I’m okay. Hurricane Alex has come and gone, leaving in his wake cool weather and breezy rain. The sky remains flat and grey, with gauzy white clouds stretched across. It’s a quiet Saturday morning, and if I listen hard, I can hear birds chirping and the gentle whoosh of cars passing by outside. This weekend thing is always really nice.
My quiet weekend started last night, when I came home from work feeling vaguely ill. It started after lunch, and for a while, I blamed it on the Greek Iced Coffee I had with lunch, thinking that it was just a weird caffeine headache. But then my throat started to itch, and my neck was tight and achy, and I felt so very tired. By the time I realized it was more than a headache, I was almost done with my work for the day, so I finished up, went home, and bonded with my couch.
It’s funny how being sick, or even just mildly ill, gives us permission to enter a slothlike state. But it’s nice when you aren’t sick enough to feel like you are really suffering—it’s that just-right spot where you feel totally entitled to spend the evening reading a good book, feet up, water glass filled and at the ready. I know that if I’d had plans last night, I would have pushed myself to follow through with them, but not having plans turned out to be a blessing.
The lazy evening started with a book set in Chicago, The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson. My friend Nicole gave me this book a few years ago for my birthday, but in my first reading attempt, I couldn’t quite get into it. It’s a serious, intense book about Chicago, the 1893 World’s Fair, an architect, and a serial killer. I think it was a little too serious and intense for me the first time I started reading it—there was too much heavy stuff in my real life for this book to be an escape. But now, especially because Chicago is no longer home to me, this book feels like a snapshot of history from a place that I love. Now, reading it feels like a treat.
The cool weather and rain outside made the evening feel unusually Chicago-like. It was a neat effect, feeling like my old home had, in its way, wrapped itself around my new home. It wasn’t that I literally felt like I was in Chicago; instead it was more like I was reminded of Chicago over and over again, and in my mind, those memories transported me to quiet evenings spent in a little apartment in Evanston, where I would often lay on the couch, feet propped up, reading a good book and letting the day gently fade to darkness outside my window.
Even dinner reminded me of Chicago. To fit my slothlike state, I made a simple dinner of baked eggs (yes, again!) and stir-fried cabbage. The cabbage dish was noteworthy: half a head of cabbage, sliced into thin strips and then stir-fried over high heat and doused with hot sauce and soy sauce. I admit, cooking over high heat scares the bejebus out of me, and my cabbage burned and blackened in spots. But ooh, those blackened pieces added this wonderful charred flavor—just a bit—and the final dish tasted earthy and sweet and fresh and salty. What was really interesting is that even the cabbage reminded me of Chicago, which was kind of odd until I remembered the Chinese restaurant just a few blocks from where I used to live. I often took long walks around my neighborhood—it was such a great neighborhood for walking—and when I would pass by the restaurant, the air was always perfumed with soy sauce and the smell of fried foods. It was the same aroma of the cabbage dish. That memory makes me like it even more.
A book and baked eggs and stir-fried cabbage would have been more than enough for a good evening, but then my friend Ammie called from Chicago and I felt warm and safe in the mutual affection of our friendship. She’s so insanely busy right now that I wish I could give her some of my time, just a few hours to relax and maybe cook a good meal, but alas, time is not the sort of thing one can package into a pretty little box and mail off to Chicago. Still, it was so good to hear her voice and her excitement about an upcoming trip to Germany. And I got to tell her that all is well here and I’m continuing to think deeply about how to manage the inevitable disappointments that accompany life in a research lab. I like to think that my moments of failure offer the greatest learning opportunities, though mostly I’d rather punch those failures in the face than learn from them. But I try.
Happy weekend, friends, and happy Independence Day. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “We must be our own before we can be another’s.” But I think that the real trick is building a life where we can be our own person and find connections with others. That’s the sweet spot.
[I took the photo above while I was walking through Andersonville, one of my favorite Chicago neighborhoods. I love the light in this photo, and the grey sky is just pure Chicago to me.]