January 9th, 2018

The jagged edges of me
Clash up against fluidity;
Unrelenting shattering.
Shards of ice caught
Between land and sea
Where lines blur to reveal
Snow blankets everything.
Only the tall stand above
The war of attrition
Between the changing tides
And the bedrock beneath.

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January 7th, 2018

Virgin snow collapses under a heavy foot
Like sand washed away from a steep embankment
By waves impatient of passing time.
Footprints dug deep below the surface
Only to be covered by the next snowfall;
Man lacks permanence in a place such as this.

Translucent diamonds fall from the soft blue sky
Sharp and glinting in sunlight
That offers no warmth or respite from biting winds.
Tree limbs grow heavy with new white robes
Bowing before the might of Winter
With sideways eyes on far away Spring.

He pulls his feet from the earth
Only to plunge them instantly back into the deep;
An endless repetition of slow but sure
Forward progress that breaks the line
Between man’s land and Nature’s untouched garden.
The trail he treads marks a boundary line
Many have approached, but few have overcome.

A chill runs down his spine leaving his hair
Standing at attention without reason;
Caught between Winter’s grip and something
More primal that calls to the heart
Dragging the modern into the primitive mind of fear.
How small we become when we realize
The world is not ours to inhabit –at least not ours alone.

The twig snaps like a leg caught in a hunter’s trap,
He halts and listens with attentive ears.
The sound of Winter’s silence echoes loudly
Even a breath would disturb the crisp air
Cracking it like thin ice with the slightest exhale –
Dead silence reigns here, disrupted
Only by the sound of softly falling snow.

He turns again to continue down the path he chose
Only to again feel the haunting of the unknown
Creeping up behind him, wearing the silence like a cloak
Shrouded in mystifying white and revealed only by instinct
Felt acutely by the hunted when they have been marked as prey.
He knows he is followed by the ghost of something
But cannot name the adversary walking in his shadow.

A flash of red jumps out of the colorless scenery
Existing only on the periphery of sight
As the blurry edged undefined and unrelenting embodiment
Of all that leaves man powerless and afraid.
A phantom dancing just beyond what the eye can see
But the mind remembers as a timeless enemy.

As the man turns once more to seek out the sound stalking him
He is faced with the nothingness of a barren landscape
And his own footprints marring the pristine face of the wilderness;
Except now the first evidence of pursuit is present:
Laid atop his tracks stood the careful footprints of another,
But no sign of the creature that left them behind.

Whirling around to face forward once more
Hoping to escape the encroaching presence
Only to be confronted with the intense yellow eyes of his pursuer.
Standing in the path before him, a red tailed fox –
Royal coat, piercing eyes, black tipped ears keenly listening
Blocked the man’s path with the towering presence
Of a primal Queen who’s dominion has been challenged.

Frozen in place by the sudden appearance of this image of majesty,
Man stands facing the wild
Not knowing whether to continue his journey or turn away.
The fox tilts its head from side to side with curiosity,
Listening to the sound of one who once belong here
But was lost to another world long ago.
Not knowing whether he be friend or foe
She takes a cautious step forward.

She walks atop the snow, gliding gracefully forward
Her movements sound like the swaying of the trees.
The man slowly reaches out his ungloved hand toward the red spirit
She hesitates, paw hanging midair, head tilting to listen
Hearing his heart as it beats thunderously in his chest.
So close, the man stretches farther locked in her lightning eyes
When just as suddenly as she appeared, into the periphery she vanishes.

Left with hand outstretched, slowly filling with snowflakes
Gently kissing his open palm regretfully
The man is left haunted by the red ghost that almost felt real
If only he could have touched it and held it close
For a moment longer than Eternity.
Instead, the silence of winter surrounds him once more
And the Elysium he glimpsed returns to the realm of myth.

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January 5th, 2018

My heart aches today. I do not know how to put this pain into words, but I will try because there is so much that needs to be said. Death darkened the doorway of a family too young for devastation and took a wonderful man who had only begun living. Jacob Dinoto was my friend, the husband of my best friend, and the father of two incredible daughters I am proud to call my nieces. One year ago today he passed away suddenly and tragically, survived by his wife Mackenzie and his two young girls, one of whom was yet to be born.

In many ways, I fail to find the correct words to describe this feeling because the pain is not my own. I cannot lay claim to this grief even though it tears at my heart and wearies my soul. I know how dreadfully Jacob’s family misses him and the grief of struggling to understand his premature death burdens both his family back in Connecticut and his new family in California. The death of a person so young cannot be justified, especially when they have so much life left to live. But I cannot speak for his family, I cannot speak for Mackenzie or her children, I can only share my memories of Jacob in the hopes that my own struggle to comprehend the incomprehensible may help others facing the same uphill battle. My words cannot be sufficient to encapsulate the pain of Jacob’s death, but I hope they can bring back a piece of the light that Jacob shared with everyone he encountered in life.

When I first met Jacob, honestly, he frightened me. He was dating my best friend who meant the world to me and I would do anything to protect. I did not know him, he was from an entirely different world than mine (or so I thought), he was blunt, intense, and unknown to me. I worried for my dear friend who felt like the closest thing to an angel this world has ever seen, but only because I didn’t realize then what I know now: Jacob was a breathe of light just like her but encased in a different coating.

After I got to know Jacob I realized the truth, that he was an intense man, but only because he loved so fiercely. He loved Mackenzie with an intensity that inspired me. Not only that, but he loved everyone who came into his life with a strength unparalleled. Both he and Mackenzie taught me how to be a good friend by providing a perfect model to follow. Their kindness, generosity, honesty, and genuine passion for the people around them inspired me then and will always motivate me to try to love others with the same ferocity they showed me.

If I can do one thing as an honorary auntie to Jacob’s children, I hope that it is to show his girls the same love both he and Mackenzie showed me.

I want them to know how hilarious and genuine he was in everything he did. Like when he dressed up fancy just to go to different bakeries in San Francisco on the hottest day in the city’s records. Or how we would stay up late into the night discussing conspiracy theories and laughing the night away over games of Scrabble. 

The last time I saw Jacob was his wedding party just short of a week before he passed away. We all had so much fun that night celebrating Jacob and Mackenzie’s love, their future, and their children’s future. Even after the party was over, we spent the night laughing and singing Queen on the karaoke machine. We had so many plans, so many conversations about adventures soon to be had, places we had to visit, and things we were going to do together that would never happen.

The night he died I heard the news while I was sitting in a bar in Berkeley, just a few doors down from where we had once shared drinks. I took the train home like a zombie with tears streaking down my face. I didn’t care who saw me, I don’t even remember walking home from the train station, all I could think of was how could this possibly be?

I sat in my car and cried so hard I got sick. I beat my hands against the steering wheel and the ceiling screaming at how unfair, how impossibly unfair this was to him, to his family, to his wife, his children, and all of the people he would never get to meet. I have never been so angry before in my life than the night I learned Jacob was no longer a part of this world. I was angry at him, at God, at Death for daring to take him, and at everyone else in the world, including myself, for getting to live when someone as desperately in need of living as Jacob, was robbed of his life at only twenty four years old.

I am still mad. I sometimes sit in my car looking at the dents in the steering wheel where my nails cut into it and feel that grief rising up in my throat like bile. Now, however, the anger never lingers long. Because after all of the sadness and the pain, I remember his two little girls. I remember how much he gets to live in them.

When baby Rosemary was born I spent the night with Mackenzie in the hospital and held Rosie all night long. Late that night when Mackenzie was asleep, and it was just me and Rosie awake under the soft light of a hospital TV, I spoke to Jacob. I told him how much Rosie looked like him, especially when she furrowed her eyebrows just like he always did. I told him how his children would always know what an amazing man he was. I told him how much it hurt me that it was me there at the hospital holding his daughter instead of him. I told him how grateful I was that he came into our lives even though he left us too early and how grateful I was that he was able to have two wonderful daughters who would carry a piece of him everywhere they went.

The fact that Jacob never got to meet Rosie breaks my heart beyond what words can express. But I am so grateful to have both her and Bella in my life. Without Jacob, I never would have been so blessed by his amazing children.

This last year has been so incredibly hard, but in so many ways, Mackenzie and Jacob and their children have been the only thing that got me through some of my darkest times. The joy they bring me is ineffable and the love they have taught me will always be in my heart.

Even though it has been a year since Jacob’s death, I feel like I get to see him every day in some small way whenever I get to see his kids. The pain may never fade and my heart breaks for Mackenzie and all of those he left behind, but I am just so incredibly grateful to have ever met him.

I miss you every day my friend, thank you for the gift of your presence, and I hope to show your girls just a little bit of the love I know you would have given them.

If you are interested in donating money to help Mackenzie and her two young children live life after the loss of Jacob feel free to contribute to the GoFundMe page dedicated in his memory: In Memory of Jacob DiNoto

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January 3rd, 2018

Be careful where you tread
Small life grows here.
Fragile yet persistent
Chances of success
Wax and wane constantly.
Look closely
Don’t miss the tiny opportunity
To witness something
Greater than yourself.
A tree can grow
With roots born from stone.

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January 2nd, 2018

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
– John Muir

Fewer words ring truer in my mind than John Muir’s transcendental musings on nature, the wilderness of this world, and the triad connection between man, the outdoors, and the universe.

For me, Winter arrives with a contemplation as a companion every year. There is something about snow, the coldness of winter, and the stripping down of life to its raw bones that always leaves me in awe. In many ways I am gladly forced into this state of introspection during this time of year; it is during these times that Muir returns to me again and again as I confront the devastating beauty of the natural world.

Places like this tree tunnel in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near Houghton humble me to my core. Standing beneath the tall pines and snow covered trees listening to their moaning cracks as they sway in the breeze, I feel so small yet emboldened by the proximity to such grandiosity. The creaking song of wind blown trees is the only sound I can hear for miles. Silence reigns supreme when the world is held in Winter’s grasp. The power of this silence is both terrifying and awesome to experience; Muir himself described it as “awful and sublime” to behold.

If you lean in close and rest your ear against the wood grain of the trees the only sounds you hear are the winter winds and an almost inaudible rustling like the sound of exhaled breath coming from every living thing. Like a whisper too soft to fully understand you find yourself leaning closer and closer, desperate to capture its meaning; a whisper that would say

We are the sound of life unwilling to succumb to the conditions of this world. Strip us barren, take our beauty, and leave us barely alive, but still we keep on living for the broken are those that shall never die. 

Listen to the trees, they hold valuable lessons even when they do not bear leaves. Muir was right in so many ways, and especially in his observation that forests provide the fastest gateway to the universe and all of its mysteries. These trees existed long before me and will continue their stationary existence long after I am gone. You can gain no greater perspective in life than that which you can find suspended in the canopies of trees.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door
leading to a new way of life.” 
– John Muir

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January 1st, 2018

Ever since I can remember I have been coming to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit our family compound on the shores of a lake fed by Lake Superior. I never went to summer camp or a sports camp as a child, instead I gathered alongside my numerous cousins, aunts and uncles, and under the amused gaze of my grandparents to run amuck in the forests and swim in the Great Lakes. The sun never seemed to fade on those long summer nights.The memories and experiences I had during those endless summers forever altered who I was and who I would become in ways so numerous that this blog post could never even begin to contain all of them. The shores of Lake Superior will always be my second home, but standing where I have stood many times before on the Sandstone cliffs of Jacobsville as the light from the first day of 2018 fades into shades of soft pink, I realize just how unfamiliar and new familiar places can become.

The emerald shades of Lake Superior have dulled under the snow filled skies and mist rises from the surface of the gently rolling waves like warm breath on a cold winter day. This place feels alive in a way that I have never experienced before this moment. The thin layer of ice forming across the lake is marked by violent fissures where dark water breaks through the pristine whiteness of snow. The segments of ice rise and fall with the water’s movement and I swear I can see and hear the lake breathing steadily as the shards of ice gather and separate like shattered glass.

How many times have my feet stood on the red sands I can barely see beneath the ice? How many rocks sit at the bottom of the lake just out of sight from skipping rock competitions between me and my cousins? How can this possibly be the same place that once felt as familiar as the laughter lines on my face? It baffles me how quickly the old becomes the new when you are willing to inflict change on all that feels normal.

The first day of the new year is almost over and I see just how desperately I need to pull myself from routine and alter the way I see everything that once seemed repetitive to me. There is always something new to discover even in places you have already been. I want to treat all things as if they were new and beautiful because when you wake up each morning with eyes renewed, truly, the world holds surprises you wouldn’t begin to believe.

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December 31st, 2017

Honestly, I do not know how to begin again. This space was my home for so many years when my words could find no ears to fall upon with quiet urgency. For those who have joined me on my journey either part way or all the way back eight years ago from the very beginning, and for those who are starting today, know this: the last two years my words have been nonexistent. I could name a thousand reasons that left me hesitating with my fingers hovering above a dusty keyboard, but none are sufficient to strip the guilt away from my heart. Writing has always been the life-blood of my being and to halt the progress of pen on paper is to bring my heartbeat to a startling stand still. However, that isn’t even true. It was more gradual than that, there was no jarring day where the words stopped coming, it was a slow, drawn out decay of all that made me, me.

The words never stopped coming, they were always there and still remain within me petrifying on the tip of my tongue and on the edges of mymind. Ossified and neglected, I chose to let my words transform into fossils instead of living breathing beings. I put down the pen and stepped away from the computer screen in pursuit of other things. I am not proud of my choices that drove a wedge between my purpose and empty shiny things. I felt I owed you this honesty, this courtesy of explaining to you why I walked away before anything could become of me. I suppose it was out of fear, fear that my words were not good enough to be consumed by another’s mind and transformed into something entirely new. Or perhaps it was just my attempt to escape what I felt was a fate cemented in time and progressed without me whether I ceased to act or not. Scared of change, I halted everything in the hope that I could also stop the world from spinning along with me. Futility does not even begin to describe the time I spent refusing to write, it was simply nothing. I did nothing, lived nothing, felt nothing, and hoped for nothing.

Nothing is a strange companion and for a time it seemed to suit me just fine, but soon nothing became everything. Everything was all hope, all fear, all anxiety, all sadness, and all paralyzing. Frozen in everything yetliving in nothing.

On the eve of a New Year, I decided to begin chipping away at the fossil of my being and slowly stretch the atrophied muscles of my writer’s mind. I wanted to begin here, with the truth so we could move into something new together without questions to fog our path. I will tell you briefly what became of me with the hopes of elaborating more in writing yet to come in the new year.

These last two years have been the most difficult years of my life thus far. After I returned from my half-year road trip across the country by myself the transition from nomadic wayfarer to stable breadwinner was painfully slow and full of yearning for the open stretches of road and the feeling of standing on the edge of a world that was mine to own. When I finally landed an impressive job at an up-and-coming tech company, got the apartment I always dreamed of with one of my best friends, and moved to San Francisco to live out the life I felt was the epitome of my dreams, it quickly collapsed into an unrecognizable nightmare.

I had two weeks of this perfect life. Two weeks until the world came crashing down around me. To make a long story short, after a sudden and drastic change in my health I was left weak, confused, scared, and without a name for a mysterious illness that plagued me. I spent six long months running from doctor to doctor, test to test, and hospital to hospital trying to find out what was wrong with me until I was tentatively diagnosed with a rare Neurological disorder called Mal de Débarquement Syndrome (MdDS).

By the end of 2016 and partway through 2017 I had lost my fancy job, had to leave my beautiful apartment, and had to move away from the city I had come to love. Most devastating of all, I lost what it felt like to benormal. Severe illness has a way of stripping away everything that is not essential to living. Life is no longer about thriving, it is about surviving. My life became one long series of days spent struggling to get by. In all of this darkness though, my fight to survive illuminated in me the most essential parts of my being. I realized how important writing truly was to me despite having neglected the creative parts of me for so long. I could feel the words pushing up against my sealed lips and the jittering feeling in my finger tips of a story begging to be born. But I found I no longer knew how.

Time does not heal all wounds, but it does normalize the pain of even the most devastating injuries. This last year has been my gradual realization and reclamation of the most important parts of me. I am slowly adjusting to life with my illness and reacquainting myself with the petrified words lodged in my mind. If 2017 was the year of painful loss and slow recovery, then I hope that 2018 is the year of new beginnings for old passions. My resolution for this upcoming year is to undergo my own personal Renaissance. The New Year will be a space not for a new me, but the rebirth of who I was. Will you join me?

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October 30th, 2017

I know I have been gone for so long now
And I was gone long before you noticed my absence;
Long before the words stopped appearing on the page
Life took me in and swallowed me whole.
Before I realized that the dream was really
A monster waiting with epic patience
And a growling gut with my name written
On the insides of its being, etched into its bones.
It was born for me and I for it.

I thought this my beautiful escape but was disappointed to see
Avoidance is a trap with a honey tongue but maggots for eyes.
I tried so hard to be something that I am not
But lost all that was beautiful in me along the way.
You cannot strip back the rotting flesh of apathy
Without carving into yourself a permanent well
Filled to the brim with blood that becomes a scar on your being.

Who I was will always be who I am
No matter how far I run or how often I raise my eyes to the sky
I replaced my chains with rosary beads binding me to a book
That weighed me down like an anchor at the bottom of the sea
My pursuit always just out of reach
Finger tips grazing the surface, trying to catch sunbeams
But I only find the bubbles of my evaporating breath.

I have been gone for so long now
I am no fool. I know I can never go back to where I was
But I will do my best to pick up the pieces
To build something new from the wreckage of myself.
I was a shipwreck cracked in half out at sea
The broken parts of me lost somewhere becoming a coral reef,
Let my bones be the home of some new creature.
I cannot wait to meet this thing born from the ashes of me.

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November 12th, 2015

My final full day in Chicago was a blur of car horns, books, helicopter noise, cracks in the pavement, and good food. I dedicated my day to simply walking everywhere in the city. The only way to know the heart of a city is to walk the streets that pulse with people like the lifeblood pumping through the veins of this vast entity. Before putting my feet to the pavement and letting the sole of my shoes meld with the soul of this city I visited a place that brings my heart great joy, a library. The day was long and the journey longer to get to the center of the city.

I woke up early in the morning to grab the train only to learn that they were not running at the moment. Helicopters swooped over the train line towards the cityscape of towering skyscrapers. Apparently a man tried to end his life by throwing himself in front of the train. It was horrible to hear and I felt the sadness drift upon me as I realized that when I did not know the reason for the delay, found myself angry about the traffic and the non-functioning train. For a moment I had felt that this man’s death, his misery, his trapped and hurting heart and mind where simply an obstacle to my forward movement. That is a horrible thing to think but I hadn’t even realized I had felt it; when I realized my own unconscious thinking it felt like a punch to the gut. A man’s death, his suffering, to a stranger trying to get to work or a tourist trying to tour the city only felt the delay of his actions, not the truth or pain behind them. It was a hard morning and I hope his family has some peace in this. I had lost sight, in my mania of exploration, of the people around me as real people. I felt like I had woken up when I heard over the cab radio what had happened. This road trip in many ways is a very selfish endeavor, it is for me and me alone, maybe to be enjoyed by others in the stories to come, but as a result I had forgotten to actually look into the eyes of the people around me as real humans with personal agendas and personal pains. It was a contemplative morning for me to say the least and I walked away hoping to never forget to value each person on the street as someone who deeply mattered in their own special way.

I took a cab to the Newberry (the rare books and archive library I planned on visiting) instead of the train but was further waylaid when my cab got hit by another cab. The accident wasn’t bad, the two cars simply slid alongside each other and took off the side view mirror with a loud bang. I sat with wide eyes in the back of the cab as my driver got out and started to yell at the other driver. It was a very strange incident, I was just happy to get out of the car and rely on my own two feet for the rest of the day.

The Newberry was impressive and I felt pretty special getting my visiting scholar badge and my own little personal desk where they spread out the books I had requested in little pillow displays. I spent the majority of the morning pouring over old Milton books and William Blake paintings. It was enough to make my little english major heart implode.

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I emerged from the library with a mind full of poetry and paintings onto the urban streets of Chicago, ready to get lost in between the towering buildings.

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After getting some coffee at Bowtruss, I wandered all over the place but the riverwalk was definitely my favorite. The different bridges and the sun reflecting off of the glass buildings like the scales of some enormous fish onto the grey streets below. The noise of this city is somewhat overwhelming, yet beautiful. The clinking of change in a cup, the thudding of tires on the slates of the bridges, the horns of passing tour boats, and the chittering of people all around me. Chicago truly is a beautiful city, there is so much for the eyes to feast upon everywhere you look. Everything vibrates with energetic life.

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I took a break at Do-Rite Donuts where I got a delicious maple bacon donut. It blew my mind. I had never had a donut like this before and I sat down by the river to enjoy the view and the food.

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I also had to see the iconic sights like Cloud Gate or as it is commonly called The Bean.

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My obligatory Bean selfie.

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After my touristy stops, I wandered back down the Magnificent Mile or Michigan Ave shopping streets where I stumbled upon a food truck. Right in from of the NBC building was this bright yellow truck with a long line. Long lines usually equal good food so I decided it must be worth while. It was Pierogi Streets, a pierogi food truck serving up tasty dumplings with some amazing toppings. The food was unbelievable; I had braised beef and spinach/feta pierogis topped with spicy grilled onions, sauerkraut, and bacon. It was heavenly.

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It was a great day of wandering, but by the end my feet were tired and the sun had set on the city. The shadows cast by the tall buildings created a canopy of darkness only broken apart of slivers of light high above. In this artificial shade I left the city behind to go pack my belongings for the road ahead.

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I left Chicago that next afternoon after a morning at the Ferrara Bakery, a visit to my aunt’s studio, and a fantastic final lunch at the Art Institute.

I am so grateful for my family that has helped me along the way, none of this would be possible without them. My lovely aunt and uncle and my beautiful cousin were so kind to me. Their welcoming love, even after so long since my last visit with them, made me feel like I was home despite being far from it. I love that I get to see so much of my family, but it is so hard constantly leaving everyone behind after just finally getting to see them after so long. I have never said goodbye so many times before in such a short period of time. Every person I see along the way makes it harder to say goodbye the next time; I am more reluctant to leave yet also more excited for what comes next. This trip is one of the most challenging things I have ever done but also one of the most rewarding. I will carry these memories and these special moments with me forever, even when I have returned home to California. But after Chicago I headed even farther East. I drove that day from Chicago to Pittsburgh across Indiana and Ohio. It felt inconceivable to be moving farther away from the world I knew and loved, but the East Coast was on my mind and I meant to reach it as soon as possible. The other end of the country was within reach and with it the goal of my solo road trip was within sight.

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November 3rd, 2015

On the hunt for a new home, seeking graduate school with great coffee, better books, astounding architecture and a cohort of inspiring academics. I am touring graduate schools across the nation while I drive, and had to stop at Northwestern in Evanston, IL. So I took a whole day off by myself to drive up there and tour around the campus. But first, I grabbed coffee at Caffe Streets on Division to prepare myself for the adventure to come. Honestly, it has been really hard on me visiting graduate schools when my heart still belongs in Berkeley. I miss my academic home dearly and all of my friends who are still there. Nothing makes the sting of nostalgia more painful than the constant reminder of what you left behind by where you are going next. Trying to find a new home when I don’t want to give up the last is a brutal conditioning towards the constant change of my future. Despite my deep desire for everything to remain exactly the same, the world is shifting underneath my feet and I can either get off the crumbling rock or let my fear paralyze me.

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The cup of coffee and an hour spent in contemplation of strangers walking down the street brought me back to reality: I had things to accomplish and places to see. I did make one more pit stop at an amazing bakery with zombie head cakes in the window before I left though. These mind-blowingly realistic cakes were courtesy of Alliance Bakery. I grabbed some breakfast and hit the road; this coastal drive was far different from the ones I was used to in California. Normally the ocean is my coastal companion, but this time Lake Michigan lined the road I drove on towards Evanston.

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I toured the entire campus for several hours making some especially long stops at the English Department in University Hall and the main libraries, Deering and University Libraries.

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The views all around campus where beautiful and very nicely accented by the fall leaves and the emerald hues of Lake Michigan. The gardens and greenery all around the campus were stunningly beautiful and the entire trip was exceedingly pleasant all around. I thoroughly enjoyed the school and everything the campus had to offer.

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After walking the entire campus I finally (and begrudgingly) left Northwestern. However, when I got back to Chicago I visited another fantastic coffee shop in Pilsen called Cafe Jumping Bean, which served as the perfect end to a long day.

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