When was the last time you did something for the first time?


When you leave a somewhat essential, daily medication 3,804 miles from where you are, you are ripped out of your comfort zone pretty quickly. Your focus shifts entirely to this lack of something you need. You plow through web pages, propose ridiculous solutions, apologize repeatedly, and then start back again at the top.

I’m not saying I recommend doing this. I do not. Not for my father’s sake who went to the post office to see about “overnighting” (in five days) my pills to Marrakech for $190, not for our friend Greg’s sake who poured over google learning the intricacies of Moroccan healthcare while we flew over the Atlantic, and certainly not for Chas’s sake who had to join me on my quest. But.

On Saturday afternoon when Chas and I traversed Djemaa El Fna in Marrakech, one of the world’s busiest commercial squares, we hustled past the snake charmers, didn’t acknowledge the bubble blowers, and completely eschewed calls of “Hola,” “Hello, sorry,” and “Mademoiselle! Masseur!” We had a mission to fulfill and that mission inculcated us into Moroccan life faster than most normal tourist activities possibly could have.

Well outside of the comfort zone of 8 hours of sleep in a fluffy and familiar bed, beyond English and even spotty Spanish, on the fringes of some semblance of a recognizable way of life, we set out for the singular Marrakeshi pharmacy with Saturday evening hours.

Arriving via taxi, we fumbled through our request with the pharmacist, showed him a picture of the bottle of my medication from home and a printed copy of my pharmaceutical history which I’d embarrassingly printed at the riad where we were staying, all in an attempt to place our order. “You need to go to a generalist,” he said, as if I already had a PCP in this country I’d been in for exactly four hours. “How?” we asked. We received his Frenglish directions with nods of understanding and misunderstanding and set out to meet my new Maroc doc. After a few loops and several encounters with feral cats, we found the clinic, its outside dotted with ambulances. We rushed inside, asked to see the doctor, and for some reason, within minutes and for the equivalent of 30 US dollars, we found ourselves seated with one. Chas typed into google translate and showed the doctor our predicament: “I have general anxiety. I left my Cymbalta in the US. I need a prescription for Cymbalta.”

He read the translation then his face fell into a look of concern. He picked up his phone and started tapping. And as he googled my medicine on his phone, his face suddenly settled into a smile. “We have in Maroc!” he said. Chas and I practically high fived him. We went back and forth about dosage and needs and he wrote me a prescription in Arabic. Four hours in Morocco and I already had a prescription. Try doing that in the US!


Just a gal, appreciating quick, affordable, and reliable healthcare. 

We paid our medical bill and headed for the cats, though cats are quite literally everywhere. Chas took a photo of me outside of my generalist’s office and back to the pharmacy we went. I handed over the scrip and the pharmacy assistant, who spoke no English on our first visit, said “It’s here!” as she tore open their latest package, arrived via pharmacy delivery bike. We all laughed at the celebration—maybe the most boisterous Marrakech’s #1 pharmacy had ever seen. A little lighter on our loafers but certainly more drained than ever, Chas and I headed back for the snake charmers, the bubble blowers, and the “Hello, sorry” people.

Now that’s a hell of a way to be ripped out of one’s comfort zone and again, I do not recommend it. But it worked. And in general, living on the edge of one’s comfort zone is exactly what I recommend.

When Aub and I were young teenagers, my family took a cruise. On that cruise we did a cave-tubing excursion in Belize and all bought matching T-shirts that read, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” While I am hardly a dare devil or a stunt double, I love that motto. And it’s lived in the back of my head for a while. I’ve also heard—likely through the yoga circuit—that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. So, I started thinking about how uncomfortable it made me to be without my medication and so far away from home and then how exhilarating it was to actually figure that shit out. In all my idiotic mistake cost me about $80, three hours, a big dose of feeling badly for taking Chas through the journey, and then on the other side, we’d gotten through it, we’d gone through the process of the Moroccan medical system, and we could both rest easy. That feeling of coloring just outside the lines, of skirting just beyond what’s comfortable, that’s something I revel in.

We’ve all got our non-negotiables. Maybe the need to be in bed by 9:30, no more than one beer on a weeknight, only so much ice cream (emphasis on much), eat in a restaurant just three times a month, don’t work past a certain hour, and so on. Everyone’s non-negotiables are different and I don’t know if most of us consider them often or even ever because they become innate parts of our decision making without us realizing that they are. But, are there ever non-negotiables or zones of comfort that hold us back from doing something great? Sometimes all it takes is a suggestion from another person to put something into our heads.

When I was in high school, I remember Ms. Yanson complimenting me on my writing, catapulting me to take Creative Writing with Sarah. Then a highly respected publication (hehe) called Teen Ink published two of my stories about running cross country—must’ve been short on sports pieces that month—and I was hooked. I wrote throughout college, got a degree in writing, and here I am. Before Ms. Yanson’s and Teen Ink’s encouragement, it was well outside of my comfort zone to write for an audience.

Last spring, I had gotten really into yoga, joining CorePower and taking class about four times per week. Two teachers suggested I try teacher training and here I am, heading into training #2 and teaching three classes a week.

Maybe I’m just gullible? Or maybe the cusp of my comfort zone has been just close enough that a quick suggestion is enough to send me over the edge to the land of the unknown.

Observing Moroccan life over the past week, I’ve seen the visible parts of the comfort zones that exist here. It’s mostly a dry country because of its status as a Muslim nation. You greet others by saying, “Peace be upon you.” For women, chests, necks, and certainly all views of limbs are a no-no. In the more remote spots, almost all women wear hijab. Touts have no problem trying out several languages on you and then following you until you’re stuck with them and feel an obligation to pay them. Personal space is not a consideration. Smells and sights that would be completely off the table in the US are omnipresent—fish guts and pig legs and cow heads and chickens with tied feet and meat hooks, totally exposed and in-use and poop. Just so much poop and such a variety of poop.


It’s like this but multiplied by a billion.

On Wednesday night, we ordered dinner in a streetside cafe by just saying yes and having absolutely no idea what we had ordered. A Mario look-alike in an adorable little outfit complete with matching hat, hacked off a piece of meet from an unidentified leg (?) hanging from the awning and 20 minutes later we were eating. And it was delicious. And cheap.

A shared taxi this morning cost us $1 each to take a thirty minute ride–seven people in an old Mercedes cruising through absolutely gorgeous countryside. The interior of the car was lined with what looked like an old shower curtain, fish-themed and shiny. And we all got there safely and efficiently.

This is their comfort zone. I can’t imagine what an American street would seem like to a Moroccan who’d never left here. Uncomfortable for sure. Confusing. And to them, maybe it would smell even worse.

In the hammam, you’re naked or almost naked and a stranger pours water on you repeatedly, rubs you with amber colored spa, scrubs you, like really, really scrubs you then puts you in a steam room, and finally oils you up for a “massage”. Now that is out of a typical American comfort zone. It was totally new to me. That said, my back broke out in a rash the next day so maybe I could’ve skipped at least the scrub. All that for 270dH or roughly $27.

The space outside your comfort zone may not always be guaranteed or rash-free or easy or get you in bed by 9:30, but it promises to be more exhilarating, different, challenging, boundary-stretching, and enlightening.

At the risk of sounding didactic, I ask you, when was the last time you did something for the first time?



I originally wrote this piece in Tim Wendel’s (one of the best teachers I have ever had) class at JHU. My thesis advisor, Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson then asked to publish it here. I have pulled this directly from my JHU thesis and I have not read it in a while. It feels like a time capsule in several layers. February 15 marks five years since the death of “Matt,” whose name has been changed. I then submitted it to a few publications by which it was all promptly rejected. I am glad to bring it back to the light, see what you all think, and see if maybe there are changes I could make to take another stab at publishing it. Aside from the name change, this story is entirely true. 

A viewing for a twenty-something isn’t normal and everyone knows it. People struggle with the proper facial expression, whom to greet, where to look, when to move, how long to stare at each picture, whether to hang up a coat or drape it over an arm. It can be a forty-five-minute utterly self-centered struggle over meaningless decisions, because something far more important waits just steps away.

I found myself making these pointless choices in February 2013. My boyfriend Chas had joined me. He took my coat and turned me toward the deceased’s father, standing back, while I endured an awkward hug.

I hadn’t touched this man before. I could tell he didn’t remember my name. He shared a list of his late son’s recent accomplishments. “Going back to school in the fall,” he glanced toward the casket. “Working at the church,” he glanced toward the casket. “And then this,” one more blue-eyed look toward his dead son, as he trailed off.

I didn’t know an appropriate word. I settled on sighs and sympathetic noises. My mind flipped through memories of his son, like Polaroids in an old album: I’m vacuuming while he mops at the café where we worked. My glittery pink prom dress and his matching cummerbund. A bouquet of red roses in his arms, a vision I can see from my sixth-floor-room. His lip bulging with dipping tobacco as I sit in his lap.

His dad and I pretended to be equally engaged in a conversation we couldn’t really have, not honestly. I was there when this started, and neither of us could fix it. Eventually we let space separate where we stood, without really ending the conversation or wishing goodbye or saying, “What the fuck? How did this happen,” which is what everyone, worried about hanging or carrying a coat, was really thinking.


Eight years earlier, I am seventeen years old and standing in the bakery of Panera Bread, my first job. The guy I’ve had a crush on for more than a year now—despite the tenures of two other boyfriends—is mopping near the soup station. He serves more broccoli cheddar than any other soup. I know this pisses him off because everyone who orders broccoli cheddar is “the same,” and we are teenagers and sameness is supposed to piss us off.

He’s rolled up the sleeves of his polo so that his biceps flex visibly with each stroke over the red tile floor. His sneakers are filthy below a pair of cargo khaki shorts he wears year-round. It’s snowing, so customers are sparse. Through the windows the parking lot is white, glittery, gorgeous, and Matt and I are two of the few who haven’t been sent home tonight because of the slow business. I am concentrating—underneath the brim of my black “trainer” visor—on removing icing from the countertop with a plastic knife. I’ve called my dad, who has agreed to pick up the excess pastries for a homeless shelter where he helps out. Bags of Danish, bagels, and muffins surround me. And I’m scraping, scraping a stubborn spot of icing, trying to not reveal that I’m aware of Matt’s proximity.

Matt abandons his mop and meets me in the bakery. I can tell he’s only bored, so I try to curb my excitement and strike the most relaxed stance an apron allows.

“Hi Debbb,” he draws out his nonsense nickname for me. (In a few months, he will write “To: Deb From: Matt. Now I fit in your wallet!” on the back of a senior photo of himself. I will keep it in a memory box for years.)

“How are your prom plans coming along? You and Sarah getting a stretchhhh limo?” he laughs at himself.

“Meh, fine. I don’t know about the limo. We’re just gonna go together,” I say.

He looks me in the eyes and smiles. Expectantly.

“Can I go with you?”

I wait to respond.

“I mean it’s just an idea. You can be all Ms. Feminist Deb and go with your friends if you want, but I do look pretty good in a suit.”

I wait again. His face is serious, lips pressed tightly, eyebrows raised, waiting for me.

“Yea, okay. You can come,” I hear myself say. My blood pumps faster than at track practice. I’m giddy but try to hide it for the rest of the shift. I try not to look at him and be tempted to feel a bit of ownership. Sweep, mop, wipe. Look normal. Sweep, mop, wipe. Act normal.

Eventually my dad comes. We load up the baked goods, and I say goodnight to Matt. I can’t wait to get home and write in my journal.


Taking Chas’s lead at the viewing, I walked around the room and surveyed the pictures Matt’s family arranged on poster boards. They wrote his name in marker at the top of one littered with photos of him and the high school football team. Maroon uniforms and game faces, a million miles away yet right down the street.

Realizing I’m not in any of the photos, I selfishly started classifying them in my head: “before Amanda” and “after Amanda.” There were far more “before Amanda.” “During Amanda” there were no photos. No record of the time when he fell into this hole, out of which he could not crawl. Did I remind them of too much? Did they just forget me? Did I matter?

The timeline was easy because of the way his face looked. An attractive young man with eyes the color of Caribbean waters, a toothy smile, and a strong squared jaw had morphed into a blotchy and bloated shell-person with empty eyes and yellowed teeth. I tried to focus only on sympathy and compassion, but I couldn’t get the feeling of relief out of my head. Relief that I had gotten away.


With my prom date intact, I write down my work schedule from the master on the bulletin board near the meat slicers. Each shift I share with Matt gets an asterisk. I need to make sure he’s really coming to the dance. I keep our conversation going to lay the groundwork for a romantic evening in the fifteen-dollar pink dress I bought at Goodwill.

My boss, Kirsten, approaches me three days later during a non-asterisk shift, “Be careful with Mr. Bauer,” she says, emphasizing his last name.

“I know,” I say. Kirsten’s prom date fifteen years ago couldn’t possibly have had eyes this blue. (Years later, I will wish I had taken her advice.)

At every asterisked shift, I make a point to speak to Matt about the dance. It is my own insurance that I won’t be Sarah and her now secured date’s third wheel, that sad person who dances in a small, charity-case circle of three. Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved,” blaring through the speakers.

On the night of prom, my cheeks are bronzed, each eyelash is in place and thickly coated in black, and both breast lifters are doing their respective jobs.

My dad and I pick Matt up from his parents’ house. After a long internal struggle, I have opted to arrive already in the backseat. The dads shake hands and Matt climbs in. I try not to think about the pathetic nature of riding in the Honda Odyssey with my date, my father at the wheel.

As I attempt to keep my strapless dress afloat throughout prom, he sneaks small kisses, and I feel like the princess this thrift store dress awkwardly mimics. Girls of high social status are watching. I dance with the guy they’re watching. I have done it. He is actually here, he’s with me, and just maybe he might feel the same way.


At the casket, I sought and found the courage to kneel. Chas asked if I wanted him to come with me. I needed to do this alone—transmit thoughts to a lifeless body I last saw alive six years ago. My knees cracked on the hard kneeler as I knelt to look in.

His deflated hands were plastic, folded the way they always fold dead people’s hands, the way the living never hold their hands. Those hands used to hold me. I used to hold those hands.

He was an alien. His pale, powdered face was drawn into a look of satisfaction. His lips were shiny pink, and each fake eyelash was equally spaced from the next. The lines in his forehead that had always been there were dusty.

I looked down the length of his body, which wore an outfit Matt never would have worn when I knew him. In the casket with him were nods to his life: an Orioles keychain, a Ravens schedule. I closed my eyes and thought the thoughts I hadn’t managed to say to say out loud years before. His powdery façade remained peacefully posed. He listened.


Matt picks me up from my parents’ house. I have been ready for an hour—since the time he said he’d be here. I skip out to the car and settle into the leather passenger seat of his Chrysler.

“Glory Days, okay?” he asks.

I feign excitement. I hate sports bar chains.

We eat and talk amid kitschy memorabilia. A sled nailed to the wall above our heads threatens to drop. He’s looking at his cell phone throughout the meal.

Then, getting up from the table he says, “Excuse me. I need to talk to Barrett.” He rises before receiving his pardon.

“Yea, sure,” I say to his back.

He returns ten minutes later.  “Sorry. He needed. Something.”

“That’s okay,” I get back to normal date conversation.

Months after prom we have fallen into a relationship. I have moved to college, though my school is just a few miles from my house and his house is even closer. One night, I am sitting in his parents’ living room with his mangy and unkempt dog. Matt is upstairs.

Matt was in a car accident recently. He says someone ran him off the road and kept going. His car is gone, with little explanation, and I don’t really ask. Tonight, I am waiting to give him a ride to a friend’s, and then we’ll grab dinner.

Matt’s still upstairs, and I have no idea what he’s doing. It’s been a long time. If I go up there, I don’t know what I’ll see, so I wait. I would like something to do, a book, a game. I stare at my whittled down fingernails, hoping for a hangnail to chew. I can’t bring myself to touch this dog. The poor thing’s fur is separated into small dirty sections. What is he doing?

Matt returns after forty-five minutes. He already has his coat on and asks, indifferently, if I am ready to go.

From my prisoner’s chair I can’t even answer him. I half expect the dog to explain.

“What were you doing?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

What were you doing?” I say, stopping and turning him around to face me.

He’s stuttering, searching for his explanation. “It’s really embarrassing. I don’t want to tell you.”

I stand there and stare at him. He’s jerky, fidgety. I don’t want to cry, but I can feel tears welling up. I don’t understand. I’m not certain I want to.

“Fine. I have Athlete’s Foot,” he drags on. “I have to put on this medicine and not put on shoes for a long time while it works its magic,” he smiles waving a magical hand, an invitation for me to join, to soften up, to not cry. He can smell my skepticism.

I look at my own feet and then at his. I walk to the door and down the front steps and take my place in the driver’s seat.


I told Matt I still had his letter, that sometimes I read it just to remember him, his handwriting, his nicknames for me. I thought I saw him once in a Royal Farms parking lot but couldn’t bring myself to approach. Did he see me too? I sped away with a racing heart, and I was sorry for that, for a long time.

I looked at his hair and remembered running my fingers through it and thought the sweetest memory I could think.

I tell him: “I try to preserve you the way you were that time you came to see me sing. The lights were yellow and dimmed. The hall was decorated for Christmas, and the air smelled like rosemary and rye and every time I looked down you were in the audience smiling up at me. The entire show, you were smiling.”


Months pass and Matt gets stranger. He has a seizure. He is hospitalized. He acts like nothing has happened, and so do I. We carry on, always needing to stop at his friends’ houses: to get CDs, retrieve a left key, something. And I wait in the car.

One weekday I’m in class when Matt’s father calls me, “Have you seen him? He hasn’t called me. I haven’t talked to him in twenty-four hours.”

Matt hasn’t only disappeared on me, I think. I tell his dad I have no idea. I haven’t heard from Matt either. His dad rattles off a list of people he’s asked about Matt’s whereabouts. I have asked them too, I say.

I tell his dad about the money he borrowed from me for his “cell phone bill.” I can hear his dad’s voice getting higher as I pace around my dorm room, the sweaty phone stuck to my face. I am so naïve.

Some weeks later, I still haven’t heard from Matt, but his dad’s concerned calls have stopped. I’ve tried to begin the breakup process, if only in my own head, since we have never really talked about it. Eat ice cream. Watch When Harry Met Sally. Go out with friends. Repeat.

I run into Matt’s friend Mike in front of my dorm building. He’s holding a case of Natural Light under his arm; a cigarette hangs from his lips. We commiserate in concern over Matt.

He is “back,” according to Mike. I have no idea what back means. Mike says “he’s in deep” as he lights another unsupported Camel, just after tossing the last one.

I listen. If I chime in, I think, Mike will stop giving me information. I need information.

“He’s on things, maybe meth, always scratching his arms. And those nose bleeds.”

Meth, meth, meth, I repeat in my mind reminding myself to look on Wikipedia.

“He’s nervous, always paranoid.”

Mike continues. He might have tears in his eyes. I listen as he pours out stories about the person I know. Knew? I lean on a concrete pillar and look down at the ground, still processing.

Mike suddenly punches the pillar and staggers away from me and into the trees near the building. I go back upstairs where my friends are watching TV.

Mike texts me the next day: “Broke my hand.”


I gave Matt one more goodbye thought and then looked away from his closed eyes. I left the kneeler and saw that a few of Matt’s friends were at the viewing. As I worked my way back to Chas, I gave slight waves to the people who seemed to remember me (proof that “During Amanda” did happen). Mike was among them, older than he’d been that night at school, more somber but less emotional. I gave one more sympathetic glance toward Matt’s dad. Chas helped me put on my pea coat one arm at a time. We headed outside to go home.


After my talk with Mike, Matt floats in and out of my life a few more times. Our official break up sort of happens when I tell Matt, firmly, to stop calling me. At this point, we haven’t spoken in months. I tell him that I can’t date someone who slips in and out of my life, whose dad calls me at midnight looking for him, who cares so much and then doesn’t at all. Someone who lies so easily, has problems he can’t admit, much less face and correct. I’m healing, somewhat: dating a frat guy I don’t care about and training for a half marathon.

Four months later, I’m just home from seeing a movie with my roommate when my sister calls. I can tell she is trying not to cry as she starts to talk. She tells me that Matt Bauer broke into Panera and robbed a cashier with a gun. He was wearing a bandana over his face, and his hair was bleached blond. He had locked his keys in his car so he kicked open his own driver’s side window and sped away. No one was hurt, but the police can’t find him. (I’ll later learn that he successfully robbed three or four restaurants before getting arrested. Rumor will have it that he gets a “jail tat.”)


We walked out of a viewing for a twenty-seven-year-old who “died in his sleep.” I exhaled and held Chas’s arm closer to my side. I knew I could talk if I wanted or be quiet if I needed to.

Arriving at the cold car I thought about how you can’t save everyone, but you can save yourself. I thought of what I learned when I was far too young. And I really tried to cry. I tried to feel more about the loss of this person I did love. I wanted to feel bad for not answering his letter long ago. I wanted to feel bad for not letting him twelve-step me. Yet, I realized my decisions had not been meaningless, after all. I knew that I didn’t blame myself because when I drove away from that funeral home, I got distance, all over again.


An Ode to Hands

There are 27 bones, 29 joints and at least 123 named ligaments in the human hand.

If you didn’t just look at your hands after reading that sentence, then you’re multitasking too much. Slow down. Give those amazing things a break. They deserve it.

Hands have been on my mind a lot recently. Mostly, because I destroy mine and I am so constantly trying to stop. My hands have always been a victim of my anxiety. I’m a nail biter, a hand chewer. My mom calls me a self-mutilator. Yes, I am trying to stop. Please, no preaching. I know how bad it is.

And the hand doesn’t deserve what I do to it. The hand is all-knowing. The color of your nails and the small “moons” on your nails can indicate the quality of your oxygen level of your bloodstream and blood circulation.

Hands are incredible. Structurally, fingernails are actually modified hairs!

I started making a list of all of the things we can do with our hands (get your minds out of the gutter) but it’s pretty long.  So I’ll break it up some for you.

It takes as many as six months for fingernails to grow from root to tip.

And hands are more than just practical and diverse. They’re symbolic. They represent giving and taking and love and hatred and so much more. We can hold our hands in prayer, we can hold our hands in protest, we can hold our hands in surrender or in anger.

Nazis held their hands in salute. While innocent victims held their hands as white flags, as please don’t, as I didn’t do anything wrong.

In yoga, which bleeds into life, we can hold our hands in mudras.


I’ve heard that what sets humans apart is that we have opposable thumbs–but, did you know that koalas do too?


I first learned the following fact at Renee and Don’s wedding. The vein on your ring finger is called Venna Amoris. It leads directly to the human heart and is known as the vein of love. This is why we wearing wedding rings on our ring fingers.

With hands, we can rub shoulders or slap a cheek, we can spread our fingers wide in downward facing dog, we can hold our head in our hands or hold our hands above our heads and celebrate. We feed ourselves, we feed others, we wave, we say goodbye. We draw our hands to our mouths in laughter and in tears. We can hold someone else’s hand. We can grip it and squeeze it in a pattern of three that means “I” “love” “you.”


Our fingers are even more sensitive than our eyes. Our fingertips have a large number of receptors responsible for sending messages to the brain.

Hands can namaste–which means “The light in me sees the light in you,” or they can pay for a beer. We can cook a meal or bake brownies. We can “take this man to have and to hold” or cradle a newborn niecephew. We can incessantly rub Aubrey’s pregnant belly too high up on her torso. We can crochet a scarf or eat Honey Bunches of Oats.


You cannot get a tan on the undersides of your fingers or on your palms.

But you can open a window, drive a stick shift, apply essential oils, hold the door for someone, apply deodorant–for someone else if you want to, put in eye contacts, turn on a lamp, turn off a lamp, shoot a gun, pick up an injured baby bird, select a blade of grass to make a horn noise between your thumb pads, cheers with a beer glass, pet a Joe or a Piper, scare away a Kramer, turn on the heat without realizing how lucky you are to have heat. You can tap out a rhythm, snap for a poet, place your hands on your hips that say, “Look at me. I’m here.”

IMG_5189 2

No two human beings in the world have similar fingerprints. Fingerprints are a completely unique DNA imprint that is different in every single human being.

With our hands we fix our hair, we write, we type, we clap, we (some of us) play instruments, we (some of us) give the middle finger, we clean, we plant seeds, we finger paint, we google pictures of koalas, we text, we drink wine. We can rub a hand along dried lava or get a manicure and feel special and then watch those special hands on your own steering wheel.


Julius Caesar ordered the thumbs of his prisoners cut off as punishment.

We can light a candle with the flick of a thumb, slide glasses up our noses with a pointer, offend someone with the middle finger, signal someone with the ring finger, or look fancy with an extended pinky. We can communicate with sign language, twist open a domestic beer, shuffle a deck of cards.

Unfortunately, in the time it took me to write this, I bit off all of my fingernails.

You can put your hands in as a group and feel connected and part of a group. You can high five. Or say “FLY GIRLS!” on three. You can take a picture and capture a memory. You take notes or hold open a great book. You can have your hands featured on the front of the Towson University Towerlight. You can hold up something you’re proud of like a certificate or a banner or a piece of art.


The average hand length for adult women is 6.7 inches. The average length for men is 7.4 inches

We can hold our wedding invitations to our mouths and hope we don’t get poisoned like Susan on Seinfeld. We can play chess if we know how, or even if we don’t. We can point at that crazy looking bird over there. We can salute–if that is your thing. We can cheer for the Orioles. We can say hold out just two fingers and say “Peace be with you.”

I love hands. I love chubby hands, baby hands, elderly hands that tell decades-long stories. I love wrinkly hands, hands with age spots, hands that show wear and tear, mechanic’s hands, gardener’s hands, tough hands, thick hands, hairy hands, bald hands, sticky fat hands, piano hands, Caitlin’s giant hands and Sierra and Shar’s tiny little hands. I love my husband’s hands and the other ones I know so well. Mom’s delicate yet strong hands. And how she uses them with her kids and she will tell you that being an Occupational Therapist is all about hands–she teaches people who don’t know how, to use their hands for food, for life. I love my dad’s hands. Dad’s hands that can comfort but also farm. And how he holds two fingers at his upper lip when he’s driving because he’s craving a cigarette but resisting because we’re there then how he uses his hands to house three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a row with barbecue chips on the side. I’ve said before that I miss Gram’s hands and Grandpop’s hands. And I do. Because their hands were symbols of who they were, who they are still, in my memories.

Love your hands. Appreciate your hands. See all that they do for you and then let them do for others too. Whatever you do with your hands, may that action, more than anything, spread love. Next week…feet!


Sports: Humility, Letting Go of Control, Achievement, Personal Growth, and Admitting When You’re in a Cult

I’ve always loved playing sports. I grew up within a record-winning homerun ball’s distance of the old Memorial Stadium. I’m told sometimes we’d walk down to the Orioles’ games after the inning when they stopped checking tickets so we could get in for free. During most home games we could hear the announcers’ voices bouncing off the water nearby.


Us on the field where we learned how to play everything. Sneaker game was on point.

We grew up going to dad’s softball games and playing anything we were taught. We maybe didn’t become the professional athletes my dad saw us becoming but we both did pretty well for ourselves in high school track and cross country. While we’d both pictured ourselves playing soccer, basketball, and softball professionally well into adulthood, I think, we really found our home on the team with the Mercy High School’s strongest masochists. I still think there was no one tougher in that school than my senior year cross country team. On October 27, 2004 Aubrey and I were both on the championship IAAM Mercy High School Cross Country Team. That day continues to be one of the. best. days. of. my. life.


The Senior Navy Seals of Mercy High School. Those are Coach Fowler’s words, not mine.


Hey, nice shorts!

I remember being in elementary school and playing catch with Dad across the street on the filtration plant field. I was wearing some stupid, trendy Old Navy bandanna that made me look like a cross between a ’50s housewife and the way Blanche from The Golden Girls would look on her way to an “active” date. I couldn’t keep the bandanna tied at the back of my head and I just remember my dad saying, “That’s not what we wear in baseball!” I said something real clever like, “This is softball, not baseball!” That fashion statement was getting in the way of my already handicapped skills. Nevertheless, he persisted. And I am so grateful we did too.


This was what we wore in softball.

We played basketball for years with Dad as the coach. Then, every spring we’d get covered in dirt twice weekly for softball. And the fall meant soccer and leaves and the unavoidable blisters I’d get from my cleats. I’ve continued playing team sports into adulthood–albeit not professionally–most recently, football with my team The Secret of the Booze and basketball with the Light Blue Fly Girls. We Fly Girls were actually the first team in IHM Women’s Basketball history to win 0 games. We won an award for not giving up so I guess: ya lose some (all), ya win an award. (It was actually super nice to be recognized.)


Some Fly Girls and our fans.

I can’t imagine my life without sports or athletics of some kind. From sports I learned humility–mostly because I had no choice. When I first started playing basketball, I remember shooting foul shots underhand between my legs–very intimidating to the opponents. I once crawled between the legs of someone on the other team to get the ball. And people think you need to be big and tall to play basketball–ha! Sports help you, the general you, to know that you don’t know everything. You realize that you can’t do everything. And that there is always more to learn. Maybe if Trump believed in athletics, he would be more humble. Come to think of it, probably not.

In many facets of my life, I have a hard time giving up control and depending on others. I know I will do things the way I want them done and then if things don’t go right, I will only have myself to blame. But, sports have always forced me to give control to others. Control freaks like me need that and we benefit from it and in my case, so does the team. As a team, each player is forced to relinquish control. You learn to depend on others, to look to them, and then to be there when you’re needed. It’s a big ole’ metaphor for all of life.

From sports I have experienced so much personal growth. Sports are really the first realm in which I saw true results of effort. This is going to sound melodramatic but let it be. The first time I really believed in myself (other than from my family) was because of Coach Randy Fowler. That man had showed me the best version of me and literally changed my life. He showed me how to set goals, how to work toward them, and then how to celebrate humbly after reaching them. I can’t even live life anymore without working toward goals. I’m in constant pursuit of something.

Indirectly or directly because of Coach Fowler, I have run a lot of races including about two dozen half marathons and two full marathons. Without him and my mom’s own example, I never would have guessed I could do those things.


In December in New York, I took a FlyWheel class with Chas’s and my friend Becca. It was one of the most intense things I’ve ever witnessed. Becca and I hungoverly hustled through Manhattan to get there on time as I haphazardly signed up for the class online during our walk over. We arrived and what felt like 324 people crammed into a room for the 45 minute session. We clipped our weird shoes into our weird pedals as a fleet of fans blew our stray hairs into our sweat. The teacher? lead biker? motivational speaker? continually told us about our lives and our goals. A screen displayed the rankings of the 20 people who signed up to be publicly ranked. I mean damn. We all held onto her every word belted out between her rock hard arms and shoulders and into a telemarketer’s microphone.

She said things like, “You only live once. You might as well be a bad ass!” And, “The past is gone and the future is not guaranteed.” Also maybe something like, “The difference between who you are and who you want to be is determined by what you do.” It was terrifying. Becca and I admitted to one another we each felt like we were going to vomit. Then we wiped ourselves with the complimentary towels, sipped the complimentary water, and scarfed the complimentary bananas.

At $35 per class, some shit better be “complimentary.” I don’t know if FlyWheel is always that intense or if it was enhanced by being in Midtown Manhattan. Probably a combination. I walked out feeling great but also dumbfounded. Like I couldn’t decide whether I had just attended an exercise class, a therapy session for depressed people with really low self esteem, a convention for urban white women, or an introduction to an alternate universe. I think it was all four. Y’all millennials are weird.



These days, as a yoga teacher and a runner (at this point, occasional runner), athletics look different for me than they did when I was a kid. I strive to continue making myself better every single time I practice but I also get to work on this with others. In a way I guess a yoga teacher is like a coach and it’s my job to show people the best versions of themselves–does that sound FlyWheel-ish?

I have also been hearing about this program called Orange Theory. Here’s their motto so you can get even more confused: “MORE LIFE We all want more. More energy. More strength. More results. Orangetheory is designed to give you that, and more. Our workout changes you at the cellular level, and is scientifically proven to give you a longer, more vibrant life.” I can’t knock it–haven’t tried it. But come on. Their website looks more like an ad for a sci-fi film than a gym.

In the month of January I took 30 yoga classes. Some doubles, some early mornings, some unwanted sweating, I did it. And I know not everyone would agree but with 30 yoga classes in my dangling rearview mirror (story for another day), I feel really athletic. I love that yoga’s season has no end. I am constantly evolving, and so are the people around me. We silently strive. It’s kind of beautiful. And now I get to spread that myself. I found my Kool Aid pitcher and I drink it in. CorePower is my cult.


Marking class #30.

I think in the group exercise world of 2018, if you’re into exercise and/or sports, you just need to pick your cult. That’s what these are. Who will get to swipe your credit card monthly? Or will you just grab your sneakers and hit the streets? Will you be with the yogis, the bikers, the gym rats, the Orange Theory people, the Cross Fitters? Because literally no one can afford to do it all. And really, what are we looking for? Humility, personal growth, letting go of control, free bananas? Well, as someone I met once may have said, “You only live once, you might as well be a bad ass.”