One single focus.

Uncategorized

It has been a MINUTE since I’ve written anything. Not just on here, but like – anything. I’m a writer, and process everything through words, but the last thing I wrote was the last post on this blog & that was a year and a half ago.

It wasn’t because I was lazy, or unmotivated, or had nothing to say. I actually had a lot to say. I was consistently biting my tongue and sitting on my hands in an attempt to keep myself from writing.

Last fall, I went to one of my monthly appointments with my knee surgeon & y’all, it wasn’t great. I thought I was doing everything I possibly could to get myself up to speed, but he hit me with a heavy dose of hard reality. He told me that I could either choose to step up my game & get the reward of living a fully active life, or decide to go at the rate I’m going and never be able to be active in the capacity that I was used to again. Either way, I had to choose immediately.

When I went into my MACI implant, I had no idea how hard the recovery was. My surgeon never sugar coated it — I just couldn’t grasp the toll it would take on me and my mental health. In my mind, I was moving mountains. I did my physical therapy, I tried to eat well, I worked out a few times a week. But I wasn’t getting the results needed to get over the line separating me from being athletic again. On top of that, my metal health was in a rough place. I was depressed, unmotivated, and lost the fire in my belly I previously kept lit regardless of my situation.

After spending a good day being pissed off at my ortho, I did a lot of self reflection. I realized that the reason I was so upset over what he was saying was because it hit me to my core. I was exposed. Online, via phone, in face to face conversations, I was so good at selling that I was working as hard as I could to recover. But the reality was that I did the bare minimum. Did I eat well? Sure. If you count a healthy lunch as eating well & throw away the multiple nights per week that I ran to McDonald’s or Papa Ray’s. Did I exercise? Yup! Twice a week I went to my gym downstairs and hung out on an elliptical for about 45mins before lifting a few weights that I knew I could lift — never once actually pushing myself. Did I do my physical therapy? Yeah! (I mean, sometimes, maybe once a week, and because I wasn’t doing it enough, it always hurt too much for me to progress so it was like I was on one of those mall toddler trains that just keeps going in circles, not wanting to admit to myself that the ride kinda sucks and I might be too old for it because it was easier to sit on the train and pretend to be happy about the ride than come to terms with the fact that I should really be going on the larger, scarier, rollercoaster or something, ya know?).

I was good at two things: 1. Starving myself for a few weeks so I could lose a dozen pounds & then gain it all back because I was starving. 2. Lying to myself to the point where I was genuinely convinced I was pushing myself enough to make a full recovery because I didn’t know how to do it alone. But now my surgeon exposed me & I was so naked that even I couldn’t lie to myself anymore.

So I decided the next year would have one singular focus: health. Mental and physical. No writing, no trying to balance my social life, no dating, no worrying about advancing my career or education. No shows, no feeling bad about not performing, no staying home to read or watch TV. Everything – every single project – was put on hold so I could focus on my health.

That’s not easy for me. I’m a creative and my impulse is to take on too much. I love being passionate about projects I abandon two months later. I love juggling multiple parts of my identity. I love writing and reading and going home after work to watching dumb shit on TV. But I wasn’t succeeding in handling multiple things at one – so why not just try switching it up?

Step one: Get back to the gym.

For the longest time, I wouldn’t join a gym because I have a BEAUTIFUL gym in my building. Like, three rooms complete with a pool and boxing ring, kind of beautiful. And I justified my rent because of the amenities, so why pay for a membership? It would be throwing money out the window, right? But why the hell does that matter if I’m not using it? For two years, I wasn’t able to get myself to exercise consistently enough to make progress, no matter how strong a burst of motivation was, so why would that change?

The only time in my post-high school life that I ever did well with consistently loving to exercise was right out of college. I joined a gym & made great friends who made working out the biggest highlight of my day. I knew that I needed to get back into group fitness because I’m a former team sports athlete and nothing will push me more than a good leader and wanting to hold my own against my peers. My surgeon gave me the OK to do anything that wasn’t cardio (unless it was on a bike or in a pool). So I rejoined my old gym, made friends and everything was easy.

Just kidding. It was actually really fucking hard. The first class I took was a spin class, which I used to do all the time. I could barely get through the warmup. But by some collision of the universe, my former college professor (who knew everything I had been through over the past few years) was my instructor that night & I finished it. The second class I took was Bodypump – something I also used to take regularly – and I cried after it. I couldn’t do anything with my lower body. I didn’t account for how mentally difficult it is to go back to something you used to be able to do & not be able to do it like you used to. Everything that I lost in my accident came back to me and I was pissed as hell.

Plus, being at my old gym made me miss my friends. I was lonely. I wanted them back. I envied everyone who had gym friends. I envied everyone who could hold their own during class. Honestly, I was just jealous and angry all the time. But I decided to take that energy and transform it into motivation. My back was against the wall – what was my other option? Not being able to be physical again? Wasn’t the whole point of this crazy ass surgery so I could be physical again? So I showed up. And I asked for help. And I was vulnerable and honest and opened up about my injury. And that vulnerability and honesty led to people helping me, checking up on me, motivating me & being forced into my friendship because I love a good cult. I gave myself the space and freedom to be a beginner again. To not be hard on myself. To do as much as I could that day, feel proud of it, and not compare my journey with anyone else’s.

The second thing I needed to work on was losing weight. Not only did I put on weight in a way that felt uncomfortable to me, but my surgeon kept stressing how the rate of success, and longevity of my implant, would increase if I lost weight. So I decided to finally love myself and eat healthy without starving myself & the weight came off and you guys I’m so happy!

Just kidding. I starved myself. Not starve starve, just “starve”, ya know? I didn’t not eat, I just ate as little as I could while on a fad diet and counted E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. Everything. Guys, I literally logged seltzer (WHICH IS NOTHING BUT WATER WITH THE ESSENCE OF FRUIT) in an app. I swore off bananas. I ate salads WITHOUT DRESSING. I didn’t eat beans because some book told me they were too inflammatory. Then one night, during a spin class, I pushed myself harder than I normally did because I was getting stronger, and I almost passed out. Like had to call my mom and stay on the phone with her until I got home because I was so scared of fainting and bashing my head on the sidewalk.

So I threw away the diet books, deleted my apps, and decided to take a different approach. I love healthy food. I was never someone you had to force to eat fruits or veggies – I just liked them. And my mom taught me enough about nutrition that I was already equipped with the knowledge of what food was nutritious & would give me energy. So here I am – someone who loves healthy food and is slowly but surely loving herself more and more. It seemed easy, right? Just eat the healthy shit you already like, the stuff that makes you body feel good, and stop eating the shit that doesn’t make you feel good. And it was that easy. Which is why I fucking hate diet culture. There’s an entire industry making money off convincing us it’s hard. They thrive and make money off our self hatred. They want us to think it’s so hard & that we need their secret formula to lose weight. It’s not. Eat things you know are good for you. I didn’t put anything “off limits” because that made it feel like something shiny to miss. Instead, each meal I prepared or ate out, I asked myself if there was a way to make it healthy. Usually there was. And if I really wanted fries instead of the side salad, I got the damn fries. And getting them that day usually got them out of my system enough to not make a run to McDonald’s out of impulse & instead limit them to that meal on that day. I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, I just chose to make it healthy more often than not and stopped eating when I was full.

Which leads to painfully slow weight loss. I’m taking a pound a week maybe when I used to be able to lose five in a week. But my life wasn’t dictated by some dumb diet & here I am a year later, still able to eat healthy and continue losing weight. I got to know myself on a different level. It took a lot of reconditioning to not get disappointed by how slow it was, but I got there. I realized that the daughter of a defensive lineman for the NFL will never be skinny. It’s just not going to happen. And at the end of the day, that honestly wasn’t the type of body I was aiming for. I wanted to be strong – and knew I could be strong. That was always my advantage in sports. When I cheered, I could lift anyone. In softball, I was a power hitter and third baseman. I knew I could be strong. So I started caring less about the size of my waist and instead fell madly in love with the way I was able to master technique, push my endurance or up the amount of weight I could lift. And I fell madly in love with the way my inner strength was now being reflected in my muscle definition.  I just wanted to look as strong as I felt. Slowly but surely, I fell in love with my physical self for honestly the first time ever. And that shit’s powerful. And I didn’t have to count my calories to get there.

Traditionally, I’m someone who shouts my goals to the world. I thought it would keep me accountable. I wanted to be complimented on my journey. I wanted social media to think I’m cool. That I’m inspiring and motivating and DOING. IT. In an effort to try and keep away from old habits that never worked in the long term, I decided to be a little quieter this time. I posted maybe 1/10th of my journey. I instead put my focus on doing the work. I wanted to smash my goals first. And honestly, I’m so sick of diet culture that I wanted my life to be more interesting than showing progress shots. I showed what I was eating when I made a bomb ass vegan dish. I also showed myself shoving a cheesesteak in my mouth on my birthday. I showed gym selfies when I felt good or defeated but I also showed the days where I watched hours of the Masked Singer with no pants on. Because my days were no longer controlled by wanting to prove what I was accomplishing through social media posts or blog posts telling you all what “worked for me” when I only made the changes a few months ago. I wanted to weave my new way of living with all the other parts of me that are beautiful and worthy of praise as well.

There aren’t going to be before and after pictures. I hate before and after pictures. I’ve posted before and after pictures in the past. I hated myself during those years – big or small. The reason I posted them in the first place was to get approval through social media because I hated myself. They tell me that I’m supposed to be ashamed or embarrassed by who I was. That the person on the right who is smaller is somehow better because of her physical appearance alone. Fuck that. The person I was last year is a fucking beast. She was terrified but showed up. She learned how to walk three times. She decided to put aside everything to focus on her mental and physical health. She entered a space where she didn’t look like she belonged and made a home out of it. She proved she belonged and worked harder every single day to become who I am today.

And once I started doing what was physically good for my body, the mental health aspect fell back in line. My depression stopped ruling me. Was every single day great? Did I feel strong and capable all the time? Hell no. Honestly there were several times I left the gym in tears because I felt so broken. There were days where I couldn’t get out of my head. Days where I felt defeated and that I’d never be enough. Where I felt like an imposter or fraud. Those days still pop up every now and again — hell, I had one on Tuesday. But despite what my brain is trying to tell me, I always show up. And the good days start to outnumber the bad days so often that you can live with the bad day, knowing that it’s temporary.

So, I smashed last year’s goal. Smashed it so hard that it’s so intertwined in my daily life that it’s no longer a goal. What was my secret? That there’s no secret. Show up for yourself everyday. If you hate a type of exercise, then don’t do it and find something else that you like. Eat food that makes your body feel good and strong. Don’t deprive yourself of anything. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Be vulnerable and honest. Don’t lie to yourself. Ask for help. Fuck diet culture. Stop starving yourself and start fueling yourself.

Let me know if and how I can help. I wouldn’t have made it through this past year without the tribe of people lifting me up each day. I tried doing it alone. It didn’t work. It took being vulnerable & allowing myself to let the same people who motivate me be there for me on my bad days too. It took being patient and comfortable with fear.

With last year’s goal done, it’s time to focus on a new one for the upcoming year. And like last year, I’m going to let my actions speak for themselves.

But I can say that you’ll see a lot more writing from me.

November 7th, 2003

Grief, Uncategorized

It has been quite some time since I wrote a post about grief.

I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe it’s that I’ve had so many things happen recently that I’m too distracted to think about my dad. Maybe it’s because I typically write during downtime at work and am unwilling to go there. Maybe it’s part of getting older and distancing myself from my dad’s death. Don’t get me wrong – I miss him often. The Eagles Super Bowl, my brother having a baby, my nephew’s music career taking off… but it has been awhile since I’ve felt true grief.

Today I’m breaking that streak.

I’m writing a book about the year my dad died. All of the time I’ve spent on the book so far has been on the events leading up to his accident. The weight of replaying his death was pushed aside as I reveled in taking a walk down the path that led me to my 8th grade friends. It stung a bit when I talked about the ways my dad and I didn’t quite see eye to eye but I’ve made peace with a lot of that.

Maybe I’m more of an optimist than I give myself credit for because I didn’t think it’d be hard to replay the days right before his accident. I thought that since I replayed them in my mind hundreds of times, writing them down would be no different. Oh, how naive I was mere hours ago. Because as I started to write about the last time my dad picked me up from school, I had to choke back tears and fight to keep myself together until I got to a good enough stopping point to grab my stuff and head back to my apartment.

I know writing this book is ultimately good for me. It’s helping me realize things about myself that I truly didn’t know existed. It helps me process my thoughts and gives me some sort of control over such a horrific part of my life. But sometimes it reveals parts of me that I wish didn’t exist.

My guiding light is to be as truthful as humanly possible when writing about events that happened fourteen years ago. The whole reason I’m writing this book, aside from my own selfish desire to record my life and prove that I went through it for something greater than pure pain, is that I want other kids going through similar situations to know they’re not alone. I would have given anything to know a story like my own when I was a teenager. I would have loved to be told by someone who has been through it that it’s okay not to be okay. That I’ll never fully have it all figured out but the good days will eventually outweigh the bad and at the end of the day, the worst year of my life would also hold some of the best days of my life. So I’m not masking how I feel, which I’m coming to find is hard as fuck.

The chapter that got me today is called November 7th, 2003 and is about the last time my dad picked me up from middle school. He called me out on wearing a skirt that my mom told me I couldn’t wear to school and I was irritable. He took me out for ice cream and our conversation was forced. He was trying to reach me and I just wasn’t there. I didn’t want to be reached. I was a pissed off teenage girl who just wanted to be anywhere but with her parents.

I told him that he needed a new car. I was embarrassed because we had an old car and I was now going to a school where a lot of my friends were more well off than we were. He told me the only way he could afford one would be if someone crashed into him. I secretly hoped it would happen. I didn’t want him to be hurt, or anything like that, I just wanted the car to be banged up a bit so we could get a new one. That’s not what I’m having a hard time with. I understand and accept that it was an uncanny remark that ironically foreshadowed what was to come. While I was convinced at first that those words caused my dad’s death, I didn’t live in that ridiculous theory for more than a day or two.

The part that haunts me the most is what came next. My dad parked in our driveway and sat for a few seconds in the driver’s seat. I wondered why he wasn’t getting out. I followed suit and allowed the awkward silence to float over the car. After a few more seconds he looked at me and said the sentence that I wish I could erase from my brain.

“Sometimes I feel like you don’t love me.” 

“Of course I do!” I shot back. But despite my best attempt, I don’t think I convinced either of us. He smiled at me, got out of the car and headed into our apartment. I remained there and felt like I had just been punched in the gut. Because the truth was, I couldn’t find it within myself in that moment to love him. I wanted to. I knew my dad was one of the best around and that even our recent inability to see eye to eye couldn’t erase that.

I sat in the car for a few minutes eating my ice cream between sobs. I wanted so badly to be able to tell my dad that I loved him and mean it. I searched and searched for the love I knew he deserved but kept on coming up empty. I wanted so badly to be able to run up to him, throw my arms around him, and tell him that I loved him but my broken thirteen year old heart had been through too many changes in too short of a time and I blamed him for all of it. In the moment, I couldn’t tell him that I loved him. And I knew I couldn’t fool either of us.

I felt like the worst daughter in the world. I knew my dad was a good man and that I was lucky to have him as a father. I wanted so badly to say that I loved him, I knew deep down I did, but I didn’t feel it in my heart. I couldn’t help but wonder – What was wrong with me? Why was I so broken?

After calming myself down, I made my way up to our apartment. My dad, resilient as ever, already outwardly moved past what must have been one of the most heartbreaking exchanges of his life. He was all smiles when I walked in, as if nothing had happened. Looking back, I’m sure I hurt him. Every parent fears the day their child resents them. While they recognize that it’s the natural way of things, and that it’ll pass, no one enjoys the moment it knocks on their door.

And I know every teenager goes through a period like that. But not every teenager’s dad gets in a car accident the next night that would eventually end in his unexpected death.

That’s what’s so cruel about losing a parent at thirteen. You don’t get to grow up and apologize for how selfish you were as a teenager. On the day you finally realize everything your parent did for you, they’ll be long in their grave. You don’t get to look back and laugh at the way you acted and you don’t get to make up for your mistakes.

With my mom, I was able to have that conversation where I tell her I see how much she sacrificed for us and she tells me it’s a mother’s job. Where I tell her that I’m sorry for the way I treated her and she reassures me that every teen is like that. I didn’t get to do that with my dad.

And yes, I know he knew. I’ve been told every single comforting phrase from every single person in my life. He’s watching over me and knows. Everyone is like that as a teenager. He would never want to see you beat yourself up. He loves you and you love him and that’s what matters. I’m a good person.

But there’s a difference between the closure you get when you can have that physical conversation with someone and trying to read the mind of a ghost.

No matter how much I’ve tried to forgive myself, or how many times I’ve been told that he knew I loved him, I’m sitting here fourteen years later with the same pit in my stomach and hole in my heart. And honestly I don’t think it can be repaired. The only way I could ever patch it is if I had been able to have a conversation with my dad about that day. That opportunity is just something that can’t happen.

And that’s okay.

We all have sharp, broken pieces. We can smooth out as much as possible, but there will always be some holes. It’s part of being human. We try to ease our suffering as much as possible but there will always be some things that hurt as bad as they did on the day we got those wounds. And we will spend so much time trying to twist them and pretend they’re not there. We’ll search for any words from friends, family, therapists, teachers, books… anything to try and fix it. Our loved ones will try and patch it up for us because it hurts them to see us hurt. But at the end of the day, we can’t fix everything. And that’s one of the most beautifully human things about us.

I don’t hate myself and don’t live every day regretting what happened on November 7th. It’s one unfortunately timed day out of a million wonderful moments that made up my relationship with my dad. It wasn’t the defining moment. My worth isn’t defined by that single exchange and I can live with what happened. Most days I forget it even happened.

But sometimes it creeps up, or you decide to rip it wide open by writing a book about your life, and you want to crawl back into your thirteen year old body and hide away in you reading teacher’s classroom or group therapy room or behind your stack of books. Those nights are hard, lonely, and unable to be smoothed over with good intentions or reassurance.

I’ve been down this road before, and know that at this point in my life, it ends with waking up tomorrow feeling fine. But tonight I’m sad. And that’s okay. Because my dad died as the result of car crash when I was thirteen and that really fucking sucks.

That’s what grief is.

It’s ugly, it’s uninvited. But it’s real, and it’s the truth.

Teens these days.

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(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

Moving on.

Uncategorized

When I moved to Chicago, I thought I’d leave before college graduation.

I wanted to be a teacher and it made sense to my seventeen year old self to only go to an out of state college for three years then come back to CT or NY to get certified within that state. But when I changed my major three days into my freshman year, that plan went out the window.

I was supposed to move back to the East Coast after college graduation. Actually, I did move back to the East Coast. Well, kinda. I did not renew my lease in Chicago. I packed up and planned to move home but was called in for a job interview. The day before going home, I put all of my stuff in storage then went on the interview. I figured that if I didn’t get the job, I could come back and get my stuff. Then I packed all my clothes and headed home. We immediately went on vacation for a week where I found out that I was being called in for a second interview. After vacation, I headed back to Chicago and took the job. So essentially, I just over packed for vacation

When I started working in Chicago, I had no immediate plans to leave. I always knew I would eventually end up on the East Coast, but I never had a definite time frame. My standard answer was that I would be in Chicago for two more years, which turned into three, which turned into four. Two years ago, I was ready to pack up everything and move to Los Angeles but breaking my knee put those plans on hold. I wasn’t too upset about that though because Chicago always pulled me back.

I’m nine and a half years into my extended stay in Chicago. I love this city with my entire heart. I love the people I met and the strangers who greet me with the kindness and optimism that can only be traced back to the Midwest. I love taking an hour long walk after work along the lake and finding myself still in awe of our skyline. I love the neighborhoods I lived in – Lincoln Park, the Southport Corridor of Lakeview and now Uptown. I love that I always find something new in the city like how expansive Montrose Park is or where to order the best Chicken Shawarma plate. I love when I find myself back on DePaul’s campus and replay the memories: the quad where I used to run through the sprinklers after a night of drinking, the dorm where I met my best friends, the hall where I was initiated into Chi Omega. I feel the pit in my stomach churning when I find myself by my old place on Cornelia, wishing I had enough money to buy the townhouse that I loved so much. I like the way we all gather inside for long nights of beers and Christmas lights in the winter and eat outside every night in the summer. I love Eagles games at Mad River, our annual Christmas Trolley and late nights after comedy shows at Old Town Alehouse. I love how it’s in the middle of the country so flying to either coast is not a hassle. In college I cried on every ride to the airport down Lake Shore Drive. I knew I would be back soon, but I never wanted to leave. I would strain my neck looking back at the skyline on the way to Midway until it was completely out of view.

I never wanted to permanently live in Chicago. I stand by that. For every reason I have for loving Chicago, I have another reason I want to be home. The thought of raising children so far away from my family is worse than leaving Chicago. I don’t want to be a long distance aunt anymore. I missed a lot of my nephew and cousins growing up and while I don’t regret my time here, it’s bittersweet to see all the time lost whenever I realize how old they are. While I pride myself in being a lot more present these days because I’m more financially stable, I want to be able to join in on all the little things the next generation of my family will bring. I want to be at sports games and school plays and whenever I have my own kids, I want sleepovers with cousins and dinners with grandma. Beyond family, I miss New England. I miss having four seasons instead of two and being so close to so many major cities. I don’t like that each time I come home it’s an event. I want to be able to visit with friends without feeling like I’m stiffing my family. I’d like to be able to relax instead of making sure I got to see everyone while home. And I miss New England falls. GOD how I miss New England falls. I miss the hills and the trees and the mountains. I miss the foliage and the scent of October. I miss being able to hike up real trails instead of city paths.

But each time I think I’m ready to leave, something pulls me back. It’s not easy being in love with a city so far from home. I wish New York or Philadelphia had the same vibe as Chicago.

I know that in the next few years I’ll be leaving this city. Where I’m going next I’m not too sure of. I don’t know if I want to spend a year in LA living in warm weather for once before returning to the East Coast, or if I just want to head straight home. I’m not even sure of where on the East Coast I want to live. While I’m 90% sure I’ll end up in New York City, which would split the difference between my extended family in New Jersey and my immediate family in Connecticut, I’m not positive. I may jet out to California in a year then head over to New York City a year or two later. But whatever way I split it, I have two years max left in Chicago.

I’ve set dates on moves before, so I know things can change. But the problem is that I keep on delaying my departure which makes it more difficult to leave. I fall more in love with this city with each passing year. There are some good reasons why I haven’t left Chicago, like breaking my knee and wanting to stay with my medical team until completely recovered, but the truth is that I’m also terrified. I wasn’t scared of going to college. Everyone made some sort of leap that year. And while I was constantly scared after college, it was also a normal transitional period. But here I am, in my late twenties, and there are no external forces like going to college or joining the workforce to push me out. This decision is completely self-motivated and I’m the only one that can execute it. I’m scared that I won’t find the same support group I have here. I’m worried that moving closer to my family will keep me from hustling in comedy. I’m concerned that my constant indecisiveness on where to live will be what keeps relationships from forming.

My friends in Connecticut and Los Angeles will all confirm that I’m not a great long distance friend. I miss and love them but get distracted when I’m in a different city. I push away from the ones I’m really close to because it hurts to know we no longer live close enough to be dependent on each other. I try to separate myself so I’m not disappointed when their life eventually goes on and they find someone to fill my void in their new city. I want to change these things about myself, but I know that it’s something I struggle with.

I know that Chicago will always be here to visit. But I loved being a resident. I know my close friends will remain my close friends and I’ll probably come back as often as I jet to the East Coast right now. And I know that if I ever find that I made the wrong decision, there’s a three story walkup on Cornelia Ave. that I’m more than happy to put a down payment on.

I chose the perfect city to become an adult in, both legally and mentally. Any pain or hurt is almost always the result of loving something, so I’m thankful that I found myself in a city that I loved so hard.

After almost 10 years, I’ll finally answer the most frequently asked question of an East Coast transplant: Chicago is WAY better than New York*. But sometimes the thing we love most isn’t what fits best.

*(Except for the pizza. NYC thin crust over Chicago any day.)

#Whole30

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So I fell into a fad diet.

For the last 30 days, I ate according to Whole 30. After having knee surgery in October, and my team going all the way to a Super Bowl win, I wasn’t eating well. I was immobile for two months and while I tried to eat as healthy as possible, it meant a lot of canned soup and pasta. My metabolism was gone because I couldn’t do anything so I was never hungry. I’d eat maybe once a day then snack on all the sweets and easy to grab carbs.

With the Super Bowl, I spent Sundays at a bar where I’d grab a Philly Cheesesteak and a few beers. While I’m someone who loves to cook, and never cooks unhealthy food, I had a hard time with eating out and grabbing takeout. When I started walking again, I started working and going through physical therapy, both of which were incredibly exhausting, and never had the energy to cook. Living in a major city grants me unlimited access to takeout, so I would typically grab some Thai food across the street because the thought of cooking was exhausting.

I decided that once the Super Bowl was over, I’d get back to clean eating and chose Whole 30 because I have a handful of friends who enjoyed it. It was a much easier plan than others I’ve tried. There weren’t rules assigned to days or times, and there were zero to no bans on specific fruits or vegetables (except corn, which I eat maybe twice a year, and lima beans/peas, which I never eat). The rules were pretty easy – no sugar, alcohol, grains, gluten, soy, dairy, beans, etc. etc. It was easier to focus on the things I could eat: meat, fruits, veggies, most nuts and seeds. There wasn’t any measuring of olive oil, or banana ban, so it actually ended up being much easier than I anticipated.

There’s a few things that helped lead to my success. First, I love to cook. On normal days before my surgery, I usually cooked all of my meals. I prefer my own food to eating out. The oils used in takeout tend to make my skin feel hot and I just like what I like. So having to cook every single meal for thirty days wasn’t a huge challenge. It just meant that I had to take the extra time. Instead of being too lazy and sleepy to pack my lunch for the next day, I forced myself to take the fifteen minutes before bed to do it.

I also really love the taste of healthy food. Even when I’m not eating well, I still love the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables. I was never a carbs person. Growing up, I never really ate pasta or bread. So aside from revising my snacks, cutting gluten out wasn’t much different than my normal diet. I spent a third of my life allergic to dairy, another third lactose intolerant and the last third trying to convince my body to build up a tolerance, so cutting dairy wasn’t a big issue either. I never drank milk and only started liking cheese in college. I always kept greek yogurt in my fridge for a quick snack or breakfast, but never craved it. So dairy was easy to let go. The only things I really missed were hummus, brown rice, ketchup, Diet Coke and peanut butter. While I definitely wasn’t making healthy choices before Whole 30, I still enjoyed healthy food, so it wasn’t like I had to train myself to like new food.

I also never had to count days. I started right after the Super Bowl and my 30 day marker was my mom coming out to visit tomorrow. I was actually pretty surprised when I realized today was my last day. It’s helpful to not have to mark each passing day or have a countdown. Additionally, there wasn’t much going on. February is a boring month full of nights in and snowy days so I didn’t have to worry about the social aspect of it. Over all thirty days, I only had five alcoholic drinks and ate two tiny things that I wasn’t supposed to. I never felt like I was missing out.

The biggest advantage I had was my financial security. As someone who spent most of my life trying to find the cheapest groceries possible, it was a privilege to have a good enough job that I can spend $2.50 on an avocado when I don’t want to go all the way to Whole Foods where they’re half the price (surprising, yet true… their avocados are practically free). I could afford to buy almond butter, ghee and organic beef jerky. While I’d rather not pay $2.50 per Rx bar when I could get a whole box of Kashi bars for the same price, I was able to for a month. I wanted to set myself up for success, so I allowed myself to buy the pricier groceries if it meant I wouldn’t cheat on the program. If I tried doing this even a year ago, it would be much more difficult because I would have to settle for whatever produce I could afford that week.

I tried not to talk about it. I only brought it up if I had to explain why I wasn’t eating or drinking. In the past, I was that person always writing posts about what I was eating and this time around I didn’t have the desire. I didn’t even weigh myself before it. It was less about weight loss than it was about reclaiming my body after having no control over it. For two years I’ve had to bend to its every demand and I was finally able to tell it what to do. It was a bit of a cleanse. Riding myself of the long and boring recovery days and celebrating the fact I could grocery shop and cook again. I posted my food on Instagram, but that was about it.

I found that by not talking about it, I normalized the way I ate. When I was filming, I brought my own snacks in case craft services didn’t have anything for me to eat instead of sending my “dietary restriction” over. Luckily there is almost always a bunch of healthy snacks at craft services and I didn’t have to worry about it. When I was at a friend’s party, I found the things I could eat and avoided the rest. When I went out, I drank the least amount of calories possible but didn’t explain why I wasn’t grabbing my usual beer. When a friend wanted to do dinner, I offered to cook so I could make something I could easily eat. Treating it as no big deal preventing it from feeling like one.

Honestly, I feel great. I have more energy and am much happier. My 5:40am alarm clock is less menacing because I don’t feel like a sloth anymore. While the diet is meant to be just a 30 day thing, I know I’ll adapt a lot of it into my day to day routine. I’ll take back the beans, brown rice and occasional gluten but I’m more or less done with dairy. I decided to eat at least one yogurt a week so I will be able to tolerate dairy when I want to indulge in the occasional cheese platter or slice but there’s no reason to keep a container of goat cheese in my fridge. I decided to limit my sugar intake to twice a week, in whatever form I want, so I can continue to reach for an all fruit smoothie or clementine instead of tootsie rolls. Plantain chips are my new pretzels and I’ll keep a bag of frozen turkey meatballs for nights when I don’t want to cook. Dates are the new sweet and I’m only allowing myself one Diet Coke a week. When drinking, I’ll opt for a good vodka soda, or dirty martini, and try to limit my beer and wine intake.

The largest habit I wanted to break is getting takeout. I decided to create a “take out tracker” in my bullet journal. If I don’t eat out for ten days in a row, I get a free meal where I can pick up dinner or bank it for another day. If I break my streak with anything but a reward, I have to start new.

It’s nice to try a diet when your goal isn’t weight loss. Honestly I have no idea how much I weighed before this and have no clue what I weigh now. I’m trying to go for something a little more sustainable than what was popular in the past. But I can’t lie – it does feel nice to fit a little better in my jeans.

Let people lead their own stories.

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As a Chicago resident who is also a huge Eagles fan, I spend almost every Sunday of the football season at Chicago’s Eagles bar, Mad River. This past season I went alone for the first time. I was scared of going to a bar alone but figured if I got there early enough, I could grab a bar seat which would make my solo journey a little less noticeable. When I got to the bar there was one seat left at the end next to a woman around my age. I figured she was saving it for a significant other, because I’m a bad feminist, but decided to ask anyways. To my surprise, she was also alone. I soon found that there are a lot of solo riders at sports bars. East Coast transplants who don’t have the energy to convince their Bears friends to peel away from their own game for an afternoon to come to an Eagle’s bar. I spent the rest of the season sitting at the bar and getting to know new Eagles fans.

Over the season, I inevitably made new friends. When you’re spending 6 hours, or 12 hours during playoff games, at a bar, you get to know people well. We exchanged stories of superstitions, trash talked Chip Kelly and shared fond memories of watching games with our families.

After the super bowl, one of my friends and I went back to Mad River for one last drink at the bar that brought us so much luck that year. Without the distraction of the game, we got to chatting about our lives. During the season I had been at Mad River healthy, was absent for a couple weeks, then came back on crutches. As I recovered, I went down to one crutch then eventually was able to start walking without them. Everyone knew I had knee surgery, and made sure to keep a close eye as I stood on the bar pouring champagne into the mouths of fellow fans after our NFC championship game, and she wanted to know the full story. I proceeded to tell her all about the accident and struggles with my first doctor. Before I could get into the story with my first doctor, she asked: “Did he let you get an MRI?” “No!” I responded, with a hint of excitement of recognition in my voice. “You always know a bad doctor when they won’t prescribe a MRI,” she responded. I could tell that she had experience in that area.

She proceeded to tell me a story about how she almost died due to a doctor not prescribing a MRI. When she pushed for it, her doctor still wouldn’t budge so she stopped complaining. On a visit home, her mom forced her to a different doctor, who saved her life with emergency surgery.

I was speechless. Here was this person who I got to know well over the course of several months, and I had no idea that she had such a near death, life defining experience. I knew she preferred American to Whiz but didn’t know why she had a scar on her head. It’s not so much that I didn’t notice it, I just didn’t really care when I saw it. Chalked it up to a childhood accident, or car accident, or who cares what, it’s not my business.

One thing I’ve realized about myself is that I don’t really ask anyone their story. It’s not that I don’t care about the story… in fact, I often find it the most captivating part of a person. I have just realized over time that people will tell you their story when they’re ready to tell you their story.

There are large chunks of my life that I’ve told to a stranger but am not willing to share with my close friends. There are things I don’t want my coworkers to know but broadcast on the internet. There are points in my life where I would tell telemarketers that my dad was traveling, or tell guys at a bar that he worked in IT, because I didn’t feel like being reminded of his death.

I’ve also learned a thing or two through life. My mom always taught me that there were things about people that were far more important than race and when I would refer to someone as “my Hispanic friend” she would press me to help her remember who the person was beyond their heritage. What was their personality? Where could she have met them before? My friends have expressed how much they hate that the “where are you from” question is the first question asked of them. I’ve learned that friends have hometowns they don’t like to be reminded of and asking about family life is not always a warm opening.

Through all those experiences, I’ve learned that we never need to feel pressured to hit every base right away when getting to know someone. I remember I used to hate when I would disclose that my dad died, only to be asked how immediately. I thought that was so self-indulgent. Why does it matter? So you can quantify my hardship? So you can make sure it was a freak accident that wouldn’t happen to you? The only time I was ever cool with it is when people asked because they could relate. My dad died in a car crash, their mom died in a hospital. Not an exact match, but enough of a community.

A lot of times we ask abrupt questions because we genuinely want to know more about people. The intention is fine – we’re curious beings and want to know about the others around us. But after my dad died, and I hated being asked that question, I started challenging myself to not ask other people questions that are too pointed. When I did that, I started finding out that the stories eventually come out anyways… now they just come out on the owner’s terms. I have to imagine that’s a much healthier way to go about things.

For quite a few years, I’ve trusted that I’ll eventually come to know the things about my friends that I’m curious about. I’ll learn their heritage when we’re in the middle of a conversation about our grandparents and they talk about their immigration process. I’ll figure out where they grew up when they tell me about their favorite baseball team. The reason they limp will become evident when they disclose their birth defect after a long night of chatting about god knows what. Eventually everything comes out, we just have to decide who sets the pace.

I usually find more out about people when I’m willing to talk about my scars. I expose some of mine, which makes them comfortable to do the same. Humans want to connect and we will unravel those complexities eventually. Let’s just find a pace that suits both of us.

I don’t always follow my own advice, and sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me, but I try to remind myself to work on letting others tell their own story. Allowing them the space to tell it, but also not asking the type of questions that will force them to. We always get there eventually.

I think the world is a little healthier if we let people lead their own stories.

I don’t believe in writer’s block.

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I don’t believe in writer’s block.

I had a writing teacher a few years back that was the first person to tell me there was no such thing as writers block, there are only lazy writers. It changed my outlook on the writing process.

The only time I really felt a true writer’s block was when I wrote poetry in high school and had to meet weekly deadlines. Sometimes I felt too uninspired to write, which is especially hard when you’re trying to write within a rhyme and rhythm scheme. But thinking back, I don’t think it was that I had writer’s block. I think I was just never taught how to write.

In school, they typically teach you everything you need to know about structure. When taught to write, you learn how to write through the lens of learning a format and using correct grammar. You’re taught how to edit more than anything – learning to avoid comma splices, run on sentences and how to keep tenses consistent. Then you’re taught how to cite work and format quotations. It’s more about composition than content.

So when I sat there not knowing what to write, feeling like I hit a wall, it was just that I didn’t have the proper training for pulling out content.

Writing slam poetry helped with this. In my senior year of high school, we had a poetry class that took up the entire year so there was room for learning every type of poetry out there. I loved slam poetry and spoken word. As a performer, I enjoyed the ability to perform at a higher level. As a writer, I loved the freedom to write in any style you wanted. It wasn’t so much about format as it was about the way it rolled off your tongue and captivated an audience. Instead of feeling the pressure of generating an idea, I was able to write my thoughts down as they came then go back and piece them together. Many times I found that there wasn’t much editing to do because my words came out the way I wanted to speak them. I would come up with an idea, like “wow, I really have senioritis” then go from there. It usually evolved into something more profound than I could have expected. My senioritis thought became a satirical poem about poetic structure. Doing my homework at musical rehearsals got me to start a poem about our warm up dance which became a metaphor for my dad’s accident. I loved writing freeform, or within the genre of spoken word or slam. It allowed me to follow the flow in my head instead of forcing myself to seem sophisticated enough to write a sonnet, which never fit me.

While I rarely write poetry anymore, I wrote over a hundred poems that year, and I believe that writing style contributed to my current writing process. I usually start with an idea, sometimes as insignificant as what I ate for lunch that day, and follow the thought until I land on something that I find interesting enough to expand.

Content never runs dry. There’s never going to be a point where there’s absolutely nothing left to write about. So in that capacity, I can’t see how writer’s block can exist. If you find yourself uninspired, you just need to write through it until you find the path again. In my current book, there are so many non sequiturs that I know I will edit out because I found myself at a point where I couldn’t think of what to write next. But it’s much better to keep running on, knowing that you may be writing junk, because it’ll lead you back to your story.

But there are times when we doubt ourselves and recognize that what we’re writing is shit, so instead of just continuing to write, we pause and let our doubt creep into our heads for long enough to come to a complete stop. Then we don’t know where to go because we turned our motor off. We call it writer’s block, because it’s easier to put a name on something and blame it on a universal outside force than to admit that it’s really our self-doubt and the easy remedy is to keep writing until you find yourself again.

I believe that writer’s block is the excuse for a lazy writer. I’ve been that lazy writer countless times. I just had a year long dry spell. I’ve been at the point where I lack the motivation to go through the process. Where the product I want to create seems so insurmountable I can’t bear to start climbing. I’ve looked down the tunnel and thought “nope, I’m perfectly fine sitting outside.” I’ve thought that the stories I want to tell are dumb and uninteresting and that I lacked the talent to put them to words. I’ve written five pages of about ten different books then jumped ship before I invested too much time. I stopped writing an idea because I got lost in the formatting of it. I fell out of love with characters while developing them and have countless maps that will never be surfaced. I’ve had days where I did my full writing prep routine: took a nap, a long shower, cleaned my apartment, got dressed, took time with my makeup, poured myself a glass of wine, grabbed my laptop and went down to my lobby, fully intending to write, only to be happily distracted by the first neighbor to walk by and abandon my piece after two pages. My incorrect grammar stared at me through my creative ideas, taunting me and telling me that I’m not fit to be a writer because I don’t remember every rule of the English language.

But that is all self-imposed. It’s not the lack of the ideas, it’s the unwillingness to do both the mental and physical work to write through the doubt and uncertainty to find my way back into the rhythm of writing. Writer’s block can’t exist because you can literally write about anything. What you did during the day, the cup next to you, a dream you had… there’s never a lack of content, there’s just the laziness to get started and the unwillingness to trust that your directionless start will end in something meaningful.

In the book I’m writing now, I’m taking a different approach than I typically do. Since it’s a story about my life, I already know my characters well. I remember the setting and the content comes easy. So instead of spending a month in book prep only to jump ship before I even start writing the book, I’m just writing. I’m getting everything I remember down, then going back and expanding, formatting and reworking until it is as composed as I can get it.

I recently became obsessed with Stephen King after reading “It” and “Misery”. I read an interview where he mentioned that he finished all his first drafts within three months because it doesn’t give him enough time to sit on his ideas and decide that they’re junk. When you have a such a short deadline, it’s harder to take the time to sit in “writer’s block” because you just have to finish.

Writer’s block is nothing but our unwillingness to put pen to paper. We need to stop using it as an excuse for being a lazy writer.