Trading Pixels for Oil Paints

For a few reasons, one of which is a wedding present, I picked my oil paints back up again after a four-year hiatus. In truth, the last time I went at them with sincere dedication was during a particularly broke Christmas, when all I had to give was my time and skill. Almost everyone in my family that year, got a painting. Of all of them, I’m really only proud of one, the rest I cringe when I see and fight the urge to ask if I can take home to improve.

To say that I’m rusty is fair, and to say that it’s like riding a bike is also fair. The wrist action and cleanup come right back, and true to form about halfway through a day of painting, I curse my choice to work in oils rather than acrylics.

Presently, I’m working on a portrait of Gomez, a friend’s Boston Terrier. Gomez’s mom is getting married in 10 days, and all I 20170913_115057can do is pray the paint will be dry enough to transport the work with minimal issues. I should have started earlier, I think about twice a day as I work on it. A particularly bitter thought considering I had this present idea exactly six weeks ago when the invitation arrived. Sigh.

Currently, Gomez’s face is about 50% painted and at some point, I realized his eyes weren’t right. One was, the other was not. I painted over the eye that was giving me trouble and will revisit it when that part dries. Then I stepped back and really looked at his ears. Not right either, too short.

 

Why didn’t I grid the painting and picture before starting? Again, the inner voice begins its familiar flog.

I lost natural light around 4:30 in the afternoon and when the light bulb hue and fixture glares started to interfere, so I stopped work for the day. I picked up a blank canvas and my ruler. The next portrait, I’m gridding. Take that, inner jerk. I chose the photo of my next subject and got out the guidelines in Illustrator. Using a grid, there was no way my mind was going to trick my eye into seeing what wasn’t really there like it was doing with Gomez.

I’ve heard digital designers say that they had no previous art experience before learning to design on computers. This has always troubled me and made me sad, a bit like the loss of teaching cursive and home ec. For one thing, if someone is a creative, presumably they’ve been a creative life-long,  and so somewhere out there surely was another creative pursuit to draw from, right? It is a corner of the brain that has to be used and stretched. If I didn’t have a lifetime of fine art experience, it’s hard to imagine what kind of designer I’d really be aside from a by-the-book one (and I’ve met a few of those).

20170913_182820.jpgI realized, after I painted over Gomez’s eye and the fear set in, perhaps the best thing about switching gears between digital art and fine art, is that they both share a skill for which digital design is synonymous: Problem solving. Something’s not working? Step back, analyze, adjust, proceed. When it happens in digital designs, sometimes I just wipe out the work and start all over (crtl+z is the best lifesaver around) but with paint or any other physical medium, that’s not always an option. Erasing Gomez’s eye to create a new one would have taken seconds on the computer but in oil paint? Now I need to wait for that little section to be touch-dry enough to work on it again. It was a decision that added two more days, at least, to my project. Oil pants, by the way, have anywhere from a five to 10-day dry time once the last bit is on the canvas. It’s a long game, to be sure. What a huge departure from digital work, which can be done in a matter of hours and sometimes days, and requires no setup or cleanup!

All art is a lesson in deliberate choices and forced patience, some mediums more than others. And like in life, when in doubt, stop before you’ve gone too far to turn back without risking the entire piece.

Gomez final

Gomez, complete.

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Intuition When Logic Protests

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I was working with a recruiter, I suppose maybe I still might be, who set me up on an interview with a company based here in Columbus for a “UX position”. From our first conversation, my recruiter let me know that the woman doing the interview would also the boss, and she felt it was significant that I’d been granted an interview because the boss lady had tossed out a lot of candidates up to that point.

The experience just getting to the building was a harbinger of sorts. I drove 30 minutes to the industrial park the office was supposedly located in. My GPS guided me to a parking lot with huge buildings, all showing the wrong street numbers from what I should have seen. I reset the GPS to the same result, I was in the general area but no streets showed, just gray blobs denoting parking lots. I took a chance and went into one of the doors and was directed to a different building around back. It seemed correct but there were no street signs and no address numbers so I took a chance and went in, luckily I was early and it was correct.

Our interview went well, we went through my portfolio and she told me about the position. The more she described it however, the more red flags began to pop up. She required one program be used, the program she uses, which I am not proficient in. The work was already done, she said, and just needed to be set up into the required prototyping program*. I waited for the keywords of typical UX to cross the table but they never came. Among the descriptions and basic timeline of work, she let me know in not terribly subtle ways that she was not happy with the company. The creative department is housed under marketing, which is a terrible idea, she was alone in the position and her help had just quit. She would hire two of the five contractors she planned to bring in, and the contract would be for two months with an offer coming shortly after. She spends much more time than anyone should, creating almost complete prototypes of her designs to give to her developers, because three out of the four were bad and needed that much hand-holding to produce accurate work (this revelation housed like, four red flags all on its own). Her calender was 80% full two months out, she had no more time to do the work herself and needed help, yesterday. By the time our conversation was over, we’d connected on a few items but mostly I had a stack of questions and warnings about her working style and the company both. In spite of that, as I drove away I felt an offer would be coming that day.

When I returned home, I sent an email to my recruiter to let her know of my concerns, which were plenty. I let her know that the required program wasn’t listed anywhere in the job description (and had it been, I’d have bowed out before wasting anyone’s time), that without any additional design help, we’d be a team of two so she likely would have deep expectations about that software straight away which could spell disaster, and above all, the impression she gave of the company simply was not good and she didn’t really hold back letting me know that. I’d had a bad feeling about the position from the very first mention of it, and that feeling only grew after learning more. I told my recruiter that I wanted to keep looking. She called me within five minutes of receiving the email to let me know an offer had been extended.

She assured me that the woman was excellent to work with, she treats her coworkers like rock stars and I would get all kinds of credit for helping to build the team. The permanent hire offer and salary which would likely come after two months was staggering and I briefly figured I could put up with anything at that point, and while she admitted that the expectations for using one program was a blindside, she encouraged me to give it a day and remember that the contract itself was only for two months so if I wanted to leave then, I could without harm or foul. That caveat along with some thoughts and advice from trusted people, I decided the next day to accept the offer.

Two mornings later, I realized I’d been carrying around a heavy ick. I was supposed to finish some paperwork and take a drug test but something told me to postpone it, so I did. After much thought and an unexpected call from a hiring manager at another company I applied to wherein our brief talk the fit seemed legions better, I realized I needed to trust my gut and pass on the job I’d been offered. Those two months of trial simply carried no real weight. As soon as I had that thought, my shoulders lifted and I felt better than I had since even before the interview. I talked to D about changing my mind, that we wouldn’t have a guaranteed additional income soon after all, and that I needed to continue the search. He gave me his full support.

I called my recruiter and told her I was having serious reservations about the position (which mind you, I’d already said a few times and a few ways), that ultimately I was going to have to pass on it, and that I was sorry for the waste of time. She got pissy with me almost immediately. Her tone changed and she asked if I would still be needing her services, and if I’d been speaking to other recruiters. I assured her this was a clear headed decision and I’d like to still work with her going forward but that I had intended to keep looking on my own as well. Her goodbye was barely that before she hung up. I figured there’s a good chance that’s the last time I’d hear from her, and while I was indeed sad to possibly break that connection, I had to remind myself that she deflected or attempted to change every reservation and red flag I mentioned to her. Aside from some other issues like poor communication and blowing up my phone several times a day rather than calling or texting me, I had to face the fact that she is perhaps early in her career and doesn’t yet know that as a recruiter, the person she’s placing has to be a good and right fit or it’s bad for everyone. She took it personally rather than professionally, and that is a shame.

Nothing about this decision was rational. The money was there and would have been great. It could have lead to many other opportunities if my recruiter is to believed, by having this company on my resume. It would have meant a likely offer in two months unless something went seriously sideways, and more money than I’d ever seen in my working life.

But it was wrong, everything about it felt wrong. It was a bad scenario and two months with a built-in out or not, the moment I decided not to take it, I knew that was the right decision. I know something will come soon, I reached out to four more recruiters after we hung up and corresponded with two of them. An opportunity is out there, a better fit, and the lesson in all this is to never try to out-think intuition because it will always win, one way or the other.

*general school of thought for UX notes that whatever tool gets the job done, is ok to use. As soon as a company specifies exactly which tool needs to be used, it becomes a question of micro-management, licensing, accessibility, or a sturdy refusal to let the designer use what works best for them. In the case of this position, the program is a hearty but outdated prototyping program. It’s great for a lot of things, but to be proficient in it would definitely require a heads up in the job description, since many designers are proficient in newer, updated programs.

My Dog is Sick

Fred came into our lives in a surprising and totally unplanned way.

In August of 2015, our friends Cindy and her daughter were driving around the northwest side of Chicago when they glimpsed a scruffy, scared mess of a dog zigzagging across the street, with a man giving chase. Being the sort of people they are with warm hearts and arms open for the action, they travel with a leash in their van seemingly for moments such as that. They pulled over, jumped out, and rushed at the man who by now was holding a squirming Fred and probably happy to hand him off. Cindy quickly put the leash around his neck and comforted him, thanked the man, and deposited the dog into their van, then headed back to the building we both lived in.

D’s phone rang that evening and on the other line was Cindy, who knew D had a history of rescuing animals and a soft heart. She told him about the dog they’d found, that they had his chip scanned at a vet which came back with only three pieces of information: A chip implant date of January 2008, a non-working phone number, and a name, “Scruffy”. They gave him a bath to rinse off some of the dirt he’d accumulated, cut his hair to rid him of knots and mats, one of which rubbed his eyeball enough to cause a corneal abrasion. Aside from being somewhat overweight, the vet told Cindy he was in relatively good shape for apparently being abandoned and on the street. So now they have this little freaked out dog who is avoiding everyone but Cindy, and the thing is, they’re going out of town on a 10-day trip pretty soon, and would we mind fostering him for that time?

D and I had been married for all of two months by that point, and lived in a studio apartment. I hadn’t been around a live-in dog since my family dog who we had from when I was 3 to 18, and I was not friends with her. I had no clue about dog ownership or fostering, behavior, feeding, going out habits, you name it. D however, had fostered many in his day and loved them dearly. When we met, he had a rescue pit named Jorah who he loved deeply but who was wild. Sweet but nuts. The place we lived “didn’t allow dogs”(read: Pits), we couldn’t afford to move to a new apartment, and every attempt to re-home Jorah fell through. Heartbreakingly, we gave him up to a shelter, which was one of the worst things I’ve ever been through and possibly the only thing to date that garnered so much judgment from others. It was a terrible situation and we weren’t quite healed from it (we may never be, really). So wounds were still open and Jorah still got some of our tears, then all the sudden there’s this ball of shivering fluff in our living room.

I sat on the couch and watched as D sat across from Scruffy (who wasn’t yet “Fred”) and slowly moved closer as he fed him little treats to gain his trust. After some time, D could sit next to Fred without Fred running away from him or moving to the other side of the room. I don’t remember him interacting with me, I was still deep in observation mode and didn’t want to overwhelm him. We took him for a walk in the rain that evening, renamed him en route, and when we brought him back home, I grabbed a ratty beach towel and wiped him down. I pulled him up on my lap and dried off his chest, his feet and his face. I dropped the towel and he stayed put. So there we sat, Fred taking in his surroundings on my lap and me taking in Fred.

In the following days, we learned he had separation anxiety particularly at night, when we crawled into our lofted bed and he stayed in his bed, out of sight. He cried and whined, and I’m sure D went down to comfort him and sleep next to him against both of our better judgments. He barked whenever we left our apartment, seemingly the entire time we were gone because upon our returns, we could hear him from the elevator (our unit was next to it). We thought he would be miserable the entire 10 days, what had we gotten ourselves into with this poor thing?

Then the night came: D was going to go hang out with his friends and I’d be alone, with Fred. Just me and this dog, who hadn’t really bonded and didn’t quite know what to do with one another. In truth, I wasn’t really a dog person. I appreciated them from a distance, but I never wanted one and didn’t know how to just be with one. I was hesitant to bring Fred into our home for a lot of reasons, mostly based in non-understanding of the animal. After D left and I settled onto the couch with the blanket and Roku, Fred appeared. He lept up, settled into the little spoon position, and slept. Hard. He snored. I was filled with a feeling of nurturing and affection that took me by surprise. Here was this scared, nervous dog and he chose to settle in next to me and rest, maybe his first solid rest since he arrived in our building. I remember having to pee so badly but I didn’t dare move until D came home to take him out.

Those 10 days passed without incident apart from re-naming and the birth of a dozen nicknames which have all stuck to this day. Cindy and her family returned and asked how it had gone, by then we were smitten and Fred was adjusting so we decided he should stay with us. The building had a moratorium on new dogs, ostensibly due to allergies and safety, but we concluded this was more them covering their behinds in their rejection of Jorah. Also, D and I intended to move out in the fall, and it wasn’t worth the fight for anyone. As life had it, our plans were pushed to the spring and we weren’t able to move out until May, and by then Fred was firmly entrenched in the apartment and in the hearts of those who met him. The anxiety barking stopped, he slept comfortably both on the couch and with us depending on the mood, and we got pretty good at bathing him in a tiny bathroom.

Let me tell you a bit about my friend Fred: He, and his breed from what I understand, are mellow. Meh-low. They were bred to be lapdogs, have low prey drive (meaning they don’t fetch, YOU fetch), they are way into naps, and are the sweetest creatures in general. Fred’s smart. He has a dignified, almost aloof air about him. He caught onto commands quickly and aside from occasional stubborn streaks (also built into the breed), doesn’t hang around with his mouth open and tongue out, waiting to please. Due to this discernment, we refer to him as our “weird furry roommate”, when almost everyone else refers to him as our child, or we as his parents. Nothing about that feels right, he came to us as an old man, he’s now in his mid-50s. He’s not our child, but we snuggle him as if he was. I should note, he does this adorable thing where he leans into you and tips his head to lean on you, and stares into your eyes. It’s too much to take sometimes, and I coo at him like he was a baby. He doesn’t seem to mind, just don’t put your face right up to his or touch his feet, he’s not into that. At all.

Fred’s allergies started to bother him in the fall of ’16 so we began giving him a half Benadryl as needed at the urging of our vet. They made him sleepy and lethargic but they do that to everyone, right? One day, I came home from work to find D upset that Fred had behaved strangely while I was gone. He was shaking and confused, and didn’t seem to know where he was, but was responding to D’s voice. It passed within minutes, but Fred wasn’t himself for the rest of the day, sleepy and withdrawn. After some research, we thought perhaps he had vestibular disease, common in older dogs, and the symptoms seemed to fit. It’s untreatable and incurable, so we kept an eye on him and made sure he was comfortable and safe when the rare moments occurred.

By late winter of this year, he was having those incidents once every two or three months, so we let our vet know and made an appointment for March. Right away, she ruled out vestibular disease. She called Fred’s moments “seizures”, which neither of us were keen on since we’ve both had dogs that had terrible grand mal seizures and these were not those. She hesitantly suggested a very unlikely and extremely rare cancer called insulinoma. She asked us to get Fred an ultrasound and suggested we space his feedings throughout the day rather than two large feedings per day, and to keep her posted. We made the changes to his eating times and he seemed to bounce back immediately. His energy was so high, he acted like a whole new (young) dog, which have us hope he’d be just fine. We made the ultrasound appointment for April, in the midst of our decision to move to Ohio.

Sure enough, the ultrasound came back indicating a very small 2 mm insulinoma or in other words, pancreatic cancer. The ultrasound tech was not a doctor and could not offer much medical advice, just a basic “what’s next” list of options, some of which included: exploratory surgery, a CT scan, actual surgery, and possibly radiation afterward. We sat quietly, holding sleepy Fred and his shorn belly. D cried, I retreated into my intellect and asked questions while I took notes on my phone. We drove home in silence, cradling our sweet boy. When we got back to the house, D hopped on his computer while I sat on the couch and we began to research. What was the cost? What was the likely outcome? What is his stage and prognosis? How much worse can it get?

The answers came slowly but clearly: Too expensive, surgical outcome is only 40% successful with likely inevitable metastasis, and when it finally grows, it moves very fast. “Quality of Life” becomes a conversation within a year. It was April. How much time did we have from then? How long had he had this thing lurking in there? There were tears, D’s company is amazing and let him have the day off with pay, my boss let me take the following day off (without pay, less amazing). We knew that there were too many physical and financial risks to surgery, and our focus had to be keeping him as happy and healthy as possible, for as long as we have him. We decided to shelve the conversation until we got to Ohio.

It turned out that the seizures weren’t exactly that, but rather tremors from hypoglycemia, a side effect of his type of cancer and a marker for its progression. In the last two weeks, Fred had had two tremors but both were minor and fixed quickly by a finger of honey each time. I called the vet to get him in, that was more than he’d ever had close together in the last year.

His first appointment with his new vet was August 29th, Fred’s “Gotcha Day”. She’s no nonsense, to the point, and confirmed the ultrasound’s results while adding that she hadn’t seen an insulinoma since vet school and even then, she’d only ever heard of them in big dogs, and it was strange territory she’d have to research more. In the meantime, to slow it down and keep his weight evened out, she prescribed Prednisone and asked that we check in with her in two weeks, and to note any tremors should they happen in that time. She put Fred’s prognosis at about one year, give or take. She guessed that may be accurate because of how quickly his symptoms seem to have advanced just in the five months since the ultrasound. More tears, another quiet drive home. Except this time, there was no more research to be done.

So here we are. Giving Fred, this amazing, best-dog-on-earth, furball the most comfort, love, and reassurance that we can. He has no idea this is happening and aside from watching us cry from time to time, thinks nothing is wrong in the world.

Reluctant Money-Grubbing Slug

Three days into week #3 at my contracted UX gig and a few things have come to light: The reason I found myself working then sitting and waiting for hours to talk to the Director about that work, is because the client is not high priority (read: we’re doing free work) therefore the UX I’m doing is also not high priority, particularly because I’m being paid by the client and not the agency (because the agency isn’t being paid, see). This has resulted in what will amount to about 104 billed hours but only about 10 actual working hours. I’ve been sitting around. A lot.

I’ve discovered something about myself in this barren wasteland where duty should live and that is: I want to work. Friends who are aware of my situation have reminded me that I’m in an ideal moment, being paid to job search, online learn, and poke around websites, oh and do occasional design as needed. But that’s not what I’m here for, it’s not what I’ve fought and studied and moved and worked for, for a year and a half. I want to do UX design. I want to work.

If I had to guess, I’d say 90% of humanity would love to be paid to sit and do basically nothing and I get that, I really do, but when I show up every single day at 9 am after driving in rush hour traffic with the worst drivers I’ve ever experienced, sit for eight hours doing anything I can do to keep myself occupied and entertained, then drive back home at 5 in that same traffic without a single thing to show for my time (but a paycheck), it kills my morale. I find myself getting jealous of the two graphic designers who sit near me, as they work on their stuff all day and every day.

It’s no one’s fault, not really. The client had unreasonable expectations for time and content, the agency had to bring me on to do work to show that client that it was happening. The client determined how much they’d pay me, not the agency. The Creative Director is crazy busy, I am but one plate spinning among many, but he simply hasn’t made time to speak to me about the project in two days and here I sit.

Lord help me, I don’t know how I will get through the next two days, 16 hours, of doing absolutely nothing but be online. Got any good websites for me, people? Anyone? Anyone at all? Sigh.

It’s Happening, I’m doing UX Design!

You read that right! I’m in it!

After I arrived in Columbus and it became clear my freelance situation wasn’t working out as planned, I sent a few emails out to creative recruitment companies; a lazy lure with a crude hook, just to see who’d bite.

TEK Systems, as it happens, did. I was contacted by a recruiter who asked to meet me for coffee rather than the usual trek into the office to shake hands of people I’d never see again, explain exactly everything that’s already on my resume and in my letter of intent, and be told they’d get to me when they could. I’d been through that song and dance before, in the rain, on a 45 minute round trip commute downtown, across from an eager but entirely replaceable and temporary recent college grad. I had little hope for TEK but they seemed to meet me where I was and I thought perhaps that may be a good sign. I began to keep score.

We picked a Starbucks closer to my house than her office (+1) and chatted about where I’d been, what I’d been doing, and what I hoped to do. She was clear to say that they understood the needs of the agencies and companies they worked with, and wouldn’t put me up for a job they couldn’t explain to me or anyone who asked. Unfortunately, placement companies creative or not, have a reputation for putting butts in seats and not much else, so this gave me some comfort (+2). As we parted, she said she had a few ideas and would be in touch.

The following week, she contacted me about a basic design position doing logos and email design, for which I am at this point frankly, way overqualified. I wasn’t so desperate that I’d be willing to take a job that would likely bore me, so I passed and asked her to keep looking. A few days later, she approached me with a position at an agency on the edge of downtown Columbus in a renovated warehouse, doing proper UX. I didn’t hesitate before agreeing. A few days later, she let me know they liked my resume and book, and were interested to meet me (+3). A few more days later, after they got the numbers and dates worked out, I drove 20 minutes towards downtown and met my recruiter’s boss at the door to the agency building and we went upstairs to meet the Creative Director I’d be working with, the Direct or Ops, and the owner of the company and site for which the UX was being done. The meeting was over in 10 minutes, and simply involved chatting and project outlining, and I’d start on Monday (+10).

I’m at the end of my fourth day on site and I love it. It’s everything I thought it would be, and not just in terms of the office environment, which is very cool and welcoming. I get to collaborate and renovate, there’s room for all conversation and edits, and they aren’t so bent on producing the site right away that they won’t take the time to do it right (+347).

******

I had to walk away from the draft and it is now day #5 on site. I lost yesterday (Monday) to a cluster headache, which I’d never had before and hope never happens again. Fortunately, both of my contracted companies were fantastic about it and completely understanding (again, new to me).

A few days ago, I drove to New York to spend the weekend camping with friends and about halfway there, got a few emails from the copywriter assigned to the project. I responded with the PDF of the work I’d completed the day before and mentally checked out of work. Today however, I arrived to find her updated copy corresponding to the wrong page of the PDF and unable to make more changes this week. My main contact isn’t in (at all or yet, I’m not sure), and the second person I’ve only sort of worked with on the project emailed to say he’d get with me later today to write new copy for the updated work. So here I sit, for the foreseeable next few hours, with nothing to do. I’m being paid to do nothing, which I can’t stand, but I have no choice. The downside of contact work is that I have only one job to do, and if I can’t do that job, I have to sit here sucking time and money out of the parent company.

In the meantime, my recruiter contacted me to see if we could meet for a drink next week to catch up about the position and how I felt it went. By then I’m sure I will have a fully formed opinion but as of today, I can say that I wish communication was better at the agency for which I’m working. But still, regardless of that bit of frustration, there’s nowhere I’d rather be (except maybe home, also working). I’m getting my hands dirty, the collaboration has been valuable and worthwhile, and I’m learning more in the last week than I tried to teach myself during the previous year in my attempts to break into the field. This is what the kids these days call, “winning””.

Stranger in a Strange Land

The move to a new location can bring observations which can be baffling at worst, and entertaining at best. Some are about as subtle as a whisper, and some a sledgehammer. Ohio has brought with it a mix of both, but mostly good. Here are mine:

  1. Drivers: I know that Illinois and especially Chicago have their own…styles… of driving. In Chicago, we presume everyone is in the same rush, most know what they’re doing and know how to get out of the way (that goes for pedestrians and public transit, too). In Ohio? Not so much. Almost no one is in a hurry, the lines on the road are mere suggestions, and if someone is passing you on your right it must mean they’re in a bigger hurry and best to keep where you are so as not to disturb their intentions. Turn signals 100′ ahead of the turn? Sure! Merge at the very last second and then cut across two lanes of traffic to reach the turn lane? Of course! How about idle in the neutral center turn lane until everyone’s done doing what they need to do, and then another minute more thus creating a stalemate? Not confusing at all. Ask me if I’ve taken my scooter out since we’ve been here.
  2. Cost: Our first month in town, we witnessed gas prices increase more than twenty cents between gas stations only a mile apart, then drop again a mile later. At its lowest, we paid $1.92 per gallon and now it’s back up to something like $2.15 (Chicago is hovering around $2.50-$2.75). The cheapest gas was, I should mention, found over the July 4th weekend – the exact opposite of how it goes for most of the country. Costco was almost always over twenty cents cheaper in Chicago but here, there is virtually no difference and in fact, the BP on the corner is usually less than Costco (but I don’t get gas at BP, those killers).
  3. Food: Remarkably good, except for pizza. We were warned we would have a difficult time finding good pizza in Columbus and that has so far proven to be true. Super thin gourmet-style pizzas are common, and we even encountered some canned mushrooms which we sat stunned to observe when the pie arrived at our door. We haven’t been out to a pizza joint yet, only delivery, so there’s much research yet to be done. Unfortunately, the only Chicago representation is Giordano’s, which no self-respecting Chicagoan would recommend (though I hear the thin crust is good). We stumbled upon an Asian market and were able to stock up on snacks and ingredients, but not as many as we were used to in Chicago at our beloved Broadway Market. We have a running list of items we’ll most likely have to buy online because finding them here may be hopeless, though I did just stumble across an Asian market down the street from an appointment I’ll be at later today. I ordered some sushi last night that was excellent. Probably the best I’ve had in a very long time anywhere, AND they were open on a Monday to deliver. It wasn’t cheap but it was great. We’ve had delicious Lebanese, solid BBQ, fantastic hot chicken, and of course, Jeni’s ice cream is never to be missed.
  4. Beer: Columbus has more breweries than I know what to do with. They participate in the Columbus Ale Trail, a passport booklet where intrepid boozers collect stamps from each participating brewery for fun and prizes. I think I’m up to maybe eight stamps or so, with many more to come. Having organized and participated in the planning of beer events via my beer club in Chicago, I appreciate all that goes into a well-run, supportive, and connected beer scene. So far all the females I’ve seen are behind the bar but I like to think there is perhaps a decent female representation in the brewhouses too, we’ll see. The jury is still out as to whether or not I’ll start a She’s Crafty Columbus edition, though. The break from planning has been nice, and I don’t really miss the hustle or constant recruitment aspect that much yet.
  5. Working from Home: True, the arrangement I had with my previous company hasn’t quite worked out. If I line graphed the amount of work I had in my first weeks and the amount of work they’ve given me recently, let’s just say it would look a lot like the descent of the Leaning Tower. However, I am still parked in front of my computer in hopes something will materialize, from about 9 am to 5:30 pm, daily. Sometimes things come in, occasionally that time is spent on a job search, and even more often, it’s spent bouncing from article to article. But a few times, it’s actually spent on the couch, with Fred, watching Netflix when I just can’t bring myself to do the aforementioned for another minute more. I have a local recruiter – just one this time, I learned my lesson – who’s making a few things happen for me. She has me (knock wood, it’s not set yet) slated to start a UX gig in a few days at an agency downtown. It’s for only about 40 hours or so, but finally it’s something relevant I can put on my resume and get some real experience doing actual UX. Imposter syndrome is starting already and I’m not even in the door.

    I’ve come to love being home all day, though. Yes, I get bored and frustrated and sometimes go to the grocery store or make appointments just to get out of the house, but I love it enough that the idea of a regular office job, away from home and requiring a commute, makes me sad. Even with a decent paycheck and something to do, I find myself hoping it doesn’t happen too soon. I’m so fortunate that I can be picky in the search and only go if it seems like a good fit and feels right. Dylan’s company is growing very fast and they’re finally starting to talk about bringing a User Experience Designer on staff, so naturally he told them about me (good man). They’re all in Chicago today and tomorrow for a quarterly meeting and I’m told, I’m on the docket. If that conversation happens, possibly as soon as next week, and the opportunity presents to join his company, which is strictly remote, to do work I love, all connecting points will have come together. I would be thrilled. He loves his company and it is truly a unique one. They don’t blink at the request for time away to take care of things or people, and they are truly invested in each other’s wellbeing as humans, not just money-makers. A friend asked if he and I could work together day in and day out, live together, sleep together, cook together, and not kill one another. I said yes, so far no one is dead, but I suspect we’ll have to develop some changes in our daily routines to buy a little more time to ourselves or with people who aren’t us. Still, I’d rather have that than go to an office, all said and done. I don’t know what kind of office I’d ever actually be happy in, honestly.

  6. Our Apartment: Aside from walls that are paper-thin and our occasionally loud neighbors, we love it. The good far outweighs the bad, but they still haven’t fixed up the pool or gym, which we didn’t know were under construction when we signed our lease. That has been disappointing because the weather here is often sunny with temps that hover in the 80s and lower humidity than we’d been used to, aka, perfect pool days. They tell me mid-August and since the pool is heated, they hope to keep it open for a good long time. I’d been counting on that pool for a workout regimen but without it, here I sit, gaining weight and getting flabbier. The most unfortunate development has been our location, actually. We aren’t technically in the city our address indicates but rather, we’re in Columbus proper. This means we can’t take advantage of any resident rates at rec facilities (because Columbus has only one rate), and the really nice pool centers are like, $15 per day for non-residents in the bordering towns. Columbus’s pools are well south of us, too. A functional facility was supposed to come with this apartment, after all. Sirens are far and few, we keep a fan running at night because of the quiet, cicadas have taken over the airwaves, and there are even wildlife sightings (and smells) within yards of our door (deer, skunks, chipmunks).
  7. Our Dog: Fred is thriving. He’s running the stairs like a pro and is comfortable with all the new space in his life. We have a stripe of woods outside our door that someone generously carved a trail through, which leads to a clearing that borders a huge parking lot. That clearing has been perfect for Fred’s romps off leash, previously impossible in Chicago. fredThere are never any other dogs around and for the first time since we’ve had him, he’s been running around full blast. Within a few weeks, he developed some definition in his hind quarters and trimmed down. We started feeding him four times a day because we believe he’s hypoglycemic, but (against my better judgment) after the chaos of the move and his uncertainty, we allowed pee pads to come into our home. If I can catch him before using it, I run him outside and have him pee there but breaking him of the pee pads will be like housebreaking him all over again. Shih Tzus are notoriously stubborn and hard to housebreak, which doesn’t help. He’s never developed clear signs that he has to go out besides staring at us with a certain amount of desperation and maybe a butt wiggle or whine, so the use of the pee pad usually occurs when he sneaks off undetected. Fortunately, it’s still just pee. We’re going to start a routine of sprays that will hopefully deter using the pads entirely, wish us luck.
  8. Groceries: This might be the strangest development. In Chicago, there is a grocery chain called Tony’s, that covers a lot of international bases plus supplies a butcher, fish monger, salad and hot bars, bakery, and a full booze section. It’s a typical grocery store, nothing fancy, and has a huge Mexican section with all the staples. We got spoiled, we see that now. Columbus’s meat, produce, and fish prices are nuts. There has been no explanation so far how that can be, considering the central states are where a lot of the meat comes from. Steaks are at least $1-$2 more per pound, fish is almost never on sale and if it is, the sale price is still several dollars more than Tony’s ever had it. We got way into trout and cod before we moved, stovetop smoking or baking it in the oven. Since our move? Haven’t bought any. We found some perch that we used for fish tacos which were delightful, but it has almost no flavor and isn’t good for much else but tacos, or another heavily reinforced meal. We picked up a huge fresh salmon slab on sale for about $8, but made the singular error of buying a large frozen salmon filet, that we smoked. Previously-frozen fish is a mushy, flavorless heartbreaker.

    Produce fares no better. Green peppers are $1 each, yellow or red peppers push $1.50 each. Avocados hover near 2/$5, cherry tomatoes over $4 a carton, ears of corn are at least $.50 each, and mushrooms are rarely loose so they’re around $2.50-$3 a package. Every single time we go shopping, we stand there shaking our heads in the produce section, trying to understand how a store in Chicago could have food priced less than a city of only 850,000 people. Oddly, we found at discount chain + catch-all Marc’s a huge section of Bob’s Red Mill products for almost half what they usually go for (and a lot of it is gluten-free, if you’re into that kind of thing). Marc’s produce is limited but will certainly do, for less than anywhere else. Unfortunately, their soda pop section is enormous and lends itself well to my theory that Ohio is being intentionally kept fat and unhealthy. There’s a huge medical community statewide, and there is little money to be made from healthy people. Attempting to escape high fructose corn syrup has been tricky, it’s in everything from store brand bread to breakfast meats and several points between. A large portion of our food budget goes to shopping for items that are ideally healthy, but it’s not been easy. The high cost of produce makes this worse.

    Oh and butter! Butter is almost $5 a package, can you believe that?! I was horrified to find a four-pack of sticks at Target for $5, their store brand even, then I started to see it everywhere for that price. Costco’s price is reasonable, but not by much. Again, Tony’s often had packs for $1.50 on sale, but we haven’t come across anything close to that yet.

  9. People: Jury is out on this one so far. My litmus test for how friendly a location is, is two-fold. Do strangers greet one another on the street? – and – Will bartenders or patrons at the bars chat up a stranger without much prompting (or warning)? So far we have yes, and we have no. People definitely greet one another on sidewalks and in common areas, sometimes a head nod, sometimes a “good morning/day/evening”. I admit I am still terrible at anticipating this and the return is always stuttering and surprised. I’ll get there. Clerks and customer service workers are exceedingly friendly, which makes their slower pace a little easier to take.

    The second however, not so much. Granted, I’ve not been to a bar alone yet and many breweries don’t open until after 3 or 4 during weekdays so the opportunities have been slim. When I was in Cleveland, women remarked often how rare it was to see a female at a bar alone, especially with a book, and the guys didn’t know what to make of it at all. I think Columbus is probably a little more progressive than that, maybe, but in our many bar visits, only one bartender has been very engaging and talkative. The others so far just kind of sling your drinks and leave you alone (not the worst quality in bar staff). I’m about to venture out for my first local haircut at the salon of a mutual friend, and up the street from that salon is bar I’ve not hear of but that has extensive guest taps featuring beers not available on draft in Chicago. They open about an hour before my appointment, so when I’m done I’m going to pop in there and see how it is during the quiet of the day. My opinion may change, we’ll see. Also, no public transit means one-and-done is key.

  10. The Airport: We’ve each flown once since we’ve been here and both times we laughed at how short a drive it is to and from (26 minutes one-way), and how simple it is to get into and out of it. We can park at the curb long enough to say a proper goodbye, no one is hoking, whistling, or shouting to move it along, and while pickup is still chaotic with one person circling, the airport is small and simple enough to snatch someone curbside from departures rather than arrivals (old family trick) and poof, you’re on your way. We were watching a show the other day where someone was standing at the curb of an airport, on the phone. He agrees to meet the person on the other side of the conversation “in an hour” at a coffee shop in town, after he’d left the airport and reached his hotel to drop off his things. We laughed at the thought of trying to make that plan in Chicago vs. here (or almost anywhere else, really). In Chicago if you want to meet someone after arrival and a hotel stop, you’re looking at at least two hours.

To sum up: Chicago is more expensive in almost every aspect except for, inexplicably, groceries. Ohio is full of charms and pleasant discoveries. And we’ve only run into one Trump supporter, live in the flesh. Fortunately, he didn’t try to talk to us.

This was the right move, our move here. It’s not permanent, we occasionally discuss what and where is next, and if we both wind up working remote full time the world – literally – is ours to explore. I feel often that we’re on the precipice of something big, and that our lives together are taking a shape that while uncommon, will be full of great stories and adventures. It’s hard to be far away from friends and family and to feel like we’re missing things that are happening with them, but there hasn’t been a moment of regret. Our friendship with our friends here is blooming and growing, and Dylan even got himself a bi-weekly RPG game to run. Now if we can just get to the DMV to transfer our registration and get new licenses…

I Used to Love You

I found myself back in Chicago over the weekend for a planned trip to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I had enough points to make it there and back just by paying tax, where I’d stay stay with said friend who lives downtown and central to all the public I needed for my entrance and exit. It was a perfect setup for a very quick visit and the timing was pretty solid as well.

Arriving a little late thanks to storms between our cities, I worked my way through Midway with purse slung over messenger-style and wheelie bag in my wake. As I was repeatedly cut off by groups of three and four walking abreast so as to take up the entire walkway, the old familiar rage came back. I thought angry things as my brow furrowed and I grabbed my opening of a few spare feet on the outside of the slow-moving, oblivious groups. My calves and feet ached with strain as I stepped intentionally and faster than I had in weeks, if not months. By the time I reached the entrance to the CTA, my shins were begging for respite.

I plopped down on a single seat of the Orange Line (the best seats for zero human interaction), destined for the Washington/Wells stop in the Loop where I’d meet my best friend for a quick lunch before heading to my host’s apartment in River North. I caught up on my phone instead of leaning into the old familiar butterflies when Chinatown and the city skyline grow into view. I felt instead…nothing. If not nothing, then a tinge of something I can only describe as: this again? It was a strange sensation, to feel more obligation and duty than joy and happiness at being, how I’d always thought of Chicago, home.

The train arrived at the stop, I grabbed my bag and wheeled it to the platform, the stairs, then the street. The first thing I realized, maybe it was the 83 degrees and 80% humidity, that the city stinks. It just…stinks. It smells of garbage and sewer and cigarette smoke and exhaust, all mixed with reverberating heat and endless humidity. I had to have known that before, there’s no way it was a special mix just for the day, but it was startling. The coming days would bring witness of garbage thrown from car windows and by careless pedestrians who barely intended to get it in the bin, various piles of vomit from the evening before, inconsiderate public transit users (stand right, walk left), and the standard one person shouting across traffic at another, from the middles of sidewalks in busy stretches where pedestrians went single file to pass. In other words, things I’d witnessed and become 100% used to in the previous 15 years of city living. Suddenly it was like a giant highlighter ran over every offense and I couldn’t help but see them, and hate them all a little bit. My shoulders tightened, my eyes judged, I averted my gaze from everyone else’s because no one was smiling or saying hello on the street, no way.

By Saturday evening’s party end, I was ready to go home (my friend’s home and my own, for that matter). I had to get up at 8 the next morning to leave for the airport and by then D and I had exchanged something like 58 “I miss you, I don’t like this” texts. It was after all, the longest we’d been apart from one another in three years. Hours of conversations with friends who had a few extra drinks then became close-talkers, plus nonstop chit chat and action which started at 9 am on Friday and wouldn’t stop until after 1 on Sunday, mixed in with not great nights of sleep in a strange bed meant I was just done. I went back to my friend’s house without her and tried to sleep, which came in fits and ended much earlier than planned or hoped. I rose an hour early and by 8:05 Sunday morning, I was walking a strangely quiet stretch of Chicago Avenue to the Brown Line station where I’d wait for the train that would eventually take me to my plane home.

The Orange Line runs in a southwestern diagonal from the center of Chicago’s Loop to Midway airport, its terminus. If you sit on the right hand side of the train, particularly facing backwards, you get a beautiful view of the shrinking skyline as you head south. It was a view I always, always caught. I’d stand if I had to. This time, I found myself unintentionally on the left of the train, facing forward to nothing but homes and buildings. I closed my eyes here and there in fits of sleepiness, and by the time the 20 minutes were up and we left the train, I marched headlong and fast to the terminal and waited for Boarding Group C to be called into position.

The only souvenirs that returned with me were two Lou Malnati’s sausage pizzas (with a cup of extra sauce because the frozens are always scant), and two jars of giardiniera, one for a friend. I ate exactly the one meal I missed before we moved, and didn’t miss others. I cannot explain the shift. Maybe it’s marriage and a dog to come home to, maybe the city finally just ended our relationship and it took going back to realize it. Maybe I’d simply grown past everything that comes with living in a town of that size and scope.

D’s job is remote but they gather quarterly to be together and do fun stuff like go on boats and play Whirlyball. I was invited to attend the August 1st gathering back in Chicago. After discussing it, we decided that to make the 11-hour round trip drive worth it, we’d have to stay for at least two or three days, and if we did that, what would we do to fill time? We couldn’t come up with enough missed foods or social activities between us to justify it, and ultimately decided I would stay back and he’d fly out then fly home the next day. What a strange place to be, I keep thinking. When I lived in Cleveland, I returned to Chicago four times in 14 months and could not wait to go back again and again to see family and friends. But as I said to D when he picked me up curbside Sunday, I won’t do that again until I absolutely have to.

It wasn’t a bad breakup, the city and we are just…done. We’d gained all we had to from one another, we both gave and lost repeatedly. We found ourselves paying too much for too little, and in the end took no advantage of what a world class city like Chicago has to offer, it was literally being wasted on us. And when we drive around with the now-expired city sticker in the windshield of our car, we are continually reminded how much it cost for the privilege of living in such a place. And at the end of the day, it was just too much. The air where we are now is clearer, cleaner, far more relaxed, and if I’m honest, welcoming. I’m still trying to get used to greeting strangers on the street, though.