Category: Changes

136 South Dubuque Street

You may have heard by now the sad news: As of November 1, May’s Cafe and the Wedge Downtown will be naught but a beautiful memory. Just as I accepted that I was going to be here for two years, reality burst my glorious bubble. I knew I would leave some day, but I expected it to be on my terms. May’s was always just supposed to be there, with or without me.

I transferred to the University of Iowa as a junior. I was lonely, lost, and doubting that I would ever make a home in this city of 100,000 citizens and students.

This is my fourth August in this city, and I would consider myself as local as one can be without actually being born here.

I’ve watched Greta grow from a freshman to a senior. Watched the benches in the ped mall be painted and repainted. Listened to the debate about the validity of tree scarves when there are so many homeless people without. I’ve taken pictures with Herky, applauded local theater troupes, attended folk concerts, volunteered at the ReStore. The faces of Iowa City started to change: a mass of strangers became a blend of friends. I thesised, I graduated, and I became one of the rare ones to stay in this transient town.

Through the last four years, classes have changed, friends have moved, priorities have shifted, my address changed. The only constant: 136 South Dubuque Street. A little coffee shop in the middle of the ped mall: patron, barista, manager.

136 South Dubuque Street.

Capanna taught me to make coffee.
May’s Cafe taught me to appreciate it.

Capanna taught me to hide my clumsiness.
May’s Cafe taught me to (mostly) overcome it.

Capanna taught me to build relationships with people I saw for 45 seconds every day.
May’s Cafe taught me to keep a smile on my face when people were treating me like subhuman for the third day in a row.
(By the way, the regular patronage of 136 South Dubuque is unreal. People are so genuine, so kind. 98% of our customers are either neutral or fantastic. We are human beings at my shop.)

Capanna taught me to problem solve for myself.
May’s Cafe taught me to troubleshoot for other people.

Capanna taught me to listen to people smarter than myself.
May’s Cafe taught me how to search out the answers when all the smarter people had left.

136 South Dubuque Street.
Two cafes.
My story.

I’ve poured my soul into this shop. As a full time student, I would work here 20-30 hours a week, then study or hang out with friends another 10-15 hours. I was proud to be part of the transition team from Capanna to May’s, loving the people of Iowa City and glad that I could stay with my regulars. It gave me such joy to return after my internship and continue the craftsmanship I had quickly grown to love.

The fours supervisors started running the cafe last November when our manager moved to Minneapolis. By March, Claire and I were co-managing, and in July I was holding the position alone. It startled me to watch myself grow – do I really have it down to an exact time how long it takes to do first day training? Did we really just develop and implement a new menu? Did we really just participate in (and host!) latte art competitions? Is this really my team? Did this new girl really just analyze her shot and tell me what was wrong with it and how she thought she could fix it? These beautiful baristas, excited and passionate about their job? Is this still the culture, where the staff comes to hang out for hours on their day off just because they enjoy it so much?

And then there was Steve. Boss Man, as I call him. Muffin Man, as Hiba did. “Good”, as all called him. I have worked for many people. Bad bosses, good bosses, and Steve. The man who believed in me. The man who introduced himself to everyone working for him, and made sure he knew their name and personally asked them questions so he would know their story, too. The man who believed in investing in his employees. The man who spentevery. single. day. at his store on the floor. If something broke beyond my expertise, I would just walk up to him and say, “Steve, help.” If I was running low on something, or needed new equipment, I would just shoot him an email and a week later it would magically appear on my shelves. The man who told a coworker who needed extra cash, “Yeah, I wasn’t planning on being open the day after Christmas, but if you want to, go ahead and open the cafe for a while. We might sell a couple of coffees.” The man who would buy a slice of cake for you on your birthday if you wandered into the shop, and if you were going through a family crisis would make sure that you got a hug and definitely didn’t pay for that breakfast sandwich – it was on him. The man who knew the name of just about every regular customer in the shop – who was surprised that he hadn’t heard about our latest “Snickerdoodle Lady” before she gave us a thank you note. The man who poured blood, sweat, and tears into his shop, trying his best to make it a good business and a good place to work.

I once was chatting with a stranger and mentioned I worked at May’s Cafe. “Oh no,” he interceded. “another Disciple of Steve. I hear people come back for his parties that worked for him in the ’90s! Steve, the great and wonderful.”

Not long ago, a worker from the Wedge was getting a different job. When I jokingly protested, he laughed it off. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll see me again. No one ever actually leaves the Orbit of Steve.”

I am so, so blessed to have worked for that man. I do hope everyone someday gets a chance to work for a Steve.

I’ve spent a lot of time weeping since we got the news. I weep, not because I’m afraid, but because I’m grieving. I know people will be okay. My staff could easily jump to another of the half a dozen coffee shops around downtown, and Steve (!) is personally asking if people have another job they can go to or if they need help. I know Steve will be okay. I know I will be okay. But still I grieve. May’s is me and I am May’s. May’s is every one of my baristas. May’s is every one of my regulars. May’s is Linda-large-latte-no-foam. May’s is Danny-70-30-house. May’s is Abbie-iced-cafe-miel-and-a-warmed-up-muffin. May’s is Jake-triple-americano. May’s is soaking children trotting before their mother to the restroom. May’s is the weekly cappuccino and scrabble meeting. May’s is a daily game of speed chess. May’s is finding the small table or the one with the coffee mug painting. May’s is dissertations and bible studies. May’s is conference attendees and permanent business folk. May’s is different students every semester. May’s is a bottomless cup of incredible coffee. May’s is you, Iowa City. May’s is me.

I stayed in this town after I graduated.
I stayed for Steve. I stayed for May’s. I stayed for home.

I literally have no idea where I’m going now. I doubt I will stay in Iowa City. I doubt I will stay in the midwest. The future is wide open. Usually that would be a beautiful thought, but today I just look at it. I turn it over in my mind and I put it back on the shelf. Because today, I’m still grieving the loss of my 136 South Dubuque Street.

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Blogging, a question mark

What is the purpose of blogging?

The last several months I’ve noted that more and more of my Facebook friends have taken the proverbial pen in hand to broadcast their thoughts and lives to the world in the form of a blog. I am by no means a regular writer in my own, but take pleasure in reading from others.

I also am constantly searching for new blogs, seeking validation in the emotions and questions that I have – how do other people in my stage of life handle situations, make decisions, move from one day to the next? Although I suppose I qualify as a “digital native”, I am lost in the tangled world wide web, using rudimentary search functions to try find my far flung peers.

I was complaining about this to my roommate the other day. “I can’t find blogs about twentysomethings just trying to figure out what they’re doing with their lives! College students, young mothers, business professionals, sure! But what about those who DON’T know what they’re doing with their lives? Who have graduated, are not married, and are not working for a multi-million dollar corporation? Where are we represented? Why can’t I find their daily ponderings about how to survive?”

She looked at me, and bless her heart, said, “Why don’t you write it?”

Well, the reason is: I’m an external processor. I write when I have something to say. That’s usually when I’m processing something. It’s hardly professional to write about wrestling with the decision of whether to stay at my current job or move on, publishing my thoughts for the world to see before I’ve had that conversation with my boss. (For those of you keeping track: I’m staying.) Nor is it kosher to write about the frustrations and victories at work or in relationships.

I can’t write in an abstract way. I can’t discuss in real time what I’m learning, how I’m changing, what questions I’m trying to answer. It is only after the coals have cooled that I am able to speak with clarity, fairness, and quality.

But frankly, that doesn’t help the next person searching for answers. The thought process I think is just as important as the answers. It’s messy, it’s ugly, and no two people can ever follow the same road map. Viewing a situation through someone else’s lens, and understanding their reflections, can reveal more angles and ideas in ones own world, even if the final outcome is completely different. The journey is the destination, after all, isn’t that what has always been preached?

I do not have the ability to write about my journey. I can only stand on the plains and look around me, sometimes euphoric, sometimes just introspective. I can talk about where I have been, but I can’t talk about how I got there. Forgive me, but I can not write the blog I so desperately want to read.

Humans of New York
“What we see is affected by our memories, our feelings, and by what we’ve seen before.”

Growing pains

Today, I felt angry.

Today, I felt curious.

Today, I basked in the sun.

Today, I laughed.

Today, I missed someone.

Today, I got excited.

Today, I felt afraid.

Today, I felt emotions.

Not all of them were good. Not all of them were bad. The point is that I felt something.

Fall semester was rough as I learned that depression takes many forms. For me, rather than actively being sad or lonely or upset, I was… nothing. I felt nothing. I cared about nothing, no one. If I made plans, I hoped people would cancel. I discovered delivery, spending more money on Papa John’s than I think I’ve spent on fast food in my life. I became glued to my couch, apathetic. I shut down the supper club I had once cultivated with joy. I withdrew from friends. I thesised without passion. Wake, work, school, Netflix, sleep, repeat.

I became nothing.

The lack of emotions, lack of style, lack of interest, lack of anything… That was who I fell into.

It took flying half way around the world for my soul to finally revive, and as I stared at the stunning blue lakes of New Zealand, I felt the last wisps of depression slip away in the breeze.

To feel emotions today, even as cruel as they can be, is a beautiful thing. I feel alive, even if I am unhappy. I feel growth, even as I look at my immaturity and know that in two years I will look back and cringe at this moment in my life. (Literally, I think that I will recall this day and roll my eyes – it’s been one of THOSE.) But I’m learning. I know that as slow and painful as this is, I AM learning. I AM growing. It’s frustrating now, trying to sort out adulthood and learn how to take on this new position in life. But you know what? I can feel it. I’m alive. And that is a beautiful thing.

Rainy days

It’s a rainy, dreary day, much like the days before and the days to come.

Did you realize how many forms of “rainy days” there are?

I’ve spent the last decade or more running myself so ragged, I never had time to notice. Rainy or sunny, relatively cold or relatively hot. That was all I cared about as I threw on a weather-appropriate outfit and dashed out my front door.

There’s silence in my life now.

As a baccalaureate, one would think I’d be busier than ever or in the midst of applying to grad schools.

Instead, I’m slowly unveiling the gift of quiet.

There’s a joy in coming home after a full day and work and having nothing else to do. No thesis to research, phonology problems to solve, or mock business plans to write.

If I work at 6am, I know that I can occasionally stay out late the night before and take a nap after work. No classes to go to immediately afterwards or group projects to coordinate.

When I have two days off, I can go on an out-of-state adventure, or just go back home and visit my parents. I can teach myself a new recipe or take a new path around town.

There’s silence.

There’s quiet.

I can watch the skies.

Adjectives that used to be used only when people asked “is it raining out?” now I pay attention to in real time.

Is it misting? The moisture seeping from the sky? Is it slow and steady? A monsoon in the midwest? There’s hail – is it the size of a penny or the size of a golf ball?

It’s not that I’m gaining a new obsession.

I just see.

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I know that this a rare period in my life where I can slow down, where people aren’t dependent on me, my responsibilities are limited, and I am allowed to breathe.

I’ve always used my half-hour walk down town as a means of mentally processing, usually skipping songs on my iPod to provide a soundtrack for my emotions and in that manner blocking out the world around me.

With time to breathe, I take time to see. And now I take time to listen.

I take out my earbuds. I listen to the cars blasting their music as they pass me. I listen to the heavy breathing of the runners passing me as they master the hill. I listen to the chatter of the birds arguing across the street. I listen to the turning of the cranes at the construction sites, to the laughter of the freshmen as I pass by the dorms.

In the early mornings, though, there’s something special.

I listen to the silence of the morning.

I listen to the quiet gurgle of the river as it falls over the dam.

I listen to my footsteps on the bricklay of the ped mall.

I hear.

It’s a new experience for me to see the world in my own city, to allow myself to move slow enough.

I feel like this is the first step in a new stage of life.

For the first time, I am quiet.

Now it is time to allow both questions and answers to seep into that silence without distractions or a place to run and hide from them. I have no idea what I will find, what is around the next corner. But as I’m stepping into this adult world with all its changes, costs, and duties, it’s time to embrace it all and still hear the rain outside my window.

When I have two days off work, I can travel out of state. Or I can stay in my bedroom and paint for hours. Or I can drive twenty minutes out of town and find myself isolated with nature spreading her wings out before me.

It’s really, truly beautiful.

 

Burning Bridges

April 19, 2014

Liz and I became friends when I was about 19 years old. I’d briefly met her and to be perfectly honest was intimidated by her. She was a pastor’s daughter at the church I attended at the time and was, in my opinion, a bit of a celebrity. All of my friends talked about her: oh, Elizabeth might come to DMACC, Elizabeth is so great, Elizabeth this, Elizabeth that… How was I ever going to measure up and have this slightly younger all-star be a part of the world I was carving out for myself?

Well, easy. Because Elizabeth actually was great. She wound up in my small group and spent many evenings hanging out in our cat-dominated apartment. As she struggled with the transition between high school and college, and I struggled with feeling suffocated in Des Moines and wanting to flee without it actually looking like that, we formed a strange bond. It wasn’t difficult to soon call her “friend”.

A year or so passed. I moved to Iowa City, then on again to Berlin. Liz and I didn’t stay in super close contact, but she was always a delight to run into when I passed through home, and even once came to visit me at my parents’ farm.

It’s a funny thing, time. It’s a funny thing, growth. Over time, we grow and change. Generally, if we are with people – be it physically or just have strong, regular emotional bonds, we can grow together. But with distance, two people who were once very close will change differently. Not that its necessarily a bad thing, but they will never be able to meet at the same point again, never be able to connect on quite the same level. Maybe it’s better, maybe it’s worse, but never the same.

More time passed. The changes in my life put me at odds with many people who I loved deeply and missed dearly. I was terrified to move back to Des Moines for a summer, fearing being ostracized for how I’d changed. Conversation after conversation proved that these fears weren’t entirely unjustified. I made mistakes, putting up walls and daring my friends to break them down, blaming them when they avoided the walls altogether. Mistakes were also made on others’ behalf – the emotional turmoil of being ignored rather than embraced wrecked havoc on me.

Bridges were burned, friendships so sweet turned sour. Memories brought sorrow instead of joy, bitterness instead of nostalgia. It broke my heart to see friend after friend disappear from my life, even as I saw them across the street.

Fast forward about four months. I’m back to my home in Iowa City, happily graduated and coffee-shopping. I travel back to Des Moines for a wedding and find myself talking with Liz. Tired from the day, tired from a semester of battling depression, tired from the weight of unforgiveness, as we catch up, I confess that one of our conversations from summer had scarred me deeply. Liz, dear, sweet, gentle Liz, ponders this for a couple of months.

And then she begins to fight back.

Bridges had been burnt.

Trust had been lost.

Lives had been changed.

A few weeks ago, Facebook excitedly proclaimed with a red notification that I have a message. Liz asks me if she can come visit me in Iowa City. Not long after, I find myself strolling through downtown Des Moines and almost stumble over Liz. She again asks when would be a good time to come visit.

Do you want to know the funny thing about moving? Shifting friendships. The ones from Des Moines whom I consider friends are those who came and visited me. Laurie fought for my friendship from the day I moved – choosing to remain by my side despite changes in geography and purpose. Stephanie and Matt became my friends as they for one reason or another found themselves in my vicinity on repeated occasions. Mariah made it a point to stop in as she would pass through town on her way home.

When Liz offered to drive two hours out of her way just to hang out with me… Well, that meant a lot. When she met me in the city I call home, I was able to show her my life. We strolled around campus, and I pointed out buildings where I had wiled away the hours. We paced downtown, and I elaborated on funny stories and historical events. We people-watched on the ped mall, basked in the sun on the Old Capitol steps, and curled up in my apartment beneath my paintings.

And through it all, we talked. Frankly. We talked about burned bridges. We talked about growing up. We talked about questions and answers and being in our twenties. We talked about hurt and healing and acknowledged that we’d made mistakes. When time drew short and Liz climbed back in her car to drive off into the sunset, she asked what she could do to show that she cared about me. “This,” I said. “Come see me, or if six months down the road you think of me, text me. Show that you remember I’m alive. That’s all.”

Bridges may catch fire, after all. But not all rivers need one. Sometimes, all you need is to step in the water and wade across. Don’t worry, though, friend. I’ll meet you halfway.

to be a twenty-something

April 6, 2013

I’m a twenty-something.

Well, probably not yet. I’m still in school, so socially it is probably still okay to state my age. But still.

A little girl wandered up to me the other day, grandfather trailing close behind, and told me excitedly, “Guess what! I am four-and-three-quarters!” She was rather unimpressed when I told her I was 22, and regarded me suspiciously until I added “and a quarter”.

I don’t remember how old I was when I stopped adding those qualifiers. Probably somewhere in elementary school where “quarter years” stopped being important, then middle school (oh dear, did I stretch it into high school?) when “half years” faded away. (Oh, don’t judge! I know exactly when my half birthday is– being so close to Christmas, my parents definitely let me celebrate something in June to make up for it!)

Now, as the culmination of my education creeps closer, I find that even the whole year is becoming irrelevant. I am a 20-something: approaching the age when the college bubble bursts and reality begins. I’ll become a young professional, working 40+ hours a week, being stable enough to get a business card, likely moving into an apartment and knowing I’ll be there for more than a year.

I overheard someone relating how they knew they were growing up:

When I was a kid, if glass broke, my daddy was always there. “Stay back,” he told me. “I’ve got this. You’re safe.” But now, if glass shatters, I’m alone. There’s no one beside me to protect me from the shards. I sweep it up myself, and if I cut myself, I clean up the blood and try fix myself best I can.

We’re growing up.

I’m a twenty-something.

What does that even mean?

It means I’m afraid.

It means I’m excited.

It means I’m about to be lonely– again.

It means I’m about to make new friends– again.

I can’t say that I’ve ever super related to a Taylor Swift song. But I finally heard one that wove itself into my mantra.

It seems like one of those nights
This place is too crowded too many cool kids
It seems like one of those nights
We ditch the whole scene and end up dreaming instead of sleeping
We’re happy free confused and lonely in the best way
It’s miserable and magical

Tonight’s the night when we forget about the heartbreaks, it’s time

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling twenty-two

22- Taylor Swift

I feel like I’m at a point in my life when everything is wide open.

When I’m alive and accepting of the fact that I’m weird. When I make friends in coffee shops, run into strangers on the street and walk away with stories, when street musicians play the soundtracks of our lives. It’s a time of transition– finally accepting that I’m letting go of childhood, but unsure about how to embrace adulthood.

It’s a time of late nights and early mornings. Long conversations and lots of chocolate. Deep questions and belly-bursting laughter. What is this crazy thing called “today”? Can I grasp that instead of fearing the future or mourning the past? Can I salsa dance and karaoke, serve coffee and write lab reports? What world is my own?

So many questions.

But I guess that’s the point of being a twenty-something: learning answers one mistake at a time. So raise your glass, fellow wanderers. Take solace that we’re all making this up as we go along. And in the meantime, anyone down for an adventure while it’s still socially acceptable?

To love at all is to be vulnerable -C.S. Lewis

March 8, 2013

My roommate is one of the most profound people I know.

One of our ongoing conversations is the idea that we live in a fanfiction.

You see, neither of us are what you would call “Main Character” material. People aren’t innately drawn to us. We pass quite peacefully under the radar and can be entirely invisible in the midst of a conversation. Perhaps we don’t even register as “supporting characters”. We’re simply the wandering minstrel, or the wise hermit, or even the local baker. (For pity’s sake, I’m a barista! It’s essentially the same character in modern worlds: everyone knows of me and depends on my craft to survive the day.) Our lives give depth and reality to the Main Character, but even the author doesn’t really care about our history.

Enter angsty teenager.

Perhaps in canon, the author mentioned us briefly. This teenager extracts us from our epic novel and plops us into the 21st century. Bewildered, we look around and try to figure out what’s going on.

She writes in adventures and impossible happenings, connections and unreal similarities. (Am I presenting too much of a stereotype, assuming that our fanfiction writer is female?) For a brief, wild moment, these side characters are thrust into the limelight. Seen. With dimension. With purpose.

And just as suddenly, as Angsty Teenager discovers a new topic, the fanfiction comes to a screeching halt.

Where does that leave these characters? Scrambling desperately. Fighting to keep striving in the direction they were headed. But that’s what it becomes. Every friendship is a fight: pursuing, initiating, trying. Reality weighs heavily. And the souls grow wearier and wearier.

Is it worth it? I just want to hide, says one, looking for a comfortable hole. I just want to flee, says the other, searching for a way to escape. “It’s all my fault,” they both sigh. “Not worth fighting for. Not worth protecting. Not worth chasing.”

The weary soul. Lonely. Afraid. Bitter. Angry at this Angsty Teenager for giving them false hope. The scars, so carefully disguised as beautiful tattoos, are ripped open. Not nearly as healed as we gave them credit for. The wounds, still infected, are so painful to clean out that we pretend they don’t need to be.

“What if we could build a time machine? Go back before it all began.”

Well, what if you could? Would those scars really go away? Or would your demons just bare another name?

It is at this point in our conversation that we look at one another. And the fear creeps in. Realizing that this, right here, is vulnerability. That without meaning to, we let someone in, past those walls. Those paper thin walls, painted to look so strong, but no one ever drew near enough to put them to the test. And that right here, if we had that time machine, we would give it away. For our own scars, painful welts smarting with new attacks, are nothing. But you… you don’t deserve this. Take this magical machine, go back, and be free. I’ll be fine: you, though, you need to be free.

If you dive in your hole, I’ll dig one next to you. For what it’s worth: don’t run. For you see, I don’t need you. But I want you to stay. I want you to come. I can survive without you. But that doesn’t mean I want to.

Maybe we are in the wrong story. Maybe it hurts, and we are weary. Maybe we’re tired of fighting for others when no one ever fights for us. Maybe it’s okay to cry. Maybe it’s okay to be weak. Maybe it’s okay to be lonely. Maybe it’s okay that this story has no plot. Maybe it’s okay that the embers are fading. Maybe it’s okay that Gaston really thinks he’s doing what’s best.

Maybe it’s okay. Because someday our angsty teenager will try again. She’ll scrape away all the stupidity and her pen will be fresh with new experiences, new skills, and new perspectives. A more mature writer, she’ll bring us back on track. And we won’t have to try so hard. We won’t have to die to feel alive. We can just be. We can be alive.

Friendships– relationships– are painful.

But maybe, just maybe… they are worth it.

 

The Mask and the Martyr

September 23, 2012


When does a girl become a woman? I’m wondering if I am going through that process right now. All my life, I have tried to keep up the beautiful mask. That my life is put together. That I don’t struggle with anything or have any issues. That I am never lonely, angry, confused, bitter. That I always have the answers. That I have a lovely, pure heart.

It’s a weary mask. It is a heavy burden. To always be put together. To always have my life appearing whole and unbroken, when inside I have always been dying.

Overwhelmed by myself, I threw my story at someone the other day, too weak to care. Tired of being called authentic, tired of being called genuine when my soul and heart were so dirty and tattered. As I shattered the pedestal I had been placed on, I waited bitterly for the shock, the disappointment, and the separation. I waited to be left alone, as I no longer matched up to the ideal.

But you know what happened?

She said, “I love you, anyway.”

She touched my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “If anything, I love you more now that I know the truth about you.”

“This is being genuine,” she told me. “Nothing you can say or do will make me love you less.”

And I began to cry.

“This can’t be real. She’s crazy,” I thought to myself. So I sought out another woman, and another, and another. And these four women surprised me so much.

“I love you even more now than I did before,” they all said.

Instead of being thrown away, shunned for not living up to the perfection, I was cherished. Stunned, I wept. As my weakness and struggles, lies and liabilities came to light, I was loved any way. Not because of what I’d done, but simply because I was me. Broken, imperfect, and loved anyway.

I held my scarlet letter to the light: pains from the past and present, wounds that had never healed, struggles that had never been faced, and emotions that had never been confronted. Broken. Confused. And somehow, through it all, I am beginning to release the shell that has bound me, the cage that has kept me, the mask that has shielded me.

I am on a journey, discovering who I really am. How to be genuine. How to be authentic. How to be alive. It is scary, and I have cried more in the last month than I have in the last 3 years combined. But with every tear I cry, I feel as though I am releasing the façade. I am beginning to breathe. My soul is awakening. Who I was is not who I am. I do not yet know what I will look like at the end of this, but I know that she is going to be more alive than I have ever dared to dream of. It looks like this broken girl is finally letting go enough to start to grow into the woman God is preparing me to be.