To China

My little baby brother, only 20 years old, is moving to China today.  How exciting!  How brave!

Jackie and MJ Low_Res-243
Photo by the oh-so-talented Anna Sodziak.

He is, like my sister and me, an artistic soul, quiet (at first), contemplative, and a big dreamer.  He, like me, decided New York was not all it’s cracked up to be, and decided to take a break.  When I did that, I decided to move to Chicago, and I’m still here 11 years later.  When he decided, it took him all the way to the other side of the planet.

I have always wanted to live abroad but just never made the space in my life to do so.  I get very comfortable and like to be caught up in routines.  They make me feel secure and stable.  I’m a 50/50 split between a city girl and a homebody.  (Like those New Yorkers who never leave Manhattan, but not quite so drastic.)   I have to admit I’m a teeny bit jealous of his big adventure – all the things he’ll get to see in Beijing, and all of the tasty food he’s going to eat.  I know I’d be doing dumplings and Dim Sum all day every day!

I talked to my parents who were a bit tearful and sad, as to be expected.  They are officially empty nesters now.  I’ll have to go home more and bug them.  But we are all wishing David the very best of luck on his trip.  That he can find his way in a world where he doesn’t yet know the language, won’t know his way around, and will have to point to the things (he thinks) he wants on a menu.

This is a year for big change.  I knew it, I could feel it, I willed that it MUST BE.  As 2016 was drawing to a close, I asked the universe to please let us keep going, not allow us to blow up in a terrible disaster so that we could keep living happy and productive lives as best as we could.  So far, we’ve been very fortunate to not have every single one of our rights and expectations for life taken away from us, but that may still be coming.  For some of us, that may come sooner rather than later.  In the mean time, we have to focus on what we can still do, and what’s still out there for the taking.

Like China.


A New Season

March 2016

Back in early March, I was sitting on my sister’s couch, crying my eyes out in the middle of the night.  Things were horribly, yet inexplicably wrong at my job (my dream job!) and the anxiety of returning to a toxic workplace had ruined the end of my week long vacation in Phoenix.  The feeling crept up on me, until it had totally overwhelmed me and stopped my ability to enjoy a single moment of the day.  Imagine Sunday Anxiety x 1000.

Earlier that day as we wandered through the aisles of a Native American Market, I felt lost and hopeless, touching every stone and asking what they meant.  Where was the thing that would purify my soul?  Where was the thing that could protect me?  I allowed my mom and sister to dawdle at the booths and rushed ahead of them so they would not see that I was crying.  Something in me had cracked and broken, but I did not know what it was.

Continue reading “A New Season”

Summer Sixteen

It’s not over yet but it may as well be, with all of the back to school ads and pumpkins I’ve seen popping up in my social media feeds.  And while the shortening days depress me, I’m also really excited for the cooler days of autumn.  Specifically, I’m excited to wear pants again without wanting to die.  I don’t know about anyone else, but dressing for extreme heat is exhausting to me.

But before it goes away completely, I thought I’d do a brief recap since summer sixteen held some pretty great moments, and it’s fun to revisit the days through photos.

  • We got married!
  • I turned 30!
  • I learned to ride a bike!
  • We went to Traverse City, and I fell madly in love with Michigan!
  • We got free tickets to Lollapalooza and saw Radiohead on MJ’s birthday!
  • And lots, lots more.  It went fast, but it’s been a fun and lovely summer full of adventures with good friends, tasty snacks, and beautiful skies.

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The New York Feeling: Part 2

Whoops, that last post got a little bit away from me.  But I think it sets the scene on why my trip to New York this time was so important to me, when other times I leave feeling nothing was accomplished and a little bit depressed.

My visit was a much needed break from my recent quest to be Super Serious.  I have been trying so hard lately to Figure It Out that life sometimes feels like a chore instead of an adventure.   The two of us stayed up late talking about art for the sake of art.  Expression with no expectation of meaning or gain.

Shannon and I graduated from the same creative writing program, and for various reasons, we each let life lead us down a different path.  I got a Super Serious job at a law firm and she moved to Florida and started a family.  During the few years after college, we both dabbled with writing blogs and trying to still be creative while leading lives filled with other obligations.  Mine didn’t amount to much, but she gained some success, and had built a following of other like-minded creative moms.  While she no longer continues that blog, she is now an ambitious student at SVA’s graduate program in Visual Narrative.  She showed me her works in progress, and I read her stories while we lounged in her adorable AirBNB apartment.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly jealous of the life she was living – however temporary it may be.

I am the type of person who loses interest in something if I discover I am no good at  it.  It is what separates a hobbyist from an artist – I hate to practice.  I like to pick something up, be brilliant, and wow the crowd.  (It does not happen often, if you are wondering.)  False starts on short stories, novels, art projects, sewing projects, …. you name it, I’ve tried it, and given up.   If I can’t be absolutely EXECLLENT, I don’t want to waste my time.   It makes me sad to think of all the projects I’ve started that had potential, if only I’d put in the work.  I am incapable of being proud of something that isn’t perfect.

Anyway, that Saturday we visited the Met Bruer to see the Diane Arbus exhibit, and as we wove through the columns of photos, Shannon geeked out over one of her favorite artists.  Later, we stopped into an independent book store in Fort Greene, and she picked up books left and right to tell me why it was an amazing, influential work.  She commented, when I had little to offer, “You don’t read much anymore, do you?”.  It struck me that the voracious appetite I once had was still there lingering within me, but somehow something I had learned to justify ignoring.  I have a habit of buying books in a moment of pure excitement and inspiration and then putting them on the shelf to continue on my daily life.  It is not how I used to be, but without anyone around who knew the old me and call me back to it, I let it slide.

Sometimes it takes visiting an old friend to make you realize that you’re still the same person you thought you were, and that the things that used to be important still very much matter.  That part of me was lying dormant, or maybe just needed coaxing to come alive again.  I think that’s ok.  I’m not that old, but I’ve lived many different lives that all seem so disjointed at times.  Like a series of disconnected phases – states of being that come with their own cast of characters.   That weekend I got to reconnect with the Art-School-Writer version of myself and it was wonderful to see her again.  I often recall Super-Stressed-Paralegal me, as well as Super-Stressed-Grad-School me, because the people from those phases in my life are still around.  It was a treat to visit Shannon in New York, and see the art she is making, and be reminded that I used to (and maybe still do, to a certain degree) have a certain number of undefined creative aspirations.

I don’t hold on to many people, but the ones I do are the ones who matter to me.  I’m holding on to them, and also to the person they bring out in me.  Maybe it’s selfish, but it takes two to make a friendship, and so who I am when I’m with a person determines if I want to remain in the relationship.  It’s been hard as I get older, making conscious decisions to walk away from friends if I don’t feel good about my role when I’m with them.  But I don’t intend it to hurt.  It’s more like shedding a skin so that I can keep growing.

New York is like that, too.  Every time I visit, I’m filled with emotions that confuse me and make me feel bad.  But whether I like it or not, my past lives there, and so I will continue to return.  I will need to learn to remember the things I used to do and the dreams I used to have without feeling sad.


The New York Feeling: Part 1

This past weekend, I went to New York to visit my friend Shannon, who is staying in Brooklyn for the summer.  Normally visits “home” fill me with all sorts of guilt and sadness.

My parents live in New Jersey in the home I grew up in, so obviously I see them.  They get very insulted if I do not spend at least one night with them at their house, even if it makes the rest of my plans inconvenient.  My mom insists on picking me up from the airport, which is another source of guilt – especially when my flights are already scheduled for late evening, and then get delayed.  But there she is, every time, with snacks waiting for me in the front seat.

Because I grew up just outside of the city, and went to college there, I have an army of friends (loose terminology here) past and present, and it is impossible to see them all when I come to town.  I have been trying to make plans with some friends for years.  I had one friend who I just never made time for, and when she died in an accident, I was overcome with guilt that I never saw her one last time.   Maybe that’s a story for another day.    The point is, I always feel like I am letting someone down.  Even if that someone is a high school friend I’ve lost touch with and who only happened to find out I was in town by random chance.  I know that I’m the one that moved away, but it’s exhausting to be the person bearing the sole responsibility to make the rounds.  When I was planning my wedding, I crossed people off the list if they had never made the effort to visit me in Chicago since I’ve been here.  It felt bad.  It felt good.  But ten years is a long time, and planes fly in both directions.

Something about visiting a place that was once my home fills me with this strange sadness.  I expect to feel the things I used to feel, and to laugh at the things I used to laugh at.  I expect to remember my way around, and just fall back into my old self: curious, inspired, artistic, an ambitious writer.  But time passes, and people change, and I find myself in a weird state of limbo.  A tourist asked me for directions and I realized I also had no idea how to get where I was going.  In my day to day life, I strive for constant improvement – which of course means change.  But then I lament the loss of the old me, and worry about who I’ve become.   Is it the real me this time?  How much change is allowed in order to maintain authenticity?

When I first moved to New York in 2004, I was excited to define a self that was whole and separate from my parents, and from the kids I went to school with.  I was inspired by the city, and eager to blossom into the real me – and not be held back by the character that I fell into being in high school.  To most people, I was the weird art girl, who dyed her hair black, and had a pierced lip, wore lots of eyeliner and smoked whatever cigarettes she could get her hands on.  For a multitude of reasons, I had to be different because I could never fit in, so I embraced it even if some of it was just a facade.  People mostly ignored me, but some bullied me for being a weirdo.  Everyone was always surprised when I showed up in their honors classes on the first day of school.  Because I didn’t speak much, nobody knew I was smart.  My college, being the only Ivy League university in Manhattan, was filled with many of the same people from my high school.  I would be smoking outside the library at night, and see girls I knew growing up crossing the campus.  They were in classes with me.  We never spoke, but I knew they knew I was there – the loser girl from high school – and I felt paralyzed.  Stunted.  How could I possibly make a change when I would be caught in the act?  I didn’t know how to grow up if I couldn’t grow.  So instead, I crumbled.  I fell into a deep depression and dropped out after only a year and a half.  In the summer of 2006 I moved to Chicago and never looked back.

Ten years later, I am still here.  In that time, I have grown and changed and found many different me’s to be.   I’m still struggling to figure all that out, and because it happens gradually, I forget that it’s happening.  But when I go back home, it’s like stepping into a wormhole.  The people and the places are the same, and I’m the thing that’s different.



A few months ago, my mom called me and asked if I would prefer to go on a girls trip instead of having to suffer through a bridal shower.  I had on several occasions expressed to her my extreme aversion to carrying out the typical bridal duties. I can think of few things more painful than sitting through a party designed around obligatory gifts, opening of said gifts, and acknowledging in front of everyone who it was from.  My anxiety can’t handle that kind of trauma, and I don’t want to make my friends suffer through it either.

So the plan was set: my mom and I would fly out to Phoenix to meet my sister for a long weekend of frolicking in the springtime air, hiking in the desert and lounging at the resort pool.  The weeks leading up to the trip were long and painful, and my departure felt as if it lingered in the ever distant future – all the way up until the day I was leaving.  I remember looking out from the Blue Line train as it shuttled me away from the city thinking “It’s finally here”.

The weather was cloudy – something I’ve never experienced before in my many trips to the Southwest over the years – and it made the sun and the heat more bearable.  All the warm glowy goodness without the pain of my skin being burned off.  The resort we stayed in was a shared property with some local Native American tribes, and it felt like an oasis in the untouched desert (if you ignored the golf course).  We hiked the trails, lounged at the pool drinking piña coladas, and visited the botanical gardens to watch the sun set over the mountains.  My photos from the trip are mainly of plants, but I like them and wanted to share anyway.









My last day in Phoenix, I was overcome by an intense anxiety and sadness.  The thought of returning to my routine filled me with dread – similar to my Sunday Blues but amplified.   My sister and I had a long talk about my life and career.  I have always seen myself as an ambitious person, driven by a need to do it right and play by the rules to get ahead.  But in doing that, I sacrificed my health and my happiness.  I didn’t have time or energy to pursue things that made me happy outside of work.  I was losing myself.  I couldn’t see it at the time, but she was right, and I needed to make a big change.

When we were planning on the trip, I jokingly said that I wanted to add a Native American spiritual cleanse to the itinerary.  I wanted to purify my soul in a sweat lodge and emerge a new and whole person with a clear understanding of myself and my life’s purpose.  We didn’t get to do that, but somehow I feel that I still got the clarity I needed.  I don’t understand everything, and I still have days where I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I am a step closer and that’s going to have to be enough for now.