The “after times”: Turn, turn, turn


Pandemic is over. A new season has begun. Right? It feels like it. But it also feels as if we don’t know how to come out of something as a whole. For an event that happened to all of us at the same time, it also remains a reminder of how devastatingly singular we all can be.

Maybe it’s because we’re trying to come out whole in the first place. Why do that to ourselves? The past year or so was a massive fracturing of everything we thought we knew and understood. How does one recover from something one survived? That’s a question I’ve been trying to find an answer to my whole life. 

Today I walked a mile to the dentist to get a crown put on to replace a temporary crown currently on one of my molars. Here’s a list of things I saw along the way: a man in biker shorts juggling three balls while running, a car with a giant Puerto Rican flag flying from the left passenger window and a giant Pride flag flying from the right one, and this flamingo bike:

I feel most like the man pointlessly juggling while running when what I really want to feel like is the person in the flag car. I’d settle for at least feeling like the flamingo.

By the time I arrived at the dentist, I checked my phone and saw they’d called several times. My crown hadn’t arrived yet. Someone in some factory somewhere is backed up and still making it, this fake cap for something inside me that rotted away while I sat inside and watched the news do anything but sit still.

Maybe we’ve been whole this whole time. Maybe we were rotten to begin with. 

Either way, it feels nice to hold others in my arms again. To let them see my unmasked smile. Even if part of it is fake. Or at least temporary. For now. 

I’ll walk back to the dentist next week.


~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.)

Photo essay: Plants of my pandemic


I’m one shot deep into full inoculation. On my calendar, April 19, two weeks after our second shot, is circled in red, the outline of a wound, the unceremonious ending of a dread-full chugging along. I feel… complicated about it? I’ll be able to go hang out. Visit my masked neighbors. Be out again with people and friends. That makes me so happy but I am also shy about making plans, anxious about over-committing, afraid of under-committing. I feel like I have atrophied to my desk chair and the monotony of quarantine has emptied me, a hollowed tree trunk on its side. I have been growing behind a fence, having a conversation with myself in a gated space. And I feel trepidation about what to do once it is gone.


Happy My Birthday!


I turn 35 today! Wooooo! I feel reflective today because I’m smack in the middle of my thirties—a decade that I can say, halfway through, I have loved. “Transformative thirties” doesn’t sound as sexy as “dirty thirties,” but here I am. Transformed and sexier than ever.


What did you do in the last five years?

I quit drinking, got married, traveled the country, began a visual art practice, became a better writer, paid off all my student loans, started a savings account, finished grieving some old ass trauma, became a better partner, became a better friend, earned a full-time remote writing job I love, and learned I have narcolepsy (and learned how to treat it).

New in the shop, American Girl.

What was the biggest lesson of the last five years?

That thoughts and feelings are not final. They can change. And when they change, I change. Two things can be true at once. I can thrive in ambiguity now, not chaos; I learned how to tell the difference between those two things. Every day I make a choice to learn from my mistakes, give love, accept love, figure out where my mind is heading and get ahead of it—either rolling out the welcome mat or gently steering myself in a new direction.

I have learned the spots in me that are tender. I have learned why they are wounded and what they need to heal. I have learned how to get excited about the information that comes with rigorous self honesty, even when it’s unflattering. I welcome the news that self exploration uncovers. I like being in constant conversation with myself because it helps me show up in the world the best way I can.

What did you accomplish in the last five years that makes you the most proud?

Not proud necessarily… more like in awe: The work I did on my mindset and my spirit, and the expanded, nonjudgmental self awareness that is a result of that work. This has informed every relationship in my life and made them better in a profound way. And now I’m paying it forward. Recovery is a gift that keeps on giving.

What do you want to do in the next five years?

Ohhh yes, the good stuff! I want to act on this self awareness that has been gifted to me in the last five years. I want to take everything I’ve learned and focus it on doing the things I feel called to do. 

How will this manifest?

I will become a better writer and artist. I will be a better friend for myself. I will pay it forward to people I choose to let into my life. I will be fearless.

What do you hope your life looks like five years from now?

I will be proud of myself. I will know myself and recognize how I have grown since 35. I will be happy and excited about my choices. I will look as forward to my 40s as much as I am looking forward to the rest of my 30s right now. 

What are you grateful for today?

The chance to do this again! A birthday is just another day. Another opportunity to tell the people I love that I love them. Another opportunity to take my fears and turn them into fate. I am grateful for the love I have been given, and the person I have been. I am grateful that my mistakes haven’t been life-shattering. I am grateful for the girl I have held inside myself every birthday before this one. I love her for getting me here. A birthday is a moment to celebrate her too, all the “me” I used to be. I am grateful for this life and love watching it unfold.


Outtake: perplexed as to why I can’t take a screenshot while actually taking a screenshot… and falling into every stereotype about technology and aging in the process.
There we go. Cheers, from my Zoom room to yours.

Give yourself space for grace


This past month I reorganized how I approach getting creative work done throughout the week. I’ve long been able to use mornings to my advantage, writing and making art before I “clock in” and start the 9-to-5 grind. I’ve never been able to do it consistently though. For every one day I was able to be in the zone before breakfast, there were two days when I’d convince myself to do “job work” just so I could get in a better headspace to do “creative work,” but then never quite get around to that part of things. Now it’s one day for every seven. The mental drudgery of the past year has required an outrageous degree of emotional stamina (and, thus, creative stamina). Right now I feel like a success if I get even one side of my two-part work equation accomplished each day.

In respect for this state of being—and a fledgling tenderness for my little-engine-that-could instincts—I’ve decided to give myself a freaking break. I’ve adjusted my expectations and shifted to the mentality that Monday through Friday I do “job work” and Saturdays and Sundays are solely devoted to “creative work.” The difference in this seemingly obvious/standard setup is that I don’t feel shitty for only doing “job work” on weekdays when I had plans—plans that, at this point, are unrealistic—to somehow cram “creative work” into the margins. This stupid pandemic has taught me the value of giving myself the grace for space. And I’m gladly taking it. This new plan has freed up energetic space formerly reserved for anger at having to do “job work” in the first place and shame for seemingly prioritizing it over “creative work.” And, you know, shame and anger are a dynamite stick and work stress is the match (i.e., impulsively quitting my job in a self righteous moment of VIVA LA CREATIVE WORK rage). 

Speaking of, happy Pisces season, fellow fishies. (@pisces.sensitivity)

Some other things I’m digging:

1) Amor Fati

For those feeling a similar dearth of stamina as we round the bend on a year of quarantine, I lovingly pass along to you a concept that has recently helped me power through: Amor fati is a Latin phrase that describes “an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good or, at the very least, necessary.” It’s like radical acceptance + optimism + c’est la vie + Timon and Pumbaa hakuna matata + idgaf-but-i-also-care-a-lot… all rolled into one feel-good philosophy. If nothing else, the pronunciation of amor fati sounds like “a more farty” and it will for sure put you in a better mood to hear very-serious-people say “a more farty” with very-serious-face:

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati. That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—but love it.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

An Ohio “bull,” Spark!

2) The *~Chicago Bulls~*

Hot on the heels of my Dennis Rodman obsession, I’m now a Bulls fan? The spontaneity innate in a basketball game watched in real time has been a welcome and exciting reprieve to evenings that we’re whiling away in wait for vaccine appointments. A book, a show, a podcast—all have an ending that has already been decided; they are indulgences I can choose to partake in at any given time. A basketball game, in contrast, is on a schedule. I have to watch attentively, and my Bulls (jfc, listen to me!) are like friends I get to see ball every other day. Lol… This sounds sadder when I type it out. Really, it’s been fun and I’m doing OK.

Justin + Jackie + Dennis = <3

3) First scenes

I’m trying to write the opening scene for a fictional story and I’m struggling with how to make it wallop the reader with an understanding of my central character AND make them want to turn to the second chapter immediately after reading the first. I was trying to think of my favorite first scenes in books I’ve read, but I kept coming back to a TV series instead: the very first scene of Killing Eve, starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. I didn’t know which of these badasses was the serial killer in the show, so I won’t tell you all about it just in case you don’t either. Just watch the clip below… I think this scene is the best first scene I’ve ever experienced, in a book or TV show or film. I had no doubt who the psycho was after I watched this wildly surprising first scene, which has an ending that made me gasp. All with zero dialogue. Writing goals for life! (Or, in this case, serial killer murder death.)

What’s your favorite first scene? Shoot me links to your faves!


P.S. Love is everywhere. Hang in there. We’ll be together again soon.

Irving Park, Chicago, February 2021

Art as self-authorization


I spent most of January in an escapist headspace, burrowing down into several subjects, my fascination with which have taken me by surprise.

1) Richard Yates. I read Revolutionary Road in 2008 when the movie came out because my tween brain imprinted on Titanic-era Kate and Leo in 1997 and I’m pretty much subconsciously committed to following them in a space ship to Mars if they were featured as star-crossed lovers in its alien-infested bowels.

But. I never watched Revolutionary Road the movie for some reason? Probably because I read the book first and it was devastating; too devastating to see on screen right afterward. Fast forward almost 13 years later, the movie’s on HBO Max and with all this quarantine time on my hands, I gave it a crinoline-skirted whirl and… god damn. Devastating, yes indeed, but I was surprised at how differently I thought of the characters and the plot with some years as an adult under my belt. (APRIL, I KNOW, IT SUCKS YOU CAN’T SELF ACTUALIZE BECAUSE OF THINGS OUTSIDE YOUR CONTROL, BUT YOU LUCKY BITCH, JUST ENJOY YOUR HOUSE AND WORK-FREE LIFE OMFG.)

Perhaps my bleak outlook is quarantine related. Or could it be because the movie is different from the book? I bought a three-book tome of Richard Yates’ work and decided to find out. This turned out to be the biggest January 2021 gift of all! What a cynical, destructive, brutal, little worm Revolutionary Road is. 😍 Like the girl-smirking-at-house-fire meme in book form. I love it, and I find such unrepentant catharsis in how slowly but surely Yates dismantles each character with the kind of rage-eyed honesty no one wants to be in front of but, if you see the people the way he does, feels so rewarding and relieving to watch.

And how he does it is startling. Funny almost. You can’t even see it coming. Example: The following savory paragraph about how the children can sleep comfortably now that their parents have stopped fighting (because mom and dad are high on their unrealistic self-deluded fantasy that will eventually kill someone but we’ll get there soon enough!).

“They could lie drowsing now under the sound of kindly voices in the living room, a sound whose intricately rhythmic rise and fall would slowly turn into the shape of their dreams. And if they came awake later to turn over and reach with their toes for new cool places in the sheets, they knew the sound would still be there—one voice very deep and the other soft and pretty, talking and talking, as substantial and soothing as a blue range of mountains seen from far away.”

Then, next paragraph, like a slap in the face from a surly sugar plum fairy:

“This whole country’s rotten with sentimentality,” Frank said one night…

HA!


2) Dennis Rodman. I know, girl! I don’t know! Whyyy?

This minor obsession was inspired by another thing we finally watched: The Last Dance docu-series, which chronicles the 1990s Chicago Bulls as they went for their sixth and final title. At first I was really grooving on Scottie Pippen, learning about his playing style, often relegated to the second paragraph (rightfully so) behind Michael Jordan (GOAT). Then I met Dennis “The Worm” Rodman. Like, basketball Dennis Rodman. I’m so compelled by him! I’m trying to figure out why? I love the way he played basketball, I know that much. Gutter ball go-getter, beast hunter of the rankest of rebounds, trash-talking trash man king of the trash can people…


3) Art as self-authorization. That both of the angry, broken-hearted people listed above struggled with addiction issues all their lives, is the only thing not surprising to me.

I’m interested in people who have channeled extraordinary pain into something else and then turned that “something else” into a brand new something else. Something only they could do or make or be. And if it’s got a little dash of rebellious, self-supporting stank on it, even better. Dennis Rodman became his own performance art piece on the basketball court after accepting that the love/loyalty he thought existed in the world did not, in fact, exist; turning into Dennis Rodman as we now know and (I) love him was the alternative to suicide. For Yates, writing about loneliness, hopelessness, and self-dishonesty the way he did throbs with recognition; this is someone who lived most of their life feeling like a balloon within a balloon, disconnected from others and bumbling about in the void.

Maybe what’s appealing to me about Yates and Rodman right now relates to the third thing I thought about a lot this past month: the idea that being an artist is simply a matter of self-authorization—authorizing yourself to see what you see and express it however you see fit, then move on. I dig that. Feel inspired by it. Even when it comes from deeply flawed sources. Especially when it comes from deeply flawed sources (who have tried and failed to redeem themselves over and over). For those artists I am “rotten with sentimentality.”

Related: Below are some videos I made for my gallery’s Instagram stories this month. I ~authorized~ myself to learn how to animate my work and post it even if I don’t think it’s perfect yet. Can’t wait to see what February brings. Stay healthy, friends.

Mom Genes


Memphis


New Playground


Yo Yo Mama