I believe it is important to take silent moments to reflect on our current place in life, which I do most clearly through writing.
Since moving, I’ve reflected maybe twice, and only at the in between. I’ve stared at the skyline on the morning metra and felt warm disbelief at the place I get to call home. I have sat in a boat on the Chicago River learning about architecture, surrounded by tourists, knowing I was perhaps the only one who’d go home to her permanent residence mere miles away.
But no, I haven’t yet taken the time to be. To sit in the changes that define the current moment and emphasize that this is life, now.
Here, let me tell you what I know.
1—I moved to Illinois in September without a job, or any prospects of a job, or any reasonable belief that I should easily be able to find a job. I had been living with my best friend in our Missouri college town as she prepared for her wedding, and I left the week after her honeymoon. I loaded down a 5×10 U-Haul trailer with the help of good friends, and drove the six hours from Columbia, MO to Naperville, IL with only the company of my bluetooth speaker and many worried phone calls from my grandpa.
I started out in Naperville—a suburb an hour outside of Chicago—because my former college roommate is from there, and I crashed in her brother’s childhood twin bed in the time between deciding I’d move, and figuring out if this was all going to work.
2—I was told “no” a lot. Choosing to travel during my summers instead of intern, my resume was pretty sparse with professional experience. I’m also a terrible interviewee. I’d either let my nerves take over and say weird stuff like, “Brian Williams is my favorite journalist!” or I’d decide in my head I had the job and, consequently, stopped trying. I would recommend neither strategy and, tired of rejection, decided I needed to take a different approach.
3—The job I would eventually get was something I had applied to four months prior, and had since fallen off my radar. I got an email from HR in mid-October asking if I was still on the job search, and would I be willing to move to Chicago. I did my best—on my friend’s parents’ living room couch, wearing what I’d slept in, with coffee breath, greasy hair, and an only-decreasing checking account balance—to not-so-desperately say “yes” to both.
The interview with this company was different, whether by the laid-back company atmosphere, or my intentional change in interviewing strategies, I’m not sure. Most of it was a blur, but I remember talking to my would-be manager about our mutual love for France, and I recall another interviewer laughing harder at my use of “y’all” than he did at any of my GOOD interviewing material. “Strange crowd,” I thought.
I left the office that day feeling clean. I had done my best, actively trying throughout the entire three-hour process. My last interviewer had said I’d hear back soon, and to let them know, “if any other opportunities come up.” I checked my mental calendar. There were no other opportunities on the horizon, but I was grateful for his optimism. I did what I always do when I feel bad and want to feel better, or when I feel good and want to feel great: I walked to TJ Maxx.
I heard from the company about a week later with the offer of my first big-girl job, and called my mom from that same living room couch, and probably in those same stale pajamas. (The only real glamour in unemployment is how unglamorous you get to be.)
4—Chicago housing moves very quickly, and you should not go apartment hunting until you are ready to sign on the dotted line. My friend (and now roommate) Beth and I spent one Saturday in mid-November driving from Ukrainian Village to Logan Square to Ravenswood, fighting city traffic and getting rejected by landlords. The place we chose was ours by the following week and, after two weeks of commuting from Naperville to the Loop, we moved into our third-story, vintage apartment with excessive windows and a shower that refuses to drain.
It’s ours and I love it. We are surrounded by couples and babies and the weekend line at my local Starbucks is filled with moms who probably always ask to see the manager. We are the two early twenty-somethings who keep the neighborhood young. I know this because I once walked a friend’s dog on my street and an older neighbor yelled at me to get the dog—who was only sniffing and rolling around—off her property. I wanted to ask her what it is like, to have property. It did not seem like the right moment. Anyway, this is how I know we are the rebellious youth of Ravenswood.
5—Moving is lonely, but it gets better. I spent a lot of those first weekends in the city with no plans, save the night I watched the original Beaches in bed alone and started sending out strange texts to my closest friends. Post-grad socializing is difficult, especially in the middle of winter when going out of doors is the last thing on anyone’s wish list. I also felt surrounded by people who were already established; in their jobs, their relationships, their friend groups. It’s not like college, where everyone is equally desperate for connection. You’re the desperate one, and you have to act on that emotion without letting it overtake your interactions, on account of because that is weird.
I describe my social strategy as follows: I invite myself, until I eventually start being invited. In the world of basketball, we call this “throwin’ ‘bows.” This is not a clear parallel, but the point is you sometimes have to elbow your way into the things you want.
This strategy got me going with a pretty fun group of weirdos who admittedly know very little about life, except that we like and care about each other, and are okay with that as a foundation. We can build from there.
6—It takes time to do the things you say you’re going to do, but you must do them. One of my biggest reasons for moving to Chicago was to try out comedy. (Original, I know.) I grew up acting and took a break from theatre in my upperclassman years of college to focus on my degrees, but haven’t been doing so hot without a creative outlet to lean on.
I had it in my head that starting classes at Second City was this huge statement you shouldn’t make unless you could back it up; that being a student there was a formality, and all who enter should be ready for an SNL audition tomorrow. This may surprise you, but that was my fear talking. I signed up for classes in March and actually have my last class of my first session tonight. It’s been eight weeks of light-hearted fun with a bunch of other dweebs who are passionate about performing, and I’d say that to their faces, so they can’t get mad if they’re reading this.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, or where I even want to go with this. I do know I’m signed up for my second session of classes, and that I’d like to keep going, if they’ll let me. I’m not in a place right now to make concrete decisions or declare certainties, but I do know I’m in a pretty good place to figure it out.
My life looks vastly different from my reality a year ago, when I sold shoes and wine and rode my bike down country trails and was gearing up for goodbyes with some of my best college people. I remember so clearly the day Mandy and Sarah and Katie and Meagan drove away, walking around our empty old house, listening to Frank Sinatra’s “I’ll be Seeing You” as I melodramatically stared at the bare walls in their empty bedrooms. (I did not make this day any easier for myself.)
That day put a hole in my chest, deep and sunken with the loss of a stage of life I knew would never fill me again. But there were things, and a life, and people I could never have dreamed up waiting for me on the other side of heartache, on the other side of uncertainty, on the other side of loneliness.
It works out even as we are still heartbroken, and uncertain, and lonely. It works out, in ways we can only half coordinate. We plan and dream and rehearse, but the final product—wherever you are today, which will change with another rise and fall of the sun—is only a happy accident. Some varying combination of the effort you’ve made, your life’s opportunity, and luck.