Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Chicago Bucket List

(UPDATED, 7.30.11)

Two months until I move to Boston, and I have a list of things to do, see, re-do, re-see, and generally absorb in order to feel I can say goodbye to Chicago. In compiling this list, it has been less about "What do I need to do as a Chicagoan," and more about "In six months, what will I wish I had eaten?"

Apparently leaving the Midwest means getting as fat as you can. *Insert dramatic sigh.*

The list, in no order other than as I wrote it (food-related in red):

Take pictures at Buckingham Fountain
Smoque BBQ
Tango Sur (8.30.11)
Spacca Napoli
Kuma's - replaced by Bad Apple (7.21.11)
Peaquod's (7.3.11)
BodyWorlds exhibit at MSI (8.26.11)
Jellyfish exhibit at Shedd/Jazzin' at the Shedd (7.27.11)
AIC (7.4.11)
MCA - Farmer's market at MCA Tuesdays, live jazz Tuesday evenings (7.19.11)
Green City Market Wednesday and Saturday mornings (I go every Sat.)
Hancock Tower (8.20.11)
Willis (SEARS) Tower skybox (6.28.11)
Frank Lloyd Wright House
Butterfly room at Notebaert
Le Coloniale
Davanti Enoteca
Midwest Buddhist Temple meditation (Sunday 9am)
River East Art Center
M Henry (brunch) (7.23.11)
High tea at the Drake
Gospel brunch at House of Blues (8.21.11)
Cubs/Sox game (7.3.11)
Buy a Blackhawks shirt
Acro-yoga (Brent's class, also Marron's Vinyasa class at ID Gym)
Go-Cycle (Angela's class)
YogaView (Suzanne's class)
Namaskar (Lourdes' class)
Chicago School of Hot Yoga (Jessica's class)
Bongo Room (8.31.11)
Harmony Grill
Ann Sather (for cinnamon rolls)
4 Corners bar crawl (8.27.11)
Big Star tacos (8.9.11)
Ferris wheel at Navy Pier
French market (Penny!)
Archery (Brooke!)
Zed 451 (8.12.11)
Kanela brunch (7.16.11)
Drink wine at the beach at moonrise (7.15.11)

Suggestions to add to the list as well as company with whom to complete it are welcome! I plan to update this with dates (in parentheses) as I have things planned. It would be a lovely parting gift to me to see anyone who happens to show up at these places and events as I work my way through them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Departing Gift

Dear Chicago,

I don't know how to say this. I've been over and over it in my head, but there's no easy way to do it...I love you. I'm just not in love with you anymore. We've had an amazing eight years together and I will always cherish our adventures. All the summers at the lake, the skyline, the sporting events and dinners out at your restaurants. I adore our mutual friends and I hope we can all still hang out.

It's just that I've grown a lot in these eight years. I'm not the same girl who found you at 22. I'm more confident and better at taking risks. I know what I want and I'm not afraid to believe in it. Not that I'm ready to raise a family, but I also don't see myself settling down here with you. It's not you, it's me.

Actually, it is a little bit you.

You are so compartmentalized. You separate people into groups and refuse to let them integrate. You are also extremely long-winded and blow around all year long. Not to mention how cold you can be. You have to understand what this does to our relationship - I can't stay home all winter just for the promise of a few great dates in the summer.

Our relationship is isolating as well. You make it difficult to visit other places. You're stuck in the middle of the country and I have an increasing, inexplicable need to be by an ocean.

I was enamored with you as a child, and excited when I finally got here after college. But the sheen was thin and wore off quickly. We had a rocky start while I was teaching - your students, your policemen, your public officials made my life frustrating, depressing and full of defeat - and this has made me wary of your true colors, Chicago. Your smiling skyline may well be a facade; shiny buildings belie color-line struggles and impossible systemic change.

You wooed me back in 2005 as I made countless new friends, re-established my own confidence. I was fooled into thinking I should reward this renewed happiness by staying here when, in fact, you helped me become strong enough to leave you.

It will be hard to end this. Excruciating, actually. You are the first city I fell in love with as an adult. There are few things more beautiful than the sight of you, at night, from Lake Shore Drive. I will always care about you, especially during basketball season.

That said, the rumors are true; I am moving in with my childhood crush, Boston, in September.

Summer fling before I go?

Love always,


Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Unrelated Gift

Fair warning: This has nothing to do with presents. But I wrote an essay for the yoga studio that was published regionally...and I don't have a better any forum in which to share it with the rest of you. Enjoy! (So I guess it's a gift for you, right? Let's go with that.) 

I tell people that I'm bad with names.

"I'm sorry, I'm bad with names," I say. As if the spot in my brain that remembers simple words is a Bermuda Triangle of irretrievable alphabet soup.

I join in jokes about forgetting names and being much better at remembering faces. As if this quirk binds me to others in the same way that having strong cravings for peanut butter or playing the new Adele CD on repeat makes us more similar.

The truth is this is a big, fat lie. I'm good with names. You know that icebreaker activity where you have to remember the name of every person who introduces themselves before you? While everyone else sits on their hands, mumbling letters and rocking like dementia patients, I coolly dip a ladle into that alphabet soup part of my brain and regurgitate every name in one seamless strip.

So why lie? To be more like you. Not in a "more like you, dementia patients," way, but in a "more like you, people with normal hands way." Because the rest of the truth is that names usually come packaged with a handshake. And this is where I stop paying attention to letters and start freezing the part of my brain that registers facial reactions. I have taught myself to shut down my senses for a full five seconds until the handshake moment passes. Like blinking. Or cutting a frame out of a film strip.

It's easier this way. Much the same way that keeping your eyes open in tree pose is easier. Or stepping into forward fold instead of jumping through your feet is easier. It becomes familiar, and we feel comfortable. When we feel comfortable, we feel competent. And when we feel competent, we might be ready to take a risk somewhere else.

So where is that line between maintaining security in order to improve elsewhere and merely holding yourself back from something greater?

I don't know.

I do, however, know that I like stepping forward into my forward fold.

I know that I've started closing my eyes in tree pose.

I know that I can get better at remembering names by accepting the potential disgrace that comes with the words. But I also know that I could extend my left hand instead of my right when meeting new people and therefore avoid the whole dilemma at once.

I don't do that.

That line between security and risk is different for each of us. That tightrope, that thread, that spider's silk  is ever-changing. We have to be able to let it shrink or expand or divide in varying ways in order to become our authentic selves. In order to call others by name. In order to bond with friends beyond sharing quirks or bad habits.

But if you have the new Adele CD, I totally want to burn a copy of it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Unplanned Gift

It's a well-documented (by me) fact that I wait too long to eat. I am easily distracted and then I forget and then I am starving and have no ability to make decisions. Instead of choosing to put foods together as a real dinner, I take down a bag of carrots, a canister of almonds and a block of cheese while standing in the kitchen because I have gotten myself to the point of needing to immediately ingest something besides gum.

Apparently this pattern holds true for my writing as of late as well. I have so much to say, so much has happened since I was last here, I have no ability to make decisions about how to start. Instead of choosing to put words together as a real story, I am sitting in front of the computer about to shove out a random assortment of glimpses at my life because I have gotten to the point of needing to write. Immediately.

Maybe I should plan more. Maybe this would allow me to eat cooked foods and craft more complete essays. But as part of my easily-distracted personality, I also just read my friend J's blog.

She wants to stop planning. Is this "we want what we can't have," or "we want what we can't be," or "we don't appreciate what/who we are?" Maybe it's all three. Because as I sit here frustrated with myself for not having any foresight whatsoever, J is halfway across the country, berating herself for compiling too many to-do lists.

By her account, chucking her "Type-A" personality was the only way she could have gone on her world-tour vacation, the only way she might be able to leave the job she doesn't want, the only way to have a fuller life. By my account, this ability to plan gave her the foundation to save enough money to take that trip, to write a list of all the destinations she hoped to visit, to provide her the perspective to judge whether of not she likes the job she has.

As a non-planner, I don't wrestle with quite the same issues J does. I don't wonder whether I could have a better job. I love what I do because I do things that make me happy. And when they don't make me happy anymore I do something else. I don't plan it out. I do, however, run into other issues that true Type As don't deal with on a daily basis. Things like deciding to teach yoga before figuring out if I can make a living wage doing so. Or deciding to move out of Chicago before deciding which state to move into.

Diving into things headfirst without planning sometimes makes me feel like a giant disaster. A financial fuck-up. A messy, storm cloud of momentum without a strong center focus. A child-person of sorts and less of an adult.

But then I read J's blog and it reminded me: I'm no more a giant disaster than J is held back by her post-its and to-do lists. We do things to help us function in a way that makes sense to our true being. For her, that's planning. For me, that's letting myself be pulled in any direction.

In the spirit of who we are, I might send her a pad of paper title "To-Don't List." But I haven't decided yet. Let me finish shoving these almonds down my throat first.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Wedding Gift

Right this moment I am cheating. I should be doing work for my museum job. I'm even typing on my work laptop with all my notes and papers spread around me as if I crashed into a crate of office supplies on my way to the computer.

For whatever reason, I can't connect to the museum's online system at this moment, so instead I'm writing for me. And it feels like cheating.

I shouldn't feel guilty about this. No one told me what to do today. No one said, "You must complete this work by today, during these particular hours." In fact, no one has responded to the work I have completed yet because no one is in the office until tomorrow anyway. I put all of these expectations on myself. So why do I feel like I'm cheating?

Because expectations ruin everything.

Before I explain, let me concede that expectations can be useful. Setting deadlines for work in order to accomplish assignments or setting goals for personal growth that have timelines attached...these are helpful. The difference is in how explicit we are with these, and the contingency plans aligned with the failure to achieve them. As in, the museum expects to receive my completed work by next week, this has been communicated and if I don't comply, my paycheck is in jeopardy.

The danger with expectations is when we have them but don't admit them.

As in, I am really excited to have the house to myself for a few hours, and then I am devastated when I find someone home. This is only crushing because I expected no roommates to be home. And I only expected this because it happened last week. I never explicitly confirmed this to be true with anyone else. I assumed it. And we all know what happens when you assume...hidden expectations are the exact same.

I've been recognizing this behavior in myself and stopping it much more successfully in the past few months. Mostly because I am terrible at planning. And the surprising upside of this is that I don't have a lot of expectations in my personal life. It's difficult to be disappointed when you have no idea what you are about to do. So I've been extending it further. As in:
  • Am I writing this email in order to get a response or because I really just want to say these things?
  • Am I calling this friend so they will tell me something I want to hear or because I want to hear their voice and anything they have to say?
  • Am I giving this present to elicit a certain reaction or because I want this person to have this thing from me?
These distinctions draw the line between what we expect and what we hope for. I still hope for certain reactions or phrases or interactions. But I'm not expecting them. And this helps me enjoy the ride of the present moment invaluably more. No matter what, even in the worst moment, you have no idea what will actually, tangibly, truly happen in the next moment.

In November I went to a wedding in Los Angeles. A beautiful, mountainside wedding commemorating the love between two of the most authentic selves I've ever known. And in finding a present for these two, I felt compelled to be my most authentic self. Which meant no last-minute drawing-on-planes.

(To be honest, I was so my most authentic self on this trip that true-to-form I had no place to stay when I showed up on the first day. I landed at LAX and began texting friends from the shuttle to the rental car: "Hi I'm here! Want to take me in?")

The night before I left, I wandered into one of my favorite stores. Not convinced of anything other than it was a good place to start. And there I found it.

Marriage, or at least my approximation of the idea of it, is intangible. It is a journey, an ever-amorphous ride. Flexible enough to accommodate a twisty path and strong enough to sustain bad weather. There is no product, no expectation of an end result. (My documented aversion to registries could be seen as symbolic then - do not expect me to get you these particular things!)

The only explicit expectation in marriage is that the other person will be on that journey with you. To find your way together. To forge into the unknown, the unpredictable, the pure unexpected as a team. You and me. And when I picture this Us charting a path into the Un, I see two arms linked, skipping, holding packed lunches and carrying raincoats as they playfully lurch into a forest.

So what do you get for two about to find their way in the Un?

A worn, weighted, magnetic, bronze compass.

Expect nothing on your journey but hold fast to your true North, dear friends.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Future Gift

My to-do list has become a virus. It has split itself at the cellular level and sprouted new versions that have taken root in notebooks, in my Blackberry memo pad, in my computer sticky-note application, and in that part of my brain that wants to think about other things, namely iTunes playlists.

So far, iTunes seems to be winning. After spending two hours this morning trying to deal with financial fallout caused by me mistakenly thinking four jobs would be enough to pay my bills, this viral to-do list has short-circuited everything I need to be productive.

Actually, I think the real virus I have has done that. (The one that gave me a 101 degree fever on Christmas. The one I get EVERY YEAR on Christmas. My immune system has impeccable timing.) The to-do list just makes everything seem harder and more depressing. Which is annoying because I usually greatly enjoy a well-made list, as evidenced here on this blog, in my enumerated conversations and even on my water bottle. But here's a glance at what I have facing me today:

1. Find a viable credit card.
2. Pay cell phone bill, car payment, car insurance (all late)
3. Call RCN about phantom bill that I DON'T OWE
4. Call City of Chicago about parking tickets that I DON'T OWE
5. Call hospital about charity care letter that I haven't received yet
6. Fax charity care letter to four separate places to take care of bills that I DON'T OWE

Here's what I got done today:

1. Found two credit cards that I hid from myself.
2. Activated one and destroyed the other.
3. Tried to pay one bill with new card.
4. Failed to pay one bill with new card.

That's it. And this took all day. And now I have no brain power left to do much of my actual work. So I'm writing here. Because I'm annoyed and when I'm annoyed I have to put words on a page in order to feel better. Much like making lists, actually. But my annoyance really comes down to one major issue:

I hate New Year's.

There. I said it. Deal with it.

New Year's is an arbitrary holiday meant for us to take stock of things we should have already been looking at in a contrived period of time that means nothing other than a way to sell calendars. It involves an intense amount of pressure to have plans and do something important in a week when we've eaten too much to dress up well, the weather is too bad to look nice anyway and there are no cabs to be found.

I'm on to you, New Year's. I'm so on to you that I made my goals last month. Ha.

These are not resolutions. I do not resolve to do anything because that sounds like settling. Also, January is not a good time for me to pretend to be new. Nothing starts new for me in January. November is clearly when things change for me. Plus two of my jobs have required me to do a lot of intense goal setting. (Like, five- and ten-year plans. Scary, y'all.)

In setting all these goals, I have been able to practice making important decisions. For me and only me. These decisions have come down to four main focal points. Which brings me to my water bottle.

I bought myself a new water bottle. Not because I necessarily feel the need to drink more water, but I needed a brand-appropriate water bottle for two of my new jobs and have been wasting too much plastic. It took me exactly twenty minutes to decide which water bottle to buy. But in the spirit of all my goal-setting, this one was too perfect:

Note the Starbucks cup - clearly none of my goals include drinking less coffee.
Then I realized I had to actually write my goals on the bottle. Which is what took the twenty minutes of deliberation. Did I really want everyone to see these? What if they look stupid or trite or daunting? What if I change my mind?

And then in minute 19: Fuck it. They are MY goals. And I can't achieve them if I can't even admit that I have them. So here they are:

Look at all this potential blog fodder! (Possible goal to consider: learn how to space words correctly. )
What was I scared of?

That you'd laugh at my future?

Or that I wouldn't get there?

Maybe. And maybe you will laugh. And maybe I won't get there. But it's my water bottle. My list of decisions. And you can't have it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Birthday Gift

Happy Birthday, Blog!

(For the record, the word "blog" makes me think of Muppets. And this is why: there is a Muppet song, which is probably also a real song, called "I'm in Love with a Big Blue Frog." Blog is like Blue and Frog combined. Hence, I get this song stuck in my head every time I write here. Every time.)

I started Gift Well exactly one year ago today. In writing a Birthday post, I could go over all of the things that have changed in my blog-based year. I won't. Most of them are pretty well covered throughout the blog itself.

Instead I'll tell you a story I was saving for a special occasion. I was saving it for when I started having a lot of readers because I wanted people to know about it. I was saving it for a holiday it would tie in with, but then I couldn't figure out where it fit. I was saving it for a day to make people happy, but then I got confused, and then angry and then sad. But today is my blog's birthday. And my blog deserves a really nice present.

I grew up in a house that celebrated birthdays as if every year were a lifetime achievement. Which is accurate, really. Balloons, streamers, cakes decorated by my mom's hand to reflect your favorite item of the moment in a fairytale of frosting. One year Rose Petal, of Rose Petal Place fame, graced the top of my cake true to form in her layered pink dress, an icing rose delicately draped on the side of her head. I believe this was also the year I got Rose Petal's doll-sized, rose-pink Cadillac with the gold steering wheel as a present. Birthdays are special in my family. I intend to carry this tradition on as long as I have a birthday coming to me. Because it is a lifetime achievement. Your whole life in one day, every year. And that deserves a really nice present.

So last summer, M turned 30. He saw it as a marker of achievements he had yet to accomplish. A milestone that tells us to take stock of where we are and where we go from here. I saw it as a chance to win him over to the land of Rose Petal birthdays - with streamers and balloons and a week-long excuse to do whatever you want.

I started by blocking out 24 hrs. - I told him not to plan anything for one whole day, but I wouldn't tell him anything else. I told him to pack a bag of clothes that included a nice outfit for going out to dinner, some pyjamas and a change of clothes for the next day. I told him I would pick up the bag from him at 2pm that day, and from there the 24 hrs. would start.

I picked up M's bag of clothes at 3pm and handed him a set of envelopes with times written on the outside. He was to open each envelope at its appointed time.

"I'll see you later," I shouted as I drove off. I'm pretty sure he was thoroughly confused. But he opened the cards:

3pm: Make your way to the Borders at Water Tower Place. Open the next card when you get there.

3:30pm: Go to the checkout counter and tell them your name. They should have something for you. When you get it, open the next card.

I had bought a New York Times newspaper and a pen and left it with the cashier at Border with M's name. He loves crosswords.

3:45pm: Take your new crossword and pen and make your way to the Starbucks at Wabash and Chicago. Feel free to wander through your favorite neighborhood near Loyola. Open the next card when you get to Starbucks.

4:00pm: Use this (I inlcuded a $5 bill) to buy yourself some coffee. You have one hour here to do crosswords and drink coffee.

5:00pm: Make your way to Trump Tower. Open the next card when you get there.

5:15pm: Go to the desk. Tell them your name. They should have something for you.

The desk had the final envelope. Inside was a room key. I wrote the room number for our Trump Hotel room on the card and told him to call me on his way up. I met him at the door with chilled Prosecco. Inside the room, I put up streamers and balloons. I made cookies and snacks and put those out along with a few presents. Also I looked really pretty.

We went to a fancy dinner near the hotel, but mostly just enjoyed the view of Chicago from our ridiculously fancy hotel room. This was the ultimate rose-pink Cadillac of birthdays. And not because of cost. (I found online deals for a lot of the cost.) The Rose Petal quality of this gift was how it was tailored to what M likes and values. His concerns about turning 30 were wrapped up in the measure of his success and not being able to enjoy the city as much as he wanted. My gift to him was to show him how much he had already succeeded, how we could enjoy the city here and now even while looking forward. All wrapped up in a birthday surprise scavenger hunt.

Your whole life in one day. What a great day.

For my blog, this story wraps up a whole year. This gift was the impetus for writing Gift Well to begin with. A blog life in one post. Little blog, you have already succeeded. I enjoy writing here and now, in the present, every time. I AM in love with a big, blue frog. Named Blog.