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It is worth noting that last week I turned 25, passing the one year mark with many of my assignments undone. That is, technically, a failure of this endeavor. I will be continuing this project however, pursuing each of the remaining tasks until all 24 are done. I’ll be writing up a summary of the project after that point. I hope you keep reading, & thank you to everyone who has been so amazingly supportive through out all of this.

3563662141_c572602d32In other news, my birthday was truly awesome, & thank you to everyone who made it so.

(& thank you Lindsey for this excellent photo)

My flight left Chicago at 7am (in order to be at the airport by 6, having woken up at 4:30, which is INSANE) & travelled back in time (Mountain Time, that is) to put me in Tucson only two hours later. Judy picked me up at the airport, smiling & waving & hugging & laughing. Thirty seconds onto the road, I saw this:

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It made my day.

I was horribly, horribly overdressed, by which I mean I had worn pants instead of something far more Tucson-appropriate. Like nothing. The heat there is incredible. There are no trees, though there are shrubs & cacti a-plenty. There is also no grass, so everyplace looks like a “bad neighborhood” – an observation Judy quickly refuted by pointing out that, in lieu of greenery, people landscape with rocks. How inviting.

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We made our way up the first of many mountains I was to scale during my trip. (“Scale” is something of a misleading word. “Rode up smoothly in a blessedly air-conditioned vehicle” would be more correct.) Half-way up we pulled over to the side of the road – a crazed bicyclist flew past us, careening down the mountain on two slim wheels, a mist of sweat lingering in his wake.

“Oh look!” said Judy, “that’s my boyfriend Peter!”

Peter slowed his bike, then turned & began to ride back up the mountain, coming to a stop beside us. The three of us spoke briefly, & Peter lamented that it had been just too hot for him to reach the mountain summit – he’d have to try again tomorrow. He then pointed out that I was burning.

“Yeah, I do that,” I said. He had legs like two giant hams. I began to imagine pineapple rings dotting each one I had to make myself look away.

After chit-chatting/roasting, we parted ways, Peter downhill (quickly) & Judy & I up to the top, where the extreme elevation created an entirely different, much more hospitable climate. One with hummingbirds!

We ran around like this all week, ascending & descending & riding bikes through the desert & talking about nature & history & culture. Tucson is a great place to spark conversations of that sort: it’s a city of every sort of environment, ethnicity, concept & cultivation. Art ranges from the Ansel Adams collection at the U of A to the glittering shrines that spill across the sands with candles & roses & stones. The phenomenally wealthy literally look down upon the impoverished, building their second homes on the mountaintops & living beside the deep-space telescopes of Kitt Peak & the Tohono O’odham Nation at elevations of nearly 6,000 feet. The University of Arizona rises up from the middle of town, its uniquely open architecture a bold testament to the 300+ days of sun the city receives each year. Judy is a PhD student there, & her research consists of painstakingly tracking microscopic molecules & finding methods of practically employing solar power across the United States. She will probably save the world.

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Everything about Arizona was beautiful in a way I’d never experienced before, & I am so, so happy to have gone ahead & taken the trip. I’d missed Judy, more than I’d even realized, & having her show me around her home threw me into a deep romance with Tucson’s arid terrain. By Sunday, though, I was happy to be on my way home, looking forward to crawling into my own cozy bed, sunburnt & freckled, deep in the heart of my own rainy city on the lake.

You can see more pictures from my Arizona adventure here.

I’m not a great traveller. I don’t jump trains, I don’t court Death, & I don’t know another language. I want to shower. I want to brush my teeth. I want to poop in a receptacle that I did not have to dig from the ground with my bare hands. But the biggest hurdle for me in travelling is cost – I am perpetually broke. Always. Forever. So while some places (Mars Cheese Castle) are within my budget, more thrilling destinations (not Mars Cheese Castle) remain out of reach. Sigh.

In tackling Assignment #11 (Spend time in a state you’ve never been to), I decided to do the truly American thing & head West. On credit. With the help of my soon-to-be-destroyed credit card, I bought myself a round-trip ticket to Tucson, Arizona, home to saguaro cacti, El Tiradito, and the set of Young Guns II. It is also where many old people go to die. I’m really excited because the only time I’ve ever gone any direction that wasn’t east I wound up at a fraternity formal in Davenport, Iowa. I’m thinking this might be something of a more authentically western experience.

I’ll be staying with my friend Judy, who I haven’t seen in almost three years. Three years! Three years is long enough for babies to be born & grow & walk & kill every last shred of their parents’ independence. Legions of pet hamsters are laid to rest over the course of three years. It’s a crazy amount of time to go without having physically seen someone – lucky for me, Judy is the pinnacle of awesomeness. She’s one of those people who you can be away from for ages, then you’re back together for about two seconds & already you’re laughing over inside jokes & turning up the radio & shrieking in that wonderful, obnoxious girl way. She’s out in AZ working at the University, where she is a scientist, like a for real scientist with lab coat & computers & notebooks filled with cryptic equations on how to stop global warming/giant lizards. She is probably going to save the world. I’m excited to visit her.

Judy’s warned me that it’s been averaging about 100+ in Tucson, which, after dealing with Chicago Winter, will be AWESOME. She’s also hooked up a loaner bicycle for me. Apparently Tucson is a tremendously bike-friendly city – probably because everyone there is enjoying their air conditioning or driving a golf cart. I’m wondering, though, if anyone has any suggestions on what to do while I’m out there. I’m on a budget, but I’m pretty open to trying everything & anything & taking lots of pictures. I’m not above ridiculous tourist traps, though I lean a little more towards nature & all that granola-ish stuff. Oh, & you needn’t bother suggesting a visit to the set of Young Guns II – I am so on it.

I’m goin’ to grad school! 

Look out, world. Another kid with a silly MFA is headed your way!

A couple of weeks ago, I overheard someone say that if everyone moved every two years, no one anywhere would get anything done.

Ha.

I moved back to Chicago about six weeks ago, & the past month & a half has been overrun with job hunting, apartment hunting, insurance battles, and encounters with brutish AT&T salespeople. It has been a violent six weeks.

A few notes:

  1. No One but No One Moves in the Winter.
    No one, that is, except me, in Chicago, which is a barren, frigid wasteland from September to May. In fact, they took the last three days out February as a concession to Chicagoans, who were desperate for a shorter winter. Leap Year only exists because of Californians constantly crowing about their nice winter weather, calling Midwesterners & saying things like,”Oh, really? It was seventy-two on Valentine’s Day. I thought I felt a slight chill last night, but when I turned I saw that it was only the gnarled fingers of Old Age shooing a twenty-six year old woman out of L.A. She had no business being there anyway.”
  2. Danger is Not Always Where You Expect.
    For all its infamy, my time in New York was generally hassle free. Two days after returning home to Chicago, a drug-related gunfight broke out in front of my parents’ house, & a boy was shot & killed in their front lawn. So, you know, I’m happy to be back home. Where it’s safe.
  3. Insurance Companies are Necessary Evils OR Life Lessons Learned Too Late
    Twentysomethings of America, hear me when I say this: you need health insurance. This may make me sound old & preachy, but I am speaking to you from the dark, desperate corner of experience: you need health insurance. You need it because you are young, & reckless, & alive. You need it because you ride bikes & scale cliffs & run fast & dance in wild, questionable ways. You need it because you believe you are invincible, & you are not. You are human, & your parts will bend & break, the same as the parts of any older human being will, but because you are younger, you are less likely to be working jobs that offer insurance of any kind. You are probably living on the margins, waiting tables in some diner or selling books in a big old shop, & that’s just fine because you aren’t really responsible for anyone other than yourself. Maybe you’re one of those kids whose parents pay their rent, even though you pretend they don’t, & your financial concerns extend about as far as the corner bar. Maybe you’re breaking your back at some internship, trying to get a foot in the door working minimum wage or less all in the hopes of some day making it big. You have your whole life ahead of you & the last thing you want to do is schill out $100 a month because maybe you’ll get sick or slip on some steps or find yourself unable to get out of one of those questionable dance positions. But when it happens – when you get doored on your bike or hurt at a party, when you find yourself sick out of your mind or in need of the sort of TLC you can’t buy on Craigslist – you need health insurance. Do not risk putting your goals & dreams on hold because of medical bills. Do not compromise your long term well-being by ignoring health issues you’re dealing with right now. Do not get screwed. America’s health care problem is just that – a problem, one which hopefully will be resolved before we are too old to capitalize on what is in so many countries a basic human right. Life can change quickly & that body of yours is the only one you get – make sure it can keep up with you for all the glory that’s to come.
  4. Paint Swatches are Not to be Trusted.
    Ever.
  5. Blogs Can Live Again.
    At least something’s recovering. OH HAI ECONOMY.

In 1989, I decided that I would have my name changed to Serena as soon as was legally possible, a decision fueled by what was, at the time, a fierce and unshakable love for Dino-Riders. From 1991 to 2007 I vowed to complete all homework assignments as soon as they were received (excepting 1993, when I swore daily that I would love my fourth grade crush, Bernie Brown, forever & ever, always, no matter what, including old age, baldness & inexplicable passions for violent sports). If you graduated with me in 2002 I probably promised you I would totally KIT because you were 2cool24get. In 2006 I swore that I would never, ever, ever again allow my hair to be cut short. & in May of 2008, on my 24th birthday, I swore that I would complete all twenty-four of the tasks I had put myself to in a timely & entertaining matter.

Things have not gone entirely as planned.

As folk are wont to do at the beginning of a new year, I’m taking stock in the year since past. I’ve allowed other endeavors to take priority over my creative projects, & subsequently let 12×2 fall to the wayside over & over. Unwilling to admit defeat & reluctant to hide behind another “catch-up”, I am using this new year to make two resolutions: first, to be a little less hard on myself. Not in a “I am awesome, & I have the right to bone out” sort of way, but in in “I will stop beating myself up when things do not go exactly according to plan” sort of way. Life will continue to get in my way, & I would be smart to learn to work with it rather than feel overwhelmed by its persistence.

My other resolution is, quite simply, to keep my resolutions. Sounds silly, I know, but as time has shown this will be the biggest challenge for me.  & though not all of my forgotten declarations are true losses (Bernie Brown, where are you now?), I think working on my stick-to-it-tiveness for a little bit can’t hurt.

That being said, I am still (yes. still.) reading War & Peace. I’m documenting this assignment by summarizing each of the five books – you can read those here. I’ve also scooted back Sarah Mitchell‘s haiku assignment, starting on January 1st & finishing at the end of this month. Those can be read here. Greg’s Ballad Assignment is still a work in progress, & though I have completed the actual reading of The Gospel (as assigned by Professor Kristin Larson), how to properly document this endeavor is something I’m still thinking over.

Hey. It’s a new year, folks. Things are lookin’ good.