Monday, April 23, 2018

Whither Retail? ...

My pal Laura – Hi, Laura! – who owns a store tweeted a link this morning to a story in the the Tribune with this headline:

"Even on Broadway, retail is dying before our eyes. Or is it? What does it all mean for Tribune Tower?"

The editor in me, as well as the consumer in me, is irked.

Chicago has a Broadway. I used to live near it. As in New York, it runs north- and south-ish. Not as in New York, it is not known as the theater district but it is home to plenty of stores.

But the piece is written by the Trib's theater critic, so, yup, the Broadway reference is about New York. But Tribune Tower is on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. And while Michigan Avenue is known as Chicago's shopping destination and is home to some very chichi brands, I presume that the rents on the Mag Mile do not equal those of the Great White Way. So, apples to oranges right off the bat.

Also, it's not really such a puzzler that folks who have just dropped many hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars for tickets to a Broadway show (most folks don't go to the theater alone, eh?) and may also be paying for accommodations in New York don't have a lot of extra cash to drop on shopping.

I looked into prices for "Springsteen on Broadway." The top price on TicketBastard is more than $800 but tickets are sold out so I moseyed on over to SeatGeek and sure enough, tickets can be had, the top price for which seems to be around $2,500. $5,000+ for three hours? I know there are people in the world who can afford that but those people are not me.

In Chicago, a top ticket to "Hamilton" is more than $600. One of my brothers treated me to tickets for my birthday last year. We went a couple weeks ago. A matinee. The face value? $187. Each. And I don't want to think about TicketBastard's fees. It was a great show and I'd love to see it again but seats on the main floor don't offer much legroom as it is. And I've sat in the front row of the mezzanine with my knees pressed up against whatever the word is for the iron "wall" that contains people from falling onto the main floor. I shudder to think of what my knees would endure in the cheap seats.

Randolph Street is home to a number of theaters in Chicago but The Loop is the theater district more generally in terms of "Broadway in Chicago." The Goodman is on Dearborn. The Steppenwolf is on Halsted in Lincoln Park.

Folks may have slightly more cash to spend after seeing a show in Chicago but the world of retail has been changing. Carson's has been a Chicagoland staple for more than 100 years but the flagship location on State Street became a Target years ago. A Target. I haven't stepped foot in Macy's on State since it took over Marshall Field's. And that was many years ago.

But some recent policies strike me as really dumb. At Crate & Barrel not too long ago, the clerk asked me if I'd like a bag. Um, yes? I'm happy to reuse bags when I go grocery shopping but it hadn't occurred to me to take a bag with me into C&B. She told me she'd have to add the fee for the bag onto my total. I skipped the bag and walked out of the store with my purchase and the receipt. I appreciate that we all need to do our part to care for the planet but there was a time when it was fun to amass C&B bags to reuse them. C&B got its free advertising and folks like me, who love a good handle bag, had a stash for everyday toting.

I don't shop at C&B much anymore but combine Chicago's insane sales tax with having to pay for bags to carry purchases out of the store and gee, maybe I'll just order online next time and enjoy the convenience of having everything shipped to my door (even as I do think about the carbon footprint that involves).

See the problem?

It's not all Amazon's fault. Yes, I wish bookstores were still more prevalent. For many years, when I wanted a book, I wanted it. Right then. As soon as I could get to the store and find it on the shelf.

But I also bought a lot of books that way, many of which I never read – and have since donated – so for financial reasons, I started using my local libraries. A lot. Now I "date" books first and then decide whether to buy them. Some I buy online. Some I find in thrift stores. Some I buy directly from the authors. (It's fun having writers who are friends!) But if Borders were still nearby, I'd still shop there sometimes.

It breaks my heart that Trib Tower is going condo. (Though if I could afford a unit, I'd move in.) I wish that the Apple store had stuck to its location further north on Michigan Avenue instead of taking over Pioneer Court, just south of the Trib and what was once a lovely bit of open space in an increasingly crowded city.

But I don't think the ground floor of Trib Tower will have any problem attracting and maintaining tenants, though, as with Marshall Field's, I can't imagine ever setting foot inside there again.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Well, That Was Weird ...

If you read this blog via RSS feed and saw the title of a post without any content and thought, "Huh, that seems unfinished," it was. I'm not sure how I managed to publish it. I converted it back to a draft and I know next to nothing about the workings of RSS feeds so you may not have even seen it, so I may now be discussing something that does not exist in your awareness but the upshot is: that wasn't all I planned to say. I may revisit it and publish it. Or not.

Friday, April 13, 2018

I Quit Facebook ...

Monday morning, just like that.

I wrote a post on Facebook announcing that I was quitting that "shitty-ass Popsicle stand" – shitty for all of Zuckerberg's bullshit, not because of the faces I'd come to know; they're lovely – and then realized that I couldn't post and then quit immediately because folks wouldn't see the post. So I left it up for a day and then deleted my account on Tuesday morning.

Facebook informed me that I had a 14-day window, during which I could log back in and cancel my deletion request. I presume there are folks out there who quit in a fit of pique and then think, "OH SHIT," and log back in.

I do not intend to be one of them.

I did indeed meet some very nice people on Facebook whom I would otherwise not know but I decided to stop volunteering to be a rat in Zuckerberg's maze as well as a commodity whose information was (likely) harvested in the name of some really dark shit. (I didn't stick around to receive – or not – a notification that I was one of the 87 million people whose data was co-opted. But given that there are 330 million people in this country and many of those people are children and many of those people are older and that most of that combined population does not use Facebook, well, odds are good that the rest of us were affected, eh?)

Folks can follow me on Twitter. I retweeted content then cross-posted to Facebook, so those who followed me on Facebook for the news-iness of my feed can still get the same experience on the Twitter machine.

But I'm glad to be away from The Book of Face, as Doreen calls it. Life existed before it. Life goes on. I had stopped blogging in large part because I was devoting so much time to social media every day. I do believe I'll be clickety-clacking in this space more often again. And I've had some writing projects that have stalled for a variety of reasons that I want to revisit and either pick up again or cram far in the back of a virtual drawer, as it were. The idea of "wasting" words and ideas used to pain me greatly. But not so much anymore. It's excavation, really. Getting the "bad" words out of the way in order to get to a vein of something valuable, worthwhile. I used to picture the excavation as sorting through rubble. Which implies that something has already been destroyed. But as I use the word "vein" now, as in "ore," I realize that it's more about blasting through something formidable – comfort, complacency – and descending into the depths. Exploring isn't really exploring if it's happening in the familiar territory of plain sight. Been there. Done that. If I'm bored of it, I'd repel readers from the first page.

This week has been a good shift, not radical change but a new perspective. On Wednesday, one of my brothers took me and Mom to see "Hamilton," my birthday gift from last year. As I tweeted on the way home (no, I wasn't driving):

And I had a dream last night that fascinated me in its resolve, a subconscious reminder that I have moved well beyond a particular period in my life and consigned those feelings to the past.

So, writing. More writing. Here. In the screenplay. In the manuscript of my memoir. Wherever. Letters. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Chapters. Scenes. Acts. Entities, fully formed.

And, moreover, the determination to share them, to sell them, frankly. And the courage to take those steps. Because time is finite, as Bruce Springsteen once said: "Whatever your abilities and your talents are, your time is finite." Indeed.

Walking away from the theater on Wednesday, in that aura of awe of what I'd just seen, my brother asked, "So, when are you going to write one of those?"

I laughed. "Just as soon as I learn how to write a song?"

Notes. Measures. Lyrics. Verses.

We shall see.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Beholding Transformation ...

Let's begin here:

It is – in language Angelo would use – crazy banana pants that he and I are friends.

So many, many things had to happen in his life for him to arrive at being the host of "Rate My Space" on HGTV.

All I had to do was, well, be lying on the couch and watching him on HGTV one day. And then flip out at his reveal because it was the best reveal I had seen in the history of reveals. And then heave myself off the couch and walk a dozen or so steps to my laptop to find out whether he had an account on Twitter – Yup! – and tweet at him.

That was fall of 2009, give or take. It may have still been summer meteorologically.

And here we are now, in 2018.

Over the course of our friendship, I have told him that he's a good writer. He's demurred. But it's true. English is not his native tongue, which makes his talent all the more remarkable. But he is very, very, very smart. And he is that rare person who can do most everything well. He is insanely talented as an interior designer. He's a natural on camera to a degree I've rarely seen. He bakes perfect chocolate chip cookies. And he wrote a novel – this novel – in 17 days:

There is a lot about Angelo I don't know just as there is a lot about all of my friends that I don't know. It's impossible to convey a lifetime. And yet, I really didn't know the story he tells in the pages of this book.

When he asked me to read an early draft two years ago, I couldn't begin to fathom what I was about to learn.

Two chapters in, I emailed him:

"If I see you in March, I may never stop hugging you."

(We were planning to get together for dinner when he was in town. Which we did. I did not, however, hug him the entire time. I mean, there was food on the table and wine to consume. We needed our hands.)

Writing anything and putting it into the world is a hugely vulnerable act. But Angelo did not write just anything. He wrote his story. Fictionalized but autobiographical. And literally brutal. Readers need not guess if this book is based on his life. He spells that out in his author's note.

Over the past two years, I've witnessed two metamorphoses:

The magic of thoughts and experiences becoming words on an electronic page and being tended and nurtured by a host of people who produced the book I can now hold in my hands.

But more so, the awe-inspiring courage of my dear friend who waded into his psyche and bled onto the page to help himself but also – as is his exceedingly kind and generous nature – to help others. There are other Evans in the world who may not believe there is life beyond confusion and judgment and fear. This book is a lifeline.

Last night, I emailed him to ask, "So when do you find out if your book made the New York Times best-sellers list?"

I want that moment for him, that validation, but beyond the honor that landing on the list confers to a writer, it would demonstrate the reach of his story and its good in the world.

Regardless, this book represents a triumph, if only for one.

Bravo, my friend. I love you dearly. You're a hero and an inspiration.

The next dinner's on me.

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Reporting To A Landmark Every Day ...

Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune

It was never my intention to stay.

I landed a part-time job at the Chicago Tribune in the fall of ’92. In Sports.

Those who know me were understandably amused.

"Sports?" they'd ask, upon learning of my new gig. "Do you know anything about sports?"

"There are three periods in hockey and four quarters in football. I'll figure out the rest as I go."

But I didn't plan to figure out much because I saw the Trib as a brief stop on the journey of my career, as much as I had any sense of where I was going. Six months, tops, and I'd be on my way.

I left five years later. Almost. I was a few months shy of the five-year mark. Or maybe a couple. By then, I had worked in Sports, in News, and in Features. I learned a lot. I met some fine people. But for myriad reasons, it was time to go.

So I was surprised by the blow of sadness that landed in my chest when I read that operations for the Trib would be moving out of the Tower. I was sad when the Sun-Times building was sold but I understood. It was a squatty, seven-story, oddly shaped building on one of the most prime sites in the city. I had worked there for a couple of summers and my grandfather had worked there many, many years before. But progress churns and so the news of the Sun-Times' sale passed through me with little more than a sad shrug.

But the Trib ... .

It's not that what I did there was important. It wasn't. I was a very small cog in a very large machine. But the paper had caché. People took our calls. Publicists all but fell over themselves to fulfill our requests. (Never was the power of the paper more evident to me than after I left. I went from hearing "We'll FedEx that to you tonight" to "I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with your publication. Could you submit your request on letterhead?")

The newsroom was never much to behold, though the heart of it is two stories tall, unlike most of the newsrooms you've seen on TV. That bit was dramatic. But the industrial carpet was dingy and all but vacuumed out of existence by the Polish cleaning ladies who had a stubbornly bad sense of timing. More times than I can remember, the intrusive drone of a vacuum coincided with deadlines, a few Doppler-like passes, forward and back, before someone would shout and the noise would stop. You'd think they would have made the connection. The desks were huge and matte black, editors and designers sitting around the periphery – "the rim" – and the editor in charge of the team in the middle – "the slot." The hulking computers – the Edit V! – on which I began my tenure were replaced by the ubiquitous beige desktops of the day. The transition was not all together smooth. We became well acquainted with the Help Desk.

But the building, you see, the Gothic tower – with its marble floors and wood-and-reeded-glass doors behind which you wouldn't be surprised to find the Maltese Falcon and the wood-paneled offices for the paper's leaders and legends – is its own bit of history. It is host to stones from landmarks from around the world, embedded into the facade, except for the display in the Nathan Hale Lobby that held – holds? – a tiny rock from the moon.

Tourists would wander around the building and point. Some would push through the revolving doors and step inside.

Like the newsroom, the lobby of the Tower is two stories, too. As you can glimpse in the photo above, it is beautiful and stately. The quotes are erudite and timeless and grave. There is great power in language and there is great privilege in recording history. Standing in the lobby, the sense is clear that from the time of the paper's founding until the Tower came to be, the Tribune was both aware of its role and up to the task.

A lot has changed since I worked there. So many of the staffers I knew have been let go. But the Tower – the promise – remained.

It hurts my heart, the thought of Trib staffers walking into the Prudential building next year. The Tower will stand without its soul.

I sit with the sadness but the pull is strong to return, to say goodbye.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Virtual Birthday Disc 2017 ...

There was a time when I'd invite a group of folks out to lunch for my birthday. It's been a number of years since I've been able to pull that off but I never lost my love for creating birthday CDs / place cards for the table.

This was the year I thought I might re-up the lunch tradition. Alas, life had other plans. But I spent some time compiling some tunes a few weeks ago and wrote up the "liner notes." So, in this era of Spotify and playlists, I'm sharing the virtual version of the birthday CD. Listen along in your head!

1. Adventure of a Lifetime, Coldplay
“Everything you want’s a dream away … we are diamonds, taking shape.” Indeed. Also, c’mon, that lick ... .

2. Thunder Island, Jay Ferguson
There’s a general theme to the songs on this disc. This catchy tune, though, is either “No way! I haven’t heard this in forever!” or, I hope, “Wow, I kinda love this!”

3. I Just Wanna Stop, Gino Vannelli
Because have you ever heard this song and been sorry? I haven’t. Also, the older I get, the more I appreciate tunes from further back in my musical life.

4. Love Make the World Go Round, Jennifer Lopez & Lin-Manuel Miranda
Written and recorded as a response to the Pulse massacre, it’s only become more poignant. “And love is love is love is love is love is love ... .” I am awed by Miranda’s talent.

5. Wonderful, Gary Go
I know it sounds like music for a commercial or the final scene of a rom-com but I love it for just those reasons, as well as the lyrics.

6. You Give Me Something, James Morrison
For a bit of a shift in tempo and tone. Also, I love the story of the song, love the delivery, love James’s voice.

7. Something Just Like This, The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
Yup, Chris Martin makes a second appearance. I was hooked the moment I heard this and I haven’t tired of it. What is going on in the chorus?! Also, there’s a symmetry to the notes that pleases me.

8. Shake It, Metro Station
We live in Chicagoland, kids. We get stuck in traffic. We need to prevent blood clots. (Yes, I’m now that old.) Music to dance in our cars! Let others see! Prevent road rage!

9. Best Days, Graham Colton
Because guys with acoustic guitars are underrepresented in American music. But seriously, I like Graham’s tune. Perhaps he should tour with James Morrison.

10. Dreams, Beck
Have you heard this tune? Then you understand.

11. What Is Love, Haddaway
Yep! (You know you love it!)

12. Sweetheart, Franke & The Knockouts
For some reason, this is the lone 45 I still possess. Loved it then and it holds up.

13. Looking Out, Brandi Carlile
Brandi and her guitar will never not wow me. So glad she opened for Shawn Colvin years ago.

14. Love Is All That Matters, Human League
Simple message, more necessary than ever. See No. 4. Also, a long-ago concert memory.

15. Drift Away, Dobie Gray
Because couldn’t we all do with getting lost in some rock ‘n’ roll and drifting away?

16. Talkin’ Bout A Revolution, Tracy Chapman
Revolution indeed. We’re so past due.

17. Night Fever, Bee Gees
‘Cause why not? We need more joy, kids!

18. Got To Be Real, Cheryl Lynn
Again with the movie-soundtrack tune but enough with artifice. Realness. Please. I crave it.

19. She’s The One, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Recorded live. In ’75. And still one of his and the band’s finest performances. It builds subtly then the piano at 2:03 unleashes ebullience the likes of which is almost never heard. True genius.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Let's Talk About Sex ...

Steve King, Republican Congressman from Iowa and – more importantly for the purposes of this post – male, introduced legislation that would effectively ban abortions, as they would be illegal after six weeks, a point at which many women don't yet know they're pregnant.

A goodly portion of the commercials I see are for Viagra or Cialis and I don't watch sports. So if I'm seeing commercials for erectile-dysfunction pills during the programming I watch, I'm going to presume that the ad buys are much bigger, say, during NFL games.

These medications are covered by insurance. [ Update: Alison commented to mention that ED meds are not, in fact, covered by insurance. My Googling reveals that that is sometimes the case but not always. I've amended item No. 4, below, accordingly. The federal government does pay a hefty tab for ED meds for VA patients each year, though I'm A-OK with our vets getting all that we've promised and more. ]

I am also aware, anecdotally, that men really like to have sex. So it stands to reason that they would be willing consumers of anything that enables them to pursue that pastime.

I am also also aware that men really do not like to wear condoms – "It ruins the sensation!" – nor do they like to get vasectomies. Snip-snips are no-nos for the Y-chromosome set.

Ergo, we womenfolk are expected to be the responsible party.

What else is new?

Let's review the miracle of possessing wombs:

Somewhere around 12 years old, give or take a couple years, our bodies begin the process of menstruation. In some cultures, girls and women are shunned from their communities while they're menstruating but in this country, we don't have to live in a hut or subsist in the forest for one week every month.

We have the creature comforts of sanitary napkins or tampons. (Many women don't. Think about what that's like.) Never mind the delight of shoving cotton into our vaginas on a regular basis. My point about these products is this: we have to buy them from, for a round number, 40 years – from the time we're 12 until the time we're 52. Every month. They are not inexpensive. They are only now, in some places, becoming tax-exempt. And, again, we have to buy them for 40 YEARS.

Some restrooms have napkin / tampon dispensers. Many do not. (In her book, Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?, Alyssa Mastromonaco writes of getting such a dispenser installed in the women's restrooom in the West Wing.) Many women carry a few tampons in their purse at all times. Most of us, I'd wager, have shared our stash with a woman in need.

And then there are cramps. Some women have terrible cramps every month – sometimes incapacitatingly so – others experience them rarely.

And then there are hormonal shifts. We can't control those. That's nature's doing. And yet, if we're not sunshine and roses, we reliably hear, "What the matter with you? Are you on your period?" That last word is often spat out with contempt.

Pardon us for being responsible for continuing the human race.

So then: birth control.

Thanks to better living through chemistry, womenfolk need not get pregnant constantly! Huzzah!

Birth control, however, also costs money. For women who are fortunate to have insurance, it has traditionally not cost a lot of money. Under the Affordable Care Act, birth control was paid for by insurance.

The Trump administration recently gutted that provision.

The GOP, you may also be aware, was doing its damndest to repeal the ACA and strip tens of millions of people of their health insurance all together.

I saw many people spouting variations on "So what? Birth control only costs a few bucks a month!"

It depends on a) whether you have insurance and b) the type of birth control. Some forms are more expensive than others.

Regardless, for someone making minimum wage, those dollars really count.

Still, pregnancies happen.

But the GOP does not want us to have access to abortion, never mind that it's a Constitutionally protected right, never mind that most of the people trying to prevent us from accessing abortion are men, who see nothing wrong with dictating what women can and can't do inside their bodies.

On Twitter recently, I saw a tweet from a guy asking Jeff Sessions which part of his body he's OK with the government controlling. Thanks, Guy on Twitter! We appreciate allies.

So, let's say a woman gets pregnant unintentionally. For the purposes of this discussion, let's say it wasn't a rape or incest.

The guy, who is literally responsible for the pregnancy, as women do not produce both egg and sperm, can stick around or not. He can contribute financially or not. Depending on the circumstances, women may end up having to go to court to get child support, another expense for them.

But let's rewind a bit:

A woman finds out she's pregnant. (Perhaps because she bought a pregnancy test. More dollars spent.)

She has morning sickness. It's bad. She has to call off often from her hourly wage job.

She gets fired.

So now she's pregnant and out of a job.

Does she have insurance?

Maybe. But if the GOP gets its way, insurance providers won't be required to cover maternity care.

Or maybe not.

If not, how is she supposed to access medical care for her pregnancy? She'll need to see an OB/GYN. Eventually, she'll need to give birth. Even if she gives birth at home, she'll need someone there who can help her through the process.

Once the baby is here, the baby will need a doctor for routine check-ups, inoculations, etc.

There was a time when we had a healthcare program specifically to cover children: CHIP.

But the GOP has let CHIP expire. It hasn't been renewed. Will it be? Who knows. The GOP, even with its unified control of government, has yet to pass any meaningful legislation (other than more sanctions for Russia, which have not been implemented, and gee, I wonder why).

So what's our new mom to do? Has she been able to get a new job during her pregnancy? I hope so. I hope she still has that job. If she takes time off of work after the baby is born, she may or may not be paid for that time, an absurd reality in this country.

If she still has her job, whether or not she takes time off, she now needs to pay for child care. Child care is expensive, often more expensive than someone earns. So they don't work. But they need income. They need to provide for the child they now have, the child they were forced to have by the government.

But people who apply for welfare programs are derided as "lazy" and "takers."

So, to recap:

1. Men like to have sex – so much so that they will take medication to ensure the ability to have it – but they don't like to wear condoms or undergo vasectomies.

2. Men expect to have sex.

3. Women also like to have sex but may get pregnant as a result.

4. Insurance [ sometimes ] pays for ED meds.

5. Insurance is no longer required to pay for birth control.

6. If a woman gets pregnant, the government is trying to mandate that she carry the pregnancy to term. Also:

— The man can stick around or not.

— The woman may or may not have health care to help her through her pregnancy and delivery. In the richest country on the planet, health care is not guaranteed to all citizens. It's a privilege, not a right.

— The woman may or may not be able to continue working. If so, she will be shamed for needing welfare assistance.

— The woman should not expect any government assistance with:
- Caring for her child medically
- Caring for her child so she can work
- Housing her child
- Feeding her child
- Clothing her child
- Educating her child (even public education costs some money)

And all of this is being dictated, by and large, by men, who will never face any of these issues head on. After a few minutes of pleasure, they can absent themselves from all of it.

Yes, we're angry about this. Even when we're not on our periods.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

One More Note ...

Every morning, I listen to "The Daily," the podcast from the New York Times. Today, Katherine Kendall, one of the actresses speaking out about Harvey Weinstein, recounted her experience of his intimidation; of his exposing himself to her, fully naked; of his refusing to let her leave; of her wondering if he was going to rape her. It is heartbreaking and infuriating to hear but one part, in particular, really struck me. Of the aftermath, she said, "I was pretty shut down at that point because I really felt scared, like he was in this all-powerful position and I was clearly never going to work again if I said anything. And, the other part to it is, he didn't actually touch me, so, you know, I wasn't sure if people would care. If I'm not bleeding and, you know, just wrecked, then does it really matter?" [ Emphasis added ]

Her voice changes when she says, "... does it really matter?" It gets smaller and more quiet in addition to the questioning.

Does it really matter?

A large, imposing presence of a man who had the power to make or break her career had harangued her into coming into his home and then retreated to another room and stripped naked and then presented himself to her and demanded physical and sexual acts of her and prevented her from leaving and then later sat in a cab and stared at her through the window of a bar for at least 20 minutes.

But he didn't force himself on her physically. He didn't rape her. So she questioned if people would care, if what happened to her really mattered.

Of course it mattered. She knew that. I know that. You know that. Of course it mattered.

It matters.

Since this despicable story has broken, more and more women – and men – are speaking out, telling their tales, creating space for others to feel safer to share.

I've written about a couple instances. As timing would have it, I posted about them a year ago yesterday. At the time, I was responding to the revelation of the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump. But I had written the post an election cycle ago, about Herman Cain. Perhaps the day will come when this topic will not be so timely.

But for today, it is.

That said, what I posted a year ago was, comparatively, benign. It was what I was willing to share at the time.

But there's more.

Unlike Katherine, I never questioned if it really mattered. Like Katherine, though, I didn't speak of it because I wasn't "bleeding and, you know, just wrecked."

But as Amber Tamblyn wrote in her Times piece about James Woods last month: "We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change."

Every story matters. Silence only serves those who believe they can rely on silence.

And so:

I was a junior in college. He was someone I had dated. We were no longer dating – I hadn't been willing to sleep with him because I wasn't ready to sleep with him so he started dating someone else – but we were together that night. I don't remember why, what preceded him being in my dorm. I remember reading something to him. I remember him tracing circles with his thumb inside the palm of my hand. I remember kissing him goodbye at the door. I remember his hands on my waist, his forearms parallel to the floor. I'm trying to remember now what changed, what signaled to me that something wasn't right. Did he lift my skirt? Did he kiss me more forcefully? Both? Both feel accurate but I can't recall for sure.

What I remember with perfect clarity, however, was that I knew I had to stop him. I was saying his name, raising my voice each time.

I don't know if it's more accurate to say that he was vacant or hyper-focused. Regardless, he wasn't responding to me.

I remember pressing down on his forearms with my hands with all of my might. His arms were immovable.

I remember realizing how strong he was, stronger than I had ever known.

I remember understanding that I wasn't in control.

Finally, I practically shouted his name and he seemed to return to the moment. He let go of me. He left.

We had contact, off and on, for many more years. To my recollection, we never spoke about that night.

I can recall only ever telling one person about this and obliquely at that.

I am shaking now as I type. Is it my body processing the memory? Is it fear of letting others know?

Either or both may be true. It doesn't really matter.

What matters, I hope, is adding one note to the choir, forcing the tune to change.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

This Is Me Not Being Quiet Anymore ...

I began kindergarten when I was 4.

Accordingly, I've always been a bit younger than my peers. Most of my friends were licensed to drive as sophomores. I had to wait until I was a junior. When I entered college, I was 17.

One of my friends and classmates was Kim, a black woman who was attending school while working. I don't precisely remember how old she was when I met her but my mind is whispering, "She was 26."

Every so often, a thought surfaces about Kim, about a time we were talking about how women – never mind black women – are treated as less important than men. I was young. I made some comment about not knowing that to be true.

Kim's response was all it needed to be: "Just wait."

I graduated when I was 21. At 22, I began work at the Chicago Tribune. In Sports. Early on, one of my male colleagues – age-wise one of my peers – made a comment about me only getting the job because I was a woman. I asked my boss about that. He was diplomatic about it and said something to the effect of "Yep. All candidates being more or less equal, it's not a bad thing to have more women in Sports."

When I left the paper just shy of five years later, they couldn't find anyone to do my job at my pay grade. So the powers that be upped it – from a 12 to a 17 – and hired a man. I presume he was the most qualified. I have no way of knowing for sure. But it wasn't lost on me that no one offered to pay me more to get me to stay.

I went on to work for another newspaper company and was well regarded. I've since worked for a couple of IT consulting companies and, like in Sports, it's not a bad thing to have more women in IT. Of course, I was an editor not an analyst but words are my forte, not technology.

These days, I work for myself.

I was raised by a strong woman. My mom is more patriarch than matriarch but she is also very kind. As is human nature, though, or at the very least a function of estrogen, she's not a big fan of confrontation. She avoids it when she can. She doesn't rile intentionally. And, as I was raised by her, neither do I.

Did, I should say. Times may have changed.

On Facebook and Twitter, I'm more and more blunt. It started with a letting go of my hesitancy to post anything political.

I got over that quickly. I'm one of the most political people I know. I crave information in that realm. I consume a gluttonous amount of it each day. My Twitter feed numbers nearly 500 and almost all of them are news-related accounts: publications, pundits, and the like.

I've been that way for some years now, growing more and more informed during the Obama administration, a Maddow acolyte.

Shortly after President Obama's election, I was out to breakfast with my mom. A group of old white women were at a table nearby, spouting the most racist bile, saying Michelle looked like an ape.

I didn't confront them. I so regret that now. I made loud comments to my mom but I was being passive-aggressive. I should have been forthright. I should have walked up to them and spoken my piece and then thrown some money on our table and left. I should have but I didn't.

Republicans didn't renounce Trump for his vile birtherism, they embraced it, used it to their perceived advantage. It helped in the short-term.

And then Trump "won."

And there I was, January 21, 2017, an unseasonably warm day, making my way to be one of the 20,000-ish people gathering in Grant Park for the Women's March.

Only there weren't 20,000 of us. There were something like 250,000 of us. "A sea of pink under a sky of blue," I posted to Instagram that day. The sky was cloudless. We marched west. Then north. The sun was almost too warm on our backs. My friend and I stepped off the route. We heard choppers overhead and watched the news footage on our phones. We encountered marchers again heading south. And then, when we returned to my friend's apartment and turned on the TV, we laughed when we learned that the march had been called off because there were too many people. Really? We had no idea. And no one stopped the thousands of us who walked through the streets. The Chicago PD led the way.

In these past months, I've opened the door a little wider. I began to post things on Facebook that I know aren't "safe," that may challenge some beliefs.

And then Charlottesville happened.

And honey, I am done.

Earlier today, in a Facebook post and Twitter thread, I wrote:

I noticed the other day that my Facebook friend count went down by one. Today, I thought of who might have unfriended. Yup, I thought right. Guess he was displeased with a recent disagreement among a few of us in the comments under a post. OK. Buh bye. In light of what has happened in recent days, I no longer have any inclination to keep my mouth shut or my fingers still in the interest of not making waves. Not anymore. And I regret that I let that reticence dictate so much for so long. I know I can be blunt. And profane. And I may challenge some mores and norms. But I never intend to be hurtful. So if I post something that offends you, let's discuss it (if you're so inclined).

I truly value kindness. I have no desire to ever be mean. But I am done being quiet for the sake of others' comfort. I will not seek out confrontations but when they arise, I intend to say what should be said, to stand up for anyone who is being mistreated.

Likewise, I will look for even more moments to do good, to smile, to lend a hand.

More and more, I'm getting better about boundaries. I end relationships that no longer serve me. Work-wise, I ask for what I'm worth.

It's taken me decades to get here but I'm fond of this surefooted path.

It's a fascinating journey, becoming myself.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Revelation On A Saturday Morning ...

I knew I'd written something similar before. I am a master rehasher. But, as with the process of writing and finding just the right words, sometimes I have to explain things to myself in a number of ways.

On June 21, 2016, I posted this and ended it thusly:

The notion that I might write something someday that will help someone in turn is what propels me, a moment of connection or recognition, the relief in knowing that someone else has felt the same way. I keep that in mind as I write. I don't write toward that end. I do my best not to contrive. But those moments do arrive. And for now, the someone I end up helping is me.

I read that again moments ago, pleased with myself for having had the thought and for having expressed it well, and then the gremlin in my head said, "You wrote that more than a year ago. Look at how much time you waste."

The gremlin has a point. But also, the gremlin can go to hell.

Because things take as long as they take.

And this morning, skimming a book from the library that I've renewed several times, I had a thought. It felt important but not fully formed. So I sat there a moment longer, talking to myself, as I am wont to do, as talking to myself helps me make my thoughts more concrete.

And I realized this:

I have been stalled on a memoir I've been noodling around with for a long time not because I don't want to write it – when I get an idea I like in my head, nothing stops me until I've realized it in the world – but because I didn't believe there was a point, a combination of the "Who are you to write this?" nagging and the sense that if I'm still reading books looking for guidance, if no one has the answer, what good would one more book – my book – do?

But, as I mentioned, I stayed on the path and realized that while I have read many, many books and while it is true that no book has held "the" answer I've sought, every book has contributed its own glimmer of illumination. Individually, no, no one phrase or sentence or sentiment has unlocked "the" door but collectively? They're the items on the list of a treasure hunt. They have led me to this place.

And this place is the moment of understanding that the memoir is worth writing a) because I need to write it but also b) because it might provide a glimmer that a reader may find helpful, even if all it is is a moment of relief to know that someone else has stood in that same place of not knowing.

At which point, I started to cry. Because that's what I do when I've untangled a knot of thoughts to discover the something that is true.

I still feel like I need help with the shape of the book, and that's where Marion Roach Smith will come in. Memoir is a doozy of a genre, turns out. It seems so unassuming on its face – tell a story about yourself! – but our lives comprise endless moments and anecdotes. They're not all germane. They require a great amount of sorting.

But first, I had to hear the nagging voice so I could respond to it.

This is my response.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Creativity In The Era Of Trump ...

Last night, amid the breaking news and punditry, I had a flash of an idea:

It would be fun to record a song – a torchy, sultry number, as that would appeal to Trump's sense of his irresistible nature as well as suit my voice – that lavished praise on him for a few bars ... then kicked him in the groin in the chorus.

This morning, I put pencil to paper as lyrics started popping into my head.

I didn't write a complete song in the first pass but then I realized that with Trump's attention span, a verse, chorus, and coda would be plenty, maybe even too much.

I have a simple melody in my head and I pondered recording it a capella but it would be fun to arrange and produce it so if that's your wheelhouse and you're game, let me know.

[ Untitled, For Now ]

You're a star, they let you do anything
You're a winner, so big, through and through
The problems, alone you can fix them
But Mueller's got a message for you

Oh, Donald, you're going to prison
The big house is where you will stay
The White House will someday recover
Just as soon as they take you away

The handcuffs, they're not golden
To Putin you're only beholden
And there is no KFC in prison

I feel better already ... .

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Monday, June 19, 2017

On Popularity (And Indifference To Popularity) ...

This blog has become a bit of a wasteland, an infrequently populated place that was once quite a hub of activity. A lot of my thoughts are now boiled down to 140 characters or threaded if I have something extended to express.

But every so often, the impulse to share something in a tweet is overcome by the realization that there's simply much more to say, and so, here we are. A blog post. A rare blog post. The link for which I can tweet.

Today's post is inspired by this: Why Popularity Matters So Much—Even After High School.

It popped up in the Medium Daily Digest, an email that I scroll through each morning but which rarely contains headlines that inspire me to click.

So kudos to Mitch – or whomever wrote the headline – for capturing my attention which led me to read an excerpt from his book, Popularity: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World.

The post is interesting, so I expect the book is, too. And I love that Adam Grant is blurbed on the cover: "This book helped me understand why I wasn't cool as a kid, why I'm still not today, and why I shouldn't care."


I wasn't cool as a kid. I'm still not today. And, indeed, I don't care.

Which isn't to say I don't want people to like me. Being liked is nice.

But being liked and being popular are different things.

Moreover, my preference is more that people don't dislike me. I have come to appreciate that some people simply will not like me on principle. As a very wise friend says, "It is always the other person's shit, Beth. Always."

Well, maybe not always. If I have done something to upset someone in some way, I'd like to have the chance to address it and apologize for it if an apology is called for in that instance. Or perhaps what's needed is a clarification, a moment of "You misunderstood what I meant ... ."

But I hope I am conducting myself in such a way as to not give folk active and accurate reasons to dislike me.

Popularity, though? Meh.

I don't care about my number of Twitter followers. For a long time, I didn't accept connection requests on Facebook or LinkedIn unless I knew the person. Then I considered that perhaps I was cutting myself off from encountering some interesting people or people who might be folks I should know in order to advance some area of my life, some insight, some growth, professional or personal. And so I started expanding my circles ever so slightly.

But not much. I once knew a guy who was damn near obsessed with amassing friends on Facebook, never mind that they weren't really friends at all. They were local personalities whom I expect accepted every friend request that came along.

In his excerpt, Mitch quotes Daniel Clemens, a popular Yale student who has achieved much professional success: "We teach writing and arithmetic. We expect folks to do very well in science and reading from a very early age. But the ability to establish great relationships with others seems to be every bit as important to success if not more, yet it’s not taught in a formal way. We usually learn about relationships by trial and error — how to get along with peers and how to be popular. For those who can do it, great. But for others, it is a lifetime of struggling, never understanding why their peers have issues with them."

I have a knack for establishing relationships with others. Whether they're "great" is subjective. But friends have commented on it. One asked, "What is it about you? You meet these people and become friends with them."

He was referencing a few folks I know who are "famous" or perhaps "known."

Relationships don't form with everyone I meet. I interviewed Melissa Etheridge for a story some years back. She invited me to come to a show on her upcoming tour. I did. I met her very briefly. I'm sure she has no recollection of it and we haven't been in touch since.

Some encounters are fleeting – like the one with the mom in the parking lot of a store who was trying to load groceries into the back of her vehicle while her newborn baby, in a carrier on her chest, screamed his little head off; I helped her with her groceries and then returned her cart to the front of the store – while other encounters – with those "famous" or not – turn into friendships.

And the reason, as I see it, is pretty damn simple: I'm a nice-enough person.

I try to be kind. I try to be helpful. I try to be sincere. I'm not trying to game the system or scam people or engage for purely selfish reasons.

But forming substantive relationships and "popularity" strike me as different things.

When I was in school, "popular" seemed then as it seems now: largely superficial, rooted first and foremost in appearances. But, as I see it, it's also assigned. The most popular people I remember from school didn't strike me as striving for popularity. Popularity was placed upon them. Those who strive to be popular by definition aren't and, to my mind, can't be.

These days, I suppose popularity is often cultivated. Some are genuinely adored for their flamboyance or personality or artistry. But others have become successful in parlaying a glimmer of notoriety into an outsize following.

Which begs the question: why do so many follow?

But that is another topic for another post.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Really, Jayson? Really? Part XXIII ...

Not every Jayson post has included a Roman numeral in its title but this is indeed the twenty-third in a series, which began in 2011.

I tired of the Jayson posts for a time but now that the country has grown infinitely more ridiculous, the absurdity of Jayson feels like a well-worn blanket, a comfort, like home.

And so, over coffee this morning, I clicked over to visit the vintage and antique offerings. The go/no-go decision to draft a post rests with whether enough catches my eye to include. Some items are priced in a way that strikes me as sane. Some items are lovely and I'd consider including them in my home, if only I could afford them.

And then ... . Well, let's begin.

I actually rather like this table. I do not like the table offspring that are intended to sit atop it (you'll have to click through to see that magic) but I like the form of the table. I do not, however, understand the utility of a table that is a foot high and nearly 11 feet long. What is its purpose? I'd genuinely like to know. Angelo, my dear friend, how would you use this in a space? How big would the space be? Is it really just a platform bed for people who prefer to sleep end to end?

Vintage Long Table – $1,895

This 94" sofa hails from France and the 19th Century, designed by someone who, unlike the creator of the table (above), was never informed of the existence of straight lines.

Antique French Sofa – $7,495

Oh, my. What happened here? The description includes the phrase "upholstery as found." Found where? In an alley in Miami behind a community center where Dorothy Zbornak was taking a class in fabric painting and somehow ended up with a tab of LSD on her tongue? Why would anyone do this to a piece of furniture, let alone two? Why would anyone then buy them and try to sell them for nearly $1,000 apiece? Why were these not sacrificed into a volcano when they were found? They're clearly the gateway to an evil dimension. Someone took the time to create coordinated piping, for God's sake. No. No, I say. Stop. For the love of God, stop. Won't someone think of the children?!

Vintage X Bench – $995 (Set of two available, priced individually)

Thursday, June 01, 2017

A Memo To Donald Trump ...

June 1, 2017

To: Donald Trump
From: Beth Kujawski
Re: Everything

My mind labors to comprehend the depths of your malfeasance, and the damage you are doing to our country and to the planet. The consternation stems, in large part, from your blithe disregard for reality. You seem far too dopey to be any kind of evil genius. You seem far too incurious about anything that does not bear your name in 20-foot letters to be doing deliberate damage.

And yet, the havoc you wreak is immense. And daily. In a mere four months, you have shattered the standing of the United States in the world. The world openly mocks us and we, with you as our "leader," deserve to be mocked. In what insane realm does an braggadocio-afflicted confessed sexual assaulter, reality-TV host, and filer of multiple bankruptcies become the President of the United States?

We now live in this insanity, a world in which coal miners believe we as a country are going to turn back the clock 100 years and they will return to that golden era when they died too young of black lung if they didn't die underground, in which those who voted for you most fervently and earnestly are beginning to admit that you are not the president they thought you'd be but who insist they will continue to support you, even as you strip them of their access to health care … and treatment for addiction … and food, so incapable they are of admitting they were horribly, horribly, horribly wrong.

Bigots, racists, misogynists, and white supremacists are newly emboldened by your words and the permission they grant to those who are the most despicable among us. Yes, they are deplorable. By what possible measure are they not, scrawling slurs, hurling hatred, slashing throats in the name of "patriotism"?

Perhaps you suffer from mental impairment greater than narcissism and megalomania. Perhaps you are delusional. Perhaps you have dementia. Perhaps you are just dumb.

When you bombed Syria, you said it was in response to seeing the carnage inflicted by Assad. Were you pretending and lying or were you telling the truth? If you were telling the truth, if you are capable of being moved by the plight of others, listen to the people in our government who understand how our democracy functions and the role we must play in the world. Really listen. Don't dismiss them as holdovers from an administration you are intent on erasing. You cannot erase it. Yes, you have the power to undo much of the good that was hard won. But if you care not for the hundreds of millions of Americans, act in service of your own ego.

You are writing your legacy. This part will be mercilessly unkind and etched in history. As we revere the good of Abraham Lincoln, someday, as they read your legacy, our descendants will shake their heads with scorn.

You can change that.

Please change that. You have grandchildren. If you care at all for the children of Syria today, consider what your grandchildren will face as they grow. They will read about you. And they will ask why you didn't care.

You can start caring.

We need you to care.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Really, Jayson? Really? Misfit Atom Edition ...

Aw, the poor giant atom model.

Nobody wants it.

It's been reduced. Again.

Vintage Metal Atom Model

Vintage Metal Atom Model – Was $4,795, Then Was $1,999, Now $999

What I wrote the first time around:

It is, of course, from France. As most Jayson Flea items are, but "Huh," I thought. "That seems like quite a lot of money – even by Jayson standards – for a model of an atom."

And then I checked the dimensions.

Would you like to know the dimensions?

63"W x 55"D x 42.25"H

That's right, this model atom is more than five feet wide.

And it's not necessarily that old. It's listed as "20th century."

Do people in France have very poor vision?

Or did someone make a model of an atom that would be to scale if it were viewed from space?

I greatly appreciate the very precise height dimension of 42.25 inches. Because how upsetting would it be to get your giant atom home only to discover the perfect display space is a quarter inch too short?

I would like the meet the person who buys this big-ass atom. If that's you, please do drop me a line.

And then what I wrote the second time around:

Well, no wonder I never heard from the person who bought the big-ass atom. The big-ass atom is still for sale. And drastically reduced. Do you think it's occurred to someone that it would have been better to leave the big-ass atom in France?

It was "drastically reduced" the first time around. And now the drastic reduction has been cut in half.

I wonder if the giant atom model will ever find a home.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Really, Jayson? Really? Quickie Lighting Edition ...

I haven't written a Jayson post in just about a year. Part of me thinks, "Beth, you've beaten that horse beyond death. You've pulverized that horse. That horse has been reduced to atoms."

But part of me can't resist the lure of the ridiculousness. So I popped by the site again today after a long, long time away. And I found a couple things that made me sniff derisively.

And so here we are.

Ken, this one's for you.

Vintage Clip Lamp

Vintage Clip Lamp – $595

In case you've been to IKEA recently and thought, "$12.99? That's just too damn affordable. Why can't I spend 46 times as much on a small, clip-on lighting device?!", be comforted, kids. Jayson has heard your lament.

Of course it's French. Everything from Jayson is French. But what more do we need? Someday, when climate change has caused the seas to rise and the continents are nearly submerged, France and Jayson's retail location on Clybourn will be the only two visible landmasses on the planet. And still, Jayson will not lower its prices.

Vintage French Wall Lamp

Vintage French Wall Lamp – $3,495

And if, while you're at Jayson nabbing the $595 clip lamp, you find yourself thinking, "But I need another clear-bulbed lighting fixture so I burn the brightness of the filaments onto my retinas in record time!" or "$595 is less than I'd like to spend. Do you have something, say, six times more overpriced? I'm so bored with affording health care. Thanks, Obama," once again, Jayson's got you covered. Huzzah!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

On The Precipice ...

I wrote the post below the morning after the election. I ended with "Tomorrow, I may be able to think more clearly. Today, I'm numb." The numbness has subsided. It has been replaced with vast stores of disbelief and anger.

Our country is about to inaugurate a man who is not only wholly unqualified to lead but who is, literally, under investigation for possible espionage against the United States.

How did we get here? How did so many tens of millions of people cast their votes for someone who has never served in any capacity? Who refused to disclose the most basic of information about himself? Who lied constantly? Who insulted everyone?

I suppose FOX News and conservative media has succeeded at last, in convincing a large swath of the country that fiction is more plausible than fact.

I appreciate now that I have lived a life of extraordinary security and comfort. I have taken it all for granted because I've never known any other reality.

But the other day, I had this thought: "What is the blast radius of a nuclear bomb? Will I be vaporized or will I die slowly of radiation poisoning?"

At any other point in my life, that thought would have been ridiculous. Hyperbolic.

Today, it's not.

We're about to hand over the nuclear codes to a man with the thinnest of skins, who wonders why we have all these nuclear weapons if we don't use them.

As I type this, Rick Perry is sitting for his confirmation hearing to be the Secretary of Energy, a department he vowed to eliminate when he ran for president in 2012, a department which he may now helm, even as the
New York Times revealed yesterday that he didn't understand what function it served.

Today, during his hearing, he said, "After being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."

The vast majority of jobs for the incoming administration have not been filled. In the immediate aftermath of the election, as Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner toured the White House, he was surprised to learn that President Obama's staff would be leaving.

I was grateful to read this morning that about 50 of President Obama's senior staff will be staying in their roles temporarily. They shouldn't have to stay. It's the responsibility of the Trump administration to have staff ready to assume responsibility.

This is absurd. I am livid at every Trump voter. I am livid at every voter who opted for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. And I am livid at every voter – 47 percent of them – who couldn't be bothered to vote on election day.

I fear for our country. We are much more vulnerable now. We will have a man making decisions who has the attention span of a toddler and doesn't like to read. His top advisors have never served in government. His cabinet, if confirmed, will work to undermine the very departments they will have been appointed to lead.

I can only hope – faint though it may be – that Republicans will finally put country over party and impeach this man who will be in violation of the Constitution from the moment he swears to protect and uphold our founding document. Even as he may have been colluding with Russia.

I do not want Mike Pence to be our president.

I want our country to hold a new election.

But in the meantime, I hope that too many lives will not be harmed.

My body knew.

As the evening wore on, the gnawing sense of dread gave way to actual shaking.

I held on to hope in spite of it, continued watching the returns, even as my mind whispered, "Remember 2004, when you thought that if you just stayed up late enough, John Kerry would prevail?"

About 12:30 a.m., I walked through the house and turned off the lights. I thought about 2008, as the economy began to implode and I lost my job.

Eight years later, I've held onto my house. And I've gotten out of some debt even as I've incurred others.


I have no idea what's next.

I've spent the last months and weeks and days reassuring my friends that Trump wouldn't win.

In 2008, I was sure McCain would lose.

In 2012, I was sure Romney would lose too.

So surely, in 2016, with the most reprehensible candidate imaginable on the ticket, America would make the upstanding choice.

And last I checked, a majority of us did.

But the popular vote does not decide our presidents.

I was opposed to McCain most of all for Sarah Palin. But at least Sarah has been a governor.

And I was opposed to Romney for a host of reasons. But I never had the sense that if he won, our country would be in danger.

That's what the shaking was last night, though: fear.

So much is now unknown. Will millions of people now lose their health care and once again be unable to afford insurance? Will some of them die as a result? Will women lose their rights to their own bodies? Will my gay friends' marriages be invalidated? Will my Muslim friends be safe? Will my Black friends be safe? Will the millions of Hispanic people who have built lives for themselves here be rounded up and housed in camps until their deportations can be processed? Will people with disabilities have access to care? Will the effects of climate change worsen more quickly? Will I have to pay tolls to travel on newly privatized roads? Will terrorist attacks occur more frequently? Will folks have money to live on who rely on Social Security and retirement savings that are invested in the stock market? Will we reverse so many of the jobs gains we've made in recent years? Will people once again begin to lose their homes? Will any of it matter in the face of a possible nuclear war?

I am immersed in politics, in the deepest end of the civilian pool. I know more than most. Some might say too much.

But did the people who vote for Trump or vote for Johnson or Stein not think of any of this?

My mind won't stop reeling even as the shaking has subsided into a tremble.

Tomorrow, I may be able to think more clearly.

Today, I'm numb.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

This Is Not The Post I Thought I'd Write Today ...

My body knew.

As the evening wore on, the gnawing sense of dread gave way to actual shaking.

I held on to hope in spite of it, continued watching the returns, even as my mind whispered, "Remember 2004, when you thought that if you just stayed up late enough, John Kerry would prevail?"

About 12:30 a.m., I walked through the house and turned off the lights. I thought about 2008, as the economy began to implode and I lost my job.

Eight years later, I've held onto my house. And I've gotten out of some debt even as I've incurred others.


I have no idea what's next.

I've spent the last months and weeks and days reassuring my friends that Trump wouldn't win.

In 2008, I was sure McCain would lose.

In 2012, I was sure Romney would lose too.

So surely, in 2016, with the most reprehensible candidate imaginable on the ticket, America would make the upstanding choice.

And last I checked, a majority of us did.

But the popular vote does not decide our presidents.

I was opposed to McCain most of all for Sarah Palin. But at least Sarah has been a governor.

And I was opposed to Romney for a host of reasons. But I never had the sense that if he won, our country would be in danger.

That's what the shaking was last night, though: fear.

So much is now unknown. Will millions of people now lose their health care and once again be unable to afford insurance? Will some of them die as a result? Will women lose their rights to their own bodies? Will my gay friends' marriages be invalidated? Will my Muslim friends be safe? Will my Black friends be safe? Will the millions of Hispanic people who have built lives for themselves here be rounded up and housed in camps until their deportations can be processed? Will people with disabilities have access to care? Will the effects of climate change worsen more quickly? Will I have to pay tolls to travel on newly privatized roads? Will terrorist attacks occur more frequently? Will folks have money to live on who rely on Social Security and retirement savings that are invested in the stock market? Will we reverse so many of the jobs gains we've made in recent years? Will people once again begin to lose their homes? Will any of it matter in the face of a possible nuclear war?

I am immersed in politics, in the deepest end of the civilian pool. I know more than most. Some might say too much.

But did the people who vote for Trump or vote for Johnson or Stein not think of any of this?

My mind won't stop reeling even as the shaking has subsided into a tremble.

Tomorrow, I may be able to think more clearly.

Today, I'm numb.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

At Long, Long Last ...

Dave – L.A. Dave as he's known to most in my world – was the most – I mean the most – die-hard Cubs fan on the planet. Also, he knew everything about everything. So I am very confident that Dave could have sat across from any fan in any bar, nurse a root beer (he didn't drink), and win any trivia contest any day of any week of any year.

He also owned about 400 Cubs hats. Hey, we all need a vice.

The day he died – in 2009 – I wrote a post about him that ends with these words:

"He never saw his team win a World Series. But I’m rooting for him, this year. For them. With Dave up there on their side, how can they not go all the way?"

His family asked if they could use the post as a eulogy at his memorial service. I was beyond honored and touched.

One of his Cubs hats was included in one of the floral arrangements that day.

His mom mentioned that the family wanted some of his friends to have some of his hats and gave me one that day.

I wore it on the 3-Day that year. But mostly, it spends its days on a shelf in the closet by my front door.

Last month, when the Cubs clinched the pennant, I posted this to Instagram and included, "Here's to adding tonight's to the cosmic collection, my friend. Wish you were here."

I didn't know if I could watch the game last night. But then I thought of Dave, looking at me from the great beyond, saying, "You didn't watch?!"

So I watched. And I watched. And rode the roller coaster with all the other Chicago fans. And pondered sleep but stayed awake.

And then, that final play. That throw to first.

And tears.

I remembered a photo that's been in a pocket of my purse for years and years.

This is Dave. In one of his many, many, many hats from his beloved Cubs.

The Chicago Cubs. The 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

At last, Dave.

At last.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Men, Understand This: Every Woman Has At Least One Story ...

The following post has been lingering in my email Drafts folder since November 8, 2011, hence the reference to Herman Cain. As you read, swap in "Donald Trump" today. Nothing has changed.

It happens all the time.

If I were a betting woman, I'd wager that every woman I know has been sexually harassed at least once. Beyond the bounds of catcalls from construction workers and the like, obnoxious though those are. But by someone they know well. Someone they work with, perhaps.

I was.

I was 21 or 22. He was 57 or 58.

I was hired, ostensibly, as his assistant. I was only expected to come in when he needed help. It wasn't a full-time thing. But I remember sitting with him, my first day after having been hired, working on whatever it was we were working on that day, and him asking, out of nowhere, "So, are we going to have an affair?"

I looked up to see if he was joking.

He wasn't joking.

He was 36 years my senior. And he was paying me to be there. And he was asking me if we were going to have an affair.

I seem to remember saying, bluntly, "I don't think so."

I definitely remember not going back there again.

Maybe he suddenly no longer needed an assistant.

Or maybe he didn't need an assistant who shot him down. Not that I would have gone back if he'd called.

And maybe you're saying, "That wasn't sexual harassment. That was a proposition."

To which I'm saying, they're one in the same.

proposition: an offer of sexual intercourse made to a person with whom one is not sexually involved, esp. one that is made in an unsubtle or offensive way.

Men and women are having very different reactions to what's going on with Herman Cain and his accusers. And that makes me think that that is because men and women exist in very different worlds.

Men, I suspect, have never felt the surge of unease that comes with, to use Cain's word, "inappropriate" behavior.

I once had a superior ask if I would date him. It caught me off guard, and I tried to be polite in my response even as all I could think of was a way to get out of the room. Which was stupid, since I had to return to the room later. We were at a client's office. And then we were at an airport. And then we had to return to the client the following week. In the days in between, the surprise that he would ask gave way to anger that he'd put me in that position. I negotiated my contracts with him. I needed to work.

But I wondered if I had somehow given him the mistaken impression that I wanted to pursue a relationship with him. If I had, I wanted to know about it so I could adjust my demeanor accordingly.

So I asked.

No, he said. I was always very clear that we were just friends.

So why had he asked?

Because he wanted to ask, he told me.

Which made me even angrier. If I had given him no indication that I had any interest in him romantically, what right did he have to put me in the position of having to turn down an advance from him?

I pointed out that he was my boss.

He disagreed.

"I negotiate my contracts with you," I said.

He had never considered that part of it, that he was the man who determined whether or not I worked with that company and/or that he was the man who decided how much I earned.

To him, it was an innocuous question, asking if I would date him.

To me, it was anything but innocuous. It changed the way I related to him.

I'm reading a lot about "political correctness," as if women are simply too sensitive and men are always to blame.

No, women are not simply too sensitive.

The man who was 36 years my senior, who hired me to help him around the office, who was married, had no business asking me if we were going to have an affair. What part of me filing papers suggested that I welcomed his sexual attention?

Just as the man who was the one who negotiated my contracts had no business asking me to date him.

Men may see no connection between their ability to grant employment or otherwise offer assistance and the suggestion that women enter into a sexual relationship.

Women do.

To add a more current anecdote, I was recently behind a car that was pulling into a gas station. I, too, was going to pull in. The car in front of me stopped just after turning, leaving me with my car half in the street. I don't know if the driver was deciding whether to park or to pull over to one of the pumps or if he had stopped to talk with the guy in the pickup truck who was leaving. All I knew was that I was going to be blocking traffic. I said, rather loudly, "Oh, for the love of God," as if to say, "Move!", immediately after which the guy in the pickup truck drove past me and screamed, "Fuck you, cunt!" The memory of that moment still makes my heart race a bit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Middle-Age Discovery ...

I am rarely ill. Pollen seems to be messing with my sinuses this season but – knock wood – I haven't had the flu in years and I rarely catch a cold. I use hand sanitizer regularly and yes, I use those pop-up wipes on the handles of grocery carts.

Every so often, though, I end up with a cold. Which happened sometime in the past year or so, and so my mom popped by with some orange juice, which sounded like a very good idea.

And ever since, I've been buying orange juice, to have a small glass each morning, along with my water and coffee.

It just makes sense, then, that when it's on sale, that I buy a back-up carton. The date is usually well into the future. I've never noticed how long it takes me to go through a carton but orange juice doesn't linger for long in my fridge.

The other day, at the store, I bought two cartons, as I was almost through the current carton and this way, when I opened one of the two, I'd still have a backup waiting. Also, I had a coupon, so I made my own little sale.

Yesterday, I polished off the current carton. And I nearly polished off my coffee goo. (I have very few vices. Coffee goo is one.) So this morning, I knew I needed to grab a new carton of orange juice and I knew I'd need to open my fresh coffee goo.

And it was as I was reaching for the goo that I spied ... the backup carton of orange juice that I'd bought a couple of weeks ago, stashed in the back of the fridge on the middle shelf.

Which means, if you're counting, I had three full cartons of orange juice in my fridge: two purchased the other day and the forgotten carton.

I had thought, when I was at the store, that the carton I knew was almost empty was the backup carton.

But no.

All of which is to say that I discovered this morning that I might share my father's genetic inability to look all the way to the back of a fridge.

I don't seem to suffer from that affliction when I'm at their house. But Mom, very smartly, buys freezer-on-the-bottom refrigerators. My freezer is on the top. Which means that the shelf in question in this post is well below eye level. And the older I get, the less inclined I am to stoop. Voluntarily, anyway. Here's hoping osteoporosis doesn't have other ideas.

Anyhoo, Mom, if you're reading this, I promise to do everything I can to fight this scourge. At the very least, the next time I go shopping, I'll do a little inventory. And bother to make a list.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Revelation Of Morning Light ...

I was awake before 5 a.m.

There's a lot swirling in my brain these days – none of it good – and so sleep is an ongoing negotiation.

But I'm grateful for the permission of darkness. I take the time to read and to listen to podcasts and notice the world come alive as the light appears and changes.

This morning, walking through my living room, a room in which I do not do much living, I spied cobwebs between two chairs.

I literally stopped and stared at them. I should have thought to snap a photograph but instead, I fetched my vacuum. And as I sucked them up, I thought, "Well, there's a metaphor for my life. You are way too static, kid. Too stationary. Nothing moves in you life. There's just sameness, day after day."

I also thought, "I bet Angelo never finds cobwebs." He's always moving things around. We are perfect opposites in that way.

So here's to movement. Here's to change. Here's to noticing. Here's to doing. Here's to shifting into Drive.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Tale Of Two Coffee Goos ...

I am the Peter Pan of coffee drinkers. I cannot drink coffee black. I can drink espresso – hyper-uber coffee! – with nothing in it but I can't drink coffee black. Go figure.

And so, for many years, I have been a regular purchaser and consumer of flavored coffee creamer a k a coffee goo. "Cream" is a bit generous, really.

But I know it's not the best thing for me to consume. I drink a full bottle of water every morning – filtered water, BPA-free bottle, set on my bedside table the night before – then I chase it with a travel mugful of coffee lightened with hazelnut goo.

At the store the other day, I stood before the case of goo and assessed my options. Fall and winter specialty flavors are already stocked, by the way. I've cut grains out of my diets but I'm still very much a fan of dairy and sugar. Still, I've noticed goo made with almond milk and considered making a change. And hey, there's a hazelnut option! Sold!

I brought my new goo home and vowed to use up my current goo and then make the switch.

This morning, with not enough current goo left for my mug's complement of coffee, I reached for the almond goo.

I shook it.

Huh. It's more difficult to shake. Thicker. Maybe it settles, like paint?

I unscrewed the cap and pulled off the seal. I licked the bit that remained.

Huh. It doesn't taste like hazelnut, really, and yet it doesn't taste like almond either.

I peered into the container.

Huh. It's an interesting color, kind of earthy, kind of ... chalky.

I poured it into my mug, to the point to which I always pour goo.

Huh. It looks like self-leveling cement.

At that point, I was having my doubts.

But the coffee finished brewing and I poured it into my mug and ... the color changed from very, very dark brown – as is true of black coffee – to ... very dark brown.

That seemed like a sign of nothing good. With my usual goo, the color changes to a lovely caramel hue.

I took a sip of this new concoction.

It tasted like ... coffee. With some unidentifiable flavor making a pathetic attempt to be noticed.

Well, shit.

I grabbed what was left of my usual goo and dumped it into the mug and gave the whole mess a stir.

It's drinkable now.

And later, I shall go to the store and procure more of my usual goo.

And this not-inexpensive almond-milk goo?

Maybe I can pour it into a bowl and set it on the counter and let the moisture evaporate and try using it as spackle.

I wonder if anyone is a repeat consumer of this almond-milk goo. I suspect not. I suspect everyone is like me, intrigued enough by the possibility to try it and then scarred enough to never buy it again. Eeesh.

Dear Usual Goo,

I'm sorry to have strayed. I know better now.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Adaptation: Brownie Edition ...

Last July, I finally got around to posting the recipe I use for brownies. Angelo refers to them as "crazy drug brownies" and they are indeed rather addictive, in a "I can just have one more little one" kind of way ... and then you realized that you've whittled down the contents of the pan to next to nothing and it dawns on you that, singlehandedly, you've consumed more than a stick of butter and enough sugar to make you yearn for compression stockings.

As it happened, last July was also when I finally cut grains out of my diet. And brownies, being made with flour, became a casualty.

Until yesterday.

I'd been meaning to pick up an alternative flour and try a test batch. And lo, yesterday I was tooling down the baking aisle on my way to the dairy case when my brain stepped up and said, "Look at flours!" I backtracked a few steps and glanced back and forth: almond flour or coconut flour? Coconut flour is more like flour. Almond flour might have better flavor. But almond flour might have too much moisture. But the brownies are super moist anyway.

In the end, it came down to price. I was more inclined to risk $5.49 than $9.89. Coconut flour it was. Into my cart it went. Shopping continued.

Last night, done with work, I ventured into the kitchen to bake. I figured I'd just swap in an equal amount of coconut flour for the usual all-purpose flour. Everything else about the recipe remained the same, ingredients-wise.

The batter was thicker than the original recipe yields.

I smooshed it into the greased pan and figured the heat of the oven would level things out.

Nope. So, lesson learned: next time, smooth the batter.

Given that it was such a stiff batter, I thought the baking time could probably be knocked down a bit. So I stuck the pan in the oven for 20 minutes.

Yup, that was enough.

I frosted them when they were partially cool, as I do with "normal" brownies." I could have frosted them a bit sooner. My frosting didn't end up with its usual sheen.

And while I planned to let them cool fully overnight and then try one this morning, impatience got the better of me and I tried one while the pan was still warm.

Tasty, for sure. But the texture was difficult to gauge.

So I had another one this morning.

There's just a hint of graininess to them but the flavor is practically identical. They're not coconutty, as I thought they might be, as coconut flour really smells like coconut. Go figure.

I'll try a batch with almond flour someday, too. But in the meantime, I'm back in brownie business!

Coconut-Flour Brownies

1 stick butter (I use salted)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
3/4 cup coconut flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Walnuts (I toast mine first in a 350° oven for 13–15 minutes then let them cool)

Melt the butter, stir in sugar and cocoa. Add coconut flour. Mix. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix. Stir in walnuts. (I dump some into a Ziplock bag and press on them to break them up a bit first.) Spread the mixture into greased 8x8 pan (I spray it with PAM) and level it with the back of a rubber scraper. Unlike a traditional brownie batter, this one won't level itself in the oven.

Bake at 350° until done, about 20 minutes. (Start checking a little before then, as ovens vary. You may need to go a smidgen longer. It all depends.)

Cool on a rack until warm but not hot (10 minutes, maybe), then frost with:

Equal parts of butter and cocoa (For an 8x8 pan, you might use 3 tablespoons of each, maybe 4 tablespoons; depends on how much frosting you like)
Powdered sugar

It's hard to give people the recipe for the frosting, as it's just a taste thing. Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa until the mixture's smooth. Dump in some powdered sugar and a little milk and stir. Keep tweaking until you get desired sweetness and spreadability. Add the milk in smaller increments than seems reasonable. You can always add more. If you add too much, pour out a bit into the sink. If you thin the frosting too much by mistake, you'll have to add more powdered sugar to recover the consistency and you may end up with frosting that's too sweet for your tastes. So add milk in small amounts.

Double the brownie-proper recipe for a 9x13 pan. Frosting-wise, though, don't double the frosting. For a 9x13 pan, use 5 tablespoons to 6 tablespoons each of butter and cocoa and add powdered sugar and milk accordingly.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Birthday Sablés! ...

I have been baking sablés for a long time, more than five years, turns out. My first foray into these wondrous French butter cookies was for Angelo, as a nod to The Gnome.

I have made many variations since: dark chocolate, espresso, cheese. Oh, yes, cheese. As cookie doughs go, it's an excellent base for all sorts of additions. Toasted coconut would rock!

But I digress. My point is that it took me more than five years to think to add sprinkles into the dough to give 'em a bit of festiveness.

And so, I finally did.

I would prefer if the sugar would not melt, please, if the colors would not bleed. Alas, the rules of the natural world apply. Moisture + food coloring = a less-than-perfect confetti effect.

But the idea was there, suitable for sharing. (If these had turned out more garish, I would have whipped up a plain batch instead. If I'm going to share something with someone, I must meet my own standards first.)

To up the festive factor, I pulled a collection of bright colors from the drawer that holds my spools of curling-ribbon compulsion and I made up wee bundles of cookies and beribboned those suckers until the cookies were barely visible.

And then I boxed them up and sent them on their way.

I shall bake these again. They make a fun little birthday gift but I can also use them for favors the next time party favors are called for, as I may have outgrown all the tchotchke plastic trinkets from the party store.

Or maybe I'll just send folks home with both. Who doesn't need a plastic camel pen topper, too?