His white iPod ear buds are connected to his old-
school Discman hiding in his blazer pocket.
Don’t tell anyone.
Chicago writer and WBEZ rock star, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, has a new blog: MISSion AMY K.R. I met Amy 5 years ago when she did a signing of her book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life at Quimby’s, but I didn’t expect her to remember me or anything. She’s cool. I started reading her blog earlier this year when it launched. Amy’s blog invites us to go on various missions and report back, such as Loose Change The World.
I will now publicly admit my lapsed following of the blog. But thanks to an announcement Friday afternoon on Chicago Public Radio, I learned about the latest mission: Go Nowhere Fast…Together. Spring out of bed on the first day of Spring and meet at the Belmont El station at 9:45 AM. We bring our coffee, she’ll bring the donuts. We’ll ride the Brown Line together, down to the Loop and back. We’ll eat our donuts, we’ll be together. We’ll do…other things? Cool. Sounded like a fun thing to do–a little random, a little artsy, a little silly, enlightening, philosophical, brilliant. The kind of thing I’d do in high school or college and people might be like What? It’s slam dancing with my friends to Nine Inch Nails at the school dance where everyone else just stared at us in a time when “alternative” still meant something. The kind of thing that goes beyond cool and gives our worlds a little shake. Otherwise, my Saturday morning with Ernie out of town would’ve consisted of my waking up eventually, making coffee (which I did, and travel cupped), probably pancakes, and living in my head till work. Not there’s anything wrong with that. But sometimes a little assertiveness and bubble bursting goes a long way.
I walked into the new shiny Belmont station, a station whose full grandeur I’m now just discovering. It’s no longer the dumpy CTA station of my first arrival to the city 12 years ago. While I was away for three years, and in the past year back where I’m closer to the Addison station one stop north, they sure made it pretty! Walked in with “regular” passengers and another guy who was like, Is this the group? Yeah. I recognized Amy and gravitated that way to learn the next phase of the mission. Amy’s producer, Justin, carried the boxes of Duncan Donuts, presumably from the DD down the street at Clark, one of my very first encounters with Chicago in 1994 when back then it was nicknamed “Punkin’ Donuts” (though maybe it still is…?) and there was no Starbucks in sight. (I notice these days I automatically spell “sight” s-i-t-e then have to correct myself. Also, “seen” as s-c-e-n-e. How about you?)
We paid our fares and gathered on the other side of the turnstiles.
Since Amy doesn’t like name tags (we learned), she passed out Post-It notes and pencils. Cool idea, but I was nervous about the not-always-reliable Post-It sticking to a snow-soaked fuzzy winter coat. Some folks had more resources to work with such as safety pins and jacket strings and zippers. I was traveling light and had to throw caution to the adhesive. Brushed off the melted snow as best as I could and stuck my square note with “Michael” and a Smiley Face to my coat. It worked for a while, but it fell off a couple times on the train while balancing–my donut, my coffee, myself. Not that my address and social security number were on it or anything, but I was a little creeped out about having it lying around a CTA train car. So into my pocket it went after a while.
My traveling companion, Dooney, used the safety pin that fastened the size tag inside his hat. He’s like I know what size my hat is: the size of my head! So, “Dooney” what’s that all about? A nickname he acquired in college as folks said his profile makes him look like a Doonesbury comic.
Time to head up the stairs to the platform, someone behind us commented she felt like cattle. I hear that, but it was this well balanced blend of both active participation and being lead. We moved far down to the left where the front car was presumably to stop. The idea was always to gather in the front car. Alas, we were slightly thwarted when the train stopped short of where many of us stood. But we all made it on in one piece. There was a smattering of riders already there, but there was room for all of us. Some sat, but most of us stood.
Dooney, myself, and a handful of others, including producer Justin’s little one and his friend, gathered at the very end of the car, just behind the operator’s–let’s call it a cubby. The cockpit? Sure. 🙂 On the far end of the crowd (maybe 50 people??), I noticed Steve Edwards and Tony Sarabia and swooned just a little in nerdy-gay-public-radio-fanboy-ness.
Donuts were passed. First, the box of Munchkins made the rounds. Chocolate please! Then Justin passed the big boxes. I’d requested Boston Creme on the blog (as had many), so snatched one up. Yum! Thankfully, Justin also had napkins. With all the jostling of the train, things were bound to get sticky. At one point I thought we were getting kicked out as we’d definitely broken the No Eating aboard CTA trains rule. But whatever, people do it all the time. But perhaps not in such an organized fashion. The operator stepped off the train for a few. Slightly nervous, but we carried on our adventure.
Amy’s perch was one of the side facing benches to talk to us. She thanked us for coming and posed this question to us: So, Where Do You Go From Here? Could be literal: I’m going home to take a nap, etc. Or a little more figurative and philosophical, In Life and all that. Well, the literal thing I’d thought was to go take that nap before work. The Life thing was to re-emphasize my battle plan to curb my Writerly A.D.D. and focus on something for longer stretches of time. (I realize in writing this, I’m not focusing on the current focused project, but , well, it’s important and I am master of my fate and all that.) Justin went around with his camera and asked us to share our answers. We’ll see if Dooney and I make the video cut.
The riders who were already on the train at Belmont and those we picked up along the way had mixed reactions. From ignoring us, to positive curiosity and participation (one rider we picked up who got off downtown answered Amy’s question for Justin’s camera) all the way to definite grumpiness. Dooney was like Some of these folks are not happy and I was like Well, that’s their problem that their souls and lives are lacking in joy and excitement and all that. Not direct quotes, but that’s basically what I was saying. Those grumpy people were not embracing this experience that we, Amy, and the fates had bestowed onto them. And that’s a little sad. But I can understand that grumpiness too. At 35, I can slip into “grumpy old man” status. Just ask my husband. 😛 But one guy who came on, probably in his 50’s, we offered him a donut and he was like Well, I’m a Chicago Public Radio member, so I think I will have one! An unexpected Thank You gift. Tastes better than a tote bag.
Amy’s pal, Nick, brought his ukulele, and we had a sing-along. First, we sang the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” And by “we” I mean that I sort of hummed and sort of vocalized a few words all while tapping my foot and singing in full glory in silence inside my head. Singing in public (and by public, I mean in front of anyone, anywhere, is not my thing, unless I’m cast in a musical where I’m basically glorified stage dressing anyway) is not really my thing. I’m a wicked mouther, though. Just like I play all the instruments in my air band. Anyway. Then, one of the guys Dooney and I were hanging out with (whose name I’m blanking on) requested George Michael’s “Faith.” He helped Nick with the chords and off we went. Pretty awesome. I helped with the “Baby!” Guess I’m more George Michael than George Harrison.
As our trip drew to a close, we passed around sticks of chalk to write something somewhere, something we know won’t stay there forever. I took a piece, broke it in half, and gave my other half to Justin’s little boy–who started to draw on the window with it. Cute! I still have my chalk in my coat pocket, but haven’t written my message yet. Thought I’d wait till at least the snow melted. I’ve spent most of my time at work since out adventure (even working a shift between writing all this.) But I will use my chalk. Promise.
The train windows were fogged up most of the trip, so I couldn’t always tell where exactly we were. The announcements helped, but we were all focused on each other. The togetherness was the main attraction. When we hit Fullerton on the way back, I momentarily forgot that the Brown Line stops a couple times before Belmont. I’ve been more of a Red Line kind of guy during my tenure here. I panicked for a moment that our trip was ending too suddenly. I like some sort of closure to things. It’s why it takes me forever to leave a party.
There were goodbyes on the Belmont platform before people scattered. I told Amy that I read a little bit of her Encyclopedia the night before to get ready for our mission. She looked a little weirded out. Just a little. I realize I can come off as odd sometimes, but I promise I’m not crazy. 🙂
Before getting off the train, I asked Dooney what he had going on after all this and to see if he wanted to grab a bite. Our fellow travelers dispersed and walked down the stairs in much less herd of cattle fashion. Dooney and I went over to Clarke’s. Breakfast beyond donuts sounded really good. And more coffee. Not that I needed it, but I definitely wanted it. At one point on the train, I saw one of the girls near us, Jennifer, she’d stuck her Post-It note on her travel coffee cup. Why didn’t I think of that?! So I dug mine out of my pocket and stuck it there–and there it stayed for a while with a little help from strategically placed fingers. At one point, sitting in our booth at Clarke’s, I noticed my name tag was gone, fallen somewhere on the street. This didn’t bother me as much. My name and a smiley face are out there for someone to find. Since I haven’t chalked my message yet, that will have to do for now.
Dooney and I had cool snowy-day-in-a-diner conversation sharing stories and life. We’re both theatre types and it makes sense we have at least a few Facebook friends in common. We’ve both been to Australia. This week’s Mission is to post thoughts on the trip. Which all this is. Amy asked a few prompts, including, Did you make a new friend. I’d say Yes. So, Yay. Everything starts somewhere.
None of the snapshots I took are really any good, so I found this Brown Line map that somewhat shows Where We Went, though it doesn’t really do the journey justice. There are some visual aids over at Amy’s blog. As to Where I Go From Here on this Tuesday morning, finally finishing this, it looks to be a day of little accomplishments (this!). Maybe some big ones too. Break-throughs can happen when you’re not really thinking about it.
In case you missed it, here’s Part 1 ~ 1999-2004. Instead of this being “Part 2,” well, I finished writing up 2005, so I thought I’d post. The rest will come as they will. Happy New Year! 🙂
Brokeback Mountain ~ Soundtrack. Haunting score for an amazing movie. This album also introduced me to Teddy Thompson and Jackie Greene. And only has minimal Rufus Wainwright who I can only take in small doses.
Depeche Mode ~ Playing the Angel. The last DM album in my collection was Violator on cassette (in a time before my laptop, iTunes, and replacing my cassettes with borrowed CD’s). My friend Nikki snagged some floor seats for their Chicago stop. So I snatched up the CD (I think at Virgin!) and recharged my love of the band, the last spike being in 11th grade. It’s a more mature DM with a dark groove that drew me in. Dark, but still accessible (accessibility may be what’s lacking in the new one, which I have, but really haven’t given a chance). Fave songs are “Suffer Well” and “Precious.” The concert was amazing, complete with old favorites that took me back to different times.
The Fray ~ How to Save a Life. Didn’t really get into this until 2006-07 when it exploded onto the world. The whole album is amazing and I never get tired of the title song. This album is the good memories from our time in South Bend, Indiana. Haven’t picked up the new one yet.
Girlyman ~ Little Star. Discovered them when they opened for Dar on that year’s tour. A gay-lesbian folk trio—how awesome! Gorgeous harmonies, some banjo playing, and my first folk-star crush (Nate!). Fave songs are “One the Air,” “Young James Dean,” and “This Is Me.” This is their 2nd album (my copy’s signed as well), and their 4th just came out. Don’t have anything else, though would like to. If I never get around to it, I’ll always have this little gem. Thanks!
Amos Lee ~ Amos Lee. Another random Virgin Music purchase that was totally on sale, Lee’s first album is soulful folk, a comfortable pairing with the first John Mayer. Good chill out music without being boring, appropriate music for friends over. Faves are “Seen it All Before” and “Love in the Lies.” Like Girlyman, I don’t have any subsequent releases, but this one will always have a place in my heart.
Madonna ~ Confessions on a Dance Floor. American Life wasn’t bad, but this was the Madonna album we were waiting for! The best dance album since Kylie’s for me this decade. We first listened to it on AOL before the official release in November. We rented a car for the holiday travels, rode with MK and this got us home. As I wrote, the trip was “like Too Wong Foo, but without the break down.”
Jason Mraz ~ MR. A-Z. At first, it seemed like a sophomore slump for Jason. BUT. It’s definitely grown on me over the years and I love-love it. “Life is Wonderful” is a fave Mraz song.
Dar Williams ~ My Better Self. Another solid Dar offering. A kind of return to form and clocks in 12 minutes longer than Beauty. Dar’s signature mix of the quirky, serious, political are on here. “Teen For God” gives us another side of the “Christians and the Pagans” story. “Empire” is not playing nice, but doesn’t get ranty either. “The Hudson” is an all time Dar fave, which I still haven’t seen her play live. It takes us on a journey just as rivers do, and is the perfect album ender.
Okay, Friends. I’m definitely one who is prone to year-decade-etc in review. My journals are full of them. There are Lists Aplenty this year, being the end of a decade (and please don’t tell me the new decade actually starts in 2011, for real.) So far, the only List I’ve been feeling is a Musical one. So, here are the Albums of My Decade! It’s pretty different from Rolling Stone Mag’s list–no Coldplay found here, yo.
There are a few “rules” to keep me sane. First, these are albums I acquired myself (purchased CD’s and those received as gift, iTunes and other downloads, etc.) Maybe a couple that Ernie picked up that I “borrowed.” Other albums were in my sphere, but I need to focus, people! There have also been individual songs that made my decade (including those found on mix CD’s from Ernie), but I’m sticking to albums. Though I may break this rule. We’ll see…. I’m listing the albums by year of release, which for the most part is when I acquired them/they entrenched into my soul, but there are a few instances when I got into them later. I don’t include Greatest Hits and other compilations (though The Jesus & Mary Chain’s 21 Singles, Pat Benatar’s Greatest Hits and The Cure’s Join the Dots box set would apply), or albums from decades past that I acquired in the last (say, that Chet Baker With Stings album I love or when I finally got around to picking up R.E.M’s Up album.)
This list isn’t exactly always hip. I’ve gotten less hip as the decade’s progressed, but oh well. I’m not a ravenous music consumer. There’s stuff out there I love but don’t have. I like what I like and buy what I buy, so there you go.
A couple albums that crossed the Decade Threshold for me….
Dido ~ No Angel. She tied me over between Sarah McLachlan albums, but also proved amazing on her own. Beautifully angelic turn-of-the-century dream chill pop. This album got me through many sleepy Amtrak trips home.
Lucy Kaplansky ~ Ten Year Night. Discovered via Dar Williams, this was my first Lucy album purchased before seeing her with Dar and John Gorka in the summer of 1999. Beautiful folk music (or “chick with guitar” music as Ernie calls it) riding the line between singer-songwriter and country (and hanging out on the side I prefer.) This album = futzing around the kitchen of my Barry Street apartment, either on my own or with my roomie, Sarah.
Barenaked Ladies ~ Maroon. This is actually the only BNL studio album I own. “Pinch Me” and “Falling for the First Time” would be on my list of Favorite Songs Ever. I just made you say ‘underwear.’
Bon Jovi ~ Crush. The best Bon Jovi of the decade by far! Rocking comeback after 5 years off. This album for me was high school meets 20-something. Well written and still has some grit. The next two albums didn’t quite measure up, and I haven’t gotten around to picking up the last two. I’ll always have “It’s My Life.”
The Cure ~ Bloodflowers. Much anticipated post-Wild Mood Swings album! We were promised a return to the darkness of Disintegration (which is sacred ground itself and hard to compare the new album to after a decade plus of listening). Not an album for the casual Cure fan or faint-at-heart, but still beautiful and agonizing and one I’ll listen to in full every once in a while. That summer’s Dream Tour saw me at two AMAZING shows, especially 2nd row in Detroit, where my buddy Chris were totally 17 again.
David Gray ~ White Ladder. I mean, “Babylon” come on! And “This Year’s Love” and “Please Forgive Me,” Bliss. It’s folk, it’s electric, he’s Welsh, what is this?! I sometimes wonder if it has held up over the years. Sarah and I had this on constant rotation. Joined Dido on the train.
Madonna ~ Music. It makes the people come together. Yeah. Not as brilliant as Ray of Light, but a hell of a ride. The cowgirl thing worked for me. The “Don’t Tell Me” video is still playing in the Roscoe’s front bar TV screen in my mind. Saw the Drowned World Tour the following year in her home town (or home state at least). I managed to avoid knowing the set list ahead of time, so it was all new to me.
Carrie Newcomer ~ Age of Possibility. Another folk find of mine along the way. Soulful, earthy, storytelling. Saw her opening for Lucy and on her own at Shuba’s. This and her next album were living alone in my studio on Aldine with a boyfriend around the corner. “This Too Will Pass” was later put on a tribute CD for my mom.
Anthony Rapp ~ Look Around. My favorite RENT cast member solo album. “Just Some Guy” would make it onto the earliest of mix tapes for Ernie (yeah, I was still doing tapes at this point…) Saw him perform many of these songs live with his band at Halsted Market Days. Got to meet him. Then he performed solo at Un-Common Ground. Awesome.
Dar Williams ~ The Green World. Dar did kind of become my post-Sarah M. female singer-songwriter obsession. And holds that title today. “After All” is an all time Dar fave. I’ll always associate the opening drums and notes of “Playing to the Firmament” with my week-after-9/11 breakdown with my dear MK. I saw her live this tour for my 3rd time–and first time with a full band. I went with a friend from the bars, Dan, I think. I grabbed the journal I thought this concert entry might be in, but then got sucked into reading lots of other things, and finally set it aside. Not sure how much of 2000 I want to relive. Anyway, still love this album!
Band of Brothers ~ Score/Soundtrack. This music didn’t take over my soul until 2006 when I finally got around to seeing the film when I borrowed my brother’s DVD’s. Now, it’s my most played single album I own according to iTunes and Last.fm. Beautiful! The late Michael Kamen’s score with a dash of Beethoven plus all the film images they conjure, yeah, that’s it.
Lucy Kaplansky ~ Every Single Day. Another solid offering from Lucy! My favorite of hers this decade (released on 9-11!). I did pick up her next one, The Red Thread, and there’s another one I don’t have. But this and Ten Year mean the most to me. “Written on the Back of His Hand” and “Broken Things” are highlights. I also took a trip home and took my brother, Steve, to her concert at The Ark in Ann Arbor. That was a pretty awesome night. We met her afterward (though I’d met her a couple times), but Steve hadn’t. We now both have signed copies.
John Mayer ~ Room For Squares. Probably my fave of the year! He’s kind of a folky guy, but more rock. I was needing that. And so young, so innocent, SO not dating Jessica Simpson. “No Such Thing” “3×5” and “Love Song for No One” = Joy. Favorite Songs Ever for sure.
R.E.M. ~ Reveal. Big time R.E.M. fan here. Not their best of the decade, but still a good one. My fave track: “She Just Wants to Be.”
Norah Jones ~ Come Away with Me. It’s jazz, it’s pop, it’s amazing! I was seduced along with everyone else to “Don’t Know Why.” The title track makes me wish I could actually sing. I’ve liked her stuff since, but this is one that matters most to me.
Ben Kweller ~ Sha Sha. Picked up this debut after his 2nd album came out. This may even surpass that one. “In Other Words” is a Fave Song Ever.
Last Five Years ~ Cast Recording. Jason Robert Brown’s delicious off Broadway musical/song cycle about a couple’s five years together–she sings backwards in time and he sings forward and they meet in the middle. An actor and a writer trying to make it work. Before acquiring the whole CD myself, Ernie put “If I Didn’t Believe In You” on a mix CD for me, and it still drives me (and probably him too) to near sobs. “Summer In Ohio” rules.
Kylie Minogue ~ Fever. Hey, it’s that chick who had that “Locomotion” song when I was in 9th grade! Wait, I’m gay now and she’s a dance-pop diva. It’s infectious pop perfection in an time when I thought I was somewhat less prone to the latest hot dance track (read: I’m not single any more and not at Roscoe’s as much). I just can’t get you out of my head! This one never made it into my iTunes for some reason. Importing now! (Sidebar: I love how she’s my friend CMT’s guilty pleasure!)
Carrie Newcomer ~ Gathering of Spirits. Along with her previous album, this is early decade folk at its best for me. “Holy is the Day is Spent” blends the spiritual, worldly, and every day life. The title track makes me think of all my friends. “I’ll Go Too” has gone on lullaby CD’s for friends and family.
Sarah McLachlan ~ Afterglow. Oh, Sarah. How I worshiped you in the ’90’s. How “Good Enough” saved my life. This, her only “real” album of the decade is still beautiful and spoke to me in a about-t0-be married-almost 30-something angsty kind of way, as opposed to a 20-something-college-kid angsty kind of way. “Push” and “Answer” say it all. Awaiting a new full length non-remix-live-greatest hits-Christmas album in the new decade….
Jason Mraz ~ Waiting for My Rocket to Come. So begins my love affair with Mr. A-Z. No, we didn’t follow his rise on the indie coffee house scene, and to those old fans, we’re all posers (and maybe some of the BRAND new fans are posers to me), but Ernie and I saw the video for “You and I Both” and were hooked. “On Love, In Sadness” is a Fave Song Ever. A deserted island album for sure.
Dar Williams ~ The Beauty of the Rain. Is how it falls, how it falls…. Another beautiful, if not as epic than The Green World, album from Dar. This album is winter into spring and the first sighting of boys-showing-skin, wearing- shorts-jogging along the lakefront.
Elefant ~ Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid. Okay, I love these guys. First heard them when a manager at work played this album while we finished our late night side work. Bass heavy, dancey, groovy, and melodic. The American singer sounds British–love his voice. With that, I think this is the band that wanted to be The Killers for me before Brandon Flowers and Company broke. Good walking around the City music. I’ll give an Honorable Mention to their 2nd and only other album, The Black Magic Show (2006), which is a little more–psychedelic, but still bouncy. “Uh Oh Hello” is a Fave Song Ever. I think I need to have an Elefant listening party.
The Cure ~ The Cure. This is what I wrote in ’04: I love the new album. It grows on me more and more. But I don’t listen to it with the heart of 17-year-old anymore. There are plenty of actual 17-year- olds to do that. This is their time, I guess. I listen as someone who loves their music, who gets goofy over a crafty Cure pop song and who dives head on into the sonic epics (I LOVE “The Promise”!!!) Someone who hears a familiar strain in a new song (that riff in “Fake” gets me every time) and can celebrate the past 15 years of life and listening to their music. Someone who listens to “Taking Off” and thinks about my annoying waiter job but knows that I now have a wonderful partner in life who makes all the bullshit not matter, who rubs my feet and cracks my back and pours the wine. Someone who’s about to turn 30 and maybe isn’t as “Lost” as he once was, but damned if I don’t know what Robert is whaling about.
Green Day ~ American Idiot. Some times things just really work out. Time, mood, needs, talent, energy, etc. all come together. And the creation of the album has an interesting story. This was another rock album that I think we all kinda needed. I know I was fed up with the country, especially goings on in the White House and that year’s election and all. The music is loud and aggressive (with softer moments of course) and the storytelling epic. I love Billy’s voice and the harmonies with the band. Thanks, guys!
Patty Griffin ~ Impossible Dream. This was the first album of hers I picked up since her debut, Living With Ghosts (1996), and I absolutely love it. Another train CD, it’s a genre blender that comes out pure Americana. The piano ballads, “Kite Song” and “Mother of God” transform me, as do “Rowing Song” and “Useless Desires”.
The Killers ~ Hot Fuss. Yay, a NEW band that made me feel young again! And a rock star crush to rival Billie Joe Armstrong (which started with Dookie and was revived with American Idiot.) This is where Rolling Stone and I actually agree! That opening bass riff was enough to get a lot of us going. This is warm weather walks along the lake and music to get me home from my lunch shifts. Love all their stuff, but this is the best.
Ben Kweller ~ On My Way. This was a total impulse buy at the Virgin Music Megastore (R.I.P.) one day before or after work. They had listening stations for new releases and this CD was a part of all that. Love his piano heavy Texas singed rock bordering on alt-country. And his voice. I’ve found I’m picky about male singer’s voices. “Living Life” and “Believer” immediately made it onto a mix CD (yes, I eventually graduated) for Ernie.
R.E.M. ~ Around the Sun. Funny thing is, I didn’t even know this was coming out until I saw it on the shelves at Virgin! I know Stipe and Company would rather forget about this one. All the press surrounding Accelerate referred to this one as just The Last Album, but that’s so not fair! I remember hearing that this was basically a glorified Michael Stipe singer-songwriter solo album. But okay, admission: That’s kinda what I love about this one. I love the stripped down reflective nature of it. It’s wandering around on a Fall day, and is still the one most entrenched in my soul since Automatic for the People. “Leaving New York” “Make it Okay” and “I Wanted to Be Wrong” are faves.
~ ~ ~ ~
That does it for Part 1. Stay tuned for the rest of the decade, plus more Honorable Mentions, and maybe an individual song or two….
I suppose this post will also cover some of October to fill in all those gaps between cookie baking, Kathy Griffin, and Miley Cyrus. I know your lives feel empty without knowing the scoop.
This photo here was taken on my pre-birthday road trip to Gebhard Woods State Park and the Illinois & Michigan Canal Trail in and around Morris, IL. I had a window of good October weather and time off work. ‘Twas a lovely quiet day of hiking and talking to myself and the voices in my head. Lots of writerly conversation. 🙂 While only an hour away or so, it fulfilled my wanderlust in the tradition of past October trips to Vermont, Oregon, and Europe. Took many photos, most but not all of which have been uploaded into my Flickr. This was one of my favorite finds! All the naturey stuff was cool, but this find made my day. As I say in the photo’s Flickr description, it’s not 100% accurate and fair to say that All Mormons Hate Us, but they sure as heck have been making a name for themselves lately. I’m feeling the pain of Maine (& etc.) I definitely felt a kinship with the trail walker who came before me. So, yay to whoever you are….
My birthday on the 25th was a good one. Mellow, but wonderful. Brunch, then later dinner and drinks with Ernie and friends. Some time to myself in between. I made a trip to the Art Institute. It had been a while, a few years. I always love their photography gallery. They’re currently showing a collection of Victorian photo collage works. SO cool. I also hadn’t been to the new Modern Art Wing. Breath taking. I dig all that stuff. Had a moment with Picasso–it was his birthday too! I also enjoyed the student/journalist/etc. interviewing the gallery worker in the section with the clown abuse film, light installations, and other very contemporary work (sorry for the general terms here). I wanted to hang out and listen more, but that would’ve been creepy. Like the clown.
NewTown Writers goings on are winding down for the year. Our October NewPlay Readings event was a success. I know the authors, actors, and audiences had a good experience. I put my producer brain in overdrive, which was good for me, though I’ll tweak some things for next year. I attended the final workshops of the year (and met a couple new writerly friends), my 2009 Artistic Director report has been written and sent out, and we have a Board meeting this weekend to talk 2010–the group’s 30th Anniversary. Oh, and you can become a fan on Facebook, too. 🙂
I’ve attended a couple writerly events in the City in the past couple weeks. As always, the amazingly fun 2nd Story had an event on the 8th at their home base, Webster’s Wine Bar. My Solo Homo pals, Byron and Sara, read and directed respectively. Last night, Essay Fiesta, a brand new series held its inaugural event at the Book Cellar. Essay Fiesta features personal essays and comedy. It’s a free event, but with the opportunity to buy raffle tickets to benefit the Howard Brown Health Center. They had an awesome turn out last night. You should go to the next one in December. It’s right around the Holidays, but if you’re around and inclined and want to hang out in the way cute Lincoln Square neighborhood, do it. I’m looking to hopefully be involved in future editions. And of course, 2nd Story’s December deadline approaches….
I’ve recently gotten in the habit of tracking my writerly activities on my private/Friends Only blog. I call these entries “Writerlogged.” I jot down every day-ish what I’m doing, working on, attending, etc. They’re keeping me in check. And they’re things that don’t necessarily need to be posted in a public forum like this–jottings of works in progress, process, hopes and dreams I don’t want to jinx by announcing them to the world. Etc. When I feel like my life is being taken over by laundry and my restaurant job, I can be like Hey, this is what I did and this is what I need to focus on and stuff. The posts also apply to reading and watching which feed the writerly stuff. It’s good.
So I have been working on various things. I’ve been giving some love to a handful of short stories that are in various stages of life. Also working on a CNF/Essay/Solo piece. I like going back and forth with this. Sometimes I really don’t want to deal with myself and my own life. So I write about others. Beyond this, there are always photo, media, etc. projects that want love too….
Organized my reading list. I wish I could read all the books and all the lit mags and all the blogs, but you know, I can’t. Listed are things we have in house, things I need to acquire, things to finish. In the middle of the Best American Short Stories 2008. Realize the new one just came out. Oh well. Also, my Walt Whitman collection. The latest issue of MAKE Magazine. All in due time. Recently finished Band of Brothers, the Ambrose book, that I borrowed from my brother. Having my base of knowledge from the film was helpful, and I was able to fill in any gaps and experience the source material. Waiting in the wings is my copy of With the Old Breed, E.B. Sledge’s memoir which was used in HBO’s The Pacific, which can’t come soon enough. Recently finished Richard Peck’s Past Perfect, Present Tense Young Adult story collection. Cool to have a perspective from that genre. I also received Kathy Griffin’s Official Book Club Selection for my birthday. Started that because Kathy’s awesome. I need to acquire and start the new John Irving soon, too. I won’t bore you with the rest of the list, but know I’m reading stuff. 🙂
And writing too. I’m not a speed writer, though this time of year many are. While I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this time around, I am with all my NaNo friends and others in spirit as I work to accomplish something writerly every day. Whether it’s updating my writerly site, or swooping the editing comb through a story, attending an event, or just walking through UnAbridged Bookstore to be surrounded by tried and true printed real books. Etc. 🙂
With that, I’ll end this, but hope to post other bits soonly. Happy Creating, Everyone.
One of the drawbacks, I’ve recently discovered, of being married to a Theatre for Young Audiences professional is that on any given, say Saturday morning before the coffee kicks in, one can be subjected to/blasted with Miley Cyrus. Not an enjoyable experience! Though slightly less painful than dealing with the Jonas Brothers (here’s where I chime in with my “I’d rather eat glass.”) “It’s for the children!” my beloved will remind me. Yes… I guess he does have to keep up with what the kids are listening to these days. But I don’t have to like it.
I’m including the video because Kathy Griffin told us to look it up. So suffer with me. ;-P Levi Johnston (who was KG’s date at the Teen Choice Awards) was all like “Um, isn’t she only like 16?” This reminds me (sort of) of when my mother complained about Kids Incorporated making the kids look too grown up.
Still, I’d rather suffer hours of Miley than be without my TYA guy. 🙂
On Labor Day, Ernie and I bussed it downtown to see Julie & Julia (and had to walk an extra few blocks due to Oprah’s blocking of Michigan Ave.) The film, as you probably know, is in part based on Julie Powell’s book, which in turn is based on her blog (and by the way, she has a new one. Cool.) Ernie bought the book on CD, which served us well for travels to Detroit this summer. The CD, with Julie herself reading & living in the moment, was a wonderful way of experiencing the book. And I’ll say here that some of the naysayers on Amazon are just mean. The film of course is also in part based on the life/biography of Julia Child, who I mostly knew from glimpses on PBS and SNL reruns with Dan Ackroyd , etc. Didn’t Phil Hartman do her too, or am I making that up? We both loved the book and the movie, and now we have a steady supply of Rose’s Lime Juice for gimlet cravings (Julie should look into getting a cut of the increased Rose’s revenue, yo.) After the movie, we had lunch outside at Bistro 110, who all through August definitely worked the Julia Child tie-in. We were unapologetically dorky about it with our server. We craved sauces loaded with butter and were not disappointed.
The experience of Julie Powell’s story has naturally lead to discussions of what kind of project can I do? I’m sure I’m not the only writer who has been inspired to commence on a project of a parallel nature, and dreamed of their blog/book/life being made into a film with Ethan Hawke starring as himself. Right? While a few ideas ranging from the tongue-in-cheek to the legit have bounced around in our brains, I’ll keep those to myself for now.
In the mean time, I can write an occasional post here detailing a cooking/baking experience that maybe someone out there in WordPress/Facebook/InterWeb Lands may care about. So Hello.
While my mother did not own a copy of Julia Child’s cookbook, she did have her share, a few of which I’ve acquired since her passing in 2002. Recently, in a final purge of things in the former family home basement before my brother sold it, I picked up Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book. Originally published in 1963, my copy is the sixteenth printing from 1974, my birth year (while quickly googling the book, I saw it was re-printed/re-published in 2002.) It’s a beautiful specimen in all its vintage glory. (Did I just call something from the year of my birth vintage??) The drawings and photography are quite simply–awesome. The book wasn’t exactly and everyday staple for my mom, but it was handy to have. As it will be handy for me to have.
Flipping through it, I was amused by the section on “Heritage Cookies.” Maybe “amused” isn’t the right word. More like fascinated. The intro blurb conjures images of pioneers harvesting maple and making their own sour cream while also addressing the, um, modern 1960’s palate. Made me want to take a trip to Greenfield Village. The first Heritage entry is a recipe for Joe Froggers, rich with Autumnal spices and molasses. Every year, I set out to get into the kitchen with a couple personal traditions on or around the first day of Fall (High Holy Day!) I thought some of these Froggers would make a fun addition to the mix. So I set off….
I admit to not knowing the term Joe Frogger whether in or out of relation to what is a basic molasses ginger snap type cookie. Call me Cooky Challenged. So, there’s a person and a story behind the recipe–I like that. The recipe shares a little info about the cookie’s origins, but I wanted more. Somewhere between making and baking the dough, I looked up the name and found THIS ARTICLE from Marblehead Magazine. Cool.
Let me pause to say that I was slightly miffed to discover several recipes online include rum, while Betty Crocker’s does not. This makes me wonder if there was some sort of Prohibition type thing going on in the BC world of books. Rum is not listed anywhere in the index. I smell a conspiracy theory. Next time I make these, there will be rum. Oh yes, there will be rum.
I read through the recipe Tuesday morning and realized a couple things: I had to refrigerate the dough. Okay, no problem, will adjust my plans. And also, I would need a rolling pin. Did we even have one? While talking to Ernie shortly after making this discovery, I was like, Hey is there a rolling pin anywhere in this house? He thought maybe, but also thought it could’ve disappeared in our recent move and donations to his mother’s summer garage sale. I know I owned/had access to one a one point–but it could’ve belonged to my old roommate, Sarah. I looked. Didn’t find one. So to my list it was added.
Did a little seasonal shopping for this and other things. I needed shortening. Our last, half used and yellowing can of Crisco was pitched in the move. I hit up our local chain supermarket, picked up a few things, but was thwarted by the kitchen aisle: No rolling pin! Whole Foods was next–it’s a beautiful and dangerous thing to have one in walking distance and so much more rejuvenating than the supermarket. In the baking aisle, I had a flashback to helping a friend of mine reach for the molasses at the back of the top shelf a few weeks ago. Whoa.
Following the recipe was a pretty basic experience accompanied by my Folk music mix on my iTunes. Adding the water to the sugar-shortening-molasses mixture made for some inedible looking soup, though. The recipe also called for me to “Measure flour by dipping method….” I was referred to page 5 where I learned that this basically means to just dip the measuring cup into the flour and level off with a knife. Okay. But this implies to me: A larger than life bag of flour; actually keeping the flour in a canister all old school; maybe scaling down to measuring one cup at a time. With valuable cupboard and counter space at stake, we have a normal sized bag of flour and no canisters. I used the “Pour the flour right into the measuring cup method” which totally works for me. Once everything was mixed together, it all made sense. I wrapped it, and let it hang out in the refrigerator for the rest of the day and overnight so it could do all its scientific stuff.
I did make a special trip to get a new rolling pin that evening–a focused bus ride down to Bed, Bath & Beyond. An accomplishment among many. Rolling out the dough yesterday afternoon definitely took me back to the work days of Christmas cut-out cookies with my mother and her mother. It’s amazing what rolling out cookie dough can do–and I wasn’t even planning on it. All that inherent knowledge got me though it for sure as I rolled and cut out with my 3 inch circle cutter (from a set purchased at Whole Foods, bless them.)
Later in the afternoon, while stopping at the supermarket for dinner stuff, the kitchen aisle was full of rolling pins. I swear they were not there the day before! Oh well, the one I got is bigger, badder, and can do more damage.
I of course had to try one from the first batch, and it was delightful. And tasted like our heritage. In that I mean, from my taste buds, I felt a little stirring of patriotism–in the good sense of the word. The real patriotism and not the haters twisting the word around and making me feel ashamed. At the same time, I still had images of watching the highly offensive yet fascinating slavery-era film, Mandingo, bouncing around my head from my Tuesday film night with friends. The story of Joe Frogger and his wife and the cookies is a story that seems to overcome the gross racial issues from our Revolutionary and Antebellum pasts. Right…?
Yep, all that in a cookie in my 21st century kitchen in Chicago.
According to BC, “the cookies are as plump and dark as the little frogs that lived in the pond near Joe’s cottage.” But I gotta say, they fit more with lily pad comparisons I’ve read. Good and soft, but not exactly plump. Except for that last one, where I balled up the last of the dough and just flattened it with my hands. Its lumpy density and not as circular shape gave it the rightful name of Frogger.
They’ve had their time to cool and hang out on our counter. But now it’s time to get them into the cookie jar. We may not have flour canisters, but we do have a corner reserved for the groovy ’70’s dark green mushroom cookie jar of my youth, and that seems to be a perfect place for them. Luckily, I won’t have to climb up on a chair to get to them.
It’s almost the middle of August, and summer is definitely trucking along. We had a delightfully cool July but are definitely feeling some dog days this month. A hot summer makes the relief of Autumn even more special. For those who know me, Autumn is high holy season around here. It’s my first back in the city. I’ll definitely miss Indiana for it’s Autumness, but will seek out the city’s delights–but that’s a nerdy post for later.
To follow up on my Band of Brothers Revisited post, shortly after I posted it, a fellow WordPresser lead me to Alan Sepinwall’s blog, What’s Alan Watching? He’s the TV critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger. This summer, he did an amazing series on Band of Brothers. I recently finished going through his posts and many of the comments. Had I known about it (we were watching it at the same time!), I would’ve definitely joined in the conversation. Alas, he wrote his last post about the same time I wrote my own BoB post. I still want to comment on his final entry. The whole thing is a wonderful in depth conversation for BoB nerds everywhere!
I’ve spent part of the last month haunting neighborhood used book stores (plus my indie bookstore down the street) looking for Malarkey’s and other related books. I think I want to read at least Malarkey’s before I borrow my brother’s copy of the BoB book, which I still haven’t read. I want to despite the gnawing voices of the Ambrose haters on Amazon (which does have everything I want…). I should stop reading things like that. Just upsets me. 😛 I’m also interested in reading E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed, which is one of the sources for the upcoming The Pacific film. How exciting that Sidney Philips will be a character in the new project!
I’ll save my WWII reading for the Fall, as I’m trying to focus on other reading this summer. My “To Read” list is growing with older and newer books (like, I still need to get to Sarah Vowell’s latest!), recent acquisitions, and books on Ernie’s shelf. I’ve taken a couple times to sit outside–even go to the lake–and read my Walt Whitman collection. Perfect for summer on a blanket on the grass with the lake’s breeze. Definitely won’t finish it this summer, but it’s good to have at my side when I’m inspired. I also have the Best American Short Stories 2008 collection at my side when a dose of short fiction is in order. I finally finished the 3rd (with six more to go!) Sookie Stackhouse book, Club Dead, and totally loving the new season of True Blood! My current non-fiction reading is Michael Davis’ Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. What a joy! And it had me in tears in the first paragraph of the prologue for real. I’m three chapters in, which is a fascinating account of the history of children’s television in general. The Captain Kangaroo stuff is cool. I’m trying to make more time to read actual books. Less sitting in front of this computer and more reading, yo! But the computer is good too.
On the writerly front, I’ve been focusing on two short stories this past month or so. I’ve also been working to organize all my works in progress. I’ll always be adding ideas, but I’m trying to focus on further developing my most developed work so I can start taking it to the next level. One story is inspired by my neighborhood in South Bend. I really love this piece (which I started in November for my short story edition of NaNoWriMo) and am getting more and more into it. It’s also been good to harness my Indiana experience creatively–something I want to continue. Another story is more fantastical and quirky and inspired by an Indiana friend of mine. That’s all I’ll say for now. 🙂 These stories are written in 1st and 3rd person respectively, and if I’m going to flip flop between strories, I like that variety. On the CNF front, I made it through the first draft of a story about Truman’s bar in Indiana. I’ve also rebounded from Playing Guns rejection and am preparing it for another submission–to a place that’s perhaps a better fit.
I’ve also typed out my grandfather’s journal like I said I wanted to. Very cool. With that, I’ve registered another WordPress site which will be more family oriented. Not sure how public it will be, but it will definitely be a cool place for family and friends hopefully.
With all this Indiana talk, I did take the time to reflect on my time there. Here’s an excerpt from my Friends Only blog:
It was this random, amazing, frustrating, weird, beautiful, creative, inspiring, annoying experience in our lives. While we can definitely tell our “Indiana stories” boiled down to some laughable cocktail party tales, I get a little Stockard Channing at the end of Six Degrees of Separation where she seeks to make sure her experience truly becomes a meaningful part of her life. I know I will continue to do this myself in my work–whether in short stories, solo pieces, journal entries, or what have you. Just like I try to do with everything else. I can’t deny the new perspective our time there offered.
All the wonderful people I met along the way–those I’m still in touch with and those I’m not–will not be forgotten. 🙂
Finally, in NewTown Writers news, after a successful Solo Homo 7, the Fall 2009 event is in the works. We wanted to do some sort of short plays event, and it looks to be gearing toward a Reading event with some brand new works. I’m currently working with a number of members on developing their pieces–and looking to include a few more. I’m wearing my producer & director hats on this one so I can focus my writerly energies on other things. We’re looking to go up mid-October. Will post more later! I’ve also started attending the bi-weekly literary meetings. I’d never done that before, mostly because of my old work schedule and not living in the city for a few years. It’s been fun–I’ve been able to workshop one of my current stories as well as hear some of the work in progress for the fall. And now that meetings are looking to be at the Center on Halsted, that’s a bonus since I can walk there. Awesome!
Upcoming fun things are in the works. Looking forward to them and to getting more work done. Will tell you all about it….