your final fix

There is something about me that makes men want to dig up my bones long after they have buried me. It has always been this way. Sooner or later, whatever the circumstance of the breakup, they come find me. An unbroken track record, as I tell my friends. See? I fucking told you. All of them. Every last one, without fail. My friends listen with careful neutrality. They don't want to get roped back in, either. 

It's taken as little as a month and as long as three years. Eventually they come find me, for one reason or another. Rarely do they want a relationship revividus. They're just looking to fill whatever hole has opened up within them, in that moment of their lives. The guilt-laden want absolution. The players want more play. The covert narcissists want a hit of supply. The good guys want their good guy cards stamped and renewed. 

Never is it to offer me anything that I might want or need. Maybe it's not really about me after all.

---

On a frigid bank holiday in January, because I have promised myself an adventure, I walk the hallowed grounds of Chicago's most famous cemetery. Later, I'm going to get a hot dog, at another landmark destination. I am a tourist in my own town, with a two-item itinerary. Look out, Chicago. 

Graceland is gloriously empty this winter's day. No doubt in spring the verdant hills and birdsong make it parklike and lush. And fall will be sight to behold, when trees drop shimmering leaves that bedazzle the impassive grey tombstones. But it's a graveyard. Spare, cold, and bleak only enhance the effect.

There is no noise other than the regular rumbling of the train a few blocks over. No other visitors besides one solitary, puffing jogger. Headstones, obelisks, and sarcophagi stretch as far as I can see, across gently sloping land where patches of grass break up the snow. I'm looking for the bridge I saw on the cemetery's website. I'm also listening to a self-guided tour, which turns out to be less a comprehensive deep dive and more a series of quick dips. Thirty seconds about this baron. Forty seconds about that magnate. Chicago's legendary captains of industry. In case you forgot who had money and power, kindly direct your gaze to the towering pillared pavilion on your left. Potter Palmer and wife Bertha (nee Honore), at your service.

I turn off the audio tour. I'd rather hear stories about the everyday folk anyway. The ones whose graves are marked with modest slabs of quartz, some inlaid flat into the ground. In winter, they disappear under a blanket of white. I bet they like that seasonal break from public view. I bet they worked damn hard in life, and haven't much use for the likes of my curious eyes. When people ask me what dead person I'd most like to meet, I always say my great-great-great-great grandmother. Wouldn't that be a dose of eye-widening perspective.

Their names delight. Wendell. Esther. Horace. Atticus. Expectant mothers could get the jump on the next baby name trend, they're all right here for the taking. I wonder how many Mabels this Mabel went to school with. If she even did. Mabel would probably scoff at my problems. Mabel probably had to heat water up on the stove, itself a modern luxury. I tell myself that any one of the souls buried here would trade places with me in a minute, just for the treasure of another single day of life. But would they? 

---

I pass a headstone engraved with a list of five Johns. John the Fifth sleeps forever beneath a Celtic cross close to the road. The indignity of being a fifth already stings, and here he is with this terrible real estate on top of it. A row of headstones crumbles besides. How can they be crumbling? They're just a couple hundred years old at most. What must it take to wear down a gravestone? 

You can live all your life in the same house, but your bones will still spend longer in a cemetery. How long do you have to be somewhere before you can call it home? How long do bones have to rest before you shouldn't disturb them anymore?

---

Imagination seizes. I picture every single previously living person suddenly sitting atop their grave. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Men in black flannel waistcoats and pressed wool trousers, doffing their derby hats at women in sweeping brocade dresses, who discreetly check their hair pins after so long a sleep. They make no sound. Some look around, taking in their surroundings. Others look down at their bodies, getting oriented to their post-corporeal forms. A sea of ghosts from another era. Can you see them? Can you see the twisted ends of the men's mustaches, and the pointed toes of the women's buckled shoes? Each of them is the age they were when they died--when they left their loved ones behind. 

I will remember you how I last saw you, for better or for worse. How will you remember me?

On the steps of a shed-sized mausoleum, one natty phantom leans against the stately columns of his eternal home. Chin high and proud as a peacock, he observes the scene. He holds a top hat: rich black silk signaling all that he was and all that he had. But my hand would pass through him just as easily as it would his poorer counterparts, if I dared. Not that I would dare.

I'm less afraid of MacDougal. Lanky, soigne, with a lopsided smile and posture to match. His legs are crossed in studied insouciance and a shock of blond hair needs the constant attention of his fingers to rake it back. His top coat is perfectly cut to his figure, but ripped across the chest. Something about the rip--and about him generally--suggests last minute foul play. A bar tussle. Some lady's honor on the line. Or maybe he was just drunk. 

MacDougal watches me from one of the more interesting graves in this place. A bench with a semi-circle structure behind it. Four slender, grooved columns support a curved mantel that bears his name. He's watching me from the bench where he sits, suppressing a smile, clearly amused by something. His grave seems to have been designed with this exact moment in mind. A throne from which to watch passerby, forever and ever. And here he is watching me.

He can't speak--none of them can--but he nods at something behind me. 

What? What is he looking--oh. I turn and see that the portable phone charger I have brought from home is being dragged through the snow, still plugged into the phone that, thankfully, is safe and dry in my pocket. Six feet of cord extend from my coat to the small black device, which trails behind me like a dog on a leash. Ruined, I assume, but when I pull it out of the snow I see the indicator light still glowing green. When I turn back to MacDougal, ready to face his mockery, he has vanished. They all have. It's just me again, in this quiet expanse of cold stone and bare trees. 

Later at home, I'll find that to my amazement both the charger and cord have survived the mishap. I wonder if MacDougal had something to do with it.

----

Ellie, I'm sorry for everything. Are you in Michigan? I'm moving to Ohio. Please text me.

Here we go again, I think. I've woken up to yet another shovel slamming into the frozen earth above me. Trying to get at my bones. Trying to exhume what has been laying peacefully. 

I stare at my phone, unmoved. There is no sense of vindication, or validation. I had to validate myself, after months of silence told me I had no choice. I waited and waited and was left to wonder for an entire year. An entire year, it took me to move on. But I did. As explicitly instructed to, by him

Setting my phone aside, I slip back into dreams. 

---

I find the bridge. It crosses the stream that runs the grounds and connects to a tiny island where a handful of plots are marked by simple, rough-hewn boulders. The stream is frozen, and I resist the urge to drop a rock and see just how frozen. Instead I cross the bridge and walk the perimeter of the island. This is where I'd want to be buried. I bet ducks call this home in warmer months. I wouldn't mind ducks waddling over my grave. We all have to live somewhere.

My destination found, I am free to go get a hot dog. I have successfully completed Graceland Cemetery. I am happy with what I have gotten out of it. I am happy with what I am leaving in it. 

---

Time was, I ached for one more day with him, to get my questions answered and bewildered heart calmed. What the fuck just happened? How are you gone so fast, and ignoring me? What did I do? Why won't you answer me? Is this a punishment? Did you not feel the same? Did I dream this whole thing? Are you coming back when you get better? 

Now, though, enough snow has fallen on that grave. Several seasons of it, in fact. I can't really hear what's going on up there, and I don't care to know. I'm safe and warm down here where I am. Mabel just put water on to boil. She's been saving some cocoa for a special occasion, and we both have the day off.

My bones are fine, right where they are. 










winter nest

Thoughts of him

are a nest I can build in secret. 

Twigs and string and downy feathers plucked from a winter coat.

High, high up. High-altitude hopes leave you little extra breath.

Still: enough to laugh.


I only allow myself night visits.

I climb up, up, up close to the disinterested stars that won't betray me.

Have to be careful. He could find it, easily. Child's play to him, such sleuthing. 


Thoughts of him

are a nest I can sleep in at night.

Curled up tight, I'll fold my wings around the glow of a smile

that is a new source of warmth in this frozen wonderland.


The branches are bare except for this nest.

(Deciduous: it's all they sell around here.)

If I can just ride out the winter, come spring the buds and blooms will camouflage me


as, maybe, I bloom along with them.

prelude to chaos

It has been a fantastic week. I was off Monday for the holiday, so I went sightseeing. Got my feet wet with the train and headed up to Wrigleyville and a bit beyond, to check out Graceland Cemetary. What an incredible place. I’m going to make it a point to visit in all four seasons. 

Tuesday and Wednesday, our company DIT was in town from California to work with me on the AV, the locks and electrical systems, and to show me some basic server-related tasks I might need to do. He’s a great teacher, patient but with a quick laugh. The kind of person whose default setting is amusement. In fact he was making fun of me within five minutes, when I got tripped up something small right off the bat–something he knew I could do (which is why it was okay to laugh at me). No malice, just good-natured teasing. That’s actually an excellent way for me to learn: being teased. Because it gives me permission to laugh at myself, too. Then all the anxiety about not understanding something evaporates, and you’re just a human being learning something new, in a relaxed and positive environment. 

It was good to spend time with someone from my company who is not my direct supervisor. (I’m always scared of my bosses until I really get to know them.)  We clicked right away. Dropped our professional guards and connected about non-work stuff, and now I feel like I have an ally. Super down to earth, been with the company from the start, had lots of insight and perspective that helped me click pieces into place that are hard to click when you work totally solo for a month+ at a time. And not to drag anyone from my former job, but oh my god. Working alongside someone smart, resourceful, and actually invested in their career? Such a 180 from where I was at. I asked him about a million questions, felt stupid about exactly zero of them. He even gave me his cell in case I have an emergency and he’s off Slack. Working with him instantly became a selling point to me, for our company. Not that I needed one, but still.

Anyway, I practiced things until I could do them myself, and it paid off. Today the client surprised me by saying they wanted to use some of the equipment I hadn’t been expecting them to need for a few weeks. But I showed them how, walking them through it ahead of time so there’d be no issues when they went live with a 200+ person all-hands company call. And everything worked, which was a massive victory for me. Even better: when the meeting started and they couldn’t get the audio to work, I figured out the problem. I actually figured out an audio problem. Sure sex is great, but have you ever shocked yourself by resolving an AV issue on your own, after decades of being wary of anything more advanced than an iPod?

I bragged about my win on Slack and the best part was getting the kudos and heart emoji from my DIT. Because he was here with me for two days. He met and trained technophobe Ellie. He knows what it means to me, that I succeeded today.

Bonus: I helped two other people with printer issues, so now the client thinks I am at least competent with IT stuff. 

If I’m not careful, I’ll start to believe it, too. 

Only one department from the client’s company is in the space so far, other than some of the leadership coming through now and again. But it’s giving me a sense of what my job will be like. And I’m starting to get really excited. 

The energy of finally having people here is so great. The individual personalities, learning their names, seeing them regularly. It’s all the things I loved about working in restaurants, with none of the stuff I didn’t. It doesn’t hurt that the client is rated one of the best companies to work for in Chicago, with tons of recognition (internationally, even) and growing exponentially. The employees are energized and very happy, and it’s infectious. I get to welcome everyone when they come in, and see them seeing their beautiful new workplace for the first time. I get to give them a tour of all the awesomeness, the incredible amenities and beautiful decor. Then, the best part: I get to show them to the bank of offices their particular department is at, with the street views and beautiful windows, where they’ll get to choose their own office from what’s left in that bank. 

I always end the tour at this part, saying, “And I’ll show you where your team is at…” Then when we walk up, their coworkers invariably raise a welcome cry in greeting, and it’s just the best thing ever. I ask if they need anything (the answer is always no, until they remember something they forgot, like a pen), then I smile, bow out, and leave them to their work. 

Granted we’re talking 8-10 people so far. By the time it gets up to capacity at 200 I might be singing a slightly different tune, lol. So far, though, this is pretty great. 

Edit: literally seconds after I closed that last sentence an email came in: another 70 employees are set to start working at the space Monday. Seventy, in one day. And it’ll be just me bringing them up, distributing fobs, answering questions, and getting them settled in. Here we goooooo.

PPRL: The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

I was a third of the way through The Nickel Boys before I learned that it's the follow up to Whitehead's 2017 Pulitzer winner, The Underground Railroad. But by that time I was committed, and really didn't want to revisit where I'd already been. This one is tough. Reform school for boys, Florida, 1960s. Beatings, rape, racism. It's a tough read, but it goes fast, and not just because it's short. You really can't put it down after the first major plot twist, which sees a studious, rule-following boy finding his life--and plans for life--turned upside down when he has the bad luck to hitchhike in a stolen car. By the time you realize that no, Elwood is not going to get rescued from this tragic mistake, you are deep into a world of boys whose characterizations are bright, clear, delightful, and heartbreaking. Every sentence of this novel is packed with storyline, with tension or backstory or foreshadowing. And buckle in for the final plot twist. So good. And being that it's based on a true story, it's one you really should put yourself through. Everyone should know, and everyone should feel what those boys went through

Amazingness:

"laboratory of vice"

"a cherished grudge"

"The day was thin, winter coming down like the lid on an old pot"

"After the judge ordered him to Nickel, Elwood had three last nights at home. The state car arrived at seven o'clock Tuesday morning. The officer of the court was a good old boy with a meaty backwoods beard and a hungover wobble to his step. He'd outgrown his shirt and the pressure agains the buttons made him look upholstered. But he was a white man with a pistole so despite his dishevelment he sent a vibration."

"Even the roaches were of a noble sort, scurrying when he turned on the bathroom light instead of ignoring his presence. He took their modesty as touch of class."

Words!

palimpsest: a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain

or

something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface

up in space

Everything I need to know about acceptance I learned from an ODESZA song. It's just one minute of dialogue, sampled from a movie called Another Earth, and it leads into thirty seconds of some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. ODESZA are geniuses, and I cannot wait for this year's release. 

Intro is about a cosmonaut who can't find the source of an annoying ticking coming from somewhere in his space ship, so he realizes the only thing he can do to save his sanity is to fall in love with the sound: 

 

Think about that. That's everything right there. If you find yourself in circumstances you can't control or change, you have to find acceptance. We know that. But if you can actually fall in love with a situation beyond your control? What kind of superhero are you then? 

I think about this a lot. I don't know that I have an example from my own life. Nothing intolerable has been thrust upon me, unless you count losing my entire family of origin over the span of six years. I guess that's pretty rough. And I guess there's an argument to be made that I fell in love with that sound. 

Every so often I feel a little sorry for myself that I don't have any family members around to lean on. But that's a false narrative. None of them were around when they were around. And I rarely talk about this because it makes people uncomfortable, but having no family left is an intoxicating freedom. A huge source of worry, stress, and what ultimately would have become my responsibility just vanished. No aging parents or unstable brother to look after. No one checking up on me, making sure I'm doing okay...so that they'll be okay, too. I chose to fall in love with the sound of my independence.

---

Some people like to say that perception is reality. I think about that a lot, too. It defies reason. There has to be an objective truth, when you're talking about shared experience. I believe that. But shared experience is just one part of life. Everything else is within you. And there is so, so much there, inside of you. 

We have so much more power to craft our realities than I think we give ourselves credit for. We hand over so much of that power to external influences. Every single thing we let in--every sight, sound, story, screen, source of stimulation--creates our reality. Our vision and experience of the world. People forget how much control they have over all of that. You don't have to listen to or look at anything you don't want to. And the more you step away from every signal constantly coming at you, the more you get quiet and consider how these signals are affecting you, the better you get at creating the boundaries that will define your reality.

It's your choice to perceive something as necessary and important. As normal and healthy--or not. I'm thinking about this a lot in my latest attempt to remove social media from my life. There is this voice in the back of my mind that likes to tell me I'm weird for ditching Instagram and Twitter off of my phone. And there's been a sense of withdrawal for sure. But I'm pushing through it, because the more that other things fill that space, the more a sense of contentment spreads. I'm listening to my gut on this, but it takes work. It's a fight. I have to fight a worldwide wave of entrenched popular opinion and belief to say, "No, wait. That is not normal. That is not healthy. Normal and healthy are having mental downtime, all throughout the day. Normal and healthy is not hitting a crack pipe of dopamine all day, because I have .002 seconds worth of boredom."

Something everyone should ask themselves: what if the noise of social media suddenly disappeared? What if there were no Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat? Could you fall in love with the sound of that silence--or would it be intolerable? 

We are all cosmonauts up in the space of our minds. When confronted with the vastness of what is there--and what is unavoidable when all the noise is removed--we should be ready to listen, and greet it with love.

PPRL: The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich

A beautiful and vibrant book that swept me away like a current with its effortless, beguiling prose. Sentences that make you shake your head in amazement. A novel for writers and would-be’s, for sure. And such a delightfully complex heroine: smart, grateful, fierce. Contradictory and forgivably flawed. So many wonderfully colorful characters and scenes, some painfully so. Notably: Erdrich conveys the horror and heartbreak of rape without ever using the word “rape”. Really masterful stuff here. My favorite things about it (other than the incredible waterjack storyline) is the sense of kinship and cooperation in the Turtle Mountain culture, community, and families that flows so beautifully throughout. It’s all so comforting and inviting; I felt like I was there, and I didn’t want to leave. Oh, and there’s an entire chapter written from the perspective of two horses who run off from a parade and mate in the woods – and it is amazing. 

Thoughts for discussion:

Inherited, shared knowledge and the passing down of traditions between generations. How even the goings-on of individuals (a coworkers getting her tonsils out, Gerard’s vision of Vera) is known by everyone, but not in a gossipy way. How does this sense of shared concern and purpose speak to the larger community’s values?

Recurring motifs. Water (wells that run pure and clean where Thomas and Patrice live, alcohol as “firewater”, the lake Patrice threw herself into to escape Bucky, bathing and swimming as purification etc). Clocks (Thomas’s punch cards, Patrice’s broken clock, the passage about time as  philosophical concept). Is time a commodity or a threat?

Barnes. What is his purpose in the story? Is the “white man foil” or is it more complicated than that? 

Sensory details. Erdrich describes things like food and clothing and the natural world with so much love and in such depth. You can truly taste, see, and feel flavors, sounds, and textures. 

The role of anger. Pixie’s “night bird” that disfigured Bucky. Her and her mother’s anger toward’s her father. Thomas finally allowing himself to feel the vastness of his resentment for the suffering of his people. 

Words!

muntin: a bar or rigid supporting strip betwen adjacent panes of glass

sinter: a hard, siliceous or calcerous deposit precipitated from mineral springs

cremello: a horse having a pale, cream-colored coat, light blue eyes, and pink skin

get the red out

The salon I have chosen for my first Chicago hair cut is four blocks from my apartment. It's on Dearborn, a street name that dings the little Midwestern memory bell in my head--the one that hasn't stopped ringing since I got here. My dad traveled to Dearborn, Michigan often for work. I grew up hearing the word without ever thinking how curious a compound it really is. Dearborn. A sobriquet for another time. 

It's on Dearborn, but in a direction I haven't walked yet on that particular street. I have so barely scratched the surface here. The first thing I notice is there's no doormat. Not in the tiny anteroom, nor at the salon's entrance. It's 9am and they've just opened. I'm the first appointment of the day, rescheduled by them last minute from a later slot. "Do you mind coming in earlier? We have a huge gap, it would really help us out." Of course I say yes, but I do so quelling a tinge of annoyance that I'll have to wake up early on my day off.

However, my days off are Saturday and Sunday, every single week. That is a triumph I can lean on, if I am a little sleepy.

I step into the space and lightly stamp my boots to shake off the snow. A man enters from the salon's back room and begins readying one of the stations for the day. He smiles my way, but remains quiet. I feel the need to say something. "There's no doormat!" I exclaim, trying to excuse the puddle of water I'm creating. He smiles bigger and walks toward me. He doesn't introduce himself, but it's clear from his dress and comportment that this is his salon. When he takes my coat I take in coffee-black eyes and a deep sense of mansuetude. A calmness that matches the empty salon and the blanketed sidewalks outside. 

"I'm not used to the snow," I continue, ridiculously. "I just moved here from LA." Where is this non-sequitur coming from? What am I doing?

"Ah," he says softly. "That explains it." Explains what? I suddenly feel sharply self-conscious in my hoodie and jeans. Have my clothes given me away? Is it that obvious I'm an invasive species?

Once situated in the seat furthest from the door, I announce I'm going to be his easiest client ever. While I enumerate my very short list of very basic desires, he gently plays with my hair. I want the same two things I ever want: cut what you have to so it's healthy and try to get the red out without darkening it. This second item is my long-running fantasy. I have been assured by anyone licensed to bear scissors that red is my destiny. Something about the undertones in my hair, I don't know. But I was born a redhead and I am doomed to die one, apparently. Ash-less to ash-less, dust to dust.

Mish (whose name I learn from the girl that steps in to apply my color) tells me he can get me to the cooler shade I want. "I'll use ash to tone down the red. We'll see how it comes out today, but within another visit or so you should be good." The assured way he says this gives me hope. Also: I'm on a program! A program to de-redify my hair! 

My color is applied by a girl whose expertly waved, cascading locks remind me how boring a client I must be. As she paints on chemicals that make my scalp itch furiously, I stare at her light blue Converse. She definitely changes shoes at work, like me. Her perfectly worn in sneakers are nowhere near as try hard as my squeaky new boots. I feel devastatingly uncool. 

Color girl and I talk about my recent move. She has a friend who just came back to Chicago from LA, and we compare notes. Her friend has told her that Los Angeles is nothing like it's portrayed in the movies. I confirm this, and many of her friend's other criticisms. Yes, it really is that dirty. Yes, it really is that crowded. Yes, it really is that hot. She wants to know if people in LA really are all narcissists. Here I tread lightly. "No..." I start without conviction. "But it's influencer central out there. And it's not a really good place to be, unless you have a lot of money. Or you're in the industry. But most people that think they're in the industry are just extras, or comedians, or, like, used up actors who eventually give up and get real jobs, but they stay because their friends are there. It's a weird place." She nods, absorbing. 

When I learn she has an hour commute I turn in the chair to face her. "You must love working here," I say, amazed. She laughs. Further to my amazement (and delight): she doesn't drive. It's an hour train ride. Public transportation in Chicago really is all that. Confirmed. I sit up straighter, gloating to myself. I knew it. I remember something Costa said about cheaper rents, further out from downtown. I wonder just how cheap it would be if I was willing to take on a twenty, thirty minute commute...

By the time I am handed back to Mish I have narrowed my Pinterest haircut selections down to one favorite. The model has fine reddish hair, like me. A side part, like me. Her hair dusts the tops of her shoulders, mostly one length, in a wave so slight it looks accidental. Bed head, but a really lucky bout of bed head. "Ignore her color," I say unnecessarily, "but the cut and style. That would work, right?" I peer up at the man I have already decided I will entrust my hair to, for however long I remain in Chicago. He's perfect. Relaxed, soft-spoken, a countervail to my awkward energy. Studying the picture, he asks several questions to further clarify exactly what I want. I appreciate and respect this thoroughness very much. Measure twice, cut once indeed.

And for the next thirty minutes I am treated to the gentlest hair cut and styling of my life. No one, not even my best friend, has even been so delicate with my (delicate) strands. Hair stylists have schedules to keep like everyone else; not their problem my fine hair will beak easily under their hurried combs.

But not Mish. Mish tenderly separates the tiniest sections of my hair, using his hands more than the rough bristled brush. I sit quietly and still as can be. Mish on the other hand grows talkative as he twists soft spirals in my hair. Telling me how much I'm going to love Chicago. Telling me to just wait until Spring. And then Summer. And oh, Fall. He looks at me in the mirror and makes promises of Chicago's beauty and wonder. And I believe all of them.

It feels less like a treatment than a ceremony. He is so exquisitely gentle I never once feel the tug of his brush on my scalp. And my hair, which has been drying this whole time in a victoriously cool shade of light brown, responds with shine and bounce. I am ecstatic. The woman in the mirror smiles back at me, from under her mask. She beams at the man whose dark eyes flash in mirth at her obvious delight. He told me he could get the red out. Did I not believe him?

I did, of course. Never doubted him. 

Paid up and with a pledge to return, I shimmy back into my coat. In my excitement, I forget to put my gloves on before getting outside. That's a big no no; the cold will lock into my fingers and not let go. But today I don't notice it. My squeaky new boots crunch the snow underneath and the wind whips delicious smelling hair all around my face. I'm buoyed by the successful new connection.

Life can change. One of my newest, most powerful mantras floats up, like a snowflake falling in reverse. Life can change. In with the new and out with the red--I mean old. 

holding pattern

The client pushed back their return to work another week. So instead of next Monday, we’re looking at the 24th. That means another week of quiet office sitting for me. A few people come in here and there, but there’s still very little to do. I collect packages, make coffee if anyone’s around, keep track of open projects for finishing the space up. Weekly calls with my boss and our VP; twice-monthly calls with the client’s team. And that’s about it. Next week our head IT guy is coming in from California to check things over and train me on the AV. I will be so relieved once I have all that down. Our space has an event arena set up for teleconferencing and presenting with large and partially remote audiences. It’s one of the best amenities, a huge sell for clients, and things have to run seamlessly when they want to use it. I’m not letting our IT guy go until I have done it myself repeatedly without any issues. 

My days will be unrecognizable from what they are now, in another few weeks when it starts filling up. And when the entire company is here and there are some 200+ people, I know I’ll be extremely busy and occasionally long for these do-nothing days. Yesterday I sat in one of the office window sills that looks out over the street and just watched people walking by. And that was to take a break from reading all day.  It’s almost comical how much my days have changed from those of frantic restaurant management. 

---

Edit: I started this post in the morning, but then I actually had things to do today! Very exciting. Turns out some of the client’s team is returning to work next week after all, so I finaaaallly had things to do to get ready for that. I’m getting super stoked at the thought of people finally being here, getting some energy going around here. I still have Monday off, though. 

---

It blows my mind how little I’ve worked over the past few months. My last company closed on October 17th. I had a couple of intense training days here that definitely felt like work, but other than that it will be three solid months of doing virtually nothing. That’s a quarter of a year. A couple of days ago on the call with my boss and VP, the VP reminded me that Monday is a company holiday, and that if the client needs me here, to make sure I take a different day off. Mind blowing. I told her I appreciate that, but I don’t mind coming in at all, and besides, I have my trip next month. 

Costa invited me skiing in Breckenridge, middle of February. His friend has a ski in-ski out timeshare right by one of the lifts that we’re going to use. Last year he went by himself during a time he and I weren’t really talking (friend fallout; they happen), but he knows I’m always super down for adventures so this year he asked me. I am out of my mind excited. It’s been a minute since I was on skis, but I grew up going often with my family (Breckenridge, Park City, Taos) and was fanatic about it in my 20s. Arizona skiing isn’t exactly world class, but holy shit it is fun. And warm. I even had my own boots for years, the coolest Rossignols ever. 

Naturally I bought myself a ski suit, because of course I would do that. It’s ridiculous. Ivory with a blue stripe going up and behind the legs and big blue stars at the calves. I can’t decide if I look like I’m sponsored by Nascar or NASA. El Armstrong. A splurge for sure but I figure this is gonna go one of two ways. Either I’m gonna fall right back into the joy of skiing and make that my new personality or it doesn’t go so hot and I can sell the suit. I scooped some goggles on clearance, some ivory gloves, and a blue argyle neck warmer. I might have gotten how to ski entirely and eat shit all day, but I’m going to look mad cute sitting in the snow. I’m sure I’ll reinstall Instagram for the trip and story it all. Costa is too much fun not to make the most of it. 

mornings

Mornings are easier than I expected. The first time I had to push off the comforter and leave the warmth of my bed, I braced myself for the miserable chill. But when my feet hit the floor, it wasn't that bad. My apartment sits on a stack of eleven others, and under another two. I like to think we're all keeping one another warm, like bricks walling off the wind.

I've placed two small personal heaters in strategic positions: on the kitchen and bathroom counters. I flip them on first thing, so in the morning when I'm fixing coffee, showering and dressing, those zones are nice and toasty. 

Getting ready is easy; it's getting ready to leave that's tricky. Multiple layers of clothing. At least one bag. Gloves, scarf and hat or bluetooth earmuffs. I change into regular shoes once I'm at work, but I need boots to trudge through the ice and snow. Laptop, glasses, book, lunch if I've made it. Mask. Two sets of keys. It's a whole production to get out the door, and I'm usually so overheated by the process that the blast of cold when I finally do is much welcomed.

I love my walk to work. One street over and five blocks down. As the crow flies it's twelve minutes. Or I can take a slightly longer path which is a little bit warmer, the sidewalks less icy. Taller buildings shielding morning commuters, all of us with our hands stuffed deep in our pockets.

I've learned to navigate by the tops of those tall buildings. GPS is not the way to get to know the city. Navigation gets turned around too easily, plus you're not familiarizing yourself with the surroundings when your head's down. The trick is to screenshot the directions, then follow them as if by a map. Find the streets. Then memorize their order. Or, look up at the high rises. Someday I'll learn their names but for now it's the blue one, the black one, the slanted one. They orient me like a compass.

The streets I cross are named after presidents and founding fathers. Towering banks flanked by stone planters as tall as me. Flags--city, country, corporation--whipping above, rivets clanging against the poles. Symbol after symbol of capitalism that I am supposed to hate but I don't. I just find them majestic.  

I switch up my approach. If I walk on the east side, I can admire the way my workplace stretches up to the sky, anchored by brass-fitted doors and a gleaming lobby. If I come up along the west, I can peek in at the cafe and, beside it, the sandwich spot where staff are just getting their own days going. Where I am becoming a lunchtime regular. Who could resist chicken pot pie soup in weather like this?

There's a bagel place, too. An Einstein's: my favorite. On Fridays I splurge. Blueberry toasted, with cream cheese please. The crew that works there is super friendly and exceptionally fast; I watch them, trying to figure out which if any is the manager. Whoever it is, they're good at their job.

The office building I work in has both revolving doors and regular push doors, like most of the entrances in downtown. Without exception I use the revolving door. Like the street lamps lining the avenues and parks, they will never stop enchanting me. 

After greeting Gus, I scan my work fob on the elevators that only go to our suite. I wear the fob, along with the key that locks my desk, on a coiled rubber wristlet. I wear it all day, in case I need to unlock any of the dozens of office doors in the building. Before I leave later, I'll swap that wristlet out for one that's almost identical: my home keys. Another fob and another single key, for the mailbox. 

(This has become a strangely comforting habit, wearing my keys around around my wrist like this. They don't jangle, since there's just the one metal one and a plastic fob. And I can easily wave my wrist past the scanners without having to take my gloves off. Works perfectly. )

The space is empty and dark when I arrive. I take off my coat, gloves, scarf, change shoes, then walk the floor to turn on the lights. I count the switches to myself, to make sure I don't forget any on days that I'm tired. But it isn't until I flip on the two massive chandeliers, which set the room ablaze with warming, golden light, that my day feels like it's starting.

I pull out my laptop, sign into mail and Slack, and see who in my company, scattered elsewhere around the country, has beaten me to work.

big looming unknown

Work is a little weird right now. The client pushed back their return until next Monday, so all of last week the space was entirely empty except for myself and the occasional service person coming through. I still need to be onsite since things are getting knocked into place here and there. But it is mostly very long days with no one to talk to and very little to do. So I read. I'm not complaining.

But it is strangely stressful, to be in this holding pattern. I'm anxious to get the ball rolling, to start making the inevitable mistakes that I will learn from and finally have behind me. Right now it's just a big looming unknown, and all my successes and failures (there will be both) just held in abeyance. 

Something that was very gratifying about my last job was how many problems I had to solve in a day. Some days it seemed endless. Callouts, technical issues, equipment breakdowns, angry customers, 86'd menu items. And every day I could come home ticking off in my head the various fires I had put out. And that felt good. Even a really great interaction with an employee or a guest was a win I could count. I don't have anything like that yet. Just tiny, lame accomplishments like getting a water filter changed. 

Today there was a real win though. I met one of the execs from the company for the first time, and when he asked me if a lot of people have been around so far I was able name off every single person from every department. He wasn't expecting actual names, and I could tell he was impressed. Granted, that's less than ten people. But these are employees I have met in some cases only once. One of the first things I did was start a doc for myself with names, positions, and physical descriptions to refer to until I had people memorized. I looked it over every day so I could greet everyone by name. Today it paid off with one of the top brass. That's a win.

Also, I have learned what every single AV cable in the building is called and what it's used for. Such an easy thing, to know the difference between a USB type A, B, and C etc -- but massively relieving. 

---

I'm getting pretty chummy with the building's head of security, head engineer, and head of maintenance. Just awesome, salt of the earth people that I interact with frequently, so I'm very glad of those solid connections. 

The head of security, Gus, loves how much I appreciate the weather. He tells me stories about visiting LA and secretly hating it. "I'm not built for heat, Ellie. I couldn't wait to come home." Every day when I sail in through the revolving doors, I call out the temperature in excitement and the lower it is, the more Gus laughs. He says he finds my reaction to the snow and wind and icy sidewalks refreshing. I know I'm still honeymooning, but I'm glad it makes him smile.

Jerry is the building engineer, the most cheerful and helpful problem solver you could ever hope to work with. He took me on a tour of our two floors and gave me a mini class on temperature control. Some of the rooms are on pretty complicated timers, though, so when he saw me frowning in worry he threw his hands up and said, "Honestly, just call me. I'm right downstairs, I can come by easy peasy and make adjustments anytime. Otherwise if you do it, we're gonna have to put you on the building payroll."

Head of maintenance is a younger guy named Dean. His shift starts at 4:30pm, but he always comes by our space first to check in with me, before heading out to handle all 38 floors. Every day he asks if everything is okay and up to standard, if things are clean enough. And every day I tell him it's all perfect and immaculate every morning, and how much I appreciate him. 

I told you it might be boring around here. 

Give me some time.