Lethal Weapon

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Well, I made it through the move mostly intact.  I did sustain some damage to my digestive system–whether viral in nature or induced by a potent combination of pre and post-move celebratory beer, three screw drivers, two pints of coconut ice cream, and a vat of espresso, I can’t really be sure.  Now, six cars’ worth of boxes and furniture and seven laundry loads later, I’m settled in at my parents’ house until the big move in August.  The plan was for a three week marathon of cooking and eating, but the current condition of my stomach has put a bit of a damper on things.  Instead, I’ve spent my time here so far passed out on the couch, watching TV, or–if I’m feeling really productive–knocking off more pages of my crossword puzzle book.  This foray back into the couch potato-dom of my former depressive days has been interspersed with a whole host of doctor’s visits (prescheduled ones, unrelated to my stress, alcohol, and caffeine binge), so all in all it’s been a banner week for me.

I’m trying hard not to be salty about this turn of events, but I can feel the clock running down and these last days of living at home seem fleeting and precious.  Also, it’s a little hard to maintain your grace and composure when it feels like the universe is deliberately fucking with you.  I’ve already had to reschedule my ketamine infusion because I didn’t think an hour long trip on a drug that produces mild hallucinations and double-vision would jibe well with the amount of nausea I was experiencing.  I did an extremely scientific experiment to test this theory where I watched the last ten minutes of a Nicholas Sparks movie (judge all you want–I’m already judging myself harder) while crossing my eyes and slowly shaking my head back and forth.  Results were inconclusive, but I decided to push my appointment back to err on the side of caution.

That alone wouldn’t have been so bad, but then came the real gem in this treasure trove of misery.  (If you’re squeamish about female genitalia, I suggest you stop reading this post–or better yet this entire blog, as I have no patience for what I’m assuming is either a lack of maturity or, worse yet, some inane gender bias.)  I went in for a physical and was nearly through with my Pap smear when my vagina decided it had had enough and transformed the speculum into a projectile weapon, launching it across the room at a surprising velocity.  While I couldn’t see where it landed as I was flat on my back on the exam table, from the sound of things it achieved some real hang time.  At first, I thought the device had simply been removed, but then I heard the clatter of plastic against tile floor and the doctor, in a tone of bemusement, saying, “Wow–I’ve never seen that before.”  I’ll take Things You Don’t Want To Hear From Your Doctor for 2,000, Alex.  I should have been mortified, but thankfully I have no shame and was too busy trying vainly to stifle my laughter.  As soon as the doctor left the room I whipped out my phone and gleefully relayed the story to my best friend in graphic detail.  She was very impressed with my vaginal strength, and then asked a follow-up question that hadn’t even occurred to me–“Did it hit anyone?”  Considering this possibility sent me into a fresh wave of hysterics.  Fortunately for everyone involved, the answer is no–the doctor was clear of the line of fire.  Otherwise, I might have proposed rounding out the appointment with a mercy killing.  Perhaps next time I’m at at a gynecology appointment I’ll request they wear a helmet–just to be safe.

The only item left on my medical checklist is a visit to the dentist’s office tomorrow to grind off the residual glue from my DIY dental work removal where, at the rate this week is going, I’ll most likely clamp down on the dentist’s hand, severing a finger or two, then inhale the digits and choke to death in a bizarre and gruesome fashion worthy of a Final Destination sequel.  But hey, at least I won’t have murdered anyone with my vagina–and right now that seems like the most I can ask for.

I Looked, And Behold, A Pale…Wasp?

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And so it has begun. The day of reckoning is upon us. The end is nigh. Okay, okay, I’m being dramatic–I’m only moving out of my apartment. But it does feel rather apocalyptic. For one thing, the temperature has soared to a sweltering 95 degrees (with 100% humidity, naturally) as I’ve begun packing up my attic abode. Gotta love a mid-July move. You might be wondering, “You live in an attic in Chicago–don’t you have air conditioning?” Great question! My apartment is technically equipped with central air, but I am woefully at the mercy of my landlords (the system is for the entire house), whom I’ve long suspected are members of an alien race hailing from a planet much nearer the sun, granting them the power to withstand heinous temperatures. That or they hate me and want me to die before they have to return my damage deposit. (Just kidding! You guys have been great! Don’t look too closely at the drywall, though. Or the front door for that matter–I went through a bit of a knife throwing phase and my aim left something to be desired. And maybe avoid glancing down at the carpet–I can’t fathom why I chose to start a collection of rusted scrap-metal, either!)

The second sign of the impending apocalypse is the arrival of the wasps. For the past two weeks they have sent daily envoys from their nest in the eaves and I’m beginning to get the feeling they don’t come in peace. This burning desire to lay siege to my apartment is truly perplexing because no sooner have they entered than they begin their desperate quest for escape. They drift menacingly by as I’m relaxing on the couch, shattering my foolhardy belief that having four walls and a roof might afford me some magnitude of protection from the perils of the outdoors. If they’re lucky, I spot them in time to escort them from the premises via my handy bug-catching jar (every home needs one), but an unfortunate few succumb to the inevitable heatstroke that results from more than an hour spent in my apartment, and their needle-thin corpses pile in the corners of my window sills, forming tiny mass graves. I’ve kept a running count of the wasps–seven dead and twelve live ones. Will I make it to twenty before I move out? Stay tuned!

So, between the stifling heat and the invading hordes of wasps, I’ve found myself wondering aloud as I pack, “What circle of hell is this?” My first inclination was the sixth circle–being entombed in flames– because it feels as though I’m roasting alive. But I’m also knee-deep in a pool of my own sweat, so it’s more like boiling, really, which I suppose would make this the seventh circle–a river of boiling blood and fire. I may be a godless heretic, but I’m no murderer, so I can’t imagine what I’ve done to deserve this torture. I hear boiling meat retains its nutrients better than roasting, though, so at least that’s good news for the wasps when they come to feast on my molten flesh.

The one bright spot in this ghastly inferno (other than eternal hell-fire) is that the constant, looming threat of heat exhaustion and anaphylaxis leaves little room to feel the gut-wrenching emotions that this undertaking would otherwise engender. It wasn’t until I sat back after four solid hours of dismantling the home I’ve spent the past eight years creating with such love, care, and devotion, that I began to sense the first inklings of heartache. The all-consuming nature of such a monumental task can only draw focus for so long, but eventually the boxes are stacked, the packing tape is set down (after untangling it from my hands and every other available surface–seriously, fuck packing tape) and there’s nothing left to mask the gnawing realization that the time has come bid farewell to a chapter of my life–a chapter that has spanned the better part of a decade and seen me through such innumerable triumphs and tribulations that the notion that its trappings could be stripped bare in a matter of days is incomprehensible. I know the things that I’m packing away are just that–things–but the amassing of material possessions is a means of creating personal history, a living museum where each item is imbued with a certain set of memories, recollected upon sight, touch, or smell. (Or taste, I guess–I don’t know what weird shit you’re into.) The ransacking of that museum feels a bit like having the pieces of your brain and your heart torn apart and rearranged in a heedless jumble, like an ill fitting jig-saw puzzle, then being told, “Carry on–this is par for the course.” I suppose that’s the nature of moving on–it’s impossible to build anew without some small measure of destruction.

Once I’d met my quota of necessary destruction for the day, I headed to the sailing center in search of respite from the heat and the heartache. I went for a restorative paddle, drifting lazily beneath the balm of cerulean skies and hare’s tail wisps of cirrus clouds, relishing the lap of cool water as my board bucked beneath the muddled chop of Lake Michigan waves. After, as I wandered home along the lakefront toward Chicago with its skyscrapers standing tall like giants, gaunt faces of steel and stone, I knew another pang of sorrow–not just for the home I would be leaving, but for the city, too. I recalled countless nights at the beach spent lying on the bed of a catamaran, hair still damp and smelling of seaweed, a bottle of beer in hand, slick with condensation in the summer heat. Off in the distance the traffic would hum, the El trains grinding along their rails, but the water’s edge invoked a hushed reverence–a sense that these were hallowed grounds. I’d pass hours watching planes take off from O’Hare, arcing out over the water in trails of blinking light–the only bright stars you’ll see in a city where it is never truly night. So much of my life has transpired along this small stretch of shore–how can I possibly leave it? But I know I have my reasons. Drowned as they are by fear and uncertainty, I’m sure they still exist. I need only to summon the faith that they’ll resurface once more when this period of upheaval has passed. Besides, what’s the alternative–languishing in a blistering apartment, trapped with a swarm of stinging insects? Better purgatory than hell, I suppose.

Honey-Don’t

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It turns out, there is such a thing as being too productive.  My once beloved to-do lists–hallmarks of my post-ketamine productivity–have run roughshod over my life.  They consume my every conscious thought.  I awake each day and arrive home each evening to a chain of emails I’ve sent myself and then replied to endlessly, with items to be purchased, phone calls to be made, errands to be run, notes, reminders, and thoughts that have roused me in the middle of the night, taunting, You’ll be sorry if you’ve forgotten us come morning!  So, I write them all down on one of my myriad lists–the number of which seems to multiply exponentially with every passing week.

In architecture, there’s a term called “project creep.”  It’s the result of a nagging feeling that, if you’re going to do X, you might as well take care of Y, and, oh hell, let’s throw Z in there, too, while we’re at it.  It’s how clients who set out to do a guest bathroom remodel end up with a two story addition and a new garage.  They start with well-intentioned, realistic plans, but before they know it, reason takes a back seat to their burning desire to tackle every project they’ve ever dreamt of in one fell swoop–no matter how implausible or costly.   On ketamine, my project creep looks a little like this: I need to brush my teeth.  While I’m at it, why don’t I polish them with some baking soda?  (Crunchy hippie trick!)  Hmm, do I have any floss?  Cut to fifteen minutes later and I’m drooling over the bathroom sink, enthusiastically yanking my dental work out with a safety pin and a pair of rusty needle nose pliers, all the while praising myself, Look how much you’re accomplishing!  You’ve wanted to do this for ages!  Keep at it, you’re almost done!  Thank god I had to go to work or that avenue of productivity might have ended with me sitting in a bathtub full of ice, performing DIY surgery a la House MD, shouting, This is great!  What is this, my appendix?  Who needs that?!  Ooh, I’ve always wanted to take a stab at suturing.  I’m learning so much!  Mercifully, my organs are still intact, and I’ve since made a dental appointment to clean up my handiwork and grind off any residual glue.  (I may have no qualms about prying wires from my teeth with simple tools, but I draw the line at wielding anything with a power cord near my face.)

Beyond the day-to-day chores, moving has sparked a whirlwind of “getting shit done” that has me tackling bigger ticket items, as well–things I’ve been putting off for years.  I’ve arranged long-overdue doctor’s appointments (my automated healthcare system informs me I haven’t had a physical in eight years!  Who knew?!), cleaned out my closets three times over, purchased new dinnerware (after eating from two plates, one bowl, and barely a handful of silverware–all pilfered from my parent’s collection–for the past eight years)–I’ve even made plans to purchase a proper dining table!  No more eating on the couch like a slovenly frat boy, for me.  Gone are the days of licking spilled barbecue sauce from my sweatshirt because the couch cushions jostle my plate when I lean forward to inform Netflix that, Yes, I am still watching and I find it rude–and more than a little judgmental–that you felt the need to ask.  Soon I’ll be sitting upright in a formal dining room, eating over a table (okay, okay, it’s not actually a proper dining table–it’s a dough-prep table.  What did you expect?) enjoying my meals like a grown up, living beyond my means like a grown up, eternally fretting about finances like a grown up.  Ahh, adulthood–feels great!

All this productivity may seem like an asset, but I’ve reached the zenith of tackling necessary assignments and sailed right on by to inventing problems to solve in an attempt to soothe the task-driven beast in my mind screaming, DO MORE!  DO IT ALL!  YOU HAVE NO NEED FOR SLEEP WHEN THERE ARE THINGS THAT CAN BE DONE!  I can’t seem to strike that sweet balance between efficiency and down time.  Rather, my options appear to be ignoring the beast altogether at the risk of missing the occasional directive of actual import, or bowing down to the pressure and checking items off my lists in a maniacal frenzy before appearing to reach the bottom and jotting down, “Add more to-dos to your to-do list,” resulting in some sick, ouroboros-like cycle of eternal, gratuitous labor.

I’ve made every attempt to mellow out.  Yoga feels like a painfully slow waste of time that could be better spent making phone calls.  Watching TV is no distraction–so much paperwork and research can be done while watching TV that it’s more of an adjunct, really.  Even my favorite activity–baking–is interrupted by mad dashes to my computer as I recall yet another baking tool that needs to be added to my To Purchase list (subsection: kitchen). The only real cure I’ve found seems to be crossword puzzles–a hobby with which I’m so obsessed, my mind so consumed, that the world around me disappears until I come to hours later covered in ink (yes, I do them in pen–I’m a rebel, Dottie), still muttering in crossword-ese.

So, if I seem a little distracted to you lately, please understand I have a lot on my plate.  There are t’s to crossed, i’s to be dotted, any number of lists (currently, eight) to be expanded on and amended, a tome’s worth of paperwork to be completed and submitted by an irksomely vast array of deadlines, and I’m still trying to figured out the name of that 18th century Austrian composer.  You know the one–begins with an A, fifteen letters, the sixth of which is C.  Surely, one of you must know.  For the love of god, somebody help me out, here!

Travelogue (Or, You REALLY Don’t Have To Read This)

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My best friend (my rock, my soulmate, the light of my life, my long-suffering, one-woman, support system etc.), Lauren, and I arrived in Phoenix after a harrowing flight spent trying to ignore the chaos unfolding in the row behind us. There was a baby screaming, a young child kneading her shoes into my spine, undeterred by the return blows I delivered to the seat-back in an, admittedly, immature fit of frustration, and a mom intent on playing both good cop and bad cop at a rapid-fire volley that would have left the Williams sisters’ heads spinning. It’s unclear to me why dogs are made to ride in the cargo hold, but children get a pass. They’re roughly the same size and children are undoubtedly of a poorer temperament.

After countless hours—perhaps several sunlit days, I can’t be sure—our plane landed and we were off to retrieve our rental car. It was cute, sporty, and cherry red, but no amount of aesthetic appeal could disguise the fact that the dashboard was flashing a temperature of 110 degrees. Welcome to Phoenix. The temperature climbed to 115 as we hit the road in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave and we watched the world shimmer beneath a blazing sun from the comfort of our air-conditioned car. We drove through rocks, bluffs, and vast tracts of desert in earthen hues of rust and sand. The landscape was dotted with an endless sea of saguaro cacti, tall and stout, waving us on through the valley with impossibly robust arms. As we climbed toward Prescott, the desert gave way to denser vegetation and the saguaro were replaced with stands of alligator juniper and ponderosa pine. Soon, I began to recognize road signs and store fronts from countless hours spent driving the town’s streets on Google Maps.

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After two hours on the road, we arrived at our French-themed vacation rental in a complex just south of the town’s center. It was charming, if not exactly my taste, but I certainly appreciated the extravagant attention to detail—there were decorations EVERYWHERE. This made the condo’s immaculate condition all the more impressive and, after giving our digs the seal of approval, we headed back out to check out Sprouts Farmers Market and pick up some groceries. There’s something soothing about visiting a grocery store in a new town. Walking through the doors feels like a home-coming—seeing all those familiar items and creature comforts in a strange, new place. And Sprouts has Whole Foods beat by a mile. We couldn’t quite put our finger on it, but we both acknowledged that it was just better. It had everything you could want, and few things you didn’t, making grocery shopping a (costly) pleasure. We stocked up on fresh produce, oatmeal, soups, snacks, soy milk, hummus, and expensive, imported chocolate stouts. We would later find that, despite being a small town, Prescott has all the goods a crunchy, vegan, baking-obsessed girl could want, with two natural food stores and a liquor store carrying my favorite local, imported, and organic brands. Much to my delight, I even found the new Samuel Smith pear cider I had been hunting for, though, given then heat and aridity, I could only make it through half a bottle before my light-weight self was down for the count. (Lauren can attest to this as she witnessed my eyes roll back in my head after about ten sips.)

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After settling in, we decided to hit the town and took advantage of a small, creek-side path our rental property owner had recommended that tumbled out of the creek bed right next to Courthouse Square. The creek was dry, but the dusty path had a certain charm and we stopped to admire the riparian flora—fuchsia sweet-peas and patches of wild squash—before drawing up short at the sight of a long-haired skunk picking its way across the rocks. We tracked its progress from a distance, watching it amble into a cut-out in the stone wall, chatting loudly all the while so as not to startle it. Its furry, white tail had just disappeared beneath the tall grass when a swatch of blue fabric caught my eye—that’s when I noticed the body. I turned to Lauren, who had already spotted it but was carrying on the conversation so as not to raise alarm while she tried to figure out what to do. We whispered back and forth—Do we get closer? See if he’s sleeping? Heat-stroked? Passed out drunk? ODed? Dead?! We debated about calling the non-emergency police before deciding the man had likely lain down to “sleep it off” (whatever “it” was, we weren’t sure) due to the intentional positioning of his arms. We settled on beating a hasty retreat and hopping on the main road to town, instead. Our decision was later rewarded when, on the way home, we saw the same man staggering down the street before us and ducking into the yard of his house, just beside the creek. He made one hell of a greeting committee.

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The town square is charming, with a beautiful, grassy park in the middle surrounding the town’s historic courthouse, but it’s somewhat reminiscent of a poor man’s Santa Fe. Its streets are lined with tourist shops selling western wear and Native American jewelry, antique stores (my favorite being Mid Century Madness), the usual smattering of restaurants and cafes, and a series of dank, cavernous bars, each more dive-y than the next, with cheap beer and little decoration save for bargain furniture scattered across concrete floors and the usual haze of neon lights. The bar clientele appeared to be comprised mostly of bleach blondes in stacked heels and rompers and old men with scraggly, greying mustaches, wearing Tommy Bahama shirts with a few too many buttons undone, and, of course, the occasional cowboy hat and boots–to be expected out here in the West. But the general makeup of the town is, thankfully, surprisingly diverse in all areas–race, class, age, political affiliation, personal style, etc. There were conservative retirees done up in makeup and sweater sets, young hippies with bare feet and tie-dyed skirts, students on skateboards, dog-walkers, runners, leather-clad bikers, pick-up truck drivers, and soccer moms. One day we passed a group of protestors at one corner of the square brandishing horrifying pro-Trump signs before before making our way to the next corner where we were relieved to find their counterpoint–a group of activists with signs supporting immigration, equality, and general human decency. Much like the town’s people, the town itself is a haphazard collection of every conceivable manner of living–small, well-kept victorians, shotgun houses in varying states of adorableness or disrepair, trailer parks, luxurious retirement homes, lush lawns and wildflower gardens, dirt lots and rusted car parts, expensive boutiques and second-hand stores—all within a stone’s throw of each other with no real sense of organization or demarcation.

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I discovered much of this on my early morning runs. I never did adjust to the time change and woke around 4:00 or 5:00 every morning, getting things done around the condo before heading out at 5:30 or 6:00 for a trail run on the soon-to-be beloved creek-side trail (despite its questionable first impression), followed by meandering explorations of the town in the quiet hush of dawn. I scouted quite a few rental properties this way, scoping out the neighborhoods and adding them to, or knocking them off the list accordingly. I always ended in the square, nearly deserted save for a few early risers and the enormous, Hitchcockian crows that cawed menacingly from their perches on building eves and atop street lamps.

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The post-breakfast mornings were spent hiking and paddle boarding on Prescott’s stunning lakes and trails. In our short and busy stay we managed to hit Watson Lake, Goldwater Lake, and Thumb Butte, hiking at each in both the morning, and then again in the afternoon. We were determined to get our money from our daily parking passes and soak up the beautiful scenery amidst the chaos of school tours and apartment viewings. We admired the arresting geological formations at Watson Lake—smooth, undulating boulders of granite in dribbles and dollops, like life-sized, drip-style sand castles formed from the fists of giants. We inhaled the sweet scent of ponderosa pine bark at Goldwater Lake—a smell I once described as marshmallows and vanilla, but have since amended to cream soda after Lauren pointed out the incredible likeness. We huffed and puffed up the steep trail at Thumb Butte, drinking in the sweeping vistas of Granite Mountain to the north and the sprawl of the town of Prescott to the south, below. There were prickly pear cacti sporting vivid yellow flowers and countless more ponderosa pine to stop and sniff along the way. These adventures were the highlights of what was otherwise a very stressful trip—what can I say, I’m terrible at decision making.

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And that’s really what this trip was about—making decisions. Is Prescott the right town for me? Can I really see myself at this school? Is this terrifying life change worth all the agony and upheaval? Ultimately, the answer to all three of those questions was yes—but I took my sweet time getting there. Accepted Student Day at Prescott College was a rollercoaster of emotions. After each discussion, each sample class and section of the tour, my mind flipped and flopped in a dizzying feat of acrobatics: I can’t stand this—why did I think I wanted to go back to school? This place is amazing! I can’t believe it exists! I just can’t imagine myself here, it’s clearly not a good fit. This place has everything I could want in a school—look at all the opportunities it will afford me! After a series of exhaustive discussions with Lauren on the walk home, with myself under the spray of a cold shower back at our condo, and with my Mom in an hour long video chat, I finally came to the conclusion that this adventure is worth the risk. It’s time to break out of my comfort zone and attempt something new and exciting. After years of comfortable boredom, I owe myself that much, at least.

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You’d think getting that monumental decision out of the way would be a huge weight off my shoulders, but it was here that the real trouble began. Attending school means moving to Prescott. And moving as an adult, rather than a traditional college student, means finding a rental property, and let me tell you—it’s a seller’s market. There were stained carpets and peeling linoleum, leaky skylights and popcorn ceilings, weird smells and cabinet doors dangling from broken hinges—all at exorbitant rates that left me reeling with disgust and the sticker shock of having lived in a lovely apartment with a fixed rental rate for the past seven years. As I embarked on this torturous process, the first two apartments I saw–and that I was sure would be winners–were a real slap to the face. One was in poor shape with a funny smell and a gruff landlord who was the very embodiment of disinterest. After a dispiriting start, we traipsed back through town, stopping in at a beautiful, mercifully air conditioned, store and museum with exquisite Native American art and jewelry and, much to our relief, a water fountain and unreasonably cute bathroom (there are few things I appreciate more than a nice public bathroom). When we had revived ourselves enough to continue on, we headed out for the next showing—a small stand-alone house that turned out to be a long, hot, and dusty walk from the town square along a busy highway in what the owner herself described as one of Prescott’s lowest-income neighborhoods. We passed behind mechanic’s shops and a ramshackle store announcing BATTERIES, BATTERIES, BATTERIES! before arriving at the house, parched, dripping sweat, and sagging with disappointment.

After the showing we shuffled home with all the élan of the walking dead, heads hung low, fearing heat exhaustion might finally get the better of us and they would soon be scraping our charred bodies off the pavement like seared meat off a grill. Just when we thought we couldn’t go on, we spotted Sprouts ahead and our eyes lit up as though happening upon an oasis in the middle of the Sahara desert. We stumbled into the air conditioning and spent nearly an hour wandering the aisles, where a new love was born—a love of expensive fruit and vegetable juices. Normally I don’t purchase juice, or drinks of any kind, because water is free and a I’m a cheap bastard, but desperation and heat stroke will make you do crazy things. This would soon become our favorite routine—sweltering hikes and walks about town followed by the nirvana that is ice cold, four dollar bottles of bourgeoise, cold-pressed juice. Nothing else has ever inspired in me such simultaneous feelings of joy and shame.

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Sadly, the next day’s viewings were no better, and after a series of frantic phone calls with my parents, they generously suggested I nudge the upper limits of my budget a bit in the hopes of finding somewhere decent to live before we had to catch our flight back to Chicago. This incredible kindness on their part opened up a few more options, and the next day, after jumping through a series of costly, bureaucratic hoops (a thirty minute drive to a rental agency in the valley, nearly a hundred dollars in application fees, the amassing of documents both provided on the spot and sent in from Chicago), I secured a showing for a promising townhouse I had run by earlier that morning. This was to be my last showing and by the time I arrived at the property I was a seething mess of desperation. I had just come from viewing a condo in the same complex we were staying at that was identical to our charming rental in terms of floor-plan, but was unrecognizable in every other way. It was water-damaged, outdated, and filthy, having been inhabited by a number of college boys whom I envision as a pack of wolves based on the condition of their bathrooms, kitchen, and the hunk of raw meat left rotting in their fridge.

Trying to push the distaste of the previous viewing from my mind, Lauren and I wandered the neighborhood, my spirits lifting at the sight of the surrounding pine trees and adorable, well-tended houses on the small stretch of private road. Soon, a car pulled into the townhouse’s garage and we were greeted by an incredibly gracious, warm, and well-coiffed midwestern couple who were renting the house while waiting for construction on their Yavapai Hills home to be completed. Before the rental agent had even arrived they invited us in and started in on the grand tour. The moment I walked through the door I nearly burst into tears—it was BEAUTIFUL. It was immaculately kept, well-finished, and beyond endearing with quirky spaces, octagonal windows, and not one, not two, but three balconies and patios—two of them overlooking a wooded lot where the cream soda scent of ponderosa pines drifted through the trees. The renters told us deer could often be spotted out there in the mornings. The kitchen was incredibly well-appointed—of the utmost importance to someone who bakes breads on a weekly basis and has just discovered an obsession with homemade ravioli—and there was the unexpected saving grace of the washer and dryer being included with the property. (I had been told there were only hook ups.) At the end of the tour I turned to the rental agent and nearly screamed, “I’LL TAKE IT!!!” before floating out the front door on cloud nine with an enormous, shit-eating grin on my face.

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With that, our whirlwind of a trip was over, and we headed back to the airport the next morning in our trusty, red car–the dashboard now reading 119 degrees–stopping along the way for one last hike and to drop off a deposit at the rental agency. Now I’m back in Chicago with only six weeks left until the big move, trying to remind myself that this decision was a hard-fought battle, and that I spent the requisite time and energy making sure this was the right choice for me. I guess I won’t truly know until I get there, but between packing, moving out of my apartment, planning a road trip, setting up utilities, banking and healthcare, and sparing a few thoughts for the impetus of the move—this whole higher education business—there’s nary a moment to second-guess myself. So for now, I’m still fighting my way through that ever-growing to-do list and trying not to panic. When the dust settles, I’ll let you know what it’s like on the other side.

Sea Change

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Walking in the tracks of the surf rake this morning, the freshly-turned sand crumbles beneath my feet like brown sugar.  Elwood has scavenged a chicken bone from the remnants of a late-night gathering–bits of peanut shell,  watermelon rind, and an empty box of fireworks scattered across the sand.   Discarded beer bottles glow like torches in the light of the rising sun, mirroring the reflections that flicker across the water in the ripple of waves.  The disgust with which I view this ubiquitous trash lends a sense of irony to the delight I find in spotting the glint of frosted glass along the shoreline, relinquished from the steady churn of the lake.  Sometimes the difference between trash and treasure is merely the passage of time.  How often our tales of woe become our most winsome stories.  Through their retelling, they are honed and polished like bits of sea glass, made small and palatable, their rough edges smoothed.

I hope this is the light in which I will come to view this transition from Chicago to Arizona, sea glass to red rock, cynical high school drop out to open-minded denizen of the world of higher education–colorful, shimmering, and imbued with the magic of hind-sight.  Because right now I feel the sting of jagged glass, unweathered by the passing of time.  It feels like performing surgery with a broken bottle–dissecting the tissues that bind me to this place with artless and imprecise strokes until all my tethers have been loosed and I’m ready for transplantation.  I worry about how slowly this connective tissue regrows, how long I’ll spend adrift before I begin to feel some sense of belonging in a new place.  More than that, I worry that the sinews joining heart and home can never truly be slackened enough to allow for this distance.  I fear that I will live with an unbearable tautness in my chest, forever calling me home.

I try to remind myself that it’s better to dive into the unknown with grace and daring than languish in the comfortable monotony of the devil you know.  Better the vast potential of open water than the stagnation of refuse-strewn shores.  (Speaking metaphorically, of course–people need to stop throwing their shit in the lake.)  With any luck, I will one day emerge from this rough and tumble sea of change honed and polished with my rough edges smoothed.  Whether the waves will spit me out on distant sands or those of my local beach, only time will tell.

You May Ask Yourself, “Well… How Did I Get Here?”

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Today was one of those days where change hung palpably in the air, like catching the first scent of an oncoming storm. It could be, in part, because summer has finally arrived in earnest: cottonwood seeds drift lazily through the air, collecting in the un-mown grass like banks of snow, fat, black pincher beetles gleam from the sidewalk’s edge like onyx cabochons, and one week into this Chicago June, I finally felt secure enough to put my winter coat in storage. (So, expect snow tomorrow, obviously.) But while the dawning of a new season always feels ripe with alteration, more than that, I think the impending changes in my life that once shimmered nebulously on the horizon, small and unobtrusive, are no longer mired in the benign haze of distance. They loom before me now like the Annapurna Massif–a stark and formidable imposition on the landscape of my future.

After leaving my job on Friday, I spent the past week in merciful limbo. My parents were off vacationing on the McKenzie River in Oregon while I lay low at their house and looked after Elwood, our dog. Following the hellacious rollercoaster ride of employment under a mercurial boss, I was relieved to finally come to rest in the valley of my parent’s couch cushions where I whiled away the days drawing, writing, and consuming an obscene quantity of smoothies and espresso, one after another, in much the same manner one might chain smoke a pack of cigarettes. There were long, solitary (save for Elwood) walks on the beach and the odd foray into socialization, but for the most part I had nothing to do and nowhere to be, and the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts, without the intrusion of obligation, was a luxury nearly as delicious as those 200 ounces of smoothie. (The Jetsons era blender I have at home doesn’t get used on account of it smelling like a tire fire, so unfettered access to smoothie making equipment is kind of a big deal for me.)

This retreat from the daily grind was restful at first, meditative even, but without the dread of an insufferable job clouding my every conscious thought, my mind finally turned to my swiftly approaching departure for Arizona. My god, there is so much to do. I’ve begun hacking away at this seemingly infinite to-do list, grateful for the delusory sense of control that productivity affords, but my daily duel with progress feels rather like attempting to chisel Michelangelo’s David from a hunk of marble with a blunt pair of safety scissors and Trumpian hands. For every infinitesimal grain of stone that falls away, countless more surface and it’s all I can do not to collapse at the foot of this stubborn behemoth of rock and concede defeat. But I know that, just as this whirlwind of anticipation and preparation has sprung upon me in the blink of one myopic eye, so too will the end result of all this toil. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s harder—the laborious slog through an infinite sea of errands, tasks, and other accouterments of heart-rending life change that manifest, paradoxically, in such mundane and tedious fashion, or the knowledge that, in hindsight, it will all have passed so quickly and I’ll find myself thrown to the wolves of an unfathomable future with barely a moment to ponder, How did I get here? Such is the nature of time—it plods along like a dull film while you jam your finger against the fast forward button to no avail and then, when you’re finally ready to hit pause, it skips ahead in a blurred series of flash-frames and the end credits are rolling before you’ve even sussed out the plot. So, despite the dance with drudgery that a large move entails, I’m trying to relish the calm before the storm and use this opportunity not only to plan ahead, but to reflect, as well.

After emerging from my limbo and transporting my belongings from my parent’s house back to my apartment, I took a break from the evening’s chores to walk by the lake. I had just spoken with my landlord and received some surprising news (which they currently wish to keep private) that left me marveling at the serendipity of it all—the crux being that the agonizing uncertainty I faced when making the decision to leave Evanston turns out to have been for naught. I don’t believe in fate, but I won’t deny that every so often the timing of things can engender such awe as to give the impression that life is a well-choreographed play whose script we haven’t seen and, for the most part, weren’t aware existed, but whose occasional stroke of artfulness has the capacity to break the fourth wall giving us no choice but to applaud its wit. As I was musing over this on my way to the lake, waxing nostalgic for the eight wonderful, terrible, and tumultuous years I spent in my apartment in a way that only the end of such an era can inspire, I spotted two of my grade school teachers walking toward me like guests appearing on an episode of This Is Your Life. I hadn’t seen these women in years and it was a sentimental delight made all the more poignant for its contribution to that fortuitous sense of timing. We reminisced fondly before I carried on my way, continuing this jaunt down memory lane with a visit to the sailing center–a place so haunted by the specter of memory as to be imbued with an aura of anachronism, making it difficult to reconcile the tangibility of recollections with just how much time truly has moved on. As I gazed out across Lake Michigan—a view at once as familiar as my own reflection, yet never ceasing in its evocation of wonder–I felt a small frisson of longing course through me. Whether this was longing for the past, present, future, or some confluence of the three, I can’t really be sure. I quelled the synchronous urge to laugh and cry and said one of an endless series of goodbyes before making my way home.

Reflections Upon Leaving (Or, I Swear This Is The Last Time I’ll Bitch About My Job)

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The last buckets have been washed, the last petals swept, the last hostile critiques and disapproving stares weathered with a nod, a smile, and a silent fuck you.  At 6pm on Friday, I walked out of my job knowing I would never again lay eyes upon my boss–her cruel visage thinly veiled by the comely disguise of flowers–and a giant, stupid grin broke across my face.  Freedom!

Before I began this job, I held such romantic notions of working in a flower shop.  I think most people do.   It evokes dreamy visions of chic, vintage furniture blanketed in seas of fresh blossoms with kind-faced shop women wielding gardening shears and carrying bouquets bundled in craft paper and ribbon–and those visions aren’t wrong.  But people think only of the the sweet perfume of roses and lilac–not the stench of rice flower, like pungent weed and the must of old books (a smell I’ve admittedly grown to love), or the peonies that sporadically stink like hot sewage. They think only of the jeweled hues of hyacinth, with petals of amethyst and sapphire blue–not the strands of mucus that cling to its stems, reeking of onion.  They fail to notice the shop proprietor silently judging them from behind her dazzling display of blooms.  It’s easy to be distracted by such beauty.

Lurking beneath the romance is reality–the ugly, the mundane.  I wouldn’t have minded the drudge work one bit–it is a job, after-all, and I’m no stranger to manual labor–but labor of any kind becomes unbearable when carried out beneath the hawkish gaze of a boss whose palpable disdain permeates the air, mingling with the scent of geranium and muscari like an odorless poison.  And while the flowers that line the shelves of the coolers—ranunculus and freesia, dianthus, tulips, and arabicum— might be the same species as their wild counterparts, they seem a sad specter of their former selves.  There’s a certain melancholy about cut flowers—plucked in their prime from sun-drenched fields to languish beneath the flicker and buzz of artificial lights.  It is a stark reminder of the finite nature of living things and the fleeting essence of beauty.

But there is relief to be found in the knowledge that, just as beauty is fleeting, so too is horror.  Life contains both in infinite magnitude and it is this study in contrasts–this interplay between light and dark, cruelty and kindness, rose and thorn–that imbues the world around us with such wonder.  A monotonous world would be a boring one.  All things perpetual are destined to be taken for granted and even beauty and joy would grow indistinct and unappreciable if not balanced with hideousness and despair.  There’s a reason we find ourselves captivated not only by the delightful, but by the macabre, as well.  We’re drawn to nature in all of its incarnations, arrested by splendor and sorrow in equal measure, and all the more awed by the surprising harmoniousness of the two.  To discern value in each of these qualities is the means by which we’re able to fully embrace life.

So, am I relieved to be rid of this aesthetically pleasing horror-show?  Of course!  But I won’t discount the experience.  I can appreciate the beauteousness of flowers while recognizing that they are all the more exquisite for their ephemerality and occasional repulsiveness.  I can denounce my boss’ scornfulness while also admiring her commendable qualities–her design talent, her business acumen, her intermittent moments of kindness.  Humanity is a form of nature and no one is bereft of benevolence, nor malignancy.  To forget that people are an intricate mix of all things, great and terrible, is to deny them their humanity and to deny yourself the clarity and compassion to experience relationships unmarred by ingratitude and ignorance.

With this insight in mind, I chose to leave on good terms.  Ever the gracious doormat, I thanked my boss and coworker for the opportunity and offered praise for their spectacular artistry.  (Their work really is amazing.)  Then I pushed through the front door without looking back and said a silent prayer for whoever takes my place (here’s hoping they have a superhuman capacity for speed, or maybe a functional coke habit), before skipping all the way home.