Monday, August 24, 2015

On coming home.

Right around a year and a month ago, I indulged a thought that I'd had, occasionally, for at least a year if not more. I moved back to my hometown, which I'd done briefly several years prior, but this time I wanted it to be for good.

I had what should have been everything in Milwaukee - a great job, a halfway decent apartment, but something was always missing at the end of the day. I came home to an empty apartment, and spent most weekends either alone or in my car headed back up to the familiar streets I grew up on, to familiar places and faces who always welcomed me.

For the longest time, I felt like moving home was like giving up. Until, one day, when my mom said something that still sticks with me - "it's not giving up, it's coming home". And in the past year, those words have never rang more true.

I have never had a life so full, as an adult, that I have right now. I came back and found my place - something that I spent many years pining for. I wanted to be in a situation where I had things to do and people to do them with. People who understood me and genuinely wanted to spend time with me. I remember how astounded I was the first time someone held open a door for me up here - it had literally been years since I remember it happening. The people up here are just a different breed.

And I know that I burned bridges before I left town, but if I've learned anything from my struggles, it's that honesty is the best policy, and I have to be true to my feelings, even if it means leaving ashes in my wake.

Milwaukee was not a mistake by any means, because any experience is good, but it was home to some of my greatest struggles. Every time I've been back, I haven't felt anything. No pangs of guilt or like I've made a grave mistake. The few times I've gone and been places I used to frequent, though, I'm overcome with the feeling of being somewhere that no longer belongs to me. Which sucks, but at the same time, growth and the ability to look back on these places with positive feelings is good, also.

While I've had time to look back and reflect on the way things are now versus then, I still don't think I would have changed a thing. I'm in a great place now that I wasn't in a year ago. And for that, I'm thankful. I'm glad that I took the plunge and came home, without so much as a job or a plan, really, only because I knew in my heart of hearts that I needed to. Because being hours away from everything I cared about got to be too much. Family and friends are everything to me, and when it got so hard to leave that I was crying in my car on the drive back to Milwaukee, I knew I needed to do something.

I did the selfish thing, for once, and did what was right for me. And I know, now, that it was the thing I needed, to ensure that I can have a good fucking life, and I do, for the first time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Those left behind.

On Saturday afternoon, I was informed that an extended family member was found dead, by her own hand. While it didn't provide me with a sudden rush of tears or a hypothetical punch in the gut, it did provide me with feelings that I haven't felt in some time.

Two years ago, a friend of mine committed suicide. In those two years, I have felt what can only be described as survivor's guilt, many times. I beat myself up and think, "What if I could have helped? Why didn't he say anything?" Suicide is a touchy subject for some, but in the two years since I got that phone call late on a June evening, I have come to grips with the fact that I had no control over it. It was a personal choice.

Occasionally, though it seems strange to harbor anger towards someone who has passed on, I just feel bad. I feel bad for everyone who ever cared for him, myself included, who will forever ask themselves the same question - why?

Prior to that experience, and this one, I hadn't dealt with much in the way of knowing anyone who'd committed suicide. And I find it unfair to refer to them as victims. Victims of what? Their own hands? Their own inability to handle day to day life? That they wanted out badly enough to forget all of the people who ever cared about them long enough to do the deed? And what does it solve? I've never been dead, but I wonder - does the pain actually end? Is there actually a wizard in the sky with every dead pet and family member you've ever lost, waiting to dance in rainbows, or clouds, or whatever? Can they see the aftermath of their actions? Do they care?

I guess that what I'm trying to say, in light of recent events, is that I feel it's the coward's way out, in a way - as my personal opinion. We've all felt pain. We've all had struggles. But part of life is figuring that out. Getting free of those struggles and building yourself back up is one of the greatest things about life.

There is no mysterious text that dictates that if you have a sucky job or are in a shitty relationship that you have to stay. Life is only, and will only ever be, what you make it. And part of that is finding the strength to pick yourself up and keep going. I have personally done it more times than I can count, and I'm sure I'll do it many more times. It's just the way life tends to go.

But one of the most beautiful things about life is just that - that we have so many chances to do the right thing. To dig ourselves out of graves we've put ourselves into. We have that chance, if only we can find the strength to take it.

While suicide as a solution is ugly and I don't agree with it, in a way I also understand it. It feels like a double-edged sword in many ways. There is no way to make it make sense, because it doesn't. We just have to accept it and try to move past it, hoping, as I do right now, that our loved ones find the peace they are looking for so desperately.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Club Monday: American Sniper by Chris Kyle

American Sniper is one of those books that you read just to see what the fuss is about - at least it was for me. Like many others, I saw the movie in theaters and opted to pick the book up to see what they'd changed for the film. While they both stand on their own two feet just fine, I thought they complemented one another wonderfully.

The book's author, Chris Kyle, was a Navy SEAL with the highest number of confirmed kills in Navy history for a single sniper (I believe), and did a staggering four tours of Iraq, fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi - some of the most dangerous places in Iraq at the time.

Unfortunately, Chris was killed in February 2013 while at a shooting range with a couple of vets he had been trying to help with PTSD, as well as issues that arose after coming home from overseas. His killer was convicted earlier this year. While the book doesn't go into specifics about Kyle's death, I think it gave an insight into war that most civilians never think about - especially in the early 2000's, when the Middle East was rife with insurgency and, at least Iraq, had no governing body. The stories within the pages of American Sniper not only opened my eyes to this, but to how lucky we all are, as Americans, to have people as selfless as Kyle in our own armed forces so that we never have to see the reality of war first-hand, on our oil.

Throughout the book, there were small quotes from Chris' wife, Taya, which really helped me, as a reader, understand both sides of the story. Those portions of the book humanized Chris Kyle, for me, at least. Being the wife of a Navy SEAL can't be an easy job, especially amidst a war where she was raising two children alone.

As someone who appreciates our armed forces as an American, but not in the guns-God-government kind of way, I found myself feeling like I learned a lot from American Sniper, and got to see the other side of war, as I mentioned earlier. Whether you saw the film and are curious, like I was, or just looking for an interesting read, American Sniper is an excellent choice, and is definitely worth the read.

Monday, April 20, 2015

How did you celebrate Record Store Day 2015?

Whether you did or didn't celebrate, Record Store Day is a great event for anyone who loves music. Founded in 2007, the event celebrates independent record stores for all they are - local places who contribute more to music than any big-box store. Most recently, there have been exclusive presses put together for the event, which are incredibly popular and cause lines outside of record shops at 7AM on the third Saturday in April.
photo stolen from Rock 'N Roll Land

This year, I was one of those people! Standing in line outside of one of my favorite record shops, Green Bay's Rock 'N Roll Land - I was near the back, since I didn't arrive until about 6:45. What was I there for? The second Sons of Anarchy soundtrack on vinyl. That's it! Of course, I walked out with more than that, but it isn't really the point. It was great, and refreshing, to stand in line with people who genuinely love music and who wanted to support a local business in the meantime.

Say what you want about Record Store Day as a whole, and how it is nothing but a cash grab for artists to re-release things or overprice them, or blah blah blah. Obviously, those things don't matter a whole lot to me, seeing as that's my reaction. To me, it's a great event that exposes local record stores to business, whether new customers or regulars like me. And who can complain about that?

the pandemonium inside the store.
my spoils.
As you can see, I got what I went for, as well as a numbered reissue of the first Social Distortion album, the re-press of Elvis' first recording from Third Man, and a Lucero 7". I felt great about all of my purchases, but most of all, I felt great about supporting a local business.

These days, you can order damn near anything online - from records to toilet paper, really - and if you wanted, you could never leave the house and have everything delivered to your door. It is refreshing to me to be able to message the guys at the record shop and get them to order the things I want, instead of ordering them online. This way, I know exactly who I'm dealing with, and I'm supporting someplace local. Sure, I may pay a couple extra dollars, but that isn't the point.

Even if you didn't participate in Record Store Day, do you have a local record store that you like to hang out at? Do you have any great albums collecting dust in your basement? Get 'em out and give 'em a listen! You would be surprised at how much better vinyl sounds than even digitally recorded music. And even if it isn't a record shop, get out and throw some money at your favorite local businesses. They're worth supporting!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Club Monday: A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

Browsing the shelves of my local book shop, I likely would not have given Jan Ellison's A Small Indiscretion a second look, to be honest. It was not my usual read, but I really, really enjoyed it. For a taste, here is the back jacket description:
At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in her washed-out hometown for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Some two decades later, in San Francisco, she is a successful lighting designer married to a good man, and the mother of three children. Then, one June morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, igniting an old longing and setting off a chain of events that threaten to overturn her family's hard-won happiness. When Annie returns to London seeking answers, her indiscretions come to light, and she must piece together the mystery of her past - the fateful collision of liberation and sexual desire that drew an invisible map of her future.
What I found, though, was a great surprise. A Small Indiscretion was a fun read, with twists and turns so sharp that it can't fit into just one genre. It flew from a mystery to a drama in just the flip of a page, and I really loved the flow and fit of the story into each of its' different settings.

The story follows Annie Black, a lighting designer and the owner of a light shop called the Salvaged Light in San Francisco. She has what seems like the perfect life, with her husband, doctor Jonathan, and three children; Polly, Clara, and Robbie, the oldest. Everything seemed to be going well, until she received a mysterious photo in the mail, a photo from a past in London long ago.

Split into parts, the first portion of the story steadily creeps along in a multitude of different times, from the present day in the voice of a mother to her injured son, to the past in London. In London, Annie was a different girl - 19 years old, in search of an education. What she did find was an education and a job, working for a man much older than she, named Malcolm. A Christmas in London with Malcolm and his family set the stage for a photograph that would haunt her and wound her family, even many years later. Coincidentally, she also met her husband on that trip, but the two lives intertwined to create Annie's history, whether or not she wanted to face it.

With well-developed characters working together to create an entertaining story,  A Small Indiscretion is a wonderful debut novel from Jan Ellison, and was a real surprise to this reader. I would definitely recommend it make your to-read list. And since it releases tomorrow, January 20, 2015, you will be able to read for yourselves.

Disclaimer: This review was part of a paid blog book tour, courtesy of Random House and 20 Something Bloggers. I received an advance copy of the novel from Random House free of charge.

As a bonus, I am giving everyone the chance to win their own copy of A Small Indiscretion! Please enter below for your chance to win! Follow the directions below for multiple chances to win.

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