30 in thirty

Today I’m 30. Big milestone, right? For some, this would call for vodka, a toaster in their morning shower, cake with extra frosting, low-fat cake, or a marathon viewing of Sixteen Candles. For me, it’s an opportunity for introspection (as if I didn’t already spend way too much time in my own head, rattling around, disrupting the natural flow of things).

I thought about the things that have mattered the most, that have given me a new perspective, that make me proud, that make this whole turning 30 business not so bad really. And I started a list: Thirty things that make turning thirty OK. Here it is.

schwellenbach-scourge-2-396p.indd1. Publishing my first novel. I don’t think I could bear to see the other side of 30 without this essential accomplishment under my belt. I think of Scourge of the Righteous Haddock as my first child.

2. Morocco. This was my first trip undertaken as an adult on my own dime, and I spent

2.1479512_10100885314160123_1701294649_nthree weeks there in the summer of 2009.

3.IMG_07083. Dog mushing in Alaska. One of the most incredible experiences of my life, and something I intend to repeat as soon as possible. If you haven’t heard a pack of mushing dogs howling their satisfaction after dinner and a long day on the trail, you’re missing one of the most primal and joyful experiences.

4. Skydiving in Pismo Beach. Colin surprised me with this for our one-year 4.300067_278265395525563_784683676_nanniversary. It was something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m still proud of myself for actually dropping out of the plane when all my instincts were bellowing for me to do otherwise.

5.373800115. Nazca lines. I’d wanted to see the Nazca lines since I was a child. In fact, I remember my dad putting Peruvian flute music on the stereo while my brother and I played four corners in the house. And actually seeing the lines was as close as I’ve come to a spiritual experience.

6. Machu Picchu. I can’t say it was as incredible as the Nazca lines, but seeing these ruins was utterly6.1424399_10151911333103355_603942628_n surreal. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it didn’t really exist, was somehow a trick, because the fact that I was there was really too good to be true.

7.Maverick7. Every pet I’ve ever had. They’re not accomplishments, but their love and companionship has made this a rich 30 years indeed.

8. The manuscript of my second novel, Vestal. My proof that Scourge of the Righteous Haddock was not just a fluke. That there will be many more to come.

9. Crossfit. A little over a year ago, after more than a year of inactivity and in the worst shape of my life, I let a friend convince me to join her at the gym. I worked hard, promptly threw up, and have been attending classes four days per week ever since. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since high school, which is a major confidence boost.

10.189283_10150106211238355_955994_n10. Fabric dancing. It’s one of those things you dream about doing as a kid, and I did it for awhile with Suspended Motion, a warehouse studio in SLO. Knowing I’m capable of climbing 20 feet of fabric, wrapping myself up like  burrito, and tumbling to the ground makes me feel like such a badass. I’m not big on the graceful poses, but it turns out I’m a fiend for the steep drops.

11. Nose piercing. Overcoming my fear of needles. Laying the groundwork for my half-sleeve tattoo.

12. UCLA. It’s been a long time, but the memory of wanting this so very desperately is still fresh. It was a great three years, and I made the acquaintance of many of my favorite books and characters while there.

13.574721_10101399371540036_620019887_n13. Running a newspaper. First as arts editor, then as managing editor, for going on eight years.

14. Playing football in high school. It was something I always wanted to do, and the fact that my desire to play finally outweighed my fear of what people would think and say makes me immeasurably proud. And yeah, it was tough and felt lonely, but that makes it all the sweeter that I made it through.

15.IMG_999815. Seeing the Coliseum. I didn’t think much of Italy, but the Coliseum was pretty cool and spawned an idea for a novel.

16. Ireland. When I was a child, Ireland was one of three countries I 16.IMG_9610desperately wanted to visit. And I can honestly say it lived up to the hype. I also learned that I like Guinness—if it’s doused in Ribena syrup.

17.sanlouiecover17. San Louie. My first venture into writing and editing independently of New Times. Most importantly, it allowed me to meet my most talented collaborator, Mignon Khargie, who has taught me a lot about what’s possible.

18. Becoming a pescatarian. It’s something that makes me feel better about myself and the world.

19. Every book I’ve ever read. They define me more than just about anything else I’ve seen or done. 19.IMG_0170But, specifically, I’m proud that I haven’t allowed the fact that I’m done with college to stop me from challenging myself with reading material I’m not sure I’ll enjoy. In the last couple years, that includes: Gravity’s Rainbow, Moby Dick, Middlemarch, and Don Quixote, three of the four of which I did not much care for.

20. Getting the yellow fever vaccination to go to Peru. Given the intensity of my needle phobia, I wasn’t sure I would be able to get a vaccination, even if it meant I wouldn’t be able to visit a really cool country. Turns out, it’s traumatic and yes, I panicked, but it is possible.

21.Screen shot 2014-01-04 at 12.03.49 AM21. My website. It’s something I put off putting together for a really long time because I’m not all that tech savvy, but the truth is, a contemporary author needs a platform and I am bound and determined to be a contemporary author.

22. Watching the start of the Iditarod and meeting some of the competitors. I never knew how 22.01110005amazing this race was until I was there, meeting the mushers, meeting the dogs, learning about it. But it’s turned into one of my favorite memories, and a race I will follow for the rest of my life.

23.65532_10151333986468355_1241901258_n23. Meeting Bill Murray. Honestly, it was kind of more like stalking him through the AT&T Pro-Am, but he did speak to me. And look at me. So I’m calling that a win.

24. Friends. I’m not really going to start listing them or anything, but they’re out there and they’re kind of incredible people. And whether they were my 24.IMG_4734friends once upon a time but are no longer, are currently but won’t be in 10 years, or are now and will be until we’re 180, they’ve helped make this mortal coil the wild adventure I alternately loathe and adore. And for that I’m pretty darned grateful.

25. Pole vault. You know that song about defying gravity? That was me in highschool. Until I fell back down again

26. Losing my religion. Making the decision to ditch the religion and belief system I was brainwashed between preschool and eighth grade into believing has given me the freedom to think for myself, question, and, most importantly, choose the path that makes sense to me.

27.993024_10151752523256410_657613082_n27. Buying my first work of original art. And the cherry on top of the shadowbox Sundae was the fact that it was work inspired by my book, Scourge of the Righteous Haddock. Thanks Lena Rushing!

28. Sleeping under the stars. I’ve done it numerous times, and it’s always the best sleep I’ve ever had. Not to mention being my idea of a perfect “spiritual” experience—my definition of spiritual being feeling particularly connected to nature

29. The Eiffel Tower. It’s totally cliché, but I had a glorious 24 hours in Paris during which I saw the 29.6249_827451817786_1661366_ntower in person, as well as Père Lachaise Cemetery, which is pretty damned cool and the resting place for Guillaume Apollinaire, Maria Callas,  Jim Morrison,  Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Oscar Wilde, and a bunch of other cool cats. I hope my triumphant return to this gorgeous city can last a couple more days, or possibly weeks.

30. Successfully maintaining a romantic relationship for more than five minutes. I hesitated to add 206308_10100474238264536_8344562_nthis to the list because I truly think that we place too much emphasis on romantic love, culturally, at the expense of other really important experiences and relationships. But when I was a little kid, I absolutely knew I would write a book and see the Eiffel Tower. But I doubted my ability to trust someone enough to be in a relationship. And honestly, that’s always been one of my greatest struggles. But I’ve done it. And sometimes it’s ended badly, sometimes it’s ended somewhat alright, and one has yet to end at all (fingers crossed).

And, because I’m absolutely insane, tomorrow I’m publishing 40 things I need to do before 40. (Lest I rest on my laurels.)



  1. I love this list! You should be so proud! And we have a couple points in common!


  1. […] my thirtieth birthday, four long months ago, I posted thirty accomplishments that made me feel better about the milestone. And the next day I followed that post with a list of […]

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