Chicago, Friday Night Trouble Bound

Neither of us had been to this bar in years, but as soon as we walk through the front door, hazy memories rush back like the swill at the bottom of a pint glass.  I sidle up to the cash-only bar and order two beers; the bartender hands me back my change,  a fistful of soggy singles that I shove into my wallet.

It takes two hours for the headlining band to take the stage. Before then, we stake out a spot in the crowd, bathing in neon light and the aural accompaniment of drunken banter. We’ve seen this band at least a dozen times before, but their shows make me feel like I never slowed down on all those killer parties. These kinds of nights feel like pure Chicago to me. How many times since I first turned 21 have I danced on this sticky floor, how many cheap PBRs have I crushed, how many times have I used the women’s bathroom where there’s never a functioning lock and I have to hook my foot around the bottom of the stall door so no one walks in on me. How many bands have I seen, and how many of them skyrocketed to fame or disappeared into oblivion.

The opening act is the frontman of another well-known band in town for the weekend, appearing solo, singing covers of 60’s and 70’s AM Gold radio hits. Catering to the local crowd, he launches into the rolling opening chords of “Lakeshore Drive.” I sing along, Friday night trouble bound.

When the headlining band takes the stage, the air is electric in that way that only happens when everyone there is a diehard fan who knows every lyric by heart. We scream in unison, hands punching the air like Mario raining coins from the sky. I can use this reference because everyone in this dive bar is my age. The room vibrates with body heat and joy. I feel the bass reverberate up through the soles of my feet and I wonder if my pulse matches the beat of the drums .

We pour out of the bar at 1 a.m., exhausted and exhilarated. As we walk down Western Ave, I feel the concrete sidewalk beneath my Chucks, rooting me to this city. Driving up Milwaukee Ave, we pass through my old neighborhood and I’m struck again by how much has changed–old laundromats and empty storefronts replaced with hipster bars, yoga studios, and breweries. I’m glad some time capsules still remain.

 

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The Last Year of My 30’s

Today, I turn 39 and enter the last year of my 30’s. I’ve enjoyed this past decade so much, and I ain’t scurred to enter the next one. Here’s a random list of things I did in my 38th year:

  • toured my old high school for our twentieth reunion
  • bought an old Chevy Astrovan and turned it into a camper
  • went on writing retreats in Indianapolis and Milwaukee with great friends and writers
  • cried watching Wonder Woman in the theater
  • saw U2 perform Joshua Tree at Soldier Field, recreating one of my first high school concert experiences
  • became obsessed with Twin Peaks: the Return all summer
  • swam in Lake Michigan and Waupaca’s Chain O’ Lakes
  • had a sibling karaoke reunion at Sidekicks, my fave divey bar
  • saw Arcade Fire play a Lollopalooza aftershow at the Metro and Winn Butler ran into me when he jumped into the crowd
  • SAW A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE
  • sang karaoke at a pirate bar in Delavan, WI
  • road tripped to Maine with my husband and our dog, checking off 4 new states
  • hiked to the top of Cadillac Mountain then ate an ice cream bar
  • saw Stephen King driving in his Jeep Liberty
  • hosted our first Thanksgiving in our house
  • added a Loch Ness monster to my early aught’s tramp stamp (it’s now a Triassic stamp!)
  • started meditating every morning
  • saw Magic Mike Live in Las Vegas
  • took a train ride in a sleeper car and sang karaoke in New Orleans
  • said goodbye to my beloved cat, Ginger Spice
  • practiced yoga 27 out of 31 days in March
  • visited two new countries, Denmark and Sweden

Looking at this list, I feel so hashtag-blessed to live my life. Who knows how many years we all get to share with each other, so I hope to cram each and every year of life as balls-to-the-wall as this one. OH HAI 39!

March Goals

A few weeks into January, I spent a Sunday afternoon with a group of friends making vision boards. I’d never made one before, but in the decade or so, I’ve developed a tendency to overbook my life to the point where I lose track of some of the goals I want to attain. Making a vision board has helped me to focus on the handful of goals that are most important to me, helping me to prioritize my precious free time. It also gives me the excellent excuse: “Can’t do it; it’s not on my vision board.”

the bottom one says Cook, I swear

So far, I’m doing good! I’ve traveled to Las Vegas and New Orleans. I’ve meditated every day except 6 total (hungover Vegas flight, every day in New Orleans because sharing a shotgun apartment with 7 people, while super fun, is not v. Zen). I’m changing some of the other goals around a bit as various projects evolve, but you get the idea.

In terms of health and fitness goals,  I have a workout regimen that’s attainable and doesn’t totally dominate my free time. I run on my elliptical machine 2-3 times a week for 45 minutes while blaring pop favorites of yesterday and today. Then twice a week, I go to a power vinyasa class. I’ve never had a body that is naturally skinny, but I put on muscle quickly and I surprise people with my strength (usually during impromptu drunken arm wrestling challenges). With my crazy strong hamstrings and quads, I like to say that I have the lower body of a  male cartoon centaur. In terms of nutrition, I’ve slowly been improving my eating habits over recent years and working a lot more leafy greens and veggies into my regular diet. My biggest downfall is still sugar (gimme all the gimmick flavored Oreos pleez). This past January, I did a sweets-free month (still ate some fruits, opted for plain yogurt and added my own fresh toppings, ate regular bread but no pastries or donuts, no chocolate or candy, etc.) and it had a big impact on how I felt. It was also surprisingly easy for me to accomplish since I knew that there was an end date in sight. Sure enough, come February 1st, it all went out the window, and as of this morning I’ve eaten a slice of leftover cake with my morning coffee for 4 days straight.

So, back to the vision board! Starting tomorrow morning, March 1st, I’m setting two health challenges for myself:

  1. I’ve wanted to up my yoga practice for a while now, so I’m going to shoot for 30 days of yoga, at least 15 minutes to an hour a day. I want to see how it improves my flexibility, strength, and overall outlook.
  2. I’m cutting out sweet treats again, but with the allowance of 1 per week (that’s a single donut, cookie, or slice of cake. Or 1 sleeve. of Oreos because I make my own rules). The goal here is to better set a habit where I’m eliminating most sugar from my diet but keeping it attainable–I can still enjoy a piece of cake at a party or treat myself to a milkshake, just in better moderation.

I am better about adhering to goals once I’ve made them public, so to the handful of people who may end up reading this, thanks for keeping me accountable. High five!

 

Hey, 2018, Hey

2017, amirite?? Yes, the events of the world made me cry and have massive anxiety, but there was also a feeling of collective resilience that began to build slowly over twelve tumultuous months. Looking at brand spanking new 2018 laying before us, I feel pretty good. Maybe this is just me choosing to take an optimistic viewpoint, but I’m feeling rullll hopeful.  Like, Princess-Leia-at-the-end-of-Rogue-One Level of Hope. On this first day of a new year, we are all Mariah Carey, ready to put last year’s stumbles behind us and start anew, triumphant, and bedazzled. Plus, the Year of the Dog starts in a month and dogs always make everything better.

This year, I’ll be thinking a lot of a line from Star Wars: The Last Jedi: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

My resolutions for 2018:

  • Continue building on what I started/accomplished in 2017. Yoga and meditation became a part of my regular routine, and have had a big impact on me. I aim to increase my yoga practice and meditate as close to daily as possible.
  • Last year, I made a goal of carving out 3 hours/week for writing. On average, I usually hit this goal and then some, so I’m aiming for 6 hours/week, hopefully falling somewhere closer to the higher end between 3-6 on a regular basis. As with last year, I will be kind to myself when Life takes over and letting myself have little vacations when needed.
  • Keep improving my nutrition habits, starting with a sugary treats cleanse in January. At this point in my life, I know how much better I feel when I’m eating well and getting lots of fresh veggies and healthy protein in my diet. Make the time to grocery shop and meal prep so I don’t have to fall back on fast, processed food in a pinch.
  • Consume art. Read whenever I can. Watch films thoughtfully without looking at my phone. Support artists. Create.
  • Continue to travel as much as I can. Swim in as many lakes as possible. Watch the sun rise. Watch it set. Immerse myself in nature whenever possible.

Happy New Year! ❤

 

Summer Updates

It’s been a minute since I’ve updated this blog. This summer has been a whirlwind of activity and I’m working on a couple of different things, so I’m playing catch-up with this post.

What I’ve been doing lately:

Every summer, I try to jump into as many natural bodies of water as possible. Pools are fine, but give me a Midwestern lake or river over a water-filled concrete hole any day. I spent a weekend with my family in Long Beach, Indiana, where I whiled away an afternoon bobbing along the surface of Lake Michigan, letting my toes drag over the sand. On another trip to the Chain O’Lakes in north-central Wisconsin, storms threatened to cut down on my swimming time and lent to a lazy day of pub-hopping and indoor board games. But one afternoon, the sky cleared up and the sun came out so we hopped aboard the pontoon boat, and even though it was only in the mid-60’s, I jumped in the lake. There’s something about swimming in a deep body of water where you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and you float along thinking of what kind of primal creatures might be swirling in the depths beneath your feet. My brother and I were the only ones in the water while the rest of my family stayed on the boat, and I paddled along as sunlight glinted off the surface of the lake and through the thick green trees, and it was heaven. These are the kind of days I dream about in late January when the icy winds howl around our cozy little house.

In the spring, I decided to give up on a novel that I had been working on. I was about 45 pages in, and the idea of my premise was no longer drawing me to the page. At the same time, I realized that a short story I recently started had enough teeth to sustain the length of a novel. Wah-wah-waahhhh. I abandoned my earlier project to a Google Drive folder of cast-off ideas, and now I’m humming along on my new premise, starting from scratch. I still have my first novel-length manuscript from 2014 sitting in a file, and the process of working on it taught me so much about my own creative process. I don’t look at bulk amounts of cast-off pages as a waste of time at all; they’re practice towards what will someday be a complete piece that I’ll be (hopefully) proud to share. Some projects tell you when they’re ready.

On the interwebs, I’ve been writing some other fun things:

  • Game of Thrones recaps for Heauxs, a pop culture site. Seriously, check them out–there’s tons of reviews and think pieces and travelogues written by some hilarious, intelligent, and incredibly talented people. Writing these weekly recaps is fulfilling all of my 2007-era Television-without-Pity dreams.
  • I performed a piece about ancestry and identity at Miss Spoken in July, and shared it over at Drinkers with Writing Problems.

Let’s see, what else… In pop culture, besides Game of Thrones, I’ve been obsessing over Twin Peaks: the Return, and catching up on Outlander. The former makes me want to revisit the Pacific Northwest, and the latter has me researching camping in Scotland. And speaking of camping, Kurt and I are going on a fall road trip to Acadia National Park, so I’ll be posting some new travel blogs in the near future. Send any Maine recommendations my way. We also have a canoeing trip coming up as well as a visit to the Ozarks, so I have a few more chances to jump into a lake before the end of the summer. I suggest you do the same.

Hello 2017

Oh 2016, you started with taking David Bowie and ended with us all feeling second-hand embarrassment for Mariah Carey. You ran our emotions through a meat grinder (I started reading The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher today and couldn’t get through the first 2 pages without tearing up). You gave us a sentient Cheeto who live-tweets every one of his temper tantrums and made him our President-elect. Looking ahead to this fresh new year, I may be crazy but I’m hopeful. Maybe it’s because 2017 still has that new car smell, or maybe it’s because I love making New Year resolutions as an opportunity to set goals that I’m excited about. I was successful in all of my 2016 resolutions except for one (to start a Twitter parody account, but that was a silly one anyways and I became too busy handling social media for Drinkers with Writing Problems). I also managed to hit a big goal that I hadn’t spelled out for myself, which was to pay off my credit card debt by the end of the year.

My resolutions for 2017:

  • do a sugar detox for the month of January. Diabetes runs rampant in my family and I have a weakness for pastries, chocolate, and ice cream. I’m taking a month off to break the habit and make better decisions about what I eat.
  • carve out at least 3 hours a week for writing. Don’t beat myself up when Life takes over, but don’t make easy excuses for myself either. I want to finish the first draft of the new novel I’m currently working on before next New Year’s Eve.
  • return to yoga and start a mindful meditation practice.
  • start putting more money into savings, which should be easier now that I paid off my credit cards.
  • seize opportunities at work to expand my role and branch out into new responsibilities.

It goes without saying that in 2017, I will appreciate all of the many things in my life that I’m super grateful for: my incredible family and friends, the many adventures I share with my husband and best friend, my home, my health, and every morning I get to wake up and seize another day.

 

 

Thoughts on November 10

This is pretty much a brain dump, so bear with me.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a week. On Monday evening, I went to an early voting polling place near my house on the northwest side of Chicago. After the moment I touched the screen to pick Hillary’s name, I paused and let myself savor the small but historic moment. Tears gathered in my eyes.

It would be the first of many, many times I’ve cried this week, and the only time that the tears were happy.

Yesterday, we woke up to confirmation that many peoples’ worst nightmare came true. I cried for multitudes of reasons, among them being that the horrific racism and xenophobia we’ve witnessed over the course of the campaign season had won. I cried because it was a perfect example of why so few women report their sexual assaults: they get called liars while the men who perpetrate these crimes get away with it (or get elected president). I know that people had their reasons for voting who they voted for, but I cried because they were willing to overlook the fact that minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, Muslim Americans, and all other marginalized groups would suffer because of how they marked their ballot. Everything felt broken on multiple levels.

I don’t want to write any further about the election itself because it’s all been said by people much more eloquent than me. But I do want to share what I did to get through the ugliness of yesterday and how I managed to find some catharsis and even joy. I connected with my people through texts, Facebook, Twitter, and secret discussion groups where we all felt like we could be safe to share our feelings without someone chiming in to pick an ugly fight while our feelings were so raw. You can rail on the concept of social media all you want, but yesterday, it was my salvation.

And through social media, we made a plan to go out and sing karaoke together. I arrived at the bar first, and as my friends walked in, we all began to cry again, but we were able to give each other much-needed hugs. Then we all began to sing. Lyrics took on whole new meanings under the circumstance of events, and we laughed-cried, shouted the words together, and danced.

“We are strong, no one can tell us we’re wrong, searching our hearts for so long, love is a battlefield”

“Soul, I hear you calling, oh baby please give a little respect to me”

“Oh I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights. Oh, I’ve had it up to here”

It was emotional and loud and cathartic and exactly what we all needed. Shit may have just gotten very, very real, but I will always be able to turn to music to help me cope. When you’re several beers into the night and running the mic on a divey karaoke place with people you love, playing air guitar and drunk-wailing “Don’t Stop Believing,” you can remember that there is joy to be found in this world.

I see others using pop culture to cope: gifs of Harry Potter’s friends raising their wands in solidarity, or the people of District 12 raising their hands saluting the Mockingjay, or photos of Mal from Firefly with the caption “May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.” I see people turning to literature and poetry: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Art is our place of solace, or our battle cry, or a voice for the voice we need when we’ve lost our own. Art is important. Even Pat Benatar.