Dear Chicago

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We need to discuss an issue with your availability. Mondays are my Saturdays, which is when I need you the most. I look forward to seeing you on my terms and, above all, being the customer instead of the server. My days off are supposed to be the days of self-involved entitlement the nine-to-fivers subject me to all weekend. In this regard, Chicago, you need to step up your game.
You have this weird idea that your small businesses are allowed to just not open on Monday afternoons, particularly between 3 and 5. Those are my peak hours, Chicago! When I wake up at 10:30 and piddle around until the middle of the day I need you to be there to make me feel as if I have a life. I can’t do it on my own!
I bring this up now because you forced my hand. I had to get my sandwich at Starbucks. Starbucks. You have so many wonderful cafés and roasters that I am, normally, able to avoid the place. I’ve lost whatever taste I might’ve developed for their coffee-scented corn syrup in college, when my friend, Dan, worked there and gave me free drinks. So, don’t worry, I didn’t cheat on you and indulge in their “coffee.” But I could have, Chicago. And I don’t appreciate you putting me in this position. I need you to be here for me. I love you, even when Wrigleyville makes you kinda douchey. That should warrant some reciprocity on your part. So all I ask is that you alter your schedule to suit my moods because, of the 2.7 million people here, I’m the one you should be concerned about.
Thanks in advance for your cooperation.
Respectfully yours,
Julia “Insert Nickname Here” Plale

#TheNewPlace

Aside

Tomorrow the movers come for the big stuff, so today is all boxes, boxes, boxes, of books and kitchen supplies.  On top of that, I filled up my journal two mornings ago and haven’t had a chance to pick up a new one so this post is going to be disjointed, and, as my day is fraught with disruptions, brief.

“Do you want coffee?” Travis walks through the doorway still in his sleep shorts.

“Yes, coffee,” I nod with vigor because these are among the first words I’ve said today and gestures are a less daunting prospect than sentences.

“Do you mind making it? I just looked at the time and I’m already behind schedule so my brain is–” His hands go up to and above his head, fingers splayed to demonstrate a rather impressive explosion of grey matter.

I agree to do it as he attends to the Drobo, which is acting up, apparently. “So today’s a two-cup day?”

“Oh yeah. Today’s a two-cup day.”

How does that happen?

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I’m in Dinkel’s bakery, one of the more wholesome things to come out of 1920s Chicago. I have a cheese bearclaw to my left, coffee to my right, and crumbs in my lap. The wall at my back has a gas fireplace and music older than my parents dances from the speakers. A warm bright spot on a gloomy day. I overhear people mention Lent and it jogs a couple memories more than a decade old now. One year I tried to give up eating meat. About a week in I had dinner at my dad’s place and got halfway through a plate of pot pie before remembering my “fast.” My reaction was precisely this: “Oh, shit! How’d I forget about that? Well, sorry, Jesus. Better luck tomorrow.” And then I finished my dinner because even back then I figured the men upstairs had bigger fish to fry.
And then I remember the first time I walked by this place was with a friend who lives two blocks away. I haven’t heard from him in a while…OH SHIT I NEVER GAVE HIM MY NEW NUMBER! How could I forget that?
And suddenly this trip to a quaint bakery becomes that part in the movie where something I did twelve years ago mirrors my present life and the lesson I didn’t learn back then haunts me now!


Okay, false alarm.
A pattern of behavior I have been considering the past week is my relationship with reading. I never questioned it before. Stories were what made life interesting. The worst thing about small-town America is the monotony. No, actually the worst part is how every adult tries to convince you that monotony is life and your restlessness is just immaturity…but anyway. Reading is what I did on the bus. Or when I finished my workbook pages. Or when I got to class early. Or during class. In short, I’ve realized how often I read something instead of socializing. I don’t think it was intentional at first, but it definitely was by high school. I’d gone to kindergarten with most of those people so, you know, monotony. Soul-crushing boredom. So I hid.
But I haven’t lived in Pennsylvania for five and a half years. And for most of that time I was trying to figure out how to drop my shields and connect with people, oblivious to the most obvious shield-shaped shield literally held up in front of me on a daily basis.
I think I might read too much.
Fourteen year old me just threw up in her mouth.
This feels wrong for me to conclude, but I need to be more particular about when and where I dig into a story. Often, while on the bus to work, I have to stop in the middle of a paragraph or sentence so I don’t miss my stop. What good is that? I’m not respecting that author or their work. I’m not doing my mind any good because it breaks up the story into weird chunks, leaving chapters unfinished for hours, going back to it and needing to reread the previous page anyway because I can’t remember the context for the next sentence. During my shift, all I want to do is go back to reading, so I’m distracted and impatient because why can’t everyone be more articulate and intelligent like the characters in the book and goddamn this is the same thing I did yesterday and WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME??
That’s pretty much my adolescence in a nutshell. I spent ninety percent of high school wishing I was Elsewhere but once I got here I failed to adjust my perspective. I need to literally and metaphorically lift my head up, open myself to the world, and stop bracing for impact in social situations. Stop assuming no one cares what I have to say. Stop imagining what they might say about me when I leave the room. Trust myself to choose friends who are good for me, and to make conversation with a stranger because why the fuck not? As long as I’m sympathetic to the people around me, I can’t be doing wrong.

Social Media Blackout

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I trust The Artist’s Way. I do. It’s been a lifesaver for more than just my creative mind. But Week Four is going to be difficult. Cameron centers this week around a reading deprivation, which is exactly what it sounds like. I need to avoid reading, taking in other people’s voices and spend time alone with mine for once. Great idea. But this book was written pre-social media. Pre-smartphone. Pre-I’m in the middle of apartment hunting and A Moveable Feast and I want to start Yes, Please! and do podcasts count?
I see her point. It makes me nervous. The majority of my life has been spent reading and/or looking for something new to read. My writing program in college was centered around input-output creativity: read published work, discuss it, read each other’s work, discuss it, write for 10-20 minutes, share it. Aside from that, I buy purses based on whether or not the average hardcover book can fit inside it. I’m a bookworm. And I’m not supposed to read for a week?
The biggest hurdle in all of this is self-discipline. Julia Cameron isn’t hovering over me, watching. But I’m doing her program by choice because functioning on my own leaves me lost, so cheating this week only cheats myself. I’ve done enough of that already.
So. Social media blackout. If you comment on anything I won’t see it for a week. Texting still works, I think, because it requires me to use my own voice at a fast pace. No interesting articles or blog posts, no reading out loud during a journal session. No audio books or narrative-based podcasts like Nightvale or Thrilling Adventure Hour. Maybe no podcasts at all. I’ll figure that one out as it presents itself.
Deep breath. Here I go.

Slog

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Hey, so February started. I got a cold again, which is why it took me so long to do my check-in this week. I wrote my morning pages almost every day. The day I missed was one when I had a morning shift and had to go straight from bed to the bus. Most of the last two weeks was spent on a Dayquil/Nyquil cycle so I wouldn’t miss too much work. It actually worked out because the 29th was the day we got twenty inches of snow at once. Just in time for my birthday.
I could get Eeyore about it, but that’s pretty much par for the course. I was born between the worst part of winter and Valentine’s Day, which is the most depressing week of the year. Winter’s a slog, the holiday sparkle long rubbed away under the effort required to get the fuck out of bed in the morning. So, long story short, no, I’m not excited for Valentine’s Day. Get those hearts off my birthday cards.
I started reading A Moveable Feast, as it seemed the only logical follow-up to Gatsby. Hemingway is my age at the time he writes these journals about his early years as a poor expat in Paris, but he’s already married with a kid. I have a boyfriend and student loans, so, like, same thing, right? I appreciate what he can accomplish in few words, or in dialogue alone, but there’s something about his attitude or perspective that makes me think I’d avoid him at a party. Maybe it’s that chip-on-the-shoulder masculinity he’s known for. I have brothers. That shit doesn’t appeal to me because I learned long, long ago that boys are fools and most manliness is an act–unless you’re Nick Offerman, in which case you’re the sheriff of the world and I respect you.
(For the record, I also learned that girls are neurotic because most femininity is an act with innumerable layers and historical contexts. The people who fall somewhere in between are often the warmest souls I’ve ever met. I think there’s a lesson to be learned in that.)
Hemingway and I will have an interesting relationship.
I officially start Week Four tonight when I get home. I’m looking forward to it. I’m on the cusp of a new knitting project as well, and I feel an influx of creativity like I haven’t since sophomore year of college. Things are brewing. Finally.

Checking In

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This last week and a half was weird. I did my morning pages, or tried to. Some days I only got a page and a half or two in instead of the expected three. That’s due mostly to my inability to get out of bed. My first alarm goes off between 7:30 and 8 AM, but I’m never up before 8:30. And then I sit there at my desk, straining to push words out of my pre-coffee cerebrum, writing, as Cameron suggests, with loose, stream-of-consciousness sentences; and most of the time I get bored. (High School Me is shitting herself in disbelief right now.) I write about what I did yesterday and what I need to do today and maybe I’m too matter-of-fact because three pages feels like a slap in my groggy face. I need to pay my student loans and check my work schedule and can I pick up a shift this week or would that kill my back? Speaking of my back: it feels awful. This chair is awful but what am I gonna do, stand while I journal?
And then it’s 11:00 and I have to be a person.
The point in getting up early to do morning pages is that it should be over by the the time the world needs me to exist. But I can’t get the fuck up. I think it’s my depression. I’m not miserable for the first time in a long while, so I think it’s presenting in a purely physical way. It takes an incredible amount of conscious effort to counteract something like that. It also concerns me a bit because it suggests I might need an antidepressant, not talk therapy alone, which is what I’m hoping for this time around.
Thanks to my new fixation, I now know that VOGUE Knitting is a thing. I bought the winter 2014 issue, the only issue of anything resembling a fashion magazine I’ve ever read, and it’s pretty great. Plenty of patterns for me to look forward to inflicting on my loved ones. Anyone want a slightly misshapen sweater?