Post 504: ‘Go outside’

I called Nick because I’d had a frustrating afternoon.

The morning started out fine – I decided to work from home when I noticed I didn’t have any in-person meetings. I chugged along, answering emails, swapping the laundry and folding mounds of clothing. 

He spent the morning washing his bikes, checking his email, and stretching before going in for a later shift. 

After a quick visit to the local bike shop together in the name of work/life balance, I returned to my email. Because that’s sometimes all I do: answer email. 

I never made it up to my spare-bedroom office after folding all the laundry and stacking it in neat piles around the living room. I sat, holed up on the couch, scrunched, answering email. And, to be honest, I got totally lost in it. Absorbed, even. Touched by the urgency of each notification, I barely ate, drank water, or looked away from the screen. 

I fired off responses one by one, accepting some new assignments as they came in and skirting around others in politically savvy ways. 

Then there was one that made me want to throw my computer across the room. Then, shortly afterward, another. 

I often receive compliments on my work/life balance philosophy and the way I approach high-pressure situations. So it’s a good thing nobody could see my face beam like a stoplight and feel my pulse quicken, knuckles cracking in-between audible expletives. 

I called Nick because I’d had a frustrating afternoon.

He listened patiently and said the two words I needed to hear: “go outside.”

“Get on your bike,” he said, “and go for a ride, even if it’s just around town. You’ve been scrunched up on the couch all day and need to get away.”

I knew he was right. 

I shut my computer down at around 5:45 and prepped my gravel bike, Winifred, for a quick adventure. 

Down the hill and up another, the seasonal gravel road I chose for a 2.5-mile climb enveloped me in its tree-lined magical healing powers. I traversed puddle-ridden pathways and areas with more stream than road. I stopped thinking about work with each pedal rotation, splashing through puddles and picking lines to avoid large rocks.

After the first climb, I faced another – this one more daunting at 12.7% grade than I remember it being last year. 

But I did it. And I forgot about everything I was pissed about by the time I reached the epic downhill back to town.

My brain had switched channels to far more important things, like ice cream and what I wanted for dinner, instead.

There’s a massive hill hiding behind those trees, I swear.

Post 503: How to buy a house

A stream-of-consciousness account of our most recent emotional roller coaster.

You’re comfortable.

You wake up each day in a cozy, three-floor townhouse that you pay minimal monthly rent for, especially since you split it with your boyfriend.

You have clothes on your back, food in the fridge, and a job to report to each day.

You’re comfortable.

You don’t want for anything, especially since you recently upgraded big-ticket items like your laptop, mountain bike, car, and mattress.

Becoming more of an adult is something you’ve scoffed at, and if buying a house and having children moves you further into that zone, you are good. For right now, at least.

“Ha!” You normally say. “Homeownership. Sounds like that blows.”

And you go off on your merry way, gloating as your friends replace their driveways, install yard drainage, and upgrade failing HVAC systems.

You ride around on your mountain bike, loving life and its simplicity. When you bought your new vehicle, you thought, “Hmm… this will probably have a car seat or two in it someday. BUT NOT TODAY!”

You’re comfortable.

Until that one special house comes on the market and turns your world upside-down for an entire week.

Your boyfriend tells you, “It’s back!” 

You say, “I WANT THAT HOUSE.”

You both have driven by it on several occasions — together and apart — to admire its woodsiness. You were devastated when it left Zillow a month before, though you’d never even bothered to set up a viewing.

So when your boyfriend tells you “It’s back!” you both spring into action.

A message gets sent through Zillow to a random buyer’s agent, who you assume is the listing agent because this is new territory and you have no idea what you’re doing.

You see the house with the buyer’s agent, who you still believe is the listing agent. 

It’s iffy. 

There’s a lot of wood (it’s a log cabin for crying out loud!). 

The heating system leaves a lot to be desired (have you ever seen a coal/wood/oil combo?).

But the land. And the scenery. 

And when your boyfriend’s father, who toured the place with you, mentions it feels like you’re living in the Adirondacks, you practically drool all over the floor.

But your boyfriend is still on the fence. He yearns for continued simplicity, not a matchbox full of things to fix.

You give him space. (Especially after he snaps at you because you’re getting overly emotional about the whole thing and driving him bonkers.)

The next day you leave him alone for a full five hours while he’s at work. And when he comes home, you look at him nervously, hoping he’ll tell you the news you want to hear.

And he DOES.

He wants the house and the land and the weirdly arranged living room and the stupidly complicated heating system and the three-car garage space and the ugly kitchen countertops and the creaky hardwood floors. 

He wants to build mountain bike trails and start woodworking projects and ask the seller if the two of you can keep the seller’s chickens and a rooster who seems to cock-a-doodle-doo at any time of the day.

It’s idyllic. A paradise.

And then you leave town, because you have weekend plans, and drive 5+ hours through urban wastelands and smog-filled thruways. While you’re driving, he calls everyone in his family. He dials up his real-estate-agent aunt, who is fantastic at what she does. She’s on board to help, no question.

The two of you daydream about all the wonderful things you could do together.

Fast forward to the next day. You have to attend your brother’s 30th birthday party, but your prospective log home looms heavily in the air. Your goal is to submit an offer and force the seller to cancel his open house.

Your boyfriend accepts phone call after phone call during the birthday party while you help with the food and watch your 3-year-old niece. You crash in your brother’s bedroom, tap into his wifi, and submit an online offer to the agent. You’ve given the seller a deadline of 9 a.m. the next day. You float through the rest of the evening with a pep in your step and a smile on your face. You’ve told your family about the offer and they (most of them) are pulling for you.

The next day you hear nothing until after 10 a.m. They’re reviewing your offer, they say.

Then, crickets.

For hours and hours and hours.

You’re driving home, back through those 5+ hours of urban wastelands and smog-filled thruways when your agent calls. 

The seller has verbally accepted your offer, but they have a few contingencies. 

You are on cloud nine but you also feel like you’re going to puke. You accept — oh boy do you accept. And you ask them to send the paperwork through so all parties can sign.

Then, crickets.

For hours and hours and hours. You go to bed realizing you might not actually get the house, but you’re hopeful. (Perhaps naively so.)

The next morning you’re told there’s another offer on the table that the seller is considering. You put your head in your hands and start whining like a little girl.

Your boyfriend shushes you and tells you to stop getting emotional.

You get up and clean the house, which is something you do when you’re nervous and need a distraction.

You both realize you need to submit a counter offer, so you pool your money, run the numbers, and go as far in as it makes sense. 

Then you wait.

For hours and hours and hours.

You go for a hike, you take the car through the wash, you make an early dinner and get some work done.

You’re still exchanging ideas for that house, but they’re more fleeting and stated with much less vigor.

You have plans with friends that evening, so you head over there, realizing you will hear the news and either celebrate or drown your sorrows with them. 

Hours pass.

Then, a text from your boyfriend’s aunt, who ran herself ragged helping you go after that house.

You didn’t get it.

Another offer came in, all cash, no inspection.

Crestfallen.

You go home, to your cozy, three-floor townhouse that you pay minimal monthly rent for, especially since you split it with your boyfriend.

You’re comfortable.

And life resumes.

Post 501: It’s here, it’s enough

After going to college in rural western New York, many of my peers flocked back to their big-city hometowns or left their backcountry nests behind in search of something bigger, something better.

I understood the allure — skyscrapers, busy streets, the excitement of being where things actually happen.

I wondered if it was something I wanted, too. So I applied to jobs in Buffalo (a good starting point, I thought), New York City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Tucson. I penned dozens of cover letters and adjusted my creative résumé using Adobe InDesign. I got as far as my starting point, where a local ice cream company said “thanks, but no thanks.”

I ended up in a small town that calls itself a city, nestled just below the famous Finger Lakes region in New York State.

“Why?” You might ask. To that I say “Well, why not?”

You’re talking to the girl who grew up riding her bike down one hill and up another, passing only a decrepit department store, an abandoned train depot and dusty store fronts as she huffed and puffed to the library. 

The girl who ran miles around cornfields and pastures, with one runway of a road – damn you, Wheater! – that seemed to stretch into oblivion. 

The girl who yearned for charming coffee shops, lunch spots and, at the very least, a one-screen movie theater. 

Today, all that is here. And it’s enough.

I frequent several local coffee shops and lunch spots, and I cruise down busy streets to riverfront paths on either two wheels or two legs — it doesn’t matter which. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized this place is as city as Emily gets, and riding my bike or walking downtown to a lively main street full of restaurants, ice cream shops, and trendy bars will never ever get old. 

Now when I visit home I relish in the long, empty roads dotted by farm creatures and picturesque barns. I appreciate what I had, what I have, and what will be. And today if I were to bike to the library from my parents’ house, I’d pass a coffee-shop lunch spot, the two-in-one deal I never knew I needed.

It’s today. I’m here or there, and that’s enough.

Oh, and did I mention the theater here has two screens?!?

Nick is one of my favorite photo subjects.

Post 500: Welcome back to Blackbyrd

In the fall of 2014 I toured a personal finance magazine’s office in downtown DC. I had actually secured an internship there for a summer but turned it down for another, more-substantial offer closer to home. 

(P.S. I’ve now worked at the company I chose over the magazine for nearly seven years.) 

(P.P.S. I knew close to nothing about personal finance, but I suppose I’m a classically trained journalist who could have figured it out.)

During the tour I couldn’t help but think about what my life there could have been like. The bright office in a beautiful building, the shiny tile floors, the official-looking professionals in their smart, tailored suits. Did I make the right decision? Two summers in a row at the same company — really, Emily? Who would I have met?

But the environment and my daydream isn’t what stood out most to me about the visit. It was the woman who would have been my boss, a notable alumna from my alma mater. It wasn’t how she looked, what she wore, or what she did — it was one tiny thing she said that she probably didn’t think anything of, but it has stuck with me for nearly 10 years. 

Twenty-Year-Old Emily: “What do you do in your free time? Do you ever write for yourself?”

Notable Alumna: “Oh gosh, by the time I get home from work, staring at another computer is the last thing I want to do.”

I was shocked. Imagine me, the self-proclaimed poetic genius five years deep into a personal blog and three years into what essentially was a writing degree, discovering that someone who could be a role model didn’t make time to write for herself outside of work.

I couldn’t imagine it because, at that time, not 24 hours could pass without Emily jotting down a new blog post idea; a young woman’s naive belief that what she has to say really really matters. 

Today, I get it. Today my eyes are tired.

But my fingers have been itching for years with blog posts unwritten and prose unprofessed. I need a creative outlet for my brain beyond the little victories I get at work in-between project planning and PowerPoint deck creation.

I’ve said this before, but this time I really mean it: this is the year I’m bringing my creative writing back. I’ve titled this “The Blog Project,” and my goal is to revisit my roots and practice my writing. (Aka I DON’T GIVE A SHIT IF ANYONE READS IT… I think.) I’m reading more than I have since I was a freckled kid lazing away over long stretches of summertime and I’ve written more poetry in the last couple of months than I have in the past four years combined.

So here’s Blackbyrd, a blog started by a 14-year-old in the heat of angst and uncertainty who is now a woman in her late 20s. I’ll be covering topics as a professional millennial plus some just-for-fun musings and projects.

Welcome back.