The Space Between

Sometimes there’s too much to talk about. And sometimes talking turns into complaining. Or the airing of dirty laundry. Or rumor. Or too much worry. Or vapid navel gazing. I’ve been trying to avoid all these things, and so I haven’t written in a while. If that sounds like I labor under heavy thoughts, then that would be an accurate assessment.

Since last we saw one another, I took a job as a personal assistant to a prominent chef here in Chicago. The job has gone from personal assistance to media marketing manager to office manager to copier fixer to computer tech to host to manager to workmen babysitter to private party booker… you get the idea. It’s a restaurant owned and run by a family, and if you’ve ever worked for a family then you know exactly how it happens that a person is hired to wear one, maybe two, hats and that quickly escalates to as many as you can wear before you fall over, and then some. As one of the managers said upon introducing me to someone, “this is Penny. Her business card is about (extends his thumb and index finger as wide apart as they will go) this long”. It’s stressful, it’s frustrating at times, and while I can do 90% of my job from a laptop somewhere quiet where I can think and be very efficient, am not permitted to work remotely without having my pay docked for it.

The amount of time I spend trying to reconcile (and fight) tradition vs. modernity is mind-boggling. I’ve never been the youthful whippersnapper. I’ve never been the one to train people on computers or explain Twitter, or how big and yet very tiny the world is right now thanks to technology. But here I am. I’m growing as a result, I know this, but man is it hard sometimes. You might say I constantly live with professional shin splints.

Sure, there are benefits and perks. I’ve had the pleasure of eating and drinking in some of the most desirable restaurants and bars in the city. I’ve made friends in high places. I can’t complain about that, but let’s just say that the brick used to lay that path has been come by honestly.

But, in spite of professional advancement, I’m in a weird place. Or more accurately, I’m in no place. When I moved back, I didn’t have the funds or the means to get into an apartment right away so I took some boxes, some clothes, and bedroom furnishings out of the moving truck and into my friend’s spare bedroom. Then I took some other clothes and a box or two and moved them into my boyfriend’s apartment, and everything else went into storage. My entire life minus a lot of furniture either sold or given away before I moved from Ohio, packed into a 5’x10’ storage space. And I have lived like a gypsy Sherpa ever since. I realized recently that it’s truly beginning to wear on me. Nothing about my boyfriend’s house is me or mine except what’s in two closets and four drawers. My friend’s apartment is a 45 minute commute from work and each morning I am greeted by the Eye of Sauron as my bedroom faces due east with only a sliding glass door and vertical blinds to protect me. The desk I use at work is my chef’s desk. It’s full of her things in and on it. I have no space to call my own, and this has started to become a cancer in my positive mental attitude.

I have always needed my own space. I grew up the youngest of three girls, two parents, and a dog with someone always home. I used to share a bedroom with my middle sister before the eldest went to college and I was finally able to experience solace at age 12. During those shared bedroom times, I built forts on my bed out of everything from blankets to refrigerator boxes, anything to get a piece of air that was my own. I’ve had roommates as an adult, and lived mainly in my bedroom. I’ve lived alone and relished every second of it, and that’s what I’m wishing for now. I’m starting to look at apartments in Chicago again, for the first time in six years. To say that I’m desperately missing my two bedroom/free laundry for $500 in Cleveland is a severe understatement, it set the bar for all apartments to come. The sticker shock of Chicago is still something to get used to, even as a native.

So why am I telling you all this? I don’t know. Maybe I feel guilty for being silent for so long when this is arguably the ramp up to the most important times in my adult life. All that time spent in the industry, all those nights of losing money going to work because it was so dead and I only made enough to tip out plus cab fare. Getting home at 4am reeking of cigarette smoke. Alcoholic bosses. Terrible owners. Bounced paychecks. Getting stiffed on a tip. Poverty. All of that experience has brought me here, to a job that is in a lot of ways, elite.

But I am prone to the blues. Always have been. Sometimes it’s simply hormonal, other times it’s that life is out of balance. This lately, is the latter. Things aren’t where they should be, they aren’t fitting, and no amount of banging and shimming is making that happen. It starts, I think, with finding an apartment. Yes, it will plunge me back into borderline poverty in a lot of respects but I need it. I need my personal successes to match up to my professional ones, and seeing as how that has never happened before I think I’m ripe for it. I’m sick of being a drifter. When someone asks, “Where do you live?” I should be able to answer with a neighborhood or intersection, not a minute-long explanation of the last nine months of my life. I want to get back to cooking because I enjoy it not because it’s my turn. I want my own bathroom, my own shower curtain, my own art on the walls. I long.

So the next time we talk, even if it’s two months from now (and hopefully not because I actually do miss you), things will be different. I will have built another nest and found a home of my own. And I’ll complain about things because that’s what I do, but I’ll be more content than I am now. With that, I take my leave of you. I have to take a long, slow, city-appreciating walk down to Grant Park where my chef is doing a cooking demo at the Taste of Chicago in a while. It’s work, believe it or not.


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