Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tales From the Zoo

And by "zoo," I mean the Wicker Park condo in which I'm currently staying to cat-, dog-, and house-sit through Thursday.

Who knew that three animals could be so much to handle? Admittedly, I've always been a cat person, and shied away from dogs, especially the big ones. But the dog, Lucky, is small. And cats, even if there are two of them, are easy to handle, if only because they love to sleep, right??

The cats, Zack and Chloe, are brother and sister, but Lucky, a black cockapoo, might as well be related to them too. Not only do they have the same shade of black fur, they also play (and fight) with one another.

I pointed a red laser at the ground and Lucky went crazy, scrambling across the wood floor or the stretch of carpet, trying to "catch" the light. The cats sat at the room's edge, and only darted for the laser pointer if it came close to them. But, watch out, if the cats got in the way, Lucky head-butted them. The cats didn't just sit there and take it either -- they swiped at Lucky with their paws. See? Siblings.

So, yes, the animals can be fun, and, yeah, they can be energetic (especially with Lucky running up and down, up and down, the length of the condo)--but I'm definitely learning what my limit is for animal antics.

Tyler and I felt bad for keeping Lucky in his kennel all day while we're at work, so we let him sleep on the guest-bedroom bed, where before he went to sleep, he kicked around, pushing his paws into my sides, and licking my face.

The cats are no better on the bed, either. On Sunday night, I crawled into bed, started pulling the covers over me, when something furry scurried up against my leg and popped out from under the covers -- a cat. I nearly screamed.

Other patience-testing moments in the zoo:
Lucky growled at a plate of food. (okay, I know, I know, dogs do this. They like human food. But, seriously, what about growling at a plate that is sitting on the table, that no longer has any food? Is that normal, really?)

Lucky followed me around the condo, wherever I went, including the bathroom, where he whined at the door when I wouldn't let him in.

Tyler and I heard what sounded like the twinkling of ice cubes hitting the sides of a cup. Sure enough -- the cat was drinking out of one of our waterglasses.

Lucky pulled off the tree's ornaments, shattering one of them.

At 6:30 am, Tyler takes the dog for a quick walk. Once Lucky is back, he jumps on me, still lying in bed and trying to sleep, with his paws soaking wet from last night's rain or snow, depending on the day.

The time of 6:30 am also signaled when the cats start howling -- note, not meowing -- and wailing for food. And, as I scoop out their food, they sniffed my hair and tried pawing at my head.

But all three of the animals, the pets, the kids -- at least once a night -- all stared at the door to David and Brodie's (the owner's) bedroom, which is firmly shut, so that Lucky doesn't go hunting for things to chew on.

Maybe they just miss their owners, David and Brodie. Maybe they think they can get away with more, knowing we're not their "parents."

Maybe I'm just not used to having pets around, and maybe I just miss being in my own place.

Yesterday, Tyler commented that he couldn't tell I didn't like dogs, considering how often I played with Lucky. I was tossing toys high up in the air, so I could see how high Lucky could jump (seriously, he gets higher than my head. I know I'm short, but I'm not that short!) And outside on our walks around the block, I kicked snow at Lucky, which he jumped and pawed at over and over again. So, okay, I admit, a dog entertains me, so maybe I'm not just a cat person after all.

But, one thing is for sure, these three pets -- Lucky, Chloe, and Zack -- are all it takes to make a house into a zoo.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Facebook... writing exercise?

Lately, Liz thinks about herself in third person -- and she blames Facebook for always asking: 'what are you doing right now?' And then demanding she answers using her name, rather than "I."

Liz admits this tendency has grown quite annoying. She doesn't like to think of herself as someone separate, someone other than, well, who she is.

Then again, thinking about herself in third person allows her to see herself from a different angle, especially now that Liz doesn't always have to be "Liz is..." according to Facebook. She can think of herself in relation to any verb!

Liz thinks...
Liz hates when...
Liz just ate...

Liz loves...
Liz survives Mondays by...
(Or even) Liz:

And then what Liz shares about herself to the Facebook world, well, that says a lot about her too.

How, you ask, can this be a "Facebook writing exercise"?

Even if your latest short story is written in first-person, try writing about your latest short-story character in third person, in a string of one-sentences that each describe an aspect of the character, including what they think, feel, hate, love, care about, miss, wish, etc. Also consider what they would admit on the world wide web -- and what they'd be less inclined to share.

Liz thanks Facebook for this writing exercise.
Liz also realizes that she's become way too addicted to the social networking site.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Movie Review: Milk

Harvey Milk was 48-years-old when he became the first openly gay man elected to public office, and one of Milk’s largest battles centered on the fight in 1978 against California’s Proposition 6, which—if passed—would effectively fire homosexuals who taught in public schools. Sound somewhat familiar to the recent Proposition 8? So, why didn’t the movie producers release “Milk” before Election Day in order to influence voters, to show what Harvey and his friends fought for, to show how the passage of Proposition 8 is a step back in the gay rights movement that Harvey Milk fought so hard, and even died, for?

For one, producers were worried that the movie wouldn’t have a shelf life after Election Day, that’d it be seen as just a propaganda piece and nothing more.

The movie does, at times, teeter on the fine line between propaganda and a biopic of the life of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn). But in the end, the movie is the inspiring story of Harvey Milk’s final, influential years, and how he struggled against not only evangelical Christians, like Anita Bryant who vocally dismissed homosexuals as ‘un-natural’, but also gays already in the gay political community who tried to quietly push a human rights agenda forward, rather than begin a gay rights movement.

Director Gus Van Sant spliced real footage from the ‘70s—such as notable speeches from Bryant—seamlessly with the rest of the movie’s grainy footage, creating a home-video feel, as if to say, ‘This is real life, people.’

The effect works, but the beginning speeds through Milk’s decision to run for political office, not just once, but four times, making it difficult to understand why Milk’s long-time boyfriend, Scott Smith (James Franco), has trouble with Milk’s sudden political convictions. After all, the movie is keen to point out that Harvey was forty when he finally decided to ‘do something’ with his life—so what did influence him to finally run for office? Was it all about gay rights?

History suggests it was more about Milk’s frustrations with the political machine as a whole, about how little, and how slowly, things change. That isn’t totally clear in the movie and that’s most likely purposeful.

After all, the focus of the movie is clearly Harvey’s dedication to starting a gay right’s movement, encouraging his friends to come out of the closet to their friends and family—because how can friends and family discriminate against homosexuals and believe them to be unintelligent, un-natural people, if they realize they have friends and family members that they love who are gay? That’s, at least, what Milk’s argument is.

The movie briefly touches on the other issues Harvey cares about and fights for, but the message is clear: Milk is dedicated to the gay rights movement above all else, even if it means putting his life at risk. And this is where the movie excels.

As a supervisor in San Francisco, we see Harvey’s struggles as he forms—and then breaks—alliances, most notably with supervisor Dan White. We are given a glimpse (albeit, a very brief one) about why the gay rights movement is so important to Milk—three of his past four boyfriends committed suicide, unwilling to live in such an un-accepting world.

Milk begins to change the world by starting with San Francisco, by starting with individuals, by showing people that homosexuals are people too, and, in fact, they’re someone’s brother, sister, friend, cousin, mother, father, etc.

So, why was the movie released today, the day before Thanksgiving, and not before Election Day?

Tomorrow, November 27th, is the 30th anniversary of his death. The movie is a reminder of what Harvey Milk’s life stood for, and what we still need to fight against, namely Proposition 8 but also intolerance in general—and that’s how this movie will have plenty of shelf life for many years to come.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Christmastime in the City

When I was a kid, every year my family would travel to the city just before Christmas to see the lights, to ooh and aah over Santa's Workshop in Carson's windows, to discover what story the Marshall Field's windows held.

At Marshall Field's, we always had to start at the beginning of the "story," no matter if it was a story that we'd heard (or seen) many times before, like The Nutcracker. My younger sisters and I would squeeze through the throngs of people, attempting to get to the front to admire Clara twirl, or the MouseKing dance.

Now, years later, Carson's is gone. And Marshall Field's is now a Macy's. I've grown up, and I've moved to the city. Macy's on State Street is now part of my "neighborhood," and I pass it every day on my way to work with little thought about how some of my favorite Christmastime memories were on those very sidewalks. Granted, it didn't help that for the past few weeks the Macy's windows have been covered, with these words impressed onto the glass: "Pardon our appearance. A little magic is in store."

But, today, as I passed by the store, on the corner of Randolph and State, Christmas music filled the air, emanating from the new window displays, full of red clothed mannequins and toys that, of course, Macy's is selling. I inwardly groaned. I know there is still well over a month until Christmas, that the Nutcracker, or some other story, may eventually fill the windows - but it's not the same, and not just because it's no longer Marshall Field's.

I continued on, scurrying to work, until I got to Daly Plaza, where I typically cut through to save myself just a few steps. But, over the weekend, the plaza had been shut off--and a Christmas-time transformation has begun. White tents have been raised. Small stores, made out of wood, have been built. And, my favorite part of all, the large Christmas tree is being assembled. As a kid visiting this Christkindlmarket, and even just last year, I knew that there was no way this enormous tree was one single tree, but I had no clue how it came to be--until today.

They started with one very tall pole, surrounded by a few steel rings that narrow in size the higher up the tree they go. The workers attach the first tree to the top of the pole using a crane. Now, they are working their way down, filling the tree in from the middle and then expanding it outward. They haven't gotten far yet, but it's only to be expected that a 75 foot tree (or thereabouts) would take a while to create. But in a few days, the tree will be put together and strung with lights. The stores will be filled with German-American wares and food--and no matter what happens in the windows of Macy's, at least I know there'll still be plenty of Christmas-time magic in the city air.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Ethics of People Watching

One of the reasons I love the city of Chicago is the variety of people I see everyday. And I admit: I'm an avid people-watcher. I'm not talking about checking out hot guys. I'm talking about noticing people move through their days - usually oblivious to the fact that I'm noticing them.

I never gave much thought to the "ethics" of this, for one, because I never stare. And two, what else am I supposed to do as I walk down the street? Stare at the sidewalk? Look at my reflection in the windows? Constantly window shop? Plus, come on, it's interesting watching people -- especially when they think they're not being looked at.

But what do we do when we people-watch? (C'mon, I know the few of you reading this like to people watch. Don't we all, on some level? So, do comment on this posting, let me know what fascinates you about people watching... )

For me, I look not only for the unexpected but the apparently mundane; I like learning the different ways people navigate their world. Here's just a sampling of things I've noticed lately:
* A big black woman outside a Bank of America, hawking StreetWise through hog calls
* A woman in a suit prancing down the sidewalk instead of walking
* A woman ambles down the sidewalk, mindless of the morning commuters. Suddenly, she turns and bows to a guy who rushes by her. In her hands, she holds a picture of Jesus.

I also notice things:
* A smoldering cigarette butt precariously sitting on the edge of a sidewalk grate
* Every morning on the corner of Daley plaza, a man holds a sign that reads: "Senator OBAMA, SAVE my only SON, PLEASE" (I have yet to figure out if this is about Iraq or something else)
* A red diamond sign near the corner of Madison & Wacker that reads, "You are beautiful" (Oh, how I love seeing that sign on my way to work.)

One of my most favorite times to watch people is actually on my way to work, whether I'm walking or riding the bus. This moment of the morning seems particularly unappealing and uneventful, considering the way people scurry, attempting to make it through a crosswalk before the flashing orange hand stops, and also considering the way people are focused on the walk ahead, barely looking around them to admire where they are (which says so much about them - especially considering the tourists I see daily outside my apartment, who are all about stopping and looking around, even if it means cutting you off and being totally unaware of all the people around them). Plus, it's 7:30, 8:00 in the morning; people seem intent to get where they're going - whether Starbucks or work - and don't seem to do much other than this. Which is exactly why when I do see someone doing something out of the ordinary, it's all the more interesting.

Not too long ago, I was on the CTA bus, riding to my temp job, hurtling down Madison before the bus screeched to a stop every couple blocks, and I couldn't help but almost be dismayed at the similarities I saw everywhere. People had the same set expressions on their faces, amplified by tired eyes. They streamed down the sidewalks. Everywhere I looked, the same.

And then, we stopped near the corner of LaSalle, and a couple stood nearby, and I couldn't help but imagine that they were simply saying their goodbyes before heading off to work -- just something simple, normal, something everyday. But then I noticed the body language, how one of his arms pulled her close to him, how his other hand cupped her face. And then she tried to turn away, her eyes scrunched up, her face red.

I suddenly felt as if I was intruding on something I shouldn't have seen, an intensely personal moment that I couldn't understand from just a simple glance. It could be about anything - she could be upset about someone who recently died, or they could have just broken up, or she could have just learned that he'd cheated on her. No matter what the "possibilities," I felt like I was doing something wrong, even though this moment was occuring on the intersection of two very busy Chicago streets.

People kept walking by, paying no heed to the couple, and the bus pulled away from the stop. And then I was back to all the people with the similiar expressions, scurrying off to work.

I still like to watch people, don't get me wrong. But that one moment, that split second, made me realize that we can guess and wonder all we want about people's lives -- but that doesn't mean we understand them any better than we did before.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Best Writing Advice Ever

The best writing advice I’ve ever heard sounds pretty simple: write down at least 10 things that you notice every day. And “notice” can be broadly defined—everything from something that catches your eye, like a piece of clothing, to the way a person walks across a crosswalk.

But, if you’re like me, it’s not so easy—you search for something you don’t normally see, and, at first, that can be hard. You want to be inspired by the world around you. You search for the extra-ordinary in the ordinary. And the more you search, the harder—you realize—it is to find.

Trust me, though. Start writing down the things you notice, strive to make it up to ten things a day, and if you keep it up, day after day, it’ll become easier. You’ll become more attuned to those pieces of extra-ordinary in the world.

And why is this the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received? Because, it is often the “things” that I notice that end up being the impetus for a story; from one image springs an entire character’s history, as well as their current dilemma. For example, in my short story, Anatomy of a Heart, Lisa struggles with the recent breakup with her boyfriend, who is now in a coma after being in a car accident. As she drives away from the hospital, a heart drawn on her car windshield catches her eye, and she begins to imagine that this “heart” is his last gift to her. The story began with the image of the heart on the windshield.

Or take my novel-in-progress as an example. I learned about Charlotte Corday in a footnote in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. From those short two sentences sprung a curiosity that has driven the past year and a half of research and writing that is resulting in Through Charlotte's Eyes.

Granted, from these images, from these “noticeables” as I like to call them, I don’t always get a story, nor can I ever predict where the image will take me. But then again, that’s the nature of “noticing”—you never know where it will take you.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Temp

Recently one of the managing directors approached my receptionist desk. “Liz, do you have a few minutes to spare this afternoon?”

Considering that my afternoons are usually spent sorting mail, answering phones, and searching for something to do, I happily said yes.

“These four keys,” he said, dropping them onto the desk, “can you find out where they go?”

Luckily, my many over-qualifications for this temp job proved useful. Instead of trying all the doors, cabinets, and any other number of locations, I realized that each key had a number etched onto one side. In less than a minute, I matched them to the keys at my desk.

Mission accomplished?

Not quite.

The managing director insisted I try each of the keys to “make sure.”

So I did, and I was right about every one of them—including the three for the men’s bathroom.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

One Take on the Financial Crisis

I will never claim to totally understand the financial crisis, nor will I claim that I totally understand the bailout bill, and that’s why I read a bunch of articles. Here’s one article that I found enlightening regarding why this crisis affects us all, whether or not we have stocks, investments, etc.:

This part particularly interested me: “We’re all connected. As others have pointed out, you can’t save Main Street and punish Wall Street anymore than you can be in a rowboat with someone you hate and think that the leak in the bottom of the boat at his end is not going to sink you, too. The world really is flat. We’re all connected. “Decoupling” is pure fantasy.”

I think this attitude is too often ignored—and not just in regards to the credit crisis. All actions we perform affect other people’s actions. What we all say and do does matter.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Review: Avec Restaurant

Located in the West Loop, the trendy Avec Restaurant was overflowing when I arrived near 8:00pm this past Saturday. The crowd wasn't suprising considering the restaurant doesn't take reservations and there aren't too many tables. Since there was only my boyfriend and I, we were willing to sit at the bar, and it paid off to our advantage. Despite the long line of people, we were seated after only a minute of waiting.

Perched on bar stools, we were feet away from where the cooking was taking place. We saw food slipped into wood-burning stoves, vegetables tossed on the grill. The cooks moved in a pattern, easily sidestepping one another as they put the finishing touches on plate after plate. From this vantage point, we asked our bartender/waiter, "What's that? And that?" over and over again. He patiently answered our questions, and we soon found ourselves overwhelmed with choices.

Fortunately, with the way Avec is set up, we were able to order a few different meals. As our waiter pointed out, two people can usually comfortably eat either two small plates (ranging between $4 and $12 each) or one large plate (ranging from as low as $14 to as high as $44 for the daily special).

The hangar steak, a delicious medium-rare, sat on a bed of corn and lima beans (both adding the perfect amount of sweetness to the plate) and broccoli, which was an unfortunate startingly strong flavor that I found at odds with the rest of the dish. Our second plate, a whipped brandade, was a hearty and heated cod dip that was sinfully delightful; we took solace in the fact that while there was some heavy cream, the taste of cod was perfectly intermingled with the other ingredients and was paired well with toasted garlic bread.

We were getting full but our neighbors to the left had gotten more dishes that we coveted, and so we ordered one last dish: dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon. As we waited for our food, we continued to sip our wine (available by the glass or bottle), and for the first time realized how warm it had gotten in the restaurant, one of the unfortunate side effects of having the kitchen in the same cigar-styled room as the seating area. Despite the growing and somewhat uncomfortable heat, it seemed like it was supposed to be a part of the place's atmosphere. After all, every part of the wall, floor, and ceiling was covered in slabs of wood, causing the place to appear as if it was one big sauna.

The dates arrived, carried to us in a dish resting on a wooden slab (we really sensed the theme with this delivery of food). The dates were sweet, salty, and spicy -- and we could see why, according to our waiter, it is one of the most popular dishes as well as the longest-running menu item. Alas, the waiter was right in suggesting only two small plates. We each had one date and we were more than satiated. We got the last two dates to go, and left Avec, already excited about returning and trying other dishes we saw being whisked out of the open-air kitchen.

And even though it was near 9:30 when we left, a crowd of people -- different from those we saw when we first arrived -- mingled outside, waiting for their chance at some decently priced gourmet food.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Today's Distraction: A Pigeon

Distractions—usually of people coming and going—are my problem with (and, at the same time, perhaps the wonders of) going to a Starbuck’s “patio” in the Loop to write. Granted, there are plenty of distractions in my apartment, namely the Internet, but the distractions in downtown Chicago seem to be of a different breed.

Today the distraction was in the form of a pigeon. Let’s get this straight from the get-go: I hate pigeons, the flying rats of the city. I hate seeing them everywhere, I hate how they’re so used to humans, I hate how they flock toward any grain of food on the sidewalk. But I deal with them because, well, they’re there, and, for the most part, I’m able to ignore them.

Within seconds of sitting down outside of Starbucks this afternoon, a pigeon, it’s feathers looking wet and ruffled, wandered under my table and started circling my feet. I tried to ignore it. I pulled out my notebook and the draft of my novel. I sipped at my frappuchino. I took some notes on things I wanted to work on today. But I kept looking under the table. Call me what you will for being scared of a damn pigeon, but I’ve been shit on by a bird before, and I really didn’t want that to happen again.

Luckily, the pigeon moved on, as it pecked its way around the sidewalk patio. A woman came out of Starbucks and began to situate herself at the table next to me. After the woman set down her coffee and a bagged cookie, the pigeon spread its wings and flew onto the table. The woman somehow managed to swat at the bird while still jumping back. The bird hopped onto to the back of a chair, and then just sat there, watching the woman.

The woman looked at me, her eyes wide.

I shrugged in response to her unasked question of what to do.

“I’m moving tables!” she declared to all the Starbucks patrons, as well as the people walking by who stopped and stared. She grabbed at her coffee and cookie, and moved to another, smaller, table.

The pigeon didn’t give up. He hopped onto the table next to her. He watched her (or maybe he was just watching the cookie; who am I to say?) He sat there, as the woman’s husband joined her. He was oblivious to the nervous state his wife was in as he doodled on a piece of paper and asked why she moved tables.

A few minutes passed, and the pigeon hopped down, began circling the sidewalk again. Every time it came near the woman with the cookie, she kicked at it. The pigeon didn’t get the message until the third kick.

The point to this entry (if there is one) is this: I went to Starbucks to work on my novel (which I eventually did), and I came away with a potential story about a hungry pigeon. Maybe I’ll even put it in the perspective of the pigeon. Who would of thought? Me, writing about a pigeon, maybe even being sympathetic towards the unloved bird of the city—even though it was beyond annoying today.

After all, the pigeon eventually left everyone alone—after a young girl ran up to the bird and tried to grab it. It flew to the top of one of the green Starbucks umbrellas, and didn’t move by the time I left an hour later. Apparently it wasn’t craving any human interaction—it just wanted food.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Return to the pool

Two weeks ago, I returned to the pool. I’d like to say it had nothing to do with the swimming in the Olympics, but as is hinted in my post from August 11th, watching the Olympics reminded me of my swimming days.

Granted, there were reasons I quit the swim team way back when. I didn’t enjoy the competition, but mainly I didn’t enjoy the girls I was swimming with. I got along with the entire varsity team, but as a newbie, I was on JV, with only three other freshmen girls. These three other girls had tormented me throughout middle school, so I’m proud to say I survived even one swimming season with them, considering how they pulled at my ankles when I swam laps in front of them. But high school was different than middle school. I learned to ignore them, practice with the people who were my friends when I could. And, honestly, I’m proud to say that I was the best of us four, or, at the very least, improved the most—despite the way they treated me. But there’s only so much one person can take and in that way, I understand why I quit so long ago.

But a couple weeks ago, I realized what I missed about the pool. I missed the feeling of cutting through the water, the silence when I was underwater, being able to only hear noise when I pull up to breathe. I missed doing kick turns off the wall and the feeling of accomplishment after a good long workout, every muscle being used.

So, I took to the pool again, steadily increasing how many lengths I swim every time I jump in the pool (nearly every day). This time, I practice with my boyfriend. We encourage each other to push ourselves, to swim another lap. And, sure enough, I’ve found that the reasons I used to love to swim all still hold true, and I can’t see myself ever getting out of the pool again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

See it for yourself

I saw the movie “Tropic Thunder” this weekend partly because of the boycott, which is being led by individuals who haven’t even seen the movie.

The boycott leaders claim the use of the word “retard” within the movie is offensive. They claim that the movie within the movie, “Simple Jack,” is offensive because of the way Ben Stiller’s character depicts a mentally-challenged adult. But they haven’t even it for themselves.

I laughed nearly the entire way through the movie. But, I’ll admit, there were parts that I cringed at. Some of the humor is low-brow (but isn’t that part of the point?)

After all, the movie is a satire, and satire is ridicule and exaggeration aided by humor. The intent of satire is to get people to talk, to incite change. And with this controversy and the attempted boycott, people are talking.

For one of the best articles I’ve read about this “controversy”, check this editorial out:,0,6517029.story

I’m not saying the use of the word “retard” is okay. What I am saying is that people should not judge something they have never seen. They should not lead a boycott if they don’t know what they’re really asking a person to boycott. In my opinion, “Tropic Thunder” is a satire, plain and simple, and, as such, it takes aim at many, many, many different things—most of all, actors who will do anything to win acclaim.

See the movie for yourself. Judge for yourself. Then give your opinion. That’s all I ask.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Painting (walls)

Yesterday, I helped my friend Renae finish painting her new condo. We were focused on turning the closets from a snot-yellow to a clean white, but we were also doing a few touch-ups, like on the outside of the closets, where the white closet paint accidentally hit the tan color of the walls.

My job placed me on a step stool, carefully adding the tan color back in with a tiny watercolor brush. Renae laughed—appreciatively—as I hunkered close to the wall, carefully getting the line just right. We’re both suckers for detail.

Luckily though, the work was quick; there wasn’t too much to fix.

But what if I only had a watercolor brush to paint the entire wall? I could imagine it’s a lot like what Seurat felt when he painted A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte: intimated by the expanse of the wall, but satisfied as each dot is carefully placed down onto the wall (canvas) to slowly form the big picture.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Watching the Olympics

Without a job, I have lots of time to waste. Lately, I’ve been spending it watching the Olympics, especially the swimming. I saw the Men’s 4x100 freestyle relay, when Phelps won his second gold medal and got on track to win the most Olympic Golds. I watched when Natalie Coughlin set a new world record and defended the gold she won in Athens in the 100 meter backstroke. I also watched when Peirsol started out slow on the 100 meter backstroke, but ended up breaking a world record to win the Gold.

I admit, before the Olympic games I knew few other Olympic contenders other than Phelps—but lately I’ve been addicted to the swimming. I’d like to think it’s because I used to be on my high school’s swim team, but that extracurricular lasted only a year and I’m the first to admit that I wasn’t that good. I had my highpoints; at the beginning of the season I swam the 50 meter freestyle in 37 seconds (horrible!), but by the end of the season, I was down to 27 seconds. I received the “most improved” award for that but the award seems to be small kudos in the scheme of things—particularly when watching the Olympics, hearing how Phelps trains for five hours a day, not just in the pool but with weights and other aerobic activities.

Sure, with no job, I’ve been working out more than I have in years, but I doubt that counteracts how often I’m sitting on the couch and behind the computer. And, sure, the Olympics sometimes inspire me to get into the gym more than for an hour. But these are Olympians I’m watching, people who have been training for years. I’ve rarely stuck with anything, other than writing, beyond a couple years. If anything, the Olympics seem to remind me of what I have not accomplished or finished—why didn’t I stick with swimming?

I could sit and dwell on this question I suppose. Or I could focus on what I have accomplished—ahem, like grad school and writing a novel in ten months. (Where’s the award for that?)

In the meantime, instead of dwelling, perhaps I should just watch Olympic events other than swimming.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


After moving out of my parent’s place almost exactly a year ago, my parents sold my childhood home in Barrington. My parents aren’t planning on moving far, because my dad is still running the landscape business out of South Barrington—but it’s still weird; I feel like I’m losing a “home.” Don’t get me wrong. I love the city of Chicago—despite the constant flow of tourists, the sirens and car horns, and the pigeons. I love my wonderful view of the city skyline, watching as the skyscrapers are built, the beaches just blocks from my front door, and meeting interesting people everyday. My apartment is my new home, but I had a home in Barrington too, and now that feels like it’s disappearing.

Barrington—as much as I dismissed it as “Boring”-ton when I was younger, when I was ready to vacate the town and begin, I thought, my life—isn’t as bad as I made it out to be. Sure, there isn’t that much to do, and that restaurants seem to vanish after only a couple years, but my parents’ house was a retreat. I’m going to miss the fresh air untainted by public transportation, my backyard constantly being tended to by my dad, the gazebo and the front porch where I spent so much of my time imagining new stories to write, and of course, my old bedroom, up on the converted third floor, which provided a birds-eye view of nearly half of Summit Street.

I know my parents will always have a space for us, a room reserved for my sisters and me when we visit them, but it won’t feel like “home,” if only because I have never lived there.

My family and I, along with all of my friends over the years, have so many great memories that took place in my old home, and those memories belong to us no matter where my parents move.

Yet, the thought of how ‘home’ is where you make it offers little consolation. I still feel attached to the lot my parent’s bought and built a house on fifteen years ago. My memories feel attached to that space.

On Tuesday, I sat in my parent’s basement in the storage area, and went through a few boxes. Most were filled with books and sorority stuff from college, but others had stuffed animals, diaries, and typewritten stories from when I was in middle school and younger. I hadn’t looked at that stuff since, well, it was packed away years ago. I ended up barely throwing out anything like I had planned to that morning. It amazes me how much memory is tied to things, to spaces—which explains the hold my parents’ home still has on me. After all, even though those boxes are moving along with my parents, I still feel like I’m losing something in the move from one place to another.

When I remind myself of my new “home,” of the new memories that have formed there so far, and the promise of more memories to come with my friends, my family, and my boyfriend, I realize how lucky I am. Change happens. Life happens. But in the moves, and all the in betweens, I continue to surround myself with people who I care about and who care about me.

I’m not sure how to finish this post. I feel like I’ve been overdramatic, cliché, over-the-top, etc. But I suppose that’s what happens when I’m still hunting for a job and spending a majority of the daytime (and night) sitting behind my laptop. I overthink/overanalyze/overconcern myself with things that, in the end, don’t matter all that much. So I’ll just say this: I’m lucky to have what I have. I’m lucky I have my kickass apartment/home in the city, and I’m lucky I still have my family to return to in the burbs (wherever that may be come September 5th). Again, there I go, being all corny. At the moment, I just can’t help it. Hopefully I’ll have a job soon, and you’ll be reading less overwrought posts soon.

One last thing: despite my dramatics, I will miss my old home and old backyard. And, despite my teenage desire to escape Barrington, I think I’ll—eventually—miss the town too.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The question of the black marker

I have a confession to make: I’ve been contemplating what to write in this inaugural blog post for over a month. Honestly? Nearly two. I’m at the point where I realize I just need to write it, as I hope that the first post is always the hardest, the rest will be easy, and better ideas will come to me like crazy as soon as I next put cursor to page. It doesn’t help that my inner editor keeps telling me: “There’s plenty of blogs out there. What do you have to say? Do you have anything to contribute?” I know that’s a fear a lot of writers have, and I’m just one of out of many--but then I think, yeah, there’s lots of blogs out there on the world wide web, but a lot of them are not full of insightful, beautifully phrased anecdotes. What I want this blog to be, I honestly have to say I’m still not sure, but I guess we (if anyone is actually reading this) will just have to find out as I go along.

On what seems like a totally different note—but, I swear, related to my thoughts about not just writing, but writing something worthwhile—I’ve been wondering about a question a friend of mine posed to me awhile ago. “Where do the homeless guys get those black markers to write on the cardboard with?” Random, yes, but interesting I think. I get the cardboard. It’s pulled out of the trash and used. But what about the black markers they write with? Do they find those in the trash too, and once they find them are glad to find they still have some ink left? Or do some of them share a single black marker?

This has a point. I live in Chicago, and every day I pass by the homeless. I’m not trying to demean their lives or them as individuals in any way. But the thing is, I do pass by them everyday. They shouldn’t be, but they are just a part of the city to me. I rarely wonder who they are, where they came from, or why they’re sitting outside the Michigan Ave. stores jingling their McDonald’s cups and holding their signs. But, that question, “where do they get those black markers from?” forces us to think beyond them sitting on a street corner. What led them here? How did they become homeless? They couldn’t have always been hopeless right (my overly optimistic side thinks)? Or maybe that’s how they grew up (my cynical viewpoint kicks in)?

The question of the black marker is exactly what writing stories is about. It’s about looking beyond what we see everyday and not just seeing the man covered in dirt and tattered clothes. It’s about looking beyond, asking the how, what, when, and most importantly, the why. As our high school English teachers said, Go deeper, beyond the text. In this case, go beyond the visible.

I don’t have a particularly great answer about where they get those black markers from (and that’s part of the reason I bring it up—it can be anything we dream up in fiction), but the point, for now, is that I’m asking these questions (no matter how absurd they sound) and thinking them through.

This morning the question of the black marker changed. I passed an older man, hunched over his cardboard sign, which read, “I’m a good girl who’s made some bad decisions.” So maybe it’s as simple as they reuse old signs they find. But then again, what happened to that girl? Did she get off the streets? How? When? Where? What? Why? And before I know it, a story is forming.