Growing up, I called my grandmother on my mother's side "Grandma Gina." I saw her as tall, blonde, and always worried about what I was up to. And, to be fair, I did give her things to worry about -- I was a child who liked to climb, swing, run, jump and would always come home to her with scrapes, bruises, and scabs. She wore Keds sneakers and striped shirts. She had my favorite juice (Hugs) in a basement cooler every time we came to visit, and she loved strawberry ice cream in waffle cones on hot summer nights. It took me until I was around four or five to realize her actual name was Regina. Weird, I thought, that it never occurred to me she was anyone other than Grandma Gina. But she existed before I did, and had a life I had no idea about. So I asked questions and she told stories; then she would ask questions and I would tell stories back.

After my younger cousin was born, Grandma Gina was renamed. "G.G.," was her new moniker, and my little cousin would sing it over and over again in the kitchen high chair he sat in while we all watched Wheel of Fortune while trying to adjust the picture on the TV. (God, I loved those metal bunny ears. I was pretty upset our TV back at home in Maryland didn't have them. Was it specifically a Pittsburgh thing? I didn't. know.) My sister tried to persuade him otherwise -- she was Grandma Gina, not G.G., didn't he know that? -- but he was not to be deterred. Even long after he could pronounce Grandma Gina, she stayed G.G., and we all adopted the new name.

I think of my grandmother in the summer most often. Every July we packed up the car and made the five hour drive from Ellicott City to a suburb outside of Pittsburgh. On the fourth, we would walk (or, if I was lucky, I'd be carried on someone's shoulders) a few miles down the road to the local park, lay out blankets on the grass, and watch the fireworks and listen to music. During the days of visiting her, I would explore her tall house, especially the attic with its funny ceiling, scary hatch door that led presumably either to Hell or Narnia, and I would go through all of the secret treasure the space hid.

On particularly hot days when my aunt was willing to sit outside and watch us, my sister and I would swim in the pool in my grandmother's back yard. That pool deck had been rebuilt a number of times but somehow always bounced when we ran on it, splintering our feet. For hours and hours, long past the point of pruning fingers, my sister and I would jump from the side of the pool, gulp a giant lung-full of air, and swim down down down to touch the bottom. We would float on our backs and stare at the sun while our goggles dented our cheeks and noses. As I got older, I would do handstands and flips off the stiff, low diving board or stand in the shallow end, propping up a book on the deck to read. I remember very specifically standing in the corner of the pool one summer, making my way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It was the biggest book I'd ever read at that point.

My grandmother comes to me through specific snatches of scenes and senses. The way the red shag carpet of her house felt between my toes. The low clang of the doorbell. The warm, golden dust of the attic. The chlorine of the pool, the burning smell of fireworks. The bells she kept on her fireplace, that I was never supposed to play with but secretly (not so secretly) did. The treadmill in her office with the stretchy bands hanging over the handles.

Salt. Everyone gave her such a hard time about how much salt she would use.

Cereal. She always asked us what kind of special cereal we wanted when we visited -- no matter how sugary, she would get it. (Reese's Puffs were my favorites.)

The flagpole in her front yard that I would swing on and try to climb while no one was looking. I always was caught.

The front porch with the stone railing that I would balance on, even while she watched and worried I would topple off and break my arm. I promised her that I wouldn't fall, and if I did it was okay because I knew how to fall -- that's what gymnastics was for!

The teal-blue small car with an angel on its visor. I would watch that angel and cross my fingers that the little engine could handle the steep hills of her neighborhood.

Pop, she said, never soda. Always Pepsi, never Coke. Gum bands, not rubber bands. I still give her a hard time about that one. My G.G. is someone who has a quiet, subtle strength. She's hardworking, no matter how tired or pained she was, she was always on her way out to work. Even when she didn't have to be up, she would always get out of bed at five in the morning and drink her coffee, black, as she watched the news. There is also a sass to her that I never realized she possessed until I got older. But she has a mouth on her sometimes -- not crude, just smart. She gives my sister a run for her money. Watching them go back and forth makes me smile and wish I had that same connection.

She is also so unfailingly proud of her grandchildren. Everything we've done, even if she doesn't understand it, she's there cheering us on. She has read all of my books. She asks my sister about school. She knows everything about my cousin's hockey games.

I wish I was closer to my grandmother. I think everyone always wishes that, even when they're relatively close to begin with -- we are always wondering about what more would have done for us, if it would have been enough. I wish I could explain some things I know she doesn't understand, some choices I've made and why even though they might not have made sense at the time, they were good for me. They are good for me. But again, she doesn't need to understand to support and love me. And for that, I will always be grateful.

I promise, I'm writing

A few years ago, I was churning out books so fast it made my head spin. When I started working full time, that changed. It took me a while to get used to the difference of pace and realize that just because I ceased sprinting, did not mean I chose to stand still. I am still writing, though less consistently and much slower. This is necessary both because of the time and energy I am devoting to my new job, and also because of the sacredness of my current piece.

"Sacredness," I realize, sounds dramatic. But it's the most accurate word I can use to explain it. This book, these characters, are the most me I've ever written down on paper (or screen). It's scary to see it become a thing and with so much left unwritten, I'm worried about not getting it out right. Classic first draft fear. But I am writing. I promise. I'm carving time to bring it all to life.

I wanted to share an excerpt from a chapter. There are many more significant segments of writing that have to do with the exciting bits of plot, but I like this one quite a lot. For one of the main characters, it's a flash of falling, something so big that usually happens in the smallest of times, in the plainest of moments. It's a scene of sudden, surprising surety and stillness. I've already teased a line of it, but here's more.


“Switch places with me,” Theo said.

“What?” Scottie looked behind him, next to him. “Why?”

“Do me a favor, will you? Quick.”

Eyebrows pinched, Scottie stood so Theo could take his seat. He sat back down where Theo had been sitting next to James and leaned his elbows on the tabletop, tuning back into the conversation at hand--which Lewis now controlled.

Theo waited, but it wasn’t long.

She arrived next to him, gentle, still, and silent. It was a moment that was subtle in its significance, but inevitable in its occurrence. Anticipation and relief ran through Theo’s veins. Serendipity swept through the air, bringing a chill more unshakable than the November noise raging outside. With her by his side, he experienced an anxiety like never before, but when she spoke, his nerves realigned themselves. For the first time, he settled.

“Gin, please.”

Without having heard her speak before, he was immediately familiar with the song of her voice. It was as intimate as a dream, as startling as dejavu. Already, he knew her--in the way he knew fear and pleasure, of goosebumps rising before mouths met and parted.

It was only a stuttering second, but everything changed. How impossible that something as casual as a girl ordering a drink would seem so momentous.

When he turned, she was looking at him.

Up close, she was even more unbelievable. She had hollowed cheeks and small ears that she tucked her hair behind with practiced poise. Pink and porcelain-skinned, Theo wondered what his dark hand would look like against her flushed chest, what his fingers would become if they were to run over the wings of her collarbone and slip farther down.

The solidity of the ground slipped beneath his feet. The Earth spun on without him while she was within such close proximity. Vertigo, he remembered James saying earlier. She was the cliff he stood at the edge of, inches from disaster. He’d relish the fall; it would feel like flying.

“Nice camera.”

Who tells your story?

I am a girl consumed by wanderlust. Not necessarily with regard to travel -- though believe me, there are cities and mountains and beaches I will make it a point to see before I run out of time. Mostly, my form of wanderlust is intricately tied to an on-again/off-again feeling of aimlessness with life. Aimlessness might not be the perfect word for it, but it's the closest way I can articulate it. There are some days where, even while I'm headed in a clear direction, when I'm happy with those I'm surrounded by, I still feel sort of lost and inadequate. I'm always worried if what I'm doing is right, or if what I'm doing is enough. It's that "enough" part that snags at me most.

This isn't a unique feeling. It's the human condition. Doubt and fear and the horrible, shrinking feeling of being something temporary. Life is a blip, and we are all dust floating in an ever expanding universe and the chances of us doing something memorable (let alone something that will actually be worthy of being remembered) is slim. *Cue speech from 10 Things I Hate About You.* But do you know what is also a part of the human condition? Fighting back. Denying the odds and trying to make an impact anyway. Do all that you can, as best as you can, with the time you are given. That will be enough.

From Hamilton:
But when you're gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?  
And this is why I turn to art when I find myself in a wandering/wondering state. Art always answers me, quiets me down. It's not what we leave behind that we should be concerned about; it's who we leave behind, and how we leave them. Who have we loved, who have we lost, who has lost us? What ripples do we leave, what lives have we touched?

It's not important that the entire world remembers us. "Enough" isn't necessarily a big gesture to the universe; it's not an obvious moment of impact. It's the brief exchanges with strangers, small gestures and conversations that stick with friends long after you part ways. It's the hearts you held, the gentleness with which you touched the world. It is in both the good and the bad -- the ones in between. Every connection is an impression.

I have a small circle of friends. It is high in quality, not quantity, and for that I count myself blessed. I know that each person I have in my life has left a lasting impression on me. There are a select few whom I know, no matter how much time has passed, I will always hold with me. I will tell their story in the way I live my life, carrying with me all they've taught.

The impression I hope to leave behind -- my story -- is one of courage and compassion. I want to be brave, I want to be good, and I want to do all I can with those two forces driving me. I want to be remembered one day as someone who smiled freely and loved easily. I want to be thought of as someone who, despite the odds, did not give up and never developed a callousness toward the world, even though it may have been easier to do so at times. In the end, I don't know how many people will tell my story, but I do hope it is a story worth listening to.


Stop. In all the chaos swirling over last week's events in Charlottesville, I find myself coming back to one question. And it's not the angered question about why we still have such prevalent acceptance of white supremacy in 2017, how that's even possible. It's not the question about why our president refuses to take a stance on the subject, and how anyone finds it less than laughable that speaking against Neo-Nazis is where he draws a line. It's something I thought would be more obvious, but apparently, isn't.

Why are statues of dead white men (many of which are steeped in a history of oppression and the monuments glorifying such acts/people might serve as a racist reminder that emboldens bigots and barbs those still experiencing discrimination, but you know, whatever) deemed by some to need more protection than black lives? 

They are statues. These are people's lives. How is this even a discussion anymore? Why are we even entertaining anything less than a firm and absolute condemnation of such indisputable racism and hatred -- from anyone, let alone our Commander-in-Chief?

We should be so much bigger, so much farther, than we are right now. If you have have the means and the opportunity, get out and do something about it. Every small action counts.

And if you're at all interested, let me recommend a book to you that I am currently reading -- "Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond." It is already (and this is nearly unbelievable) outdated in numbering statistics of injustices, but Marc Lamont Hill gives an excellent, impassioned account and overview of how heavy a hand the economy, and the system we have built around ourselves, discriminates against those of color, and those in poverty, while protecting and favoring white America.

Do more. Don't stop. We can be better.

Sad & Selfish

I have a really, really good life right now. It’s a life I never would have imagined possible when I was younger—a life I wouldn’t have known to even wish for because it was so far from my reality I would never have gotten my hopes up this high. Every day, I take stock of the things in my life I am lucky to have: a job I am excited about, a house that keeps me safe and comfortable, family and friends who want the best for me, a boyfriend who is the most compassionate and caring person I know. I've done more in these past few months than I have in my twenty-four years of living, and these opportunities will never be forgotten.

I take my tally of everything wonderful and have a moment of quiet gratitude. The universe didn’t have to let me have these things, but it did, I do, and I am thankful.

Which makes me feel like a garbage human when I have moments of stress, or sadness. It hit me this morning, out of the blue, with no cause. I finished my breakfast, washed my plates, and then sat there in a pool of unreasonable melancholy. And I got frustrated because 1) there was no trigger that I could point to that would have instigated any sort of sad feeling and 2) what right have I???

 Like I said above, I have a good life. I am so happy and grateful to be living the life I’m living and I never take a single second of that for granted. But sometimes that makes my more sensitive days all the more frustrating. I don’t want to waste time being sad when I have so many good things going for me. I want to be the smiling, energized Erica people like to hang out with. I don’t like who I am when I’m vulnerable or sad or anxious. I’m going to have to be okay with who I am in those moments, but it’s not easy.

I live in this strange cycle with anxiety and depression where my anxiety/depression acts up, I feel selfish for letting it act up, and then am increasingly hard on myself the longer it stays. I tried to explain it the other week like this:

 I get anxious. > I feel like a burden for being anxious, even though the other person is doing absolutely nothing to make me feel like a burden. > I’m told I’m not a burden. > I feel like more of a burden for making them feel like they made me feel like a burden.

 And so the spiral goes.

This is just another thing I’m adding to my long list of “areas needing improvement.” It’s okay to feel sad sometimes, even when I have things in my life that make me happy. It doesn’t make me a bad person, it means I need to sit down and try to figure out where that feeling is coming from. (And sometimes the answer is nowhere. Sometimes it’s the depression.)

My bigger task, though, is to work on the burden thing, because that gets me the most. I’m always worried that if I am not perfect and happy and everything people expect me to be—or what I think people expect me to be—that I’m going to eventually become too exhausting to be around. I don’t want the moments I have hard times to become too heavy for someone else to carry, so I’ve always carried it all on my own. It’s difficult to remember I can share part of that load, now. I’m getting better, but there’s still a far way to go.

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