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.

 

 

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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.

 

City Kid with an Outdoor Heart

I constantly feel conflicted about living in a big city.  Throughout every downtown office cubicle job I’ve had, I would find moments to slip away and gaze out a window. I needed to see the outside for whatever brief little moments I could find. My husband and I have traveled to the Badlands, Black Hills, Yellowstone, and Glacier. We’ve kayaked and camped along the Wisconsin River nearly every summer we’ve been together. We used every last frequent flier mile we had to travel to Alaska, where we drove an RV around for 10 days of exploring . When I’m outdoors, it feels like my soul can finally breathe. I love it.

But I also love living in the city–the third largest U.S. city, to be precise (stand down, Houston). In Chicago, I have regular access to art, culture, and whatever kind of food I’m craving, be it Indian, Mexican, Ethiopian, Filipino, or Korean. In the city, I meet people from all walks of life, who grew up in other countries or have interesting backgrounds, who spent a year backpacking across Australia or studying the circus arts. On any given evening, I can go attend a live literary reading or open mic, see a band I’ve never heard of or one I grew up listening to, or go to a bar to cheer on one of our many local professional sports teams and high-five strangers.

In the outdoors, I’ve seen a mountain lion cross the road in front of us, its eyes fixed upon us, long tail slowly swishing, looking like something majestic and wild and otherworldly, before it leapt up the hillside in three fluid strides.

In the city, I’ve seen both obscure arthouse films and major movie premieres on the big screen with the director present for a live Q&A.

In the outdoors, I’ve had a bison huff angrily at the tent where my husband and I slept, threatening to charge us for being on his home turf.

In the city, I’ve participated in a flash mob during the halftime of a roller derby bout while dressed as a ninja.

In the outdoors, I’ve heard the howls of coyotes, the hoots of owls, and the soft patter of rain on the roof of my tent as I drifted to sleep.

In the city, I’ve seen priceless works of art at our local, internationally renowned museums.

In the outdoors, I’ve waited out a rainstorm with my husband in a 3-man tent on a narrow sandbar in the middle of a river, drinking boxed wine from our camping cups and reading the third Game of Thrones book by the light of my headlamp as rain pelted our fly and lightning crackled over our heads.

In the city, I’ve danced in the rain during a street festival with a beer in one hand and a taco in the other, surrounded by friends and live music.

I love my hometown while simultaneously feeling frustrated by it. I get disheartened by crime and the disrespect people can have for their surroundings, others’ property, and human life. This city will always inspire me, excite me, act as a muse, and break my heart over and over. And when things become to stressful, bleak, or maddening, the mountains start calling my name.

A Big Year

I turn 36 today. Here’s some of the things I did during my 35th year:

  • got married!
  • bought a house!
  • visited three new states: South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana
  • got into yoga
  • started forcing myself to eat kale, like, all the time, mostly because:
  • got addicted to Oreos
  • got hit by a car while crossing the street
  • coordinated an office build-out and move
  • started performing again (storytelling)
  • left a job at a famous tech company to try out the small business world
  • saw both Katy Perry and Britney Spears in concert
  • rode a mechanical bull in Las Vegas
  • Margaret Cho started following me on Twitter for some reason
  • saw three Broadway plays in one weekend
  • got my ninth tattoo
  • I decided that my favorite Christmas movie is Batman Returns
  • lost the Halloween costume contest at a dog park
  • finished a novel-length manuscript
  • took singing classes at Old Town School of Folk Music
  • started a karaoke club
  • found way more gray hair than ever before
  • used the phrase “YOLO” ironically so often that it stopped being ironic
  • cried over the Star Wars trailer
  • experimented with growing my eyebrows in thicker. Turned out less Cara Delavingne and more Peter Falk.

Maps

Every line in a map is a new possibility. I love tracing the routes with my eyes, imagining the experiences that each detour might bring. Unfolding a map is unfurling a new adventure; I want to spread them out on the hardwood floor, studying the topography, noting the landmarks, exploring the options.

Looking at a road map brings back a rush to my senses: the roar of a motorcycle engine cutting through the light spring breeze, the overpowering smell of sulfur while driving through Yellowstone National Park, the Trampled By Turtles album that filled the car as we drove through the Smoky Mountains in a light rainstorm, the unsettling beauty of the Pacific Ocean just beyond the steep drop-off of PCH. It reminds me of how much of the world lays out there that I have yet to see, beyond the 23 inches of my computer monitor.

A Chicago city map is a different kind of map to me: it is a map of memories. I don’t need to look at the street names; I know them by heart. The phrase “know by heart” is in itself very sentimental. My heart knows these places because I lived in them, and they are a part of me. When I drive down California Ave past my old apartment, I always crane my neck to see if I can spot someone beyond the fence in the front yard. We used to stay out there all night, the patchy grass littered with beer cans, sitting in camping chairs and talking and laughing until the sun started to rise and the smell of baking bread wafted over from the nearby panaderia. Dodging traffic in Ravenswood reminds me of the sprint from work to home to roller derby practice, a routine that dominated most of my evenings for a portion of my life. 17 years, 2 dorm rooms and 7 different apartments in 6 different Chicago neighborhoods–that’s a lot of push pins on my heart map. Now, I live in a house with my husband–our first real house. Our street is lined with old, towering trees that create a green leafy canopy in the summer over the quiet, one-way street. There’s a hot dog stand on the corner, which brings back a bear-hug-embrace of nostalgia for the street where my grandparents live, not very far from this house. As kids, my siblings and cousins and I were allowed to bike up and down their block, and when we were lucky, one of our parents would take us to the hot dog stand on the corner. Being in my our own first home, with our own hot dog stand, feels like I’ve come full circle. I may not be very far on the map from where I started, but I’ve visited many places along the way.

 

 

On Being an Outdoor Cat

I easily get claustrophobic, but it goes beyond crowded elevators or airplanes. I get claustrophobic in office cubicles or conference rooms with no windows. For most of my adult life I’ve held an office job, but I yearn to be outdoors more often. If my desk sits somewhere in a building where I can’t see outside, I get a little stir crazy. I would take breaks to go and linger by a window to get a glimpse of sky.

This sort of claustrophobia can get particularly bad in the last long, dreary stretch of winter, much like what we’re experiencing right now in Chicago. I currently work from home, and my desk faces two large sets of windows, which makes my inner “outdoor cat” happy. I can see the backyard while I work and watch the squirrels run along the top of the fence.

This winter, Seasonal Affective Disorder has been lurking nearby in the shadows, threatening to capture me. I wish I could fly somewhere sunny and beautiful, but I can’t right now. Instead, I try to find little ways to make myself happy. If it’s nice out (in my very Chicagoan definition, sunny and above 17 degrees), I take my dog out for a walk during my lunch break. We’ll stroll through our neighborhood and admire the beautiful old houses, then visit the local park. Just seeing trees and expanses of sky immediately lifts my spirits and reinvigorates me for an afternoon of work.

When it’s too cold, icy, or rainy, I’ll spend lunch reading hiking blogs or checking out the Instagram accounts of national parks. I let myself daydream about visiting those places someday, or even dare to think about tackling the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, or Appalachian Trail myself. Granted, this would require saving up thousands of dollars and taking about 6 months off of work, so it’s more of a very, very longtime goal far off in my future.

I’m hoping for an early spring and that the worst of the cold and gray is behind us. Until then, like any other outdoor cat, I’ll curl up near a window in a nice warm sunbeam and daydream about leaving the house again soon.