Ten G's

I have my best epiphanies in the land of ten thousand lakes which is also where Grace lives, sings soprano in choir and squints at dead bees doubled over under microscopes. Here she forges friendships, runs with flushed cheeks through fresh snowfall and frequents the sort of speakeasy you find at the end of a dark damp alley. The apartment she shares with two younger twenty-somethings (also blonde) contains a small square television with two long crooked antennae. A red loveseat in the living room fits two thirds a full-sized person. Her roommates left out their paint-by-numbers kit again and a jigsaw puzzle lays pieced together half-assed on the coffee table. An eyesore of a shag rug wrinkles under the table and bike tracks criss-cross hardwood floors. Rainbow Christmas lights render the whole place a little disco. The space is smallish, scrapped together with found furniture. Grace thinks the best amenity is the clawfoot bathtub but to me, it’s Grace’s room which absorbs the most magical morning light. She wears a sleep mask.

In a few months, Grace will move from here but for now my Subaru’s parked around the corner with everything I own in it. Things topple out as I retrieve my suitcase. Free street parking. We’re in Minneapolis, Uptown and I am moving home to balmy sun-soaked Los Angeles from Chicago but not before visiting my friend. In a few months, a hiring recruiter will ask me why I moved to Chicago “in the first place” and I’ll say after living in LA forever, I wanted something different. This is a phone interview I’ll take breathless in my car after work with less time to prepare than I thought I’d have. I’ll choke on a question and the guy will discourage me to go into sales.

It feels like I’m always bursting into buildings or driving distant places just to see something new. This inability to stay in one place or be content with just right where I am implies a sort of flightiness, restlessness, or at its worst, fickleness. At best, it means I’m curious, like I’m constantly trying to drum up something to look forward to. Like I’m always in search of something illuminating, surreal and delightful, big or small.

Now Grace and I are biking, wheels spinning faster and faster down streets and past lakes named something Native American and quadrisyllabic. We are not wearing helmets. We smoked and we’re blasting Smino and we love this shit. We’re going to Nicollet Island or Riverview Café or Goodwill or Lake Minnehaha or wherever we want to go because we are young and together. Around each other, we can do and be whatever we want.

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On a dock on Lake Hiawatha under a strawberry sky, we play Goldlink from my speaker and dance like our parents never knew how. Grace dips low with wobbly arms and jerks upward like an inflatable tube man. I keep it all in my hips and can’t predict what direction they’ll move in. We don’t care about onlookers because there are none here. Just the kayaks stacked bottoms-up and gleaming in this spectacularly pink hour. Fine filaments of cloud spray across the sky and the sun (where did it run to?) transforms the lakeside grass into sparkling crushed emeralds. I catch the reflection of lake houses on water and think of all we can’t afford. They—them over there—have big wide windows. I have low-hung ceilings, Grace, a twin-sized mattress. We have all these feelings.

With cold-stung ears, we weave through the city eternally directionless, ducking under curtains of green and letting chlorophyll flood our senses. The wind blasts against my knuckles. They crack from the cold. I lend Grace my scarf and zip my jacket up to my chin. 

We find a bridge and lean our bikes against a fat tree trunk. After silence, I ask Grace what she’s thinking about. “I’m looking at the outline of that building, about how usually all the time I’m worried about being productive and how I could probably stand to change that.” She asks me and I tell her I’m thinking about the poem “Westminster Bridge.” We read it on my phone and she looks up the way she does at the sky, searching. “Mornings, like mornings—really early morning when the light’s blue, it feels like anything’s possible. I dunno.” She wipes her nose with the back of her hand. The sun from this angle is almost too bright to look at.

Why I Write (inspired by Terry Tempest Williams)

I write because I am an egg soft and gooey in its shell and when you break me open, I can take on different forms. Sometimes I scramble, sometimes I run. Sometimes I burn and crust at the edges. I do not want to stay in the shell or in the carton or in the fridge or in the kitchen or anywhere in the goddamn house. And so I write to leaving. I write to observe, to prick, to tear open the hole in the sweatshirt, to touch the silky hair of a stranger. I write because explanations and sight never satisfy me. Because I’m always wondering what’s in that house or that one. I write for all the unresolved questions that weigh the clouds down. For all the families in silent cars and each monologue playing in each member’s head. “Are we a family at all?” I write to sort, to draw lines between abstract things. To repair the broken or pull things apart. I write because I feel so many strong feelings all at once and they tip me over the way water in great volume does. I write because I am afraid what my mind will do if my hands are interrupted. I write because I can flirt with the librarian but I cannot touch him. I write because it lets me imagine all the possibilities and assess their great possibleness. I write to compare, to prepare, to remember. I write so my children will know me if I die when they’re young. I write to show my family and friends who I am. I write to teach that it is good to emote, to probe, push and pour. I write to apologize. I write to empathize. I write to send affection and warm wishes. Sometimes, I write to ask, “Where are you?” I write when I cannot run. I write when I am sick. I write when exhaustion seeps in. I write because it makes me feel like I am doing something even when I am nearly still in a quiet room. I am living. I am leaning forward. I write to learn to love myself. I write to appreciate what I have. I write to understand my relationship with my parents. I write because it gives me hope. It is one thing I deeply enjoy. I write because I am vain and in love with places and things and sometimes I feel like if I don’t document a moment or a feeling, it will evaporate forever and be wasted. So many memories sweep to the floor. Only dogs can smell them. Only children can see them. I write to be connected with the earth, to feel grounded and stronger with a foundation to root myself into. I write to be more than my profession, more than a skeleton, to shape my own clay. I write to paint all my parts, to destroy who I am and rebuild again. I write to being and becoming. 

*I wrote this about a year ago at Edendale Branch Public Library, my second favorite library…for now.

Road Trip: Parts 1-3

I’m in the process of rebuilding my instagram after deleting it a couple months back. In doing so, I decided to share some pictures and stories from my first solo road trip across the states. Though I completed the trip a year ago, I hadn’t shared any of these stories because they didn’t have any context. There was no deep rooted wisdom, no elevated vantage point to reflect from, and arguably there still isn’t, but I’m not going to focus on everything I don’t yet understand. I recently found a journal from that time and and discovered how formative the trip was. Unaware of what the future held, I prophesied where I’d be now. Sometimes your gut knows something long before your mind is ready to process it. Here’s the story in many parts.

Scaffolded church of the 18th St. pink line stop

Scaffolded church of the 18th St. pink line stop

1.
“I told yo ass, just keep drinkin’ water, keep drinkin’ tea you gonna outlive that motherfucker. Just keep drinking that, boy.” A coal-colored man with his knees spread open barks and the rest of us passengers remain silent as scolded children, red-cheeked and sniffing with chins buried in scarves. We jolt and stumble, bumping shoulders when the train turns too quickly. This is mid-January in Chicago, pink line train to the loop. In my bulky forest green down parka, I sit squeezed between two half-asleep women and eye a row of snow-caked boots with little puddles widening beneath them. So many kinds of boots. Outside, the sky hangs low overhead and brick buildings appear and disappear behind a heavy fog. My second winter in the second city, I wonder, will I outlive this motherfucker? Having fought off a bout of bronchitis, I still feel sick, claustrophobic in my coat, in my coach house apartment and in my relationship. After sharing a bed for a year and a half, I feel like half a person. Longing for something expansive and unfamiliar, I plan a road trip to Santa Fe. I choose Santa Fe after getting high one night and painting a landscape of criss-crossed blues and fuchsias. Mountains, canyons. Instinct tells me it must be Santa Fe. Maybe I have ancestors there. I book an Airbnb, fill my gas tank, kiss my man, and turn the Moana soundtrack way the heck up.

My sweet Subaru outside of Budget Host Inn

My sweet Subaru outside of Budget Host Inn

2.

Checking the visitor’s guide, if I stick around Emporia, I can catch the Flint Hills League basketball tournament or Bob Ross paint night at the public library but I won’t. This is a rest stop. It’s midnight at the edge of Kansas in a city of 25,000 smack in the middle of all major metros. Budget Host Inn sits in still fluorescents off the turnpike, a squat yellow structure hovering like a spaceship between black earth and sky. My car smells like Hardee’s chicken tenders and I roll toward the motel reluctantly, fearing it’s fugitive-infested.

A slender silver-toothed mom and her preteen daughter check me in. Es seguro este lugar? I ask. The preteen snorts, Yes, it's safe. While I’m handing over my ID, a fat baby squawks and waddles out. The mother, swift and birdlike, swoops her up and rests her on her hip just so, bouncing her up and down. It’s a sight unbearably tender.

My room is fine, heat works and the shower’s piping hot and gushing. It sends me back three years to when my friend Grace and I scrounged up four quarters to share a shower at the Salton Sea. Two girls browned by sunlight scrubbing off sweat and dirt in the desert. I envy that version of me, of us. Before we got older, we gave no shits and had no foresight. As the current thumps against my back, I start to loosen, relishing this crude refuge of mine 630 miles from home.

View from Julie’s house

View from Julie’s house

3.
It was college that brought Julie to Santa Fe 45 years ago, a liberal arts program she opted out of completing. She got married and built these three adobe structures folded into Santa Fe’s foothills with her ex-husband. By then, she couldn’t have known that 40 years later, over 365 Airbnbers would show up at her door in search of a cozy retreat.

Julie’s home smells like jasmine and freshly washed hair. It’s much warmer than outside where bone-chilling winds stir dirt and brush below a moonless sky. Walking in, this bohemian place opens to a greenhouse, a sunroom with a party of large leafy plants huddled together by a wall-consuming window. 

Come on in, she leads the way across a floor of terra cotta tiles to the living room, her clothes floating behind her. She’s tall with fiery orange hair. Besides being an acupuncturist and hypnotherapist who takes African dance lessons, Julie’s a grandmother, evidenced by a fridge full of baby-teeth smiles and crayoned cards. Her walls are filled with art: bright arcing brushstrokes caged in thick wooden frames. The place is complete with a piano and a classic southwestern kiva fireplace. This is home for the next two nights.

I move in quickly, storing groceries in the fridge, popping a burrito in the toaster oven and pouring myself a mug of red wine. I call my boyfriend and we talk for a while. When I finally fall asleep, I take up the whole bed.

Just One Percent Better

The window is wide and rectangular with horizontal blinds cutting across a humble view of the apartment complex’s lush green landscaping. There are trees with trunks as thin as fingers and big spiky pom poms on the ends. There’s a eucalyptus tree scabbing and peeling, looking like someone’s gnarled knee. Green iron railings surround the balconies. The window’s blinds are tan and when they are drawn up from inside you can see the pretty windowsill. A yellow-leafed plant in a red ornate pot, a sewn white duck, a pink handmade plate warped and wavy around the edges. Smooth and rough stones placed thoughtfully in a row. Last, there’s a miniature giraffe carved out of wood with its neck craned. Sometimes on the sill, there’s an incense going, a white wisp of smoke arcing and twirling from the quick burning stick, but that’s only if I’m inside and mostly at night time. From the streaked window, I can see bushes, spiderwebs, tiny trees and fat brave squirrels clutching onto them. Directly across from me, an academic family, a husband, a wife, and two baby girls, share a one-bedroom apartment. Their balcony carries pink tricycles and turquoise chairs.

I know this window very well and spend a lot of time looking out of it. One writer’s blog I read said there should always be a window. I agree and find it to be a constant source of inspiration and amusement providing the opportunity to observe from afar. Most of the time, it’s my observing old men with long faces and caps pulled down to their eyebrows letting frantic little dogs piss, dig and roam in the brush. They stand thin-lipped with hands in their pockets and look like they’re weighing a heavy regret, a chance long gone. Sometimes I see a girl in plaid pajama pants and a top knot wildly talking with her hands with an ear pressed into the phone. She looks at her feet then up again, frowning in concentration.

Today I woke up to a soft white light filtering in through this window, fighting its way through the blinds. I woke up three hours after my alarm was set, which was fine because I had nowhere to be and any time wasted was my own time to waste (a terrible mentality to have, by the way). But I rolled out of bed and opened my blinds satisfied with the cool wet Los Angeles morning. The muted white sky gave all the plants’ green more fervor and I decided to go for a run.

I haven’t been running much because I prefer to bike but with the air so fresh and forgiving, I felt inspired to be outdoors and feel the ground beneath my feet. So I ran, arms swinging, each bent at the elbow at 90 degrees, legs kicking back, straight-backed, not too much bounce in my step. On my best days, it’s easy to get into it, the flow state. Today was one of my best days. I flew, ducked under low-hanging trees, tip-toed around puddles of mud and sped across wet sunken dirt paths. I’d made it a good distance around the park when my brother called and asked how I was doing. He shared words of encouragement. We’re both on the job hunt right now, the difference being that Donovan has a lot more experience in the corporate world than I, and a more specific vision of what he wants out of life. He offered up book suggestions and reminded me to follow up with a company I’d interviewed with last week. It’s really nice having this support system. I forget this is what I came back for, and I’m very grateful for it.

Let’s pivot here, because I really want to talk about this new podcast I discovered today called Disrupt Yourself with Whitney Johnson. If you know me, you know I am a sucker for a good podcast, informational or anecdotal. I found this while deep in the internet searching potential jobs. It’s titled Just One Percent Better and in it Author James Clear “advocates that the way to build habits is to try and get just one percent better each day—something that sounds almost too easy to do, and yet builds a firm foundation for continual improvement.” And this struck me because if you read my last post, I am trying to build this habit of writing every single day. I totally fell off the wagon since two weeks ago where I promised I would write 200 words a day and share those words. I have been writing but nothing I’m proud of enough to share. I struggle with inhibiting myself, with proofreading and censoring each sentence before I get the thought out onto the page. I am doing that as we speak! It’s nuts! Anyhow, I took notes and I want to share some here for prosperity.

  1. Take out a yoga mat. Write one sentence. Read one page. If you have a final goal, shrink it down to what can be accomplished in two minutes because at that point, you’re just practicing the art of showing up. Writing one sentence may lead to writing another—maybe it won’t. But if you do write one sentence then you have something on the page that you have accomplished.

  2. Specificity! Specificity! Specificity! James talks about how planning the when, the where, and the route you take to get there has helped increase voter turnout. What if we treated our own goals with the kind of planning, intensity and follow through it takes to show up and vote? When will I write? I will write at 8PM. Where? At Semi Tropic. How will I get there? I will spend too much time on the 101. You get the picture. Having a specific place and time for achieving those goals helps hold you accountable for achieving them.

  3. Habit tracking. Did you do the thing? Mark an X on your calendar. Seeing a row of X’s after completing the task consistently for a week will feel great. On the flip side, skipping a day will make you feel kinda trashy so you will be less likely to break your streak of good habit-doing. Oh, and never miss twice.

  4. Every action you take is a like a vote for the person you want to become.

That’s right. I bolded it and made it a larger font. Every little positive step you take gets you closer to that goal of becoming the you you envision. Do you know the person you want to become? I want the skill of Eudora Welty and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with Nicole Krauss baked into me. But that doesn’t happen overnight so I read the work from these great women and let their words marinate like the best beef stew.

(sidebar: Diane von Furstenburg says in this podcast that her advice for young women is, “Think about the woman you want to be, and then be her.” Simple et efficace.)

I hope this helps you all get one percent better, so you can realize 100% of your potential!

2019: Two Buckets and a Pile of Stones

Temping at a custom Christmas card company clicking through pictures of smiling children in scarves and babies sobbing next to Santa Claus really makes you think: Everyone is someone’s kid. Those two yellow headed parents in puffy Patagonia vests got freaky and made those five little Franken-thems.

I help with quality control making sure customers are satisfied with their order, handling complaints, issuing refunds and reprints, that sort of thing. And I see a lot of creepy kids. On one card today this girl maybe seven years old with silky brown hair and wide eyes, had this Cheshire cat grin like she was up to something, like she had just skinned a live rabbit with the razor she found in the bathroom wastebasket. Standing backlit by a twinkling tree twice her size, she clasped her hands together and looked at the camera as if to say, “It was easy, mama. It stopped wiggling after long.” 

I have been temping as a Customer Care Specialist at this card company for almost a month now and I can’t tell you enough how grateful I was to find this gig in the dead of winter and earn while I look for more permanent work. I moved out here about—gosh, three months ago—and it was hard as most transitions are. Moving from Chicago, a city I loved so deeply, and from the people who had made it home was a sucker-punch, an all time low. The kind that makes you feel like listening to Simple Plan. But I did not listen to Simple Plan because it’s all about Blink, baby.

It was tough but what’s that Childish line? “It was a sadness I chose” for growth’s sake. And I did grow. This new year rolled in and I started it with my mom and her childhood friend drinking hot toddies and applying to jobs. I paused only to dance with my headphones in to A Boogie Wit da Hoodie’s “Look Back at It,” a profound gentle reminder to pause and reflect on the past. I wiggled away 2018 in my mother’s kitchen feeling sure of my power to start again.

This is where we talk about resolutions. A resolution is a promise to yourself. It is a chance to hold yourself accountable, to prove to your worth to you and you alone. It provides the opportunity to love yourself and to believe in yourself a little more. I’m reminded of something I learned at the Welles Park pool my last month in Chicago. The teacher had seen me swimming alone during class time and invited me to join and practice my kicks, which I’d had trouble with over the years. 

So about six adults maybe 25-50 in swim caps and goggles, one-pieces and crumpled trunks sat on the lip of the pool with our feet in the deep end while our instructor (who looked like a stockier Trevor Noah) made this analogy. He said, “When you make time for your swim practice, it is important that you spend that time swimming with the right technique. Let’s say you have two buckets and a pile of stones. Most days you come in and you figure, ‘I’m just going to swim, get my workout in and not worry about technique,’ and you practice incorrectly, you put a stone in the bad technique bucket. Now let’s say every once in a while, you come in and decide, ‘today, I’ll get my work out in, but I’m going to focus on technique. I’m going to choose to do this right because I want to improve.’ Then you put a stone in the good technique bucket. Over time, which bucket’s going to weigh more?”

Splashes from the elderly class in the shallow end echoed through the gymnasium. We in the deep end were quiet, hanging on our teacher’s words. Obviously, the bad technique bucket gets heavier and that’s how you end up swimming, not improving each time but holding yourself back from getting better.

I learned how to kick correctly that day and I bring that practice with me whenever I get into the pool. This year, I am bringing that sort of intentional practice to my writing with the goal of becoming more accomplished and making this my career. We are always capable of changing our habits, of learning through loss, of beginning again. I’m holding myself accountable for writing at least 200 words a day for the next 365 days and sharing it. To be a writer, I’ve got to write.

Here’s to 2019. More possibilities, more kicks, and more words!

On Loving Old Things

Lorenzo leans back in his chair clucking and shaking his head. “It’s too expensive, mija, two-hundred-fifty on labor alone.” He shows me metallic cylinders on his computer screen, parts that evidently need replacing, and clacks on the calculator with a potato-wedged finger. “Four hundred…9.25%…you’re looking at like eight hundred dollars.”

“It’s still cheaper than buying a new car,” I respond flatly, defending my car as if it were born from my very womb. I’ve been here for two hours watching my Subaru rise up and down from the waiting room window, running outside to let them know when the phone rings. Lorenzo’s family and my family are somehow entwined. I think my cousin’s paternal grandmother dated his brother. Not a close enough connection to get a real discount. He’s trying to convince me to offload my 2002 Subaru Outback because it’s leaking fluids, namely coolant and oil.

Sporting rust on the wheel bearings and a few love-dents, my Subaru’s gotten me across the country thrice. I’ve had it a little over a year but never have I felt so grateful to have something so completely mine, and so completely me. It’s the thing I said I was thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner. 

Now sitting at Glenn’s Auto Center on a drizzly day, I think I have always loved old things. And not just elegant old things like vintage teapots and whistling crystal and ornate embroidery—gross old things. Weathered tin cans that smell of tobacco, mothball grandpa sweaters, metal filing cabinets and tacky mustard-colored furniture. They’ve got more character than all the white coffee tables and grey couches in every apartment and office space nowadays. 

“Out with the old, in with the new,” what kind of mentality is that? Let there be room for nostalgia, for comebacks, for those who pride themselves on liking the old version better. My car might crank and sputter and squeal, but so does my grandma and she’s arguably worth keeping around.

Best of Chicago >> Coffee Edition

Whether you’re new to Chicago or settled into the windy city, this list will point you to fresh, one-of-a-kind spots for a mean cup of joe. Cozy up and let’s get started. 

Having lived in both west and east Pilsen, I urge you to venture south of the loop. Unlike the North Side, the South Side gets a bad rep. It’s misguidedly conflated into one taboo neighborhood. This list weaves through South Side neighborhoods highlighting my havens in the city. 

Okay, now for some coffee.
I live my life between cafés.

In Pilsen, the go-to’s are Café Jumping Bean and La Catrina Café

When Café Jumping Bean opened its doors back in 1994, the idea of operating a coffee shop in Pilsen was unheard of. Now, the place is a neighborhood staple. With bright pink pillars ushering guests inside and a gallery featuring rotating artists lining its walls, this teeny café is teeming with energy. It’s garnered a ton of loyal customers, which is why there’s often a line leading out the door. But service is quick and courteous, making it a great spot to grab latté on the run or meet friends for an inexpensive bite to eat.

Walking down 18th St., you cannot miss La Catrina Café. Sure, there are a ton of murals in Pilsen but La Catrina’s exterior is decked out with trippy graphics that nod to La Calavera Catrina, the iconic Day of the Dead skeleton woman after whom the shop is named. Its laid-back ambience and plethora of workspace make it most ideal for camping out with your computer or textbooks for a long day. Fair warning: In my experience, they tend to hire less experienced workers. My coffee drinks don’t always taste great, but the vibe keeps me coming back for more. You’ll often find local art bazaars happening just outside!

Bridgeport Coffee on South Morgan and West 31st St. is hands down the best coffee shop in Chicago. If you disagree, we can take this outside. Consisting of four separate rooms with varying street views and levels of intimacy, Bridgeport provides an ideal environment for any coffee shop patron. The wood tables and chairs lend to an old-school feel. If you need loud noises to encourage productivity, sit at the barstools where the mouth of the building opens to the street. If you want a calmer setting with classical music where your distracted gaze can drift over a wall-consuming world map, sit in the far east room. None of this matters though. Once you try their coffee and chocolate donut, you’re sure to stay.

Happy customer enjoying the day’s brew at Bridgeport Coffee, Bridgeport in Chicago, IL

Happy customer enjoying the day’s brew at Bridgeport Coffee, Bridgeport in Chicago, IL

Bridgeport Coffee (not a typo, had to put it twice) in Hyde Park is just as dreamy as its original location above. Situated adjacent to the Hyde Park Art Center, this is an ideal spot for students and Hyde Park shoobies. If you’re camped out on the lake all day and didn’t bring provisions, pop over here for a black bean burger in a spinach wrap with hot peppers or one of their other delicious snacks and sammies.

Build Coffee You’re deep in Hyde Park looking for more than a coffee shop, something more radical—a socially conscious workspace, if you will. Look no further. Situated just south of the UChicago’s Hyde Park campus Build Coffee’s vibe is vibrant and academic. Surrounded by community-driven non-profits and civic journalism projects, Build Coffee aims to be “a hub of great coffee and radical collaboration.” Indeed, I found this spot while attending City Bureau’s Public Newsroom which takes place every Thursday from 6-8PM. Get your coffee, then get involved.

Honorable Mention: Atomix Café
So you want to be Jacob Malco (Marc Maron), the author and illustrator fumbling through each season of Netflix’s Easy. The character’s most frequented spot, Atomix Café lives on the corner of Chicago and Damen. I know what you’re thinking. That’s not the south side, which is why I’m awarding it an honorable mention. This self-proclaimed “Home to Coffee & Tables” is mad hip and it’s a great spot to hunker down and hammer out some work. Quiet and low-key, it feels like a refuge within the buzzy West Town neighborhood. 

Got a spot I haven’t mentioned yet? Tell me your favorite in the comments below!

Welcome!

Hello friends, strangers and potential collaborators.

I’ve finally whipped up a simple website to share my writing and art in all its forms. Look at me now, mom. I plan to update this blog with short-form and experimental content. This will include travel tips, product reviews, poems, flash fiction stories + so much more. Stay with me and I’ll make it worth your while.

Feel free to leave a comment, follow me on social media, or make an inquiry about working with me. Thanks for stopping by!