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.

The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook is here!


An essay I wrote is in the new book “The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook” from @beltpub! I’m excited and grateful to be included. The Chicago Tribune called the book “required reading” and I can’t wait to dig into it this weekend.

I’ve only had it for a few hours and already stained the cover with fried food grease because that will always be who I am as a person.

There’s a release party from 5:30 to 8 pm at The Hideout Inn (1354 W. Wabansia) on Sept. 11, featuring readings by some of the writers, including @meganstielstra (!!!😍!). Plus delicious food donated by Abra Behrens and by Floriole bakery. Books will be available for sale! Here’s the Facebook event link!

The second event is at Marz Community Brewing (3630 S. Iron) on Sept. 17, from 7 to 9 pm. There will be readings and a DJ at this release party. RSVP on Facebook here!

Check out the whole lineup of books examining life in the Rust Belt at beltpublishing.com (oh, hi, they also have a Rust Belt Arcana tarot deck and I think that’s so very awesome).

Art you should know: Chicago Reader’s Father’s Day series


Happy Father’s Day weekend to all the dads out there! I suggest checking out Chicago Reader newspaper’s feature of W.D. Floyd photographs of fathers from the south and west sides of Chicago. The series focuses on African American fathers, who society often holds an inaccurate view of. You can read the whole story and see the series at Chicago Reader here.

“Within our society there is an underlying belief that fatherhood is a role Black males struggle to fill. But every day I see Black men engaging in acts of care. Most are not making a political statement but fulfilling their basic human instinct. According to a 2013 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black men are more involved with their children than other demographics.”

Photographer W.D. Floyd

Get your tickets for You’re Being Ridiculous PRIDE edition


Chicago’s awesome storytelling show You’re Being Ridiculous is celebrating PRIDE at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre on June 20, 21, and 22 at 8 p.m. each night. The show is part of Lookout Series, an event that presents the work of artists and companies across genre and form. And I’m one of them!

I’ll be reading a new story at the Thursday, June 20, edition of You’re Being Ridiculous at Steppenwolf.

Join us to hear true stories from a stellar line-up of some of Chicago’s very best writers and storytellers. Tickets can be purchased here. Seating is limited, so be sure to reserve your seats today before it sells out! There’s a new group of readers every night (and YBR never disappoints), so maybe make a whole weekend of it, OK?


More info here.

To do: Goat yoga


You agree to goat yoga at the Garfield Park Conservatory because you could use a break. A stretch break. And if baby goats are available for the whole process, why not include that little bonus of zoological Zen? Like fury parkour experts, these newborns. Or so you’ve assumed from YouTube videos of parkour and of baby goats.

When you arrive, you’re amazed at the conservatory’s calm and wonder why you have never been here before? Because you’re busy. You’re worried. You’re reading the news and staying up to date and even Story Corps advertisements are promising to “restore your faith in humanity,” which in-and-of-itself kinda does the trick because at least someone—even just a lonely NPR advertisement copywriter locked in a basement somewhere—is admitting people like you are getting nervous and feeling a little hopeless and climate change is real and ecoanxiety is also real (as of 2017, according to the American Psychological Association) and holy goats can we fix this or is it too late?

Regardless, all of this makes you grateful for the conservatory’s sheltered plants and the gated teeny triangle of prairie grass dotted with dandelions, which you’re now unfurling your brand new yoga mat onto, puffs of glittering seeds rise up to the morning sun. The L train zips by sporadically, charmingly. You begin to relax. You take some deep breaths. Stretch. Break.

When the goats come off the truck, you do everything you can to keep from squealing. But then you’re squealing anyway. You’re squealing and hand clapping like a child and have zero apologies for your excitement. Have you ever even seen a four-day old goat? Been climbed by one? Petted the peach fuzz of one’s recently crowned head?

You can’t focus on the poses, but that’s OK. Goat yoga is ultimately more about the goat—more specifically, what the goat is giving you—than the yoga but eventually you settle in to a warrior two or something like that and stop watching the bobbling babies struggle to walk the knee high grass and you push your drooling mouth closed and pop your eyeballs back into your head. And you breathe.

You hear the L ricochet by one more time and give thanks for a place like this and for your ability to move freely to and from it at whatever pace you like. You feel your legs in your yoga pants, which you haven’t replaced in years because you read somewhere yoga-pants-plastics were harming the water systems, but you’re not thinking about that now. You’re thinking about nothing but what this exact moment feels like to be you.

A goat bleats and you smile even more because that shit sounds so desperate and it’s funny because what sounds like a scream is really just him saying, “Hi. Got food?.” You cup the warmth of the sun in your open, welcoming palms. You smile. For a moment, this moment, it feels like you’ve got the whole world in your hands. Even if it’s a fucked up one. This is enough and you are happy here.

Published: Meet My Neighborhood


Don’t miss my latest dive into home sweet home Irving Park for Neighborhoods.com. I wrote about seven of my favorite spots in my neighborhood, including Independence Park and the best new cafe this side of the Blue Line.

Best window seat in the house.

P.S. Right after I filed this story with my editor, I read about Mirabella Cuisine & Bar in Bon Appetit magazine. The Italian steakhouse is owned by an Ecuadoran immigrant who is carrying on the red sauce legacy of Chicago. I didn’t even know Chicago had a red sauce legacy… or that Mirabella was a hidden gem in my neighborhood that I pass almost every week on my Irving Park runs. Can’t wait to try it!

That’s my favorite thing about living in a city as big as Chicago. There’s an infinite amount of restaurants, art, people, culture, events, drag shows, book stores, et al, to discover here.

Published: Art and writing in Crowded zine


I’m jazzed (jazz-handed?) to have embroidery artwork and creative writing in the newest issue of CROWDED zine, a quarterly multimedia zine affiliated with The Crowd Theater, featuring written and visual work of Chicago artists.

The Issue #3 release party is tonight, May 11, at 8 p.m. in The Crowd Theater near Lakeview! Admission for tonight’s show is free, and you can purchase a zine there for $6. They’ll be taking cash, card, or Venmo exchanges @CrowdedZine. If you can’t make the show but would like a copy, Venmo $8 to @CrowdedZine with your address in the description and they’ll mail you your copy!

Published: Essay in Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook


Technically, this book of essays from Rustbelt Publishing won’t be out until September 10, but you can pre-order your copy today for $20 here! I’m really excited to have my work included and can’t wait to get my hands (well, mostly my eyes) on it. Following, a description of the book from the publisher:

Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods. Seventy-seven of them, formally; more than 200 in subjective, ever-changing fact. But what does that actually mean? The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook, the latest in Belt’s series of idiosyncratic city guides (after Cleveland and Detroit), aims to explore community history and identity in a global city through essays, poems, photo essays, and art articulating the lived experience of its residents.

Edited by Belt senior editor Martha Bayne, the book builds on 2017’s critically acclaimed Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology. What did one pizzeria mean to a boy growing up in Ashburn? How can South Shore encompass so much beauty and so much pain?  What’s it like to live in the Loop? Who’s got a handle on the ever-shifting identity of West Ridge? All this and more in this lyrical, subjective, completely non-comprehensive guide to Chicago. Featuring work by Megan Stielstra, Audrey Petty, Alex V. Hernandez, Sebastián Hidalgo, Dmitry Samarov, Ed Marszewski, Lily Be, Jonathan Foiles, and many more.