An Eye for an Eyelet.

It is still fairly crazy to me how far I have come over the past couple of years. I said to my friend recently that I am enjoying being engaged so much, I do not want to miss a minute of this time, expedited though it is. However, it isn’t just our engagement that has made this particular time in my life so happy. A lot of changes had to occur to get here, and I am thankful every day these changes happened, whether by chance or by my own doing.

I’ve been super into capsule wardrobes lately and the simplicity they offer, and when I was designing mine recently, I uncovered this adorable, white eyelet lace wrap dress I picked up from Ann Taylor Loft roughly five years ago. (Luckily, white appeared within my capsule color palette, and so this dress made it into the “keep” pile.) I remember trying this dress on at the store, something I rarely take the time to do, and feeling like I looked amazing. I bought it, but never found the right time to wear it. It always seemed too “bridal” to me to wear a white dress, and so I just decided to save it until I was engaged and could wear it to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.

The time is nigh, right? Wrong. When I pulled the dress out of the inner crevices of my closet, I saw that it was covered in black and brown stains, from the collar all the way down to its cutesy little midi bell skirt. This discovery stopped me right in my tracks.

On June 1st, 2014, my apartment burned down.

Alright, alright, if you know me, you know this story. You may even be a little sick of this story. So, CliffsNotes version: I broke up with my partner of 6 years in February of 2014. I found an apartment I absolutely loved in Bucktown. I felt safe, complete, and happy there. It changed my whole perspective and outlook living there. On May 31st, after Do Division Fest and watching Wet Hot American Summer, I went to sleep, and just a few hours later, at 4am on June 1st, 2014, I found myself desperately escaping a building that was burning down around me.

My boyfriend at the time woke me to an apartment filled with smoke and my poor dog crying for us to awaken. My windows broke before me, as firefighters, already in the building above my garden unit, tried desperately to ax in the glass to ventilate. I heard crash after crash of furniture and roof tiles falling and being thrown out of the apartment above me. Glass rained down everywhere as we ran through it all, sparkling like diamonds and sharply pinching into my bare shoulders.

By 9 am the building was gone.

By 2 pm, I realized my home was gone.

My best friend Brett and my ex-boyfriend moved what we could salvage out the front door while I stood in the rubble and stared. Stared at the life I had only just started to build, the safety and comfort I had only just established, the home I had only just lived in for three months. I was fully in shock, and still was deeply disturbed and devastated by the loss. Brett instructed me to see what I could take from my bedroom closet, mostly to give me a concrete task to focus on. I stuffed tattered, smokey clothing into garbage bags. I pulled dresses and jeans from hangers, each of them wet and stained with the ashy, sooty, water from the high-powered hoses that ended the fire. The white dress was among what was salvaged.

That fire marked the lowest period in my life. That fire caused almost two months of homelessness and displacement. That fire caused extreme anxiety and PTSD symptoms in me that led me to therapy and medication to help me cope. That fire took years to rebuild from, emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, and socially. But rebuild I did, to become better than I was, and lead a life better than I’d had ever before. That’s not to say, though, that I don’t still have my fearful moments.

My fiance has watched me crumble and have trouble focusing at the slightest smell of burning. He has watched me check that the burners are off 11 times before leaving to go to a bar. He has held me as I watched a building in our neighborhood burn on the 3 year anniversary of my own fire. He even watched an episode of This Is Us with me when I realized that Jack’s death was a result of a house fire.

I believe I am healed, but I am fragile.

And when I found that dress and those stains last week, my gut instinct was to crumble. BUT – I did not.

I am living happier and fuller than I ever have, but I could not and would not be here without the pains and struggles of my past. Can you truly appreciate the good times if you do not know suffering? I appreciate every minute of my time and the people I know, because I also know what life was like on the flip side, before I knew what I know now.

So, no. I did not crumble. I grabbed my OxiClean stain stick and scrubbed the living shit out of those stains. Scrubbed what I had neglected to truly try to get rid of over the last four years. I threw those stains in my washer on high heat. I tumbled dry on low. And at long last, those stains are GONE. And that dress WILL be worn to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.

That dress was bought and intended for a happy ending, and much like I have worked hard to give myself one, I should give it the very same respect.

Dear Tinder.

This is a story of Tinder Boy Meets Tinder Girl.

Dear Tinder,

It was the late Spring of 2015. The air was warm, and you could feel summer creeping into the lazy breezes and sun-stretched afternoons. I was at my highest and lowest. Highest, for I had been accepted into a prestigious and competitive education graduate program and teacher training residency, had quit my job of 5 years that brought me considerable frustrations, and was in a new apartment. Lowest, because I was in that apartment after almost 10 months of displacement and discomfort following a house fire where I lost everything, was just reeling from a 6 year relationship ending, and had just been dumped by my rebound.

And there you were, Tinder. Right when I needed you, the very idea of you spread through my brain and allowed me to come to you for the services you offer. I was lonely, but not brazen enough to take myself out to a bar and hit on strangers. I wanted connection, but all of my friends lacked single male friends. I needed reassurance and attention, and was just downright ready to flirt. I downloaded you, clicked the little white flame, and created my profile.

I am shocked, Tinder, that I did not have callouses on my thumbs from the constant, addictive swiping. Sure, people can say that you’re shallow, or materialistic, but guess what? Humans are visual, and we DO judge who were are attracted to based on looks even before we get to know them. So, you allowed me to shuffle through pictures of men in Chicago and be a shallow, animalistic, single, 28-year-old woman. It was right what I needed right when I needed it.

Baby’s first Tinder profile pic. Hide the eyes, get the guys?

I encountered men that ranged from kind of sad (shout out to you, Recently Divorced Dad who still lived with his ex-wife and wanted to make her jealous with me), to desperate (shout out to YOU, Scottish Dude on a travel Visa who needed to get married to stay in America) to pretty gross (shout out to YOU, Guy From Las Vegas on a layover at O’Hare). I went on one date with a guy who I talked to via text for about a week. His name was Eric, and I was impressed because he called me and actually talked to me on the phone. There were immediate red flags on our date, such as him telling me he was colorblind but then identifying many colors of objects around the bar, or stating that if I were his, he would make me sell all my possessions so I had no memories associated with anyone but him. The red flags quickly turned black and essentially went up in flames when he continuously bought me drinks and said he “just wanted to get me drunk enough to fuck him.” Bye, Eric.

Had I turned my back on you then, Tinder, I would have lost out on meeting the love of my life. And this is why, Tinder, I must thank you. You are not merely a vapid, silly, hook-up site. You somehow, by some chance, by some mystic coincidental swiping on both sides, led me to meeting Kurt.

Who wouldn’t swipe right for this handsome mug? (Kurt, circa 2015.)

Kurt and I texted for weeks before meeting face to face. We would ask each other Random Questions, RQ’s, we called them, and slowly got to know each other well enough to know we would enjoy meeting face to face. We eventually went on a first date at Lost Lake, a tiki bar in our neighborhood. Taking a gamble and figuring “why not?” after my bad experience with Eric, I brought along some firecracker poppers in my purse. When the time felt right, I whipped them out and told him I was “really feeling some sparks between us.” He didn’t run. He laughed. Be it out of pity or genuine humor, who cares? He was nice. I went into the bathroom and texted my friend Brett that he was “too good looking for me, and far too nice and normal.” But still, we stayed. We stayed for hours, talking, laughing, drinking tropical cocktails out of ceramic parrots. He walked me back to my apartment in the rain, and I asked him if he wanted to listen to a record. We put on Arcade Fire’s “Funeral.”

That night changed everything. Kurt was in portfolio school and I was starting grad school, but we decided we would continue talking and spending what little free time we had over that next year around one another. We weren’t “official,” and school had to come first, but we spent Fridays and Saturdays together. I met his friends, which was also life changing, and within mere weeks found myself surrounded by much more positive, funny, kind, fun people than I had previously known. You see, Tinder, you led me to not only find the love of my life and my now closest friends, but you allowed me to see what and who I was worthy of surrounding myself with. I deserved far better than I had, and was suddenly able to swipe right into that better life.

At a wedding in the middle of nowhere in Michigan, three months after we met face to face, Kurt asked me to be his girlfriend. A year and 9 months after that, we moved in together. And 13 months after that, last Friday evening, listening to that very same Arcade Fire album, asking the same sorts of Random Questions we had built a connection on three years earlier, he posed the ultimate RQ: he asked me to marry him.

I’ve been learning to drive
My whole life

And so, Tinder, I am writing this letter to you to thank you. You get a bad rap sometimes, but you were there for me when I needed you, you led me away from bad people, helped me wade through some other random crazies, and eventually led me here, to this most beautiful time I have ever experienced: preparing to marry my best friend. I wouldn’t be here without you, Tinder.

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Love, Julia

One Fourth.

I am currently in shock that it is April. Not only just because we have an inch of snow on the ground and my teaching-stamina seems exceptionally low for having almost three more months of school, but also because so far, 2018 has flown by. To think we are already a quarter of the way through the year is just bonkers to me. It feels like time has sped up, and I am worried about all the things I am probably missing.

On Friday night, I stayed in, and in between eating Stromboli in bed and watching a Casey Anthony true crime documentary, I reflected on everything I have done so far this year. I started this blog in January and set out all these lofty goals about living a healthier, more fulfilled life, where my priority is me and my own self-care. Though it has not felt like it at times, and I’ve been downright cranky over some of the year’s setbacks, I realized that I have totally been keeping up with my goals this year so far. It feels really wonderful to sit down and think about everything that has happened so far this year. Let’s recap:

January

In January, I went to the Wisconsin Dells with Kurt’s family for a belated Christmas celebration. I am fairly obsessed with Kurt’s family: some of the nicest people I have ever encountered. It is also incredibly healing and reparative to spend time with his newest nephew, who was four months old at the time of the trip. Since the loss of my own nephew, I have been wary around babies. Yet, spending time with O has made me feel calmer, more comfortable, and more confident about the idea of babies again. It’s given me hope.

Now, Wisconsin Dells DID offer my own personal hell when I was weighed in a bathing suit in front of a line of people (including Kurt’s family). However, that instance also inspired me to change my eating habits and become healthier. Through that evil, evil water slide scale, I discovered Keto and am already down 8 pounds. So, yes. Water slide scales might be from the devil himself, but also inspired me.

Capping off January was my trip to Orlando with my best friend and his fiance. I cannot even begin to describe the joy I felt on this trip. I got to be a kid again, let my imagination explore, and just laugh with two wonderful people all weekend. Disney has upped its game, and the latest rides and attractions were so wonderful. We went to Universal Studios as well (Casey Anthony’s former employer…guys, that documentary was good…) and I had never visited that park before. I loved it, to put it simply, and want to spend way more time there next time I am in Orlando.

The family I have been babysitting for for 7 years or so happened to be in Orlando at the same time I was, and we got to meet up while at Universal Studios. The older boy just started reading Harry Potter, and I had been reading it out loud to both of the boys in the weeks leading up to the trip. It was incredibly special to share my love for the wizarding world with them, and also to experience the park with them for the first time. The older boy even went on his first roller coaster with me! I have a LOT of love for this family, and was so glad they got to be a part of my trip.

All in all, January was a pretty baller month.

February

February did not start off so great. I was very pumped at the start of the month. I was starting the Keto diet, had started taking Collagen Peptides for my skin, and was on the cusp of starting my half marathon training and rehearsals for The Chicago Red Line, a cabaret group I had been invited to join. Some new socks and a wooden staircase later, I ended up in the ER with a sprained back. I could not put any weight on my right side for almost four days, which led to Kurt dragging me around and waiting on me hand and foot.

It was frustrating as hell, but thank goodness I know so many kind people. Coworkers who drove me to school and offered to move my kids around the building. Friends who offered me kind words and kept me patient while I was laid out resting. Then I got impatient and started running again…which led to further injury. Mid-February found me with not only the sprained back, but also a sprained quad. This stress injury almost killed my spirit, as I then had doctor’s orders to take an additional two weeks off from any physical activity at all.

I am incredibly lucky to have such amazing people in my life who kept me going. Serena offered to run the half marathon with me no matter what pace I had to do it at. She sent me daily texts counting down how many more days til I could run again. My mom bolstered my confidence by saying she thinks of me as a runner, and knows I will succeed even without perfect training. Kurt packed me down with ice and heat every night, and took on all the household chores.

February could have been a total downer, but it just wasn’t. February proved to me how many incredible people I know, and how lucky I am for their support. Also, I finally did get to start rehearsals with Red Line, and it has been such a positive addition to my week. This group has invited me in with no questions asked, and is accepting of my quirks and talents. There is so much room for creativity and personality, and the show we are creating is the exact kind of artistic outlet I had been sorely missing over the past couple of years. It’s been truly an uplifting experience working with them.

March

March was an incredibly positive month. In March, I received clearance to run again once my quad sprain had properly healed. Despite the cold, it has been awesome running pain free. I have to make sure I take two days off between runs, and ice fairly regularly, but I seem to be (knock on wood) officially back on the mend. I am still doing physical therapy twice a week for my back, but it’s getting stronger and stronger!

The biggest event of March was getting Lasik done on my eyes. I have been legally blind since first or second grade, and had always assumed my astigmatism was so severe that my eyes were inoperable. Not so, said LasikPlus in Lincoln Park. Let me start by saying I was extremely nervous morning-of, and had zero sedatives. They did offer me Tylonel PM, which I took, but I was not NEARLY as relaxed as the guy in front of me who was high as a kite on Valium.

The procedure took less than 10 minutes (Kurt timed it) and then I was on my merry way. Though I did not feel any pain, the overall experience is a little alarming. You can feel pressure, there is a lot of noise, and it smells. There are a dozen people in the room, rushing about, muttering to each other, ushering you to different tables with different lasers, taking professional photos of you (??? see above), and it can feel overwhelming. An hour after we left, I wanted to be put out of my misery. My eyes burned so badly, and I couldn’t touch them or do anything to make myself comfortable. I mostly just cried until I eventually slept. Once I woke up though, I could see. I could just see. It’s pretty incredible.

“Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life, and you’ll find that you have more of it.” – Ralph Marston

So, the first quarter of the year is down, and I am feeling pretty accomplished. Obviously, I don’t always share the day to day on here, but let me just say, my job is still amazing. Spring Break was necessary, but I am feeling very positive about my kids and their growth right now. I love my school, and am just feeling like a strong team member right now at work.

I had a thought this morning: I have known some truly shitty people, and now I do not. And now, after a long reflection, allow me to add: I have known some truly shitty times, and now I do not. Things are just good right now. It frightens me to type that out, because historically, when things go well for me, they get taken away in some kind of large, traumatic fashion. However, living in fear of acknowledging what I have is disrespectful, for I want the world to know how thankful and content I am. So, with a deep exhale and crossed fingers, let me just say: 2018 is my year.

Perfection.

I am a perfectionist. Tried and true. Everything I take on, I do with 100% of my attention, intelligence, energy, integrity, and emotions.

This is my worst quality.

The thing about perfectionists is that we tend to put an exorbitant amount of pressure on ourselves, pressure that does not match what others even expect of us. We push ourselves to our limits, and then, when things do not go perfectly, we break.

I do this in work: I want total control and predictability in my job. I want everything to go smoothly. I want to be the best educator possible, with students who grow and learn and feel emotionally and academically supported at all times. I bend over backwards and work long hours to make sure I do things first, best, and most thoroughly. And then I feel lonely and like I’m not good enough when I’m not recognized for that. Kind of stupid, but it’s how I operate.

I do this socially: To put it simply, I have had issues with friends. I have put all of my faith and trust into people who have ultimately betrayed me and taken advantage of my kindness in ways I cannot forgive. I know my standards, and I know when someone’s behavior does not come close to meeting what I find to be acceptable. I have deeply analyzed my own faults and flaws, and decided a few years ago to make sure I am being as kind, patient, and level-headed as possible with other people. Unfortunately, people do not always take on relationships with the same mentality. I bend over backwards trying to make people like me and respect me who just never will. And then, the Perfectionist inside me beats me up for failing.

I do this to myself: Cue Radiohead.

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When I decide on a goal I’d like to meet, I want to do it and do it the best. So this leads to me, say, running seven painful miles on a sprained quad and thinking to myself “shake it off. Don’t be weak.” And that nagging, shitty, perfectionist voice leads me to having to take two frustrating weeks off from all physical activity, my muscles’ aggravated “I told you so” to my brain. This may be a personal example. Maybe.

Being a perfectionist is a curse, really. I constantly let no one down but myself, and only because I will never be able to please myself. The pressures I put upon myself are unfair.

And so, post-injury, post-heartbreak, post-professional-frustration, I sit here and think, very seriously, how do I break the cycle of perfectionism? I don’t want to be like this. I want to be able to fail and feel joy in it.

And I have plenty of failures to choose from. The irony is that I am not perfect. I am far from it, and I know that. I just need to learn to let things go a bit. Not over-analyze the past, not push the current, and not imagine all possible scenarios of the future. I cannot control the world. Why would I even want to? That sounds stressful. As I decided a few years ago, my focus needs to be not on the “perfect” me, but on the me that is kind, open, level-heading, and aware. It will not be perfect, but it will be better. I will be better.

Positive.

I get compared to Ellie Kemper often. Nay, not just Ellie Kemper. Very specifically Kimmy Schmidt. I hear it a lot. I have heard it from the closest of friends, from family members, from colleagues, even from strangers.

One time, my principal at the school where I work called me over to speak with me. I nervously approached, not sure what error I had made and nervous of the impending lecture.

“Ms. Gordon,” she began, “My husband and I started watching Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix this weekend, and THAT. IS. JUST. YOU!!!”

Once I had breathed a sigh of relief, I internally rolled my eyes. Only because I have heard the comparison for years now. On my third date with my now boyfriend, he even brought it up. Let me state, though, that it is not offensive. In fact, I find it far more flattering than I deserve. Physically? I can sort of see it, sure:

After years of comparison, why not just go all out for Halloween??

And Ellie Kemper is amazing! Stunningly beautiful, hilarious, and so intelligent. Have you watched her Ted Talk? I highly recommend!

I do feel, though, that people are more often comparing my personality and demeanor to that of the character of Kimmy Schmidt. The reason I roll my eyes is because I do not, and perhaps never will, see myself as a ‘Kimmy.’ For, at her root, Kimmy is the survivor. The person who faced insurmountable odds and overcame them with unwavering positivity and grace.

Faced insurmountable odds? A little. Okay, a lot. I have had some shitty stuff happen. The sheer amount of traumatic bullshit that occurred over a 3-4 year period of my life honestly sounds fake, so I rarely write it down in detail. But I lived it, and it all happened, and it all changed and effected me. So, my hang-up is on the unwavering positivity and grace.

One of the greatest parts of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the way the show openly discusses trauma and pain. Veiled by satire and some good old-fashioned hi-jinks, in its core, the show is about overcoming hardship and moving through pain to find out who you really are, and what it is you need and want in life to feel complete. Kimmy was kidnapped and stored in a bunker for 15 years. It is implied that within that time, she and the other Mole Women were enslaved and forced into non-consensual sex and marriage. Kimmy was stripped of her rights, her voice, her talent, her freedom, and her safety. She had no control over her circumstance, and no position to fight. Until, you know, one day the women were discovered by some Indiana cops, she moves to NYC, buys a Lisa Frank-inspired wardrobe, and begins discovering how to live as an adult in the modern world.

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The show has never been a vapid comedy that just picks up there and is all about how Kimmy still wears scrunchies (GASP!) or how ridiculously flamboyant Titus is. In fact, it’s truly clever how seamlessly Kimmy’s recovery is woven into the plot lines. Throughout the show’s run, we have witnessed her night terrors, her revulsion and trauma response to physical contact, her embracing the idea of therapy, her working to find her passion and career – all the while holding fast to her core values that we, the audience, have seen she carried with her even during her time in the bunker:

Stay positive, stay kind, and stand by what you believe.

Kimmy is a character learning to heal gracefully, and with eternal optimism.

Julia is a woman who is learning to heal, and sometimes has angry outbursts and feels lost or hopeless.

But the show inspires me to note not what I am not, but what I would like to be. I am a primarily optimistic person, but hear me now: depression, anxiety, and trauma are a bear. It is extremely difficult to go through the day-to-day perfectly and with a smile on my face, but I’d like to try. I’d like to be like Kimmy. I’d like to meet difficult situations or triggering experiences with maintained, consistent optimism instead of crumbling into a worry pile. And, so, I will continue trying. I will breathe, get the smile on my face, and raise the roof like the dork I am.

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I like who I am, and if I remind people of a heroine like Kimmy Schmidt, than I am truly flattered. I am trying, day in and day out, to be as strong and steadily positive. I would like to earn the compliments.