Summer Daze

Full disclosure: I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately. World affairs being what they are, coupled with my somewhat crippling impostor syndrome, I’ve become an emotional turtle. Even as I’m producing some work I’m super proud of, I’m terrified it’s not enough —  “But for whom?” my therapist has asked.

I still don’t know the answer to that, but I feel small and shitty regardless, because the world is literally burning around us.

We’re living in the age of self-care, but the idea is not a new one. As I’ve started seeking therapy, and working on some inner stuff that I’ve long been ignoring, I’ve been figuring out new and socially acceptable ways to cocoon, rather than just take up the full-time #hermitlife, tempting as it is.

I reasonably understand I can’t take on Atlas’ burden, so I’ve been taking a step back. Breathing. Calming my racing thoughts. Chilling the fuck out.

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Summer sets off my SAD (seasonal affective disorder), or more colloquially, summertime sadness, but as a solutions-oriented person, I’ve spent the season seeking out coping methods. I’ve largely succeeded (for now). Starting therapy is a first step, but it’s also a culmination of my efforts, and I’d be a fool to think the my work on myself was done.

Home has become my favorite safe space, the ultimate of bliss stations. Not to get too twee about it, but my plants have helped.

Last week, a bunch of friends sent me that Washington Post article about plant-obsessed millennials, makes me a statistic now, I guess. I’ve got about 20 plants throughout the apartment, but they’re hardly a chore (I’m not giving them a weekly shower), and their existence goes beyond “livin’ for the ‘Gram.” (Though I’ll post pics of them from time to time.) Handsome though they are, my royal palm, silver-leaf philodendron and stag-horn fern are my favorite for the way they sound — rustling at every errant breeze, dry and papery and soothing. Their softly humming chorus is aural Ambien. I love mixing a cocktail at violet hour and posting up on my couch with a book, my phone and computer far away in another room. As golden light filters through my mini-conservatory of leaves, I escape from world-weariness, if only until sundown.

Speaking of books, I’ve read a lot more this summer, even though I intended to write more than read. (Working on it.) I’ve tried to avoid majority voices (straight, cis-gendered white men, if you have to know), for POC, LGBT and otherwise diverse voices. My life as a media person necessitates that I’m always in contact with the former, so my free time is better spent getting to know the latter. This isn’t to brag or otherwise be performative; the simple of act of reading people who more closely resemble me has been a balm, creatively and emotionally, reminding me that representation is nothing to scoff at.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, except to say that I’m fine, or will be. I’ve been crying a lot of late, but not because of anxiety. My favorite summertime programming, So You Think You Can Dance has been blissfully cathartic (OMFG), even if it’s painfully heteronormative, and a few other streaming things have just been beautiful and/or idiotically manipulative, which is cool too, I guess. You can’t be serious all the time. Even a cheap cry is a nice release.

Other than that, movement and activity has kept my mind clear. Swimming, in particular, has been a boon, as I’ve met a few weight-loss milestones and burned off some wiggles. Friends, too, have coaxed me out of my den of sadness: barbecues, boat adventures, cocktails, wine and music have been in my self-care rotation. I think my biggest lesson this summer has been listening to my body, to my feelings, and people that probably know better than me what I need, like sunshine and time on the lake and Champagne with smoked shrimp. 

The work continues, but my favorite season is up to bat. Fall has always been a comfort and reprieve from stifling summers, and my birthday — much as I loathe celebrating it — marks the last real day of summer, and the closing of Virgo season, a sort of signal that I am, in fact, in control of my life.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Bright flamingo mural on a Chicago club

002. Weekly Dose: Gay Stuff

A look at the stuff that’s fueled my week, published every Sunday occasionally or whatever, don’t judge me. 

“Queer, tender, true. I like those things.” – Gabrielle Hamilton, Mind of a Chef

I spent my first birthday in New York at the now-famous Prune, a narrow little charmer of a restaurant in the East Village. My friend from Kasey took me — it was more like a treat for the both of us, since she’s two weeks older than me. There’s a banquette just underneath some mercury-glass mirrors; they pull out a table for you as you slide in, scoothing it back over your legs as you settle in. I don’t remember much of the meal — some sensible rosé or other in a cute tumblr, impossibly cool New Yorkers all around me, a kitchen humming with activity — but I do remember one dish in particular.

We started with a simply prepared avocado half, with olive oil spilling out the concave once housing the pit. Flaky sea salt covered the avocado’s fleshy surface, a sprig of parsley the lone garnish. The effect of the golden oil and verdant fruit mirrored that of the dappled fall sunshine just outside the window. It was barely anything, truth be told, but life changing in its way.

I’ve had meals conjured from foams and gums and wizardy, but the combination of that honest avocado, shared with one of my closest friends in a nondescript restaurant — I’ve never felt so welcome.

I’ve never felt truly part of the LGBT community — lots of baggage to unpack — but I do hope that each of us, this Pride week, Pride month, find some measure of belonging. Cheers to the queer, the tender, the true.

//TASTE:  

I recall the avocado at Prune because Kasey and her new husband were in town this week. When I first moved to Chicago, Kasey (a student at Northwestern) and I shared a teeny apartment in Uptown — it’s been a decade since she last saw the city. She and Brian are big beer fans, so I took them to the newly designated Malt Row in Ravenswood for some local brews from Dovetail and Begyle. Afterward, we headed to Map Room, still one of my favorite bars in the city. My guests agreed.

map room.jpg

//SEE: 

I had to kill a mouse this week. A few months ago, when we initially realized there was a problem, our landlord came in and plugged up all the holes with steel wool. He left some traps, and we thought that was it. It helped for a little while; we caught a mouse that week and thought that was it, the our unwanted roommate was just sneaky. Then last month, we noticed little paw prints on some butter in the counter, plus some scratching noises underneath the sink. There was an entry hole we missed in the cabinet, so we laid two traps and the tainted butter down there, and a few days later, we caught the mouse.

Then this week happened. I came home from picking up pizza dough from the grocery store and as I placed my keys on the kitchen counter, I saw the scurry of another grey lightning bolt duck back behind the oven. The other trap held another teeny brown thing, squeaking and writhing in panic. My heart leapt out of my chest, first because there was now a fourth mouse in as many months, and I didn’t know how long the little guy was there. It could have been hours, torturously wiggling to get out of the glue.

I set up a ziplock plastic bag with baking soda, placed the trap, mouse first, into it and slowly dropped in some vinegar. As the baking soda started to fizz, I quickly closed the bag, and placed it into a grocery bag as quickly-gentle as possible. I couldn’t watch the life get snuffed out of the silly little creature, but I also couldn’t let it suffer.

I did something I haven’t done in a long time: I prayed for the little one’s quick, painless passing.

//HEAR:

It’s a two-fer this week, with two podcasts that should be on your radar. First up is The Sewers of Paris. It’s not new, but it’s new to me, a real pleasure because I have a whole backlog of episodes to listen to. Billed as “interviews with gay men about entertainment that changed their lives,” the show is produced by Matt Baume. Matt asks very poignant questions of these men, going beyond just the musicals, books, and television that left a lasting impression — topics span loss, love, nostalgia, coming to terms with identity, really the gamut of the queer (and human) experience. The episodes I’ve listened to so far feature Glen Weldon (NPR), Guy Branam (Talk Show the Game Show), and author Dave Holmes, and each one is a seamless blend of charm, hilarity and insight.

//FEEL: 

Next podcast? Nancy, hosted by Tobin Low and Kathy Tu. Speaking with them for the Chicago TribuneI asked them about representation even within the LGBT space and how they navigate their newfound platform. The most recent episode, which explores Orlando one year after the attacks on Pulse nightclub claimed 49 lives, will give you all the feels.

millennium.jpg

//SMELL:

Chicago is in full bloom, and like any good Chicagoan, I’m spending as much time outside as possible. Millennium Park’s lawn is fresh and sharp, thanks to semi-frequent rain, while walking near the Chicago River in my neighborhood smells of jasmine and linden and ozone (a tree branch was struck with lightning, and the smell is not unpleasant). I’m not synesthetic (I wish!), but it does smell like the color blue, if that makes sense?

001. Weekly Dose: The Wait of Everything

A look at the stuff that’s fueled my week, published every Sunday occasionally or whatever, don’t judge me. 

Confession: I’ve been working on this thing–whatever this thing is–for about two months now.

I just let myself become one of those writers, stewing and marinading and sous vide-ing over a bunch of ideas. (Just look at my Notes on my phone. It’s like the Magna Carta of gibberish.) Oof, amirite?

Though the concept of these posts is straightforward enough — “stuff I like!” — I’ve been roundabout and ultra-picky, reading tons and listening to hours on end of podcasts, watching everything recommended to me, tasting everything from shitty apple whiskey to transcendent duck tart. The stuff people make is just so shiny and wonderful (most days).

So I’m finally just gonna twist open the spigot, once backed up with excuses, to finally publish something here. Enjoy or whatever. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

//TASTE:  

It’s spring-ish, still, and the farmers markets are heaving with the weight of strawberries. In a herculean effort of self-care, I’ve been avoiding my usual breakfast sandwich fix for a bowl of sharp Greek yogurt with a melange of berries, local honey and bee pollen (allergies are a bitch) and some muesli. So far, so good.

//SEE: 

I’m way behind on Sense8, which is all the more of a shame, since it’s now canceled. The two seasons that do exist are thrilling and fast-paced and charming, but it’s also such a testament to the power of diversity and humanity. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the definition of family, and this show is a glorious celebration of the families we choose to create for ourselves, in spite of what the world throws at us. I don’t know why I didn’t watch it sooner, but I’m already regretting its loss.

//HEAR: 

I’ve been a subscriber to the Song A Day newsletter for a while now, and it’s been usually hit or miss. Somethings just don’t land for me, but that’s ok. In my dotage, I’ve lost the desire to seek out new music, so I like when people just send it my way. And boy, did I need today’s song. It’s by Tom Rosenthal, a musician who has apparently made a name for himself online in a big way, and the song is the title track off his new album. Simple and optimistic, Fenn is the kind of indie song a younger, simple and optimistic version of myself would’ve loved (hello, Garden State soundtrack).

I’ll tell you Fenn, I’ll tell you when
It’s now now now now now now now now now

//FEEL: 

Fun story: At 31 years old, I’m considering therapy for a kind-of growing anxiety problem. Last I went was over a decade ago, to some sheisty Christian family fucker who, long story short, didn’t really help. Can I get an amen for honesty and newsletters, though? Like above, an email landed in my inbox today that I needed to read, a day after a convo between myself and my friend Emily. My main problem of late has been impostor syndrome, which seems, I don’t know, so self-indulgent of me. In his “It’s My Stupid!” email, Tyler Coates (an editor at Esquire) wrote:

It has been hard for me to take compliments lately. My friend Jami gave me a really good one recently, which was that I have come a long way since the time she first met me seven years ago. “You were just an office manager at a startup, and look at you now!” That is one of those objective truths that I try to remind myself whenever I’m feeling low or unaccomplished, that my station probably seems much more impressive to everyone else than it does to me. Which is the crux of it, too, I guess: I have managed to meet other people’s expectations, but I can’t meet my own. Likewise, I cannot listen to my own affirmations when I believe, to my core, that I am just lying to myself.

Which, like, is kind of my deal right now? IDK, the whole thing just seemed very timely, considering my grappling.

//SMELL:

I got to puppysit my good friend Wendy’s moosh, Luke, for just under a week. He likes to lick my knees and has the worst breath, but he’s a good boy.

happy dog in a park looking up at owner

 

//BONUS: Buy Preorder the reprint of first issue of the zine, Do What You Want, co-produced by Great British Bake Off contestant/bad ass, Ruby Tandoh. It’s all about mental health and stories, filled with wonderful people like Heather Havrilesky, Mara Wilson, Diana Henry, Tejal Rao, Meera Sodha, and Tandoh herself.

 

 

Sipping October

This article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune.

One of my best friends was in town for the first time, so I was showing her my sleepy little corner of Ravenswood Manor.

“There are a few breweries nearby,” I offered after we’d walked enough to work up a thirst. “Show me!” she said.

We set out east on Wilson Avenue, taking us through Lincoln Square into Ravenswood proper. We stumbled upon Dovetail Brewery and Begyle Brewing Company, which were jointly hosting a cheery little block party. As families and Cubs-clad 30-somethings mingled, we nibbled on golden pretzels and sipped golden ale, happy with our discovery.

We could have stopped there, but I’m glad we didn’t. Our glasses empty, I suggested we leave behind the jolly crowd for quieter confines, heading a few blocks north to Band of Bohemia, the brewery-meets-beautiful-restaurant opened last year by two Alinea veterans: former head sommelier Craig Sindelar and former baker Michael Carroll, who has turned his talents toward brewing.

Settling in at the bar, we ordered more snacks and a flight each ($15). Each of the five pours was delicious in its own right, but one stood out as a liquid manifestation of that autumn day: the pear fenugreek wheat ale, a seasonal brew that won’t be around for long.

On the nose, the softest whiff of maple sugar escaped the glass, bready and sweet and warm, not unlike the smell of maple syrup itself when poured over just-made pancakes. The palate, too, was soft and comforting, the pleasant, mouth-filling fizz commingling with subtle pear and aniselike flavors.

It was October in a glass — full of change and flux, but as comforting as an old friend coming for a visit.

Sparkling Wine on blue background

Warm Weather Bubbles

It’s summer here in New York City. Or, you’d think it was, given the bonkers warm weather we’re dealing with right now. This time last year, the world was a wet, dark place, one of slushy, knee-deep puddles of dirty melting snow and crowded subway rides thanks to everyone wearing downy sleeping-bags-as-jackets. (Thanks, Canada Goose.)

But today? A pleasant 60 degrees with just a hint of crisp winter air. People were wearing shorts! I mean, come on.

Now normally, I hate summer. I hate being hot, as my islander genes kick into overdrive and turn me into the Swamp Thing. One can only get so naked before decency prevails, while the presence of air conditioning dictates my activity level. That said, this spate of summer-in-winter has actually been pleasant, as there has been no humidity here in Brooklyn. Hallelujah.

I am still confused by it all, though. Not just about what to wear—can I get away with no jacket today? Is my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt too casual?—but what to eat or drink. I’m a creature of comfort, and often let weather or circumstance dictate my meals. If things were normal, you’d find my face hosing down a big ol’ pile of pasta as soon as the mercury even hints at dipping, but with summery weather, I’m instead reaching for (*gasp*) salad. Likewise, I’m shelving my hearty reds (for now).

Francois Chidaine wine

When temps start to creep up, I’m definitely fucking heavy with whites, and if you know anything about me, you’d know that I’d prefer it, shall we say, jazzy. Sauntering over to my wine rack today, I found the right bottle, Francois Chidaine’s traditional method sparkling wine. Listen up: This bottle is out of control. Chidaine is a revolutionary in Loire, having made a name for himself with insanely expressive biodynamic wines that remain surprisingly affordable. With a hands off winemaking approach and ultra low yields, his pours are some of the most exciting bottles I have the joy of seeking out.

Like this guy. Hailing from Montlouis-sur-Loire, it is a 100% Chenin Blanc done in the traditional Champagne method. I’m basically feeling fancy and free with this stunner. Its delightfully tight bubbles deliver flavors of ginger, lemon and tangerine, hinting at summer and oysters and all-day beach hangs. True to form for this style of wine, it also smells of pastry, like a freshly made lemon-curd Danish. I downed this bottle over the course of a few hours today, treating myself to some alone time cleaning the kitchen and doing chores.

Sure, that doesn’t sound at all glamorous but what do you think I was gonna do? Enjoy the unseasonably pleasant weather by going to brunch with my friends and sharing this wine? GTFO.

The Devil Made Me Drink It


It’s Wednesday and I have the night to myself.

This is huge. Huge like whoa. My roommate is out doing her lovely I’m-young-and-fun-city thing, while Ian is working, selling wine like a boss before heading home to Queens. Hell, even the overfed cats are sleeping.

What to do, what to do… Oh look, Sablonnette’s Le Bon Petit Diable, sitting pretty in the wine rack. Problem solved.

This juice is my jam: made from biodynamically-grown Cabernet Franc from Loire, this devil-child is an easy-sipping glass of joy. I mean, just look at the label! Frolicking from couch to arm chair, probably sticky with pie and/or cookies and/or other things that make kids sticky, this Batkid is living the carefree life.

So is the stuff beyond the label. Floral nose with a cheerfully cherry palate. Bright, whimsical and young acidity. A slight glimpse at its naughty, cheeky natural wine origins.

I can only equate what’s happening in my mouth to the ridiculous and uncomplicated thrill of wrapping a towel-cape around my neck as a baby-person and kicking major bad guy ass, washing down the victory with a jelly-and-Wonder Bread sammich.

Cuz that’s how Batkid rolls.