Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Not Take (Know It) All Of Me?


Hello and happy holidays.  This time of year makes me cranky for any number of reasons, but that’s another blog entirely.  Instead of focusing on mistletoe and wassailing and other stuff I don’t understand, I thought I’d try to purge my brain of some of the thoughts that are stuck in my head like that damn Chumbawamba song.

I have been fortunate enough to go to Rancho La Puerta, a spa in Tecate, Mexico on a handful of occasions, all of which have been nothing short of life changing.  The first few times I went alone and I was drawn to all the activities billed as “silent” or “meditative”, as they were opportunities to participate in cool stuff sans small talk with people I didn’t know.  I’m generally all for meeting new folks and chatting it up, but a whole week of answering the same questions (Where are you from? Did you meet the other lady from Chicago?  You’re here ALL ALONE? Have you been here before?) can use a break or two.  I signed up for the silent meditation dinner and looked forward to having a meal in peace and quiet, but in the company of others.
We were instructed to chew our food very carefully and try to really taste it and think about what we were eating and make a note of where those thoughts took us as we would have a group discussion after.  If you’ve never been to anything like this, I’m here to tell you IT WAS A TRIP.  First of all, as someone who mostly eats whatever isn’t nailed down as quickly as I can over a garbage can at work to avoid listening to passengers’ commentary about it (Ooh, that looks good!  Did you bring enough for everyone?  Seriously, people?  It’s canned tuna.  Remain calm….) I could not believe how long that dinner seemed to take.  In a good way, but it really seemed like hours of chewing and thinking and chewing and thinking.  I thought about what the food really tasted like, the subtle nuances of flavors, about the labor it took to grow it and put it together and serve it and I wondered about what all the other silent chewers were thinking about.  When it was over, the thoughts shared aloud were mostly in line with mine, about the food and its taste and origins and preparation and such until one older man cleared his throat and said, 

“I’d like to say something.”

We all stared at him as he looked alternately at the other diners and down at the table and said, 

“I am here at this dinner because my wife thought it would be a good idea.  My brother recently made some seriously bad decisions regarding our family’s finances and it cost us a ton of money.  I’m really, really, REALLY angry about it and I can’t think about anything else besides that, especially not about how lettuce tastes or about farmers I don’t know or whatever else is being discussed here…..I just keep thinking about how much I hate my brother.  Sorry to bring you down, but I’m here because my wife thinks this experience will help me get over it, but I can’t let it go.  What do you say to that?”

I can still remember vividly the looks on the faces of the dozen or so middle aged, affluent, spa going, meditation dinner eating, road to self actualization trudging types just staring at this guy with the same “Holy crap, we just got blindsided with buzz kill at a SILENT dinner” expression.

We all turned our bewildered faces towards the dinner’s moderator, a young pretty gal with hippie sensibilities, whose face seemed to indicate that although she was a bit taken aback, we should relax because she would handle it.  She spoke in a soft but authoritative tone and replied,

“I’m glad you shared your true feelings with us.  Your wife seems to have your best interests at heart and for that, you should be grateful.  It sounds like your family situation is complicated and that your brother has made some mistakes that you find hard to reconcile.  But I’d like to get you to start thinking differently with the simple concept that it’s often better to be kind than to be right.”  

The man nodded and looked back down at the table.  Not wanting to process any more uncomfortable silence, everyone broke free of the table, assumedly to pursue aromatherapy foot massages.

Five years later, that simple concept still echoes in my head.  I may not be the hottest girl with the smoothest moves, but I’m pretty confident that I am a smart cookie.  I realized early on that my intellect was my most valuable asset, for supporting myself, for attracting companions, for weathering life’s storms, and for stringing together lists complete with Oxford commas.  Chances are if we are friends that you may wear smarty pants as well.  I’m here to tell you as a smart gal I WANT TO BE RIGHT ALL THE EM EFFING TIME.  It’s part of my nature, it’s ingrained in every fiber of my being, and I don’t appear to be alone with this credo.  However, I’m attempting to soften this side of myself for a few reasons.  More lists, naturally.

Most importantly, NO ONE LIKES A KNOW IT ALL.  You know it, I know it, everyone listening to Cliff on Cheers knows it.  So why do we forget this when we open our mouths?  Why, why, Nancy Kerrigan lead pipe to the knees, WHY?  Why must we think our two cents is worth a dollar eighty five?

As I get older, I’ve gotten smarter about certain topics but my memory for factoids is starting to swirl the bowl, leading me to forget things or (shudder) remember them incorrectly.  And there’s nothing worse than thinking you’re right and being wrong….. Am I right?
 
The state of the world has caused me to tune out of “important” topics like politics and finance and who’s trying to dominate the world as we know it this week.  I mean, I vote and I’m a decent manager of my own money and I attempt to read a newspaper of note on a regular basis, not just the celebrity gossip.  But the stuff I really know is mostly music trivia and pop culture bullshit, which I know in the big scheme of things is just pure cocktail party fluff.

Humbled by all this, I continue to practice being kind over being right.  Before I go twenty rounds over there vs their and the like, I ask myself, does it really matter?  I get seriously annoyed over petty bullshit like that all the time and then I have to remember that I don’t get all those moments in my life back and there isn’t a special place in heaven for nitpickers.  Even in the realm of dispensing advice, where someone else is merely asking my opinion, lately I find myself doing more listening and asking questions like, “How would you like things to be different?” instead of trying to smother them with my thoughts on how things should be.  I was recently told that making people feel good is my super power, so perhaps while I’m being kind I’m also doing something right.  Two great tastes that taste great together……

I am trying to overcome an overwhelming case of writer’s block…..looking for avenues to continue to share my work at the onset of Chicago winter.  Being between writing projects makes you feel like you should at the very least be actively living a life worth writing about.  I’m off to drink a whiskey drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink, a cider drink, and sing the songs that remind me of the good times…..more Oxford commas soon.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Phonely No More


Recognizing that no story of any interest ever started with “I recently bought a new phone”, here goes.
I recently bought a new phone.  My trusty two year old iPhone 3G had been sputtering along, not reacting quickly to my every request and needing to be charged at every turn.  I was truly surprised it had held up as long as it did as that phone was constantly in use for our entire relationship.  I used it for emailing, texting, research, writing, rewriting, and until I was recently given an iPod Shuffle, I used the iPod function while I was running or just killing time on the El train.  Okay, sure, this sounds like what everyone does with their phone….precisely when does this become interesting?

As soon as iPhone 3 started to show signs of biting the dust, I focused on getting the latest and greatest iPhone.  My phone limped along through the summer as everyone said the iPhone 5 would be announced in October….no iPhone 5, but what about the iPhone 4S?  It was touted to be a jillion times faster and featured Siri, some sort of voice operated assistant function that might actually live my life for me when I’m not interested.  Sounds great.  Of course getting a new iPhone 4S, at least in Chicago, proved to be a challenge, especially since I put very little effort into jumping through hoops to get it.  I figured I’d waited this long for a new phone….I’d wait for the hype to die down and get one when everyone was done clamoring over it.  Who cares if I was the asshole plugging my phone in at random coffee shops just to get through the day?  I would have the new phone, some day, some way.

I was on the El last week, catching up with online blather, when I came across my friend Colleen’s blog.  She had written a story about a chance encounter with someone she met at the Double Down Saloon in Las Vegas.  Colleen had gone in to kill some time and try a bacon martini when she was approached by a young woman out of the blue; they struck up a conversation and had a compelling connection.  As I read the story, I recognized that it was of special interest to me as I am immensely attracted to tales of alliances between strangers, to the point that is a thematic obsession.  Some of my most cherished songs, movies, and books revolve around this; when I started writing, it became a recurring motif.  Perhaps because there are no strangers, there are only people you haven’t met yet, and those people can change the way you think in important and meaningful ways, even if your relationship is very short.  While this was sinking in, I looked around and took in the faces of those surrounding me, people I hadn’t taken any time to notice because I was completely consumed with my phone, which is a pretty typical scenario for me.

It wasn’t always this way.  I thought about the first cell phone I had when I started my job back in 2001….it was slightly smaller than a brick and it MADE AND RECEIVED PHONE CALLS.  That’s it.  I would fire it up at the end of my work day, check my messages, return calls, and turn it off.  Every new phone came with more features whether I wanted them or not (I still remember telling the salesman at the Sprint store, “I don’t need a camera!” to which he replied, “You can’t get a phone without one!”), and I’ll admit that texting and emailing on a handheld device has made simple communication more convenient.  As someone who is away from home for work, I have come to rely on the phone to keep me in contact with life in Chicago while I’m working and with others who I don’t see often for a variety of reasons, distance, work schedules, etc.  But at some point, I started using it not only to stay connected to my important people, but to dissociate myself with the here and now.  My job (just like yours, possibly) involves people saying and doing things I’d rather not see or witness or absorb, and sometimes I prefer to climb into a comfortable internet rabbit hole instead of acknowledging what’s going on around me.  But when I do this, I’m denying myself two very important opportunities….opening my eyes to the people around me and accepting whatever magical, offensive, or truly banal events may occur, or if I need to check out of reality, I really should be day dreaming.  It’s completely acceptable to be lost in one’s thoughts in the middle of it all, in fact, it is probably when we are our most creative.  With that in mind, I went to the AT&T store and bought a basic iPhone with a quarter the storage of my old one.  It makes and receives calls and texts and emails and holds 1,000ish songs, which is more than I need to revert to my old philosophy of checking in with the electronic world on occasion, responding, and returning my focus back to the present. When I make a decision that involves choosing relationships and experiences over shiny material stuff, it brings me happiness, another recurring theme here in the blogosphere.

I could have come to this realization sooner if I’d listened to a scruffy, Hawaiian shirt clad, heavily medicated, quite possibly crazy guy on the El a few months back.  I was texting a friend and listening to music while taking the orange line home after going out for dinner.  When we arrived at the end of the line, he yelled in my face, “I don’t know who you’ve been texting this whole ride, but I’ve been trying to get your attention.  I’M A REAL PERSON WHO’S RIGHT HERE!”  I laughed and agreed with him, but he continued to cuss me out.   He definitely gets points off for his technique, but I’ll be damned if that loony dude wasn’t on to something.  Sometimes people are telling you everything you really need to know, you just need to make sure you’re able to listen.

NaNoWriMo idea scrapped, but there are some new writing developments in the works.  And it's snowing here in Chicago!  And thus begins the season of hunkering down at the keyboard....

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Happiness Chronicles: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Just arrived in Rhode Island after a day bearing no resemblance to the Pan Am show, just happy there are no weigh ins anymore.  But enough with the shop talk....

I have been considering the tactics I’ve employed in the past to make improvements to my life and how effective they were.  One idea I really went for as a young adult was that of REINVENTION.  Looking up to Bowie and Madonna and anyone else who could create a new persona at the drop of a hat, I decided early that if I didn't like it, I should change it.  New hair, new dude, new job, new apartment, new city, all equaled new attitude.  I mean, I didn't  know if I'd like it unless I tried it, right?  Also a selling point of reinvention is running away from the old me.  With every new relationship/living situation, there was an opportunity to start completely clean, to distance myself from all the mistakes I had made, to recreate myself from what I learned from all the flubs.  I chalked this all up as part of being young and adventurous and carefree and all that.

As I grew older, the reinvention principle became exhausting.  I picked a guy and a job for the long haul.  And having both for over a decade showed me the amazing benefits of applying patience and time to your endeavors.   Long term commitment can provide trust and security and solace and predictability and ease.  I was no longer running away from my mistakes; I learned from them without divorcing myself from the person capable of screwing up.  I let my guard down knowing that I had a secure foundation and took comfort in not worrying about the perils of finding new employment and suitors and friends and housing and all the stress and mental negotiating that such situations can bring.

Fast forward to moving to Chicago recently.   My skills at going it alone were pretty rusty and were being managed by the brain of an anxious middle aged broad.   I once again became enthralled with the idea of reinvention and the high that it can provide.  The last few years have been a fantastic learning experience and I’ve really stretched my notions about what’s possible when you put your mind to it.  But I’ve also noticed a marked increase in some not so winning aspects of my personality that are seriously exacerbated by being a solo act... I am impatient, impulsive, irrational and make the snappiest of snap judgments. My iPhone isn't fast enough, I want to punch aimless people on the moving walkway in the head, I want everyone and everything  to react yesterday, I take every quiet moment as an opportunity to write my own version of what’s going on instead of just waiting for time to unfold the details... everything that's not to my liking is a waste of time and a SURE sign I should be on a different path.   It leads my BFF to make comments  ranging from, “There’s really no harm in waiting before you do anything" to “Jack McCoy would not approve of your conjecture” to “Holy crap, I’m glad you don’t have access to the nuclear codes”, depending on the situation. (no shit, she has made all these brillliant/hilarious observations, that’s why she remains on staff)  I fantasize about new relationships and jobs and apartments and cities to live…..all the while losing sight of what’s great about what’s currently going on.  I guess it’s same escapism employed by dudes ignoring their significant others to look at porn….the great unknown allows you to think that unchartered person/job/apartment/city won’t be rife with the current bullshit you’re dealing with….you could start over in a bigger, better production of your life, starring the new and improved you.  But I've taken to reminding myself that every aspect of life has inevitable ups and downs, just as if our porn loving friends REALLY got with Amber Lynn, she would have days she'd lose her come hither face and tell them to take out the trash already.

This bigger picture became clear to me while I was rewriting a story I wrote last year, lamenting to myself and anyone else who would listen, "But I'm not that person anymore!"...the person in question had projected all of her fears into her body image.  I was annoyed that evidence of "that person" existed, when I should have been celebrating who I've become instead....a slightly more confident, slightly less anxious
gal, ever clawing her way up Maslow's pyramid.

Is this is to say that I’m sticking on the horse I’m currently riding forever?  No.  I can’t really see growing old on the El train living by an airport.  But I guess the point of this reflection is to say that perhaps nothing is a waste of time….everything takes exactly as long as it should, even if it seems to end abruptly without my permission or drag on endlessly.  And it's completely fine to not have a plan, opting to let the universe and the test of time and careful consideration dictate what should be changed  instead of constantly acting on every whim and always trying to get the world to bend to my will.

Thanks for the blog support....let's all get incrementally happier together, shall we?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Call of Happiness....Is It Coming From Inside The House?

Things are decidely chilly today at Nonsense HQ.  Landlord still working on hooking up the heat.  But I’m certainly not here to discuss the weather inside or outside my office, as that would be officially boring.  I’m here to talk about the weather inside my head, which is partly cloudy with a chance of sunshine.  Enjoy!
My last blog post was a consideration of the fact that although I have all the elements of a fabulous life (love interest, quality friends, good job, creative outlets, decent living situation, today’s heat debacle not withstanding), I still feel cranky and dissatisfied sometimes.  As my most treasured pastime is overthinking, I’ve been ruminating on that quite a bit lately.  Although it’s not expected to feel great every day in every way, I have been analyzing what components bring joy to a life, mostly in terms of my own.
First let’s start with the necessary evil that is WORK.  My sweetie has a “normal” job in corporate America…while comparing days, he more often than not has had multiple meetings.  Meetings about past meetings, about future meetings, meetings about the efficiency of past and future meetings.  It all got to be so ridiculous sounding to me that I asked him, “In the twenty minutes a day you’re not in a meeting, what EXACTLY do you DO?  Do you have a job description?”  He thought it over and replied succinctly, “I opine in regards to credit potential”.  I was then bemused as I hadn’t heard anyone use the word “opine” as their job related action word….mostly I hear things like “serve”, or “supervise”, or “create content”, or “delegate”, or "look busy" or whatever.  Which got me thinking about the importance of one’s opinion.  We all have them, obviously, but how much of life’s satisfaction is derived from having our point of view validated and respected?  In the workplace and beyond?  Hmm.  Let’s start with my job.  As I do not have anyone who directly oversees my work in the sky, I don’t feel that my opinion is actively of interest to my employer.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there are Ideas and Suggestions websites and avenues to submit all of my fabulous work related ideas, should I ever have any.  And there is something to be said for being an anonymous cog in something turning.  I am replaceable when I’m sick, I don’t take work home with me, I am often pleased with my decision to be a number.  I have relied on getting job satisfaction from the living, breathing people I provide service for, the passengers and my co-workers.  Flying has become a more arduous chore for all of us, by the time the passengers get onboard they have been searched and poked and prodded and herded and are sometimes are at their breaking point for any number of reasons.  When you put a group of people in such an environment, inevitably there are a small number of people with big needs who get all the attention.  After putting out their fires, you then divide up the time and energy you have left to tend to the folks who just are getting from point A to point B without commotion and try to provide them with a pleasant experience.  The last few years I've sensed more strain in the attitude of the general public….as the Man puts the smack down on all of us, expecting more and more and offering less and less, the trickle down effect can be an overall sense of melancholy and defeat…..combined with personal burn out makes the whole experience not as fun as they made it sound in brochure.
But I know job related angst is more the norm than the exception and there are certainly worse fates than telling people to have a Coke and smile and ending up in San Diego.  Which leads to the happiness derived from the life outside the tube.  I recently read a story with the folks at 2nd Story at In Fine Spirits…it was, as always, an amazing experience.  In the car after the show, I mostly made comments about what others had said to me about the show.  This was countered with, “Maybe the important thing isn't what others thought about it, it’s what YOU thought about it”.   Cue overanalyzing machine.  I came up with the hypothesis that since I didn’t feel my work was providing me with positive feedback lately, that I was hungry for evidence that my ideas were important or meaningful or at the very least entertaining.  Perhaps I’ve grown addicted to the Facebook “like” button concept of life, that you’re only as good as the strokes you’re getting AT THIS MOMENT, who knows.  It was brought to my attention that I have a life filled with people who appreciate my opinions and that they make that clear to me all the time.  Yep, true.  So this satisfaction I’m endlessly seeking…perhaps it is indeed a Do It Yourself project.  I'm starting to come to grips with the idea that although I'm convinced to some degree that life’s highs are centered around our connections with others, I must admit that not giving a rip about what anyone else thinks about me is a pretty liberating concept and may be the key to getting to the next level in the video game I call E Life.
Next possible project…..NaNoWriMo.  Writing a novel in November…..50,000 words in 30 days.  For real?  Can it be done?  Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands! ***crickets***


Greetings from Nonsense Headquarters on a sweltering Chicago day. It's 94 degrees at 5 in the afternoon but I won't bitch because before we know it, I'll be putting on long underwear and cursing the day I made Chicago my home. This summer has been the usual overwhelming parade of excess, lots of food, friends, music, laughter, drinking, carousing, and rear ending of police cars. I've had more fun in the last few months than I have had in a long, long time. I'm surrounded by great friends, I've discovered my artistic side, I've found someone who makes me laugh that I want to spend all my time around. I have a job that pays all my bills with enough left over to fund my silly whims, a job that affords me the ability to travel and a lot of time off. I have my health, which eluded me for awhile; in fact I'm in pretty good shape for someone who is often powered on wine and salty snacks and ice cream. So WHY do I wake up in the morning feeling like Courtney Love after she consumed a mojito made with minty fresh bleach?

A few hypotheses:

Hormones! You boys might want to sit this paragraph out, although if you're straight, it might help you understand your loved one, if you're gay, you've probably heard all of this before, even if you spent girls night with your fingers jammed in your ears. I was never a big PMS sufferer, but in case your mama didn't tell you, menopause is much like the asteroid in Armageddon: a vicious life sucking bitch from which there is no escape. You definitely feel like your emotions are on one of those mechanical bull rides and you're just holding on for dear life, trying not to hurt yourself or anyone else until the ride stops. I don't have any answers or miracle cures besides the tried and true: just eat the Reeses or take a nap or watch ten episodes of Arrested Development or do whatever makes you feel better, whether it seems logical or not.

Years of Denial! I spent a good part of my life living in situations that ranged from just okay to completely untenable, all the while telling myself everything was fine, perhaps because I didn't think I deserved for things to be better. Telling yourself it will be fine is an effective temporary method of self preservation, but as time marches on, your bad feelings have nowhere to go. Once you're filled with toxic energy, it's hard to get yourself cleaned up again….you're pretty much soaking in it, Madge. All the antidepressants pills in the world will just make you not feel anything anymore and will make a lot of intolerable situations "fine". I'm not against psychotropic drugs… I think they are very effective if prescribed properly for people who really need them. But I often feel if I'd just allowed myself to be pissed off instead medicated, I would have seen things more clearly sooner. I was recently asked to rewrite a story I read earlier this year, a piece that started as a funny story of meeting someone for casual sex. As I edited it and was forced to make cuts to all the superfluous material, I found that the jokes were all on the cutting room floor and I was forced to face the fact that often comedy is a shield. I enjoy making people laugh and I intend never to lose my snarky edge, but I've recognized that humor and pain go hand and hand and it's completely acceptable to own up to your fears and insecurities without always having to make yourself the butt of a joke.

But the simple answer as to why I'm crabby for no apparent reason: It's a bad habit. One I'm seriously trying to break. So what's the plan to shed the cranky pants? Surround myself with smart, kind people who love me and treat them the way they deserve to be treated. Take good care of myself and my circle, absorbing all the wonderful things life has to offer and recognize that some days and some people just suck ass, but they aren't part of the permanent landscape. And cutting myself a break when I am cranky, because to be cranky every so often is to be alive. And those Reeses aren't going to eat themselves, dammit.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lowered Expectations!


Long time, no nonsense. I've been enjoying a beautiful Chicago summer, although my top floor apartment with only one air conditioner is a bit sticky. A fine excuse to be out and about testing the limits of my deodorant on a regular basis. I'm pleased to report that life is treating me well, full of ups and downs as any life fully lived should be. Wednesday night of this last week I read at Reading Under The Influence at Sheffield's here in Chicago, which was my first foray into fiction writing. Telling a five minute story is a challenge, for me at least, but the fiction part was really entertaining as I didn't rely on my memory to put the story together. While I was out and about I fielded a lot of questions on what I plan to do with my writing. Interesting question, too bad I don't have an amazing answer. The truth is I never really believed I'd do anything with it, really. I do plan to write more autobiographical stories, hopefully performing them with 2nd Story or other organizations like them; the performing aspect allows for instant feedback that sitting at a desk typing does not. I can't really see writing for a living as I fear it would take all the fun out of it, although I certainly fantasize about it after my millionth eye roll in response to my request to put your damn tray table up, already. I guess I entered the world of writing with no expectations….so every great thing that's happened has been gravy, every disappointment a learning experience.

Which leads me to relationships…..a staple here at the blog. The crashpad family had a fire pit meeting a few months back where we did what we do best, talked ad nauseum about the world's problems, all solvable thanks to those who make and distribute wine. We were deep in discussion about what to expect from other people, both in romantic and friendship arenas, when I said, "What if you don't expect anything? What if you just concentrated on your end of the love equation?" My BFF laughed and said something to the effect of "Well that's probably impossible and certainly insane." Quite possible. But it got me thinking…..what if you just offered your heart without prejudice, using common sense and good judgment of course, and just gave up on worrying about demands, requirements, wishes, desires, wants, assumptions, presumptions, suppositions, etc. (Thanks, thesaurus!) What if you just let it all go and just went with an overall feeling of HOPE…..every great thing that happens interpersonally is gravy, every disappointment a learning experience. I'm not saying such a thing is easy, but difficult things often reap the most reward. Plus think of all the extra time you'd have on your hands if you didn't have to worry about what everyone else in your life was going to do and how it was going to affect you? Shit, with that kind of time I could finally watch Friday Night Lights….clear eyes, full hearts CAN'T LOSE, people! Not to mention cute boys half my age. MEOW.

Below is the story from RUI…..special thanks to Cynthia, Ouida, Scott, and Professor Don for being my outside eye on this one. And many thanks to those who came to the show…I know Chicago has a million things to do in the summer, or you could be working. I'm honored by your support…I offer it in return, optimally without expectation.


Sail Away

"The sign says the TV is for SPORTS ONLY!" Frank roars. "Can't we watch the M's game?"

"I suppose, Frank," I say, reaching for the remote control. "But you know the rules. No sound."

 "That's fine. I just want to watch the game," he mutters while trying to light another generic cigarette. His ashtray is filled with butts as I've given up on trying to keep it empty.

 It's another day shift at the dive bar. A cloud of smoke blankets us in filthy air and obscures our ability to see much of anything clearly. I survey the street outside through the haze. Why do dive bars have windows? You're there to escape reality, any reminders of it seem cruel, or at least unnecessary. And you certainly don't want reality seeing YOU there. I turn my attentions back to the patrons, whose glasses are all half empty according my current level of optimism.

 "Another Dickel, Frank?" I look at him with a questioning face, as if there was any other answer besides the affirmative. He stubs out his cigarette and nods, his yellow fingers circle the glass as I pour, his hands shake as he takes the first sip. I try not to think about what Frank does when he's not sitting at my bar. He drives an airport shuttle. If only his fear-of –flying riddled passengers knew that their ride to the dreaded airplane was in the quivering hands of someone who can't get through the day without a steady stream of cheap whiskey. I try not to let this truth about him make my head explode. Since I haven't let my bartending job define me, I decide to extend Frank the same courtesy. There are a bunch of other regulars at the bar, not staying a full shift like Frank, but coming and going, getting a buzz on and staring at the television. They all prefer Lana, the other day bartender, to me, as Lana brings a certain magic to the joint with her brown lipstick and tight jeans, and she wraps everyone around her finger with the fine art of giggling. Her fake smile is more genuine than mine; her small talk is bigger. During my shifts, the bar is mostly quiet; I sense that the lack of chatter makes us all a bit uneasy. But in the end, everyone still appears to be getting what they need.

I don't care about the baseball game, but I stare at it as well, mentally adrift. I wonder why these people don't drink at home. Booze is cheaper there, right? I know when I get off work, I intend to shower off the smell of smoke and fryer grease and enjoy a drink in peace and quiet at a fraction of the price of what they're paying to sit here and sip themselves into a stupor.

Pete, one of the regulars, interrupts my judgmental meditation to ask for change for the jukebox.

"You know the rules, Pete," I say, handing him the singles. " NO ROY ORBISON. Things are gloomy enough around here." He nods, and laughs, and punches in B21. Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing". Pete may have telepathy.

I wash some glasses in preparation for the night shift. I wonder how much longer I'll work here. I have no other plan, but I'm not sure how much more time I can spend staring at people drinking themselves senseless. My brain starts running on the same redundant treadmill…. If Frank kills someone tomorrow morning on the way to the airport, am I legally responsible……? Or worse yet, ethically responsible? I grab the reins before this line of thinking tramples me. I silence my discordant brain chatter with a vow to look in the want ads tomorrow to see who's hiring. It might still be bartending, but surely there's a nicer place than this that needs help, perhaps with more white wine and appetizers and less reminding old drunk men about rules.

I see the night bartender, John, walk in. Ah, sweet relief. I start doing my closing duties, making sure everyone has a fresh drink and clean ashtray. I count the till, I bank face my tips in a small attempt to control what's positive about this gig. John has a strange expression as he ties on his apron and comes behind the bar. I wave my hand through his million mile stare.

"What's up, dude?"
"You know, Amanda, from next door?"
"Yeah."

 I'd just seen her on the street the day before, pushing her toddler in a stroller on her way to make the bank deposit for the dry cleaners she and her husband Matt owned. She had only the sunniest expressions to offer the world and her clothes smelled of dryer sheets, in staunch opposition to my smoky, sulky stink.

 "She died in her sleep last night," John says. "Some kind of brain embolism. I just saw Matt's brother outside the cleaners. Matt woke up this morning and she was just laying there next to him, dead."
"You're kidding. How old was she?"
"Twenty nine."
"Holy shit."
"That about sums it up. She always seemed so happy. Now Matt's got the kid to take of, all by himself."
"Fuck."
"I know."

 Amanda looked like she never worried about a thing. Amanda had nothing to worry about, assumedly. She just smiled at her perfect life; she didn't waste her time judging people. And I bet not once in her short but perfect life did she ever drink alone.

I put my carefully arranged cash in my pocket. I untie my apron, placing it in the laundry bin. I put a dollar in the jukebox and punch in A29, Neil Young's "Sail Away". I walk back to the bar and for the first time, I pull out a chair. The chair next to Frank.

 As Neil croons "See the losers in the best bars…Meet the winners in the dives…where the people are the real stars….all the rest of their lives", I sit down and say,

"Get Frank another Dickel, John. And pour me a Makers Mark on the rocks. Actually, make it double. I'm going to be here for awhile."


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pick Your Own Adventure! Or At Least Don't Be A Prick.

I am in the home stretch of an eight week course in storytelling.  We had a dress rehearsal last night and I really felt an unprecedented sense of pride in what the group, six storytellers and two teachers, had collectively and individually produced.  I’ve done a few drugs in my life, but I’m telling you there’s no better high than working with a group of people who are equally talented and supportive and passionate about their art.
I did my income producing job over the last weekend as well.  At some point on the plane, I mentioned to one of the pilots that I had homework.  Upon arrival in Tampa, I decided to go to the hotel bar, which is something I usually skip as I prefer to drink in my free time in the company of people I enjoy.  I guess I like to keep my work and my fun separate, with some limited exceptions.  I made an exception the other night as it was early, I wanted a glass of wine, and my crew seemed nice enough.  The other two flight attendants and our two pilots and I sat outside enjoying some balmy Florida air, some cheap wine, some classic rock.  Pleasant enough.  One of my co-workers inquired about my homework, I told him I was in storytelling school.  The table asked what the story was about and I filled them in on the details of the tale that I’m working on involving a young soldier I met on the plane on his way home from Iraq.  I bought him a drink, he wanted to talk, it was revealed that he was released from the Army due to a pretty severe case of PTSD.  We shared a connection that was meaningful, even though I’ve never seen him since and our relationship lasted four hours four years ago.  When I was done with this brief synopsis, our other pilot said “Is that it?  That’s the whole story?”  I said “Yes.  Why?  Not enough for you?”  He replied, “Not really.  Nothing really happens.”  “Well, it’s a slice of life thing, that small things can be meaningful.”  He replied that I should add some things that didn’t happen as NO ONE was going to make a movie of THAT.  I’m not making a movie, I replied, it’s a ten minute story.  He countered with a lot more hot air including, if I was going to tell a story, it should be interesting, as then it will be MARKETABLE, and that’s the only thing that’s important in this world.
Okay.  Which leads me to the blog post.  I have dealt with people like this my whole life, and possibly so have you.  It used to be “Why do you talk so loud?  And so much?  Why can’t you be like other girls?  You’re going out WITHOUT makeup?  You’re going wear THAT?  Who told you to do that to your hair?” Etc, etc, etc.  About six years into the flygirl gig I stopped flying A position (up front with the most pilot interaction) as I grew so tired of discussing why I wasn’t married, why I didn’t have children, why I’d be with an academic (Is he gay?), basically WHY AREN’T YOU EXACTLY WHAT WE EXPECT.   The comments about what I look like I took with a grain of salt, the ones about my life choices grew old but I didn’t really take them personally.  But when this jagweed the other night wanted to question something that’s really important to me, no.  Sorry, not having it.  I explained to him that the most important work in this world more often than not doesn’t generate income.  He gave me an expression that was the human equivalent of a double blank domino.  I asked him if he had children.  Yes, he did.  Could he grasp that being a parent was the most important job he had in making the world a better place?  That he couldn’t be buried with all his stock options and mutual funds, that the work he had put into his children was his legacy.  He relented, begrudgingly, mostly because I think he wanted me to stop talking.  I told him (because I wasn’t done talking!) that I would never be a parent, but my writing is my most important contribution to making the world better….even if it’s just my world and the handful of people who read or listen to it and enjoy it.  I see that it connects people, it makes people talk, it makes people think and feel, it brings something that this current technology obsessed, greed driven, third world hating mess could use a lot more of: HUMANITY.  Who needs another drink?
I guess what I’m getting at is the world has a lot of people who just have no heart.  It’s discouraging to me that they want to put other people down without thinking, that they feel threatened by every person who they don’t see a carbon copy of their life decisions written on.  Being a thinking, feeling individual with your own opinions is often not encouraged or rewarded.
Before you give me the Debbie Downer award, please know that I know that this is not everyone.  I am surrounded by truly wonderful friends and I see evidence of people who realize that having love in your life is more important than material wealth.  I constantly take chances on people, and more often than not, I am rewarded for my leap of faith.  But here’s some advice that I intend to live by: let’s live our lives like someone is writing a book about us.  As I now see the world in such terms, when people really do something shitty, I think “You want the story to go THAT way?  Alright.”  Think of your favorite fictional characters; I’m guessing they’re not perfect, they make mistakes, but they are passionate and caring and driven.  They certainly don’t sit around picking on other people for sport and talking about their 401K.  Yawn.  They certainly don’t yammer on about their 20.5 carat diamond.  Yawn.  They have something to fucking SAY.
Go forth and live your autobiography.  Be interesting, passionate, and accountable.  And by all means, don’t let the assholes of this world pull you down.  Let us thank them for making our skin thicker, our game sharper, our convictions stronger.  Plus every good story needs a villain.
Towards the end of the evening in Tampa, my crew was discussing how they met their signficant others.  A mixed bag of funny and sweet.  When the pilot who questioned my story was done telling his tale about how he and wife met at a bar in college when she was stood up by another date, I told him that perhaps he should add some things that didn't happen, because if he was going to tell a story, he should make it interesting.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Desiree Grosse

A brief update about me:  I have not been writing the blog lately as I have been in storytelling school, developing the story that appeared in the blog in February entitled Story Time.  I am fortunate to have two amazing instructors (Julie Ganey and Amanda Delheimer) and five other talented, lovely, supportive fellow students to work alongside.  Crafting stories is a time consuming and strangely emotional process…there are joys and frustrations that hit you upside the head without warning and no story ends up being about what you thought it would be about when you started it.  Between that and doing cognitive behavioral work as well as sky hostess work, I’ve been inundated with projects of late.  But I wanted to take a few minutes to share some thoughts about a very important person.
I started flying a little over ten years ago.  When I was new and bright eyed, I got a trip on reserve (for non-airline folks, that means I was on call and got assigned a trip that needed coverage at the last minute)  It was a coveted trip that another senior stew had called in sick for, with decent pay and nice overnights (Orlando and Portland), and senior co-workers.  Big league action!  I had the honor of flying with Desiree Fayne and Karla Kozak and had the time of my life.  Desiree had a reputation for being bigger than life at the airline and after knowing her one day, she lived up to it.  She commuted to work in Oakland from Paris (France, not Texas), a place she moved to without knowing how to speak French.  She brought fancy food for everyone on the crew and served it on REAL plates that she kept in her tote bag.  She also carried a French press coffee machine and made the pilots coffee that she served to them in china coffee cups.  She commanded and demanded respect, all the while keeping a great sense of humor and putting people at ease.  Our Orlando overnight was straight from the “THIS Is How We Do It” manual, a book I hadn’t yet read.  We reported to the Radisson bar and proceeded to drink champagne and shots of Tuaca, having first rate hilarious conversations where they showed me that smart, funny ladies who take NO SHIT had this pink collar job and this made my heart SING.  The night ended with Karla and I smoking Dunhills and the three of us attempting to speak Italian to a magician Karla had found while buying the cigarettes who bared a striking resemblance to Rasputin.  I barely remember what I had for breakfast a few hours ago, but this night will stick with me forever.
I saw Desiree off and on while I was based in Oakland, mostly in the crew lounge where we would chat about work and our mutual love of Eddie Izzard.  I subsequently heard she left the biz and had gotten married and moved to British Columbia.  I found her on Facebook and was thrilled to catch up with her and hear about her latest developments.
Recently Des was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer.  Her husband Sven has been keeping us informed of her condition;  not only the news but his candid thoughts about his love for her, his feelings of helplessness and pain, and his insistence that we all should take time to recognize and value what is going on in our lives RIGHT NOW.  I have never met Sven, but I find solace in knowing that Desiree married someone so worthy and appreciative of her incredible spirit.
The next time I’m annoyed that someone in front of me in line doesn’t understand how to use the U-scan self check out machine and it’s taking away from my personal time that I spend looking at 80’s music videos on youtube, I intend to remember that the world is filled with people who want only more time to live and people who want only more time to love them.
Thanks for reading.  More soon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Metropolitan Girl Seeks Vampire, Finds Enlightenment

They meet cute online, where loneliness is all you have in common. Sometimes that's enough. It's mid December and 'tis the season to feel badly about being alone. She sets up a profile to find a man, inadvertently adding an extra digit to her minimum age for a desired mate, leaving her cruising cyberspace for a man four hundred and one years or older. He suggests that perhaps she is being a bit too ageist and should just settle for someone who enjoys Renaissance Fairs. Witty banter ensues. They talk on the phone, mostly about his work and his family. She finds his attitudes to be vastly unspoiled, often in staunch opposition to her cynical sensibilities. He is attractive and kind and leads a clean life, a consummate catch on paper. But it is not meant to be, she is a city girl, he lives in the woods. Sure, opposites attract, but this isn't practical. Did I mention she is lonely? They agree to meet in the city closest to him, about eighty miles from his wooded retreat. They eat lunch and make small talk. After, the kind of scene transpires that happens when people haven't been touched by another in awhile and they may never see each other again. He invites her to the woods for a visit. She agrees. She'd like to see how the other half lives. She comes to find out they live a tranquil existence filled with birds warbling, smells of homemade pie, and unconditional canine adoration. She could get used to this. She returns to the city, but continues to visit the woodsman. She meets his family at his birthday gathering. Pictures are taken and funny stories and pleasantries are exchanged. Although their conversations remain light and insubstantial, there is a certain intimacy derived from cooking and eating together. That combined with quixotic fantasies of her youth and a nesting instinct derived from the comfortable surroundings make her feel like she should be in love with him. She exudes that "I'm ready to take that next step" aura, even though she's not. He walks two feet ahead of her in public. It's not meant to be, she tells him officially. He is too far away, we are too different, we are old dogs, there are no new tricks. She turns her sights back to the city.

They continue to email on occasion, mostly small talk regarding life's ins and outs and what's for dinner. The kind of chat that you cherish when you are dating. She presses on with looking for love in the city. She makes rapturous speeches about how the woodsman is not her soul mate as he is too staid for an urban wildflower like herself. Her mother remarks after seeing his picture, "I don't know, honey. He looks good and you're not getting any younger." After a period of quiescence, he returns to her email box, asking a routine favor, which she obliges. He thanks her with tickets to a show in his town. She figures, why not? Did I mention she is lonely? She shows up with a new attitude, this time she's just here to get out of the city. He tackles her for a kiss in the grocery store on the way home from the airport. Indifference proves to be an intoxicating cologne. She enjoys spring colors, meat killed with a bow and arrow, petting furry friends, and small town musical theater.

And for awhile, it's all quiet on the communication front yet again. He reappears in the email inbox fortuitously while she is in the midst of self doubt and anxiety about her first half marathon that she is scheduled to run the next day. She doubts herself; she's not sure she can do it. He assumes she has diligently trained, which she has. He tells her she should stop being concerned and start giving herself credit for the hard work she's done. The outcome of the race is immaterial. She runs it in record time.

She gets caught up in the sultry splendor of summer in the city and turns another year older. In discussing the celebrations a few days after, he remarks, "I didn't know it was your birthday". Of course he didn't. She's not his girlfriend. She keeps looking in the city.

Christmas comes yet again with all its pageantry and caroling and gatherings and loneliness. She suggests they meet when she comes to his closest big city on a shopping trip, as she needs to deck the halls and purchase gay apparel. 'Tis the season for merriment and food and festivities and family. Or whatever you can throw together to fill the void. They share a fancy French dinner at an upscale hotel and make small talk about his work and his family and even though they're not dating, it's pleasant enough. Sometimes it's nice to pretend to be something that you're not around the holidays. Afterwards, there's the kind of encounter you have at Christmastime in an upscale hotel when it's been awhile and you've stopped believing in Santa Claus. The season of giving casts a spell that causes them to make plans for her to visit the woods once again.

The New Year's tarriance is quiet and restorative. There are sing-alongs at the piano and soups from scratch and the sounds of the creek outside the window. It's all deliciously conventional and she thinks perhaps someday there could be more than small talk. At the airport before returning to the city, she assures him she will let him know when she makes it home safely. He replies, "Just tell me when you're coming back". A hint of romance from the usually stoic woodsman.

She is back in the city and thinks not of the woodsman. She thinks only of her city life, a life that is rich and fulfilling and does not require the love of a man. She comes to realize that being romantic is a characteristic, a personality trait, like being agreeable or thoughtful or neurotic. It's not a product of the right two people together. Eureka! She realizes she's not being rejected by the world; she's just not finding those who are romantic in their nature. She makes grand declarations about how powerful it is to be a woman. About how important it is to be on your own, to realize your own strengths, to make your own decisions, to forge your own path. She receives amazing feedback from friends and strangers alike, thanking her for her courage and inspiration. Her college boyfriend tells her he hopes his daughters grow up to be like her, independent and smart and thoughtful and witty. On the outside, she is fearless and empowered. On the inside, she is still an empty shell. She feels like a fraud. She yearns for peace and quiet, both inside her mind and outside her window.

The woodsman is insistent that she come to visit again. It will be good for her to relax and take a break from city life. She concurs. He emails and calls, bringing his best and most interested self yet to the equation. But the numbers haven't changed. Again she wonders if perhaps there is a bridge to be built over such a large gap. She envisions them making a fire, making dinner, making love.

She is to call him to finalize the arrangements for her impending visit, but the call must be postponed. She must call her brother back, a minor family emergency has occurred. She lets the woodsman know that they will talk when she gets it sorted out. Later on the phone, he remarks, "You never talk about your family. I forgot you had a brother". She decides to make other plans in the city.

It ends, just as it began, with an email. Let's not do this, it can't work, the scheduling is too difficult, we're too different, it's just not possible. Let's keep in touch and stay friends. It was fun while it lasted, best of luck to you. A small talk conclusion hides the bigger feelings that never came to the surface on either side.

She continues to look in the city. Not for love, not for romance, but for connection. She surveys the faces of passersby, wondering what their lives are like, wondering what is to become of the rest of her life. She goes to work and enjoys the company of friends. She runs errands and goes to social events. She wonders if this is all there is. She envisions a quiet place of her own, perhaps with the unfaltering love of an animal companion. She puts her dance card back on the table and smooths out its tattered edges. The woodsman may not have told her he loved her, but he did. And she loved him in return. And she learned to stop being concerned, to give herself credit for all she's done and that the outcome of the race is immaterial. She makes no plans for the rest of the race, except to finish strong.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Praise the Lord! Pass the Peas!

My first impression of organized religion was fairly discouraging.  My mother attempted to take my autistic brother and me to Sunday school when we were wee folk.  We were turned away by many churches as my brother was deemed to be “potentially disruptive” and we certainly wouldn’t want anything like that happening in the house of our Lord, amen.  I remember this was one of my first memories of feeling indignation, which is a strange sensation to feel as a youngster.  My tiny mind couldn’t grasp being judged by people who didn’t know us at all….and didn’t God make my brother exactly who he was?  Why would He deem him unworthy of hearing Bible stories and being part of all the hoopla that the people who took over Sunday morning TV went on and on about?  Why were we excluded automatically for something that was completely out of our control?  My mother explained that it wasn’t God who was judging us, but the mere mortals who were in charge of the churches that didn’t get it.  At which time, my immature, completely confused mind came up with “Well, screw them then."  (Turned into a bit of a recurring theme….)
Fast forward to my teenage years.  I met my first gay friends in high school and I recognized that most religious organizations did not accept their lifestyles, often proclaiming them as “evil”.  My somewhat older, slightly wiser mind said, yet again, “But God made these people this way!  And they are the nicest people I know!”  Welcome back, indignation.  The only other exposure I had to church was when I spent the night at my Catholic friends’ houses….I ended up at the Sunday morning service, sitting in the pew while everyone else took communion.  Now I was indignant AND excluded.  Not a fun combo.  But at that age, I felt excluded and indignant in a lot of other arenas, not that unusual in my tumultuous adolescence.  In my twenties my only church visits were when my friends got married, which almost always involved middle aged know- it-all ladies shushing me.  At that point, it was official.  Religion, church….we’re through.  And bullshit from folks like Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist nutcases continued to seal the deal.
As I grew older and (hopefully) wiser, I met lots of folks who opened my heart to concepts I’d previously rejected.  Many members of my ex-boyfriend’s family are religious and they have proven themselves to be some of the most kind, tolerant and accommodating people I’ve had the pleasure to know.  I’ve never had a problem with spirituality (defined as: of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material, you’ll notice that higher powers not mentioned, just an idea that there is something bigger and brighter than what we understand as regular folk)…in this current climate of war, injustice, economic lopsidedness, and Kardashian worshipping, I’m grasping at anything that provides comfort and peace and keeps me from getting hammered and kicking garbage cans.  A friend and I recently had a heavy discussion about spirituality/religion in terms of it being a source of inspiration and motivation that NO ONE can take away from you.  This last part is a big deal in my book.  I firmly feel that happiness is derived from our connection with the rest of the world, however, our romantic relationships and friendships are dependent on other people…you cannot control the rest of the world’s behavior or feelings, regardless of the nature of your relationship.  They can decide to leave you or treat you in a manner you find to be unacceptable and there’s nothing to be done on your part but suck it up and drive on.  In an attempt to continue my quest to open my mind and my heart to concepts that provide solace that aren’t dependent on others, I agreed to attend a church service this last weekend.
I had a great deal of time to kill before the service started at 5:30 pm.  I opted to go to Big Star to have some lunch and people watch.  If you haven’t been to Big Star, it is a fantastic place with top notch tacos, a stunning selection of single barrel bourbons, and classic country and rock played on a turntable.  They have mastered the oxymoronical concept of an upscale honkytonk.  As the place does kick ass, it is where the cool people of Chicago go to see and been seen.  Tattoos, piercings, heavily made up high heeled hottie girls, Lou Reed’s Perfect Day cranked to vinyl perfection.  I ordered some fish tacos and a margarita and took a look around.  As I am someone who often drinks and eats alone, I’m pretty accustomed to sitting quietly and taking it all in.  But I was very aware, that although I was surrounded by Chicago’s coolest cats, I was most definitely alone.  After finishing up a fine repast, I decided to meander over to the church and wait outside for my friend as it was a beautiful afternoon.
Urban Village Church has their Sunday evening service in Wicker Park.  I arrived early and was greeted by many encouraging signs outside….one read “Church that is INCLUSIVE!  Gay, straight, tattoos, suits, Cubs fans, Sox fans”.  Okay, I already dig the humor.  I sat on the steps waiting for my friend, reading a book.  Every person that went by to go inside stopped and said “Hello!” or “Hey, how’s it going?” or something similar, in a genuine, sincere, no weird vibe sort of way.  Inclusive, indeed.
We found spots inside when the service begin.  Started with some “gathering and singing”, very pleasant hymns, followed by some interpretive dance that the usually haterish me would have been judgmental of, but my heart had already grown three sizes under some sort of off season Grinch clause.  Some discussions of their small groups (They have a running group! A LGBTQ specific group!  Music!  Couples dinners!)  Some scripture (read by a guy named Madrid St. Angelo, you know a guy with a name like that means business), then to the main entrĂ©e sermon.  Trey Hall started with the word of the day: hermeneutic.  Defined as the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text.  As a self proclaimed word nerd, I was pretty jazzed to start on this note.  Trey explained it as a portal, a way in, a key to understanding and connecting to the scriptures.  Then he launched into the topic of the day, FOOD.  You had me at hello, Mr. Hall.  Interesting discussion of a Michael Pollan article about how we are all fascinated/transfixed with watching people make food on the television, yet people are cooking less than ever.  We have no time to cook, yet we have time for television, a puzzling state of affairs in our processed food laden, socially disconnected world.  Discussion of cooking for the hungry, the power of cooking and eating together, food blogs of interest, all fascinating topics to this non-religious yet somewhat spiritual super foodie gal.  Followed up with more singing, the Eucharist, and some plate passing and we were out.  I have to say that even as a skeptic, I felt a powerful sense of community, an authentic friendliness, a feeling of NOT being alone, in stark contrast to my hipster lunch.  Surprising and delightful.  I left the church with a sense of calm, like my brain had taken a much needed hot and soapy shower.

I received a handwritten card from one of the pastors of the church a few days later in my mailbox.  Not promoting anything, just thanking me for attending.  Call me old fashioned, but a handwritten anything in this day and age knocks my socks off.  Am I a religious nut now?  Hardly. Will I go back?  Not regularly, but probably so.  Would I go to other churches?  Sure.  I can see now that there are people who are striving to make religion accessible and inviting to ALL people….that’s a concept I can get behind.  And if you want to talk food, I say HALLELUJAH.

On another note, I am currently in story writing school on Tuesday nights, which is taking up all my free time and writing energy….I hope to post some updates about that in this space if my head doesn’t explode from having homework for the first time in decades.  Thanks to all who support my nonsense from near and far.  I couldn’t do it without you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Scenes From An Airport Neighborhood (Unpack Your Bags And Make Yourself At Home)

Does enchantment pour out of every door or just on the street where you live?  I currently live two blocks from Chicago’s close and convenient Midway airport.  I’m sure your mind automatically went “BLECH” when you read airport, but hear me out (okay, read me out). 
Some airline lingo 101 for those of you not in the biz, airlines write their flight schedules for their various “base” cities, cities where all trips start and end, generally speaking.  As many people choose not to live in their base city, they must commute to work, often using their flight benefits to get there.  These commuters require a place to stay before/after trips as the trips and flight schedules don’t usually allow for people to fly in/home the same day their trips start/end.  Hopefully you’re still with me.  These places are commonly known as “crashpads” and every neighborhood near an airport that operates as a crew base is full of them.  They come in all shapes and sizes, apartments, houses, hotel rooms, you name it.  The concept operates under the idea that many people will split the expense of whatever residence they share as no one will be around very often.  The crashpad experience is as varied as the people involved….sharing domestic space with other people that your only common thread is your employer can yield some unpredictable results.   Imagine the person you dislike most at your job.  Now imagine listening to them snore at night.  Imagine them in the bathroom when you really need to go.  Imagine coming home to them after you’ve had the world’s shittiest day.  But what if they listen to you bitch and moan?  What if they’ve made dinner and they share it with you?  What if they offer to wash your clothes while you take a nap?  What if they don’t end up being as dislikable as you’d once thought?  It’s all a pretty fascinating social experiment, one that the makers of reality TV should seriously consider.
I started my career ten years ago, commuting out of Seattle to Oakland.  I shared hotel rooms with other flight attendants before and after trips, as that was the Oakland way, often sleeping in the same bed with people I didn’t know at all. Not as fun as it sounds. When hotel rooms were too much dough, I slept in a sleeping bag in the flight attendant lounge, another sucktastic experience.  When I came to Chicago not knowing a soul, I lucked out on getting into a great crashpad, one that was dropped into my lap by someone in the Fate Deals You The Right Cards At The Right Time department.  I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say everyone involved took a leap of faith trusting that I would be worthy of a top bunk bed in a house with eighteen other people, none of whom had ever laid eyes on me.  Sleeping in a twin bed where you can touch the ceiling is a real blast from the past, let me tell you.  I slowly got to know everyone, and unlike most of my other crashpad situations, I developed a bond with a lot of my roommates.  It’s a strange job for friendships, mostly people are away more than they’re around, you can connect with people and not see them again for years (handy when you don’t hit it off), often the gig is a blur of nameless, faceless people, with your nights spent in generic hotel rooms where your love of miniature shampoos has run dry.  To be at home tends to be your greatest pleasure when you travel for a living….but to have a crashpad that acts as your satellite home away from home is a rare treat and makes the job much more pleasurable.  I enjoyed that scenario for five plus years.
I moved to Chicago permanently almost two years ago.  I picked a tiny convertible loft in the South Loop area of downtown Chicago as I thought I needed the Urban Experience.  I loved the allure of walking to cool shops and bars and certainly walking home wasted from Lollapolooza after mashing with a boy half my age was something from a wish list I hadn’t yet written.  I enjoyed my slick digs, assuming I was exactly where I needed to be.
Slick digs, however, proved to be expensive.  When my lease came up for renewal, I ran into a friend who was moving out of her two bedroom joint by the airport who suggested I check out her place….more divine intervention from our friends in the Right Place/Right Time department.  I opted to make the move purely for financial reasons as it cut my bills in HALF.  Half is A LOT.  Half means less airplane, more time to write, or spend time with friends or WHATEVER.   I moved all my stuff into the two bedroom with no lease, thinking only of the cost savings and the joy of having a guest bedroom and an office to write my nonsense in.
My old crashpad is a short walk away from my current apartment.  When I moved back, I started seeing my crash family all the time again.  We make dinner, we go to the store, we bitch about work, we drink wine, we borrow clothes, we sleep over, we do STUFF.  Stuff that makes life worth living.  Stuff that I missed out on living downtown in my slick digs.  I don’t regret starting there; I had a great time.  But I am now a happy resident of Westlawn, a neighborhood filled with a wide range of immigrants and transient airline workers alike, a neighborhood packed with kids on bikes and ice cream trucks and pictures of the Pope in the windows and taquerias and little to no slick action.  When I walk around my neighborhood, I see dogs barking, kids practicing cheerleading routines, people hanging out on their stoops and doing yard work, which brings me unexplainable joy.  Something I didn’t know my life was missing.   And when people ask, “Why on earth would you live near the airport?”, I now answer, simply, “I have family here”.  Family are the people we choose to be in our lives, people who support you, people who celebrate your triumphs, and console you on your dark days.  People who put their faith in you and trust you will do right by them.  ‘Tis powerful stuff.
Should you ever find yourself at Chicago’s close and convenient Midway airport, drop a line.  I’ll buy you a taco if you bring change for the ice cream truck.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Get Your Poem On, People!

April is National Poetry Month.  It's also Jazz Appreciation Month, National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and National Stress Awareness Month (are we not aware of stress the other 11 months?  hmmm.....) and probably National Eat A Cashew While Taking A Bath Month, who knows.  But I wanted to give a special bloggy shout out to the poets.  I'm always awed by good poetry...to me it feels like the most amazing way to make mere words into art.  The first poem that really rocked my world was "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot, pretty hilarious to think of myself as a big haired, overly made up, leather jacketed tough girl being bowled over by the story of man dealing with growing old.  It was recently replaced as my top poem by "Privilege Of Being" by Robert Hass, a poem that is a compelling combination of sex, loneliness, angels, and magazine articles about intimacy.  Check it out if you're not familiar.  For my personal salute to my love of poetry, I opted to go with a few poems from poets not as well known, one from a woman I used to work with, one from a pen pal, one from a friend of a friend.  Enjoy.

Words for the Waltz by Kary Wayson (commissioned for the Roethke Readings)

All night long I've resisted his help.
What is the opposite of fast?

Forcing a kid who's throwing a fit
--you standing thing you never sit!
You'll run us all aground!-- Help

has water
just like this: to get us
turned around.
But this kid kicks when you pick her up so

there: throw her down.

***

--and we have arrived.  We have
arriven.  My minions
push down the plank of my neck
and back.

We stand on four legs like a makeshift table
until all hell's dispatched.
So into the itch!  Into the thicket!
The careful course is cast.

We make emotional revisitings.
On the hills of impassioned ants.

***

Snail snail glister me forward
bird my back to the wall.
God begot me from my father
and delivered the hospital home.

***

All day long I've resisted that red
while I tried to make it match.

I've taken the ax of my effort like a paddle
and I'm hacking at the shadows
of my feet.

I've taken the ax of my effort like a paddle
and I'm dragging this raft
through a lake

made of concrete.

***

Oh hell, oh well.  Admit
you made a mess.
Now you must tear up the carpet.
Now you must repaint the walls.
The color says nothing but there is a judgement:
everything but the garbage can must go.

***

Often stranded in the middle of a feeling the feeling
of wanting so many is more.
Snail snail glister me forward trail the trailing
translucent cord.

***

Think of it!  A sycophant!
A guttersnipe!  A gripe!
Good help has rivers
filled with fish--sidelong pickerel

smiles.  Would with the river and would
with the fish.  His red face

the same from behind.

***

All day long I've insisted on help.
In the basement
I'm like a bad cramp.
The sun is against me the moon would not have me
my tantrum matches the lamp.

***

I've taken
the ax
of my effort
like a paddle
and I'm hacking
at the shadow
of my throat.

I have taken the ax
of my effort
like a paddle
and I'm dragging
this lake

through a hole
in my boat.

***

There's a mirror

next to the window and a window
on the wall.  Smile, he says
in the middle of the fuss.  Eat it.
Now swallow.

***

"Twas a lovely dive, my lively dove
What's winter for?  To remember love.

Good help has daughters
just like this: "My father
invented water."
God help us daughters just like this:
I with no rights in this matter.

***

The body's a closet
with cats in the back.
The seas's grown woolen
and white.  I am
his consolable widow
now--one syllable
bigger than wife.


Kary has two books of fabulous works, Dog and Me, and American Husband.  She is also foxy and a super nice person.


Running from sleep in a country town by Tom Woolery
The last lightning bugs go
homeward to their sleep
replaced by stars
replaced by clouds
replaced by dark sky
that holds the new moon
in its belly.

In the night pastures, the corn
dreams fitfully of the coming tractor.
On the porch, a farmer is drinking tea
 *
Now, it is exactly three in the morning
and my feet are guessing where the road lies
in the dark miles between street lights
and though I run this route every night
each step is a faith leap
not knowing if a next will follow so I become
faster, each stride is faithfulness
to the stride before.

Things have come to this —
drinking warm milk with Sominex, playing Ella
and anything to idle this engine that howls of the hair
of my graying head, the engine that quickens knowing coyotes
are still in the field, behind the trees where crows sleep,
tracing the perimeter of my eyelids, waiting as they waited
for my father when he slept on Christmas Day, dreaming
of tubes to relieve cranial pressure through the end of times—
until I shift gears, dress in darkness, lace my running shoes
and force them to stumble down roads that need repaving
have needed repaving for a dozen years or more,
passing barn shadows
cast by porch light.

*
A single lightning bug glows near a barbed wire fence.
After short darkness, I see it flicker, again
again

in the exact space, so I stop running,
wipe the sweat of my face
with a soaked shirt, rest
my hands on my knees,
listen.

At the fourth flash I see the legs of the spider
edging the light, soothing the fire, singing the storybook
spinning a sleep
At the fifth light I see that the spider has wrapped
the package entirely, it moves
its legs quickly over its prize,
wrapping the silk one hundred times more strongly than necessary
as if the light itself might allow it to burn free--
It is the love of craftsmanship.

It is the love for completeness.

The sixth flash of light,
like a flashlight beneath bed covers. 

The spider has retreated into the edges now,
waiting as if at a campfire perimiter
counting the seconds
and waiting for the thunder of darkness.

I do not wait for seven--
my feet are already running
muscle memory retracing the route to my drive
while I think of in particular nothing.

Tom lives in Springfield, MO and although we've never met, he never fails to blow my mind.

Lastly, "The Problem With Politics" by Danny Alexander
You came to me
After conceding to give
Stephen King another try,
Well into Salem’s Lot,
You were excited by the character of the priest,
His sense of loss,
Living in an era with no clear lines
Between black and white,
No tangible demons to kill.

So much we could have talked about
But I had to quibble
With the idea of one era versus another,
With the idea of black and white,
With the concept of demons.

King was smart enough to hand
His character
And you
What you needed
I could have said something useful
Or I could have just listened.

Instead I talked polemics
And killed that life-saving conversation
As I did so many times before
And after.

Danny is a friend of a friend, and although I don't read Stephen King, the self awareness of this poem speaks volumes.

If you're of a mind, discover a new poem before April is over.  I'll be back with more original nonsense soon.