Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Blues

Sike! I'm not actually that blue this winter. Busy replaces blue most days, truth be told, though yesterday's bitter, bitter cold was enough to make anyone want to give up.

Nope, I wanted to write about winter because I wanted to sing the praises of one Bon Iver. Being the lucky girl that I am, the main dilemma of my week is whether or not to attend the Bon Iver show this coming Thursday - do I cram one more thing into an already busy pre-Christmas week?

To help me decide, I listened to "For Emma, Forever Ago" twice today while working on some freelance writing at a coffee shop. (Yeah, I just name-dropped freelancing - what up.) From my extensive musical reading, I feel fairly confident in reporting that "For Emma" was recorded in lonely Wisconsin hunting cabin one winter. I don't know why it took me until the snow falling at Thanksgiving to realize that "For Emma" is the perfect accompaniment to everyone's least favorite season. Well, everyone except my weird dad and brothers. I still think they're lying about loving the cold.

The album, as far as I can tell, was written for Emma. Though maybe not forever ago. (haha, sorry I had to.) This lucky Emma, whoever she is, had the good fortune to break our Justin Vernon's heart (even Bon Iver has an alter ego). I think Vernon's biggest success is the fact that this chronically lyric-obssesed listener doesn't know, and worse yet, doesn't care about not knowing, half the lyrics on the album. (Though I must say that the lyrics that do strike me hit HOME.) This album is about the way Vernon's broken heart sounds in a lonely hunting cabin, surrounded by snow and self-doubt. It's hard for me to describe. There's a lot of slight, slight distortions and strummy guitar. Voices lay softly on top of each other and create a minor howl at times. It's awesome.

Last spring, I had heard snippets of the album, and decided to buy it. The next day, my friend was lucky enough to score us two tickets to one of Bon Iver's sold out shows at this tiny venue called the Lakeshore Theater. We're talking high school auditorium tiny. Really, she wasn't lucky. She just showed up a few hours before the show and bullied someone into selling her the tickets. She's awesome like that.

Anyway, it rained that night and I had to make the best of really wet feet and a frizzy head. After an obligatory two vodkas (I had to pay my friend back for the ticket, and I couldn't let her drink alone), she and I found seats in the tiny auditorium. Now, the Lakeshore Theater is primarily a venue for live comedy - stand up, revues, what have you. I had never been in before, and was fairly surprised to see that there was no standing area. It was just seats. After a funny little opener, Bon Iver took the stage.

Vernon had two other people on stage with him. One, the bass player, I recognized because one of the guys on All Songs Considered had said "The bass player looks like he's 16." Vernon apparently had met this kid because he taught him guitar. The other kid, a drummer, looked barely old enough to buy me a third vodka. Vernon looked like a man who'd spent a winter in a hunting cabin, writing songs that speak to my innermost heart. He was wearing a flannel shirt and a beard a few days (weeks?) old. Good enough to eat.

Then, he started playing. I think I realized I was holding my breath about three songs in. Four songs in, I realized that everyone else was holding their breath, too. The happy truth is, Vernon sounds as good live as he does on disc. His voice is amazing. I haven't been to a concert that made me feel like that since I saw Wilco in 2005, and I don't know that I've ever been to a concert with the same rapt intensity from the audience. It was like we all thought that Vernon thought that he was alone in a room, singing, and we didn't want to burst in on his privacy and break the spell. So we kept still.

I can't believe how lucky we were to get those last minute tickets. I saw Bon Iver again in July, at the Pitchfork Music Festival. He managed to cast his net over that crowd too, but it certainly wasn't the same as that churchly still Lakeshore Theater performance, on one of his first touring go-rounds. So I think I'll sit this week out. It's snowy, it's cold, and I have a house full of cookies. I can listen to the album in my warm bed, humidifier at hand like a true nerd.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Is This Desire? (To Bring You My Love)

There are days when I remember and rekindle my love of PJ Harvey. Today is one of those for a few reasons:

1. It is grey. It is cold. The wind is back and reminding me that I am an idiot for not locating my gloves yet. And above all, it is full-on dark at 5.45pm. Has been for nearly an hour.

2. I am in the library. I approach the library with mixed feelings, and debate giving this its own post. Right now, I am in my own private cubby, sitting on my feet of course and propped up enough to glimpse lights out the window next to this cubby. On my immediate right, the stacks. I look at these stacks and feel oddly comforted. On the other hand, behind me, two boys are debating the correct way to break down 3 x 4/3(pi). Even as I am thrust back to the comfort of my undergrad experience by the stacks, I am relieved by my exemption from it, from a world of boys who talk loudly in the library.

3. I am researching revision. If there were no PJ Harvey, I would be sleeping right now. Seriously, forcibly put to sleep by journals like "College English" and "Computers and Composition."

PJ Harvey is a little dark, a little soothing and a little scary all at the same time. She is pissed off and also condescending. She is, above all, in total control. So here I am, surrounded by too much work and not enough desire or time to finish it all. But it doesn't matter. Does PJ Harvey ever get the guy? Does he ever send his love to her? Probably not. But who cares?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Brush with Fame/Destiny/Bliss

Last Friday began, bright and sunny, to an alarm at an early hour. My days have lately taken on a routine: wake to alarm, ready self for work, call the temp agency, hear that they have no last-minute appointments, then wait for them to call back with that last-minute work that will help me pay the gas bill AND still be able to go out to dinner. Though Friday was no exception to this pattern, ending with no call, a part of me was secretly thrilled.

You see, on Friday, I had an alternate plan. My friend, a nanny, had charge of one baby instead of two. This meant she could move about town freely, and I could join her. We both found ourselves in the sad state of never having seen our beautiful city by boat, so an architectural boat tour it must be! After a few hours of reading and an episode of the Daily Show online, I dressed to meet my friend downtown. For some reason I felt festive, and dressed to the nines. I bounced out of the house and enjoyed every minute of my walk to the El, ipod and all.

I waited on the Damen platform in the sun, basking in the fall that was due to us through all of September's heat. A train came shortly, and I made my way to a standing perch halfway down an aisle.

I soon began the business of observing people and trying to avoid being observed doing this. The fellow in the seat in front of me, dressed in fatigues, was my first subject, on account of his terrible gum smacking. Ugh. Next I scanned the ads on the slopes of the car's ceiling, then looked down the aisle at the lucky few who had scored standing room in the coveted spots by the doors. A guy with a large backpack, a very hipster looking girl, and... the bassist from Wilco.

Fuck. It's John Stirratt. John Stirratt is on my train. Though I haven't seen Wilco an obsessive number of times, I've seen them a few different places. I also may or may not have seen and loved "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart." Stirratt always sticks out to me, because he looks like a kid I went to college with. Wilco has held a special place in my heart since September 2005, the first time I saw them and the first moment I remember feeling good in my haze of post-graduation depression that summer of 2005.

I feel my eyes grow in circumference and my mouth fall open an inch or so. I quickly look away and immediately begin sweating. I mean, sweating. I think for a second I may faint in this hot train car, which has by now made its way underground en route to downtown. My hand slips and slides its sweaty way down the pole. "Pull it together Beth." I take a big breath and will myself to calm down. It works a little.

I sneak another glance, because maybe it's not him. Oh no, oh yes, it's him. It's definitely him. I inch my way down the aisle, an easy task because for some reason Fatigues Gum Smacker has left his seat and is crowding me all the way down to the area by the doors. I have the distinct feeling he's trying to graze my ass with his hand, with his backpack, with anything at his disposal. I squirm around and find myself not six inches from Stirratt. I put both slippery hands on the pole and try for some subtle observation. He is wearing nice jeans, camel-colored suede shoes that look pretty comfy, and a jean jacket over a tshirt of unremembered color. He looks pretty tan, and up close he is older than I expected, closer to my parents' age than mine.

What to do? My brain runs circles, but the one thing I know is that I will never stop regretting it if I don't say anything. I look at my fellow passengers and wonder a) why the hell they don't recognize this ROCK STAR on our train, and b) how badly I'll be embarrassed if these people hear me geeking out over this unassuming man who is just trying to live his Friday.

I formulate a plan. When we get to my stop, at Clark and Lake streets, there is a likelihood that he'll exit the train. There are always a lot of people who do. I will step off the car slightly behind him, catch up to him, and try to gush without looking like a creepy stalker. I will tell him that I love Wilco, and I love Chicago. But then we come to Clark and Lake, and he makes no sign of leaving the train. I take advantage of our slow approach to dive in before I can overthink it.

"Hi." I smile in my nicest, least creepy way.
"Hi," he smiles back, friendly as all get out, and looks away.
"I'm sorry, but are you...?" I trail off, not wanting to mispronounce his name.
"Oh, yeah. Yes, I'm in Wilco." He sees that he is not going to get away with so little conversation. "How are you?" He smiles again.
"I'm great, how are you?" I'm beaming.
"Good, thanks. Thanks for listening."
"Oh, I just... nice work!" Oh lord. I pause, looking for something, anything, better than 'Nice work.' "So, do you live in the city year-round?"
He is the nicest person alive. "Yes, I'm just up in Logan Square."
"Oh cool! How fun! I just moved to Bucktown." I'm blowing it and I don't even care. We've come to my stop, and I have to jump out before the doors close. "Go Blue Line! Have a good day!" is all I can manage before leaping out the doors, smiling smiling smiling. I walk to the exit, ride the escalator up to street level, smiling smiling.

I'm smiling, even though my head is saying, "Go Blue Line?" (I'm reminded of a time-honored tradition in girl world - "I carried a watermelon?") I reach the street, phone in my shaking hand, and call the friend that I know will appreciate this best in the world. "Beth," he says about two minutes into my mad recounting, "I can't understand a word you're saying." I suppose shrill doesn't translate well to the phone. I meet my girlfriend on the river, dance around her and the stroller, telling and retelling her about my new favorite Chicago moment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Saint Mary of the Angels

September has, once again, proven to keep me busy. Most of the month's preoccupations have been centered on our new apartment, and most happily. After a few weeks of house-arranging flurry, we finally got ourselves to the good part: a housewarming party. I must say, with all due modesty, that it was quite the event. With three roommates, and our powers combined, we drew a fabulous crowd. A packed house, a lot of booze, and even a love connection or two amongst our guests made us all very pleased with ourselves both during the party and in these days following.

Hosting parties is something that brings me enormous pleasure, and I've often wondered why. I think probably the combination of the stimulus and the constant attention is a pleasing one for me. I've come to realize that I really do love working a room; bouncing from person to person and feeling that I have something to say to each. When you're hosting, you never get stuck too long in the corner with the person who wants to talk about his rock collection, or the ex-boyfriend that she is just better off without. There's always the next guest you have to greet, the music crisis to be solved, the corkscrew that only you can find. It's a big cocoon of people who came to see you and talk to you and have fun with you. Loud, alcohol-soaked fun.

The fun does wear off a little when it's 4am and you're pushing that last group of dudes, friends of a friend's friend, out the door. But then there are stories to be told, cans to be picked up, and all of Saturday to sleep and loll around and repeat all the funny stories over and over again. My college roommate came to visit this weekend, and she woke up exclaiming about how fun Chicago is. Even Saturday's trip to the super-hip dance club felt a little anti-climatic after all of Friday's hullaballoo.

But today is Sunday. The house is mostly clean, the fridge almost devoid of beer, and homework waits to my left. Friday's Indian Summer heat finally left and we didn't break 70 today. It's fall - it smells like leaves and everything feels cozier. The guests are gone, and KC and I had a nice "reading time" (read: nap time) on the couch before an impromptu beer in the hood.

Our new neighborhood, in addition to having several most interesting bars, is home to a gorgeous old church. I have walked past it a few times, and ascertained that it is indeed Catholic. So tonight, after the fortifying beer, I walked up the somewhat imposing stairs and found a seat for the 7:15 Mass. The church proved as beautiful on the inside as on the outside, though not as quiet.

I wish I could say something about connecting with Mass, but the service was overly traditional for my tastes. I can say, though, that the hour was not a wasted one. After all these years of neglect, there's still something comforting for me in a Catholic Mass. Though I usually don't get much out of the actual content, the ritual of the thing is familiar, and in putting me on autopilot it lets me get some good thinking done. An interesting cap to a standout weekend, if nothing else. After all the performing, all the talking, and laughing and dancing, it was certainly a relief to sit anonymously, with no one to please but myself. I guess they can't all be parties.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

This time of year

I generally keep track of time by summers. This was the summer I went to that place, the other the summer I turned 21, the next the one where I dated that friend of this guy.

I'm packing for a trip today, which involves quite a feat of precision. In scanning my tank tops, I saw one I remembered buying before a particular summer trip to the left coast. The shirt and the memories immediately threw me back to that trip, but I won't bore the reader with those emotional details. Instead, the shirt brings another kind of revelation - so many summers have passed in a certain adult/pre-adult period of my life that I cannot keep them separate.

Let me explain. The trip from which the shirt originated took place in Summer 2006. In packing for my trip now, Summer 2008, it took several steps to uncover the right date for this fated shirt's trip. It feels like too many people overlap, like I spent too many summers with too many of the same thoughts, and now they've grown to a blur.

I've been out of college for over three years. (This is another handy measure of my time - how long has it been since the safe haven of college?) When that gap was only two, it was easy to pick tiny details from their appropriate year. Now the years are three, and it still seems I spent them loving the same person, taking the same trip in two variations, waiting in the same sweltering months for the same visits over and over.

Likewise, the years in college take on more of a graininess. Instead of taking that trip to NY the summer after my junior year, it simply becomes a trip I took one summer in college. Lake trips are virtually indistinguishable, and trying to place the night I saw Wilco or Regina Spektor or (hehehe) Tom Petty in the sweltering heat becomes a certain impossibility.

I read a short story last night in which a character has a total recall that makes every "memory" a part of her very real present. Here's a bit from author Deborah Eisenberg:

"No act of mind or the psyche was needed for Sharon to reclaim anything, because nothing in her brain ever sifted down out of precedence. The passage of time failed to distance, blur, or diminish her experiences. The nacreous layers that formed around the events in one's history to smoothe, distinguish, and beautify them never materialized around Sharon's; her history skittered here and there in its original sharp grains on a depthless plane that resembled neither calendar nor clock."

First of all, this is gorgeous, and I'm realizing now that it must have stuck with me and catalyzed this train of thought without my recognizing it til halfway through. I'm finding a lot of comfort from this passage, and its ability to paint this recall as sharp and painful. At the same time, it's a punch in the stomach. How does our brain decide that it's time to smooth, to beautify, to forget? Why does summer ever have to end?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Blog Project Extraordinaire

Here's the assignment: To write a short essay about something that happened to you in a very specific place. The goal was to make the essay more about the intrinsic connection to the physical place than about what actually occurred there. (And yes, mine doesn't quite cotton to the rules - I'm sorry Ryan!)

Here are the players: Bryan, Emily, Mandy, Meredith, Ryan, Stacy, and Tom

And here, because I'm a procrastinator, is "Via Chicago" (love on that Wilco, yall)

When I first came to this city, I noticed the doors, but not in that cheesy, entry hall poster kind of way. (Didn’t everyone have those when we were kids? The doors of Ireland, the doors of Kansas City, red and yellow and purple doors that looked the same in every town.) I took the train into the city from Midway airport, and I noticed that the doors of the train close to leave a small gap where their bottoms meet.

I came to Chicago to visit friends and hear music. Literally – we went to a music fest all weekend. My first experience with sight-seeing came from a glimpse of Millennium Park via bus windows, and ended with the skyline framing a Wilco concert. In the meantime, we drank. I was mystified by my friends’ buzzer and security doors. I didn’t know how to keep the bus doors from banging me on the way off. I loved the way the lake looked like it never ended.

One year later, I found myself readying to move. Two years later, I’m sweating through my first summer in the city – the first I’ve spent without central air for many, many years. On the way home from work today, I had a tremendous headache. It came and went in paralyzing waves and I tried to convince myself I was breathing them down.

I boarded an elevated train and scurried about, looking for a seat. I found one next to a good-sized man and his good-sized bag, but at rush hour you don’t complain about seats. I watched the doors close as the stragglers behind me filtered into the train’s dirty aisles.

That gap is still there, at the rubbery base where the train’s two sliding doors meet. I see it every time and think how can they have left that? In my seat today, I watched the train’s air-conditioned air get sucked through the hole no bigger than a silver dollar, imagining its trajectory over the brick buildings and ancient tracks below.

The hole makes me flash back to winter, to the mental blocks I put in those gaps when riding to and from school or work. My friends and I exhaust ourselves enjoying every moment of this summer, working hard to visit every park, catch every free concert and buy food from every street vendor we can. They told me all winter it would come to this, these throngs of happy people and bumbling tourists and DRUNK Cubs fans, but I had to see such a transformation to believe it. What kind of a place stores up its happiness for three short months?

Chicago fits me, because I’m forgetful. I remember winter’s cold, unforgiving gaps but I’ve forgotten the mystery of a good scarf. I’ve forgotten the camaraderie of a bus stop full of freezing, angry people who somehow realize that the only way to get through it is to wallow in one another’s frustration. I’ve forgotten how stylish I feel in boots, in all boots, even if they are caked in slush. In those days, the closing doors of the train are a welcome sight, hole or no hole. There is happiness to be had, even if the bars’ patios are all closed. But for now, I get to wallow in my forgetfulness. I get to pretend it will never be winter again and there will be concerts and visitors and boys and bars every single weekend.

The headache kept interrupting my enjoyment today, the jolting of each stop crushing my brains and forcing my eyes to uncomfortable places in their sockets. I marveled at the relative lack of crazies on the train, and kept my eyes focused on the doors. Eventually, they opened to a person-sized gap instead of a small, forgotten one. I got out and walked down the streets, full of people and noise, and breathed my headache out with the train’s stale air.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Green Line Stops are Few and Far Between

One of my favorite things about living in Chicago is my access to live music. There are big names, and little guys, and the guitarist from that one band's band. I'm lucky to have friends with similar musical tastes and similar thirsts to see and be seen at the small and and fabulous venues of Chicago. Even in the cold of Chicago winter, we made it to some choice shows. (Yelle at prom, I mean Logan Square Auditorium, anyone?)

But now summer reigns supreme and that means one thing: festivals. At the beginning of May, someone sent me a list of all the summer festivals one could find in our fair city. Pizza fests, jazz fests, rib fests, neighborhood fests, even cheese fests!! Obviously, there's just not enough Beth to get to all of these. But last weekend, I did make some time for the Pitchfork Music Fest in Union Park. Overheard after the fest? "It was the bestest time ever!"

I know, I know, Pitchfork is a total scenester scene. So we put on our best 80s sunglasses and hit the town! For 50 bucks, Saturday and Sunday presented quite the bang. Despite a little mud and some sweet humidity, the music killed. The food vendors were plenty, and they had Chicago microbrew for only $4 a beer! Being Pitchfork, the site has reviewed its own fest, so you can read that here. My personal highlights were: Bon Iver (duh), M. Ward, The Hold Steady (sorry KC), and the bits and pieces we caught of Fleet Foxes and Apples in Stereo (not together).

But the real story is, of course, behind the music. After Spoon finished the thing up on Sunday night, we made a beeline for the train stop located conveniently outside the park's boundaries. We thought we might beat the crowds by leaving before the encore finished, but when we got to the lines reaching from the El platform all the way down to the street, it was clear how wrong we'd been.

Instead of waiting with all those smelly unwashed hipsters, we decided to head west along the train tracks to pick up a Green line train at the stop BEFORE the festival's Ashland stop. We're pretty tricky like that. We made sure to ask some fellow music fans about the location of a station ("Oh yeah, if not at Damen then at Western) and trudged off down the increasingly abandoned street below the tracks. In the social geography of Chicago, we were heading toward a questionable part of town, but we weren't worried because a stop would come along any minute.

So away we walked, four white-girl music fans full of microbrews. We didn't make it three blocks before our first pit stop to pop a squat (not me!) and then, not four more til our second (again, not me). Fortunately for our bladders, the street was becoming more and more abandoned. Unfortunately, this did not make us feel any safer.

After awhile we came along a Chicago first for me - a group of people congregated in the street, blasting music and lights from their cars. A street party, for lack of better words. A block party, without the children riding their bikes. A party worthy of Wichita's teen crowd, according to our resident expert. But these were NOT Wichita teens. They invited us to join them, we declined, and the night continued. (They were playing a really fun song, though. That one that goes "Do do dodododooo What about my boyfriend?")

Finally, we came to a busy street, the western-most place where we were told an El stop would be. No stop in sight, we decided to cut our losses and call a cab. The company insisted on an address, and so they were given the street address of the check cashing facility we stood in front of. [We found out later that the next stop was not for another SIX miles.]

We waited at this corner for the cab around fifteen minutes before we called them again. Our order had not been picked up yet, so we abandoned the check-cashing corner in hopes of a bus. By this time, we could officially announce to one another that our spirits had broken. After a few inquiries after our destination by a man outside McDonald's, we made our way over to Madison and prayed for an east-bound bus. One came, and we retraced our steps, ended up downtown, and took the train on home. A journey of maybe 6-10 miles took us two hours. The whole time I was carrying a rolled-up outdoor blanket that looks like something I ordered off the Stuff White People Like website.

This was an interesting experience. At no point were we lost, but at the same time, we had no control over our progression. We couldn't retrace our steps once we'd come a certain distance, but we knew that we just kept walking deeper and deeper into a muddle. Things worked out, like they always do, but the ends of some weeks feel like the end of Pitchfork: trying to choose the lesser of two evils, with a big of mess to wade through before coming to a safe end. Is the music worth it? Yes, but only if there's cheap beer.

Monday, June 23, 2008

25 means old and wise

I began my job at Initech in late January. With my low status, I was banished to a cubicle near the loud, slamming door. Every time someone goes out to lunch, goes to the restroom, runs down to Dunkin Donuts for a cup of coffee - bam. Bam. Bam. All day long.

This slamming has got nothing, however, on the Travel Agent. She's on the phone all day. She has a terrible, West Suburbs accent (exACKly). She gets mad and she slams her elbow into the desk. She lets the airlines' bad hold music play on one loud speakerphone. In short, she's the kind of woman who owns multiple jean jackets. And she sits directly across from me. One thin, non-sound-absorbing wall of partition stands between me and grammatical errors each spoken conversation.

(I'm not exaggerating about the grammar thing. This woman, in her need for superiority, answers everyone's "How are you today?" with an "I'm well, how are you?" So not only is she using "well" incorrectly - with the verb "to be," the word "well" is actually describing the subject, and not the verb. She thinks she's being smart and using an adverb, but what she really wants is "I'm DOING well." This kills me, slowly, day by day.)

Last night, I went to bed in a euphoria. It was my 25th birthday, and I felt such a great love from family and friends that I slept like a baby. I arrived at work this morning and saw the vague, jean-jacketed shape as I trudged to my desk - but I realized that it probably doesn't matter. What a waste of time to begrudge the annoyances she provides - being grateful makes me feel so much better.

So I'm grateful that so many of my friends wanted to make me feel special. I'm grateful that my parents and brother could come visit me for an extended weekend. I'm grateful that my dad installed all the window a/c units in my apartment. I'm grateful that I don't own jean jackets and that I don't have to be on the phone all day.

And if that doesn't work? I'm grateful for my headphones and KEXP Seattle.

SIDE NOTE: I'm currently reading The Perfect Man by an author named Naeem Murr. I saw him read from this book in January or February, and bought it on the spot. He's a British fellow living in Chicago, and the book is a pretty gorgeous treatment of some un-gorgeous subject matter - the stuff great literature is made of. Takes place in a small Missouri town outside STL, and finds its center in a group of adolescents in the 1950s. Though I haven't finished it yet (give me til the end of the week), I'm recommending it. Mostly to you, Mr Useted. Hurrah for summer reading!!!!!

Monday, June 9, 2008

If you can't stand the heat...

Wait a few days, and it will rain.

My roommate left on a turbulent Weds. I say turbulent because I had quite a Tuesday, and some of it leaked over into Weds. She is traveling in Central America/Cuba for two months, and I find myself in a strange predicament: living alone. I haven't yet reached the one week mark, but it seems weird to come home and know that she won't be there. I have two goals: don't overdo it on the TV, and keep the place clean. These seem like reasonable goals, since a few sets of visitors will keep the clean thing motivated, and the TV is taking a backseat to my massive summer reading list. The strangest part is waking up in the morning, getting ready for work, heading to work, working all day - and not talking to anyone, through all of that. I'm not counting a thank you to the bus driver or an awkward "Good morning" to the person leaving the bathroom as I enter.

I don't think I do well without telling people even a sampling of what's in my head. In Chicago, it's so bizarre to think of the zillions of people around you, and not exchanging thoughts with any of them! (It's probably fortunate, as well, but that's another point altogether.) Does everyone need this weird personal validation of existence?

Speaking of validating existence, finals are almost over and I feel crazed about the grade I'm going to end up with from my eccentric essay professor. He and I have had interesting interactions lately, and I can't tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I'm leaning toward good, but I don't know if that will end up as good as the A I want.

And with the end of finals, a whole summer of guilt-free living. I can go see movies, or read novels, or spend time being lazy with friends, and I won't have to feel guilty about not doing homework. What a thrilling life I lead. I can't wait to initiate myself to Chicago by going to the lake's beaches and attending free concerts at Millenium Park's Pritzker Pavilion. I think I can handle even a Wagner symphony if I get to stretch out on the lawn with a bottle of wine.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Can you tell I'm on the bus a lot?

This morning, I was surprised to see how crowded the bus arrived to my stop. I'm fairly close to the start of the line, and I've never had to stand for my morning commute. This morning I certainly didn't have to stand, but I didn't have my normal pick of seats.

I let the shift of the bus throw me into a two seater next to some girl, and immediately started the business of settling myself. I adjusted my bag on my lap, made sure my ipod was on a pleasing volume, and got my book out. I'm reading The New Kings of Nonfiction, a collection of essays edited by Ira Glass (hell no, it's not for class - in my dreams). A collection of essays makes for a great bus book, because of their length. Short stories are also ideal, and Marilynne Robinson's Gilead was bus magic.

Anyway, in my enjoyment of Malcolm Gladwell, I didn't bother to stare at my fellow bus patrons the way I normally do. I did notice a smug young man across from me, with a faux-hawk and fancy aviators, who I felt was looking a little more than usual. Usually I'd attribute this to my stunning beauty, but this was Monday morning. The girl next to me shifted, and suddenly I realized - we're wearing identical jackets.

I have this green jacket that isn't really my style. It was a gift from an aunt at Christmas, and I really do like it, even thought it's something I'd never pick. The jacket is a hunter green, and it's this cheap quilted polyester stuff. That makes it sound really offensive, but I promise it's not. Anyway, it's definitely cheap, and this girl next to me had on another incarnation of this cheap jacket. So I looked for further matchings: big purse? Check. Oversize sunglasses? Check.

The similarities stopped there, as she had on jeans and flats, and I black pants and boots. But I almost started to laugh anyway. Of all the empty seats on the bus (though there weren't a ton, there were certainly more than one), I sit next to this girl with a matching jacket.

We love the city because you never know what's coming. But on the bus in the mornings, I know what's coming: kids my age, with overpriced coffees and giant bags, making their way to work downtown. My neighborhood is just college with money. If an older person is riding the bus, they stick out immediately as an anomaly. It's funny the things you can learn before you're fully awake in the morning.

ps - Malcolm Gladwell rocks. And Emmy gets to meet him!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Six words

School update: The collage I made, with the scissors and the glue and some provided construction paper, now hangs on my fridge. I showed it to everyone I could possibly show it to, and now I think it's going to start making its postal rounds. Hopefully not before I've scanned it and posted it on this blog. Putting pictures on my blog has not been an ambition of mine, as pictures are most certainly not my strong suit. But I fear this collage may be too good to pass up.

The essay class, on the other hand, has not brought as many smiles. On our first day of class, I had a few clashes with the professor, a man who has told our class that we haven't had enough "recreational experimentation," aka done enough drugs. Anyway, in our very first day of class, I was being my loud, opinionated self. I thought he was joking around, but then at the end he argued my point, and settled the argument by saying that I needed an attitude adjustment, and to perhaps have a drink before class. Hell, he didn't care, I could bring a drink TO class. As I had plans to do heavy drinking AFTER class, I simply shut up. I like him, but the man is a blowhard. Here's my least favorite part of the class - the text. This is an amazing point in time for nonfiction, but this guy has us using a text that came out over 10 years ago. I can't wrap my head around it. (Actually, I can: I think he wants to give us a historical appreciation for the maturation of the genre, but still, ick.) I think I'm back on the ins, though, because the other night, I was the only person in class who knew who Judith Martin was (Miss Manners).

And finally, one of my friends at school directed me to the following: http://www.boingboing.net/2008/02/14/sixword-memoirs-by-w.html

This (blog entry about a book that sprang from a magazine article) focuses on telling YOUR story (memoir, if you will) in six words. Apparently, Ernest Hemingway's shortest story was six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Here are some from me:
Swimming head surfaces occasionally for air.
Wrinkled nose leads skinny life astray.
Loud-voiced; hungry girl seeks work. (this one also doubles as a homeless person sign.)

Make a girl happy and post your own six word memoir in the comments section...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Visitors in the Night

This morning, I woke up at about 5am because I thought my bed was moving. “That’s not possible,” I thought, but then it kept doing it... and doing it. It felt like someone underneath it had put his or her feet up and were moving them inches from side to side. So I figured out that there were only three explanations:

A ghost was under my bed, and shaking it around.
A rapist was under my bed, and shaking it around.
I was imagining the movement, or dreaming it.

After freaking out for a few minutes (ok, probably 20), I reasoned myself away from the rapist idea. Why would a rapist wait under my bed for hours after I'd already gone to sleep? I decided to go with the obvious reason (#1) and went back to sleep. I woke up thinking about it, but decided I wouldn’t tell anyone about my ghost because they’d think I was crazy. Then, I got to work, and a friend sent this link:


This has been my first earthquake. In the warm light of day (alright, it's cloudy), it seems kinda cool that I could feel it all the way up here in the big city. Plus, this way, if I ever think there are ghost things going on in the middle of the night - something I'm not exceptionally prone to, but as I get older I realize you just never know - I can now blame those strange occurrences on earthquakes. Done and done.

Have a good weekend all!

Monday, March 31, 2008

The old Monday morning commute

Two things of interest on this morning's bus ride:

1. As of last Monday, the city set up my bus route with some nice new buses, replacing the stanky old ones. On these new models, there is a step up to get to the back of the bus, somehow creating more room. I don't know how they do it. Anyway, the shallow for this step is parallel with the first set of seats on the risen back part.

This morning, I sat in an aisle seat in this first row of the back. The girl next to me kept fiddling with her stuff, which is bus sign language for "Get up and move now, this is my stop." When we finally did come to her stop, I shuffled together my two bags and the book I'm reading (Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which I highly recommend). I went to scoot out into the aisle to let her pass - her name was Jen, I saw it on her work ID badge - but neglected to account, spatially, for the sunken step and almost twisted my ankle right off.

"Ooops," I said in a high-pitched kind of way, as I scurried to get out of Jen's way so she didn't miss her stop. I think I clocked the woman across the aisle with one of my bags in my hurry, and amidst all this I giggled a little at myself and how ridiculous it was that I had almost fallen on that step. Unfortunately, I didn't notice anyone else laughing. If you want a little icing on this picture's cake, I was wearing mid-calf rubber wellington boots that are black with big white polka dots.

2. The second bus event happened after my little display of Monday morning grogginess. As I settled back into my seat, I noticed a man directly in my eye line. I noticed this man because he was playing with a pretty old model of a cell phone, and the phone was emitting a series of loud beeps. Due to the beeps, and his slightly disheveled appearance, I wrote him off as a bus kook.

The bus stopped, and a girl sitting next to the man got off the bus. I saw him ask the girl in the third seat a question, then jump up and yell at the driver so he could exit the bus at that stop. He hurried off, but didn't let go of the door and yelled, "Miss! You forgot your wallet!"

I looked down at his hand, and saw a wallet, then looked up at her surprised, thankful face. What a nice thing for him to do. He got back on the bus, and things continued as usual. If he hadn't done that, the best case scenario for that girl's wallet would have been getting turned in to the bus driver or something. That scenario seems unlikely to me. Almost as unlikely as some guy leaping off the bus to return someone's wallet. We'll see if that remains the highlight of my Monday.

Classes start back up tonight with "Text and Image," a combined section class which is both a writing class and a new media studies class. I got an email from the professor last night which requested that we bring a scissors and glue stick to tonight's class, if we had them. Apparently, I'm going to be responsible for designing things. Though many who know me are aware that I don't really like doing things I'm not good at, I guess grad school is about pushing one's boundaries. I'm actually getting more and more excited for this class as the day goes on. Tomorrow night I have a sure-fire winner: The Essay. A whole class, essays, and the infamous Prof Sirles, who referenced drug use during the MA in Writing Qualifying Exam earlier this winter.

Spring has sprung! And on Opening Day, no less...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The course of true love runs orange

Found this entry from a month ago. I guess I started it during finals and forgot about it.

Last night, I trudged home from the coffee shop in the dark, a little tired and a little cold, with a head full of rhetoric. I came to the weirdo intersection at the top of my block, and turned onto crooked Clark Street behind a couple, probably in their 50s. This couple was fairly nondescript, except for the one thing I noticed immediately - they had on the same coat. It was a grey coat, one of those deals with the protective outer layer and probably a fleece liner underneath. It had embellishments of orange and a dark blue covering the shoulders; and a detachable hood, which the woman was wearing and the man had apparently removed.

I walked right behind this couple, thinking several things: First, I thought that they were ridiculous (could they not go to the trouble of finding their own coats?), then I thought that I would never be caught dead in matching coats with anyone, then I wondered if they had the same size coat, then I wished I had a hood on my own coat, and so on etc. There were kids my age walking behind me, and I could hear the girl teasing her boyfriend and asking if he was going to get a peacoat that matched hers. I wrinkled my nose, and wanted to turn around and frown at them. Suddenly, I realized that the matching coats weren't offending me at all. Maybe I even liked the matching coats. Even now, I think of those two and it's nice. They didn't care how they looked, which is an anomaly these days.

So hooray for nerdy middle age. I don't know if I'd ever go so far as to have matching coats, but far be it from me to judge...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is publishing your fiction in a blog the height of cheese?

Recently, I received this assignment:

A morbid piece of trivia inspired Robert Olen Butler’s Severance, his new book of stories. As Tom Barbash writes, Butler had learned that a “human head continues in a state of consciousness for one and a half minutes after decapitation. Having then determined…that in a ‘heightened state of emotion, we speak at the rate of 160 words per minute,’ Butler arrived at a new—and unlikely to be replicated—art form, the vignette of the severed head, told in exactly 240 words. 62 “talking heads” are at the center of Butler’s collection, including John the Baptist, a German woman who angered Hitler, and Nicole Brown Simpson, who catches a last glimpse of her husband. It appears O.J. is running for the end zone and, she says, “I can see what’s tucked there in the crook of his arm and it is me, it is my head, and I stare into my own eyes.”

For your Dead Head Vignette, select a figure from your cycle or invent a new one who will fit into your cycle and imagine his/her last thoughts in a heightened state of emotion and in exactly 240 words. How will this unique perspective shape your prose style? What do they see that sheds new light on the events in their world? A truly inventive title should begin the piece. Remember, this is YOUR work--be imaginative...did the person lose his or her head in a car crash, a climbing accident, a dream? Remember, exactly 240 words.

I chose Steve, the father of Sarah, a couple of people I wrote out just this week. I was having a little trouble figuring Steve out, so I thought this would be a good chance to figure out what his deal was. I think I got a start at least. If you like, read what I wrote below. Or... Write your own! It was pretty interesting to think about.

“The Door”

Shit…shit, I left the door unlocked. Sarah will kill me if – oh my god, I’m already dead. Is this what dead looks like? I wish someone would sew me… ew, there’s my body. That’s me, that’s my…why the FUCK did I want to rush for that stupid elevator? I couldn’t gotten the next one. Now Sarah will have no, oh god, what have I done? Her mother’s a drunk and now her dad DECAPITATED himself in an elevator? Who will take her? That fucking bastard Mike. I never… I wanted to, FUCK. How could he do that? How could I be so impotent? I deserve to die a horrible, ridiculous, impotent-man elevator death. Oh Sarah. If I could just catch the next elevator, God, I swear I’ll fix it. I’ll fix her and I’ll fix him, oh I’ll fix him right into prison. I want to make it right. I want to help my daughter. I want to have 25 minutes with Emily at the office, 15 sweaty minutes, it’s been so long and now I’m dying, basically a reborn virgin, but don’t say birth because this is its opposite… How did those doors do that? What the fuck kind of he-man elevators are those, anyway? Every day, I rode them (45 minutes, Emily, that’s all I wanted), and they seemed so innocuous, so innocent like my beautiful baby daughter, so sure and smart until he….

Monday, February 4, 2008


I read the blog below this morning, and it strikes something that's been bothering me for awhile, so I decided to share it. Let me preface my introduction of it by saying that I still haven't decided which Democratic candidate I'm voting for in the primaries tomorrow (though, let's face it, Obama will more than likely win Illinois). It's been hard for me to decide, and so, in true Bethian fashion, I've put it off. I find both Clinton and Obama appealing in very different ways, but from the minimal reading I've done it looks like they have a lot in common, policy-wise.

However, my decision-making process has been hampered by an intense anger at "Hillary bashing." I hear from friends, or fellow students, or family members that Hillary is "evil," Hillary is "crazy." There is a flipping facebook group called "One Million Strong against Hillary Clinton" (or something similar, I can't remember). Last summer, when I saw that my old roommate had joined this group, I laid into him. "Why," I wanted to know, "must you hate someone? Can't you instead find some other candidate to support? What good will hating her accomplish?" Obviously, it's too late for such arguments in the world of televised ads and debates. Our system has made itself into a monster of criticism. Fine.

But here's my theory: Hillary Clinton is, above all else, a politician. She's smart, she's shrewd, and she's been in or around politics for a very long time. The public and the media attack her for a variety of behaviors, but aren't these simply the behaviors of male politicians which we've seen for years? Example: she is often called "calculating." I'd agree that "calculating" is not a flattering attribute. However, I also think that any politician around is going to be "calculating." Hillary Clinton is being attacked for normal politican behaviors because she's a woman. I think that deep down, we've all coached ourselves to believe that women aren't like that. And so it makes me angry. Please read (or skim, or whatever) the blurb below. Think it over. And don't forget to vote!

(Side note: perhaps H Clinton's behavior is doubly noticeable because she's running against a candidate who is so highly un-political, who presents an image of the idealist for the first time in a long time. Just a thought.)


Friday, February 1, 2008

My $7 Nose Salt

Today is day 6 of My New Job, of The Rest of My Life. The cubicle has its disadvantages (it's a cubicle) and its benefits (everyone leaves me alone so I can blog on the clock on Friday afternoons when there isn't much to do).

I'm working for a software company, hereafter known as Initech. It's not a bad gig, really: the pay is very good and my coworkers are kind and flexible. It's no FOA crew, but it'll work. The work is odd. One never pictures themself in the places one ends up.

Because it is February, because it is cold, because I have so very little self-restraint when it comes to weekend benders, I find myself with a lingering sinus issue. As I am uninsured, I decided I would fight this sinus infection on my own, no drugs and no doctors. Step One of this self-healing went like this:

Last Saturday, after brunch (no, I didn't accidentally elbow the busboy while I was gesturing wildly with my fork), I headed to Whole Foods to buy a neti pot. The neti pot has been recommended to me for two years now, but I couldn't bring myself to buy what is essentially a nose-douching device. But these are different times, and last Saturday I left Whole Foods with the little pot, some $7 nose salt, and a German chocolate cake brownie.

I'm pleased to admit that the pot has some lovely benefits. It really does make me feel less stuffed up, and I can tell when a day passes andI haven't used it. Also, it is the time of my roommate's life when she gets to watch me stand over the sink and attempt not to drown in my own salt water.

In spite of the weather and the sinuses, this is my best quarter yet. Classes are truly enjoyable, I met David Sedaris at a book signing, I'm making some money, and earning partial scholarships. Hot Chip and Justice will both be here in the next month or two, not to mention some heartily welcomed visitors from home (brothers, aunts, friends, oh my!). I feel badly for neglecting my blog, but I think it's the result of increased productivity at school. I'll take it.

(So if you don't know what a neti pot is, look it up on youtube. You won't be sorry.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I look better in sepia tones

On January 1, I determined that 2008 would be the year of the positive. I woke up that day with a hangover, and my roommate and I decided to yuppie it up and drive her car to collect some friends for a Bowl-watching party. In my disabled bodily state, things seemed sharper and it was difficult to keep up with the positivity. However, the Bowl-watching party ended up being 3 dudes and 5 rambunctious ladies, so I spent most of that time giggling.

When we went back out into the world, I started to recede from my football happy state. It was cold and gray and slushy in Chicago, and even though I was in car, I wasn't in my bed. We passed a couple on a street corner, all bundled up and waiting for the light to change so they could cross the street. They held hands, and began to jump as they waited, bouncing up and down. "Christ, aren't they chipper," I thought to myself, silently hating them with their energy and their hand-holding.

"Look at that couple," our friend Jenny said. "They look like cute jumping beans."

And already, I'd failed. I laughed, and told Jenny I had been looking at the same couple, with a moderately different take. My days here are somewhat manic. Yesterday, I went from being completely frustrated with the Illinois Secretary of State (an attempt to get a new driver's license) to completely thrilled with myself and the possibilities that the city holds (after a fairly positive job interview).

Update: I got the job. I will be making an hourly wage larger than I've ever before received to spend three days a week in a position that is in no way appealing. I was so happy to hear I'd gotten the job, truly I was. I begin the year with my financial worries (a blooming, leafy plant that was planted in Sept when I moved here and has grown to catastrophic proportions) eliminated and with two classes so far improved on last quarter's I can't think of a metaphor to illuminate the difference. The gods are promoting my positivity, and I've no choice but to act on it.