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

Life in General

The More Things Change…

…the more they stay the same.

It has been nearly a year since I last posted here, and, as it was originally penned in French, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Because, if we rewound exactly a year from today, you might not notice much difference at first glance:

I was and am still trying to hit a stride with my writing, consuming so much of other people’s work and writing my professional reviews but not truly dedicating myself to my own projects. At least, not in a way that feels meaningful; let this blog’s recent history be an example of that.
I was and am still figuring out a workout routine that hit the balance between happy yoga and healthy running and strength training; a happy medium between working to get ahead and stopping to smell the roses (and snap a few Instagram worthy photos of them, too).
I was then and am still a Chicago-dwelling, happily married dog mom, very much in love with my two favorite guys and my city.
I was and am still a nervous wreck about the state of our country, doing everything in my power -from marching on the streets to having conversations with loved ones to cold calling registered voters and elected officials alike- to make a difference.

But if you linger on today and focus on the scene before you, you’ll begin to see the subtle and not-so-subtle differences:

Back then I was in an inarguably urban condo overlooking the lake and presently I am in a cottage-like, nearly-suburban home with a garage and a yard and a twenty minute commute to work (down from nearly an hour).
A year ago my hair was a newly-transformed shade of rose-gold pink and today it is very close to my natural, dirty blonde hue (with plans to go even blonder soon).
I often called my thumbs black, almost with pride, as I couldn’t even keep a succulent gifted to me alive (I over-watered it). But another gifted plant lives in my house these days: a fiddle leaf fig, the mother of all Millennial trophies, and a challenge for even the most seasoned gardener. And yet, she thrives, and encouraged me to pick up another little green friend, a corn plant, for my bedroom (and I have my eyes on a ZZ, spider, and snake plant, too!).
While I have always been a traveller, I had not yet been to the European cities of my dreams: London, Brussels, Paris, and Amsterdam (in order of my desire to visit them). Nor had they permanently shifted in what they would mean to me and how much I would want to return to them: Paris, Amsterdam, London, and Brussels, in that order. I am now what I refer to as ‘a Paris girl’ (more on that soon).

And here, this place, it’s changed a bit, too.

You might have noticed the new layout if you visit from time to time. But I am always playing with that; tinkering to make things more aesthetically pleasing, more me: learning as I grow in content and coding.

Most notably, however, is that now I have a domain of my very own.

I’d been toying with the idea of making the jump for some time, but I am a sucker for sales and so… Happy Valentine’s Day to me. Hopefully this place where I am right now becomes and remains a place that I love (and that perhaps you do, too).

Life in General, Writing

The Art of Not Writing

This has been a difficult year to be a creative. And what is most interesting is that, in times one finds most trying, art is usually not only the best personal escape but also the best community builder when often community most needs building.

Try telling that to my fingers that cannot click away from an endlessly scrolling newsreel to the eternal chasm of a blank page and blinking cursor. Tell that to my thoughts so wrapped up in the unfathomable reality of now that I cannot bring myself to forge a less-than-perfect alternative.

I know that in any time, these are tried and true excuses for not writing, and despite my common fears and anxieties about my country’s newfound political situation, writing has happened and art has been created this year (and in other even more difficult times in history). In years past, I have learned not to give yourself an excuse to stall writing because instead of progress you will have nothing but excuses and that same empty page.

But this year, I learned that given exceptional circumstances, there is a time to give yourself space. There is room to allow yourself to just exist, to consume, to learn.

I haven’t created much tangible art in 2017, but in that space where creativity would normally dwell I was able to create something else. I have created an awareness I previously did not possess, an empathy beyond what I previously did, a new way of viewing and absorbing the world around me that would not have been possible if I hadn’t allowed myself some stillness in that space.

I’ve created the ability to achieve some sense of peace even within a tempest.

And in 2017, stillness and peace are of the essence.

So this is the art of not writing, and these are the fruits it bears. Not knowledge, but wisdom. Knowledge is understanding that idleness does not create art, but wisdom is appreciating that there are times and circumstances when mindful idleness can create something else instead.

Something bright and powerful. Something that cannot be held back. Something that will propel you forward into your next endeavor and through your next finish line.

Something to say. A story to tell.

And when you have something to say, a story to tell, you cannot help but speak.

It’s time to start talking.