Archive for the ‘just writing’ Category

Two days on the Cape.

September 7, 2014

Squinting at my screen in the morning light, I noticed specks on my sunglasses, a fine dust of sandy dust and salty sea spray from yesterday’s trip to the beach. The water was almost warmer than the cool, heavy air; we stayed for about 20 minutes, until the whipping wind exhausted us.

Rains came across the Cape last night while we slept, taking the oppressive humidity and angry skies with them. A cool breeze blew through the open windows around 7 a.m., waking me only long enough to pull the quilt up over the chambray sheets and just under my chin; I hunkered down under the covers for another blissful hour of sleep.

When I gave up on sleeping, the house Mark’s family has rented for years was still quiet, though everyone was awake — probably had been for hours. I padded down the hall to say good morning, the wood floors still tacky from the lingering dampness in the air.

The kitchen was already clean, despite the disaster we’d left in our wine-buzzed wake the night before: Mornings in Harwich Port keep the Dish Fairy busy with dozens of dishes from dinner the night before — including too many wine glasses to count, even for just five of us.

 

Yesterday afternoon, after three dozen Wellfleets — fresh from the harbor across the parking lot, shucked on the raw bar next to us moments before they arrived on our table — and two bottles of sparkling wine, we floated across the street to Mac’s seafood, where we bought day scallops, tuna belly, swordfish, salmon, all fresh that morning.

Mark, his dad and I were in charge of dinner, with Barney on the grill and the almost-weds working with our haul from the Provincetown farmer’s market that morning: a plum, balsamic and ground cherry sauce for the scallops; ears of grilled corn slathered in butter, salt and pepper; an arugula and heirloom tomato salad topped with fresh goat cheese sliced like mozzarella di bufala.

As we prepared and feasted, we opened bottle after bottle of wine, each more special than the last. Mark’s parents now drive each year from Illinois to Massachusetts, a most precious cargo of cellar stowaways in the backseat of their minivan.

Every night on the Cape is some version of this parade of indulgence, with a rotating cast of characters both culinary and human. A couple of days from now, another couple will join us; when Mark and I return from our long-awaited overnight on Martha’s Vineyard, his brother, sister-in-law and their daughter will be settled in to finish out the week.

 

The skies over our home for the next week are clear this morning, with a few cotton-candy clouds drifting aimlessly past the tall trees of the backyard.

The real calm before the storm precedes this afternoon’s Bears season opener, which we’ll spend huddled over a single television at a sports bar in Yarmouth. For now, we sip cups of coffee and read our Kindle books silently, sports highlights blinking and murmuring on low across the room. I came outside to eat breakfast, enjoying as few minutes of solitude and dipping into another chapter of Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” (I’ve been reading it for the past year and a half or so, and I’m determined to finish it during this trip.)

In a few minutes, we’ll pile into the minivan and head to Pirate’s Cove for a pre-game miniature golf match. I will lose, handily; Mark and his father will duke it out for another year’s championship title. The trip will be filled with traditions like this.

It’s hard to believe this is only the third year I’ve joined my future in-laws on their annual vacation. Cape Cod feels just as familiar to me — as much like home — as Door County does from many childhood visits with my own family.

Forth Chicago and letting go, 4 years later.

August 27, 2014

Forth-Chicago-logoIn summer 2013, Lisa Guillot, the incredibly talented designer who made my website all pretty and Paige-like, invited me to be part of a “seasonal salon” she and two other women were hosting.

It was called Forth, and it was my introduction to a group of women I’m humbled to find myself among every day. Collectively, we are creatives — writers, designers, photographers, Etsy shop owners — single women, mothers, of all ages and from throughout Chicagoland. I met our wedding photographer and good friend, Kelly Allison, through Forth (she’s one of the three founders), too. The third founder is Julie Schumacher, a gorgeous person and kindred spirit if I’ve ever met one.

Earlier this month, they approached me to write a blog for the Forth website about my seemingly constant back-and-forth between full-time office work, freelance writing, entrepreneurship and everything else I find myself doing. Of course, I said yes.

It went live today…

Click through to forthchicago.com to read the post.

 

T minus 2 months.

August 17, 2014

Two months from tomorrow, Mark and I will be married.

Holy shit.

Ill-fated cornmeal pancakesEven a month ago, October 18 felt like worlds away.

And suddenly, we’re choosing the song for our first dance (it’s perfect), thinking about where our friends and family will sit as they eat and drink to celebrate the start of our new life together, waiting for our invitations to come back from the calligrapher.

I vowed a long time ago not to become the kind of bride they make television shows about. And for the most part, I haven’t. Because more than I’m looking forward to the wedding — which I’m sure will be the best party I’ve ever attended — I’m more excited to be married.

This morning, we woke up and went our separate ways, briefly: I biked to the grocery store for blueberries and bacon; he brought home coffee from the café down the street, turned on the radio and filled the sleepy apartment with morning life.

I made ill-fated cornmeal pancakes (blech) and bacon — at least there was bacon — while 93 XRT’s Breakfast With The Beatles played over our hand-me-down record player.

And as our wedding day inches closer, I’m more and more enamored with this real-life preview of what our marriage will be like. Put simply: We have fun. Even on a cool, overcast Sunday, going through the day with him at my side is a joy.

We are weird. We are gross. We make each other laugh endlessly. And what’s more important — in a world so backward it’ll make you cry if you catch it in the right light — than laughter?

10413206_548315355273943_459851361_nWe are in love. We love each other. Two different things, both equally important. Not every day is white sand beaches and crystal-blue water, but I’ve never gone to bed angry. And that’s not nothing.

Mark and I have been together for two and a half years, and I’ve barely written about him or about us. And it’s not for the lack of things to write about —  but in past relationships, I’ve believed I had something to prove, to myself and to the world. So I wrote and wrote and wrote.

They say you just know when you’ve found “the one.”

I guess it’s true.

This morning, a good friend posted a link to the blog of a woman who’d just officiated a friends’ wedding. Her charge was one of the truer, lovelier things I’ve ever read about marriage.

Mark and I will be faced with a lot of choices in our marriage. Some will be simple, like whether to have that fourth slice of pizza and finish the entire 16-inch pie, leaving us without the leftovers we’d halfheartedly intended. Those are easy choices. Of course we’ll eat the pizza.

10448973_731363756921643_665781117_nOthers will be more difficult. Like whether to have and raise children. It’s something I waffle on every day, and something we’ve talked about many times already. There are so many factors weighing on that eventual decision, and not just that we’d ultimately have to give those last two pieces of pizza to our child instead of eating them ourselves. (Or order a bigger pizza. Lord; more choices.)

Our life together won’t always be a walk in the park: The pancakes won’t always be perfect; the choices we make mostly won’t revolve around pizza. But I can’t think of anyone I’d rather face the misfortunes and tough choices with.

Two months until the first day of the rest of our lives.

I can’t wait. 

But in the meantime, I’ll savor the days of this countdown.

Memories like fireflies.

June 15, 2014

Robert HayesWe sat in a horseshoe of high-end furniture on the brick patio of my grandparents’ house, the one they moved into just before my little sister was born.

Gam sat in the center — equally composed and frazzled, ironclad-strong and fragile — flanked by my stepfather, mother and sister on one side, my aunt, her adopted son and me on the other side. We sipped ice water from stemless wine glasses that sweetened onto flowered cocktail napkins in the humidity.

She wore tailored black pants and a white linen jacket with a mandarin collar, set off with a brightly colored dragonfly stick pin: prim as always, but absent a bit of her luster and polish. The light started to leave her eyes, I think, the day she found out about Grandy’s cancer.

He tried to fight it — tried everything, from medications and radiation to chemo — but the treatments only succeeded in weakening his body further.

When we saw him at Christmas, he was a physical shell of his formerly robust, barrel-chested self. In years past, he’d already be dressed in pressed pants and a casual button-down, the morning paper already half-devoured, by the time our pajama-clad crew arrived to open presents on Christmas morning.

This past year, he wore a robe like the rest of us, with soft drawstring pajama pants I imagine were the only thing he found comfortable anymore. What little hair he had left was reduced to an ashy down, sparse on his head.

But his eyes still twinkled — mischief and wisdom and wit still clawing their way to the surface through his broken body — and his voice, when he spoke, still echoed all the same.

That Christmas morning’s celebration was a little more somber, and echoingly quieter. Instead of the big brunch, we left early to make room for an afternoon nap and all the attending difficulties life with someone dying of cancer inevitably brings.

Grandy had written my sister and I a Christmas poem every year for as long as I can remember. He was a master of the cutesy art of iambic pentameter, and it was impossible not to crack a smile, or giggle a little, when reading the poem aloud to the room (as we were always asked to do).

There was no poem for us this year, but on the table, wedged between the lamp and Gam’s glasses case, was a plain piece of white printer paper folded in thirds. He’d written her a poem entitled “Our Last Christmas.”

 

robert hayesIt seems, in the six and a half years since I moved to Chicago, my soul has blackened and shrunk; few things make me cry anymore. But I cried when I found the poem. (I didn’t even read it; the title was enough to break my heart.)

I cried when I found out he’d died that morning in February: I was on the Brown Line to the Loop when my mother called, and I knew as soon as I saw the caller ID what I’d hear on the other line. I day drank and wore myself out running around town that day.

And I cried when I came home that weekend afterward, though not when I expected I might. I’d been dry-eyed, all smiles, when we arrived at the airport and when we went to the house to give hugs to our newly widowed grandmother. But as I padded aimlessly through their pin-drop-quiet house, his imprint still pressed into his easy chair but the smell of his pipe already beginning to fade, I started to tear up. And somehow, the sight of his Mercedes sedan in the garage, shiny, clean, dark and forever without its driver, is what brought the house down.

Grief is a funny thing.

 

robert hayesGam began the afternoon with the story of why we were there. Grandy had said, when he got word that he had four to eight weeks left, that he wanted a funeral only if everyone sat and sang nothing but Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson music.

Gam said they’d compromised and agreed on a small family memorial gathering, where we would sit around and say nice things about him. And that’s what we did.

We read letters Gam had received from friends and former colleagues both before and after his death. I read aloud from his autobiography a bizarre history of the cars he’d owned throughout his youth, as well as the tale of how he’d scandalously sold his 1935 lemon to his “buxom and very pretty” Spanish teacher, so he could upgrade to a “late-model beauty” of same manufacturer.

Then we sat in our quiet little horseshoe — his wife, his daughters and their small families — and looked through photos of him doing what he loved, trading fond memories and sage adages he’d shared.

I tried to put words to my own fond memories, but in the end, I didn’t have much to say. My memories of Grandy are suffused with his wisdom, ooze with his stoic warmth, but lack form. My memories are hazy and vague, but they’re all vividly focused in that twinkle in his eyes.

robert hayesI remember my pleasant surprise at him occasionally picking up the phone when I’d call. I remember his patience every time Gam interjected into a conversation, and the way he said her name.

I remember him gleefully sabotaging our family Christmas Eve craft every year. I remember his lung-crushing hugs, and the dirty-sweet smell of his pipe emanating from his basement office.

Barely, I remember him at the helm of his boat, never doubting he could steer us back to shore.

And I’ll remember him now, too, in the warm, gusty breeze that ruffled our cocktail napkins that afternoon, and the nightfall glow of the lightning bugs along the walk I took to clear my head that night.

I’ve never gotten close enough to catch a firefly in my cupped hands, but off in the distance, they blink and flicker with the essence of everything that’s lovely about a Kansas City summer.

My black heart may not cry for him again, but it’ll be impossible not to smile.

Leaving Chicago. (Leaving Chicago?)

April 6, 2014

SuperdawgSunglassed and stubbornly coatless, Mark and I sat today at a blue plastic picnic table at Superdawg, surrounded by the Chicago-est of Chicagoans, watching the northwest-side traffic go by and trying to block the sound of the yapping Chihuahuas two tables down. The cheese in our little plastic cups was quickly going cold, so we munched quickly on our crinkle-fry nubs, trying to keep up with the chill.

This past season was the kind of winter that made a 55-degree Sunday like today a godsend.

Despite the hometown love affair this weather should inspire, between bites of all-beef hot dog, nestled in a poppyseed bun and crowned with yellow mustard, neon-green relish, sport peppers and strangely salty green tomatoes, I was anywhere but Chicago.

I’m not sure which soul-numbing snowstorm brought on this yearning, but for the first time ever, I’m ready to think about leaving Chicago. For France.

The eight days of May 2009 I spent in Paris were lonely and melancholy, even a little scary, yet when I think about leaving the city I never imagined I’d leave, France is where I see myself. Six months from marrying a man who’s a few tests away from being a full-fledged sommelier, it makes more sense than ever.

Browsing the shelves

So I went to the bookstore this afternoon — slaloming through a course of strollers and leashed dogs — in search of a book I wasn’t sure how to ask for, though I had a feeling I’d find it. The Book Cellar has three whole bookshelves stacked to the ceiling with travel books, and two more little shelves of what an employee called travel narrative.

The Book Cellar didn’t have them in stock, but as it turns out, there are countless “yes, you can!” guides to leaving America: The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad, Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America, The Grown-Up’s Guide to Running Away from Home: Making a New Life Abroad.

The Book Cellar didn’t have them, but becoming an expat, living and working abroad.

These books are filled with chapters about getting there legally, soothing culture shock, navigating overseas health care and other messes. (I wonder if there’s an appendix in any of them that covers the anxiety and anticipation in the two years before you actually get there.)

ParisLa vie quotidienne

I don’t want this to be a pipe dream. Neither of us want to look back — after buying a house, having two kids and realizing we’re cruising toward complacent middle age — and realize we put off something we once wanted so badly. So we set our hearts on a date: spring 2016. That’s our vague do-or-die time, the window we have to prepare ourselves for a move that could be life-alteringly sweet — or a spectacular, epic failure that would still somehow seem amazing in retrospect.

Our honeymoon to France next April will be part newlyweds’ getaway, part research expedition. In the meantime, Mark will start learning French; I’ll begin researching what it’ll really take to make this move happen.

To begin: a bottle of rosé from Provence. I’m sitting on the back deck for the first time since we moved into our apartment, listening to jazz and sipping an overly large pour of barely-pink wine.

There are few things in ordinary life that I don’t find hopelessly, oddly lovely. A mother and her son who live in the single-family home next door are outside playing catch, counting the number of times each one catches the pink plastic ball they’re tossing. When it gets dark, there will be a long line of blinking lights in the sky from the lake, planes coming into O’Hare from points east. The rumble of the train, the traffic on Western Avenue, the smell of Thai from across the street.

La vie quotidienne speaks to the deepest parts of my heart. I just think my heart may be ready for a taste of something new — even if it’s not forever. I would miss the cheese fries, though.

 

Superdawg photo: Flickr

2014 begins: Death Cab be damned.

January 1, 2014

What an odd feeling: renewal.
Plot twist.Between chapters of Danny Meyer’s memoir slash inspirational tome slash bible-for-every-type-of-business, I thumped the hardcover down on the duvet and sprang out of bed.
“What?” Mark said. Mark. My fiancé. We’ll be married this year.
“I’ll be right back.”
“What are you doing?” he asked, as I rushed out of the bedroom hours before my alarm is set to wake me, to start my new job. A new job. Back to work full time with a client I’ve loved for years.
“I’ll be right back.”

The Timehop app sent my iPhone a push notification this morning, and with one near-sighted eye closed and the other squinting at the tiny screen, I scrolled through New Year’s Days past, back through five years of life (lives, actually, maybe) and what I saw was regret. Sadness. Utter contempt for myself. The same Death Cab for Cutie lyric: So this is the new year. And I don’t feel any different.

Ah, but today, I do. This morning, I woke up and I did feel different.
Without even knowing it, I closed my eyes last night and hit the reset button. I made a promise for this year — yes, a resolution — to let myself just be. And I started early: I didn’t write any Facebook posts about The Year That Was. Expressed no regret, no sadness about mistakes I’d supposedly made. No contempt for myself. I did plenty of that during the course of last year.

The tallest snow angel.

It started to snow yesterday afternoon and didn’t stop all day. It’s a marshmallow world, a winter wonderland; today I was a child staring into a self-shaking snow globe. Somehow, I woke up, threw open the curtains and just felt…different.

New Year’s Eve could have been terrible. I’m prone to horrible New Year’s Eves.
Mark and I made dinner; I bought an Amish chicken and everything we needed for a proper rustic late-night French meal. And it was a perfectly spectacular failure. The chicken was laughably undercooked, beyond the point of saving before the Ball dropped. The carrots had cooked in the juices of the not-even-close-to-done chicken. The roast potatoes were on their way to cold. The garlic spinach was the only truly edible dish. (Even the cheese we’d bought for our snooty Francophile “dessert course” was subpar. [When is cheese ever terrible?]) The evening’s wine pulled off a heroic gastronomic recovery.

But the dinner could have ruined my night. I could have let it…it’s taken far less in the past.
1555363_10101806304178909_555303653_n

Instead, we had our midnight champagne toast — Mark’s breath reeked of the two bites of smoked herring he’d choked down moments earlier, a Polish tradition promising good luck in the coming year — then we transferred our bubbles into flimsy plastic party cups and bundled up to our eyes. We crunched down the sidewalk of our side street and onto Lincoln Avenue, lifting our glasses to paper-crowned revelers still hunkered down in bars where they’d counted down to midnight.
I made a snow angel in Welles Park, completely forgetting that my yoga pants would be soaked through, and from the middle of a snow-covered baseball diamond, we watched big, bright, illegal fireworks shot from a rooftop down the street.

On our way home we beamed, our smiles all but frozen on our snow-wet faces. Passing couples wished us Happy New Year, and I thought, “You have no idea.”

What am I doing?
I’m keeping my promise to myself. This is the new year, and I feel…so, so different. And what a thrill just to embrace it for once.

Atrophy is forgetting how to log into your own website.

October 17, 2013

75f952b6379311e3b39e22000a9d0df1_8I’m shoehorned into a narrow seat near the back of an auditorium of Columbia College’s campus in the South Loop, desperate to grab hold of my words as they fly through my head, in front of my mind’s eye, before they retreat to the depths of my heart where they came from.

A man whose name I’d heard but whose work I didn’t know just finished giving a talk, “What Panhandlers Can Teach You About Content Marketing,” at the all-day content marketing conference I’m attending. I scoffed at his presentation’s title, but after quickly giving up on a competing session about marketing automation, it was the next best choice. And of course, it was brilliant.

One of the words on one of his slides, tucked among photos of panhandlers with funny signs, juxtaposed as a clever nod to A/B testing, reminded him of a man with a Google+ profile. That man’s 44-some thousand followers see a photo every morning that he posts of a beautiful place — where he didn’t wake up.

Chevannes, France.
Shaftesbury, England.
Queenstown, New Zealand.

 

Yeah, I didn’t wake up there either.

Today, I woke up exhausted. I spent yesterday in a coworking space with fresh Intelligentsia coffee available all day — for free — and helped myself to three cups, spiked with almond milk and Splenda. I stayed at my computer all, at the long, white table I’d claimed as my own, and watched the Loop darken around me, cubicle desk lamps and office tube fluorescents switching off one by one by one by one.

By 8 p.m.? Hands shaking from the caffeine, I was minutes away from Thai food I would house in what felt like seconds (as usual), while glued to a partial episode of Law & Order: SVU.

I tossed and turned for hours last night until I woke up at 5:30 a.m., tangled in sheets that should have been stripped from the bed and sent to the washing machine a week ago.

Overheated, still not used to the radiators clanging to life right around the time the cats begin their daily attempt to break down the bedroom door.

I woke up to rain and a chill in the air: turtleneck and boots weather.

I woke up knowing I should work out but lacking the motivation to walk the half-block to the gym, so I found a 30-minute “yoga abs” workout on YouTube and did a workout in my living room with a woman in a pink tank top. And her French bulldog, who slept right through her downward-dog knee lifts.

I woke up, frankly, a little tired of being so damn inspired.

The Chicago Marathon just about made my heart explode, between the double amputee whose wheelchair flipped around the 20-mile marker, who struggled for 15 minutes just to right himself and get back on track — I watched him roll up to the final hill with overcooked pasta for arms, and finish — and the blind woman who did 26 miles with the help of three guides who, you know, also ran 26 miles.

Not to mention my dear friend Seth, who lost his 65-year-old father to a heart attack less than three weeks ago and found the strength not only to get out of bed but to tie his laces and run farther than most mere humans can even dream of in less than five hours.

I was so sick of myself by the time runners started limping past us, draped in foil capes — disgusted I couldn’t even commit to training for a 10K, didn’t even possess the self-control to stop at three pieces of pizza or two glasses of wine, don’t even love writing enough to give myself a couple of hours once a week to write something for myself — I know my troll will come here looking for something to criticize, so here’s one hell of a run-on sentence — that I didn’t speak to anyone on the way home.

One foot in front of the other. Channeling my rage, fighting tears I didn’t even feel entitled to. Because I hadn’t just run 26 miles. I hadn’t lost my father. I hadn’t done anything. I just stood on the curb all day and cheered a scratch into my throat, clapped until my hands were raw.

I used to revel. Couldn’t wait to scribble down what I’d seen that day, bask in the beauty of helping usher colors and smells and sensations from my memory to wherever I could share them with someone.

Now…well, everything seems to matter a little less.

But I woke up believing, as I do every morning, that yes, today will be the day I make words for myself. And more than 140 characters or a blue-and-white blip on the newsfeed. Non–revenue generating, non–SEO optimized, unfiltered, unchecked expression of that festering inspiration.

A blog post I started last week turned into a prattling missive of self-pity that I sent to two friends I knew would understand my plight. They both responded. Both brought me to tears. Here’s why:

I wish I knew the secret to ending writer’s decline because that’s what we have. It is far more serious than writer’s block. I don’t even know if the condition is reversible.

I knew he would understand.

It’s creative atrophy, and it’s horrible. But this is my physical therapy: stretching my fingers at the keyboard, more than an hour later in the same auditorium after everyone has come, listened, applauded the final speakers and filed out for post-conference drinks at a nearby bar.

So I will finish this, publish it and join them.

I’ll wake up tomorrow in the same bed, probably overheated and tangled, but feeling more myself. I don’t know if I have a marathon in me, but even a run down the block — 1,000 bloated, forgettable words — is an accomplishment I’m happy to bask in. Get me my foil cape and a cold beer.

Don't be scared. The next ones will be better.

August 1, 2013

DON’T BE SCARED!

b1afb5acfabc11e2bb5722000a1fd013_7I included a parenthetical pep talk on my legal pad to-do list last Wednesday. The bullet point: 20-minute free write.

It’s one of the many items that didn’t get crossed off that day. I was scared, and I’m still scared.

Yep. Writing scares me now.

This void between my ears is scary. Trolls are scary. The speed at which the days — weeks, months — fly by is terrifying. (Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned: It’s been 56 days since my last blog post.)

I’d rather be [                ].

There are about a million things I’d rather do lately than write for myself: Lose myself in A Game of Thrones. Zone out in front of Orange Is the New Black. Watch my Twitter timeline fly by. Shop Sephora’s website for eyeliner. Drink wine on my back deck. Stare at people at Starbucks, wonder what they’re listening in their earbuds (in mine: Imogen Heap).

The only thing I’d rather do less, actually, is run. I’m allegedly training for a 10K in September. Which seemed much, much further away when I signed up. Now it’s next month. My running shoes have been sitting in my front hall, covered in a fine dust of neon-colored cornstarch, since the 5K “Graffiti Run” I did last month. My insides may still be neon orange, too; an crazy-eyed volunteer “color thrower” chucked a cupful of it at my face — and wide-open mouth.

And then, two weeks ago, I cut my foot on a boat, so…

I can find an excuse for anything. Particularly when it involves not doing something I ought to.

This balance you speak of…

Honestly, I don’t know how other freelancers to it. Balance their lives. Maybe I’ve even written about this before. But I still don’t know.

My life is one big state of flux these days, and it’s all I can do to keep from spiraling into complete vertigo — or bursting into a banshee wail, at the very least — let alone find time, energy and words to create for myself.

I’ve lost two major clients in the past month — both I was perfectly fine with letting go of, but I would’ve preferred to do it on my own terms — and the restaurant where Mark was wine director closed two weeks ago.

We’re broke, but we’re happy. We’re poor, but we’re kind.
We’re lost, but we’re hopeful, baby.

The days are long but too short at the same time. I get by with a little help from my cats. And too much food.

I Facebook and tweet and Instagram everything even remotely good that happens to me. Every joyful moment, every delicious bite, every selfie that passes muster. I’m curating a culture of cute. It’s nice to be able to present a veneer of perfection, even though anyone who knows me understands there’s a kicking, screaming child just beyond it, with no idea what’s coming down the pike.

Making sense

533871_10101486118578419_1756153075_nI know, I know. You just…do it. You force yourself to sit and write and keep making words until something finally makes sense.

The world barely even makes sense to me right now. I’m in the middle of a six-month fellowship with Upworthy, which leaves me equal parts enraged and enamored with the world every day. It’s like I’ve seen too much. I take everything in; I watch all the videos and read all the news stories and blogs, and I drink in the injustice and absorb the microaggressions like tiny bullets, I writhe under the crushing weightlessness of my [extensive] privilege, and I see how little the good ones are actually doing in the end (though it’s not the end).

I’m inspired and disgusted and so much bullshit rolls in day in and day out that I can’t even find the words.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s my excuse du jour. That I want to say something that matters — I want to make a statement — but I don’t even know what to do with all these jumbled thoughts.

This doesn’t have to make sense to you.

DON’T BE SCARED? But everything is scary.

There’s always a silver lining.

People I love are bringing glorious little creatures into the world who are going to make it better. Mark’s brother and sister-in-law had a baby girl, Greta, six weeks ago, who is pink and perfect. Three weeks later, my best friend from high school delivered her first baby, Autumn. Catalina just arrived, care of the woman who redesigned my website. And somewhere outside of Philadelphia, Lou and Elijah are growing into pudgy toddlers, raised by parents who will help teach them to be good humans.

The next ones will be better than us. And we’re better than the ones before us.

I will write about this, then, when I can: the view from behind my curated-cute veneer of perfection, and all the little things — people, places, widgets, food, drink, whatever — that might not make the whole world better, but help me make sense of it.

Something about Boystown. (Dammit.)

June 6, 2013

Oh, dammit, Doug.

DSC_0067I don’t make it to Boystown often, but every time I’m there, I think of you.

I had the best dinner tonight; I actually won it. Just for tweeting. I was only beginning to use Twitter when you knew me. Tonight it won me fried chicken.

I went for a run this afternoon — I’m back to running again, signed up for a 10K that’s this fall — then came home, showered and took the train to Sheridan. It felt like fall today, on June 6. Even the setting sun seemed like an autumn sunset, with the kind of chilled warmth that only an October sun can give.

Except today.

Just shy of 7 p.m., everyone was already inside waiting for the Blackhawks game to start. It was just me and the sidewalks and my lengthening shadow.

I took myself on a date.

Dinner was at Hearty and started with a cocktail, an elderflower gimlet made with Small’s Gin and St. Germain. I ordered fried mac and cheese for an appetizer and a fried chicken basket for dinner. Sinful.

I sat alone in the corner of the room, facing the sidewalk, and watched Halsted dim, fade to pink then black. I had Malbec with my chicken and a glass of sparkling wine with dessert. I chatted with the gay men at the table next to me; I walked my bubbles to the opposite corner of the room for a toast with another solo female diner. She’d just gotten divorced and only recently moved to the neighborhood.

You could always talk to anyone, too. Actually, to the point where it almost embarrassed me.

Anyway, I went all out. You’d have been proud.

I took the long way home.

I decided, after paying the check, to take the long way home, down Halsted through Boystown. And the second I hit Addison, your 6’3″ presence loomed in my path.

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You never seemed so tall; you were more like a carnival-game stuffed animal with a penchant for repeating salacious stories and the best Barcelona accent I’d ever heard. But tonight, you were a hulk on the street.

I walked past Tapas Gitana, where a wooden sign hung down from the awning beckoning people to the patio where we drank sangria till we were sick. Across the street, the sex shop where we staged our dildo sword fight was all aglow, with pleather underwear in the windows in a riot of colors all set for Pride Fest.

And then, the parking lot of the 7-Eleven. Why it was at that moment the lump of uncried tears chose to attack my throat, I can’t be sure. I was so drunk on cheap rosé when we got that pedicab from my first-ever Pride Parade that I barely remember our first afternoon there. I remember the streets littered with strings of plastic beads and our clothes stuck to our bodies from the torrential downpour. And I remember that eternal ride home in the rain was one of the best times I’ve ever had.

Dammit.

 I guess you’re still here.

Just after the 7-Eleven parking lot, I walked past a group of kids holding a sign that said, “BAD JOKES. ANYTHING WILL HELP!” I asked if they were hungry and handed over my leftovers, all for this:

“Have you heard the one about the broken pencil?”
“… No?”
“… Ah, never mind. It has no point.”

It was so worth surrendering my chicken and the last fried mac and cheese square. We would have been all the way to Belmont before we stopped cackling.

I’d rather be drinking with you.

I can’t believe you’ll have been gone three years this fall. Lisa and I talk about you like it’s been a week since we saw you, even if I do refer to you as my dead friend Doug. I mean it with love, like the time you made a Parkinson’s joke and didn’t realize my mom had it. I know you’d understand.

I can’t believe I was with him the night you collapsed, and I can’t believe you left never knowing the real me. Or maybe you did. But I’ve changed so much, Doug.

I’m still irresponsible and silly, and I know we could cause so much trouble together. But I wish you could meet Mark, and the cats — hell, I’d say I wish you could have met Emaline, but I know you two are causing trouble somewhere right now — and I wish we could sit on my deck and drink more cheap rosé together.

I’d rather be drinking with you than writing this post. I’d rather be drinking with you than doing a lot of things.

I think you’d be proud of the woman I’ve become. You loved me as a hot mess, too, I know.

You know, you never did read my blog, and that never…really bothered me. I told you everything you needed to know.

 

Dammit.

Where inspiration goes to die.

May 16, 2013

0bd6876c050511e2b46022000a1cdf5e_7I write all my blog posts as Word documents before I transfer them into WordPress and eventually publish them. It takes me hours to write a post, and I’ve lost enough drafts to the Internet abyss that I just won’t risk it anymore.

I save every post in my Dropbox, dated and named with its original title. It’s scarily organized, making it simple to search through what I’ve written for words to reassure me — and a way to look back and see how far I’ve come on days I feel stuck.

But there’s one folder that sits alone at the top of the file structure. It’s called “Unfinished Blogs,” and it’s where my inspiration goes to die.

There are 12 files inside, dating back to as far as the end of 2010 and as recently as the Boston Marathon bombings. For whatever reason, I chose not to finish them. Some I’m happy to leave behind.

Others make me crane my neck looking back at my life when I started to write them.

 

The text message

He sent it in a text message.
“You’re the wife I always wanted but never got, you know?”

That’s all she wrote. Who is he? (Or was, I guess?) Who was he to me? Does he still feel that way? Who does he text now when he’s lonely, wistful, regretful or just bored?

 

NaNoWriMo

 I’ve started getting e-mails from the NaNoWriMo folks again.
The website is up.
People have started talking, whispering giddily about their topics for this year, plotting inevitable sleepless nights in late November, racing toward midnight on the 30th.
Chicago’s kick-off party is scheduled: Dave and Buster’s, this Saturday.
And I want no part in it.

I remember the November when I wrote 25,000 words of my first novel, based loosely on the worst year of my life. Whatever compelled me to dredge up those memories after only a few short years, create a character who was essentially me — a semi-fictional version of me I hate on my darkest days and pity on my strongest — and commit to paper a story that’s really best left in the recesses of my head…is beyond me.

I might be a different person today if I’d committed to writing fanfic.

Then again, I might be a different person today if I’d made different choices when that story started writing itself…

 

Christmas vacation

The woman behind me was a foot shorter than me, with a backpack slung across her chest one way and a newborn baby strapped the other direction.

I watch people all the time — stare at them, really. Ogle them. And I wonder about their stories, what might be going on in their heads.

I remember this woman but not whether we interacted. I was at O’Hare headed home for Christmas, and she was struggling to shed her layers of luggage and swaddling clothes and belts and shoes and jewelry and all the other encumbrances the TSA agents still ask us to shed.

Did I approach her in 2010? Today I’d have offered to help her untangle, maybe even hold her baby. Maybe then I did nothing but offer an empathetic nod to her struggle. I didn’t write it. I lived it and forgot.

 

Lake Forest

And…this. An almost-finished post about an overly ordinary afternoon I remember better than I should.

I went to Lake Forest yesterday. There was a free open writing session at a community center just a few blocks away from the Metra station, and…well, I still don’t have much to do these days. So I went.
I love riding the Metra. It’s one of the only things I miss about my old job in the suburbs.
I spent the morning meandering around town, mostly; the amount of work I got done was negligible at best. The weather was perfect, and Lake Forest is so pretty I could scream. It’s all ivy-snaked low-rise red brick and sidewalks lined with gorgeous white hydrangeas at the peak of their bloom. All the people looked the same, but the day was too beautiful to let the pod people perturb me.
I left the writing session early to stop in at Caputo’s Cheese Market for a baguette, some Brillat Savarin and quince paste, and picked up a bottle of beer across from the train station. Then I waited. And watched everyone leaving their day jobs, still wearing their office outfits and electronic name badges, and thought,
No, my life does not suck.
When the train arrived, I found a seat in front of two girls who work together behind me on the train. And decided to forego the earbuds for my hour-long ride as they started to talk about their lives like no one was listening.
But there always is.
 

The post went on. They talked about their aspirations to get married and buy houses, their self-imposed deadlines for their quitting and moving on to something better. And I tried to sum it all up, after going on for hundreds of words about their conversation, with some crap about complacency, wishing I could turn around and tell them to let go of the monkey bars already, and wondering why I couldn’t bear to do it.

I didn’t publish it because I’ll never have anything to add to that conversation. All I know is what I would have done — what I have done — and that they have to figure these things out for themselves.

That post was quickly devolving into a not-so-humble brag, back when I didn’t even have anything to brag about, humbly or otherwise — beyond the fact that I’d quit the job that made me miserable. With pretty much nothing to fall back on.

 

Writer’s block

I don’t know.

I don’t know why I barely bother to start these unfinished posts anymore. I’m tapped out. These draft posts, festering in their Dropbox grave, just make me so sad. Because I know I’m experiencing things, seeing things, feeling things that could at least make it from my brain to the page, even if they never see the light of day.

Right now, I’m not even giving my inspiration a moment’s breath before dismissing it to “I don’t have time” purgatory or, even worse, “I’d rather catch up on Breaking Bad” hell.

I’d say there aren’t enough hours in the day, but there’s clearly something else stopping me.