Monday, November 2, 2015

Dia De Muertos- Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

I'm a firm believer in adoption. Whether that's adopting friends who are like family or adopting traditions that you really believe in. It's a good thing, to see the beauty and good in something or someone else and to bring that to your life and to your world.

I've adopted Dia de Muertos. It's a holiday and a perspective that I need in my life. 

I didn't know much about it until I moved to New Mexico, where it's much more celebrated. I got to see so many more people (of all colors) celebrating it. Right after Halloween, there was this explosion of food, color and community, and I started to want to know more. 

I think I've mentioned it here before, though not often, but my dad passed away when I was extremely young. Sometimes I hesitate to mention it for fear people will dismiss the deep hole that it left. It's a different grieving process, too. I think I've spread out the stages of grief through my whole life. The sadness for what I never had--it's persistent. Denial? Anger? I could pinpoint times when I went through that, too. 

For me, though, Dia De Muertos helps me reach acceptance. 

Death, the dead and dying? They're scary, right? It's instinctive to fear that, and to fear losing people. There's a time and a place for crying, for that darkness to settle in around you, and for you to not fight it, and just...grieve. 

But what if we could turn that on its ear? What if we could take something that everyone fears naturally, and...change it? And that's what this does. Skulls get roses and daisies and are splashed in bright colors, hung everywhere cheerfully. Altars or ofrendas are put up with beautiful sweets, mementos of the person and what they meant, and treats they loved. Big family meals are made, and stories are told to remember the people that have passed on. Every.year. Every year with laughter, music, color and celebration, you remember. What a beautiful way to do things. Doesn't that seem like the way to remember someone you love? Isn't that what you'd want to see, if indeed you could look down on those you loved after you were gone? A big, bright beautiful party full of food and laughter? It's what I'd most like to see, and a way I think I can honor and remember my dad. I choose this over dark days and tears. I choose to remember, but not just remember, to celebrate. 

I painted my face as a Catrina for fun and because I think it's beautiful.

I did this because I choose to remember this way.

And if you're's what everything on my altar is about. There are pictures of my dad and me, my whole family, and just him on the left. The license plate behind it is there because the word on it (which I won't disclose for internet safety reasons) is the single most important word that I have been gifted with, because it assures  me just how loved I always was and am. Next to that is the poster my dad left when I was born. It lets people know that he was off to see me, but there was coffee on in case they wanted a cup. I love it because it speaks to his character, and his honest desire to be kind to people. The journal is because he was a writer (a beautiful one) and he loved music. It runs in the blood.  

The small chest held letters I wrote to him at various points in my life and mementos. The crown is there because it reminded me of how little girls want to be their daddy's little princess, and how much I wanted to be his. Some of the traditional ofrenda fixings are there too, like the skulls, candle and flowers. I made sourdough bread, which was my dad's favorite, in place of the pan de muertos, to make it more true to who he was and who I am today.  I put a bowl of chili out, because he also loved chili, and it's traditional to leave (and also eat) the foods that your loved one loved on this day. 

There was still moments of sadness, even as I set this up, and even now as I type this. It sucks growing up without your dad. It sucks to have that hole in your life, and it sucks to not feel like you can talk about it and be understood. It sucks to just hear stories about someone who makes up half of who you are, and for there to never be enough stories, never enough words or pictures to fill the ache. 

But today? It's for remembering. It's for celebrating what someone meant to you, and choosing to be happy they existed. So that's what I'll do.

Happy Dia De Muertos

May we all remember the beautiful people who went on before us.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Time to Face The Change

Well, here I am. Blog land again. It's October 1st, and I am in my "new" bedroom in my "new" town. I've actually been here lots before, and so on the surface, it seems nothing has changed. But in fact, lots has.

My address is now different. My family is now relocating to Minnesota. My stuff has been sorted, tossed, packed, stored, and some hauled here.

It's weird when you look at yourself one way and then, when you get right down to it, look in the mirror and see a contradiction.

For example, I like, at least in my head, new things. I like spontaneous trips to weird places and interesting events. It's part of what makes me love Chicagoist work so much. Zelda symphony? Sure! Yurts at Union Station? There! Dia de Los Muertos walk? Cool beans! If you caught  me on a day I wasn't working (now I'm a freelancer so that's easier to do?) and you said "Hey, hop in the car, let's go somewhere! adventure!" I'd probably do it.

But...I also like routine. I get a little neurotic if I don't know the next 3 turns. I hate when there's weeks on end where I don't have plans. If there needs to be food in the house but I'm not sure when we're going grocery shopping, it's gonna drive me just a bit batty. I'd rather say "tomorrow" and then cancel tomorrow than say "when we get to it" and wonder. That's not everyone, that's me. And it's weird to me, because I loathe feeling like I'm in a rut, too, though I rut myself sometimes.

But here we are, and nothing is the same. The family I've shared a house with for the past 6 years is going 7 hours north, I'm living in the town I lived in for my high school years again, and...what?

I need to find a new path. I'm starting to freelance write, but I need to figure out how to spin up enough to live.

I'm in a serious, adult, long-term relationship. not sure how to serious, adult, long-term relationship. People think I'm joking when I say that, but it's true. I know how to be marginally important to a liar, I know how to love with all my heart and have blinders on to reality, but so far I haven't done exactly this before. I don't know how to be flawed, be accepted, improve, partner except for things I parrot from those people I feel like have it together. And it's hard. And it's weird, and I fail more than I wish I did. As I said last entry, way more last month than I wanted.

I want to stop adulting right now, put on my super beat-up Up pajama shirt, my snowflake pants, get some snacks and watch my tornado shows for a few days. Like I've done after breakups or hard times. Just pull in to the shell and hide from life for a while. Is that weird? This should be a happier occasion, right? I mean, to everyone else's eye, what's the issue?

I guess it's having nowhere to go. It's removing safety nets. It's knowing you have to make this work because if you don''re kinda screwed. I always drove myself everywhere when me and my friends went out so I had an escape route, and if I felt uncomfortable I could just leave. This is me putting the keys on the table and giving that up, I guess. And it's a little scary.

That's not to say I'm not happy. It's not to say I don't feel good about the decision. I feel like I really have an other half. We can dance in the kitchen, and we did today. We can create a themed month, like "Scary Movie October" and then go for the gusto. We can carefully create a list of all the shows we want to watch and then use a random number generator to pick what tonight's flavor is. We can make creme brulee because it seems like something we feel like doing at 2 am because we're bored. My cat can stick her coned up, silly face in his face and meow at him loudly, and he'll meow back. It's a good thing.

I think I just need some time to put the books back on the shelves, is all I'm saying.
Maybe friends don't understand me to be an introvert, and that term is so overused now that I feel like eyes are rolling out of faces, but I really do need "me" time to recharge and feel safe. I need escape routes. I need quiet voices sometimes, and places I can run to.

I loved that L shaped bedroom I just moved out of. The queen bed tucked away around a corner so I could sleep in privacy, even with the door open. I loved the big third floor windows, east facing, and the way that on weekends, the sun would warm me awake sometimes. I loved my stupid overstuffed loveseat and my 330 lb monstrosity of a big screen tv. It was like my own studio apartment, but I also had family I could count on downstairs. I had my mom to talk to and ask for advice from and my grandma to adventure with, hug, and who would hold my hand when things sorta sucked.

So as much as I look forward to the new, and I'm excited...knowing that's all different now? It feels a little scary, if I'm being honest. And right now, I am.

And if that sounds childish, or insecure or stupid? be it.
I'll be out of the cocoon soon enough, and hopefully my wings will dry and I'll be a whole new animal.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

52 Card Mess-Up

Well hello.

This cat has the face I think I might have right now, but she's actually doing things more or less the right way to get the results she wants. not this cat.

I suppose that's why I'm online and on the blog right now.
I need a space, I guess? I need the mysterious someones out there to hear me, because the less mysterious someones...well, right now's not the time to rely on them.

I am moving. My mom is moving, and my grandma is moving. The mom and grandma will be moving 6 or 7 hours north to Minneapolis. I will be returning to the town I lived in from 10-19. My cat will be meeting this gremlin and several others, and I will be attempting to make life with my love and a few friends work.

By now (September 26th with October 1st looming) I should have had everything all set to go. I shouldn't be up now worried.

For part of the time, I was crazy resisting change, and maybe denying it. It's childish and stupid.
For another part of the time, I was trying to focus on my love's birthday and make him feel like the most special person on earth. That worked and I think it was important.

After that, when stuff got hard, I more messed up.
I managed to have the exact opposite effect on the people I love than I wanted. I seem uniquely able to go in with the most loving of intentions, and in the end, have people on the verge of hatred. I accomplish this through second-guessing, indecisiveness, emotional asshattery, and a healthy dose of scatter-brainedness.

I feel like moving, especially since it was what seemed like such short notice (I knew on Labor Day, in retrospect) is stressful.

I feel like, though I've lived away from my family before, very far far away...I feel a bit afraid to see them go. I feel like it's an amazing chance and change for them, so I'm glad they're going, but I also feel like I have great potential for turning everything into a nightmare (which trust me, I've been doing) and thereby screwing up the good things I do have til I don't have those things anymore.

I thought it wouldn't take me as long to get boxed up and junk all the stuff I didn't need, but I still have to finish off the tail end of that tomorrow.

I thought I was splitting my time between my family who needed my help and my love who really, really needed my help, in a way that would take care of them and still allow me to sleep and write and even job hunt.

I felt crazy overwhelmed and stressed, but there's no logical reason for it, I'm told. It shouldn't be that bad. I'm not moving that far and I don't have that much stuff, and why has it taken so long?

When I'm there, boxing and junking, I'm feeling like I'm doing great. I'm getting organized, trimming the fat, knowing what it all is and where it goes.

But why aren't I done? Why is it I'm letting people down left and right?
Why wasn't I where I should have been when I should have been there?
Where's all my sleep going? (here, right now...)
Why can't I seem to control my emotions?
Why am I so damn worried about my cat, who just got fixed, and her introduction to the house?
Why am I so damn worried about things not working?
Why am I so damn worried about being hated?
Why do I feel like I've really, really failed my family and my love?

I wanted to be able to take my time, sort through things, and do it in a relaxed manner, then help my mom with the things she needed.
I wanted not to be gone all the time, so I could support my love through hard times, and not leave him feeling alone, no help, no support.
I wanted to get sleep and still take care of myself.

None of that has happened, I've damaged relationships, I've not been able to keep up with the things I needed to for Chicagoist, and instead of being sure of my decisions, things have eroded by the power of me enough that I'm not sure I'm not going to polar opposite of the direction I should be going.

I feel like a colossal screw-up.
I feel stressed out, and simultaneously guilty that I do feel stressed out, because everyone else around me has *more* than I do. More stuff to move, more sad, more stress, more issues to work out.
I wish for support, hugs, time with friends, but I feel guilty about that too since I've so severely seemed like a self-centered ass to anyone who needed me or mattered.

I wanted to move forward into the next phase of my life gracefully. Put together, calm, happy...excited to add to people's lives, help other people be free to do the things that will make them freer, less financially burdened, and happier...
but it's not like that.

Instead, I'm trying to put everything back together and keep it together for the next four days knowing it could all fall to pieces at any moment.

I...will risk seeming selfish saying this, but I want to, when this is over, either lock myself in a room for a day and just...never come out. sleep and watch tv and eat cookies and let the world continue without me...

Or I want to go somewhere. Alone. For a night., a stupid cable tv, maybe an indoor pool, some stupid, awful junk food, and nowhere to go the next day. Continental breakfast. I don't even care if it's in Gurnee or something. i'm not looking for a superb destination. I just...I want to clear out my head, process, figure out how to undo the damage, if there's a way, and come back stronger.

I don't know. There's no conclusion to this. I should just go to bed, because there are 5 hours before I start another day in this hellish September and hope to get through it without dropping more balls.

At least I've rigged a bootie for the dog I'm dogwatching. That's something.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Make Your Own Bacon!

Why not just make your own bacon, instead of bringing it home?

There's been lots to think about lately. I'm in the midst of a sort of chrysalis moment. Everything's suspended while I try to re-steer my life. Into freelance work. 
Typing that is scary. Trying to do it is scarier. 

The thing is, it's more rewarding. I hit my 2 year anniversary at Chicagoist last week. I took a trip through the archives to look at my first article and ended up perusing my journey thus far for a bit longer than expected. 

It's been amazing. I remember when I went to Station to Station, a "happening" at Union Station, and I was listed as "press" for the first time. I probably seemed way too giddy in a line full of tired and impatient writers and photographers, but I was beaming. I was on a list, I was getting access to something I'd already been interested in, and I'd be able to see it differently than a lot of people will have the chance to. 

I've talked to some of my favorite musicians, authors and comics and attended and photographed amazing events I'd always wanted to be a part of.  I've gotten to bring friends, loved ones and dates to things I couldn't actually afford to take them to without this opportunity. And I've made so many friends of the writers and editors at Chicagoist. It's been fantastic. There's not one second of that I'd want to change, even with spiked posts, misunderstandings, weird problems at events, broken down cars and forgotten cameras...

I can't say that about any 9 to 5 I've had, except maybe the bakery. 

Which is why I have to start "Actually Doing The Things." 

That picture was taken from the first story I had published for Chicagoist, "Come On, See Happy!" about an exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center which centered around an artist's investigation of what it is and how to find it. 

The first story was born of me loosing some of my insecurity chains thanks to GISHWHES, which was borne of some heartbreak and a desire to do the things that "always sounded kinda neat" like a kayak trip or a giant scavenger hunt. 

Where, in the two years, have I left that behind? 
This post popped into my head today, after I'd spent about two hours sending pitches to places I'd procrastinated sending them for months. After I'd applied for some amazing jobs after doing just a little bit more research than I'd done prior. 

All of that in one day made me feel pretty good. 

Why don't we just move on the things we want, then? What's the fear? It's not like we can't try again if we fail the first time. 

In talking to the boyfriend about this, I thought of our recent cooking adventure, and our also recent start of a food blog. 

We made bacon. 
From scratch. Cured and smoked by us. About 9 lbs of glorious, thick cut bacon. 
It was part of our 52 weeks of cooking challenge on Reddit, and if you'd have told me before I'd be doing that...I wouldn't have thought so. Doing things from scratch always carries this connotation of difficulty, crazy amounts of time-sinkage and the distinct possibility of it turning out to be a Pinterest fail. 

But so what? Fail and learn. Fail and do it better next time. Make your own damn bacon!
In the end, it wasn't that hard. A little research, a little hands on time, some contraption constructing...and a week of waiting, and we've got 9 lbs of bacon for the price of 4. Good deal. 

I guess what I'm saying is...get out there. All of us just...need to toss those chains off and do the things we say we're going to. 

Make your own damn bacon!

And, if you'd like, check out how we did ours over on that aforementioned new food blog, Our Blue Plate Special. We hope to be updating it with new cooking adventures fairly regularly. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Here Comes The Regular...

The other night, I found myself at one of those bar/restaurant/arcade places. I was picking up a press badge for the con I'll be covering this weekend, and I'd never been to this particular one before. In fact, I haven't really been at those sorts of places much, if I'm being honest, though I do like to game.

Part of the night's festivities included us being given a card worth a free hour of play time. Quick scan on any machine and you get to play. Pretty simple, and I had a great time with Mario Kart, pinball, Galaga and Pac-Man. I didn't even expect it.

An hour's a pretty good amount of time, actually. At some point though, with about 15 minutes left my card kept coming up "Play time temporarily suspended."

For whatever reason I wondered what unknowable rule I'd broken first. Catholic guilt? I don't know. I tried switching games and it worked for me. In any case, I was able to continue my adventures with Night Moves pinball and go home feeling like a pinball wizard.

I'm feeling like something else tonight.
My brain kind of likes metaphors and similes, extended or not. Right now it seems like a way to talk about something I want to talk about without being more specific than I want to be.

I got to thinking about how without knowing why, my playing time got suspended. I kinda feel like that now.

There's plenty of reasons I can make up for why that would happen. Maybe I scanned my card too fast? Too much? Maybe I wore some part of the useful part of it off? Totally random glitch? To be honest, most of what I came up with had to do with me and what I could have done to cause it, even for something that small. Now I'm told that's a problem, and that it bleeds into other things and other places. I've been thinking about that a lot.

But I'm still thinking about what's happening in my life now that's suspending things. I feel like things were good, but they can't be as good again. I feel like I wore holes in things, or scratched off the most important bits. Maybe I swiped the card too much, insisting on keeping going, when I shouldn't have done that. I know I can be bull-headed and forgetful, either not doing things I should or blasting through a wall I shouldn'tve oughta.

Even worse, I'm wondering if it's really temporary. This thing, this rejected card I'm referring to, it feels bigger and worse than a temporary glitch. It feels like maybe I need to start again.

And at least with the cards, you can add more time. I don't know if I have that luxury. On top of that, the history is still there. Maybe the card says 0 minutes, but somewhere there's a record of where I went and what I did.

My habits are known, traceable.

I could start again as someone else, but maybe I like some of that history. Maybe I liked being a regular. Maybe I wanted to be known as a pinball wizard.

I could go somewhere else, start all over, be an unknown. But...I'm the sort who wants to settle in, who likes familiar places and faces.

I don't know if this solves anything, writing this, but at least, in a manner, it explains how I feel.
At a certain point, does time just run out permanently?
Can I really add time? Will the history hurt me? Will my scratching away ruin my own fun, or my ability to function here?
Has it already? Game over?
I really hope not. This is the last thing I want to lose.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

When the sky goes dark...

It's funny how things come full circle sometimes. This particular post was sidelined for a while, due to weddings downstate, laziness on my part, and whatever other nonsense there is in the world. Perhaps a little bit of Chicagoist stuff too, which is neither nonsense nor laziness, but there you have it.

I took this picture from my dear love's house one night. If you don't already follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you may not know that I'm a huge storm nerd. It grew out of a severe fear of storms and tornadoes when I was younger. I used to mostly hide under tables or in closets when storms rolled in, but eventually, maybe around high school, I started to get into what made storms tick, and became more than a little obsessed with thunderstorms and tornadoes.

So it was not at all unusual on this summer night for me to be watching stormclouds gather in the distance from the window in our living room. It was around sunset, and the clouds were a purpley gray that I found rather neat. This particular storm was taking its time building. I was happily breathing in charged air, thinking a good storm was just what my garden needed.

Then it changed. It was churning. The purple was getting a bit jaundiced. Instead of the clouds billowing in neat vertical stacks or along the line of a wall cloud, they started to twist. Yellow and pink and grey mixed like a palette had been tipped over.  The wind picked up. It wasn't time for it to be dark, but it was getting that way.

Sometimes there's a change that happens and you can't explain it. The sky can be purple, pink and yellow all at once and we're sipping margaritas under a palm tree on the beach commenting on how beautiful nature is. This wasn't that though. This was a muddy sky, a sudden stillness and a sick spiral.  I felt the fear clawing a bit, so I drew the curtains and consulted my sweetheart.  He's not exactly the weather nerd I am, and not as quick to worry, but he opened the curtains, had a look, and put his warm, familiar hand on my back and gave it a few soft rubs.  Immediately, the fear fell back, and I felt like I could safely weather the storm. He may not have seen what I saw, and he may not have felt what I felt, but he was behind me, and he would be there.

On this particular night, not much happened. There was a severe storm, a lot of lightning and thunder, and a soaking rain.

I say things come full circle, because just three days ago, I sat on the basement stairs watching a different storm. The kitten sat with me and we watched it blow in quickly. The lightning was seemingly non stop, and the wind was already bending branches. I was waiting for the rain.

Things changed again. Clouds moving in one direction started spiraling in. Not only that, they began collecting into a wedge. I felt uneasy, and the wind died again.  The wedge grew larger, then began descending. And kept descending. The kitten jumped out of her window perch, and I ran into the living room, and said..."I don't like that's really not right."

He took a look and agreed. The only comfort was that it looked to be past us, but that was short-lived, as the tornado siren roared to life not two minutes after. We ferried the cats and humans down to the basement, waited it out and resurfaced. It didn't miss this time. In fact, what I'd seen was an EF-1 tornado striking the southern part of our town and barreling head first into the neighboring towns. It levelled a pizza place my friend's dad worked at that I frequented in high school and after. It tore parts of the roof off of the high school there. In three separate cases, it was a block away from hitting the houses of loved ones.

Places I drive through every day were undriveable. Live wires sparked over houses whose lawns I ran barefoot through on some summer nights.  Giant trees that shaded town forever were ripped from the earth and snapped in half. It's frightening. It's amazing at the same time. I think the thing that's most interesting about tornadoes is the combination of their massive power and complete randomness.

You can't see it coming for days. It might jump one house and hit the next.  Yet it's this massive, destructive, insane force. Its winds are the most powerful on Earth, but it's there and it's gone. Sometimes, you get a few minutes of warning. Unfortunately, our warning came too late. You had to be watching the skies. I'm glad I was, and I'm glad those who may not have been made it out. It could have been so, so much worse.  Joplin. Moore. El Reno.

It's so weird. It's
You don't get warning.
One minute you're drinking a cocktail on a sunny lakeside patio, the next?
Who knows?
Maybe the ICU.
Maybe an accident.
Maybe a book deal.

It's hard to know what to expect. It's hard when the storm hits, the power goes out, and trees block your way out of town.

Honestly? It's hard for me, right now. I don't have a job. I'm trying to steer the ship in the right direction, but it means taking some chances, it means it's taking longer than expected. It means money and time are running out and I don't have a solution.

But the same hand that was at my back when the sky got dark is still there. He's encouraging me, helping me grow, helping me forge a path.  My mother is standing behind me too, and my friends.
It's scary. I almost hoped someone would say "Just take any job, make money, stop dreaming."

But nobody is saying that. They're telling me they're going to help me through this storm a different way. They're telling me they're going to support me when it makes life harder for them. It's amazing, and when I think the sky's getting dark again, and I think of that, it chases that fear out of my belly all over again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How to Break Everything

I always laugh to myself a little when someone hurls out "You've got issues!!" at someone as an insult. It feels like grasping at straws, a desperate attempt to belittle someone in a moment of anger. It seems pointless to say something like that, at least to me.

I truly feel like no one comes through life unscathed. There's no person out there, having made it to adulthood, that has not encountered trouble, heartbreak, anger, abandonment. You might think Jennifer from Park Avenue has it made, with a butler and maid and nanny, her parents giving her money for a shiny new Mercedes and every beautiful "it" bag of every new season.  But you don't know if she's got parents who listen to her, who spend time with her, or who are really there at all. It's  a cliche, but the point is...yeah, let's face it. We all have issues.

"I'm broken" we wail into the blustery wind of a pity party.
I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

Trust issues? Check.
The feeling that my feelings don't matter or simply aren't important to anyone? Yup.
An overly developed need to prove myself as good enough/smart enough/enough? Surely.

And it's ok to say "hey, I'm like this because..."
It's ok to have anxiety, depression, abandonment issues, or to be an introvert. It's ok to be you.
It's good to know what your issues are, because at least if you're aware you do it, you can attempt to curb it if it's become harmful in your relationships with people.

Where you start to break everything is when you let it be ALL you are.
Or when you take it out on someone.
Or when you have someone do something that REMINDS you of the boyfriend who cheated on you/parent who abused you/boss who wrecked you emotionally and you take out all the frustration of those events in your life on them.

It's hard to watch someone walk out of a room when your relationship experience has been a bunch of people whose answer to any problem is to completely walk away or hold 2 week grudges. But if you don't let that happen, then the new person who realizes that he's angrier than he should be and needs to cool off before you can calmly discuss it may hit a boiling point.

Likewise, you can't just recognize it's an issue you have and then go no further with it. For this reason, I think maybe the better terminology for "issue" might *be* baggage. Baggage, if you think literally, is yes, something you carry around because you have to.  But when you have to, you also have to check on it, and do something about it, and make room for it. That's your responsibility, ultimately, though there are others along the way who can help (or hinder) with it. So you can't just recognize you have a problem and then say "It's just how I am." That's not responsible, and that's one more way to break everything.

I'm all for accepting people as they are. I think deep down we all want to find someone who will accept us as is, scars and all. We just can't turn around and smack them upside the head with our issues.

People will trigger the worst in you. They'll push those buttons that exist for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with them, or perhaps they do, but from before.

We get to choose how we react to that.  We have to choose, every single time.

Yes, we should be who we really are.
Yes, we should be accepted for who we really are, warts and all.

But if we want to make something good, and NOT break everything, we need to be more patient, more understanding, more self-aware, and try to handle those things we carry with more care, so that innocent bystanders don't get hurt.

It's a tough one.