8a – Wake. As always, too optimistic. Continue to snooze until 9. Vague, half-assed tirade at self about necessity of waking early to accomplish great things. Gentle, half-assed assurance that body needs sleep and great things are done at all hours of day.
9:15a – Finally try on bridesmaid dresses – both sizes sent from rental company. Enjoy being in ballgown at 9 in morning. Swish, pose. Consider hair. Consider inherent beauty of shoulders.
9:24a – Assemble breakfast. Surprised to find number of nutritious, delicious things in fridge, including avocado, sweet potato, eggs, goat cheese, and arugula. Wonder if elves have visited; remember own visit to grocery store. Revel in own cooking expansion. Overlook slight-not-yet-ripeness of avocado. Listen to “O-o-h Child” on repeat until it sticks.
9:37a – Read Psalm 16 aloud. Yell that the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Alternate between demanding and asking. Remember that both are allowed.
10:12a – Attempt to tackle short-term health insurance policy (in light of semi-horrors previously alluded to) while waiting for landlady to drop by, only to be halted by another cog in machine. Remember that calling insurance people cannot be that bad if I remember that it will merely be an hour of my life. Remember that things are far less bad when you expect them to not be good and split difference. Remember that expectation will forever make world of difference. Accept that health insurance will not be attained until tomorrow. Chill out. Reorder tasks of day. Remind self this doesn’t equate to bad time management.
10:20a – Begin first leg of work-from-home, query-writer-extraordinaire edition. Tad dull.
10:40a – Flurry of stress-texting with Amy. Currently balancing 4 separate collaborative efforts, both currently in midst of wedding week as bridesmaids to dear friend Annie. Remind each other that there are seasons for all things, and that Billy Joel told us it’s either sadness or euphoria. Sometimes both; often both. Plan to develop foolproof plan over Cheez-it chicken fingers later tonight. Heads down, back to work.
10:47a – Surprise FaceTime from sister Arielle. Cease toil a while to babble excitedly about impending road trip and snuggles.
I’m not very adventurous. I’m drawn to familiar things, intense routines that aren’t on purpose. I could probably be perfectly happy reading the same five books over and over for the rest of my life. Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, the collected works of Annie Dillard, Franny and Zooey and/or Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters, maybe throw in some Brideshead Revisited and I Capture the Castle, and call it a very good literary life. Same with movies. I watch When Harry Met Sally and Funny Girl over and over and over and over. I’ve been listening to the Falsettos cast recording over and over again too, multiple times a day, for the past four weeks. When I go to a restaurant I’ve been to before, I want to order the thing I had the last time I was there, and I almost always do. Every night, around 9 pm, I eat a small bowl of corn flakes and whole milk. Perhaps this reveals some deep-seated neurosis, perhaps not, but it feels deeply ingrained, possibly essential, something about me that just comes with the package. Isaiah has come to embrace it, but he is definitely wired differently. He is always looking for something new, rarely reads the same book twice unless there has been a sufficient amount of time between, loves going to new places, finding new things, gathering the variety of life into himself. Being married to him is so good for me because otherwise I would probably burrow into a little corner and stay there, buried in quilts, with my five books and two movies and cornflakes and be pretty content as a hermit that the neighborhood kids would want to stay away from.
I act this way with places too. Certain places become little homes to me, marked favorites, sprinkled across the city. I don’t mind going to new places, trying to find new lovely things, but more often than not I’m more interested in returning, going back to somewhere I loved before to try it out again. Chicago now holds a lot of these for me, new favorite places, where I return again and again and again. I wrote a post about this on my personal blog in April, but I feel like amending it now, adding, subtracting, changing the angle I’m coming at it from. At that moment, I was feeling like Chicago was not my home anymore, which I do still feel. But I want to honor the home it has been for me for the past two years, the way I have grown up immeasurably in this city. I guess this is not all that different from what I wrote before. Maybe I’m just returning to somewhere familiar and loved, a thought, a thing to explore by writing even more words about it a few months later.
Today, Isaiah and I went to Promontory Point, one of my favorite places, and we sat together on the rocks there and I worked on binding a quilt with his head on my lap. Now, I’m sitting and writing in Plein Air Cafe, another favorite place, feeling happy to be here, a little bit at home. Every time I come back to these places I’m a different version of myself, a few days, months, years older, having seen more, felt more, carrying more inside me. But returning, returning, returning feels like some sort of personal continuity. When I’m at Promontory Point, I always feel my heart well up with love for that geographical place, its beauty, its special-ness, its fullness. I can’t quite describe it, but the feeling has been the same every single time, in every version of myself, something deep and vibrate-y, like this is a place where I belong. There aren’t that many of those in the world. When I find them, I hang onto them. At Promontory Point today, as we were chased by waves down by the water on the little concrete walkway so close to the lake that is there, I told Isaiah, “I’m having real fun!” I don’t think I say that often enough.
A lot will change soon, everything actually, and I’ll be returning to a big favorite place with lots of favorite places within in, so different from Chicago, with so many chances to change my habits and welcome new loves in. I’m so excited and I’m also terrified. I don’t know what will become of me, I don’t know how I will change and grow, I don’t know who I will be the next time I find myself on Promontory Point. That is how life is, I guess. We can’t know till we’re already there. All my favorite things were once new to me, all my favorite things come and go, even if they don’t feel like they do. I wax and wane, I think I’m one thing and then I change into something else, my right hand doesn’t know what my left hand is doing. I welcome any chance to feel like myself, to have real fun, to bring all the versions of myself together into my body, gathered from the four winds, an army of Amy, feeling everything, being exactly where I am. For now, in Chicago, I’ll take these favorite places, the way I can be myself in or near them, and call them very good.
The first time I heard the phrase “magical thinking,” I thought of animals talking. I saw large exotic birds blinking baldly at me and communicating telepathically, confiding in me what it really was like perching in a tree all day in the tropical heat. This had nothing to do with the first place I heard the phrase.
It was in the title of a book by Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking. The book doesn’t feature her portrait on the cover, as so many of her other ones do, always cool and just slightly in motion, as though she’s about to exhale. For a title that suggests imagination, it’s pretty straightforward: 5 words overlaying a cream background. At the time, I had only read her infamous essay, Goodbye to All That, about her first years in New York, and assumed this book was some next step of that, a personal account of some holy and frightening experience made idolatrous by youth. Not quite.
The book is in fact about the year in Joan’s life in which both her husband and daughter died, the first of a violent heart attack and the second of pneumonia and septic shock, though this particular book only covers when her daughter is in a coma. The magical thinking she refers to is of the survival variety – choosing to live in your own version of reality because the alternative is too unbearable, and because your brain actually can’t take in the information of what’s really happening. It’s quite common in grieving, and far less palatable than losing your shit the normal way. You walk around expecting the person who died to walk through the door in the most pedestrian way; you respond as if they’ve asked you a question. People pity you. That doesn’t really matter. You’re a magical thinker; what do they know anyway?
Despite exposure to this memoir, my tendency was still to understand magical thinking as the whimsy it more obviously suggests, but its true meaning was reintroduced to me while listening to the Rookie podcast episode featuring Roxane Gay called “The Good Kind of Magical Thinking.” My reflexive thought was, Is there a bad kind? Well, yes. Of course.
SYNCHRONIZED SWIM NOW HAS AN ONLINE STORE WHERE YOU CAN BUY A REAL LIVE ZINE (little book of words and pictures and good things) THAT WE MADE WITH OUR FRIENDS TO SHARE WITH YOU! GET TO THE STORE BY CLICKING THIS LINK! LEARN MORE BY READING THIS POST!
We all cope with change differently. Change requires coping, this much is certain, but the way we all handle it shows how different we really are. The things we think about. The things it brings up in us. The ways our bodies react to stress. The ways we respond to our body’s reactions. Some of us watch lots of movies. Some of us take up overactive quilt-making. Some of us keep busy, some of us stand still. Some of us boomerang around the coping mechanisms, unsure where to land or whether landing would even help at all. Some of us make new friends overnight, some of us barricade ourselves in old friendships, never to emerge. It’s so complicated, this living in the face of uncertainty, this constant negotiation, this early-adulthood. It’s what we are here to talk about. It’s what we are spending our days doing.
I’m fascinated by it.
I really am. I’ve been fascinated by this season of life since the moment I stepped into it. Since I stepped from a graduation cap and gown to a wedding dress to a life in America’s third largest city with nothing to be sure about. I’ve never felt more interested in myself and my friends than I do right now, and I don’t think it’s because of vanity! I think it’s because we are fascinating! So much is happening for us all the time and we are left to just figure it out! I’m amazed at us, the ways we make huge choices (marriage, moving, babies, homes!), the ways we decide what sorts of people we will be (jobs, art, family, money, church!), the ways we figure out how the heck to get health insurance, how the heck to fall in love, the ways it all feels huge right now but there is also so much still to wait for. The way we are still so very young. My response to the drastic uncertainty of it all mixed with the deep fascination was to start writing about it. I couldn’t help myself. I had a lot to say, or at least a lot to mumble, and nowhere really to say it. So I made a place, a blog, and I wrote. I wrote about wonder, about my wedding, about city living, about work. And it felt wonderful. I felt my voice starting to step into something clear and strong. I felt things begin to make sense, at least in tiny bits, as I let essays slide out from my heart through my fingers. I’ve always loved to write, but I never really had all that much to write about until everything in my life rearranged itself into early-adulthood and living felt like an endless problem to solve, strategize, digest, unpack.
As I started writing my way through post-grad, I noticed that some of my friends were doing the same thing in their way. Other women who I love and admire and have worked with before (all of us doing theater together in college) were writing their way through uncertainty, feeling hopeful, saying things, going before they were ready. I noticed them and I noticed myself and I felt so proud of all of us for trying, for speaking in a tiny public way, for saying things that no one asked us to say. Writing is an act of bravery, a tiny assertion of power, one that is bold in its very being. We, all six of us, were practicing being bold.
I noticed us, so I asked these five friends to join me in a project. A little celebration of writing as response to change, of working things out out loud and before we are ready. Something physical, something we can hold in our hands and show to other people. A collection. A zine.
As we were parking the car on Damen just north of the entrance to Wicker Park, she walked by carrying a rather large stick. I assumed it was for walking (or speaking softly), but the others were convinced it held far more magical properties. She wore capri athletic pants and a white t shirt and what appeared from afar to be red climbing shoes. Her hair fell to her collarbones in that nearly curly full bob that has rarely surfaced since 1983 when Meg Tilly wore it in The Big Chill, who, incidentally, she looked an awful lot like to begin with. They shared that same remarkably clean looking face with removed, observant dark eyes. Without really realizing it, we began to follow her all the way across the grassy splendor of the park to the far side, where the shade remained largely unpopulated, even though it was 2 o clock on the 4th of July.
We laid down our blankets, shuffled our cards, and pretended that we hadn’t followed her there. Instead, we observed the hippie music tribe 30 feet away partaking in what can only be described as a mating dance, followed by the various surrounding pale redheads attempting to reverse fate in the sunlight. After 10 minutes or so, we summoned enough nerve to steal the occasional glance in her direction, wondering if she would erupt into something more interesting than our neighbors. She did.
To begin, she established her boundaries (as all intelligent women do), laying the large stick about 15 feet away from her, and consequently about 10 feet away from us. The opposite end was marked by her small backpack; the third side of the square was a fence for the park, and the fourth was marked solely by her attitude. At first, she merely paced back and forth in her 15 foot kingdom. At varying paces, swinging her arms to and fro, slowly then fast again. She was entirely focused, not paying attention to the other blankets of people sneaking glances at her, first with performative secrecy and then with abandon.
In her own time, she began to contort her arms and legs into various offensive and defensive poses – first brief, twitching hand gestures, then full-body lunges with full-body sounds attached to them. It became a dance that clearly only she knew the steps to, a routine made up of one pose flowing into the next with abrupt accuracy. We watched closely, trying to isolate separate moves flowing into conglomeration, but there was no code.
You stand with your back against the wall. Everyone else does too. It is explained that you are to quietly stand until you’re ready to slowly draw your arms up in front of you until a sudden explosion of a choice. Yes, or no. The no is two arms stretched forward in fists, arms straight at the elbows with energy coursing through, accompanied by a full voiced, “no.” The yes is similar, two arms stretched out on each side, a wide expanse, chest open, palms open, energy coursing through, accompanied by a full voiced, “yes.” That’s the whole game. Standing against the wall, drawing something up, not choosing whether it will be a yes or a no until you do. Yes, open. No, shut. Try again, try again. Each time it can only be one. Each time there is only one choice. You play over and over. You plan nothing in advance. The whole room is a cacophony of yeses and nos. You shock yourself with your choices. You try to empty out your brain. You let your arms whack into place, let your voice say something, forcefully. You let your yes be yes and your no be no, which is what we have heard that we are supposed to do but so often stink at. And you offer no explanation. In fact, you’re hardly noticed by anyone else at all.
I left college with a vague notion that I should become some sort of theater educator, since theater was what I had always done and what lots of people had told me I was good at, what I’d stood in rooms busying myself with for practically all my life. I left and I spent a lot of time scrolling Chicago Artist Resource, a job-posting website for theater gigs and the like. I scrolled for an accumulation of hours, opening things that I thought I could potentially wiggle myself into in new tabs on my computer. I scrolled and felt myself and my meager marketable skills shrink, watched the number of open tabs multiply far too slowly, watched as my dreams of what could be whittled down into what seemed actually possible which was not a lot. For the few suitable positions I did find, I wrote dazzling cover letters, the best ones I knew how to write, with a growing pit in my stomach, a feeling that no matter how good my cover letter was there was something not right. I received few replies. My even fewer interviews left me for weeks waiting for an email that never came. No, no, no. First, the no felt like it was coming from the world, from Chicago, fists in my face, that humming “n” in my ear. But, soon, the no became mine, my eyes glazing over at the scrolling, the jobs sounding tedious, uninspiring, no spot in the world for me that I wanted to fill. I tried a few things, took a few unpaid gigs, and with each one felt my “no,” fisty and full, rise faster and stronger. No! No! No! Quick, choiceless, reflexive, no other option.
From Zooey: “You can’t live in the world with such strong likes and dislikes.” His mom says it to him. To this I say, is there any other way to live? What do I do about the yesses and nos when I can’t control which way they go, when they rise in me without my meaning them to?
As some of you may know, this past Tuesday celebrated the 20th anniversary of the great tome of our collective youth, Harry Potter. Every time I reread it, I am mind-boggled by how J.K. Rowling couldn’t possibly have known when she began to write them that hers would be the most ubiquitous book of an entire generation. I don’t think anyone with a world-changing idea for a book ever thinks it’s going to be world-changing. I listened to her Desert Island Discs last summer, and her story rings true to how it is often portrayed: a single mother on welfare, writing on spare bits of parchment (whoops, paper!!), spending what little money she had on a beautiful portfolio case that never got returned to her by the editor that rejected her manuscript. I, like so many others, am actually a better person because of reading these books. No matter how many times I move, I always bring them with me, because I never know when will be the exact moment I need to start reading them all over again. So, before we begin, thanks J.K. Sorry you had to whittle your name down to initials so that boys would read your books. WHO’S LAUGHING NOW.
I could babble on about how I’ve read the series straight through 4 times, went to multiple premieres dressed as Bellatrix Lestrange, had a birthday cake comprised of 6 of the 7 Horcruxes made by my best friend, and made butterbeer from scratch (and how bad it tasted), the injustice I feel at having never been to the theme park in Florida or the filming location in England, but I’d rather celebrate the anniversary with two things I hold nearer to my heart: theft and hip hop.
My friend Jake made a brilliant chart about a year ago assigning various characters with their hip hop alter egos, and what better time to share it with the world after making my own bossy edits? His was far more technical/based in reality and an homage to the Young Money Crew; mine is much more instinctual and subjective (who, me?!?). Have I actually kept any of his assignments or just completely stolen his idea (with his express permission – this is no Kanye/Taylor duel)? Who can say. Either way, I think J.K. would be pleased. It is all subject to change and open to investigation, but also unimpeachable and don’t fight me on this.
It’s time for another rollicking screenshot shimmy! (First take here!) I spend my days, these days, very specifically, sewing things that I didn’t design and don’t necessarily care about, finding solace in audiobooks and podcasts, relishing my thirty minutes for lunch in the sun, breathing out a sigh of relief as soon as I cross the threshold to join Isaiah in our cool little cave of an apartment on Damen Avenue. I spend my days sewing, wishing to be sewing something else. The nice thing about it, I suppose, is that I’m becoming a much more quick and sure sewist, with nimble fingers and straight seams, things I’m proud of and that are surprisingly difficult to achieve. I should say that I do feel pretty lucky to have found a job for this little pocket of time doing the exact thing that I’m trying to learn about, invest in, commit to. Every time I finish a new bout of top-stitching that is nice and straight and perfect, I feel like celebrating a bit. But, really I’m just biding my time. Waiting, waiting, in so many ways. And dreaming of the things I could sew if I were in charge of myself, if my weekdays stretched out before me like so many yards of quilting cotton, if I could take the time that feels so filled by work and fill it with the work that feels mine, that bubbles up inside me without my even trying.
Most of the time, I get home and I have no more sewing left in me. Maybe I’ll manage one little block, some hand-stitches while watching a television show with Isaiah on the couch, some trimming while waiting for water to boil for tea. But that’s if I’m lucky, if I somehow reserved some energy during my prime, past hours of the day. Sewing is mostly reserved for the weekends these days, which are also reserved for so many other things like weddings and errands and trips away from my sewing machine and cutting table. Most of my quilting these days is done in my head, the dreaming-up of it, projects all lined up, a thousand ideas, a thousand designs, and inspiration drawn from everywhere. Most of my screenshots these days are quilts. I’ve spared you the bulk of them and instead decided to give you a fair variety of things I’ve been tucking away, little virtual envelopes, little treasures from the vast confusion of the internet. I’m so bewildered by it! More and more all the time. These screenshots are the sweetness I’ve found, the internet things that remind me why I like the internet, why it’s lovely. There are people out there that are like me, that think about the same things, that want me to see what they’re doing and who want to see what I’m doing too. I could talk for hours, probably, about the way the internet has specifically encouraged and empowered (and sometimes confounded) the beginnings of my sewing. I’m proud and a little nervous to be beginning to take part, to be sharing the things I’m making in a place where they can be seen by both friends and strangers, to be trying to claim legitimacy, to share what I know. I’m going to keep trying and keep saying I know what I’m doing (because I do) and keep teaching myself what I don’t know and keep feeling intermittently weird about it, probably, but that’s basically how my whole life has been, so why change now!
Bye, imposter syndrome, you suck!
Here are things that I like, things I wanted to keep for later, for a rainy day or a sunny one, things that felt at once familiar and foreign, ingenious things, special things, ordinary things that are quickly becoming special, bits of cloth sewn together, things that are not cloth at all. If you need me, I’ll be here not sewing but wishing I were up to my ears in quilt bits with the day stretching before me, enough time, enough space, room for the thousand quilts in my heart. You might not be a person who is super into sewing things, which I totally get because it’s an extremely niche thing and I’m head-over-heels in deep. This stuff really may not be your cup of tea, then. But something I’m learning about myself is that I can’t venture out of the land of genuine-ness, I can’t fake a single thing. I can’t show you anything about myself right now (and maybe forever) if I can’t show you a whole bunch of quilts. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s not as weird or alienating as I fear that it could be. Maybe you’ll still feel or see something in this collection of things, some colors, some words, something true, something, something. Or maybe you won’t! Either way, I know what I love. It’s this and everything else, so much, more than could ever fit here. You and I, both.
Someone stands in the middle of the room and points to opposing walls yelling two allegedly opposite things. For instance, they might begin by yelling, “Daisies!” and then point to the opposite wall, yelling: “Roses!” Everyone in the room scatters to the wall ascribing to the flower they prefer. Another example – we played this at my 22nd birthday party, Jessie Edition, and I yelled “Going to space!” at one wall and “Staying home!” to the other. The game is very simple. You merely follow your impulse, without caution or thought, towards the thing you want. Sometimes you end up on the side of the wall you don’t necessarily consciously prefer, yet there you are. You might find yourself standing with lovers of The Rolling Stones when you know your tribe stands across the room with The Beatles, but the game isn’t so much about what you prefer as it is about making a choice. Which is why it’s called Choices, not Preferences.
Cinderella, Into the Woods: “You think, ‘What do you want?’/You think, ‘Make a decision!/Why not stay and be caught’/, you think,/’Well, that’s a thought, what would be his response?” …”You know what your decision is – which is not to decide.”
This way of thinking is always so tempting. There are so many relationships with high stakes involved in life, yet it is always romantic relationships that appear the highest. How tempting to leave things up to fate, to let someone choose you so you don’t have to work through choosing them. To leave a clue so the decision hangs upon whether or not he is clever enough to solve it, not whether or not you want him to. If the shoe fits, you stay. If it doesn’t, well…
It’s maybe my favorite musical because the entire premise is Act I: makes a choice, Act II: deals with aftermath of choice. How often do you see the aftermath? And wouldn’t you make better choices if you could see it? I suppose not, because we have all read the same fairy tales and still end up going after the same things.
Yesterday, I turned twenty-four. I’ll just go ahead and say that birthdays are weird and we all know it. It’s so much pressure on a single day, wrapped up with expectations even if you don’t mean to let the expectations matter to you. I had a weird day. I was off and on pretty blue throughout. It was also the first day of my period which usually does not bode well for a placid time, feelings-wise. It also did not help that a few times throughout the day I picked up the book I’m in the middle of, All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, which legitimately may be hitting me more deeply and profoundly than any other book has in the past year, and which, therefore, I can only read in tiny little gulps so as to not feel everything I’ve ever felt and will ever feel all at once.
My birthday, also, in turn, had so many moments of beauty and light, so many moments of feeling known and loved, spots of fullness to offset the weird. Like so many things. I guess I should start to expect that to be the case.
I don’t know quite what to say about growing one year older, about marking time, about how this year has been for me. It’s been something, I can tell you that. The changes and chances of this past year feel like the only thing to write about today, for sure, the only thing possible to write about. I want to tell you what I’ve learned, what I know now that I didn’t a year ago. I want it to be profound, but I know it won’t be. I don’t know what to tell you, so I’ll just tell you what I can, what comes to mind without too much digging. Just a few things from the space between twenty-three and twenty-four. This middle time, this so young but responsible for so much time, this messing everything up time, this feeling so so small time. I can tell you some things about how it has been, so I will. But, before I do, here are the three pizzas I shared with my friends as a birthday dinner.
Three kinds of pizza, one kind of me. Read on, gentle friends, for some half-ideas about life and what it might sort of mean maybe almost.