All sorts of exciting things

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It’s been more than two years since my last blog update, and though I don’t plan on resurrecting this old, embarrassingly dated platform of mine, I figured I would share two major life updates: two weeks ago, I got married after a nearly 1.5 year engagement, and we went on our honeymoon to Bali right after the big day. We chose Bali because we figured we would never get a chance to visit it again, and it offers so much by way of beauty, spirituality, and history. It’s hard to believe how much has happened in the last 17 days or so. We have felt overjoyed, relieved, and wiped out the whole experience. We have never had so much action packed into such a small time frame before.

The wedding

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As I’ve told a few close friends, I don’t know that having a 1.5 year engagement was the best move for my mental health. The first year, I was content with the planning process and always in the mood to talk about my engagement, but it really dragged on those last six months, and you start to feel like you’re putting your life on hold until after the wedding. Ian and I once joked that we needed to make an “After the Wedding” to-do list of all of the things we wanted to experience but couldn’t explore because our nuptials sucked up all our energy and free time. Hobbies, meetups with friends, interests all take a back seat to making sure you have everything in order for your wedding. On the day before my wedding, I went to the Dog Café with a few friends, and when they started telling strangers that I was getting married on Saturday, all I wanted to say was, “I came here to play with puppies, I don’t want to answer the same boring questions about my wedding right now.”
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It’s what I’d like to call Wedding Conversation Fatigue, which I think stemmed from having such a long nuptials process. If I could do it over, I would have rather tied the knot within a year or nine months of getting engaged, but because our engagement was in December 2015 and almost all of our favorite LA venues were booked up for 2016 by then, it wouldn’t have been possible to have had the wedding we wanted within 12 months. Regardless, it was an unforgettable day, and we do think the effort we put into it was evident to our guests.
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People are right, however, when they say your wedding goes by in a flash and that you don’t notice all of the details you’ve been visualizing for however long you’ve been engaged. For example, I didn’t really get to soak up the look of the decorations because I was busy with photos and talking to people from the moment I got to our venue, but that is exactly what our incredible photographers and videographers were there for! I can’t wait to see how they captured the day. All I know was that I was so relieved to see my husband Ian by the time we did our first look because I had been stressing about little things as usual prior to our big reveal. No one can calm me down like Ian can, and being with him right then was such a blessing. Believe it or not, Ian and I aren’t particularly comfortable with tons of eyes on us, so I think we were a little awkward at the beginning of the evening, but as the event progressed and we got in those signature His and Hers drinks, we were enjoying ourselves as we had always hoped to on this day.
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I don’t want to come off as too negative, but I do have another significant regret to share, if nothing else so I can better prepare readers who might consider getting married someday. After we got engaged, people who had already gotten married told me not to rule out hiring a wedding planner. One woman said that no matter how much time I would have to dedicate to my big day, it would still be much easier to have a planner by my side. Additionally, planners may also pay for themselves in that they save you money on vendors, as they know so many through their work. I was closed minded about the idea of a planner because I thought I would ultimately overspend with one, and Ian and I also wanted the wedding to feel like ours and not what someone else thought our event should be like. Still, I think having a full-on planner as opposed to a month of coordinator could have spared me a lot of anxious mornings, rants to friends and colleagues, and  wedding nightmares. I also think some of the stresses leading up to the day detracted from the joy of it all, and at certain points in our engagement, the wedding was all Ian and I ever talked about. Don’t do that. Never forget why you’re with the person in the first place. All I ever wanted was to be with Ian, and when I would remind myself of this when wedding details clouded my thoughts, everything seemed to make a little more sense.
Planning this day totally on our own entailed managing thousands of email exchanges and dozens of phone calls, and I would sometimes have to tell vendors to please not call me unannounced during work hours. Ian and I would sometimes get home from our jobs totally spent from our professional demands, only to have to look over our rentals list for the millionth time or mull over artists that should play during our cocktail hour.
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In any case, everything worked out. On the Friday before our wedding, we were elated to see so many of our loved ones and family members in the same room. All of the stress melted away by the rehearsal dinner, which one of my hilarious young nephews posted about on social media. Seeing all my nieces and nephews interact, relatives talk, and best friends around one table put me in a great mood. I talked so much at that dinner that my voice was hoarse on the morning of our wedding, but that didn’t matter. We were surrounded by an abundance of love and support.
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As you’ll read from my honeymoon notes below, Ian and I are very happy in any circumstance as long as we’re together. Whether we’re downing tropical beverages at a resort that feels like a world away from our home, or sharing an entire Meat Jesus pizza in our DTLA apartment, we’re happy as long as we’re both doing it as a pair. We seem to be happiest, however, when we are relaxing on our couch, so we enjoyed a lot of TV and food time the day after our wedding, eating whenever we felt like it and not following any sort of meal schedule. We caught up on “Silicon Valley” and re-watched John Mulaney’s Netflix special in which he discusses marriage. That special is one of the reasons Ian proposed to me when he did: Mulaney highlights the benefits of calling his significant other his wife versus his girlfriend. If it weren’t for that comedy show, Ian might have waited a little longer to pop the question.

 

Being married is incredible, and it’s such a relief for the both of us because we can just be ourselves again. Ian and I want to resume some of our favorite hobbies and activities now that we don’t have wedding on the brain anymore: seeing concerts at The Echo, working our way through Anthony Bourdain’s cookbooks again, going on runs together and doing muscle exercises in our apartment, hiking, hanging out in Palm Springs, playing Cribbage, seeing our favorite comedians, etc. We love our lives together and are thrilled the weekends don’t have to be eaten up by cake tastings, wedding dance lessons, and dress fittings ever again.

The honeymoon

Ian and I scrambled to pack our bags, clean our apartment, open gifts, and write thank you notes before heading for Bali very early on the Tuesday after our wedding. Our trip was planned by my mom’s best friend in the world Debbie, who is truly the greatest travel agent in the business. When we started working with her, I asked if it would be an issue that my passport would be valid for just over six months during my trip to Bali. Debbie said that this still met Indonesia’s requirements for visitors and that all would be well. And it was.

 

But an Eva Airlines representative at LAX instilled some serious passport anxiety in me that didn’t ease up I was granted entrance into Bali at customs about 24 hours later. The airline rep in LA told me that I was cutting it way too close with my passport and that I should have renewed prior to planning my trip. I explained that this would have been expensive, time-consuming, and pointless since I would be changing my last name later on down the road and would prefer to renew my passport after going through that process. Suddenly I felt angry that the airline had been eager to take my money after reviewing my passport details at ticket purchase, but now felt the need to scare me. Was I at risk of flying all the way to Indonesia only to be turned away upon arrival? The stress and sleep deprivation from wedding week came rushing forward and I started to cry before we went through security at the Tom Bradley section of the airport. Ian, as usual, assured me that everything would be fine and that I still met Indonesia’s requirements for a trip, even if I was barely making the cut.

 

Getting to Bali required two substantial flights, the first of which was longer than the other. It took roughly 13 hours to fly to Taipei, Taiwan, which has the fanciest airport we had ever seen. The bathrooms actually have a screen that enables you to rank the cleanliness of the space using Facebook reactions. There are signs by the sink telling you to dry off your hands so you don’t get water on the floor. There are no stores with books, water bottles, and snacks in the international terminal, just high end stores, a fact that we found charming at the beginning of our trip but frustrating at the end (I’ll get to that later). You may as well be walking through a mall. We landed in Taipei at around 6:15 a.m., just in time for our morning coffee. Ian ordered his usual espresso and I got a latte. We were so entranced by the sparkling conditions of the airport that our exhaustion from the first flight didn’t bother us.

 

As we shared a bowl of noodles next to a Gloria Jean’s coffee shop, Ian, a fairly mild-mannered person, screamed “holy shit” in his seat.

 

“Trump fired Comey.”

 

This was a stunning development to the both of us, and we both continued following the U.S. news cycle throughout our honeymoon.

 

The trip to Denpasar was about six hours for us. When we stepped outside with the tour guide Debbie found for us, we were greeted by hot, muggy weather. I smiled instantly, thinking back on the humid summer days I spent in France for two years in my early twenties. Whenever we got into the tour guide’s car, we were given a cold, scented cloth to use on our faces, as well as fresh bottles of Oasis water. These weren’t just glamorous perks. They were crucial in cooling us down in really hot weather.

 

We spent the first three nights of our trip in Jimbaran Bay, which experienced a massive terrorist attack eleven years ago. When asked about Bali terrorism in the early 2000s, our tour guide said that it severely set the island back. He and many others were out of work for a year, as tourism creates so many jobs there. Though certain people warned us about terrorism in Bali when we booked our trip, we felt nothing but safe there. We were shown kindness and gratitude from everyone. You get the sense that people are thankful you chose their home for your holiday, as opposed to annoyed by your presence.

 

On our second day in Jimbaran Bay, we decided to visit Padang Padang Beach, which Ian read about in the travel books from his family. The hotel set us up with a taxi, and we thought the driver would simply take us to our destination and part ways with us then. But he had other ideas. This guy said it would be tough for us to hitch a ride back to the hotel from the beach, so he vowed to wait for us for however long we wanted to spend at the water and then take us somewhere to get lunch. We agreed even though it seemed odd for us to have a driver wait around like that. The beach itself was hot and crowded with very tan, fit Europeans and Australians. Ian and I stayed underneath an umbrella with some Bintang beers the whole time. I didn’t want to get sunburned or squeeze past all the people to stick my feet in the water. Plus, I’m very pale and sunburn easily, so I have to be extra careful with my skin. By the end of the trip, our six bottles of sunscreen were pretty much totally empty.
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After the beach trip, our driver took us to a restaurant that served fresh chicken and pork. He recommended the place, and because we had no other ideas in mind, we went there. Then we wanted to get back to the hotel, but he kept insisting that we do some other things along the way: visit this cool coffee shop and get a massage. We had zero interest in either of these suggestions. It’s hard to think about drinking coffee when you’re covered in a film of sweat thanks to 90 degree humid weather. I also can’t do massages because a previous one left me with muscle pains nearly six months afterward. We divulged this to the driver, who didn’t seem to want to hear it.

 

“You probably just didn’t get a good massage when you got hurt,” he said. “It would be nice if you both would support the location economy by going to these places, but if you don’t want to do that, I understand. It’s your holiday.”

 

By this point, I was seething because Ian had also mentioned to the driver that we wanted to eat at a restaurant called Sardines in Seminyak that night, and we had agreed to let him take us there.

 

“This is why we can’t tell people our plans,” I told Ian once we were back at the hotel. “Now we’re stuck with this guy for the rest of the day.”
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Though the haggling got to be a bit much for us, we understood where the man was coming from. My friend Crystal’s fiancé Colin once told me that a lot of people in other countries sometimes work together to get business from tourists, so it’s likely that this driver knows people at the restaurant he recommended and the coffee shop and massage place. If we were more interested in massages and coffee shops, perhaps we would have visited them, but we really wanted to do this trip on our own terms.

 

It took more than an hour to get from Jimbaran Bay to Seminyak that night. Like LA, Bali has a traffic problem, but Bali has fewer roads. Many people there ride motorbikes to deal with the congestion, and the freeways don’t have lines on the ground to indicate different lanes. People don’t drive fast though, and you don’t see a lot of road rage. LA is a hostile traffic city, whereas everyone in Bali seems to want to work together to get through the clogged madness of the roads.
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One thing I noticed as soon as we left the airport was that dogs seem to hang out near the street a lot. Sometimes, they’re sleeping right next to the road, and cars have to honk at them to wake up. I was told that many of these dogs can roam Bali like cats and know how to get home on their own at the end of each day. They’re nothing like the pups you see in the U.S. Many dogs here can’t be near the street without a leash on because they’ll bolt in front of cars. These canines coexist with our vehicles. Some Bali dogs have gimps, likely from getting hit from time to time.
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You have to be really careful, however, around dogs in Bali. If they don’t have collars on, that means that they haven’t been vaccinated. This means they might have rabies. Dogs in Bali don’t really lick people as a sign of affection because of the fear of spreading diseases, and the government is allowed to shoot them in the street if they don’t have a collar around their necks. These dogs don’t really look like the ones we’re used to in the states, either. To me, many of them have the appearance of hyenas, and sometime you’ll see them walking around with tumors or bloated breasts from pregnancy. You can see their rib cages if they’re malnourished, and some are really dirty. Our guide told us that dogs are very important to people in Bali though, and that they can also keep the villages safe.

 

“If people love their dogs and don’t want them to get killed by authorities, why don’t they just inoculate them?” I asked Ian one day.

 

“Look around,” he said, noting that Bali has a lot of poverty. “Do you think they’re going to drive their dogs all the way to a clinic and get shots? They may not be able to afford this.”

 

Ian was spot on. Some of the villages in Bali don’t have running water. On our drives through the countryside, we saw a number of people bathing in little rivers and carrying heavy loads on their heads. It was quite a contrast for us to see so many impoverished villages throughout the day and then go back to our resorts. Like stray dogs, chickens and roosters are often slinking through the streets as well, and there are piles of trash in both the city and wilderness. We witnessed a few fires on our various drives. This is how some people dispose of their trash.
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Our tour guide aimed to give us the full portrait of Bali: the gorgeous views of beaches from the top of cliffs to the many poverty-striken villages. Towards the end of our trip, he took us to a very poor fisherman’s bay with black sand. There was trash along the beach, and we looked like we didn’t belong. Stupidly, I had on my pink heart-shaped sunglasses, which made a pudgy little boy point and laugh at me while I reluctantly posed for photo by a boat. He was playing with another kid wearing a red Coca Cola t-shirt. To ease some of the tension, I smiled and waved at the children.

 

“Hello!” the chubby one said. “Good morning!”
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The bay was a steamy, bustling space where people prepared the fish for distribution. The air was a thick cocktail of smoke from the workers cooking and the unmistakable smell of seafood. Ian and I really did seem out of place among the tireless workers plugging away in the heat, many of them eyeing us suspiciously. Though our guide was well-intentioned in showing us all parts of Bali, I couldn’t help feeling in that moment that maybe he should have considered the fact that we weren’t wanted there. We were disturbing these people while they worked in non-tourist territory. We bought some salt from the ladies with sun-wrecked skin working outside the market, so that seemed to help. We also took pictures of the few cats we saw during our stay in Bali.
We came to a broken road on the way back from a village visit one afternoon (more on that later). Several roads were battered by a mudslide from more than six months ago, and they aren’t going to be fixed anytime soon. There is also some construction on a few of the dirt roads, and the maintenance can lead to a lot of backup on the roads. When we got stuck in traffic in a small village one day, I internalized the fear that our car would break down and we would be stranded in this ghost town with no running water. I held in a lot of panic, not wanting to alarm our guides or Ian with my nervous energy. We of course got out within an hour and a half, but the congestion that day actually made me long for LA traffic and realize how whiny I sound when I complain about all the construction in downtown LA. At least there, the city has alternative routes and a team of people managing the traffic. In Bali, you just have to wait it out.
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For me and Ian, one of the most exciting parts of Bali was getting to see animals you can’t find in the U.S. outside of zoos. On day two of our trip, we went to a temple where a lot of macaques (monkeys) can be found.

 

Though adorable, these monkeys are aggressive and know exactly how to get what they want from humans. They are known to steal phones, sunglasses, hats, sandals, anything they can grab, so they can bargain with you to get your belongings back. This usually means that you have to give them food in order to get back your stuff, and when they return it to you, they don’t nicely hand it over. They throw it, meaning it could break in the process or reach another monkey who will repeat the bargaining cycle. What I learned from witnessing this behavior was that animals are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. People called the monkeys dumb while we were there, but they’ve figured out a way to work with us to benefit themselves and survive.

 

Our guide was adamant that I not take my phone out of my purse while we were around these monkeys, so I wasn’t robbed at any point. They were also eating bananas at the time, so they were pretty distracted. People at this temple are paid to keep the monkeys from harassing visitors, and they are also in charge of facilitating bargains in the event that the monkeys snatch things. One guy at the temple had no idea that a baby monkey grabbed his glasses from his pocket, and the guide had to give the monkey not one, but TWO Slim Jims to get the glasses back. Good thing the man caught his glasses quickly.

 

The Monkey Jungle in Ubud was much different. The monkeys there weren’t as fat from paid workers overfeeding them to prevent theft. The Monkey Jungle macaques are less mischievous but more dangerous. You aren’t supposed to look them in the eye, as that’s a sign of intimidation. You can’t touch them, and whatever you do, you don’t try to interact with the babies. It enrages the mother. If they climb on you or approach, you can’t freak out or run away. You have to let them be the animal, and perhaps they won’t bite you.
I’ll admit that I got really frightened when a monkey jumped on Ian. You can see in his face that he was a little uneasy as well, but he handled it better than I did. The guide told me to calm down so as not to provoke the monkey, at which point the monkey placed a hand on my head and twirled around my hair. He left us after finishing his banana, at which point we explored more of the jungle hoping not to get bitten by bugs and the Hep B-carrying macaques.
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The next day, we went to a park with elephants and got to ride and spend time with several of them (we checked with our agent prior to booking this activity to make sure there is no abuse towards the elephants at this park). Despite their massive size, I was way more comfortable around the elephants than the monkeys. Elephants are very sweet and playful in nature. As Debbie put it, they’re like enormous puppies. Mona, the elephant we rode, has previously entertained both Lady Gaga and Tony Blair. It was crazy for us to be so high up during our ride with Mona. We touched the sides of trees and ducked a few times to avoid large spider webs. After hopping off the elephant, it felt strange to walk around on the pavement.
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The following day, we visited a small village and hung out with the locals, who taught us how to make religious offerings with coconut leaves and cook everyday food. With a brick stove and old school grill, we made chicken and tuna, using our hands to crush and mix the ingredients together. Our favorite dish was the papaya soup, which was the spiciest thing we had in Bali. We also enjoyed the banana fritters as dessert.

 

We went to a big temple one day and were set to get a blessing in a fountain. For reasons I can’t quite pinpoint, I said I didn’t want to do the blessing and our guide looked kind of disappointed. Ian said he would do it though, so the guide photographed him using our new camera during the whole process. Our guide does photography as a side hobby, so his shots were really good. He photographed Ian getting a blessing from all thirteen fountains, and it was somewhat of an amusing sight because here Ian was doing this really spiritual thing in a sacred space and he was being asked to pose with his hands in the prayer position underneath a bursting fountain. It was a little awkward in the moment, but Ian and I shared a good laugh about it later.
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When we weren’t destroying our clothes with sweat from walking long distances and up many flights of stairs in 90 degree humidity, we were imbibing multiple Bintang beers by the water at our various hotels. We swam a ton, applied sunscreen every hour, and enjoyed fruit drinks that would be too sweet for us back at home. In sweltering Bali, though, they were perfect.
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Jimbaran Bay was good for the beach and Ubud had a fun, jungle city vibe about it. But our favorite stop of the whole trip was the place at which we spent our final three nights: Manggis, another cliff area overlooking the beach. We stayed at Amakila, the nicest resort we will probably ever visit. The pools were gorgeous and the setting is so intimate that you feel like you’re the only guests in the entire resort. There are no clocks or TVs in the suite, although you can get a TV set upon request. No need. The views were enough.
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Our last days in Bali, however, made us miss our usual routine, including watching our favorite shows together. We caught up on “Master of None” season two on our last night, and we also discussed the many things we missed about home: the broad range of cuisine, the incomparable Mexican food, the ability to buy Cheez-Its (not found in Indonesia), coffee creamer, clean tap water. We missed walking around aimlessly and seeing dogs without fear of being bitten. We missed our friends and going to work everyday. When you’re traveling, you can feel really helpless and out of control because you’re not in your own space. Living out of a suitcase and collecting dirty clothes gets old. Finding a host of different bugs and lizards in your hotel room is also startling for someone like me. We took many pictures at the beginning of our stay, but we had Picture Fatigue after about a week, and we also hesitated to take photos because we looked so puffy, sweaty, and all around unattractive after full days outdoors. Ian and I sit at computers for a living. We exercise on our own time, but in dry heat. Not in humidity. We also don’t wear sarongs and layers of clothing to protect from sunburns in our everyday lives.
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We were ready to get home by the end of our trip, but unfortunately Ian was under the weather on our 24-hour travel day. He was uncomfortable for the 6 hour flight to Taipei, and once we landed, we were upset that there were no convenience stores in sight for him to buy a bottle of water. All we could find were duty free and designer clothing stores. I got angry on his behalf and started to swear in public, a habit I have been trying to break.

 

“People don’t need to buy fucking Coach bags before an 11-hour flight,” I said. “They need water!”

 

Luckily, no one claimed the third seat on our 11-hour flight from Taipei to LA, so Ian was able to lie down and get some good rest. By the time we arrived home, I was still on Bali time, so it took me a little while to get to sleep. I think I’m still kind of on Bali time now. I woke up at 5 on the dot this morning, and I have work tomorrow, so I better not be exhausted!

 

The last two weeks have been the most insane of our lives, and though we will never forget the amazing times we have had during our wedding and honeymoon, we are the most thrilled about the fact that we’re married and can get back to being our dull selves again. This time, we’re married doing it. Being back in reality never felt so good.

 

Now that the wedding isn’t consuming my thoughts and time, I am trying to get back into regular writing. Some if it will be private and only for me, but I also want to try and freelance a little here and there. I’m considering starting a newsletter as well. I’m not sure blogging is the right platform for me anymore, but a newsletter feels like it could be more of my pace and style at this point in my writing life. I’m thinking that this would be a solid way to keep me accountable for writing, as I’m so clearly out of practice. Forgive me for that, I’ve been busy. But I won’t neglect writing ever again. That I can promise.
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The unexpected goodbye

My father and mother at Stanford hospital, where he was treated for cancer in 2005 and 2006. He was texting me while this photo was being taken!
My father and mother at Stanford hospital, where he was treated for cancer in 2005 and 2006. He was texting me while this photo was being taken!

Several years ago, when I was briefly living in the D.C. area, I dreamed that my late father was sobbing in the car.

I tried asking him what was wrong, but he said nothing. I woke up feeling scared and unsettled. Back when he’d been alive, I’d only seen him weep twice: when his own dad passed away and when he told me it was unlikely that he could beat liver cancer. These are unforgettable moments, sure, but when I reflected on my dad, I didn’t regard him as a man who cried very often, so it was odd for him to do this in a dream.

A few hours later, I received a text from my cousin Kerry. My uncle Brian, my dad’s younger brother, had had a near-fatal heart attack while driving. Thankfully he made a full recovery and leads a healthy life now. But I still believe I had that dream for a reason. It was intended to warn me that something bad was going to happen and I needed to be prepared.

On Sunday night, I had the same dream, only we were at my childhood home, not in the car. I thought about it Monday morning with dread, fearful that another unfortunate event was set to take place. Sure enough, at 5 p.m. I received a text from my family friend Gerie saying that her mother Freddie, who babysat me throughout my childhood, was beginning the dying process. At 88, Freddie is tired of fighting for her life and constantly battling health issues. She went almost a week without eating anything because her body just couldn’t take it. Swallowing water has become a labor, not to mention dangerous since it often goes down the wrong pipe and hurts her lungs. She’s unhappy. She’s ready to move on and say farewell to the pain, even if it means saying farewell to all the people she loves.

Freddie and me, 1989
Freddie and me, 1989

Freddie’s last wishes were to reunite with a select few, and Gerie said I was among the first people she requested to see. Because she’s in a hospital just an hour north of Los Angeles, I drove up this morning, struggling not to feel bad about just how short the drive is and why I couldn’t bring myself to travel up there more often while I still had the opportunity. I’ve been in LA since October 2013, and that’s the last time I saw Freddie. She was living in a retirement home at that point, and I remember thinking then that she seemed really uncomfortable. Well, that’s nothing compared to what she’s dealing with now.

Freddie watched me from age zero to nine, when I was living in Los Angeles. She took me to Tommy’s burger shop, Disneyland, the movies, the playground, you name it. I was pretty energetic, but unlike some grownups, she never met my excitement with anxiety or frustration. She let me be as creative as I wanted, and she even let me spread my entire spaghetti dinner on my booster seat once. It was the only way I’d eat it, and she appreciated my enthusiasm so much that she took a picture of it. The photo is in one of my mom’s scrapbooks, so I don’t have a digital copy, but I do remember the look of pure joy on my face. Unlike so many other adults I’d encountered, Freddie gave me the freedom to be myself, even if it could be disruptive and a little messy at times.

That’s not to say she let me get away with murder. When I had my one and only meltdown in front of Freddie, she didn’t give me a time out, spank me, or lose her cool. She imitated everything I did so I could see just how absurd I appeared. That got me to stop acting ridiculous and never behave that way again, not around her or anyone else. But I did have a problem with the other children she nannied, according to my mom. One day I went to Freddie’s house, pointed to a picture on her fridge, and said, “I don’t like that ugly baby.”

I remember letting Freddie down on a day that was already pretty awful to begin with. It was my dad’s funeral in Santa Cruz on May 17, 2006, and as a thoughtless (albeit grief-stricken) teenager, I thought that would be as good a time as ever to reconcile with my first boyfriend Kevin, who attended the service and started holding my hand at the celebration of life event at my house afterwards. My friend Lauren, who was a vegetarian at the time, insisted the catering didn’t fit her diet, and she wanted to walk to the closest Mexican restaurant as such. My buddies Crystal, Katherine, and Brittany followed close behind her, and soon enough, Kevin and I went along too, leaving our phones at my place so as not to be bothered by our families.

We were gone for an hour, but in that time, Freddie had driven back to SoCal. She’d seen me earlier at the service, but that wasn’t enough. She’d wanted to say goodbye.

“We tried calling you and Kevin but no one picked up,” my older brother said. “Freddie was looking all over for you. Same with Kevin’s parents.”

My heart sunk. I’d ditched my own father’s after-funeral “party” (not sure how to describe it, sorry) to screw around with friends and make eyes at a fellow who’d wronged me in the past. It was selfish, but Freddie didn’t hold this against me. She knew I’d had a difficult enough time watching my father fade away for months and probably just needed a frivolous hangout with my peers. She forgave me even though I didn’t deserve her forgiveness.

Though I forgot about this incident until I began drafting this blog post, it just occurred to me that I finally got to make it up to her for not saying goodbye at the funeral. I said goodbye this morning, but hopefully it won’t be the last time.

With Ian
With Ian

When I walked into Freddie’s hospice room today, she smiled and let me give her a hug. She’d wanted to meet my boyfriend Ian, but he has a tight work schedule, so we promised to try to come up again this weekend (a proper goodbye from me and the real deal boyfriend this time). Freddie deserves to know the person who has brought me the greatest happiness of my life. She raised me, and though I could be more fulfilled professionally, I’m with the right guy now, and that’s what success looks like to me.

I relayed this to Freddie. I told her I’ve felt my writing dreams slipping away at times. Sometimes it feels like so long ago since I’ve published anything — on my blog and other places on the Internet.

“Well I read your book,” Freddie said of my self-published novel from 2013. “I said to myself, ‘This girl is going to make it.'”

I nodded. “In good time.”

A little later, Freddie’s granddaughter Alix arrived from Berkeley. She’s finishing up her first year there, and I couldn’t help thinking of my own freshman year at University of Arizona, mostly because I too faced grief at the start of college. My dad passed away three months prior to the start of fall semester, so my mind wasn’t exactly in a good place that first year. At the time, I clung to a dying high school relationship because I couldn’t lose my then-boyfriend and my father. Looking back, I think he stayed with me as long as he did for the same reason. Regardless, it wasn’t the ideal situation. Undergrad is hard enough without death and, yes, breakups from one’s previous life.

But everyone gets through it. I survived UA and I’ll feel confident in myself as a writer again someday. Freddie always taught the kids she babysat that we could do anything, so the next time I’m crippled with self-doubt or uncertainty, I’ll remember her and keep plowing away. She didn’t teach me to sulk or feel sorry myself when met with setbacks. She taught me to continue on my path, and that’s what I’m going to do.

How I learned to enjoy cooking

chocolateFour years ago, I moved from California to D.C. to pursue my Big Life Dream at the time. I rented a spacious, reasonably priced northern Virginia apartment with an acquaintance from a previous summer program, and things seemed to be going pretty well. Then one night, she took a phone call while we were watching a movie in the living room. She made the egregious mistake of putting the caller on speaker before first announcing there was an audience.

“So I got your text and wanted to talk to you about your roommate,” her sister said.

“I’m right here,” I said before she could go on and make the situation even more awkward than it already was.

“Yup,” my roommate replied sheepishly.

“Oh, just wanted to say she’s awesome!” the sister said.

Yeah yeah yeah. Later on, I asked my roommate why her sister felt the need to have a discussion about me. She’d meant for it to be a private conversation, but I didn’t want her harboring any bad thoughts about me.

“Well, it’s just about you not liking cooking or trying new things,” my roommate said.

A southern belle, my roommate lived to cook. She was great at it too. But I didn’t love the fact that she and her sister viewed my disdain for the kitchen as a major character flaw, let alone one for them to have such intense opinions about. It’s common to complain about roommates, but really? You’re going to trash talk me to your family because I don’t appreciate all the same things you do? Some people like to cook, some people like to eat, and some people merely eat to live. For the longest time, I ate to live, and it really bothered me that others felt they could pass judgment simply because I didn’t subscribe to an outdated notion that women should embrace cooking.

I was obviously pretty worked up about this, as I dedicated an entire blog post to my hatred of cooking at the time:

I cursed the kitchen all night long. If I have to get hurt somehow, I’d rather be in pain as a result of a rock climbing accident or something else I enjoy doing. But really, if I had to go to the hospital in the aftermath of cooking, which I loathe infinitely, I’d be livid for months on end and probably assume that karma was punishing me for despising the Betty Crocker lifestyle.

If I ever make lots of money, my first big purchase will be a cook because I absolutely cannot stand spending any time preparing food. I respect those who love doing this, but I find it rather dangerous, boring, and tedious. I’d rather be writing an article, talking to friends, doing yoga, practicing French, or interviewing a story source.

So, pots and pans of boiling water, you can all go to Hell.

Buzz off!
Buzz off!

OK, crazy!

Up until recently, I’ve only done the bare minimum in the kitchen. I lived off mac n’ cheese, both organic and Kraft, had Campbells’ soup at least twice a week, and occasionally made pasta. My excuse was that I needed to save money, but truthfully, I was too lazy to make an effort. I also disliked the reality that good cooking results from trial and error. I didn’t want to waste my time, money, and calories on something that might not work out. It was much better to go for what I knew: mac n’ cheese, soup, and spaghetti.

Life is different now. Given my chronic gastritis (which was likely provoked by excessive consumption of processed foods), I have to follow a healthy diet, and that means cooking must play a more significant role in my life. Aside from my health demands, I actually like cooking now, as it’s another opportunity for my boyfriend and I to try new stuff together.

For a while, we were so exhausted after long workdays that we only wanted to bake chicken patties and fake burgers for dinner, but we’ve had a lot of fun cooking over the past week or so. It keeps us busy, engaged, and attentive, and the finished product is always satisfying.

On Friday, we made steak and spinach, both of which I absolutely loved:

steak and spinach

The steak was perfect, but as we learned with the spinach, adding salt to the garlic and vinegar mix makes all the difference. The following night, we had leftovers and remembered to sprinkle salt onto the spinach, which was way tastier the second time around. That kind of trial and error I can handle. I guess it’s the disasters that intimidate me, but those come up in all areas of life. I just have to be ready to learn on the fly.

Next on our list is spaghetti and meatballs. I can’t totally abandon my love for pasta, but I can put some iron in the picture and hopefully rebuild my strength following last month’s health scare. When I get confident enough, I’ll attempt the pizza + egg combination, although tomatoes aren’t so good on my weakened esophagus. Just this once, all will be well:

pizza with egg

Life after coffee (and other acidic stuff)

In another life, I might have looked at the title of this blog post and said, “There is no such thing as life after coffee!” But following last week’s big medical procedure, which confirmed I have gastritis and inflamed pockets on my esophagus, I have to make some serious lifestyle changes if I want to be around and well for another 60 years.

Want, all the time!

Esophagitis and gastritis mean I need to dodge acidic foods and beverages for the rest of my life. Tomato sauce, alcohol, and coffee could burn a hole in my stomach and/or throat, so I have to consume them much less frequently. Booze on the weekends is fine, but I had to knock my routine of enjoying 1-2 beers over dinner and TV with my boyfriend each night. From Monday to Thursday, it’s milk and water for me. While he sips that Stone IPA we both love so much, I must hold back, at least until Friday rolls around and I have the following morning to recover if necessary. When I do have a drink, I can’t go overboard. It’s not such a tragedy. The taste of alcohol can be awful, warm beer may as well be urine, and don’t even get me started on hangovers. Coffee, however, was slightly more challenging to give up.

The thing is, coffee isn’t totally forbidden. I just can’t be the girl who downs 2-3 cups per morning anymore, and you know what? It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I didn’t experience withdrawal migraines, and I’m sure my teeth will look whiter and thank me long-term.

My boyfriend and I used to have a morning ritual of drinking espresso and reading the news on our iPads before getting to work. Now he’s the only one using the espresso machine, but that affords me some extra time to clean up before heading out for the day. Coffee dates with old friends are going to be sad since I can never order a regular cup of joe without feeling immense anxiety about what it could do to my stomach, but I think I have a system in place that will work.

Watered down coffee  = good for me
Watered down coffee = good for me

I’ve started revisiting hot chocolate, a childhood favorite, and drinking tea, which is soothing on the throat and calms me down. In my case, gastritis came about in part due to stress, so anything to keep me sane is a win. When I do have entire cups of coffee, I add sugar and creamer, but I haven’t made a cup for myself in weeks, to be honest. I go to Starbucks for Pumpkin Spice Lattes (ha.ha.) or regular Vanilla Lattes for something with a little more flavor. It hasn’t been so bad.

Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I went on a pizza binge for several weeks. We ordered the Meat Jesus and White Pizza all the time, and it really slowed us down. We eventually chose to practice healthier habits, and now we only order pizza once every two months or so. I can have pizza and tomato sauce every month or two, but not regularly. The acid is just too hard on my stomach.

Intelligentsia Venice CAWhen I was diagnosed with gastritis in September, I got really upset when the doctor advised me to stay away from beer and coffee, two major parts of my life. I’ve since learned it’s not the end of the world to have dietary limitations. I’ve gotten thinner since making changes as well. So small, in fact, that my skinny jeans are too baggy now. The intention was never to shed weight. I just wanted to feel better, and so far it’s working. It’s nice to have room to pack on more pounds during the holidays. I’m definitely in a better place to do that now.

Bottom line? Food doesn’t have to run your life, and if it’s one of the best parts of your life, that means it’s time to pursue other interests. I used to think I’d rather die young and have lived fully, but after getting so serious with my boyfriend and knowing he’s the person I’m going to be with until the very end, I’ve realized Ian is a huge incentive for me to be around as long as possible, and in good condition at that. I want to have a family and, unlike my late father, watch my children graduate high school, marry, and prosper in the real world. My dad was unable to do that for me because his health failed him too early. I will not let mine fail me. So sorry coffee and beer, but our relationship isn’t a priority anymore.

I survived my big, scary medical procedure!

done doneLast week, I blogged about needing to get a colonoscopy and endoscopy to confront my chronic stomach issues once and for all. As you can imagine, this was the most personal story I’ve ever published, and I share loads of intimate details about my life online. I’ve written about heartbreak, relationships of all kinds, love, and professional woes as a way to sort out unresolved problems. Those posts were intended to help others, but they were very much for me as well. Writing about my colonoscopy, however, had nothing to do with me. I made the announcement in hopes of encouraging others to be proactive about their health. A colonoscopy is about as taboo as it gets because we exist in a culture that denies women have functioning digestive systems, and I wanted to address just how dangerous and repulsive that attitude is.

I debated waiting until after my procedures to write the post. Then I realized I could write two articles on the same topic: One about the drama leading up to it and another about the experience itself. It took lots of courage to agree to the procedures, even though I knew I needed both, but the preparation day is no walk in the park either. I can say I survived my intense procedures, which required me to go under and fast for more than 24 hours, and here’s how I did it.

The procedure took place Thursday morning at a prestigious medical center in Beverly Hills, and I had to start preparing on Tuesday night. My boyfriend got home late from work, but we had just enough time to enjoy a meal together. My cutoff for eating solids was midnight, so during dinner, I kept looking back at the clock to ensure I wasn’t cutting it too close.

“You still have some time,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

The next morning, I skipped our usual smoothie and coffee breakfast routine, as I needed to avoid all solids and red or purple colored drinks until my procedure. I made some work calls and nursed two bowls of chicken broth, oddly satisfied with the taste. It wasn’t until noon that the hunger emerged, and going to Mimi’s Cafe with my mother (who came down from northern California to support me), made my stomach growl even more. I ordered tea and drank two bottles of lime green Gatorade, my only source of calories. I text messaged my boyfriend to say just how long the day felt without any food in my system.

Wanted this so bad all day
Wanted this so bad all day

By 3 p.m., I started feeling very weak, so I chose not to push it by answering too many work emails. I tried watching TV in my mom’s Beverly Hills hotel room, but the images of food on so many channels were tough to look at. I didn’t dare turning on the Food Network. Ironically, my former coworker Emma texted me to say she was at Chipotle, which reminded her of me since my obsession is basically common knowledge among everyone who meets me once. Heck, it’s part of the reason my stomach lining is in such a bad place (not Chipotle’s fault, my fault for mistreating my insides for so long). Emma had no clue I was fasting, but just the word Chipotle was too much. I couldn’t stop thinking about how hungry I was. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t even bedtime yet. All I wanted was to fast forward to the next day and scarf down whatever I could find.

Of course, a really awful thing needed to happen before all that. Part of the colonoscopy process is drinking a solution that cleanses your intestines. Everyone told me this would be the worst part of the whole experience. You’re essentially living in the bathroom for hours so the doctors can have a clear look at your stomach.

By 10:30 p.m., my mom and I relaxed in front of “And So It Goes” On Demand. I looked away whenever Michael Douglas’s character took a bite of something on screen, and I kindly asked my mom not to bring up food until after my procedure.

“The free breakfast here is so good,” she’d said. “I’m sorry you have to miss it.”

I consumed tons of fluids until midnight, when my cutoff for liquids of all kinds, water included, began.

I woke up around 6 a.m. with intense thirst. I sleep with my mouth open, so you can imagine how dehydrated this makes me. Right around that time, my boyfriend’s mother sent a text wishing me luck, and I told her how badly I wished I could have a glass of water. Having been in my shoes, she sympathized and assured me I could stick it out until the afternoon. I went back to sleep and dreamed of eating chips, steak, mac n’ cheese, and burritos. I woke up relieved I hadn’t eaten before the procedure, but sad I couldn’t just stuff my face already.

A couple hours later, we headed to the surgery center in Beverly Hills. I went in for a colonoscopy with another lady who seemed fond of botox and Juicy sweats, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my mother before they took me back to the patient area.

The medical assistant asked for a urine sample before bringing me over to my rollout bed, gesturing towards the hospital gown and towel on the cotton white sheet. She gave me some privacy to remove my clothes, and I remember being shocked by the warmth of the gown and towel. When I laid down on the bed, she verified a few things on my file. She asked if my birthday was correct and I nodded.

“I knew you were a Leo,” she said. “I could tell the second you walked in here.”

“How?”

“Your hair. The way you carry yourself. I’m a Leo too, but I was born in August,” she said.

“I was supposed to be born at the end of August,” I told her. “But I showed up at the end of July instead.”

“You were ready to be here.”

“Too bad my parents weren’t. They didn’t even have a crib at that point.”

I got really uncomfortable when she told me to put my hair in a shower cap. They removed my glasses as well and suddenly I felt unbelievably vulnerable. In came the anesthesiologist, a tall guy with a goofy disposition that made me nervous given the nature of his role, and another nurse. I panicked when the anesthesiologist confused me with the botox lady, visualizing him giving me the wrong dosage and accidentally ending my life. This is how quickly I jump to ridiculous conclusions. I know in my heart it’s nonsensical, but when I’m on a roll, nothing stops the racing, catastrophic thoughts that flood my head. Add to that a florescent lit surgical room, rollout bed that feels like cardboard, and gown that doesn’t tie in the back and you’ve got one distressed neurotic patient.

Where was my doctor? Who were these people talking at me all at once? How could I pay attention to the anesthesiologist’s spiel when I had a tight rubber band wrapped around one arm and a needle approaching the other? Inexplicably, the tears poured down my cheeks and I started hyperventilating.

“What’s the matter?” the nurse asked. “We do these all the time.”

“I just want it to be over,” I wailed.

“It’s OK, she’s a nervous person by nature,” the Leo medical assistant said, inching the needle closer to my right arm. “Don’t look down.”

“I’m trying to distract her,” the guy said, and that’s when I got the injection. Fast and easy. The tears subsided as they rolled me into another room, and I completely relaxed once I saw my doctor. I know him, I thought. It’s all going to be OK.

“Hi,” I said.

“How are you?” he asked.

“All right,” I said, hoping he couldn’t tell I’d just been sobbing.

The last thing I remember is laughing about the “funny hats” the doctor and anesthesiologist were wearing. Next thing I knew, I was awake in the patient room and the procedures were over. I was done, and my results looked good. There was a biopsy, as well as a confirmation of my gastritis and some inflammation on my esophagus, but the doctor was optimistic.

When it ended, I inhaled baked potato soup and mac n’ cheese at Corner Bakery. I’ve never been happier in my life to eat, not just because I’d been fasting for more than a day, but because my results came out fairly positive. As far as I knew, I didn’t have an ulcer. I didn’t have colitis. There wasn’t even a polyp. Just gastritis and non-severe inflammation, the cause of my bleeding and constant burping for more than a month.

Out of the woods!
Out of the woods!

For the rest of my life, I have to avoid consuming excessive amounts of certain foods. Anything acidic is going to upset my stomach, so I have to watch the coffee, alcohol, and tomato intake. As the doctor said, I need to have a very “bland” diet from now on. My roommate used to say that I have a very mellow pallet, and perhaps it wasn’t about being a picky eater all along.

“When you were little, we used to make fun of you for having such boring dietary preferences,” my mom joked. “But maybe that whole time, you knew deep down that you could only handle basic foods.”

“That’s probably true,” I said. “Now let’s go to Target so I can buy Taylor Swift’s new album.” I needed to reward myself. In the words of Swift herself, I was “out of the woods.”

Getting a colonoscopy at 26

My father and mother at Stanford hospital, where he was treated for cancer in 2005 and 2006. He was texting me while this photo was being taken!
My father and mother at Stanford hospital, where he was treated for cancer in 2005 and 2006. He was texting me while this photo was being taken!

Earlier this month, I blogged about being diagnosed with gastritis and having to make serious dietary changes as such. This article veered from my usual bubbly tone, and though a lot of readers praised me for telling my unsettling story, one person noted on Facebook that the post left him feeling “weird” and regret that he’d read it. I admire this individual and know he didn’t mean to be hurtful, but after divulging one of the most horrific experiences of my life, I wasn’t interested in hearing that it rubbed an outsider the wrong way. I can’t be a bundle of sunshine every time I publish, and I cannot water myself down because maybe it will put another person in a funny mood. More than anything else, I can’t be silent anymore about the stomach issues I’ve suffered for years, because that very silence contributed to the complications I’m dealing with now.

In less than a week, I have to get a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. My mom is coming down from northern California to support me, and I couldn’t be happier about that. You’re probably thinking “TMI, thanks for the visual.” But you know what? I’ve got bigger problems than embarrassment. I need to have two very invasive procedures because of chronic stomach issues that I thought were behind me. I’m nervous about the procedure and preparation day, so the last thing on my mind is how my own experience might make some uncomfortable. I’m sorry, but I don’t have the luxury of worrying about the opinions of others when it comes to this. And if you’re in need of such treatment, you shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk about your needs either.

A little more than a month ago, I started having noticeable changes in the way I processed food. Then came the persistent burping and random, sharp abdominal pains. For our one-year anniversary dinner, my boyfriend took me to a wonderful fish house in West Hollywood and I was terrified the whole time of swallowing oysters, which I really love. The constant hiccuping made me fear I’d choke, and the stomach pains got progressively worse. Scariest of all was the prolonged bleeding, which cannot under any circumstances be ignored. I’m not mentioning these symptoms to be gross or make your own stomach turn, but to relay that certain abnormalities need to be checked out no matter how nervous or shy you may be. I tend to be private when it comes to this sort of thing, but this experience has taught me that silence is perhaps the leading killer of severe health issues, and if I can convince at least one person to seek medical attention about an ongoing problem, I will risk looking foolish in order to help. The bottom line is a problem I thought I resolved returned much stronger this week, leading me to book a visit with a GI who could hopefully explain why the medications prescribed to me — Omeprazole and Sucalfrate — hadn’t stopped my internal bleeding.

“This isn’t an isolated incident,” he said during our session. “I could tell you to wait for it to go away, but I don’t want to blow you off and then hear you developed a horrible ulcer we could have treated.”

At my uncle's wedding party in 2005
At my uncle’s wedding party in 2005

With that, I should be getting some real answers on Thursday. If it’s an ulcer, which seems doubtful since I haven’t been vomiting or nauseous, they’ll take care of it on the spot. The same goes for an inflammation or polyp. My blood tests didn’t pull up anything cancerous, so, obviously, that’s a relief. The good news is I found whatever’s bothering me early enough to tackle it full-force, but that means undergoing a procedure 25 years earlier than normal. I thought I had more than two decades to face this procedure, which I associated with old people up until three days ago, but life throws you curveballs every once in a while, and some happen to be weirder than others. After my dad’s untimely passing from liver disease nearly ten years ago, I don’t want to ignore any stomach issues that come my way and assume my body is resilient enough to heal itself. His was not.

In the past, I’ve been shamed for oversharing on the Internet, and I know this is definitely applicable. People might blush and mock me for publishing too much information about my life. Trust me, the last thing I want to do is tell the world that I’m going to have my personal business examined by doctors at Cedar Sinai in Beverly Hills. It’s not a pleasant topic to discuss, but the reality is millions of people experience stomach-related issues every year. 25 million Americans will suffer from a peptic ulcer at some point during their lives, and 2014 alone has seen more than 20,000 new cases of stomach cancer. And because it’s socially awkward to discuss digestive disorders, most people, like me, are quiet about them, unaware they have a potentially fatal problem on their hands. This is why I love Katie Couric for filming her colonoscopy process a while back: She watched her husband die from colon cancer in the 1990s and didn’t want the same to happen to her. They had kids to look after, and she had quite an amazing life to continue living.

We exist in a culture that likes to joke that women do not defecate, belch, or pass gas. Some feel so self-conscious about this that they avoid trips to the bathroom at work or wait until they’re all alone to do their business. I’ve been aware of society’s discomfort with biological functions since seventh grade, when that scamp Brandon D. repeatedly asked during PE whether I’d ever gone to the bathroom before. Yes, he was an immature middle school boy, but the discourse online isn’t much different these days, so I’m sure you can understand why lots of people, particularly women, struggle to talk about issues of the digestive variety. My lady friend even emailed me to say thanks for tweeting about having to get a colonoscopy, as stomach issues are too often set aside to avoid making others feel awkward:

“First of all I’m so happy that you are so open, you have no idea what that means to me (someone who has also always had stomach problems). I feel like people ignore or don’t want to hear about intestinal issues but that only creates silence and fear and stigma.

People ignore stomach problems or brush them off as just part of life they have to deal with, but it’s not. and being honest and seeking treatment and sharing that experience with others is really inspirational. And I wanted you to know that I continue to be impressed and inspired by you.”

At Chipotle in 2008 --- wearing sweatpants!
At Chipotle in 2008 — wearing sweatpants!

I don’t blog about this to be “gross” or involve you more than necessary in my life. I choose to write about this because I am literally sick from the silence that has accompanied me on this drawn out, uncertain journey. I refuse to be silent when millions around the world are dying and fighting for their lives to beat stomach problems of all kinds. Until we start speaking freely about the negative impact of digestive abnormalities, people like me will continue doing their insides, and ultimately themselves, a major disservice. That must end.

I’ve been anxious all my life and often find myself in the fight or flight state, which I’m confident has provoked my stomach issues. I also haven’t been particularly healthy the last year. When I moved from NYC to LA, I was 116 pounds, which is well below the proper weight for my height. I put it all on over the last year thanks to fun nights out with my boyfriend, comfort food binges as an underemployed sadsack, and neglecting exercise. I told myself I looked better with the extra baggage. My face was gaunt before and I had no color. While I loved indulging Chipotle and burritos all the time, my stomach did not, and my body slowly started rejecting all the bad stuff I shoveled into my mouth.

When I burst into urgent care sobbing last month, I was 129 on the scale. Now I’m 124, and that’s from a month of daily salads and healthier choices all around. I still love my burritos and mac n’ cheese, but I must consume two nutritious meals to make up for every even semi-unhealthy one, and when I do opt for junk food, my portions are significantly smaller. I used to chug 2-3 cups of coffee per day, but now I go days without ever pouring a drop of caffeine into my system. I thought I’d feel sick from the lack of coffee, but I might even be better off without it, I just doze off on the couch even more than usual. I’m limiting my alcohol intake as well, and I know my stomach appreciates that.

Am I worried about going under next week? Oh yeah. Am I terrified to wake up and find out things are worse than I imagined? More than I could ever convey in words. But nothing scares me more than living day to day thinking maybe my problem will fizzle as long as I take better care of myself. It doesn’t always work like that. You have to be proactive with your health, and that can mean telling the world that you need a colonoscopy and endoscopy because you’ve failed to eat well, relax, and talk about your issues openly for years. It isn’t too late for me, and if you immediately address any issues of your own, it will never be too late for you.

On changing my writing habits, recovering from gastritis, and letting go my online identity

Why I have to cut down on these from here on out
Why I have to cut down on these from here on out

Earlier this year, I’d often pester my boyfriend about dosing off while we were watching TV. I was underemployed and lacked a regular sleep schedule, so I couldn’t fully understand how he’d be so spent by the end of each day that he’d pass out with a good movie or show on TV. When I started holding a full (and even part) time job, however, our roles reversed. I fall asleep every single time we watch television. He used to wake me up so I wouldn’t miss any good parts of The Sopranos, but then it got really hard. He’d tickle my stomach or rub my head and I’d remain out cold, too exhausted to abandon my rest. He also knew I was out of batteries and didn’t want to disrupt my sleep if I was that tired.

At first, I chalked the increased fatigue up to actually having a normal schedule and wearing myself out each day. I still think that has an impact on me, but little did I know, I had a medical reason for being so groggy all along, as well as other issues that needed medical attention.

A couple weeks ago, something happened to me that was so alarming, I left work at 9:30 a.m. and raced to the nearest urgent care in tears. At the time, my manager was out of town and same with my amazing colleague Emilie. I had an orientation to host for work but was so scared by the medical emergency that I dropped my entire day to seek help from a doctor. Truthfully, I feared for my life, and in that moment, nothing else mattered.

I wailed in the waiting room on the phone with my boyfriend, who promised everything would be OK and that the nurse and doctor would solve the issue. I sobbed when they took me into the patient room and even harder when the actual doctor approached.

“What’s the matter, dear?” he asked, giving me a hug.

“Something’s seriously wrong with my stomach,” I said, the tears streaming down my face below my large, heart-shaped sunglasses. “My dad ate poorly like I do, and he died when I was 17. I don’t want that to happen to me too.”

My fear was that I had an ulcer. I had all the symptoms and worse. Every time I ate, I felt a stabbing pain in my belly. I burped and hiccuped nonstop. Nothing relieved the pain I felt in my stomach. There were other things I won’t divulge, but they were all horrifying. I could feel my insides churning and rotting, and I didn’t know how I’d get better.

After some exams, the doctor ruled out an ulcer and diagnosed me with gastritis, which can be brought on by poor eating habits, high consumption of alcohol and/or caffeine, and, the world’s biggest killer, stress. I’ve been a high strung person since birth (no, really, I was born a month early into a high stress hospital environment and am convinced it wired me for anxiousness for life). When I went to the doctor, I’d been coming off more than a year of underemployment and a slew of drastic life changes. I’d also been consuming lots of carbs and fatty foods for far too long. I was ten pounds heavier than I’d been a year earlier. Eventually, it all caught up with me.

Two weeks ago, I went back to the doctor to review my blood test results. I tested negative for cancer or other malignancies, but he revealed my cholesterol is too high for a person my age (genetic, plus I eat like shit), I have arthritis, and I have a B-12 deficiency, which explains the fatigue to some degree. Years of turning to comfort food has done a number on my body, and I’ve had to make some serious dietary adjustments as such. I’ve already lost five pounds since making major life changes and adjustments, and I know I have a long way to go to undo the damage I’ve done to myself.

I’m still in recovery from the stomach scare, but glad to report I don’t have anything serious. I just have to be careful about what I munch on from here on out to avoid getting an ulcer — or worse, stomach cancer — in the future.

My boyfriend and I are having more salads, cutting down our beer intake, and cooling it with the coffee. I still love Chipotle and Mexican food more than anything, but I’m being better about what I consume. I just have to. Believe me, I still want burritos all day everyday, but I hate the way they make me feel afterward. I cannot physically handle it anymore.

I’m focusing on screenwriting and have decided to stop writing for online outlets. The pitch process is exhausting and I don’t have the energy to deal with it after an emotionally draining past few weeks. More than anything, I have always used it as a crutch and way to avoid screenwriting, which is what I really want to do.

That’s all for now. I will be updating this from time to time, but the big takeaway here is that I’m finally taking care of myself, mentally and physically. I won’t be wasting my writing efforts on pitches that will only go unanswered. Maybe I’m just not good at online pitching or writing anymore, and that’s OK. I’m focusing on screenwriting, however bad it might be as I go through the motions as an amateur. It’s been really healthy taking a break from online writing because I’ve got used to not having that instant gratification of publishing something. I got way too accustomed to people checking out my stuff all the time that I didn’t know what to do with myself when I wasn’t churning out copy every other day. You may not see me writing for well known or cool websites anymore, but for the first time in months, I am writing for myself, and that’s the best thing I could do for myself right now.

On visiting NYC again

NYC from the top of the Hearst Tower
NYC from the top of the Hearst Tower

I recently flew to NYC for a work trip. A lot of people assumed I’d be excited to return to my old stomping grounds, as I have tons of friends in the city and had some pretty memorable experiences back east. I was certainly thrilled to go for business, but on a personal level, I was conflicted.

In July of last year, I knew I needed to move on from New York. I’d entertained the idea of relocating to LA in pursuit of screenwriting for a while, and now that I finally had the opportunity to try to make that a reality, I believed it was time to get out. I knew in July that I was ready to leave, but it wasn’t until late September that I acquired the confidence to abandon all I’d created in the concrete jungle for a calmer, sunnier, and healthier life in southern California.

A month before returning to the west coast, I switched my online dating profile to the LA network, which was quite small since this particular dating site had started in Brooklyn and was struggling to carve out a strong presence in Los Angeles. Thank God there weren’t many users on it, as one guy — known then to me as Ian41 — kept popping up on my Suggested Dates list and I clicked on over to his page to see what he was all about. Pretty soon, we sent each other a long email every single day leading up to my move, and shortly after my arrival, we knew we didn’t want to pursue anyone else.

We were very happy from the beginning, and though I had no job or place of my own (I was living in my grandma’s vacant condo in Long Beach at the time), I was more fulfilled than I’d ever been with my Upper East Side apartment or outwardly glamorous media career in NYC. That said, I still felt bad about the fact that I couldn’t necessarily take care of myself. Without stable employment, it was going to be challenging to pay rent, let alone move to LA proper.

When I made it to LA, I took some screenwriting classes, endured a few lousy entertainment jobs, and learned that the assistant route just wasn’t for me. I’d love to produce and write screenplays someday, but I am not going to become an abused runner in hopes that maybe, just maybe, I’ll meet the right people and make it big as a result. So nearly a year after my NYC fallout, I applied for a non-entertainment position at a trendy startup. I wouldn’t be writing, but I’d finally feel good about my professional place in the world again. I ended up getting a job offer on my birthday, when I also learned I’d be flying to NYC for a week to train at HQ. So many changes were taking place, but for once, they felt like good changes. I was so ready to finally feel financially stable again.

Luckily, I also had a family vacation planned right before training, so I flew to Massachusetts first and then took a train to Penn Station from there. It worked out well, butNYC it also meant I’d have to be away from Ian for ten days — the longest we’d ever been apart. I stayed at his house the night before my flight, sulking at bed time because I was scared to go through such an intense process without him. I’m used to coming home to him after stressful experiences and days, and not being able to hug him and debrief on the couch afterward just didn’t seem right.

My first night in NYC was the hardest. I walked from my Times Square hotel to Dos Toros burrito shop on 14th Street. It was a long journey, but I could use the exercise and time to think. It reminded me of how thin I’d been during my NYC days, and all the moving around definitely contributed to that. Nobody walks in LA. I also had to get used to the reality of jaywalking. When I first saw people doing it on 29th Street, I thought to myself, “Are they insane?” Then I remembered that’s normal in NYC and that I’d been a major offender during my own days in the city. Soon enough, I was jaywalking without a care, scrambling to cross the street with green lights hanging above me and taxis zooming in my direction.

On my walk back to the hotel, a lump formed in my throat. It was dark out and suddenly I was reminded of all the nights I’d walked home alone in New York City, sometimes holding back tears or not even bothering to hide my disappointment with whatever had just happened. The truth is, the loneliness I felt living there was unbearable, and even more so upon returning. Suddenly my life with Ian in LA felt so far away, like it had never happened. I’d dreamed it all and was back in the city that had broken my heart in every possible way.

Longing for Ian and his family, all of which I consider my family now, I bought postcards for them at a tourist store. There was a sale for 10 cards at a price of $1, but I only purchased three: one for my nana, one for Ian, and one for Ian’s parents. I scribbled notes for all of them on the street and then proceeded to drop them in the nearest mailbox. I text messaged Ian to let him know, and right then, he emailed me a funny YouTube clip of a “great NYC pizza place” to check out during my trip. The video featured Steve Carell going into a Sbarro, and sure enough, there was a Sbarro across the street from me at that moment.

I relayed this to Ian, who seemed to think the incident was humorous as well. Suddenly the pit in my stomach was gone. I was in NYC solo, but Ian could share the experience with me, and I knew that no matter what, I was going home to him. One day we’d venture to NYC as a pair and try out the real pizza together, but until then, we could mock the crappy chains populating Times Square. It was all going to be fine.

The rest of my trip was spectacular. I loved waking up in Times Square and walking down to HQ in Chelsea. I remember thinking that my life in NYC might have been better and easier had I lived near work and avoided the subway. Had I simply done it wrong during my time in NYC?

When I explained this to Ian, he mentioned staying in NYC for several weeks one summer to work at his company’s firm in the city. They put him up in a four star hotel by the office and he believed living in New York seemed like a breeze. It’s never a breeze, but it’s certainly easier if you can walk to work, and that wouldn’t be very affordable.

It’s also not practical most of the time. If you’re not pushing through crowds on a snowy day, you’re sweating through your clothes on a humid summer morning. Or you’re being jerked around by a wind tunnel, and maybe even attacked by a rainstorm as well. It rained a ton my second and third day in NYC, but I still forced myself to stay away from the subway and use my legs. It wasn’t so bad for a week, but reminded me of how awful my work days in Manhattan used to start thanks to heading to the office in all sorts of bad weather. When you arrive at your desk in wet clothes with nowhere to set down your battered umbrella, you know your day isn’t set up for success.

The work-related stuff was incredible, but I also had a small window of time for catching up with old pals. I told everyone to meet at Smithfield bar on Wednesday evening, and sure enough, I was the first to arrive. I headed to the back of the room to grab a table, where I sat alone for about fifteen minutes before my friend Sophia showed up. It didn’t feel weird to be out and about by myself, but I remember thinking the NYC version of me wouldn’t have been comfortable ordering a drink solo at a popular bar downtown. I would have felt the need to play with my phone or insist to the waitress that more people were coming so as not to seem like a lone wolf. As I implied earlier, however, LA can be kind of an isolating place because of the lack of community, so being alone hasn’t been a source of discomfort for me in a while. I was also underemployed for more than a year, and that kind of solitude can definitely turn you into a bit of a lone wolf. Fine by me.

from sophia
From Sophia

Sophia brought me a box of Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins, as I’m obsessed with the east coast treasure and have made that pretty clear on social media. Shortly after Sophia got there, my other guests arrived. Almost everyone was a former coworker from somewhere, but I only see them as friends now. One girl kept talking about how happy I looked. I agreed but followed up with, “Well, I’ve also gained some weight. LA will do that to you.” It’s true: I’m constantly in my car.

Still, I’d take my healthy weight and hearty diet over what I was during my time in NYC. I lost about seven pounds last summer due to stress and major indecision, but once I got where I was meant to be, and found the person I was meant o be with, I began to look like myself again. A bigger version, sure, but with more to love this time. I also think I’m more fun to hang out with, as I am always happy to order more drinks and food.

We all caught up on our career paths and personal lives, and one former coworker said he admired me for moving across the country and carving out a new life for myself in SoCal.

“When you first parted ways with [our former place of employment], I didn’t know what to think,” he said. “But then I realized it was kind of bad ass. Now you’re doing something entirely different in LA.”

As you know, I came out here to try to write for film and television. That hasn’t happened, and I’ve kind of tabled that dream for the time being (even though I’m working on some scripts of my own), but I also realized along the way that ambition will never be the most important thing to me again. I’ve never been happier than I am now, and I know I’m going to continue having a full, amazing life with the person I love.

old budes
My buddies!

I relayed this to the group, fully aware of the fact that the version of me they used to know never would have said anything like that aloud. They’re an ambitious bunch, but they also value their mental and emotional health, so they were pleased to hear this as such.

The following night, I went out to dinner with one of my boyfriend’s relatives. Like me, she was in town for work, and we met up near my old office. It was surreal walking through the neighborhood of my former place of employment, especially given the changes to the surroundings. One of the major building scaffoldings was gone, filling up the space with the brightness of the sun but also leading me to wonder how I might have handled days of bad weather had that been removed during my time in NYC. I thought back to the countless occasions in which I hurried across the street to get under the scaffolding, dodging whatever horrible weather was attacking New Yorkers at that very moment.

It occurred to me as I strolled near my old work building that my experience in NYC could have been quite different had I chosen not to work in media. What if I’d applied to my new place of employment while living in NYC? Would I have been happier overall with another career path? I thought this over so much that I actually walked past my old office without even realizing it. It dawned on me that I remembered the street name but not the building number itself. Rather than find the exact address on my phone, I kept moving, not wanting to be late to see my boyfriend’s cousin.

When I got to LAX late Friday night, my boyfriend was waiting for me in the arrivals area. We were exhausted but elated to finally see each other again after nearly two weeks apart. Though I hadn’t eaten in more than 12 hours, I couldn’t finish the burrito he’d picked up for me earlier in the day. I was still processing being back, but by the next morning, I was ready to indulge some of the New York bagels I’d packed in my suitcase. We enjoyed a sesame and plain bagel with cream cheese and lox, and we also had a Sopranos marathon the following day. With a mimosa in hand and my head on his shoulder, I could finally appreciate the east coast, but from where I truly belonged.

Exactly one year ago today, everything changed for me

Bryant Park
Bryant Park

A year ago today, I spilled Pret a Manger yogurt all over myself in Bryant Park, barely missing the broken computer bag on my lap. I was on the phone with my friend Marjorie at the time, and for ten seconds, I stared at the disaster in front of me. I had nothing to wipe it up with, so I just used my ratty, yellowing H&M sweater, knowing all too well I’d have to throw away the item of clothing. Just an hour earlier, my life had changed forever — for the worse, I initially thought — and my new job was to clean up the mess with whatever scraps I still had. It was opening weekend for The Conjuring, and I bought tickets to the first showing because what better movie to see when you’re already having a rough day than a demonic horror based on a true story?

That morning, I’d been unceremoniously dismissed from I job I really cared about but ultimately wasn’t right for. Just weeks earlier, I’d blogged about the loneliness of NYC in the summer and how the show New Girl made me realize I eventually wanted to abandon NYC and try to become a screenwriter in LA:

So, in 2.5-3 years, I would like to relocate to Los Angeles — my birthplace, for better or worse — and give screenwriting a try. I know, I know, you can’t just move to LA and create the script for “New Girl” or some other incredible sitcom, but I’m willing to start from scratch and work my way up again, and the good news is I won’t be too old to take a big leap at that point. I’m not far away from hitting a ceiling in the print/online media world.

Relocating to Los Angeles seemed like a long way off, as I had an established career and life in New York, where I’d been residing for nearly two years. I had a strong social structure, talented and fun assortment of colleagues, tiny apartment on the Upper East Side with a hilarious, pint-sized Italian girl with the best laugh I’d ever heard, and good thing going in my improv level two class. So what if I kind of wanted to do something else and live in my birth state, where I’d be closer to my whole family and so much happier? There was more to life than happiness. New York taught me that the moment I set foot on the Penn Station train platform. Life wasn’t perfect in Manhattan, but I was finally settled. I was comfortable.

Of course, that comfort was gone the moment I became unemployed. Suddenly nothing but my lease was binding me to New York, so I was free to pursue my real dream of working in entertainment. I should have thanked my former employers a million times for setting me free, but I was too scared and uncertain of my fate to understand I had a real opportunity to do something amazing: I was less than a week shy of 25. I was young enough to make a complete career 180 and still succeed. Things were looking up.

My brother Michael said my departure from work was a blessing in disguise. Many friends and family members agreed, but they were also worried. Would I ride out the rest of my lease in NYC — enduring yet another brutal winter (the worst in years, as we’d all later find out) — or follow that crazy idea that had recently popped into my head and return to my West Coast roots?

It took me about two months to make the final call, which, of course, was to start fresh in Los Angeles, but a few significant people in my life pushed me to make the move. My mother played a huge role in getting me out here, as she said there were some good UCLA extension classes still open and that I could really benefit from enrolling in the school’s Writer’s Program. My friend Nikki, however, made the best point of all during a phone conversation.

With Nikki
With Nikki

I told Nikki that I hoped to move to LA at the conclusion of my lease in 2014, to which she responded, “Laura, becoming a screenwriter is going to be enough of a challenge. You should get out here as quickly as you can because we already know it’s going to take a lot of time to break into the industry. Besides, you’re going to be in my wedding. You have to be [in California] to help me plan!”

This was true.

The night before telling my roommate Jen that I intended to vacate the apartment within three to four weeks, I started packing up my belongings. My walls were completely bare by the time I went to sleep, and within a week, the room itself was empty save for my bed, a single box of clothes, my laptop, and my iPhone charger. By September, I vowed to leave NY by the end of the month, and I was so checked out of the city in my last few weeks that I switched all my social media account locations to LA, including my newly re-opened dating profile on HowAboutWe.

I’d had some questionable experiences with online dating, but given my desire to start fresh in a new place, I decided to revisit the site and perhaps have a few dates lined up in LA upon arrival.

I had always been told that love sneaks up on you when you’re not looking for it, and only now do I know that statement to be true. I was not looking for love when I activated my profile again. I was actually seeking friends and people to hang out with. Yeah, I thought it would be fun to have an LA romance, but mostly I craved companionship.

My NYC room before I moved out.
My NYC room before I moved out.

At first, I received lots of messages from people in entertainment, and that made me feel better about having to spend a little extra time in NYC. I was already making Hollywood connections and would surely grow that network shortly after moving. But the user who intrigued me most was not an aspiring actor, director, producer, etc., but a lawyer with the sweetest looking smile I’d ever seen.

I clicked on over to Ian41’s profile (I also loved that he included his real name in his username — I was LaurafromCalifornia) and was pretty impressed. He hadn’t filled out much, but he appeared to be well-educated, hard-working, adventurous, and kind. Right after we started messaging each other, I mentioned I wouldn’t be in LA until October but that we could email back and forth until then. We decided to take our correspondence over to Gmail and he said I could email him anytime. I was afraid to take a step beyond HowAboutWe’s inbox system, so it came as a huge relief when he made the first move the following day, September 16, with this email:

Hi Laura,

It sounds like the NYC fall weather is a bad LA winter weather.  At least you’ll miss the NYC winter.  I was freezing when I was there in March, I can’t imagine what it’s like in the winter.  Hopefully the nice weather here will continue in October!

Ian

I responded right away, and before we knew it, we were sending each other long emails every single day. With the stress of neverending moving arrangements, hearing from him became the best part of my day — the light at the end of the tunnel during my tedious cross-country relocation. I suffered terrible insomnia at the time, so I’d be awake when he emailed me at 11 or midnight Pacific time. I’d draft up emails to him but wait ten hours to hit “send” — I didn’t want him to know the girl he was talking to regularly stayed up until 4 a.m. out of misery. Our threads increased in length with each exchange, with both of us easily churning out 1,200+ words each time. They were nice, though, and we continued sending long emails until the day we finally met in person.

Our first date was at a bar downtown, and he told me right away that I should sit by his “good ear” to his right.

“I was hit by a car in London about 15 years ago and I’ve had a ringing in my left ear ever since.”

“My dad was like that,” I said. “Got shot in the head with a BB gun as a little kid. He died of cancer in 2006, but said he was happy to never have to hear the ringing sound ever again.”

Not even five minutes had passed and we’d already shared some pretty significant life events with each other. Sure we’d gotten close via email in the month before meeting, but there was something special about seeing him in person, as well as knowing we could be more than just pen pals.

When we first met, I was fearful about all things-LA. The driving, the parking, the traffic, the unforgiving sun, the struggles of making new friends, etc. I overcame all of this very quickly, and I also realized I was in love very quickly.cutee

I like to tell Ian that I moved to LA under the impression that I’d become a TV and film writer, and while I still want those things just as much as I did when I left New York, I know in my heart that I was really meant to come here for him. Had I not lost my entire identity a year ago, we never would have crossed paths, but I’m so grateful for all the horrible and unfortunate experiences that led me here.

I woke up the morning of July 19, 2013 feeling nervous and ill. The night before, my boss had asked to meet at Pret a Manger around 7:30 a.m., which seemed a little early for a feedback session. I got out of my bed at 6:15 knowing that a difficult conversation was ahead, and I just wanted to get it over with.

Today, the alarm went off at 8 a.m. It’s the weekend, but Ian had some work to do at the office, so we set an alarm as we would on a normal week day. We had some espresso and yogurt (we usually have toast but he just had gum surgery and can only eat soft foods for a while). Though I spilled my yogurt once again, it wasn’t all over me this time. I spilled on Ian’s table. There was a paper towel roll just a few inches away, so I wiped up the mess immediately, not needing to sacrifice my clothes or sit there staring at the disaster, wondering what move to make next. I’ve cleaned up a lot over the last year, and I’m a lot more prepared for damage control now.

Ian, my roommate, and me at the Hollywood Bowl seeing Robyn!
Ian, my roommate, and me at the Hollywood Bowl seeing Robyn!

Earlier this week, I cried for the first time in months about the approach of July 19, not because I longed for the past, but because I was disappointed by my situation and seeming lack of progress a year later. 365 days after the fact, I’m working but underemployed and always, always, always on the hunt for my next opportunity. Why couldn’t I have landed something full-time and forever by now? It made no sense to me.

I brought all this up to Ian, who of course saved the day by laying out the facts. Sure I’m not a successful showrunner or even a writer’s assistant, but I’ve come such a long way in the past year. I switched cities, landed three different jobs in the entertainment industry, completed two screenwriting classes and a workshop, joined a writer’s group, and began writing for HG. I also have a strong group of friends out here … and oh yeah, the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. As my former coworker Alex Alvarez said over fries and cocktails a few months back, I’m doing a lot better than I think.

So there’s where I am one year after a defining moment that flipped my whole world over. I was scared to start fresh again and move to the other side of the country, even though it was my home, but things are slowly coming together for me.