After a summer hiatus from writing, I am back. It’s taken me longer than usual to reflect on my recent activities. I look back at my calendar and see a scatter of trips and bike excursions and woodworking projects. I see reunions with old friends, extended family, and my two children who spent time away at camp and college. I see concerts and plays and incredible dining experiences. I see quiet times with my husband, walking, kayaking, and taking part in our shared mission to binge watch five seasons of Breaking Bad. I see my failed attempt to finish reading Jane Eyre.
My handwritten notes fill each square in my DailyMinder. It’s a record of Being and Doing; my active and passive self striving for balance. I take stock of my comings and goings and set my course for the months ahead. The past year becomes another completed chapter of my life.
As an avid reader and sometimes writer, it’s no surprise that I think of life as a novel.
There is the beginning and the end. The conflict, the climax, the denouement. The structure, the style, the symbolism.
I applaud a writer who makes each word matter. I appreciate a plot that twists and turns and ultimately goes in a direction that I did not see coming.
My appreciation for the plot twist speaks to my desire to shake things up every once in awhile. It takes confidence, if not conviction, in one’s work to resist readers’ expectations and their desire to have everything wrapped up in a pretty little bow.
My appetite for travel in many ways stems from my appetite for the unexpected.
Entering an unfamiliar city is like starting a new book. I read TripAdvisor reviews like I read Goodreads reader ratings and I am generally aware of what to expect when I arrive in a new destination.
Yet how the city reveals itself to me as I wander its streets is the adventure that I seek.
What excites me when I go to a new place is discovering its potential. Specifically, its potential to make me never want to leave. I ask myself, Could I live here?
My test of a great city is similar to that of a great book: I want a place to leave me wanting more–like a book that I savor in its final pages, wishing for it to magically expand, unfurling more of its mysteries and charms.
My kids roll their eyes whenever my husband and I start this starry-eyed conversation. They know that we are “settled” in the best sense of the word.
I lay my head in a family-friendly suburb where my fingertips rest on the big shoulders of Chicago. The city courses through my veins like its L tracks circulating the Loop. At my core, I am a Midwestern girl.
And yet I am unsettled. I have an itch that can’t be scratched. I am a homebody who craves travel. For the past few years my journeys have taken me on visits to many North American cities large and small.
As I land in an unfamiliar place I challenge it to steal my heart. To show me something that I don’t already have. To flaunt its beauty and make me yearn for something that is missing from my life.
Make me love you. Make me want to stay. I dare you, Nashville. Austin. Savannah. San Francisco. Atlanta. Miami. Charlotte. San Francisco. Charleston. Kansas City. Boulder. San Diego. Phoenix. Montreal. Asheville. Los Angeles. San Antonio. Seattle. Portland. New York City. Biloxi. Louisville. Washington, D.C.
I’ve found that for me, the grittier, the better. Detroit. Milwaukee. Mobile. Places like these are the ugly mutts in an animal shelter that no one else wants. They stare at me with sad, soulful eyes and I recognize their depth of character and phoenix-like potential.
I realize that I have been mining my surroundings this way since I was very young. Ever since my first trip through downtown Chicago when the lights inside the Hubbard Street Cave flickered around me like fairy dust. Never mind the blaring horns and aggressive drivers and air heavy with car exhaust. Silence and awe enveloped me as the skyline appeared and stretched around me like a hug.
Its rugged silhouette recalls memories of my own architectural achievements in the dirt patch behind the garage of my childhood home. My brother and I race to build the tallest, most impenetrable fortress with a heap of bricks and discarded lumber guarded by Stretch Armstrong and action figures modeled after Cornelius and Zira in The Planet of the Apes.
Its vastness reminds me of a wild parcel of land in northern Wisconsin that my parents purchased with my mom’s beloved uncle. My cousins and I enter a forest of silver birch and unruly underbrush wielding machetes and whip cutters. We are pint-sized pioneers in cutoff shorts setting out to stake our claim.
With each visit to our “Up North” property, we incrementally improve our living standards. Brush cleared, we level a path using a weighted bed spring tied to the back of a pickup truck. Then augur a hole into the earth and install a hand pump to drink cold water from a fresh spring below.
During those visits, I see every fallen log with the potential to be used for greatness in building our new city. On reflection, it’s no surprise that today I build dollhouses from scraps as a hobby.
The Little Home Away from Home project was inspired by my son while watching his sister play with a dollhouse that my grandfather made for me when I was a little girl. My son saw the way a small room could quickly draw someone into its space, provide a sense of comfort, and inspire one’s imagination.
His observation set into motion our goal to provide dollhouses to domestic violence shelters to be used for play therapy.
For my part in this project, I pick through boxes of donated supplies consisting of headless Barbie dolls, three-legged furniture, stained doilies, dogeared postcards, old board games and other broken, cast off, seemingly hopeless objects. I create miniature spaces that showcase a modern, yet rough hewn aesthetic that appeals to me.
These days, “re-purposing” and “upcycling” have become quite the trend. It seems that everyone has joined the Pinterest party and become a DIY diva. My hat goes off to those who look more closely at an object before discarding it and wonder what potential it has to become something that is useful again, if not cherished.
This, it seems, is the lens through which I view the world. Reinvention and discovery coiling into and away from each other like two ends of a Slinky headed down a steep staircase. One pulling the other along with gravity doing its part.
My guess is that, like me, many of you are ruled by your DailyMinder or some electronic version of it. We look at it to remind ourselves of our appointments for the next day and perhaps to schedule a doctor’s visit or a client lunch for the following week. But rarely do we look back or consider the long view. However, just as important as navigating our life on a daily basis, is looking at where we have been and contemplating where we want to go.
How our story unfolds and where it ends is our constant journey.
“Our life is a constant journey, from birth to death. The landscape changes, the people change, our needs change, but the train keeps moving. Life is the train, not the station.” –Paulo Coelho
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