26 August 2016

Sandy Doesn't Live Here Anymore

It is August 26th, and I am officially a DC resident. There, I said it. On Monday of this week, I put most of my worldly possessions onto the back of a truck and said goodbye to my apartment on Medill Street in Chicago. And what ran through my head were the words, "Sandy doesn't live here anymore." A line stolen from one of the final episodes of Sex and the City, when Carrie runs into Big just before relocating to Paris. She yells at him, "I don't live here anymore!" and for some reason I found that so comforting. My heart is still shattered from my breakup this summer, but knowing I lived on a street named after one of his family members only added insult to injury. Every time I turned onto Medill, it was a reminder that he was gone. That he didn't want this as badly as I did. Giving my keys to my roommate and turning to leave, Sandy doesn't live here anymore. Now that is freedom.

My old facade.

Heartbreak aside, I write to you from an air mattress in an empty apartment in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, DC. I know there have been crickets on this site for the last few years, but I've been busy and hard at work. I now possess an MA in Museum and Exhibition Studies. I have a job lined up at a very cool museum in DC (more on that as soon as the ink dries on my contract). And I did that thing that I said I wanted to do when I entered my second year of school. I picked a city other than Chicago, I set my heart on it, I took a gamble, and I moved here. And to think, that the first time I came to DC I was half the age I am now, utterly concerned with boys (and a little bit of heartbreak), about to enter high school, bespectacled and with braces. And here I am fourteen years later with so much more experience and knowledge about who I am and who I want to be.

Just under a year ago, I came here for the second time with the MUSE Program to present at a conference at the Smithsonian. It was the first time I set foot inside the museum I will soon call home. I remember coming back from that trip thinking, "Could I live there? Could this be a place for me?" I returned on a spontaneous trip in late February with a man who wanted to show me his side of DC. When we weren't ordering room service and prepping for his grad school interview, we ran through the National Gallery of Art before closing time, we took photos of the Lincoln Memorial at midnight, and we ate fish eyes at a seafood restaurant for good luck. I remember sitting nearby the memorial to Roosevelt, on the top of some steps looking out at the Washington Monument. I sat there alone, with my head in my hands, wondering, "Could I live here? Could this really be the place?" Neither of us knew that in six months time, we would both be DC residents, separately.

That little lumpy silhouette on the stairs is me.

I write all of this because it is part of my story. The story of a girl who followed her heart and her gut to a city where she knows only a handful of people. This is the story of a person who wakes up after fitful nights of sleep, in an empty apartment, wondering when her furniture will arrive and when she will find out her start date for her dream job. I look at the calendar knowing the man who brought me here, the man who broke my heart, is arriving on Sunday, but then I counter the lump in my throat with the knowledge that the same calendar is full of goodness and unknowns.

These are the truths, the goods things, the things I know:

  • I'm going to see Chungking Express tonight in Maryland, a spontaneous trip to see my favorite movie on the silver screen. 
  • I'm going to visit museums I've never been to, and I am hoping to go to the opening weekend of the new Smithsonian Museum of African American Culture and History. 
  • I'm going to roll up my sleeves and work incredibly hard in my new museum. 
  • I'm going to meet a lot of new people. 
  • I'm going to be covered in bug bites from the mosquitos who seem to love me. 
  • I'm going to find my rhythm, my grocery stores, my commute, my routine. 
  • I'm going to get lost and find myself on streets I've never tread. 
  • I'm going to feel uncomfortable, nervous, scared, anxious, and lonely. 
  • But this is mine. I asked for this, I worked for this. 
I picked a city on the map, I chose this. I came out here alone to find an apartment for myself. I came back to sign a lease. I organized my move. I threw myself a going away party. I showed up alone, sipping my drink in solitude anxiously looking at the door. Friendly faces greeted me and will continue to greet me, I just need to be patient and brave. It is hot in my apartment, the sound of the summer bugs is pouring through my open windows. There is comfort in knowing I am alone here, but not entirely. There are people dotting the landscape, most of whom I've yet to meet. I will be okay, it will just take some time. I need to be courageous and fearless, honest and open. I need to get out of bed each and every day with a sense of purpose. So today, my raison d'etre is to visit the police station to get "No Parking" signs for my movers, I need to figure out where my trash goes, and I need to get myself to Maryland to see one of my all-time favorite movies with an old friend from Kansas City.

This is where I'm resting my head. Those markings on the wall are where I have decided pieces of furniture will go. Already
"curating" my space, with measurements of each piece written in a notebook of my choosing.
My kitchen, where I'm doing some very minimal cooking.
I ate dinner on the floor last night, with the company of
my new plant Andrea Fraser
My own bathroom, with the Unison shower curtain I coveted
and a beautiful bathrobe that is just for me.
The laundry room in my building has a free book exchange.
My local Walgreens is historic, a little gem.
My fridge is getting homier and cuter by the day.
There is a park hidden in the woods behind my house.

11 July 2016

Shut Up Kiss Me [Angel Olsen]


I have some big life changes coming around the corner. A move to a new place. A new job. A new life in a new city. All official announcements will be made once the ink has dried and my boxes have been packed. In addition to the location and career moves, my heart has also flown the coop. I spent the first half of 2016 in the company of a person that supported me, held me when I needed holding, watched my eyes light up while talking through curatorial projects, took me to museums and exhibitions, debated with me about all sorts of things that interested us, and insisted I wear a Bernie Sanders shirt to sleep in because he loved that I loved Bernie's idealism and energy.

My heart is swollen and broken at my companion's swift and unexpected departure from my life. Particularly during a week that has been wrought with violence, protests, more violence, and outrage. I can't bring myself to watch any of the videos. There are moments when all I want to do is pick up the phone, just to tell him that this past week was a living nightmare both inside and outside of my home. But in times of crisis, all we can do is move forward. All we can do is pick ourselves up. Though I didn't feel up to attending the Black Lives Matter solidarity protests happening around Chicago this week, I'm planning on showing up for the Sandra Bland remembrance gathering in Daley Plaza on Wednesday. 

This is an historic and trying time for us in this country. As I pick up to leave my beloved Chicago, I think about how much she has served me these past 28 years. The public schooling I received through CPS, which is now rapidly closing schools across the city, laying off masses of teachers, due to dire financial strain. I think about the education I received from UIC, a public institution, under financial duress due to our state not having a budget (it's been two years without said budget). I think about the parks I played in, the lake I swam in, the access to arts and culture that I had that others might not have been as fortunate to attain. I think about the false sense of safety I have wandering the streets of my neighborhood knowing that there's been an increase in gun violence not only on the south and west sides, but in my part of town too. I think about what a mess we have gotten ourselves into, and how at times it feels completely inevitable. But then I think about what I can do. I can write and call politicians. I can write about this on my blog. I can engage in dialogue with my friends and family. I can show up to protests and participate. I can be present.

It's been a week of heartache, but my heart will mend. I keep looking forward. I planted a gum drop for myself in the future. A single ticket to Angel Olsen in the city I'm moving to. My first concert in my new town. I fully intend on singing along to every song, basking in her glow, entirely on my own. A sweet independence I was both dealt and chose. This is my time, this is our time. We are never truly alone. We are part of a human community, let's be there for one another, yeah? 

08 July 2016

The Night I Met You

When you asked me to the holiday party at the Arts Club, I sheepishly said yes. I didn't know why you were inviting me or what your intentions were. I said yes because I was in a moment in my life where I wanted to say yes to the unknown. I remember running our brief texts over to my friends asking simply, "Date or business thing??" and one person responded, "If he touches your back it's a date."

You reached out your hand to greet me that night, introducing me to your friends. I didn't know at the time that it was the only time I would meet any of those nice interesting people. Your eyes were piercing, I found myself looking away because I couldn't look directly into them. Date or business I repeatedly asked myself. You wanted to sit next to me on the couch at the back of the room during the strange performance - an authentic "Victorian Picture Show" - but due to low attendance, we were politely asked to sit toward the front. As we made our way to the chairs, I felt you place your hand on the small of my back. The entire experience was strange. I sipped my wine, thinking about how badly I had to go to the restroom, how I didn't know where it was located, how I was sitting next to a stranger in a room, while everyone around me sang Christmas Carols. We made a number of jokes under our breath, I noticed you weren't drinking, I clutched my wine for comfort. Date or business?

At dinner, you pulled out my chair for me. I talked to you about my studies. It was the first of many conversations we would have about disability, about art, about museums, about the things that interested us. I couldn't look into your eyes as we spoke, and I barely touched my food. I was so nervous and I couldn't tell why. I didn't ask you many questions about yourself, something I regretted when we hung out again later. When I didn't eat much of my food, you asked if I was done, then switched your empty plate for mine. You ate all of the meat, leaving the potatoes on the side. I thought, how odd. Why is this person eating my dinner? Definitely not a business move. When the server came around to refill our glasses, you made a joke about them cutting you off after this glass of water. I retorted, "Oh, is that your token joke about not drinking?" Everyone at the table laughed. I didn't know at the time what your reasons for not drinking were, and I am sorry if I made you uncomfortable. But you weren't uncomfortable. You said afterwards that you liked how ballsy I was that night. How I made a joke at your expense. Your friends (the ones I never met again) liked me enough to make a toast to me.

After desserts and coffee, we moved the party over to your friends' apartment on Michigan Avenue. You carried my umbrella for me. I liked how you looked in your maroon suit, carrying my clear plastic umbrella. You looked dignified, and I was touched at you wanting to do something for me. Maybe chivalry wasn't dead? Or maybe you were just being polite. On the 54th floor of this high rise, we saw a breathtaking view of the city. I felt we were inches away from the John Hancock, glowing red and green for holidays. Fog was rolling in over the lakefront, and though we didn't have coats on I didn't mind the breeze. I took a photo of the view while no one was looking, to remember that the night was real, that this was all happening. 

The stunning view from the hosts' balcony
We drank expensive whiskey, I was too shy to turn it down, even though I hate the stuff. Pot appeared in the form of a vaporizer with personalized mouth pieces. I turned to you and said, "Is this really happening?" You encouraged me to be comfortable. I smoked and drank, I warmed up a little. The host wanted to walk us through the apartment, showing us his favorite works of art. Your friend, the architect, put on The Weeknd. There were a few beautiful prints made by the host's mother, I believe while she was at Ox Bow. He told us that one of the works was made while he was in utero, I loved that fact. I remember the host's collection of R. Crumb illustrations, and how excited I was by the erotic Mapplethorpes hanging in the hall. The hosts were excited about the new Italian marble in the living room and an ancient Roman mosaic they had recently hung. I thought to myself, where am I and how did I get here? I didn't want the night to end. There were a few moments when I thought about how I wanted to brush my hand on yours, or how I hoped our thighs would touch. Was this a date or business? Who were you and why did you invite me? 

We shared an Uber home. In the car you peppered me with questions. About school, about if I was single, about if I had time to date. I answered honestly, these weren't business questions. I wished we were in the back seat instead of the front two middle seats, the space between our chairs felt like a gulf. I wanted more. I wanted answers. When we arrived at your corner, you leaned over and kissed my cheek. This was not a business meeting, right? I watched you walk toward your building, not knowing which one it was. And as soon as we drove off, I asked our driver what he thought. He listened sweetly and told me it was most definitely a date.

The photo I sent you letting you know I got home okay.
Thanks for the Uber.

02 June 2016

Forward Momentum, And the Gifts of the Universe

One of my dear friends once owned a bright yellow couch. But before she had the yellow couch, she had an unfurnished apartment, perched on the second story of an old home on Cherry Street in the town where we went to college. I remember when I first came to visit my dear friend in her apartment, the block was shaded and green, tinted by the big old neighborhood trees. The old houses in Galesburg all sort of smelled the same, a touch of must, a Midwestern sensibility that I occasionally whiff in the back stairwell of my current apartment. I distinctly recall how enamored I was with my dear friend's home. A one bedroom, with big windows, and green light filtering in colored by the waving leaves pressed against her windows. I remember loving that she had her own bathroom, that her bedroom was quaint and organized. Her bedspread dotted with tiny red flowers, dainty and warm.

My dear friend moved into her second floor apartment after a breakup. She had to start over, there was no other choice. She took what possessions she had, and slowly, week by week, furnished her space into a home. She was given a bright yellow couch from a friend. It was covered in animal hair and needed some desperate TLC. So my dear friend rented a shop vac from HyVee, lugged it up a flight of stairs, and steamed it herself, "Like a real adult," as she said. The first time I saw the couch, it glowed. I mean it had a lemon yellow, electric, come-to-life glow.

My dear friend brought her electric yellow couch to multiple apartments across state lines. And every home I visited her at, I took great comfort in knowing it was still in her life. I loved reclining on in, falling in and out of sleep on an afternoon in April while visiting her in Nashville. I enjoyed playing with her cat, listening to records, and finishing a Dave Eggers book all while seated on her dear yellow couch.



Today my dear friend told me that the yellow couch has left her hands, put into the hands of a young lady who will love and cherish it. And all is well, because we loved and cherished the couch. The Universe gave my dear friend the couch in a time when she needed it most. She loved it, gave it a new life and a good home, and made it her own. I find this story so empowering. When I moved into my own studio apartment, the first and only time I ever lived alone, I lovingly furnished my apartment piece by piece over many months. When something was tough or out of reach or broken, I figured it out myself because I was all I had. When I was sick, I nursed myself back to health, because if not you, then who?

My dear friend is moving far across the country, which is why the couch has left her hands. And as I prepare for a journey of my own in the coming months, it is becoming more and more clear to me that forward is the only way I can go. Grad school is over. Relationships have ended, new ones begun. I walked across a stage, posed for photos, and defended my thesis with every ounce of energy I could muster. I searched for an opportunity, thinking only of the Universe and her gifts, of the forward momentum I need, and was rewarded. Here's to all of the yellow couches past and present, the gifts to be shared with all we love and cherish. Here's to casting away with old habits, forming new routines, and quests for pastries in new cities. Here's to all the goodbyes and hellos I will no doubt be saying in the coming months, and the chance to furnish a new home with yellow couches and only the best art I can bring. Here's to forward momentum and the gifts of the Universe.

05 April 2016

It Doesn't Matter Anymore


The day after I wrote my previous post, I heard this Buddy Holly song for the first time. Well that's not entirely true. I'm sure I have listened to this album many many times, but never really heard this song. The lyrics, the upbeat intro, the not-giving-any-f's attitude of this tune, it's officially my inner mantra. My aforementioned anxiety and doubt-bouts come and go like waves. I have really stellar days and not-so-stellar days, which wash over me like a gurgling foamy shifting tide. But telling myself that some things don't matter anymore is definitely helpful. I've taken to saying things like, "Not my problem," and "The best revenge is living well," and "Whatever happens, happens" because right now I need that reassurance.

Also, this alone time thing I've been doing had been incredibly eye opening and rejuvenating. Sunday night I went for an epic neighborhood walk, listening to the saddest songs I could find on my phone, breathing in the moody pre-storm air. I walked and walked trying to sort something out, trying to walk away some jitters I couldn't shake. And it worked. I felt good. Yesterday, I took myself for a coffee and a cupcake, cracking open a book-for-pleasure for the first time in what felt like decades because I am inching ever closer to post-graduate freedom. I need this.

After submitting my first draft of my big big paper, I gifted to myself a few hours of closet clean-up. I know, what a goofy gift. But with every passing day, I'm more convinced that I will be moving a little further from Chicago - and I don't want my stuff to be a factor in making this move happen. I've spoken to a few friends who have recently made BIG moves, asking about their relationship to their stuff, trying to anticipate what I will want and what I will need. Funnily enough, the books are the first thing I readily parted with! I thought those would be the hardest for me, but after moving them from apartment to apartment, I sort of realized I don't need them. Only the ones I reread passages from are the ones that get to stay.

Deep into my get-rid-of-it haze I stumbled upon two pairs of socks that belong to someone who is no longer in my life. Without skipping a beat, I tossed them into the trash. Funny how a simple gesture like tossing socks into the garbage can be so liberating. Humming to myself, "It doesn't matter anymore," was just the icing on the cupcake.

03 April 2016

In All Honesty

Mossy soft wet passages to cross

I am a terrified, nervous, bundle of anxiety. Over-caffeinated, under-slept, constantly trying to picture what the next month, the next six months, the next year, the next two years will look like. I graduate from my beloved MUSE Program in 34 short days, I turn in my first draft of my Capstone Project tomorrow. My lease is up in October, I will be moving. I exited a relationship late in the fall. I entered into a new relationship early in the winter. To say that almost everything is different and nothing is certain would be an understatement. And yet... and yet! I am happy. I have my bouts of doubt (doubt-bouts?), I have my slumps into the bluer regions. I slip into my head more often than not, trying to envision what my next chapter looks like. Am I living in Chicago? Am I working in a museum? Am I able to support myself (financially and emotionally)? Will I be cooking more? Will I actually start working out like I keep saying I will? What book will I read first, once the dust has settled? What will happen to all of my furniture? If I get rid of a majority of what I own, really pair down, what will that look like? Who will hire me? And how will I make my money? What will my morning routine be and will there be a Trader Joe's where I live?

My dear friend Rose has been periodically posting her innermost thoughts and fears. I find it both humbling and comforting to know there is someone a mile from my house going through career shifts and relationship changes that I can relate to. That I'm not going through any of this on my own.

And better yet, I have radically broken from my hyper-regimented overly planned schedule in the last few months. Taking spontaneous trips to Detroit, driving rental cars that my name wasn't registered to, breaking into empty hotel dance halls, and abandoned post-offices. Only stopping to ask, "Could we get into trouble for this?" about half of the time. I have literally walked across rickety mossy logs in the woods, my new shoes dirtied by the soft mud of the early spring. I have watched scary movies I said I'd never watch, protested monsters I will never vote for, voted for candidates who uphold my ideals. I have gone to the movies alone, and eaten in restaurants alone, and made giant pots of meatballs and gravy for myself - myself alone.

I am terrified, I am hopeful. I am impatient, though I am ready. I turn 28 in a week. Two-eight. Something tells me that this year is going to be a big one. I heard somewhere that every seven years, our genetic makeup shifts, our insides change. Slightly and not so slightly. 27, the magic age when everyone's favorite musicians pass-too-soon. 28, the year that all of my older friends say was "a doozy." 28, come to me. Let's run away on this unknown journey, you and I. Let's see what tomorrow holds, and free up some time in our schedules, yeah?

12 March 2016

My Reflections On The Trump Rally Protest

Something big happened in Chicago yesterday. Donald Trump came to the city, with the objective of holding a campaign rally in a public space on my school's campus. Within hours of the announcement of this event, an online petition began circling throughout my community - asking that our administrators rethink the decision to rent our space to a presidential candidate who openly spews a message of hate, who has stated that undocumented people living in the United States should return to where they came from, who talks about building walls between us and our neighbors, who doesn't totally deny his endorsements or ties to the KKK.

One of my protest signs

As an ethnically diverse urban university, with a history of collective organizing, and a strong community of activists and organizers, we banded together to demand that Trump not be allowed on our campus. Many of us registered for tickets to the rally, some of us were able to get inside. In addition to the nearly 40,000 signatures our petition received, an open letter from our faculty and staff asked that the administration consider cancelling the event, for fear of bringing violence and hatred to our campus, putting our students, our employees, and our neighbors at risk. Our demands were heard, and though the Trump rally wasn't initially cancelled, the University worked with local law enforcement to let us know that this would remain a peaceful event.

My RSVP to the Donald Trump rally

I arrived around 4:45 pm with my posters in hand, and began marching with the students as they left the Quad - a space that has seen its fair share of organizing and protest over the last 50 years. We chanted "Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Donald Trump Has Got to Go!" holding our signs in the air. I noticed that we stopped using the paths, as protesters began to walk on the grass, through our landscaped foliage, which irked me in a way. The initial marching felt confused, unorganized, and like we didn't actually know where we were going. We were shepherded into a barricaded section of Harrison Street, with police on horse, police on bikes, police on foot - all working to separate us from those waiting in line to get into the rally. I remarked over and over again that I didn't know how to get out, that there weren't any exits that I could find, which made me understandably nervous. There were lulls where we stood quiet, confused, not yelling, not speaking, not knowing where to go or what to do. Then someone would yell, "Dump Trump! Dump Trump!" and another chant would begin. There seemed to be a lack of organization within the crowd, a lack of leadership. There were multiple organizers who had brought speakers and megaphones, but no one told us where we were going, where we were going to plant ourselves, and there was no unified chant that rang through all of the protesters. The thing had grown to be so big, that it was chaotic and aimless.

Protestors moving in a somewhat chaotic fashion from the Quad to the UIC Pavilion

But this isn't what bothered me. What left a bad taste in my mouth about the entire protest wasn't the lack of leadership or the lack of purpose - what bothered me was that we were fighting hate with more hate. One of the chants that kept happening in my section was a call-and-response of "When I say TRUMP, you say BIGOT - TRUMP - BIGOT - TRUMP - BIGOT!" People seemed to really respond to this, laughing, yelling, participating. I felt uncomfortable calling him a bigot. I felt uncomfortable yelling hatefully at his supporters. I'm new to organizing, this was only my second protest - but it felt off. We felt directionless and aimless, without a unified call to action. When we don't have the words, when we are coming from a place of animosity and dislike, aren't we putting ourselves on par with the same hate that Trump is spinning and spewing?

Helicopters circled overhead, people watched
from the trees, a Mexican flag billowed in the wind

At one point, my friend and colleague Lena asked for the microphone. She began to sing "This Land Is Your Land" and we all joined her. For the second verse, the lyrics shifted - she had changed them to reflect the diverse community of UIC, a community that welcomes dialogue, debate, and discussion. A space that allows for difference and encourages us to disagree in a safe and academic way. And for the few minutes that Lena led the song, I felt like we were all in it together. That this land is all of our land, for better or for worse. That when we set our differences aside, when we raise our voices in song, when we stop basing our dialogue and work around hate, we can actually make something happen.

This image went slightly viral last night. "Overcomb girl"
was a trending topic on Twitter, and Alyssa's
photograph of me wound up in the Boston Globe.

Shortly after the sun set, we headed home. My friend Alyssa said something to the effect of, "Nothing good happens in the dark," and I agreed. These things, though well-intentioned, have a way of turning ugly. Inside of the rally, spurts of violence were breaking out between protestors and Trump supporters. I know very few details, but I am glad we weren't inside. As we walked to the train, I stopped to take a goofy photo on Alyssa's partner's motorcycle - laughing and hamming it up. When we got to the train, whole crowds of protesters and Trump supporters pushed their way on board. A young man wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat stopped to hold the door for us - and in that moment, I felt like we were on the same side. A group of Americans, trying to get on the train, on our journey home - together.

The news of the rally being cancelled came to us over our phones, we made it home safely. But the work isn't done yet. It's only just begun. On Tuesday, we take to the polls. In November, we return. Between now and then, we can continue to protest, to petition, to volunteer for political organizations, to volunteer to make our communities better at a local level. The work is never done. America will always be great, she just needs some TLC in order to sparkle and burn at her brightest.

Updated (3/17/16): A few articles have been published in the last week that shed more light around the protests on Friday. This one talks about some of the misconceptions around the media portrayals of the protest. Another wonderful article features words spoken by my fellow activists Alyssa and Simon.
m