Writing and Where My Heart Is

When I was a kid, I dreamed that I would write the next great American novel. I would find myself living in New York in an apartment that looked more like a museum than I home and I would host fancy dinner parties with friends, contemporaries, and other people that respected me. I saw myself having a spouse but no children. I would be Carrie Bradshaw or Carrie Fisher, or even Mary Tyler Moore.

Then in my early 20’s I dreamt big of Chicago. I would be living in this small seedy apartment, alone, where I would use all of my savings to get drunk off of craft beer. I would work several part time jobs to survive, and in my spare time spend hours at a local cafe writing (because I couldn’t afford internet.) I would still write the next great American novel, except that it would be gritty and say something profound about the human condition. Only my friends would read it and they would tell me how good it was. Like Dickinson, I would only be appreciated after my death, when someone would go against my last wishes and have my work published.

I’m 2 months away from 30. I live in Chicago with my fiancé and our three cats. I have a career that I love and that challenges me. While there is still a piece of me that would love to contribute literarily to this uncertain world I don’t think that’s going to happen and I’m learning to be okay with that.

***

B just messed up his sudoku puzzle where he gets up and asks me if I want anything. I pass him my mug filled with cold coffee that has already been microwaved and ask him to reheat it for me.

“Only if you promise you wont want to drink it until it gets cold again.” He jokes. I have a bad habit of doing that. He finds that quirk to be endlessly entertaining.

Moments earlier we were talking about getting furniture for the room I’m converting into my craft space. Lately I’ve taken up drawing again and doing more work with my hands, something after years of writing essays about myself I never thought I would be back into.

From 2011 onward, there seemed to be a boom in personal stories on the internet. Websites like Thought Catalog and XO Jane were popping up all over the place, providing space for amateur writers to create content and get noticed. Many stories, especially ones where the writers had an unpopular opinions about something, went viral. When I moved to Chicago completely on my own accord in 2013, I bought into that. My emotions were raw from the recent passing of my mother and I wanted to bring empathy and solidarity to a platform that didn’t seem like it had a lot of it. I was naive to think that I could bring something new to the grief table.

Despite the fact that none of my “published” stories were largely read, according to the comments they did make a few people feel better for a little while which was enough for me then, and still is for me today. If I’m honest, while I don’t hate most of the content I have floating around on the internet, I’m not proud of it either. When I read my pieces from that time, I see myself as who I actually was- a young, desperate person dying to be seen.

Many of my friends have gone on to benefit from the essay boom- some even recently making hundreds of dollars off stories they sold. They’re all great writers and I’m proud of them. As for me personally, when I think why I wrote so much back then, it’s not shocking to me why I don’t do a whole lot of writing now. I’m healing, I’m growing in ways I never expected myself to, and instead of being that angsty emo-punk kid holding on to my old way of life-fearful that I’ll lose myself, I’m letting it happen and I’m a lot happier for it.

That’s not to say I don’t write. I still do but most of it stays in the saved docs of my computer or gets read aloud to friends when I’m asked how my writing is going after one too many glasses of wine at a (not so) fancy dinner party. I’m allowing myself the sweet gift of privacy as I transition into this new phase of my life without the need to feel like other people can relate to it.

So if anyone’s curious as to how my writing is going, it’s going. If you want to see where my heart is now, I’ll be happy to show you my craft room (once it’s done being furnished, that is.)

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Sunday Service

B and I are driving through the slush headed away from the city on 55. We’re our way to his 4th job of the week- music director at an Episcopal church in the suburbs. He loves this gig, the community of people in the congregation, as well as the choir he conducts. Up until recently, I attended every Sunday with with him. Now, I just come along for the ride, drop him off at the church, and pop into a nearby Starbucks to get some reading and writing in. The broken routine gave way to a new one that I find much more enjoyable to be perfectly honest.

At the Starbucks, I’m sipping my usual decaf chatting with my friend D online about god. We’re both metaphysical. While it’s great to engage with people that don’t share the same values as you, sometimes good to talk to people that actually do. My faith system is less religious and more personal. It hasn’t changed all that much since I was a child. It works for me and I’m content with it. When talking with D, I feel like our values are synching up like gears in a clock, a feeling that I have never felt in any Christian gathering as long as I can remember.

B is a leader in his church. It’s wonderful to watch him play the piano and see the little kids at the end of service dance to the music. One of the many things I find so intoxicating about him is how the warmth of his personality radiates. He gives each person he’s speaking with special attention. He looks in your eyes when he talk to you and his smile, I’m sure, could disarm the most aggressive of people. I love seeing him in his many professional roles. I love that I get to be a part of all of that.

After one service where a joke in the sermon really hit me the wrong way, I decided to take a break to reevaluate why I wake up at 6AM every Sunday morning, make B a coffee and go with him the trek all the way out to the suburbs. It came to me rather quickly that while I LOVE the congregation, and I LOVE seeing Brian at work, I feel more removed from Christianity than I did as a kid. At the same time, I am more one with my own spiritual system than I have ever been.

I asked B if he would be offended if I stopped going to church so regularly and instead, used the few hours he’s there to get some writing done. He’s been worried about me not taking enough time for myself lately, so needless to say he was more than supportive it.

As I write, I’m thinking not just about god, and about this particular thing in my relationship with B, but in our relationship as a whole. We’re both about as selfless as can be when it comes to each other. He does all the cooking and I do the bulk of the cleaning. I wake up before him to make us both coffee, he takes care of anything involving the cars. We’re endlessly giving to each other. The difference is, B has no problem doing things for himself to bring his career forward, or to make him a better partner for me. I on the other hand exhaust myself with the house, and the cats, and being a supportive music wife, leaving little for me once it’s all over.

My relationship with B has caused me to grow in so many ways and has enlightened me on aspects of my personality I was too stubborn to admit to-one of them being I’m almost too happy to put him first, even at a disservice to myself. We work better together when there’s a balance. As for church, while I love observing him from the outside of a situation, nothing brings me closer to the idea of god than doing something I love to do. If such an conscious, omnipresent being exists, I’m sure they’d understand.

 

 

 

 

Buying Books For Toddlers

My niece is turning three in less than a week, and as B and I were doing our holiday shopping this weekend, I couldn’t think of anything better to buy her as a present than a couple of books. I know. Who buys books for a kid who can’t read? She’s probably be more excited unwrapping a gift and finding out it’s socks. When I was her age, my parents said I had 3 books that I carried around everywhere asking them to read to me over and over again. When a kid asks you to read a story to them it’s like being knighted by the queen.

I picture my niece passing that honor along to my dad. Her climbing onto the couch where he is seated drinking a glass of Kendal Jackson watching the Bruins, putting the book into his lap and asking him to read it. I picture him complying, reading the text deadpan in his noticeable Boston accent, not differentiating between characters because he’s not feeling particularly creative that day, but at least feeling enamored at the concept. I can already hear the phone call I’m going to get when “Rad American Women A-Z” deviates from his moderately conservative values and he tells me that children that young don’t need to learn about LGBTQ culture. I will sigh, and yes him to contentment because old men don’t change, but at least I will know that I tired.

Isn’t it clear that this means more to me than it will to my niece?

When I was her age my parents were together. (Hers aren’t currently.) I was able to form memories of happier times before they ended. The formal split happened when I was 5 followed by years of upheaval. I have memories of looking outside the window of the house my dad still lives in while it was snowing, feeling like my life was over, watching each flake fall trying to make sense of everything. My reverie during that time was my crayons, and those 3 books, and a stack of Marvel comics that I would ask my brother to read me. The bulk of my literacy was learned in my closet with James and a couple of comic books under the watchful eye of a flashlight. I’m glad I had that. Looking back I’m not sure what I would have done without those safety nets.

I see a lot of me in her and that pains me more than anything. I know how easy it is for me to impose my own memories on her and I’m trying not to do that. Bare minimum, I want to be the thing she breaks in case of emergency. I want her to know want her to know when she’s old enough to understand what’s going on that she has a positive outlet.

Even if she doesn’t need me, I want her to enjoy reading because it’s important. I want her to ask questions because it is rare she will encounter things that are face value and I want her to know that the baseline for any good thing in this world is kindness, and the willingness to see outside herself. I will try my best to be there every step of the way, and if I can’t, I will buy her a thousand books to help her, even if she can’t read just yet.

 

But I Still Ride

 

The first ride of spring is always the hardest.

I push the pedals down and wait for my Purple Nightmare to tell me all her ailments.

But I still ride.

I ride layered, helmeted, purposefully but slow, listening to the breeze as it sings past my ear. I watch the cars in front and flanked at the sides of the street. I feel the sweet crunch of the gravel sift between my tires.

In the city I don’t fly, but that doesn’t matter as long as I’m getting somewhere.

From west to east the buildings grown height. The facades grow crisp and darker. I see fellow cyclists one-by-one join in the lane the farther I travel. My fingers are red from holding the handle bar too tight and having forgotten to wear gloves. The air nips inside my throat and a bruise forms at my seat. My knees ache from starting and stoping. My ears ring. The lock feels too heavy in my bag and the money feels too light. The streets are too narrow even when it’s just me.

But I still ride.

Carpal tunnel moves up my joints, far enough to reach my brain until my words stop. I’m out of practice. I get down on myself for not having maintained these sets of muscles. I fold and unfold, delete and self-edit. Gradually the words feel more natural even though they don’t seem like mine yet. I tell myself it’s just like riding a bike.

In this city I don’t fly, but that doesn’t matter as long as I’m getting somewhere.

The first page is always the hardest. But I still write.

Like Riding a Bike

B balances himself on my podunk 10 speed I lovingly named “Nightmare” years before I met him; his big boxy frame lurched over the handle bars like he’s operating turrets in a war. He’s giggling, trying to pedal the contraption he never quite mastered as a kid. While I don’t believe he will ever love cycling like I do, his willingness to learn inspires me. It’s cold and I want to go in the house, but instead I watch-half to make sure he doesn’t get hurt, and the other half to revel in his boyishness.

When people say something is “like riding a bike” they mean once you know how, you never forget. Not “until you figure it out, you will be at square one every time you try.” They don’t tell you how taxing the whole process is. Since most of us learn as kids, we hardly remember it.

Because of this, watching my 30 year old boyfriend maneuver his way about the whole process is intimate. Though it’s not quite an insecurity of his, it’s something you wouldn’t expect from someone who holds 3 leadership positions, is a tenured teacher, a home owner, can deadlift well over my body weight, and is highly respected in everything he does. B can do anything, and will do anything that he wants. He wants to conquer this not because he’s particularly enamored with cycling, but just so he can say that he can or that he can at least see whatever I see whenever I take my wheels for a spin.

When the streets are quiet and it’s just me and the open road, despite the tread below her wheels, Nightmare makes me feel like I’m soaring. As I watch B in all his goofy glory in the back alley behind our garage, I am mesmerized by how patient he is with himself. I can’t wait to see him fly.

I Smile So Wide

He’s researching a lesson plan while his cat sits in between us and when I reach over to grab is hand I can’t help but notice the pain in my cheeks from smiling.

I smile so wide, sitting next to you doing noting at all.

Thank god for that.

Writing and Bullshit

I just submitted in my short story for the 10th Annual NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

Pretty much I was given a genre, a subject, and a character and I had to write a story in 2500 words or less. My story had to be a mystery involving a breakup and a gas station attendant.

I want to say I killed it, but I probably didn’t and that’s not me being insecure either. This is really the first fiction piece I’ve done in my adult life and because of that, it was a little terrifying for me. I probably wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. While the piece isn’t terrible, it’s not great either.

That aside, I enjoyed the freedom of writing fiction. I might end up developing the story later just for my own enjoyment. I fell in love with the plot line and the characters. So even if I don’t move onto the next round, at least I got that out of the deal.