Saturday, April 01, 2017


[This is a very long post. I'm sorry. But TL/DR: My X power is random coincidences.]

So, several years ago one of The Pilot's photo editors left journalism to start a chicken farm. Like, with coops and everything, near Charlottesville. This guy Norm. I met his wife, a lovely tall woman with white hair, at his going-away party. I hadn't seen either of them since I moved here a couple years ago, so I was pretty excited when I saw her at Target today. I was heading to detergents, and she was heading the opposite direction, to area rugs. 

I kept walking a few paces but kept thinking, then figured it would be nice to say hey to Norm through her, since I'd worked with him for more than a decade and he was always a nice guy. So I turned around and chased her down, something I can't recall ever having done before. When I came upon her I said, "Hey, this is super random, but are you Norm's wife?" To which she responded, "No."

This came as quite a surprise. A super awkward silence followed, which she broke with, "But you look very familiar to me." So I said, "You too! My name is Judy Le." And she said, "I'm Kristen Hallam!"

OMG Kristen Hallam! THE MANAGING EDITOR OF THE DAILY NORTHWESTERN MY SOPHOMORE YEAR. Whom I haven't seen in more than 20 years! Who was living in England last I checked! At the Target where I live!

Turns out she moved here a month ago and needed an area rug and a bunch of other housey things. I was there prepping for our trip to Legoland tomorrow. We talked a bit, exchanged contact information and went on our respective ways. When I got out to the parking lot, I saw that they were parked NEXT to my little car with the Medill Northwestern University sticker on the back. And I don't even ever park on that side of the parking lot, but several months ago Jeffrey suggested that I use a different turn-in to get to Target so I tried it today for the first time.

I mean, crazy, right?!? But here's the thing: I think I am a person to whom these things happen. 

I know. But suspend your disbelief for a second.

I don't have a ton of friends here. That's actually an understatement because I literally have one outside-of-work friend. It's probably why I chased Norm's wife down in a Target. I was used to having a lot of friends at The Pilot because I worked in a newsroom of 300 people (when I started, 100 when I left), the vast majority of whom I did not oversee and did not oversee me. Close friendships, partnerships, all that were really common there. And then I left, and started working in a room of 10 people, all of whom either were my boss or reported to me. It's not the best way to make friends. Also, I don't get out much. But my dear friend Brianne, whom I met early on at The Pilot, came here for grad school a few years ago and offered to set me up with a couple of her friends when I started here. She sent a couple emails introducing me to her old roommate, who seemed perfectly nice but since I'm a garbage person I didn't follow up with much. (Also she was getting married and was busy!)

Fast forward a year and a half to November 9, the day after the election. I was sitting out in my car in the parking lot of one of the gyms I have access to through work, scrolling on my phone and feeling despair. It finally got to be time that I needed to be serious about taking a shower and going to work, so I hustled in to the locker room. A random woman came in right behind me, caught my eye and asked me how I was doing. She was incredibly thoughtful and kind, and we talked about the election, and about women, and about Howard Zinn, and it was probably the best talk I had that terrible day. And since I don't have any friends here, I asked her if we could have coffee sometime. So we, too, traded contact information. She said, "That's so funny; I already have a Judy Le in my contacts." [You see where this is going, but I have to tell the story.] I laughed and said, "Oh, there are a million of us." (There are -- check LinkedIn or Facebook.) A minute later she said, "Wait, are you Brianne's friend?" to which I said "YES ARE YOU BRIANNE'S FRIEND?!" 

I should also say that while I go to the gym every day, I NEVER talk to anyone there. I'm just there to get swoll and that's it, you know? And no one talks to me. And this was the first day my new friend, Erin, had even gone there. Anyway, since that day, we've become friends and I joined a women's discussion group she runs. It's amazing. She's amazing.

See what I mean? I believe these things happen to me. I feel very weird saying this, but it feels magical. And these are only the incidents that have happened in the past 6 months. In 2009 Jeffrey and I went to Prague sort of on a whim (well, really because I am super easily influenced and someone mentioned it once). The afternoon we got there we ventured out into the gigantic historic Old Town Square, filled with hundreds if not a thousand people, and I said to Jeffrey: "Hey, isn't that Dave and Shannon?" Walking in front of us were two of our old friends from The Pilot nightside -- a subset of the newsroom with about 40 people -- who had gone to The NYT several years before. In 2000 I got into a plane in Virginia and found myself seated next to Heather Harris, with whom I'd gone to school -- in Iowa -- since fifth grade.

The biggest aggregate example of these weird coincidences is my friend Jake. Also from The Pilot. He was born in Iowa, where I grew up -- and half a country away from where we met and became very good friends. He pretty randomly ended up in The Pilot's library about six months after I very deliberately ended up on its design team. My son, Abbott, was due on Jake's birthday in 2010; his son Wynn was born a couple months later, on my actual birthday. His second son, Teddy, was due on Abbott's birthday. But here's the craziest thing: The night my family was escaping Vietnam in 1975, his uncle was in the very same airport, trying to get out as well. 

I've talked to people about these coincidences before; I know a lot of people don't believe in them. And there's not a ton I believe in, truly. But I'm starting to think there is something there.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Surprise, surprise, surprise

There's this line in Infinite Jest that the longtime sober sponsors say to the AA newbies: Don't worry about getting in touch with your feelings; they'll get in touch with you. 

That shit is severely correct. Mine came at me Tuesday.

It's been nearly two decades since my mom died, and years since I cried seriously about it. (Two is years.) But I legit lost my shit that day. I was messaging with a friend about something entirely unrelated -- congratulations on an award we'd won, for god's sake -- 
and then this now-painful memory busted its way out of me and onto my phone. 

I started crying at my desk before I sent that msg. Then I booked upstairs and sobbed ugly in a bathroom stall for 20 minutes. Then off and on all day, ending with another big jag in front of the keyboard that night. I'd told no one, and then one person, and then everyone.

Grief is supposed to be private, right? Or maybe it just is, whether or not it's supposed to be. Anyway, as such, I don't really understand it. I don't understand how other people experience it. I don't understand why it's taking me so long to get through it -- when I honestly thought I largely was. But sometimes shit will just pop up and get in touch with me, as it were.

A lot of people have reached out to me since I posted that story, and I'm so grateful for all of them, and for anyone who read it. As I reason through it, I see that it was a necessary and painful healing step, and that the fact that I was finally ready for it is a really good thing. I do feel a lot better having let it out of myself, and I urge everyone else to do the same. I'm just bracing myself for the next hit.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The baby

When I was very young, evenings in my family were spent on the one couch we had, watching the one television we had. My mom would lay on it, always in the same spot, and because I was the baby, I got to be the one of us seven kids to lay on top of her. It was an incredible feeling of comfort and protection and warmth; when I want my mommy, that is the distinct feeling that I seek.

I remember laying there one evening when I was about the age my son is now. She called me her baby, as she always did, but this time I asked her how long she'd be calling me that. She said I'd always be her baby. I asked if she'd be saying that when I was an adult, even more so not a baby. In good humor, she negotiated with me a cut-off date: when I turned 81. (This had been her counter to my opening offer of 80.)

In the year that she was sick and in the years since she died, I've thought of this moment very often but have never been able to speak of it. When I allow myself to wade into the emotional depths, I wonder what she thought of that conversation. Did it make her sad to know, even on that day, not quite two decades before she got sick, that we weren't going to make it there? Or did she even think about it in those terms? Was it just some crazy thing I was saying, on top of all the other crazy things I must have been saying? I really hope it was that last one. I hope for her sake that she never, ever thought about it again. Because having lost her, thinking about that conversation -- just the conversation -- with Abbott is unbearable to me. I can't even write this without crying.

My mom would have turned 74 today. Happy birthday, mama. I miss you. And I am still your baby.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

But what if ...

the whole gratitude movement is a ploy to quell outrage and make people placid?

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Girl Second Most Likely

At my going-away party at The Pilot I told the story of how I'd gotten there, of how I'd interviewed on the day after I'd learned that my mom's cancer had metastasized, how I told Denis while I was there that I was going to go home and take care of her. How Denis and I stayed in touch during the months that I was home, and how on the day my mom died he offered me a job that someone had turned down just the week before. A Claire something, I learned later, who didn't want to leave her hometown. 

That always felt sort of magical to me, like my mom was watching out for me. I ended up staying there for 16 years. When I was ready to leave, it happened again. 

When I applied for my current position, it was after what had already been a very long hiring process. This time, the person who turned it down was a Charlotte someone. She, too, did not leave her home state. (I guess that's a thing? I couldn't get far enough away from mine.)

And though I didn't even hear about the job until after she'd already turned it down, I felt pretty insecure about her for a long time. It preyed on me in a way that it hadn't at The Pilot. What would Charlotte have done in this situation? Is she nicer than I am? (But I mean come on, who isn't.) A better editor? A better manager? Is she (gasp!) funnier?! (Because do not even.) Even though I never met her or competed directly with her, I constantly felt like I was in second place. I tortured myself with it, and I tortured my boss with it. Once, in a fit of neediness, I made him tell me that he was happy that Charlotte had turned down the job. Like, with those words. To his credit, he was pretty convincing. To mine, I worked hard to very nearly believe him.

But it's been almost a year now, and I'm finally comfortable enough to say that it doesn't matter. I'm the one working my ass off now. Even if I had come in second to the two of them in direct competition it wouldn't matter. Because I am the one who did the job. It turns out that I've made a career out of other people's missed opportunities. Like, a pretty good one. And instead of competing with these ideas of women I've never met, I can finally just be grateful. So thank you, Claire Something and Charlotte Someone, for deciding that these jobs were not for you. They have been wonderful opportunities for me, and I have enjoyed them immensely.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone

Hope you're having a fantastic day. Here are my thoughts as I spatchcock a turkey.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Question of the Day

Question of the day: Who is the youngest person you know?
Answer of the day: Are you young? You used to be young. You are short.

When did my inner dialogue become this kid?