My Week With Marilyn

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I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I seem to be losing my mind.

Normally I am a fairly organized person. Not type A exactly, but a huge part of my job for the last eight years has been organizing logistics, including travel.

So why, now that I’m organizing the biggest trip of my own life, have I turned into someone so ditzy that if my life were a movie, I would be played by a young Marilyn Monroe?

Take my netbook. You may recall that I was going to order one so I wouldn’t have to risk the life of my Macbook Pro in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Order one I did, and I got an email that its anticipated arrival time (or language to that effect) was a Friday. My mother works from home on Fridays, so I asked her to keep an eye out for it. When I got home that evening I asked if it had arrived, and she said no, but since the confirmation had only said “anticipated” arrival time, I immediately stashed that issue on the closet floor of my mind.

Fast forward to Monday night. “Whatever happened to that netbook,” I wondered. I called up the company I ordered it from, and lo and behold, they had delivered it on Friday—to the wrong house number.

Because I had entered the wrong house number when I ordered it.

Now, while it is true that my parents moved into this house only four months ago, I have never once forgotten the street number. So this was definitely my error, 100%. A fact which both I and Customer Service Lady were completely cognizant of.

In other words, if I could not get my neighbors (who could be mafiosos, for all I knew) to give me back my computer (which, while much cheaper than a Macbook Pro, was by no means cheap), I was screwed. By my own careless fingers.

At this point it was basically Civilized People Bedtime o’clock, and sleeting. But I had to at least try to find the netbook. So I begged my mother to join me in what was sure to be the thankless task of donning many layers, heading out into the slush, and waking up her new neighbors.

So we tromped up the street, peering ineffectually into the darkness, trying to make out house numbers. Fortunately there weren’t many options. We soon singled out the house that must be it. All the windows were completely dark, of course. And the driveway was empty. It looked like no one had been home for days. But as I slipped and slid up the driveway, I could just make out a lump on their porch, under the snow.

I dusted it off, and lo and behold, it was my sodden package, which the FedEx guy had left—without a signature!—four days before. The paper was so moist it came apart in my hands.

My mother could hardly speak. “You. Are. So. Lucky!”

Long story short, the computer works fine; so I guess I won’t have to locate my mind anytime soon.


Dirty Water

If you think this is small, you should see the witch who lives in it.

I’m from Boston.

I’m not sure you understand what that means.

Here’s what it means: Last night I went to a party thrown by a friend I’ve known since preschool. I attended with another preschool friend, then spent the night at her place. Unfortunately, she was experiencing some intense abdominal pain that could have been appendicitis, so in the morning I took her to the ER—which just happened to be at the hospital where I was born.

So I have a lot of history here.

Name a restaurant, and I can tell you what it used to be called and what past relationship drama I experienced there.

Having history in a place is a great thing on so many levels.

But for someone like me, who loves to explore, it can also be stifling. I see a street, and I know what’s at the end of it and at the end of the street after that. I could never get lost. I never feel the thrill of discovery. Seeing familiar place after familiar place saddens and tires me.

Which is why I am so excited about my upcoming adventure.

But today I saw just how much I am giving up.

Not only was I so grateful to be there with my dear old friend when she had to go to the hospital, after that I was spirited to a surprise going-away party organized by ten additional dear old friends. We had a delicious brunch in a historic Boston restaurant (that, miracle of miracles, I’d never been to before), and they were as sweet to me as only people who really love you can be.

So I would just like to say: thank you, Boston. I give you a hard time sometimes, but I still love you, dirty water and all.


You Better Watch Out

I love Christmas. My big brother comes home from Chicago; I get to watch It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas; and our church’s Christmas pageant is laugh-out-loud funny. (Not intentionally, of course. But you try keeping a straight face while five-year-old girls in white dresses and pipe-cleaner halos flap their arms as they run down the aisles.) 

So when it came time to plan my trip, I decided to leave on December 27, because I figured that if I left on the 26th, I would be so stressed on Christmas Day that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.

When we were kids, gifts were always a surprise. (Except during my snooping years. When I was about six I found my big brother’s present to me in his dresser drawer, and I thought I’d make him feel more confident in his choice by telling him that what I really wanted for Christmas was a diary with a rainbow on the cover. For some reason, this disclosure didn’t have the desired effect.)

For the past few years, though, we have emailed each other detailed lists of what we would like. This has the benefit of resulting in higher satisfaction among the giftees, but it does take away a certain element of fun. (You try enjoying buying “wrinkle-resistant button-down shirts,” an actual item on my little brother’s list.)  I usually make me lists long, so that I’m at least a little surprised by what they end up choosing.

This year, thanks to my trip I have some pretty unusual requests.

Tell me: would you think someone had been naughty or nice if their Christmas list included diarrhea medication?


Pillow Talk

One of the few big pieces of furniture I haven’t sold is my mattress. I bought it when I was 25 and it was a Major Purchase. I spent over $600 on it, which to me was (and is) a princely sum. It didn’t help that my parents thought that was a fortune to spend on a mattress. (From what I can tell, they got theirs in a back alley for an envelope full of twenties.) Anyway, I can’t bear to part with it (I mean, it has a 15-year warrantee and I’m not 40, damn it), so I’m storing it at Mom and Dad’s.

And by “storing it at Mom and Dad’s,” I mean that they are sleeping on it while I’m gone.


My father asked me the other day if it’s memory foam. I told him no. He said, “That’s good, because otherwise you might have to worry about it telling me what you’ve been up to.”

This morning he emailed: “Your mattress was talking in its sleep last night. It said something about sailors…?”


Failure to Launch

I have officially joined the legions of Millennials who live at home with Mom and Dad.

So far, it’s pretty sweet.

I mean, yes, the commute is horrible. It used to take me about 40 minutes to get to work. I would get up at 7:30, and leave at 8:00 to walk through a very pretty and lively neighborhood to Harvard Square, where I would catch a free shuttle at 8:35 that would have me at work in 15 minutes. Now I have to get up at 6:30 (on a good day), walk to the train (5 minutes), take the train to North Station (45 minutes), take the subway to Sullivan Square (15 minutes), wait for the 86 bus, then take it to work (45 minutes). And that’s on a good day.

But there are perks. I don’t set the alarm—my mother quietly opens the door and calls my name when it’s time to get up. Then she asks if I want tea or cocoa. And when I get downstairs my lunch is packed.

And when I get home, dinner is on the table and my bed is made.

I could get used to this.


Trigger: Pulled

I did it.

After weeks and weeks of dreading and debating when and where and how to do it, I finally told my bosses that I am leaving. Which is another word for quitting. Which sounds so… permanent.

I’ve really only ever worked at one place. My dream place. And I have a dream job at my dream place—making public television shows that are educational and really good and a lot of fun to work on. And I have worked there for almost eight years. It will be exactly eight years when I leave. That’s longer than I’ve done anything. That’s longer than people who can do multiplication have been alive.

So why am I going?

Because I dream of travel. Literally. I have a recurring dream that I am going on an amazing trip to multiple countries—never the same countries. And I always wake up feeling empty.

Not that I haven’t traveled already. I have. I’ve been to much (most?) of Europe, all of North America, three countries in South America and two countries in Africa. Which sounds very impressive if you don’t take into account that in reality I only spent a few hours in Brazil (I picked the flight with the longest layover possible, and went to considerable trouble of getting a visa so I could go out to dinner in Sao Paulo), maybe 10 hours in Uruguay, and approximately 10 minutes in Mexico (I walked across the border, got my passport stamped, and walked back). That’s the sort of thing you have to do when you only get 15 vacation days a year. And the more years went by, the more I was sure I didn’t want to die with only stories about trips I could have timed on a stop watch.

So I am chucking everything—dream job, dream condo, dream second job (people pay me to write stuff!)—and heading to Asia. I will be traveling for two months in Southeast Asia, then working for four in China, then traveling for another month. I plan to visit Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, and Japan. After that, if money permits, I will do some Spanish immersion in Central America.

I know I should be nervous, but I’m too busy being excited.


Me and Bobby McGee

My condo in its heyday

My condo is beautiful. It’s my baby. I bought it when it was brand new. I was the first person to open the cabinets, hammer nails into the plaster, fill the tub with bubbles. I even got to pick out the light fixtures. (Which was not easy for someone plagued with indecision!)

I lovingly decorated every square inch of it. I still find interior designs I painstakingly sketched out with colored pencils during the months that I waited for the financing to finally come through. I painted a 15-foot-long, 10-foot-high wall yellow all by myself. (Which, in retrospect, was not the brightest thing to do, since if I had fallen I could have lain there for days without anyone noticing.) I covered another wall with bold black-and-white fabric. I spent hours in Home Goods (the happiest place on earth.) I evaluated dozens of white curtains before settling on the right ones. My mother and I drove my father’s pick-up all over eastern Massachusetts picking up furniture painstakingly selected from Craigslist.

But I have now cheerfully sold nearly every stick of furniture. Next up: the condo itself.

As Janis Joplin sang, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Which is another way of saying that if you don’t want to be tied down, you need to sell all your crap.

It’s not easy. Not even a little bit. Not even for someone who had fantasies of being able to fit all her worldly possessions into the bed of a pick-up truck. (Even without my furniture, I am closer to filling a Mack than a pick-up. I blame the shoes.)

But I am determined to keep selling, donating, and tossing stuff I don’t need. And every time I get rid of something, I really do feel freer.

I think Janis would be proud.