A 10-Year Milestone

Hi everyone, I hope you’ll indulge me one more time while I reflect back on another milestone for the month of August, for this year in particular. I’m not really one to live in the past; I’m much more future-oriented, sometimes to the detriment of my present day, but I think there’s a lot of value in occasionally taking time to look back and reflect on how far you’ve come in whatever journey you’re on.

This month and year for me marks 10 years since I moved out of Michigan, where I grew up and went to undergrad. I’d had the inkling that I wanted to leave for a bigger city since I was a kid, and especially after I went to NYC for the first time at 18 years old. After I finished college in winter of 2008, I went through a major break-up (and then a shorter relationship and another break-up), and then what I called (somewhat melodramatically, perhaps) a “quarter-life crisis.” It was really a “now what?” moment for me, when all the structure of school and college and relationships fell away and it was time to decide for myself what I wanted to do with my life from that point on.

One of my earliest watercolors, done during an intro class in undergrad c. 2007. Probably also one of my first “plein air” paintings; we were outside somewhere on campus in the fall.

In undergrad I got a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing, and in 2009 I made the decision to go to grad school; the real choice I had to make was where. By the end of 2009, the answer to that was “anywhere but here.” I was working full time at a clothing store, but corporate was scaling the position back to part-time, so there wasn’t a job keeping me. It was also the first time in several years that I’d been single for more than a few weeks, so there was no partner to consider when I made my move either. Some online research led me to the University of Baltimore for an integrated degree in writing and publishing arts; I applied, got in, found a roommate and then an apartment, and off I went, on my own, in August of 2010.

It’s a really interesting thing to discover who you are and what you believe outside the context of your friends and family. I maintain that I grew the most as a person during my time in Baltimore, and planted many of the seeds then for the person I’ve become since then. Most of my current circle of close friends are people I met there (though I do have a few people, including Jake, who I determinedly hang on to from MI) and some of the mentors I had there are the reason we ended up here in Illinois. I incurred a LOT of student debt in Baltimore, and ultimately did not build a career in writing OR publishing, but I took advantage of so many other opportunities and experiences (including studying abroad in Ireland) that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I even worked at the library on campus there, which helped me get the job I have now.

I’m not sure how clear it is from the photo, but this is actually three different layers sort of collaged onto a background. I did this over a few months sometime in 2012-2014. Inspired by the Baltimore skyline.

I started getting back into art more seriously while I was in Baltimore, too. The city itself was unique and big and chaotic and inspiring, and one of my first assignments for grad school involved taking pictures and creating a sort of visual journal of the experience of being a transplant. Hand-making books in class also led to me painting and drawing. I worked for the theatre office on campus where I was responsible for ad design and wound up drawing/painting for some of those. It wasn’t a constant or steady path, but again, the seeds were planted.

One of the prototypes for an ad for Spotlight UB, the campus theatre office. C. 2014.

I left Baltimore at the end of August 2014 to go to school for theatre here in Illinois (Jake wrapped up our lives in Baltimore and followed soon after), and I think we got out at the right time. It was a huge pace change both times, to go from a mid-size Midwestern city to a “big” city and back again. I definitely miss it sometimes, though there have been plenty of trade-offs (no more insane city traffic; less crime; more green space, and we’re about half as far from our families as we were there). I don’t miss it in a way that makes me want to move back; I miss it more in the context of what it was at the time, and who I was at the time, if that makes sense.

I guess I could put it another way: I was last in Baltimore in summer of 2018. I wandered around by myself for an afternoon and visited my favorite coffee shop, the UB campus, and a cupcake shop in my old neighborhood, where I ended up having a really fantastic conversation with the guy who worked there about traveling, and TV shows, and so many other things. I remember thinking, after probably an hour or so when a customer came in and needed his assistance, that I should probably leave then, while we were still on a high note, while the whole encounter was still sort of mysterious and interesting and whatever connection we’d made couldn’t become anything more or less than what it was. That seems like a good metaphor for my time in Baltimore, too: it was an amazing experience while I was there, and leaving when I did kept it from becoming anything less.

Also inspired by Baltimore, in this case, the rowhouses. In case you can’t see the signature, I painted this in 2018, a few years after I moved to IL. I still occasionally use rowhouses in my art — I think they have a lot of character and charm.

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