Just popping by with a quick life (book) update: I’m sharing my novel, one chapter at a time, with a writing community to be critiqued and torn apart and fitted back together. So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive (like, I cried at work today because one comment was so encouraging) and the help I’ve gotten has strengthened my story so much. There’s still a loooong way to go before its truly polished (I’ve only shared 5 of about 30 chapters), but I am so excited and almost-literally every waking hour is currently being dedicated to rewrites/tweaks/updates/daydreams concerning Solvi and the world I’m building around her.
And sometimes I forget to eat, and then wonder why I feel like I might pass out while carrying my laundry down to the basement, and I find myself in my current situation, which is basically:
Thanks for humoring me during my snack break! Now back to the writing grind…
Something I love to do is to head out with no plans and see where the day takes me. This is sort of me rebelling against myself, because normally I prefer to know exactly what is going to happen (and tend to freak out a little if those plans suddenly change last minute). It doesn’t make sense that I would welcome the opportunity to completely go with the flow — unless you also take into account that I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of person. I’m a bit oxymoronic and I’m starting to love that about myself.
Saturday was one of those spontaneous days. My husband made plans with friends to check out Schlafly’s Stout and Oyster Festival — something he never mentioned to me until the night before. My tentative plans were to straighten the apartment and spend most of the day snuggled on the couch with a cup of tea, reading a book and listening to the rain…but St. Louis has presented me with quite enough of those opportunities lately, and with no sun in sight, I welcomed the chance to do something new.
The best part is my husband can’t eat raw oysters and I haven’t been a fan of stout beers. We really had no business at a stout-and-oyster-fest, but it was free and our friends were there. First adventure was confirming a suspicion I’ve been cultivating: since moving to Missouri, my taste for beer has expanded quite a bit. Recently, I’ve transitioned from tolerating slightly more hops to actually enjoying a (more mild) pale ale. Saturday, I threw caution to the wind and ordered a Red Velvet Stout to see if my palate has expanded the other direction. It. Was. Delicious. And even though we did not partake of the raw oysters, I did have some pretty awesome fried oysters.
We’d passed Pappy’s BBQ on the way in, and if there’s one thing I’ve heard more times than I can count since moving here, it’s that Pappy’s is some of the best barbecue around. After our stouts and oyster appetizers, our group decided to walk the 20 minutes to Pappy’s for lunch. Along the way, we spotted the Fountain on Locust. Now, before we moved, I made a list of places that sounded interesting or were highly rated, and the Fountain on Locust made the top of that list. One friend agreed that she’d seen posts about them on Instagram and wanted to try it. When another friend pulled up their 4.7 stars (out of over 700 reviews) on Yelp, my husband was convinced. We stopped for AH-MAZING ice cream martinis (the dreamsicle was sooo good, and the others loved their drinks too) and a couple of the best grilled cheeses in the state (they really were freaking awesome).
After our dessert-drinks and second-appetizers, we continued on to Pappy’s. If you are familiar at all with Pappy’s reputation, you are probably muttering to yourself that we are fools for thinking we’ll get in at lunchtime on a Saturday. You would be correct. The line was wrapped around the building, and by this point the little food we’d had was not quite holding us over the way we’d hoped. We agreed to continue the walking adventure and see what other spots might present themselves to us. Enter Center Ice Brewery. Located a few doors down from Pappy’s, the owner’s father happened to be grabbing something from his truck as we passed, and — in typical Midwest fashion — struck up a conversation. He let us know we could order Pappy’s from the bar at the brewery, and it would be ready for pickup in 20 minutes. He told us about their most popular beers, and gave us some history about the space — like the actual penalty box doors leading to the back bar. Their Golden Ale was really good, and the hockey theme throughout was a lot of fun, complete with one of those hockey-foosball tables that the boys had way too much fun with.
Because we were in the area, someone suggested heading to Narwhal’s to continue our spontaneous bar crawl. It was a longer slog through the damp, darkening afternoon, but the feel inside Narwhal’s is all summer! Their beverages are all frozen (they did have a Winter Hot Bar, from which I tried the Winter Sake — basically a sweet, boozy tea — but they’re phasing it out for spring — if it ever arrives), and the Strawberry Basil is very refreshing. I also tried the Blueberry Moscow Mule which was pretty good. Two friends like the Banana Dave, another the Mango one. It seemed like you can’t really go wrong with the tropical, fresh flavors. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up to really enjoy all they offer!
Our day of spontaneity ended (at least for my husband and me, who are 100% ok with calling it a night when we feel like it) at Dressel’s. I had a fantastic grilled cheese and tomato soup, and my husband had his favorite burger (post about that coming…someday). It was the perfect capstone to an adventurous day!
So as I was driving home the other day, I was trying to think of the right words to explain the love I feel for where I am. Every time I try to simply say “I love Saint Louis,” it doesn’t capture what I mean. My husband is able to make it smaller, explain away the magic with rationalities like the convenience of city living or the newness of this environment for us.
And he’s right, but he’s also so very wrong. When I say how much I love it here, I mean so much more than the architecture or stores or restaurants or people. They’re all fantastic, sure. But there’s something…more. Deeper. More pure. It’s a knowledge in my bones that I belong in the world. It’s magical. It’s home.
And as I reached my exit, I glanced up at the bridge that spans the highway like I always do — there’s often someone standing up there, just watching the cars pass, and for whatever reason, it makes me smile. Today, though, was more magic.
Someone had written a marriage proposal in painted cups wedged into the chain link barricade. Whoever Jonna (Ionna? Tonna?) is, I hope they say yes.
And for all the other people dating other Jonnas who take 44E home, tonight may get a little awkward.
Once upon a time, I worked in residential property management, which meant I got paid very little to get yelled at a lot by people for things like charging them late fees when they didn’t pay rent or sending out “pick up after your dog” letters or when a lightbulb needed to be changed but they didn’t report it until the end of the day after our maintenance team had already left and what do you mean that isn’t an emergency, it’s dark in my dining room!
There were good days, too, and wonderful residents, and the team I worked with was made up of some of my favorite people ever. The good parts don’t work for this post, though, because they did not contribute to my discovery of the best stress relief exercise ever.
After one such day that left me feeling like a total failure, I went home planning to lay on my couch and watch TV until my eyeballs bled. Instead, for reasons I still do not know, I decided to take a shot of tequila and watch YouTube videos of zumba dance moves set to Enrique Iglesias’s “Bailando” (I do not remember in which order these happened — it’s a chicken/egg situation). Next thing I know, I’m tequila-tipsy and trying my best to sexy-dance to Spanish music — AND RECORDING MYSELF. I think the recording was to show my mom I was okay. Or maybe because my friend was laughing hysterically at the idea of my tequila-dancing, and I wanted to show her how epic it was. Either way, it was horrendous and so mortifying I couldn’t possibly share it with anyone.
Except of course, my mom and my friend. I have a pretty high threshold for humiliation at my own hand. I lay on my floor and belly-laughed until I thought I was going to throw up, and it was amazing.
It became something of my own ritual: have an especially horrible day, come home, drink tequila and dance it out. I always text someone if I’m drinking alone, because drinking alone is usually frowned upon. The last time I had a tequila dance party, I told all of Twitter, so I was extra covered.
As you can see from the likes and retweets, I have a ton of followers who really care about my goings on. Regardless, I hadn’t had a dance party like that probably since getting engaged about two years before those tweets — because who has time for fun when a wedding needs to be planned amiright? — but now that I’ve found it again, I’m not giving up my dance parties.
Tequila is my go-to party liquor. I get that it’s a controversial choice that makes a lot of people gag just hearing the name, so you know, go with whatever works for you. Also, stupid dancing is amazing fun all on its own, so there’s no real need for alcohol to have a great dance party for one. But it does help lower some inhibitions if it’s hard to get started. Closing your eyes helps, too. If you can’t see your windows, you forget people can see inside them. I try to think of the dumbest things I could possibly do with my arms or legs or head and then I do that thing, so the dancing is more kicks and jerks and wiggles and it-is-hilarious. Whatever gets your lungs working and your face hurting from grinning. The goal is to forget your worries and remember how great being alive can feel.
Some people — my husband among them — turn to art for an escape. They like light-hearted movies, happily ever afters, comical adventures, feel-good music. Life is hard enough and sad enough and real enough that they look for leisure activities that distract from reality.
For me, the best art makes me feel everything. Happiness, joy, hope — but also devastation, loss, fear, rage. Is it strange that I feel most alive when I’m drowning in a good book or being ravaged by good music?
The first time I saw Titanic (at like twelve years old), I wandered around the house, limp and weepy, for days. My parents said that was why I shouldn’t have watched it — I was too young, I couldn’t handle the tragedy. They didn’t understand I was celebrating it. It was the first time my heart had been trampled by a fiction-wrapped truth, and I knew I would never be able to experience true art any other way.
I want my heart clawed from my chest, dragged over broken bottles and ruptured sidewalks, then buried under hot coals before it’s returned to me, encased in scar tissue but beating ever stronger because it has felt what it is to live. Life is the pain as much as it is the triumph. It’s the breaking as well as the growing. The terror and the joy and I want it all.
Maybe it’s (weirdly, inexplicably) safer to feel over art. In life, we have to express a certain measure of toughness. Can’t let them see me cry, can’t scream, can’t swear or rage or beat someone with a baseball bat. But in art, we can. Listening to the right song at the gym gets us running faster, shadow-boxing harder. If I come home with tears on my cheeks, it’s more acceptable to say “a song hit me really hard” than it is to admit “someone honked at me at the end of a long, boring day and it made me cry.”
So maybe art gives us all a safe haven. An excuse to delve beyond the surface, or a chance to hide beneath a blanket of distractions. Maybe for some, it’s enough to pick and choose the happy.