Time for something new?

It might be time to move on. From Chicago, from my job, from my theater dream. I arrived in Chicago last night and hopped off the El. As I walked through Lakeview toward my old roommates’ new place I looked around at the loud traffic, dirty buildings, expensive vintage rental houses and thought, I am not feeling it anymore. My heart is not in Chicago. I’m dreaming of a smaller community, living in a farm house with three or so artists and having a small, intimate community.

I’m dreading going back to work tomorrow. I wasn’t happy there, either. Not to say I’m not grateful, because it’s a great position with a salary and benefits, but what’s important right now is my happiness. What will make me happy? Do I need to change my circumstances or my approach? I’m staying with my old roommates this weekend while I look for apartments, but my instincts are telling me not to. My instincts are telling me to leave Chicago and go somewhere in nature to take take care of my heart and soul.

I’m aching for companionship. What’s still weighing most heavily on my heart, though – regrets. I was unhappy for most of my twenties, and I wouldn’t have been if I’d just done things differently. It’s killing me that I didn’t. Life could have been simpler,more fun. I’ve often been too afraid and detached. I haven’t experienced enough. Well, I’ve had plenty of experiences but I haven’t been engaged in those experiences. It would be nice to have at least one year of happy memories in my twenties, and, being the year before thirty, this one is my last chance. Do I want to spend that year struggling in Chicago? What am I struggling for? It’d be different if there were a purpose I were working toward. I need to find my purpose, but balance it with relaxation and enjoying my life. It comes down to my heart and soul. I’m hurting and empty, and need to fill the void. What will I fill it with?

A tough decision.

I have said before that I can relate to Julia Roberts in the Runaway Bride, who intuitively knows that she does not want to get married and runs from the altar at each of her four almost-weddings. I am feeling more like her than ever lately, as I consider the possibility that I am lost and don’t know what I want. I blame this on having spent more of my life in my head than in the physical world. I’ve done more dreaming than experiencing. I’d always dreamed of being a teacher, for instance, but in my recent experience as a computer teacher I found out that it wasn’t for me. Similarly, I admired therapists but when I got informal experience as a counselor I found out that it drains me more than it energizes me. I moved to Chicago with vague unrealistic dreams of being the next Tina Fey but when I took the improv class at Second City I realized I didn’t have enough drive to struggle down that path. I know now that if I do theater it will be on a smaller scale. When I started college I knew that I wanted to be either a teacher, counselor, writer or actress. Now I’ve narrowed it down to two, and I am having a hard time deciding which to go with.

A more pressing decision, though, is whether I want to stay in Chicago for another year or move somewhere else. I was unhappy in Chicago. I learned a lot, which I may get into later, but I never felt the pull to settle there. I didn’t love it, like so many people do. I think that every city sort of has a soul or a vibe of some kind, and in order to fall in love with a city you have to feel it’s vibe in your own soul. I never connected with the soul of Chicago. I don’t feel excited at the thought of going back, and I’d like to feel excited about where I live.

I am unhappy and at a crossroads. I am afraid that any move I make will decide my fate in a way, so I want to make my decisions carefully. I’ll be 30 next year, and it’s making me think about how I’ve lived my life, and where I want to go from here. I have a lot of regrets about not having lived my life fully in my twenties. I have yet to experience true love, I’ve drifted and hesitated. I wonder if the past year in Chicago has been a futile attempt to regain my lost youth. I think it may be time to say, okay, I’m not a young twenty something anymore. Who am I now, and how can I redefine myself?

I know I want to travel. Part of my regret involves not having traveled in my twenties. If I’d only worked more hours, I’d have had the money to do it, but I settled for making just enough to get by. Now I’m ready to put in the hours. If I stay in Chicago, I have a salaried job waiting for me, but even with the good pay I’d only be making enough to get by, since I have huge student loans payments.

What’s killing me the most is that I don’t have good memories, and that’s the very thing that’s making my decision about Chicago so hard. If I go back to Chicago for a year, I’d have to work two jobs in order to do the traveling I want to do, and that would leave me little time to have a life and create memories. I don’t want to have another year without good memories. I envision it being stressful and lonely. Is it Chicago itself, though, or is it me? I feel like Chicago is not right for me. Do I trust that intuitive feeling? The Runaway Bride did and it led her to discover who she was.

Processing Failure

This post may just be noise, but it helps to get it all out instead of holding it inside.

Lately I have been feeling really lost, and I’m having an issue that may be a manifestation of OCD, (or me blaming my mistakes on a mental illness so that I don’t have to face my failures – something I do that I’ve become aware of lately). Anyway, what I’ve been doing is I’ve been making bucket lists and then beating myself up and sinking to scary levels of depression when I don’t follow through on things on the list. It might sound silly but probably the greatest source of my sadness lately. I made a list at the beginning of the year of “things I’m excited for in the new year”, and while I made the list I envisioned my life in Chicago exactly how I wanted it to be in order for me to be happy, and now that it’s April and I haven’t been living the vision I’m getting this horrible sinking feeling of time passing too quickly.

I keep on envisioning how I want my life to be, then losing grasp of that image and then despairing over how I never lived the vision. There’s a second part to it, too. I keep trying to live dreams that have already died. I think I might need to go back to therapy to sort this out. There are all kinds of issues I’m facing that might be too big for me to sort through on my own.

I still haven’t found a satisfying way to resolve this morose feeling of having lost my twenties. I feel like a failure. I feel unhappy and weak and like the world is on my shoulders, and I don’t want to be that person.

Tonight I walked down the beach and heard a couple laughing at the antics of their children. I remember thinking that they were living in a much happier reality than I am. I thought they are actually happy. I remember thinking that I was once happy like them, when I was a kid, and that I want to feel that way again. Right now I am struggling. I can barely move. I drink obscene amounts of coffee to keep moving. I’d like to remember how it feels to be able to operate without caffeine.

I need to restructure the way I think about my twenties to something I can live with.

A major regret is the way I hid away. The regret is destroying me. I know I shouldn’t keep hiding away since it’s bothering me so much that I hid away before. However, I do keep hiding away because it’s a hard habit to break and also because when I go out and have a good time I see what I was missing and instead of enjoying myself I sink into despair like Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption when he gets released from prison and can’t operate in a world that’s changed without him.

The European Coffee Shop

A month after I moved to Chicago I realized I needed a second job and applied for every barista position posted on Craigslist. A week later I received a phone call from a foreign woman who asked me if I’d like to come in for an interview.

A couple days later I showed up for my interview in a pink cardigan and slacks. I was greeted by the woman I’d talked to on the phone, who was unexpectedly blonde-haired and blue-eyed. By her voice, which sounded Italian, I’d guessed she’d have darker features. I introduced myself and she wiped her hands on her apron before shaking my hand, and she stared at me unsmiling as if judging my character or looks. Regardless of how pretty she thought me, I knew I was no match for her son, who I quickly saw could beat me in any beauty competition. She called him over and introduced me to him. His complexion was so pure I was convinced he was part elf, and a combination of the way he carried himself and his sexy jeans reminded me of Tom Cruise. The association with Tom Cruise, though, could have been due to the fact that I’d googled the town before coming to the interview and learned that Risky Business was filmed there. I mentioned this in the interview, after the three of us had taken a seat at one of the small round tables by a window.

“Oh yeah, lots oov celebrridees come through he-ah.” At this point I still though she was Italian, but one of the lighter complexioned ones. She went on to say that Helen Hunt had stopped by once when her husband was working. Her son led the interview, and asked my availability. I told him I could work days.

“Perfect. Can you start training today?”

I agreed to start but I had unspoken suspicions. Why had it been so easy for me to get hired? I had no coffee shop experience and she had no references. They were judging my character by a ten minute conversation and resume, all of which could have been complete bullshit. Did I exude naivete, and if so why were they attracted to that? My intuition told me they were Russian mobsters; seven minutes into our conversation I’d decided her accent sounded more Russian than Italian, and the wrinkle lines on her face and the tension she radiated suggested a lifetime of dodging bullets and hiding money.

“What is that accent?” I asked. I looked up at them from my chair at the little table, where they’d left me to fill out an application. They were headed back behind the counter and both halted mid-step and turned around to answer my question.

“I am Pol-eesh.” She said it matter-of-factly, her accent as rich and saucy as a smoked keilbasa.

I went back to my application, the whole time asking myself what the hell I was getting myself into. THis was not the sort of coffee shop I’d imagined working in when I’d composed the cheesy letter explaining why I wanted to work in a coffee shop. I already felt guilty; it had been a half-truth when I said I’d planned on staying in Chicago for at least a year. In my mind I figured I’d work there a few months at most, until I found something else. Besides, the place seemed rich and uppity and corrupt somehow, there were no young people and the commute took an hour and a half. Working morning meant I’d have to get up by five at the latest. The longer I worked there, though, the harder I found it to leave.

Alone-ness

Lately I have been considering the possibility that I do not experience life the way that most of the people around me do. I am numb, and they feel things. I have mistakenly believed that most people become numb and more detached in adulthood, when life starts getting hard. I have been wrong, because there are a lot of people who are truly happy and light.

One of my roommates, for instance. In January she moved in, the little sister of one of my other roommates. Within a month she met a guy online and fell in love. Within two months she moved in with him and now they are making plans to get married and move to Arizona in May. I thought to myself, that’s what I want to do. I want a partner. I want to move out of this city that I don’t like. It would be so much harder for me to do. I’d overthink and make it complicated. She made it look simple and easy. She’s only 21.

I still feel so old. It’s still getting me down, the feeling that I woke up and missed my twenties. I keep imagining everyone I know looking down on me. I feel disconnected, like I don’t have anyone I’m really close to. It’s just the mood I’m in, though. How did I slip into this again? When you’re an adult you go through the intimacy versus isolation crisis. Who have I ever been truly intimate with? How can I know if I am even gay?

The problem is I have never gotten out enough. Since I was a little girl I’d always stay home. I remember relating to Emily Dickinson when I read about her that she’d fall in love with her mentors. She always stayed home, too. Maybe I just never grew out of the Freudian phase of being in love with your mother. Even little girls who end up straight fall in love with their mothers, don’t they? Some of my friends and family think I am too picky, but I don’t think that’s the problem. The problem is that I don’t get out enough.

I like being at home. One of the things I’ve learned from this move is that I am content with a simple life. I am on a dating website and look at all of these profiles of girls who seem to be on the move all the time and super ambitious and equate success with how much education or status or money you make. I’m re-defining my idea of success. I think some people need that stimulation, though, and that’s okay. They have a requirement to be and do more and more and more. I think I move at a much slower pace than a lot of people. This weekend, for instance, I was content to do nothing but watch movies, read, snuggle up with a blanket on the couch. Other people would feel bad about themselves and get cabin fever.

I do feel a little badly about it, though. I want to be out there laughing with people and giving and showing people who I am and letting people in. I want a family. I have a family, but I want my own little sub-family. I want a partner, a couple of kids in a few years. I want to write for a living. I want to hike more and travel. I want to have the energy to do things. I’m weighted down by a sense of loneliness. People you love make you feel lighter. I have no one here, and I’m hesitant to make a life here because I don’t like it here.

I want a home. In the beginning of the year I read the Hobbit and the first two Lord of the Rings books. The journey to Mordor is worth it for Frodo because he is fighting for his home. He loves his home enough to put himself in mortal danger. I don’t have a place like that. I’m dreaming of an idyllic place in the country I’d rarely want to leave. Or a person. A person can be our home. One of my friends once told me I’m a penguin in a world of rabbits. I think she was right. I don’t want dating and hook-ups. I just want one person to share fifty years with.

I have had headaches and pains and a sense of feeling crushed and exhausted. I think it’s from trying to do everything alone, the sense of alone-ness. I want someone to sleep next to and come with me to parties. Dreaming it isn’t enough anymore.

My first three months in Chicago

In many ways my move to Chicago was a fail. I hardly left my apartment, I quit my job before my new one started, causing me to run out of money and get behind on rent and student loan payments, I did not venture far from my neighborhood for pleasure, and I foolishly chose to live above a loud bar despite every inclination that it was a bad idea. Furthermore, I wastefully spent money in moments of panic: a cab ride once, a couple train trips home, a phone that I didn’t end up needing. Finally, I didn’t love improv and I didn’t go to a single gay bar.

The move has not been a complete failure, though. Perhaps what you could count as markers of success were the two dates I went on, one with a girl and one with a boy.

The girl was Dominican and from New York, and despite my Dominican and from New York friends’ Angie and Sisco’s encouragement to pursue it further we kind of stopped talking after I canceled our second date. She made a lot more money than me and it made me uncomfortable. I’ve never been comfortable around people who have a lot of money. I am content with little and I perceive that a lot of them see it as a moral failing or that they think I am annoyingly miserly.

The guy I went on a date with was a folk and blues musician who’d lived and performed in Brooklyn for a few years. He looked like Simon or Garfunkel, and we were coworkers at the coffee shop where I work until he got fired. On our date he was appalled that I had never been to any of the Chicago museums, and I felt ashamed and annoyed. That was only one of three momenta in which I realized I should not have agreed to go out with him. The second was when I caught myself looking longingly at a very affectionate lesbian couple in a nearby booth and the third was when I found myself wondering how hot his mom was.

Perhaps the most interesting of my Chicago successes was landing a job at a high end European coffee shop in a mostly Jewish affluent Northern suburb where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was filmed. My boss is a short and sweet but ill-tempered Polish lady who sends me home with sandwiches on Sunday nights. I eat them at the empty old train station where a Clint Eastwood movie was once filmed while I wait for the inbound METRA. There’s a girl who works at the coffee shop who is 18 and reminds me a little bit of myself at that age. I immediately liked her when she greeted me with genuine bubbly enthusiasm on my first day and even more when her crazy came out a few days later. She said she was probably bipolar or something else because something was not right with he and she had just started therapy. I took comfort then in knowing that my own madness would receive nothing less than appreciation and interest from her. She told me one day that I don’t seem that much older than her and that even thirty year olds are like babies to her. We are the only two lower middle class people around on any given day in that yuppie hangout.

My successes in Chicago are overshadowed by my failures, though. The biggest one being my failure to enjoy myself. And the biggest impediment to my enjoyment of Chicago has been the sinking feeling of “oh-my-god-I-am-28-and-too-old-for-this”.

The sinking feeling is horrible and simply not going away. I have been sad to the point of wanting to die for things I didn’t do in my earlier twenties. I am trying to do those things now in Chicago but I am afraid my window of opportunity passed a few years ago.

At the age of 28 I want to do things a 22 year old does. I am at the age where people settle down but I am not ready to do that yet. There are experiences I have not yet had that I feel too old for, like traveling and doing crazy things. And now I am about to commit to a new job that pays well enough for these things but its in Chicago and I am not sure I want to stay in Chicago for that much longer. I like Chicago but I don’t nor have I ever loved it like many people seem to. I’d be happier with a simpler life in a farmhouse or a hobbit home, in quiet country with green hills. But right now I want to be out seeing the world and experiencing new things.

How do I make peace with the past? I wish I’d graduated from college at 22, then traveled and done crazy things for the next few years so that by now I’d be ready to settle. I did not enjoy improv like I think I would have if I’d pursued it a few years earlier than now. Maybe it is time to accept that I never pursued acting, let go of that dream, and begin my writing journey. I’ve already reached the foothills anyway, by blogging and practicing when I can. Relationships, not work, are what make life worth living, though, and sometimes I don’t care what I do for a loving as long as I enjoy it a little.

Another nagging problem is the feeling that I’ve dried up and lost my fire. I am afraid I’ve been acting 40. I am not 40 yet. I am 28. Since the meaning of being 28 varies from person to person, I will say that or me, since I am a late bloomer, it means being a baby girl 28-year-old and everything is new. And that is the mindset I want to have when Christmas break is over and I go back to Chicago on Sunday.

Catching you up with my life

I spent the first two weeks of my life in Chicago grieving and fretting.  Moving here meant closing a chapter of my life, and I kept getting weepy at the thought of what I was leaving behind.  There would be no more coffee with my mom in the mornings, no more beer with my dad at night, no more bird-watching with Cleo by the window facing the pond…etc  

I found myself crying over the distant past.  At the train station I saw a little girl who looked like my little sister at that age and I burst into tears.  

I obsessed about how everyone is aging and how sooner or later everyone will die.  I texted my sister, referring to my parents:  “I don’t like the thought of going back home and them getting older and dying.”  

I was flooded with regret over how I spent my twenties; it wasn’t “the time of my life” as a guy I worked with said about his twenties.  Mine was more a period of confusion, introspection, withdrawal, and fear.  

I was feeling guilty about living in an expensive city when I have debts to pay.  Because of what I perceived as an abnormal amount of guilt, anxiety, regret and grief I concluded that I’d gotten in over my head by moving here alone.  So, after only one week of being here I hopped on a train to go home.

Almost.  An event occurred that my mom described as God making the decision for me; twenty minutes before I was supposed to board the train the temp service called saying that the position I wanted, which was the same position I’d had in Grand Rapids, had opened up and that I was to start the next day.

Still, I went home that Saturday night to sort through my feelings.  I made a bed for myself on the couch and Cleo hopped up and lay down next to me and stayed there the whole night.  I spent the next two days crying, processing, and undecided on whether to stay in Chicago or go home.  

On Sunday morning I decided to stay home.  I woke up feeling nauseous.l  My mom made coffee and I sat there with her.  I started crying and told her I was coming home.  I immediately felt better, and later in the afternoon I was still confident with my decision.  I watched the Lions game with my dad and brother and the Lions beat the Bears.  I took that as confirmation, and as I sipped my patriotic blue beer I contentedly resigned myself to more Sunday afternoons just like this.

By evening, though, indecision crept back in.  I grappled with whether I should get on the bus in the morning to a life of improv, Bears games, and adventure, or stay at home in Michigan and embrace what I had there.  I went to my grandma’s and cried on her shoulder.  “I don’t know what to do.”  I wept.  “I know, it’s hard.”  We went back to her room and lay on her bed with her dog Raven and talked.  I told her I felt too old to be following the Chicago dream and felt regretful and worried about money.  She told me to stop worrying about money and start worrying about my heart and soul.  Raven hopped onto my chest.  She looked at me sympathetically and licked my face.

So, in an effort to take care of my heart and soul, I’ve been praying and reading devotions and listening to spoken word poetry.  I have been trying to make meaning out of (and feel at peace with)  the four years I’ve spent as a sort of hermit and the bleak years before that, beginning at 16, when I was socially anxious and withdrawn and Eeyore-like a lot of the time.  And, as if the colossal weight of all of these realities weren’t enough, I sat there struggling to accept that I made the choice to be withdrawn and was now living with the consequence of that choice: I’d robbed myself of a normal young adult life.

If I’d chosen to participate beginning at 16 and through my early twenties, I could have had a life like my little sister, who was always going out and doing things with friends, who eagerly moved out at 18 and spent the next several years living a fun twenty-something’s life; she dated and fell in love with her now boyfriend, and they have friends of their own age who they get together with regularly, drinking beer on porches and having Breaking Bad marathons.  Or I could have been like a friend of mine who cherishes her nostalgic college years.  She lived on campus and had the normal, fun college experience of roommates, campus events, and clubs.  After college she did what I thought of doing as a 20-year-old:  She’d work for several months to a year and travel.  Then she’d come back and work some more and travel again.

Now that I am spreading my wings in Chicago, I fighting the urge to compare myself to the despairing Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption when he gets out of prison.  After getting a little taste of the freedom he’d missed out on during his 30 year sentence, the pain is too much to bear and he hangs himself. 

I don’t plan on hanging myself, but I need to wrap my mind around this in a healthy way.  I need to create a story that I’m at peace with.  I think I will feel the best if I go with the story of being a late bloomer.  I was content to live at home until 28, when I finally spread my wings to fly.  

I keep asking myself, too, if I’m too serious and prone to melancholy to do improv.  Maybe I have the sensitivity of an artist, not the lightheartedness of a comedian.  That’s why I told my friend Tara Sunday, when she texted me a picture of a cake she’d proudly decorated, that I think I will learn from the improv class that comedy acting is an old childish dream so I’m just going to let go and enjoy the experience and see what I can learn from it.

Now I have been in Chicago a month.  The grieving has stopped, I’m only fretting a little, and I had my orientation at Second City Sunday morning, where I listened to the director of the improv program explain that improv isn’t all about being funny.  It’s about learning how to play again.  (When he said that, I thought about how I’d been getting down about feeling old.)  He went on to say that improv is about getting out of your head and getting in touch with your feelings and humanity, and I thought about what my grandma said.  “You need to start taking care of your heart and soul.”  I also thought of how in seventh grade I developed a fear of public speaking.  How I withdrew and never quite came back out.    He said it’s about connecting with other people, and I thought about how socially anxious I’ve been for all of these years.  Maybe my mom was right; maybe the phone call at the train station was God making the decision for me, because he knew better than I did how good it would be for me to stay.

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