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.

day 1 | Chicago

This is a worn path. I’m embarrassed that I entered it into my gps. I know how long it takes and which gas stations are the best. It is never exciting until I see the Sears Tower, and without fail, my heart beat quickens along with the average car speed. I am always taken back to the first time I saw this city at the tender age of 10, not knowing, I would live in between the chaos for 4 years.

When Catherine and I would drive back to campus at night, she’d interrupt our conversation, er, indigo girl sing-a-long  and exclaim, “time out! we live here. in that!” And we’d inhale the skyline of Chicago in its lighted, breathtaking glory. In fact when I flew in a few years later, her soon to be husband picked me up and said he had instructions to take the lake shore drive route. A small, thoughtful gesture from a friend who understands a sight that never grows old.

I remember many of those trips that began when I was 10, but the one that repeats in a haunting way in my memory- the one I left Chicago, my Honda Accord, which still smelled of spoiled ground beef,* packed with my dorm life possessions. I had anticipated this moment. The first college graduate in my family, ready to take on the world.

But I felt more like I was fleeing. Chicago had become limited to my small world and the order I created for myself in those final months. Feeling so lost in its seas of people, I couldn’t find the space I needed to think. Or more importantly, talk. I begun to hate it.

It would take a few months to figure out how angry I was at life’s seeming unfairness and how I felt ill prepared to fight. I was ashamed that I didn’t know what I was going to do next beyond a summer nanny job and a three month trip to Europe.

Most of us left Chicago right away. I tried to sneak out from the last party hurrah. And then I said goodbye to my roommate. Though we had lived with each other for 10 months, we had forged a bond so deep that when I hugged her, I started sobbing and couldn’t let go. And realized that she too was sobbing and holding on. As much as I wanted out, I wasn’t prepared for my small world to be scattered.

Of the many things I have come to realize in my adult life is that my experience is not unique which is not meant to discredit my life. In fact I find it comforting when people can better articulate a time in their life that much resembles mine as they have words; I merely have memories in the form of feelings. I was recently introduced to the podcast on being which will be one of my many travel companions so be prepared for references. In a conversation with Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin about rebellion, they propose that living your life wholly is an act of rebellion. Eventually I may get more into the sense of urgency I live with and dissecting what it meant to me then and what it means now to be a good steward of my life and being present; however, I end with Courtney’s words which if someone told me then, when I was fleeing, well, this story would look a little different. Or maybe I can extend young, graduated self grace that many times we aren’t given the anecdotes until we live them.

“Our charge is not to save the world after all, it is to live in it, flawed and fierce, loving and humble.”

*when I would return to Chicago from NE, I would always bring back supplies such as frozen beef from the farm. Because it was winter I opted to keep it in my car trunk in a small cooler then the dorm freezer. I may have forgotten about said cooler over a 2 week spring break and it still took me a few weeks to figure out  the growing stench in my car. I was driving in Lincoln Park when I finally pulled over and pitched the cooler in a street side receptacle.