Unwitting Guest Post

17 Jan

I was out the other day and forgot to bring the book I was reading (Him, Her, Him Again The End of Him by Patricia Marx – v. good, btw).  And so with a little time on my hands, and having already completed the Redeye’s sudoku puzzle (poor spelling makes crosswords impossible), I decided to flip through The Chicago Reader’s special fiction issue.  Man, am I glad I did.  I hope you enjoy Tovah Burstein’s Moving on at the Hipster Gym as much as I did.  Free and easily accessible reading material for the disorganized is one among many perks of city living.

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GET OUT! ALL CAPS MEANS BUSINESS!

15 Jan

My best friend in the world is having a baby any day now.  Needless to say, I am over the moon.  But I’m here, on her behalf, just incase that stubborn little fetus has some kind of smart phone up in thrr to say before all-y’all on the interwebs (and possibly said stubborn fetus) that IT’S TIME – GET OUT!  YOU’RE GETTING DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO LOSING YOUR DEPOSIT!  Ladies who’ve gestated can attest to the fact that at the very end you become FUCKING DONE.  Not “done.”  “Done” is a state you semi-peacefully enter a week before FUCKING DONE.  “Done” is uncomfortable.  FUCKING DONE is sharpening knives and making visual aids to assist you in your plan to peel your own skin off.  “Done” is hopeful if a little exasperated.  FUCKING DONE is a wellspring of despairing tears generated by the realization that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with a douchebag of a baby lazing the days away on your bladder.  “Done” is a state of curiosity:  “I wonder when tiny love will be born?  Gosh, I sure hope it’s soonish.”  FUCKING DONE is inserting a twix like a tampon, crazy eyes ablaze, in the hope that your bundle of jerk will clamp his awful jaws down and that you’ll be able to just kind-of pull him out.

Did I ruin fishing for you?  At the very least I think I probably put us all off twix bars for a while.  Rest assured, my pal hasn’t attempted any of these things (and won’t because, you know, she’s not sick in the head like certain best friends of hers…).  But the fact remains, the tail end of the homestretch of pregnancy is a bitch.  Now, as you may recall, I absolutely loved giving birth.  Loved it.  It remains my absolute favorite day(s) of my life.  And let me be clear, my favorite part was NOT the baby-in-my-arms-at-the-end part – that part was pretty good too – but it was the labor itself.  I loved labor and really hope I have the opportunity to do it again.  I say this so that you’ll know that I’m not one of those “everything sucks about having children/your life is over/awful thing about hotdog-hallway” types.  But let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?  It’s no fun waiting for a totally unknown experience after months and months of waiting for a totally unknown experience.  The fact that our culture presents labor as something overwhelmingly negative doesn’t help, but funnily enough, the part that no one is talking about that actually does suck your gross uncle’s balls is the waiting at the very end.

Do you enjoy a quick transition?  Good.  Me too.  So here’s this thing I wrote for my BFF’s blessingway (click on that to confirm that yes, it’s exactly as mystical/naked-in-the-woods/drinking (menstrual) blood as it sounds).  I hope you think it’s pretty.  More than anything, I hope that little (sure-to-be-adorable) asshole has the good sense to get hisself born-d.  Because it’s no fun to be FUCKING DONE.

I Think You Might Be The Lion

What is there to say other than what we said the other day?  That it’s an absolute mystery until you are waist deep in it – always with the water.  In tides.  Ebbing and flowing.

That the only difference is the input.

And you and I know all about that.

All of a sudden I remember you.  I am standing by that piece-of-shit stereo.  It’s playing some track – that Sufjan album, or Regina Spektor or Animal Collective.  I’m watching.  Not facing you, but looking at the mirror.

You stepped up onto Rachel’s back, impossible, but onto the back of her neck and I knew for sure that you were going to be okay.  Because even though it was dangerous and didn’t make sense – it shouldn’t have worked – it was so so beautiful and charged with the third thing.  The essential real movement.  And Jamie was an asshole like always.  He reached for your hand, but you were already gone.  Up.  Up.  Up.

That should have been such a mess.  I saw you, perfect – strong without trying – in being.  Balanced.

And so I know that you are smart enough.  Not in the way of knowing how to, or working, or any of that – you’re those things too – but this is to say smart in the deep way of falling with a welcome spirit for the ground – a deep trust that you already have what you need.

In freedom.  In radical subversive tenacity.  Not with gritted teeth, but screaming out an open window in March.  Still snow on the ground,but on the first warmish day.  Flying down Broomfield, Meridian, Isabella.

In not even stepping up onto her neck, but finding yourself there and making – deep inside –  the shift to say yes.  “Yes, and.”  Responding to whatever part pulled you up there in the first place.  Knowing that it’s Rachel underneath you.

And of course, this is the leap – that birth is the best improvisation.  You will never have to reach for the third thing because it will be the current you’re in.  Instead of snatches – seconds long miracles of presence – your attention will be perfectly wrapped – knit into the intensity that becomes a total reprieve from everything else.   Physical, immediate, intuitive.  You have prepared so long.  Before you knew your body like now.  Getting ready even back when your hair blew like a lion’s mane in the parking lot – sweaty and cold.  The new magic is brave from the outside but impossibly clear and free from choices inside – so that after this long I am anxious and glad for you to know perfect work in birth, because I know that it will mean so much to you.

And that small fierce punch of color that wells up inside of you, and defies anyone to ask if you could love something that’s so hard and withholding, will gush out again – carrying you up, up, up, just like I remember.

file under “didn’t make the fridge”

12 Jan

Oh the shame of wanting so badly to be good at something and being so…. badly at it.  See?  See what I mean?

As I’m sure you know (since, let’s face it, you’re here and are tracking the minutiae of my life in this season for whatever reason), I’m a student in the writing program at The Second City.  Big whup, right?  Right.  I completely agree – as I have made clear previously, I have no delusions of grandeur.  Oh, er, in case The Secret is reading, I’M AWESOME!  I CAN DO IT!  I’M VISUALIZING SO MUCH SWEET STUFF!  I’M WEARING GOLD UNDERPANTS  (unfortunately yes, that is the first idea my brain generated from the prompt “life of luxury and success.”  I think we’re finding some clues here, guys).  So, with that out of the way, do you want to see what I made at my first class?  I thought so.

I’m not sure how proprietary the teaching techniques are in this course, so I’m not going to go into detail about how our instructor got us to this point.  But know that it was AWESOME.  It kind-of blew my mind.  Based on week 1 alone, I recommend that if you have some disposable income/a sugar-daddy, you should definitely take a class.  Anyway, I’m sure I can share that using two different but similar writing exercises, we created two characters and then took 5 minutes to write a 6 line dialogue between the two of them.

This is what I wrote:

Celia:  I guess more than anything, I just don’t understand why you care so much about me saying “thank you” every time the server refreshes my water.

Shannon:  Celia, it’s because I’m trying very hard to help you become a more palatable person.

Celia:  You’re saying “palatable” to me, at La Senorita.

Shannon:  Honey, if you say “thank you” at La Senorita, I promise I won’t say another goddamn word.

Celia:  Nice, mom.

Shannon:  Celia, please.  Just do this for me and stop being so awful.

Good?  Nope.  Something I’m proud of?  Not especially (other than that I did, in fact, sit there and write it despite the fact that I could feel it sucking as it happened).  But I’m starting something.  I’m learning.  And goddamnit, I’m going to get better.  I’ve been trying to write dialogue all week during snatches of free time and let me tell you, it’s hard, yo!  Another way to say that is “I’m bad at it!” but I’m trying hard to be optimistic and positive – suppressing all of my instincts is another new years resolution that I’m half-heartedly working on.

I also engaged in this dialogue today with Jack, an internet troll who likes to terrorize my friend’s (very excellent) blog.  As loyal readers may recall, Jack and I go way back.  My pal is a badass journalist, and an all-around swell human being, so I feel a sense of duty to try and irritate Jack, since he’s such a prolific dick.  I usually have a rule against meanness in my writing/jokes (I like how this implies that I write enough to necessitate policies), but Jack provides a justified exception. Again, probably not my finest work, but you know what?  They can’t all be winners.  Or productive.

If you want, any of y’all that are in Chicago (or have road-trip fever) can come see me dance to a text that I wrote that I actually do think is kind-of a winner here.

Rehearsal Today

5 Jan

This morning, Ida accompanied me to rehearsal.  I am working on a piece that I presented for the first time a few months ago called Best Wishes.  It will be presented in a couple of weeks as part of Rhino Fest in the Food and Performance Cabaret.  I get to do it on 4 consecutive Mondays in January and February.  As I planned my rehearsal schedule for this show, I decided that it would be loads easier if I just took Ida with me.  I like to work early in the mornings, often, and for short periods of time, so coordinating childcare is nightmarish.  I also decided that Ida would probably enjoy these outings, and would probably be a very nicely behaved companion.  I congratulated myself on making a well-reasoned decision, and for not putting off the planning until the last possible minute.  Being organized feels so satisfying.

We woke, I gave Ida breakfast and got her ready, and then I rushed around trying to get myself ready (abandoning breakfast and a semi-urgent shower in the fray) and gathering our supplies.  I was feeling harried and irritated that I hadn’t just arranged for someone to look after her.  I felt the injustice of living with a two-year-old’s sense of time and urgency.

  • Use toilet:  5 minutes
  • Put on shoes, coat, gloves, hat:  2 minutes
  • Negotiate and broker willing participation in the above activities:  45 + minutes

We got out the back door, me having just eaten a fist-full of cold spaghetti for fortification, and briskly hustled down the alley and to the train.  I swiped my transit card, ushered Ida through the turnstile, yanked on the stroller-handle to fold it up, and dragged us and our baggage up the two flights of stairs to the platform.  We just made it onto the train that pulled in as we rushed up the last few steps and instantly knew who in that train car has done this before (look of solidarity) and who has/will not (irritation upon getting banged in the shin with stroller – not that I really blame them, but what exactly do they suggest I do?).  We sat.  We exhaled.  We watched as neighborhoods came and went.  Ida and I both love riding the train.

We arrived and walked to the rehearsal space.  More stairs.  More schlep.  I tried to focus my attention on being grateful that my strong body could move and haul with relative ease.  It helped.

Ida was nervous to enter the rehearsal space.  She’d been there before to see me perform, but something about it made her scared this morning.  She took my hand and was, like always, very brave.  We set up our stuff.  I explained again what we were doing here.  “Mama is going to do some dance work now.  We can share this space for the next hour – you can play with your toys, eat your snacks, or you can do some dance work if you want to.  Please don’t touch the stereo or my laptop.  And please don’t yell.  There are going to be sometimes this morning when I won’t answer you if you ask me a question or need help – I’ll be able to do it in a few minutes, but sometimes I am going to be busy even though I’m right here.”

I started warming up.  Ida watched for a few minutes and then joined me – walking around the room, rolling her head, moving her arms.  It was beautiful and so much fun.  For the rest of the rehearsal, she would alternate between snacking/playing in a spot in the folding chairs set up in the back, and dancing with/near me.  It was peaceful, and easy, and even better than I imagined it.  It worked.  More than that, I loved it.  I really like being alone, but sometimes being alone in rehearsal feels endless in the bad way – empty and cold.  Ida provided warmth and accountability.  She would know if I just sat there staring off into space rather than dancing like I said I would.

Later in the hour, it was time for me to do a run-through of the piece I’m working on.  I explained this to Ida and asked if she might like to draw.  She said yes.  I started and had a (predictably) rough and frustrating go of it – this piece has been sitting unattended for a long time and I knew it would be tough to get back in, having had this same experience the last time I worked on it.  “This is why I’m rehearsing” I reminded myself.  Although, that makes having to perform shitty run-throughs only marginally more palatable.  Improvisation is no joke – the idea of “making it up as you go” seems so care-free and easy, and it can be, but, in my experience, it only becomes easy and fun after you’ve worked really hard at it – turning the possibilities inside and out, tearing out seams, adjusting, calibrating feelings/presence – basically just being tenaciously bad at it until you start being good.  Showing up.  Laying your self out for it.

Anyway, I’m thinking about all of these things, and slogging through this run-through that just will not end, and doesn’t seem to ever be going well, and suddenly Ida is standing in front of me.  She’s holding up a granola bar and she says “Please open this Mama.”  I know what I said, and I’m a big believer in consistency, but it was exactly what I needed, so I did it selfishly.  My own recorded voice was reading this overly emotional thing about baking bread and then my daughter was right there and I was already so far tangled in the weeds, so I reached out and opened the granola bar.  I did it improvisationally.  I did it with my full attention.  Ida took a bite and then offered me some.  I took it and the moment deepened and became even more perfect.  And I finished the run-through – breezed through it – coming to the end feeling grateful to have been in it rather than grateful that it was over.  More than anything, I finished feeling grateful for Ida.

In a minute after I finished, and before I needed to start hustling Ida into her winter gear and out the door so that the next artist could get into the space on time, I wrote this about our morning:

1/4

Ida with me at rehearsal.  She walks in circles, rolling her head – just like i walk in circles, rolling my head.  We’re warming up.  This is a huge success.  She is engaged, interested, and free – sometimes participating as a mover with me, sometimes as a watcher.  She claps.  I realize, at one point, that I’m sick of working on this, and she offers me a peeled clementine – the first time she’s done this without help.  I start the run-through – the thing we – I – came here to do.  She watches for a while, and then I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye.  She’s entered the dance space, left her folding chair surrounded with notebook, pencils, charlie brown and her dustpan and broom.  She is bringing me a granola bar as I hear my own voice recite a slick/sweet thing about baking bread.  And all of a sudden, a shift -we share the granola bar, performing, eating, blurring even more the lines between us, our work, our roles.  Wednesday morning.  We are learning.

Resolved!

3 Jan

And now, without further delay (since I have already been a few days late in sharing this breaking news) I present my 2012 New Years Resolution in two parts:

1.  Become ever more obnoxious

2.  Find new ways to communicate these developments

You might be thinking “Wow.  These are lofty goals!  Liz is already so obnoxious!  And with an ample (if poorly spelled) vocabulary!  And a blog for sporadic communication to tens of readers!  What could she possibly do to satisfy not just one, but BOTH of these ambitions?”

Well, dear readers, prepare for a truly elegant solution:  I have recently matriculated as a student in (so far) good standing at The Second City!  I have a shiny new notebook, and a Pilot V-ball pen and I’m already planning my back to school outfit.  Okay, well, no.  That’s not totally true.  But “notebook” and “good pen” are listed along with tampons, batteries, and a candy thermometer on a list entitled “Go to Target Today, You Lazy Jerk.”  These items are, in case you were wondering, for separate projects.

I have signed up for Writing 1!  And as I’m sure you can gather from all of the exclaiming, I’m feeling pretty excited.  I attended New Student Orientation on Saturday, where I met the former (current?) dungeon masters, and the over-40 pre-discovered starlets who will be my fellows.  I think we might safely be able to add comedy to the list of things we don’t want to see being made (this is not including the prerequisite messed up childhood part, which, if the Lifetime network has taught us anything, is pretty compelling if a little disturbing viewing material).  I mostly sat there deciding which camp I fall under, and eating up all of the high-energy gospel of The Second City.  I think I might be joining a cult.  But still, excitement!

We were gently-t0-ardently urged to abandon all hopes of professional success in comedy (done, and done!).  I can’t quite figure out why they did this, though, considering that this sort of talk is like a speed-protein shake to kids who grew up with any sort of theater experience.  Can other formerly fabulous theater/dance/music kids back me up here?  Is this specific to my time under various dance masochists/motivators?  In any case, for those of you not familiar with this feeling it goes like this:

Respected Mentor With Boundary Issues:  “You’re never going to Make It, ______!  Dancers/musicians/actors/carneys are a dime-a-dozen.  You will work as hard as you possibly can for your whole life and still never Make It.  Wanting it is not enough.  Not by a long shot.  I’m telling you, if there is any other thing that could possibly make you even fractionally as happy as this thing, do that thing instead.”  (there might also be some kind of unpleasantness like “You’re going to end up a whore/waitress just like your mother!  Slap!  Now get back to shelving those cans!” – though nothing like that ever happened to me.  My mom taught Jr. High).  “Making It” is never, ever, under any circumstances, defined.

Aspiring Whatever:  no words.  We watch as steely resolve begins to radiate from ______’s eye-holes.  We know, for certain, that ____ is going to become a (insert whatever thing she wants to become against-all-odds here) or die trying.  We’re excited to watch either way.  This is usually followed by a montage, which, just to slide a feminist nudge in here, is usually fitness themed when a lady is the protagonist.  Hmm……  Even when Elle Woods wanted to become a lawyer, her first instinct was to hit the treadmill to the dulcet tones of a pop-licious song.  I digress.  The point is, the hopelessness only seems to make the aspiring grow stronger in her resolve while also making her feel so goddamn special because she KNOWS she’s going to Make It (still unclear, probably even to her) while so many others aren’t!  She’s high as a kite!  She’s mere steps from taking over the world!

So, basically, I sat in a room with a couple hundred people, many of whom were visibly experiencing the above summarized surge of mania.  I had a little bit of a contact-high, but otherwise, managed to maintain my usual pessimistic, 30-year-old-directionless-mother-of-a-two-year-old outlook.  I did, however, get pretty excited about the prospect of 3 weekly hours of adult (?) time (NOT including the bus/train ride!  Score!) where I’ll get to work on something I’m interested in.  I’ll be sure to share any especially great happenings along the way.

 

City Living. Sigh.

4 Nov

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I love Chicago.  I love the energy.  I love the art.  I love raising my kid amid so much activity and opportunity.  I love my neighborhood.  I love being able to walk for 5-10 minutes and arrive at:

  • Lake Michigan – the beach and the beautiful lakefront park
  • The Redline
  • Women and Children First and other great local businesses
  • Several grocery stores (All-organic?  Sure.  Super-cheap produce?  Yup.  Mega-chain?  Yes-huh.)
  • multiple playgrounds
  • Award-winning lattes
  • Our neighborhood branch of the Chicago Public Library
  • My parents’ apartment
  • My brother and sister-in-law’s apartment
And all of this without even mentioning the food.  Oh, the food.  The hardest thing is choosing where to go.  Because all of the following are a 5-10 minute walk from our front door:  Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese (both sushi and home-style cooking!), Thai, Vietnamese (Pho and those irresistible sandwiches*), Southern, some of the city’s best bars, Huey’s Hot Dogs, Italian, Middle Eastern, and all manner of new american.  We even have a restaurant in the neighborhood that focusses on Dutch cuisine.  Seriously.  And don’t even get me started on brunch.  Bakeries?  Well it depends on whether you want a mexican, Vietnamese, swedish, or coffee-shop style cake/scones/cookies place.  Because we’ve got ’em all.
The list could go on and on.  In addition to all of this is my love of making a life with so many people all around me.  I’ve got an amazing community of friends and we get to do ridiculously fun things together that folks who don’t live in the city just don’t get to do (I mean, Ida and I had a playdate at the Shedd Aquarium this morning – that’s pretty cool, right?).  Free concerts with world-class musicians downtown in the summer, dance classes and performances with incredible artists, and walking to amazing dinner out whenever we feel like it/can afford it.  Some former students from Alma College live upstairs and provide childcare!  I have a sweet life, guys.
If all this is starting (?) to sound a little pep-talk-ey to you, there is a good reason (and congrats on your keen perception).  I need an “I love Chicago.  Really.” pep talk right now.  Because the thing is that I head gunshots two night in a row a couple of weeks ago.  They were close and it was scary.  Nate and I both sat up in bed at 2:30 in the morning, and listened as the sound traveled – getting closer, and then stopped.  3 shots in the course of 4 minutes.  The next night there was a “loud pop” at 8:30 in the evening and patrol cars were everywhere in a second.  And several days this week, there have been shootings (one with an automatic weapon) on a corner two city blocks from me – in some ways a world away, but still close enough to have me compulsively checking Everyblock (from which I have since cut myself off).  In the middle of the day on corner where I regularly pass by at that time with Ida, people are shooting at each other with really scary guns and hurting bystanders.  And I’m noticing a lot of “for sale” signs on our street.  And I’m seeing new people out on the sidewalks.  And.  And.  And.  I hear it too – I don’t like the way I’m thinking about this.
Now, I want to make it perfectly clear that I live in one of Chicago’s very cushiest neighborhoods.  Andersonville is where fabulous gay couples come to raise their beautiful families (and it should go without saying that the gays do an excellent job keeping the sidewalks safe and framed by beautiful gardens).  It’s like Chicago’s version of Florida – where to retire and settle down after your stint in Boystown.  I’m half-joking – lots of other folks live here too, of course.  I live in an exceedingly safe place in the city.  But Andersonville is the cream center between two somewhat undesirable cookies.  That old adage about the city being a block-by-block patchwork of safe spaces and sketchy spots is very true to where we’re located and it feels like the sketchy parts are starting to close in a little bit.  It is entirely possible that this is not actually happening, but through some stroke of chance I have just become more aware of it.
I’m remembering my life in central Michigan in a much sunnier light.  I’m omitting the fact that a friend of mine got stabbed in the face while she was laying in her bed, in her apartment, by a man who broke in and was hiding in her closet.  I’m forgetting about the last time I was in town to teach and a guy with a gun opened fire at a local bar.  I’m re-writing stories to create a totally safe place where, even if only hypothetically, I could be absolutely insulated from the terror of violence.  I’m feeling like I need to get out of the city and make a life somewhere sleepy and secluded.  I hear the imaginary siren song of central Michigan.
I know.  I know that the seclusion had some serious drawbacks.  I remember what it felt like to be so isolated as an artist – sometimes great, but mostly just so hard.  I remember people asking me why I was grocery shopping in the middle of the day with a look of disdain and concern – not being able to imagine anything but a 9-5 work day  and not being able to place me without a child to take care of (“um, I work in the evenings?  This is my free time?”).  I remember the constant frustration of trying to explain that making dances was not my hobby – of trying to help the other adult, professional dancers that I was working with navigate explaining our tours (and their need for time off from their other jobs) to their employers  – to explain the project at all (“no, this is not for a club I’m in/this is not a children’s group/we are not strippers”).  I remember feeling deeply bored and frustrated and irritated at the insular self-protective reflex of suburban living.  I remember more than anything else, the feeling that I just did not fit – that this just was not working.
All of this to say that I love Chicago.  That this is my home.  But I’m having a tough time with it right now.  I wish I could have it both ways – radical togetherness with total insulation from violence.  Real community so long as it doesn’t push me – so long as I never feel afraid or stretched to confront other people and our scary stuff.  Diversity, but with none of the unpleasant clashes that come from smushing together people of privilege with people clawing for enough.  I want an elective buffer that I can enact whenever I feel like it.  I want magic.  I want something impossible – something that makes the other thing, maybe even the higher-order thing, null.  I want something that I don’t believe in.  Because I know that the community and spirit of possibility that I came here for are not free – that they come with this work.  I know that I had a hand in making the world this way.  And I know that I’m going to need to get involved, in whatever small way, in changing it.  I have some growing up to do.  Sigh.
Anybody else out there holding the tension on this?  Any help for a gal who’s struggling?
* that make you think for a hot-second that all of that unpleasantness with France was perhaps worth it.  No.  Fight the selfishness.  But man.  Those sandwiches are really something.

reVAMP!

2 Nov

I just got back from Ikea and am in the middle of the world’s mildest home-makeover (read: a non-moldy shower curtain has been installed along with a new throw pillow!  Is the excitement palpable where you are too?!).  I was never nuts about the look of this blog and since I’m on an image-transforming rampage (see below:  Fashion, Crimes Against, and, of course, the throw pillow) I decided TCoWHRN deserved some aesthetic consideration too.  I hope you enjoy the fresh new look!