17 November 2017

On DC

I had dinner with a friend last night, an old friend from Chicago who moved to DC the same week I had. As we gathered around my tulip table, over homemade pasta and meatballs, we reminisced about the year that has passed. How quickly time for came for us, how unexpectedly we grew to call this place home.


At lunch yesterday, as with so many work lunches, always with new friends or out of town visitors, the same question is posed: How do find DC? I pause, I smile, I take a breath, I let my story unfold.


I like it here, but that wasn’t always the case.


I moved to the District with a heart so broken I couldn’t see past my grief. At my going away party in Chicago, I pumped the jukebox at Simon’s, playing “DC Sleeps Alone Tonight” because I wanted my party guests to share in my melancholy. When I arrived, new to town, I openly wept on the Metro and in museums. Reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking on an air mattress in an empty apartment, in a town where I knew less people than I could count on one hand. I ate BLTs while perched on my kitchen counter. I went for walks in the hot August sun and took cold showers and tried my best to assure myself that this move was going to be fine. Everything was going to be fine.


My first week here, a body was decomposing in the apartment one floor below me. Something smelled amiss that first day in the apartment, but I was so concerned with figuring out being alone on my two feet, that I waved off the stench telling myself it was a neighbor’s litter box that needed tending. The day my movers arrived, making that harrowing walk up and down three flights of stairs with my bed, my air conditioner, and my life in boxes, the recently deceased tenant’s apartment was being cleaned by her grown children who wore masks and openly wept as I had been doing alone, one flight up. I was not alone in my grief. This is life, and this is death, I thought to myself. We are but ships passing in the night.


If you asked me a year ago what I thought of this town, I would tell you of my unquestionable unhappiness. Of a loneliness so deep, I found a well of tears within me that carried me through February and March of the following year. I often say in response to the inevitable question about how I find this town, that I liked it, that I moved here for the dream job - as we all do. That making friends at 28 was harder than I expected. That living alone might not have been the best idea. That this place was needlessly expensive, and that my purse strings needed to be tightened. That I didn’t know about hills, or the humidity of a swamp. That the men who holler on the train in Chicago about my body are in other towns than Chicago too. But that this town also has good things. A museum full of portraits that stays open well after the rest have closed for the night. That there’s a Santa Maria Novella perfume shop which so sweetly reminds me of my months living in Florence. That there is an intensity to many of the people who live and work here that makes conversations with new friends rapidfire and engaging. It was fine, everything was fine.


And then the Election happened. As it happened to all of us in this country. For me, a few things stand out: a hiring freeze, an unknowable future, questions about the cutting of my healthcare. I am a woman. I am an independent contractor for the government. I rely on the Affordable Care Act. I use birth control. Planned Parenthood is my main healthcare provider. I am afraid that I won’t get hired, that I will lose my insurance, that I will lose my access to healthcare, that the cost of birth control will go up, that I will have to face these challenges entirely alone. These are the thoughts that plagued me at lunch, in bed at night, on my yoga mat, on long walks with new friends, on flights home, on the Metro in the mornings.


When asked about my opinions of this place, of this life I’d begun to build for myself, I turned the conversation toward anything else. I spoke of Chicago, of the tacos I missed and the all night trains, the dive bars, the tough folks who owned winter. I spoke of my dreams to move to New York, inquiring about the possibility of a job (any job) opening up in that city. I took the bus to New York as often as I could, crashing in heaps of blankets in wobbly apartment buildings. I bought a new overnight bag thinking I would travel up and down this coast, until I landed on my feet - anywhere but here.


I let the solitude take hold of me, wrapping myself in a cocoon of my space and time and whims. I would go for long walks, sometimes crossing the diamond shape of this city on foot after work, hoping to find something that delighted me. A small ice cream shop that serves mint chip without green coloring. The bagel place that calls everyone sweetie and where the servers behind the counter know basic sign language to better serve the nearby students of Gallaudet. The Japanese market that carries shrimp chips and tiny orange fish eggs. The women who spun in a golden circle at my museum for three months, playing a guitar in the most melancholy fashion, some of whom would become my closest friends in this town of strangers. The library that keeps my holds, writing my last name boldly in all caps, as I have done for the last decade.



I searched for myself on these streets. The color blue became my beacon, glowing somehow more brightly than it had in any other place I have lived or visited. The light here is different, unmarred by buildings taller than the Capital, allowing the sun to pour into the crevices of this space, shining light and adding color in ways I did not know possible. The Potomac carves a welcome refuge for contemplation, the Neoclassical and French revival architecture giving me a traveler’s urge to run to Europe with nothing but a camera, a notebook, and a trench coat as Patti Smith had done so many years ago.



Between February and March something in me broke. I sobbed in my apartment most nights trying to figure out if moving here was the correct decision. I spent fitful nights going over the last year in my head wondering why I thought all roads led away from Illinois. I hated myself for taking this risk, and I hated this town for not being home.


And then something changed. The spring came. And with it she brought pale pink flowers, that faint mossy green glow on the trees just before they burst with leaves. An acquaintance became a friend became a partner in crime became a person I cannot see my life without. I spent my birthday eating ice cream with sprinkles on the Mall, followed by a carousel ride, and sushi at a restaurant with no ambience and a menu that is there just for show - the chef sends out what he wants. I started taking myself to concerts and voraciously finishing books. I began painting again. I tried online dating, and I swiftly shut down my account. I woke up and it was summer. Yes, the Election had happened, many months had passed, but I was still here. Working the dream job in a city that was beginning to show some semblance of what it is that I think of as “home.”


I have taken to whispering, so as not to let too many people know, that I love it here. That I did a 180. From saving my moving boxes unsure of my ability to remain in this town beyond my one year contract, to being elated at the prospect of my museum changing my status from contractor to full time. I am planting seeds here, not roots. I am nurturing those seeds with friendships I could not foresee, projects I could not anticipate, successes that continue to surprise me, and challenges that come with being a woman in a not-so-new town in her late twenties. I have a Metro crush, someone I see with some regularity on the train, who makes my heart pulsate a little bit quicker. I have those folks who recognize me at my neighborhood grocery store, and give me a knowing smile when I’m checking out. I have the newly reopened path behind my house that leads me to Rock Creek park. I have a smell of the leaves in the trees on my block that so reminds me of a small town in Michigan, it is transportive. I have my backup sets of keys safely protected by my fierce girl gang I have built for myself. I have the coffee place I like, and the neighbors who I bake for and who leave me apples and greens from their CSA. I have the book in me that I plan to write about this year. I have an exhibition of my work coming around the bend. I have the color blue, the way the light hits the buildings, the favorite portrait of MFK Fisher, a beacon tucked away into my favorite museum.


06 August 2017

My Week(s) In Photos: 7.10.17 // 8.6.17

It's been a minute. I've been traveling. I've had friends in town. I accidentally reset my iPhone and lost most of my photos from July. Let's call this a short blog. Let's keep the ball rolling.

Magic golden garbage, made of balloons that spelled out my name and age. Remnants from my birthday, ages and ages ago.

A quick snap from the Verbal Description tour I co-led last month. We've been doing test runs of tours that include tactile opportunities (objects to touch and smell) as well as verbal descriptions of the building architecture and some objects from our collection. It's something I've been spearheading, with the support of the Education Team and the Public Programs Department, and we are honestly having such a fun time. It's forcing us to look more closely and more slowly at the works on display, and giving us the opportunity to play with words to create rich descriptions of somewhat complicated and experimental artworks. I'm so lucky to have colleagues who are just as excited as I am to bring accessible programming to the Hirshhorn!

The beginning of July I was pretty good about waking up early to do yoga. I've since dropped off the routine, but I'm hoping to jump back in during the month of August. Will check in with myself in a week or so...

Spotted on my walk through the back alley behind my building. I love this quiet bright spot of solidarity. It fills me up every time I walk past it.

I flew to my beloved Chicago for a minute. I visited my sister, slept in my brother's bed, saw Hamilton Leithauser at Pitchfork, drank good things, ate good things, stayed out entirely too late, made new friends, saw old friends, and soaked up my city. 

Before heading to Pitchfork, Mari and I made a pitstop at the new Ace hotel in the West Loop. The burgers were top notch, the cocktails were too good to remember.

Pitchfork was silly, I got leg cramps dancing. Afterwards I popped by La Sirena to see the boys of Whitney DJ a set (some old friends). It was like a Northside College Prep ten-year reunion. Old old friends who are in bands, old friends who run the beverage program at the bar, old friends who own woodworking businesses, and me, that girl who works at the museum in DC. I ended the night with the world's tiniest bar bill ($0), a sore throat from talking non-stop, and cheeks that hurt from grinning. I love nights like this.

The following morning, Moriah and I met for coffee at La Colombe, i.e. over-caffeinated power gossip. After 20 minutes of filling each other in on the good stuff, we hopped into Mo's car and ran errands. I enjoyed half of a pretzel from PQM (pictured) while she did her shopping, before we ran to McCormick Place (not pictured) so she could grab her half marathon packet. God do I love this woman.

Instead of going to Pitchfork on Saturday, Mari and I hopped on a bus with her law firm buddies and were whisked away to one of my favorite places in the world: New Buffalo, MI. I've been going every year since 2012, but know I won't be able to make it up there this year. So a day with my toes in the water and a snazzy glass of white wine satisfied my primal urge to commune with my beautiful Lake Michigan (luv u bb).

Always wear black at the beach.

Mise en place: sick selection of buffet goods. Mini lobster rolls, buckets of clams, pasta salad, endless wine, the best little raw tuna tacos, oh and a dessert bar.

Following dinner, we headed to the beach for s'mores under the setting sun. I forgot how good it can feel to sit and stare out at the water, with the sand running through your toes, and the temperature dropping. The best light show in the world happens every morning and every evening, but I haven't seen a sunset like this in years.


S'mores are actually my favorite dessert.

Selfie in a fancy powder room. At this point I was ready to power down and crawl into bed.

The next day we went to my beloved Big Star, and my friend Theo served us (<3). Margs, walking tacos, dogs, and time with Dodi all while dining outside and it not being too hot. God did I miss this place.

So maybe I got a little bit tipsy in my yellow jumpsuit before running to Penelope's and purchasing these...

What might be the most important purchase I've ever made. The world's best sunglasses.

We had fun at Pitchfork, but I think I'm officially too old for festivals. Sry guys!

The following day I met Dodi for my all-time favorite brunch at Lula Cafe. We gabbed over bagels and eggs.

Home.

After, I met up with long-time bestie, Maud. We played tourists in our own city and I insisted on have our photo taken in front of The Bean.

Rashayla Marie Brown at the Chicago Cultural Center *hands in the air emoji*. The photo on the bottom, second from the left, appeared in an exhibition I co-curated in 2015. It was a welcome surprise to see it again.

Same goes for Cheryl Pope's pennants in the entryway. I've long loved this project.

And I finally got to see Aram Han Sifientes' Protest Banner Lending Library, a Project I've been following via social media for months. Aram and I met up last month in DC while she was here on a brief fellowship. It's an incredible project, something I keep thinking about given our current political climate and where I currently live. If we give folks the tools, see what they can make with them? This project / space gives voices visibility, and people can actually borrow these banners to use in protest. It is a living, usable, activist archive in the making.

Makers hard at work.

Chicago, you flirty babe.

Before bouncing to return to DC, Mari and I split snacks and happy hour cocktails at Fulton Market Kitchen. I snapped a selfie with one of the Third Man's wall murals.

Then... I lost a bunch of my photos! So here's a garbled version of the last few weeks :)

I'm partial to hanging out in bathrooms with friends now. Don't ask.

This is my pal Sean, in a very strange bathroom at his art opening at Space Camp in Baltimore. 

A very satisfying French meal with Brady in Brooklyn. Ran into Molly Soda too.

I took a very quick trip up to New York (see steaks above) to visit my friends. But also to do a studio visit with the artist Jason Lazarus while he was in residence at the Hunter East Harlem Gallery. He's been running a community-oriented open studio / open gallery program called A CENTURY OF DISSENT!. Since June, there have been open gallery hours where anyone can drop in and comb through his archive of protest signs, all from protests that took place in Harlem or related to Harlem in some way over the course of the last 100 years. After picking a sign that inspires or speaks to them, the visitor is then invited to recreate the sign using materials in the studio, or purchased in a store in the neighborhood. I wanted to recreate a sign that had lines from Langston Hughes "A Dream Deferred" painted onto a windshield reflector, and wound up spending an hour walking 3rd Avenue in Harlem popping into store after store to no avail. I settled on a sign that was written in ink so thick and so wet, that the words bled through and could be read in the inverse. A very conceptual response to the overall image and project. My hours spent in the studio with Jason were some of the best I've had all summer. Between acquainting myself with the businesses in a neighborhood in New York I've never spent much time in, and getting to catch up with Jason while tracing the letters WE'RE NOT OKAY WITH THIS over and over again, I found myself calmed and happy by the entire experience.

The set up.

Other responses.

My sign.

My sign in reverse.

The proud artist / goober. Photo by Jason Lazarus.


My source material. Photo by Jason Lazarus.

Later that night I met up with longtime pals for drinks. We wound up watching music videos until 5 am. Good humans.

Mary of Guadalupe in Harlem, taken for my mother and grandmother.

The ever changing landscape nearby the Megabus pickup.

And then swiftly back to work. This is a mockup for the title wall in the next exhibition that is opening at the Hirshhorn. It's the exhibition that was assigned to me my FIRST week of work, and it is opening a year after (to-the-week) of me starting there. That's my writing on the wall, as is the rest of the writing appearing in the exhibition! So excited to share more when it opens in September.

Taken outside of the Planned Parenthood near Union Market. Support local business y'all. Especially when they're under threat to be closed!

Taken while wandering around Meridian Hill Park with my friend Alex.

Summer dinners are actually my favorite. Been rocking peach salads (Virginia peaches!) with mozzarella, and a French dijon dressing, as well as fancy tomato toast with multigrain bread and ricotta cheese instead of mayo.

I've been painting and writing more in recent days. It feels really good to have a creative output again.


I've been traveling a lot lately. These quiet mornings in my apartment mean the world to me.

Which leads me to today. Andy Warhol's birthday. I spent my morning on a mad hunt for a copy of the New York Times Magazine (dated November 23, 1986). We need a copy of it for an exhibition I'm working on, because inside of this issue is an advertisement in which Andy Warhol appears. It ran six short months before his untimely death. And I have reached a point of near-obsession trying to track this thing down. I think Andy would approve of my dedication, my devotion, the urgency with which I am searching for this piece of him to include in the show. Happy birthday pal, it's the least I could do. (The above photo was snapped at the National Portrait Gallery, the only Warhol we could locate in the building on our visit today).
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