Hear the World Out

I briefly worked with a man who had fled from Egypt with his family to escape the threat of decapitation from religious extremists. He had witnessed the violent murders of his friends and neighbors, and finally decided to seek refuge somewhere safe. In his home country, his college degree afforded him a respectable job (I cannot recall his degree or what his position was.) When he came here, employers turned him away. They told him his work experience and degree did not hold value here. He left everything he had ever known to sweep the floors of a hotel frequented by wealthy businessmen in America, in order to protect his family from religious persecution. I worked with this man for several weeks before he told me his story.

And I doubt he would have told me his story had I not made a comment about the anti-Muslim protests that were on the news above the bar at the time. We were both watching, and I shook my head and said something along the lines of “Isn’t it horrible?” He immediately upbraided me, protesting that Muslims had chased him out of his home, and that they deserved to be, not only protested, but killed. When I suggested that perhaps not all Muslims are to blame, that really only a very small group of people commit these acts of violence, he pointed his finger at me and vehemently told me I was wrong. He was shaking with anger.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I apologized profusely for offending him. I told him I had no idea what he had gone through, that I could never truly understand. He told me I was lucky, and that I was “just a little girl,” and that I didn’t understand the world, and I agreed with him. It’s true. I’m young, naïve, and I truly live in the lap of luxury as a white woman in America. Hell, I’m pursuing writing as a career path. I get to have a career path.

I went home and cried, and felt horribly like the pathetic little girl that he told me I was. I felt like I had been reprimanded, and I became angry. But I was also horrified and heart-broken by his story, and, at the same time, frustrated and confused that he could be so hateful towards an entire group of people, when he and his family had been the target of a similar kind of hate for so long. I kept wondering how he could refuse to see that, and only grew more frustrated when I realized that the only reason I was even in a position to criticize him for his resentment was because I am so lucky. I have never experienced the kind of fear that that man has.

And fear breeds hate. When I learned the death toll in Paris after the attacks last night, I felt my chest get tight. My heart ached for the victims and their loved ones, and I felt afraid. I could picture the attackers’ hate so clearly, because I had seen it in that man at my old job. I saw his pointed finger shaking in my face, the veins bulging in his neck. I saw the pain and fear swimming in his eyes. Because behind all of that passionate hate, he was afraid.

In all honesty, I had tried to forget that man, his story, and his rage. I felt embarrassed whenever I recalled the memory because he had made me feel so small, much smaller than I had ever wished to admit that I am. We are so comfortable in this country, and all other predominantly white countries in Europe, for that matter. When one of our own is attacked, we feel threatened. Our lives feel threatened, our comfort feels threatened, and our power feels threatened. We acknowledge these attacks and ignore the others that happen every other day in the Middle East because we are afraid to admit how small we are, how lucky we are. We reach out to France with open arms now, in their time of need, but we choose to turn our backs on the rest of the world every single day. It’s easier to hate, and to place blame on the Muslim community. It’s easier to ignore the larger picture, especially from where we’re standing.

I realize all of this, and yet, I feel so powerless. What am I supposed to do with my opinion, as a twenty-three-year-old waitress? What could I have said to that man, in that moment, to lessen his burden? Maybe it’s naive of me to even think there was anything I could do. I knew he was wrong, and I wanted to hate him for treating me like an unruly child, but instead I felt sad, and helpless. The world grew suddenly much larger. The idealistic vision I had of myself as a liberal, open-minded, educated herald of reason shattered, and I’m still trying to figure it out.

My heart aches for Paris, but it aches harder for a world so large and full of nuance. There are hateful Christians, and there are hateful Muslims. But there are also compassionate Christians, and peaceful Muslims, and every other variance of human being on the spectrum. To single out one group of people for the acts of a handful of others is not only narrow-sighted and downright wrong, but it’s also confining. To recognize the plight of some and ignore the circumstances of others stems from the same lack of insight. The majority of people I know understand this, but It scares me that so many don’t. You will never grow if you do not broaden your world view.

The only thing I can think of is to further my education, to learn as much as I can, and read as much as I can, so that I can be as empathetic as possible. I want to hear people’s stories, really hear them, and maybe even try to help others understand. I hope that man finds comfort here. After all he had been through, he still had not given up. Before that day, he had been asking me questions about the local community college. I only realized later that he had already received his education, and was so determined that he was willing to do it over, in a foreign country. I can only aspire to be so driven.

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Falling Back in Love with Writing

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Everyday I wake up and wish I was still on the road – not because I hate my life here or anything. I don’t. Things have been going rather well, actually. I got a new job with lovely coworkers. I’ve been getting more accustomed to writing at least one poem a day (this has been a problem for me in the past.) I paused my Fiverr gigs temporarily, but finally have enough money to go grocery shopping and whip up some decent dinners with my boyfriend. I’ve even been stretching everyday. I know I should be happier. I am happy. I just miss everything about that trip.

The other day I was confidently telling one of my new coworkers that I just got my degree, and she asked me if I was looking for a full-time job, and I faltered a little. The answer is, ultimately, no. It’s been almost three months, and I haven’t even really considered it. The truth is that I’m happy waitressing at the moment. It’s good money, and it allows me to focus more on my writing. But, if I dig a little deeper, there’s nothing I really want to do. I’ve enjoyed writing sales copy recently, but I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s something I am passionate about. I’ve written a couple articles too, which were fun, but they felt empty, and the process was a little draining. It might have just been the topics, but I’m convinced it’s because my mind would rather focus on my own writing.

Am I a bad writer because I don’t want to branch out and write for other people? Am I not doing enough right now, waitressing and slowly building my portfolio? I have been spending a lot of time researching blogs and journals to submit to, and reading other people’s work. These things feel important to me. I know I should enjoy exploring new topics and stepping outside of my comfort zone by writing for other people. I do. But is it so terribly self-absorbed that I want to focus on myself?

I started writing when I was 8-years-old, when my grandmother sent me my first journal in the mail. It arrived in a package with my mom’s tennis shoes that she had left at her house in Pittsburgh, with a note that advised me to, “Write everyday. It doesn’t matter what.” I cracked the mint green spine and stared at the blank, lined paper and felt both intimidated and suddenly very self-important. The next time I saw her, I wanted her approval of what I had written, but she said very little, just that I was doing a good job, and that maybe I should try poetry. She recited Frost, Poe, Emily Dickinson. She called me a sponge because I just sat there and absorbed.

Through elementary school, middle school, and the whole way through high school, I came home everyday, sat in my bedroom, put an album on repeat, and wrote awful, terrible poetry that I was immensely proud of. I read it to my friends over the phone and they asked me why it didn’t rhyme. I told them it was called “free verse,” and poetry doesn’t have to rhyme anymore (the self-important part didn’t change either.) For a little while, I thought I was a lyricist. I tried picking up the guitar, and writing my own songs on the piano, but it turned out I was better at reading sheet music.

The point is, I was really writing for the sheer hell of it. And it felt good. In recent years, I built a stigma around writing. Somewhere along the line it became work (probably definitely in college.) Even when I was scribbling notes, I found myself worrying about how I sounded. I became harshly critical of my writing, and started reconsidering my passion for it entirely. I no longer enjoyed doing it. And I think it’s important to mention that I felt pretty lost without it, though I didn’t realize at the time what was missing.

This might sound a little cliché, but I believe that road trip was the beginning of a new kind of freedom for me. I wasn’t worried about anything. I took a break from writing and, by extension, a break from criticizing myself, and just enjoyed the ride. Literally. And when I got home, I started writing for myself again. It started out as simple journaling and evolved back into poetry. Now, I’m finally starting to look forward to dedicating hours out of my day to writing. I have some plans for the future, and I’m looking forward to them, but I don’t want to lose what I just rediscovered.

I wake up everyday wishing I was still on the road because it was simple, like a one month-long meditation. It was pure magic. I want to look on either side of me and see Redwoods towering above me, the rocky coastline to my right, and endless road ahead of me. Writing isn’t so simple, but it’s getting easier. I don’t think I’m misguided for taking this time before grad school to fall back in love with what I’m hoping to do for the rest of my life. I doubt I’ll regret it.

To My Lost Black Cardigan

To my beloved lost cardigan,

We met by chance. You seemed to appear out of thin air on my bedroom floor at my parents’ house, the summer after my freshman year of college, and I immediately fell for your perfect dress length and snug but cozy fit. Chances are, I obtained you one drunken night from a friend, tossed you on the floor before face planting into a pile of pillows, and forgot where you came from. But how we met didn’t matter.

That summer, we spent a lot of time together, sitting on driveways in dresses eating pizza at 2 AM, pretending we enjoyed smoking cigarettes and getting burns on my knees in the process. I rolled up your ribbed sleeves for copious amounts of sushi and Buffalo wings on alternating weeks – actually, I did a lot of eating at the time. And drinking. And you always fit, no matter how chubby and disgusting I got. We spent my nineteenth birthday together, and I used those same sleeves to wipe my tears the next morning in my car, on my way home from another night spent failing to compensate for my morbid self-esteem with booze and people who didn’t matter.

As the summer dwindled, I got a second job at that sushi restaurant, mostly so I could eat more sushi. We saw less of each other because I had nowhere to go in my pretty dresses. I had dropped out of school, and practically lived in the black pants and button up I was forced to wear to mark myself as a waitress. I broke you out here and there for a few jaded parties with those same people who kept mattering less and less, but you spent most of your time hanging in my closet, waiting to be worn.

That spring I went back to school, and you moved into my new dorm with me. Finally, you got the attention you deserved. I wore you with my pretty dresses and my black leggings and almost failed all of my classes with you. I think I wore you to the hospital a couple times for my panic attacks, drawing you closer across my chest as I sat shaking in the waiting room, convinced I was dying. I curled up inside of you in the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s car that time they tried to give me Valium and it only made me feel crazier and terrified of my skin. I passed my classes thanks to the mercy of my teachers, and then I wore you to my grandfather’s funeral. And then to my ex-boyfriend’s. And then you spent another summer tucked away in my closet while I mindlessly waited tables.

My third try at school would be my last, and we toughed it out together until graduation. For three years, we took naps after class that often lasted through the night and the next day, and maybe even the week, depending on how badly I wanted to avoid my teachers and peers and everyone else who I thought must think I was such a failure. I pulled my hands into your sleeves in classes that made me feel inadequate, my heart short-circuiting and my chest contracting in terrified anticipation for the moment the professor would call on me for my unqualified opinion on the text.

You got covered in white cat hairs when I adopted my two darling kitties, after I had moved in with two of the waitresses I worked with at the sushi restaurant, stuffed in my backpack right before yoga practice, and shoved in between the couch cushions while we danced and sang into spatulas and drank red wine. You got a chance to shine when I started bartending at the Hilton and they let me wear my pretty dresses and my favorite black leggings, and the old white men at the bar complimented me on my legs and my ass and I was just happy that you were long enough to cover me when I had to climb up on the step ladder.

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Yes, there we are, getting ready for another night of thrilling work at the Hilton.

We moved again, this time into an apartment with my then-boyfriend, even though I knew it was too soon, and it only lasted a couple months until he moved out and you and I had to work extra shifts to pay double the rent. But then I met an amazing boy, and I fell truly in love, and I wore you on dates to breweries and to Thanksgiving dinner with his family and to the library, where he forced me to write my essays and poems.

We moved back into my parents’ house for my last semester, and you spent most of your time being transported to and from the amazing boy’s apartment. I turned my assignments in on time, and for my last semester, I got straight A’s. I traded you for a cap and gown on graduation day and shocked myself when I saw my image on the giant screen as I walked across the stage for my diploma. We moved again, this time into an apartment with the amazing boy. We knew we were only settling in for a few short weeks before I stuffed you in a massive suitcase and we set off on a month-long road trip across the country and back.

We explored the country together, from Chicago to Seattle, down to San Diego, and across the Southwest, back up to our home in Pennsylvania. Then you hung in my closet for a couple weeks until that fateful day of the Starbucks interview. See, the Hilton didn’t want to bother saving my position while we were away, so I had to find a new job to make up for the vast amount of money I had spent on the road. Nervous and sweaty, I put you on the back of a chair while the interviewer and I chatted about my previous experience and I answered questions about hypothetical situations, and when I left I anxiously grabbed my Iced Chai and stuffed my phone and my wallet in my purse, and I must have left you there, limp on the back of the interviewee’s chair.

I called the next morning, inquiring about my beloved lost cardigan, but you were already gone. Someone must have needed your warmth and picked you up off the back of that chair, unappreciative of your utter perfection and the time we spent together. I lay awake for several nights, wondering where you might be. I tore apart my car, and my apartment, searched in the unlikeliest places, but I never found you. I grew frustrated, tiresome. I resorted to wearing my shorter black cardigan with my black dress when I went out for drinks with my friends (who were kind enough to pay for me since I’m super broke,) and I didn’t feel nearly as put together without you.

I got a job you would be perfect at. I get to wear bow ties and fedoras and skirts with tights. I’m taking a lot of naps again, but I think it’s because my shifts start so early, and I have to adjust. I have been freaking out a little because I am 23-years-old and have had to basically start my life over from scratch after graduating college – and without my go-to cardigan. I no longer pretend I like cigarettes, though I do still eat a lot of sushi and Buffalo wings. I’m still waitressing. I still experience the occasional panic attack, and spend a lot of time feeling terrified for seemingly no reason.

I have been writing a lot of product descriptions, many of them for women’s apparel, which is probably what inspired me to write this letter and give life to an inanimate object (sorry.) I know I am projecting my fears of inadequacy and lack of a destination onto my lost cardigan. But, dammit, it’s easier this way. I’ll probably find another cardigan, one that is hopefully identical to you in every single way, and maybe I’ll be surprised at how easily I move on. I’ll at least forget about you somewhere down the line. So, I must say goodbye to you, my beloved black cardigan. I hope you are happy in your new life.

Sincerely,
Emily

Get lost.

Well, we made it down the West Coast. And through the Southwest. And…we’ve actually been home for about a week. It’s kind of been a while since my last post. I can explain, I swear.

I loved the West Coast even more than I knew I would. I would even say I felt at home there. We saw orcas in Seattle, smelled the roses in Portland, hugged Redwoods in Northern California, drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, and lounged on beautiful Los Angeles and San Diego beaches. It took us about ten days to get across the country, and we spent almost another ten days just traveling from Seattle to San Diego. We were taking our time, and it’s true what they say: time is money. We realized while relaxing on Santa Monica beach in LA that my bank account was dwindling at a faster rate than I had anticipated. But we figured at that point that we could at least spend a few more days in San Diego and still be able take our planned route through the Southwest and the South, and then up the East Coast, just with a few less stops. But, the next day, walking home from dinner with friends in San Diego, I started to feel a sharp pain in my lower abdomen.

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Orcas do not like posing for photos, apparently.

The haemorrhagic cyst that the doctors found on my right ovary was only 3cm, which isn’t cause for much concern, except that it could grow and/or burst, in which case it would become an emergency. The pain was unusually severe, and the next day I felt nauseous and fuzzy. I was assured over the phone that this was fairly normal, but the sudden anticipation of an out-of-state ER bill combined with the fact that I was broke and jobless only made me feel worse. We had already checked out of our room and were sitting in our car in a parking lot near the beach debating our next step. Finally, I said what I knew we had to do: “Let’s just go home.” And at that Kelvin put our address into Google Maps and we started heading East.

I sniffled out a few tears as I caught my last few glimpses of the coast in between surf shacks and oceanfront real estate. We could have stopped and waved a formal goodbye, but I was too heartbroken. I didn’t want to leave California. I had fallen in love. And I didn’t want to go home – this I was even more sure of. Going home meant facing “reality.” It meant facing…the future. I had only planned my life up until this trip. I knew I wanted to go to grad school, but I didn’t know where, or even for what (still between poetry and nonfiction,) and my portfolios are a joke. I barely wrote anything on the trip, and I couldn’t even manage to keep up with this blog like I had wanted to. I experienced some small success with a couple freelance writing gigs while we were on the road, but I didn’t even feel confident about that. I was returning home to absolute uncertainty.

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I miss you, San Diego.

We tore through the shockingly beautiful Southwest. We missed the Grand Canyon, and Utah, and Colorado, and drove straight through Arizona and New Mexico, across the top of Texas, and then made a beeline from Oklahoma to Kentucky, where we stayed with family for a night before making the (short) eight hour drive home to Pennsylvania. Where it had taken us almost twenty days to get across the country and down the coast, it only took us five days to get from the farthest southwest point in the country back home to the Northeast. I maintained a dull, nagging pain in my ovary for the entire distance, accompanied by short, sharp bursts of pain that made me pause, wince, and grab my stomach. Despite this, and my anxiety about returning home, we still enjoyed our trip back. We brought a box full of books with us in the beginning, thinking that we would be doing a lot of reading in the car, but ended up spending most of our time talking to each other and staring at the ever-changing foliage. Around every corner something new awaited us. We stopped a couple times to take pictures, and we SWEAR we saw a wolf in New Mexico that we had originally thought was a scrappy looking German Shepard of some kind with weirdly long legs.

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A pull-off in Arizona.

When we left our last hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I felt both relief and disappointment. On the one hand, we would soon be reunited with our own bed and my beloved cats, but this was the end of our journey. I would have to face that uncertainty in a devastatingly short 24 hours. I felt like I held my breath the whole way to Kentucky. When we got there, it felt good to be among family. We ate dinner and shared stories, and I began really looking forward to settling back in at home. The familiar drive through Ohio and the Pennsylvania turnpike felt like the longest ride of our entire trip. We spent one night at home before taking me to the ER again.

My body has a history of acting up in the worst ways when I’m avoiding something, usually with panic attacks, but occasionally with illness or even more long-term medical issues. For example, after my freshman year of college I took a semester off for various reasons, and while I was figuring out what the hell I was doing, I was diagnosed and treated for a minor heart condition that it turned out I had been living with since birth. At other points throughout my college career, I always seemed to get sick when I was experiencing peak levels of anxiety about my classes. This has a tendency to make things worse all around. I have to start questioning my sanity then because…am I making it up in my head? Is it really this bad? Or am I milking it so I have an excuse to avoid writing this essay, going to my horrible waitressing job, or working on my writing? It’s taken me a long time to realize that my body is probably just responding to the massive amount of stress I put myself through.

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The Redwoods were even more impressive in person.

My cyst had doubled in size in a week, and was then 6cm. This still wasn’t particularly concerning, but I felt incredibly sick. Two days later, on my birthday, my regular doctor assured me that the nausea and abdominal discomfort were most likely not a result of the cyst, but prescribed me nothing and referred me nowhere for what she was calling food poisoning. Several hours later, the pain in my abdomen was so unbearable that Kelvin had to take me to the hospital again. At this point I was angry. Sure, there were plenty of things I didn’t want to face at home, but I was getting pretty sick of the fluorescent lights and paper gowns. Finally, I was diagnosed with acute colitis and prescribed nausea and anti-inflammatory pills, and nudged out of the automatic doors of the ER, hopefully for the last time in a LONG time, with a nice blue paper vomit bag for the ride home.

And so. I spent the past week lying on my couch with a heating pad and eating nothing but plain bread, popsicles, and red Gatorade. I have watched almost all four seasons of Arrested Development, and am finally making a dent in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, which I have been trying to read, embarrassingly, since last summer (hey, I’ve read a lot of other things, OK?) I have had a lot of time to think about the hopelessness of my situation and fall farther and farther into the spiraling hole of anxiety and depression I have created for myself.

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Portland was mostly super weird, but their gardens are worth the visit (and their doughnuts.)

At some point on our trip, Kelvin and I read an article about being “23 and lost” (it’s where that quote about J.K. Rowling and Oprah that’s been floating around came from.) In it, the writer, Heidi Priebe, explains that, “If you are lost at twenty-three, you are exactly where you need to be right now,” which was rather relieving to hear someone say. She continues to shock me throughout the article with things like, “The fact that you are lost tells you that you would rather be living in the middle of uncertainty than dead-set on something that makes you consistently miserable,” and it’s so true. I just made myself dinner with ingredients that may or may not have expired while I was busy nourishing myself with popsicles, and am preparing for weeks of ramen noodles and Kraft mac n’ cheese because I am flat broke. I am unemployed. I have resisted the urge to break down into tears three times today. I spent my 23rd birthday puking out of my car because I was actually sick. I sent applications to nine different restaurants two days ago and haven’t heard back from one. I have loan debt payments coming up in December that rival what I’m paying for rent. I have no idea what I am doing, or where I am going.

But I also just spent the past month aimlessly driving around the country just because I could. I think that’s something that very few people over the age of 23 could find the time (or money) for. And we never knew where we were going next, up until the very end when we decided to drive home. Maybe the reason that felt so natural to us is because that’s our life. We figure it out as we go. What am I so afraid of anyways? I mean, aside from not making rent, what is the real danger? I clearly care a great deal about where I’m going, and I wouldn’t let myself spend the rest of my life waiting tables (not that it’s a bad profession.) I would rather be unemployed and terrified into physical stress than complacent.

I should really get into yoga or something though.

The Wild West

The west is legitimately wild. They’re serious. Actually, I’m not sure that westerners joke about much. I have had several moments of self-doubt during our time in the West. For example, what on Earth were two city/suburban kids doing out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by grizzly bears and coyotes, attempting to spend the night in a tent with no campfire, where people have died for their overconfidence in their outdoors expertise (more like lack-there-of.) I was not going to pretend like I had any idea what I was doing. I don’t.

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Exploring in Custer State Park in South Dakota.

I have always loved animals, and appreciated nature, from the comfort of my home in suburban Pennsylvania, where the wildest creature I had ever encountered was a doe munching on crab-apples next to my front door. Crossing through South Dakota, spending the night in Yellowstone, and driving straight through the entire state of Montana has made me rethink my comfort levels concerning wild animals. I learned that I am not the girl who jumps out of the car with her camera to get in a bison’s face in Yellowstone. You probably shouldn’t be either, just saying. They’ll gut you.

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Giant forest cows can be viewed safely from inside your vehicle.

I was convinced at every moment we were in Yellowstone that a gigantic grizzly bear was going to casually stroll out of the forest and rip my face off, and that it would be my fault for being in its space. I expected to unzip my tent in the morning and find one sitting on our designated picnic table, licking the crumbs from the pb&j sandwiches we ate for lunch the previous day, and end up stuck there in terrified silence until it made its way out of the campsite. I felt like an impostor. I felt like the animals knew I was an impostor, and that I offended them with my desperate confusion and terror.

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This coyote got within 10 feet of us and looked me dead in the eyeball. I swear.

But here’s the thing: every terrifying, uncomfortable moment spent in the West was beautiful. Also, I’m checking so many things off my bucket list, some of which I didn’t even realize were on there, like sharing personal space with a wild coyote for almost 10 seconds, and sleeping on the lumpy ground because we didn’t realize our foamy tent-mattress-thing was too small for two people. We survived the Wild West. More than that, we stepped FAR outside of our comfort zones (really far,) learned new things, and got to see mind-blowingly gorgeous wilderness.

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This geyser needs cheered up 😦

We just spent the past couple days in Seattle, and are starting to work our way down the west coast. Our next stop is Portland. I have A LOT to say about Seattle, and we are pumped for Portland, so stay tuned!

 

Also, all photos are courtesy of my kind of ok boyfriend who is pretty awesome sometimes when he doesn’t smell bad, Kelvin Reyes. He’s the best.


Places of Power

We’re only four days into our cross-country road trip, and we have already experienced so much. We drove a straight 14 hours through blinding rain to Chicago on Monday, then spent the day in the city on Tuesday, left for the House on the Rock in Wisconsin on Wednesday morning, and visited another roadside attraction, the Grotto of the Redemption, in Iowa this morning. We’re exhausted, but the good kind of exhausted, like when you were a kid and you spent the entire day playing outside in the sun.

When we arrived in Chicago, we really had no idea what to expect. We had only ever spoken to the people we were staying with through Airbnb, which we had never used before. We shared a small room with two mattresses with one other girl, who was asleep when we got there and left before we woke up. After a good night’s sleep, we took the train into Chicago and made a beeline for deep dish pizza, which did not disappoint. After that, we headed towards the Art Institute of Chicago, making a detour through a garden where the trees came together at the top to form a canopy that made the sunlight trickle through like stars. We got to the museum an hour before they closed, but still managed to get through most of it. Then we grabbed some coffee and explored Millennium Park, stopping to hear an orchestra rehearse after taking way too many selfies in “the bean” and cracking up at the animated fountains that feature giant faces that spout water out of their mouths onto frolicking children (seriously, you have to see this.) After walking around by the lake for a couple hours, we headed to a bar called Big Chicks to grab a couple drinks and to see a friend of a friend’s poetry performance at a show called Homolatte, which was the perfect end to our day.

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Bean selfies for days.

Just as we were falling in love with Chicago, we decided to trek on to Wisconsin to see the House on the Rock, featured in Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods. This place is beyond words, but Gaiman certainly gets as close as possible at explaining it. We got there at about the same time of day as Shadow and Wednesday in the novel. We could only purchase tickets for the first two sections of the house, since it takes hours to tour the entire thing, and we were completely alone. We saw the world’s largest carousel inside, the massive whale eating the ship, and the Infinity Room. I got my fortune read by Esmerelda, we watched The Drunkard’s Dream, and we used our coins to play the out-of-tune self-playing instruments in the various rooms. The place definitely had an eerie, sacred air to it, just like Wednesday said in the book.

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“This is a roadside attraction,’ said Wednesday. ‘One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”

Wednesday’s sentiment about roadside attractions being a place of power definitely applied to the House on the Rock, and I’m certain now that it applies to the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa as well. In 1912, Father Dobberstein made a pact with Mary the Virgin that if he survived his illness, he would build her the largest grotto in the world, so he did. This shrine, which exhibits over $4, 308,000 worth of minerals and petrifications, sits smack in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a modest suburb and miles and miles of nothing but farms (and zero wifi or cell phone reception.) Father Dobberstein and Alex Jordan, the architect responsible for the House on the Rock, somehow felt compelled to dedicate their entire lives to the construction of these marvels in seemingly the loneliest places in the country, and you can’t help but feel yourself become immersed in them when you see them. Something tells me these roadside attractions tell us more about America than anything else. They are beautiful in the saddest, most astounding ways.

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Don’t mess with the swans though.

Our next stop is the Badlands! Who knows what we’ll encounter along the way. I’ve heard there is some kind of massive corn palace somewhere in South Dakota that is a must-see. Stay tuned!

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Thank you to everyone who has been following my blog! We are getting ready to go on our adventure. Our first stop will be Chicago, a 10 hour drive from home. I’ll be posting plenty of pictures along the way. Follow me on Instagram @ scatterbrainedsomething to see where we’re at!