Community and Celebration

Hello, dear readers! We’ve reached another Thursday. I hope you’re all safe and healthy, and for those of you in places that got hit with the blizzard over the weekend, I hope your heat is working. (Thankfully, ours is, but I know some of our friends have not been so lucky.)

I have been thinking a lot this week about community. But before I get into that, let me back up a bit.

A couple of years ago, I came across the idea of creating your own holidays – not just creating traditions for existing holidays, but making up holidays that make sense to you. I loved that thought. In an effort to be more connected to the changing seasons in the world around me, I’d been halfheartedly trying to follow the “wheel of the year” observed by a lot of neo-pagan traditions, which marks the solstices, equinoxes, and four points between each of those. The thing is, though…while some of the correspondences associated with these holidays made sense, a lot of it is based on an agricultural calendar for a climate I don’t live in, so it didn’t feel super applicable to my life.

Fast-forward to about six months ago: after toying with writing up some holidays off and on, I finally sat down with my husband and we came up with a list of holidays that made sense to us, using the dates of the “wheel of the year” but making the holidays themselves more meaningful. The idea is to be more attuned to time changing, and giving ourselves regular time to reflect. (I told my therapist about this in our session this week and she got so excited about the idea. I might make a zine about it at some point.)

We designated February 1 as Midwinter, and placed the focus of this holiday on honoring and connecting with the communities that help us get through the darker time of the year. For me, there are a handful of distinct communities I’m part of that have been doing so much to keep me grounded, both in the physically darker winter and in the metaphorically darker times we’ve been living through. I did a lot of reaching out on Monday to those people, both in my own observation of Midwinter and in an effort to step up my practice of telling people I love and appreciate them. It felt really great.

In therapy on Monday, I talked a lot about how I sometimes feel guilty for the fact that things are going well for me right now, when I know the world is on fire and a lot of people that I care about are struggling. But I realized a few things as we hashed things out in that session:

  • I am allowed to feel joy.
  • My joy doesn’t mean I’m minimizing what anyone else is going through.
  • The people in my life want to celebrate with me, just like I want to celebrate with them when they’re happy.

When I was younger, I ended up in some pretty messed up, codependent friendships (which I hesitate to even call friendships anymore, but I don’t know what else to call them), where me being happy was interpreted as me not caring about the other person’s pain, and I’m still hanging onto some of that baggage. But the reality is that in healthy relationships, you hold space for each other’s joy and pain. I realized I was holding myself to a different standard than what I’d hold anyone else to. Like, if I’m struggling and one of my friends has something amazing happen to them, I absolutely want to celebrate with them! And I know that they’ll still empathize with me in whatever I’m going through.

So here are some things I am celebrating right now, and I hope that you’ll join me in celebrating them:

  • I got a promotion at work! This is the good news I’ve alluded to in a couple of past posts, but it was officially announced to the company on Monday, so now I feel like I can talk about it here. I’m now a team lead – for the first time in my professional life, I have people reporting directly to me. It’s a big step forward for me, and while I am a little bit overwhelmed by it, mostly I am just excited to be able to support this team of rockstars that I work with.
  • FAWM is underway! And it’s been hugely successful for me so far – we’re four days in and I’ve written five songs. So far my practice of getting up early and writing before work is paying off – I’ve gotten a song done before starting work every day this week, and I also managed to write another last night after dinner. I’m really happy with how the songs are turning out in general, too, which is fun.
  • I’m just in a really good place emotionally right now. For those who might be newer to this blog, you may or may not know that I have a Bipolar II Disorder diagnosis, as well as a history of some pretty significant anxiety issues. I’ve been working with my therapist to see this things in a light that’s less pathologizing and more just a matter of regulating the energy in my nervous system, and I’m in a more stable place than I think I’ve been since…I don’t even know, way back in childhood.

What about you, readers? What are things that you’re celebrating right now? Or, if you don’t feel like you have much cause for celebration at the moment, what’s weighing heavy on you right now? I’d love to hear from you.

Oddly Energetic

Hello, dear readers! This has been a weird week.

I’m still sitting on the exciting news I alluded to last week – next week I will hopefully be able to make an official announcement about that. But, at least in part because of that, I’m feeling…oddly energetic. I am riding a wave of creative energy right now.

Some of this is also because it is almost FAWM – February Album Writing Month. I write about this every February – it’s a songwriting challenge where songwriters from around the globe try to write 14 songs in the 28 days of February. I’ve participated the past three years, and am getting very excited for year number four, even though my life looks vastly different now than it did even a year ago and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do it. I’ve been getting up early to journal the past couple of weeks, to get in the practice before February hits, as generally early mornings are my best writing time. (I am not a morning person, but often I have more interesting ideas before my mental filters have fully kicked in post-coffee.)

I’m very excited about songwriting in general right now. I recently acquired some audio equipment that should make it easier to make nice recordings at home, and I am dreaming of possibly recording an EP this year, even if I have to do it from my apartment. I’m also writing for the class I’m taking right now at the Old Town School, and the past couple of weeks have elicited some interesting songs that I’m really quite pleased with. I’ll share last week’s here, because it’s been stuck in my head off and on all week. The assignment was one I’ve done before, where we’re asked to think about writing as a collective enterprise. Our task was to ask a handful of friends to tell us their most memorable dreams, and turn those into verses. For the chorus, we were to ask a question of a vast concept or thing. The group of friends that I asked did not disappoint, and they community we are in together inspired the questions in the chorus. So here it is; enjoy!

Holier Than This – Alyxander James

Lyrics, for the curious:

You made yourself at home in our shared space
Our familiar interactions put a smile on my face
But something here between us feels different today
I can see you

Do you ever cry?
Do you believe in miracles?
What happens when we die?
Is it anything to fear?
In all these stories that we tell
Making meaning out of myth
What could be holy, holy, holier than this?

It’s been some time since we’ve seen eye to eye
But now we sit together on this rollercoaster ride
Nothing left to run from and nowhere left to hide
I can see you

Do you ever cry?
Do you believe in miracles?
What happens when we die?
Is it anything to fear?
In all these stories that we tell
Making meaning out of myth
What could be holy, holy, holier than this?

Not a day goes by I don’t wish you were here
No matter how much time has passed, can’t always stop the tears
But now I see you smile when I’m looking in the mirror
I can see you

Do you ever cry?
Do you believe in miracles?
What happens when we die?
Is it anything to fear?
In all these stories that we tell
Making meaning out of myth
What could be holy, holy, holier than this?

Exhale

Hello, dear readers! We’ve made it to another Thursday. I hope you’re all hanging in there.

I don’t know about all of you, but yesterday felt like exhaling after holding my breath for four years. As of yesterday, the United States has a new President and Vice President, and while neither of them were my first choice, and I recognize that there’s a lot of work ahead of us to hold them accountable to their more progressive campaign promises, I’ll take them over the former occupants of the White House any day of the week.

The past four years have been…a lot. Traumatic, even deadly, for many people. Even from my place of privilege where most of the horrific policy decisions didn’t impact me directly, I’ve spent most of the last four years feeling like a coiled spring with a stomachache. Today, my breathing feels easier than it has since the middle of 2016. Much of my body still feels like a coiled spring – it’s going to need some convincing that it’s safe to relax. But the difference in how my body feels is palpable.

In addition to the big national news, I got some really wonderful personal/professional news yesterday. I can’t post super publicly about it yet, but I’m happy to chat with people individually if you’re curious and want to reach out.

I’m going to leave you with this link where you can go watch Amanda Gorman read her poem, The Hill We Climb, at the inauguration yesterday. It gave me a lot of hope for the future, and also some hope for the present. It’s well worth the listen. (Also, Gorman has a children’s book coming out in September, and you can preorder that here or from your local indie bookshop!)

Daydreaming

Hello, dear readers, and happy Thursday! At least, I’m pretty sure it’s Thursday. I ended up needing to take some sick time Friday and Monday, and it’s thrown me for a bit of a loop in terms of time. But then again, as we see in this lovely McSweeney’s article featuring Frog and Toad, “Time means nothing now… It is just the thing that happens between snacks.”

It’s been a fairly uneventful week, aside from the sick time (which, other than me feeling under the weather, was also pretty uneventful, actually). My big project for this week has been trying to get a better system together for keeping myself on top of the things I need to get done at work and at home. I’ve tried a couple of different to do tracking systems recently, but I think I’ve finally settled on Todoist as my solution, at least for the time being (in conjunction with my beloved paper planner, because sometimes things aren’t quite real until I’ve written them out by hand).

I’ve also been daydreaming a lot, specifically about actually recording some music this fall. My husband got a new laptop not long ago and has Logic installed on it; we’re hoping to learn how to use that effectively to make some nice recordings at home, since booking studio time during a pandemic feels too risky. I have a pretty deep backlog of songs at this point, and while a lot of them don’t need to see the light of day again, it would be nice to be able to share the ones I’m proud of with people in such a way that I don’t feel a need to apologize for the sound quality (like I tend to now, when all my songs are recorded on my phone).

I’m going to keep this one pretty short, but let’s end on a high note, yeah? Here are a few things I’m looking forward to in the next week:

  • I’m playing a couple of different D&D games right now, and they’re both SO much fun. They’re honestly the highlights of my week right now.
  • On Sunday, I’m doing a “Body Love Creative Writing Workshop” that some Song School friends are putting on. I’m excited for the chance to write and to explore being kinder to my body.
  • Next week I’m joining a tarot-based game that a friend designed and is playtesting, and I am super excited to see what he’s come up with.

Keep hanging in there, everyone. Keep washing your hands and wearing your masks, stay hydrated, tip service workers as well as you possibly can, protest and petition and donate where you’re able.

It’s the Little Things

Hello, dear readers. Life continues to be weird. Time continues to feel more ethereal than normal. I still rarely remember what day it is. This pandemic continues to creep closer and closer to hitting home with me; I know for some of you, it’s already there. It’s a scary time.

I am trying desperately to hold onto what glimpses of light I can in the midst of all the uncertainty. Here are a few things that have been bright spots in my week:

  • It has been so bright in my “office” (our sunroom) when I start working in the mornings that several times I have needed to pull out my sunglasses. The sunlight, even filtered through our windows, is a welcome and wonderful thing.
  • There are trees immediately outside of our sunroom windows (we’re up on the 3rd floor). I have multiple times now experienced the joy of watching a squirrel take a nap on a branch. I think it may be building a nest in the tree, as I saw it gnaw off a twig or two yesterday.
  • I’m so enjoying watching nature from my sunroom. In addition to napping squirrels, I’ve seen house finches, mourning doves, robins, sparrows, and a woodpecker.
  • The trees are starting to bud. Before we know it, there will be fresh, vibrantly green leaves coming out, and it will feel like we live in a tree fort.
  • I’m getting ready to play a D&D campaign with some friends and family that I am incredibly excited about. I am so glad to have the distraction of play in the midst of all of this.

It is definitely a dark and scary time right now. I am rotating regularly from fear to anger to sadness to numbness and back again, and I know that’s a perfectly reasonable response to what we’re going through. It’s also why I think it’s so important to find those little moments of comfort and light.

I’d love to hear from you – what are the things that have lifted your spirits lately, however briefly? How are you holding up?

Good News!

Hello, dear readers! At long last, I can share with you the good news I’ve been hinting at for the past couple of weeks – I got a new job! Starting March 9 I’ll be moving out of the nonprofit world and into doing tech support at an app company. I could not be more excited.

It’s been a wild ride getting here. Back in October, I was very casually looking at positions online, and I came across a posting for this company that I thought looked really interesting. They were based in New York, but were gearing up to open a Chicago office. I applied, and in December ended up having a couple of great interviews with them. I didn’t get the job, but when they sent the rejection, they told me they wanted to stay in touch.

Now, I didn’t want to read too much into that, but it didn’t seem like quite the standard, “Sorry, you’re not a good fit for us,” email. So when I noticed a new, similar position go up at the end of January, I decided to take a chance. I emailed the HR recruiter I’d been talking to in December, and asked if the hiring manager was the same person, so I could address my cover letter more personally. I didn’t really expect to hear back…and I didn’t, for about a week.

Just as I was about to go ahead and apply, I got a response apologizing for the delay (she’d been on vacation), and letting me know that, yes, it was the same hiring manager. She also said she had a meeting scheduled with that hiring manager later in the week and would be happy to mention to him that I was interested. She encouraged me to apply, so I did.

The very next day, I got a response. They let me know that since I’d interviewed so recently and had already talked with the hiring manager, they were skipping over the initial interview part of the process, and dropping me directly into the next step, which was a trial project (basically using their help materials to answer some sample client questions). I took the afternoon off to go home and work on it (since at that point, I was too excited to focus on existing work very well). I did what I thought was the best job I could do, and sent it in.

About a week later, I heard back that they were impressed by my project and wanted to move me along to the final interview stage. After a last-minute reschedule, I ended up having the final interview last Tuesday. I had great conversations with three people on the team. The hiring manager made a point to let me know that my trial project was the best work he’d seen on that in a long time. I felt like I nailed it. I was told I’d hear back by the end of the week.

Fast-forward…about 24 hours. Wednesday afternoon I got an email from the HR recruiter saying she and the hiring manager wanted to give me an update, and could I spare 15 minutes for a phone call that day? I responded with my availability and sent several, “cross all your appendages for me!” texts to the friends who knew I’d had the interview.

I got an offer. I was expecting, based on the conversations I’d had in December, to be offered a salary that was a bit below what I wanted, and was prepared to argue for more. Instead, the number they offered me was my pie-in-the-sky, I-don’t-think-I’m-allowed-to-ask-for-this, never-gonna-happen number. I said yes.

This all happened in a span of 15 days.

Last Thursday, I turned in my two-weeks’ notice at my current job and informed my teammates. Friday I wrapped up telling the folks I needed to tell privately, and then Friday afternoon my boss sent out the official announcement to the agency. I’m getting a lot of practice in setting emotional boundaries and not trying to manage other people’s emotions (my therapist is going to be so proud). There’s a lot of sadness, and a fair bit of anxiety about what’s next.

And part of me is sad, too. I’ve worked with really great people, and I’m sorry to say goodbye to them. I’ve also learned a lot at this job – when I started, I had zero IT experience. I’m grateful for my time here.

I’m also really, really excited for what’s next. Every person I’ve talked to at this company has gotten me more excited about working there. It’s a great opportunity, and the way things fell into place, it feels like it’s exactly where I’m meant to be right now.

So that’s my big news! Special thanks to everyone who’s reached out in the past couple of weeks to check in and get updates – it’s been great to have your support. I’m a lucky queer.

Bursting at the Seams

Hello, dear readers!

I am having a really great week. I can’t talk publicly about all the reasons why just yet (feel free to reach out if you’re curious), but here are a few:

  • Last Friday, I ended up writing a song with a fellow FAWMer. I wrote the lyrics, sent it to them for music, they sent it back, I recorded the melody and guitar part, and they added harmony and ukulele. It sounds FANTASTIC, and I am so excited about it. You can listen to it here.
  • Over the weekend, a friend from the Twin Cities came to visit, and it was so fun! They are a very easy houseguest and it was a relaxing weekend for everyone, I think.
  • As of this morning, I’ve completed my personal FAWM challenge of writing a song for every card of the major arcana in the tarot. I’m very excited about that.

More to come next week on the rest of the excitement. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you – what’s making your week brighter?

Surprisingly Productive

So…I’ve had a shockingly productive first week of February (by which I mean: I’ve had a really successful first week of FAWM). I’ve gotten up at 5:30 to write four days in a row now. I’m 6/6 days/songs written.

I don’t expect that I’ll write a song every day all month. That feels bonkers (and also, we have a friend coming to visit next weekend, and while they are lovely and encouraging I don’t think I’m going to get a lot of writing done when there are three of us in our one-bedroom apartment – it’s hard enough when it’s just me and my partner). But I am really excited about how the month is going so far.

I’m trying to participate more in the listening and commenting on FAWM this year than I have in the past. As a result, I’m making some friends. I’m probably going to do a collaboration on a song with someone whose songs I’m really digging but who I’ve never met, which is just a cool think about the internet.

This year for FAWM I’m focusing on this 78 Songs project I’ve been “working on” for about four years with little success. I’m trying to write a song for every card in a tarot deck, and up until this year I had maybe half a dozen done. I decided to use this concentrated songwriting time as a catalyst to get some traction on this project. So I’m starting with the 22 cards of the major arcana. Since there are 22 and I only really had the first one done, I started working my way through a week or so ahead of time. As of today, I’ve gotten through XI – Justice, which means I’m over halfway there!

I’m going to leave you with my favorite of the songs that I’ve written so far. This song is for VII – The Chariot. I did not think this was going to be a 5 minute song, but here we are. This was largely inspired by a conversation I had with a friend. It was later pointed out to me that it’s also very queer, and I’m a little embarrassed and very amused that I didn’t realize it on my own. Anyway, here’s a song: enjoy!

I very nearly forgot to blog this week.

Yesterday was hard. Not because of anything that happened, really, but the whole day felt Sisyphean. I got out of bed late; it took what felt like eons to talk myself into going to work. I spent a lot of the day dealing with a pain flare-up. It was hard to be in my body. I got home and managed to get a few things done, but I was in bed before 8:30.

This morning I woke up still feeling pretty achy, so I made the decision to work from home. This meant that even though I made the questionable decision to crawl back into bed after turning my alarm off, I still had time to shower and take it a little easier getting ready for my day.

Now I’m sitting at my kitchen table with my coffee and my work laptop, getting ready to dive into some work projects, and I suddenly realized I hadn’t written a blog post yet, so here we are.

It’s been a long week, for sure. But here are a handful of things that have kept me going:

  • I finally saw Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker on Friday after work. I know some people found it disappointing, but I really enjoyed it. I cried, I laughed, I held my breath, I occasionally rolled my eyes. It was a fun ride and I found it a satisfying conclusion to the series I was raised on.
  • Saturday we got breakfast with a friend who lives in our old neighborhood. When we moved, we decided to set up a routine of breakfast dates every other weekend, and I’m so glad we did. I am trying to be more intentional about making time for friends. We have such a great constellation of friends and communities here, and I think when I’m struggling I sometimes lose sight of that.
  • I made it to Tai Chi class for the fourth week in a row. It feels good to be doing something to move my body aside from all the walking I do.
  • I wrote three songs last week. I’m getting increasingly excited for FAWM!
  • This weekend I have a couple of things scheduled with friends that I wish I saw more often, and I am very much looking forward to those.

Remarkably Healing

Hello, dear readers, and apologies that this post is going up late – it’s been a weird week, and I nearly forgot what day it was.

I wrote last week about my grandfather’s passing, my complicated feelings around our relationship, and my anxiety about going to the funeral, which was last Saturday. I am pleased (and still a little surprised) to report that going to the funeral, while hard and sad, was actually a remarkably healing experience.

My extended family, including the folks I was most nervous about seeing, all either called me Alyx or avoided names altogether. I heard one aunt use the wrong pronouns once, but she corrected herself smoothly and moved on. I didn’t feel othered at all – I was included every step of the way. I felt…well, like I had a family, in a way that I haven’t felt in a while.

I know that some of the responsibility for my prior estrangement from my family is on me. I chose to pull away rather than engaging with them. I still feel like I had good reason to (I didn’t have the mental or emotional resources to manage their potential responses when I first came out), but I also recognize that I did not give them a chance to prove me wrong about how I thought they would react to my coming out.

I’m also 100% certain that a large part of why the weekend went so well has to do with my grandmother. She and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but since we reconnected this spring, she’s done a phenomenal job of showing up and showing me love and respect, which I am doing my best to return. I think the fact that my nearly-92-year-old grandmother can manage to call me Alyx and meet me where I’m at meant that no one else had any sort of excuse to do otherwise.

It was a long day (I drove from Chicago to northeast Iowa on Friday evening, and back to Chicago on Saturday evening after the funeral), but I’m glad I went. I was genuinely disappointed that I wasn’t able to stick around and spend more time with my family (it was snowing in Iowa by the time we finished lunch, and I decided to head straight home rather than risk icy roads as it got later), which I was not expecting.

One of my aunts, as we were saying our goodbyes, gave me a long, firm hug before telling me she was so proud of me, and that if anyone wasn’t, that was on them, not on me. I still well up a bit every time I think about it.

I guess what I’m saying is people are surprising, complicated creatures, and I need to do a better job of remembering that rather than jumping immediately to worst-case-scenario planning when I interact with people who I expect to disagree with. (I’m also grateful that this funeral was not a place where politics came up, because I’m sure a lot of the warm fuzzies would have been…well, less warm and fuzzy.)