day 10 | birmingham

I’ve mentioned how the past year was a bit of a coast. A passing of time. If I think back at the last year, honestly, I’m not sure anything I did. or anything significant. Placeholding, what a friend calls that place in between something that was and something that will be eventually but currently standing in the ‘not yet.’

It was a word of permission saying, you aren’t were you want to be yet, but this will do. [whether it’s person you’re in a relationship with, a mediocre job, the place where you live.] sometimes it’s easy to fill the void than figure out what you really want. It’s an excuse to be a little discontent.

And this is where I vacillate between the notion: should a placeholder be only temporary, or could it be permanent- under better circumstances or an adjusted attitude?

Each move I’ve made, from Jackson, Seattle, Lincoln, I have gone in with the notion that this is right for now, but it is not forever. Which means, I’m never fully present. One foot is always looking where to point next. My soul is waiting for the surge of adrenaline I get when I make the decision to move, do something different.

People always say, do it while you’re young. It’s true. Moving was easy (-ish). I could eventually understand what made sense, feel out a type of purpose. But for whatever reason, when I moved to Nebraska, I kept saying, after this, I have one more move left in me. And I was willing to say even if it’s just to a different house here in Lincoln. A part of me really wanted to be okay with staying in Lincoln, but I never fully committed to it. To staying. I wanted out but then I couldn’t figure out how. Rather than take a stab in the dark until something stuck, I merely shut down. and became miserable.

I think the answer is, if you try to turn  the placeholder into a permanent reality without any of the grunt, it won’t work. But then again, maybe the reason I wasn’t working to get out of the temporary was because I felt too lazy or was too afraid, to find the permanent alternative.

The downside when I’m miserable- it’s hard to want to even be around people. or do much of anything. It’s a slow death, also known as depression. I’ve had cycles of depression since I can remember. I call them cycles because there seems to be a pattern that begins when I feel overwhelmed and slide into apathy. Social gatherings become daunting and so I stop going out or making efforts. I will notice I am depressed and create an inflexible routine of survival which sometimes means I will choose watching  television over social interactions.

Depression looks different for everybody, from the onset, the effects, to how one copes and how one thrives. there are days when it is so hard to get out of bed. and days I can’t remember the last time I laughed. it is internal and external.

right now, the external depression has been mitigated with the exit from my recent job. internally I am still fighting fears. and understanding my discontent. but I keep going on this trip, talking and ruminating, seeing how I am present.


days 8 & 9 | atlanta

rule no. 1 on the trip, say yes to all suggestions and invitations (within reason).

my only atlanta affiliation was the airport. and I wasn’t too fond of it as I recall spending the night in the terminal waiting for a flight the night the (2nd) gulf war started. all the tv’s were blaring in anticipation of some great explosion as the United States declared war. all I cared about was getting to Phoenix for spring break and sleep.

for those of you who also have never ventured beyond the atlanta airport, the city is green. and winds up, down and around. it was beautiful to my shock and amazement. i was visiting my friend nedra who started this. i meandered her neighborhood, transitioning– she called it. which means: a predominately black, undesirable neighborhood, located in an area that is close to booming new amenities and quaint shops becomes a desirable place to live. it is a good thing for a neighborhood to be boosted, beautified, invested in. tension is built when an area all of a sudden becomes predominately white. the transition begs the question, where did the other residents go? it’s a fine balance- restoring and retaining.

I got a private tour of atlanta on our bikes. I recommend this in all new cities. you see things a bit better. especially the contrast between reinvested neighborhoods and well, the not so pretty areas. and who lives where.

I understand that this whole trip is a privilege I have. to up and drive around the country for 3 weeks, with no huge agenda, except to visit and explore and experience. I have no huge concern for my safety. and know that it is a frivolous expense at this time when I have a pending future, but I can afford it. This is privilege that not everybody has or can afford (time-wise or financially or socially). I am taking advantage of a situation, so I want to be a good steward for my time on this trip. because the world is still going moving; it’s not all about me and what I am to do next.

While I am driving, the city of Baltimore is falling apart. I’ve seen Martin Luther King’s church, the church in Birmingham where 4 girls died in an explosion. The history of Civil Rights is being preserved in the South, but it is something we need to be reminded, we are still living. It is not over. We still have the responsibility that our choices affect another, small scale to big picture.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade this trip for a job right now. I’m loving unemployment. In Atlanta, I found myself at a color-crush pop-up art show by the artist, not musician, Nick Cave. And then eating burgers at a bar where we talked till 2 am with a brother and sister, originally from Mauritius, in town for a festival. It’s the stuff road trip dreams are made.

Atlanta was lovely, and I’d take any chance to return.

  Day 7 | somewhere driving

I asked Tyree about all the clocks. What do you see, he asked. Time, I said. And what is time, he asked. The past, the present and the future. We find  ourselves somewhere in that spectrum.

Time is a funny thing. Especially when you are driving 11 hours and all I can think about is getting there. Being done with the long drive. I want it to be over.

So much of the past few months have felt like an agenda to me. something I’m merely crossing off a list. that I’m waiting, expecting to get ‘there’ so this is just something in between.

The problem, though, is I don’t know where or what ‘there’ is exactly. what exactly am I waiting for? how will I know when I’ve arrived? because even if I do get there, time doesn’t stand still for that moment. There will always be a next thing.

Part of the long drive included the on being podcast with Ann Hamilton. a maker, she calls herself, who sees time as a main component to anything she creates. time is a rhythm of doing, like knitting where each loop becomes a row and eventually a whole (such as a sweater) but each loop is important. she then says that we often give away experiences or creations before they are ready. because we get insecure because of the not knowing or pressure to give a good answer when asked. rather, she asks, how do you cultivate a space to dwell in before not knowing. so you can become articulate and something is born that is made up of all of the parts.

that is what time gives us.

This was my only reference for Ann beforehand.

days 5 & 6 | detroit

I walked into a recommended new restaurant in Detroit, praised for reviving an abandoned warehouse then turned into any recognizable menu that serves brussels sprouts and bone marrow. I parallel parked between a mercedes and a range rover, the bar was crowded with beautiful people. I’m sure the food was amazing but something in the atmosphere felt like a soiree in the middle of a war zone. Because that’s what it still looks like around Detroit. still shocked by the juxtaposition, I walked out.

It seems sad, devastating, as you drive the streets in Detroit, burned out house after burned out house, houses that looked unlivable but a satellite dish attached to a window indicated people were present. yet the most surprising- tucked between the chaos and debris, are beautiful restored homes, manicured yards, huge urban farms. as an outsider, I ask the common question, how is this possible?

 A famous Detroit philosopher, Grace Lee Boggs, comments about what is happening in her town by paraphrasing Hegel “progress does not take place like a shot out of a pistol; it takes the labor and suffering of the negative. How to use the negative as a way to advance the positive is our challenge.” somehow, people have been able to reimagine a different reality.

On one hand, it would be impossible to immediately and entirely “clean up” (white, middle class terminology) these neighborhoods, so people began creating life around it. Accepting it as a way of life, they bought houses for cheap and flipped them. or lived in them. they took on the mantra: one house at a time (though it is not a collective process, it’s still each man for themselves). Most cities hide these neglected, decrepit areas, but in Detorit, it’s everywhere (except the suburbs). Choosing to live in Detroit challenges the human will- either be defeated or find a way to do it (broad sense of the word) differently. and it requires a new type of community. one of the results has been the people who have turned the vacant lots where houses have been torn down back into its orivinal from: farm ground. growing food for themselves and neighbors. and anybody who buys from the market.

The optimism of Grace Lee Boggs points out that there are endless opportunities because of the tensions within the city. the reimagining, she states, is limitless and powerful. many times in situations that seem defeating, we become victims rather than remember that we are creatures who are able to create, envision a new world.

sometimes we have to be stripped of our safe spaces that promote efficiency and progressiveness to remember we are meant to create.

the final piece she adds, is by turning to one another than against another. cooperation. collaboration. community.

the new imagined worlds within Detroit are exciting. but I still wonder if we can create a false reality, something so pristine and photogenic, that we forget to take into account the reality that keeps us humble and honest. that reminds us that within our own movement and progress are other people who need to be invited to create along side us, in whatever form, in whatever way.

i drove down to eight mile to eat fried chicken.

day 4 | Chicago

I met him two years ago and couldn’t remember his name until he started talking. It was is if my soul had floated from my body, become a person and spoke more eloquently in forms of art and community. And then I stalked him mostly because I was encouraged to find somebody who was doing things I wanted to do and work with them. Talk. Whatever, get in their space. 

He worked in the south side of Chicago, an enigma to me. It had a reputation- I had been a downtown girl. But he reawakened a deep passion I had for this city. I was shaking when I introduced myself to him.

I eventually went to see his artwork. And sat at his kitchen table where I drank water from a small bowl. he told me space was important to him. And that’s what he was creating; an artist of space and experience- a place for people to be. To interact. With no agenda. Because if you create the right space, the space creates the agenda.

He is still inspiring and now he has a TED talk. However we seem to misconnect and I still get insanely nervous in his presence. Someday we will have a proper drink or dinner and conversation. But it isn’t now. I’m not ready.

But I met a creative cohort of his. by stalking him, I found Erika through her Instagram account, who is equally inspiring, innovative and believes the best conversations are around beautiful food. And it’s the place ideas grow and are realized.

I’ve emailed a handful of people to meet with me and she was the first who said, yes! And two hours passed quickly as we realized we were kindred spirits. It was refreshing to know there are exciting people who are doing exciting things. And are looking for collaborators. And the list goes on.

I’m not sure what the next chapter will bring but I expect more people like Erika to be around me.  I expect to see big ideas through. I expect to challenge and be challenged. 

I expect a lot of good food.

day 3 | chicago

1264 days, from a countdown I started as a freshman in high school.

I am nebraskan. I am a corn farmer’s daughter. my entire school, k-12, was 99.1% white. Iwas raised in sameness and simplicity. amid hard work done by good people.

Wanting to leave may have been born from common teenage angst but it became my exercise of wanting more. different. deeper. I am driven by this want. this desire. this yearning to be part of something else than what I know.

to see. touch. connect.

And I’ve been at it alone the whole time. Part because I separated myself from the masses. Part because I didn’t want the responsibility of another person’s ability to adapt. Part because I had confidence I would meet good people along the way. I found out I was good at new solo situations.

Returning to Nebraska was a struggle because often times I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t connected to a city that was so well connected to each other and I quickly grew tired of asserting myself into tight spaces. Part because I had one foot out the door. Part because I craved the Chicago urban energy. Part because I have met so many wonderful people since I wrote day 1 is here. and they are not all in one place. Of course my answer to figure out transition is to roam.

The benefits: I can go on a 3 week road trip and have many friends to stay with, dine with, converse with. I know I will only just keep meeting wonderful people.

(this picture was taken pre-road trip in memphis. the tea cosi was used at daily tea time when I lived in Switzerland and was an object of obsession by the coffee mafia [dubbed by housemates because of our serious need for slow morning coffee consumption], partly because of a David Sedaris reference. one of the members made off with it and it now lives in her new kitchen in memphis, keeping the french press cozy.)

day 2 | chicago

I am fine tuning the question I will be asked over and again, what do you do? followed immediately by- oh, what’s next?

There’s an easy answer to give to duck out and curtail any conversation. but that isn’t the point of this trip. the point is, talk. talk more. talk about then. talk about now. talk about what may. However I answer, be honest. be open. be engaging.

What I can confidently say in response- I know what I don’t want. My soul furls at the thought of working in another cdc. The recent taste is still too bitter and I’m not convinced the next time would be any better. I lack faith in the nonprofit system. This is critical processing, right?

I’m not saying this is forever. Chances are high, like 90%, I may eventually go back in some capacity. But in this response, I’ve given myself permission to adapt my role, my approach rather than hear the negative message, easily ready to chant, that somehow I’ve failed. as Seth Godin put it, “it’s not a no, it’s a no for now. that’s not this will never work, it didn’t work this time. but I learned something about what might work for next time…is that something we flee from or is it something we use to tell us that we’re alive?”

One summer I decided I wanted to get paid to water ski. I did some [primitive] research on the internet (this was 2001) and came across a half-season day camp in Maine looking for summer staff who could teach campers how to ski. it seemed interesting, so I applied and within 3 weeks I was hired. I didn’t take the time to read through the entire job description to understand that I would also be a counselor for wealthy children from NYC with terrible pay and long hours. Needless to say, I was shocked by the summer camp staff culture of non-bible camps and the habits of children raised by nannies. I had 4 days off the entire summer. Being constantly around people created a challenge for this introvert but I was lonely for real friendships. In the evenings, I’d get in line to check my email at the one available computer or wait to use one of the 6 pay phones on the side of a barn to hear a familiar voice. or my mom. In recalling a conversation she had with my sister-in-law she expressed how this experience may not make sense now but it would impact me and it could be months before that would be realized; it was now part of my story.

The impact now is significantly more subtle than it was when I returned to Chicago two days after camp ended, a little more world wary. It was important in that moment. It greatly impacted the decisions I made my next year of college. What I am experiencing right now, inevitably is important to what will happen next.

I know what I don’t want. Owning this simple statement is an act of kindness to myself. Somehow it opens up more options. and gives me insight to what I know to be true. already a small light bulb has gone off from a conversation with C’s mother. and I’ve been busy researching new ideas.