert at AT&T Park and we bought tickets for our birthday presents to each other. I can’t think of a better way to ring in my third decade on this planet.

We spend the day wandering around the city: exploring the market at the Ferry Building, taking the trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, finding a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub for drinks. As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the concert. My whole being is filled with anticipation.

The stadium is packed, yet somehow his music makes it feel intimate. He tells stories between the songs and plays video footage of his adorable dog. He plays many of his old classics, and some of his new songs, including my favorite off his latest album: “Montana.” Tears come to my eyes when he plays “Fire and Rain.” He saves my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” for the encore.

After the concert, walking back to our hotel, Dad and I are still reveling in the joy and grace of James Taylor’s music. I think about the last time I saw James Taylor play, when I was sixteen. How much has changed since then. And also how much has remained the same.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” — James Taylor, “Secret O’Life

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • Who is a musician that has impacted your life? How so?
  • Turn on one of your favorite albums. Write about various memories each song brings up.
  • What is the last concert you went to? Write about the experience.
  • What musicians or songs have been a comfort to you during hard times?

on saying yes

I’ve written on this blog before about the importance of saying no. Of creating boundaries in your life, and respecting them. Of refusing to run yourself ragged trying to be everything and do everything and please everyone around you. Of saying no to what is not important, so you can make room for what is¬†important.

And this is all very true, and {as a natural people-pleaser} something I continue to work on in my life.

But I was thinking this morning about how saying no is just one side of the coin–how, if we want to create happy and fulfilling lives, it is important to be aware of saying yes, too. Saying yes intentionally. Saying yes thoughtfully. Saying yes joyfully and lovingly.

Saying yes to things that fill us up… and saying yes to things that fill others up, too.

I was thinking this morning about our upcoming wedding, and how loved it makes me feel that the people in our lives are celebrating joyfully with us. All the people who took the time to send us congratulations cards {displayed on our bookshelf; they make me smile every day!} How Dana and her mom made a special effort to take me out to lunch to celebrate. How much it means to me that Allyn’s mom and sister are throwing me a bridal shower up here in the Bay. I mean, everyone is busy enough with their own lives. Everyone surely¬†had reason to say no, to refrain from adding one more task or commitment to their lives, to focus instead on the hundreds of other things going on around them. No one had to do any of this for me and Allyn.

But do you know what? It matters. It matters so much to me.

When I look back on this period of my life in ten years, I am sure there are many details I am not going to remember. But I am going to remember the cards people sent, the lunch with Dana and Lynn, the bridal shower that Barbara and Allyson are throwing for me. These memories are gifts that I am going to take with me the rest of my life.

The funny thing is, especially with sending cards or letters, that sometimes we don’t even remember sending them, weeks or months or years later. But you never know what will be priceless to the recipient. What words will come at just the right moment. My Gramps has kept a condolence letter from John Wooden in his briefcase for the 24 years since my grandmother passed away, and he still takes it out and reads it all the time. Those words on that folded piece of note paper have brought him comfort for decades. It is likely that Coach Wooden did not even remember sending that letter, but it has meant the world to my Gramps. I feel the same way about cards and Facebook messages I got from friends and acquaintances after Celine died. Lines from those messages have become touchstones for me, memorized and recited in my head when I am feeling lonely or sad or discouraged.

I guess what I’m saying is, when it comes to saying yes, it is always worth it to take the ten minutes out of your busy day to send a card or email or Facebook message. Even if you haven’t talked to the person in years. Even if you’re not sure what to say. Make the effort. Say something. Reach out.¬†Because it¬†matters.

Being thoughtful matters. Taking time for other people matters.

It mattered that my parents came to every one of my track meets and basketball games and school plays when I was growing up. I can vividly remember the comfort and calm I would feel when I looked up in the bleachers and saw their smiles. It mattered. Every single one of those days mattered. It would have been easy for them to say no. It would have been easy for them to be too busy with work. They certainly both had many other things on their to-do lists. But they said yes. Again and again, they said yes. They came. And that feeling of comfort and calm and support has stayed with me, all these years later. It mattered then, and it continues to matter now.

My parents said yes to big things, too. Always without resentment, without martyrdom. They said yes and meant it. My mom was President of our Youth Track club for many years, organizing volunteers and running track meets for hundreds of kids {and this was back in the days of dirt tracks and manual timers clocked by humans, not computers} and all this on top of her full-time job. As a young girl, I got to see my mother as a leader in public. She was a woman in charge, running things, making decisions and finding solutions. She was an example for me that you can be kind, yet also strong at the same time. This mattered.

When I was in second grade, my dad came to every single performance¬†of my school play, even though it meant missing covering the NBA finals for his job as a sports¬†columnist. Many people would have made the opposite decision; but to my dad, he¬†was saying yes to what was most important. His actions were¬†his message, loud and clear: my family¬†is more important to me than anything, even my work. It mattered to me then, and¬†as the years pass it matters to me more and more, because I realize how easy it would have been for him to say no. How easy it would have been for him to be too busy to come to a single performance, much less every single performance. The same is true for when my dad surprised me and drove up to San Jose for my Steinbeck Fellows reading, just to turn around and drive right back home that same night {to take care of our family dog Murray.} There were¬†dozens of reasons for my dad to say¬†no to making that 10-hour trip. There were dozens of reasons why it was a hassle, why he didn’t have time, why he had too much else going on. But he said yes anyway. And it mattered. Boy, did it matter. That memory of him walking into the room is one I will treasure for my entire life.

From personal experience,¬†many¬†of my sweetest and most satisfying¬†memories are those times when I said yes even though¬†it would have been easy to say no. That time my friend Janet and I flew across the country for a weekend to surprise our friend Lauren for her birthday. When I¬†took time off work to travel to my brother’s Girl Effect panel and spend time with him in the final days of his MBA program. Planning a bridal shower for my cousin Amanda from halfway across the country¬†in the midst of writing my graduate thesis. Dog-sitting for my parents for two weeks so they could take the trip of a lifetime to Ireland to celebrate their anniversary. Throwing a surprise birthday party for my sweetheart in a San Francisco restaurant. Making a few hours’ detour on a road trip to see my friends Xun and Hai while they were in town. Making the effort to go the book signing, attend¬†the baby shower, throw the party, drive the extra distance… it has mattered, every time. I have been grateful that I said yes, every time.

Which is all to say that we should¬†strive for balance. Saying no is important, of course. I am still working on strengthening my “no” muscle. And it is always better to say “no” than to say “yes” with strings of resentment or bitterness attached.

But I think, just as it is important to say no with intention, it is also important to say yes with intention. Whether I am saying no or yes, I do not want to say either out of selfishness. I do not want to hoard all my time for myself, nor do I want to give all my time away to others. I want to say both no and yes out of my innermost generosity: a generosity towards myself, recognizing that I can only be my best self when I have time and space to breathe and recharge; and a generosity towards others, purposefully going out of my way and choosing to take on more responsibility and effort for those who matter to me. Because they are worth it. Because the memories are worth it. Because acting out of love is what makes life so worth living.

life is like a wine tasting

sunstone winery

Yesterday, we took a “family staycation day” and drove up to the San Ynez Valley to explore the beautiful vineyards. It was a gorgeous day and we ended up doing a wine tasting at Sunstone Winery, which was absolutely delightful. It was my first time doing a wine tasting at a winery, and got me thinking about the ways that life is like a wine tasting:

1. Each taste is unique and¬†lovely in its own way, and should be enjoyed for what it is. For example, if you expect a pinot grigio to be a merlot, you are going to be disappointed. But if you pay attention to the distinct flavors of the pinot grigio, you are able to appreciate it for what it is. In the same way, each season of life has different flavors — pros and cons, perks and disappointments.¬†Try¬†to appreciate the season of life you are in for all the gifts it has to offer, instead of wishing for a different season. You will get there soon enough, and there will likely be things you miss about your life here and now!

me and mom winery

2. Each pour is meant to be savored, not rushed through. So often, it can feel like we are rushing through life: counting down hours in a workday, scrolling through email constantly on our smartphones, yearning for the weekend or for our next vacation. Even meals are often hurried affairs, something we rush through rather than enjoy, or mindlessly eat in front of the TV¬†— have you ever finished eating something and realized you barely even tasted a single bite? In a wine tasting, each taste is sipped slowly and savored. Can you imagine what life would be like if we treated every meal with such respect? Not to mention, if we tried to savor each moment of our day as if it were a sip of expensive wine?

greg and pops winery

3. The joy of the experience doesn’t come from the wine itself — it comes from the people you share it with. If I had gone wine-tasting by myself yesterday, I would have had an okay time, but I would not have had anyone to share the experience with. Much of the fun of trying out the different wines was sipping them out on the verandah together, talking and laughing and telling stories and discussing our opinions on the different wines. That was where the joy truly came from. Our family¬†visit to the vineyards¬†wasn’t even really about¬†the wine tasting¬†at all — it was about spending time together, enjoying each other’s company, and sharing¬†a fun experience with those we love.

me and gb winery

Now I’m off to soak up more family time before we take my little bro to the airport tomorrow for his new job in NYC! So proud of him! (And I’m going to miss him a TON.)

Hope you are soaking up every beautiful moment of this lovely day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing! ‚̧

7 things my dad has taught me

Today is my dad’s birthday!

me and daddy

I wish I was home with him to celebrate and give him a ginormous hug and bake him a peanut butter chocolate brownie cake, but that will just have to wait another 10 or so days until I’m home again. {We’re planning to celebrate both his birthday and my birthday a little belatedly this year when we’re all together again!}

bday brownies

In the meantime, in honor of this amazing guy’s birthday, I wanted to share with you 7 important lessons I have learned from my dad. I could have listed 707, but for the sake of brevity I kept¬†it simple. ūüôā

7 things my dad has taught me:

1. Find your passion, and follow it.¬†My dad is the reason I became a writer. He is a journalist and author {he will always be my favorite writer!} and when I was growing up, he often wrote his columns from home so he could spend time with my brother and me. I have always loved to read, and soon I began making up my own stories. Dad let me sit on top of the phone book at the kitchen table and type up my stories on his special work computer. I was thrilled — and hooked on writing. I decided then and there that I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like my dad. I couldn’t {and still can’t!} imagine a better job than spending my days bringing characters to life on the page. Dad has been my cheerleader and supporter for as long as I can remember, and my love of writing is intrinsically connected to my relationship with him.¬†Even when I was a kindergartener, he¬†always took my writing seriously. He helped me find my voice. He taught me to talk through ideas, to stretch my limits, to search for the heart of the story, to edit and edit to make every word count, every word shine. He is still my #1 editor, first reader, go-to brainstormer, and biggest fan.

with dad steinbeck reading

At my Steinbeck Fellows reading last year.

Dad taught me that when you find something you love, that doesn’t feel like “work,” that you daydream about and would do for free because you can’t imagine NOT doing¬†it — that is a true blessing, and not to be taken for granted. It can be difficult and scary to pursue your passion, but it is also a privilege. When I am feeling down or doubting myself, Dad is always there to lift me up and remind me that pursuing my passion for writing, through the good times and the bad, is how I honor my gifts and live a rich and meaningful life that makes me happy. Through his example, he has shown me what it means to follow your passion and devote your time to something that matters to you.

2. Little by little, big things happen.¬†My dad has a passion for writing, and he also has a passion for running. He has run at least three miles every single day for the past 11 years, 10 months, and 24 days. Just thinking about that is overwhelming to me, but Dad insists that when you take it one day at a time, it’s easy. Every single day, you simply lace up your running shoes and get out there. {In fact, he swears getting ready to go run is often the hardest part — once he’s out there, he hits his stride and enjoys it, even on those days he didn’t especially feel like running.} Writing, or whatever your goals are, is the same way: just focus on one day at a time. Books are written one word at a time. Businesses are grown¬†one transaction at a time. Relationships are built¬†one phone call at a time. Little by little, big things happen.

Running-Santa-Clarita-Marathon-720x1024

3. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules. I have always been a natural rule-follower. Maybe it’s because I tend to worry, or just have a cautious personality. I never really had a “rebellious” stage, even as a teenager. However, my dad has taught me that it is important to evaluate rules and that sometimes taking a risk is worth it! One of my favorite memories of this is when I was four years old and Dad took me kite-flying at a park for the very first time. I was so excited! My kite had a rainbow design and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The day was windy, perfect for kite-flying, but soon after we got my kite airborne, a strong gust of wind hit. The string snapped and my beautiful rainbow kite sailed off into a nearby barranca! Dad climbed over a tall fence — not fearing the NO TRESPASSING signs — and climbed a tree to rescue my kite. My hero!

me and daddy

4. Stay curious and always keep learning. Dad is one of the most curious people I know. He is always learning new things: reading books, listening to podcasts, watching PBS documentaries, traveling to new places. The older I get, the more I realize how hard it can be to keep an open mind and to constantly keep adjusting your opinions and views based on new information. Dad is a prime example of someone who is always listening and taking in knowledge, and I admire this about him so much. He is joyfully curious, and I think this is also something that keeps him young!

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

5. By giving to others, you give to yourself.¬†Dad has shown me by example that pursuing your passion goes hand-in-hand with sharing your passion with others. One way to do so is¬†to help¬†give access to other people who may not be able to do what they love. For example, my dad — a longtime sports columnist — has held a Holiday Ball Drive for the past 20¬†years and has donated thousands of new sports balls to underprivileged kids. He inspired me to start a Holiday Book Drive to collect books to donate to libraries and youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club. He inspired my brother to found a nonprofit organization Give Running that has collected and donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to both domestic programs and third-world countries.

me and greg shoes

My dad also gives to others through small, everyday acts of kindness such as picking up litter when he runs at the park, paying the tab for servicemen and women at restaurants, and giving food to the homeless. He lives by The Golden Rule and has taught my brother and me to do the same. More important than giving is the intention and love behind the gesture; we have learned that by helping others, YOU are truly the one who gets the most out of the experience.

6. Take time to savor the ordinary details, and use “the good china” every day!¬†Dad believes in making every day special, and using those special items — “the good china” — in your everyday life. After all, what are you saving it for? Why have it if not to enjoy and get use out of it? He has also taught me to take the time to recognize and appreciate the small details that make life rich and beautiful. Whether it’s a gorgeous sunset, a happy tail-wagging welcome home from a dog, a hot shower, a cold drink, a fresh-baked cookie, a new-to-you book or movie, a soft pillow, a hug from someone you love… close your eyes, savor and enjoy the details. Don’t just rush through your life. Don’t put off happiness until “someday.” Find something to be happy for and grateful for today!

me and dad

7. Love is the most important thing of all. Show AND tell people that you love them.¬†Every morning, I wake up to a text from Dad wishing me a masterpiece day and saying that he loves me. Every night, he sends me a goodnight text saying he loves me and is proud of me. I never get tired of hearing those words. Growing up, he would write notes on napkins for¬†our lunchboxes every single day. Not only did he tell my brother and me he was proud of us, he showed it by hanging up our awards, displaying our report cards and track ribbons, framing our school artwork. Every school performance, athletic event, book signing, academic competition — he has been there. He even drove 5+ hours each way to surprise me and attend my Steinbeck Fellows reading! When I was in college, Dad drove down to L.A. to have lunch with me every single week. He never complained about traffic; he always made it seem like a joy, rearranging his work schedule so we could have our “lunch dates.” He always has time for us and treats¬†our family as his #1 priority. He is the most thoughtful person I know.

with my boys

Above all else, Dad has taught me that love is the most important thing in this life. It is important to both show those you love how much you love them, and to tell them in words, too. Yes, we *know* how much Dad loves us, but we still love hearing him say it.

And now I want to say it to him, though I hope he already knows: Daddy, I love you more than words can express! Thank you for being my sunshine and for brightening my life every day. It is such a blessing to be your daughter. Happy birthday!!

Happy birthday dad

dear celine, this is how you made me feel

celine

This is Celine. She was one of my best friends, and on Monday¬†I found out that she died in a car accident. I can’t quite believe I’m writing about her in the past tense. I’m having an extremely difficult time believing that she is gone. It all seems surreal and incomprehensible and just plain wrong. Her brother Cameron was in the car with her, and he is in critical condition — please send your prayers and love to him and their entire family. ‚̧

Celine was one of the most vibrant, joyful, loving and beautiful people I’ve ever known, and I want to tell you about her.

me and celine

She was the first friend I made in college, on move-in day in the dorms. Her dorm room was kitty-corner from mine. My parents had left and I was sitting on my new dorm-room bed, feeling a little bit sad and scared and alone in my new life, when Celine came in with a box of popsicles and asked if I wanted one. We started talking, and I learned she grew up in L.A. and had a younger brother around the same age as mine. I felt comfortable with her right away — she had a genuine smile and a contagious laugh, and she was so expressive you wanted to keep swapping stories with her forever. That day, she looked so sophisticated in a newsboy cap and colorful sunglasses, and I remember thinking, “This girl is waaaay too cool to want to be friends with me. I’ll just ride this wave as long as it lasts!” Later, once I realized she actually *did* want to be my friend, for reals, I told her about my first impression. ūüôā¬†We would joke¬†about that throughout our friendship.

me and celine milkshakes

It is probably not an exaggeration to say I spent as much time in Celine’s dorm room that first year as I did in my own. We ended up living together throughout college, and all of us shared so much more than just an apartment. Those girls were my second family. We shared meals and clothes and shoes and makeup; we celebrated holidays together; we threw the most fun themed parties of my life; we whiled away hours and hours discussing everything from crushes to politics to High School Musical, sharing stories from our pasts and daydreams for our future; and oh, boy we laughed. We laughed so, so much.¬†I feel¬†incredibly grateful that I found such special people to share college with.

roomie party

all the ladies soph year

Celine was a true original; a bright light; fearless and colorful and brave. She was goofy and funny and FUN. Celine’s authenticity brought people together in the best way. She taught me to be proud of the silly parts of myself; that I can be a serious and determined person yet also retain a childlike enthusiasm about the world. She taught me that often it’s the little things — the jotted notes, the inside jokes, the impromptu dance parties — that are really the big things. And she taught me that life isn’t just about being productive and “accomplishing” things and checking items off my daily to-do list. Sometimes — actually, most of the time¬†— the most important thing to do today is to enjoy it, to have fun, to make ridiculous¬†and beautiful and spontaneous memories with the people you love.

goofy roomie photo

Celine loved fashion, and she was such a talented designer. Our senior year, she sewed a whole ensemble of clothing for a fashion show benefit to combat malaria. I like to remember¬†her sewing away on our living room floor as we all watched DVDs of The Office and did homework. I’ve never thought of myself as very fashionable, but she helped me feel confident in myself. She was always delighted to help pick out an outfit for a date, or a special event, or simply an ordinary Monday. We had many fashion shows in our apartment. Celine could pull off any outfit with pizazz. I think of her¬†wearing an¬†American flag sweater and colorful socks, and looking perfectly chic and perfectly her.

She *made* that dress!!

She *made* that dress!!

Yet along with her wonderfully zany side, Celine also had a quieter side. She was a terrific listener. She never judged. She made you feel safe and supported. Freshman year of college, when I broke up with my first real boyfriend, I remember fleeing to her room, sobbing, and she hugged me as I cried. Another time, when I was feeling down on myself because “no boys were ever going to like me EVER” she played me this song, “Somebody’s Baby” by Phantom Planet, saying it made her think of me because I was “so awesome that guys probably just assume you’re already taken.” I still smile and think of her when I hear that song.

Celine saw the very best in me, even when I didn’t see it in myself.

me and celine

Junior year, Celine and Holly studied abroad in Paris at the same time I studied abroad in England, and they came to visit me one weekend.

in london

Then I visited them for a week during my spring break. That week in Paris remains one of the happiest, best weeks of my life.

me holly celine in paris

Celine loved France — she was proud of her French-Canadian heritage and spoke fluent French — and she especially loved Paris. In college, she talked frequently about her dreams of moving to Paris and going to fashion school. And after we graduated, that is exactly what she did. She studied at the Parsons Paris School of Art & Design and ended up working for the Paris College of Art, a job that¬†took her all around the world. I can’t begin to express how proud I was of her. So many people talk about their dreams, but never do anything to make them real. Celine was actually living her dream. She made it happen.

me and celine in Paris

I was lucky to get to visit Celine in Paris once, a few years ago. It was exciting to get a taste of her life there. She was a terrific tour guide, excited to show the city she loved to the people she loved. One thing I always admired about Celine was that she was always herself, and our friendship remained a comforting touchstone even as so many other things about our lives changed. In a cafe in Paris, we giggled together the same way we had in our apartment living room in Los Angeles.

holly surprise party

Even though the miles and time zones between us made our communication less frequent, I always knew Celine loved me, and I hope she knew I loved her. She was there for me for the big things. Like when I broke up with my fiance, she Skyped with me for two hours, even though it was incredibly late Paris time and she had to work in the morning. She laughed and talked with me about random old memories until I felt better.

me and celine xmas

And those times that we *were* able to see each other, we picked up right where we left off. Celine came to visit me soon after I moved to the Bay Area, and we pretty much talk-talk-talked for three days straight. It felt like we were living together again. That visit was such a gift.

20131025_154036

The last time I saw her was in late May, right before my birthday. She was in San Francisco with a couple friends from France, and the two of us met up for brunch. I had a cold, and I remember wondering whether I should cancel; I didn’t want to spread my germs to¬†Celine,¬†or to anyone else my path would cross on my commute into the city. But we were able to see each other so rarely that I thought, “Screw the germs, I’m going!” And my God, I’m so grateful I did. We had a lovely visit, chatting in the sunshine over hot coffee and tea and scones, and before we hugged goodbye in the Bart station I remembered to snap a photo, this one:

me and celine bart station

We’d emailed some since then, and in the last email she sent me, Celine asked if I could resend her the link where I post my short stories online, because she wanted “some reading from my favorite writer!!” She was always so supportive of my writing, and in the wake of her passing I feel a renewed commitment to pursue my dreams with zeal and determination, in her honor.

Celine only graced this world for 26 years, yet she touched SO many people’s lives with the bright light of her spirit. Quite simply, she made others feel seen, and heard, and happy, and loved.

how you made them feel

Our friend Jess put it so well in these words to Celine: “It’s hard to explain how much fun we had and how much living the rest of us are going to have to do to make up for your absence.”

college football game

Holly did too: “Love knows no tense.”

me hol celine

Dear Celine, I miss you. I love you. I will forever be grateful for the spectacular gift of being your friend.

celine dogpile

grad caps and gowns

me and celine goofy

me and celine halloween

my piece is on thought catalog!

Hi everyone! Just poppin’ in this morning to share some exciting news with you: I wrote a piece that is up on Thought Catalog! My short essay is¬†about my high school drama class, life’s transience, firsts and lasts. You can read it here.

If you enjoy it, I’d be super grateful if you share it on Facebook, pass it along to your friends, and/or comment at the bottom!

thought catalog essay

Have a masterpiece day!

be the sun, not the wind

In a recent issue of Glamour Magazine, there was an interview with Kiera Knightley, an actress I have always liked {but I like her even more now after reading this interview!} She seemed very down-to-earth, witty and intelligent. I especially loved this story she shares from her mother:

“Remember, you have to be the sun, not the wind.”

(The Glamour interviewer says, “Huh?”)

“You don’t know that story? Okay, the sun and the wind see a man walking down the street, and they have a competition to see which of them can get his coat off first. So the wind blows and blows, and the man just does his coat up tighter. Then the sun simply shines and shines and shines. My mother has sort of lived her life like that, really.”

I think this is so beautiful and true.

be sun not wind

Questions of the evening:

  • How can you be like the sun, rather than¬†the wind?
  • Is there something in your life you are struggling with? What if you took this approach to it instead? What would that look like?

halloween fun + weekend highlights

Hi, friends! How was your weekend? Mine was a whirlwind filled with fun, faith, fulfilling work, and even some new friends!

For Halloween, Allyn and I dressed up as Sebastian the crab and Ariel the Little Mermaid. I had a great time putting together my costume and I was happy with how it turned out! And Allyn rocked his crab hat ūüôā

little mermaid costume

allyn crab

me and allyn halloween

We went out to dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant in downtown Walnut Creek… I ordered the pineapple fried rice and was floored when the waiter delivered this giant mound of rice inside half of a carved-out pineapple!

pineapple fried rice

In addition to the wowing presentation, the food was delicious — they used chunks of fresh pineapple in their fried rice instead of canned or frozen, and it made a huge difference. Yum! Also, the portion was so large that Allyn and I could have easily split it, but we took the leftovers home for lunch the next day.

After dinner we went to see the murder-mystery play Deathtrap, which was definitely filled with suspense and many twists and turns! Especially for someone like me who has a hard time stomaching horror movies, a murder mystery play was the perfect way to celebrate Halloween night!

Saturday I slept in and did a bit of pleasure reading before heading out to teach four classes. It’s always a long day, but the kids were well-behaved and one student even brought me a drawing he made! How adorable is this? Totally made my day!

nice teacher drawing

On Sunday I tutored in the early morning, then went to the special Dia de los Muertos service at my church. It was an incredibly moving and joyous celebration, and I especially loved this quote the minister shared: “Our relationships are our most prized possessions.” That is SO true, and at times easy to forget. The service made me reflect: am I building my life around the things that matter the most to me? How can I nurture my relationships even more?

After church I went to a Starbucks and enjoyed my first gingerbread chai latte of the season! It felt luxurious to relax and read a good book in the sunshine for a couple hours. Then, Allyn got home from hiking in Muir Woods as preparation for his upcoming humanitarian trip to Kenya {they are going to hike Mt. Kenya when they first arrive!} so I headed over to his place to get ready for a dinner party we were attending/helping host at his mom’s beautiful home.

The dinner party was a fundraiser and celebration of the work being done by the nonprofit organization Asante Africa. During the intimate cocktail hour and dinner party, we got to chat with the CEO/Founder, many Board Members and volunteers, and the guest of honor, Gathii, who was visiting the United States for the first time ever! He lives in Kenya and runs the Asante Africa programs there, and his observations about American life, Halloween and the Giants’ win were cracking us up. All in all, I was really inspired by their work. They are champions of education, particularly girls education, through scholarship programs, business and entrepreneurship curriculum, and a “pay it forward” movement encouraging students to give back to their local communities.

Everyone was very friendly and passionate about the work they do, and I even made a new friend — a young woman named Stephanie who is a teacher in the area and went to college at UC Santa Barbara {where coincidentally my parents met back in the day!} The Year of Wooden October challenge may be over, but I am pleased to say that the friend-making continues! ūüôā Sometimes just being aware of potential friends and being friendly is all it takes to make a new connection.

Now I’m trying to get back into the work groove, while also being gentle with myself and listening to my body’s cravings for rest. Oh! And on my way home this morning, I finally got my flu shot! I was nervous, but it barely even hurt.

flu shot

Hope you had a terrific weekend and that you’re having a wonderful day — and getting adjusted to the time change!

Questions of the day:

  • What was a highlight of your weekend?
  • Did you do anything fun for Halloween?
  • Have you gotten a flu shot?

a year of Wooden: week 34

Good morning, everyone! My uncle Frankie just hit the road back down to L.A. after a nice morning of visiting with me and my grandparents over breakfast. Now I’m drinking tea and taking care of some emails/business stuff before heading out to Starbucks for a writing session. {I always get more productive writing done at Starbucks than at home. I crave the background noise and busy¬†atmosphere.} Then I’m hoping to have a gym session this evening!

Before I get moving, time for¬†this week’s¬†year of Wooden¬†challenge! Since Wednesday is the start of October, we’re going to move onto our October challenge this week…

a year of wooden

  • January:¬†Drink deeply from good books
  • February:¬†Make friendship a fine art
  • March:¬†Help others
  • April:¬†Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May:¬†Be true to yourself
  • June:¬†Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September:¬†Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October:¬†Make friendship a fine art {new friends}

Back in January, we began this year-long challenge with the first item from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Drink deeply from good books. In September, we focused on poetry because Coach Wooden had a deep love for poetry.

Last¬†week’s challenge¬†was to read¬†New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver.

Mary Oliver poems

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets — I shared her beautiful poem “The Summer Day” earlier this year as a mid-week meditation — and for this week I’d like to share her poem about one of my favorite things:

The Sunflowers

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines

creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky

sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy

but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young —
the important weather,

the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,

which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds —
each one a new life! —

hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

You all know how much I love sunflowers, so it’s no wonder I was drawn to this poem. At first, I simply reveled in the beauty of the lines and the perfect description of sunflowers — their creaky spines, heavy green leaves, bright faces like “burnished disks.” But as I read the poem through a few times, what I was most left with was a sense of quiet strength, confidence, and hope.¬†I love the lines about “turning their lives/into a celebration” even though this is not an easy task. I think that is a noble task¬†for all of us to attempt!

sunflowers

Now, let’s move onto our challenge for October. This is a reprise of our February challenge, from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Make friendship a fine art. For October, we’re returning to this point, but instead of improving existing friendships, we are going to focus on nurturing new friendships.

This week’s challenge is to reach out to an acquaintance you would like to get to know better, and invite them to do something — coffee, lunch, a movie, etc. Reach out and get to know this person better!

friendship quote

Questions for the day:

  • What is your favorite poem by Mary Oliver?
  • How do you make life a celebration?
  • What new friend will you reach out to this week?

a year of Wooden: week 33

Good morning, everyone! Hope you’re feeling recharged after the weekend! I slept in a little this morning, which felt SO nice after a busy weekend of travel and commitments. Now I’m easing into the day with a hot mug of tea and some pb + banana toast, sprinkled with chia seeds on top for a bit of healthy crunch!

pb banana toast

What do you have going on today? I am¬†hoping to get LOTS of¬†productive work done on my novel.¬†Then, later this afternoon I’m meeting with one of my favorite students for a tutoring session. But for now, time for¬†this week’s¬†year of Wooden¬†challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January:¬†Drink deeply from good books.
  • February:¬†Make friendship a fine art.
  • March:¬†Help others.
  • April:¬†Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May:¬†Be true to yourself.
  • June:¬†Give thanks for your blessings every day.
  • July: Love.
  • August: Balance.
  • September:¬†Drink deeply from good poetry.

Back in January, we began this year-long challenge with the first item from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Drink deeply from good books. Now, in September, we are focusing on poetry because Coach Wooden had a deep love for poetry.

Last¬†week’s challenge¬†was to read¬†The Soul of Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. {Thanks to my brother for letting me borrow his copy!}

Rumi

I love how Rumi’s poems are so wise and filled with imagery and meaning, while also being accessible to the average reader like me. Reading this collection, I felt like my spirit was lifted up. His poems made me feel more in touch with the greater meaning and spirituality of life. It¬†was really difficult to choose just one poem to share, so I ended up narrowing my favorites¬†down to these two short poems:

One Song

What is praised is one, so the praise is one too,
many jugs being poured

into a huge basin. All religions, all this singing,
one song.

The differences are just illusion and vanity. Sunlight
looks slightly different

on this wall than it does on that wall and a lot different
on this other one, but

it is still one light. We have borrowed these clothes, these
time-and-space personalities,

from a light, and when we praise, we pour them back in.

I love this poem because it makes me feel hopeful and it celebrates the unity between all of us as living beings. Too often, I think, we focus on our differences. We use those differences as reasons to divide us. But, like the poem says, deep down we are all singing one song, together. I love the metaphor of the same sunlight on different walls. And the end of this poem gives me goosebumps every time.

rumi quote

The Most Alive Moment

The most living moment comes when
those who love each other meet each

other’s eyes and in what flows
between them then. To see your face

in a crowd of others, or alone on a
frightening street, I weep for that.

Our tears improve the earth. The
time you scolded me, your gratitude,

your laughing, always your qualities
increase the soul. Seeing you is a

wine that does not muddle or numb.
We sit inside the cypress shadow

where amazement and clear thought
twine their slow growth into us.

At the end of this poem, I can’t help but¬†sigh with contentment. I feel a release within me. Do you feel it, too? I think this poem beautifully captures the wonder, refuge and delight of loving another person. I especially love the lines: “To see your face/in a crowd of others, or alone on a/frightening street, I weep for that.” And the ending image of slow growth and understanding is an important one — love not as a lightning bolt in¬†a fickle rainstorm, but something steady and nurturing like a tree.

rumi love quote

This week, I’ll be reading New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver.

Mary Oliver poems

Next week, I’ll share my favorite poem from the collection, and I’d love to hear yours as well!

Questions for the day:

  • What is your favorite poem of¬†Rumi?
  • What makes you feel alive or inspired?