Category Archives: Life

I <3 NY

I

The space.

There is none.

Before I moved here, while I was just visiting for interviews, I met my friend Hailee for Thai food in Brooklyn. The restaurant had about eight seats and a B rating, which Hailee assured me was not due to their cleanliness but rather the fact that the storage closet that housed the place could not POSSIBLY be up to fire code.

“You’ll get used to this here,” she said. “Nobody has any space – not the businesses, not the restaurants, not the shops, not the apartments.” (Nobody, apparently, but Memorial Sloan Kettering, whose kingly chemotherapy suites I get to visit again on Monday.)

It’s true that space is basically impossible to come by here. Coffee shops and restaurants seat about six to twenty people, max, although forty or more are often crammed into them (again, does NO ONE care about the fire code?!). The subway stations and cars are packed to overflowing during rush hours, but I walk to work unless it’s hotter than the surface of the sun like it is today, and at least they don’t hire people to literally stuff you into the trains with giant poles like they do in Tokyo, so there’s that.

Speaking of Tokyo, somebody recently asked me if I had heard about the 250 square-foot apartments in Japan that are apparently all the rage there these days, and then I thought about it for a second, and I realized I think my apartment is probably about 250 square feet. I mean, my roommate and I each have our own rooms, which are about the same size – 10×7, or 70 square feet – so that’s 140 square feet there. The living room, which is also the kitchen because one wall of it has a fridge, a range and a couple of cabinets (and by a couple of cabinets I literally mean a couple, as in two, TWO CABINETS, for all of our food, dishes, etc.), isn’t much larger – it couldn’t be more than 10×10, and I doubt it’s even that big. And then there’s the bathroom, which isn’t even large enough for a bathtub (we have one of those tiny showers you can barely turn around in, and I bet it’s really hard to shave your legs in it, but I wouldn’t know since I’m STILL hairless), and I think we’re somewhere between 250 and 275 square feet when all is said and done.

Don’t mistake this for complaining, though. I actually love my apartment. The small space is cozy, even if I did have to sell my flatscreen because I literally couldn’t fit it anywhere, and even if the oven sets off the whole building’s fire alarm every time I turn it on (seems safe, right? But I mean, this is NYC, so who the f uses an oven anyway?). My bedroom fits everything I need and has AIR CONDITIONING so next to that I’d sacrifice basically anything else.

A couple of weekends ago I was in Boston visiting Gordie, and we attended a charity party his company was throwing at a local bar. The place seemed ENORMOUS. I was like, What is this cavernous nonsense? The people aren’t crammed wall-to-wall elbowing each other for alcohol dominance like a weird Discovery Channel documentary where they all fight to the death to see who can stay in the bar longest. WHAT IS THIS TOMFOOLERY? Like a housecat who finds itself in the backyard accidentally for the first time, I was honestly confused by the sheer amount of space and freedom.

II

The travel.

I don’t ride the subway a lot because I walk to work, but when I do take it, it is invariably weird. There’s something I love, though, about being surrounded by people who express themselves without regard for what other people might think. Cheers to the girl I saw with bright green hair, the guys and gals covered in tattoos, the women with buzzed haircuts (ESPECIALLY women with buzzed haircuts, y’all are an inspiration), the people of ambiguous gender, the guys wearing women’s clothing – everyone of you awesome people, KEEP ON KEEPING ON. I wish I were as brave as you, and could walk around with my weird, bald scalp on display instead of sweating to death under this itchy wig. Some day, perhaps.

By the way, taxis – both the mere idea of them (on-demand personal drivers!) and the actual implementation of them in this city (literally 10+ of them in view at any second) – are amazing. Gordie came for a weekend and needed to get to the bus station at 6 in the morning. “Should I call a cab for an hour that weird?” he asked.

“Um, call one? Duh, no,” I scoffed, like an authority even though I’d literally been here 11 days at that point. “Just walk outside and hail one. Doesn’t matter if it’s 4am or 4pm, you won’t have any trouble.” And I was right, he hailed one literally immediately, which is good for me or I would have looked pretty dumb.

So far, three – THREE! – people have stopped me in the subway and asked me for directions. HOLY CRAP, YOU GUYS! Not only did those people think I was a NEW YORKER, they thought that out of EVERYONE in that subway station, I looked LEAST LIKELY to be a murderer. I wish they had a plaque for that sort of thing. I’d hang it on my wall. If I had the space.

III

The food.

Sometimes I get legitimately depressed because I can’t possibly eat at every single restaurant, diner, deli, take-out counter, coffee shop and bar in New York City.

But damned if I’m not trying to.

It is my mission to eat a different place every single time I go out for food. So far, I’m doing pretty well. Okay, there’s this one falafel place I really like and there’s an awesome sandwich place near my office and WHY FIX WHAT AIN’T BROKE YOU GUYS so I’ve been there a few times, but overall I keep on seeking out new culinary adventures every chance I get.

The best thing about New York is how weird/niche the food gets. I passed a place the other day that advertised “Mexican sushi and Japanese tacos.” There’s a bar-ish establishment near my apartment called Murray’s Cheese Bar and it’s a BAR THAT SERVES ARTISANAL CHEESES so I think I’m going to just live in it because what else does a person need?

I love the variety of food experiences here, too. Yeah, you can find vegan eateries with the pathetic calorie count listed next to their soy cheese and lettuce wrap, but walk out the door and you’ll see a dirty-water hog dog stand staffed by a woman in a burqa asking if you want a 1,000-calorie pretzel. So by turns I indulge myself with the most disgusting pizza slices and cream cheese-loaded bagels and then atone for it by ordering a quinoa salad at a place whose sign advertises their commitment to the locavore movement.

IV

The culture.

Nothing makes me sound more touristy than talking about all the “culture” in NYC, but whatever. I guess what I mean by “culture” is a certain amount of authenticity – a variety of places and experiences that are wholly and totally unique to New York, from street performers to Central Park to jogging on the Brooklyn bridge to shops and stores that have only ONE location, and it’s here, in New York City.

One of the things I like the most about life here is how well the mom-and-pop shop is doing. Things in our society are becoming increasingly homogenous and commoditized; a Walmart in Kansas is about the same as a Walmart in Vermont is about the same as a Walmart in Shanghai, China. And in some ways that can be nice, because the experience is consistent, and I know what I’m gonna get when I walk into Walmart, even if I’m 2,000 miles from home. But NYC is the only place where I can go to the only existing location of a place called Garrett’s Hardware and have a hasidic Jew with payots show me where the nails are.

V

The future.

So am I going to stay in New York? For a little while, at least. I mean, it’ll be three years before my 401k is fully vested so I guess I’ll try to tough it out at least that long. But in spite of the hot garbage smell and the air conditioner rain and the crowds, there’s something I just love about life here. I guess what I’m saying is, I can think of worse fates that living life post-cancer in what is rightly termed the greatest city in the world.

Moving Day

“This is totally the big important scene in the theoretical movie of your life – little girl off to the big city,” joked my (now former) roommate Kristen as she dropped me off at the train station this morning in Richmond to await my ride to New York City.

The big day is finally here – I’m moving!

In fact, I’m writing this from my cozy Amtrak seat, as trees and dirt roads and sun-soaked waterways whip by in the window. I hate the whole strip-search-followed-by-cramming-humans-into-a-sardine-tin-then-launching-its-twenty-ton-metal-body-30,000-feet-into-the-air ordeal of flying, so when I can, I always prefer to take the train. I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog that I have a weird fascination with trains, like the kind of fascination that’s probably more appropriate for a four-year-old boy. Whenever I spot one (a train, not a four-year-old boy), I can’t stop myself from blurting out, “TRAIN!” Richmond actually has the world’s only triple-level train trestle, where three tracks cross each other like a steel braid, and my friends make a lot of fun of me for caring at all about that little fact and, one time, going so far as to drag them to go look at it in Shockoe Slip. Whatever though, trains are amazing.

If you don’t know a lot about Richmond, let me tell you, it ranks highly on a lot of lists. Some of them are stuff like “Most Murders,” but still. Moving is always bittersweet, and Richmond is a cool town, even though people from New York clearly think it’s the lamest place on Earth. When the movers – two dudes about my age – came down from Brooklyn to pack up my room, one of them asked me in a bewildered voice, “So…what do you do here for fun?” Like we literally didn’t even have bars or restaurants. I was tempted to throw on my thickest Southern accent and say, “Well, if the weather ain’t right for catfish noodling, we’ll head on down to the barn for a hootenany!” (Which, let’s be real, doesn’t sound that bad. I could go for a hootenany.)

It’s weird to see your whole life reduced to boxes, to see your room stripped of all the things that made it yours – the pictures, the polka dotted sheets, the Ikea mirror, the Absolut bottle filled with fake hydrangeas. It’s easy to forget that at their core, most rooms are just white boxes, waiting to be personalized. Of course, my white box in Richmond was 18×15′, and my white box in New York is 7×10′, but that’s neither here nor there.

Even though I took a six-month hiatus in Los Angeles, I’ll miss a lot of things about Richmond – like its slow, deliberate, drawling pace, its spacious coffee shops, its pastel-colored row homes, its inability to remember/acknowledge that the Civil War ended 150 years ago, its warm river banks, its cobblestoned avenues. I’ll miss the people, too – my second family, Katie Bo’s family, and their beautiful farmhouse; all the tattoo’d hipsters and their fixie bikes; my professors; and not least of all my friends, of whom I am so proud as they all begin their careers around the country.

But while I’ve got a healthy dose of missing my family and my friends and the familiar in my old haunts, I’m mostly excited. I impulse-bought a headboard and a new duvet cover, because I’m An Adult now and An Adult should have things like headboards and use words like “duvet.” I’m planning to paint an accent wall in my new 7×10′ white box. (To be clear, the 7×10′ white box is just my room. The whole apartment is larger. Slightly.) I found a color called June Day, a dusty yellow that’s perfect in so many ways – the same color as my childhood bedroom, and with a name that reminds me of the day I finished chemotherapy. I’m going to buy a tea kettle too. Because I’m An Adult. And An Adult should not make tea in a saucepan.

I’m also going to need a window air conditioning unit, because hot flashes are intense, you guys. I used to be like, “Ha ha, hot flashes! Old ladies are so hilarious when they stand in the fridge or roll down all the car windows in December!” But I’m not laughing anymore, because chemical menopause is the WORST and hot flashes can SUCK IT. I’ll just be chillin’ out, doing my thing, and then all of the sudden it’s hotter than the surface of the sun and I’m soaked in sweat and looking around for frozen things to put on my face and then, five minutes later, I’m freezing and I need a sweater.

So here I am, 25 years young, enjoying chemically induced menopause and wielding moderately-sized fake boobies and being nerdily excited about trains like a little boy and on my way to New York City. Life!

Ten Things I Learned Between Richmond and Los Angeles

You guys.

YOU GUYS.

I knew road trips were cool and American and sort of a rite of passage for adventurous, creative types like myself, or at least like I imagine myself to be. But I had no idea they were SO INCREDIBLY AWESOME.

First of all, America is amazing so I’m going to include some tunage here to get you in the right mood to read this post. As a general rule I keep this blog pretty PG in terms of language but I simply cannot pass up this opportunity. Press play (make sure no kids and/or people who don’t like swearing are around) and come with me on a magical journey. U-S-A, U-S-A!!!!!!!!

I wanted to tell you all about my experience on the road, but there’s simply too much – and too much that’s just inexpressible – to relate in a linear, chronological way. So instead, I made a list of what I learned during the last seven days on the road.

A few disclaimers about the post: It’s going to be long. It has absolutely nothing to do with cancer, perhaps because (happily!) cancer is playing less and less of a role in my life these days. And if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen most of these pictures before – but I hope you’ll enjoy them again!

Ten Things I Learned Between Richmond and Los Angeles

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Our weird Freaky Friday outfit switch was not intentional.

1. Only road trip with someone you love and who loves you, no matter what. Y’all, things are going to get weird. Think you’re normal? Not after 8 nonstop hours of driving, you’re not. You will be losing your mind. Not in a bad way, either – you’ll just be laughing your head off at the stupidest things, shifting around in your seat like you have hemorrhoids and letting your freak flag fly.

Driving into Nashville, Katie’s phone GPS started scolding us for pulling off the interstate into a gas station and she cradled it like a baby while stroking it and whispering, “Shhh, shhh.” The next morning I absolutely insisted on eating a Bojangles biscuit and self-soothed by murmuring to myself, “We’ll get biscuits…we’ll get biscuits…” (We did; it was our only fast food stop, and the woman looked at us like we were insane when all we ordered was two biscuits. She was like, “And…?” And we were like, “NO JUST BISCUITS. BISCUITS FOREVER!!!”) Pulling into Albuquerque, after nearly 11 hours of driving, we rolled down the windows and just yelled at nothing like the goats in those “Goats Screaming Like People” videos.

You’ll be sleep-deprived, hungry and you’ll have to pee for long stretches at a time but when you pull over to pee on the road you’ll step on some grass and a million grasshoppers will leap out of it and you won’t be able to do it and you’ll have to hold it forever and ever and just when you think you’re going to die a magical rest stop will appear but wait is it a mirage no it’s a real rest stop OHMYGOD and then you’ll FINALLY be able to pee. You’ll argue occasionally, but more often than that you’ll laugh and talk about how lucky and happy you are to be doing this amazing thing together.

If you’re not road-tripping with someone you’re actively in a relationship with, it will feel like you are by the end of it. Katie Bo and I started telling stories as “we” the way a well-established couple does – “We were talking about that today!” “Do you want to come to dinner with us?” “We were just laughing about that silly thing Katie does.” She also has short hair, because she cut it for me when mine started to fall out, which does not make us look any less like a loving and functional lesbian couple, not that we care.

At one point we shared the road with some bikers and Katie Bo mentioned that she’d like to get a motorcycle one day, to which I replied that I had no desire to own a motorcycle but that I’d totally ride on the back of hers.

“Okay, no, that’s where I draw the line,” she said. “That is just TOO lesbian.”

2. The only liquid more important than gasoline is coffee. I probably spent $500+ on gasoline for the trip, which is about the same amount we spent on coffee. If you didn’t know this about me, I’m a caffeine junkie – the front page of my professional portfolio website is a shot of the neon sign in front of Champ’s in Brooklyn that says “Death Before Decaf” with my face reflected in the glass below it. Here is our daily coffee schedule:

7am-9am, depending on the length of the day’s drive: Stop for coffee before hitting the road. Probably order a red-eye. Or a JFK, so named because it has three shots in it. Tasteless, yet clever. My favorite.

11am: Have finished the first coffee. Stop for second coffee. Probably iced because now it’s 10,000 degrees outside and I’m getting a shorts tan/sunburn from sitting in the car with the sun streaming in through the window.

1pm: Need more coffee. Perhaps too jittery for another espresso, might switch to iced tea.

3pm: Chug a giant smartwater.

5pm: One more coffee to power through the end of the drive. You might think we’d switch to decaf by now, but you’d be wrong. NEVER.

I discovered my new favorite thing at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, part of the original marketplace in the French quarter – chicory coffee. Chicory is a root that is sometimes added to coffee to cut the bitterness, and while I like my coffee absolutely midnight black with no cream or sugar, I have to admit that the chicory root makes it substantially more delicious, almost like a dessert. I’m hooked, and now I’m screwed because it can be tough to find it outside of NOLA. Fortunately, you can order it online – although I’m not sure if I’m happy that I can sustain my addiction despite being 2,000 miles from Lousiana or sad that the internet has made this regional treat something I no longer have to earn by driving 16 hours to the bayou.

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Seriously, though, gasoline is more important than coffee. Do not run out of gas. There were some very long and desolate stretches on our trip, especially through what is essentially still the Wild West in western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, where we didn’t see a single town, let alone a gas station or a bar of cell phone service. Sometimes we’d get so caught up in singing along with our favorite songs or listening to a Louis C.K. set while I practiced my bad stand-up in preparation for the act I may or may not do in NYC hoping to be discovered by someone from Saturday Night Live that we’d forget to check the gas gauge and find ourselves genuinely distressed that we might run out and be stranded and die in the desert and our bones would be discovered clutching each other helplessly by anthropologists in 2513 or something.

Basically, what I’m saying is, if you go on a road trip, keep your priorities straight. Gasoline first, then coffee. Then somewhere way down the list, water, I guess. Whatever.

3. Couch surf; beds are overrated. We were fortunate to be able to stay with friends in every city we visited, except for the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. We visited friends on small stopovers in between cities, too – like my friend Julia in Knoxville, Tennessee, or Katie Bo’s cousin Crisman in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

In Nashville, we met up with a friend and fellow UVA alumna named Carly at a local bar where we watched three boys with guitars and cowboy boots sit on stools and play covers of our favorite country tunes. We bought them a round of longnecks and they played my favorite song, Take It Easy by the Eagles, and came over to do a Fireball shot with us after the set was over.

In New Orleans, we stayed with Ann Marshall, also a fellow Virginia alum who now literally works for the New Orleans tourism board. She was incredible, taking us on a tour of the city that included an authentic dinner of gumbo and alligator sausage (described on the menu with nothing but the tagline, “It is what it is!!!”), a ride down the mardi gras parade route on the streetcar (where we could see multicolored beads hanging from the tree branches and power lines) and a walk down both Bourbon Street, the strangest collection of debauchery and nudity I have ever seen which is somehow still bizarrely appealing (perhaps it’s the alcohol served from to-go windows?), and Frenchman street, where we watched street musicians play creole jazz on tubas and trombones.

In Dallas, we stayed with our amazing friend Rebecca – not a Wahoo, but a semi-Charlottesvillian at least; good thing we went to college or we wouldn’t be nearly so well-connected – who took us out to a lake by her newly-purchased home (adulthood!!!!!!) before we all went out in her massive truck for agave margaritas and brisket tacos at a cute tex mex place where we dined on the patio in the warm summer air.

In Albuquerque, our friend Leslie and her boyfriend Matt took us on a walk to a ridge by their apartment overlooking the entire city, where we watched the sun set bright pink and light up the Sandia Mountains (so named because they glow rosy like watermelons in the dusk) before night fell and the whole city glistened below us, a sparkly oasis in the vast desert. We had elk burgers on Route 66 and huevoes rancheros in the morning to bid adieu to an old town made of old pueblos and signs in Spanish.

In Las Vegas, we met up with my brother, his friend Pat (who shaved my head!), my friend Hayley and her boyfriend Peter, where general Vegas debauchery was had – but not as much as in my younger days, since, as Hayley put it, “Most of the time I’d rather be home with a sandwich.” Amen, sistah.

The places you’ll see on a road trip are great, but the people are just as good.

4. “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)” is a quote from an e. e. cummings poem oft-quoted in Facebook profiles. To me, the line is about the power of memory: that it can take something ethereal and fleeting by nature, like love, and make it permanent in the mausoleum of one’s own heart.

In the Petrified Forest in Arizona, there are signs all over the park reminding visitors not to take pieces of petrified wood with them when they leave, as thoughtless souvenir hunters doing this in the days before the site was designated a National Park resulted in the loss of many of these irreplaceable treasures. Naturally, however, when I found a little shard of petrified wood glistening on the path in front of me…well, that’s different. I can just slip it into my pocket and take it home, right? It’s different, right? It’s only a tiny sliver; no one will know.

I honestly considered sneaking my little piece or memorabilia out of the park, but ultimately thought better of it. I don’t need the wood because I carry it in my heart. I saw it, and I’ll have that forever. It’s better, I think, if I can’t show you the wood. You’ll have to go and see it for yourself, so you can carry it in your heart, too.

I carry the whole trip in my heart, and I always will, now. There are some things that a souvenir can’t replicate, that a photograph just can’t capture – things you can only carry with you.

5. Eat everything. Back in our college days, Katie Bo and I used to go to iHop for some inexplicable reason (gross, I know) and we’d joke that calories didn’t count there, despite the fact that they obviously did and that’s probably why I literally gained a zillion pounds as a first year. Anyway, I didn’t learn anything and CALORIES TOTALLY DON’T COUNT ON ROAD TRIPS. We ate gumbo, beignets and “voodoo” flavored potato chips in New Orleans, margaritas, brisket tacos and roadside pit barbecue in Texas, Mexican food smothered in green chiles in Albuquerque, and $80 worth of sushi and cocktails in Las Vegas and it was worth every love handle and extra chin I’m gonna pay for it with.

In fact, we originally conceived of this road trip as a gastronomic tour of the United States, and we were amazed at every stop at the local flavor (pun intended, deal with it) that we encountered. The differences between say, New Orleans and Albuquerque, culinarily, were so stunning as to feel like they belonged in entirely separate countries.

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Oh, I forgot that I also ate an enormous chocolate Butterfinger brownie in New Orleans. YOLO.

6. Accept that the car will become a disgusting hovel of slovenliness and gluttony. My car needs a good detailing. Not only is it freckled with the carcasses of a trillion unlucky/stupid insects, its interior is dotted with potato chip crumbs, Triscuit fragments, trail mix pieces and all other matter of snackery.

In order to avoid stopping at fast food joints, which would have ruined our desire to see (and eat) the authentic soul of everywhere we traveled, we packed a styrofoam cooler full of semi-healthy items like string cheese, carrot sticks, apples, delicious chicken salad made by Katie Bo’s mom and plenty of water bottles to trot out whenever we got a bit peckish on the road. Sadly, the ice inside said cooler eventually melted and then somehow leaked all over the backseat of my car which now smells like a mildewy towel. Despite this, we preserved in refilling the cooler with ice whenever it got low and eating just about everything it without once stopping for chain restaurant food with the exception, mentioned above, of pulling through a Bojangles in Athens, Alabama to order nothing but two biscuits.

I am sort of weirdly proud to admit that I bought this car in mid-2011 and have never once washed it, but now I’m going to have to break that streak. It’s probably for the best.

7. Pack whatever you think you’ll want/need, then immediately unpack three-fourths of it. I pretty much wore 5 items of clothing on this entire road trip despite the fact that I packed the largest suitcase in the world full of every single garment I own that I like. (Which, don’t be fooled, is actually only like half of them.) In reality, all I needed were a few comfy, breezy tank tops, a light jacket (for the Grand Canyon, where it’s cold at night) and a pair of shorts. Done. You’ll sleep in underwear and the tank top, trust me. You will be too lazy to wear that cute pajama set. Just leave it at home.

8. Nerd out, you’ll learn cool stuff. Katie Bo and I whipped out Wikipedia at every opportunity and learned some truly amazing things about the cities we visited.

Even though we planned out an itinerary that included stops in some of the most amazing and unique cities in America, like Nashville and New Orleans and Las Vegas, some of the most incredible stuff we saw was in between the big destinations.

It was the zeppelin mooring – the last zeppelin mooring in the entire world – at the top of the decrepit and forgotten Leer Tower in Birmingham, Alabama, where stopped for (what else?) coffee. It was the St. Louis cemetery just outside of New Orleans, where brownish residue on the sides of above-ground mausoleums housing jazz legends, writers and voodoo priestesses marks the height flood waters rose to during Hurricane Katrina. It was the state building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, visible as we crossed the mighty Mississippi, that Huey Long insisted on building before he was assassinated in it. It was the ghost town of Cerbat, located some three miles from highway 93 in western Arizona down a dirt road marked only with faded, bullet-riddled signage and “No Trespassing” signs that we ignored, where an old mine built in the 1800s still stands, weathered but defiant, under the fierce sun of the desert.

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9. There is still space. Leslie’s boyfriend Matt mentioned that he had road tripped across the country in the past, and that the thing he was most surprised to discover was that there was still space. “I thought there was no space left,” he said. I guess I kind of thought that too, but I was wrong. Most of what we drove through was space.

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We drove for miles through open fields in Alabama and Texas, where cattle and horses grazed and tall, yellow stalks swayed in the wind; high, flat buttes in New Mexico dotted with cacti through which endless trains weaved their mechanical entrails; dense forests full of flowering and fragrant magnolia trees in Mississippi; swampy, algae-covered bayous that lined the three-digit state highway we took in Louisiana. We drove past poverty, too – rusting trailers located a million miles from anything, sweltering in the summer heat.

The whole thing was a powerful reminder that America, developed as it is, is in many ways still a wilderness to be explored by anyone willing to sit in a car for 50 hours.

10. I am a tiny and insignificant speck of dust floating through the universe for what amounts to the blink of an Almighty Being’s eye.

Out of everything we saw and did on a trip, which was more (and more incredible) than I could ever accurately describe here, nothing was more moving than the Grand Canyon. Cliche as it is, this 227 mile long gash is as stunning as everyone says it is. First of all, who knew there was such amazing forest in Arizona? The kind of forest that elk roam through, where pine trees scent the air and you need a campfire at night?

The Grand Canyon is indeed grand. It’s breathtaking to behold. I got vertigo just walking up the edge of it. What amazed me most about it, perhaps, is that whether I die in 5 years or 50, I’ll never see the thing change. For millions of years, long before there was ever a human eye to look at it and feel dizzy at its sheer magnitude, the canyon has been forming – and it’ll keep forming long after I’m gone. My time here is so short as to be wholly insignificant to the Grand Canyon. All I can do is marvel at it and remember how amazingly spectacular and powerful and slow and deliberate nature is in its beauty.

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Pulling up to my parents’ house at the end of a 3,500 mile journey, we were both relieved to have completed the whole trip without a single accident, speeding ticket or mental breakdown. But we were sad, too – sad that the trip was over, and that we can’t keep living it – we can only carry it in our hearts.

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In cancer news, MY FINAL CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENT (hopefully ever) IS TOMORROW! Stay tuned to hear how it goes.

Graduation and New York City

What a whirlwind this week has been!

Despite saying for months that I didn’t really mind one way or the other if I got to go to my graduation, I decided to sack up on the Wednesday before the Saturday ceremony and buy a ticket to Richmond. I was already planning on a trip to New York City for some job interviews, so what’s a little stopover in RVA?

I honestly wasn’t expecting much out of graduation. These things tend to be 90% pomp and circumstance and only a small portion actual sentiment/appreciation, and besides, I’d already attended my high school graduation (throughout the duration of which I had to pee SO BADLY that I kind of blacked out and remember virtually nothing of the ceremony) and my college graduation (which was actually two ceremonies – one giant gathering for the whole 3,000 member graduating class, during which I cried inexplicably [hint: this is foreshadowing], and one smaller ceremony for the English grads), so I didn’t feel any burning desire to add another strut to my Walking Across A Stage in A Silly Outfit repertoire.

I completely mischaracterized this ceremony, however. Because my master’s program is (was!) so intimate, specialized and small, the graduation was not only interesting, it was downright moving.

First, the director of our program, who made it possible for me to graduate and to whom I will be forever indebted for her willingness to work around my INSANE medical journey, gave a talk. She actually gave a shout-out to this blog, so HOLLER, Y’ALL! Everyone cheered, and I got a little misty-eyed, to be honest.

Then came our graduation speaker, Fallon CCO Jeff Kling. If you have 20 minutes and even a passing interest in advertising, creativity, media, design or writing, please take the time to watch this video of his speech. You will not regret it.

After the ceremony, they called our names and we each walked across the stage to shake hands with our professors and receive our master’s degrees. I was completely calm and collected when my name was called, but then I looked out at the crowd and saw that they were giving me a standing ovation for some reason, and I burst into hysterical tears. I truly do not think I am deserving of any special recognition. I only did what anyone else in my position would do. Honestly, if anything, my desire to continue and complete my graduate studies in the midst of a cancer diagnosis was really kind of selfish. I was basically like, “WHATEVER, BODY, I’M THE BOSS OF THESE ORGANS AND NO MATTER HOW SICK THEY FEEL, I’M GOING TO MAKE THEM KEEP DOING WHAT I WANT TO DO.”

Anyway, I sobbed uncontrollably all the way across the stage. I hugged everyone. I hugged Jeff Kling, who has literally never met me or heard of me. I hugged my notoriously crusty, gruff professor who put out a hand for me to shake, which I ignored while embracing him fully and crying/snotting all over his button-up.

My friend Corey captured my emotional walk on camera:

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I was right about one thing, at least: We did have to wear silly outfits. But I’m not even going to lie to you, internet. I kind of like the beret and I think I look pretty fly in it. (I’m in the middle!)

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After graduation, my dad and I boarded a plane to New York City so that I could go to a bunch of job interviews. It was only my third or fourth trip to the Big Apple, and my second one since I turned 21. The last one was summer of 2012, when I visited my friend Hailee in Brooklyn and had a completely awesome adventure that involved touristy things like Times Sqaure, but also Viking halls, naked people passed out in cars, preventing a DUI by a total stranger and my favorite thing ever, late night sandwiches.

This time around, Hailee made me a walking map of some of NYC’s neighborhoods so that I could explore the Lower East Side, the East Village, the West Village, Chelsea and the High Line. In between interviews, I followed her route to check out the Chelsea Market, eat delicious Italian food and enjoy amazing views of the skyline. We met up for dinner and drinks and explored some more neighborhoods in Brooklyn. My dad and I also met up with my cousin, Danielle, who’s been living in Manhattan for more than a year now. I got a chance to chat with some alumni from my grad program, too.

At one point, I found myself downtown, standing in the shadow of One World Trade Center. An imposing structure stretching a symbolic 1776 feet high and seemingly made out of mirrors and magic because I don’t know how anything so majestic, shiny and moving can be constructed out of earthly materials, the building has been under construction for the better part of a decade. Most of New York is under construction, it seems. Despite being noisy and confusing to navigate, there’s something I like about the constant self-improvement happening in NYC. It seems hopeful. It feels indicative of progress, change, a willingness to adapt.

On a whim, I decided to head toward the building and found myself at the 9/11 Memorial, two pools emblazoned with the names of the people who perished in the attacks. The experience was considerably more emotional than I was expecting. Since my diagnosis, I’ve come to have a real and deep appreciation for how fragile and beautiful life is, and how terrible it is for anyone’s to end before its time. Prepare yourselves, cliché incoming: Life is awesome. I’m so glad to have mine, every bit of it, the good and bad.

In between all the socialization, walking ‘til I felt like collapsing and eating (YOU GUYS, THE EATING!!! There are restaurants serving the cuisine of nations I’ve never even heard of!), I started to gain a real appreciation for what it means to live in New York. Some people say New York is too much, but on the contrary, I think it’s not enough. Not enough space, not enough time, not enough money to do all the incredible things there are to do.

Until we meet again, New York. So long, and thanks for all the pastrami.

Over the hill: Chemo #4

I’m now 4/6 (that’s 2/3, for you math whizzes out there) of the way done with chemotherapy!

Y’all know the drill by now, so instead of blathering on about my uncontrollable drooling, nausea and food aversions (why do all of these have to do with my mouth?), I’m going to talk about something a little more fun: the upsides!

It may seem odd to say, but there are certainly some upsides to the whole chemotherapy process. I already documented all the perks of going bald in an earlier post, but there are even more things I can find to be thankful for when I really search for them, not just the ability to take a shower 5 minutes before I need to leave the house. (But let’s not lie, that ish the JAM. I can’t believe men have been getting away with that forever.)

For example, I have never had better skin in my life. I haven’t been able to figure out the exact reason for this, but it seems to be a well-documented side effect amongst young cancer survivors – acne is banished FOREVER. Normally I’d hate to admit this anywhere, but we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well, internet slash blog followers, so I guess I’ll just go ahead and tell you that I used to have some pretty intense zit biz going on up in this face. Back in middle school, I not only had braces, frizzy hair (R.I.P., hair) and absolutely no sense of style behind oversized summer camp t-shirts, I also had a nice smattering of red pimples across my forehead and cheeks. Since then, the whole deal has calmed down, but like most other twentysomethings I would still find myself with a blemish here and there, and usually only at the most inopportune times. But no more, my friends!

Thanks to chemotherapy, I now have the complexion of a marble bust. If this were the 19th century, crows would alight upon my bald, ivory scalp and quoth, “Nevermore!” I get compliments on my glowing skin virtually every day, so now my secret is out. I wasn’t born with it, it’s carboplatin, taxotere and herceptin. I wouldn’t really recommend that regimen for any but the most severe cases of lingering adult acne, however.

My parents are gonna straight up die of happiness when they read this since I’m generally being super grumpy at them most of the time, but another perk of cancer is the ability to spend more time with my family. My mom, dad and brother all live out here in Los Angeles and I’ve spent the last seven years on the East Coast gettin’ schooled and/or paid, so it has been nice to come home for a bit – even if it wasn’t under the best of circumstances. Just chillin’ with my mom and dad in the chemo ward for like six or seven hours at a time is the kind of personalized one-on-one time you don’t even realize you miss when you’re all grown up and away. I bet I haven’t had this much attention since my little brother was born.

Honestly, my parents and I have had our fair share of squabbles since I was forced to move back home – and I think that’d be pretty standard for any 25-year-old ripped from a life of independence and thrust into a world of needles, drugs, fear and confusion, all while having her parents burst into her room every ten seconds to check on her like it’s ninth grade again – but I’m still incredibly thankful that they’re here for me. I can’t imagine doing this without having my mom and dad handy to shove water in my face three times an hour even when I’m not thirsty, or listen to me bitch about everything, or not rip my head off when I’m a super-rude chemo brat. Love you, mom and dad (and Ryan!). Can someone check and make sure my mom didn’t pass out from joy?

I also completely forgot to mention two other Important Moments in Hairlessness that occurred while I was in Richmond, but that deserve some time in the spotlight on this blog.

IMiH #1: The career fair at school was understandably stressful for all of us, so some of the recruiters and school officials were kind enough to get a few masseuses to come out and give us backrubs to help us calm down. I literally thought I had died and gone to heaven – you can ask Gordie; backrubs are my absolute favorite thing on earth. So without a moment’s hesitation I leapt up onto this lady’s chair, so, so, so ready to get my rub down. And then she started with neck. And then I remembered I was wearing a wig.

At first I was all blissed out on the idea of a backrub so like, whatever. This can’t be the weirdest thing this lady has ever seen, right? But then I start feeling her fingers going sort of under the wig and touching all of my bald, stubbly bits, and I can feel the hesitation in her hands, you know? It’s like her hands are saying, “WTF IS GOING ON HERE? THIS GIRL HAS NO HAIR?”

And I’m sitting there panicking like, Do I tell her it’s a wig? It’s too late now. She’s just going to wonder. Obviously it’s a wig. I can’t explain why I’m wearing a wig without playing the cancer card, and I don’t even KNOW this woman, so like, why should I give her my medical history? But is this weird? IT’S SO WEIRD I’VE WAITED TOO LONG OH GOD SHE THINKS I’M A FREAK!

I almost ruined my whole massage by panicking like that, but thankfully it’s a massage, so it literally can’t be ruined because it’s the best thing in the world.

IMiH #2: One of the recruiters who came to the career fair was wearing a hat with some fake hair attached to it, which was pretty cool since it’s always fun to see anyone – student, recruiter, professor, whoever – let loose a little bit. I had seen him walking around a bit and didn’t realize the hair was fake since I hadn’t looked closely, but then he walked right by me and sort of tipped his hat to me and of course THE HAIR CAME WITH IT and it was hilarious.

So then I’m feeling disarmed and sharing a chuckle with this guy over his shaved head so I’m like, “Hey, me too!” And then I LIFTED UP MY WIG SO HE COULD SEE THAT I WAS BALD UNDERNEATH.

Instantly his expression changed to one of total confusion. And who can blame him? I’m sure he was like, “WTF IS GOING ON HERE? THIS GIRL HAS NO HAIR?” He probably had to get a drink with the masseuse later to talk it out and figure out what was going on. I’m sorry, dude. If you’re reading this, you actually handled it super well, and I’m sorry I gave you absolutely zero explanation as to my hairlessness. Your fake hair rocked, and I’m pretty sure you gave me a thumbs up once you processed the fact that I was actually lifting up a wig, so that makes you a totally awesome guy.

All in all, each go ’round of this chemo business gets easier. I find that with every treatment, my drugs get adjusted more perfectly, I recover more quickly and I experience fewer side effects, so if you’re on this blog because you’re going through or are going to go through chemotherapy, I really hope that give you some hope and make it easier for you. I feel like I just got started, and OH SNAP! I’m 4/6 of the way done.

In case you forgot, that’s 2/3 for all you math whizzes out there.

My trip to Richmond, measured in Important Moments in Hairlessness

It’s been about a month and a half since my hair fell out, and in that time I have really only left my house to do three things: 1) run, 2) get coffee, and 3) eat food. Recently I added 4) fly to Richmond, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

When partaking in activity #1, running, I generally just wear a beanie. I’m listening to music with earbuds in, the universal sign for “leave me alone,” and generally moving fast enough that no one will bother me, so I don’t care what I look like. Also, I usually look horrible when running, bald or not. I’m like a sweaty mess flinging her arms and legs all around all weirdly. So basically the beanie is probably the last thing someone would comment on when I’m out jogging, a distant third to “Are you normally this jiggly?” and “Is it healthy for someone’s face to be so red?”

When performing activties #2 and #3, getting and consuming coffee and/or food, I’ll put my wig on. Mostly I do this because I don’t want anyone to remark on my appearance in any way, but sometimes they do anyway. For example, I’ve recently become a frequent patron of a stupidly expensive and trendy but somehow really addictive coffee joint out here in LA, and the guy behind the counter is always super chatty with me and I can’t help but wonder if he is noticing the fact that my hair is not attached to my head.

Actually, one time, as I was leaving this coffee shop, one of those Greenpeace people with the clipboards stopped me and said, “You have the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen!” In my head I was like, thanks, but I bought it in a store. No one can grow hair this nice. It was made in a factory, which accounts for its shine and straightness. My real hair was a rat’s nest compared to the perfection of my wig. Out loud I was like, “Ahhh I love whales and stuff but I’m really poor please don’t ask me for money!”

Recently, I took a huge step by boarding a plane and traveling to Richmond, Virginia, where I was a graduate student before the Boob Mutiny. (Muttitties? No, I’m reaching.) I flew first class because I had enough miles to do it for free and frankly, I really owe myself one, and it was CRAZY, y’all. I don’t know if it was just a super cheerful morning at LAX or if it was because I fly so damn often I got a free flight, but the TSA people were insanely nice to me. The guy drew a heart on my boarding pass! And lest you think he was flirting with me, let me assure you that I cannot possibly overstate how bad I looked. I barely dress myself when flying. Sweat pants? Check. Ripped, smelly stuffed animal I’ve had since I was 3 peeking creepily out of my bag? Absolutely. Zero makeup? Duh. Beanie? Yes.

I actually really debated about whether to sport my beanie or my wig on the plane. Sometimes you get those chatty seat partners who will ask you really invasive questions and there’s literally nowhere for you to go to get away from them, so throw one point up on the board for the wig, because it ensures no one will ask about my cancer. On the other hand, the wig can get itchy, and what if I fall asleep in one of those awkward positions planes force you to adopt and then it falls off or gets crooked and that’s even WEIRDER than just wearing a beanie in the first place? Also, if I commit to the wig and then it’s uncomfortable, it’s not like I can just take it off in front of everyone and switch to the beanie. That’d be the WEIRDEST.

In the end, I went with the beanie. Mostly because I’m normally a somewhat lazy person but when waking up at 5am for a cross-country plane ride I am extra lazy.

So now that you have a mental picture of my abject hideousness at the start of this plane ride, just imagine how ugly I was when it concluded, many hours and one long, boring layover later. It was while basking in this complete and utter lack of hygiene or fashion that I was surprised at the airport but some of my best friends and my very bestest friend’s mom, who is like my second mom. She came in the most breathtaking floor-length sequined gown to show her support for Glamoury Mammaries, while my friends held up whiteboard signs, balloons and flowers. I immediately burst into tears, all while my friend Tyler – a former professional photographer – snapped extremely high-definition pictures of me crying, snotting and drooling all over everyone. After we left the airport, we all stopped by a bar for a quick drink and a catch-up. (I still looked hideous but I didn’t care.) Thank you all so much; for a little while there, I felt like a normal 25-year-old, and that’s really the best gift I can ask for. I love you guys.

My first few days back at grad school, I still opted for the beanie over the wig. I’m a student in a small, close-knit program, so everyone already knew about my cancer. I got so used to wearing the beanie that I actually forgot it was out of the ordinary until I was attending a guest lecture, raised my hand to ask a question and the lecturer was like (and this is verbatim), “Yes, young man with the weird hair. Wait, that’s a girl. And that’s a wig. Wait, it’s a hat. A weird hat.”

In his defense I was seated pretty far back in the auditorium. People around me started whispering, “Tell him you have cancer!”, but what’s the point? It’d just make him feel so bad/awkward. A few nights before this debacle Gordie and I went to see a stand-up comedian at a local open mic, and he was interacting with a young person in the crowd of rather ambiguous hairstyle and dress and asked, “Wait, are you a sir or a ma’am?” This totally badass androgynous person replied, “Whichever,” with the most genuinely casual shrug I’ve ever seen. S/he is my new role model when it comes to beanie snafus.

The reason I was back in Richmond in the first place was actually to attend a job fair, and for that I did bother to actually put on my wig. Since I was meeting with a lot of potential employers, I wanted the first point of conversation to be my work, not my illness. My cancer is a matter of public record, however, since this blog and other cancer-related projects are part of my portfolio, so some recruiters did ask me about it. Amazingly, I actually met three other women who are breast cancer survivors. It was one of those odd moments of cognitive dissonance when I find myself being sort of strangely thankful for my cancer – not that I got it, because screw that, but because I’m now part of this weird breast cancer sorority of amazing women who are constantly showing me it’s possible to beat this thing and come back better, stronger and more beautiful than ever. Delta Delta Titties. Phi Mammaries. Boob Alpha Theta.

Being back in Richmond was amazing. For ten days I returned to my forgotten life as a grad student – spending too much money on sushi, getting berated by my professors, drinking on Abbey’s porch, and perhaps most excitingly, looking forward to the future while interviewing with potential employers. Nothing lifts my mood like a reminder that soon this will be behind me, and my nascent career stretches out before me, a winding path of infinite possibilities.