Oscars Roundup!!

You may recall a certain plan I made that set out to view most/all movies up for major awards at the upcoming Oscars.  I am happy to report that I have succeeded – AND MORE.  This was mostly made possible through actual movie passes and the wonder that is MoviePass – I mentioned it in our SyncSwim newsletter (you’re not signed up!? go to!) but it deserves a second shoutout because it is a #game #changer.  I am in fact not a wealthy goddess woman and cannot afford to see all these movies on the big screen at face value.  Imagine my joy when, lo, my pal told me about a magical piece of plastic that allows you to see unlimited movies for $10 a month and isn’t lying! (Apparently right now it’s for only $8 a month based on the link I just put in? How is that possible??? Where was this when I was 14???) Aka, what movie dreams are made of.  You can also quit whenever, so it is very much worth getting it for just one month and then making a mad dash to the nearest theater near you.  Ergo, thank you to both the Academy and MoviePass for sponsoring my journey into cinematic bliss (but not you, Harvey Weinstein.  You and your sliminess can kindly stay out of here).

That said, if you’re feeling disoriented on the road to the Oscars, or if you’re just looking for one or two to see to stay relevant, or if you don’t care at all, or if you care too much – here’s my take on how to prioritize, in the order I saw them, followed by the order I would recommend seeing them in if you’re pressed for time.  If you’re anywhere near Chicagoland, there will be ample opportunity to escape the rainy, snowy days ahead in the walls of your friendly neighborhood theater (unless you’re trying to see Black Panther.  Good luck getting a ticket.)  If you’re like me, you can movie hop while you’re there, and catch the second half of another flick (I’m looking at you, Greatest Showman) because why the heck not!

And so, without further ado,

ROLL CALL!

  1.  I, Tonya (3)

I remember reading about Tonya Harding in various People collectibles that detailed crimes that shocked America, and I always had questions about this one.  There was a lot of talk about Nancy Kerrigan being saintly and pretty, but not a ton about Tonya Harding the person.  No more!  The acting is excellent, but the best thing about this movie is how little it actually focuses on alleged crime and instead finally gives Tonya her due, making her sentencing way more heartbreaking.  She’s a badass beyond measure, and even with the beautiful skating taking place at the Winter Olympics this year, still holds her own as one of the very best in history.  Also, shoutout to the guy that plays the bodyguard, aka maybe my favorite supporting character ever.  Also also, listen to the Tonya Harding singles and read Sufjan’s cutie note about her for the full experience.  This movie rules.

2.  3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (1)

Let’s just get out of the way now that this was my very favorite of the bunch, and the one I think you should see if you’re going to just see one.  Okay! That’s done!  The writing is incredible, the story is unpredictable, there’s a lengthy feature of Abba, Frances McDormand is a punch to the face.  It’s not for the faint of heart – my roommate describes it as “emotionally violent” – but it’s the most original of the bunch while remaining very much on the nose about the typical.  Might just go see it again right now.  Wanna come?

Frances winning all of the awardsThe Post

3.  The Post (5)

I would not have seen this had my mother not asked me to accompany her, and I am oh so glad she did!  It is predictable in certain senses (due to the whole Stephen Spielberg-Meryl Streep-Tom Hanks thing), but it’s really riveting anyway.  Nothing against Queen Meryl, but it’s one of the few performances of hers in recent years that I think actually merits the nomination (obviously she’s the best but come on, give someone else a try!).  Nothing like a movie about journalism to cut right to the point, while simultaneously managing to make you long for a gold caftan and the lives of Washington’s elite.

4.  The Greatest Showman (6)

Haters, back off.  Think I’m exaggerating all you want, but I cried 3 times while watching this movie out of sheer joy, and I have snuck into it twice since seeing it to catch whatever left of it I can after my real movie is over.  I get why people are like “meh,” but I also don’t think that’s a fair response if you account for the fact that it’s just trying to be what it is – a joyful celebration of good entertainment done well.  And, it is.  Also, the acrobatic love ballad between Zac Efron and Zendaya is one of the most romantic things I’ve ever seen and they did all of it themselves!!! Which, arguably, should be the case if you are getting paid millions of dollars! But still!!  Acrobats! Of love!

Keep reading…

You can get through the ice.

Friends, I’m all used up. I’ve been having some weird days where I’ve had to cook food for 150 extra people, retreat guests here, and my brain feels like it has literally been cooked along with all the breakfasts and lunches. I don’t have anything clever to say. So instead, some almost-lists. “You can get through the ice”, that’s what I’ve been telling myself as I get home from work and get in bed and stay there for the following hours. You can get through the times when it feels like all that was working before isn’t working anymore, when your head and heart both feel frozen, when all your normal projects feel stuck. I know it will all be okay. I know it is fine for me to stand still for just a little while. So I am letting myself, not pushing too hard to get going, being soft with my tired body and heart. I’ve been here before, in winter’s iciness. I know what comes next.

A perfect pink chair in Jessie + Emma’s apartment because it has nothing to do with where I am and what I’m doing right now, and that’s sort of a nice thing.

 

Movies I’d (somehow) never seen before that I watched in the past two days and ABSOLUTELY LOVED and want to watch many, many more times:

  1. Steel Magnolias
  2. Mermaids

 

Movies I need to see but haven’t yet because I don’t like movie theaters:

  1. Lady Bird
  2. Call Me By Your Name

 

Sweaters I’d be knitting if I weren’t knitting the two I’m knitting this year:

  1. Flaum Cardigan
  2. Wooly Young Thing Cardigan

 

Feelings I have:

  1. So tired.
  2. No good ideas.
  3. Am I stuck?

 

Questions I’m asking myself:

  1. Am I growing?
  2. When should we have our first baby?!? YIKES.

 

Fears I have:

  1. Stomach flu.
  2. Car sliding on ice.
  3. Leaving stove or iron on.
  4. Yeast infections.
  5. Mass-shootings.

 

Things I’m angry about:

  1. Mass-shootings / gun laws
  2. Things being not as soft as you thought they’d be
  3. Being so often afraid

 

Stuff I’ve been listening to:

  1. Frank Ocean’s “Moon River”
  2. This album of amazing piano reimaginings of all of Sondheim’s best.
  3. All three recordings in existence of Merrily We Roll Along, ad nauseam.

 

Flavor of La Croix I like the best:

  1. Lime

 

Thing I like to eat the most besides corn flakes and pizza:

  1. Tortilla chips

 

Places I would like to go:

  1. The Jampot – Jam made by monks in the Upper Peninsula, sold in a little shop near the monastery.
  2. Textile Discount Outlet – Discount fabric warehouse in Pilsen, Chicago, YES PLEASE
  3. The treehouse back behind wagon circle, but it requires a lot of snow trekking.
  4. Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, once we move there

 

Ideas I’ve had recently:

  1. Patron Saint applique series
  2. Learn how to screen print ASAP
  3. Wool felt applique
  4. Needle felted pom poms
  5. Book about Gov School (weird high school arts summer camp I did and then forgot about for years)

 

Book I read recently and loved:

  1. Irma Voth by Miriam Toews

 

Book I’m reading right now that is extremely devastating:

  1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

 

Celebrities I’m interested in having a conversation with:

  1. Orlando Bloom (just cuz)
  2. Meryl Streep (re: Mamma Mia)
  3. Lin Manuel Miranda (re: how do you write a musical, plz?)

 

TV Shows I wish I could watch a lot of right now but don’t really have access to:

  1. This is Us

 

Things I wish I owned:

  1. This serger. 
  2. Blocking boards for knitting. 
  3. These pants, dang it!
  4. World’s most perfect pink jacket from Madewell.

 

Artists I admire the most right now:

  1. State the Label, her painted clothes especially
  2. Natalie Ebaugh‘s quilts-to-wear
  3. Shelagh Jessop‘s amazing needle-turn applique work

 

Things I’m happy about:

  1. Isaiah snoozing beside me in bed
  2. I know things now that I didn’t know a year ago
  3. To everything, a season.

 

Love of My Life

At first I thought I was going to write a Laps, in keeping with tradition, to celebrate what has historically been my favorite holiday.  I had a sort of running list in my head, keeping track of thoughts and activities, as I tend to do automatically anyway, siphoning through noise to find feeling.

I love holidays (duh).  I love any calendar event that says, “Stop what you’re doing, and do this instead.”  An instruction to remember, to reflect collectively on a universal experience – holidays are a dream for 4’s on the Enneagram. I took up my particular penchant for Valentine’s Day probably my freshman year of college, perhaps in direct opposition to all the people who complained about it.  I’ve only had a boyfriend 2 of of my 24 Valentine’s (though the preschool years are harder to recollect, as sandbox love dies the hardest), so I’m quite good at celebrating whatever kind of love however I want to with a dose of however much #highdrama I want.  This culminated in a nearly perfect Valentine’s last year, replete with surprise visits, taking my time, Julia Roberts, and the perfect bath.  I love to celebrate love, running the gamut on any given day, but there is obviously something particular on Valentine’s Day about either celebrating the love you share with a romantic partner, or leaning into the unabashed, wild hope of obtaining it, should you so desire (or, perhaps, moping at the lack of it – no shame there either!).  There are poems to be read, conversations to replay, scenes from Atonement to watch.  It is the one day a year hopeless romantics can be indulgent without criticism, and I truly both enjoy and actively look forward to it, no matter how I find myself celebrating each year.

This year, I did not find myself in much of a holiday humor.  A couple of friends asked me what my plans were, as I am known to keep a strict Val’s agenda, and I realized I hadn’t made any.  Furthermore, I had consciously decided not to make any valentines, an activity I quite look forward to, with no better reason than I didn’t feel like it.  Let the record show: I am not particularly heartbroken.  There is not some romantic score to be settled at present, no moping, performative or otherwise.  For all intents and purposes, I feel quite all right at the moment across the board.  I just didn’t want to do it.  I had circled the date in my calendar, but there was nothing under the circle.  I rallied the night before, scheming with Amy and Emma various things we could do, landing on some predictably comfy choices to spend the day in.  As the day passed, though, I couldn’t help but think all day about the phrase “the love of my life.” I read it in a lot of Instagram captions, heard it echoed in all the songs on my playlist, had it reverberate through my brain from half-remembered conversations on those who claim to have found it.

What’s always surprising to me is how late in the game these alleged loves of our lives show up.  Twenty years, thirty years in, and they get the mantle of your whole life.  Or, on the opposite end, the loves of our lives are often the people who it didn’t work out with, the one that got away, the almost-but-not-quite, who’s sort of a phantom that sticks with you through the rest of it.  Either way, they’re never actually there for the whole life part.  There’s always a life before them, and often one after it.  Yesterday, I wasn’t entertaining thoughts of missed opportunities or will-it-or-won’t-it’s.  While I am more mindful every day that finding romantic love isn’t a given, nor even is it remotely required for an incredibly full life, it’s not a secret to me that I hope to find it in a lasting way.  But all day, between the dancing and the viewing of About Time and the requisite drenching in Tina Turner songs, I kept thinking about how the loves of my life are probably the women in it – my mother, my sisters, my aunts, my friends.

I’ve had a lot of romance in my life, probably more than my fair share.  I have had some truly magical moments with some unexpected boys that even I couldn’t dream up, and they were lovely, resplendent, full.  I’ve been in love more than once and stolen midnight kisses, written love letters and sung duets, been surprised and humbled when a guy knew me better than I thought he did.  Which is great.  But also, limited.  Because romance, itself, is inherently limited.  And I know that when most people speak of the loves of their lives, they are referring to love that lasts after romance, but I don’t know any lifelong love that didn’t begin staunchly in mutual wooing.  Romance is wonderful and mysterious and grand, but it doesn’t show up when it receives a frantic phone call or rub your back when you’ve got the flu.  Romance does not have the same conversation with you ten times while you try to make a decision, nor does it sit with you when you’ve ceased being particularly interesting for a moment and find you have nothing to say.  Love does that stuff.

I cannot count how many times my mother has just sat with me while I cried, more than once about literally nothing.  Crying just because I had to cry.  She deserves a whole paragraph, a whole volume, of how her love is the definition of transformative and true, and how it has singlehandedly made my life livable on more than one occasion.  I can’t count how many times my friend Ellie has shown up whether I asked her to or not, because she instinctively knew I needed her, or how many drives my friend Abby has taken with me either sitting in knowing silence or letting me talk about the same things over and over again.  I cannot fathom the observations and insights each of my sisters carry around with them about me, some so deeply known they are beyond articulation and therefore without need of it, and how consistently and freely they share their love with me.  These women, and so many more, have been with me my whole life, loving me through hideous identity-finding phases, doubt, and all the unattractive parts of myself on display.  And normally I try not to drop too many names on here for various reasons, but I want you to know their names! I want you to know they’re the loves of my life, because they’re world-class ladies who have only made my life better.  And there are so many more!  So much love and friendship that feels in itself like romance of the deeper kind, the long-lasting kind that I can’t get away from even if I try.

I know this isn’t groundbreaking stuff.  I don’t even watch Sex and the City in a real way but I still know that Carrie says something about her girlfriends probably being her soulmates, which is essentially how I feel.  I don’t say it at all as a man-bashing agenda – on the contrary, I am deeply grateful to the men who have become the loves of my various friends’ lives.  It would probably be a lie to say that I haven’t found men in my experience disappointing, but, when I’m with it, I can just as easily tell you how totally un-disappointing I know other ones to be, and as I said before, I’m not pretending I don’t want to find romantic partnership.  I do! I totally do! But so many other Valentine’s Days have been spent thinking about that, even amidst the other joy, and what a relief to spend the day thinking about the actual loves of my life, the ones who are already here and have been here all the while, the relationships that consist of commitment, trust, a narrative arc that stretches forward and back, a mutual asking of important questions.  These loves, my loves!

I love romance (duh).  I love the particular mystery that exists in romantic love.  I actually love, for the most part, thinking about relationships that have gone wrong, because I can just as easily tell you all the ways they went right.  I love the reality of hope, and that perhaps in my life I will meet a person that I’ll love for the rest of it.  But as far as the love of my life?  My life?  Thanks very much, that seat’s taken.

Merrily

Pick yourself a road. Get to know the countryside. Soon enough you’re merrily, merrily practicing dreams.

I’m sitting in Oak Park, IL in an artistic haze, with Jessie across from me eating a muffin she was given for free. This day feels out of time, like a whole different life could grow out of this day if I let it, all the while knowing it won’t. Isaiah is far away, across the ocean (in Rwanda of all places, which is a whole story in itself), so I am alone in a way that makes me pay more attention to myself differently than I am used to. I feel exposed, vulnerable, like my skin has been peeled away and I’m supposed to account for how pink I am, how raw, how soft.

When was the moment?

Last night, Jessie, Margaret and I saw Merrily We Roll Along at a small theater in Chicago. If you don’t know about it already, it’s a musical by Stephen Sondheim, a true patron saint to both myself and Jessie, that moves backward in time through the lives of three friends. At the beginning of the play, they are in their forties, successful, sort of not friends anymore, and wildly unhappy. At the end of the play, they are eighteen or so on a rooftop with their eyes wide open and the whole world stretched out in front of them, everything just beginning. So much happens in between, so many choices made, so many feelings both expressed and not. At intermission I crumbled into a little turtle of a person, folding into myself, bent from experiencing the heartbreak of a skewed dream, friendship marred, what could happen. And also crumbled in the dreams, for the dreams, knowing what was to come at the end of the play, knowing where I am standing in myself right this second. There’s a song, the second-to-last, called “Opening Doors,” which is essentially about being a young artist with a thousand dayjobs and a ton of hope. Here are some of the lyrics:

We’re opening doors,
Singing, “Here we are!”
We’re filling up days
On a dime.
That faraway shore’s
Looking not too far.
We’re following every star.
There’s not enough time!

At intermission, I couldn’t help but remark, “What a show to see with your friends!” with a sort of wild and terrified look in my eye. And it’s true. It’s a musical that has within it the dissolution of some beautiful friendships. It is a cautionary tale, but there is much more to it than that. When you really look at it, it is an ode to youthful hope, which is really one of the only things that is nourishing us right now in these strange days of unsuccess and endless ambition. The play isn’t about the fact that things didn’t turn out well in the end, it’s about the origin, the purity of the original intent, the way that life gets in the way. It didn’t have to happen how it did, but it did nonetheless.

It doesn’t have to happen that way.

 

I’m not intending to be successful and deeply unhappy in my forties. I’m not intending or expecting for my life to bear a resemblance to Merrily We Roll Along, and that’s not why it’s affecting me so much. For the whole play, I was bracing myself for the hope part, the way the musical ends and the story starts, hearing it echoed lyrically and musically throughout the meandering way to there, waiting for it, craving it. The last song of the musical, where the lyrics are quite literally, “Feel the flow, / Hear what’s happening: / We’re what’s happening. / Don’t you know? / We’re the movers and we’re the shapers. / We’re the names in tomorrow’s papers. / Up to us, man, to show ’em ?
It’s our time.” It’s hope, clear and true, and that’s where I’m stuck. I’m stuck in the hope part. I’ve been stuck in the hope part for SO LONG, and in some ways it feels like I’m almost about to step out of it, like things may start to happen for me, like success may start rolling my way, and then where will I be? Where will I be when there’s less to hope for and more to do? I’ve been stuck in “Opening Doors” for, it feels, forever, but what will I do when the next thing happens? What will I do when the song changes?

Right now, I’m back in a city that was my home for six years up until a mere six months ago, so it feels like an optimal or even necessary moment for reflection. Things are hinging. In May, I’m moving away, far away, in a more permanent way than any other move has felt. I’m starting to make choices with my work that feel like actual “career choices” whatever that means. I think more clearly now. I have a point-of-view, things to say. My “yeses and no’s” fly out of me more easily than they ever have before. I hope I am growing into the sort of person I hoped I’d be when I was eighteen, the sort of person I promised my friends I’d be. I’m growing up, that’s what’s happening. And I want, somehow, to hold onto the hope, to keep living there even when there’s a lot piled on top of it.

Despite the hinging, I still feel a little like a broken record. I am a broken record. The thing is that things don’t change as quickly as you expect them to, even when they’re changing all the time. Your brain gets stuck, caught in a groove. As much as things are changing, or seem to be changing, I’ve also been in the same phase for a while, a long time, sometimes feeling on fire with nowhere for the fire to spread, sometimes feeling stuck in the ice. Moving endlessly forward while also feeling utterly stuck in the mud, waxing and waning, the paradox of this season. You start to feel like maybe nothing will ever change. You start to feel like maybe you’re crazy, you were crazy to dream and hope and think of what could be. You consider quieting down. You question all that you thought might happen.

But then you’re sitting in a theater in Chicago watching a musical written by a genius about the very problem you’re trying to work out, the very dreams you hold in your gut, the way it feels to be eighteen or twenty or twenty-four on a rooftop or in a crummy apartment or in the woods or in a small carpeted room with windows in the west suburbs talking about what you will do, what you must do, quite literally dreaming. Someone is standing in front of you singing, singing! “It’s our time.” And your eyes are full of tears and you have to keep yourself from standing up and singing too, and you know that there is truth in the room, the gigantic presence of it, the way it makes your chest tight and your heart so full it might pop. You sit in that room knowing you have to grow up, knowing you will do things, great things, that some of the things you hope may come to pass, knowing that things will change, friends will change, I will change, our dreams will change, and it may not always be so pretty, but maybe it also will. The possibilities, endless, with the work as the only real thing. But for now, you’re just in a room where someone is singing. For now, you get to be back on the rooftop.

In the room where we met to practice life and theater in college, “Setzuan”, we called it, there was a plaque on the wall with lyrics from the last song in Merrily We Roll Along. “This is where we began being what we can.” That is what it said, and that was all I could think of during the curtain call last night, when the singing had stopped. That room, my own rooftop, the place where I got to dream with other people, the way those dreams have been carried with us down the road a little way. No matter what happens, no matter what success or unsuccess comes to me and my friends, I will always be thankful to have been in that room, to have dreams that don’t just leave me alone within myself. Things will not always be wonderful. I know this. I know that life is endlessly complicated, that hope in its pure-ness is not all. I know that growing up is what is happening and what must happen, and I am okay with all of this. No matter what is to come, I know where I’ve been and I know that I’ve been hopeful for a long, long time, and that is something to sing about.

Healed

I’ve been trying to go to yoga in a regular way for about 3 months.  The love affair began at a studio a couple blocks away from my apartment, where I obtained a 2-week free trial that I blabbed about to anyone who would listen.  During my trial, I was treated like a goddess of health and flexibility, given towels and water bottles by the front desk to create and consequently soak up my goddess sweat.  The classes themselves were wonderful, varied in difficulty and focus, and the studios themselves are kept at such a temperature and light level that you literally feel like you are back in the womb.  But the very best thing of all – at the end of class, when you were slipping all over your mat and ready to curl up into a ball (which you got to do), the instructor surreptitiously left the room and returned bearing a tray of cool lemon-lavender washcloths.  She proceeded to make her way through the room, priestess-like, and gently place a cloth on each forehead, one at a time. You were then welcomed to stay as long as you liked on your mat, resting beneath your cool crown in the dark, in the warm.

My 2-week trial has since ended, so I am now left attending the one free community class that takes place on Wednesday nights.  So many people show up that there’s often hardly any room to lay your mat, much less receive a lavender towel seemingly from thin air, but I’m happy as a clam that I get to go at all. It’s nice to be in a room full of people breathing together.  The goddess glow has faded, and instead I am surrounded by people who are generally just trying their best and often laugh while doing so.  We have the same teacher each week, and she’ll call us out by name to tell us that our pose looks better this week, or that we’re clearly moving more deeply into our practices.  She speaks softly and laughs with us, taking our time to go from one thing to the next.  The lights are brighter so she can help us out, but the warmth remains.

This last week, the typical instructor was not there, and was replaced by someone who ran a slightly tighter ship.  I could tell you about the class, but what I want to talk about is the towels.  For whatever reason, at the end of this community class, she made the since-forgotten gentle announcement that she was leaving to fetch us lemon-lavender towels.  I’m pretty sure steam was actually radiating off of my body at this point, and that I may have even let out a little yelp of excitement at the prospect of a former luxury returned.  She slipped out, I curled up, breathed, and waited.

When she came back in, I heard her way making her way through the mats.  I tried to gauge based on sound reflection how close she was getting to my own mat, dead center in the middle of the room.  I thought I heard her nearby more than once, and felt my forehead involuntarily tilting ever so slightly to meet her. “Bless me! Bless me!” A full two minutes went by, and even though I hate to spoil surprises, I couldn’t resist opening my eyes to see where she was.  To my surprise, she was looking back at me, not with a towel in hand, but with her teeth clenched and a shrug mouthing, “Sorry.” She had run out of washcloths.  I looked around the room.  There were white cloths, impossible even in the dark to miss, sitting on everyone’s foreheads but mine.  Just one short of a full bag.

Outwardly, I instantly mouthed back, “It’s fine!” and made a similarly clenched expression to convey how silly the whole thing was.  “So crazy! One towel short! What are the odds! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Internally, the stages of swift and sudden crying began.  I waited for her to look away before I closed my eyes and let my mouth do the strange, blanched, trembling thing it does when I start crying without warning.  I kept it subdued until I left the studio, after which I cried in earnest, swift guttural gulps, on my walk home.  I didn’t want to figure out why so I just let myself cry until I got back home and eased back into whatever I had been doing before I left for the class.  I actually felt a little embarrassed, which almost never happens when I’m crying, because it seemed like a small thing to cry about, even to me.  Not small.  Childish, maybe.  Like I came to the ballgame with my glove and got sent home.  Either way, I felt silly, and just wanted to hurry up and get the crying over with so I could go back to being the bastion of strength that I am.

There’s a game I used to play in my days of college theater.  In the exercise, you simply lay down on your back on the ground and imagine that somewhere vaguely near your right hand is a warm washcloth.  Perhaps it smells like lemons, perhaps it’s just clean.  Slowly, slowly, you pick up the washcloth (which, of course, isn’t there) and you place it wherever it is you need to be healed.  That’s the whole game.  More often than not I placed it on my heart or my head, though on occasion I’d place it on my stomach or crossed hands or my feet on days when it felt like every part of me required any and all physic, that I myself was a sickness and required everyone else’s cloth, too.  I don’t think I ever cried doing that, perhaps because it is consistently difficult for me to imagine an object being some place it isn’t, but almost every time we played it I would hear someone nearby losing it, completely sobbing under the weight of their washcloth.  The object may have been imagined, but the reality of healing was almost too much to bear.

I don’t think these two washcloths are the same.  I think the reason I cried when I didn’t get a towel at yoga was perhaps more primal, a physical response to being the one have-not among the have’s, an unfiltered need to be comforted in physical distress.  But I’m happy it led me to the healing washcloth, because now all week I have been wondering what it looks like to walk through the world as healed.  That’s what we would do, after we got up from the ground and had used the washcloth.  We would walk around the room as healed.  I don’t know a better way to say it than that; I don’t mean to be vague or esoteric.  Perhaps it’s best left unadorned anyway.  Or perhaps it’s very simple: walking around as being rid of whatever afflicts you.

What does a body look like that says, “I have not been hurt. I am without blemish, spotless, made clean. I am well.”  Of course I won’t know this side of eternity, but I can’t shake the thought.  How does a body walk as healed?

Our frames carry so much of what has happened to us; our muscles literally carry memories in them, to the point where it requires great effort – conscious or otherwise – to be rid of them when we need to be.  This sounds obvious, almost commonplace when typed out, but it’s so difficult to put into practice in the day-to-day.  How can I walk through the grocery store as healed? Even when, especially when, I feel the total opposite?  How do I sit in my car, make my coffee, trudge through snow as healed?  Can I walk around as something other than who and what I am? It’s not even necessarily about being healed, but imagining that it could be so.  Imagining that it’s possible, that not everything must be with me always.  That whatever is keeping my shoulders clenched halfway up to my ears can be let go for a moment, that I can be otherwise.  I saw Call Me By Your Name earlier this week – an essay unto itself for a later time – and while it is chock full of many beautiful things, there is one line in particular that I can’t get out of my head: “Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once.”

Once.  Just once.  Is it the same one the whole time?  And if so, how much of its mantle must be carried every day?

I suppose there’s no real hope for healing, complete or otherwise, without a full embracing of the wound to begin with.  You can’t get through the gate to the pool at Bethesda unless you know you’re sick.  Even then, there’s no guarantee of getting into the water, I suppose.  And so many wounds are inflicted by someone who will never apologize, leaving us with more broken parts than we had to begin with.  But I just want the option.  The option of walking around as healed, the option of permission to start over at any given time, the option to be new.   My body, beaten up as it is and lugging around this particular mortal coil, is only given to me once.  Can it yet be new?

 

You must change your life

I’m watching the Superbowl in a room full of people. I’m the lame-o typing on a computer, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I have something to tell you, and it would be probably best to do it straight out. We are moving. Again. In May, we are leaving the woods and moving to Pittsburgh.

I’m not expecting this to mean a lot to you. It isn’t monumental news — just two twenty-four-year-olds packing up their things and looking for jobs and being hopeful, same as everyone. All it means is that you can change your mind, you can change your life. All it means is that you can move back to the place where you grew up when you are twenty-four and haven’t lived there in seven years. All it means is that moving across the country is a thing you can decide to do, and it might even be the right thing to decide to do. And anyway, it’s all I can think about today, so I guess it’s what I have to write about.

{P.S. Multiple Superbowl commercials have already made me cry, which may or may not be because I have my period}

I think of when we decided to come here, to the big woods in Wisconsin, how sure we were, how we had to. I think of us now, of how sure we are of Pittsburgh, that it is the place we must go. We weren’t wrong! We aren’t wrong! To choose to go somewhere and then leave is not failure, it’s forward momentum. To choose to change your life is always something energetic, positive, buzzy, I believe that. There is something to be said about patience, yes, but there is also something to be said about saying a thoughtful “no” followed by a thoughtful “yes.” We had to leave Chicago and go to the woods to choose to go to Pittsburgh. Isn’t it amazing when your path is made straight, all of a sudden, in ways you didn’t expect? I wonder if maybe I knew all along, just barely, that this is how it would happen. There’s so much I had to come here to find out, and there are so many reasons to move on. Is this what our twenties are about? Making one choice just to get to another, skipping down the cobblestones, never resting anywhere too long?

The thought of Pittsburgh now is so comforting. A return to land I know. After seven years of pine forest and prairie, finally hills and creeks again, finally maples and meadows, rivers, goldenrod as far as the eye can see. I’ve been yearning for the topography ever since I left, consciously and unconsciously, so it feels like a treat almost too rich to vow to return. I’m almost afraid that it won’t feel like home anymore, but I know it will. Isaiah and I will turn it into a new home, something different than my childhood, something new like the way the city is new, more and more every day. It can’t be the same as it was before because it is different and I am different.

When I left for college, I felt some complicated pride in my going far from home, as if it made me bigger than I was. I don’t know if it made me bigger, but it did make my world bigger, my circles wider, my sense of space and home more spacious and various. And helped me notice what I was missing. Helped me see what was glorious about the place I left. Each time I would return to Pennsylvania, as soon as we made it to a stretch of highway I recognized, my eyes would be glued to the window watching the hills rush by, a weird euphoria spreading in the core of me. I’d think, shouldn’t I be cooler than this, more sophisticated? Now I know that this is so beside the point. I left so I could come back wider. I left so I could see the land that raised me with new vision, new hope, new ways to give back what it gave to me. After six years in Chicagoland, we didn’t want to live there anymore. After seven years away from Pittsburgh, there is nowhere else I want to live.

This is a really sappy post, but it’s a really sappy thing to do to move back to your hometown in your twenties. And I have my period! It isn’t my fault! This is how it is for me. This is where my heart is, in yearning for home and meeting that yearning with action. In being prodigal. In changing my life, again and again and again.

From the last two stanzas of Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo”:

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

You must change your life as many times as you can, as many times as you must. When the time comes, there’s no way really not to. What a comfort, the inevitability of things sometimes. What a comfort, the way we try to solve all of our problems ourselves but all we really have to do is keep walking forward. What a comfort that we can leave and come back. I don’t know if we will live in Pittsburgh forever or even for a long time, but I think it doesn’t matter. We are moving forward. We are doing what we must.

Youth

This past Monday while researching for one of my jobs, I came across the twitter account of a 17-year-old.  If you google said 17-year-old, you are directed to her Wikipedia page that describes her as a writer/comedian who began writing professionally at age 10 when Hello Giggles commissioned her to write a piece (though the reason why is somewhat harder to find) for their younger audiences.  She has since snagged a regular comedy gig at Upright Citizens Brigade, as well as published her first memoir at, you guessed it, the tender age of 17.

Quite frankly, this strikes me as ludicrous.  Maybe that’s because imagining my own 17-year-old self with a global platform produces a sort of vague dread; it could even be a sort of latent jealousy that someone 7 years younger has a more established career.  But I am more inclined to think it’s because of this peculiar age (phase?) we live in, in which those who achieve fame in youth are enviable, and those who achieve some form of success eventually are the suckers.

I think a sort of obvious reason why youth itself is praised is because it is when we are most beautiful.  Our skin, with its sundry so-called problems (combination! dry cheeks! the early signs of cellulite!), is glowing and fine.  We look better on magazine covers than older people, we fit better into clothes because they are designed for people the size of children.  Youth is powerful.  I think of this almost every time I bounce up a flight of stairs, because I do just that – bounce.  I spring up the stairs like a gazelle, with hip flexers so free I can hardly imagining ever having difficulty with such a task.  If my back hurts towards the end of the day, I simply go to bed and wake up better.  There is inherent power in the regeneration our bodies are doing all the time in our younger years, in the boundless energy we have to do pretty much anything we feel like doing (going skiing with absolutely no prior practice! heading to the ballet and then the midnight premiere of Star Wars after an 8 hour work day because the price is right! eating cheeseburgers three times a week!)  And yet, not completely powerful – I remember reading Looking for Alaska clandestinely in the reading nook at Borders (#RIP) on an afternoon in which I had my license, but not my mother’s permission to read said book.  There is a passage towards the end of the book in which the protagonist addresses the adult world in a sort of meta way, saying that youth really does equal impermeability, and that if you are young once, in a way you are young forever.  At age 16, I thought that was kind of dumb.  I liked being a teenager, but I didn’t want to be one forever, and I knew that despite everything I felt I was not in fact invincible.  I knew I had strong legs, but I knew that didn’t mean they could quite take me everywhere.

There’s a sort of glorious drama to being young, obviously.  I think of the middle daughter in Dan in Real Life, how the reason the joke works when she yells, “You are a murderer of love!” at her father after he sends her boyfriend away is because she means it with absolutely no irony.  Every feeling is not just worth experiencing, it’s worth sharing.  When an adult tells you, “The world doesn’t revolve around you, y’know,” when you’re 17, there is a tiny voice in your brain that says, “Wait, really?” We are the ultimate protagonists in youth, and we think everyone should be rooting for us.  At the same time, we are painfully self-aware in our youth and simultaneously unaware of the actual power we have to wield.  So many older people tell the young to revel in the power of their youth, but we are so busy trying to nail it down it often goes to waste.   Which is why it’s extra funny when young people become famous or achieve some sort of lauded success – they don’t quite know anything yet.  Young people genuinely don’t know how they got there because typically they didn’t get themselves there – their parents did or an agent who saw them on the street did (because, as we know, what happens when we get older is we become obsessed with helping younger people get there faster).  There’s a reason the words “young and dumb” are often thrown together; they really do go hand in hand.

Which brings me to the thing I’ve really been thinking about lately.  It seems the price we have to pay for real wisdom and know-how is our youth.  We have to siphon off our energy and beauty and glowing skin, Little Mermaid style, in exchange to get at all the stuff we spend our youths pining after.  This all came to a head while listening to a podcast Amy actually mentioned earlier this week, an interview with George Saunders on Dear Sugars.  In the podcast, George and the hosts discuss their own youths spent going into credit card debt and writing on the weekends and generally being in their respective artistic fields for the long game with not much noteworthy events in the interim.  George brought up how it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but our generation sort of as a group thinks that we should be paid for our art.  He talks about how, obviously, given the available employment in most artistic fields, that simply won’t be possible, and that the pursuit of art as a passion – not a paycheck – is bound to be a more fulfilling use of time.  I think we should and we shouldn’t.  I think work should be rewarded with compensation, that hours spent crafting or making something, be it a turn of phrase or a well made shoe, should be rewarded in kind.  But math and logic (and also, coincidentally, George) tell us that not everyone will be paid for their well-made shoes.  Which means we must be prepared for otherwise, lest we spend our whole lives in pursuit of something that is neither real nor necessarily deserved.  And, on the complete other end of the spectrum, when someone is successful when they’re young, they have much less places to go after they get paid because they spend the rest of their career being compared to the prodigy they once were.  It’s rigged.  You either spend your youth acquiring the skills and responsibilities and pathos necessary to be a really good artist, or you get snatched up for your raw talent by someone who knows what it looks like and spend your adult life attempting to have a real career.  Again, rigged.

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Dayjobs

I’ve had a dayjob nearly constantly since leaving college. I don’t think it’s really an option for normal non-trust-fund folks in their early twenties to not have a dayjob, though it feels like it should be. We are all paying our dues, hitting the pavement, getting rejected again and again, staying up late and giving our precious time off to the un-paid work of writing or sewing or what-have-you (things we LOVE), spending our days wearing shoes that don’t fit till our feet are all blistered and blue and we’re crying in our kitchen at night. It’s hard out there! Let me tell you, it’s been hard! And my dayjobs haven’t even been especially terrible! But none of them have been the right thing. All of them have been utterly exhausting for both my body and my spirit. When your vocation is to be an artist/seeker/something, there is no dayjob in creation that can contain that mission. I’ve been a nanny, a barista, a teacher sort of, an office-person, a bag-sewist, and a camp cook. In every situation, I’ve spent a good fraction of my every day on the job wondering, genuinely, “what am I doing here???”

Running this blog, though very job-like at times, is one of my and Jessie’s many passion projects. There are a lot of things we are doing, giving as much of our energy to as we can muster, purely because we love them. I’ve begun to become more and more suspect of capitalism as I’ve grown, finding myself, or training myself rather, to care less and less about money. But even with that mindset, I can’t say it isn’t difficult to show up week after week to a passion project with no compensation in sight. In our culture, it is our hope that our work will be rewarded with money. It’s hard to break out of that cycle and do work for nothing, to intend to work just because you want to. I recently finally launched an etsy shop for the flags and quilts I spend most of the hours of my free-time to make, and even that feels complicated and strange. How do I price these things I’m making? Wouldn’t I rather just freely give them away to anyone who needs them? Is my time worth money? I’ve made it my business to continue my other passion projects without pay for long as I need to, to work for free, to teach myself, to make my dreams come true even if I don’t have the money-success to prove it, but this means I still have to have a dayjob. This means I will always be coming at the things I love to do with depleted energy, a kink in my spirit, many of my hours given away to something very beside-the-point. This conversation is prickly, complicated. Money is hard to talk about, but we all deal with it so we might as well start. I would love to be paid for the creative work I do. That is beginning to happen, but it is an extremely slow and often discouraging process where you have to just keep showing up and doing the work whether any money at all is coming in or not. But the fact of it is that I do it because I love it. I write and sew whether I receive anything in return or not, whether anyone else’s eye see it or not, and that’s how I know it’s worth doing. Dayjobs are a different story. I do those purely for money. Money to live on. Annoying, annoying, money.

I’m currently stuck in the middle of the camp-cook dayjob. Forty hours a week, these days, I’m trying to make food at a camp (where I also live) for all the people around. I’ve learned a lot, mostly that I don’t want to be a camp cook anymore, but also how to cook. So that’s one good thing! Below, a conclusive list of what I’ve learned at my current weird cooking dayjob but also everywhere.

Scones I made at my dayjob!!!

But before you read the list, read this: I am so proud of us. We are all (those of us who have not yet hit our stride) stuck in dayjobs, hoping for a unicorn or no dayjob at all. We are all just trying, TRYING, to figure out how to make it, something, work. Someday, really, I think we will all have jobs that we are proud of, things that make money that also make sense to us. Someday, the way the work-economy of the world actually exists in a healthy way will come into focus for us. But today is not that day. We are the victims of a system that is built to diminish and punish us, the small people, the no-experience-ers, the hopefuls, the lovers. Capitalism is brutal, really. No matter how brilliant we are, we have to push through the crap. And I am so proud of us for showing up to our dayjobs every morning wearing the outfit needed to get the job done. I am so proud of us for self-teaching and apprenticing ourselves into REAL SKILLS. I am so proud of us for keeping it going. That is no small thing. This life, the waiting life, is still our life, and it’s still beautiful. I’m glad we get to wait together.

Things I have learned at this dayjob / tips for whoever comes after / general musings on being an artist with a dayjob:

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An Imaginary Conversation with Al Pacino at 4am

As seems to be happening increasingly often, I was awake between the hours of 4 and 5am this past Saturday night/Sunday morning.  I was sleeping on a bed with a slightly-too-small-fitted-sheet in a cabin in the middle of the woods.  My bunkmate, a pal from high school, was snoring loudly beside me, and even though I knew that wasn’t the reason I was awake, I persisted in periodically shaking the bed in the hopes that I could startle her into stopping (I couldn’t, God bless her).  I was burrowed in deep under 3 heavy blankets, tossing and turning in measured waves so as not to provoke the demise of the slightly-too-small sheet, and thus expose the surface of the mattress and its accompanying unknown past.  One foot out from under the covers.  Too cold.  Back in.

I began having an imaginary conversation with Al Pacino to pass the time.  A mentor of mine worked with him on a production of Julius Caesar in the 80’s.  He recently told me a story about a conversation they had, and an overactive imagination makes me feel like I had it, too.  Also, I watched The Godfather the previous weekend, and, quite frankly, I wish I could talk to him about it.  Maybe some day I will.  For now, this will do.

Fortunately, a transcription of our conversation survived the night.

I know his face is iconic in this picture but may I direct your eyeballs to his equally iconic ascot? (And, yes, the rumors are true, this is the background on my phone)

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From the notebook: if I were to write a book

On August 16th, 2016, I started a Google Doc called “If I were to write a book.” I added to it a few times between August and December of that year, and then left it to languish in my google drive until now, a little over a year later. Here, a call and response between me then and me now. A transcription of my very own words, reimagined, rediscovered, grief and truth anew in my reading them at twenty-four instead of writing them at twenty-three. These years have been so WIDE. So wild and wide and fascinating and endless and terrible and wonderful, and I am entirely different than I was in college and just after but so utterly informed by what was planted in me then. Just now sprouting, roots having gone very deep. Original text normal, new text in red italics. Call me crazy, but this secret forgotten google doc may be one of the most true things I’ve ever worked out for myself. I think I was saving it for later, thinking it wasn’t time to share it yet, but I’m not sure what that even means. No time but now, especially given how much things have changed in between (but also how much they haven’t). 75% of me still right in the middle of these words, and the other 25% is confidently sewing on her gorgeous Juki in the woods, sure of one thing but one thing only. 

Things written on different days separated by little dotted lines. My own heart, separated by little dotted lines, all of the versions of myself, all the women I am and have been, each fear and thought spinning still. I am on fire. You can get through the ice. Those are the flags I must wave, and do. That is all I know. 

This, a secret I’m ready to share. 

Me, August 2016, in my favorite chair before it was really, really my favorite in our apartment on Damen Avenue. 

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