inspiration

Let go of the monkey bars.

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There was a path laid out for me. Finish high school, go to college. Finish college, get a job. Find a husband. Buy a house. Raise a child. Get a dog. White picket fence. Perfect life. That…hasn't really worked out for me so far.

Failing the realization of my domestic fantasies, I have always fancied myself a…career woman. We girls can do anything; right, Barbie? Slim-cut business dresses and heels. Taking the train downtown to work. Corner office…someday. On the path: I took a job in Kansas City after college. Moved into a loft downtown and drove six minutes up the highway every day to my entry-level job. Making $27,500 a year, I had enough to live on and then some. I was riding high — even if I was doing my laundry at home every weekend —but I knew I was a little fish in an even littler pond.

I wanted more.

I moved to New York and took the train to work every day — the downtown 6, the W to Manhattan — but I could have worn pajamas in the office. I never took it that far, but I could have. Conflicting hip-hop rhythms did battle from computer to computer. The drop ceilings were black; the walls were dingy. An old Haitian woman in circulation reheated fish in the microwave at lunch, permeating the open air above a sea of cubicles. There wasn't even a kitchen; I rinsed my Tupperware in the same sink where I washed my hands.

If at first you don't succeed…

I fell in love with a boy in Chicago and took a job to pay the bills. Dresses and heels, yes, but the train went the wrong way. Into the suburbs. Every day, I watched my city shrink away into the distance. I shared the van ride to the office with five, seven, nine other people, at times, but my bitterness was unique. I'm better than this. I'm a city girl. What made me better? And oh, the rules: Don't eat at your desk. Don't listen to music. Don't take more than a half hour for lunch. Don't drink at the company holiday party. Don't ask to work from home, even though your commute adds up to three hours a day (we moved into this nice office so you'd have everything you need!). And don't ever — ever — convey that you're anything less than thrilled to be there every day.

Plenty of room in the sink to wash my lunchtime dishes, but I was ready so quickly to wash my hands of that place. After about six months.

And yet. Nearly three years later, there I was, languishing in the northwestern suburbs with job prospects about as far off as the city. When I wasn't struggling to get out of bed in the morning, I was joking that I'd take a well-paying custodial position with the school district if it meant a shorter commute. Go back to slinging lattes and Frappuccinos in a green apron if it meant I could interact with people, make them smile. Make me smile. Just get away. The money at this job was good, but I was miserable. And no one seemed to know.

Or they didn't care.

But there was a small complication that kept me from leaving: Despite my distaste for those in charge, I loved the people I worked with.

Work with. Present tense. That three years later is now.

My staff and I, we make our own fun. We close the door to my boss' office and curse, sotto voce, to relieve our collective frustrations. We forward YouTube videos and stupid news links; we go out to lunch and let off steam. It may not be unique to my workplace, but it's new to me. Then I leave the office, get out into the industry. I work for a magazine that caters to a singularly fantastic group of people, who work tirelessly for less money than me but delight in every sale to every individual who buys something from them. They know their trade inside and out. They love it. And they know me. And they love me.

And I. Love. Them.

So every job I applied for, whether the money was better, or the commute was shorter, or the staff was younger…I didn't care. Because I was attached. And that made me torn.

Until a month ago.

When a woman approached me, dangled the carrot and said, "I read your blog. I know you hate your commute. [I…know…everything.] What would you say if you could work from home but stay in the industry?"

I took the bait. I ate that carrot.

Unlike the people I work for now, she sees that there's more to life than dresses and heels and early-morning trains. And corner offices. And salaries. And benefits. And rules. And misery. (Is this my exit interview?)

She is the happiest woman I've ever encountered. Even when she's complaining, she does it with glee. Every time we talk, she infuses me with her verve. Optimism by osmosis. Only…it isn't. Because I've always been this person. She just brings it out in me.

She knows me. She gets me.

And she's challenged me to take a leap. A leap of faith. Which I've…never really been into. I've made the big moves — Kansas City to New York, New York to Chicago — but those were calculated risks. With job security. They were moves everyone generally approved of. This woman… She challenged me to leave a stable job that made me miserable and take a chance on something that could fulfill every career aspiration I've ever had but never knew about. Something that also could very well blow up in our faces. Because that's the kind of risk you take when you're an entrepreneur. But if I fail, we both fail. And because we are who we are, we can't actually fail. Because if one door closes, another opens — and we walk through it together.

I met her on Friday night as she made her way back from vacation in Michigan to her home in Minnesota. We shared tapas and two bottles of wine; we plotted out the next month and how things would look going forward. I stumbled through the weekend, giddy to get to Monday, give my notice and hand over my overly formal letter of resignation. Three more weeks, and another adventure begins. I'm vague because I can't be specific; there are loose ends to be tied up everywhere. I'm vague because, well, the future is vague. And really, what does it matter to anyone who comes here exactly what I'm doing?

I'm free. In 23 days, I am free.

This opportunity is one of many I'll be pursuing. It keeps me connected to the industry I love — my industry — but affords me the luxury of time and location to do more. To test the waters: PR. Social media. Events.

To WRITE. Expect more here. Hold me to it.

Friday night, we walked to the Metra station, half-drunk on Albarino and the other half on sheer schoolgirl glee. As the train's headlights neared, I spotted a cluster of pewter cuffs on her wrist, entwined to look like one. I asked about them. She flipped her wrist around to reveal three separate bangles, each inscribed with a different perplexing phrase. Each phrase was taken from the writings of one of her friends, Patti Digh.

Then she took one off and said, "Here. You should have this one." LET GO OF THE MONKEY BARS

And I tried to think back to being a child on a playground, because I've worked so hard for so long just to be an adult on a path. To something. On the monkey bars, to move forward, you have to let go of the rung behind you. Dangle precariously from one seemingly weak, unsteady arm to grab the next. Swing. Trust your own strength. "But you have to wear it turned like this," she said, sliding it around my slender wrist and turning the inscription inward. "This is your message. It's not for anyone else." I wanted to cry. I stared at the bracelet all the way home. I've worn it every day since I got it.

For all the times I've claimed to be in love, for all the times I've trusted someone… It's never felt like this.

I've never felt so full of hope. Never felt so full of love — not this kind of love, anyway. For the fear I embraced and wouldn't let overcome me… The fear I turned into action. For the future. This love is for myself. For my badass self.

"You are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life."

My day yesterday? Yoga at 9, personal training (kill me) at noon. A sweaty walk downtown made no more bearable by the homeless man who sauntered up to me and started to sing and dance while I was on the phone with my grandmother. A surprise Twitter-follower stalk at a coffee shop near my apartment. (His reaction: "Why else would you post your location if you didn't want to be found?" Touché!) A quick visit — and half an Oberon — with a bartender friend down the street; a white port cocktail, with sparkling soda and fresh berries, at a favorite Bucktown haunt. By the way? I drink alone; I dine alone; I see movies alone. Especially after my solitary year and a half in Manhattan, I'll do anything by myself and, as long as I don't dwell on it too much, still love my life. Try it. Being alone and feeling pathetic is so mid-'90s.

All yesterday's errands and short run-ins preceded the main event: drinks, dinner and a movie with the man I will now offensively refer to as my Gay Boyfriend. We met last year, just before my 25th birthday and the weirdest summer ever, on the bus. After seeing each other on the same excruciating commute for months.Now, we terrorize our fellow travelers, laughing at clueless suburban Cubs fans and singing impromptu arias about the CTA. We saw Julie & Julia. Which, I guess, is why I'm writing this in the first place. Only took me 400 words to get to it…I am going to need the best editor ever when I finally write this book. Now accepting applications. I went in knowing I would want to kidnap Meryl Streep and keep her forever, even more than before; short snippets of her as Julia Child — all hoot and height and foodlust — had me sold on the movie. When I was in high school, my choir director used to imitate Child's voice when he was working us on vowel shapes. Myyyyy name is Juuuuuuulia Chiaahhhhhhhld. Iiiiii sing with rouuuuuund souuuuuuunds. I knew I'd love it even before I even found out that the other half of the movie was about a girl in New York who kept a year-long blog. About preparing everything in Julia Child's first cookbook. In the end (spoiler alert?), she gets a book deal — and, you know, a movie made about her — but not until after she becomes self-absorbed and obsessed with her "readers", and nearly loses her husband. Who was, himself, not without flaws. But still. The movie touched on my biggest dreams. Getting seized by that feeling of purpose. Becoming known. Getting published. Eating all the time. Discovering contentment is possible despite several borderline neuroses and a dead-end job, despite living in a terrible apartment over a pizzeria in Queens. That kind of thing. But it hit on some of my biggest fears, too. Namely: losing the feeling of purpose after experiencing it once, alienating the people I love in pursuit of a goal, working myself into a frenzy only to get "nothing" from it in the end. Gaining weight. My mother reading my blog and hanging on its every word. That kind of thing. It wasn't one of those "make you think" movies, but the movie really made me think. The idea of finishing something you've started, no matter how long it takes and no matter how small the payoff could be, has stuck with me. My inspiration is re-re-renewed. I will write this book of mine. I don't have the nicely wrapped, cute-idea-and-menacing-deadline package working for me, but I've already lived my story. And a lot of it is already written down. In some form, it's all there. Now it's just a matter of readying it for public consumption. And changing the names. (Good lord. I've made that mistake once.) And convincing someone to set it on paper in a nice typeface. And picking a title. Oh, look. There's the cart, all ready to go before the horses have even left the stable.

As the credits rolled, I turned to Gay Boyfriend and said, "Wow. That was magical." I don't understand why people would pay money to see people orphaned or dismembered when they could stand up, stretch and leave the theatre thinking better of the world than when they sat down. Julie & Julia was a wonderfully sweet movie with all my favorite elements: food, romance and devotion, the hanging-in-balance of Hollywood happy ending and real life just working out, in the way that it so often does. At least…I believe it does.