Last October, I went to Asheville to see Elizabeth Gilbert read excerpts from Big Magic. The trip itself was great, but happened to take place during one of the worst months of my life.
Suck-tober was equivalent to a long period of weight loss.
Instead of actual weight, metaphoric pounds and layers of insecurities and uncertainties about well, everything. Memorial Day Weekend, I came back to see Liz.
This time in Los Angeles, and this time, with Rob Bell.
This time, a lot lighter than I was before.
And for the next few days, Katie and I are touched by what she coined as, “Magic Tricks”.
Magic Trick #1
The arrival in L.A. was like a huge wave. Wrapped up things at the agency, then a rush to work/close at the restaurant. Followed by a “quick drink”, which actually was a shot or two of Grey Goose, two or three beers, and long, in depth conversations with the weekend DJ. The wave crested the moment I grumbled, “I have to go,” to the bartender, and crashing the next morning at 5 AM when Katie called me and asked…
“What’s your eta?”
Within 20 minutes, I’m packed, Morrie is cared for, and an Uber has arrived.
I mumble gruffly, “I love you”, to Morrie and kiss his forehead, as if he’s my husband of 30 years or something. I roll into the Uber, tell the driver I’m late, and somehow, I arrive at the airport quickly.
I make it through security within only a few minutes, and board the plane.
Everything is fuzzy. A guy tells me he likes my shirt, that reads: “But first, coffee.”
“Yeahthatsactuallyrealrightnow,” stumbles out of my mouth.
I don’t make eye contact with him.
I board the busy plane, and realize Katie and I are not in the same row. But after a few minutes, it’s clear the seat besides her is miraculously open.
“Magic Trick #1”, Katie mused as I sat besides her, a nod to Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent great, Big Magic.
“Me getting out of bed this morning was the first,” says Walter Matthau, but actually, me.
“This is the second.”
I pass out, and don’t surface again until 2 hours into the flight.
Magic Trick #2
Katie is quietly reading besides me when I wake up. I feel renewed. This quickly turns to disgust when I visit the bathroom and am greeted by the greasiest, most unkempt version of myself.
“Augggggh!” I say aloud, matting down my hair, desperately wiping excess eyeliner from under my eyes.
For the rest of the flight, I immerse myself in ice water, the summer travel issue of National Geographic, and the book I’m currently reading, Women, Food and God (an Annabel recommendation). Katie and I fumble to take a picture of my mountain tattoo with the Rockies in the background.
It’s a failure.
Then we’re landing in San Francisco for our layover.
I wonder how much of my life has been spent on planes and trains. And fixated on arriving.
We spend what we called “a hot hour” drinking Bloody Mary’s and eating breakfast. I house a subpar breakfast burrito. We laugh, and talk about our dreams – for Katie, yoga, for me, Driftyland. We start to discuss photography for Katie’s endeavors….and I have an idea.
Within minutes, I’m connected to Stephanie, my friend, but also, a L.A. based photographer. We schedule a shoot for the next afternoon.
Magic Trick #3
The next flight isn’t as easy. We land in LA with the delicateness of a tiny ball of paper being spit out of a straw.
Then, after some maneuvering, we meet our Uber.
For the 2nd time in my life, a Prius picks me up at LAX.
“Music?” The driver asks, as Grace’s You Don’t Own Me comes on the radio.
“Turn it up.”
We breeze down the freeway, catching glimpses of local landmarks, graffiti. For a moment, my mind drifts off, and I think about the day my most recent ex and I broke up. That afternoon, I had ordered lunch from Postmates.
“What’s this?” I said to the delivery guy, as I pulled a can of lemonade from my bag. I hadn’t ordered a drink.
I thought it was weird, due to my recent Lemonade obsession – the visual album from Beyonce that’s about making the best of things “lemons out of lemonade”, after a significant other is unfaithful. I was obsessed with the album way before that happened to me – feeling empowered by the powerful message of being independent and determined.
(To the point where I started answering questions with the lemon emoticon.)
I didn’t read too much into the lemonade can, but I should have. That relationship ended hours later. I thought about how odd the timing had been, and in itself, it was a mini-magic trick, a heads up from the universe that it’d be fine. I’d be good.
I let the Minute Maid memory slip away, as if it were a little piece of paper that fluttered out the open car window. We arrive at our house – an Airbnb a block away from Wanderlust, the venue for the workshop with Liz.
We enter the little yellow guest house, behind a tall, wooden fence. It reminds me of my little yellow guest house in Wilmington. The symbolism continues as I walk through the small, cottage-like space and am greeted by…
“There’s a fucking lemon tree back here,” I gasp.
As if beckoned, a lemon immediately falls off and rolls across the patio.
Katie picks it up, cuts it in half…. and fucking makes lemonade.
Magic Trick #4
That night, over wine we picked up in Silver Lake, Katie and I talk about our lives. We read each other the letters we wrote ourselves three months ago, in February 2015. I already talked about this on the blog, but it totally counts as a magic trick… especially if you keep reading.
I mean, our past selves knew wtf was up. Mine made poetic, sort of cliche, but still feel-good statements like: “You’re feeling a bit raw, but also feel the ice cracking. You feel flowers growing in the desert. Opportunity from scorched earth.”
She apologized to me. She hauled ass. And now, I’m here. I’m good.
Magic Trick #5
Remember the photographer?
We meet my old friend Stephanie at Griffith Observatory for the photo shoot. For those of you who haven’t been there, Griffith Park and the observatory is a kick-ass part of L.A. where you can see the entire city. A talented writer once called it, “some kind of barrier between the heavens and Earth.”
That writer also took another photo of herself… in the same yoga pants and sneakers that she wore there two years ago:
For the next two hours, we chase the sunset (I wish I could take credit for that line, but Stephanie actually said it). The three of us are completely in sync – Stephanie rotated between Katie and I, occasionally showing us breath-taking photos that we literally cannot wait for her to finish editing.
We went for a hike with Stephanie the day we departed, sharing more stories about our creative endeavors. She drops us off at our house, with us prompting her to come visit us, and us promising to do a part of the PCT with her.
The three of us are going to be very good friends.
Magic Trick #6
A few months ago, I went to Snowshoe, W.V. with some strangers. The trip was really good for me. Also, the timing of the trip in comparison to my Liz Gilbert adventures are curious.
Snowshoe was the halfway point – in timing yes, but also, in personal development.
End of October 2015
Melissa and Annabel go to Asheville, N.C. to see Liz Gilbert read from “Big Magic”.
-3-4 months pass-
End of February 2016
Melissa goes to Snowshoe, West Virginia with The Summit Young Pros.
-3-4 months pass-
End of May 2016
Melissa and Katie go to Los Angeles, C.A. to attend Liz Gilbert & Rob Bell’s workshop.
On the day of the workshop, Katie and I got there early to get seats. After putting our stuff down, I got breakfast from Wanderlust’s cafe.
“We’ll bring it out to you,” said the Barista, handing me a laminated marker.
This laminated marker:
The Snowshoe trip was also within a week that Katie and I bought the tickets for the conference. And wrote the letters.
The Final Trick, #7
I won’t dive too deep into the actual workshop – that’s obviously the last trick. I plan to write more about it when I fully process the ten pages of notes I wrote down. But I will share this – when Katie and I signed up, we literally had no idea what the workshop was.
We speculated, wildly.
There was no promotion from Liz Gilbert’s team. Rob Bell was vague. We had no idea how many people would be there, until we crept into the conference room early, and left some belongings on seats in the center front row.
About 10 minutes after it started, Liz and Rob revealed what we’d be doing.
And just in case that wasn’t enough, Liz and Rob questioned the audience about each theme, each letter. About 20 out of 300 people got a chance to speak.
2 of those 20?
Melissa Randall and Katie Breen.