I got a new job, so here are late highlights from my old one


I started a new job in June as a senior content strategist and writer at a Chicago studio (also fully remote!). But between making that transition and traveling for several weeks throughout the month, I haven’t had a chance to post a proper update. Now the point feels moot, so instead I’ll share some of my final work for the college — interviews with recent alum and students. It was such a pleasure writing and editing for California College of the Arts, and I can’t wait to visit campus — and the beach — when I finally get out to the Bay later this year. 🙂

“Writers, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, filmmakers, painters, printmakers, movement practitioners. I’m here to tell you that you’re needed. I was recently having this conversation with one of my friends in the humanities and they said, ‘Well, we’re not curing cancer.’ And I thought, fuck that. I might be inspiring the person who does.

Alum spotlight: Digital media scholar Dorothy Santos

“We have to honor that the environment already gave us those resources to produce those textiles and we need to honor those materials. They’re still useful and they’re beautiful. We just have to find innovative ways to use them. As a society, we consume so many things, all the time, that it won’t be possible to sustain. I like thinking about the hidden history of materials.

The hidden journey of Melissa Rodriguez

“Yes, it is hard—and sometimes even terrifying—but it’s also delicious to be in charge of yourself, to not be subject to other people’s expectations of where you should go and what you should be.”

Alum spotlight: Writer Julie Lythcott-Haims

“Sometimes people get so careerist in the artistic sense; they think it is all being in the studio. But some of my best work and connections were more organic. It’s not something you can game. You have to figure out where the heat is and invest your time and energy—and make the work. So many people get caught up in what the secret is that they don’t have any work when they crack it.”

Stars aligned: Diedrick Brackens and Lauren O’Connell discuss their new exhibition


Published: New art and writing in Intima


I’m excited to have a new essay and artwork featured in the Spring 2021 editing of Intima Journal of Narrative Medicine!

My essay, titled Sleep to Dream, is the story of how a recent medical diagnosis has been a surprising, missing plot point for several of my self-narratives.

“Fatigue is my kryptonite. The never-ending scramble for sleep is simply part of who I am. That was the story I told myself, anyway. Then I fell asleep while alone in a late-night Uber ride and finally admitted that slogging through these onslaughts of exhaustion was cause for concern. 

That’s why I’m here, trying to make small talk with an uninterested sleep technologist pushing electrodes onto my head


~FIVE YEARS SOBER~


Five years is 1,825 days. ⁠

It’s 12 steps and two weekly meetups.⁠

It’s one husband, three therapists, and a better best friend.⁠

It’s a boost on a bad day.⁠

It’s a confession on a good one.⁠

It’s a letting go of all that was lost when drowned.⁠

It’s noticing flowers bloom, leaves change, skin prickle, water bend, sirens howl, clouds melt, squirrels race, backs curl, dumplings steam, cake melt, chest tighten, pink glow, humility work, and truth help—for the first time, over and over.⁠

It’s the distance it takes to be the same shape, stitching, color, and silhouette of spirit—turned right-side out.⁠

It’s the whole of all that is countless.⁠

Five years no booze. 🕺✨ One year no haircut. 😷⁠ (Five year sober anniversary candle by Huff Designs, a wonderful gift from a wonderful friend.)

Creativity Q+A: Why pink?


Why pink? I’ve always loved this color.

Evidence: Baby J, pink lei.

I’m drawn to every version of it. Bubblegum. Neon. Fuchsia. Pepto Bismol. Patent leather (my favorite).

My senior year of high school my mom made me a hot pink crochet blanket as a graduation gift. I loved it. For a while. Then I stored it away in the top of my closet for about a decade. Why? Pink feels authentic to me, but I became embarrassed by my love of the color.

Pink seemed too conventional, too basic, too one-dimensional. That was how I perceived others perceived it. It was as if pink had already been claimed by women who weren’t like me, representing identities of the shopaholic bimbo that I wanted to distance myself from. I felt like pink had been claimed by a consumerist or sexualized society that made me feel less than valuable.



By my mid-college life I had veered away from pink’s statements, shamed by how the color has been weaponized to sell women shit and commodified to represent a whole community (i.e., who should like it and who shouldn’t). I was also cowed by the seeming conventionally of it (this, my own confused internalization of the weaponization of the color), and instead dabbled for a bit in punk rock black or wannabe-queer camo. Color and pattern are so tied to identity in that way.

Eventually, as I settled into myself, I came back around to pink, and I think it’s no coincidence that I fully embraced its powerful hold on me in my 30s, an age profound in its allowance to let me be myself. My true self. My awash in pink, sadly joyful selfhood.


A custom job for my friend Mandy.

Pink is a symbol of my roots, my discontent, and my self actualization. 

I love when men wear or like pink, but I am not too interested in using the color as an obvious gender statement in my artwork, though it probably can’t be unthreaded from that experience in a small capacity. No, I use it in my artwork as a reclamation of the color individually. Pink is powerful. I don’t find it feminine necessarily, but I myself am feminine and find power in being feminine—and power in accepting my femininity.

As an artistic element, pink makes anything and everything pop. Pink is a bold choice. It draws your eye and doesn’t let you go. I like that it’s still a bit divisive. It is the most stereotyped hue, as far as non-bodily pigment is concerned. 

Pink draws attention to itself. Pink makes you look. Pink says, “I am not what you think I am… even though you are looking at me because you think you know precisely what you think I am.”


Pink fluff in Red.
Pink slime in one of my embroidery artworks.

Pink in an artwork makes you confront something inside yourself.

That something could be big or small, upsetting or comforting. Doesn’t matter. The confrontation is what’s important. A confrontation is a question that makes you pause. It can be as small as a stitch, or as big as an elephant. A confrontation is a question that you’ll answer almost immediately with your intuition. That’s what I’m interested in. The naturalness, primality, invoked by such an unnatural color.

Pink is a loaded adjective as much as it is a color. It is something we culturally face everyday so we’re bound to have associations with it.

Pink cloud in sobriety refers to the typically short period of euphoria that some people feel soon after quitting their drug of choice. 

Pink tax is the term for how women are nickel and dimed on toiletry products made for their gender.

Pink line(s), one or two depending on your situation, is what we look for on pregnancy tests as the minutes tick by. 


One pink line in Untouchable

Can’t we just like something? Sure, but what we like has connotations, meanings, and layers. I don’t judge these. Just find it interesting. When we confront our connotations, meanings, and layers as individuals and as a whole, nonjudgmentally, we are closer to making change.

In the path from girlhood to adolescence to adulthood, the color identity shifts along with one’s self and understanding of their persona and place in the world.

Assumptions can be made. Let them.

What we like can change. Let it. 

Who we are can change. Let’s.

The color though. The color never changes. And maybe that’s it. Maybe pink is some form of—some outlet for—controlling the narrative of my own life. Seeing my self, my life, my color for what it truly is: Whatever I make of it.

And I want to make it beautiful, fun. I want to make it pop.


Pink nails by me. Quote by Celeste.

Writer Jackie Mantey sits on a bench outside in the park

Notes on a Couch Warming Party


OK, look, this is very exciting because, ever since your breakup—a wretched, booze-soaked affair that ended with you prematurely exiting the shared apartment with a wobble-wheeled suitcase packed and not one but two chip-nailed middle fingers in the air—you haven’t owned a couch.

Door slams. Lock bolts.

That was two years ago. You’ve lived and lounged and lamented your life since then on a bed (a raft, really, in an OCEAN OF TEARS), moving from that stupid shared apartment back to your stupid parents’ house, then to a stupid studio that smelled like if moths had their own closets, then to ~here~…

Your new home. A gorgeous one-bedroom, bottom-right quarter of a falling down, white-and-brick house in a hip part of town. It doesn’t have windows that open, but it does have your cat, which your ex hated, and as of noon today—of all glorious, single lady days—it has this: A suede dreamboat in the color of “Stone.” It’s called the Darcy Sofa. It is seven-and-a-half-feet long, which is ideal for your five-foot-two frame and your feet-cuddling cat. It is perfect.

This Darcy Sofa cost you $500 and is officially one thousand times more valuable than any diamond ring, you’re sure of it.

You eye it now, mentally applaud how it looks on the hardwood living room floor, shoved up against the butter-colored wall you don’t want to paint because you’re renting so you’ll have to paint it back eventually and who has time for that, and across from the brick fireplace you can’t use because the chimney has been plugged-up with who knows what because squirrels or drug dealer Santa or something.

The couch looks familiar. It’s almost identical to the one you bought for your first apartment out of college. You remember, that $150 bear-brown thing that your brother and your cousin helped you transport from the Big Lots (née Odd Lots) where you bought it. Afterward, feeling oh so grown up, you offered for your moving mates to stay and hang out and here, have a beer, I bought it just for you! (even though you already drank half the pack).Your cat, a mere teenager at the time, hopped on the couch and onto your cousin’s lap and everyone had a perfectly lovely evening sitting on your brand new couch, bought and paid for by you and only you, until you probably blacked out and they went home.

It was the best day you had in that apartment.

Who knows where that couch is now.

Your friends are coming to meet the Darcy Sofa in just a few hours. You have decided to host a Couch Warming Party, because this is to be celebrated, an occasion to remember! It represents healing and independence, this furniture, this moving-on-up. This couch means a new world is opening up to you. You made it. Couch Warming Party is being held on the weekend of your terrible ex’s birthday. You didn’t plan this timing on purpose, at least you don’t think so, but it does make the second glass of wine at three p.m. taste even sweeter.

Now it’s nine. You are fuzzy and warm and a little bit sick. The couch, soft as a petal, feels like a lily pad beneath you. Bobbing, bobbing.

Your friends are here! Your friends pile in the aching red-rimmed door. Your friends clamor in the living room and oh and ah appropriately before tumbling down the long hallway to the kitchen and out its back door to the fire pit you share with the other dwellers of this broken home-you-love’s divvied-up apartments.

Your friends are good friends. They agree to pose for photos on your new couch. They make a big deal about it, even though this couch, it’s not that special.

They are just happy to see their friend happy again.

They bring you Couch Warming Party gifts they’ll know you’ll enjoy, like a new blanket, lounge pillows, cat toys, vodka, smokes, cocaine. By the end of the night, you are all outside howling at The Man and the moon, crouched beneath the giant tree you don’t know the genus of, that the city hasn’t torn down yet but will soon. Your backyard’s wooden fence stands guard. Tonight, as the fire licks the air and your friends lick each other, the perimeter feels like a hug and not a cage.

The couch has been forgotten. But that was the point.

At two a.m., you sit alone on your back porch smoking a gifted Parliment. Your cat has joined you, that loyal little thing. You both purr and wish every moment was a Couch Warming Party moment. You wish this especially because you know what awaits, what you’ve been running from. Morning. When you will wake up and every inch of you will hurt, including your heart. Especially your heart, and the yet-unknown thing rotting beneath its floorboards. It will be seven more months (exactly one month after your 30th birthday) before you wake up on another stranger’s couch—again!—and finally—finally!—decide it’s time to get sober. And you do it! You beautiful, goofy, grateful recovering alcoholic! You finally break through. Find a home inside yourself.

Tonight, though. Tonight is as bright and dark as a chewed up cherry pit, as twisted as the tongue-tied stem, and to be lived to the last briny drop.

You have so much further to go, but tonight you honor everything it took to get to Here. To the Stone-colored sofa. Your new Plymouth rock.


Fun in the time of quarantine


I’ve finally landed on a word the best describes how this pandemic has made/is making me feel: Bewildered. (And, I guess, longing. I miss my family, my city, my lifestyle, etc.) That said, Justin and I have been having a lot of fun together. I can’t see being stuck inside with him for months as anything other than a lopsided gift. Justin’s a fun friend and a good partner. 

Here’s an example:

In an effort to find different things for us to do together as the 2020 months crawl on, Justin decided to find a video game for us to play. To do this, he had to consider many variables. Well, two variables. 1) I hate video games; and 2) I hate video games because I’m absolutely terrible at them and have none of the hand-finger muscle memory that seems to be required for success in any of the adult games and when I’m bad at things I get pissed off and ruin the this-is-just-for-fun vibe and ok, back off, I’m working on it.

But this didn’t stop our sheltered-in-place friend! Justin spent weeks researching games that moved quickly and provided many a dopamine hit of congratulations by way of sparkly animated gems simply for showing up and pushing buttons. So, basically, games for children.

Enter: Castle Crashers.

It’s perfect for us/me because 1) it’s made for beginners/children and I can just mush all the buttons and still accomplish something maybe or at least think I did in the flurry of chaotic noises and special effects; 2) there’s a Pink Knight character that, duh, I chose, and my “magic” abilities include stunning opponents into dropping their weapons and giving peace signs by throwing stuffed animals at them and shooting rows of rainbows out of my hands to distract them; and 3) we can play the levels at the same time, so essentially Justin does all the work killing bad guys and strategically spending our gold coins on health potions and doing the things that get us moving forward, while I furiously shoot rainbows at the empty, endless void and try to figure out how to turn myself around.

This is so indicative of who we are as people and why we work together as a pair.

Justin1 and Justin2 (aka Jackie), sittin’ in a tree…

Anyway, today’s our three-year wedding anniversary. 

Thanks, boo. I feel unsure about pretty much everything except you.

2017
2020

Two empty lawn chairs sitting side by side

Home is a feeling


Quarantine Day 1,345. It was early evening, that time of day when the heat has started to fade but the light is still saying its goodbyes. 

Justin and I strapped on our masks and headed out the door to take a walk around the neighborhood. “Let’s go get Italian ice,” he said. I was suspicious, not wanting to go to a restaurant. “They have a walk-up counter,” he said convincingly.

And so we strolled, taking a brand new route, a few side streets behind the local grocery store, streets that I’d never been down before. One block in, and I couldn’t believe how excited I felt. All the new things to see! After approximately forever-amount-of-days staring at the same walls and the same computer screen, chilling in the same park and running the same route, this walk was a novelty more delicious than any cold treat.

We said muffled hellos to an ancient Border Collie lounging among the pink blooms and behind the twisted iron fence of a brick one-story.

We joked about what we would do if we had to move into a three-story house towering above us, its boarded up windows framed by a white exterior turned a dingy browbeaten gray. I would fix it up and nurse its good bones back to health. Justin would burn it down because clearly it was haunted and something wicked lurked in the basement. 

We passed by a wooden fence. It was too tall to see over, but if we could, we would see a family celebrating summer in their backyard. The scent of grilled corn and the sounds of mariachi carried over the fence, tempting us to join as we passed on the sidewalk. Hello, I said, wordlessly. Thank you for the reminder.

I’ve always loved looking at houses. That there are endless rows of them is one of my favorite aspects of living in Chicago. The neighborhoods, the overflowing residential streets with endless charm tucked away just beyond the hurried thoroughfares. It’s like knowing where to find a secret water source in the desert.

I tried to explain to Justin why I like walks like this so much. Looking at other homes makes me feel like I am here. Nowhere in particular, just here. On earth and un-alone. But though I like thinking of all the human stories stacking up in those houses they inhabit, what I enjoy most is the look of the exteriors, as an individual and as a whole. A street of houses all lined up, especially if those houses have completely different facades, looks the way a bowl of fresh, in-season strawberries tastes: A welcome mat for the senses. 

Each house has a face and sleeps at night. Even the most humble of architectures here carries a gentleness for me, feels like a place where life unfolds unceremoniously (which is the most rewarding kind of unfolding, I think?). From the humble bungalows to the soaring million-dollar build right next door, I love looking at all of them. I don’t want to be inside them necessarily, just to behold them. The window panes, the flower beds, the curve of a doorway and all the knowing it can share just from its shape. Even the sharp angle of every roof taps a different feeling inside me. Oh! And, best of all, the trees! Dangling their drapery as a curtain to each house’s stage. Look, they say. Witness what is here.

We held hands as we ordered our Italian ice, a line of people with the same idea spaced six feet apart behind us. A string of brightly colored owl lights on the outside of the building shone stronger by the minute as the sun settled. There were pink and green plastic chairs on the small strip of grass near the order window—also six feet apart. We decided to keep walking and find a corner to stand on as we spooned the icy treat into eager mouths. Lemon, raspberry, watermelon. A woman riding her bike with a dog on a leash passed us. A new mom on her cellphone tutted along, baby peeking out of a blanket from the stroller in front of her. Cars blinked by with a rattle. Justin and I watched it all as we ate, the cold a relief on our hot tongues. The taste lingered, hidden behind masks, as we walked back. Dusk hitting the homes with a loving light, guiding us back to ours.

Couple in a private dance studio

Finding an old flame on the dance floor


I always frame my dancing in the past tense: “I used to dance.” I’ll say it wistfully and stand a little straighter as I do, like a ribbon is connecting my ponytail to the ceiling, a helpful visual technique for dancers with poor posture. I always had poor posture. And I had trouble remembering more than an 8-count at a time unless I choreographed it myself. And I never paid attention to the costume requirements and more than once ended up on stage in the wrong colored tights.
 
But none of those flaws stopped me from dancing. Time did that. As I entered my 30s, dancing sounded exhausting… was exhausting. Moreover, I knew my ability to dance would be on a continued, inevitable downward slope. My best dancing days were already behind me. A body’s flexibility, physicality, and strength is at its prime at a certain point, and that point is one I have passed. I didn’t want to dance because my self-competitive nature would be disappointed that I couldn’t leap as high, spin as fast, or bend as lovely as I could five years ago.

Then 2020 happened, and, damn, it has got me feeling d-o-w-n. My morale is the thing on the downward slope now. Justin (my bff/husband) has been encouraging me to get back to dancing ever since I stopped, but I have promptly ignored him, saying I’m happy to leave the barre behind me, which I think has mostly been true.

Last weekend, however, he made some moves himself. He took me to a dance studio that he had rented for a few hours from Peerspace (like Airbnb but for studio, meeting room, or venue rentals). And that was all I needed: A partner to take me by the hand and plop me back on the dance floor. My body instinctively took off. 

Dancing around the studio space was the b-e-s-t thing I’ve done since early March. So much sweat! It felt grounding, calming, and exhausting indeed! It felt like a turned-head to pointed-toe rejuvenation! To get out of our apartment and just move my body around, a body I have been staying put to protect in recent months (and, I realized, keeping in self-imposed bounds for the past few years), was mentally healing beyond measure.

The experience helped me see that hobbies can evolve, and that’s OK. I will never be as good a dancer as I once was, but was excellence really why I was dancing in the first place? Nah. Not even close. I danced because it was fun. And, it turns out, it still is. Maybe even more so because I don’t have to worry about showing up in the wrong tights. 🙂

What have you left behind because you thought it couldn’t help you anymore? If you reframed how it healed you, would it be worth another shot?

Grandpa in front of stone wall in Korea

Time doesn’t pick sides


My grandpa died this week. It has caught me off guard. He was always so full of life, I just figured he would live forever?

He was such a spry old guy, too! Grandpa had recently moved into an assisted living facility, an act he definitely DID NOT want to do but acquiesced to when COVID-19 hit. Why? So he could visit my grandma in the Alzheimer’s unit there every day (a through-the-window visit would no longer suffice). He took such loving care of her the past few years. From making sure she had outfits she would approve of, to bringing her a thermos of root beer as a treat when he’d visit. His love for her is probably what I’ll remember most. I can still picture him helping Grandma dye her hair in the sink whenever we had sleepovers. They were best friends. 

Grandpa was curious, adventurous, thoughtful, smart, and so damn playful. And he was a wonderful writer, writing and editing the Army’s Preventive Maintenance (PS) magazine throughout his career. I’ve always attributed any natural gift I have as a baton handoff from him to me. 

After college, I asked Grandpa to email me some of his stories. Him and Grandma kept binders of tales from their many travels—like #vanlife bloggers before their time. He said yes but did one better: He said he would write some brand new pieces for me and his daughters of memories from his life. Today I have this remarkable collection of stories he wrote (a few by Grandma, but mostly him). What a fucking gift! I loved getting to know him this way and I was always excited to get a new email with a story attached. It sparked a lot of interesting conversations between us. They’re now all stored in a binder he gave me when I moved to Chicago. 

I recently started adding new photos to the binder… printouts of photos he would text of him and of Grandma at the nursing home, screenshots of funny text messages he sent, a photo of him in a COVID face mask that he’d drawn a smiley face onto. Such a rascal.

I’ve been adding these to the end of the book. The day he died, I added a note about when, where, and how he passed. I feel tender toward making sure I give his story, in this binder at least, the ending… that I record it. He would always end his written stories like the grisled old magazine editor he was: with – end – at the end.

A story isn’t a story without an ending. And Grandpa had a hell of a story. You did good, farm boy.

I’m sad COVID forced me to cancel my March visit to Marion. He and I had a Bob Evans breakfast date planned, like we had been doing for the past year or so. We would eat together, bitch about the coffee, politely disagree about politics (he would always hear me out!), talk about about my hopes to roadtrip across the country with Justin, order some blueberry crepes to-go, and take them (and some root beer) to Grandma for our visit.

But. I’m so grateful to have had him as a grandpa and have had as much time with him as I did. I miss him already.

– end –

Wave on Lake Michigan beach in Chicago

Girl, wash your face mask


Hey, how are you doing? Overwhelmed? Me too. It’s surprising how all-consumingly intense life can be in lockdown, no? Nearly four months of time in which I’ve talked to a total of three people in person. But maybe that’s part of the problem—I’m worried about humanity because I am not experiencing it much beyond the screen. I’m like the baby monkey clinging to a wire-made mother, longing for but misunderstanding real love.

Some complain of feeling bored in quarantine. I feel anything but. I feel stressed and anxious and overwrought. Everything seems so B-I-G, even as the physical boundaries of my daily life are smaller than ever.

To help myself feel just a little bit better, I’ve been trying to focus on things I can control. I can control what I give my attention to, so after work each day, I’ve been plugging along at building an online shop to sell my artwork. There’s something cathartic about tinkering away at a thing I hope to launch in “the future” while listening to the news and the podcasts and the sound and the fury. Working on the shop symbolizes the shred of optimism I have buried underneath all this tension that’s seething and solidifying inside a worried self. It’s like embodying a strange paradox—I miss being around people, but I’m also very tired of “people.”

I’ve been thinking about restarting my blog too. As social media, which replaced a lot of blogosphere time and energy, becomes a place of exacerbated one-dimensionality and optical, oppositional grandstanding, the thought of having my own little Island of Internet is increasing in its appeal. 

How do we all come out of this moment kinder, more equitable, more closely tied to one another and our collaborative condition? Is that possible at this point? Do others feel as tired and disconnected as I do?

I don’t know. And writing all of this seems trite in the wake of a cultural revolution, a global pandemic, a paradigm shift of historical proportions… I feel increasingly tense as there seems to be no route out of this place but to keep on keeping on. 

I am plankton in a wave. 

I do my work, I add items to my site, I plan for “the future,” I read about the present and feel upset about the past, I go to bed. 

I wake up and do it all over again.