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.