Celebrating a Birthday While on Pause

I turn 41 today. Exactly one year ago, I woke up next to Lake Thunderbird on a beautiful sunny morning in Oklahoma, had a wonderful brunch, then drove to Amarillo, Texas while dancing in my seat to Lizzo, my birthday twin. That day overflowed with joy and sunshine and roadtrip tunes, capped up with a night of ice-cold Shiner Bock and jukebox deejaying at a zombie-themed bar. Late into the night, Kurt and I sat on the front porch of our Airbnb, drinking local beers and watching heat lightning zig-zap across the vast Texas sky. The next day, we’d be back on the road to Roswell, New Mexico. This year, I’m  grounded.

Cheers!

We always travel in the spring, due to the convergence of my birthday and our anniversary. It feels strange to be sitting at home right now, scrolling past Facebook memories and knowing exactly what place we were visiting on this day last year, two years ago, five years ago.

I’m someone that likes living in the shoulder seasons. I’m trying to appreciate the quiet, lean into the pause. I find a lot of contentment in burrowing into my home life and surrounding myself with books and hot coffee and dog nuzzles. Days turn into nights, nights turn into a wine blur. All time feels like airplane time, when you’re passing through time zones, warping ahead or falling behind, and you watch dumb movies during this weird slippery gap in time because it’s not really real life. It feels especially strange to celebrate a concrete mile marker like a birthday right now. Sometimes I daydream about catching a wormhole out of this weird, seemingly never-ending flight and traveling back in time to the beginning of 40, waking up the camper and peeking beneath the window shade to see the sunlight glittering on the surface of the lake.

I got to experience so many incredible things in my 40th year. I visited three new states and a new country. I stood inside the ruins of an ancient village that was last inhabited in 1000 A.D., and in the last few months, I witnessed the rapid escalation of a global pandemic that has affected the daily lives of nearly every person on this planet. If there’s one thing I feel confident in saying, it’s that I have absolutely no idea what to expect in my 41st year. I am so grateful for every moment, every place I visited, every person with whom I shared every minute of my year of 40. I feel grateful and lucky to be here now, however weird and precarious this stretch of time may be.

 

Shelter in Place Diaries

When I was around 8 or 9 years old, my family took our first big vacation to Los Angeles, which is also my birthplace. The trip was two weeks of sun-drenched recreation: Disneyland, ice cream cones, face paint, and poolside dance parties to the Chipmunk Adventure soundtrack. When we returned home, I remember laying in my darkened bedroom in suburban Chicagoland, the light pouring through the crack of the door from the hallway, and feeling my heart hurt. I was homesick for another place, invisible strings tugging at my soul, telling me I belonged out west. It was my first ever post-vacation depression. I longed so badly to be back in California that the pain manifested physically, a dull ache filling my chest.

In early March, I woke up one Sunday morning in a listless, melancholy mood. It was still the Before Times, but not for much longer–in a few short days, the NBA season would get cancelled and the dominos of normal daily life would start falling. Though I had no idea of just how much the world was about to change, I had the oddest sense of homesickness for something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It reminded me so much of that childhood emotion of being overwhelmed with longing for a perfect memory.

Several weeks into Chicago’s shelter-in-place directive, the shock has worn off and I am now feeling the mundanity of day to day life in the time of COVID. There are so many things I miss, and I can’t wait until the day that I can once again go to a bar and sing karaoke with all of my friends and whoop it up with strangers while losing our minds over a Miley Cyrus song. My anxiety has dissipated into a yearning restlessness, a homesickness for my old life. I want to jump into the van and drive and drive with the windows rolled down and 70s rock pouring out of the speakers. I want to keep going until we land somewhere beautiful, at the foothills of a mountain range or alongside an alpine lake.

Of course, I can’t do those things right now, so I’m leaning into this quiet little life at home. As I remember from my housebound days post-knee surgery several years ago, a good key to batting back the sadness is to find little pleasures throughout the day that give you joy. Or as Agent Dale Cooper once wisely said, “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan for it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”

I am pretty excellent at giving myself little presents, many of them mementos from past trips. Big, leisurely pancake breakfasts on weekends. Playing records and enjoying the crackle of vinyl and swatches of album art. The corner of the couch that has the perfect natural light for reading while the dog naps on my lap. Hot, black coffee poured into a rotation of mugs I brought home from New York, or Copenhagen, or Orlando, or Edinburgh. The postcard of Glenfinnan and a kilted yoga calendar that accessorize my home workspace. Mailing pretty postcards to friends. Wearing my Ariana Grande hypercolor t-shirt on a workday. I am VERY good at enjoying gifts of red wine, way more often than I should (lay off me man, this is a crisis).

Local and world news is going to continue to get worse for a while, then it will start to get better. I can’t control any of it except for within the 4 walls of my home, where I am content to stay and wait this out. It’s literally the least I can do.

 

 

Hello From the Other Side

I’m writing this post from a totally different world than the last one from just a few months ago. I don’t need to fill you in on the coronavirus pandemic as I’m sure you’re well up to speed, and if you’re like me, have already spent countless hours panic-scrolling and refreshing news sites. Wherever you are reading this from, I hope you are safe and well and hunkered down at home. I send my strongest positive vibes to those who are sick or who have loved ones who are sick, those working in the frontlines of healthcare and other essential roles, and those whose livelihoods have been profoundly impacted by city and state lockdowns.

I look back on the resolutions in the post I made a few months ago and they’re shot to hell. Taper back on social media? LOL, my screen time reports are effed. Visit a new place every month? I’m laughing until it turns into ugly crying. Travel as much as possible, including that big bucket list-worthy destination? We canceled our big springtime trip to Japan. It all blows, folks. But I’m lucky so far. Kurt and I are both still healthy and employed, with the flexibility to work from home. We have a house with enough space for either of us to be on a conference call and not worry about the other accidentally wandering into the background in their underwear. We have a YARD.

Like everyone, I’m anxious and sad, grieving the loss of normalcy, and worried for everyone I love. I’ve seen a lot of memes calling this current lockdown heaven for introverts, but as an INFJ, I can tell you that this is not the case. Sure, I get anxious at big parties and I dread a networking event full of strangers, but I still love my people. I desperately miss intimate dinner parties and playing board games with my dearest friends. I miss passing plates around a table filled with chatter and conversation. And I do miss crowds!! I miss going to concerts and losing myself in the music, or seeing a play and feeling the energy emanating from the performers. The last place I traveled before the pandemic was New York City, and thinking back to that trip feels like another lifetime, but it was only mid-January. I saw live theater and went to a crowded bar where we sang show tunes, and we talked and laughed with strangers and didn’t think twice about being so close to each other. I wonder how long it will be until that feels possible once again.

I remind myself often that this is just temporary. We have Netflix and the internet and a giant stack of books I’ve been looking forward to on my bedside table. All of those dream travel destinations will still be there, waiting for us when all of this is over.

I keep returning to the memory of nearly 8 years ago, when I was homebound post-knee surgery. More than anything, I grieved the loss of my freedom to move about and ability to live my life as normal. During my 3 months of recovery, I spent increasingly identical days laid out on the couch, watching the summer fade and the leaves change through the glass windows. For a long stretch of time, it got harder, until it finally started to get easier. I used to leave the back porch door open, so I could see the tops of the trees from where I laid on the couch, and feel the breeze from outside reach me indoors. And finally over time, I was able to walk out that door on my own and resume my normal life.

On our second week of sheltering in place at home, I started leaving the porch door open again. 

Whenever we come out on the other side of this, we’re all going to be changed. I can’t wait until the day when it’s safe to find all of our people, all of us waiting for each other with open arms.

Hello 2020!

I know we made up calendars and decades and time, but I’m excited to start a new year and the 2020s. I am moving most of my non-travelogue writing to a monthly newsletter, which you can subscribe to at KiMDB.substack.com. I included a couple of resolutions in it, but I always like to do a blog write-up on my New Years resolutions, so here is my full list for 2020:

  • Taper back on social media usage. I’ll still be active on my usual platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) since they’re the best way to share my work, connect with friends and family, and understand all the memes. But I have definitely reached a compulsive level of feeling like I need to check my phone while in the middle of other activities, which I hate. This month, I’m activating app limits in my phone settings so I have to make conscious decisions about when and how often I check each feed.
  • Learn to cook, and not be lying when I say I’m going to this year.
  • Write every week. Continue to submit work and send out pitches regularly. I’m easing off my goal of 52 submissions/pitches which I set for myself in 2019, in order to allow myself more time to work on potential longer projects (I’m taking a novel foundations class in January, which I am very excited about).
  • The usual nutrition/regular exercise stuff. In 2019, I averaged 15 workouts per month and this is a perfect amount for me in terms of feeling good and keeping healthy while also leaving time for other hobbies.
  • Continue finding ways to decrease my carbon footprint and be more mindful of one-use plastics, etc. This past year I cut back on red meat consumption a ton. In 2020, I want to step it up by decreasing fast fashion and unnecessary purchases, and being better about shopping secondhand.
  • Visit a new place in my own city at least once a month.
  • Travel as much as possible. I have a big trip coming up this spring that I’m super excited about, as it’s been a bucket list destination for most of my life. Travelogues coming soon!

Happy New Year!! ❤

Midwestern Autumnal Realness

Autumn is my favorite season. Much of the reason for this is my undying love of Halloween, but I also embrace the crisp weather and watching the leaves change color. This time of year makes me crave walks in the woods, campfires, and red wine. At home, I light candles on the window sills and curl up under wool blankets and watch movies all day. I am ready to hunker down and enjoy the harvest season. Pretty much since early October and on, I’ve been crafting costumes, listening to Bon Iver, burning forest-scented candles, and rewatching that one Harry Potter movie that’s two hours of our heroes camping while being tortured by existential dread. I’ve been compiling slow cooker recipes and even signed up for a weaving class so I could learn how to use a loom for maximum hygge skills. Autumn is basically prep time for hibernation season a.k.a. winter and I am 1000% here for it.

I do well in the cold. Maybe it’s my quarter-Swedish blood, or my Midwestern roots, but I like to think I approach winter with the stoic attitude of a Viking warrior. Like Lyra Belacqua or Jon Snow, I’m drawn to the North. I prefer camping in the crisp, quiet serenity of fall over the sweaty, sunburnt heat of summer. As the temperature drops, I simply add more layers–wool socks, wool leggings, stocking cap. Wool is magical, and I like anything that allows me to keep staying outside, watching the moon disappear and reappear from behind wispy November clouds. I love the smells of autumn–pine needles, fresh snowfall, campfire, whisky–all enjoyed while wallowing in cozy knit sweaters like I’m damn Felicity. Currently, I’m reading a book set in Kamchatka and reveling in the descriptions of desolate, icy tundra. Earlier today,  I shoveled snow from our sidewalk and wore my favorite winter boots that make me look like a 70’s-era Star Wars extra.

I think what it all boils down to is my love of the changing seasons. I can’t imagine living in a place where the weather doesn’t drastically change every several months. Seasons create rituals, and I fully lean into them. I make playlists for every time of year (currently queueing up “Cozy Winter Cabin” on Spotify to accompany Chicago’s current snowfall). For the next several months, I’ll embrace my favorite knit caps, pumpkin bourbon-scented candles, fluffy slippers, and Pendleton blanket. I’ll enjoy the sound of ice crunching beneath my boots and watching my dog frolic in powdery snow. I’ll go to hot yoga class for that Swedish sauna moment. I’ll spend decadent Saturdays watching an entire season of a television show while drinking a lot of pinot noir.

But most of all, cold weather gives me the gift of time to work on projects. It’s usually when I do the most writing, and when I most enjoy losing myself in an engrossing novel. I’ve said before that winter pushes hibernation upon me and forces me to give up the non-stop social and travel schedule I keep during the spring and summer. I’ve got my cozy home office prepped and ready to go, with plenty of candles waiting for me on the window sill.

 

Midwestern Summer Nostalgia

I’ve spent 5 out of the last 6 weekends away from the city–on the shore of Lake Michigan, in a small lakeside town in central Wisconsin, and camping along the banks of the Wisconsin River. I return to these same places every summer, spending a good chunk of my July and August floating in freshwater and soaking in midwestern sunsets. Even though I have an impossibly long travel wish list and try to go to new destinations as often as possible, I look forward to my midwestern summertime every year.

This year, I took along a waterproof speaker and attached it the front of my kayak with bungee cords so I could listen to a mix of pop, indie rock, and 70’s AM Gold while paddling. I’d tuck a New Glarus Spotted Cow in a coozie into the drink holder, then leisurely cruise around the lake, sipping my beer and humming along to “Waterloo Sunset”, “Summer Breeze,” and “Night Moves.” As the sun set further into the sky, the surface of the lake turned glassy and still, reflecting the dark silhouettes of tall pine, the sky above a melted popsicle orangey pink. I spend a week with my family on this lake every year. We take rides on the pontoon boat and drop anchor in different parts of the chain, cannonballing into deep water. There’s home movies of me at 5 years old, playing in these same waters, the same orangey sunset in the background, overlaid with the staticky fuzz of VHS.

Every August, a group of our friends do a float trip on the Wisconsin River. For 16 years now, we return to the same campsite along the river bank. In this timeframe, people have come and gone, gotten married and had kids, and moved out of state. But every year, we keep going back, reliving the same carefree day spent floating down the same 6 miles of river, drinking local beers on sandbars and laughing over memories from years ago. We retell our favorite stories while living out new ones that will be told over the same fire pit in future years.

I’m a notorious winter apologist, but there’s nothing like summer days and nights that bring out my love for the Midwest. Give me three months of campfires, golden afternoons spent kayaking to the lakeside bar,  hiding out from hot days while sipping Bloodys and Old Fashioneds in a dive with flannel curtains on the windows, and dipping my bare feet into silky blue water as it runs along the sides of a canoe. I fantasize about leaving the city for longer stretches of time to live on the water, somewhere quiet and wooded, where fog lingers in the mornings and burns off as the sun rises, and the surface turns to glass as night falls.

The Halfway Point

It’s blazing hot in Chicago right now, a world away from the polar vortex of last January. Every remaining weekend of this summer is already packed to the gills with plans; it’s utter mayhem. I love summer and wringing every last sun-soaked second of fun out of these three months, but this is also why I relish the cozy calm of winter and its time of forced hibernation.

Now that we’re at the halfway point of 2019, I thought it would be a good time to check back in on my goals for the year, in part to keep myself on track as well as make tweaks to stuff that isn’t really working for me.

  • Decrease my carbon footprint. This one is always going to be a work in progress. Besides being a lot more conscious of how much plastic we use, Kurt and I have also agreed to eat less red meat. I’ll never go full-on vegetarian (I’ve done it before and my body just overall feels better when I’m eating animal proteins) but I’m aiming to cut back by a lot, and replacing with poultry and sustainable types of fish. (Soapbox sidenote: this planet’s only hope of avoiding what’s getting closer and closer to an irreversible worst case scenario has to be major changes on a global level, so stay loud and be an educated voter, y’all.)
  • Keep up with healthy eating, yoga, and cardio exercise. This is another one that’s all about balance, and also giving myself a break when needed. I try to cram leafy greens and colorful veggies into my daily diet as much as possible, but also, my love of donuts is infinite and profound. Exercising 4-5 times a week is the right amount to keep me sane, so that is going well. I’d like to incorporate more yoga into my home workout when I can’t get to the studio, so HMU with your fave apps.
  • Be more mindful of my budget. Somehow, this is going well?! I’ve been making larger payments on my remaining debt (Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be theater majors), paying off credit card balances right away, and saving toward my pop pilgrimage fund. My hermit-like tendencies and Kurt’s preference to cook at home come in real handy with this one.
  • Organize my house and my digital life. Have you ever looked at how much it costs to replace couch cushions that have gotten all dog-and-catted up? It is WILD. But I am finally(!!) trying to finish decorating our house. I’ve also gotten into houseplants. My digital photos are still a mess and I keep meaning to finally finish assembling our wedding album, considering we just celebrated our 5-year anniversary. The to-do list is frankly overwhelming, but one thing at a time. It feels good to make at least some small progress.
  • Keep writing. Every week: Submit, Pitch, or Apply. I am most excited and proud of this one.  I realized quickly that my weekly submission/pitching goal forces me to write constantly. And the wider net you cast, the better chances you have. In 6 months of consistent pitching and submitting, I’ve had more success with getting my work accepted and published (and even getting paid for it!) than I had in the previous two years combined. I’m aiming to have sent out 52 total submissions/pitches by the end of this year (I gave up on residencies because I am already taking too much time off work), and I’m currently at 28, so I’m right on track. If I can share any encouragement with y’all, it’s keep up whatever you are doing, and do a lot of it. I love and support your creative vision!
  • Keep traveling whenever and wherever I can. This one, I live for. I will squeeze every last drop out of my PTO. Destinations don’t have to be far; I spent last weekend on the lake in Indiana and had a blast. I also decided to add onto this, to go someplace new in my hometown of Chicago at least once a month. I am a homebody and a creature of habit, so I really need to take better advantage of what my beautiful bonkers alligator-infested city has to offer. Last night, I went to a full moon celebration on the lakefront and watched fire dancers perform under the night sky, and it was definitely better than my couch.

For the rest of tonight, I’m gonna sit and relax in our sunporch, read a book, and listen to the summer cicadas.