Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Bookstore

Bookstores are interesting. They're rigid with classifications from length to genre, from pictures and words to used and new. There's an everlasting, insurmountable mass of thought circulating within the walls; what is more drastic is amount of untouchable thoughts you'll never reach with your mind, even though the opportunities are in front of you. As much as we wish we could lie around in the bookstores and read an endless amount of books and live through the written words, and despite the book itself being of the physical world, there is something that demands living outside of the pages. And I find it odd that we feel as though we're 'really living' when something in the physical world knocks us into an emotional and mental state that is undefinable.
I think it is the knowing of that feeling that makes us human, and makes this all relatable.

Sometimes I struggle with memory. I don't struggle to recall things, but I recall them too well and get lost in reminiscence and fear loss of appreciation for the present moment. I am immediately drawn to the 'Staff Picks/Staff Favorites' sections of bookstores. Though I appreciate wandering about alone, I love to know what other people are reading and why they feel a certain way about a book. On sabbatical I went to a bookstore (if not multiple) in every town I was in, and I noticed that the Staff Recommendations have a lot in common, as do the contemporary fiction display tables. I picked up All The Light We Cannot See because the title was so familiar. After starting to read the synopsis on the inside of the front cover, I transported to where I had read it before: The Last Bookstore in LA. And as the murmurs of people around me drowned out, I remembered the high ceilings, the separate 'Art' room, and the artist studios lining the second floor and the tunnel they had created out of books. I remembered what it was like to be lost in a bookstore and not feel pressured by the person you're with to 'hurry up and decide', but to know that the time in a bookstore is often not a matter of decision but a length of awe. I recalled the coffee table book I had picked up in LA, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores. I wished I had bought it. And I thought of the artist on the second floor of that bookstore that I now follow on Instagram and have exchanged heartfelt messages with. I remembered the book I actually left The Last Bookstore with for $4, and the conversation Giselle and I had in the car immediately after.
"We should get gas."
"Eh, we can probably make it to Venice."
"It says '0 miles to empty'."
"Oh. ...Yeah. Ugh, dammit Tina."
And for a moment the coat that I was wearing in Denver was replaced with California sun beating down on my bare shoulders.

And as I stood in Tattered Cover on 16th Street in Denver, I closed the copy I was holding of All The Light We Cannot See and the memory quieted as I placed the book back on the shelf. I turned my head and my ponytail rested to the left of my neck, and half-expected Giselle to come around the corner with a book, telling me to "Look at this!" in the exclamatory yet hushed voice that advocates use in bookstores. Not everyone appreciates bookstores, and that's fine. I have a friend that is visiting LA right now, and when we had brunch before he left Denver I told him, with a rush of excitement, that he had to visit The Last Bookstore. I realized immediately that it was a waste of a recommendation, and was disappointed in myself. Maybe a record store is a bookstore for him. Or maybe he doesn't have a bookstore. Either is fine.
(it's fine, i'm fine, everything is fine.)

I walked around corner and came upon a tiny booth that was unoccupied. I slid in, bookless, just to sit. I tried to listen to every voice around me, but they blended together and became one with the buzzing of coffee beans being ground behind the counter to my left. I put my headphones in, searching for a song for my moment. Spotify chose "Late Night (It's Okay)" by VHS Collection for me, which is from an eight and a half hour playlist labeled '4KG', created by Andrew Wisniewski. This playlist played an important part on sabbatical for me, and as my eyes let the grain of the table defocus I went back to the beach on Highway 1 just north of Big Sur, which was the last time I had listened really listened to this song.

My drive down Highway 1 was all cloud and drizzle, and it was somewhere around the first "It's okay," line that I found tears streaming down my face as I stared out at the ocean through my windshield. I rested my forehead on the top of the steering wheel and watched as drops of tears slid down the silver VW logo and wondered why I was crying. I clenched my jaw and tried to stop, to no avail. I felt completely alone in that moment, and tried to completely feel. This is something I'd been chasing, been fearing, been ignoring and am [(un)fortunately] still staggering in and out of. When the song ended I got out of my car and dragged my toes in the sand, feeling the humidity curl my hair and letting the smell of salty water create a memory. I'd tell you how long I did that for, but time wasn't a measure to keep track of when I lived out of my car.

"Late Night (It's Okay)" came to a close and I yanked my headphones out of my ears and slid out of the booth because that was enough of that. I walked through every section in Tattered Cover, gazing up often to get lost with the high ceilings and beautiful pillars, the options of being in countless different worlds wrapping themselves around me. I bought a book and waited in line to pay for it. I walked down 16th Street with the book held tightly to my chest partly because it was cold, partly because I was excited: because I had a new book, because 16th Street is lined with Christmas lights, because there was a horse-drawn carriage, because it's the holidays, because I get to see my family soon, because I have memories. I shuffled along with my eyes down, and with a small, simple smile, because bookstores bring humanity two-fold: by being a bookstore and the enormity that entails, and by giving you the experience you're about to live while reading a book.

five stars. 


Monday, November 28, 2016


You shouldn't read the "Gear Reviews" page yet, because there's nothing there. Because I work in explosive segments, and then leave it to rest until I'm ready to go at it again. This website is killing me, and it's hard to keep throwing energy into it on a regular basis. But you have to do things like that, because if you don't, you fall into this rut where something is half-finished and though you're facing it head-on, you're intentionally looking the other way.

Today I made substantial gains on my book. I have to tell everyone I'm writing a book, because if I don't, it won't be done. And it must be done. I had to re-install Microsoft Word, because I needed a platform that I thought was worthy to keep track of everything. I have an exceptional amount of photos and video footage on my computer, and in order to re-install MS Word (Office, unavoidably) I had to delete some files. A lot of files.

I inquisitively watched all of my unnamed videos from questionable dates. This one was from almost one year ago, mid-December of 2015. I had just moved into a new apartment in Flagstaff, and I took a video tour of it to send my mom. At first I cringed and said aloud "Is that what I fucking sound like?" and then took in a short breath when I heard my video-self say "Dammit Cohen, move." And the video pans down to him, his head at my hip as I'm trying to navigate myself around him. You can also hear him whining softly in the background, begging to be pet and for attention to be paid to him. It's a sound I'll never hear again, and I wouldn't have been able to replicate in my mind if not for that video. I then thought of when Giselle and I were walking around downtown Ventura, just a month ago; I saw a man walking a Great Dane, and I turned to Giselle and drew a breath to say the words "I used to have a Great Dane." and stopped myself, because of course Giselle knew that. She lived with him. Giselle knew Cohen quite well. She knew me when I had Cohen. I still remember the day I told her I had to put him down. We were at Beta (the best climbing gym in Flagstaff), and I still remember the wall we were standing in front of, and I swear to god I still remember the climb we were working on. It was a traverse, and it was a V2. I remember saying the words and clenching my jaw at the sting of tears, and not being able to look her in the eye, because I knew I'd lose it. She was leaving for California the next day, and we both knew she wouldn't be there for it. We both knew I'd be alone for it.

So as we stood on that corner of two streets in Ventura and I told her what I almost said to her, I remarked on how odd it is that I'm at a point in my life where most people I interact with know me without Cohen by my side. I think there are few life events that distinct one version of yourself versus another, and that's one of mine. I wrote a blog post this past summer, early summer, about my experience putting Cohen down. I haven't had the courage to reread it until tonight, and I love it. It still rips me apart, and it's sad, but it's a very raw part of me that I am proud I wrote about. It was the worst night of my life, and I had the guts to not only relive it while writing about it, but share it with everyone I know + more. If you haven't read it, I encourage you to. Or reread it. For Cohen. And for me. It's titled "We write to taste life twice...".

This brings me around to my favorite quote of all time, which is from (my favorite author of all time) Chuck Klosterman. I've referenced this so many times before, but here it is again:

"When you start thinking about what your life was like years ago - and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail - it's disturbing to realize how certain elements of your being are completely dead. They die long before you do. It's astonishing to consider all the things from your past that used to happen all of the time but (a) never happen anymore and (b) never even cross your mind. It's almost like those things didn't happen. Or made it seems like they just happened to someone else."

Isn't that great? I tried to recall it once, recently, when I was drunk off of more than a bottle of wine. I butchered it, and I was so frustrated with myself. I don't even have that book anymore, but it's my favorite book. Chuck Klosterman has this beautiful way of intertwining his philosophies with music he listens to and his physical actions in the world. If you haven't read Killing Yourself To Live, I encourage you to. It should be at the top of your list.
The title of that work itself is striking.

The two days before Thanksgiving I spent in Moab, and it's the first mini/day-trip I've taken since my month of sabbatical/living out of my car on the west coast. I used to hate the desert, and that is so comical to me now. I still do not like running in it, but in the past year I've learned to love climbing in it, and also standing on the edge of a rock and looking out over it. There's something that happens to the soul when you see the sun rise over red - truly red - rocks that are mashed up against the Colorado River. The hues of purple and red and fiery flames it sets to your heart cannot be matched. I finally know what Evan meant when he said Moab helped heal him after his father died. I heard a stream babble from so far away, and when I got to it, when I approached this so very tiny body of running water in the desert and the one-inch fall that was making so much noise; I stuck my hands right in it and was shocked at both the frigid temperature and the sting it brought over my skin. I lifted my eyes and became incredibly aware of how restless I had felt before being there. When you are in the desert you're reminded of how powerful the Earth is. When you stare at a plant struggling to grow in-between rocks and the dry, red dirt you're reminded that sometimes growing into life is hard. And when you look at the brilliantly green leaves on that plant, you're reminded of how far your soul has come, and the enormity of a life truly lived.

And you strive for it. You strive for what you've previously felt, the extravagance of what a 24-hour day truly feels like. And you get it back. And you remind yourself that even though you live one thousand different lives while you're alive, you know what it feels like for your heart to be completely full.
And you chase it. With everything you have.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

I want, I wish, I want, I know.

In the first part of my first shift back at The Kitchen, a coworker (lovingly known as MSG) narrowed his eyes, cocked his head to the side and said "I feel like there's so much we don't know about you, Kelsey." I can't remember my reply, though I'm sure it was something allusive with a smirk or smile tagged on, but I do remember walking down those five stairs and slowly exhaling, thinking about how true that was.

I want to write so much about my recent trip. I wish you knew how strange it feels for me to call it a 'trip'. I want so badly to rip my heart out and hand it to every single reader and have them feel everything that I felt for three and a half weeks, and for awhile before that, too. I want to tell you about how my mom got so mad at me that I thought we would never speak again. I want to tell you about how hard I cried and how a lump still rises in my throat when I think about Giselle saying very softly "I'm sorry. She should be proud of you." I want to tell you about how I got some of my climbing confidence back after leading a few routes at The Pit in Flagstaff. I want to tell you how scared I was to down-climb because I ran out of quickdraws. I want to tell you how hard it is to sleep when you're too cold. I want to tell you how many times we tried to make pour-over coffee work for us. I want to tell you I spent 21 days with the same person, every waking and sleeping moment, and how much fun everything was. I want to tell you about how we ate an entire block of cheese and then went for an 11 mile run and I wish you could have felt my heartbeat when I left Joshua Tree because uncertainty was flowing through my veins. I want to tell you how many texts and Facebook messages I ignored from people of almost every part of my life because I didn't have any sort of answers to any sort of questions. I want to tell you about how when people ask what my favorite part is, I have no idea how to answer, because mostly what comes to my mind is how unsure I was of myself and of the world around me; yet in the moments outside of those times I was so confident in every word, thought and physical action. It wasn't as though I was in two different places at the same time, but rather bouncing back and forth so violently that I could only plan my life one hour at a time, because I wasn't sure how I was going to feel or what I was going to think the next day. Most of all, I wish you could feel how hard I laughed, or how badly it stung when I relentlessly licked my chapped lips.

I want to tell you how important music is to me, because I know it's just as important to you. I want you to know that every time I hear the song Indian Summer by Jai Wolf, I'm hit with one thousand memories from our trip. It hits so hard that I actually feel like my skin is still dark from the desert sun, my forearms are still tight from climbs, my body still feels exhausted at night from truly trying, Giselle and I are still laughing and rapping and talking about living life outside of everyone else's. I'm still staring out the window as we drive across the desert and wondering how long the Jet Boil fuel will last us, and we're still asking each other "What day is it? What time is it? What's the date? Is it still October? I can't remember where I put ____. Where is the ____...? When was the last time we showered? Can I use your toothpaste?"

In real and present time, she just sent me a video from her phone of part of the trip. We got to Crested Butte when it was dark, and we drove my car through a large puddle, it's depth still in question. And it's hilarious. And I already forgot about it. I completely forgot about the moment I thought I had fucked my car up, when we were only 6 hours into our road trip.

That was exhausting. I knew that I was going to come back to Denver quite quickly after I left. In fact, I told Giselle and one other person immediately. I had a date set and I had the end of a plan, or beginning of a plan, worked out in my head and in my finances in a matter of moments. I was leaning against the front of my car while Giselle set up her tripod for night photos, watching the sun sink as the mountains of Ouray towered above us in every direction and the lights of the small town started to spark below. I had my right foot crossed in front of my left, and as my right hand rubbed my chin and lower lip I said "I'm going to write a book. I think I have to." And as my eyes shifted to the right to see her direct reaction, Giselle flawlessly replied with "I think that's an incredible idea. You should. You don't live a normal life."

So that's what I'm working on. All of the time. I'm also working up an article right now that I think is a lot of fun, and separate from the book, and I'll still keep trying to publish smaller work. But that is what I'm up to. That is one of the very huge things I am up to. The second is training to break the Fastest Known Time on the John Muir Trail in August 2017. The third is unpublishable.

photo credit: Giselle Fernandez 

"What comes after an incredible road trip with your best friend? Anxiety. Yesterday, Kelsey and I completed 11 days on the road from Denver to Crested Butte to Ouray to Arches NP to Canyonlands NP to Horseshoe Bend to Flagstaff to Joshua Tree NP. I am overwhelmed with the desire to save all the memories we made from the things we said and did and all of our jokes (because we are hilarious). I want to remember even the most seemingly insignificant details, like using water gallons for tent stakes or munching on a block of cheddar cheese through the desert car ride. We had some breakthrough ideas and we had some useless ideas (cue failed filtered coffee moment). And as I come to accept that I’ll forget a lot of special moments from this trip in the coming years, I am comforted with truly knowing I will never forget how I felt through it all."
-Giselle Fernandez

Follow Giselle on Instragram @gisellewanders to see the full post of the above quote. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Let My Kelsey Go Surfing

When I picked Giselle up from Denver International Airport I immediately poured my thoughts out to her about my ability to go anywhere, because in that moment (and these moments, still) my whole life is packed in my car.
That's not really true, because my whole life is everywhere I've been. It's in a brewery in Flagstaff, it's at table 40 at The Kitchen - Denver, it's in the bottom of several wine bottles and it's in my blood I've (we've all) left behind in Joshua Tree. 

Giselle and I talked quite a bit about self-sabotage; the idea of it and if that's what I was doing to myself by entertaining the thought of not moving to Flagstaff. The thought of what if I just kept driving. I'll save you all the beatnik literature approach of consciousness that I fear I'm going to end up writing and tell you that I saw the life I was going to live in Flagstaff. It's not a bad life, it's an incredible one. Life in Flagstaff is everything it should be: it's life in a small mountain town. The running is incredible and the climbing is world-class. It's a life that I've missed and I thought I wanted to get back to. But it's a life I know. And what about the hundreds of lives that I don't know? I feel as though I have to go live those. Moving to Flagstaff felt like a glass ceiling and a limestone box. 

We talked about the life philosophy that is commonly found in writers. The idea that your life is a story, your story, and you are writing it as both the author and the main character. So far I have a pretty cool story, but if I were to pen fiction with Kelsey Elizabeth Gray as my protagonist, would I have her move back to Flagstaff? 

No. Absolutely not. Because deep down in her chest, below and behind her heart but in front of her spine, there's this urge to go. So I made her go.

Giselle and I packed so much into those 11 days that I have a hard time believing it is only 24 October. We ran 20 miles through the mountains in Crested Butte, climbed in Ouray, headed over to Moab for a few days where we allowed ourselves to create in between the runs and climbs and al dente tortellini. We bushwhacked the San Francisco Peaks traverse, all six peaks(!), in eight hours and leaned on each other during both mental and physical lows. We talked about how much we hate donuts and then ate donuts. I have never laughed so hard in my life, and she helped my heart heal when a piece of it broke off between Moab and Flagstaff. 

I said I was going to Washington and now I'm not, because I don't want to anymore and I don't have to. I've had a few people text or Facebook message me and ask if I'm "trying to find [myself] on a deeper level" and I hate that. I fucking hate that, because I'm not. I'm not searching for anything, and I know myself better than anyone. I'm not searching for answers, because I don't have any questions. 
I don't have anything to find, but I do have things to see and things to do, and I want to do it now. Right now. I don't want to wait until I can afford a plane ticket and a rental car and budget my meals dining out. I like to sleep in my car (or a Nemo tent), rely on my Jet Boil for a real meal and wake up with the sun. 
Most people thought I was moving to Washington via my Facebook post, even though that's not what it said at all. But people think that because they read without listening and they "listen" while talking over me. And I'm really sick of that. I am so sick of it that I've given up on telling my mother any sort of plan or idea I have. I am so sick of it that this is going to be my last blog post for a long time. Someone I used to be friends with, but haven't talked to in a long time (you know, those people, whose lives are so incredibly different from yours now that you cannot imagine you had one thing in common at any point) asked me "Where do you want to end up?" and that made me feel sick. The question itself suggests that the life that I live, that I love to live, has to end at some point and I will 'settle down', as they call it. And I don't care for that term, either. People that have a spouse and children and the "white picket fence", I think, are living the life that they want to live. And I think that's pretty rad. I wonder why people can't listen to my stories about a rock climb or run up to a summit the way they can listen and laugh with/to stories about a child asking an irrelevant question. Because that time we reached the summit with the prayer flags at 11:11 was just as special as the time a kid took a step. The time Giselle accidentally said "That scared the Daylight Savings out of me" is just as funny as a child babbling nonsense. That time we stared at the stars in Joshua Tree, bodies tired and hands bloody from climbs, listened to two guitars softly strumming together and felt the warm breeze wrap itself around our skin; that time is just as special as watching your child sleep. And that question of "If you could live on any star, which star would it be?" is much more relevant than "What about health insurance? What about your 401k? Where will you live? How much money do you have?"

Most people that I have met in the past two weeks don't ask those questions. They encourage me, and I need it sometimes. Sometimes a lot of times. They give me suggestions on what to see and when to go, and the introductions are just as genuine as the hugs goodbye. I can't imagine living a life more full than the one I am now.

As for now, I'm about to head over to the Marin Headlands, because that's where this all started, so many years ago. But we all know that. 

And then I'm going to go wherever I want. There's a handful of incredible people that have their arms open in Ventura county. And although I spent most of my 28 years living on a lake, I don't know how to surf. 
...For long.

[To Hannah, my cousin: Your comment on my Facebook post reads "As long as you (1) still come back to Michigan once in a while and (2) you're happy wherever you are in that moment." brought me to tears, and I wanted to quite publicly thank you. It is one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me. I want to give you a bone-crushing hug for it.]

Perhaps I'll write again tomorrow. Perhaps I'll die tomorrow. Or perhaps you will all read my book,  in which I will likely *not* rip off Yvon Chouinard's title. ;)


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

From pre-service to shifties, from July to October.

I have tried to write this post for a week and now I have to do it, because I am out of time.
I am out of time here. Just typing that sentence made my heart beat hard and fast.
And I don't know why I am the way that I am. I live in constant worry that I could be happier and that I don't have a lot of time. I don't know where that exactly stemmed from, but I do think it directly relates to the fact that I've always thought I won't live a long life.
And that's a tad morbid. I'm sorry, mom.
But maybe that's why I am the way that I am.

I love the service industry for so many reasons, and if you had told me I'd be making a career out of it a year ago, I would've laughed in your face. But that has changed for me, and TKD played a huge roll in that. For the first time since I had left Flagstaff and DSB, I felt inspired by who and what I was working for.
The service industry harvests a very special kind of people. They are, first and most importantly, hilarious. I think that laughter is the most important aspect of life. I spent years being self-conscious of my laugh and never laughing as hard as I wanted to, but I've learned to let go of that, because I think that laughter is the most genuine reaction as a human. You can't control it, even if you want to, or you should (shoutout to you, Sanders, re: Sunday night), and it should not be censored. There is a special bond in the service industry, and I've thought several times about what brings this about. I think it may be just the act of serving people and bonding through that, but I have no definitive answer. It's just a feeling, and I think that readers that are in the service industry know exactly what I'm talking about.

I walked out after a shift at The Kitchen Denver (TKD) a few weeks ago responding to a message about a job in Flagstaff with a quiet excitement. It was almost midnight and no one was awake for me to share my excitement with, so I walked quietly down the alley behind The Kitchen and held my phone close to my chest while smiling to myself. I knew I was leaving Denver in the beginning of September, but I couldn't bring myself to making it real until several weeks after.

On Monday night, two days ago, I walked through that alley and burst into tears. Because I am going to miss this city and the people at TKD so fucking much. It is absolutely unreal to me. Leaving Denver was not an easy decision. In a way, it was, because I am going back to Flagstaff, to two jobs that I love and believe in. But it was not easy because of TKD and the people that are there.

The odd thing is, is that Monday night wasn't even my last shift, but I really lost it when it came to emotions on my walk to my car. I worked Tuesday night (last night) and I work again, for the last time, tonight (Wednesday, 12 October). And leaving this place and these people is already breaking my heart. This post is for them.

For Queso (Casey Knutson)
After one of my recent blog posts I walked into the employee area and you were ironing your shirt and I was throwing stuff into my locker and you said "I feel like I know you on a different level now," because you had read my blog. And you told me that you struggle with the same feelings, and I told you that's why I write. What I really wanted to do was to throw my arms around your neck and cry and tell you capital-T Thank capital-Y You. I think it is exhausting to feel and exhausting to write and exhausting to share. It is comforting to know that no human is alone. Your snapchat is almost as hilarious as you are in person. Keep snappin', sweets.

For Maureen Daberkow
I found strength through you when I really needed it, and I don't think you have any idea. I have always been an anxious person, as I've alluded to above, but my heart has felt restless in Denver and that was hard to deal with until I had a particular conversation with you. I'm not sure if you remember that conversation, and perhaps it is more special if you don't, because you should know what a positive impact you have by just being yourself. I admire you, and I think you are so goddamn fucking hilarious. My first night at TKD, before I was even hired, I remember you sat down at pre-service and asked, in the most calm, inquisitive and endearing manner if "anyone has any idea about llamas?" The conversation that ensued still cracks me up when I think about it. But laughing about that right now brings about my tears, because now I am leaving. You have made me a better person. You have made me a smarter person. You have allowed me to be a happier person. I don't think there are words to express that gratitude, so I will sit here and cry at my computer and have to trust that someone (hopefully several people) in your life have made you feel that, too. Thank you.

For Kirsten
You're the first person that made me want to work at TKD. I staged (is that really how you even spell that word) with you and was hired on your recommendation, so in a big way, I feel like I owe my experience to you. I wish your dog didn't break your finger so we could've had more time together because you are so wonderful. I hope you never feel like you aren't funny, because you are - and most of the time it's without words. Which, I think, takes a special (read: best) kind of personality.

For Skylar
I honestly have no idea if your name is spelled with an 'e' or an 'a'. I think it might be an 'a', because I wrote it on your plate last night and you didn't correct my spelling. I don't think you'll even ever read this, but OH MY GOD. I think you're the only person I've met in a REALLY long time that understands a very awesome part of my sense of humor. And I think you know exactly what I'm talking about. I wanted to slaughter you last night with table 91 and you knew that and we both thought it was hilarious. Even though I was pissed. It was totally something I'd do. And it was great. You're great. The fact that you and Kirsten are dating makes me so incredibly happy. Normally I don't care about who people date, but when perfect people date another person that I think is perfect, it makes me feel like the world is perfect. I'd call you a Power Couple in the best way.

For Abigail Butler
Miss Butler. You have, I truly believe, the most shining soul I have ever seen in a human. From the moment I met you, when you trained me, I truly thought and feel like you are one of the best people I will meet in my lifetime. You have a calming sense about you, always!, and know exactly when to laugh and when to sneak in the perfect zing into a conversation, even from the sidelines. It would break my heart if I never saw you again. However, I think that I will. I am happy that our last interaction was a wine shot. I absolutely adore you.

For Alice Fallon
I don't think anything brings two people closer quicker than sharing the same annoyances. Thankfully, our friendship extends FAR beyond that. You are one of those people that I will see a year or two from now and it will feel like absolutely no time has passed since we last saw each other. People speak of this feeling a lot, but I think it is very, very rare. You made my heart swell with happiness and sadness when we were sitting on the patio with Cholsi at Next Door and you looked at both of us and said "I hate when people I love move, because it's so sad, but I love when you can see the excitement in their lives when they talk about it. And I see that in both of you." I literally just cried while quoting you on that. I think it's such a beautiful way to see a person and life changes, and it shows what an incredible person you are. Not to mention the hilarity that you and your husband create! God. Please tell him how funny I think he (and you, of course) are. I love you, always.

For Cholsi
Nichole. Cholita. Cholsi. For weeks (months?) I didn't know you well because sometimes I just simply could not hear you, as you talk so softly most of the time. But one magical afternoon we day drank together and I don't think I've felt a faster friendship grow. You are so funny, and you inspire me to keep following my heart and dreams as you move on to Seattle. Your voice may be soft, but you say powerful things. Don't ever forget that. And please, don't ever forget me, because I will be hitting you up as soon as I visit the PNW within the next year.

For Amber Sachs
This one, I think, is the hardest to write. Which is ridiculous, because you are the ONE PERSON I know I will absolutely see multiple times, especially within the next year, and likely very soon. So, I think for the sake of everyone else reading this, I have to speak to just the reader for a moment, and not just you.

-->Ultrarunning is an incredible sport. It's also FAR dominated by males. It's also increasingly becoming an ego-booster for many people and conversations are dominated by times and wins. So, to find a female that you enjoy running long distances with, is first, quite rare. To find a female that you enjoy running with that runs similar to you, is even more rare. To find a female that you enjoy running with and that runs similar to you AND that you love talking to and laughing with, is the rarest of rare. Amber is all of that, and more. <--

There has been once in my life that I have felt that I knew I would be friends with someone for the rest of my life, and someone that inspires truly inspires me so deeply - and that is Giselle. You are the other. I am absolutely hell-bent on doing that stage race in BC, and I know you'll be there to pace me for my 100 and I will be there to pace you for yours. And in-between now and all of that, I will see you several times. I don't have the ability to thank you enough for the laughs we've shared, the limited (but soon to continue) time on trail, and the countless (feels countless, but is actually quite countable) shifts we've shared at TKD. I am going to miss you so much. The poetic part about me leaving, and me missing you so much, is that you are the only one that gets it. You are the only person that knows that it's like to be a runner and be so in love with mountains and be able to live in a small mountain town. So I guess that makes it easier. But, you know, it also makes it harder. See you soon, my dear.

For Matty C
MCMATTYC! I love it so much. Your wine key will be at TKD by the time you come back from Europe, one way or another, I promise (oh, the mystery!). Every time you called me 'Miss' I wanted to call you 'Sir' but I'm not fast enough with my Proper to retort with it. But I want you to know the thought (not so much effort, per K Gray usual) was there. I know you're having a blast in Europe on your wine excursion, but I had to reach out and let you know that I will miss you. Like, truly miss you. Not just "Hey, I'll miss ya!" but like "Hey. You made an impact on my life because you're an incredible human. Thank you, and I will truly miss you." Because of you, I will more-than-not refer to wine as 'juice'.

For Zach Beyers
Yikes, this is another painful one. Some people you just 'get', you know. Thank you so much for all of the sincere laughs. I know you manage tonight, and I fear that I will accidentally cry when you say something hilarious. I wish so much that I had more time for Amber and I to get you on the trails and away from the roads, and to befriend your wondrous wife. But I don't. Thanks for keeping my secret about having a wild crush on Sanders, and for a) catching my quick-wit comments b) responding with quick-wit comments c) sharing the moment of a stare-down when both people say something hilarious and d) laughing after. You're one of the very few people I feel like I'll see again. That makes me quite happy. Thank you for feeding me so much information about wine that I have absorbed, and thank you for being both a great manager and wine director, and an even better friend. Even if it was for a short amount of time.

For Zac Sanders
I had a wild crush on you. Keep rocking those bow-ties, and I know that you know how awesome you are, deep down. Keep saying quick comments and jokes that people don't understand right away, and keep writing the strips.

For Adam Scroggins
I feel like I keep thanking people for being hilarious and it may be getting redundant, but SERIOUSLY THANK YOU FOR THE LAUGHS. Mitten pride is always fun to share, but I especially loved that there was someone I could talk beer with while everyone else ran wine through the grid. I am sure we'll see each other again through the world of beer and Michigan, and I am excited to see what you do with your career. If I could sum up our friendship through one interaction, it would be that one time when we made eye contact during pre-service and busted up laughing while everyone else was quiet. And neither of us remember why! But we both remember the moment. An infinitive "Cheers" to the direction life takes you, and I'll see you soon.
And it'll feel good. So good.

For Hilliary Grace
Despite the unnecessary 'i' in your name, I love you so much. Always keep your chin up. You're good at it, but I know sometimes you forget to. Let the haters hate on how much you talk (like last night, "I love the sound of my voice, that's why I talk so much"). You're a powerful soul, and you are a positive light. I have no idea where you'll be in a year, but I would really love to stay in touch. Much love, babes.

For Laura
I don't think you'll ever read this, mainly because we're not friends on Facebook. But I admire you for following your passion and for having the ability to realize when a profession forms into a hobby. I honestly hope all of the best for you, and that your smile keeps shining through Denver. ...Because it really does shine!

For Crystal 
I just feel like around Christmas time I'll be getting hammered with you in Phoenix before my red-eye back to Michigan. So I think I'll see you soon. BUT DAMN you are so funny. Your small stature makes your sass and power come through even stronger, and I admire your passion for the industry and your bartending skills. I will miss your sass, and that ...ass.

For Kaya
I will always, always remember how much you made me laugh, on so many fronts and counts. Especially on Tuesday, October 11. Life is always hard at some points, but I hope the rest of yours is extra incredible.

For (Michael) Collins 
From your note on Hot Schedules, to your jaded attitude and to you texting me, two days ago: "I've been living my day in complete happiness. I need someone to ruin it. I thought of you." Thank you. God, thank you so much for the laughs and for the zucchini that I think might still be on top of my locker. Like most things pertaining to you, I forgot about it.
Unfortunately, I'll never forget you. And like my friendship with Skyla(e)r, words of hatred and annoyance are translated into friendship and appreciation. I will always think of you, now, whenever anyone orders a Tom Collins, simply from the name. Thankfully it's a classic cocktail which few people ever order.
You know how much I'll miss you.

Thank you, everyone, for the knowledge, the laughs, the endless coffee and bread. Thank you for the incident reports, the broken wine glasses and the late closes. Thank you for the support, the understanding and the inspiration. Thank you for the hugs (despite me hating being touched), thank you for the shifties, and thank you for the tears that are sure to spring from my eyes tonight. I can only hope I have left a sliver of the impression on you that I am taking with me.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

On borrowed time

Several things happened on Saturday night that were completely out of the norm for me. I ate a meal in its entirety after an ultra, I kept quiet during a conversation and I slept without interruption that night. As I was brushing my teeth the next morning I found the one in the middle to be most disturbing.

I forgot my computer on this trip to Flagstaff. Because of this, I wrote by hand for a few hours on Sunday, September 25. Initially I was going to post that in place of what I'm pressing up now, but things have evolved since then and different things are more important. I did, however, spend time thinking about how out of character it is for me to keep quiet in moments where I have something important to say. I've had days to dissect this and I still can't figure out why I went about such a thing this way, other than sometimes you have to meet a wall with a wall. And sometimes you  build that wall you really actually feel it while staring at twenty small squares of light. And even though it only looks like twenty are illuminated, there are really (roughly?) forty that light is coming through. But everything is based off of perspective.
I don't really believe that last sentence with 100%, but sometimes you have to say things and pretend like you believe them, like it's okay to have bad races and I don't know why I did that.

This all amounted to me watching the sunset at the Humphreys trailhead and having a meltdown with my mom on the phone. I think back on these moments and my heart pangs with sadness because I feel bad for who I was right then. If I could go back to the evening of Sunday, September 25th I would place a hand on my own shoulder. The premise of my breakdown was this, which I had written earlier that day and let wrestle with my heart for hours:

And that morning I

My mom had said "You know, it's normal for people to want to settle into a community. That's what people do." and I had responded with tears ripping down my cheeks saying "What if that's not me? What if I'm not normal? Who doesn't feel these things? Why do I only feel these things? Why am I so alone in it?"
And she said all of the right things. Because she's my mom. Because she's number one. And because, as she told me, "I'm always in your corner."

So I decided to leave Flagstaff a little early. I texted Danella because she had moved to Durango from Boulder approximately one month earlier and I told her I'd be passing through town shortly and asked her if she wanted to perhaps climb a mountain with me. With zero hesitation she responded with not only an 'absolutely' but also a mountain. I texted Drew and asked him if he wanted to join and he was down. As I packed my things I thought about how lucky a person is to have (what I have lately dubbed as) 'Fuck Yes' people. These are people that say "Fuck yes" to everything. Things that you say, things that you want to do, things you think and routes you choose - in life and at the base of mountains. These are the people that I'm not worried to leave in Denver. Danella had already left the front range and we still found a way to explore together. When I texted Drew he was in Denver and I was in Flagstaff, and less than 24 hours later we were playing in the San Juans. 
On Monday I sat chipping away at battery acid that had leaked and ruined my headlamp, forcing myself to focus on absolutely anything else than what I should have been, and cursing Black Diamond for letting me down again
As I drove out of Flagstaff I tried to analyze why I do the things that I do. Or in this case, rather, why I hadn't said the things I hadn't said. The song "Agnes" by Glass Animals came on and I ran my left hand over my forehead and let out a very short, very loud, very fucking frustrated "Ugh". Music is powerful in an exponential amount of ways, and one is that certain songs will always remind you of where you were when you heard it at one time. Sometimes it is the First Time you hear a song, but for me it's almost never that. It's a memory that ties itself to a song that I've heard before, and was hearing at the moment. "Agnes" was one for me, and now it is two for me. 

I was driving through the desert and with my hand still on my forehead I let myself feel excited to get to Durango and see two people I love dearly and do something that we all love. But I also let myself feel unfulfilled. I needed something a little bit more. And that's when I texted Giselle. Through some tiny tears I asked her "Why are our lives in transition for such a long amount of time?" Neither of us have that answer. To even define your life as 'in transition' is a profound thought, I think. It means you realize you are between two stabilities, that years decades later you will look back on and romanticize and reminisce with. To take that chunk of your life, however long it may be, and slam it against the wall and say "This may be a 'transition time' but it's still life and you still have to feel it and you still have to fucking live it and for some reason, I swear to God, it is wildly important" is hard. But my best friend has been there the whole time for it, and these 'transition times' for us are deeply intertwined and I can tell you exactly the first time I felt that. We were sitting in the living room of the then-Shorb's house with the wood burning fireplace raging, sipping on some varietal of red wine on a frigid December night listening to the song "Fade Away" by Rebelution. I will always think of that night when I hear that song. It was a big deal on a night in June when a job interview brought Giselle to southern Colorado and a free Red Rocks ticket and an agreeable rental car company all came together at the last moment and we saw Rebelution, live at Red Rocks, together. And they encored with Fade Away. 
Turns out Colorado didn't work out for either of us. 

I've written about this Best Friendship Ever before, and I don't think words will ever do it justice. Words could probably do it justice, but I don't think I'll ever be able to find the right ones.
and isn't that something
So halfway through listening to "Agnes" my eyes, heart and thumbs raced as I asked her if she would buy a one-way ticket to Denver and drive to Flagstaff with me before we venture to Joshua Tree for her birthday.
Giselle is my ultimate Fuck Yes person. There couldn't ever be another.
She had voiced that she wanted to do the San Francisco traverse with me, and we both agreed we should do it before her birthday, so this was the perfect solution. We'd roll into Flagstaff together, and from there continue on for birthday celebrations. 

My plan to come back to Flagstaff has evolved quite a bit in the past few weeks. At first it was November 1st, and then the day before Giselle's birthday, and now it's leaving Denver on the 14th, because Giselle is flying in on the 13th. We have a route with destinations over ten days, ranging from Southern Colorado to Moab to Lake Powell to Flagstaff, and so much in-between. 

We've always wanted to collaborate on a project, with her artistry (graphic design plus) and my writing, and maybe we've found it. Two women in their twenties who are wondering when the transition phase is going to end - or even if transition phases are even real. Two females who find stability in holding a rope and rocks with fingertips, who feel the pressing urge of life with your heartbeat while running ridges above treeline. Who are en route to the place they burned and spread chapters of their lives just six months prior, and creating explosive moments along the way. Who will have a packed Tiguan with Trader Joe snacks and almost too much Kendrick Lamar. 
We can't be the only people who feel this way, but that's how the world has been presenting itself to us. So we'll present ourselves right back to you. 

And I want to hear a song you were listening to when you changed your life. Because I told you mine. I just told you two of mine. I don't care how you get it to me, but get it to me. And tell me the story. 

When I was writing by hand on Sunday, September 25 I reread most of what I've written in that leather-bound notebook that I was supposed to write every day in. 

I wrote this on Tuesday, January 5.

Agnes - Glass Animals
Fade Away - Rebelution 


Sunday, September 11, 2016

I'm so sorry I couldn't speak

I almost didn’t go to Flagstaff. 

My plan was to leave Sunday after I was finished working brunch at The Kitchen (roughly 5pm). But I sat down for a shifty-of-choice at the bar and one led to two and two led to three birthday shifties. And then I went home and had a glass of wine and let it all metabolize and thought about how much I loved Denver, and I told Lauren I’d be coming home because Denver feels like home now. This is not a lie and this is still true, which is important. But as I sat staring at the empty wine glass I knew that I had to go. If for no other reason, I was going to watch after Annie’s dogs for a few days. But I had more than that reason. I knew that. We all knew that. We all still know that. So I fled down the stairs to my basement and in true Kelsey fashion packed way too many clothes and not the clothes I actually wanted to take. 

My original plan was to make it to Durango and stay the night, and continue on to Flag the next day. Durango is roughly halfway, if you go through Southern Colorado, which is my (read: everyone’s) preferred route. However it was now 8:30 and I didn’t really want to do the drive from Pagosa Springs to Durango at night, or Wolf Creek Pass, so I went west first and opted for the Moab/Utah route which I knew I would regret in the morning. I also knew I would have to stop and sleep because I am not a human that can drive all night. In fact, I can’t do any type of thing all night. In college I never pulled all-nighters. If I stayed up until 5am I slept until 2pm. I need my sleep. Drew Crittenden knows this well, because I let Denver start to know me. 

I didn’t even make it to Grand Junction before I had to sleep. My plan was to sleep for 4.5 hours and I slept for 7, putting me a bit behind for my day the next morning. There is no surprise here – especially to Drew Crittenden. Driving through Moab is brutal. I know Moab is a cool playground and all, but everyone raves about it and every time I just end up shrugging and saying “I’d rather be in Sedona”. I missed the welcome sign into Arizona (How? No idea.) but I knew I was there in no time. That’s one of the beauties of true desert driving – you can legitimately drive 100 miles per hour. 
Shut up, please. 

There’s this moment, and everyone who has done this drive knows, you can see the Peaks on the horizon and you are so far away. I tried to take a snap (don’t snap and drive!) and you couldn’t even see them, though partially due to the bugs on my windshield that are still there. Dave Warner was also on his drive back to Flagstaff from far away during the same hours, and he texted me about an hour earlier with “I can see the fucking Peaks!” and my heart melted at just the thought. So when I saw them, I had an explosion of feelings that I did not think I would feel. I feel a lot, right, which I think is partly why I write so personally and so much, so to be surprised by the overwhelming mass of what was hitting my heart and my head and my tear ducts is really saying something. 

When I drove in to Flagstaff I rode an odd wave of calm, and I wasn’t expecting that. I stopped at Fry’s on the corner of 66 and Switzer Canyon and took in the view of Agassiz that I know so well, because for what seemed like forever I lived off of Switzer Canyon. I was after a Naked Mighty Mango juice and I got the sale price because I still have the Fry’s card on my keys. I sat at the light on 66 and San Francisco and texted Andrew that it was “really fucking weird to be back” and I couldn’t answer why, but I know now that it’s because I felt home, and I was expecting to feel excited. I was giddy, for sure, and happy to be there, but for the first time in months months I felt still and known. And I sank into that, and it almost made me cry. 

Annie and Billy were out of town, but I stayed at their house with their two Great Danes. In the middle of August Annie had randomly texted me and told me that her and Billy were renting out their guest bedroom, and to “Come home to Flagstaff, Kelsey.” I read those words and stopped in my tracks. I met Annie when she was my apartment manager at the place off Switzer Canyon. I had Cohen and had just moved and we bonded right away, as she had a Dane as well. She now has two, and the younger of the two is built and moves exactly like Cohen did. 
It took me a few moments to add the word ‘did’ on the end of that sentence. 

I took a much needed shower and headed straight to Dark Sky. For those of you who are reading and don’t know me, Dark Sky is the greatest brewery in the world and I used to work there, and I love the owners more than I love most people. I had plans to meet Nick and Andrew for beer but I went early and stopped abruptly as soon as I walked in the door. To my left was the new addition, which I knew and had seen plans for before I left, and pictures of after I left. The door was propped open and I remembered what a pain that was to do with the plant and it made me smile. There was a bartender that I don’t know behind the bar that carded me which took me by surprise, because sometimes you forget when you leave that the world keeps going. I sat down next to a guy who tried twice to make conversation with the bartender and got shrugged off, and I was about to ask him what he was drinking when he beat me to the question. I quickly learned his name is Billy and I asked him if he knew the story of Dark Sky and he said no, and I spilled my love for the brewery, with details from how I donated to it when I randomly saw it on indiegogo via Facebook when I first moved to Flagstaff, meeting Amanda on the mountain, not recognizing Nick at NPA, and my Sunday shifts that were great extra cash but really came from the love and wanting to support and sell such a wonderful product and story. Billy asked where I had moved to and I said “Denver”, and a smile spilled over his face as he exclaimed “No way! I just moved from there!” and I felt sick with jealousy. I looked him dead in the eyes as I assured him he made the right choice. He had been in town for three days. 

I ran my hands over the bar that everyone comments on and looked over at the starry counter and became excited as I recalled all of the questions I used to answer for people regarding this place. I watched two people come in and taste one beer and leave without the bartender saying much and I wanted to grab their wrist and say “No! Wait! This is our story, this is what’s happening, try this beer instead, I think you’ll like it.” But I was on the wrong side of the bar for that. I remembered how the Dream Team (Anthony and I; self-proclaimed but true) would tend the shit out of that bar, and Alex and I have been all over Denver and Boulder this summer talking about Dark Sky and how people here “just have no idea”. Before Shift had opened, Joe and Dara did a collaboration dinner with DSB and Anthony and I worked it, and it was one of the best nights of my life. I love the service industry for several reasons, and one of them being the familial aspect. After all of the guests had left, me, Anthony, Nick, Ryan, Joe, Dara and two or three others (I’m so sorry I can’t remember your names) sat at the bar and got a bit sauced in celebration. And I was sitting in the seat two down from where I was, and I distinctly recall laughing so hard I might die at this incredible conversation that we all had going, and it was one of the most powerful senses that I have felt. Shift was about to open and it was going to be amazing, Dark Sky was taking off and going to reveal their addition, and we had just done our first wine collaboration which was fucking awesome. I never wanted that night to end. I used to wish I could go back to it, but now I want more like it. I also remembered one of my very last nights in Flagstaff, after I had put Cohen down, Anthony and I were closing together and I didn’t want to go home because I was so sick of going home and dealing with the fact that my dog was dead, and waking up from nightmares where the injections didn’t work and he didn’t end up dead in my arms on that Wednesday night. So we sat at the bar and listened to old Taking Back Sunday and Rebelution and talked about everything from life philosophies to fingernails. I don’t think anyone knew how badly I was hurting at that time in my life, and perhaps more on that later. But I sat at that bar and healed a little, because I really needed to. (Actually, I sat at the counter on a stool in front of the iPad, but, you know. Details.) 
I was one half of a beer into the evening on 5 September and knew I was coming back, if for no other reason than to dedicate myself to the things I believe in – the first being Dark Sky and everything it encompasses, not just for my own reasons, but because it has a meaningful place in the world of beer, food and business – especially in that town. 

I drank through the night with Andrew and Nick and talked a bit of business but mostly soaked in absolutely everything I had missed. I’ve been flirting with the idea of moving back to Flagstaff for a long time. We all know that. But I had been a bit worried I was just missing people and not the town, and Andrew knew this because between Whiskey Chai I told him “You can’t make homes out of humans, though, right? Because – who taught us that?” And I don’t know if either of us truly cited the source in conversation but it is Warsan Shire – a beautiful piece of writing that you all should read. It’s a moving quote, “You can’t make homes out of human beings/someone should have already told you that” for when you are sad after he breaks up with you. But I think it’s kind of bullshit. You can make homes out of whichever you want – mountains, people, breweries, train tracks, trails, snow days and monsoons.  

My birthday was perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing about the day, except for perhaps my raging headache and I should’ve had dessert at dinner. Every person I spent time with means a significant amount to me, and I ended it at Dark Sky (shocking). I sat down to cheers away 27 and welcome 28 and noticed my new friend Billy was there as well, sitting with these wonderful people I get to call my friends. Sometimes the world is small and Flagstaff is even smaller, and I’m quite alright with that. The restaurant Shift opened right after I left Flagstaff, and after meeting Joe and Dara (and eating food they had prepared) I was stoked for them to open. I was super happy to see Joe on the night of my birthday, and having read and heard him talk about the concept(s) of Shift I was shocked but not shocked but jaw-dropping, coincidentally shocked to learn that he used to work where I currently work – The Kitchen. And just so we’re all on the same page: I absolutely love working at The Kitchen (Denver). I’m all about everything from their concepts to community actions to execution of service and knowledge, but more on that in my love letter to Denver. 

I laid in bed for awhile the morning after my birthday because I didn’t want to leave. I was sandwiched between two Great Danes and in the town my heart pulls for. But I got up, packed my things, and went for a run. As I was leaving town I threw my hair in a side braid and tried to lift my eyelids that were already weighted. One of my (irrational?) fears I had voiced about moving back was that I wouldn’t fit in with the people I’d be going back to, and that was quickly met with “Make new friends.” And here I was, after not even 48 hours of a visit, leaving with two (of many) very different things: a new friend and missing one more person than I drove into town missing.

I was driving out 89A and was listening to the song “Arizona” by Frances Cone and it brought me to tears as I had the backside of the Peaks to my left and the sun to my right. There’s a line “I’m so sorry, I couldn’t speak,” and that’s how I feel when I reflect on leaving Flagstaff to move to Denver. I was in rough shape, and I know that next to no one really knew that. The only person I could ever speak one hundred percent of everything to was Giselle. She listened to me cry and be lost and wonder why my life had unfolded the way it had and what I did to make it to that. My life fucking sucked, and I’m sure some reader is thinking “You privileged, middle-class white girl, your life did not suck. There are tragedies happening every day.” and I hate when people make that argument. I think it is equivalent to saying “You can’t be that happy, because someone else is happier.” It is bullshit. You can feel however the fuck you want to feel all of the time, at any time. And I felt beat the fuck up on April 8th as I drove away from Flagstaff and I couldn’t wait to get to Denver, because I knew the front range was scattered with people I love and would make me laugh. I knew I would feel good here. And I do. I love my life here, it is a fantastic one, and it will have it’s own blog post in a bit.

Giselle and I had over an hour phone conversation on my way back to Denver as I drove through Colorado. Every time we have conversations they are of my favorite, and people like that are truly hard to find. We covered several areas of topic, but she said, “You sound so rejuvenated!” And she’s right. (…Again) 

I think that people will say (have said) that all signs are pointing me to Flagstaff, and that it’s “obviously meant to be” with having everything fall into place as soon as I felt like I wanted to go back, but I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think things are predetermined at all, and I don’t believe in much of anything – not even karma. I think people make their own choices, and use phrases like “ it was/wasn’t mean to be” just to make them feel better about making the choice they made. I want to move back to Flagstaff so I’m making it work. (Except Annie telling me I can rent a room in her house and to “come home”, I’m simply chalking that one up to coincidence ) 

I propped my left elbow on my window and leaned my palm against my face to let my head rest a bit as the sun set in Colorado and I was 150 miles from Denver. Ocean Eyes (Astronomyy edit) by Billie Eilish was playing and I was overcome with sadness. Sadness to be leaving the life that I can’t wait to get back to, but a stillness with knowing I’m going to continue it soon.

At the end of October I’m going to on a climbing trip to Joshua Tree with Giselle for her birthday. En route to California I’ll stop in Flagstaff and drop my stuff off in my new bedroom, and on (or around) 1 November, I’ll be back in the 928.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

On Monday, 15 August 2016

I stared at myself in the mirror at 17:30 on a Monday evening. My hair is the longest that it’s been in my entire life. I leaned onto my forearms and brought my nose an inch from the mirror to inspect the face that I should know so well and had a thought. When you repeat a word over and over and over and over it starts to sound foreign and will lose its connotation or even meaning. Eventually you’ll dissect the word by sound and by letter and realize there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet and no more. You cannot make another letter, and you cannot make another sound in the English language and actually you cannot even imagine it. It is like trying to imagine a color you haven’t seen before. I stared at myself over and over and over until I didn’t know what I was looking at. Past the long hair, past the blue eyes that seem as if they’ve paled, past the thin upper lip that I share with my sister, the uneven eyelids and the forever sunned skin. I meticulously scanned my face and noticed creases by the corners of the eyes of my mouth. Am I nearly 28 and getting wrinkles? Is this why I should apply sunscreen? I twisted my face until the wrinkles were more prominent and immediately stopped when I realized they correspond with my smile. This is pleasing and it makes sense. I used to really hate my laugh. It is loud, probably obnoxious and very much ‘ha’ heavy. But between The Office marathons, the get-rich-quick ideas, the cheap booze and the expensive Ubers I had forgotten to hate that. I wondered what else I had forgotten, as I was starting to remember. I dissected every single part of my face until I didn’t know it anymore, and I didn’t know what was behind it, either. I stared at my eyebrows and raised them so there were wrinkles on my forehead. I tried to picture my brain behind it and I told it that I hated it and that I wanted to break up. I lowered my stare back down to my eyebrows and then my eyelashes and then my pupils and I stared at a stranger. I let my eyes relax and go out of focus for an undetermined amount of time, as they had grown tired from paying so much attention to the detail. I brought them in and out of focus and felt like I was exercising my vision. I leaned in a bit closer and found the clear contact rings around my irides and I hate you, I thought. If I keep up this exercise will it make you stronger? Can I, one day, wake up and be able to see correctly? I raised my eyes back to my brain and wondered Can I, one day, wake up and have some sort of clarity? My phone vibrated and I glanced down at a text. My spine was hurting and I straightened myself, brought a cup of wine to my lips and asked myself how I could be near 28 years old and still wondering “Are we done here, yet?”

I started pacing around in the one-bedroom apartment I was cat-sitting in Boulder. I let my feet slide far apart on the laminate flooring as I didn’t pay attention to the Olympics I had streaming on the TV. I watched my feet as I tapped the edge of my phone on that space between your upper lip and nose while I slid in and out of waves of deep contemplation. I thought about what it would be like for someone to know that about me – the ‘kelsey’isms. The tiny, intricate things that each individual has or does that they generally notice but sometimes have no idea of. For most people it becomes the things that you love about another person, and for me it has always become things I hate about them. My mother calls this intolerant and I don’t let that bother me.

There were a lot of things that Andrew said that I was thinking about, but particularly his comment “It seems like you’re caring about what other people think,” kept ringing between my temples. Was I? My phone vibrated and it was Giselle saying “It sounds to me like your heart is calling you back to that tiny mountain town,” and before I had time to respond, she following it up with “I know there was a reason you moved, but just for the record: you’re allowed to change your mind.” I went back to pacing and tapping my phone and damned Giselle for always saying the right things.

As I started my second cup of wine I was in the middle of a gif-off that was becoming evident I would lose. I let the acid burn in the small cracks of my chapped lips as I let the time click by with laughter and searches, until I realized time had clicked by quite quickly and I was late for a conversation that I didn’t want to put energy into.

Forty-five minutes later I was sitting in a dark speakeasy sipping (downing) the Grapeful Dead cocktail(s) and having to tell someone why I wasn’t interested in them –a conversation I’d never choose to have in public, but Williams & Graham is a fun place to be. I tried to be truthful and delicate with what I was saying, but he said the words “I guess I can stop trying to impress you now,” and I almost rammed my head into the table four times. My phone buzzed and I looked down and it was someone that was teetering on importance in my life and it was in that moment that I blurted out that I was going to Flagstaff for my birthday. I had a plan to visit Flagstaff at the end of September to race, but I felt the rush to go sooner and when I said it out loud it became real, and in that real moment my heart fluttered and I smiled and the skin on my forearms tingled. The person across from me told me that often it’s not the places you miss but the person you were when you were there. I twirled the garnished grape in my drink and thought it was annoying how someone can know so many facts about you but have no idea who (more accurately, how) you are. It was a true statement, yes, you can’t be who you were, but I would never chase that. I don’t miss who I was because I like who I am, and I don’t hate who I was in the least but I sure as hell am not trying to go back to that person.  I traced the outside of the cocktail glass with my eyes slowly and thought rapidly about knowing the happenings instead of the facts.

I returned back to my two-week retreat in Boulder and rehashed my night to Sarah via text and after an explosion of laughter she replied with “I think you find it easier to be yourself even in stranger’s company than a lot of people.” I gave myself a huge stretch and a loud groan and reached over to give Peyton a pat. “It’s going to be a long drive,” I told that fat cat, and promptly fell asleep on the couch.

And it was a long drive.