And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around


Just can’t shake it

Travel is exhausting. Airports are stressful. Customs officers are rude. New places take energy to navigate, and hot climes wear me down. It’s easy to get burned out.

I hadn’t traveled solo since I studied abroad in Europe seven (God. Seven??) years ago, so I had to reacclimate. Belize was a great choice- the official language is English, the busses are plentiful and easy to use, and the people are friendly and helpful.

Still, after a week of sweaty hostel beds, sunburns, salt water showers, lonely stints, and paying for toilets, water bottle refills, I start to fantasize about my own bed, cooking my own meals, calling up my own friends.

So by the time I arrived in Chicago, I was ready to get home, wash the rank laundry in my bag, buy groceries, organize..

And yet. After a good shower, a good sleep, and good coffee at my cousin’s, I went to catch the El train to the Greyhound station, and as I stood in the gloomy air, staring down the infinity of the rail tracks and the rising buildings, I was ready to go again.

For a few seconds, I said, “Why not?” Chicago has museums to explore, chilly parks with tiny leaf buds on the trees, streets I haven’t walked down yet, bookstores I haven’t plundered yet. Why not? I thought.

But of course I dutifully continued to my Greyhound bus, plotting and scheming future uncomfortable, stressful, addictive journeys all the way home.


Find your state park: Solo adventures in Palisades-Kepler

In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t worked at a regular, full-time office job for very long, so the concept of getting paid holidays like President’s Day off is still a novelty. I decided to use my unplanned-for day off for a staycation, and finally explored the nearby Palisades-Kepler State Park.

It was an overcast, drizzly day, and I had the park nearly all to myself.


*hums “Into the Woods”*

It’s funny, I used to explore the outdoors alone all the time. After you fall out of the habit, though, and are constantly amusing yourself with your phone, your books, your friends, your stuff, your local restaurants and bars, your Netflix, your to-do list, your craft projects, you view an unstructured, unplugged chunk of time in the outdoors as a bit daunting.

“But what will I do?” you ask yourself. “I’ll get bored of walking around for an hour, probably.”

Then you drive far enough that your phone signals weakens and dies, you step out of the car, zip up your rain jacket, and you fall back into yourself. You listen to the geese. You admire the bluffs and the leafless trees. You climb a large, fallen tree. You get to a point where you can’t comfortably turn around to go back down, so you sit and pretend to admire the scenery until the dude walking his dog gets out of view, then you can butt-scoot down past the knot until you can stand and balance-beam-walk back down to the sandy shore.


Obligatory, stuck-on-a-tree-limb selfie

Palisades rewards curiosity. The narrow dirt paths wind past green, mossy boulders and meld into stone steps, taking you up a hill to a river overlook, or down along a root-twisted path right above the river’s edge.

The park is a good example of nature and human-made structures working in harmony. The steps leading up the steep hills seem as natural as the bluffs beside them, and pretty stone or wood bridges guide hikers over ravines. I have to wonder if this park was the work of the CCC (The Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the best things to come out of the New Deal during the Great Depression), if these sturdy bridges and scenic limestone shelters have stood since the 1930s.

It rained off and on during my visit. As the rain went from a light patter to a heavy downpour, I sought shelter in the shelter pictured above. And yes, it did smell like piss and was heavily graffitied, marked with deep grooves in the woods and the stone, marked with Sharpie art and scribbled pencil. Please enjoy this photo collection of some of the shelter’s graffiti highlights:

You could tell by the graffiti the nighttime use this spot gets. A lover’s nest, a Wiccan ritual site (it’s hard to see on my photo of the compass etching, but some teen witches had attempted to turn it into a pentacle/magic circle, with the words “Love”, “Peace”, “Goddess”, and “Integrity” written between each of the four directions), a stone sketchbook for erotic fairy art, a Stoner Palace, a corner to piss in, a scenic outlook…the choice is yours!

As the rain died down, I was able to wander once more, contented wind down trails and slowly find my way back to my car, getting lost several times along the way. It turns out getting lost in a state park is a perfect way to spend a holiday afternoon.

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Friendship Break-Ups

About a year and a half ago, my housemate and one of my closest friends abruptly moved out and stopped talking to me. I’d confronted her about something trivial the night before, something that I figured we could be angry about for a while, and then chat it out when we’d had some time and space. But the next morning, she refused to talk about it and moved out, and as much as I tried to repair things, she had no interest in doing so.

It hurt like a romantic relationship breakup. The problem was, nobody ever talks about friendship break-ups. Friendships are often put on the back burner for romantic relationships in our society – how many media portrayals put a higher emphasis on romantic relationships over platonic ones? Friends are often seen as the emotional fall-backs after a romantic relationship ends. Did your boyfriend dump you? Fuck him, it’s time to rally with your friends and emphasize “me time”…until you find someone betterNot much attention is paid to friendships that end in painful ways. We don’t have a universal term for a former friend; “ex-friend” sounds clunky, despite “ex-girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/partner” being the norm. Popular artists don’t typically write songs about losing friends.

I suppose in a way this makes sense. Most friendships end by a slow separation, a mutual drifting apart. In a lot of ways, it’s a kind death, like the friendship got to grow old and gray, live a full life, and then died in its sleep.

A friendship that ends abruptly feels more like a “missing-presumed-dead” situation. There’s no closure, no satisfying explanation.

So what do you do when a friendship that involved years of hilarious exploits, drunken capers; weekend Netflix binge parties; spontaneous road trips; conversations that had you both laughing until your stomachs ached; tearful confessions and comforting hugs comes to a screeching halt?

You do what you do with any other breakup – you rally with your other friends and you try to sort it out. At first, I was worried that my friends wouldn’t understand why I felt so awful. It’s not as if we were dating, after all! But the more I opened up about it, I discovered that nearly all of my friends had a similar story. For many, there was that one person, that friend they clicked with, then it all fell apart, and it ended abruptly, or with hostility.

I’m glad to know I’m not alone, but I’m still frustrated that there’s so little public commiseration to be had. How do I make a mix of sad break-up songs for a friendship? Which movie do I watch that portrays the aftermath of a broken friendship? I think it’s some combination of this dearth of cultural reference and lack of closure that keeps me thinking about this lost friendship a year and a half later. My many questions -How could I have fixed it? What was going on in my friend’s head when this happened? What was the exact breaking point that made her decide that our years of friendship weren’t worth fighting for? – will never be answered.

So the most I can do, the most any of us can do, is to remember the fun times fondly, cherish the friends that we have, and try to wish that ex-friend (past friend? former friend? one-upon-a-time friend?) well.



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Tuning In

It happens to all of us. We live on our phones for the day, pocketing them to grab cans off the shelf or put a load of laundry in, then pulling the phone out again, mindlessly opening and closing and re-opening Instagram or Twitter. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m trying to write more often (NaNoWriMo is right around the corner!!), or maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about how to live intentionally, but today I found myself tuning in to life more.

At the grocery store, I paid attention to my grocery clerk’s hands as he rang up my purchases. He had the most fascinating, agile hands, hands I would like to draw. They were long and slender, slightly knobby, and they’d deftly spin a can through the scanner or toss an apple up and roll it into the bag, a subtle dance. And I would have missed it if I had been looking at my phone or spacing off.

I took a walk in Hickory Hill Park after I got home, admiring the leaves. I had thought they were at their peak a few weeks ago, but I was dead wrong. This afternoon they were a raucous, joyful display, oranges and reds against the blue sky- my very favorite sight of fall.

I took out my headphones as I entered the forested area, tuning in to the sound of leaves and insects. In the woods at this time of year, it’s impossible for the forest animals to walk with stealth. Squirrels might as well be elephants for all the rustling and crackling they make as they skip through the leaves and skitter up trees. Deer, however carefully and slowly they tread, make a steady shuffing noise, white tails up and flicking.

I pass a woman on a bench, and a toddler, who is all blue sky eyes and autumn leaf red hair. He is learning that if he waves, then he can make this stranger wave back. He is discovering his power over the creatures around him, and he is all smiles.

I am all smiles as I walk home, too. I have observed things, and I have things to write about. What a thing to remember- that those little moments are always there, if I just tune in and look.

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Float On: 5 Exercises to Get Your Imagination in Gear

Fall is my creative season. The back-to-school mentality is so deeply ingrained that even now, after I’ve been out of school for years, I still get revved up for new projects and creative endeavors. Even so, I often lament how hard it is to do what came so easily when I was a kid, or even a teenager – let my imagination loose and just go with it. I am so distracted with my newsfeeds and emails and texts that I hardly get an uninterrupted moment to just…float.

They say boredom is good for creativity, so I’ve been trying to work on carving out a little time each day to drift off and see what my mind comes up with. Here are some things that I’ve done that have helped me feel like a kid again, bringing back that enthusiasm that reminds me why I want to write, why I want to draw, why I want to make stories. I’m curious about what else helps people “untether” their brain for a bit and float into a narrative or a character or a mood…

  1. Walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood nearby – and leave your phone at home. What catches your eye? What odd thing do you notice? What kind of people live in that little house that you’ve never noticed before? What about in that house with the crazy cow skull hanging on the front porch, surrounded by neon lights? (True story. Love you, Davenport Street. ❤ )
  2. Listen to music without lyrics. I’ve long been a film soundtrack junkie, and sometimes it’s even better if I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t associate the music with any existing narrative or moment. I’m so used to multitasking that it’s refreshing to drop everything (and yes, shoving my phone in a drawer), busting out my old school iPod, and listening to music with no distractions. Ideas may float in or out, or maybe it just sets me into a mood. I’ve noticed that the desire to be creative and make stuff seems to naturally return to me when I play more music and watch less tv. Maybe that’ll be my mantra. More music, less TV.
  3. Rewrite a fairy tale. If you thumb through a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a lot of the stories are pretty sparse, or have weird moments of dark humor (or just darkness in general) that you might have missed as a kid. Take one that intrigues you and run with it. Change the setting, tell it from a new point of view, or fix that ending you hate. It can be a short exercise, or who knows, maybe you can spin it into a novel. Those fairy tale rewrites are all the rage these days.
  4. Open a dictionary. Get a dictionary, open it to a random page, and then try to write a story with as many words from that page as possible. You might set a timer for 15-30 minutes, or you might just go as long as you can.
  5. Study some art. Go to a bookshop or library and dig into some art that intrigues you. A nearby art museum can also be great for a morning or afternoon of inspiration- just make sure to bring your notebook! You can even make a challenge for yourself and do some timed free writing about a specific piece.

I know these are sort of generic- I keep being reminded that I am the most creative when I:

  • Free myself from distraction. (For me, that’s turning off my phone and my internet. Arg, so hard!)
  • Make the time to write down ideas when they come to me. Ideas will always come at the most inconvenient time possible. It’s Creative Law. So, barring any safety concerns, I am trying to get better at taking the five minutes and jotting it down, then sitting down later and sifting through my notes so I can expand the ones with potential.
  • Stop making excuses and put pen to paper. When I was younger and in school, I had so much structure to be creative in. There was always work to put off- characters to draw in the margins of my notes, stories to dream up as I avoided homework. Now that I’m adulting, I come home from work and have the afternoon in front of me to do whatever I please. It takes a lot of discipline to park my butt in the chair and write. I wish I could say I did it habitually every day, but…I’m still working on it.

Good luck on your writing and other creative endeavors. This is the season for dreaming…so float on, friends.

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It Has a Vibe to It

This past weekend, I was in California visiting my brother. He waxed nostalgic about my current home, Iowa City, where he spent a chunk of his twenties. It was a different world a decade ago, when bars and bowling alleys were full of cigarette (and pot) smoke, and the now-upscale, Prohibition style whiskey bar was a seedy dive called One Eyed Jake’s.

“I love Iowa City,” my brother said. “That place has a vibe to it. You really only appreciate that when you move to other places and realize that not everywhere has a vibe.”

He’s right. So many places fall prey to sameness, not only from the prefab houses neatly spiraling into cul-de-sacs or the rows of chain stores, but because the people seem to settle into homogeneous pockets of predictable culture.

At work this week, I griped about the commute to Cedar Rapids, a short but congested drive that adds a stressful hour to my day. “I should just move to Cedar Rapids,” I grumbled. It’s an attractive notion, especially when stuck in bumper to bumper traffic because of a fender bender eight miles ahead. My drive would be shorter, I could actually afford a place of my own (unheard-of in Iowa City, where rent prices have hiked up thanks to corrupt housing companies and wealthy university students), and I would be more keyed in with the community, instead of straddling the line between two different towns.

But this evening, on such a cool, perfect fall night, all dimming blue skies and a nearly full moon and illuminated porches, moving is unthinkable. I walk down my street, past a large brown dog and its owner, who greets me with, “We never get anywhere quickly.”

“So many smells!” I say, more to the dog than to her.

I walk down the brick-paved Linn Street and bump into a friend outside of High Ground. She pulls me in to meet her friend, who read my cartoon in Little Village Mag, the local free alternative publication in town. I say a quick hello, but then I am dashing off to meet my date at Bread Garden, past a man playing on the public piano, who is singing something about how “two pretty girls walked by and didn’t even notice.” If I am one of the pretty girls he is singing about (It sounds like an impromptu lyric), I am too quickly walking to acknowledge that I noticed, already running late. I wish I could stop and smell all the smells, like that brown dog with nowhere to go.

My date and I have dessert and wine on the patio that is somewhere between inside and outside, children shrieking on the playground past us. We look at strange CD cover art in the library. We plan to meet at the farmer’s market next – my favorite way to spend a free Saturday morning in Iowa City.

I walk home in the cool dark. The buildings are taller and cleaner than when my brother walked these streets, but the porches still have worn-out couches and tables littered with cigarette butts and beer cans. I watch employees close shop in Bluebird Cafe, I walk past the bandanna-wearing chef having a cigarette on the bench by Riverside Theatre, I pass porches illuminated in twinkly lights. It is sometimes inconvenient to live somewhere with character, just like my drafty old house, but I need to remember that living in a place with a “vibe” is nothing to take for granted.