A Clean Getaway

I am so glad this is a short week because it’s exhausting already. If I’d thought about it enough in advance I might have gone to Ohio for Memorial Day weekend but I’m actually glad I stuck around. On that note, I’ll be home June 17-20 to visit my family and see my niece for her second birthday. I haven’t seen her since before I started work, along with most of the people I’m related to. So Caldwell people, clear your schedules Saturday night!

Meanwhile, this past Friday night I had kind of a breakthrough. I ended up going out with people after work again and we went to our usual haunt. It’s nice to think of us having a usual haunt, actually; it sounds so normal, and almost like I’m getting away with this — passing for having a normal life, with people and places in it. But Friday was the first time I felt like I had any business being there.

One of the best things about life and something I find myself constantly forgetting is that people can surprise you if you let them. We may think we have the people around us figured out but that’s an incredibly arrogant assumption, although one we’re all guilty of at some point.

I got into a conversation with one of the guys from work, and inexplicably, I walked away from it feeling a lot better about moving to Chicago. Not that I’ve ever felt bad about it or regretted it, I’ve just been plagued with a lot of uncertainty and self-doubt. I’ve struggled with this way more than it ever occurred to me I might; I think I was just too stupid and brazen to be scared.

He told me the only thing stopping me from feeling comfortable in my new group of friends, at work, and even in Chicago, is myself. The second he said it, I knew it was true and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. After all, I am the best person at making myself feel unwelcome or out of place, and the first to stop myself from feeling good about much of anything. I think he misunderstood the look on my face because he started to apologize.

“No, no,” I said. “You’re absolutely right. …You have no idea.”

I don’t know if I just needed to hear someone say it to me or if I really am that clueless, but I belong here now, for better or for worse. This is my life. I’m not just visiting on a long vacation and some morning I’ll wake up and say, this was fun guys, but I’m going back to Ohio to my old job and my old apartment and my old insecurities, thanks.

I know this is like the third time I’ve referenced this, but that line from “Infinite Jest” that served as my mantra after I broke up with Brandon is just as true today as it was then: “You’ll worry less about what people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.” I’m in this for the long haul. Maybe now, after seven months of being here, I can actually start to be here. I keep saying that, but that’s just because I can see the pieces falling together, getting me closer to a point where I’m comfortable with the choices I’ve made. The sentiment behind my anthem in making this move is slightly closer to being true.

This is normal now.

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Current new(ish) music playlist

Most of these are songs I’ve found on Pandora since I started working but a few of them are just ones I can’t stop listening to right now.

  1. Jose Gonzolez, “Heartbeats”
  2. Garbage, “Cherry Lips”
  3. Miike Snow, “Animal”
  4. Peter Gabriel, “Solsbury Hill”
  5. Griffin House, “Better Than Love”
  6. Jason Walker, “Down”
  7. Jimmy Eat World, “For Me This is Heaven”
  8. Tarkio, “Standing Still”
  9. Ben Gibbard & Andrew Kenny, “Choir Vandals”
  10. Plushgun, “Just Impolite”
  11. Greg Laswell, “Comes and Goes”
  12. The Sounds, “Much Too Long Now”
  13. Stateless, “Bloodstream”
  14. The Postal Service, “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”
  15. John Frusciante, “The Past Recedes”
  16. Parlours, “I Dream of Chicago”
  17. Death Cab, “You Are A Tourist”

What are you listening to these days?

Saving face

Outside Christopher House

Last Saturday I signed up for a volunteer opportunity through work. I spent the morning misunderstanding children and blowing up balloons at a local nonprofit called Christopher House on Greenview. They were holding a celebration for kids who had participated in their recent Read-A-Thon. I met some other people from my company as well as some really nice staff from Christopher House.

I volunteered to be a face painter, imagining myself effortlessly doodling smiley faces and sun beams on kids’ cheeks. It turns out it’s harder than it looks; if they don’t sit still (and they don’t) they’re likely to wind up with a long, slanted streak that has to be camouflaged to look like the plane of existence from which the flower I started out with is growing. It’s hard to make that look good. The first kid who sat in front of me wanted to be transformed into Spider Man. He did not get his wish, although in a way, he did — he walked away beaming beneath a series of black and red lines I’d scrawled from forehead to chin, making him look more like Pinhead than anything else. That’s the thing though, the kids were happy no matter what, because for unknown reasons, it was thrilling to have someone draw on their faces. With really soft crayons.

Me with a Mike Tyson face tattoo

One of the women who works for Christopher House and who doubled as my child interpreter drew a design on my face that I forgot about, until about five minutes after I left, walking toward Fullerton. I touched my face and realized my hand was smudged with purple after doing so. I could have turned around, but I was on a mission to get to the Fullerton Old Navy for $1 flip flop day. After getting Christina and me some shoes and ignoring any sideways glances, I stopped at the Starbucks next door to get an iced coffee and to have an excuse to use their bathroom to wash the paint off. I went to the register to order and a young barista stared at me.

“What is up with your face,” he said flatly, more as a statement than a question.

“I was volunteering at a kids’ carnival,” I said. “I don’t normally walk around like this.”

He shrugged.

“Wouldn’t be the first time. What can I get you?”

I headed almost immediately for the bathroom sink. And I’m really glad I did, too, because while walking home on Elston, I ran into Sarah, aka, my old cube mate and new book club friend. I looked silly enough walking in the rain with a hoodie haphazardly draped over my head, much less with a fake Mike Tyson tattoo. This town’s getting too small for me already if I can no longer go out in public looking like a crazy person. I already miss the good old days of last month.

Volunteering was fun, although if I go back I might drive. There are a lot fewer buses running on Saturday mornings and I was almost late. Also, I’d love it if there was an Elston bus. I’d probably use it almost as much as the Belmont one.

Things have been moving pretty quickly this week, between work and doing Patch assignments in the evenings. May has set a new record for number of newspaper assignments I’ve done in a month, with six stories so far. If I cover Niles’ Memorial Day parade I’ll hit seven. I really like writing and doing video for them and I’m glad they hired me so soon after I moved here. It’s been a fun way to get to know my way around.

My poor, first-ever face painting victim. So lucky he's smiling after this.

Parlours, “I Dream of Chicago”

Ohmygoodness, beautiful.

I’ve been obsessed with this song for the last 24 hours and I can’t stop thinking about it. It was playing as the backdrop of the ending scene of the series finale of “The Chicago Code” last night and I found out what it was this morning. This song says a lot to me right now. Even the video seems to me like a melding of my two lives, the one I left in Ohio and the one I am building in Chicago. The things we never said, and the temptation to go back and make things right; this song is the closest I’ll come to any of that.

Additionally, it sounds similar to two other gorgeous songs I love, Kings of Convenience’s “Homesick” and, of course, Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago“. These should all be together on some mix CD intended for a long car ride alone.

“I Dream of Chicago,” Parlour

I’ve been a lot of places
My feet have kissed this land
I try real hard to remember all the faces
None seem to have what yours demands

I took a train to Chicago
Thought I could clear my mind
I took a plane out to find some truth
But all I’ve found I can’t seem to leave behind

I dream of Chicago
I dream about you
I dream I could go and say all the things that I never said to you

I’m sure I used to love you
And I’m sure you made me such a fool
But you were solid with your heart and affections
Tell me, girl, what’s a boy supposed to do?

I dream of Chicago
I dream about you
I dream I could go and say all the things that I never said to you

I dream of Chicago
I dream about you
I dream I could go and say all the things that I never said to you

That I never said to you

A unique kind of homesick

When I told people in Ohio that I was moving to Chicago, so many people insisted how cold it was about to get. Granted, I was leaving at the end of October, but I honestly didn’t think it would be that different from winters back home. As we know now I was horribly wrong and I went on to experience one of the biggest snow storms in Chicago’s history. And I’ll never forget that miserable New Year’s Day when Randy, Nathan and I tried in vain, braving the worst wind I’ve ever tried to walk in, to find the entrance to the Lincoln Park Zoo and I begged them to give up and get back on a Clark Street bus where, presumably, the wind couldn’t follow us. Randy was especially determined but then again, the kid lived in Alaska for four years. In retrospect, I’m really glad we didn’t give up.

In any case, Chicago really is a vastly different place than I’ve been used to in a lot of ways. I miss home sometimes, but it’s because of the weirdest things. Christina (as in Columbus Christina) once told me a little sheepishly that she liked going to Walmart now and then because it made her think of college, when Walmart was the only available option in Cambridge, Ohio. I know what she meant and even though I haven’t been to a Walmart since I left home, I can’t help but feel sadly normal for a change when I drive my car to go shop at Target. That sounds completely asinine and so big-box, corporate America, but seriously — we were talking about this at lunch the other day and I’m glad others think this, too. Targets are laid out the same across the country in such a way that if you lost track of what you were doing, you might think for a split second you were in the city you used to live, shopping at the old Target you used to buy laundry detergent at. My vehemently anti-suburban sprawl uncle is going to positively cringe if he reads this, but there you have it. That’s not to say I don’t still miss Cup O’ Joe, Surly Girl and my other old non-franchise Columbus haunts, and that I’m sure to find my new Chicago equivalents; It’s just a strange phenomenon.

But still, this is nothing compared to the shiver I felt last weekend when John, Christina (as in Chicago Christina) and I were sitting on the porch talking and suddenly I heard an owl hoot. The only other time I’ve heard that sound was in my backyard in southeastern Ohio, but I heard it ALL the time, for years. And yet here it was, that exact same sound in a Chicago neighborhood: the same timbre or pitch, or whatever you want to call it. It was the most surreal thing, and oddly comforting, not that I needed to be comforted right then. It’s 500 miles from here to Caldwell but it felt like nothing at that moment.

One day last week I was getting off the red line, I was buried in my library copy of “Round Up The Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca” when someone touched my arm. I looked up, and a friend of Christina’s smiled and waved at me before darting off to catch her train. This was the first time I’d run into someone I knew when I wasn’t expecting to here. It had happened so fast I had to question whether or not it actually had happened, but sure enough. I told Christina about it, and she laughed.

“This is the biggest small town in the world,” she said. “You just wait.”

A learning curve

The past couple of weeks have been pretty great. I am finally starting to fall into a rhythm in my surroundings here and there’s a sense of normalcy that has been missing since I left Ohio. Tonight I went to a screenwriting seminar about developing compelling characters and walked there from work. Everything I want to do is centrally located, or else a short L or bus trip away. Last Thursday I went to my first book club meeting and the hostess’s home was a half block from a red line stop north of me.

Work is getting easier; I hit a point where I was feeling really stressed, and even though I still am freaked out a lot I am starting to see myself getting better at my job. I’ve learned so much in the last two and half months and I think as long as I’m okay with constant change and rolling with the punches, it’s not so bad. We are a company of adaptable people, if anything.

One kind of funny thing I’ve noticed about new work places is that there’s a point when people start to notice I have hearing aids. I almost never wear my hair up so it takes a while, and it’s very rare that anyone actually says anything. But on the few days when I have my hair in a pony tail, even if just momentarily at my desk, I can’t help but notice their eyes drawn to my ears, just for a split second.

Most people seem surprised when they notice, or I mention, I have hearing aids, and this makes me happy because I think maybe my loss isn’t as noticeable as I sometimes assume. It also makes me wonder if they’re lying to be polite, but those who have reacted with genuine surprise in impolite ways tend to counteract this. It’ll be a while before I forget the first day I wore my hair up at the department store and a co-worker flatly did a double-take before pointing and shouting, “Hey, you wear hearing aids!” as if to alert me, in case I wasn’t aware.

At work now, no one has said anything, but I made a joke to a girl I sat next to for a week or two after my cube mate left. She was annoyed about some people at work being too noisy. I apologized and said I hadn’t really noticed over the sound of my music I was listening to with headphones.

“But then again, I am kind of deaf,” I said, smiling.

“I know, I saw your things,” she said.

And that was it.

I really wish I had more to write about, but not much else is going on yet. I do, however, want to give an update on the thing people back home ask me the most, and that’s whether or not I’m dating anyone here.

HA!

I definitely am not. I’m not even interested in anyone, which is weird but kind of nice for now. The closest thing I’ve got going for me is a mild fascination with a Jim Halpert-kind-of-lookalike at work and a bizarre pseudo-crush on one of the editors I write for who, not only have I never actually met, but I’m pretty sure (thanks to some light Facebook stalking) has a very cute girlfriend. This is the extent of my love life; thanks for asking.

Still, I can’t help but notice that there are so many very cute boys all over Chicago in the spring. They’re everywhere, I tell you. So, there’s that.

All work and no blogging

So one good thing about unemployment was all that time I used to have to blog about being unemployed. Yup, that was pretty much the only good thing about it. I hate that I only blogged a handful of times last month, and I wish I didn’t have to sleep.

Things are going pretty well. I have been feeling incredibly stressed out at my job because I kind of thought that by now I’d be better and faster at what I do and we’re all kind of struggling to live up to pretty high expectations not to mention we’re all competing with one another to be the best — BUT: I am still extremely grateful to be working and living in Chicago. Also, I’m having a pretty good week so far. Today I got praised for something I did and that really did wonders for my morale. No, seriously. It made a big difference.

A week or so ago a big group of my improv friends came to the city to perform in the Chicago Improv Festival. I saw their show Sunday and they did really well. It was nice and kind of surreal to see them all again, in a completely different context than the last time I saw any of them. They all wanted to know how I liked it, and if I was doing improv here; I’m not, but it’s fun to think about. Scary, but fun. A lot of people at work do improv so I’ve had a couple opportunities to see shows and talk to people about it. I did like my improv class and obviously I adored the people, but I wasn’t sure how cut out for it I was. It’s something to think about.

Last week I read “Save The Cat!”, yet another book about how to write (and presumably finish) a feature-length screenplay, a feat I’ve read volumes about but have yet to actually accomplish. Considering I hardly have time to blog anymore, I just don’t know how I’ll manage to finish my screenplay. I really want to do it though, and I know if I schedule time to work on it the way I schedule a workday or working out at the gym every morning I can make it happen.

The weather is so nice here this week. It’s the first real, spring-feeling week and the trains are unbelievably hot and crowded. Already! It felt like it was freezing a week ago. They say spring is a short season around here. I walked up Michigan Avenue this afternoon to run an errand and there were crowds of people all over the sidewalks, crossing the streets, obliviously staring at maps on their phones. I was one of them this time last year, when I visited the city with the improv folks. I already knew then that I was going to live here, but it’s a lot different now that that’s actually true. I love it here, and sometimes I’ll catch myself grinning like an idiot walking down the street, looking up at surrounding buildings. Maybe I’ll be broken of this habit after a bird craps on me some morning, but for now, it’s fun.

This is the first month I’m really noticing the park across the street from the house, too. All winter it was desolate, but now it’s buzzing with action, with people playing softball and soccer and kids climbing all over the playground, parents watching. I walked over there and read for a while one Saturday morning when it was warm out, but that day it was still pretty windy. I’m still unsure if it ever stops being windy.

This weather is also bringing to life my new favorite attribute of the beautiful house I live in here: the upper deck. My dad said I’d like having a deck come summer and he was right. We’ve got a decent set up going on, with comfortable chairs, small tables, ample reading material and baskets of sunscreen and nail polish. It’s going to be like that all summer, and I can’t wait. Now if only we could find a cordless blender.

Here’s a call to those in Ohio who wanted to visit but I said to wait: come now! The city of Chicago has thawed. It’ll be fun now and much less treacherous. I even kind of know where I’m going.

Bonus!