A Year Set To Music

I listened to a lot of music in 2014, like anyone else, but I noticed something interesting about a handful of the songs I listened to most this year. A song I had in heavy rotation last winter detailed the ending of a relationship that shared walls; one from spring was about moving into a new apartment after living with a significant other. One from summer was about drifting, but still optimistically hinted at getting better; one from this fall, and now, is about finally moving on from a past relationship after nearly a year away. Not all of these are new to 2014, but all are by female musicians and spoke to me during a quarter of this year of my life.

It felt like an interesting arc.

Winter: “Both Hands,” Ani DiFranco (lyrics)

Spring: “Brighter Discontent,” The Submarines (lyrics)

Summer: “Last Year,” Best Coast (lyrics)

Fall: “Clean,” Taylor Swift

No video available, so here are the lyrics:

The drought was the very worst
When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst
It was months, and months of back and forth
You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore
Hung my head, as I lost the war, and the sky turned black like a perfect storm

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning
That’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean

There was nothing left to do
When the butterflies turned to dust, they covered my whole room
So I punched a hole in the roof
Let the flood carry away all my pictures of you
The water filled my lungs, I screamed so loud but no one heard a thing

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning
That’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean
I think I am finally clean
Said, I think I am finally clean

Ten months sober, I must admit
Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it
Ten months older I won’t give in
Now that I’m clean I’m never gonna risk it

The drought was the very worst
When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning
That’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean
Rain came pouring down when I was drowning
That’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean
Finally clean, think I’m finally clean
Think I’m finally clean

2014 Year-in-Review

If each year since I started this blog had a tagline, they might go something like, “2008: The Year I Started a Grown-Up Job After Graduating From College” or “2010: The Year I Moved to Chicago” or even “2012: The Year of The Ear Surgeries.”

What would 2014 be? The year all of Chicago’s crazies/misogynists descended upon me at once? The year of my breakup? Or would it be the year I said yes? This is how I choose to look back on this year.

I wrote 18 blog posts in 2013. This is my 54th for 2014. I wrote more this year than possibly any other, save the year I was a full-time reporter. I also traveled more in 2014 than ever before, from California to Vegas to Portland to Salt Lake City to home.

It was a good year. I couldn’t see how it could possibly turn out to be so when it started, but it absolutely was. I started out this year feeling like someone’s ex-girlfriend. I’m wrapping it up with such a solid sense of self, and a clearer understanding of who I am and what I want for my life. For me, 2010 was a similar year of growth, when I made a life-saving recovery thanks to grief counseling, and ended it with the decision to hit re-set by moving to Chicago. This year was less dramatic, but just as eye-opening and productive and soul-feeding.

I spent the first half of 2014 in complete upheaval: breaking up with my live-in boyfriend; spending the first three months of the year unsure if I was going to get hired for a new job I was in the running for; and moving out of my apartment of more than two years to a new neighborhood with a roommate I didn’t know.

The rest of 2014 was spent smoothing things out, leveling them: I am no longer in a co-dependent relationship in which I feel shitty half the time; I love my job; and I live in a much better apartment with an awesome lady who makes me tea and buys me chocolate when I’m sad. The second half of 2014 was spent writing, whether it was an episode of a webseries, freelance articles, blog posts, or a travel series. It was at the start of the second half that I felt the undeniable need to go to Portland alone and experience that city and new place.

I said yes to lots and lots of things. I like myself a whole lot better than I did 12 months ago. So, as I’ve done since 2008, I present to you the inane; the important; the things I deemed worthy of blogging about this year.

January: My ex-boyfriend moved out of the apartment we shared. Was asked to be a contributor for the Addison Recorder. Got an email from an HR department about a marketing job I’d applied for. Enjoyed the company of Mango, a foster kitty that had been left in my custody.

February: Had a rough, cold winter and drove to the suburbs in a snowstorm for a job interview. Spontaneously decided to flee the polar vortex(es) and fly to San Diego to see Eileen and Tim.

March: Debated whether or not to re-sign my lease on an expensive one-bedroom that used to be paid for by two people. The day before my 28th birthday I heard I was hired for the new job, but signed my lease knowing I was going to need to break it in the summer to find somewhere cheaper.

April: A month of goodbyes: Said goodbye to Groupon, and hello to my current company. Said goodbye to Sarah and Evan, who moved to Salt Lake City and Seattle, respectively. Ran a 5K with Jaimi — my first in two years, her first one ever.

May: Said another goodbye, to Mango the cat. Ran another 5K, this time with Travis. Got horribly sick just before Memorial Day weekend, but recovered in time to go on an illuminating bike ride to Evanston with Becca.

June: Rode my bike everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Made plans to move in with Adele in Albany Park. Was unfortunately assaulted by a cyclist in Lincoln Square just before moving. Began writing in earnest for the Addison Recorder. Ran my first 8K.

July: Went to Ohio for Fourth of July weekend. Threw myself a moving-out party. Wrote an episode of a webseries. Had a meltdown after procrastinating packing for weeks. Packed. Said goodbye to my home of 2+ years and cried a lot. Decided to visit Portland by myself in the fall.

August: Settled into the new apartment and was surprised by how much better I felt just by getting out of the old place. Got really into using Twitter. Tallied up my miles and realized I’d ridden more than 200 over June, July, and August.

September: Bought myself a tiny blue record player and held its importance close. Finally read at a live lit event, sharing an essay about moving out of the old place and away from the memories it was built from. Went to Vegas for work and began to feel mounting excitement for Portland. Ran my best 5K yet, this time by myself.

October: Flew to Portland by myself Oct. 1. Fell in love with a part of the country I was unfamiliar with and biked everywhere I went for four days. Took a bus to visit Evan in Seattle. Read at two more live lit shows. Starting making lists for NewsCastic. Began to imagine myself living in Portland.

November: Climbed all the steps of the Sears Tower with Jaimi, Becca, and Jodi. Felt the heavy weight of my mom being gone for seven years. Had an essay published on Hello Giggles. Saw the final version of the webseries episode I wrote. Flew to SLC to see Sarah with Stef for a very fun Friendsgiving.

December: Had a really effing terrible cab experience. Signed up for a January stand-up comedy class taught by a live lit woman I admire and respect. Took up roller derby. Got bangs! Went home for Christmas and was gifted the skates I needed for game play. Flew home thinking about what I want to get out of 2015 and began making some plans.

The Birth of Penny Pain

Photo of Meryl in wrist guards, knee pads, and skates.

Those wrist guards are on backwards.

My interest in roller derby started, like so many other of my interests, with a movie I once saw. Five years ago, in November 2009, “Whip It!” came out, and my then-boyfriend and I saw it. That Christmas I asked for derby skates, even though I didn’t expect anyone to actually get them. Owen and Jamie did, and I started skating at a rink by where I used to live in Columbus.

I love skating. I am not a graceful person and I am not a fast runner but I feel stronger and bolder and faster on skates than I ever do on my feet.

Like the joy I experienced when I realized I loved riding my bike this summer, I feel similarly when I lace up my skates. I already knew I loved skating but I had forgotten how great and freeing it felt. We can always still manage to surprise ourselves and continue to let ourselves be surprised. I love that about life. I hope I always feel this way.

I’ve been subscribed to Derby Lite’s emails for a while now. Around the time of my breakup last winter I toyed with the idea of taking a class but decided I couldn’t afford it. That was absolutely true then, when I lived alone in an apartment I couldn’t afford and still had my old job that didn’t pay well enough for me to stay there. But when I saw an email last month with the subject “FREE ‘Get In Gear’ Day for Derby Lite: Chicagoland,” I knew I wanted in.

“How long have you been thinking about joining Derby Lite?” the email read. “Is 2015 your year?”

Yes, I thought. Yes.

I say yes now, to most things. Yes to biking. Yes to reading my essays in front of audiences. Yes to climbing the Sears Tower. Yes to talking to strangers. Yes to being brave. Yes to going to Portland by myself for a week. Yes, yes, yes.

May 2015 be the same, if I can be so lucky.

Image of the outside of Derby Lite in Oak Park.

Derby Lite in Oak Park.

I drove to a roller rink/gym in Oak Park on Saturday morning for the intro class. I walked in 10 minutes late, but a pretty, short-haired blonde woman asked me if I was there for Get in Gear. I smiled shyly and nodded. She told me almost immediately that the skates I’d brought were not going to work and I felt disappointed. Part of the reason I was even there was because I already had the most expensive piece of gear. She said I could borrow knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, and a helmet like everyone else and see how the skates went, so I suited up with the rest of the women who had shown up.

There were six or seven of us, all at varying levels of skate experience and roller derby knowledge. Some had already registered for an intro class and some, like me, were still mulling it over. We were given a rundown on the gear and how to put it on, then asked to sign a waiver before rolling onto the rink. Some had never skated before, or not since they were kids.

I had felt hungry to get on the rink since touching my skates while sitting on the rink’s bench, carefully lacing them up. Mine looked out of place here, bright white with purple rubber front brakes and purple plastic wheels. The borrowed, proper derby skates the other women wore were black and orange, uniform. I’d been told the brakes on mine would prove insufficient, but I was skeptical.

Out on the rink, I felt amazing. The pads made me feel foolishly brave, even though I knew I was still afraid of actually falling. I skated faster than I ever have in my life, feeling so strong and so full of energy.

After about 30 minutes, the tall, short-haired blonde leader, Queen B, led us in some drills. The first was stopping: That’s when I realized she had been right about my skates. Everyone around me was able to stop by letting down the front of their skates in an easy toe stop. When I tried, my front brake skidded bumpily on the rink’s floor like a tire going over a rumble strip. I frowned. She’d been dead on just from seeing them.

Then we practiced falling drills. Queen B showed us a two-point fall first, with one knee going down and then the next. We all looked at each other when she told us to try it, unsure it was a great idea. But we did it, one knee first, and then the other — we couldn’t feel a thing through our thick, borrowed knee pads. We moved on the a four-point fall (knee, knee, elbow, elbow). She described a six-point fall and told us to click our wrists together first.

“If your wrists make a clicking sound, you’ve got your wrist guards on right,” she said.

I moved my wrists together and heard no click. She saw, and pointed out I had my guards on… backwards. Like a boss.

I quickly corrected them and joined my squad members in our first six-point fall and felt nothing.

It was awesome.

After we did some more drills, our first-ever roller derby lesson was over. I told Queen B I wanted to register for class and buy their discounted gear, but that I wasn’t sure I could afford new skates, too. I knew I couldn’t — I wasn’t totally convinced I could swing both registration and gear at the same time. She told me I could keep using my skates for the class if I wanted, and I was grateful. I suspect I’ll need to invest in some new ones with better brakes soon, but for now I know I’ve got the very basics I need.

I can’t express to you how great it felt to be on skates again. Maybe my uncle’s skate and cycling abilities have finally taken hold in me this year? Probably not — but it feels amazing to be (kind of) good at something. I can skate. I am comfortable skating. I want nothing more than to be skating right now.

I’m glad I said yes to this.

Image of my white and purple skates.

My white and purple skates.


Hair Envy

I have wanted bangs for most of 2014, and off and on for years before. Every once in a while I’d tumble down a Pinterest rabbit hole and pose the question to Facebook. Almost everyone shut me down, and with good reason: Curly hair and bangs seldom mix.

I asked my stylist about them over the summer and she just laughed and laughed. I dropped it.

But I still wanted them so, so bad. I like my hair, and I’m happy with having low-maintenance, curls. I knew throwing care-heavy bangs into the mix was ill-advised, but I wanted a change. I wanted Jenny Lewis hair.

Then Jaimi got bangs last week. She looked like she fell gracefully out of a damn 1970s issue of Vogue and I was positively dying from hair envy. She was one of the few to encourage me to try bangs despite the social media backlash I’d gotten at the idea. It’s just hair — it grows back. Everyone has a bad hair cut now and then and life goes on.

Saturday, I brought a Pinterest board to my stylist to show her.

“I know you said no to bangs, but is there anything on here that’s feasible?” I asked, handing her my phone. She scrolled through:










“Yessssssss,” I hissed excitedly.

She refused to give me blunt, choppy, across-the-eyebrows bangs. Fair enough. She did agree to long, side-swept ones, but she made me swear to blowdry them straight every single morning.

“But I don’t have a blow dryer,” I said.

She stared at me. Then she told me to go buy one from the CVS across the street before I did anything else. I agreed, worried she would change her mind if I hesitated.

She thinned out my crazy-thick hair and asked me one more time if I was sure. I said I was, and seconds later, BANGS.

She blew out my hair and I watched her deftly use a round brush to hold my bangs straight under the heat of the blow dryer. I bought a brush from the salon and headed to CVS.



The ends started curling almost immediately after I left, so I suspect keeping them straight will be the never-ending battle I was warned about. But so far I love having a different look for the first time. I have no idea how I’ll need to go about maintaining them or if I’ll stick with them, but for now they are fun to play around with.

Cab Ride, Saturday Night

So I am just going to keep writing accounts of my own experiences of cat calling, sexual harassment and intimidation, and verbal abuse. I have to get these stories outside of myself.

Last night I thought I was never going to make it home. I was worried I was being abducted by my cab driver, who started out my ride by asking me if I lived alone. That should have been my first red flag. A lot of times, young guys driving cabs ask if I have a boyfriend, and I don’t think anything of it. This was not that conversation. I told him I was single but doing really well with that because I feel like I’m a lot more productive when I’m not dating someone. He asked if I was interested in a “short-term relationship” and I said that wasn’t my thing. He did not accept this answer.

I’d change the subject and he would ask a couple benign questions, but always come back to asking me about something short-term. He tried to flatter me and said he was getting off his shift after taking me home. I would say no again and again, but he would demand to know why. He slowed down the car each time, waiting for me to respond. Dumbfounded, I repeated variations of my first response but he wouldn’t let it go. It was too late when I realized he’d gone much further west than I live and I panicked, my stomach absolutely sinking. In that moment I honestly believed he had no intention of letting me go. I had written his cab number in my phone about halfway through the ride when his questions started becoming invasive but I didn’t know what to do with it in that moment.

I pointed out we were further west than where I’d said. He stopped the car in the middle of the street and asked me where he was supposed to be going. I told him, and he got annoyed with me and said I’d told him the wrong street. He turned around, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

He did drop me off at the intersection I’d originally given, but tried with me one last time. He asked for my number or my Facebook, and I told him I wasn’t comfortable with that. He didn’t say anything, and I slammed the door shut. I walked south half a block, looking over my shoulder, and hid in an alley until I saw him go. I stayed there for a couple of minutes, worried he might loop around the block. He didn’t. I am so glad I gave the intersection I did, which is not my block, but the intersection of the two largest streets closest to me.

I reported him to 311, giving the cab number I’d written down and any details about him I could remember. He said he had only been a cab driver for two months. He’s lived in Chicago for two years. He was intimidating and verbally manipulative and he should not be a cab driver.