She goes on: “What I’d see later is something you never dared teach me, because life means we each are left to our own fate: that heartaches are solitary and, like us, live out their lives to the end.” – small fires – in all the liminal spaces
1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
Ran 750+ miles (just barely), moved to Chicago, ate at several Michelin starred restaurants, almost walked to Mexico.
2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
9 out of 12 ain’t bad. More on this later.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
I have a new niece! She is a chublet and I adore her.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
My uncle passed unexpectedly in January, but we weren’t close.
5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
No new countries or cities as far as I recall. I spent far too much time on the 405.
6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
A better budget, and the dedication to stick to it.
7. What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Shane and I decided to separate on February 25.
I left Ann Arbor on March 27.
I broke my arm on July 4.
Those are the defining features of this year.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Keeping my head above water and in doing so, finding a life for myself that is impossibly richer than I ever imagined possible.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Sobriety, weight loss, protecting my skin, protecting my heart, being financially responsible. My body also said FUCK NO to an IUD twice.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I spent half the summer in a cast.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
I bought a lot of fantastic vintage clothes this year.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I am constantly amazed by the people on the lakefront path. Every time I run or bike there, I spend part of my workout composing a post about how motivating and inspirational they all are.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
A close friend is going though something appalling and inexcusable.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Food and drink and dresses.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
16. What song will always remind you of 2012?
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
ii. thinner or fatter?
About the same, unfortunately.
iii. richer or poorer?
Financially poorer, but richer in nearly every way.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
More running. More time at the beach. More naps. More coffee dates. More reading. More sex. More live music. More miles on Orange. More travel.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
20. How did you spend Christmas?
With my family in Rockford
21. Did you fall in love in 2012?
I fell balls deep in love with Chicago, and was pretty dang smitten as well.
22. How many one-night stands?
A lady never tells.
23. What was your favorite TV program?
I didn’t watch much TV this year, honestly. I’m rewatching Fringe.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
26. What was your greatest musical (re)discovery?
27. What did you want and get?
A whole new life.
28. What did you want and not get?
30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Drank way too much in Carlsbad the night before, slept it off in the car, waited an inordinate amount of time at Port Pizza with Pop, tried to walk to Mexico with Michael, fell in the Tijuana Estuary, watched The Fall, went to bed early.
31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Nothing. I can think of lots of things that would have made this year easier, but nothing that would make it more satisfying.
32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?
33. What kept you sane?
34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
The entire cast of Skyfall, please and thank you.
35. What political issue stirred you the most?
I’ll be honest and remorseful when I say that I didn’t have the energy for politics this year.
36. Who did you miss?
37. Who was the best new person you met?
Karen, and all the great people I’ve met through her.
38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012:
As I wrote in July after breaking my arm, “love isn’t binary, that family isn’t defined by blood, that community isn’t bounded by physical space, and that what you put out into the world will be repaid tenfold if only you’re brave enough to let it.”
See also: 2011
Mercury reverses her course today, but before she does, my cookies are an utter disaster, and a lamp breaks spectacularly, flinging glass across my living room while I stand on a chair, hanging a lone string of Christmas lights. I swear loudly, and carefully climb down to attend to the damage. My right hand is cut in half a dozen places.
Ten years ago, I cleaned my kitchen while I awaited the arrival of my lover. While washing dishes in our deep porcelain sink, I shattered a drinking glass, cutting the knuckles of my right hand deeply enough that I still have noticeable scars. I wrapped my hand and went to the store to buy bandages, my blood soaking through the washcloth. When the bleeding wouldn’t stop, I went to immediate care, where they applied a salve to the wound and teased me at my carelessness. My blood, everywhere.
When I was 18, I broke a bottle in my right hand, drunk and stupid. When I was 26, I sliced off part of the tip of my left thumb in a commercial kitchen. I thought I would sleep with a new lover for the first time that night; instead I called the Ask a Nurse line because the bleeding wouldn’t stop. When I was 31, I skinned my knee on a night with many holes in it. No holes in my stockings and no blood on my dress, but a scrape deep enough to scar. A mystery. When I was 32, I skinned my shoulder and elbow and knee and ankle on the lakefront path. When asked if I was OK, I held up my arm, and immediately the line at the water fountain stepped aside so I could wash away the blood.
This week I will try again to get an IUD, but before that can happen, the doctor will do a pregnancy test because combining the two – a pregnancy and a device meant to prevent pregnancy – can be very, very dangerous. As I have prepared myself for this procedure, I’ve thought about the test that comes before it, and wondered what I would do if I found myself pregnant at this point in my life. I sat at my kitchen table with a friend whose body I have known intimately though not sexually, and we talked about the fear and wonder we feel about pregnancy, just as we once felt fear and wonder about menstruation. Once this thing felt so hard and strange, but now it is normal until it ceases to be so – or ceases to be.
I have sat waiting for the test. For me it has always been negative. And I have sat quietly with others when the test was not negative – on the linoleum floor in the kitchen where I bled, or at the other end of the phone on a beach 3,000 miles away, or in spaces in between while women I love have made unimaginable choices.
This is about love but it is also true for life, this life, the life that we’re choosing and making and enduring. “I learned what I had read in books but I never had actually believed: that love and suffering are the same thing and that the value of love is the sum of what you have to pay for it and anytime you get it cheap you have cheated yourself.”
This life doesn’t come cheap. It is marked on our bodies in scars and stretch marks, broken bones that ache with the weather, tattoos of the ghosts of who we once were, of the things we want to remember. The scar where I scraped myself the day I moved out of my house, a cut that wouldn’t have happened had I been wearing my wedding ring. The deep scars from a tiny cat who wouldn’t be held, and who left us too soon. The two channels through my ear pierced once, reminders of an infection and of my grandpa’s steady hand with the surgical wire. The scar tissue under my skin from too many bike accidents, and the scar tissue inside of me from the biopsies that found nothing. And all of the other things that leave no marks.
This is how we remember, even as our bodies move through their courses, even as our wounds are repaired, even as time heals. Our bodies remember. Our muscles remember. Our skin remembers. Our hearts remember.
I woke up this morning sick as shit. I don’t know where it came from, but it felt a little like several essential parts of my body got together and decided to put me in time out. You’ve been doing too much, they said, and it’s time to stop. I ignored the message for a while, but when I looked in the mirror at work and didn’t really recognize myself, it was time to go home. I took photos with my phone to prove the point; when I checked just now, they’re not there.
Last night Erin and I saw David Byrne and St Vincent at the Chicago Theater. We both had to temper our slight disappointment with the knowledge that this was David Byrne AND St Vincent, not Talking Heads. But the sound was fantastic and Chicago got on its feet and danced, and when they closed with Road to Nowhere, it was like something out of an old revival, hands in the air, voices united.
I’ve fallen into that city-dwelling habit of eating out too often while observing evolution in action in my crisper. Every couple of weeks, I buy a bag of produce from Edible Alchemy and dream big dreams about what I’m going to make – and then I devour the fruit while letting the zucchinis go soft, the potatoes grow eyes, the onions shed their dusty skins.
A week submerged in The Diaries of Anais Nin. I’m not sure that I can neatly summarize it. It’s been a complicated, emotional year, and so many of the things she described resonated with my experience while also being completely foreign to me. Perhaps this, from November 1933:
Allendy took pains to delineate my character, my true nature, my human attitudes, but it was by a process of oversimplification. The mold into which he tried to fit me came to a climax the day he suggested I should take love more lightly, give it less importance, to evade tragedy. That I should take a playful attitude towards it. It should be sweet and casual, easygoing and interchangeable…This was the natural conclusion to the formation of my human self, to normalcy; and if he was right about overcoming tragedy, par contre, he overlooked the deeper cravings of an artist, for whom deep full love is the only possible form, no simmering life but a boiling one, no small compromise with reality.
Fall has arrived right on schedule. Last night the thermostat dipped low. It is 6:45pm in my living room, and my space is illuminated more by my laptop than by the waning sunlight. Laurie said that we’re losing 2 minutes of daylight each day. But still the ice cream truck sits on the corner, and I dream of swimming in the lake and of all of the summer things that didn’t happen amidst all that did.
Six months in Chicago, and Jeremy said that it sounds like I’m home. Two and a half years in Ann Arbor. Two years in DC. A year each at MPub and Kresge, two years at Gelman. Five years in this goddamned profession. Six years in a relationship, seven months out. I love Chicago. Chicago exhausts me. I’m envious of friends who have recently moved to quieter places. I worry that my life here will burn me out. I don’t know.
Photo by john curley, licensed under Creative Commons
“There will be a time, not so far from now, that you will look back on this phase of your life and instead of condemning it or beating up on it… Instead of blaming or guilting, you will feel appreciation for it, because you will understand that a renewed desire for life was born out of this time period that will bring you to physical heights that you could not have achieved without the contrast that gave birth to this desire.” — Abraham-Hicks
It’s been a hell of a summer. I know that summer didn’t really start til June 20, and that it won’t really end til September 22. For me, though, the change in the season happened on Memorial Day, when spring’s boundless potential started to shift in directions I didn’t and still don’t quite understand. I’m feeling like – or at least hoping – that Labor Day will bring calm to the waters I’ve been treading for the last three months.
When I tell the story, I’m not sure where to start. There are convenient points that shaped the plot, but none of them are clearly the beginning.
A little over a year ago, we took a vacation road trip north to the Upper Peninsula, south and west to Devil’s Lake, then home by way of Madison and Chicago. We stood outside our rental on State Street and said, “why do we live in Ann Arbor?”. The day we left for this trip, I saw a digital preservation job posted at DePaul. We started to talk about moving to Chicago, hoping to make it happen in a year or so.
We came home from the trip resolved to make some significant changes in our diet. And so, around this time last year, I stopped cooking – not entirely, but it stopped being a creative and joyful part of my life, and instead was a source of anxiety and stress as we tried to fit our fitness and health goals into strict parameters, rather than embracing food as both fuel and pleasure. If I can point to a place where this story starts, it is this: when I stopped cooking.
Because when I look back on the last year, it is as if something broke loose in me and never quite settled back into place, as the doctors feared would happen with my arm if I didn’t have it immobilized for the full four weeks. I could lose flexibility and mobility, they said, and that is why we’re casting you above your elbow.
I trained for Detroit, spending perfect Saturday mornings on the country roads west of town, watching the corn grow and die, occasionally seeing deer in the fields or along the river. My grandpa died after a protracted decline, an astonishingly painful loss even though we’d been expecting it for some time. Shane was busy with mopeds, with travel for work,with a secret job hunt. My brother got married. My sister got pregnant again. And I drove to Champaign to teach, and spent a too-late night and a too-short morning talking to Carl about how I’d stopped connecting with the people in my life.
Last week, at the Music Box Theater, I saw Shut Up and Play the Hits, part concert film, part documentary about the end of LCD Soundsystem. I’ve talked about their music here before, about driving into Virginia five years ago having left the only place and life that felt like my own for an unknown future with someone I loved very much. In the movie, James Murphy talks about the end of the band, about being 41 and having had a life before the band and wanting a life after. These interviews are intercut with performances from the last epic show at Madison Square Gardens, with shots of the ecstatic crowd, and with small moments from the day immediately following the show, as Murphy walks his dog, shaves his stubble, makes coffee, has dinner with friends, and breaks down in tears when checking on the gear.
I left the movie and drove aimlessly around the north side, confirming and then canceling and then reconfirming tentative plans with friends as my own tears gave way to wrenching sobs.
When I tell this story, I don’t know how to tell the middle part – the time when everything seemed to be right, when we were moving forward, albeit into an interim period that we knew would be difficult because distance is difficult, transitions are difficult, winters are difficult, new lives are difficult. A job offer in Chicago happened. I started job hunting in earnest, while simultaneously opening up my heart and my life to my friends in Ann Arbor in ways I never felt I could before. We executed a multi-step move over the holidays, and rang in the new year in Chicago before I drove back to my new house in Ann Arbor. I drank far too much and slept far too little in California, and fell into the Tijuana Estuary on my birthday, then drove to Iowa by way of Chicago to bury my uncle on the most bitterly cold day of the year. We had weekend after weekend of stress and drama and painful conversations and fighting and tears.
In the movie, Murphy talks about his fear that they made the choice to end the band for what seemed to be legitimate reasons, but that those reasons could be lies told to hide a fear of failure.
And in between then and now, six months of running as often as I can manage, pouring the sadness and pain and confusion into the miles. Packing up and leaving Ann Arbor, then packing up the apartment in Logan Square and moving into my place in Pilsen. Navigating a new job and new friends and new city and a newly single life. Grieving for the loss of a love and a relationship that defined the last six years of my life. Finding joy in amazing weather, in total sweaty abandon on the dance floor, in the lake and the beach, in fast miles on my bike or slow miles floating on a river, and then being reminded of how much better these things are when shared. Losing hours to Nicolas Jaar while driving down the 405, missing my turn and ending up on the Silver Strand as the sun set over the ocean. Struggling with the physical limitations of half a summer locked in a cast. Feeling simultaneously at home and deeply unsettled, loving my life here but looking to the next thing, the next destination, the next career, the next story that I can tell.
A thousand words to this story, and I don’t know how it ends, except that my life is materially different than a year ago: bigger yet sadder, richer in some ways, and substantially lonelier in others. Knowing more but understanding less – or perhaps the inverse, understanding more but believing less. This is my becoming.
“Dear Leonard. To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard, always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours. “
This morning: time and temp can’t decide whether it’s 80, 70, 75, or something in between. The sun is shining, and I have my windows rolled down on Lakeshore. I’m speeding a little, and my hair is blowing around, and I’m singing along with The Cars. The lake is an impossible blue, the surface wrinkled by wind.
Driving to my new job, the one where I get to do all the things that I’ve loved about my last three jobs, and none of the things I haven’t. Driving with my new city behind me, marveling every day at my good fortune at actually getting to live here. Thinking about last night – good food in the company of a newly dear friend and her close friends – and the night before – bourbon and The Smiths until far too late, just like in the old days. Thinking about the morning already behind me, waking too too early, a breeze ruffling the curtains, my sweet cat curled next to me on the quilt made by my great-grandmother.
Feeling thankful for the wall of love surrounding me, for so many amazing people in my life in so many different ways. Remembering how three months ago, I ran head-first into my own sadness – and how this morning, driving through my new city to my new job on a perfect day, I was struck by the intensity of my happiness in that moment.
“I remember one morning getting up at dawn. There was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling. And I…I remember thinking to myself: So this is the beginning of happiness, this is where it starts. And of course there will always be more…never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment, right then.”
Three months ago, I was afraid. Today I would say that I’m terrified, very deliberately using the word that a love and I once used to delineate our feelings about what we were coming to share: equal parts fear and delight. Terrified by the possibility that this just might be it, that this might actually be happiness, that I might have actually rounded that corner and found myself exactly where I’m supposed to be at this moment in time. Honoring everything that I’m feeling for what it is, and not needing it to be more or less. I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so thankful.
My wide eyes tell you everything you need to know about how I was feeling before April’s races. Tired. Overwhelmed. Undertrained. In need of a hug, a pep talk, and a lucky charm.
I already told you about my race plan for the CB10. I stuck to it for the most part, though the sun didn’t cooperate with #14, and there were no space blankets (#18) on offer. Instead, I shaved five minutes off last year’s time, even with stopping for an Oreo and 2 oz of Yuengling, even with cold weather, even with the the wall I hit between 8.5 and 9, just like last year. Jeff brought us sweatshirts, and Tina’s friends provided a sun-drenched brunch. And I logged a new PR: 1:33:56. Two days later, I moved into my new apartment in Chicago.
A couple of weeks and a new job later, I drove down to Champaign for 24 hours of races – the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend, with races ranging from a 1K fun run up to the full marathon. I was registered for the Half I-Challenge – a 5K Friday night, and the half marathon Saturday morning.
My feelings for Champaign are complicated, as I’ve explored here before. It felt like home from the time that I first moved there, and no place has quite replaced it in my heart. Between the race expo and the 5K, I went to Kopi and worked on my laptop at one of the small tables just like I did for years and years, with the same people ordering the same drinks as they have for years and years, and the same music on the stereo as has been playing for years and years.
When I moved to Champaign, it was on the heels of the end of my first marriage. I was alone for the first time in my adult life, making choices that would establish my new life independent of the person on whom I’d based my world. It was scary and overwhelming, but also so full of possibility. It got easier than in those first days, and what made it easier – and what made Champaign feel like home – were those anchors – like Kopi, like the regular customers, like the park at night, like the family of friends that surrounded me.
I mention this because when I queued up for the 5K in the cold and the wind, totally alone in the crowd of thousands south of campus, I looked to my right and saw one of my favorite regulars from the years I worked at Aroma. I don’t know his name or anything about him beyond his regular order – a small coffee and a brownie – but every time he came in, he made me smile and think of my dad. I have no idea if he remembered me – hell, I lost him in the crowd almost as soon as I spotted him – but it was a moment of grace, and gave me energy for the cold, rainy, windy race ahead.
We went down First past the Stadium, turned right on Green, and then up Sixth, where I blew a kiss in the direction of GSLIS. The rain started as we turned right to head past the art museum, but it hardly mattered at that point. Down into Memorial Stadium and onto the field, where Jill spotted me and yelled out a cheer that pushed me to the finish line with my last burst of energy. Another PR, this one by 20 seconds: 25:58.
Dinner with Erin and Jadon, one of the last of my GSLIS crew still left in town. We had pizza – maybe not the best race fuel, but damn, was it delicious – and I slept fitfully on their very comfortable couch, concerned about oversleeping, concerned about the race, concerned about the weather, concerned about everything.
Up at 5, and out the door by 5:30 because I was anxious about road closures for the race. I sat in my car and listened to music and blasted the heat and prayed for the rain to stop. I dug out a permanent marker and wrote Keem’s cheer on my hand: YOU’RE DOING IT. I stretched at Assembly Hall, then hopped in ahead of my designated wave, hoping to pace at 9:15 and beat my Detroit time.
I can’t really explain the race – I couldn’t then, and I can’t really now, a few weeks later. The course was easier but the run more demanding than in Detroit in October. It was cold and windy. It never seemed to end. We ran through campus, past Hendrick House, where Mark lived for years. Maybe I took too much water. Maybe I didn’t have enough water. My nose wouldn’t stop running, but my legs felt like a million bucks. We pushed on through Urbana, passing the street where Amy and Adam lived, past the turn to go to Sarah and Hannah’s house. We hit the edge of town, turned south, and ran through Meadowbrook Park. I hung with a couple of guys, laughed as others challenged each other and ran off the edge of the path to get around slower runners. I felt strong and steady. I had no problem hitting my pace.
We turned north to head back toward campus, and I hit a wall. 10.5 miles and I felt like I couldn’t possibly go any further – and then, on the sidewalk, just walking, not paying attention to the race, I saw Rick Powers. I used to see him occasionally when I was dating Shawn and going to English department events – and then once in a while around town – but hadn’t seen him in years. That little burst of happiness helped, though not enough to get me through the side cramp a mile later, or the complete and total exhaustion to come. The latter would come in the form of two marathoners who came up beside me near the Meat Science lab and stayed with me for a few blocks, encouraging me about my time, telling me that I was lucky that I was almost done.
A hairpin turn, and around the corner into the Stadium. I looked down at my watch, and poured everything I had into the last minutes. As in the Cherry Blossom race, I repeated over and over: All the pain. All the sadness. All the hurt. Burn it up. Use it as fuel.
I crossed the finish line, hit the stop button, and saw this:
Under two hours. 1:59:09. A PR by almost six minutes. I got my medals, sat down, and immediately lost it, crying hard enough that another runner came over to check on me. No, I didn’t need help – I was just overwhelmed. Overwhelmed to finish, much less PR, much less break two hours. So very thankful for every person and emotion and thing that had carried me through the miles and through the last few months. So very much, all in those miles, in those medals, in my aching body and heart.
I fucking did it.
— Neil Gaiman