How it all shakes out

Flourish Vol. 42

Hello from this brave new world, post-2020 presidential election. I suppose we’re technically not done and dusted quite yet, what with Arizona and Georgia taking their sweet time (as they should!) and, you know, the sitting president still refusing to concede his loss. But the future, for the first time in such a long time, holds some degree of certainty. And it feels damn good.

The past four years have been some of the hardest, happiest, most consequential of my life, and so the parallels before us now are easy enough to draw, to hope to wrap this chapter up neatly, seal it up tightly and and shove it away forever in the furthest reaches of my mind.

Even after four years of weathering the president’s daily attacks on immigrants, women, people of color, scientists, world leaders, and the media, even though I could cover the cyclical absurdity of Donald Trump’s presidency in my sleep, the idea of 2016 repeating itself on this election night made me more hopeless than I could even express. And still, we prepared for every outcome.

We spent four days straight waiting for the results to trickle in, for a call to be made, my eyes blurring from cycling through tweets and maps and posts and polls for hours on end, stress eating and chugging caffeine and flinching ever so slightly at every push alert. And in the waiting, I felt a mix of emotions: tentative optimism, but also anger and disappointment that so many states were too close to call, that this election was even close at all. I thought I’d been prepared for the country’s reaction to four years of Trump’s presidency, but it seemed that like the last go around, I might’ve over-extended my benefit of the doubt to the rest of this society.

We braced ourselves for the possibility that this could drag on for a week. And then, on the fifth day, after my first restful night’s sleep since election day, the morning I was meant to leave for a getaway to recharge before potentially another election week, just like that it was over. A flurry of push alerts, and a new president-elect. My mind reeled for a minute, barely allowing me to accept this new reality. I texted my friends, shook my boyfriend awake, felt elation, an exhalation, exhaustion. I felt, for the first time in years, justified in my hope, though it had come to feel more like naivety, and had lately dimmed to barely more than a flicker.

I am susceptible to the suspicion that happiness is some sort of trap, and in the past four years that’s loomed more heavily than ever, so it was genuinely surreal to see people celebrating in the streets, honking horns and dancing on cars and giddily hosing each other with champagne. Between Trump and a never-ending pandemic that’s left us isolated from most of the things we love most, public joy had taken a hiatus in recent memory. So this weekend was the respite we needed; a meteor shower in a very dark night. I felt a slight pang of FOMO at not being in a city for this historic moment, or with my friends, to celebrate the end of something that had taken up a good part of our twenties, but group texts and Zooms and celebratory Instagram stories managed to fill some of that void. I felt my heart swell seeing people overwhelmed with such happiness, seeing goodness and justice and hopefulness win out, at least for now. Because god knows we all needed a win, the reassurance that there was something better to believe in, after all.

Much to my surprise, what’s been mostly a waking nightmare of a year has somehow managed to redeem itself slightly in the eleventh hour. I left a city where I was no longer happy and in doing so completely changed my financial future, finally had a life-changing surgery, and met someone so aligned with who I was searching for, it makes me believe in all that manifestation stuff (just a little.)

Of course, there’s still so much work to do, and this is only the beginning of the end of the last four years. Trump still has not conceded. We’ve just hit 10 million COVID cases in the US, and we’re heading into a very dark winter. But for the first time in so long, I’m feeling hopeful that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel after all.

Some things that have sustained me through the election cycle/Daylight Saving Time/never-ending quarantine:

Anyway, this is about as much energy as my brain can muster at the moment, so I’m going to end my free-writing on this surreal reality here, and hope you’re taking some time to take it all in, too.

Keep faith in the future ✨

-Olivia

Somewhere between

Flourish Vol. 41

Hi again, from somewhere between. Between injured and healed, between my old body and new, my former life and what’s still to come. It’s in the weather, in the foggy mornings and the golden afternoons. It’s in the air, in this sense that we are idling in the gray hours, about to tilt into the unknown, into a pandemic winter and post-election America. The equally likely possibilities that everything and nothing might soon change, and there’s nothing left to do but wait (and vote — please, for the love of god vote.)

Before I get too ramble-y, I have to thank everyone who read my last newsletter, which was both my most personal and most read to date — a combination of outcomes I never could have anticipated. The response was overwhelming and heart warming and more love and support than I ever expected, really and truly. I heard from people I had not spoken to in years, people for whom I assumed my life was of no consequence, or my specific journey would not resonate. It’s made me so happy to think that sharing my experience might help someone else feel more informed about making the same decision, one way or another, in their own life. 

(One of the nicest compliments anyone’s ever given me and truly the energy I’m trying to manifest)

And of course, this seal of approval from my #1 Flourish fan:

So thank you, for being a part of this journey with me; it made the roughest days of my recovery so much more bearable.

Overall, I was incredibly fortunate to have a very stress-free few weeks of recuperating, filled with board games and binging The Haunting of Bly Manor (seriously, watch it) with my favorite people. But finally, after what felt like both a few minutes and a few years, it was time to rip the band-aid off and resurface to reality, whatever that means anymore.

I’ve found myself grappling with writer’s block lately, only able to write in fragments and scraps I tuck away to make sense of someday. My attention span has dwindled; I find myself hopscotching from one activity to the next, with so little captivating my interest for very long anymore. Life right now is exhausting, and overwhelming, and sorrowful and surreal and achingly beautiful at times. I feel a bit like a snail without a shell, all my nerve endings exposed and fried from Zoom fatigue, declining calls from friends and wanting only to retreat inward, to hibernate, fast-forward through all of this to the world that waits after. Because it has to be better, right?

My colleague Addy was able to summarize this feeling so succinctly, in a way that seemed to resonate with so many:

It has, of course, already been a year of trading one reality for the hope that another might be slightly better. A year of sacrifices, though I recognize I have it much easier than most. There are things about my life in Oregon that are objectively much better than my life was in Los Angeles; and there have been, inevitably, things that are worse, or absent entirely. I have become numb in some ways to this pandemic slog, but every now and again it hits me, how strange it all is, a static shock to my brain that makes my breath catch in my throat. The realization that I now live a state away from my coworkers and closest friends. The memories of tightly packed concerts and drunken nights out and spontaneous trips that all feel like another lifetime now. These days, I flinch when people sit too close to one another on TV.

I used to firmly believe I was quick to adapt. I adapted to lockdown and working from home, as so many of us did, to our strange new precautions and social interactions, to crises at work, isolation, anxiety about my health, to virtual yoga and game nights, to a state of mind where all my future plans fell away. But there was always the hope that kept me going, that normalcy would eventually return. That this was temporary. But as we head into the darkness of winter, into political uncertainty, into a future I have no grasp of, I’m not so sure anymore.

I feel like I am so desperately looking for smoke signals that this will all be okay; in the news and in expert analyses, in art and history and therapy and the stars and clinging tightly to the people I love. I am trying to keep my head above water each and every day. I am learning to live in the moment, because it’s truly the only guarantee. The future is a roll of the dice and the past is a useless map in these unprecedented times (how long, exactly, do we get to keep saying that before they become precedented?)

So instead of the predictions and polls and speculation and racing thoughts in my head about things over which I have no control, I am learning to be in the present, to trust what is, to take what comes. Writing is the one thing I have always understood, and my recent writer’s block — and subsequent onslaught of inspiration to get back to it — has reminded me that you can’t force it, can’t fake it, can’t put it on a schedule. It happens when it happens, and I’m learning, little by little, to trust the timing of it all.


Recommendations:

If you need a boost of serotonin and miss travel as much as I do, give My Octopus Friend a watch. It’ll restore your faith in humanity for a little while, and make you want to book a trip to South Africa as soon as this is all over // I thoroughly enjoyed Hulu’s Monsterland, and while not every episode was a hit for me, “Plainfield, Illinois” absolutely destroyed me. Watch it when you need a good cry. // Oh how I’ve been loving the poetry of Louise Glück, this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature:

“We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.”


I had discovered the YouTuber itsblitzzz about a year ago (I may have mentioned her in a previous newsletter) and despite being incredibly beautiful/stylish/cool and the type of Angeleno lifestyle vlogger I would’ve normally found insufferably pretentious, something about Julia’s personality just radiated no bullshit-authenticity and immediately put me at ease. I discovered her via her ASMR videos, but soon became a fan of her lifestyle content as well, through which she offers tips and tricks for a more conscientious approach to cleaning, eating, and mindfulness that doesn’t feel preachy.

So imagine my surprise when I opened YouTube today to see Julia had posted a collab with none other than Miss Phoebe Bridgers herself. Truly a colliding of worlds I didn’t know I needed. I’d completely missed this Pitchfork article from June in which Phoebe cites ASMR, and specifically Julia (who she calls a “hipster wellness witch,”) as inspiration for her latest album, Punisher.

“I have been watching ASMR videos since I was a teenager, before they were all that. They were called “whisper” videos back then. I was doing a school paper on the lymphatic system and I stumbled upon all these weird massage videos that were specifically for people to fall asleep to. I would watch them for hours at the school library.”

I too discovered ASMR back when I was in high school — if not earlier — before it was all that (I take a strange pride in being an early evangelist of it), before I even knew it had a name. It was this paralyzing, all-consuming sense of calm, and yes, “tingles.” I loved to sit in quiet libraries, listening to people speak in hushed tones or rustle papers. I loved to watch the incredibly dated VHS tapes my mother rented to learn knitting, or the educational videos they’d play for us in school, or the staticky public access television that aired in the early hours of the morning. My most reliable source of ASMR, though, long before the now countless YouTube channels dedicated to it, was public radio, and so it was fitting that an episode of This American Life was what finally gave my ASMR a name.

Over the years I’ve encountered my share of ASMR skeptics, or people who argue that it’s somehow sexual. And much to my frustration, there are plenty of ASMR channels looking to capitalize on views that do nothing to dispute this. But it has always been one of the few things that has quieted the din of the world around me, an automatic response from my brain that I truly can’t control and wouldn’t want to anyway, and I’m so happy to see other creative, introspective people speaking about its influence in their life.

Plus, it makes me so happy to see the usually-stoic Phoebe Bridgers smile.

Anyway, those are probably most of my thoughts for now. Oh, and if you’re in a state with early voting please do it. Like, NOW!

Godspeed, we’ll get through this.

-Olivia

The weight of what's lost

Flourish Vol. 40

Red September skies // a garden visit a few days pre-op // a beautiful birthday bouquet

Where do I even start with the past few weeks, with a September that will likely be seared into my mind forever for reasons both wonderful and terrible? Oregon burned with wildfires that spread like infection, and the sky turned a red I’ve never seen before and hope to never see again. At least three children died in the fires across the Northwest, one apparently attempting to save his grandmother from the blaze. My heart breaks for their parents, for the now 200,000-plus people who have been lost to COVID-19, for the injustice done to Breonna Taylor, for the death and indomitable life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For the national unrest many fear is just weeks away

And in this same September, trying with all my might to keep my head above water, I have turned 27, chopped off most of my hair — accepting once and for all that I am not suited for the upkeep of anything longer than my shoulders — and finally undergone a procedure I have wanted since I was 17, laying to rest something that began eating away at me many years before that still.

I debated whether to be open about this experience because, well, a woman’s breasts are supposed to be private, aren’t they? But then they’ve never really been private for me, or at least it felt like that was a choice I never fully got to make. And if this year has taught me anything, it’s that pain is universal, and valid no matter how seemingly small, and there is nothing more important we can do to heal ourselves than to be honest about the things that break us into pieces. So here goes nothing, or everything, in all its awkwardness and vulnerability.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my distinct horror at beginning to develop in the fourth grade, wearing my mother’s underwire bras at age 10, learning the word “voluptuous” because a boy who had a crush on me insisted upon using it in a poem he wrote to flatter me. I was not so much openly bullied as less-than-discretely gossiped about and slyly derided, by boys and girls, teachers and other adults alike, whose gaze inevitably found its way to my chest before my face. I felt, suddenly, that I could no longer turn to the people I thought I could trust, to reassure me that the body I hadn’t asked for and hated with a fury didn’t make me a freak.  

Those years of puberty were relentless and mortifying and changed the way I saw myself in a rather catastrophic fashion. I gave up on soccer and track — not that I could find sports bras that fit, even if I’d wanted to keep enduring those activities — as well as the bathing suits and formal dresses and candy-colored bras that might have made me feel an inkling of pride in my changing body. Instead, I felt it had betrayed me.

I began to dress, as my high school best friend never let me forget, aggressively conservatively, in necklines above my collarbones, oversized sweaters and coats, determined to be the “smart girl” rather than “the one with the boobs.” As if the two were mutually exclusive. When I developed an eating disorder in high school, one that caused my body to rapidly shrink and then expand, I was first and foremost lucky to survive. But the body I was left with after the weight returned was unmistakably not the same one I had lived in before. Sometimes I blamed myself for that.

For many years, my issues with my breasts were superficial. All of the clothes and bathing suits and bras I convinced myself I could never wear; I loathed the way I looked in photos, was a late bloomer when it came to dating. I watched my twenties slip by and felt immense shame and premature regret at never being able to embrace my body fully.

But as I grew older, the physical issues cropped up with a vengeance: the back pain, the strain on my soft tissue, the knot at the base of my neck from permanently hunching, treated more and more consistently with ibuprofen or leftover painkillers when the discomfort became unbearable. Exercising was a chore, intimacy at times was fraught (due entirely to my own festering insecurity.) I’d always heard that I’d find a man who loved the way I looked (as if that were an issue — and if it was, I’d never gotten any complaints.) That I would be unable to breastfeed my hypothetical children (which I was uncertain I wanted at all and — again — where exactly did my happiness factor into these scenarios about my own body?)

With each passing year, I began to think more and more seriously about a breast reduction, but with the demands of college and then a career, plus the sizable cost of surgery due to the fact that my insurance refused to assess my pain based on anything other than grams of breast tissue, the timing never seemed right. It felt increasingly impossible, like a pipe dream, like something that would only happen for a more-perfect version of myself living in some parallel universe.

Then, the pandemic hit, and underneath all of its heartache, it offered a silver lining in the form of a year of remote work, the chance to exchange my LA rent for some time spent living with my parents, and my mother home to care for me, too.

After years of discomfort and dissatisfaction with my body, I knew I had reached a juncture: the time had come to decide whether this was something I would do in my lifetime, and to make peace with my decision either way, once and for all. And when I realized that the idea of never doing this broke my heart, that was all the confirmation I needed.

This has been a terrible, godawful, no good, shitty year for just about everyone I know, collectively and personally, but it has offered me this one merciful reprieve. With the caveat, of course, that I must endure significant pain to finally inhabit the body I always felt I was meant to have. But, one day post-surgery, I am already certain that it was worth every dime, every stitch, every ounce of pain and minute I spent waiting to finally get here.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and support I’ve received from those I chose to tell, by the patience and care from my mother as I make my recovery, and by the work of the incredible medical team who made this dream my reality. As personal of a decision as this was, I was never alone in it, and I am beyond grateful for that. And so ready for this new beginning, my whole lifetime in the making.

-Olivia

Burning

Flourish Vol. 39

We’re in the thick of it now; the slow burn of a dying summer, whack-a-mole fires and heat waves roiling the West Coast. I thought maybe I’d migrated far enough north to outrun it, but the smoke found me here, too, choking the horizon, turning this valley into a dust bowl and tinging the sun an eerie martian red I’ve only ever seen in California.

The days lately feel more indicative of the apocalypse than before, a thousand concurrent crises bombarding our senses incessantly. On weekends I find myself withdrawing from social media — and certainly the news —almost entirely, coddling myself in a willful, blissful ignorance for a too-brief window of mental oblivion. I feel my coping mechanisms failing, and falling short, as we approach the six-month marker of this alternate reality, since a time before any of this was normal. I find myself missing the same stupid, insipid things I did in the beginning, but now they are feelings, rather than thoughts, they are yearnings rather than words I say out loud. The parts that make this human experience worthwhile at all. Communal meals and crashing on couches, live music and tightly-packed bars, the energy pulsing like an electrical current through your feet. Sneaking kisses and glances and uncontrollable giggles emboldened by a slight buzz, stopping to see friends and family unannounced, trying on life in countries outside this one. Something like nostalgia for the way life used to be, for things we didn’t know we’d ever have to miss.

So I’ll take the wins where I can get them; a good day at work, a much-needed call with a friend, my music and animals and freshly-dyed hair and the dew in the night air. Currently, I’m riding high off a wine-fueled Bath and Body Works haul of candles with names like “Flannel” and “Cider Lane”, heralding the arrival of my favorite time of the year. Next weekend, we’ll drape the porch with autumnal garland and pumpkins, and the nights will turn colder, and then I’ll turn 27. Growing older is always a little bittersweet, but of course it’s hard not to feel like this was a lost year; for our country, for our world, and selfishly, for me, for my 26, whatever it might’ve been.

This has been a hard year, of growing pains and broken bones, of stark realizations, abrupt endings, death in the family, the bottom of everything falling out. I am constantly warring between gratitude and pity, between realizing that I am one of the lucky ones, and yet this is no way to live. But the flames are to the ceiling, and I have reached the point of feeling that maybe everything needs to burn down to nothing, to just the foundation of who I know myself to be. In a couple more weeks, I’ll have my second surgery of the year, one that has been many more years in the making. Something I thought would remain just slightly out of reach forever, always impossible had my life not fallen apart in the exact right way. And so I am taking the wins where I can, and tilting into the unknown with as much faith as I can muster.


Reads and recommendations:

Despite my usual avoidance of anything politics or news-adjacent during my off hours, I finally spent a night watching Knock Down The House, which had been sitting in my Netflix queue forever. It’s primarily about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s first run for Congress, but also profiles the campaigns of other new progressive candidates, and is just as relevant as ever. It was fascinating to watch her campaign from beginning (she was nominated by her brother for an organization that scouts new progressive candidates) to end (beating an incumbent Democratic who hadn’t had a challenger in 19 years, becoming the youngest women to ever serve in Congress, etc.) If you aren’t already in awe of her story, go ahead and give this a watch.

This story by Jesmyn Ward, about sudden personal loss colliding with collective heartache, is just such a sobering dispatch from a year of relentless grief:

“Witness Black people, Indigenous people, so many poor brown people, lying on beds in frigid hospitals, gasping our last breaths with COVID-riddled lungs, rendered flat by undiagnosed underlying conditions, triggered by years of food deserts, stress, and poverty, lives spent snatching sweets so we could eat one delicious morsel, savor some sugar on the tongue, oh Lord, because the flavor of our lives is so often bitter.” -On Witness and Respair: A Personal Tragedy Followed by a Pandemic


This week’s Why Won’t You Date Me is worth a listen — or two // "Driving around town, it looks like Portland always does, with a super fun Covid twist. But that in itself is an inherently Portland trait: we are a city of surface-level peace, of surface-level liberalism, of surface-level safety. But you don't have to dig that hard to expose the under-layer: this is a state founded on white supremacy, and it shows.” // College is everywhere now // “The social industry doesn’t just eat our time with endless stimulus and algorithmic scrolling; it eats our time by creating and promoting people who exist only to be explained to, people to whom the world has been created anew every morning, people for whom every settled sociological, scientific, and political argument of modernity must be rehashed, rewritten, and re-accounted, this time with their participation.” WOWZA. //


Outside my window the wind is whipping through the clay-colored dusk and our lights have flickered a few times, so I’ve lit a candle and queued up the musician I associate most with the end of the world: Father John Misty. I’m glad he’s returned with a couple more ballads to croon for us as this Titanic sinks.

‘I had a dream and you were in it’ / Was all you had to say

Stay safe, keep dreaming.

-Olivia

Uproot

Flourish Vol. 38

Listen, I didn’t intend to go this long between newsletters, but life has a way of getting in the way. Between a nearly 1,000-mile move, covering back-to-back political conventions, and some unforeseen circumstances with my family, coming home hasn’t been the immediate reprieve from stress I was hoping for. But it has been wonderful, in a lot of quiet and beautiful ways, and so this newsletter will mostly be a ramble about what these past few weeks have looked like for me, experiencing life again in the place where I grew up.

Is it just me, or is August vanishing like ice cream left to melt in the sun? I love autumn, but I’m acutely aware that each passing day is bringing us closer to a fall and winter that feel ominous in an unfamiliar way. Since leaving California, I’m having to remind not to take the sun for granted, as it sets earlier and earlier each night. The last time I saw rain in California — my beloved state now vanquished with fire — was in the early days of the pandemic, but in the past week we’ve had a few storms here, turning the sky a steel gray and the pavement black, and already I’ve noticed the trees turning colors, from verdant greens to soft coppers and golds.

I’ve always loved Oregon summers, and in the warm air there’s a familiarity that envelopes me like a security blanket and sets me so quickly at ease, overwhelmed by a sense of peace in the stillness. The breeze that sounds like the ocean through the towering trees, the fiery sunsets like watercolors streaking into the night, the sprawling golden fields and diamond-studded nights skies in which the dippers are always visible; all things I took for granted as a kid, and devoured hungrily whenever I could steal away to them as an adult. Though there is little of the glamor omnipresent in my Los Angeles life, there is room to breathe and space to clear my head. There is the chance to get reacquainted with myself, to lean into the person I’ve always wanted to be.

Here, there are endless golden hours, old haunts, familiar faces, and of course, a flock of adorable creatures to keep me company. I feel less like I’ve uprooted and more like I’ve returned to my roots, that life has come full circle in a way I couldn’t have anticipated but probably was always fated to experience.

I’m not sure the finality of leaving LA has hit me quite yet, but when it does I’ll be happy to have the photos I took before leaving my apartment, which had become such a special part of my life in that city and my oasis from the world so many years (and, of course, fostered my transition into a plant lady.)

But I firmly believe that not all endings are sad ones; closing that door for the last time I knew in my bones that then was the right time to leave, I felt at peace with the life I’d lived there, and ready to embrace whatever comes next.

As we took these pictures, my friend told me she felt like she was taking my author photo, and you know what: that is the exact energy I’m trying to manifest the hell out of right now! Good things are coming.


Recommendations:

The irony that I’ve finally given into watching Selling Sunset after leaving LA is not lost on me, but it’s the perfect distraction from real life, and offers just the right amount of drama without feeling totally contrived. First off, team Chrishell all the way: she’s smart, sweet, and stands her ground — a woman after my own heart! But I will say, the way in which Christine is absolutely, unapologetically herself (yes, to a fault) is lowkey inspirational, too. I contain multitudes!

I may have teared up at Joe Biden’s closing speech at the DNC last night, and the convention’s virtual roll call was a god damn delight. And of course, Michelle Obama and Maggie Rogers and Jennifer Hudson were among the many highlights of the whole thing.

I am currently in mail-forwarding purgatory and terrified that Trump’s war on the USPS will only make things worse — and actually affect people who rely on the mail for medications and things they need to, ya know, live!! // As colleges move classes online, families rebel against the cost // Why the cost of camping gear can be a barrier to entry for diversity in the outdoors // On the nightmare that is dropshipping (related: I recently stumbled upon a show about people who buy mystery boxes of goods that get returned to Amazon in order to resell the items and it’s an entire sub-industry I was completely unaware of.) //

I am sending so many thoughts to California right now:

And a portrait of me, most days since March:

My music tastes have been sort of all over the board lately, but these are two songs that have made me particularly happy.

I was feeling a little down in the dumps this week and really struggling to write, but desperately willing myself to stay positive. Then, out of the blue, I got this message from a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while, and it meant so much to me to hear, to realize that my perception of myself is not always the reality, and reminded me that I am so fortunate to have so many caring and compassionate people in my orbit in this life.

(For the record, they are getting along! A small miracle.)

Right now, I feel like I’m existing, absolutely reverberating, on the cusp of something, some precipice, whatever it may be. And I’m choosing to have faith in the future, though I have no idea what the rest of my life — or for that matter tomorrow, or the next hour — holds. And for the first time, I’m learning to be okay with it. Because from uncertainty there comes the opportunity — the necessity — to make choices, and I am so ready to make the decisions that will transform my reality into something my past self couldn’t have even imagined. It’s that hope that sustains me, and I hope you believe in the good things waiting just around the corner, too.

-Olivia

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