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.

DSC02964

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.

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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.

A simple (but decadent) night at Battersby.

April 29, 2013

The dining room (and…pretty much everything else) at Battersby.April 2 was one of the first pleasant days New York saw this spring, and there were about 10 people queued up outside when we found the almost unmarked storefront on Smith Street in Cobble Hill. It was just shy of 6 p.m., just before Battersby opened for the night. Chefs and servers paced inside, preparing for another Saturday night.

Battersby is the kind of place you walk into and wonder where the hidden doorway is to another, larger dining room. There is no hidden doorway. It is what it is: less than 20 seats in a sparse room. Exposed brick, exposed kitchen — and few barriers between front of house, back of house and patrons.

Even four of us — Mark’s brother, Matt, and his wife, Jaime, Mark and me — in that tiny restaurant would have been a squeeze.

Clipboard in hand, the host led us past the rest of the tables, past the open kitchen, to what I assumed was a hallway leading to a cozy private space.

That cozy private space was, in fact, a dark, cramped breezeway, minus the breeze, between the kitchen and the back door, “private” only because we were wedged into a corner where no diners should have been seated.

I got over that roughly 43 seconds after our first wine, a rosé from Provence, and the first bites of food arrived.

We ordered the seven-course “surprise” tasting menu.

Rosemary flatbread at Battersby.It began with two amuse-bouches. The first: a simple white porcelain cup filled with carrot juice tinged with lemongrass and a drizzle of oil for texture. The second: another perfect plate, artfully smeared with thick Greek yogurt and topped with a root-vegetable muesli — our first glimpse into the Battersby’s constant interplay of at-odds flavors and textures.

Next, a freshly baked rosemary flatbread — almost too hot to cut — served with a jar of whipped ricotta and olive oil.

The kitchen was already frenetic with activity; every few minutes, the open range popped and sizzled with what we could only assume was the kale salad we’d all read so much about. I caught the chef’s eye as he plated one; he waggled his eyebrow at me.

“Just wait,” he grinned. “Patience, patience.”

Hamachi crudo.Finally, it was time for our first course: hamachi crudo with paper-thin radish and cucumber and a delicate yuzu vinaigrette. Jaime, who is due to have her first child in June, had a broccoli salad with microgreens and finely sifted grana padano draped over it.

We paired our first courses with a Kerner, a white wine from a German-speaking region in Italy. Dry, but with apricot, citrus and floral flavors: absolutely perfect with what we’d eaten so far.

Our second course was the famed crispy kale salad, with Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and roasted peanuts. The dark greens balanced beautifully with the peanut-spiked citrus dressing, which was so good that I picked up the bowl and slurped up the last of it.

The final savory courses…

Casoncelli at Battersby.Our next dish, casoncelli, was a loosely folded, handmade pasta filled with tender pork, topped with lemon, caper, feathery fresh dill, basil and breadcrumbs so crunchy they could have passed for Grape-Nuts. The balance of salty and sweet, mild and acidic, velvety and crunchy: perfection to the point of nearly unbearable.

Then, a spring-weight seafood stew of bay scallops, razor clams and mussels, nestled in a tomato broth, followed by a black angus corned-beef style short rib, blood red and heavily peppered, served with cabbage, apple, fingerling potato and sauerkraut-like cabbage.

Mark chose Volnay, a pinot noir from Burgundy, to pair with our heavier dishes. Alone, it tasted like a brick wall, almost too earthy for me, but with those final courses, the dark, overripe fruits emerged against the salt, pepper and savory.

We ended on a sweet note.

Our dessert wine tasted like spiced syrup, coating our mouths to meld with the flavor of buttery brown sugar Madeleines straight out of the oven, soft and pillowy and perfect.

 

Not surprisingly, our corner felt significantly snugger on the way out. Luckily, I all but floated up and over the table, past the other diners — who undoubtedly wondered where we’d been stashed for the past three hours — and out the door, into the cool night air.

 

On turning 30, from 30,000 feet.

April 24, 2013

cindytownIt seems I can only write from the middle seat these days, peering out a tiny window at nothing but sky.

This morning, I’m on Southwest flight 185, en route to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city I’ve never visited before. It feels like an in-and-out trip, bookended by long shuttle trips to and from Santa Ana Pueblo and a golf resort I’ll see from afar, when I wake up and just before bedtime.

I assume the conference room where I’ll spend Thursday will be windowless — potentially airless and lifeless, too — and I fully expect my fingers to be numb by the time I’m done spending the day on autopilot, taking unintelligible-to-me notes at an association meeting.

But I like it. These occasional freelance assignments give me an opportunity to be a paid fly on the wall, fading into the neutral background with only the click-clack of my keyboard to distract or unintentionally draw notice to myself.

I spend a lot of time saying, “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” — Hi. Welcome. — and this is a different sort of me time, though my time isn’t at all my own.

Sometimes I just crave the quiet. Catless, choreless, foreign-environment, keycard-entry quiet.

 

I turned 30 a couple of weeks ago.

Potato chip gnocchi at Baume & Brix.I never worried about this slide into a new decade; maybe it’s because I’ve always had an old soul, or maybe it’s because I’m finally able to tell myself, “Look at everything you’ve done already,” instead of fixating on all the supposed milestones of adulthood that I just haven’t hit by now.

Maybe it’s something else.

Still, I’d planned to let April 12 come and go without fanfare — kind of how I prefer to do birthdays — but instead, it turned into a weeks-long orgy of celebrations and rich meals, beginning with Mark’s and my trip to New Orleans and culminating in a surprise visit to Chicago by my mom and stepfather.

The last time my mom and I spent any time together in Chicago, I made her cry. I sent her into hysterics in the middle of Carnivale’s dining room, at a tiny table in the middle of a cavernous room with high ceilings and riotous colors, surrounded by a loud, boisterous dinner crowd. She kept her head down as I ordered more tiny tapas-style dishes from the server, who didn’t have a clue, and drank her way through dinner while I picked at our bacon-wrapped dates and cheese plate.

That was three years ago — a couple of lives ago, really — when I was dating the nightmare man of my dreams, miserable in my job and indignant that anyone should know what was good for me than I would.

She is the same today: strong, level-headed, concerned for my well-being. I am still indignant that anyone should know better than me…but three-years-ago me wouldn’t recognize my life today.

We spent a chilly Saturday sipping Starbucks while we got pedicures, both screwing up our faces when the pumice stone came out, both horrendously ticklish but trying our hardest to resist kicking the women at our feet in their faces.

Then I whisked her off to Baume & Brix, the restaurant where Mark works, for a couple of cocktails that obviously turned into a lavish meal. We ate sous-vide and char-grilled curlicues of octopus, dunked in flavored powders like Fun Dip, and did a little table dance at the first bite of potato chip gnocchi, sent out by the chefs, the plate streaked with allium cream and dotted with black caviar.

I sipped wine while she nursed a Manhattan. And instead of crying and raising our voices, we talked like adults. We laughed. We poked fun at each other. We enjoyed each other’s company like a mother and her thirtysomething daughter ought to.

 

And that’s the real reason I never worried about turning 30. Because I felt this all coming. Knew that all the struggles would lead to something good — and productive ­— and happy. Thirty years in, and maybe I’m actually starting to figure out how to do this life thing.

The quiet helps, even if I only find it occasionally.

Vacation: all I ever wanted.

March 28, 2013

Mark is next to me — practically on top of me, actually — in the window seat. He’s given up on reading his book, a hardcover by Jay McInerney full of essays about wine. The book’s been sitting by our bed for months, a shiny jacket concealing pages set unevenly, like a glass of wine had been spilled on them just after the first chapter.

He closed last night, and I woke him at 6:30 with stories of a dream I’d had. Now his head rests against the curved wall of the plane carrying us from O’Hare to La Guardia, his Ralph Lauren peacoat now a pillow.

The woman next to me, in 22D, is laboring over the USA Today crossword, and I want so badly to lean in and whisper, “The answer to 1 Across is ‘DAFT.'”

But I won’t. Because even after a couple of drinks, I understand that crossword completion — even the USA Today crossword — is a sacred, solitary act.

I saw that we were departing today from Gate K4, which happens to be right next to Rick Bayless’s airport restaurant, Tortas Frontera. And just beside the line where underpaid workers sling chips, salsa and warm Mexican sandwiches for overpaying customers, there’s a cozy bar always staffed by someone seemingly far too friendly to be working in an airport.

Mark and I rolled our bags — nearly matching gunmetal roll-aboards — to the window and found seats. After wrestling with our coats and carry-ons, we settled in. He ordered a bloody mary, and I asked for a margarita (on the rocks with salt, just as my mother takes them).

We sipped our cocktails, glanced idly at the TVs playing ESPN on mute, and caught up; we’ve been ships in the night recently, between my early meetings and his late nights closing the restaurant. Finally. Six days together, just the two of us, really.

First up: three days in New York City, my first time there with someone I love. Even after living there for a year and a half, my time there was spent mostly alone — and stressed. That city life didn’t suit me. In all my other visits, I’ve returned to wander Manhattan by myself, revisiting old friends for decadent meals and remembering all the while why I eventually chose to leave: Too fast, too expensive, too many people…too lonely.

This time, we’re staying in Park Slope with Mark’s brother, Matt, and his wife, Jaime. They’re expecting a baby in June; they’ve told us we’ll be carrying the mattress and bed frame from the room we’re sleeping in, down the stairs and out to the curb, so they can finish furnishing the nursery for their baby girl.

We don’t have many plans. We’ll drink wine at a nearby bar tonight, explore Manhattan tomorrow — the High Line? Chelsea Market? Rainbow Falafel? Shake Shack? — and return to Brooklyn to make dinner Friday, stroll the borough together on Saturday before our tasting-menu dinner that night, and find brunch somewhere in the neighborhood Sunday morning before catching our next flight that afternoon.

To New Orleans.

Which…

Wow.

I am so excited I can barely talk about it. I haven’t been somewhere truly new, for pleasure, in years. This will be an early celebration of my 30th birthday, and an even earlier celebration of Mark’s and my one-year anniversary.

Mark is in charge of our plans there. Drinks at the Carousel Bar, grilled oysters, a Hurricane on Bourbon Street, walks through the Garden District, lazy poolside sunning on the roof of the Hotel Monteleone, where we’ll stay for three nights.

Temperatures are expected to rise into the mid-70s while we’re there, and the Chicago girl in me who hates heat and loves a cool lake breeze is ready to bask in the glow of the Southern sun.

This is my spring break.

 

But for the next hour and a half…I’m sitting bitch.

Seat 22E belongs to my thighs and me, the only space that’s mine on this cramped airplane, a flight apparently equipped with wi-fi that I’m forcing myself not to purchase. Trying to unwind myself into vacation mode is harder than I thought: Now that I’m a business owner, I barely know how to do it anymore.

But the next six days are mine. Ours.

And I also won’t stress out about not stressing out. That would be so me.

So minute by minute, hour by hour, I’m just going to…live.

RVSX: Short one rider.

March 11, 2013

Change of plans: A couple of hours ago, I stepped off the plane that brought me back home to Chicago, a full three days early.

Exactly when I decided to leave, I’m not sure. But I do know that I had a South by Southwest day pass on Sunday and scarcely knew what to do with it. I waited in line for a few T-shirts, stared blankly at a few exhibitors’ booth literature on the trade show floor, and wandered aimlessly through a few lounges packed with people.

I flipped through the “pocket guide” of panels, sessions and workshops in a blogger lounge sponsored by Samsung, where I snacked on free popcorn while a Streamy Award–winning vlogger (!!!!) yammered on about god-knows-what up on the stage.

I ran into a friend from Chicago, and we made our way to a meetup for freelancers at an office just off the beaten path. We drank Miller High Life and ate Doritos, and I handed out more cards in that hour than I did the entire rest of my time there.

I may have decided I’d had enough as I walked down Sixth Street and saw an impromptu dance battle between girls in neon leotards and guys with three-foot-wide hot pink mustaches around their necks. (Keep Austin Weird.) I think they were working for a brand but can’t be sure.

I couldn’t quite shake the feeling, from the beginning, that I didn’t have a reason for being there, and the feeling only got stronger on the day I actually had access.

IMG_3853The real reason

But if I’m being honest? Mostly: I missed my cats. I missed my boyfriend. I missed my privacy and personal space. I missed working.

And the thought of spending another day downtown with throngs of brilliant, driven strangers — thinking about work but unable to focus on it, all the while wondering what the coming months will have in store for me — then packing up our campsite 45 minutes from the city and getting back on the RV, which now smells like six men who drink constantly and shower far less, for another three days of driving…

Dear. God. No.

So as I sat on the floor of the only panel I attended (“How NOT to Suck at Presenting Your Work,” which was standing-room-only and could only have been more elementary if we had been finger painting), I fought the spotty wireless signal, cashed in my credit card points and booked a flight home.

RobThe end

And after dinner with a college friend beyond the borders (and madness) of the conference, I returned to camp, where the rest of the crew had just wrapped filming a segment with a CNN crew.

Absentmindedly munching on birthday cake Oreos, I watched Rob, a loveable social media guy who’s also a sideshow performer, ease a steel spike and a meat thermometer up his nose, then snap his bottom lip in a tiny mousetrap with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle drawn on the back.

I watched the crew roar with laughter at jokes I only halfway got, feeling more isolated knowing I was the one who had created the distance there, choosing sleep over partying and often earbuds over conversation during our journey down.

After most of the rest of the crew left for a night of parties downtown, there was a shouting match between the British guy and me — we both sort of knew we’d eventually come to blows. I cried.

I packed my things, leaving most of what I brought on the RV, stuffing only what I absolutely needed in the Vera Bradley zipper duffel I knew would fit in an overhead bin, and finally fell asleep. The rest of the crew got home around 3:30 a.m.; I didn’t wake up.

Paige at YahooWould I…again?

Would I go back to South by Southwest? Maybe. (If I went, would I plan it a lot better? Absolutely.)

Would I do it in an RV? Hell no.

Will I remember this trip — and the people I traveled with — for a long time to come?

Yes I will.

 

Back in Chicago now, I’ll try to make up for lost — well, not lost exactly — time and do the writing I couldn’t find the focus to finish, get back on the Weight Watchers wagon I fell off when I boarded the RV, and flip through the business cards I collected in Austin to start, y’know, looking for the ROI of my SXSW experience.

If I don’t get a dollar of business from anyone I met, though, I know I can see this as a learning experience — even if everything I learned was just about myself. Some good. Some bad. 

RVSX rolls on.

March 7, 2013

IMG_3768The last licks of sunlight are lapping at the horizon as we make our way west on Highway 40 in Oklahoma.

Today, the RVSX crew spent the day in Arkansas: We toured the Wal-Mart Corporation Headquarters, filmed a short movie at Collective Bias’ office in downtown Bentonville, visited a coworking space called the Iceberg in Fayetteville and shot footage of a Rube Goldberg that knocked over a series of books and ended by flipping on a reading lamp over an open book.

Our stop tonight is at the Choctaw Casino Resort. I don’t know why. But I’m guessing this may at least mean a shower on this leg of the trip, so I’ll throw a few quarters at a slot machine and play along.

 

Hell is actually cold and loud

Last night will live on in my memory as the night I found my personal hell.

The bathrooms at the Hide-A-Way Campground were locked, and the boys were drinking just about the last remaining wine we’d secured from our only booze sponsor. I was grouchy and had made myself sick on s’mores and Birthday Cake Oreos, then I retreated, stomach churning and altogether pouty, to the lean-to masquerading as a “cottage” that we’d arranged to sleep in for the night.

No thanks to a tiny space heater with nondescript buttons and nondirectional knobs, it was roughly 24° F in the Sleep Shed. After trying for 15 minutes to fall asleep on a still-folded futon draped with my flat sheet and doubled-up blanket, I was so cold I couldn’t breathe.

The RV was parked, plugged in and heated about 50 yards away, so I dug out a spot to sleep and passed out until the boys returned, literally falling-down drunk — one has the scrapes to prove it — to pass out.

I didn’t know who was sleeping next to me until about 10 minutes after I woke up this morning. But I know I will never again chastise Mark for a little heavy breathing next to me in bed. Because I have never known such snoring.

This morning, I was still wearing my make-up, clothes and jewelry, and had a crick in my neck the size of [something very large] from cocooning myself in my corner of the bed, as far away as possible from the snoring beast beside me.

What I was expecting from this trip, I’m not sure, but I’ve certainly cemented my role as the high-maintenance Miss Priss in residence. Which I need to be okay with, because that’s my life — really, it’s who I am. There are all kinds of jokes to be made about what “roughing it” means to me, but suffice it to say I’m terrible at it.

 

803327_10151560496654612_1344157086_nThe silver linings atlas

But Rob has a rubber horse head that he wears at the most inappropriate times. We’ve discovered our shared love of YouTube clips of goats yelling like humans — to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
There are bags full of homemade cookies on the table from the barbecue restaurant where we gorged ourselves earlier today.
We picked up our ninth crew member, Jeannette, in Fayetteville. We’re finally beginning to even out our X-chromosome count.
And before we left the Cherokee Travel Plaza in Roland, I bought a pair of sunglasses with a mustache attached by two tiny chains.
Things are looking up.

The best part: We’ll be in Austin tomorrow night, and that’s really all that matters.

If you’re interested in following along with the RVSX journey, you’ll find us…

 

On the road: between Chicago and SXSW.

March 6, 2013

I’m aboard an RV, on a two-lane highway between Springfield, Mo., and Rogers, Ark., and forcing myself to sit and just. type. words. for the rest of the time we’re on the road tonight.

It’s 9 p.m., and there are seven people illuminated by the horrid fluorescent camp lighting inside the RV. Jason is driving; Jon is navigating in the passenger seat. Tim is sipping a milkshake he picked up at the truck stop; Rob’s face is illuminated by whatever article he’s reading on his iPad. Melissa and Roger are across from me, snuggling platonically. Most everyone’s found the Internet somewhere. And then there’s Phil. He’s from England, and…

Phil has me thinking tonight. About what the hell I’m doing with my life. Not that I needed the help questioning myself.

I wake up every morning thinking, “What’s my motivation?”

Including this morning, when I woke up tangled up in the starched white sheets of a Hampton Inn queen bed — and tangled in the white wires of my earbuds, to save myself from the snoring.

 

Along for the ride

Our ultimate destination — which will be broken up by stops at the Wal-Mart home office in Bentonville, Ark., and a casino at the Choctaw Indian Reservation — is South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Mostly, I’m along for the ride: I didn’t buy a badge to the conference, and actually, I know next to nothing about what we’re driving into. It sounded like an adventure, and I needed an adventure. (To my mother, apparently, I needed an excuse to waste money I didn’t really have in the first place.)

And they picked me.

I applied for this trip, called RVSX, on a whim — and they picked me. I don’t even remember what I put in my application. But they thought I was interesting enough, compelling enough, game enough to submit myself to 10 days of shenanigans and cameras in my face.

 

Who would turn down an adventure?

At times this whole trip feels like a recipe for self destruction, endless days on the road with limited power supply and Internet that’s spotty at best. When I have one brand-new client ramping up, another winding down with the entire month’s remaining payment on the line.

In the days leading up to our departure, I suffered near panic attacks that I’d made the  wrong choice in choosing to spend $600 and take 10 days away from Mark and the cats to go on this adventure.

 

Which is silly.

Because $600 for 10 days of shenanigans — and the “free” time to do it — is something many don’t even have the opportunity to do.

And I hear there are tacos there in Austin. Tacos and barbecue. And people to meet. Maybe someone there will know what the hell I’m supposed to be doing with my life.

 

Something incredible

“I’ll do something incredible. I’ll do something incredible…that blows God’s freakin’ mind.”

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack to The Book of Mormon since Mark took me to see it a week and a half ago, and this song, “You and Me (But Mostly Me),” has been on repeat since I sat down to write.

The two main characters are entirely at odds with each other, one armed with this divine, selfish purpose to change the world, and the other with this somewhat hapless, innate, innocent sense of good he doesn’t even know he possesses. You can guess which one actually saves the day in the end.

And I’m stuck somewhere in the middle.

At this point, I’m along for the ride, but lord, I want to find that purpose and actually…do something. Mean something.

The job I didn't take: a stream of professional consciousness.

February 6, 2013

Last Monday, I took the El downtown for a job interview.
(Is it the “L” or the El? A debate rages on Facebook.)

Rewind:

A few weeks ago, a woman sent an e-mail to the address I published on my website, asking whether I’d consider going back to full-time employment if the right opportunity presented itself.
She was legit. I’d heard of the organization. (Everyone here has heard of the organization.)
We met at Starbucks to talk. I drank a huge latte and wrapped up our conversation with the jitters and a land speed record for spoken words per minute. I loved her and was all a-twitter over a job for the first time in I don’t know how long.
And she liked me. She liked me. She liked me.
At least I think she did.

She did. She invited me downtown to meet more of the team, and I accepted. But it had to wait until after my Florida trip, where I was speaking to a client’s sales force about a content strategy that I’d been instrumental in developing.
Me.
I did that.

I went into the interview with my signature mix of almost-cocky confidence and crippling self-doubt, feeling almost like I was making up words but knowing I wasn’t pulling insight out of nowhere.
Maybe, after all this time, I actually do know what I’m talking about.
Maybe I’m not just faking it.
Maybe I could really do something here. Something real. Something of value.

And yet:

Oh, God. Everyone’s wearing slacks.
Those women had to reserve the conference room.
That’s the most well-stocked Keurig station I’ve ever seen.
Oh, God. Reusable mugs. Flashbacks.

I heard myself asking about culture and work-life balance, and remember staring blankly at the [very lovely] woman from HR who asked me about a time I had to………
My spirits sank as my three-hour interview wore on. I liked the people I met and the romantic prospect of so much more but felt a nagging feeling I’ve felt so many times before.

The interview ended with lunch, just the two of us: The woman who’d emailed me, and me.

I pushed that sinking feeling aside and spoke from that part of my heart that really does yearn for security, for workplace camaraderie, for three weeks’ paid vacation and retirement-account matching, for the ability to say I was part of the team that…, for unlimited free Keurig and holiday parties and TGIFs.
The same-ol’, you know?

But truthfully:

It’s been less than a year since I paid the state $600 to establish my LLC, and in that less than a year, I’ve actually built a business.
I have clients that I love and work that I enjoy. There are budding professional relationships that, if I don’t see them through, will founder and dissipate. That I will regret walking away from. (And I know I would have to.)

I like my unstructured sofa-and–yoga pants lifestyle. I know that’s not the way successful business owners do things, but I do it anyway.
I have cats and a boyfriend who works in the service industry — who I know for a fact I’d see even less if I took a 9-to-5 — and a new MacBook Pro that holds my entire life on a single drive. (Well, and the Cloud.)

Hell, I’m actually slowly tiptoeing away from the black-sheep status I’ve inadvertently clung to so tightly for so many years.

And all that got me more than the slacks and the conference room and the fluorescent lights oh god the fluorescent lights. I hadn’t even been offered the job, but I knew not to take it if I were.

I’m a business owner. An entrepreneur with something to strive for, even if some days it’s just making rent and paying off my debts. So I walked away from the opportunity with the same almost-cocky confidence and crippling self-doubt I went in with. And grace. I hope I was gracious.

 

And then, today:

I sardined myself onto the train (we’ll just call it the train) home from a day spent wandering downtown and working between two Starbucks, with the slacks and the fluorescent lights oh GOD the fluorescent lights, I knew I’d made the right choice.

Visiting Florida for fun and profit.

January 24, 2013

I’m sipping a $10 hotel margarita, on the rocks, with salt, sitting cross-legged on a chaise longue. There’s red vinyl as far as the eye can see, stretched taut across the rows and rows of painted-metal frames fanned out around the pool.

I’ve been chasing the sun as it drifts westward in the sky, trying to soak up every moment of the fleeting daylight before I leave Fort Lauderdale for Chicago.

Pleasure

When I arrived yesterday, the airport smelled like Cinnabons and sunscreen; everyone was wearing flip-flops and Tommy Bahamas, and I’d left even my sunglasses back home. (It’s 8 degrees, and swimsuits and shorts aren’t really top of mind.)

So, after checking in to my hotel, I set off down the A1A in search of a new pair of shades. I found a plaza filled with kiosks selling neon T-shirts covered in slogans:

GANGNAM STYLE

YOLO

BUY ME ANOTHER CASE OF BEER, YOU STILL UGLY

 

Oh, Florida.

My new sunglasses were there, a pair of Jackie O–style Dolce & Gabbana knock-offs, and after taking the requisite arm-extension selfie, I made my way to the Drunken Taco, a beachfront Mexican joint with laminated menus and beer buckets full of condiments.

A Hispanic woman in an orange tunic passed me on the street and slowly circled back, telling me I had a beautiful aura. I thanked her but declined the offer for a personalized astrology reading. Actually, I’ve always wanted to get one, but my budget had already been earmarked for a massive frozen banana margarita with an extra shot of tequila. (Really, which would you choose?)

At the table behind me, a threesome squealed as a careless beach pigeon shat on their table. They moved under the awning, leaving me exposed to all the sidewalk characters Fort Lauderdale had to offer: Families, couples, drifters and grifters.  After the first slurp of my margarita, a leathery beach bum with a distended belly barely covered by his tattered tank top walked up to my table. Politely, he asked, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m homeless and really hungry, and I was wondering if you could spare anything for me to get a bite to eat.”

So, I don’t carry cash.

Ever.

For specifically this reason, but also because I generally don’t have enough money in my account to be blowing cash left and right. And you do blow it when it’s burning a hole in your wallet. (Remember this article <USATODAY>?)

So I shook my head no and told him as much.

Hello, Mr. Homeless Hyde: “How do you live?” he spewed, flinging spittle on my sand-blown table. “You sit there with your cocktail then lie to my face saying you don’t have any cash?” …Followed by an impressive string of expletives that would upset Google very much. Resisting the temptation to ask him whether he took credit cards, I apologized and wished his back a nice day as he stormed off.

Sheesh. The people you meet.

 

I also met a cab driver from Jersey who never looked back after he moved to South Florida 20 years ago. He drove us to dinner and back and kept offering to take us for a good time in Miami instead, which he described as “Beautiful people, good food, good drink, good tan line, good hangover, happy happy happy.” He said he had a bottle of Patron in the trunk, too, but he never produced.

 

Business

But the reason I was here, my real moment in the sun: a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call to prep for my presentation.

One of my clients, an organization whose mission revolves around providing employment for blind and visually impaired professionals, invited me to present at their sales summit on the content strategy I helped them develop.

I spent 45 minutes clicking through my PowerPoint in a dimly lit conference room that could have been anywhere, as long as you didn’t look out the doors to the outside world. I explained the work we’d done to begin telling the company’s story, the ways we want to help engage potential customers and ordinary people, through blogs and Facebook posts and YouTube videos. We talked about Google analytics and ROI and the relationships that really make me love what I do

Someone walked by on their way out and thanked me for my wisdom, and at that instant, I felt better than I did in my entire afternoon basking in the glow of a sun I haven’t seen in what feels like months.

But not by much.

 

Returning

I waited until 3 p.m. to order myself that celebratory margarita, and my heart breaks to leave this place: I am warm and at ease and happily floating along on my second margarita since I sat down at the pool.

The sun has disappeared behind the jungle of private cabanas, and a fluorescent light just flickered on along the base of a planter. My flight home leaves in about two hours, and even though I know deep down I’ll be happier back home, God, am I craving one more day in the sun.