It’s amazing what the human mind can think of at 3:25 a.m. when it’s a million degrees and all of your things are in boxes and bags and the person you love is sleeping next to you, fitfully, like they’re trying to both sleep and simultaneously show some form of annoyance at every move or sound you make. So it’s like a chain reaction:
Finally I just got up and am now contemplating a murder-suicide combo platter to round out the evening buying a damn air conditioner.
I’m sitting here in a coffee shop a few blocks from my apartment in Chicago, with a laptop and a latte, it’s exactly the cliche. And I just read this story about Buffalo in New York magazine. It talks about the hipster-rebirth of Buffalo, how a handful of New Yorkers have moved there and set up their urban dreamlives, how some people never left and instead set about creating renewal. And it made me cry.
Q: What the… why the… how does a feature in a random magazine known for snark and fashion hit you square in the “Push for tears” button on an otherwise uneventful morning?
A: I’ve been homesick lately. I’ve been meaning to get back to Buffalo for months, and I thought August would be it. But things happened: moving away from Crazy Landlord/driving cross-country/filling in for staffers at work… the things that should come up as reasons that you can’t make it to your friend’s birthday party or reasons that you haven’t been grocery shopping in a while. Instead these have become totally shameful reasons that I didn’t see my family, my friends who knew me from forever ago, the place that once frustrated me deeply and now, when I visit, grounds me.
Q: The article felt a little condescending to me. You?
A: Whatever. I dunno. I’m talking bigger-picture, here.
Q: Were these tears of joy or shame?
A: I’m not sure. Maybe of recognition. I love potential. And when I go and visit Lisa in her cool Elmwood apartment and walk to the co-op or the gallery or the cafe, we are living something that feels good… creative/relaxed/community-filled. Yes, gentrification is synonymous with that $11 biscotti and the art party you went to last night, but I am thinking of something better than that. I love neighborhoods. I love winter storms, sweaters and snow boots, fall leaves, farmer’s market cherries and sitting by the river.
Q: Do you love crack houses, crumbling public schools and bus stations that could’ve teleported in from the Armageddon?
A: No. But I love this potential too. The idea that everything that falls must rise again. I would like to be there advocating for bike lanes and running an alternative newspaper. That feels like a perfect use of my lifetime.
Q: Are you just feeling nostalgic?
A: Maybe. No. Yes. No. I’m longing for something I invented in my mind, not something I had.
Q: Then what are you doing sitting in a coffee shop in Chicago?
A: It’s complicated. As a teenager to rebel meant to rebel against my hometown. I wasn’t drinking in a field or making out with nearly enough boys. My split with my roots was a geographic affair, and to pick up and leave was the most accessible form of internal power that I could get my hands on. Chicago could be Buffalo’s big sister.
Q: You going home, then?
A: Not right now. I’ve got stuff. You know. Stuff going on here. I just know that I would rather be there than read about it in New York magazine and feel like I’m reading about a best friend that I lost touch with, resentful that I’m learning through that writer’s lens and not my own.
Q: Why were you crying, again?
A: Maybe it’s like the kind of crying that comes from relief. Like when things are too much, your cat is in a tree and your knee is skinned and your ice cream cone is melting on the sidewalk, and you’ve got it all together until someone comes over and puts an arm around you. That tiny bit of space and attention makes you see how bad it has all been, and finally someone is acknowledging it and showing enough affection that you can let go for a minute. Maybe I just miss home.
The story is that it’s important for me to learn to fail, to fail miserably, to flame out wildly and spin in circles and hit the sand dunes wearing these inept paper wings. I can’t hire three new staff members, fill in for three absent staff members, plan a party, create a ticket office in a park building, finalize a half-million dollar budget, turn in a grant for thousands of dollars, order more soda, pay you and you and you, open the door for you, lock the door for you, do this favor and that favor, all in the space of two weeks.
The story is that I stranded the love of my life in Las Vegas. I booked him a bus ticket from San Francisco to Las Vegas and then a train from Las Vegas to Chicago. But there’s a Las Vegas, New Mexico as well as a Las Vegas, Nevada and Amtrak only goes to Las Vegas, New Mexico — but Las Vegas, NM and Las Vegas, NV look so similar at the end of a long day.
The story is that I flew to Las Vegas, NV and drove us both back to Chicago in a rental car, a silver Pontiac hatchback that bucked as it changed gears and carried us across the desert; I knew these paper wings were meant for a journey after all. The red sand, the rocks like sleeping elephants snuggled under blankets, the Utah canyons — libraries of rocks stacked endlessly high. In Colorado, a snowstorm, a traffic jam in the Rockies while we all just tried to get off the mountain, just let us down — we were the kids stuck on top of the monkey bars dangling one foot down, begging. In Nebraska, the sunset washed the cornfields in watercolor pink and orange. In Iowa, we forgot time as the fields evaporated under our wheels. In Illinois we were so close, and that Kid Rock song, the new one about Sweet Home Alabama, was simple enough to sing at the top of our lungs with the windows rolled down.
The story is in the words you read to me from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe when I was too tired to focus my eyes on the road ahead:
The trouble with most forms of transport, he thought, is basically one of them not being worth all the bother. On Earth — when there had been an Earth, before it was demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass — the problem had been with cars. The disadvantages involved in pulling lots of black sticky slime from out of the ground where it had been safely hidden out of harm’s way, turning it into tar to cover the land with, smoke to fill the air with and pouring the rest into the sea, all seemed to outweigh the advantages of being able to get more quickly from one place to another — particularly when the place you arrived at had probably become, as a result of this, very similar to the place you had left, i.e. covered with tar, full of smoke and short of fish.
The story is that it was worth the bother after all, that I had to ignore the pulling of inertia on the backs of my eyeballs and the throbbing resistance in the small of my calf and just go, and go, and go, and when we were out of the snowstorm and out of the cornfields and back in Chicago, the story is that I was grateful but that my body felt like it was rushing onward still, the way sailors must feel when they dock on shore, like the blood is still throwing itself at the walls of the veins and the ground seems like it’s moving because you’re finally still.
1) The apartment at Bryn Mawr is no more. The landlord turned out to be shady. And that’s the last thing I need right now. We’ve since secured another one, closer, bigger, with an office and a porch. Yes. A porch.
2) I’m driving from Las Vegas, NV to Chicago starting tomorrow.
If you: wear a rubberband around your wrist sometimes
In order to: snap it when you get too anxious and then say something calming about how this is all outside your control but you will get through it
But then: you can’t find a rubberband one morning and frantically tear through the office to find one that’s just the perfect circumference and thickness
You may: be missing the point.
If you: get all jazzed about living simply, being a minimalist
In order to: de-clutter your mind and spirit, send a calming breeze through your addled heart
But then: you spend hours on the interweb analyzing this (interesting!) list of 100 Simple Living Web Sites and not doing the very tasks which would actually calm your mind, Madame Procrastinatrix
You may: be missing the point.
Source: Brief scientific analysis of my behavior this morning
Dear New Apartment,
Please be nice to us. Please. We’ve been living in a house that’s slanty & buggy & owned by a large, old man who traps squirrels in our backyard. It’s cute. It’s charming. But it’s bad for our mental health. New Apartment, can you give us a little sugar? I’m not saying you need to run the bath water before we get home, though that would be nice, and we won’t expect you to build a roaring fire for us in your fake fireplace… but just… welcome the light into your windows; keep your dishwasher firing on every soapy cylinder, keep the bugs out and the love in. I’m just saying. We could use it.
See you on September 1st,
Apartment-searching is simultaneously my most and least favorite task. I love the speculation, the envisioning of a better life somewhere else. But the drawbacks are, of course, the expense and headache of packing all of one’s worldly posessions into boxes and transporting them any sort of distance. Kevin and I are looking for a new one-bedroom in Andersonville/Edgewater/Uptown. Chicagoans, let me know if you spot any “For Rent” signs on your jaunts about town. I am especially coveting places with: an office, a dishwasher, a back porch.
Note: This is a key instance in which being a _bird_ and not a _human_ would be amazing. Birds can nest in trees. And eaves. And birdhouses made by people. For free.
Last night I dreamt about giving a speech to thousands of people at a conference on a cruise ship — I don’t know what the conference was for — and I didn’t have any notes other than a textbook with very tiny print, that I somehow thought I could summarize as I went along. And I was reading the textbook and improvising the speech, but it all came out garbled and the main point I seemed to be getting across was: Life is a journey. You should travel it with an open mind and open heart. I was telling anecdotes about trips I’d taken and being mildly humorous, and the crowd was chuckling and nodding politely. But I became more and more frustrated at my inability to put these vague proclamations and mismatched stories into concrete, authoritative listen-to-me language with a real message. And then I turned around behind me and realized there was an entire other side to the auditorium filled with people whom I’d had my back turned to the whole time, who were all eating brown bag lunches and looking bored. And suddenly my time was up, and I had to close the textbook. Then the next speakers, three men in white lab coats, took the stage and brought with them a projector and a shiny white iMac and they wore spectacles and an air of authority and it was clear who was going to be the better presenters. I felt rattled and skinny and stepped down from the stage wondering how I’d lost an opportunity to convey something So Very Important.
We didn’t bring a watch or a clock while camping, and our cell phones didn’t get service in the area. So an odd phenomenon resulted: We never had any idea what time it was. We’d squint up at the sun and go, “Looks like about 11am…” On the island, this barely mattered, because we had no other humans to coordinate schedules with, though it did make for unnecessary races home to beat a sunset that was hours away. At the campground on the mainland the same thing happened– and then we’d end up at a beach-side coffee shop shaking our heads that it was actually 7am. Once we went to “dinner” at the Cherry Hut in Beulah, Michigan (totally recommend) and saw a clock on the wall that said 3:15pm. I was like, “No way, must be wrong, it’s like 6pm.” And after our meal, I approached one of the guys seating people and said — “Hi, we just had dinner here, is there anything to do in the evenings nearby? Like a movie theater?” He gave me an odd look, which made more sense when we heard on the radio that it was just after 4pm. I was totally shocked at how relative time can be — did you spend hours on the beach or 30 minutes? Did a hike take four hours or two hours? Everything, both good and bad, lasted longer, so each day went on seemingly forever, with every sunset waiting until we were so sure it should be a sky full of stars already.
I’m home now. Kevin and I camped all along the coast of Michigan. For my first camping trip? Wildly successful, despite the fact that much of my time was spent: fending off sunburns, putting up the tent, taking down the tent, learning to tie knots and build campfires (Kevin and his mad Eagle Scout skillz were quite useful), dousing myself with bug repellent, trying to relax, nagging myself for not relaxing, relaxing.
So here’s the basics:
North Manitou island… A rough hour-long ferry ride (choppy waters make for seasickness), then a plunge into pure countryside, just us and miles of trails and lake, and mosquitos, so many mosquitos I could scrape them off Kevin’s back with one swipe and in another moment we’d be covered again. Old farmhouses, abandoned when the island became a wilderness preserve. Treating water with iodine tablets, saving tiny pieces of trash, every meal starting out dehydrated, trying to pee behind a tree. Kevin’s pinkie finger swelled up to four times its normal size from a big bite. And then, the same thing happened to his ear. Both are now back to normal. Backpacking? Ultra tiring; our vacation seemed more like bootcamp; we took the ferry back a few days early and ended up at Sleeping Bear Dunes, along the Michigan coast.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park: We rocked in the lap of luxury — showers, restrooms, fire pits, tap water. With access to a car and the neighboring sleepy beach towns, we inhaled cheeseburgers, Bell’s Oberon, cherry pie. This unplanned leg of our trip meant we navigated via whatever maps we could find: the atlas from the kind fellow on the ferry, the brochures at the drugstore, the ranger’s station maps, the free phone books at the Chamber of Commerce. Whenever we met a local, we asked for suggestions. And they never let us down. We found a completely empty, pristine beach straight out of those ads for the Carribean — but with colder water. Swam without another human in sight, breaking the glassy surface of the lake with every stroke.
Warren Dunes State Park: We’d meant to hit up Saugatuck on the way home, but sorry Saugatuck, you’re too crowded and full of touristy types. With no hotel reservations and no campgrounds for miles, we hit the road again and stopped at a state park. Scrubby and unkempt compared to Sleeping Bear. Was sure this would be a huge bust. But then we started hiking the dunes: I’ve never felt so small, or so far from earth, maybe this is the moon, a moon with sand, running barefoot down a 30-foot vertical drop of pure sand at full speed the entire matrix of my anxieties began to collapse just as with the entire sky turned sherbet-orange and dusty pink.
Today we drove the two hours back to Chicago from Warren Dunes, stopping first at a laundromat to de-smellify our entire existence. And now I’m here.