Life in General

I Don’t Know About You…

…but I’m feeling 32.

And a slew of vacillating emotions on top of that.

But back to 32. Because today is legitimately my birthday and that is my newly minted age.

Oddly enough, 32 is my lucky number. It has been ever since I first donned it on the back of my travel soccer jersey as an 11-year-old budding athlete. Seeing as 2 (the date of my birth and my hitherto luckiest number) and all iterations of it from 2 to 12 and 22 were already claimed on my team… 32 it was, and 32 it remains.

What makes that even more special was, well, when have you ever seen a soccer player with a jersey number over 30? You usually don’t. And even from a young age, I was never afraid to be just a bit (or even a lot) different to get a semblance of what I wanted.

But allow me to set the record straight: at the beginning of the year when I said that I planned to pivot from my ambition-forward and goal-getting life in order to slow down and learn what truly brings me joy, I never thought that my more low-key lifestyle would take this form. This isn’t the type of different I favor. Nor do I find acceptable.

These days, I am often reminded of that saying, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”. And this piece of life we find ourselves in across the globe (though mostly, at this point, in the United States) may be the best example of that sentiment I have ever experienced. Because all those plans we had for this year and beyond no longer exist. Or at least, they do not in the way we originally thought they would.

After all, who plans for a pandemic?

I mean, who outside of the highest global officials who are supposed to have the foresight from the science community that an event like this may be on the horizon and be properly budgeting to properly allocate supplies and support to the people they govern?
But I digress…

Life as we know it ended, ironically enough, on my husband’s birthday: Friday, March 13. And now here we are, nearly 6 months later… and while much of the overwhelming panic that comes with the unknown of a highly-contagious lethal virus has shifted into the steady beat marching toward an unknown endpoint, it feels like so little has actually changed.

While we all are older, are we any bit the wiser?

I think that, after living through the events of the past 6 months, many of us are. And in so many ways outside of what you would expect from a half year passing.

It is my most sincere birthday wish that all of us, no matter where we are on our journey, can find it in ourselves to forgive our past views and ignorances in favor of moving forward armed with new truths that manifest not just in convictions and platitudes but in actions and efforts, too.

Further, I wish that that we can be vulnerable in showing our remorse, and forgive each others’ trespasses as we work -together- toward something different. Something better. Something fit for all of us. Because that is nothing less than what we all deserve.

It’s okay, life is a tough crowd / 32 and still growin’ up now
Who you are is not what you did / You’re still an innocent
-“Innocent” by Taylor Swift
Life in General

2020 Vision

The dawn of a new year -and a new decade at that- is a customary time to reflect on what has come to pass and plan for what’s yet to. To think of goals and make resolutions.

For the first time in a long time, I won’t be doing that.

If you know me, you know that I traditionally thrive on plans. On setting goals and working toward them. On reflection and learning and dreaming and achieving. For thirty years of my life it has been my way, and for thirty years it has served me well.

And the past ten years are proof of that: I set many goals for myself over the years, fell short once or twice, shifted a few as I grew, and met a fair share of them, too. I made mistakes both personal and professional, but I was also sure to learn as I rose from those ashes. I ended bad relationships, began better ones, embraced cherished ones, and discovered what it means to be a good friend, daughter, colleague, and lover all while making sure I stay true to myself. I earned degrees, cobbled together a living, and built a career. I purchased cars and mortgaged houses and set up homes. I adopted animals. I ran marathons. I traveled. I lived. I flourished.

As far as a goal-getter is concerned, I’ve had an outstanding decade.

But, while I don’t believe that this era of my life, my thirties, are an end to goals and dreams and achievement, I do think I have hit a personal plateau. Lately I’ve found that setting goals no longer sparks my spirit into forward motion, and achieving goals rarely gratifies my ambitions the way it used to.

So I have decided that my vision for the new year, the new decade, won’t be achievement. Because, in reflecting, I see that I have done much of what I thought I should by now. And I have accomplished more than my wildest dreams were for myself ten years ago. And while I am tired, I am also content. So, as I look to the next decade, instead of reaching up for my next success, I hope to simply go forward toward joy.

This will sometimes mean saying no more than I say yes, even to people and events and ideas that I love. But this will also mean dedicating myself to causes outside of my daily work; projects that fulfill my giving spirit and quench my desire to be the change I want to see in the world. This will mean giving myself space to revisit beloved pastimes and to play and learn new ones, all with naught in mind but enjoyment. No end goal of output. No timeline to perfection.

Maybe something great will come from it. and maybe nothing will but what satisfaction I glean for myself.

Some may see it as selfish. I see it as self-considerate.

I invite you, no matter how many or few other goals and resolutions you have, to join me in considering yourself and what will truly bring you contentment as we take one more step into our shared future.

And hopefully, in being considerate of ourselves in addition to caring for others, we might all see a brighter, healthier, happier, more peaceful world in the next year, the next decade, and create a new age of benevolence that’s worth remembering.

Lyric from “Long Live” by Taylor Swift
Life in General

Homecoming

I’ve been noticing so many references to home this past month.

Beyonce’s documentary on Netflix (and the subsequent live album of her Coachella performance) which bears the name Homecoming dropped, as did the first single and music video off Taylor Swift’s new album, where lie Easter eggs that make many fans predict the next single or even the album title itself will have something to do with Home.

I returned home after a weeklong vacation with my husband’s family, and then dropped off the face of the earth and stayed home from work even longer battling a terrible illness that left me coughing, aching, and voiceless for over a week. My husband has gone away on business and returned home, only to go right back out again.

And during this month exactly a year ago, my husband and I closed on and moved into our first single-family house in our Sweet Home, Chicago.

As much as we wanted this -a home to grow into out of the hustle of the “real city” that is significantly closer to where we both work- homeownership has thrown us into the deep end. And we know how to swim, we knew it was going to be hard: no more landlord to fix things when they break, no more shrugging fixtures or wall colors or outdoor spaces off as “good enough” because we didn’t have the power to change much, and no more power to up and leave at the end of the lease if we just weren’t feeling the place anymore. But we didn’t expect the water to be this choppy, for the ladder out to seem so far away.

We soon discovered there is so much more to owning a home than well, ownership. There are the things not noticed until after we began living here. The things the previous owners didn’t necessarily break but didn’t necessarily fix, either. There are the easy upgrades and personalizations that turn into full-on replacing or remodeling or, heaven help us, renovating. And then, of course, there are the things that do break on us and we’re on the line to figure it out ourselves (especially when the thing that breaks is the heater going into the second night of Polar Vortex -50 below temperatures… true story).

Every small improvement to this charming little Tudor is a marvel, but sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees and appreciate the learning curve of, say, fixing holes in plaster walls before painting the color of your choice when there are gutters to clean and bricks to tuck-point and patios to resurface and laundry machines to replace and walls to paint and chimneys to sweep and basements to finish and…

and…

…and so I am going to stop myself right there, almost a year into one of the biggest commitments of my life (outside of marriage and student loan debt and that time I spent too much on my Nordstrom’s card…) and stop analyzing the trees to appreciate the forest.

As I sit here writing this, there are a tremendous amount of things I could be doing to ever improve this house.

But my dog is curled up comfortably, looking out the front door which we throw open to let light into our main living area, patrolling the neighborhood; something he could never do from our beloved lakeshore condo in the sky.
My husband is cooking us shrimp scampi with fresh ingredients he picked up on his commute; something we never had time for when our days were long and our commutes were longer.
A white wine from our favorite vineyard chills and is begging to be uncorked and toasted. There is reading and puppy snuggles. There is laughter and dancing. There is art and industry. There are arguments and compromise. There are all the things we will carry with us wherever we live.

There is certainly work to be done here in this house, but there is, above all, the understanding that this place is already a home. Our home. Our trees that make a beautiful forest.

closing day May 2018
Life in General

The Sum of Paris Girls

I’ve had the outline of this post saved in my drafts for months. But if there is a lesson to be learned from this past week’s events, it is to act swiftly on your ideas and dreams because there are no guarantees for our tomorrows.

It is that even the mighty can fall.

I was lucky enough to visit Paris for the first time this past fall during a European tour of London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam with my husband; a vacation beyond my wildest dreams for many reasons, the most pressing being that my husband has never really been a traveller.

And, let’s be honest, on a modest librarian’s salary, it helps substantially to have his support -both financially and otherwise- in chasing my travel dreams.

Sometime between our wedding day (almost exactly three years ago) and now, his entire attitude has changed regarding travel. Before, he was content to go where his business meetings and family vacations took him, whereas I have dreamed of visiting distant shores from the moment I could point to them on a globe, have a list of coveted travel destinations a mile long, and have even been lucky enough to visit a handful of them in my youth. When I mentioned places I might like to visit one day, he would look at me as though I had just uttered a phrase in Black Speech.

We were not on the same page.

But the year of our wedding, 2016, took my husband and me to our honeymoon in gorgeous Riviera Maya, Mexico, a friend’s bachelor/bachelorette in Napa, California, a cousin’s wedding in San Diego, California, and another friend’s wedding in Torino, Italy where we also made stops in Milan, Florence, and Rome. I believe it was this year of whirlwind travel that forced him out of his comfort zone opened him up to the possibility and wonder much of the world held.

Before our wedding, when I would ask my husband where he wanted to visit in the world, he would say, “I have nowhere I particularly want to see.”

A little more than a year later, he looked at me one day and, unprompted, said, “I think it’d be cool to see Australia.”

Now we were getting somewhere!

After a relatively low-key travel year in 2017, I was aching to change this drastically in the year to come. It was with the same motivation that is driving me to write today that I turned to my husband as the calendar made its turn from 2017 to 2018 and said, “There are places in this world I want to see before I die, and I think we should see some them together this year.”

Because while I am well aware of my own mortality (in a very realistic and non-grim way, mind you), I somehow didn’t apply that same mortality to the marvels of the world that are not already in ruin. This despite the horror I felt watching wild fires in California, hurricanes devastate Caribbean islands and the southeast mainland United States, hate and terror in places of worship around the world, and destruction of ancient cities and monuments just as awe-inspiring as Notre Dame in Syria, Palestine and Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, and, I’m certain, more. That is to say nothing of the genocide and destruction of sacred places of Native Peoples in America and throughout the world due to colonization.

But I digress.

Though many of those non-Western places are high on my personal list (Istanbul having been my own eye-opening experience into the wonders of a world outside my comfort zone), I set my sights on a long-loved locale I had yet to visit: London.
Harry Potter. The Beatles. Football (as in, soccer). The Spice Girls. Countless literary works and the language I speak. Meghan Markle. Monty Python. These and so much else connected me throughout my entire life to England, and I knew that London would be my first priority in a bucket-list European trip.

And my husband agreed to it.

But, being me, I couldn’t just make my way across the Atlantic for one city. And so, knowing I also wanted to visit Amsterdam (and perhaps make a stop somewhere in Belgium along the way), I set my sights on another large city for this trip: Paris.

Unlike London, Paris was new on my list of places to visit. I was never what I call a “Paris Girl.” You know one of them if you are not one yourself: the girls who adore Audrey Hepburn (“We’ll always have Paris!”) and take high school French instead of (some would say more practical) Spanish. The girls who prefer a chic and sophisticated palette of black and/or pink, whose bedrooms are filled with Eiffel tower styled jewelry holders, bedside lamps, and that poster with a cat on it. The girls who drink coffee at an early age and plan every party and shower to include petit fours and study the European monarchies whether through a history degree in college or within the pages of their well-researched historical fiction.

I was not that girl. And perhaps I never will be that girl. While I respected the French culture and Paris as a coveted destination, I never felt that draw myself. That is, until only a few years ago, when I read a book that my sincere interest in Paris was piqued: Anna and the French Kiss, a Young Adult novel by Stephanie Perkins.

Not only was Anna’s story so vivid and realistic to me (and, I admit, was a bit of a wish fulfillment read, having never truly studied abroad for an extended time myself), but the author’s descriptions of the enchanting Parisian sights and sounds, and how enraptured the characters were with their surroundings in addition to each other attracted me to the locale in a way no other piece of history or media ever had. After closing that book, I knew I needed to go to the heart of Paris, to Point Zéro in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and it would be all the better if it was with the object of my affections.

And reader, I did just that.

And not only that, but I also fell in love with all of Paris in the way I had never understood before. Despite the heat wave that boasted 95 degree days (ie a temperature Paris hardly ever sees), I suddenly understood why people moved there and found creative inspiration to finish writing novels. How it was the perfect resting place for countless pieces of priceless art. How it was so easy to fall in love there with not only the place itself, but with the people, or a specific person, a turn of phrase, a plate of food, and how one could spend days wandering aimlessly down the rues and boulevards and never grow weary of any of it.

I became, in my own way, a Paris Girl.

So when I saw the news that the Notre Dame in Paris was on fire, barely 8 months after I was lucky enough to see it with my own eyes, I was distraught. Even without a personal connection to this important piece of culture and history, I know I would have been devastated on behalf of Parisians and those with ties to the Cathedral. However, it was Point Zéro and Notre Dame, the literal heart of Paris which drew me there and led to my own burgeoning love affair with the city, that was being destroyed after standing for 850 years.

But what am I in the face of 850 years? Especially when compared to those whose connection to this place amounted to more than one visit based on a book they read: those who built it, those who studied it, those whose lives it was a daily part? I could barely write this without feeling inconsequential before this devastating fire, but then I read a musing on Twitter asking “what is cultural significance if not the sum total of [a] myriad of personal connections”?

And so, despite it feeling futile (as most writing does), this is my addition to the sum of all the Paris Girls, my small connection to a place far greater than me or any single one of us: the story of a girl who had a small interest in Paris after reading a book, whose husband turned into a traveller and appeased her in a travel destination, how she was lucky enough to fall in love with that place, and a reflection on the kismet of how all these moments led to witnessing only one of many of the world’s wonders before it was too late.

I hope that, despite your own connections or lack thereof to Notre Dame, my story has moved you in some way to live for today: celebrate the anniversary, visit the place, make the art, finish the project, have the conversation, change the mind. Because you never know when, or if, you’ll get the chance again.

Life in General, Writing

The Problem With Ideas

Lilies by Dessa Kirk in the South President’s Court of Chicago’s Grant Park

The problem with ideas is that I have so many.

But there was a time in my life, when I was a wee baby writer, that I was afraid of my ideas. I was afraid that if I used my best ideas for a novel, the only ones I had at the time, I would never come up with more. Or the ones I did come up with in the future wouldn’t be quite as good as the first. I was afraid I would be a one book wonder, if that.

And now, I have so many ideas I barely know what to do with them.

But the problem with ideas is that they are fleeting. Unless you jump on one and ride it out immediately, it is bound to run off into the horizon, to scatter in the wind, to shift and jumble, or to flat out disappear, never returning with the same strength or brilliance it once had. Many times I have made the mistake of not harnessing my ideas immediately, sometimes because I was afraid of wasting them, and other times because I didn’t think I had the time or life experience to properly develop them. And now, those ideas don’t seem as promising as they once did.

The problem with ideas is that some ideas stifle others. The practical ideas get in the way of the creative ones, halting any promise of what could be in favor what seems to be. The problem with ideas is that the bad ones masquerade as good, whispering that you don’t have the time or energy for them right now. The problem with ideas is the good ones can be too shy to properly introduce themselves as the marvels they are, and they slip away, unnoticed, soon to be forgotten.

The problem with ideas is that, even when they are right in front of you, strong and new, shiny with promise, and you have -no, make- the time to capture them, they are scary. Even if you catch the flow of creativity and are buzzing with the possibility of what your idea may become, the fear that you may not do your idea justice, or that you idea is not good enough. At times, the fear is enough to make you halt, mid sentence, and never…

The problem with ideas is that, if not handled with care, they can become self inflicted wounds. They scab and scar, never quite healing no matter how diligently and tenderly you tend to them or how long you leave them alone. The proof of their existence is there, with only the regret of what you could have done better to keep you company until the next one arrives.

The problem with ideas is not knowing exactly what to do with them once they sprout, how to properly cultivate them. And not always recognizing when the bud of an idea is aching to bloom.

But I have an idea.

In honor of spring, which I’m hoping is right around the corner, I think it is time to stop thinking about my ideas and start doing something about them. It’s time to tend to the seeds and see if they can blossom.

Lilies by Dessa Kirk in the South President’s Court of Chicago’s Grant Park