building walls.

being vulnerable is no one’s favorite feeling. it’s kind of like that feeling when you are presenting a project in college and when you are done, you ask your classmates if they have any questions. you know that feeling? you are sitting there waiting for them to ask a random question and it is all quiet and awkward and the class is staring at you and you stare back and the moment seems like it will never pass. all you want is to not be in that situation ever again.

after i wrote my post about my desire to move back to chicago, that’s how i felt.

it opened up a vulnerable side of me that i don’t normally allow. i still cannot decide if writing that post was cathartic or more like pouring salt on a wound.

but it is how i feel and i had to own my thoughts. expressing them made them more real. i knew i couldn’t live my life with my thoughts in a cocoon.

being vulnerable isn’t my favorite. at all. building walls seems more natural. i don’t enjoy the thought of other people knowing what i think (which might seem to contradict the idea of being a writer in the first place).

i’ve lived my entire life trying to build a fortress around myself. but what i am learning is that being vulnerable leads to openness. allowing myself to simply be honest led to difficult conversations, but at least it was me being honest with myself and others. i also realized that i am really okay with just being me and no one else.

being vulnerable means allowing ourselves to admit that we don’t always have it figured out. and to be okay with that.

that’s the thing about life. we only get one, so why not just try to be more open with each other? why not just be ourselves? we live most of our lives afraid of what everyone else thinks, trying to follow a certain pattern we think we are expected to follow but didn’t draw ourselves.

that’s not how i want to live my life.

i’m not the “well that’s how it’s been so that’s how it is” type of guy.

tearing down the walls we’ve surrounded ourselves with means that we have to be ourselves all the time. that’s sorta scary isn’t it? i mean, that means we cannot hide behind someone else’s plan. it means we might clash with others and it means we have to be who we are meant to be. who we were designed to be.

we have to follow our own desires, our own interests and our own plans for our lives. we have to be willing to be different, even if people look at us funny. we have to be willing to say that is who we are, regardless of the response. that’s being vulnerable.

we have to own who we are. we shouldn’t let anyone else own us. who would we be then?

honesty.

i’m not sure where to start. not with this post, in life.

more like i don’t know where to re-start.

you probably know that in october 2013, my wife kelli and i moved to chicago and i sort of assumed that’s where i’d be right now. i assumed i’d be there for a long, long time. i didn’t assume we’d own a house in michigan a year later and be looking for paint colors and fixing stuff around the house and shoveling snow off the roof.

i wasn’t expecting to be here.

living in chicago was a dream of mine for over 20 years. i always knew one day i’d live that dream. i didn’t see leaving the city as being part of any plan really.

i guess life can take you by surprise when you aren’t expecting it.

and it’s been hard. real hard. i’ve never really experienced anything quite like what i’ve been experiencing the last few months.

it’s strange to feel homesick. before leaving chicago i’d never experienced this before. i’ve now experienced it every day since we moved. it’s that sick to your stomach, heartache, desperation type of homesick. in one year i became a chicago guy. sometimes people say “oh james is from chicago…” or “you’re from chicago right?”… i don’t object.

i’ve been silent on here the last couple of months because in life, we are conditioned to only speak about positive things. even if it isn’t true. i’ve struggled with this a ton. i’ve learned a lot about positivity and looking on the bright side of things. and i’ve learned a lot about being honest. even if it’s just with myself.

but let’s be real.

if i’m being honest with myself, i can say that in fact, i don’t really like not living in chicago. that’s simple enough and probably a surprise to very few.

i want to go back and live there again, for good this time. i miss the hustle and the noise, but not the traffic. i miss the connections and friends and the community we were a part of. i miss the way kelli and i began something new together there. i miss the bars and restaurants within walking distance and taking our puppy to the dog park. i even miss going to church in chicago at willow chicago, which is no small thing for me. i truly love that community.

the thing i thought would’ve been easy would be taking our life there and the changes we made and the experiences we had and implementing them here in grand rapids. i figured we’d just pick up where we left off and it would be no big deal.

it’s actually been a big deal. it’s been impossible.

it’s not that people here have changed, it’s that we have changed. kelli and i aren’t who we were when we moved to the city. we became better versions of ourselves, together and individually. basically, we grew up. we found our spot, no matter how hard it was. we forced ourselves to be more, to live and experience. we learned to go to different grocery stores besides meijer and family fare. kelli discovered trader joe’s. i fell for mariano’s. i’ve even switched allegiances to the bears. it’s okay lions fans, don’t worry about it.

living in grand rapids is not bad. it’s really not. i just don’t want to compare. we have good things here and there is plenty to look forward to. i am excited to spend the summer near the beach again. the beer in grand rapids is the best. we don’t have to get all geared up to take the puppy out for a walk three times a day, though we probably should. it’s good here.

it’s just that, it’s not everything i want. good is okay, but i want great.

and i feel selfish for wanting everything. i feel wrong for wanting great. but why?

by the time we moved, i was already starting to feel nauseous about it. riding in the u-haul with my father-in-law, we talked about how much i didn’t know if i really wanted to move from chicago. actually i knew i didn’t. i told him that. i told him that it seemed like a great idea and an awesome opportunity for kelli and i but now i didn’t think it was really what i wanted. my boss in chicago was even trying to give me my old job back, without me asking for it, and i wanted to take it back. it was too late. the house was already being prepped for us and our belongings were in a 24 foot truck.

we’ve been gone from chicago just over 4 months now and it’s been the toughest 4 months i’ve experienced in quite a long time. the thing about not being there is that it re-affirms for me that that is where i want to be. i wish that i had that affirmation before i decided it was a good idea to leave. in fact it probably was a good idea, for someone else.

i’ve learned a lot about honesty. i’ve learned it’s tough to convey. i’ve learned a lot about making decisions. i’ve learned that sometimes making decisions doesn’t always make you feel better. life changes don’t always feel good.

i’m trying to put together the pieces of my life here. i’m trying to understand what this all means for kelli and me. we are woven together so much that it’s not just decisions that affect each other, our thoughts do too. i’m trying to understand what the future holds, even though i spend much of my time trying to dictate it. i’ve learned to be honest with myself, even though it’s not just about me.

 growing up is not for the weak.

i’m here.

i can’t say i legitimately saw this coming.

we’re back living in grand rapids after a year in chicago. not only that, we bought a house. in grand rapids… the gilmores are staying in grand rapids for the foreseeable future.

this is where i’m supposed to say “never say never” or “you cannot predict the future” and any other applicable cliches and metaphors that fit here.

i didn’t really see myself as ever being a michigan resident again. like… ever again.  it’s not that i don’t love the state of michigan, i do. the summers here are beautiful right? and being able to use my hand as a map to point to where i live in the state is invaluable.

but there’s more to it than geography.

deciding life changes is never easy. we can sit and mull the opportunities and wonder and fear and doubt and get excited all day. and that’s what i did. one minute i’d think, “let’s do it, let’s go back home!” and the next i’d say… “nooooo, why do i want to do that?” moving is hard, switching jobs and leaving friends sucks sometimes. i’ll be honest. i didn’t enjoy that.

there is a comfort here in grand rapids, you can relax here.  chicago is the best city in the world, in my opinion. but comforting? relaxing? i’m not sure if those words fit. it did really feel like home though and i’ve felt “homesick” nearly every day for the last month since we left. when people ask me, “oh so, are you from chicago?” i am tempted to say, “yep!” and maybe i have a couple of times. i find myself saying “Go Bears!” more than “Go Lions” and i think i’m cool with that. i’m guessing a majority of my posts from here on out will have a chicago reference or two, i hope you are okay with that.

right now i’m sitting in my house thinking, wow i own a house. i am settling down a bit! this is no small task for someone like me. settling down, establishing roots and general commitment to  anything is not something that comes natural to me. i’m naturally more of a nomad to be honest. i could roam the earth and be cool with it. i could blame this on a lot of things, but i won’t in this space. that’s a separate entry on it’s own. but this time i’m tackling my commitment issues head on and i’m proud of myself for doing so.

i guess go big or go home… or just buy a home in this case i suppose.

but grand rapids really is home. and it’s a pretty damn good city. it really is.  i don’t think i’ve ever really admitted that. i’ve always looked every other direction for a home, for a comfort and a place to set roots. it’s still difficult for me to say this is it forever… because as soon as i say that the plans may change. but it is good to be here. i’m not sure the structure of this home is what establishes my roots here as much as the dozens of legal documents with my signature stating this is my primary residence does. plus i love this house, it’s pretty cool to say “this is mine, like really mine!”

i’m here, in more ways than one.

what are we here for?

this past sunday night was an unseasonably warm evening in grand rapids and my wife and i decided to take advantage of it. i mean, it’s december and it’s michigan so if you aren’t taking advantage of near sixty degree weather on a weekend, well… that’s between you and God i guess.

anyway, after enjoying some great pizza (the two of us basically ate the whole thing in one sitting) from this little pizza shop around the corner, we started our short walk back to our home in heritage hill. as a backdrop, you have to understand this neighborhood in grand rapids. like most cities, if you go a mile or two in any direction, the demographics can change mightily. where we live, as the name heritage hill suggests, are a lot of historic homes from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. this region of the city is home to any of the following: homeless people, hippies, “scene kids” (or better… kids who don’t like to shower, “shotgun” cases of pbr at parties where everyone is wearing tight black skinny jeans or plaid shirts that literally haven’t been washed since 1984), businessmen and women and a whole lot of college students.

so now you have a little visual of the setting.

as we walked, a man shouted towards us… “hey guys wait, wait guys!” repeatedly. he was holding up something that turned out to be his wallet but in the darkness of the evening it was hard to tell. my wife and i were both a little unsure of the situation so we continued walking while turning back to see what the man wanted. He told us “i have my id i can show you! here is my id! here is my id!”  trying to prove that he was legitimate. obviously in my skeptical brain, i knew i didn’t want anything to do with the man and told him that i had nothing for him. after i had repeated that i did have any money to give him, which he said he needed for food, he slumped a bit and turned back around and wandered off.

we kept walking and discussed what happened and once we turned the corner, we had changed topics and went on with our evening… except that the encounter stayed with me the rest of the night.

i couldn’t help but wonder what i could have given him. we all have had this type of conversation with someone. probably many times.

what do you do in this situation? what is the proper protocol? are we supposed to do what i did, which was nothing? should i have given him our last slice of pizza and called it good so i could feel good that i was feeding the people on the streets?

i guess i was struck by the thought that even if i had given the man money or food or literally the shirt off my back, it wouldn’t have been good enough. i mean, what are we really looking for in life? sure, there are the physical things: food, water(beer) and staying warm. but is it that we really want? i couldn’t help but think, “i should have just talked to him like a human being, asked him his story.” i’m sure he has a story. we all do. i’m guessing that he would have thought that i was weird at first, but why? probably because most people don’t take the time to ask about him. you know how it is, when you ask someone “how are you?”, you don’t truly want to know how they are. in fact, i bet most people would roll their eyes and keep looking at the time on their phone or take a fake phone call to get out of the “conversation” if the person actually started telling them just how they were.

my overall thought came down to this, what do we really value in life? do we look out for others? do we put the onus on the homeless (“go out and get a job!”, “do something for yourself”, “have some self-respect!”)?  what are we really here for?

it can be easy to make a pledge to feed the hungry, give those who are thirsty something to drink and find them somewhere to stay when it is cold outside. but is that enough? i don’t ask this as a challenge. i’m asking this because i’m not good in this situation. i want to run the other direction most times. i just know that that is not the answer. i just am pretty certain that just going about doing good deeds so that i can pat myself on the back won’t make me care about anyone any more than me turning my back and walking the opposite direction. if all i am concerned about is making sure i feel like i have personally accomplished something for someone else, have i really done anything at all? is that all we are here for?