New Orleans

I wrote this post five years ago about New Orleans, or rather my lack of desire to ever go there. What a fool I was! I mean, to be fair, I associated the city with some unsavory people and unsavory stories and thus sort of wrote it off as a “meh” destination. I wasn’t going to dive headfirst into a town built on vice. Yet, everyone loves New Orleans. Everyone who goes there seems to always return and in the meantime, longs to.

Actually, I take that back. My first impression, very first, was the opening of Live and Let Die, where a funeral (a going home) marches down the street. I was probably 8 years old and 100% baffled how a parade and dancing went in-hand with a funeral procession, and why it started out slow and ended joyous. Now, I get it. But let me back up, and then go forward.

We celebrated our first anniversary in June of ’16 and spent the better part of the previous April trying to decide how and where to do that. We wanted anywhere we wouldn’t have to rent a car and anywhere that wasn’t a huge tourist mecca at that time of year. Incidentally all you wedding planners: keep your wedding month in mind for future anniversary trips. Turns out June is a really expensive time to travel anywhere. Anyway, we settled on New Orleans. Dylan lived in Louisiana for some time many years ago, and when Katrina happened, he went there to help. He was familiar with the city but not overly so, and it would essentially be new to us both. We bought our plane tickets and booked an AirB&B in the Lower Garden District, and researched the trip (that would be me, Dylan cares not for such planning). Unfortunately, a month before we were to arrive, our AirB&B host cancelled. We decided that rebooking would be costly in a short window of time, and put the whole thing off until I had vacation time and we really needed somewhere warm after a long winter.

I’ll spare you the starts and stops of rebooking. Suffice to say, we indeed wound up in New Orleans this month, we got home 10 days ago. It was unlike any trip I’ve ever taken, let me say that right now. We walked everywhere but for two Lyft rides twice every day, to and from our AirB&B and the airport. Of those rides, 12 in all, only two drivers weren’t chatty and/or from New Orleans. Every one of our rides involved long conversations with city natives who lived through “the Storm” and offered up so much information from the best oyster happy hours (discovered too late to go, arg!) to why the locals don’t use their a/c even in brutal summer. Of all the tips people ask for about what to do when they go there, “don’t rent a car” has been my top one. Talking to our drivers was one of my favorite parts, I learned so much from them that research would never have taught me.

The first night we were there, it was late on a Thursday so we did as you do, we walked the French Quarter and drank the fruity drinks, which come to find out days later, was a moment of brilliance. It was empty and quiet in most parts and I fell in love with the buildings, even in the dark. In the coming days, we ate po’ boys and beignets, and we took the ferry to Algiers Point. We walked everywhere, logging something like 10+ miles per day.

Oh, second tip: wear the most comfortable shoes you own. I did not and I have the blisters to prove it. We didn’t get to City Park, the Bywater, or Uptown, and I didn’t get to see the huge trees with the hanging Spanish moss along a majestic plantation road as I’d hoped, but they’ll still be there when we go back. They’ll always be there.

New Orleans is the most special place. Music, as promised, is all over. It’s in the air and on the street corners, it’s in bars late at night with no one in them and bars that are packed, but the musicians (some of who double as bar staff in the venues) are the cells in the blood in the veins, the pulse and the beat. THAT’S why New Orleans funerals have brass bands, because music is as big a part of life as is death. It’s woven in. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, strange about someone walking down the street or sitting on their porch, singing their lungs out to the neighborhood. It’s a gift given freely. It’s love, really.

The people are made from the joy and stuff that could only survive and rebuild wholly after what they went through. And stay! And thrive! They know exactly what their city is, good and bad. The street art, the galleries (and so much Prince in both), the night craft market, even our disappointment at Frenchman Street, it all found its way to my heart. I cried happy tears walking through Treme and the Garden District, overwhelmed by the beauty. The gas lamps, the retired streetcar track lines which now serve as walking paths that divide streets, that we were staying in the same area as the Mardi Gras Indians are based (look ’em up), the raised homes and razed blocks, and the constant stream of greetings and conversations with strangers we passed on the street.

Chicago, I came to really realize, is very divided and racially kind of a mess. New Orleans though, everyone mixes and no one thinks twice. You literally greet everyone you pass just the same. At least, that’s how it felt during our brief time. We did find out after we got back that we walked through a really crowded and dangerous spot on a Sunday night, on our walk back to where we stayed. Two locals and a regular visitor looked at us in raised eyebrow silence when they found out, and asked if we were ok. It didn’t feel dangerous though, at least in the ways we know danger to be in Chicago, so I don’t know what to say about that.

As we strolled around the Garden District and began to recognize streets and places we’d seen before, we asked ourselves the frequently-visited question, could we live here? What neighborhoods would we want to live in? What would we do here? I don’t know… maybe…the humidity and bugs though…  Naturally, the neighborhood that stole my heart is the most expensive one, and there’s a lot to concede to living in those old houses with another flood just a season away, but it was interesting cruising Trulia for a few days to see what’s out there. I don’t know…maybe.

Before we went, like everyone who plans a trip there, we asked those who have gone before what we should eat and where we should go. Some experienced friends offered up their favorite lists, others remained silent and in a spirit of love, put hands on our shoulders and said, find your own NOLA, a phrase we’d hear over again. Therefore, I can’t tell you where to go or what to eat because what I loved, you may not love. Except for District Donuts, everyone should go there. Yes, we saw a parade, we hung out at a fantastic divey neighborhood bar a few times where we ate some fantastic crawfish boil and got to know the staff, we drank Hurricanes, ate a piece of king cake, devoured oysters (twice), visited some breweries, got some beads (without skin), and a few other fun things, but I’m not going to tell you all about that because that was our trip, it won’t be yours.

Now I’m one of those people. I miss it. I miss the people and the energy, and I’ve only been once! I understand why people go back again and again, and why so many want to move there. Some people party their time away while they’re there but their NOLA isn’t my NOLA and my NOLA won’t be yours. All I really know is that I only scratched the surface and barely, and that I want to go back. Soon.

March On

I have about two dozen girlfriends (and a few male friends) attending the protests in Chicago and DC this weekend. I am exceedingly proud of them and admire their drive to be heard, it’s valuable and important and the right to do, and is what this country was founded on. They are traveling good distances, knitting special hats, making signs, taking time away from families and coordinating in mind boggling detail. They’re rallying all over social media and sharing valuable information among each other, with the hum of a well-run beehive. I admire them so very much.

I will not be joining them.

I’ve spent some time thinking about why I’ll skip it and I still struggle to articulate that (and for some reason, I feel like I have to). I know that had this all been going on when I was 25, I’d be right there with them, no question. I remember once upon a time telling my mother that I felt I was born in the wrong decade and wished I could have a protest arrest on my permanent record.

But time has passed, I’ve learned more about the world we live in and the cycle of politics and ideals became complicated, there are a lot more grays than there were in my 20s. I know that my friends and the march are on the right side of history and history itself will show it, they are doing the exact right and necessary thing for the time we’re in. As I considered joining, I had a hard time understanding my own hesitation and to a point, still do. Or I just don’t like how it sounds.

Someone posted an article for the protesters about knowing their rights, making sure to keep important phone numbers written in Sharpie on their arms including the local attorney’s offices and emergency contacts, not to rely on cell service so have a backup plan to meet friends that may become separated, protect the head and neck, cover the eyes, linking arms can authorize beatings from authorities, don’t interlace fingers because it causes more damage to the head and neck…. wear thick shoes and pants in case of being drug across the ground…. stay on the fringes of the crowd…. don’t resist arrest… know how to fight detainment….wait, what?

Not only do I have a hard time with crowds, which goes for any crowd from concerts to packed family functions or bars that are too full, and I also have an old back injury that prevents me from walking for long periods at a slow pace without resting. But those reasons aren’t exactly why I’m not attending, either. During the last three years, I’ve invested in and joined my life with another person. I for the first time, have something to lose and it took a long time to find him so I tend to avoid situations that might endanger anything about our lives. Sounds selfish in the grand scheme, but it’s the most important thing I have and I guard it fiercely.

When I read the headlines and watch the clips regarding our soon-to-be “leader” (gulp), I always wonder if something similar has happened before (kind of) and if the situations were reversed and would my liberal bubble so vehemently question the reactions of the other side (likely). As much as I respect the New York Times, it does have an angle. I thought CNN was a good source until I realized they devoted 75% of their talk time during the campaign, to only one candidate simply because he was more entertaining rather than informative. I love NPR but they too have a side they tend to lean heavily into. All that to say, I can’t share social media posts and attend marches without acknowledging the complex agreements and problems presented to the public.

Sadly, our government is so beholden to lobbyists, large corporations, lined pockets, and special interests, that the truth of a thing seems mostly buried. The good guys and hearts of gold rarely win, or are drowned out by the louder minority. That sounds fatalistic and cynical, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s why I’m not going to march. It makes me sad to think this way, perhaps I’ve let my general mistrust of politics, Chicago politics especially, get in the way of hope.

Bernie was hope personified and they made sure he didn’t get far enough to actually institute it in spite of igniting a country’s youth in a way not seen since perhaps Kennedy (and look what happened to him). The country repeatedly shoots down its better interests such as healthcare for all if not most, functional and practical maternity and paternity leave policies, banks run everything to disastrous consequences, credit ratings still somehow matter even after a recession, big agriculture and high fructose corn syrups ruin the health of children all the while medicines cost a fortune and people lose their homes over medical debt… see where I’m going with this?

So marchers, I applaud you. You are doing what you (we) know to be the right thing and that’s what the world needs more now. I don’t know what may come of it besides a united front and larger divide, even the people who voted for the winner that are regretting their decisions are not likely crossing enemy lines anytime soon, but maybe if only one person sees things differently it can be considered a success.

Time for a Change

It’s been quite a week or two around the homestead. First, I watched the Cubs win the Series, something I frankly thought would never happen in my lifetime (since it didn’t happen in my  diehard superfan grandmother’s lifetime, either) and then we…well, not me… elected Voldemort to the highest public office in the land.

I am one of those people you may have read about who cried the night it happened, cried when she woke up, cried on the way to work and then at work. I have a good boss who let me go home and work there for the rest of the day, I admit to having a hard time getting through those 24 hours. By Thursday morning however, I’d pulled up from the tailspin and got back to some kind of normal.

When Dylan and I realized we were serious about one another, we talked about how we’d choose to live one day. We discussed riding around the country in an RV, working remotely. We visited RV sales lots and did a ton of research, with the intention to make a serious attempt at it after we got married. Life being what it is, those plans were repeatedly postponed and even though we were frustrated, I often wondered if we were pushing a hope many years beyond our ages, and if it was simply too early to retire from a traditional life. So we set our sights on another state: Arizona, particularly Tucson. I’ve loved Tucson since I first went there at 19 and always wanted to return to Arizona to live. Chicago has become financially impossible for so many and simply a frustrating place to exist thanks to our mayor and the seemingly endless rising costs.

Then, at some point last year when it became clear that oh wait, Trump is serious and so are his fans, we looked at one another and agreed that if he were to be elected into office, we could not stand idly by and live under his banner. To stay, we felt then and now feel more, would be tacitly complicit. So we began to talk more about moving out of the country beyond simple daydreams, and Dylan mentioned Thailand, where he’d lived for a year many moons ago. At that time, visas were easy to get and it was insanely cheap to live there, so after some selling, I agreed to look into it.

While working from home on Friday, I could hear him tapping away on his computer and then a disgruntled, “oh”. He said that apparently, a major visa crackdown had occurred and in fact, long story short, moving there would be very difficult. The thriving ex-pat community is apparently safe due to being grandfathered in, but those who intend to make a go of it there will find it far harder to do. I’ll admit that this was a bigger disappointment to Dylan than to me, I couldn’t get my head around it in a comfortable way and I felt relief when he said he thought the door was closed.

Merida YucatanShortly after, I actually don’t know how, we stumbled on another option: Yucatan, Mexico. The cost is almost identical to Chiang Mai in Thailand (read: insanely cheap) and there is even an option for beachfront living with the Gulf of Mexico mere feet away. Or if we choose to live in the capital city of Merida, that same beach town is only 45 minutes north, with the resort towns of Cancun and Playa del Carmen about three hours to the east. Yucutan is the safest state in Mexico and Merida the safest city (I checked. A few times). There is a thriving ex-pat community there and jobs both in-country and remote through American companies are plentiful (though the visa difference is about $250). We dove into resource websites and looked at properties, and it looks (and feels) more and more like a viable option. I’ll admit that the blogs that seem to say a lot of “don’t expect hot water in the kitchen” and “lots of bugs” I’m reading shake my confidence a bit, but I’m a comfortable, squishy American.

The visas are easy to come by with a simple show of bank records, we can bring our dog without quarantine, we don’t have to worry about selling our car because we can bring it with us (with a bit of extra paperwork and cost but that is perhaps easier than finding someone to take over our payment), and aside from selling off a fair bit of our stuff that we’re not attached to, can go there somewhat unencumbered. This is all far enough off that I’m grateful we don’t have to make announcements or decisions, we still have to renew our passports, but our lease is up June 1st so unless we find somewhere to stay for a little while, that would be our departure date. It’s a very long drive (and I’m not entirely sure how safe it would be) so getting there takes its own research we haven’t even begun yet.merida2

That’s the latest, kind of. This country is showing signs of coming apart at the seams along with the relationships and institutions we value. I don’t see myself giving up residency or loyalty, but for the next four years I can safely say that I don’t want to be confused with someone who willingly supports a land that allowed this to happen. For us, that means living in country and going on as if. I’ve been conflicted, with all the people saying, “Don’t leave, stand and fight” but, honestly, that’s not where we are choosing to put our energies. I don’t want to fight, we aren’t fighters. We are explorers, creatives, wanderers, experiencers. We want to live our lives discovering and learning, not fighting, no matter how righteous the fight may be. Almost half the country didn’t vote and half of those, voted for him. The other half voted for someone most didn’t even really want. Who exactly are we fighting with and for?

This is a strange and scary time, literally the only peace I have is the idea that we won’t be here to watch it all unfold. I know some will see it as throwing in the towel and running away because apparently we’re all supposed to stand our grounds and prove one by one that we’re better than all this. If I was in my 20s and this happened, I would be downtown protesting with everyone else, hoping to be arrested so I could have my statement literally on record. However, I am almost 41 now and I’ve been around the block once or twice, and I know that things are cyclical. We have endured horrible occurrences in our nation: slavery, smallpox blankets that killed off entire nations and practices that killed their animals, a war fought inside our own borders by our own people, 9/11, some terrible Presidential decisions, and a seemingly endless appetite for military action. We’re still here and things are better, even though it doesn’t seem so in November 2016.

But I also have the urge to go. To travel. To not find myself in my 50s chained to my desk, doing the same designs I’d been doing for a decade. How terrible a life not lived.  We don’t have kids, we likely won’t, we have little holding us back. We love our families, but we don’t see them much and frankly, getting people to visit us in the winter in Chicago is an entirely different thing than a visit in the winter near Cancun.

Gallbladder Ousting: Rest, Relaxation, and Little Surprises

I had my troublesome gallbladder out a week ago. Six tests, all the standard ones they issue when symptoms rise, came back negative. I saw a surgeon at the urging of my Gastroenterologist and he scheduled me to have it out, simple as that. When asked if it was needed and what if it’s not the solution, he simply replied that removal is the next step and if it didn’t work, there were many more invasive procedures he could try, but was pretty confident this would do the trick.

I woke at 5 am the day of surgery and took a shower, the last one I’d be able to take until the following evening. I donned the most comfy bra I own plus stretchy pants and an over-sized t-shirt with the neck cut away, slip-on shoes, undies I’d be ok with people seeing, and I was ready to go (the clothes mattered because I knew Dylan would have to dress me later and buttons are mean). We pulled into the valet area while it was still dark outside and handed over the car. Checking in, they asked if we wanted to fork over the $758 deductible for the procedure or be billed (ha ha), wristbanded, and then we took a seat. I was fetched and ushered to the prep room where they took my blood pressure and temperature by running this wacky metal ball wand across my forehead, and asked me to pee in a cup (pregnancy test). My funny and delightful male nurse had further instructions for when I returned with regards to the clothing policy.

“Everything off”, he said. Everything? I asked. Yep. Even undies? Yep. I made a face and nodded ok then went to the bathroom to pee in the cup. I pondered being as God made me under a loose gown and didn’t like it.

When I returned, he held out a little white package and said I seemed uncomfortable with the “no undies” thing so he brought me some. Hospital undies?! Nice. I wiped myself down with the big, thick anti-bacterial wipes supplied to me and put the socks, gown, and undies on. The underwear, by the way, are boxer brief-styled gauze, basically. Very stretchy, mostly see-through, and almost non-existent. I got a little sad thinking about the circumstances in which someone would find themselves in need of them in regular hospital dealings. Once done and my clothes tucked into a provided bag, I cracked the curtain back open and waited. My nurse came in and set me up in the bed. I asked why the gown was open to the back if the surgery was happening in the front and he said that basically, it’s much easier for them to lift the whole gown off of me than anything else. I flashed on the previous idea of not having any underwear on and probably blushed. Oh, lord.

Pretty soon, a cavalcade of doctors, residents, anesthesiologists, nurses, and medical students came through. They reminded me not to eat right away, clear liquids only, and that my abdomen would be filled with CO2 so the tubes could get through easier, and when that gas starts to move around during recovery, it will be uncomfortable in the neck and shoulders, mainly. Weird. Forms signed, they all asked the same questions at least four times (name, procedure, birthdate), before my surgeon finally arrived. Dylan was there during all of it and waited with me for about 45 minutes until they were ready to wheel me into the operating room. The surgeon gave us a quick rundown of what to expect, pretty basic stuff, the nurses pumped me full of something potent and then… well, I remember nothing.

Next thing I know, I’m being gently shook awake and told to breathe, and there’s a beeping to my left. I became very aware of three things: My throat felt like it had been implanted with shards of glass, my lips felt like sandpaper, and the tops of my shoulders were KILLING me (the gas). Then I noticed how slowly I was breathing and as soon as I became aware of that, the beeping would begin again. Dylan came to sit next to me and the very first thing I asked him for was lip balm, at which moment he said he knew I was perfectly fine and still me (I have some on or near me, usually more than one tube, at all times). I asked why my throat hurt so badly, with not much of a voice to do so, and the nurse told me they intubated during surgery. I asked why, my only exposure to intubation coming from ER when it meant someone was dying. Standard procedure with the kind of anesthetic I’d had, they said. I asked for water but was told not yet. Ugh.

My surgeon came in to check his patient and let us know it all went very well. They in fact did find stones, so it wasn’t all a big waste, which all the tests and spending for them had seemed like so far. He also said that my gallbladder was on the opposite side of the liver than is typical, and in 500 surgeries had never seen anything like it. I was still too drugged up to make a joke about being a medical study and getting paid for it. He showed me photos that I don’t recall. Fortunately, he was able to get to it laparoscopically and they didn’t have to cut me open, that’s huge. That takes a six hour outpatient surgery to a two-day stay/six week recovery nightmare. I can’t wait to ask him more about the placement when I see him again because it’s all very fuzzy. He shook Dylan’s hand, I gave him a high-as-a-kite, “Thanks, doc” and with a squeeze of my foot, off he went.

A little while later, they propped me up and moved me to a recliner chair. Still very dazed but coming around, they brought me some vanilla ice cream and graham crackers (a terrible idea for someone whose throat feels like the Mojave), and I sipped some glorious water as best I could. Eventually, it was time to get dressed and prepare for my exit. They left Dylan and me alone so he could help me, which he had to because I had all the coordination of a newborn giraffe. Hilarious. Hospital undies vanquished and preferred ones back on, they got me into a wheelchair and took me to the curb to wait for the car. By now it was after noon, texts to family sent and updates given. Being right down the street from my pharmacy at Costco, we decided to just go and get my drug prescriptions filled.

They don’t have regular wheelchairs at Costco, by the way, just motorized carts. I was in a bad mood already and Costco on a Friday afternoon never helps. No one gets out of the way, in fact they seem to intentionally cut in front especially when samples are present, and feeling this might be the case, I left my hospital bracelet on and IV bandage affixed as a warning and silent horn. It didn’t really matter except for a few pity looks from random patrons, not helped by my pathetic frown. Drugs gathered, home we went. My shoulders were still very sore but once I got to bed, I laid down and tried to relax enough to forget about them. It didn’t work, really. I had an ice pack on them for two more days.

That was seven days ago, and now here I am, relatively much better. The four incisions are super glued shut, though the glue is more like rubber cement and it’s starting to peel. The bruising has subsided and the itching is less. I still can’t lift more than 10 pounds for a while, but I haven’t taken any pain meds for a day and a half and I’m sleeping better. I tried to go for a walk two nights ago and was surprised to find that after only about two blocks, I was winded. I slowed my pace down and relaxed extra when I got home. Dylan waited on me hand and foot, because that’s the kind of man he is.

I’ll spare you the details of what happens to a body when it’s drugged up and opioided out for hours and hours, if you’ve ever been on pain killers then you know exactly what happens. I am ready to get back to a normal routine in more ways than one. I worked at home all week and Monday will go back to the office. It was wonderful to have this time to relax, I think going back would have probably set me back a little bit in terms of healing, I can’t imagine people who try to go right back to living life only a few days later.

My follow up appointment is in 10 days, I presume to check the wound sites and make sure they’re doing alright, and to answer questions or concerns. I hope I get to see the pictures of my weird parts again. This weekend I will tackle fried chicken: the reason this operation happened in the first place. KFC, I am coming for you!

Just a Little Something for the Pain

I’ll spare you the long story (you can read it here, if you really want to), but about a year ago I woke up in the middle of the night with my stomach in total agony. Not my guts, not my intestines or colon, but my stomach: that little fist-sized guy who normally rests comfortably behind the arch of your southernmost ribs. It was fried chicken, come to realize, and it was likely my gallbladder, said a few doctors.

A year ago, one stuck a tube down my throat and into my stomach, looked around and found nothing of major note. The next doctor took some blood and scheduled me for an ultrasound and in the meantime, the blood work came back negative. Dylan and I traveled to see some friends in Ohio and while there, I ate a thing that brought on another attack at 1 am (this makes like, six? Seven in a year?) and after some meds and time, the pain didn’t go away. I went to the ER and after the nine hours spent waiting and not sleeping, found that their ultrasound, CT, urine, and blood work also came back negative.

Can you give me something for the pain for when this happens again, doc? No. No prescribing scheduled class drugs out of the ER, too many drug seekers. But I’m not a drug seeker, I said. You have all my pee and blood, you can see there’s nothing in there. Doctor shrugs.

So after the doc in the ER tried to tell me it was a UTI and kidney stones, and then gave me an antibiotic as well as a scrip for extra high dose ibuprofen (NSAIDs are big no-nos when stomachs are causing problems for people), they sent me on my way. I filled neither prescription, even I without a degree in medicine, knew they were wrong.

Today I met with a Gastroenterologist. She too agreed that it sounded exactly like gallbladder and I fit all the parameters to make that fit. But true, the prior tests all came back without proof and there was only one more test left to do. If that is negative too, then the real head scratching begins and I meet with a surgeon anyway. They’re going to inject me with radioactivity and watch it run through my gallbladder to see if and where it gets hung up since one test did say it was distended (which usually happens with stones, but they didn’t see stones). If it does, in any way, that friggin’ organ of annoyance is coming out. Until then, if it decides to freak out and hurt me again, what can I do?

She offered a low dose pain med, one that I know works since I have this weird genetic thing that renders a lot of pain meds useless but for the one we discussed. I checked out with the receptionist and waited for the paper scrip to come. The medical assistant came around the corner sheepishly… the doctor isn’t comfortable writing a scrip for that drug until he sees you experience that pain. I said, but it happens at 2 or 3 am. How will that ever work out? She agreed, said she wished it was different, and walked away. ARG. The doctor that handed that denial down btw, has never met me.

I got home and emailed my doctor to let him know that I’d gone to the appointment and another test was upcoming. I let him know that they too, would not write a pain script and asked him what I should do. I ended by asking him if I should see a pain specialist (which both goes over his head and absolves him, but what pain specialist is going to help me with all these negative tests?) and now I wait to hear. I just want to tell them, give me five pills! I’ll break them in half! This happens rarely enough that will last me for months, come on you guys.

As we know, this all comes from the rampant abuse of opioids, the over-prescribing of them, and the proliferation of pills instead of weed or any other option. If I liked weed, if it worked for me, I’d just go that route. Lord knows it’s infinitely easier to come by than pain pills are, clearly. So thanks, scared doctors, the DEA, dealers, and junkies. I’ll think of you all when it’s 2:30 am and I can barely stand life.

Death in the Age of Facebook

My friend Adam died yesterday. He was living in Florida, on a boat (sometimes, I think), and filled my feed with smiling pictures of good times with friends and his nieces and nephews all hugging their uncle Adam. He was a frequent poster and lover of life.

I hadn’t seen Adam in at least five years, maybe more. He was a huge guy with crazy, long curly hair and a big beard. He resembled Hacksaw Jim Duggan but was the biggest walking bearhug you’d ever know. He got up early and worked hard, so hard that he often dozed off while sitting at a loud bar, prompting many a bartender to cut him off without realizing he was just on his 22nd hour of activity. He moved from Chicago to Florida to be near friends and family, and we were all happy for him when he went.

Adam seemed to have lots of friends but struggled with the ladies, I think it’s fair to say. He messaged me a few times to get the female perspective in his life. It was a frequent situation for him, feeling like he was getting the shaft from friends and women. Amidst all the goofy photos and cute moments, I think he was a little sad too. But who isn’t, right?

Today, I saw a relative of his tag him in a post. I read further and realized what it said: Adam was gone. What followed that post was an almost instantaneous collection of about 75 comments expressing sadness, shock, sympathy, and buried within, only a few who dared to ask what happened. A question that as of now, two hours after the initial message, hasn’t yet been answered.

Mutual friends are posting photos of him and writing notes about their sadness, a few others comment and ask why, still no answer. When enough time goes by without one a cause, a picture will  being to form which will lead many to guess. Eventually, I found myself tweeting the following while expressing the same wish to Dylan:

“A request to my pals: When I die, please don’t put it on Facebook until it’s been like, a month.”

I get that we now have a cultural means and need to share information the second we have it. I know there will always people who just cannot resist the urge to comment on a cliffhanger or spoiler minutes after it airs. Birthdays, engagements, first days at school, first poops, it’s all out there for the world to see and if you don’t have Facebook, you run a very real chance of missing out on such news. But then, when tragedy strikes, people turn to the same outlet as everyone else does for joy and then paradoxically, completely hold back details. As natural as it is to want to share news immediately, it’s just as natural to want answers when that news doesn’t make sense.

Not everything is up for public consumption nor should it be, but if you choose to put something as immense and impactful as a death notice on Facebook (as tacky as that can be) I can’t help but feel like it should be targeted or at least be prepared to answer inevitable questions. Does that sound entitled or disrespectful? I don’t mean it to, certainly. Facebook didn’t exist when my dad passed or I’m sure I’d have posted something about it there too. I’d like to think I’d have waited a while, and his passing from cancer wasn’t sudden news to have to break to people, but it is still a very personal thing to allow 400 friends and 500 of their friends, to take part in. Sudden death, I can only imagine, is such a shock that I’m sure things are said publicly without having time to process a second of any of it.

Adam’s friends have made at least 10 posts so far, and counting. One friend has expressed sorrow in every one of them, I myself haven’t contributed any words. I sent a message to his sister who made the initial announcement, but I’m leaving it at that.

I remember about 10 years ago or so, a friend died in a drunk driving wreck on Christmas eve. My best friend texted to tell me it had happened and at the time, I was so irate that she chose to tell me in text that I barely responded to her. Today? I immediately texted a different friend when I read about Adam. Times change, electronic billboards and broadcasts are the norm, but I’m just not there yet.

A Sudden Clarity

Have you ever known that you need to do something? Not like, pee or throw up, but kind of. It’s the thing that I know is what what my whole design career this far leads to: User Experience Design, aka UX. It combines human motivations, psychology, research, strategy, efficiency, design, and functionality all into one position. Sure, it pays ridiculously well and there aren’t a ton of us out there so we’re in demand but aside from that, I know in my heart that this is what my next step needs to be.

I spent this week at an Internet Retailer convention here in Chicago, per my employer’s instructions. From Tuesday through Friday, I sat in breakout sessions and took notes, trying hard to glean knowledge from those in better positions than I, who spoke about the highs and lows of running a business that exists in some large and small ways, online. Mine doesn’t, not really. My company is of the, shall we say, “old school” where it makes far more sense to spend a lot of money on the printing and mailing of 1,100 physical newsletters than it does to upgrade a website that has not changed much since – no exaggeration here – 1999. Spinning globes as bullet points, teeeeeeeeeeeny tiny text boxes in a sea of background color, two pages that say the same thing, it’s brutal and frankly, I almost never refer to it. So when they told me they wanted to send me to a convention where I should surely pick up knowledge to move the company forward (ostensibly), I was excited. I’d only been to conventions that had to do with the food service industry and even then, as a booze moocher and voyeur. And hey, paid to be out of the office in a classroom setting!

By Wednesday, I had hoofed through the exhibit hall at a desperate pace, deftly avoiding “HI PENNY! CAN I TALK TO YOU FOR A MINUTE?!” coming at me from left, right, and dead center. I didn’t need to speak to online payment processing companies, we don’t really do that. I said, “no thanks” to multiple ecommerce websites and packaging supply reps. Even in speaking to an email marketing company, it felt futile since I knew it was a company my boss wasn’t interested in. I am though, especially for my beer group emails, so it was exactly the only serious exhibitor conversation I had in two days’ worth of wandering the booths. What was I doing there? I wasn’t entirely sure.

Then Thursday came and my pre-selected classes had mostly the same theme, which was a happy accident in my favor. With a general theme of, “Is your website working?”, those sessions focused on something that has become a big deal for me: UX/UI, or, User Experience Design.

When I started at my company in February, my boss let me know that he was in the process of building a website and app meant to be used by a subset of our employees. He knew what it wanted to do, but had no idea how it should look. After much miscommunication on methodology, I chose the colors, designed the logo, built buttons and modals, and do lots of aesthetic upkeep. We tackled many questions, the software engineer and I. Did this element work? No, we already said this over here, and it will confuse people to click this button twice, etc. The SE and I poured over details and he made changes based on my suggestions. I was swimming deep in a UX sea that I didn’t even know existed. Turned out, I’d been doing it for years and now, a deep passion develops.

As time went on at the office, I learned how much I truly didn’t (and don’t) know about building functional apps and websites, which is a lot…it could fill a room. HTML and Javascript are still mysteries to me, though getting clearer. The attempt to communicate to code-builders by someone who has only ever done print was comical, and probably very common. So I attended a free info session about learning front end web design skills in a General Assembly class, basically to know what is possible in a build. I can’t very well tell the SE to do a thing if I can’t articulate what should be done using his own language. The class at GA is over three grand, a tough sell to the bosses. Online classes are ok, but I don’t learn well that way since I get very distracted with an open computer in front of me and can’t ask questions as they rise.

I brought the class results back to my boss who asked if he could try to find me something cheaper. I said ok and listed my time/day preferences. He sounded supportive, and a week passed. A while later, he mentioned our company’s busy season was approaching and that it would likely be put off to fall. Disappointed but understanding, I went to my desk and continued to do some of the work I was hired for as a Marketing Manager. As the days went by, I realized that the majority of my work, as it happened, had very little to do with that title. My time is spent about 75% doing graphic design, 5% marketing, and 20% administrative (other peoples’ admin duties, she said bitterly). The marketing plan that I researched, poured over, built and stressed about presenting is, sadly, lining birdcages and will likely never see the light of day again.

I am not a marketing manager, not in any real way. I don’t have business cards, I don’t have a budget. What I have is an empty title and don’t do much with it. UX is calling me and it’s where I need to be, but without the support of my company and the space to transition, I will effectively be parked in a holding position indefinitely. My boss wants to see me make the move, he’s said he needs someone in that position and would like it to be me, but I’ve also seen his hands tied or completely lopped off by the upper management, who don’t understand the needs to modernize and upgrade technology the way he does. It’s entirely possible that my wagon is tethered to someone who is also on hold, I don’t know.

I’m not ready to leave this job yet. that’s not my intention anyway, nor is it time for an ultimatum. However, now that I know this is what I am meant to do, everything else feels like it’s either taking me further away from it, or is time-killing and not moving me forward. I am impatient by nature, but this is a different animal. Graphic design is my first love, I have no qualms about doing it at work. The rub is all the other stuff. Updating social media seems fruitless, few refer to it. Admin jobs that are not my department even more so. Itchy feet are borne of this kind of misuse, I’ve been here before and know it can happen. My intention is to go to his office on Monday and tell him of my time at the convention and this intense revelation about a new path, and my intention to pursue it. Reading between the lines, he may realize it’s best to get behind me on it as soon as possible. If there is no urgency to move me into that position, then I may have to ready my resume, not something I entirely want to do. I keep going back to that moment in When Harry Met Sally, where *spoiler* Harry finally realizes he wants to be with Sally and says,

“…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life
with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

But in the meantime, I’ve joined UX groups and meetups, looked into UX and design conventions later in the year, and am single-minded in hot pursuit. I’m coming for you, future. Ready or not.