work

February.

The field organizer for an aldermanic candidate in my ward is 15 years old.Fifteen. There is a kid with braces and a bowl haircut standing on the street corner by Starbucks in the freezing cold, holding a stack of shiny cardstock handbills still in their copy-shop brown-paper packaging. Talking to passersby about the virtues of his candidate with the poise and composure of someone at least twice his age.

He has a BlackBerry, for God's sake.

When he came inside the café for a snack, I gave him my card and told him I'd love to help him in any way I could. When I was really thinking, "I need this child to help me figure my life out."

If a kid like that isn't enough to give you a crisis of confidence in your capabilities as an adult… I mean, I don't know.

Honestly, if February were any longer than 28 days, I'm not sure what would happen to me.

That blizzard we had last week delighted me at first in its novelty, and now the snow is just making me angry. I am angry at you, snow. You are ugly and grey and wet.

I'm angry at the season in general. You're making me depressed, Old Man Winter. You and Father Time and your patriarchal oppression. My feet are cold, and I'm lonely.

And I think it's safe to say I'm overextended. I have work. So much work. And work is a good thing, I suppose. It helps me pay my bills and buy things like kittens and steam mops. I'm writing and editing and helping fill the world with excellent content for all the good girls and boys.

But it's too much. I stay up working until 2:30 a.m.

Actually, I could just be really, really bad at managing my time. That's probably true.

But I would much rather blame external factors. Like winter. And the slow, spotty Internet I'm scamming from an unsuspecting neighbor. And my cat.

The worst part about overextending is that it leads to coming up short in other places. Like writing. And that's really frustrating.

The whole goal of quitting my full-time job was to make more time for writing. And I think I actually do it less now. But as I approach six months of this freelance gig — my, how time flies — I'm still working on that "cutting myself some slack" thing. Six months feels like ages, but it's barely a ripple in time. So are the 27 years I've lived so far. So it goes.

Listen to this song. It's by my friend Becky, who I've known since second grade and is now half of the amazing duo Barnaby Bright. (And if she's not enough to give you a crisis of confidence in, well…everything else in life, you're better than me. Amazing.) When you listen to that song, do you feel hopeless or filled with possibility? Becky Bliss — February: February reminds me that winter's behind me. And the flowers of another spring will come, and I'll have nothing to show.

I can't decide either. But March is another song altogether.

Reverb 10: Letting go, three months later.

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest. Today’s prompt: December 5 Let go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

I let go of the monkey bars. (If you're new here, click that! It's a link! Today, it could also be seen as something of a cop-out!)

The Cliff's Notes: I quit my full-time job, gave up my health insurance and paid vacation, the regular paychecks and 401K, my two-and-a-half-hour daily commute, the frustration of working for people with no interest in caring for their employees, and the general self-loathing that went with doing a job my heart was no longer in. An opportunity to work for myself, be on my own, presented itself. And I jumped at it. It wasn't a popular decision with my family — a situation not altogether unfamiliar to me at this point — and I knew it wouldn't be easy in a lot of ways.

But I did it because 27 years old is too young not to take a chance that might end in failure. It's too young to choose security over freedom. I did it because 27 is too old to still be worried about what's expected of you. I did it because despite the tough sell to my family, there are many, many safety nets, security blankets and downy-soft support systems lined up to catch me if I do lose my grip. And I did it because, contrary to all the news stories written in the past year about foolish, spoiled, naïve Gen Yers, it's never foolish, spoiled nor naïve to expect — no, demand — that a job be challenging, fulfilling and rewarding.

Three months later? I've left the monkey bars and hit the playground running. The twisty slide and the tire swing and the merry-go-round are all at my disposal, and I'm just getting started.

It hasn't been easy, just as I expected. I'm getting by on a bit less money than before. I'm paying through the nose for my health insurance (that's a link, too). I'm beating back the occasional attacks of crippling loneliness.

But I'm also embracing my freedom. I've been running up a storm; I'm getting back in shape. I spend my work days at Starbucks. I go to therapy in the middle of the afternoon. I love the people I'm working with, even though I rarely see them in person and we're scattered all across the country. I'm finding out I'm a pretty decent salesgirl. I'm starting to blog more; I'm proud of more of it. I've signed up for an eight-week writing course.

Challenging. Fulfilling. Rewarding.

Here's to letting go of the monkey bars and reaching forward to what's next.

Helter-skelter.

Café Maude is Kellee's Friday lunch spot.Everyone knows her there. They laugh when she pulls in at 10:58 a.m. and waits for them to open two minutes later, orders her first glass of wine and sets up shop for the afternoon. They take good care of her.

It was only Thursday, but Kellee wanted me to experience Café Maude.

So, after a short, lazy morning spent working on a lush leather sofa — side by side, feet on the ottoman with blankets draped over our laps — in front of a crackling fire with CNN on mute, filling up on freshly brewed coffee and rye toast with organic butter, we pulled ourselves together and piled into a MINI Cooper named Moxie, bound for Café Maude. It was nice to be the passenger after my seven-hour drive into the Twin Cities the day before, which included me careening through downtown St. Paul after dark in a blind rage, unable to find my destination or a decent parking spot. (That I can't afford the payments is only the tip of the iceberg of why there's no absolutely reason for me to have a car.)

Minnehaha Parkway — I dare you to say it and not feel a twinge of glee — becomes 50th Street after a certain point, connecting bike trails and a few of those 10,000 lakes and winding through residential areas dotted with sweet little bungalows and beautiful vintage stucco homes.

Minneapolis is pretty glorious, actually.

Moxie handled Minnehaha's curves like a racer, and Kellee knew those roads like the back of her hand. We whipped over the rivers and through the woods, the previous weekend's foot of snow melting into mere inches, mostly grey slush, but still enough to delight me. My tummy rumbled as we approached Nicollet Avenue.

Then an old woman in a red sedan with not a care in the world — including what color her light was — blew through the intersection, straight toward us. Kellee saw the other car first; I didn't even get the customary string of curse words out before we'd made impact. She braked hard, swerved and hit the back end of the sedan with the front corner of the MINI, sending the sedan careening, spinning, across the intersection until it came to a stop, 180 degrees later, facing the right way in the wrong lane. Kellee and I were both strangely calm; she flipped on the emergency flashers and got out immediately to assess the situation. The other woman, who must have been at least 80, stayed in her car, barely rolling down the driver's side window when Kellee approached to ask if she was all right.

No one was hurt.

But the other woman didn't even know she'd been speeding toward a red. Thought we were in the wrong; thought we'd hit her. The police came a few minutes later and set her straight; they decided not to ticket her for the signal violation, but they found her at fault for the accident and ordered a physical to determine whether she's still fit to drive at all.

Talk about a wake-up call.

Another woman, an innocent bystander who almost became less so when the sedan nearly spun into her, had stayed nearby to write out an account for Kellee to use in court if it came to that. Lord help us if it had; she was less of a help than she might have been. In her version of the story, she was waiting for a green arrow that didn't actually exist, and the woman who ran the light came from the opposite direction. It may also have been a different day in her version. I think she was more shaken up than both of Moxie's passengers combined.

All told, things that day could have been much worse. Moxie got towed to a body shop later that day, after we picked up my rental car and took to the mean streets once again. We finally made it to Maude and drank much-needed glasses of wine, and ate warm soup and fries with creamy truffle sauce.

But in the course of conversation, I realized that if we'd hit that intersection half a second later, that old woman would have plowed straight into the passenger-side door, and I'd have ended up in the hospital with broken bones, a concussion or worse.

Or worse.

A fact that didn't shake me up as much as it did shake a little sense into me. They say near-death experiences will do that to you. But they also say these things happen in slow motion. In my case, they — whoever they are — would be wrong.

I'm not sure slow motion even exists for me, though. In large part, life runs helter-skelter at me and I rush right back at it. Two linebackers at the line of scrimmage. If anything it's elastic, accelerated to dizzying Hadron Collider rates then stretched like Silly Putty until I'm dangling precariously, spread too thin, barely holding together.

But I'll happily accept that over being crushed inside a car on the way to lunch. (Is it better to burn out than to fade away?) I'm not sure where this leaves me but grateful that I did live to drink celebratory wine at Café Maude, help cobble together information for insurance agents and body-shop employees, bask in the lovely pre-winter glow of a charming new city and rush headlong into another ordinary day.

London calling.

I leave for the UK this week.

Seems I was preparing for another transatlantic journey this time last year.
Oh, wait. I was — almost to the day.

Last year, I flew to Paris.
A year later, this Thursday, I'll be getting on a direct flight to Amsterdam, where I'll transfer the next morning to Edinburgh and eventually fly back out of London.

Last year, I thought a trip would change my life. I traveled alone because I couldn't imagine a better travel partner than myself. In the end, I spent most of my savings on shabby hotels and mediocre meals, wandering aimlessly through the city I imagined I'd fall head-over-heels in love with. I was petrified of getting too lost in a tangle of streets that felt more like alleys, or being taken advantage of by some smooth-talking Parisian. (That almost happened a few times.)
To make matters worse, my flatiron shorted out in one of those crazy continental power outlets.
I was disappointed in the city of my dreams, my sanity saved by Skype and my trusty laptop.
(And the life changing actually happened the day after I returned, when the Knight and I stayed up all night talking, laughing and essentially falling in love. We've been inseparable since then.)

And then there's London. Which has never been the city of my dreams. The only other time I visited the United Kingdom, I was disappointed. To say the least. I was 14 years old, shunned by the other high-school freshmen I was traveling with, stymied by the second "toilet" in every bathroom that spewed water upward, sick to death of churches and history after a few days, rapidly losing weight from the terrible food. On my one free afternoon, I navigated the Tube like a pro, but there was nowhere I wanted to go.
So I'm managing my expectations.
But this year, I'm traveling for work, and the stops have officially been pulled out. I'm traveling with a group of Master Gardeners from Orange County, California. We'll stay in four-star hotels and visit the great gardens of the United Kingdom. (Want to read more on the gardening side of things while I'm gone? My work blog is here.)
I have my evenings free and have been researching restaurants and sights to see in my down time. Gordon Ramsay? Brick Lane? Piccadilly Circus? West End? Harrods? Yes, please. The only time I will spend my own money: shopping. And one fancy meal.
I bought a better power converter. My flatiron will not fry. Not this time.

The best thing that came out of last year's trip: a month of inspired writing and 67 glorious photos that now all but cover the walls of my apartment. Sparkling memories of a lackluster trip.
Who knows what this year's trip will bring.


Take me to the airport
And put me on a plane
I got no expectations
To pass through here again

Die in a fire.

Deep breaths.
Deeeeeeep, cleansing breaths.

I do not watch American Idol.
If I wanted to watch a karaoke competition, I could do it live in Chicago. Hell, I could get wasted and participate in one some Saturday night.
But I don't.
The first few seasons had some real talent.
The audition episodes lasted a week, and the few terrible wannabes lampooned by the judges were half-sad, half-hilarious — and honestly didn't get it. Now, half the people who audition are there because they know they can be on Fox or become a YouTube sensation. Talent dilution.
No one booed when Simon Cowell so much as opened his mouth. Simon Cowell, who offers the only real critiques on the show.
Ellen DeGeneres didn't get to sit at the judges' table. Why is she even there? Go dance on your own show.
There were no celebrity "mentors" or product placement. Never before have non-country singers loved Ford vehicles so much.

And most of all, there were no "hometown parades" screwing up my morning Starbucks run.

Lee DeWyze, one of the final three contestants — apparently — is from Mount Prospect, a neighboring suburb to where I work.
Each of the lucky three gets to return to their respective roots before the finals and lavished with cheering "Maybe if I get close enough, I can be on TV!!!" adoration from hometown fans.
So, of course, we got a memo (faxed to us, no less) from the local police department saying our lives were going to be flipped, turned upside-down today. Lee DeWyze, after throwing out the first pitch at this afternoon's Cubs game, will ride in a motorcade out to Mount Prospect, visit the schools he attended then perform for a sold-out crowd of 30,000 at…Arlington Park Race Track.
Which I can see from here. Palinesque.

I drove to work this morning because I knew the spray-tanned, bedazzled suburban crowds at the train station later would be too much for my fragile urban sensibilities to handle. I left the house at 6:45 to avoid highway traffic and was bottlenecked even worse than usual.
I blame Lee.
When I exited the highway and pulled in at Starbucks for my badly needed morning drink, the hum of pop-devotee energy nearly interrupted my bad '80s–radio frequency. And the Starbucks drive-through line wrapped around the corner.
Did American Idol completely take over the world and make it Monday?

A timeline of the morning:
7:12 a.m. Wait for state police officer to park his cruiser; it takes three tries
7:13 a.m. Walk inside, inhale fumes of Jessica Simpson's signature fragrance
7:15 a.m. Stand in line
7:17 a.m. Write the angriest tweet ever
7:20 a.m. Order my drink. From the barista who still doesn't know my drink. Because she's the worst barista ever.
7:21:45 Stand at the other end of the counter with four Oompa Loompas who very much need their Mocha Frappuccinos
7:23 a.m. Receive my drink. Which is wrong. Because worst barista ever also doesn't know how to mark cups.
7:23:30 a.m. Start to say something about how it's made wrong. Decide to cut less-bad baristas a break and walk out with my wrong drink
7:25 a.m. Storm out
7:34 a.m. Stuff my face with three Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins.
7:34:52 a.m. (Two with SPRINKLES.)
7:36 a.m. Change my outlook on life

Oh, Lee DeWyze. If not for those doughnuts, you'd have had another thing coming. As if I needed another reason to hate the suburbs.
The good news: I plan to be out of this place and on my way back to civilization before he picks up a microphone this afternoon.
But you, American Idol?
You've ruined music. Made everyone think they know what a good vocalist sounds like. Made everyone think they can sing, actually, think they can get their 15 minutes. You've turned America into a bunch of fame-seeking karaoke trolls. For that? Die in a fire.

Edit, 11:28 a.m. Well. It's hard to be snarky and hateful when management has just notified us that the office will close three hours early so we can get the hell out before the DeWyze-acres take over the world.
Hallelujah.

Serenity now and then.

I wrote this yesterday afternoon from cruising altitude. The timestamps are wrong, but my two-hour jetlag has rendered me apathetic. All else should be accurate.

I awoke this morning when the Knight crawled out of bed, shrugged into a worn brown plaid button-down shirt and padded down the dusty hallway, ran the water and put a kettle on for tea.
I stretched, rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I held my phone close to my face, blind without my glasses and not ready to surrender completely to being awake: It was 7:30. More than five hours till my flight leaves, I thought. A relaxed morning. There was time to go for a run, but I was saving myself for a quick loop around the Strip, after a long flight, before dinner with a client.
So I made us oatmeal for breakfast, sipped my tea and kissed the Knight goodbye when he left — out the door before me, for the first time in recent memory — and puttered contentedly around the empty apartment. Showered, blown dry, dressed, packed.
It was 9:30, and suddenly a man has been pinned beneath a Blue Line train on an ordinary Monday morning. He's dead, and the train is stopped in its tracks. So it goes. The Blue Line was my ride to the airport.
As usual, my once-relaxed morning became a frenzy.
I rushed out the door at 10 to catch my westbound bus, due in nine minutes, according to the tracker on my phone. Except that I'd read it wrong. The eastbound bus was due in nine minutes…my bus wasn't due for 17. Plenty of time to wander across the park, but certainly not enough to get my sorely needed iced chai latte.
So I walked to the stop and waited in the sun for the remaining 13 minutes, perspiring in the yellow cardigan I always wear when I travel and fretting over making it to the airport in time.
I boarded the crowded bus with a 35-pound suitcase, an awkward laptop bag, a purse with a stubborn shoulder strap and a mess of headphone wire tangled through the straps; I inched through the gauntlet of sneakered, indifferent feet back to a seat next to a frail Asian woman who I knew would give me about five seconds to move when she decided she needed to get out. Now. I could feel my chest tightening, the familiar pinch between my shoulders becoming a vice grip. I inched the volume of my iPod up to drown out the cell phone conversations and heavy breathing.
I did make it to the airport, thanks to the Knight and his always-shining Camry. I bypassed the Blue Line entirely — supposedly, the trains were moving again, but I wasn't prepared to risk missing a flight — and met him between classes to hitch a ride. We sailed down the highway, and I let the cool wind whip through my hair and the stroke of his hand slow my breathing again.
"Business or pleasure?" asked the man who checked my boarding pass at security.
"What do you think?" I shot back, then I attempted to soften my delivery with a friendly grimace. The strap of my laptop bag cut into my right shoulder as I waited to be insulted, barefoot and stripped of my metallic finery, by the Transportation Security Administration. I stepped into the guidelines of the body scanner, feet shoulders' width apart, and raised my arms over my head. In the holding area, a man wearing no accessories but his weapon and a name badge chastised me for leaving my wooden bangle on. The scanners don't like bracelets. I slipped my flip-flops back on and glided through the throngs of travelers ambling toward their gates. Breezed to my gate to find that the flight had been oversold, that I'd be stuck in the middle seat I'd been assigned.
Hurry up. Wait.
Through a gauzy grey curtain, a flight attendant handed warm, moist towels to the haves while they waited for a warm meal, two across in leather seats, while the have-nots sip their complimentary soft drinks, wedged three across and sitting up, ramrod straight, with barely enough elbow room to hold a book, let alone type.
But I have my iPod and just enough room to write, just enough mobility in my pinched neck and shoulders to gaze out from my middle seat through the little plastic window, through the cumulus layer and onto the barren landscape below.
Relaxed.
Las Vegas, here I come. Lady Luck, smile on me.
Just another Monday, and tomorrow is Tuesday.