Experiencing the Pacific Coast Highway

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One of my husband’s dreams is to drive the Pacific Coast Highway in a Miata with the top down. Last year, we had a rental Kia instead, but the drive to Big Sur wasn’t any less gorgeous.

I’ve always been in love with rocky coastlines. My parents grew up in Rhode Island, and every time we visit, as far back as I can remember, we take a trip to Beavertail to climb on the rocks and bask in the sun.

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Beavertail, RI

Naturally, I fell in love with the Pacific coast pretty much immediately. Our first trip to California, my husband and I drove down to Laguna from Long Beach, and I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of the more rugged beaches.

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Laguna Beach, CA

But nothing I’ve seen compares to the breathtaking views I experienced on the drive from San Fransisco to Big Sur.

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The water was so blue, the sky bright and the landscape vivid. I made my husband stop at pretty much every pull-off so I could get out and soak in the beauty (and snap a ridiculous amount of pictures).

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One thing photos don’t quite capture is the peace and the joy. A sense of familiarity, home in the purest sense of the word. It’s the same feeling I get as I’m pulling into the parking area in Beavertail. Sheer joy and excitement shoots my veins full of adrenaline, while an overwhelming peace calms every nerve in my body. It’s the most beautiful oxymoron in spiritual form.

It’s life, pure and simple.

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A Movie Date With Myself

I love going to the movies. A small contingency of Wildcards would enjoy weekly “$5 Movies” on Wednesday nights at the local theater. We still do on occasion, but now that some of us have moved, and life has gotten busier and more “adult-like”, it’s been harder to make Wednesday night (sometimes any night) work.

As an experiment of sorts, I recently went to the movies by myself. I’ve always liked the idea of being brave enough to go alone while simultaneously thinking it’s weird to go to the movies without someone else. Also, I have social anxiety mixed with a desire for a stronger self-identity, so it seemed like a great idea to stretch my comfort zone and gain a little autonomy.

I chose the movie Gifted with Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer (because I just adore both of them), and decided to see to in the early afternoon on a Sunday, when the theater theoretically would be less crowded.

The theater I went to lets you choose your seat when you buy the ticket. I always try to sit dead-center in the theater, usually in the middle of the group I’m with. My instinct this time was to snag a seat in the back row, so no one could sit behind me and judge how alone I looked. However, the back row was all taken. And since there was no group to keep me feeling like my edges were protected, I defaulted to an end seat for an easy escape from those prying eyes I was sure would be judging my every solitary move.

Now, even though I’d just had lunch, I stopped at the concessions for my usual order of popcorn and bottled water. This is defensive mechanism two (or three if you’re counting my seat-choice-strategy as two moves), performing a familiar habit in an unfamiliar setting. Plus, munching popcorn could give me something to focus on other than wondering what that back row is thinking about the weird loner on the end near the front. Concessions roadblock: there were only two popcorn sizes — regular and large — and I usually get the itty bitty “junior” size at my usual movie spot. Of course, a rational person might have simply asked if they offer a kid’s size, but remember — social anxiety! I ordered my ridiculously large “regular” and strutted as confidently as possible up the stairs in search of my theater.

Even though the lights were up and shining like a freaking spotlight on my lonely little self, and the people in the back were whispering and giggling, I settled into my seat as casually as I could. I allowed myself one text to my husband letting him know I’d survived thus far, then put my phone away (this is something I’m working on in general, to not depend on my phone in “vulnerable” social situations).

The lights went down and I relaxed. For two blissful minutes, I settled deeper into my seat and focused on the previews.

Then an older couple came and sat right next to me. Right. Next. To me. No buffer seat. It didn’t make sense. Literally the entire theater, other than the back row, was open — which they would have seen on the screen when they bought their tickets — but they chose the seats directly beside the one single person. My heartrate kicked up a notch, but I realized I was more annoyed than anything.

It did make me a little more conscious of myself throughout the movie, if I laughed at something they didn’t, when I had to brush tears from my eyes. I’d get brief anxious whispers: what if that was rude to laugh at? What if they’re judging me? However, the movie itself was so good, I kept getting sucked back in, until the next moment I’d giggle or sniffle and remember I wasn’t quite as “alone” as I might have liked.

The high that carried me home was fantastic. I’d done this brave, out of character thing that turned out overall pretty great. I felt fearless and confident.

Now, when I think about trying it again, that familiar anxiety rears its head, but I’m able to remind myself I survived it once. Even better, it didn’t feel like I just “survived”; I felt — for a little while at least — almost invincible. It’s worth the fear to give it another go.

A New Beginning

Do you ever get really into something, then life comes along and distracts you just long enough that returning to that thing feels a little awkward? You start to wonder if you really loved it, since you haven’t really missed it, but at the same time you feel like you should really get back to it?

It happens to me all the time, especially with blogging. I’ll be on a roll for maybe a week or two then something else pulls my attention and the next thing I know, more weeks have passed without a single post. I start to feel guilty, but rather than motivating me to write, it shifts into a bundle of anxiety that I shove to the back of my mind. I’ll get to it, I tell myself, as the anxiety builds each day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something brilliant, I reassure myself, as the anxiety drips down my throat and curls around my chest.

The longer I give it free reign to grow unsupervised, the darker it gets. I tell myself there’s a simple explanation — not as simple as “life gets in the way”, but something more damning — I’m lazy. I’m a dabbler — not a true writer. I don’t belong in the blogging world, I don’t belong in the writing world. If I’m so easily chained to everything but writing, why bother keeping up the facade? Just give up already.

You already have.

It’s a metaphor for my life lately. My thoughts are scattered, too jumbled to untangle, too time-consuming to fit into a blog-length ramble. My life is on the precipice of some huge changes, both exciting and scary. And I know I should cut myself some slack, even though it’s hard.

I’m leaving my current job at the end of this week. My husband and I are moving halfway across the country so he can go back to school full time. And even though I’ve been relatively silent on the blog for the better part of this year, I want to share the adventure with you. I want to be better at making time for the things I love, and I’m hoping these changes will bring with them a shift in focus. A way to make time for things that can be hard, even though they’re enjoyable. A kick-start to get out and experience things worth sharing. An incentive to pause the Grey’s Anatomy Netflix marathons and take time exploring — either my community or my inner self.

I want to be better at this. And I thank you for sticking with me and my sporadic posting.

The Rock

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That is not Alcatraz, just the view from the ferry TO Alcatraz

So my husband and I were in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving, and there was no way I was going to be just outside of San Francisco and not visit Alcatraz. I’ve always been a big fan of historical tours, fascinated by criminals like Al Capone, and hated ferry rides. That last one doesn’t really fit, but the sentence needed a third thing and it’s the truth. Damn you, Block Island Ferry!

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I also have a weird obsession with touching history. Those home tours with the ropes and signs that are all “Do Not Touch” are the literal worst (and I do what I want and touch stuff anyway). Before anyone freaks out too much, I mostly just touch parts of doors/walls/window frames that probably haven’t been touched by anyone since the historical figure who once resided in said home.

At Alcatraz, you can go inside cells and rooms and run your fingers over everything. Actual conversation between my husband and me afterwards:

Me: “I just love going in historical places that let you touch everything!”
Him: “I know. You should wash your hands.”
Me: “I might have picked up Al Capone’s syphilis and you don’t just WASH THAT TYPE OF HISTORY AWAY!”

He was not impressed.

He gets impressed by things like great views, which luckily, Alcatraz has. This place has everything: history, views, possibly syphilis…you know, fun for the whole family.

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It seriously has the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge

We learned that while there were three break-outs, no one ever successfully fully escaped from Alcatraz. They ended up immediately re-imprisoned or dead (though I suppose one might argue death is the ultimate escape… #philosophy).

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One of the cells tunneled out of using broken spoons.

Alcatraz Island was also a home for the Indians of All Tribes — a group of Native Americans who occupied the rock during the early 70s in an attempt to claim it as their own land. Fun fact: all federal lands that are retired/abandoned/out-of-use are supposed to be returned to the Native Americans it was taken from. The Occupation of Alcatraz didn’t end well, but it did positively affect federal Indian policy so it’s considered a win in the longterm.

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There are really spectacular grounds, too, which are open to the public in the winter – when it’s less wet, I guess. I wasn’t really paying attention to the why it was open for us…

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And those views. If nothing else, a trip to Alcatraz is worth it for the views. I’m sure it was a glorious sort of torture for the inmates who had cells with window-views of the city. The prisoners could even hear laughter from parties in San Francisco.

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Alcatraz is the most popular tourist destination in the United States, seventh most visited in the entire world. This might turn some people off to a visit. I get it. I hate crowds, being stereotypically “touristy”, and ferries.

This. Is. Worth it. I promise. Once you’re off the crowded ferry (you can huddle outside to see the views while avoiding the worst crush of people — it’s really windy and pretty frigid so bundle up if you so choose), the island is pretty large and you can kind of wander at your leisure. The audio tour means people lump around the halls, but if you don’t like crowds, come on, you know how to navigate around the oblivious masses. You’ll be fine.

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The kitchen, where they fed prisoners better than I feed myself (because you’re not trying to revolt en masse during 20 minutes of culinary bliss)

Or skip the tour (but if you like touching history, don’t skip it) and just go look at San Francisco from a unique vantage point. It’s seriously all winning. Even the ferry ride is only 15 non-horrific minutes.

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