2007: Year in Review

And I thought 2006 was a big year.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting at my desk in my little apartment in Chicago, on the very edge of a new year. January of 2007 held no fortelling that over the next 12 months my life would lead me in such vast and varied directions…that I would write a book, fall in love, move to Chicago, travel to Taiwan and the Grenadines, and find a job that may very well turn out to be a life calling.

So, sitting here at my desk, my two cats curled around me, Arcade Fire on the stereo, the coffee pot ticking in the kitchen, I can’t help but wonder at all that 2008 is apt to bring. There are things I hope will happen, things I know will happen, and things I cannot imagine.

Before beginning that journey I can’t help but reflect on what’s led me here so far.

2007: Year in Review

Venice_moon

January found me coming off a challening set of months of learning how to live on my own for the first time in my life. I’d spent the fall of 2006 really struggling to figure out who I was and what I was doing with myself and by January I knew something really needed to change. I needed to learn how to be quiet.

I slipped out from beneath the covers, unlocked the doors to the patio, stepping out gingerly in my bare feet, the wind instantly lifting my thin t-shirt, reaching up to remove the hanging plants, quickly transplanting the cactus to a less precarious perch. The sky was a bright indigo, white clouds rushing across its depths. The palm trees whipped back and forth, I could see waves in the canals beyond the rooftops.

I scurried back to bed, pulling my knees to my chest, my hair threaded into ribbons and cooled by the breezes. I listened to the wind, could faintly hear the waves breaking on the beach. The world loomed immense and dark outside my little home and I curled tighter into myself, grateful to be alone.

January 1st was spent in my home in Venice with several close friends cooking one of the most memorable meals of my life to date. Timbre and Brian took over the kitchen frying catfish while I tended to my new year’s batch of hoppin’ john, jalapeno cornbread and individual chocolate puddings. Will brought over some of the best collard greens I’ve ever had and Rhonda, Liz and Doug joined in as we ate and drank our way into the first evening of 2007.

On January 2nd I quit drinking. At first I didn’t really have a plan but as the days stretched into weeks and the weeks became months I realized how necessary and profound it was for me to take a look at my methods of quieting myself. The process wasn’t easy but it was definitely healing.

Januray 24th marked ten years since my mother died. I’d been imaginging that day for a long time, what it would feel like to say that my mother had been dead for ten years, what it would feel like to not have spoken to my mother for ten years. But it was different than I imagined.

Ten years. Ten fucking years. It’s hard for me to even think about the last ten years in one gulp. I get fragments and moments and phases and it seems like forever and it seems like a week. Flashes of such random things…a hotel bed in Maine, the cold inside a parked car in Vermont, a bar on the corner of Avenue A and 7th Street, the slums of Manila, the 405, my shaved head, my tattoos still scabbed with fresh blood, yoga, and the ocean, the feel of someone’s hand on the bare skin of my lower back, a boiling pot of water, the plants that hung in the window of my 5th St. apartment in New York, a pair of shoes I used to wear to my old bartending job, my breath in plumes as I walk up Third Avenue, driving a U-Haul out of Atlanta, a book propped open on a futon mattress, myself doubled over in tears, another me drunk stumbling home, and another me laughing, laughing. Ten years.

On January 31st I got into a car accident. I was on my way to school. My car was totalled. I was unhurt but shaken. But suddenly sitting there in the car, my phone in hand, it all came crashing down, this thing that I’m fighting every day, all the time.  In that moment, phone in hand, sitting there, 28 years old on a cool Los Angeles night, my thumb ready to press a button, the button that will connect me to that person, that person that you call when something like this happens. Except I don’t have that person anymore. They’re all gone. I’m nobody’s most important person and I don’t have a most important person.

As awful as that realization was, as hard as it was to face, as much as it sucked the very breath out of me, it was the thing all along that I’d been running from. That very moment, that very truth, that very feeling of utter aloneness, was the thing I’d been running from for years. And finally sitting with it enabled me to move forward.

Venice_pier In February some sort of calmness settled over me. I felt myself relax for the first time in a long time. It was as though there was nothing else to be afraid of. I’d been sober for a month and felt better than I had in a long time. I’d faced the thing I was most afraid 0f — being truly alone — and I’d survived.

I was still in school full-time, finishing my Master’s degree, attending four classes a week. I was also working full-time in a mental health center and on top of that doing a part-time internship as a therapist in a clinic. My days were full but also full of light and space. I went to yoga several times a week. I went to dinner with friends. I took a lot of baths. For Valentine’s Day I went to Cape Cod to visit my grandmother. Snow blanketed the quiet seashore and my grandmother’s hands were soft and papery in mine. Returning home to Los Angeles I drove myself home, alone, and it felt good.

It’s wonderfully windy this morning. The whole world feels full of possibility, dark silver clouds scudding across the sky, my little home yellow-lit and cozy. I woke up at 5:30 and lay in the dark, warm under the covers, listening to the wind whip down off the ocean and around the corners of my little house. I listened to the doors rattling out in the living room and I stretched long and lean through the sheets. As I lay in the dark, listening to the sounds of my little world, it seemed entirely possible that everything has changed.

Deck_1 February flowed into March like a warm breeze and I continued relaxing into my existence. Not only had I begun to figure out how to slow down but I started working on being present.

I’ve been trying to focus on right now. This moment. In this moment it’s about 10:30 and I’m sitting at my desk in my little home. The double doors are flung open wide to the warm Los Angeles night. Chet Baker is on the stereo, candles flickering all over the house. Being here right now means not thinking about all the things I did today or all the things I have to do tomorrow. It means not thinking about all the things that make me me, all the things I’ve done or seen or been over my life. It means not thinking about what I’m going to do this summer or when I turn thirty or some even more distant future.

It means just being here right now. It means knowing that I am everything that I have ever been and will ever be right now, in this moment. It means thinking about my life as though this moment is all there is…because really it is.

And it’s really a lovely moment. The taste of an apple in my mouth, a saxophone gentle through the room, warmth and light and the dusky evening, me at 28 on a balmy March night in Los Angeles.

Throughout March, every night when I came home I set down my purse, my yoga bag, and instead of pouring a drink, I drew a bath. And every night I sank down into the bath and I closed my eyes and I thought about what I wanted for my life. I thought about all the things I want to do and be and see and touch. And at the end of March, on the night of my last bath that month, I opened my eyes and I knew what I had to do.

Newdesk2 I needed to quit my job and write a book. My book. The book I’d been thinking about and talking about for years.

On April 2, much to my boss’s surprise, I gave two weeks at my job and I got to work preparing for this monumental task. I told everyone I knew that I was going to begin writing a book. I cleaned and reorganized every inch of my little house, got a new desk, and stocked the fridge with lots of healthy brain food.

On Monday April 16, I woke up, made coffee, opened the doors to the deck and sat down to write the first 1220 words of my now completed book. It was a tremendous feeling.

For the next two weeks I got up every morning at 7:30 and began writing by nine. By the end of April I’d written over ten thousand words. My entire life had changed. I was writing every morning and then running to the clinic to see clients or to my last quarter of grad school in the afternoons. At night I met up with friends for dinners and shows. And without fail, the next morning I was up at 7:30, my fingers poised over the keyboard by 9.

Also in April, something else very significant occurred. In late March I was asked to become a contributing writer on a site called The Nervous Breakdown and in April my first post went up. But before that post even went up a long contributing member of TNB contacted me. His name was Greg Boose. We began emailing each other every day. We wrote about all kinds of things…what it was like to be young and living in a big city, about writing and books and music…we wrote to each other about our families and we wrote about our days. He was very funny and clever.

Every morning when I woke up to begin working on my book I went out to the living room, opened the doors to the deck, made coffee and sat down to read the latest email from Greg who lived in Chicago and who had already been at work for two hours by the time I got up. I’d write him back and then I’d close my gmail account and get to work on my book. When I was finished writing I would lie on my back on the deck in the sunshine and when I checked my email again there would always be another from Greg.

Deskwflowers By May I was deep into the writing process of my book. I was writing a whole new chapter every morning and the whole thing just felt like it was flowing out of me. I began uploading audio clips of my progress, all of which can be found in the About section of this blog.

On May 13, Mother’s Day, I completed the first section of my book, the section about my mother. I wept, sitting at my desk, as I wrote about the moment I heard that she was gone.

The next morning I woke up and wrote the first chapter of section two, the section about my father. I wrote all through the latter half of May, delving into those days and months following my mother’s death, the days in which I got to know my father. On Sunday May 20, just as I finished writing a chapter about my parent’s engagement on Nauset Beach on Cape Cod, my uncle called to tell me that my grandmother was in the hospital. She died the next day, on May 21st, my 29th birthday.

Waking up that morning, alone in my little house, on my 29th birthday, before I even heard, I knew that she was gone. And there was something lovely about it happening on my birthday. My grandmother was 96 years old and had lived a long wonderful life.

I flew back to the East Coast the following weekend for her memorial service. I stood in the church, in front of the hundred or more people who were in attendance and I talked about how every time I visited my grandmother she would always take my hand, tears bright in her eyes, and she would say, I’ve been thinking about you. And what it meant to me to know that no matter where I was in the world, I always knew that my grandmother was thinking about me.

That afternoon, lying on my back in a hammock at my Aunt Pam’s house, the warm May air rustling through the trees above me, I thought about my life. I reflected back on the last two months since I had quit my job and begun writing my book. I thought about all the words I had put down and I thought about all the interactions I’d had over those eight weeks. I had opened up my entire world in a way I never had before. For those two months I had said yes to everything that came in my life, meeting all kinds of people and experiencing all kinds of places and moments and breaths that never would have been possible without all the work I’d done throughout the year.

As I thought about those things I realized that the one person I hadn’t honored was Greg. We’d been writing every day for two months. We’d talked many times about one of us visiting the other but I always shook my head at the last minute, deciding it was silly and pointless. But lying there in that hammock on Cape Cod, I decided that before I went back to Los Angeles and continued my whole huge life, before I returned only to get swept back up into it all, perhaps I should just see.

I texted Greg from the hammock. What if I change my flight to stop in Chicago tomorrow afternoon? It was Memorial Day Weekend. I’d never been to Chicago. He responded immediately. Yes, please do it!

The next morning, boarding that flight to Chicago, as my feet crossed the threshhold of the airplane I had the distinct feeling of setting something in motion. I knew that I was forever altering whatever path I was on. But even so, sitting there, my forehead pressed to the window as we touched down at O’Hare, I didn’t think it would be this. I didn’t think that the moment I saw him waiting for me in baggage claim I would feel this strange familiarity come over me, this feeling that we were always going to meet one warm May afternoon just past my 29th birthday.

I flew home the next morning utterly confused about everything.

Section_three_notes But before I could even think about anything June was warm and flush upon my doorstep. I went to the final classes of my grad program — that program being one of the best things I’ve ever done with my life. I learned more about compassion and humility and kindness during that year and a half than I ever imagined. I’m so incredibly grateful for my experience there.

The second week of June, just after I finished my classes, and just before I formally graduated, Greg came to Los Angeles and asked me to move to Chicago. I knew he was coming to LA to ask me just that and I also knew that I would say yes before he even got off the plane. After dropping him off at the airport the following Sunday afternoon I cried the entire way to my friend Abby’s house where I sobbed softly in her backyard under the palm trees, trying to explain what it felt like to let myself love someone as much as I knew I loved him. After the amount of loss I’ve experienced in my life, it’s been terrifying at times to let myself love someone this much.

In mid-June I formally graduated at the Orpheum theatre in downtown Los Angeles. My Aunt and Uncle and cousin had come from Cape Cod and I wore a cap and gown and held a yellow rose and I didn’t feel sad that my parents weren’t there. Instead I felt more secure and more present to my life than I ever had, the past something I didn’t need to carry around as much anymore.

On June 17th, Father’s Day, I completed the second section of my book — the section about my father. Again, I didn’t plan it to happen that way but it felt strangely appropriate to do so. The next morning I immediatley began work on the third section, which quickly proved to be the most challenging section.

Finished I plugged away at it though and on July 1st I finished my book. Well, the first draft at least. What an immense day. That afternoon I went for a long walk on the beach, reflecting on everything that had happened over the last ten weeks. It had truly been the most magical time of my entire life.

I waded out into the great swelling Pacific and floated on my back for a while, the blue sky curving overhead. An era was coming to a close. My time in Los Angeles was ending. I took a deep breath and plunged beneath the water, the world hushed and swirling deeply around me.

Greg and I met on Cape Cod for the 4th of July so that he could meet my extended family and we Clairegreg could continue planning my monstrous move. It was crazy to talk about — me upending my entire life in Los Angeles, five years worth of friends and jobs and homes and memories and favorite restaurants and neighbors and ocean paths. But I never hesitated.

After that trip I went home and spent most of July officially beginning the moving process. I turned down a job offer from the clinic where I was working and informed my clients that I would leaving at the end of August. I gave notice on my apartment and I told all my friends.

In mid-July I went to Chicago again and found an apartment, the very one I’m sitting in right now. I met Greg in the Loop where he works after I signed the lease and we ate lunch together on a high up floor of his big office building. We stared out at the buildings and the lake and I felt quiet inside, overwhelmed by this huge thing we were doing.

When I returned home from that trip it all began to feel very real. I was really leaving Los Angeles.

Sunset August brought with it a mad flurry of a hundred things to do in order to get ready to leave. There were moving trucks to book and friends to see one more time. I had to terminate with all of my clients at the clinic which was very stressful and painful and I began to pack up the little home in which I had lived for four years. As excited as I was about my new life in Chicago a certain sadness and a tinge of anxiety began to creep over me.

Everything seemed to be happening at once. Mediabistro ran an interview with me about my book writing process and two days later marked my father’s four year death anniversary and the day after that Travel Age West sent me to Taiwan to cover a culinary exhibition.

It was unbelievably strange to suddenly be in Taipei, seemingly a million miles away from everything and everyone, looking back on my life that was ending in Los Angeles and my uncertain but sparkling new life in Chicago. I came home on August 14th and had exactly two weeks to finish packing and begin my journey to Chicago.

Greg came out one more time and we spent a lovely day driving up the coast to Los Olivos, tasting wine all day and then floating on our backs in the wide Pacific in the late afternoon. At Beckman Vineyard Greg took this hilarious video of me in which he pretends to be trying to take a picture, asking me to pose with a glass of wine but then saying that the camera isn’t working, all the while taking a video.

I spent my last week in Los Angeles amidst a maelstrom of moving boxes and last minute details. My amazing friends came over one by one and in groups to help me pack dishes and tape boxes, load my moving truck and carry matresses. At night I sat on my porch with my neighbor Rhonda, drinking wine and expounding on our swiftly moving lives.

Road On August 28th I climbed behind the wheel of my 14 foot moving truck with my car on a trailer on the back and I drove myself out of Los Angeles.

I awoke in my new apartment on September 1st and thus began my life in Chicago. I spent most of that month orienting myself with my new city and neighborhood, unpacking boxes and applying for jobs. Those first few weeks went by quickly.

I began my new blog, Life in Chicago, started making friends and found myself thrilled by the changing weather and the beginning of the first Fall I’d exprerienced in years.

Lake October proved to be a harder month. My money had run out and I still hadn’t found a job. I was missing my friends and my apartment in Los Angeles. Greg and I were doing really well — almost better than to be expected but nonetheless it was a challenging time for both of us. I was trying to keep my head up but I continually felt like I was drowning.

I felt so displaced. I couldn’t find a job and couldn’t figure out what it was I wanted to be doing with myself anyway. My book was finished and I was working on a proposal for a second one but my days spent endlessly alone in my house were driving me to tears on a regular basis. I wrote here constantly about plans to start over, to start fresh, to come up with a new plan, but each morning I woke feeling even more disheartened than the next. It was such contrast to the Spring when my days seemed filled with nothing but light and possibility.

At the end of October, in a strange twist of fate, I went to the Grenadines on a last minute travel writing assignment. That trip renewed the light and possibility that had been quickly evaporating from my days. I was finally able to slip out of my depression long enough to remember what it was I wanted from my life and I came home refreshed and invigorated.

Intro I began November with a renewed sense of purpose and slowly, over the course of the month, things began to shift. It was still a hard month though. I felt like everything I had learned in the Spring had disappeared. I knew, I knew that things were on the verge of changing, that if I could just hold out and breathe, breathe, breathe, that it would all come together. But I couldn’t stop the tightening anxiety. I was still crying every day, still waking in the night with feelings of dread and despair, still fearing being alone, and still feeling unable to help myself.

Again the end of the month brought respite in the form of Thanksgiving spent with Greg and his family — a warm and relaxing week in which I felt able to breathe again. And also in mid-November I was offered my current job as a bereavement counselor in hospice.

Coming home from Ohio with Greg I felt one last deep pull of despair as I returned to my lonely little apartment. I knew I was beginning work in less than two weeks but I could hardly bear much more of the isolation and solitude I felt in my days. I realized I had truly become depressed  and spent the beginning of December trying to pull myself out of it before I began my new job. I talked with close friends for hours at a time and cleaned and rearranged my house. Snowy_street

And on December 10 I finally went to work. I don’t want to say that everything hinged on me working…but in some ways it did. Having a job to go to gave me a sense of purpose and place here in this new city. It also alleviated my serious financial anxiety and it gave me something to focus on other than my depression and solitude.

And on my second day of work, in some neighborhood in southern Chicago, leading a group about coping with loss during the holidays, I could literarlly feel light and hope breaking through me.

The rest of December was a busy mixture of work and holiday activities. Greg and I got our first Christmas tree together and drank champagne while we hung the ornaments. We spent Christmas in Ohio again with his family and it was the first Christmas in a long, long time in which I didn’t feel sad.

And now it’s the day before New Year’s Eve and I’ve been sitting here all day at my desk in my little apartment, writing and reflecting on this last year. It’s truly been the most magical year of my life. I’ve learned so much about life and love and myself, about being kind and about being quiet — two things that are immeasurably hard to do sometimes but which, when done with intention, can be deeply healing and rewarding.

I know that 2008 will bring a new depth to all I’ve established this year. In May I will turn 30 and I already know that I will do so with presence and with light.

I’m so grateful for the people in my life. I’m astounded sometimes by how much goodness is in them and by how generous they are.

I wish everyone a new year filled with light and love and all things possible.

3 comments

3 Comments

  • Posted December 30, 2007 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    That spare change you find in Greg’s couch belongs to me. I left it there in another dimension

  • Posted September 3, 2009 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    Hi Claire! I live on the whole other side of the world to you, in Sydney, Australia, but I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog! I’m a writer, too, and I stumbled across “Life in Chicago” recently – I’ve since spent hours riffling through your site, you have a really open and engaging writing style! I’m sure your book will be a best-seller :) PS> Your little girl is gorgeous!

  • Posted September 3, 2009 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much, Sarah!

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