I was having one of those weeks where everything felt big except me.
I’d come home from work. Heat up some food. Pull out a TV tray. Eat. Lay in bed. Sleep.
I was adjusting, like so many, to a grimmer awareness of the world. It was like someone mowed the grass and I’m daunted to have discovered how many snakes were there all along as I sunbathed in cheery progressing warmth.
I’m also adjusting to a new living situation.
That pairing of words, “living situation,” politely implies that something heated and grotesque is boiling under a tepid surface — cohabitation out of necessity — but that’s not the case here.
We’re just settling in, Justin and I.
But, that week at least, it was too much for me. Too much changing. Too much not knowing. I needed to sleep.
On night three of 12+ plus hours of sleep, Justin asks what is wrong.
“I’m sick maybe.”
“Or you are sad.”
I am sad, so this comment makes me pull my mind’s curtain’s tighter with white knuckle anger.
“I want a couch. More furniture. All I have to lay on is this stupid bed that doesn’t even have a bed frame and so of course I fall asleep by 7 pm. I want to feel like a woman! How can I do that in this place?! What are we even doing with our lives?!”
What I’m really saying is that I feel powerless. He knows, and shields himself from my fire breathing with his knowing.
The next evening I come home from work and Justin is on the living room floor, screwing together a bed frame.
We don’t say much about it, but I know this him building a better cocoon for me to hide in when I don’t want to look outside anymore.
I go to bed early that night again. But the next night I don’t. And the night after that I don’t either. Quietly, he’s lifted me back up to where it is bright.
Love is simple, mostly.
Let’s remember that as we start to get to the work of tying the snakes into bows.
There are three things that are always in the eye of the beholder:
Walks of shame
Hoodoo — like good moonshine and my spiritual belief system — is an amalgamation to some, an abomination to others.
I choose to believe the former. This came in handy when we visited Louisiana on our final stop of the lo-class tour.
Voodoo is a religion. But Hoodoo is a practice meant to allow an individual to reign in supernatural forces to improve their lives. It’s about personal power, like setting an intention or meditating but, sometimes, with burning herbs thrown in. There are no Hoodoo priests or priestesses. Just people. I like that.
I bring this up because before our trip started, Justin proposed to me! Yes, marriage! My dowry of goats and pickled yams is in the mail as we speak!
It was awesome and everything it should be and followed by a fancy dinner and excited texts and phone calls to our families and friends. I knew it was coming but his timing was still a surprise and his performance grade-A-you-complete-me romantic.
But there was the issue of the ring.
It’s not that I didn’t love it. I did. In fact, I picked it out.
I didn’t want a new wedding ring so I needed to be involved in the ring-picking process lest I end up with something like a ball and chain wrapped around my ring finger for the rest of my life.
Why did I not want a new ring? Why did I end up going vintage?
Simple. I, like many a Millennial woman, watched the movie “Blood Diamond” in college and was traumatized by it. And I, like many a Millennial woman, believed I could make a difference in this world’s atrocious legacy of being terrible to one another.
The irony is that I probably ended up with a blood diamond but it’s like wearing old fur maybe? The diamonds are already out in the world so… ?
My ring is from the 1940s. I thought about getting a stone other than a diamond and was, in fact, searching for those when I stumbled across the listing for the one I ended up with. I got a weird feeling when I saw it — locked in and sure. I knew it was mine. Immediately.
Everyone I’ve shown it to has said the same. “Wow, that ring is so you.” “That ring is definitely yours.”
But it wasn’t. Someone else had worn it before. Maybe several someone else’s.
He’s a friend of ours and many other of our other friends’ “I Know A Guy” Guy. Other realm-y. Memory like a fly trap.
He knew exactly what to do with the ring.
I can’t share the exact process (because I don’t remember and also it felt more sacred than silly and I want to keep it that way), but it involved, among other things, burning sage and sandalwood and a salt water cleanse.
Justin and I took turns holding the ring as the ceremony, we’ll call it, progressed. We thought about who may have worn it before and who may still be emotionally holding on to it — in this life or the next. Don’t worry, I told them in my mind, I will take good care of this. Thank you for taking care of it until now. Thank you for bringing it to me. I will respect its past the same way I will respect you… and him, my love.
The ring looked brighter, felt lighter.
And that’s how we said goodbye to the spirits in my engagement ring. On an 80-degree New Orleans day. On our southern friend’s patio. Beneath a disco ball.
Referring to any day that has already occurred, any day that is not today, as “simpler times” is wrong. It wasn’t simpler. Today is simpler, at least if we’re speaking about the basics of getting the lower portion of our hierarchy of needs met.
Technology and industry have freed up time for us to find our purpose instead of our supper.
The only way in which is may have been simpler “back then” is the subject of fear. You knew who or what your enemy was, which ultimately makes that thing less scary. The boundaries and the sides were in black and white, for better or worse, however problematic.
Today we don’t have that mental resting ground, or at least we shouldn’t if we are to be aware and thoughtful about what is happening in our communities, nation, world. But what does all that thinking for the outside do to our insides?
It leaves many of us numb. Left staring at the warring outside through a pulled aside velvet curtain made in China. Our alarm buttons have been on so long, their din has become background noise in a landscape of mental disbelief.
So what do we do? Turn inward. Or find a way to laugh.
That’s what Joan Cornella’s work is about for me—the recurring disbelief that things are never, ever what they seem and everything from enemies to heroes are indefinable properties constantly en morph. Essentially. there’s no place to land.
The inaugural exhibit at Miishkooki Art Space in Skokie on Chicago’s North Shore features Cornella’s work. The Spanish illustrator’s comic panel storytelling style is sick in both senses of the word and absolutely worth seeing in person.
Sean Norvet’s majestic oil painting, a centerpiece in the show, is a nod to our post-apocalyptic mind fuck. There’s so much to feed our face, so much to distract us, we can’t see that everything around us melting away.
Or maybe we choose to indulge in all of that exactly because we can see what’s happening and it’s overwhelming. Which came first: the content or the binge?
Whether it’s Jim Ether’s playful fat-cat flies atop steaming piles of shit or Brandon Celi’s desolate spaces — where, when inhabited, his listless subjects go through the motions — this show is a testament to the fact that our modern melancholy can also look cool as fuck.
“Planned Activities” is the amenity that caught my attention. It seems like such a funny promise for people looking to get away from structure and back to nature.
Let us all line dance like Lewis and Clark!
But I guess that’s camping in 1970 and onward.
At Happy Acres, the 1970’s influence abounds. That’s when it was founded. It smells of bonfires and kitsch, which is really all they would need to put on a sign to get me to go there.
“Putting the camp in camping since 1970” is the slogan of somewhere I’d want to go always.
There’s putt putt golf and a fenced-in “zoo” of lady peacocks who just chill all day. There’s a pool and a horseshoe court. A paddle boat shaped like a pirate ship and one like a giant swan. A miniature merry-go-round and the co-opting of totems from cultures who worked these grounds long ago.
It also has those giant concrete tubes laid out in an L-shape. They’re the playground accompaniment to a swing set and plastic elephant slide. But those concrete tunnels look like a Millenial parent’s worst nightmare, conjuring images of wayward children of yesteryear surviving under bridges alone or being kidnapped by a former wayward child who grew up to be a man who really, really liked clowns.
I’m sure I’m reading into them too much, letting my imagination run away into the darkness. But that’s pretty standard for me, and my daydreaming is especially amped up here, where I have nothing to do but relax and the visual time warp beckons from every corner.
I feel like at any moment Jessica Fletcher is going to walk by in sensible kitten heels and a neck scarf.
“I found a body in the pond,” she’d say cheerfully as she passed, waving from the wrist.
Those tunnels were cool as a kid but they always gave you scraped knees, the kind of scrape made of a hundred intersecting, strawberry-red abrasions reaching down the full length of your knee. Like a lifeline of summer.
This thought takes me to a time about 24 years ago in a campground not so different from Happy Acres. The Fox’s Den on Put-In-Bay island. My Grandma and Grandpa Mantey stayed there during my childhood summers. The campground was all trailers transformed into makeshift summer homes, and its layout was in a little circle, an excellent landscape for me and my siblings to ride our bikes around.
There’s one summer I particularly remember because of the glasses I was wearing. It would have either been between kindergarten and first grade or first grade and second.
I had these thick plastic glasses that were a nearly nude shade of brown. They were super trendy in the eyes of my parents, probably, who wore those giant rims for style points. But to me they were unwieldily and ugly.
Whatever summer it was, I was riding my bike around the campground and I crashed. My glasses went sprawling in the opposite direction of my little body. My knee was gushing blood but all I could think about was those damn glasses. They had broken in my fall. I thought about how mad my mom was going to be. I didn’t know much, but I knew glasses were expensive.
I limped back to the campsite crying, handing the pieces to my mom and apologizing. She didn’t even notice. Everyone ran to look at my knee, cooing over me to see if I was hurt, if I needed stitches. There are many glasses, mom said, but only one Jackie.
I’m rubbing my knee now. At age 30 I still have a scar from that fall. I didn’t get stitches and I’m glad. The bump is a reminder of that story, a reminder of how loved I am.
Justin and I are visiting Happy Acres on vacation, one thats timing worked out well. The week before, we buried my grandma, the one who lived on Put-In-Bay for half the year.
My grandpa, her husband, had died last year. He was the first of my grandparents to pass away. (Again, how lucky I am. To have had all my grandparents around for such a big portion of my life.)
But something about my grandma dying was harder. That’s not to say I loved one more than the other, but there was something about the fact that they were both gone now that I was having trouble processing. To me, grandparents came in pairs. So when one was gone but one was still alive, the first death didn’t seem absolute. Life didn’t feel like it had shifted to a new plane.
Now it did. A new perspective and understanding of the world without my grandparents in it was settling into place. And it was kind of a relief to do it in foreign territory where there were so many manmade things shaped like animals.
These play things were so gaudy, and the dissonance that their being around created — in a place whose whole purpose is supposedly rooted on celebrating the natural — made me feel more comfortable about feeling so uncomfortable in my understanding of the world. Happy Acres Kampground’s absurdity is exactly what I didn’t know I needed.
I’m sad my grandparents never got to meet Justin, my camping/life companion. He packed almost everything for this trip. Planned and booked it. Made all the food. Brought what we needed, and emailed me a list of what I needed to bring (like, only two things) the day before we left.
This is how we work as a couple. I’m good at making a living. He’s great at living.
Really, this kind of stuff is effortless for him. He picked all the playlists (“In My Room” by Jacob Collier, “Black Messiah” by D’Angelo, “Guapaspasea!” by Gecko Turner, and “Classic Hip Hop: The Samples Radio” on Google Play). All of which he played at the perfect moment to set whatever mood required.
He’s exactly what I didn’t know I needed, too.
At night, we sleep in a tiny cabin the size of a closet. It’s hot but I still curl helplessly into Justin, afraid of the bugs that might eat at me or lay eggs in my ears. Afraid of so much I can’t see in the dark.
It’s the not knowing that he’s so good at navigating. It’s the not knowing that makes me feel so helpless.
If I were to write a review of Happy Acres, it would say to definitely go on the trails. They’re a wooded area in the back of the grounds with a few benches and several unhelpful maps, but all the short trails walk you in a circle, so you can’t really get lost.
Justin and I did this on our last day at the campground, smacking at mosquitos on the other’s back in between holding hands.
The morning we left, Justin took us to a pancake place up the road. Whenever we travel together he always finds little local places to hit up, and this one had the interior that was like a set of “Grace Under Fire.”
My grandparents would have loved it. There was straw hat decor, pink vinyl booths, family pictures hung about, and plastic tabletops that bore the art of an eagle in front of an American flag. It was so country, but also a clear clash of time periods and personalities and ideas of what happiness looked like.
After breakfast as we headed back to Chicago, I secretly wished that we could stay for the weekend’s “planned activities.” Riding and walking around in circles, knowing we were safe.
Friends stayed at my house on Friday night. I was a stopping point for their trek to a wedding further west the next evening.
We did what one should do in Chicago — eat. After a subpar experience at a restaurant with too-kind Yelp reviews and duck fritters that might have just been chicken maybe(?), we decided to walk around and wing it.
That’s always when the best things happen.
We ended up at a Thai restaurant that we smelled a block away. The weather was lovely, so the place had its sidewalk-to-ceiling windows open and the scent of spicy chili noodles, curried meats, and delicate fried crab drew us toward it. I don’t even know if we walked there or floated on the fumes, mouths agape.
The only reason we made it out of there with leftovers was because we had eaten beforehand. The next morning, I packed the cartons into a brown paper bag for my friends to take with them on their drive. I included some fruit, a few donuts, and plastic silverware I’d saved from long-forgotten takeout trips.
Before they drove away, they thanked me for taking care of them. It was nothing, I said. And really it wasn’t. It was just love by way of clean sheets and a packed lunch.
I thought of all this today as I tried to write a few lines for my grandma’s obituary, the use of which is quickly approaching.
It’s comforting that my family, like me, turns to getting work done in moments of sadness or overwhelming emotion; one might consider preparing photos for the funeral and an obituary for the newsmen before my grandma actually passes as morbid or denying in-the-moment grief, and maybe it is a little bit.
But I prefer to think we’re proactive. Realistic. Farmers. Doing this work now makes logistics easier when the real loss hits. Work is where we find solace — it’s the only thing we can control. And taking control of our own lives and experiences is a way to honor the lives of the family who worked so hard before us.
I get my callous work ethic honest.
As I do my enjoyment of hosting.
A line I wrote for grandma’s article (one of only a few I could actually muster):
“Carolyn was as quick with a comeback as she was a homemade sandwich for your journey home after a visit.”
There’s a little Indiana town I always drive through on my way to and from Ohio.
It looks like all the other little Indiana towns, which look like all the little Ohio towns, which probably look like all the little towns in the midwest. I’m assuming. I’ve never driven through them.
But it’s sweet and quaint. Green with life and dotted in small sheds, gas stations, food stops and dusty well-meaning billboards. The working-man homes pop up like stitches on an embroidered quilt, passed down from generation to generation.
I don’t know why I note it on my drive, back and forth back and forth, but I always do. Probably because it’s called Warsaw.
It was named after *that* Warsaw. So titled in 1836, in homage to the Polish capital, a place with a history that dwarfs everything about this one.
On my last trip home, “A Horse With No Name” came on the radio while in Warsaw. Maybe this is also why I mentally tick off when I’ve hit it during my drives. Its oldies station is a bright spot in a long trip of landing my radio dial on songs I love only to be hit with an accompaniment of static right when it gets to the chorus (always the best parts to sing with the windows rolled down).
I wait for the song to end before I pull over for gas.
I park my car and think why don’t I live somewhere like this?
The thing about small towns is that they’re really lovely. Mine is just not a soul that sings best in their bounty. I like the city. I particularly like this Chicago city, blue collar grit with grassroots culture—a place where I can be a horse with no name as I figure out what I want to do next.
But I get the appeal of small towns. I grew up in one and I miss it sometimes. Small town communities and all they represent were long the American Dream for a reason.
I lean on the hood as fuel chugs into my little car, my baby blue horse for the day. An old man in overalls waves and wishes me a good day. I light up and give the same in return. With my particular background, I can be a chameleon. I can fit in at a rave or in a hog barn. I know how to handle both, and some part of me longs for both lifestyles. And I really do enjoy all the different situations—city or country—I can be placed in as long as I can leave both whenever I want.
There was a grieving I went through in my twenties after college. A loss I sensed of a childhood home I knew I’d never go back to. I am fortunate to have the choice and ability to land wherever I want, but it’s still a loss to know you may never have a big backyard for your own children to play in or that you won’t be able to hop over to a sibling’s house to catch lighting bugs just because why the hell not, it’s Wednesday. No matter how close I am to my people at home, there will always be a distance and some part of me, the part that basks in the glow of concrete and skyscrapers and the potential for something new and exciting to happen, will always feel removed… understood and cherished only by me.
In that distance I’ve learned a lot about what it means to make a space for yourself where you know no one. And because of that, I know my chameleon quality extends beyond my personality and life experience. It can also be attributed to my gender, my age, my whiteness. It’s easy to fit in everywhere when you are trusted immediately. What a gift. A gift that so many people don’t get to experience. A security, safety and peace that so many will never know.
Today I’m back in Chicago. I don’t know my neighbors and I don’t really want to because I have work—creative, life-affirming, must-get-it-out-of-me work—I want to focus on without distractions for a while. We’re stacked on top of each other. It’s hot and it’s tight and it’s fucking brilliant.
I like to go and sit on the harbor and take a break to watch the water sometimes. It strikes me how I can see this huge body of water bouncing rhythmically like some apocalyptic force is moving underneath it, yet only hear the lapping of the water right beneath me.
Life feels like that today. Sometimes we get too lost in ourselves and our own experiences. We can’t hear the rest of those around us, even though we’re all moved by the same force. We don’t consider those who don’t live like us because it seems so far away.
Human history is all of ours to consider. It hurts, but we need to hear it. We need to keep listening even when we’re exhausted. Right now, my experience in America is getting to live in a place where I willingly have no name, where I don’t want to be known as I work and I know I’m probably safe regardless.
But others don’t have that.
We remember their names — names like Warsaw, like Alton Sterling — for a reason.
No new tchotchkes, kittens, magazines, books, planners, planners for next year, journals, salt and pepper shakers, couches, love seats, air plants, gourmet lotions (?), gourmet candles (??), gourmet cooker sets, records, photo frames, posters, pillows, shoes, clothes, lamps.
Hey wait. What’s this?
Does it appear gaudy?
Would three out of five people call it “too much”?
I’ll take it!
No. Put the crush velvet macramé dream catcher down.
Go home. Get to work.
What do you want to do? What do you want to make? How do you want to spend your time?
Hey, did you know your life is slowly being ripped away from you? Every second some piece of you dies in a territorial trudge toward decay?
No, wait, sit down at that computer! Get out from under those covers.
Don’t let all this nothingness scare you away from getting started on making everything you ever *really* wanted happen! We meant that as motivation!
All we’re saying is that stuff has become a distraction. What did you buy. Oh how cute. It is. No I really think so. Here. Take a pic. Use this filter. Look what I got. Saved so much! Saved everything but myself!
Too many things to eventually give away. Too many things that own you when you’re trying to find new ways to own yourself.
“No new stuff” is rooted in focus.
… Or is it rooted in freedom?
You’re part of a generation that doesn’t need a lot of stuff. There’s a store that sells all you need.
As seen on TV.
Even if a zombie came a-knocking on your door, you could just run over to the CVS for a knife kit and Gatorade. No need to borrow sugar from your neighbor or pack up the blankets for next winter. The onion cellar is obsolete when the big box seller is right next door.
If you can’t bring yourself to cut down the amount you own, just take it to mom and dad’s. This is what the Baby Boomers fought for, after all.
Your life is better than theirs in so many ways. You feel safe and surrounded by enough to not have to store empty margarine containers under your bed just in case a Great Depression happens again and you can’t afford Tupperware. You, young adult in 2016, can free up your space, which means you can free up your mind.
No need to put water in your bottle of Pert to help it last longer. You’ve made it in America. You are free.
“No new stuff” is rooted in independence.
… Or is it rooted in guilt?
Is this just how we starve ourselves? A strike motivated by helplessness as the whole world gurgles and gasps under a pile of trash.
On second glance, maybe that’s why the zombies knocking on the door look so familiar.
How do we make this better? They howl with a hunger no amount of corner store cellophane foodstuffs could ever fill.
My first book hits Barnes & Noble books shelves… today! “100 Things to Do in Columbus Before You Die” is a bucket list of the best things to do in Ohio’s capital city. There are kid friendly and new visitor-centric entries, as well as items for people who have lived here for a long time (RIP Bernie’s, right?).
In addition to its sale at local book stores and its national representation — hello, Costco shoppers, meet the 614 — I’m doing a few author events in the next month. I’ll be selling the book ($16), doing signings and generally will just be available to hang out. Come say hi!
3/5 – The Candle Lab, Short North, 6-8 p.m. Gallery Hop
3/15 – Seventh Son Brewing Company, Italian Village, 6 p.m.-Midnight, Book launch party!
On Tuesday, the New York Public Library uploaded more than 200,000 historical images into the public domain. It’s a wonderful time suck *and* an opportunity to finally use the new black hole emoji when talking about it with your friends! Really though, it’s interesting to see images that haven’t made it into the public consciousness but are just as arresting as those that have. It’s a great research resource for writers or artists.
Interior of miner’s shack. Scott’s Run outside of Morgantown, West Virginia. From the Farm Security Administration collection.
Clicking through I was reminded of the one time I had to Google Image search “trust falls” for some reason and thought it would be funny to caption how ridiculous they are. And, thus, this blog post. HAPPYTHURSDAY.
That little-known time Van Gogh did some corporate freelance work.
A photo still from my worst nightmare.
Prepare the Kool-Aid. She’s ready.
“I didn’t say ‘Fall on’ yet, Deborah! I didn’t say it!”
“Did you see how super eager Dan was to get to the front when it was Andrea’s turn? <giggle>”
We had a yard sale in my neighborhood the other day. I didn’t have a lot to sell. I’ve purged so much in my recent moves that everything I own, which isn’t much, are things I want or need. I try not to buy tchotchkes or meaningless stuff that I’m excited about for a week but then just collects dust on a shelf somewhere.
Picture frames and Made in China sculptures and Mason jars with fake flowers are the misfit toys of adulthood. I will spend extra money on clothes and food and gifts. That’s about it.
I do have a lot of books though. And records. So I set to work picking out ones to sell. Prepping for a yard sale can be stressful — figuring out what to sell, deciding what to charge for what you do decide to sell, and confronting a mental list of just how insignificant the crap you own is can an existential crisis make.
Adding to the frustration? Masking tape. Why is it so sticky on your fingers but never on the actual thing you need it to stick to? WHY?!
I share a house with four other people. We each live in one corner apartment of the house. The others had filled our backyard on yard sale day with so many goodies! My records and books looked kind of lonely huddled together on my back porch.
About half of my stuff sold. Turns out anything priced for more than $2 at a yard sale is just ridiculous. Who the fuck do you think you are charging $5 for an ornate antique ashtray? The buyer has all the power. He or she knows you’ve gone to all this trouble to pick out this junk, label it with that pestiferous masking tape, and sit outside while strangers dally around like zombies in your back yard. You just want it gone. So how low will you go?
The night before, when I was curating just what of my bookshelves to feed to these deal-seeking wolves, I decided there were a few records in my collection I just couldn’t part with. Surprise, they were the ones with sentimental value.
“Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure: I listened to this album nearly every morning of my sophomore year of college.
“Abbey Road” by The Beatles: An ex-boyfriend got this for me and I still think it’s sweet because everyone has that one person from their early 20s that makes them think of a Beatles song.
“Portrait of Bobby” by Bobby Sherman: Belonged to my teenage mom.
The Black Keys and John Frusciante and MIA? Sell. Sell. Sell. This stuff’s gotta go! A deal you can’t refuse! But wait there’s more! I’ll sweeten the pot and let you take this masking tape off my hands! No really. Please. Can you rip this tape off my hands?
One album, though, that didn’t get purchased during my yard sale has been the focus of my last few weeks, musically speaking.
The thing with records is that you can remember where you got most of them. You remember the crazy deal you found them for, or who you pilfered it from, or what barter you made to get it, or which mom wanted you to please, annoying hipster kid, just take them from the basement so there’s less junk down there. I have three editions of “Rumors” by Fleetwood Mac from an ex’s mom’s old collection.
There is a pride to finding classics for so cheap. It is a reminder of their fragility and the way we discard or forget things that once meant so much to us. Sometimes the story means more than the music.
But I just cannot remember how I got “Something/ Anything” by Todd Rundgren. It’s such a random pick and I am not familiar with him except for this album. Hell, I didn’t even know he sings that insurance commercial song “I DON’T WANT TO WORK. I JUST WANT TO BANG ON THE DRUM ALL DAY.” until I was recently Spotifying all his work.
But I have this album completely memorized. This album has been in my rotation for about seven years. I can’t believe I was trying to sell it for only $2 the other day. Talk about not knowing something’s, anything’s worth.
This album is the ultimate in spring listening. And if there’s a time to be easy and smooth and optimistic, it is the time when spring is folding into summer. You’ve settled into rainy nights and a warmth that feels like a hug rather than a chokehold. “Something/ Anything” makes me feel like I’m on the water. Just laying on my back, eyes closed.
I’m thankful no one bought this up. Sometimes one woman’s trash is actually her own treasure.