Category Archives: Grown-up Struggles

When Patterns Are Broken, New Worlds Emerge*

This year, I am writing my look back on 2015 from a sleeper car of the California Zephyr, looking out over the majestic Colorado River as we wind through Ruby Canyon on the way to San Francisco. I’m also eating dark chocolate with potato chips in it and generally living My Best Life.

That has been a theme this year.

Unlike 2014, which was a pretty rough ride at times, 2015 just kept giving and giving. The year began with the email that—with only slight hyperbole—changed my life: Eire again?

It pays to stay in touch with your professors.

And so I went to Ireland in March (read all about it here and here and here and here and here and here). While there, away from all the pressures and cares of St. Louis and free to start dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, I started to plot a new course for my life. It certainly didn’t hurt that I was surrounded by the most inspiring and uplifting group of mentors one could possibly ask for.

Proust may have said that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” but new landscapes certainly don’t hurt.

Once back in the US, I started to put my plans into action.

In May, I gave my two weeks notice at the software company I had been working for the past three years, ever since I graduated from college in 2012. I couldn’t have asked for a better first job, but I was very excited to move on to a new career in education. I started at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum (yup, I’m back at Washington University) as a museum educator at the end of May, and I absolutely love it. I think I always knew I wouldn’t last long away from academia.

So what else happened in 2015?

2015 was the year I turned 25.

It was the year I became moderately proficient at rock climbing.

It was the year my apartment was broken into (yes, again), and the year I watched my brother graduate.

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I rang in the New Year in Los Angeles and tried In-N-Out for the first time (animal style, naturally).

In fact, 2015 was a year full of firsts. My first pet died (RIP Fish!). My first close friend got married. I got my first flat tire. I finally saw a performance of The Pillowman and actually caught a Decemberists concert. I played golf for the first time (and probably the last).

Embracing the new came with letting go of the old. 2015 was the year I said goodbye to a four-year relationship that just wasn’t working anymore. It was also the year I said goodbye to Portland, Maine, the closest thing to a hometown I have.

I taught my first college class. My name appeared as a byline (in print!).

I took trains and planes and automobiles as I traveled to Ireland and Chicago and Columbia (MO) and Kansas City and San Francisco and my parents’ new home in Grand Junction, Colorado.

I kept knitting, and started sewing (again). I took every opportunity to dress in costume, and I made a badass piñata to boot.

I went to museums and plays and concerts and spent a day being a tourist in my own city.

I gave up and starting drinking coffee on a somewhat regular basis (although don’t worry, I still prefer tea).

I tried to spend more time outside, and sometimes succeeded.

I celebrated Thanksgiving in a different city than my parents.

And although I made a valiant effort, I barely put a dent in my list of books to read (in fact, I think it’s longer now than it was a year ago).

2015 was the year I turned 25.

I’m looking forward to seeing what 2(01)6 will bring.

 

*The title is borrowed from a quotation by American Beat poet Tuli Kupferberg that Goodreads emailed to me one morning. While fruitlessly Googling to find the original source, I discovered that Kupferberg was also a member of the Fugs, the rock band responsible for the masterpiece “Boobs a Lot,” which provided much entertainment to my friends and I in high school. And so the world turns. 

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They Came in through the Bathroom Window

This is the sequel I never wanted to write.

As some of you may remember, my apartment was broken into when I was living in Bologna, and many things were taken.

Well, it’s happened again.

Last week after work, I got a call from my landlord. “Come home now – all of the other apartments in your building have been broken into and we need to know if yours was hit too. The police are already there.”

Uh-oh.

I’m pretty sure I made every wrong turn possible during the quick drive to my apartment, as scenes from the last time this happened replayed in my head. At least you had forewarning this time, I kept telling myself. At least the police are already there.

When I walked past the 3 police cars parked in front of my building and in the door, everything looked deceptively normal. Maybe everything would miraculously be OK after all.

Nope.

As soon as I walked into the main room, I saw an empty case where my computer had been. Then I looked up and saw the giant mess in my bedroom. It looked like a cyclone had ripped through.

And there was a draft from the wide-open bathroom window.

Trying to fight back tears as several policemen watched me frantically sift through the wreckage, I began to get a sense of what was missing. I didn’t even have time to be embarrassed that my underwear was all over the floor.

I lost my computer and charger, an iPad, several pairs of headphones, and my favorite gold backpack. They even emptied my piggy bank and took all of my pennies (although – creepily – they sorted through and left behind the few Euro coins & Polish złoty I had in there).

Just as important as what was taken, though, was the inventory of what they left behind. Unlike the Italian thieves, these ones left my jewelry, my backup drives, my camera, and my passport (so I get to go to Ireland after all!). They also left an old iPhone, my speakers, and my Internet router and modem. So there is a lot to be thankful for.

The next several hours were spent making statements to the police, digging my makeup out of the snow where it had landed after being thrown from the window, and trying to stay out of the way.

My neighbors and I retreated to an upstairs apartment, where we popped cheap beers, ordered pizza, and traded phone numbers and stories about past break-ins. Occasionally a policeman would come in to ask a question, collect a DNA sample, or pass out contact info.

As always, it could have been much worse. No one was hurt (including the 3 cats that live in my building), my passport was spared, and I bonded with my neighbors. Also, unlike in Italy, when my room was the only one touched, this time I was the lucky one. The lock on my bathroom window was broken, but my landlord nailed it shut that evening. My neighbors had to contend with broken glass and kicked-in doors that will take much longer to fix.

Plus, the thieves made it very easy for me to come up with a title for this post.

Here’s to hoping this is the last time I ever have to write a post like this. Although, as they say: “Nothing bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material.”

At least there’s that.

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In Which I Discover I’m an Adult

As I was working on my lesson plan for the book discussion I’ll be leading in Ireland in a few weeks, my mind started wandering.

Before long, I found myself thinking, “I really need to get some sensible waterproof walking shoes for the trip.”

Yes, it’s happened. I am officially becoming my mother.

But you know what? I do need comfortable waterproof shoes for the trip! Ain’t nobody got time for cold, wet feet when there’s an Irish countryside to explore, and ain’t nobody want sore feet from walking on cobblestones all day.

And that, my friends, is how I discovered that Nordstrom has a whole section of their website devoted to comfortable – yet stylish! – shoes. Several…erm…hours later, I finally settled on a pair I quite like (although not from Nordstrom):

Agnes Shoe

This pair of monk-strap Doc Martens is durable, waterproof, comfortable, and…dare I say? stylish enough to wear out. And, oh man, just look at that non-slip rubber sole.

Shoe Sole

The episode with the shoes is just the latest in a long line of small moments that make me step back and admit to myself, “Whoa! I’m an adult!” Here are a few more:

  • When browsing Birchbox the other day, I skipped right past the jewel-toned eyeliners and lingered lovingly on the pages for fancy face washes and high-SPF moisturizers. Hey man, you gotta take care of your skin. (Although I do love me some jewel-toned eyeliners.)
  • In the same weekend, I turned down an invitation to a house party and multiple invitations to Mardi Gras (St. Louis has the second-largest celebration in the country) to stay at home and Get Shit Done. It feels so good to finish a weekend well-rested and with the dishes done. Fancy homemade cookies and a (nearly) finished lesson plan are pretty great too.
  • The other night, I was lucky enough to not only meet one of my favorite musicians after a concert (Kishi Bashi – look him up right now), but to hang out with him and a very cool crowd at a house party after. It was on a Wednesday though, and I was driving, so after turning down (well, just tasting) several cocktails made by a bartender for the exclusive St. Louis bar Blood & Sand, I was the first out the door at 1:30. Aaaaand the next day I didn’t have a hangover and I made it to work on time. #worthit

So yes, I’ve grown up a lot in the past few years. And you know what? I love it.

Get at me, 25.

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Resolutions for 2015

I have never made a New Year’s resolution, other than jokingly resolving to learn to like whiskey last year.

To my surprise, setting the resolution (even in jest) actually worked.

Since I want this next year to be another year of growth and increased personal responsibility, I decided to make some resolutions in earnest.

Here are a few goals I would like to – and totally can – achieve in 2015:

Fruitful:

  1. Go on one at least outdoor adventure (i.e. hike, bike ride, camping trip) each month.
  2. Go to at least one cultural event (i.e. museum, symphony, theater) each month.
  3. Read all the books on this list (and more).

Financial:

  1. Pay off all my credit card debt, then up my monthly car payments by $50.
  2. Put aside at least $1,000 in savings.
  3. Track all of my spending (and actually stay within my monthly budget for each category).

Fashionable:

  1. Give my closet a serious overhaul and sell or donate all the items I’ve outgrown or don’t have a use for anymore.
  2. Focus on purchasing investment pieces that will last for years, rather than indulging in trendy fast fashion.
  3. Finish a knit piece, a cross-stitched piece, and a sewn piece just for me.

Frivolous:

  1. Host a dinner party where I cook multiple courses – and pair wines! – for at least 6 people.
  2. Go on a road trip.
  3. Finish my murder mystery.

Let’s see how this goes!

What are you resolving to do better in 2015?

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Forever Is Composed of Nows*

This bon mot from cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant truly encapsulates my experience in 2014:

My life has a superb cast, but I cannot figure out the plot.

More than ever before, this past year taught me that the future is unknowable, even – especially – when you think you have it all figured out. (As my dad likes to remind me, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”)

2014 was the year I finally admitted to myself that I was an adult, and that that fact wasn’t going to change anytime soon. Full of intense breakups and personal drama, 2014 was also full of immense love and personal growth.

2014 was the year I turned 24.

It was the year I tried yoga, and I stuck with it.

It was when I finally wore out the hiking boots I’ve had since I was 12.

It was the year I got a car and discovered a whole new kind of independence.

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I spent a month in Maine, and remembered again why I am so incredibly lucky to have the family that I have.

I came back to St. Louis, and remembered again why I am so incredibly lucky to have the friends that I have.

I moved into a new apartment, where I hung curtains and picture frames and actually bought a couch.

I tried Tinder, so I will never feel the need to again.

I cut off my hair and dyed it purple and blonde and blue.

I watched my city catapult into international attention as unrest and protests spread from Ferguson, Missouri, and I learned that what makes it into the media is never the whole picture.

I spent many mornings at the farmer’s market and rediscovered the joy of zucchini blossoms.

I stayed up all night and watched the sunrise over Forest Park.

I stumbled into the first paid modeling jobs I’ve had since that time I modeled for water bottle clip packaging in high school (true story).

I picnicked and explored rooftops and picnicked on rooftops.

I voted and voted and voted.

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I learned the importance of having an emergency fund (and discovered that you sometimes have to spend it and start over).

I travelled to New Mexico and San Francisco and Kansas City and all around LA.

I learned to like whiskey.

I put together 3 different Halloween costumes.

I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time.

I discovered the joys of having a wonderful doctor.

I went to the symphony three times, and the theater once, and museum openings and events more times than I can count.

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I embraced my library card and made progress on my long list of books to read.

I didn’t go hiking and camping enough, but thoroughly enjoyed the times I did.

2014 was the year I turned 24.

It was beautiful and difficult, and now….

it’s over.


*The title is borrowed from the first line of an Emily Dickinson poem

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Wherever you go, there you are

I have been hankering to travel lately.

This is not an infrequent phenomenon. I grew up a nomad, bouncing back and forth from coast to coast – California to Maine to New Mexico to Florida to Washington State to Virginia and back up to Maine – before ultimately landing somewhere in the middle.

Map of Moves

The constant exposure to new places and the need to constantly assimilate into new environments has influenced me in a number of ways.

  • I am closer to my family than I might have been otherwise. For most of my childhood, my brother was often the only friend close to my age that I had (and certainly the only one I could depend on to still be around the next year). Also, Robert and I spent probably 300 hours in the backseat together during all of our cross-country drives; while there were frequent spats, it was in our best interest to get along.
  • I am much more outgoing than I would have been otherwise. Funny how having to make a whole new set of friends every year from the time you’re 5 turns you from someone who hides behind your mother’s leg to someone who craves new social experiences.
  • I rely less on the approval of others than I might have otherwise. Now, my parents certainly did their best to cultivate my independent streak, and I have always been one to Know What I Want. However, I credit my perennial misfit status (I was never the cool new kid – just the new kid) for my ability to dress how I want and do what I want without fear of what people might think – even if that means knitting by myself in a bar. That said, I’m a human being, so I do still care what you think of me. LIKE ME! PLEASE LIKE ME!

Heck, all that moving has even affected the way that I speak!

Linguistic Map

I loved my nomad lifestyle (despite all of the last-picked-for-every-team pain it caused along the way), and embraced it even more in college. A new living space every year? Friends from big cities whose couches I could crash on? Opportunities to learn new languages and hone them during months abroad? I was in my element.

College was four years spent exploring new places and spaces, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as such a surprise that at the end of it, I opted for one more new experience – remaining in St. Louis while most of my friends moved away.

Instead of being the one who went, this time I was the one who stayed behind.

Now, this is all old news, and while the summer after graduation was a conflicted one, I am happy with the decision I made.

A year and a half later, however, my nomad instincts are rising again. Despite the fact that I love the city I have chosen and all it has to offer, despite the fact that my apartment is beautiful and my boyfriend more so, despite the fact that I am well employed and enjoy an active social life with people who challenge and support me, I am feeling a pull to…elsewhere. I can’t stop the sneaking fear from creeping up on me that I am becoming Stuck in One Place. (Did I mention that a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence is the last thing I have ever dreamed for?)

When this tide of vague discontent starts lapping at my toes and threatening to sweep me back to the East Coast, to Europe, to Anywhere But Here!, I try to think back to words happened upon in The Chronicle: Wherever I go, there I am.

It’s true. We’ve heard so many times – human beings are incredibly adaptable creatures, and the New rapidly (d)evolves into the Familiar:

“If we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of Earth.”

[Full disclosure: I have never read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which is where this is from – I also snagged this gem from The Chronicle]

If I moved to back to Boston or Bologna (or even to Bogotá!), they too would eventually begin to pale. The curse of the New is that it cannot remain so long.

So, for now at least, I’ll content myself to experiencing the New in novels and non-fiction, art exhibitions and friends of friends, restaurants and weekend trips.

But I’ll also keep sighing over the Italian Instagrams that clutter up my feed.

#keepthedreamalive

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All of this happened, more or less*

I’m not much of one for celebrating the New Year. It’s not that it’s not exciting to “start fresh” or to stay up late and drink champagne; it’s just that I forget to plan for the occasion. I don’t make resolutions and I don’t remember to document my New Year’s Eve.

IMG_3998[Proof: The image to the right was the only photo I took during my night out on New Year’s Eve, and the only reason I have this one was because the man at the coat check told me to take it since it was more likely that I would lose my ticket than my phone. Incidentally, I didn’t lose my ticket.]

So, instead of posting photos of my amazing EVEning and making New Year’s resolutions this year, I’m taking some time to think back on the year that has passed. After all, 2013 was a big one – it was my first spent entirely in the so-called “real world” of office work and all that comes with it.

2013 was the year I turned 23.

It was the year of my 5th high school reunion (which I did not go to) and my 1st college reunion (which came to me).

During this year, my parents came to visit me. My cousin came to visit me. Sasha and Ellie and Dan all came to visit me.

I visited my parents. I visited my cousin. I visited Sasha and Ellie (but not Dan). I visited many other people besides.

I made it to Los Angeles and Minneapolis and Boston and Maine and New York.

I experienced my first family reunion with the entire family present when my grandmother turned 80.

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I also experienced my second robbery when the seats were stolen out of the back of our rental car.

I had a best friend move to Scotland.

I saw a lot of incredible art.

I saw a lot of incredible music.

I tweeted once or twice, and one of the times I did I won 5 tickets to LouFest.

I planned a surprise birthday party for Joe and a surprise trip to Maine for my mom’s birthday.

IMG_2309I spotted an amazing chair on the side of the road and we somehow managed to cram it into Joe’s sedan so we could take it home with us.

I made my first post-college friends.

I came frighteningly close to agreeing to adopt a dog.

I joined a gym for the dance classes. I discovered that I am terrible at hip hop dancing. This was not a surprise. I also discovered that I love dancing to Michael Jackson. This was a surprise.

I got a Haircut. When I took a selfie to document this fact, my nose disappeared.

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I took up knitting in earnest. I took up embroidery and sewing besides.

I embraced that “chi se ne frego” (who cares) attitude and knit by myself at a bar while reading a book about A/B testing. I also knit at bars even while not reading books about A/B testing.

I drank a lot of incredible beer. I made my own gin. I got better at mixing drinks.

I read lots and lots and lots of books.

All of my Pandora stations converged on M83’s “Midnight City”.

I became an enthusiastic party host, and pulled off an obsessively detailed murder mystery party.

I went to my first baseball game. I went to my first World Series game. These were not the same.

My German got worse, but my feminism got better.

I celebrated 2½ years in a serious relationship. I learned more about what love is and why there’s no such thing as happily ever after (and why that’s a good thing).

I was and I am happy.

2013 was the year I turned 23.

It’s been said that nobody likes you when you’re 23, and BuzzFeed (that source of deep-thinking, hard-hitting journalism), has even emphatically declared 23 to be the single worst year of the 20s.

I have to say though, being 23 hasn’t been too bad.


*The title is taken from a line in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

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Ghosts of Amys Past (& Future)

So, I’m turning 23.

I’m nervous. After all, I’ve heard that nobody likes you when you’re 23.

This is the first birthday I haven’t been entirely excited for. In fact, at times I’ve been wishing that it just wouldn’t happen. When I turn 23, I’ll be unmistakably adult. I was 22 for a few brief weeks in college, but I won’t be in school at all when I’m 23.

This mild angst has come with a side of nostalgia. I dug up my high school Livejournal (which was a mildly traumatizing experience – I didn’t capitalize anything), and I’ve been thinking a lot about who I used to be and how that impacts who I am now and who I am becoming.

Going back as far as I can remember, I’ve liked to think about how my past selves would interact with each other. Lying in bed at night, I would sleepily imagine chance encounters between older-mes and younger-mes. What would they think of each other? Would I recognize myself?

(So that you can imagine these visions for yourself, I present for your enjoyment a chronology of Amy, as seen through school photos):

When I think about who I used to be and how I have evolved over the years, there are a few certainties. I know for a fact that my 13-year-old self would be disgusted that my 15-year-old self gave up wearing only black, and would see my currently colorful wardrobe as a personal affront. Beyond that, it’s pretty much entirely conjecture what former-mes would think of present-me. However, I do know what present-me thinks of former-mes.

When I look back on my past selves, I want to be – and usually am – proud of them. Sure, some were immature, made poor decisions, or weren’t as nice to their younger brother as they could have been. Most of them had very questionable fashion sense. However, while it’s hard to be proud of shopping exclusively at Hot Topic or wearing a shapeless, shiny, vinyl-y disco dress to school on a regular basis, I can be proud of the 13-year-old who sported those parachute pants with chains and the 16-year-old who loved that disco ball dress, since both were attempting to discover and assert a creative and individual sense of self.

While I have a much better idea of who I am than I did then (or so I think), that is something I am still trying to do, and I’m sure that my 32-year-old self will look back and see exactly how much I’m still struggling.

(Full disclosure: I still have the glittery disco dress in question, but now it only comes out for costume parties.)

So, as I’m turning 23, I just hope that I’ll be able to stay happy and fulfilled and to keep up my creativity (and Italian and German) in the years to come.

Above all, I hope that I am never caught thinking that college was the best four years of my life.

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Of Conversations & Concealed Weapons

Recently, I was spending the evening at a friend’s place, along with a few other people. It was a typical night, enjoyable and nothing out of the ordinary. We were sitting around a table, listening to music, discussing our plans, and teasing each other. Somehow, the conversation turned around to the subject of guns. Two of the guys I was with were joking around with another, telling him he should invest in a gun, get a concealed carry permit. He wasn’t interested, laughed it off, and that should have been that. In every other situation I have been it, conversations about firearms have never been more than hypothetical.

But then, as if out of nowhere, there were two sitting there on the table in front of me.

I had never been that close to a gun before. Not a real one. Sure, I had seen plenty of firearms – usually antiques that seemed somehow quaint with their bayonets and single shots – locked safely up in museum cases. There was even that faintly alarming incident on the city bus when a gun fell out of a man’s pocket when he was getting off. Even that didn’t seem real though. It happened so quickly, and was such a combination of the surreal and the predictable, that the gun that ever so briefly fell at my feet never quite entered into the realm of reality. It just felt too much like fiction.

But those guns on the table, those were real. And they had both come from my friends’ pockets.

I realized suddenly, unsurprisingly, how much I really hated guns. Their presence made me edgy, and even though the owners were treating them respectfully and adhering to the rules of gun safety (don’t point it at anyone, don’t treat it like a toy) I wanted them away. Far away.

What made me even more uncomfortable than the guns themselves though, was the fact that they had been hidden. I had spent time with both of these guys before, on many occasions; I had been sitting and chatting and laughing with them all evening. I had never had even the faintest idea that either of them not only had guns, but had concealed carry permits and carried them regularly.

The next time one of them came over for a small gathering at our apartment, I found myself eyeing his pocket, searching for an outline.

That night was an eye-opener for me. Sure, I have always hated the idea of guns and have never been interested in seeking them out in the slightest. I am wholeheartedly for stricter gun control in this country, and I firmly believe that the second amendment in no way grants the inalienable right to a semi-automatic weapon to anyone who so chooses. I was even aware, in that same sort of hypothetical, theoretical haze that had always characterized my relationship with firearms, that guns in America are pervasive.

What I had failed to grasp is exactly what that means.

That night in with friends, it became shockingly clear to me just how easy it is to conceal a weapon on one’s person. And to do so legally.

I’m not trying to use this post to craft a coherent and compelling argument against the currently lax gun regulations in this country; there are plenty of articles already out there that do so much better than I could (like this one, and this one). I am just trying to express the disillusionment I felt that night, in all of its exhausting inevitability.

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