One Autumn many Autumns ago, I had the Autumn of a lifetime. It was one of the happiest and most tumultuous times of my life. Something came out of me at that time, and maybe the reason I’m missing Chicago so much right now is because I feel attuned to the same energy again now. It’s a writer energy, I think, with a tinge of truth-telling that comes from remembering very, very vividly and with the wisdom of reflection. I started writing about everything, and as I drove the hour to and from work I dictated my thoughts into my voice recorder. I love going back and listening to those voice-journal logs.
The night I want to tell you about started at this big party in an old studio space two blocks from where I worked in the loop in Chicago. There are so many hidden places like this in Chicago, which is what makes it such a great city. Behind every whisper, beneath every corporate facade, there is what we called the Freakeasy crew. It was the modern Speakeasy but for freaks. Weirdos. The queer ones. The artists with beating hearts.
I’ll tell you about one night. There was projector mapping on abstract sculptures on the walls, and another projector playing what looked like old family videos cut with images of fields of flowers. There was a giant trampoline in the middle of the room. The loft space had several different levels, and an open balcony all along the perimeter. There were little rooms branching from bigger rooms with endless vicissitudes for wandering and sneaking off.
This hot Russian woman with a blonde bob wearing all black with high leather boots had been flirting with me all night. She was a guest at my friend’s apartment, where we met before the party, and had cooked some artichokes for me, but I really hate artichokes. Then she showed me all of her floggers, and it’s not really my thing but I experienced some sort of ASMR spinal tingles while she held each one delicately, strumming her fingers through the leather strings. She put this dumb leather collar on me and I really didn’t like it but she said I looked just like Dita Von Teese so I indulged her. Once we arrived at the party, I felt very stupid wearing this dumb leash. So I whispered into her ear really gently that I thought she was incredibly beautiful (which was true). She smiled at me very shyly with a humbleness I had not seen before, gave me a little bow, and then she unleashed me. She put her arm around me, dangling the released collar like a trophy, and we looked out from the balcony together onto the crowd now entering the party below.
My eyes fixated on this man wearing a sky-blue blazer. Some voice from beyond me guided, “I have to get to know this guy.” And at that exact moment, he looked up at me, we made eye contact, and he smiled. And eventually, we ran into one another. I think I said something overly forthcoming like, “I feel like we have to be friends.” We had a short “who are you and what are you up to in the world” conversation, and then he grabbed my hands and we spun around and jumped on the giant trampoline while the crowd happily cheered us on. Those were ten minutes of pure, unabashed happiness. Then I met his partner Tomi, and she was like my soul mirror-twin. Tomi also wanted to go to graduate school. We both had ambitions to be psychologists. Eli, Tomi, and I sat together in this little circle and told each other all about our hopes and our fears, and what mattered to us most in life. I felt so cared for in their presence, and so at home with myself and with them.
Around this same time, I had just met an artist called Drury who wrote beautiful wall-scaled calligraphy. When I stared at his sketchbooks, I felt a fierce, fiery, powerful energy staring back and it stabbed me in the heart so intensely that I had to slam the book shut. I’ve never felt anything like that before or since. This artist showed me another way of being in the world that had a lot more courage than I did at the time. He showed me how to be unafraid. That opened up a lot for me.
And that night at the party I kept thinking of him, because I really wanted to love him, and I kept repeating the words “share experiences” over and over. All I cared about suddenly was creating mediums with technology and writing for people to share experiences. But not just experiences, of course. I wanted people to share the phenomenological qualities of what it was like to be this person having this experience in this body, right here and now. I wanted to feel my way around the deepest aspects of the first-person experience of everyone, and I wanted to give that map to anyone who would want to take the deep-dive into the roots of another’s sense of “I.” It felt vital. It felt transformative.
I remember going to a Farmer’s Market with my best friend Elena. It was right before her wedding. She was picking out wedding decorations with her husband-to-be and I loved her so much. I played this song for her that I really liked at the time, and she listened to it so patiently and nodded her head to the beat. She was exuberant, and would laugh and hug me with such a fiery but sweet energy. No one makes me laugh like Elena does. And we went to this three-floor thrift shop/house in Oak Park, and I found these gorgeous dresses which I still have and still wear everyday. And I remember that Elena’s fiance picked out some sports equipment saying that they could be for their future child, and this made me glow with joy, knowing how much Elena wanted a child.
There was a night in a coffee shop called Kopi, a traveler’s cafe, sitting in the window area on pillows and a low table, sipping some chai tea. I was there with a man who had studied at the same university as me, and he was very depressed but for a moment I got him to forget. We told stories and laughed, and then we snuck into a graveyard nearby and laid on the ground above all the decaying bodies and I thought very deeply about what it must be like for dirt and grass and weeds to grow through my body. I wanted a tree to grow from my body. And he was the best kisser I’ve ever kissed in my life, but I never saw him again after that. It was a profound experience of confronting death while living, and then realizing that there was still this beautiful person around to hold me in the darkness.
I was working at a company and had started taking on the role of a Creative Director for multiple startups. I imaged all of the primary content, wrote the content scripts and marketing slogans, and suddenly I felt very alive with it all. The startup I was heading had more clients and funding than the others. I got to write! And I loved our little office, right in the center of the downtown area in a huge skyscraper. Everyday on my way into the office, I would stop into this little place called the Iguana Cafe and buy myself a coffee and a croissant with tomato, egg, spinach and cheese. I believe very strongly that the people at Iguana looked out for me, as I parked my car there over the highway bridge everyday and never got a ticket. I loved walking to the blue line station and taking the Metro into work everyday.
When I got out of work, I would either model or teach in the evenings, and would have to change in my car. I built make-shift curtains in the car. I learned to do my makeup without a mirror. I put on whatever identity was needed, flexibly and adeptly.
I had met this beautiful woman Drea who was very, very intelligent and who taught me how to swing dance. We went to a Halloween party together, and I won a costume competition with my handmade Queen of Hearts costume. It was perfect. She taught me that graduate school is not everything in life, and that following that path might not be the Yellow Brick Road I was making it out to be.
This man Justin showed up in my life. He helped me re-work my resume. But he did so much more than that. Justin is one of the most gifted writer’s I’ve ever known, and also has an unusual gift for listening and processing to guide people towards truths they’ve possibly revealed or at least hinted without realizing it. Justin was one of those people who I very quickly felt I could tell anything. He allowed me to feel so safe, and guided. He took me to one of the best plays I have ever seen in my life. It was a play about a woman who gradually loses her sanity after she has a child, and it was gut-wrenching, raw, powerful, and exquisite.
Every part of me was as alive as it possibly could be. That’s how I remember that Autumn. I felt like I was on fire with love, passion, and courage. And what I find so interesting is that so many of these people are still so dear to me. They are ones who I can go to when my heart grows dark with pain and anxiety.
How did this Autumn heal me? I’m not sure. It aligned me to my “higher purpose” if I can say that without sounding and feeling completely ridiculous (which I do). All of these sort of friendly and lovingly kind spirit-guides showed up and lit up my soul like stars lighting the path to liberation. I felt so empowered, so free. I felt unashamed and peaceful. Even now, I feel unashamed and increasingly courageous but usually not very peaceful. I feel enraged and confused, pulled in too many different directions all at once.
Autumn in Denmark is pretty nonexistent. Suddenly, out of summer comes grave darkness. The sun starts setting earlier and earlier. The days get very, very cold. And it is so, so windy all the time. It rains a lot, and because of the wind the rain seems to come from all directions. My umbrella seems to constantly invert itself from the wind. So I bought a really sturdy umbrella, but even this one seems to want to carry me away with the wind. I wish for all the unhappy people that I could Marry Poppins myself up and away with my umbrella. I tried to leap with it once but it only pulled me towards the curb.
And yet, here I am, wide awake at 1:00AM and feeling this special creative energy of the Autumn. Maybe the right people are showing up again. Maybe I should be paying more attention. Maybe my life will soon be taking a sudden, unexpected, but necessary swerve.
All I know is what matters to me most in this life is compassion, and that I would give anything to be back on a course that involved researching and developing technologies towards compassion-cultivation. Giving that up has been too much of a sacrifice for a PhD, and I wish I had been more patient with myself and others to gather more funding and to put all of my energy into that attempt because trying is better than giving up.
The world is like a ride at an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and around and round. It has thrills and chills and it’s very brightly colored and it’s very loud. And it’s fun, for awhile. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: Is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and they say, ‘Hey, don’t worry, don’t be afraid ever…because…this is just a ride. And we kill those people. ‘Shut him up. We have a lot invested in this ride! Shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.’ It’s just a ride. But we always try to kill those good guys who try to tell us that, and let the demons run amuck. But it doesn’t matter. Because…it’s just a ride, and we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice — no effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear wants you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, and close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.
– Bill Hicks