The Guest House


Last summer I’d successfully moved from Chicago to Portland, but my dishes were in the next state up. My cousin Paul had them, and had since May. The china belonged to his parents, a gift from their wedding thirty years earlier. A place setting for 12, it consisted of dinner and salad plates, bowls, tea cups, and saucers, all decorated in a delicate blue and yellow flowered pattern. Too formal for regular use, they went mostly unused for three decades. But two years ago, when my Chicago boyfriend and I broke up and he moved out, he took his dishes with him. My aunt gave me hers, and they were precious to me in my time of sudden need.

A year and a half later I drove them from Chicago back to her house in Columbus a few weeks before I moved to Portland, thinking she would want them back. She was surprised to see them, but I told her I was too nervous to move them in an Amtrak shipping load with the rest of my things. She offered to send them with her sons on their upcoming road trip and suggested I go get them from my oldest cousin’s house at some point once I was settled in Portland. Olympia was only a two-hour drive, after all.

My three cousins left Columbus, Ohio the weekend after the youngest’s high school graduation and the brothers headed toward Washington. Paul had lived in Olympia since he was 18, having attended Evergreen for school. That was six years ago, and he showed no signs of leaving the Pacific Northwest. I remember feeling surprised that he had chosen to go to college so far away, but it was clear the move had suited him. He moved into a group house full of other college kids after his first year there, and the housemates would often host house shows for local bands and ones traveling through on their way to Seattle or Portland. The Guest House, they called it. It was a little green ranch-style house, which I’d only seen in pictures.

I had never expected to end up in the Pacific Northwest myself but nevertheless, I moved to Portland in July, into a tiny but comfortable studio apartment in the northwest quadrant of the city. In August, I decided to go see Paul in Olympia and retrieve the dishes. I texted him to ask if he was around the weekend of the 21, and he called me in response, taking me by surprise. My dad is the only person I still speak with on the phone — everything with everyone else is communicated via text. We made plans for that weekend, when I would drive up to Olympia after work on a Friday.

“Leave as early as you can,” he advised. “Traffic is so bad.”

He wasn’t kidding. A million other cars competed with mine for space on I-5 toward Seattle. Eventually I made it the 100 miles north to Olympia and parked outside the little green house. He gave me a hug and we walked over to a bar nearby for dinner. We smoked his Marlboros as we waited for our burgers out on the patio in the August sun.

Paul is tall, with curly brown hair and an extremely rueful smile. He has always seemed to me like the type who could start a cult and probably get away with it for a while. His brain likes math and art equally, a combination I’ve never been able to relate to, but one that is common in our family. He is a musician, an artist, and braver than me. In high school he would sneak out of the house and attend literary parties with people much older than he was, and would have probably done so for longer had he not been spotted by friends of his parents.

He loves to play devil’s advocate. I remember him once getting into a debate with one of my girlfriends from college about the ethics of hunting. I can’t remember who was on which side of the argument, but I do remember my friend’s frustration at being so challenged by a 14-year-old.

Since my own mom’s passing, his has become a mother to me, the woman I go to with questions about ovarian cysts or new guys in my life. His father has given me career advice and served as a sounding board for my complaints about bad edits and bad editors.

Now Paul works on websites during the day, from home, and on his art in his spare time. Over dinner, he surprised me and told me he was leaving Olympia. He’d found a large one-bedroom in a town called Hoquiam, more than an hour away, on the coast. He talked about how few people lived there, and that seemed to appeal to him. I wondered what had changed his mind: A house always full of people, or the state of the house itself?

His lease in Hoquiam was for six months, and he was leaving Monday. He said wanted to be alone. He wanted to get a cat and have his own space and make his own messes and clean them up himself. He wanted room to draw, and the time and solitude to create. I understood these feelings and thought about how freeing it had been to live by myself for the first time, in my small Portland studio.

I nodded sympathetically. It felt nice catching up over a beer, both of us finally grown ups, and glad to see each other in a new place.

After we ate, we walked to a corner store for more cigarettes so I wouldn’t be bumming off of him all weekend. Then he took me to Cafe Vita, a coffee shop in Olympia. The walls of the coffee shop were devoted to Paul’s drawings for the entire month of August, and they were for sale. I looked at them for a long time as he sat and read at one of the tables. I picked out a drawing I liked and told him I wanted to buy it. He told me it was funny I’d picked the one I did, because it was one out of only two or three that had been drawn in Portland. While many of his drawings were in black and white, the one I’d picked had a splash of yellow. I liked it.

I told him I had cash, but he told me I would have to wait until the show was over to claim it.

“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid. It hadn’t occurred to me that buying a piece of art on display wasn’t like picking up something you needed on the way home from Target.

We headed back to the Guest House, and the inside of it was a lot like I’d pictured it. A small crowd of early 20-somethings were gathered in the kitchen, the air thick with the smoke from a pan of slightly burnt fried eggs in oil. A girl there was baking a pie and offered me a slice.

One of their friends had been visiting all week from the Midwest but was leaving that night. Paul offered to drive her to the airport and I went with them, sitting alone in the backseat of his 1982 Mercedes Benz. With her leaving and him moving, I realized I’d stumbled upon a week of goodbyes among friends. He and I talked the whole drive back, about books and music.

I slept in Paul’s room and he took the couch in the common area. I woke up the next morning when I felt a slight thump on the bed. I rolled over to face the window and saw that a small cat had leapt deftly from the window sill onto the bed where I slept. She walked up to me gingerly, sniffed my chin, and hopped down toward the partially open door. She slipped out, and I wondered blearily if I was actually awake.

I crept outside the door a few minutes after the cat, but the house was quiet. I saw Paul curled up on the couch under a blanket, and saw his phone on the coffee table next to him. I texted him to let him know I was leaving to get coffee in case he woke up, and I went back on my own this time to Cafe Vita. A Chicago man I liked sent me a picture of his coffee mug without comment, and I texted him back a photo of my Cafe Vita cup to go.

As an afterthought, I took a picture of the Portland drawing and left.

I brought back coffee for Paul and one of his housemates, and we stepped outside to drink it and smoke. The backyard of the Guest House was populated by found objects and assorted chairs. We sat for a moment, and then Paul asked me if I was dating anyone. I surprised myself by being honest with him instead of shrugging off the question. I told him about the Chicago man and mentioned hopefully that he was planning a visit to come see me in Portland. If Paul thought this was ill-advised or an unlikely event, he didn’t say so, and nodded without judgement.

“If you’re moving an hour away, I’m guessing you’re not seeing anyone,” I ventured, hoping he wouldn’t be annoyed with me for prying. He wasn’t.

“No,” he admitted.

Paul went back inside and started messing with the record player in the living room. He put on the White Album and played “Blackbird,” which made me laugh. He always remembered that song as played by our dads’ friend, Buzz. I don’t remember Buzz playing that one on regular rotation the way Paul did, but whenever I hear it, I end up thinking of Paul thinking of Buzz.

The house was slowly waking up, so I took him to breakfast at a restaurant where one of his housemates was working. I dropped him back off at the Guest House before going to meet a couple of friends of mine downtown. 

When I walked back into Paul’s room a couple hours later, I saw it was half in boxes. He’d been packing while I was out, and working quickly. I tried to help, but felt unsure of what went where. Instead, he let me help him unstick some of his photos from his walls. There were dozens of them. He explained that a wall full of them had been from his most recent birthday in March, a party at which he’d given everyone a disposable camera and asked his guests to fill them up that night. He developed them later and hung them up with tape. I watched him pull them down one by one and gather them in a box. I wondered if he was sad to leave or excited for change.

Not asking which, I quietly left the rest of the pack of cigarettes I’d bought on his desk chair.

A while later, we walked out to the porch with my things and he gave me a hug.

“I’m glad we’re family,” he said.

I blinked back sudden tears, moved. I said the same to him, and walked back toward my car.

I opened the driver’s side door and suddenly realized I was about to drive away without even asking about the dishes for which I’d ostensibly drove there. I laughed at myself and walked back. I sheepishly re-entered the house, and Paul looked surprised.

“The dishes,” I said simply, feeling ridiculous.

“Oh!” he said with a laugh. He led me to his car, parked near mine, and we transferred them from his trunk to mine. I drove off with a little wave.

I left feeling glad that he was there, or at least that he would be nearby in Hoquiam. We talked about going camping in the Cascades before it got too cold but we never did. I could wait until spring to visit, I suppose, but I like the idea of a rainy winter drive to a town of almost no one but my cousin, to an apartment by the ocean.

Welcome to Portland


I didn’t even paint that wall that shade of blue.

I live in Portland now! It is mostly lovely, despite the fact that I moved in at the start of a heat wave and I have been sick for nearly a week. Major props to my dad, for putting up with a very grumpy passenger (and driver) for 2,000+ miles. We had a great trip together full of stops we dragged the other to unwillingly, but also stops we agreed were awesome (the Badlands) or overrated (Mount Rushmore – come at me).

There’s a lot to say about our road trip, and I am working on that essay this week for a different site. But for now I am just happy to be here and mostly settled. I live in Northwest Portland, in the alphabet district, and near NW 23rd, a fun shopping and restaurants thoroughfair. I am a mere three blocks from a Trader Joe’s, where I have been twice, mostly to buy orange juice and popsicles since absolutely no food sounds or feels good right now. When I was there the first time, I heard a boy – maybe 9 or 10 – ­­absolutely screaming at his mom for her to buy him sushi for lunch and I thought, I am not on planet Earth anymore. A lot of the packaging of items I am used to buying there is different here than in Chicago, too – there’s less of it. I’ve been careful to bring my reusable bag for fear of side eye, although I can say tons of people still use the paper ones provided. That’s good for me, because what else am I going to collect my recycling in?

I am already noticing lots of Chicago and Portland differences, in simple stuff like walking down the street. I got used to ignoring people in Chicago after being broken of what Christina used to generously call my “Ohio Nice.” Here, people make eye contact and smile, so I’ll have to train myself all over again.

Cars defer to cyclists and pedestrians in a way that my dad could not help but notice. I’d experienced that back in October during my first visit, when I toured the whole week by bike. At one point when my dad was driving my car, a woman and her young son started to cross the street. When in Rome, my dad must have thought, and halted the car to a sudden stop partially in the crosswalk. He waved his hand in what he meant as a kind, “after you!” gesture, but, since done out of practice, may have been mistaken as an annoyed “wtf” motion. They timidly crossed, and I was proud of my dad.

After he left, I explored a little on my own, when I felt up for it. I went to Coffee Time, at Johnson and NW 23rd, and the owner was friendly right off the bat. I told her I’d just moved, and she gave me a couple restaurant recommendations. She had gorgeous blonde dreadlocks which I admired with a swell of envy. I wanted dreads so bad when I was in college but did you know that if you decide you don’t want them anymore you have to shave your head?

I saw her again today, and she remembered me. I’m not sure she’ll recognize me next time without my glasses and my too-sick-to-bother top knot of hair.

Despite feeling terrible, I made voyages to both Target and IKEA to start my new apartment. There is such a joy in picking out your own things. I’ve done that before, but never for an entire place – just for my room, or a bathroom. Now, I can pick things I want and put them wherever I feel like. I bought one of those ridiculous white gauze canopies you hang over your bed because I always want one. They are wildly impractical, but I don’t care.

“I hung up a curtain rod,” I texted Stefanie. “I’m gonna make it after all.”

My stuff got here via Amtrak without a hitch, and at a lower cost than expected. The guy who helped me get my stuff brushed me off when I asked where I should go to pay my storage fee. Amtrak is amazing, and if you ever need to move your stuff across the country, I recommend it fully. All my boxes were accounted for and in great shape. The same can’t be said for one of my USPS boxes which, unless I am much mistaken, is now full of shattered drinking glasses. It was packed really securely, too.

Dad was still here, as was his visiting Salem, Oregon cousin Jenny, when I found a desk I liked at a yard sale. The man selling it offered to let us borrow his push cart if I bought it, so I did. Dad pushed that desk six blocks, mostly uphill, and moved it into my apartment. I steered from the front, and Jenny supervised – Dad did the hard part. Parents always get stuck with the hard parts, don’t they?

One other thing we did when Jenny was here was go to Powell’s. Dad wanted to see if any of his book were on the shelves there, but Jenny beat him to it. She went to the front information desk and made a big deal over him, just like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“He’s a famous author,” she drawled, as Dad ran away in humiliation. “Once we find him, he’ll be happy to sign any and all copies of his books you have for sale.”

It turned out they did have his most recent book, and Jenny got the manager to slap “Autographed” stickers on all the copies he begrudgingly signed. It was hilarious and I regret nothing. It served him right for Friday morning when, 200 miles from Portland, he let me believe he was serious about doubling back to Walla Walla, where he’d accidentally left his hat.

We have such fun, he and I.

I am glad he drove across the country with me. I am glad I am here, and I am even glad I am sick now and not the week before I left Chicago. Here, I at least don’t yet know what I’m missing.

Dwindling Baggage

This is what will be going in my car (giraffe not included)

This is what will be going in my car (giraffe not included)

It’s July! I hope you had a great Fourth of July weekend. I know I did, since it was full of time with friends, eating and drinking too much, and checking things off my to-do-before-moving list. That list is getting mercifully shorter, and a big item got checked off today: My nine Home Depot boxes are on a train headed to Portland right now, thanks to Alex and Becky. They packed up the boxes in their much-bigger vehicle and I followed them in my car to Union Station.

There, Amtrak weighed my boxes which, as I wrote before, had to come in under 500 pounds total. Mine collectively weighed 229 pounds, confirming my suspicion that I have zero concept of weight. I had at least weighed what I believed to be the heaviest one of them, by standing on Christina’s scale while holding it. It didn’t weigh even 45 pounds, and I knew almost all the others were lighter. I just didn’t realize how MUCH lighter. Provided I’d had another willing friend with a vehicle, I could have moved a LOT more stuff than I did.

The process of getting the nine boxes to the belly of Union Station was strange, but it wasn’t the logistical nightmare I’d been picturing. I worried I’d be wandering aimlessly around Union Station’s lovely atrium, staggering under the weight a single box in my arms. We went nowhere near the atrium — I’d called the week before and was told there is a loading dock. Once you clear a security check, complete with bomb-sniffing dog and armed cop, you’re directed to exactly where you need to go, where Amtrak employees help you carry your stuff. It was a lot more organized than I had expected, although the second I was assured my boxes were good to go, a million new worries immediately formed for me to chew on instead.

“I’ve just given myself a 12-day stomach ache,” I told Becky, watching the men load my belongings onto a large hand truck.

Now I can spend every moment between today and July 18 worrying that my stuff has not arrived/is in shambles/is lost and gone forever.

But hey, at least it was cheap. The total cost was $138.10, and then I opted for the $15 insurance add-on. If it doesn’t work out, maybe the insurance will allow me to replace whatever is lost or damaged.

Seven flat-rate shipping boxes (mostly books)

Seven flat-rate shipping boxes (mostly books)

On Tuesday before roller derby practice, I will be mailing my USPS boxes to myself from the post office by work. It kills me now, realizing I could have included those boxes in my Amtrak shipment, but maybe the cost would have been comparable since those boxes in particular are so heavy on their own. Once those seven USPS boxes are out of the way, all I’ll have left is what’s going in/on top of my car and what I’ll be leaving for a Salvation Army pick-up appointment.

This weekend was perfect weather, and I got to do a lot of things I wanted to do. I went to a cookout in Bridgeport to see friends and was surprised when I found myself choking up. When you start crying while hugging your friend’s mom, whom you’ve only met twice, you might just be entering a tough time. Chicagoans be warned. I was obnoxiously happy for about 90 percent of this three-day weekend, and hit with surprise pangs of sadness or realization for the other 10. This percentage wasn’t helped by how I felt when I found my mom’s glasses tucked away in a box — I’d completely forgotten I even had them, and the forgetting made me sad.

I almost can’t believe I won’t live here anymore a week from tomorrow.

I tried not to make many July plans, like I wrote earlier, but the next few days are filling up all the same. Outside of that I’m just letting myself do whatever I feel like in any given moment and not letting myself feel bad about my choices. For my last derby practice Tuesday, Becca volunteered to meet me in Lombard and get video of me skating, something I’ve wanted this whole time. I’ve been wondering about my form for the last seven months, and also I am very vain.

I said a lot of goodbyes this weekend and so many more are forthcoming. I hate that part. I can’t let myself believe anymore that I’ll see most people again in the next seven days. It was easier to think that when it was two weeks, or two months.

It makes me glad I got my farewell parties out of the way before it really was time to say goodbye.

To Add To A Pool


Maria's in Bridgeport

Maria’s in Bridgeport

I threw myself five going away parties in two weeks, and I highly recommend it. I created a single Facebook event for all five, and invited basically everyone I know. At the start of each one I showed up by myself, unsure who, if anyone, would come meet me, and every time, people did. I never knew who would turn up so it was basically a series of delights, all lined up one after another. All in all, I saw around 40 people, including a surprise out-of-town guest, and ate a lot of good bar food. Thanks to everyone who came to see me off.

I was telling someone at my final party at Maria’s in Bridgeport that I don’t feel the anxiety I felt when I left Columbus, over long-distance friendships. When I moved to Chicago, I felt like I was starting over from scratch. Now it feels more like, instead, I’m about to add to an already bad ass pool of friends. I’ve always been pretty good at keeping in touch, but it’s easier now than it’s ever been.

I have friends I only ever interact with via text, or email, or gchat, or Facebook, or Instagram, and that’s fine. As long as your platform isn’t the actual phone, I can keep track of you — and I’ll even make special phone exceptions for some. No one is ever far away as long as there’s Skype for coffee break catching up, or Snapchat for inside jokes. Now I can even keep tabs with Fitbit — this past weekend I did a step challenge with Stef and Jaimi and we messaged each other within the app the whole time. It was nice. This weekend I’ll be doing one with my best friend from my Ohio hometown, since there’s no reason we can’t do these from different cities.

I didn’t really make many July plans, and got my going-away tour wrapped up before then. I’m just not really sure what my state of mind will be in those last 12 days. I’m doing everything I can to be as prepared as humanly possibly for my move, and the last big hurdle will be this Sunday. The Beans are helping me drive my 10 moving boxes down to Union Station that afternoon, where I will wave goodbye to half my clothes and all my kitchenwares and hope they’re reunited with me in Portland two weeks later. This is the time where I need to remind myself that stuff is just stuff, and the things with real sentimental value will be with me and Dad in the car. Plus, the Amtrak shipping experiences I’ve read about have been positive, so here goes.

One thing I did plan for July is Mamby on the Beach, a two-day EDM concert happening July 11 and 12. Despite the fact that I leave Chicago very, very early the morning of the 13th, I sprung for a weekend pass with Liz so I can finally see Passion Pit (among others). Beyond that, it’s going to be a really busy week and a half in my office as I prepare to leave and wrap up a bunch of projects. This Friday, Stef and I just blocked out the entire day to hang out together and do whatever we want. I can’t think of a better way to kick off a long weekend.

I can’t wait to be in Portland, and I am excited to get settled in. I hope some folks will come visit, and it would be nice to have at least one planned visit to look forward to. But at least I’ve got two Ohio trips, and at least one Chicago/work one, happening in this latter half of 2015.

Chicago to Portland: The Logistics Of Moving Across the Country

Map showing the Amtrak Empire Builder route from Chicago to Portland.

I’ll be envious of my stuff’s train ride (image via).

Once you decide to move across the country, the next thing you need to decide is what all is coming along with you. It pretty much comes down to one big question: Will you get a U-Haul, or won’t you? Of course, there are a lot of options in between, and so I went with a combination of plans:

  • Purging stuff (do not underestimate this one!) (~65%)
  • Mailing flat-rate USPS shipping boxes (~10%)
  • Using Amtrak shipping (~15%)
  • Packing the rest in my Cavalier with me and my dad (remaining ~10%)

Did you know you can use Amtrak to ship up to 500 pounds of your stuff from Chicago to Portland for less than $300? The catch is getting an array of boxes to Union Station, but we’ll get to that.


I’d done purges before, but the one I did this spring was a doozy. I held a yard sale in April (pissing off my building’s stick-in-the-mud condo association, even though I had the permit the city of Chicago requires). I got rid of most of my smaller furniture there — end tables, ottomans — and lots of clothing. I sold some larger, individual pieces on Craigslist, like my desk and my bed frame. I gave people back the stuff of theirs I’d borrowed (mostly — I still have some of your books, friends). Christina and John volunteered to give my couch a home. I made a Salvation Army pick-up appointment for the very last of the large furniture items, and some random bags of donations. The Salvation Army dudes took the bags, but refused to take the furniture because it was not in good enough condition to be displayed in a showroom. I thought fast and bribed them to take the items to my condo’s alley (further pissing off said condo association).

USPS Shipping:

But before that, one of the first things I did to prepare for my move to Christina’s back in April was to go through the books and other heavy (but small) stuff that survived the initial purge and pack them up in USPS flat-rate shipping boxes. The large ones are 12″ x 12″ x 5.6″ and cost $17.50 to ship, no matter what they weigh. That means, you can mail yourself a bunch of heavy stuff in 10 boxes for $175. That said, I might put these on my Amtrak shipment, depending on the total weight of the stuff I own NOT currently in USPS boxes.

Amtrak Shipping:

Now, back to Amtrak: 500 pounds is the maximum amount of weight they’ll allow for one shipment. I’m hoping to come in under that, but if I don’t, I’ll just mail some of those heavy-ass USPS boxes to my new apartment the week before I leave Chicago. The full 500 pounds would cost a person $274. That’s a steal, but as I mentioned, it means getting up to 500 pounds of boxes to Union Station in downtown Chicago. I either need a real good friend with a car to tag along with me in mine, or I need to shell out $128 + tip to use Dolly, which bills itself as “the Uber of moving.” I am fine with hiring a Dolly, but my big concern is, what happens if Amtrak refuses to take something? Will that Dolly fee double if they have to go back to my house with some boxes?

Amtrak doesn’t require you make an appointment to drop off your stuff, but I have no idea where in Union Station you’re supposed to carry it all. I’m setting aside Sunday, July 5 as a tentative Amtrak drop-off date. I don’t leave Chicago until the 13th, so that means I’ve got some wiggle room in case Amtrak can’t take something I need shipped. It will also mean my stuff will beat me to Portland — lucky for me, Amtrak will hold onto boxes for $3 per box, per day.

Packing the Car:

If Amtrak and/or the USPS boxes’ travel plans work out by Friday, July 5, that will mean I’ll have that last week to play some Cavalier Tetris. However, if my shipping plans go well, it also means I won’t have much to put in the car. (We’ll see how true or untrue this ends up being.) In any event, I’ll be buying this giant duffle bag I can strap to the top of my car — it’s got a capacity of 15 cubic feet, and is 44″ in length x 36″in width, and between 14-19″ in height. In there, I’ll be putting all my framed artwork and posters, plus cramming in whatever clothes I’ll keep with me for at least two weeks (July 6-July 20). Inside the car itself, I’ll keep my Kitchenaid stand mixer, record player and records, and my skates — all particularly precious cargo, trust me. Hopefully all this stuff fits, with enough room for my dad to be able to roll both front seats back. He’s a tall dude and I’m a short lady who doesn’t think about that stuff.

And finally, friends Matt and Carie were sympathetic to my cause and offered to give me their old car’s bike rack. I need to pick it up and test it out, so I know Scout will be secure as we head across several states. (I couldn’t part with my lovely bike.)

So, there you have it — best laid plans, right? Good thing Dad reminded me he’ll need room for HIS suitcase, or else every inch inside the car would have already been accounted for.

Five Years Before Now

In recent years, I’d written before here that I would never move out of state again, because it was really hard to do once. To that I am forced to say, never say never – and that I’m nothing if not an eternal optimist.

I did worry, once the idea of moving to Portland crept into my mind, that maybe I will just always repeat a pattern of making a drastic move five years and starting over, having made a mess of wherever I’d been. But I don’t think that’s what happening here. First of all, I didn’t make a mess of my life in Chicago; I built up a network of loving, wonderful friends – most of whom are incredible women I admire. I worked for a fun company with international name recognition and learned what I like and don’t like doing in my job. I made co-workers into best friends and then, after some time, took my career in the direction I’d been waiting for. I got my life on track in Chicago, in some big ways. And I’m taking some of those ways with me to Portland, or at least what I learned from them.

I never really made a mess of Columbus either, even if it felt like it at the time. I just felt lost, working at a job I hated and no longer wanting to be with my college boyfriend. I was drifting, and I had the sense to make a change for the better. In some ways, this is that — new and improved.

But then again, there are lots of things that are different between this move and my move to Chicago five years ago. When I moved here, I did it without a job and without a home. I’m glad I did it, but I’m even happier to not to do it again. As of this week, I have an apartment lined up in Portland and my company has officially announced that they’re letting me keep my job remotely.

The biggest change from five years ago until now is myself. In 2010, I was self-loathing and on the verge of a depression that hit me hard a few months later. Even though I’ve been through a lot since I got here, I am a lot happier with who I am, and about 100 times more comfortable with myself. I value my time and am clearer on what I want and need in a way I wasn’t then.

If you’re not happy, change something. If you doubt who you are, change the story you tell yourself about yourself.

I want to make the most of my last five weeks here. I’ve been collecting two-second video clips of my last 100 days of living here, and editing it as I go. It’s not even two-thirds done, but I get nervous with every clip I add. One more day gone, I think, and hurry off to count the ones that are left. I look forward to sharing it next month, with everyone here who has meant so much to me in Chicago (and Ohio).

A Portland To-Do List

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 5.57.01 PM

I have spent the last year and a half waiting on a lot of things. I waited to see if I would get a new job and be able to afford my old apartment without my ex-boyfriend. I waited to see if I was going to be able to keep the cat I had been fostering for several months. I waited to see if I would seriously connect with another person so I could stop asking myself if that would ever happen to me again. The answers came as, yes to the job! No to the apartment, no to the cat. No to connection (for now).

I think, when I get to Portland, I’m going to live by myself, after all — It’s what I was eventually going to work toward anyway, so now I’ve just decided to skip a step. I thought about living in a group house in Portland; it would be cheaper, and I’d meet people. I’d do if for a few months and then move to a place by myself, or to a place with ONE roommate instead of three or four. But as much as I liked this plan, part of it made me still feel like I would be waiting. I don’t want to wait to see if I find a cool roommate or a cheap one bedroom, and move to Portland knowing I’ll move again in a few months.

Keeping my work life separate from my home life will be a challenge, because the two will share a space approximately 230 square feet in size. But ever since Stefanie sent me a link to a converted hotel apartment building, I’ve been picturing myself living in it. I don’t own stuff anymore; this small space won’t look as empty as the giant one-bedroom apartment Kevin and I spent time and money filling up. All this place will need is a bed, a desk, and a chair — life over here, work over there. I think I can separate the two spaces with some creative feng shui (and some of these IKEA shelves). My friend Becca is great at stuff like that and had some great suggestions.

I want to rely on myself for a change, and sign a lease on my own for the first time in my life. I’ve never walked into a housing situation alone — I’ve just ended up that way a couple of times. I like living by myself. I just didn’t like living in a too-big, empty, ex-boyfriend-haunted apartment. No one would.

I’ve been scared for a while because I have dated a few dudes in the last 18 months, but they haven’t felt the same to me. I worried for a long time that it was because I had lost the ability to feel anything for anyone; those guys were great, yet I remained unmoved. But now I think it just means I’ve gotten better at knowing when something isn’t right. So for now, I am borrowing hope from the future. There’s a dude out there, and  — let’s be real — probably a few of them. I’m going to meet him/them eventually, and it’s going to be pretty awesome.

So here’s a list of things to do after I hit town, in order of priority:

  • Sign lease for quirky, converted hotel studio apartment
  • Adopt elderly Portland cat
  • Transfer to Portland roller derby outfit
  • Find buddies to hang with
  • Meet cute, bearded Portland dudes who are into cats/ladies who like cats

The more clearly I picture myself there, the more impatient I feel for it to be my reality. That is, when I am not thinking about how I need to cram as much hang-out time as I can with every single Chicago person I know and love. It’s a big ol’ bucket of conflicting emotions these days, but I am so, so happy.

I can’t wait/I need more time.

How Twitter Bridges Gaps Between Cities

I’ve written before about how much I love Twitter as a freelance writer, but it’s also served me very well so far as someone moving from one city to another. After my initial Portland foray last fall, I began following lots of news outlets, writers, and local businesses out there. I keep most of them tucked away in a list simply called “Portland Folks” but I check in on it with enough regularity to feel pretty well versed on what’s happening there. I feel much more informed about Portland than I did about Chicago when I moved here in 2010.

It’s also helped me network from afar. Shortly after I started following Portland accounts, I also started seeking out roller derby ones. That’s when I realized there’s a handful of women who:

  • are freelance writers
  • play roller derby
  • live in Portland

I nearly fell over. What are the odds? One might worry that this means Portland metro area may be over-saturated with smart lady writers who love roller derby but I don’t think of it like that. I see it instead as further indication that someone like me will be very happy somewhere like there. I had been following a couple of these women for a while, and was interested in their books. Both about roller derby, but each is very different — and both are still different enough from the book I’ve been working on.

I bought Frisky Sour’s first, a how-to guide for those starting out in derby. Her book got me to reluctantly try washing my gear in the top rack of my dishwasher! (It really does work — you just have to make sure your velcro is all sealed up.) And while I was aware of it, I didn’t actually buy Roller Girl, the new graphic novel by Victoria Jamieson, until I heard my hero Stephen Thompson plug it on my favorite podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour. I recognized her name and the book title right away, and tweeted at her. She responded, at first, with:

But THEN, this made my day, when she replied to me separately:

I fully intend to transfer to their derby program the minute I move, and I can’t wait. I told her I’d even seen the Heartless Heathers play when I was in Portland last weekend!

Even before now, I’d “met” some Portland folks on Twitter and through Instagram. I even met met one guy, when Stacey and Shane and I went to the Portland Beer and Wine Fest. One of the organizers had messaged me on Twitter and told me to introduce myself at the event’s info booth, so I did. He’s a writer too, but also a radio host and active member of the Portland craft beer scene, so we had a lot to talk about.

It’s awesome that I’m slowly making connections in a new city I’m not actually living in yet, and it makes the whole thing feel a lot less daunting than it did five years ago when I moved to Chicago.

Approaching Moving Day(s)



My last month in Albany Park begins this week, and I know I need to start packing for my three-month residency in Avondale. This will be a stranger move than usual, because I hope to get rid of the majority of my belongings before that point. After careful consideration, and some input from my dad who has a stake in this as well (more on that in a minute), I’ve decided to sell everything I own rather than move it 2,100+ miles. And if I get rid of it now, I won’t need to move it to Christina’s.

My belongings are currently divided into categories in a Google doc: Sell; donate;  mail; move with me in my car. I’m having a big-ass yard sale April 11 and I will be thrilled if I unload most of my furniture that day. When I pack for this move, I will stuff books and records and kitchen utensils into flat-rate shipping boxes, to be mailed to an address in Portland at a later date, $18 at a time. Are all of those seasons of ‘Friends’ on DVD worth $18 to me? They are not. At Christina’s, I will leave unpacked only what I’ll need between April and July. I’m getting a bike rack for my car and one of these crazy zipped up luggage things that straps to the top of sedans so you can fill it with camping gear. Or, in my case, whatever I realize last-minute I can’t part with after all, because I am a flawed, materialistic human.

My dad is a champ, because I asked him to drive across the country with me and he said yes. Now we are eagerly planning our route. We’re taking I-90, which neither of us has done, and I am excited to see the Badlands and Mount Rushmore.

I don’t have a job in Portland yet, but part of me is okay with that, for now. It lets me do things on my own time, instead of for a new company’s start date. The plan, as of today (it gets tweaked on a weekly basis), is to sell everything, and drive out with Dad in mid-to-late July. The exact date depends on whether or not I have to measure out my vacation time. If I don’t have a job anymore, we can leave whenever we want — silver lining. Once we get there, we’ll stay at an airbnb for a couple of days before he flies home. I’ll spend two weeks in a hostel while I apartment hunt, and then hopefully I’ll find a place for August 1. I’ll combine part-time work for my current company with freelance writing and fill in the gaps with my savings.

My cousin talked me into embracing Portland’s group house living. This whole time I’d been looking at one-bedrooms in apartment buildings, because I want to live by myself and adopt an elderly Portland cat. Those apartments are more than I can afford, and I’d need my future job to come with a significant raise. However, in Portland, it’s not uncommon for a bunch of 30-year-olds to share a house and split the cost five or six ways. I had assumed it was just college kids who do that, but that’s not the case. I can live for a lot less if I go that route, and a lot of those situations are month-to-month. If I hate it, I can leave after I get a full-time job and go get that cat after all.

Living with a bunch of people at first is probably better for me anyway, since I know from my Chicago move that I am more prone to homesickness than I realized. I shouldn’t let myself be cooped up alone in an apartment in a new city, at least when I get there. I can’t wait to transfer to the Rose City Rollers new players program and meet people. Plus, a friend recently inspired me to start a live lit show — something I’d joked about, but now am really interested in.

It’s scary to spell out the exact details of your dream, but I want this more than I’ve ever wanted anything. I feel like I am in such a weird place right now, like I have senioritis. My time in Chicago is dwindling and I am torn between wanting to speed it up and slow it down. I signed up for level two of Derby Lite, on Tuesdays from April 14 until July 7 — just before I leave. There’s so much I want to do in Chicago, and I wish it would just get warm, and stay warm, so I could go enjoy this city.

I’m flying to Portland again this week, for another five-day trip like I did in October. I’m not going by myself this time, though — two Columbus friends are going with me. We have no plans beyond my wishes to see the Rose City Rollers play, and there’s a beer and wine festival happening Friday and Saturday. We’re staying in the Alberta Arts District, which is one the neighborhoods I’m considering moving to. We’ll be taking the MAX, which I missed out on in the fall because I biked and bussed everywhere.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks, and then a busy few months, and then a busy year. Maybe by this time next year when I turn 30 things will have settled down a little — but I really doubt it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.