Two Hours, Forty-Seven Minutes

**timeline break**

It’s just another day up here. No one seems to care.  Just another reminder that I’m an Other (more on that later). Seriously, how can you not care about something that is humbling and awe-inspiring? Do you stand at the ocean’s edge and go, “eh. just a big bowla watta.”  Do you not Science?  Do you not think about the relative rarity and what effects something like this will have on light, on wildlife and nature, on weather?  I get it, on social media, it’s overwhelming and overdone, but goddamn.  Take a couple hours and appreciate the enormity of two enormous celestial bodies moving around us, something bigger than all of us.

I’ve procured glasses (thanks to a kind friend back in KS), and convinced my new friends K & D to come watch with me.  Somewhere else, somewhere outside of the place we work, so we don’t have to hear constant radio chatter, requests for toilet paper, propane tanks, moving reservations from one site to another.  Two and a half hours.  Just two and a half friggin’ hours of maybe being in wonder of the world rather than annoyed, angry, frustrated, sad, justifiably pissed off (are you paying attention? yes, I see you).  We can, and should, go back to that later.  So please don’t poo-poo anyone who is excited about this.  I understand.  I do.  I haven’t forgotten.  Everything is still there. 

It’s just smaller. 

For two hours, forty-seven minutes.

Lower Dells 1

Glaciers did that.  BOR-ING.



Chicago, James Beard, & Decisions | Pt. 2, The Reckoning

So, last we left off, I was leaving the lakefront and went to go check out the kitchen and pantry, get an idea of the layout so I could prepare my menu in the time alotted.  The tasting was supposed to be two dishes in-line with their fusion concept and two of my own choosing.  Here’s where I’m going to gloss over some bits n’ pieces, because I can’t (read: don’t feel I should) talk about the name of the restaurant, the concept, or even the location.  I guess that sort of sucks, since I would like to be as open and honest as possible, but I’m also not stupid and I like the people I interviewed with.

I met with the Sous Chef, who went through the program a few years prior, and she gave me a tour, told me to let her know if there was anything she needed to get for me.  So, I’m a white girl, from Kansas.  Yes, I’ve lived in other big cities, have been to countries that are not just in Europe, but I’m still a white girl.  It’s neither here nor there.  It just is.  And even though I love spices, love cuisines from all over the world, it’s not exactly what I grew up with.  So, the establishment was a little outside my wheelhouse, but after the tour, I felt fairly confident, get me?  Still a bundle of nerves, but just less so…because of what I saw, ya dig.

I’m going to tell you right now, that this wasn’t my first choice for the restaurants I applied for.  They know that.  It’s the honest truth.  My goals are not fine dining.  My goals are more elevated comfort food.  When I applied, I first chose from restaurants that were within a day’s drive (in case a family emergency, or a health issue came up).  So, I went with Chicago and Louisville.  I chose to move forward with this one because, who the hell says no to this opportunity, and I appreciated, very much, the candor and drive of the owner.  I respect and admire what she has started, not just with her restaurants.  That’s also the honest truth.

I went back to the hostel and went to the bar to write everything out and plan.  I was supposed to spend the train ride up there planning all of this out, but honestly, I work better under pressure and I’d rather just work with what is available.  With the exception of some black beans, potatoes, carrots, peas.  I  used only what was in the fairly limited pantry/walk-ins.

So, when it came time to do my menu the next day, it went fine.  It went better than I hoped in some areas, worse in others.  I got flustered with the one recipe that I KNOW I could have nailed otherwise (veggie curry mini empanadas), and did well on the one dish that I’ve only made once before (seared scallops. I made them at home once just to try it).  I made things up, I improvised.  I simply FORGOT to roast off the chickpeas for the salad and found some puffed chickpeas, so I spiced them up and used them.  I made a radish slaw, because I was obsessed with radishes at the moment.  I didn’t know where it was going to go, I just wanted it.  Turns out, it balanced nicely over the scallops, with wilted spinach and toasted nuts for texture.  She said it was the best of my dishes.  Frankly, I didn’t spice everything enough, which was a blow for me.  I LOVE spices.  Love them.  I am currently sitting in Wisconsin (more on that later) and the one kitchen item I brought too much of, spices.  Like, an entire cabinet’s worth.  And then I ordered more when I got here.  (I have a “problem”.)  BUT, not having a clear picture of what was going on in that pantry, how they work as opposed to how I’ve been trained/how I work, I guess I fumbled.  I’m still kicking myself for that.  So, mental note, if I do this again, BRING YOUR SPICES.  I need Linda Belcher’s “Spice Rack”.

So, the feedback was good.  Honest.  I knew I’d messed up on some things.  All in all, having been taken completely out of my comfort zone, only a year and some change into culinary school, I feel it went well.  I was taken to the back office where we had another honest conversation that involved taking over the entire kitchen, 12-14 hour days, having to move and find an apartment in two weeks, if not less, the opportunity to travel to NYC every so often to cross-train, my health issues, my concerns, my fence-sitting, It was between me and two other candidates, but I got the feeling I was in the running.  I was still 50/50, could not tip the scale in either direction.  I was hoping she would decide for me, but she laid it at my feet.  Told me I need to get to 100% and then let her know.  I said I would spend the train ride back only thinking about this and let her know by the end of the day after I got back.  She seemed to guess, because I was not already at 100%, that the answer might be no, and she let me know again, how charming I was, how great my essay was, that this was not the end of our connection, even if I decided not to proceed.  All the issues I saw in that place aside, the person in front of me was authentic and caring and had I not had such a hard time with my health, I probably would have thrown roadblocks aside and said yes right there.

In the end, I could not work it out, could not get close to 100% and appreciate her putting it on me.  It was my decision and I feel like it was the right one, even if it was going to be me and I just turned down a James Beard mentorship.   I tried not to talk about what happened to many people because I TURNED DOWN A JAMES BEARD MENTORSHIP. But physically, it would have made me miserable, and I was never 100% with the concept and direction my life might have taken.  My heart was not in that particular location and it wouldn’t have been fair to either of us.  I knew then, just like when I turned down that PA job in L.A., that this was one of those moments, those moments where your life breaks off and in an alternate world, you take that other path.  There’s another Jill out there, crying in a studio apartment in Chicago because she’s so tired and worn down and in pain and is only looking forward to New York.

So yeah.  Maybe I got it.  Maybe I didn’t.  But it was my choice and I feel better about not taking it than if I had.  I’m just ignoring the James Beard-ness of it, the 16 year old me that screams, YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO LIVE IN NYC.  Because when I got home and made that decision, I knew something had to change.  I thought it was Chicago.  I thought, “ok, here’s my out, my life-shift.”  But that wasn’t it.  For years now, I’ve been wanting to do workamping.  It’s where you travel around, usually in your own camper/RV and do seasonal work in campgrounds, parks, etc.  Just for shits n’ giggles, I checked the job postings, even though we were nearly halfway through the usual season.  I saw one in Wisconsin, in the Dells to be exact.  I briefly lived in Racine, WI for a few months, and even though it was the dead of Winter, I still loved it.  I knew it was beautiful up there, so I said, “eh, why not” and applied.  I figured I could feel it out and decline if it seemed like it wasn’t going to work.

Well, it worked. After that, everything kind of fell into place and here I am, over a month into my first workamping gig (one of the only ones I’ve seen with housing provided, for a small fee).  I work in the office, in housekeeping, and most importantly, the kitchen.  I cook breakfast on the weekends, I close up on Sundays and fry, fry, fry all of the things.    It’s not glamorous.  It’s basic bar food and I’m pretty sure I’ve done my dishwashing hours for school (which I’ll need to deal with when I get back, since TECHNICALLY, I’m not supposed to have left).  But, we’ve worked that out too.  Jill just needed a break, to decide what she really wants to do, and if she’s physically capable of doing it.  It’s been difficult, I won’t lie.  The back brace is getting lots of use and there’s much floor laying and adjusting and yelping.  But I also found a hard foam roller that someone left in a cabin (! I know.), so that’s been helpful too (I have an appointment scheduled for when I get back).  I just have a problem staying in the same place for too long and thank god my parents seem to understand this by now.  They don’t like it and I feel guilty.  But there it is.

So yeah, next up….WisCANsin updates and realizations…


Chicago, James Beard, & Decisions | Pt. 1

So much has happened since I last posted a proper update, but I’ll spare you the hum-drummery, the “catching up” minutiae of the past few months, year(s)?  Because I have a feeling this is gonna be long:

It’s true, I (was) still in Kansas.  Halfway through culinary school at Johnson County Community College even.  I do love my job/apprenticeship that lets me make good food with fun people.  My new love, my “second career”, my artistic switch to a different medium.  But if you know me, you know I’ve never been able to stay in one place very long.  I get bored easily, I suppose, or try and outrun my brain.  So I started looking for opportunities.  I had this dream of rooting down in my home state, of opening a small restaurant, which then became a food truck, then a small market/deli, but I just don’t know if that’s who I am…who I’ve ever been, and maybe it’s just time to stop fighting it.

I’ve been doing well in school.  I feel at home in a kitchen.  But I’d be lying if the male-dominated bullshit that I’ve been scrawling about in my small notebook hasn’t pissed me off enough that I started seeking outlets.  I found a program through the James Beard Foundation, “Women in Culinary Leadership”.  It is basically an accelerated, 8-month culinary program with different restaurants around the country.  I applied.  I was gifted some amazing recommendation letters from people I absolutely respect and admire.  I chose only restaurants within a day’s drive (I have health issues, my family has health issues).  Lo and behold, I was selected for a Skype interview for a restaurant in Chicago.  I passed that, knew by that night I had 10 days to figure out how to get up to Chicago to do a tasting (all of this is SO out of my comfort zone, as the restaurant was/is an ethnic fusion establishment).  I figured it out.  I have not been feeling well, and the whole time my anxiety and nerves were through the roof, but I got it done and got on a train.  I wanted a train so I would have time to think, to plan, to research.

I got into Chicago around 3pm.  I had a rolling bag and a backpack and foolishly (stubbornly) decided I would walk to my hostel.  It was hot, I’ve had terrible back/hip problems, and have GI issues as well (hello, stress!)  Got to the hostel and it was a damned oasis.  It was further than I thought.  I watched the spider remaking its web on the outside of our window for I don’t know how long.  Amazing view though.

2017-06-04 17.32.59.jpg

That was one of two photos I took.  Me, the “photographer”.

So, I relaxed.  I showered.  I wrote this:
“This place smells like every place. The hostel, the McKittrick. Sunscreen, Louisville. The cold humidity of the lakefront, New Orleans in Winter. I’m being confronted with my body’s New World Order in relation to how I think of myself, a traveler, always in motion. Now limitation. Things I could once do without a second though, give pause, regret. It makes me sad, but it’s also a relief. Things are just different now, and I can’t force them back the way they were, just adjust and move forward.”

Then I went in search of a Walgreen’s and got exhausted, was in pain.  Ended up getting European-picnic style dinner from Eataly (which was on the next block, and I hate how much I went there).  But, you know, when you’re tired, when you’re confronted with Life Changes, Body Betrayals, you just need a cocktail in your room, arancini, black rice salad, fresh fruit, and dark chocolate.

Fun Fact/Honest Sidenote: C turned into D during this whole trip and I don’t think I can stay in hostels anymore.  It’s not exactly private.

I had one whole day before I had to do my tasting menu (four dishes, two in line with the fusion concept, two of my own).  I set up a time (2pm) with the Sous Chef to come in and look at the kitchen, pantry, walk-in and see what I would need.  I had the morning to try and not freak out, to just relax and think.  So I decided to walk a few blocks to the lakefront and grab a coffee.  I stumbled on a market (Ok, it was a fucking Whole Foods.) and grabbed a sourdough roll, a small wedge of cheese.  I was going to keep the European picnic train rolling.

I got to the lakefront and it was cloudy, colder than expected, and of course, windy.  I was starting to feel exhausted, so I sat on the steps and was just situating myself when I noticed a gentleman walking by and boisterously interacting with everyone.  It’s fine.  I lived in L.A.  I lived in New Orleans.  I can handle a little crazy.  I acknowledged him kindly and he started on his way, then doubled back.  Crap.  He started a conversation, I responded.  I was polite, but reserved.  I tried not to engage, but it didn’t matter.  With some people, it doesn’t matter.  He kept going.  And going.  He was animated, and a few times invaded my personal space.  As a female, you gauge every conversation with a male stranger and I couldn’t figure out the threat level on this one.  I honestly couldn’t.  I sat there, just listening and nodding, trying to figure out if he was full-blown unstable, delusional, or completely with it and just aggressively oblivious, to the point of not caring.

It was becoming clear that I wasn’t going to have some time to myself to think and then that started to piss me off.

But then, then I realized the dynamics of the situation weren’t that simple.  I sat there, a lone white girl, one an only somewhat busy lakefront, with this man, yes, this black man, standing over me being loud and occasionally getting close.  Then I noticed the cop cars.  They drove by, slowly, five or six times pointedly looking in our direction.  As much as I wanted out of that situation, I knew there was nothing I really could do unless things really and truly took a wrong turn.  And then I felt pissed because I was trapped, and I let myself get trapped because I had so much on my mind, so much stress, I didn’t feel like being called a bitch right then just to end it.  I was vulnerable and distant and it pissed me off more that another human being didn’t pick up on that, or simply didn’t care, and disengage.  And I was/am pissed that the reality of our country’s racism threw a wrench in the good ol’ fashioned “this man is borderline harassing me.”  So I sat there and took it.
The fucking levels, man.

I thought my best hope was going to be to simply say I had to be somewhere in a few minutes and got up to start walking.  He kept talking, non-stop, all these stories, grandiose stories, walking alongside me.  I would stop, nod, say I had to go and start walking again, and he ended up walking with me saying he was going in the same direction.  I knew there was a Target a few blocks away, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going “shopping” with me, so when we got to the corner, I tried to make my exit.  He mentioned again that he was taking me to a movie next week and if I wanted to come eat at his workplace, it would be on him.  I’m not sure why he thought I was a local, but after obligingly putting his email in my phone,  I let him down and finally walked into Target while he watched.

I walked around for awhile, long enough that he should be gone and went back to my hostel, mentally and emotionally fucking exhausted.

I hesitated sharing this, because it involves difficult issues and frankly, I’m scared to say the wrong thing anymore.  But it happened, and it’s as true as I can tell it, and if anything, I suppose it shows the difficulty of modern human engagement.  Just try not to hurt anyone, or get them hurt, I suppose.  I could’ve been more assertive, but the only thing he took was my time and mental energy.  All I could think about was de-escalation and even if it took an hour and a half (no joke), I guess it worked.

Also, dudes, fucking stop it.  Fucking stop dominating women without their consent.  Because that’s what that is.

This is ridiculously long and I’ve not even started day 2.  This is what happens when you don’t write for awhile.  Maybe someone got something out of this….more later

Immigrant Story

2017-01-28-14-42-42This is my Great Great Grandpa Petterson (Peterson) holding my Grandmother on his lap.  He and his future wife came to the United States from Sweden in 1884 and married about a year after their arrival.  They lived in a Swede settlement in Kansas and near/in Beattie, KS for 40 years.  According to my Grandmother, they were “hard working, poor, but respected.  Grandpa was a stone-cutter by trade.”  They went on to have four children, one of which was my Great Grandmother, Ida.  Ida married Jess and they had my Grandmother.  My Grandmother married Gordon Ensley in 1938 and had four boys, one of which is my Father.

I only know all of this because my Grandmother made it a point to write all of this down and give it to all of the grandchildren.  I am lucky.  I know at least some of my history and I cannot forget it because it stares back at me in black and white images and yellowed pages with painstakingly typed text.  And I have tears streaming down my face as I write this because people are being turned away from our country for no reason other than ignorance, fear, and blind hatred.  How quickly we forget when it is not happening to us in the present moment.  How quickly we forget that, unless we are Native American, we are ALL immigrants, the children of immigrants, descendants of immigrants.  The news today is littered with stories of perfectly legal U.S. citizens being turned away, refugees seeking safety being told they cannot come in, of Jews during World War II being sent from our borders only to be murdered by the Nazis.  So maybe, for some, there’s a convenient, privileged disconnect there, some distance that is allowing our leaders and those on the side of inhumanity to keep this from sinking in, but I am asking you, go back through your own lineage, trace your own family path and realize, yes, Virginia, you are the daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter, of an immigrant.  You might not be here today if not for the once-welcoming lamp beside the golden door.  Lady Liberty is also the Mother of Exiles.

Never forget.  Never let them forget, most of us enjoying the relatively intact freedoms today are here because this country was once open to the possibility of goodness.  Share your story, because most of us have one.

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


All I Have Is My Story

aca-tracking-infographic-for-releaseThe following is a message I sent to my Congressional representatives this evening.  I have little hope that anyone of importance will read it, let alone listen to it:

All I have is my story.  And because I know my situation is not unique, I tell you my story in the hopes that you understand that there are probably hundreds more exactly like it, thousands more worse off, and millions who will be negatively affected if you ignore our needs.

I am a 39 year old single female who, two years ago, returned to the state of my birth, Kansas, to be closer to family, to start a new chapter in my life, and yes, for health reasons as well.  I have a Bachelors degree from Kansas University and have worked since I was 15 years old.  Now, I am attempting to pursue my passion and begin a second career in the culinary arts, but it is proving difficult as of late.  I have multiple chronic conditions, conditions that before the ACA, prevented me from getting my own health insurance.  Of course, the other reason I could not get much needed healthcare, was affordability.  That all changed with the ACA.  Yes, the rollout was messy and complicated and fraught with problems.  But it worked.  It worked for me, and it worked for millions of others.  Not hundreds, millions.  Yes, some people have had their insurance go up, so let’s address that issue.  Let’s get single-payer healthcare for ALL.  Let’s make healthcare a priority for our citizens so they don’t have to go broke with one emergency room visit.  Let’s rein in the insurance companies and make this more fair for all of us, not strip away the lifeline that so many of us have come to tears of gratefulness over.

I get six usable hours a day right now, and I spend them working.  I am trying.  Millions of us are trying, just to get by.  If you take the ACA away without a quantifiably more fair and just plan to back it up, you are sending a clear message to your fellow Americans that you do not care what happens to them, that profits matter more than people.  And after last night’s vote, it’s pretty clear that’s where things stand currently.  You are telling us that you are so out of touch, that you cannot fathom how one ER visit could bankrupt someone, send them down a financial spiral.  You are telling us that you don’t understand how someone would have to choose between paying their rent, buying groceries, or getting their necessary medications.  And if that wasn’t enough, you went ahead and took away the protections that most Americans are in favor of.  Who thought it was a bad idea to eliminate refusal based on pre-existing conditions?  Who thought it was a bad idea to let people stay on their parent’s insurance until they are 26?  At this point, it just seems petty and personal and vindictive.  Are you so wrapped up in political theater that you cannot remember it is the people you are supposed to be serving?  This isn’t a game.

And because one of my conditions is endometriosis and ovarian cysts, let’s talk about Planned Parenthood while were at it.  If you DO repeal the ACA, that’s where I would need to go, for at least some form of care.  Did you know that the treatment for endometriosis is usually birth control?  That’s right!  It’s not just for controlling birth!  Shocking, isn’t it.  I hate taking it, it’s a terrible drug, but it’s that or the pain.  Do you know how much it would cost to get my birth control without insurance and without Planned Parenthood?  It would be around $200.  In the grand scheme of drug pricing, that’s actually not that bad, but I couldn’t afford it.  I’d have to stop taking it and then we’re back to the pain, in addition to the pain I already cope with.  You cannot take away the only lifelines that people are relying on.  You can’t rush headlong to vindictively remove the ACA, without offering a BETTER solution for all, and then take away Planned Parenthood funding at the same time.  Unless you really don’t care.  Unless winning some political game means more to you than the well-being and day-to-day struggles of actual people.

Do you even remotely understand how important Planned Parenthood is, or the myriad of services they provide?  If you’re going to screw millions of people over, the least you can do is leave some small lifeline.  It might be the only thing that could keep me, and thousands of others, from that ER visit, from a debt spiral.

This is not the K blog you’re looking for.


St. Mary of The Angels school. Upper Ninth Ward. 2007.






Or maybe it is.  I don’t know.  I’m feel like I need to apologize for even writing this at all, but we all gotta do what we gotta do, right.  And for some of us, that means writing it out of our systems.  I’ve been trying not to post very much K/Federal Flood updates on social media, to not trigger the PTSD of the people I love, but know that I’m thinking of you today, and (quite literally) every day.  There are some things the rest of the country needs to remember though, things the rest of the country gets wrong, forgets, doesn’t understand.  And that’s where I live now, the Rest of The Country.  I won’t detail the errors, omissions, flat-out lies.  I’m even tired of the coverage.  But like the signs said, “Think that you may be wrong”.   At 16, I never thought I’d live there, then, at 30, I never thought I would leave.  I never did, really, not completely.  I didn’t go through it, I am not claiming that sorrow and that strength.  But New Orleans is my true home and it always will be.  You can’t take that from anyone.

So today I will be trying to feed the ever-hungry monarch caterpillars, driving to Eudora to pick up three baby bunnies, then driving to Operation Wildlife to drop them off and do my rehab duty.  At some point, I will make bread pudding.  At some point, I will stand over the Kaw and pour a little whiskey in.  Y’all let me know when you get it.

Today is also the day I drag this horse outta the barn.  Because it’s helped me before and it’s helped others before and it’s a Damn Fine Poem.

“Local Heroes”

Some days the worst that can happen happens.
The sky falls or evil overwhelms or
the world as we have come to know it turns
toward the eventual apocalypse
long predicted in all the holy books—
the end-times of old grudge and grievances
that bring us each to our oblivions.
Still, maybe this is not the end at all,
nor even the beginning of the end.
Rather, one more in a long list of sorrows
to be added to the ones thus far endured,
through what we have come to call our history—
another in that bitter litany
that we will, if we survive it, have survived.
God help us who must live through this, alive
to the terror and open wounds: the heart
torn, shaken faith, the violent, vengeful soul,
the nerve exposed, the broken body so
mingled with its breaking that it’s lost forever.
Lord send us, in our peril, local heroes.
Someone to listen, someone to watch, someone
to search and wait and keep the careful count
of the dead and missing, the dead and gone
but not forgotten. Some days all that can be done
is to salvage one sadness from the mass
of sadnesses, to bear one body home,
to lay the dead out among their people,
organize the flowers and casseroles,
write the obits, meet the mourners at the door,
drive the dark procession down through town,
toll the bell, dig the hole, tend the pyre.
It’s what we do. The daylong news is dire—
full of true believers and politicos,
bold talk of holy war and photo-ops.
But here, brave men and women pick the pieces up.
They serve the living, caring for the dead.
Here the distant battle is waged in homes.
Like politics, all funerals are local.
–Thomas Lynch
Fall, 2005.

100,000. On a Good Day

2015-06-26 19.10.29
I had not planned on writing this. I was supposed to update about a mural project I assisted on in Hutchinson. But I just came home from (foolishly) trying to get to the library, in the heart of tiny Downtown Lawrence. What should take five minutes, took twenty. And I get that it’s small potatoes compared with other cities, with other “sprawling metropolises” (metropoli?), but sprawling metropolis is not Lawrence. God forbid the people that actually live here have to go to the community pool or library on a hot, Summer Sunday. And then it struck me, in that moment, I could, for one brief instant, see the OTHER SIDE behind this whole East 9th Street corridor. If I, someone who is adamantly against this expansion, could be so annoyed and frustrated and wish EVERYTHING didn’t have to be run through a five block stretch (or a fifteen block radius at best), then everyone else could too. So maybe this, this too-big-for-your-britches Free State Festival and this bike race and everything else that has been shoved under the LAC umbrella, is all just part of the plan. Maybe if they frustrate and annoy the parents, the West Siders, the middle-agers, the low-middle incomers, who have no solid feeling one way or the other, so much that we just say YES, YES.  OK. Anywhere but just here. Run it through another area and relieve some of the pressure. Fine.

Except it’s not fine. Lawrence is a town of 100,000 people, on a good day.  And gone are the days of Summer reversion when the students leave town.  So I pull out the New Orleans card again, I pull out the Kansas City card with it. These are bigger places, with longer histories of events and more room to do it. Someone, is thinking, wishing, hoping beyond their means. I know who it is, and maybe you do too. I also know who’s set to make money off these dreams, and I hope you do too.  And I hope you’re thinking about it.

On the way back from my eventually successful trip to pick up a book, I had flashbacks of Mardi Gras. How we would mock people who got trapped behind a parade, or didn’t avoid Uptown or St. Charles on certain days/times (ha! they’ll learn). And sure, people have to live there too. It’s a common issue for any city hosting a big event. But, Mardi Gras isn’t being forced upon them, not really (the Super Bowl, is another story). It’s part of a long history and they’ve got crowd control and parading down to a science. And, in New Orleans, as small as it actually is, you can escape it, if you wanted to.  There are options.

But perhaps the more appropriate card to pull out of the deck, is Austin. Because Someone wants this to be SXSW, or rather, NXNE. Except Austin is a town of 900,000+ people which leads me to believe someone is jumping the gun just a little bit, or padding their resume for the next gig. How confident are we that these place-makers, these noble “arts” saviors, are here to stay? Today, the topic of new residents vs. old guard came up in conversation. It’s something, since leaving New Orleans, I’ve thought about in passing, but hadn’t seen much evidence of, the notion of native vs. non-native outside that setting. Diaphanous and loaded meanings aside for now, the Outsider Mentality comes up a lot in New Orleans. I get it, to a point. It’s protection and fear of exploitation after a history of just that. In the case of New Orleans, we’re talking hundreds of years, but Lawrence, KS, is a different animal. Or is it? There is a culture and a history to be protected here as well, even if you’re not a part of it, or aren’t really aware of it, it’s there, and there will be lines drawn in the sand as this continues. I, personally, have not been called into question, not to my face. Yes, I am a renter, so I’m sure my opinion carries little weight, and I’m also a “native” Kansan, so maybe a little more is added on. But I’m not FROM Lawrence. At what point does that become an issue. In my view, for this place, all opinions matter, but that comes with the caveat that one must consider the dog in the race, and the ticket-holder’s willingness to listen to dissent, to give it more than lip service in retort, to understand that socio-economic status and “how you got here, how long will you stay”, the friends you keep, all factor into this, for everyone, not just Someone.

And because this is a small town (own it, Lawrence), there is a good-to-definite chance you are being talked about, could be labeled, could be, yes, blacklisted. At that point, livelihoods become threatened, people stop speaking up. Some people don’t have to worry about this, and that is the difference. Some people don’t have to worry that stating how they feel could affect their job search, or their current job, or future endeavors. Some people. What would it be like if we could have a real, honest, open conversation, a dialogue in a neutral space where we could all speak out about these changes without fear of repercussion? Is it even possible? Can the small potatoes and big tubers get together and hash(brown) it out? Or would we leave there, scared for our future, or adding names to that dark list?

I don’t know. I just know this is something we should all be talking and thinking about, not just East Siders, not just artists and homeowners, not just new residents and old guard. Consider those who stand to gain, those who stand to lose, the timing, the long-term sustainability, the current sustainability.  Consider the process.  Consider your neighbors, your friends, your kids, your grandkids.  Consider quality, quantity.  Organic growth vs. big development.  Consider the angles.

With that, below is the letter I sent at the last minute before the work plan acceptance meeting. It was written in haste, so isn’t perfect. It was also written using that sweet, free internet at our wonderful library, right in the heart of our crucial Downtown.

I realize this is coming in at the last hour, and may not even be read, but I cannot attend tonight’s meeting to make my voice heard.

I am a former Lawrence resident who, until last November, has been living in New Orleans, LA for the past 6 and a half years. I relocated back to Lawrence, to be closer to family (who are all in Topeka). And I chose Lawrence, as I always do, because it is a more open-minded and progressive city, one with a decent understanding of the importance of art, music, and culture.

Maybe that’s why I am so dismayed to see the fabric of Lawrence neighborhoods so quickly ripped and up for sale. I live in East Lawrence, XXXXXXXXXXX to be exact, and already see the changes. I am a struggling artist and chose East Lawrence not just for an affordable place to live, but for the people that live there. Coming from New Orleans, I feel I see a future that maybe not many others have seen, a city that prides itself on culture, music, and art, where schemes cached as “economic development” have discolored and gentrified entire sections of once vibrant communities. It is heartbreaking to see it beginning on a smaller scale here. You cannot refurbish and plop down a handful of trendy warehouses and call it a “district”. You cannot run land grabs through thriving communities and call it improvements (for their own good, right?). From what I can see, it didn’t need to be improved. No one is denying that basic infrastructure and street repair is needed, but attaching basic needs and services to forced cultural “improvements” (and grant money) is like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. Lawrence is not yet big enough to sustain this path. The endless festivals, the tourist economy, works for New Orleans because they’ve been doing it for decades. It’s not perfect by a long shot, but it generally works there because it fits. But shoving pre-approved (NON-LOCAL) art (and soon, entertainment) right through the heart of a community just smacks of a development scheme and poor planning. True art and culture havens are born organically, not forced upon the people with a fistful of dollars and bad design. Too often, these plans are only abandoned in a few years because they cannot be sustained and the flock has moved on.

I urge you, slow it down, or shut it down. Be open, transparent, and let’s work together on a plan that works for EVERYONE, not just a few.
Thank you.

2015-06-26 17.03.14

Hwy 24

hwy24 poem collage

© Jill Ensley

Like the first robins of Spring,
Summer signified in the first yellow and white carnival tents,
Collecting and dispersing Chinese gunpowder and smoke, or
Fried fare and pantomimed nostalgia.
To celebrate our clutched victory, our headlong rush,
Down our own dark path

Rickety, transient Ferris wheels in rear-view mirrors,
Framed by pastel twilight, sherbert sunset.
In periphery, a cell phone pulses a rhythmic silent blue, indicating
Alerts and updates, thoughts and validations,
Answered in the fields of fireflies surround.

Endless coal trains, headed South, to the Gulf, off-loaded.
Past sleeping towns, on the outskirts.
Tracks and black dust weaving,
Subtly settling through the North, West, East.
Our penchant for blowing ourselves up.
A bloom of chemistry, of rain, of campfire.

It’s been a week.

-J. Ensley

A Long-Winded Exercise in Honesty and Exposure

Let’s just get it out there. It’s probably no secret I struggle with depression. Many people do and it’s not something to you, usually, easily see. Just add that to my list of “invisible illnesses”, because it’s that list that generally causes a bout of crushing sadness. That, the hormones from the birth control I have to take for endometriosis, and the fact that I often don’t get proper nutrition, my blood sugar is unstable, and vitamins and minerals are outta whack. Oh, and that whole eating thing.

I try not to talk about it here, have talked about it on Facebook, but why? Why haven’t I opened up about how fucking awful it is sometimes. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t entertain thoughts of a quick exit. You see, I have idiopathic gastroparesis. It is generally associated with diabetes (caused by damage to the vagus nerve), but I am not diabetic. Frankly, I chalk it up to starving myself in high school, sadly, to please some asshole I was dating. I then gained quite a bit of weight when I moved to California. All the wear and tear on that nerve might have done it. I’ve been told it’s possible, but who knows. I don’t really care anymore how it happened. All I know is, symptoms started at least as far back as 2006. I was in college and at the time, it was just extreme bloating and discomfort, always at night. It, along with my “introverted artistic sensibilities”, made me a little anti-social. It wasn’t until 2010, when I finally had an adult job and health insurance, that I was diagnosed (gastric emptying study). In the interim, I thought I was allergic to something. I would try cutting out wheat, dairy, but never thinking that healthy things like raw foods and nuts were actually making it worse. By then, it had become painful and I began throwing up. I dropped quite a bit of weight, but actually felt better. I feel a lot better, physically, when I don’t eat, but a) I love food and b) it’s kind of essential (food and mood, baby. food and mood).  (I was also on a clinical trial drug that helped immensely.   It stopped working in early 2014.)Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 9.13.24 PM

I post this picture with Facebook comments not to make ANYONE feel bad, but just to give some sort of perspective.  Sure, I look “good” and healthy even.  And I was feeling alright, because I wasn’t eating.  It’s taken me awhile to come to terms with it, since I gained some wonderful body image issues in my teen years, but my frame tends to rest well at about 130-135lbs.  For the record, I’m 5’3″.  Maybe that’s chunky to some, and to you I say, check your fucking head.  Maybe that’s too skinny for some, and I say….well, I guess, check with a doctor?  Because it’s not.  The point is, you never. fucking. know.  You never know what is going on with someone.  And while there was a part of me that relished in being skinnier and being complemented.  There is/was another part of me that wished I could come by it another way.

I bring this up now because it’s happening again, slower this time.  It’s not as noticeable, which, oddly enough, makes it worse.  I have a new job, a fairly physical, 40 hour a week job, with new co-workers that I have to slowly and carefully educate, always minding how I’m coming off so I seem “believable”.  I worry every time I eat anything at work that they won’t believe me.  I don’t even like to eat in front of anyone anymore, lest it misinform.  Just know that if you see me eating, I’ve made the gamble to deal with the aftermath.  The pain usually takes anywhere from an hour to three to set in, so you probably won’t even see it (unless it’s a bad flare (yes, it comes in flares) and it happens in minutes, that’s when I get skinny).  Everything is timed.  Everything is a judgement call.    But let me tell you this.  There is not a day that goes by where I don’t feel like crap.  If it’s not the nausea, it’s the pain.  If it’s not the hunger, it’s the pregnancy belly bloating.  If it’s not the blood sugar it’s the lack of _____ vitamin.  I work in food service, so luckily I have not thrown up at work.  Because I hate throwing up and will do everything I can to avoid it.  I also have to wear pants and pants hurt.  It’s why I built up a collection of dresses and skirts in my “business casual” former lives.  But now these fucking pants.  Yeah, I know there are a lot of people that don’t like wearing pants, but by the end of the night, it feels like that waistband is a rubber band full of tacks.  It’s why I have so many clothes.  I have to.  Because they have to range from a size 4 to 10.  It’s these little fucking things that you don’t think about until you have to deal with it.  But these little things, they add up.  Things like trying to avoid things that make you throw up, things like plain water, “too much” food, and crying.  Hooray!

And then you have to move home, leaving a place you loved dearly, because you feel like your body is failing you and you don’t know what to do.  Because you’ve always been an independent person and it scares the shit out of you to have to ask for help, to think about being taken care of by people that YOU should be taking care of.  Because you can’t keep taking two buses to get to doctor appointments that lead to no answers, and only leave you more frustrated and alone.  Essentially, for the last year, I have been having what feels like neurological issues.  My cisapride (clinical trial) drug that worked well for three years stopped working and I started getting twitching, itching, burning, numbness in my extremities.  I’ve seen two neurologists and two psychiatrists, because if there’s nothing wrong with the few tests they run, they insinuate it’s all in your head.  Don’t get me wrong.  I probably should be seeing someone, but for the depression and the frustration caused by chronic illnesses and the fact that I CANNOT GET ANY FUCKING ANSWERS.  No one wants to play Dr. House and I do not have the energy to do this on my own, to fight for myself on my days off when I only have the energy to sit quietly at home and read.  It’s very hard to be your own medical advocate.  It’s draining.  Godspeed to anyone who does it, for themselves or others.

So, here we are again, trapped in a, yes, I’ll say it, shitty job.  I came home, in debt because I wasn’t working enough, scared to apply for disability because I know GP, endo, depression is not enough.  Scared to apply because I don’t want to be a drain on anyone or anything.  I took a job I was worried I couldn’t handle, physically, but figured it was only 30-35 hours a week and maybe it would be good for me to move around rather than sit at a desk.  I took a job with a company that I foolishly thought was based on community, helping people lead better lives through natural foods, being understanding.  And it is, to a point.  Most there are, but humans are humans and when you see someone not smiling all the time, there aren’t a lot of people willing to dig deeper.  But in the end, it’s a company, nearly a corporation in the layers of management.  And I just got a “talkin’ to” by said management.  Let it be known, this is the only person I have encountered that has made me feel this way.  To dismiss my explanation of battling chronic illness, to ask me what the difference is between 35 and 40 hours a week, what those five hours are really, to ask what the difference is between closing at 8pm and 9pm.  These are the marks of an uncaring person.  To tell me that I seem unhappy (when I maybe see you twice a week for a few minutes) and, essentially, I need to get happier.  These are the marks of a complete asshole.  I really don’t care who sees this.  That is a shitty thing to say to someone you don’t know, whose battles you don’t know.  To sit there, making twice what I make to do half as much labor and tell me that I need to be happier about making $9.25 an hour to kill my body and my emotional well-being, makes. you. a. shitty. person.

So, yeah, things have not been good.  I feel trapped and no good can come from this girl feeling trapped.  My hands and feet have been going numb and cold and tingly again, this time lingering for hours on end rather than 20-30 mins.  My vision is blurry, usually in the morning, sometimes all day.  I’m out of birth control and need it to keep the endo and cysts away.  Certainly not for what it was intended for, THAT’S FOR SURE.  It doesn’t matter because I don’t bleed anymore.  Last time I went for nine months, this time it’s been four so far.  The last OBGYN didn’t seem too concerned, so I just gave up on that front.  I can only fight one fucking medical battle at a time and it’s the nerve issues are front and center because I just want to know why and not have it be another damned thing.  I’ve been at this job for only 2 1/2 months now.  I get health insurance at three months and now I have to wonder if I can even make it that long.  Now I have to “prove myself” to someone I have absolutely ZERO respect for, not only because they don’t seem to know what they’re doing, but they DO seem to know what they’re doing.  What a sweet gig.  $40K a year to show up for a few hours, sometimes “work from home”, nitpick on your underlings when you’re there, and the worst part, to not give two farts for your employee’s actual well-being.  ZERO respect.  You get what you give, brother.

Wan Shang Hao, Sweet Mao

2013-07-14 17.15.02This past Friday, I had to let my sweet boy go.  The past month and a half had been rough, and he’d deteriorated rather quickly.  After a litany of issues (stage 2 kidney disease, anemia, dehydration not remedied by fluids, IBD, a heart murmur, and possibly lymphoma and pancreatitis), on Friday morning he could not walk or use the restroom unassisted.  He didn’t want to eat, seemed the most forlorn I’ve seen him, and kept falling.  It was absolutely heartbreaking.

Of the long list of pets I have had in my life, I have never had to make that decision personally.  I’ve never had to be there when it happened, but I needed to be.  Logically, it was the “right thing to do”, but my heart was, is, broken and I miss my sweet boy.

My sweet boy that didn’t seem to care for anyone else (we’d gone through our share of cat-sitters).  My sweet boy that talked, cooed, grunted, yelled, cried, headbutted, loved to be carried everywhere and lay on my chest as I lay on the floor, in our moments of peace and reflection.  I’d never had a cat that was this dependent and vocal.  Quiet talkers, all.

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Mao came to me a stray 5 1/2 years ago.  He was an Uptown cat in New Orleans, an obvious former pet with de-clawed front paws and still keen on people (to a limit).  The girl who posted the Craigslist was letting him in her house and feeding him.  She was moving and afraid no one would care for him.  We did a visit.  I was accepted.  She had named him Jean Valjean.  There was no way I was going to be yelling out “Jean Valjean!”  (Sorry Les Miz fans.)  So, Mao he became (because I could call him The Chairman and if you say it in the third tone in Mandarin, it means “cat”.  Double duty.)
2013-11-03 12.16.35

The vet had told her that he was five, so I figured I’d peg his age at 10, maybe 11 this year.  Turns out, he was at least 12, probably more.  He’d never tell me.  Sensitive about his age it seems.

Before we left New Orleans in November of last year, he had lost a little bit of weight, nothing terribly alarming, but I could tell he was getting older.  More grey on top of grey.  It was a stressful trip in the beginning for him, but he seemed to calm down.  Laid in my lap nearly the whole way.  Logically, I know his downgrade had started before we left, that if we’d stayed, he still would have gotten sick and I wouldn’t have had the help of my family to take care of it.  But I still felt/feel guilty, like I never should have taken him from New Orleans.  That we shouldn’t have left.  Guilty that I couldn’t fix him, that I was/am so broke that treatment had to be debated and spread out a little.  With his laundry list of problems, truth be told, all the money in the world could have probably only given him, me, a few more months, but I still feel guilty.  It’s terrible watching someone you love deteriorate, human or animal.  Helplessness reigns.  I would hold him, try and absorb some of the sickness, but it didn’t work.

And then there was the anger.  I still had to work.  There was no one there to watch him, comfort him.  Be there so he could have his space heater on.  I got so angry that I had to serve people their stupid fucking kale salad while my sweet boy might be dying.  None of it mattered.

By the last week, the steroids, the b-12, the nausea meds, weren’t helping.  We went to another vet, a 2nd opinion that turned out much the same.  Confirmed the decision I was facing.  Weeks of sleeping on the couch so I could hear him if he needed something meant I was there when he fell, stumbled and fell behind the couch at 4:30am.  He couldn’t help himself so I had to pull his skinny body out and hold him until whatever was happening passed.  The episodes coming closer together.  I’d leave for work, the house covered in towels and all cracks and crevices sealed with pillows in case he fell again.  He didn’t, there wasn’t time.

So now he’s gone.  It was as good as a death at this stage can be.  I was there when he went to sleep, holding his head, crying uncontrollably as I am now.  I wish I could have told him more, held him more, hoped he would understand.  I took him to our family vet, the one where my dear friend(s) work (thank you again, Dana and Talon.  thank you).  Oddly enough, my poor Mom and Dad had dropped off another cat that had to be put down earlier that day.  She’d had AIDS and was pregnant.  So we took them both home and my Dad and I dug a double grave in the snow.  It was a goddamned terrible and sad day.  BUT, it helped to do that.  To be together, to do the things you’re supposed to do.  To bear the body home, even if it’s covered in fur, tiny and broken.

2013-04-21 08.21.57So my sweet boy is gone.  I miss him terribly and keep finding his things and breaking down.  I see him sitting in the window, or where his food bowl used to be, or hear a noise and wait for him to come around the corner.  But he’s not coming and every day will get a little easier, I hope.

We still have our mornings, our open window or porch sitting mornings, our nights at the computer, our reading sessions on the couch, the favorite chair.  Wherever he is, lying in the sun, sniffing the New Orleans breeze, I hope he’s at peace, knows I love him dearly.

2014-08-08 17.27.21