Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Running Off At The Mouth: A Rant

This can’t wait.  So I’m posting mid-day, trapped in the lovely Polar Vortex, wrapped up in blankets in my cube.  Forewarning: This is a rant. It will be long.  And it will discuss and use profanity.  Deal with it or don’t, your choice.

It seems to me that polite discourse is a thing of the past.   The term certainly is, but I’m serious.   And I’m angry about it.
Because a lot of the horrible, jack-assy statements are coming from groups of people that I identify with, people who, by the definition of the word they label themselves with (nerd) should know a thing or two about people making them feel inferior, or feel like shit.

Of course, it’s not just nerds. It’s reality tv stars and football players and plenty of other people.
People have lots of opinions these days but they can’t stand if someone has another one.  And they can’t stand if what they say has consequences.  Yes, you can believe that being gay is an abomination.   But that doesn’t mean you’re free of consequences when the network you work for feels like that’s not a message they want to promote.  Hell, you can believe that gravity is an unproven theory, but that doesn’t mean that if you jump off the roof you won’t bash your skull in on the pavement.    And that’s a flawed analogy. I know that.  But the point is, what you say DOES have an impact. 

We’ve all heard “agree to disagree agreeably” but does anyone practice that anymore?

I think the breaking point for me was listening to an episode of a podcast that I really enjoy, The Indoor Kids.  It’s a video-game podcast by definition, but topics vary to include movies, music, books and pretty much anything else. I like it because the hosts are charming, funny, and interesting.   The topics that they’ve brought up have made me think differently about games, and introduced me to games I might want to play, alone or with my favorite player one in the universe.   They talk about the community, about what a “real gamer” is and isn’t and why people have to label it, about good stories and bad corners of the game world.   And it’s fun and interesting. 

There was recently an episode that touched on religion.  I usually peruse the comments but I don’t often say anything.  There was some hate towards what they were saying. Then in the most recent episode, it got worse.  People are throwing around “Fuck you” and “go die” about things like how many people do jobs working with their hands anymore. 

I guess it’s just too much lately. So I’m saying something.

Why are people like this?  Why do you come in, upset about a statistic, and instead of being a reasonable person, you attack someone personally? I’m seeing a lot more of this writing for Chicagoist too.

One of my personal favorites was a comment I got on a story I did regarding an artist project in the Bridgeport neighborhood.  To distill it all down, it’s a big giant camera they plan to put in the middle of the neighborhood.  The person whose picture is taken gets little prints, and meanwhile the back of the camera displays the picture to the whole neighborhood.  The idea is to introduce people to their neighbors in a fun, interactive way.  

You wouldn’t think that’d be controversial in any way.  But here comes the Internet, folks.   Because one of the first comments that I got on that article was all “Fuck you, I’m from Bridgeport and you little pigs say it’s not friendly and you’re pretentious and blah blah blah” (paraphrased, but she managed to call myself and the artist pigs right off the bat). 

Yeah lady, I’m feeling the love.   Definitely a friendly neighborhood. Totally want to go now.

Do people stop and think that they’re representing something larger than themselves?  For example, the Bridgeport neighborhood, gamers, nerds or the Internet?

And people love those things. Dearly.  But do you want the stereotypes to be true? Because when you go lowest common denominator and unintelligently respond to something you disagree with with name-calling, insults, threats and personal attacks…you’re detrimental to the things you love.  If you’re going to be the 13 year old screaming “FAGGOT!” in a headset, then you’re the one who’s making less people play that game you love to do that in.   You’re part of the problem that keeps potential players away.   And if there’s enough of that, maybe that whole thing just goes away.  And guess what? That thing you love so much, you destroyed.

If you’re the one screaming about how friendly Bridgeport is, you filthy horrible pigs, then you’re the one who’s making people go
“oo. Yeah, I don’t really feel like going there.”

What if, just a theory, we decided to disagree agreeably?

What if instead of telling someone to go die because they don’t like Super Mario 3D World, you say something like “what didn’t you like about it?” or if you don’t really want to know, you just say some of the reasons why you did like it (super awesome cat suit, amazing music, tons of challenging levels, fun co-op….cool integration of Wii U features…but I digress.)

I just wish people would think about things.   Yeah, TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, not Time and Relational Dimension in Space, but what exactly do you accomplish if you bully someone for not knowing that?   Are you helping the show by being a jerk to someone just getting into it who didn’t know that? 

For that matter, what if you really really like something and someone else doesn’t?  Does it make someone stupid to like America’s Next Top Model because the show is corny/cheesy/stupid?   Or maybe, does that person really like the photographs, and sometimes like to zone out on the equivalent of reality junk food?  So maybe we’re not learning anything amazing.  Maybe there’s no compelling story line. Maybe you hate it.  Maybe I like it.  (And I do.  So shoot me.)  That’s not all of who I am.  That’s one thing I enjoy sometimes. 
I love good story, and I love learning, and I love intelligent shows.  It just so happens I also like that. 

There’s a world of guilty pleasures out there, and everyone’s got a few.   To judge someone based solely on that is just ignorance. 
So let’s try stopping it, y’know?

IF we’re nerds, let’s be intelligent in our responses, because we love to learn, and we love to know every little detail about things, but let’s not be exclusionary and belittle people for not knowing as much as we know.   If we’re “internet folk” let’s be open and friendly, because all of our friends are in this box, and we can connect with them no matter how far away they actually are, and we love that about the internet, instead of trolly and hateful and exclusive.  If we’re gamers, let’s be fun and work together and figure out puzzles and escape from all the crap we deal with in our everyday lives, instead of putting more crap out there and being negative.

That’s what I’d love to see.

Just sayin’. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Let The Right One In

“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”- Bill Watterson

Randomly, when watching a show my best friend and I both love and that I lovingly call "my stories," this quote popped up.  The show (Criminal Minds...yes, my stories are about serial killers...don't judge!) had me thinking about a lot of things already, but when I heard that, I felt like I had to write something.

Incidentally, part of what this has to do with is writing. The tail end of 2013 changed a lot of things for me, making me a little bolder in the process.  A little bit. But there's still things that are hard for me to get.  

As it happens, one of the things I'm grasping to get is that I'm a writer. That I can call myself that.  To tell the absolute truth, every once in a while when I say I'm a musician I think I'm a pretender to the throne, though I've been playing for 21 years now, and though if you put an instrument in my hands, it just feels like an extension of my body at this point. 

So it was August, and this GISHWHES thing inspired the boldness, and I tried to get in to Chicagoist. And I succeeded. And I started to write. And it was published.  And I do it twice a week now.  Arts and Entertainment.  Press passes and photo pits.  Hell, I got to interview a musician from a band I'd loved since I was 16 this year.  My photos along with it sometimes.  

And I've had a journal since I was 5, no lie. I still have that journal.  I've got all subsequent ones, and years of online journals of all security levels. I could go back in time and tell you what happened on this date. I have *always* written.  My twitter handle was something I'd used before, my own way of mocking the fact that I loved to write poetry. But with all this "evidence" I still hesitate to say "I'm a writer." 

Why is that? 

One of the hardest things for me of late is to accept the good things. I wonder where that comes from. I know I'm probably not alone in it, though.  One of my friends has made similar comments recently, even.

But what is that? Why can't I look at myself and say "Yes. I'm a writer." Why didn't I always say that? I was, whether one word got beyond this page or any other page, because it was *always* something that I did, from the time I could on.  Looking through some old papers the other night I realized that.  

And I'm loved. And weirdly, that sentence is hard for me too.  And this time, I'm not talking about the "your mother loves you" or "your friends love you." 
I'm talking I.am.loved.

I look back at some of my past relationships and I wonder, would I have even accepted an I love you back then? I said I wanted that, but would I have been able to handle it?  And why not, if I couldn't, you know? Why was I good enough with being of mild amusement to someone I was with.  Or pretty okay to them, you know?  What held me back from the things I wanted, and what still holds me back?

I wanted to be remembered, thought of, held.  I wanted to to feel safe, and know without saying anything else.  I wanted to be brave enough to keep my eyes open. 

Why is that hard, when it happens? I mean, don't get me wrong, it's wonderful. But why can't I say what I am? I'm a writer. I'm a musician, and when I love I love like you wouldn't believe. And *I* am loved.  All of that is real, and I'm allowed.

I'm allowed.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Instead of Sheep

It's that time of year. And I won't be unique in posting things I'm grateful for, but sometimes being unique is overrated in the first damn place. 

Thing is, this year started out hard. I was not in a fun place, and I remained in a not-fun place for a long time. Now looking back at it though, once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and curling up on the couch in my pajamas to watch all the tornado shows ever made (yes, really.) I started to figure out what I wanted and what I needed to do. 

I think the basic goal was to start doing the things I "always wanted to do" but never did. 
If that show looked interesting, then I'd watch it. If I felt like a day in the city, I didn't need to wait around until someone else was interested too, I just went and did it.  If I wanted to participate in the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen...well...I would, and I did.  And it really, really took me places. 

It took me away from this blog a bit, and I'm hoping to start writing here again more often.  But it got me a writing gig at Chicagoist where I'm covering Arts and Entertainment- which I am still crazy about.  If you'd have told me that as a result of a scavenger hunt I'd have gotten a writing job I'd have slapped you silly.  Or at least threatened to. And the thing is?  I'm getting to do even more amazing things as a result. Even though my pay has gone way down due to a layoff, I'm out at all kinds of events that I'd always wanted to go to but didn't have a chance/money/time to.  I'm at Symphony Center, the historic Pullman site, seeing Josh Groban, interviewing Sergio Vega from the Deftones (There's one I thought would never happen. I was SO nervous) and basically what I have to do is write about it.  You bet your ass I'd have done that anyway,  y'know? My pictures have been used as well, and even though I still need to get my main camera fixed...man...it's all the things I love rolled into one.  Music and art, writing and photography. I get to combine all that into something I do. 

Then, a little more recently...I finally got a car again.  I have always been and will always be a driver. Road trips are part of what makes life worthwhile to me.  The very beginning of this blog was about the biggest road trip I've taken to date, and I'd do that again in a heartbeat if I could.  For a while there though, I had to ask people for a ride to go get shampoo. I felt like my wings were clipped.  Sure, there's trains and buses and things...but I missed my sanctuary. My music and my rolled-down windows and too-cold air and late night cruises to nowhere.  That's part of me I got back. I think people thought I'd gripe having my first ever car payment.  Maybe once in a while I'll wish I had more money, but whenever I pay towards my car, I know what I'm getting out of it. 

Even more recently...I got the chance to bring something- someone, really...back into my life. I wasn't sure about it at first, but now that it's happening...I'm so happy about it. It's got a new shine on it, and I'm crazy happy about it.  I'm able to be free about it too- I can openly honestly care.  I get to enjoy someone else on a new level.  The main thing is...all the time I spend there brings so much happiness. I laugh til my sides hurt half the time.  There's good, serious conversation. There's absolute peace and quiet that makes me feel completely at rest. Those are the things that this has brought, and I'm immensely grateful for them. 

I guess this year, ups and downs both, have shown me the people in my life who are always there. The ones who rescued me from my couch and my tornado shows, and the ones who got to know me better, and the ones who came back. 

I'm just grateful. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pine and Sap

I'm alone, and it's quiet. It's dark and I should be in bed. And the corners of my mouth are curled into a smile. The kind of smile that you can't actually produce if there's not something genuinely making you happy.

I've been talking with a friend about feeling things at Level 11.  And how it's inconvenient and how sometimes, you get carried away with everything going on in your head. Sometimes it causes problems. Sometimes it makes you crazy (and the people in your life, too, go figure.)

But sometimes, it's nice.

I can picture better scenarios than this couch alone.  This couch not alone, this blanket and nowhere to go, maybe.

But I'm ok with it.

My phone buzzed and it said "I miss you."
Out of the blue.

We all know (whoever "we" are) that the image in my head is the stoplight with all red lights, and the sign on the door is "People always leave."

It's from this silly tv show I used to watch.  The character who painted it was actually someone I related to in a lot of ways, even though it was nothing more than a silly soap opera of a thing I got hooked into due to my sister.  Someone in that character's life showed her otherwise at one point, and then there was a new picture. The lights were all green and it said "Sometimes they come back."

Maybe I don't really believe the second part very easily.  I'm a doubter. I'm stuck at yellow lights sometimes. Sometimes I don't feel like more than a footnote in people's stories.  But you don't miss footnotes. Maybe people are always looking for big declarations of love. The three little words everyone wants to hear are always "I love you." And I'm not going to say I'm an exception. I've got a whole big handful or two of people I love dearly, and I never get tired of hearing that I am loved.  But y'know...maybe something heals a little every time someone says that they miss me.  It's a sigh of relief. It reminds me that I'm being thought of when I'm not there with someone.  It's having a place in someone's life that makes you important even when you're not there in front of them, and it's special to me.

And maybe I was a whirlwind of different emotions tonight, not the least of which was fear.
And that made the difference. And that's why I'm smiling.

Monday, October 14, 2013


For posterity and my own good, I'm going to put this here. 
Just because you don't think something's going to happen, doesn't mean it won't. For better or worse, we can't control life.  Things will be lost and things will be found. Sometimes that all takes place in a small space in time.  

I'm trying to remind myself right now that there are people out there who can be believed and trusted. I'm trying to let my heart remember the good and move on from the bad.  I'm trying to make sure that my head doesn't completely get out of the picture but that it also doesn't get in there and cast doubts. 

Because when it boils down to it...
I heard some words that I've been wanting to hear for a long time.  Maybe some words that I've not ever heard.  I've felt some things, too, that I haven't felt. 
I like that feeling.  I like plural nouns.  I like laughter in hospital rooms and new growth after a fire.

Maybe the simplest thing I like is meeting eyes with someone and smiling when smiling doesn't make sense, and when no one else knows exactly what you mean.

Sometimes I think I have a harder time with the good things in life than the bad.  I can logic myself out of hard times, I can out-think it.  But that same strategy doesn't work for the good things.  Overthink it and you've missed the whole point. So maybe it's time to enjoy it a step at a time and find a new way. Maybe it's time for more doors and less lonesome roads.

Here's to going places.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

To Carly Simon's Subject: It is.

My flesh tore wide open, and I didn't know.  Or maybe I didn't want to.  Because the road was long, and I was tired, and that suffering was enough for the day. 
But when your flesh tears open that way, nothing will stop the blood from flowing, at least for a while, with every pulse of a tired heart. 

But I didn't feel it then. I didn't see it.  Someone else raised the alarm.  Then the unsettling warmth. 
Then I had to function again.  Stop the bleeding.  You must stop the bleeding. You can't ignore the bleeding. 
Pressure. Apply pressure. Force it to stop. Will it to end.

It's not stopping.
Why won't it stop?

Now your pulse is rising, now the blood flows faster because you're scared.
It figures. 

Go. Fast. Do something. Now.

But then it stops. Just...stops. 

You step out into the summer sun, white and unfettered. 
Every day you walk a little farther.
Look down, and you see.  One little filament, one tiny crystal web.
From one side of that carved canyon to the other. 
Then another.  A lattice forms. A bridge of new flesh.
Time heals. This is good.

But wait.
Now it burns again.  Now when your blood boils, it itches and nags.
It begs you to claw it wide open again.
After all, it didn't feel like anything.

Now fight it. Try to ignore it. Stay in the sun.
So I wait.
Now a sun-baked clay crust forms.
It's sealed. 
Safe. Nothing can get inside.

And one day, you give in just a little.
You scratch at it.
It falls away, revealing a fresh scar and raw flesh.
Relief rushes in, hot and sticky. 

But you can't fight that force forever.
New filaments.
New clay hardens. Sometimes you scratch it off, sometimes you let it stay.
Sometimes you give in to the bleeding and raw flesh just to feel anything at all.
Sometimes you hide in hard earth. 

This is healing. 
This is bleeding.
I hope you understand why my hand trembles when I reach for your hand.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

When you GISH upon a star...


This is about a time when the bologna wouldn't stick to the trash bag without threatening the integrity of the mustard slogan scrawled on it.  
It's also about the time I was too tired from all the mayhem to spell the slogan right, because it should say GISHWHES, not GISHWES.

You read that right.  That's really what I'm here to talk about. 

It's an international scavenger hunt that's organized by Misha Collins, an actor on the show Supernatural, which I confess right here and now to having only seen once or twice. I heard about the scavenger hunt on a Nerdist podcast where Misha was being interviewed.  My first thought was "That sounds like so.much.fun."

Then I heard Chloe Dykstra, Chris Hardwick's girlfriend, talk more about the hunt, and she sounded so personally touched by her experiences with it, and it intrigued me. I'm pretty sure she said it was life-changing. I'm a skeptic, but Chloe always struck me as a genuine, sweet person in anything I happened to hear her in, and she seemed really emphatic about it.  

Many of you know that this year has not been easy on me, and if you didn't, then...let's just keep it short and say: Trust me on this. 

Anyway, I signed up.  I forgot about it for a while, then when it started to get close I started to worry, and to feel alone, because one of the things that made this year hard was not having as many friends around anymore.  I didn't know how I would do or what I would do or if I'd even click with my team.  So I thought "If nothing else, I can make things.  Maybe I'll just make things."

When the list came out, the very first thing I did was build a Sears Tower out of books. Every book in my bookcase and some that were stowed elsewhere til bigger bookcases can be used.  And it was fun, and it was not supposed to be built on carpet, and I jumped around excitedly when I realized it was done, and then realized again that it shouldn't be on carpet, and tiptoed to my camera to take pictures. Thing 1 was down.  That wasn't as hard as I'd thought. But it was as ridiculous and fun as I'd hoped. 

Part of what GISHWHES is about, a lot of what it's about, is random acts of kindness. These were blueberry muffins I made for my coworkers with a special GISHWHES message.  It was supposed to be a covert act of kindness.  I had to catch my coworkers on film discovering it.  

What you discover when you see someone walk to their desk first thing in the morning and notice a note saying that they're awesome, and a big ol' muffin, is genuine smiles.  And they're sweeter when you're not supposed to see them.  I got to watch people read the note, and watch the corners of their mouths curl up into a smile.  I could have been more covert, because people figured out it was me from use of neon sharpies and the fact that I bake things for work a lot, but this was something different. Not telling them in advance, getting to see their reactions BEFORE they realized it was me...it's something different. 

That's where I got the enthusiasm.  I started to do research on the big stuff on the list- skywriting, and one nobody thought they'd get- to get someone on the International Space Station to hold up a sign for your team, with GISHWHES on it. 

So I found out two of them were on Twitter.  And I asked nicely.  And they let me know it's against International Space Station regulations.  So I politely thanked them.  

And at first, I didn't realize what I'd just done. Took me a little bit to figure it out. 

You guys. I *talked* to someone on the International Space Station.  Like...in space. IN SPAAAACE. (I couldn't avoid the Portal moment, sue me.)  
And crazier than that?  Crazier than just having talked to someone in space?  They talked back.  FROM SPACE.  From a space station.  In space.  (that time it wasn't intentional. but space!)

That's when it got life-changing.

That's when I started asking people crazy questions, and burning holes in shirts, and wearing beans on my head, and writing a letter to the CEO of Groupon to ask him to dance to Single Ladies in a suit because it was for a good cause and they were down.   No answer yet on that one...but I asked.  And my team, MY TEAM...encouraged me, laughed with me, shared their silly crazy experiences with me...and yeah, they were in Madison and I was in IL, but they were MY.TEAM. and the alone thing was out the window...

And me, who HATES being the center of attention, especially when in public with people I don't know, wore charred clothing, a tiara, black eyeshadow all over my face to look like soot, and sat at Red Top Plaza panhandling with an ACTUAL PAN and a not-so-actual dragon, with a sign that said "A dragon burned down my castle!"

That's half the story of this picture. The crown on my head is from a coworker I have become friends with who I asked for help.  The donor is my friend Juli who I roped into this prior to dinner plans I'd made with her.  The photographer is my new friend Kelly, who has met me all of 3 times as of the staging of this picture, but has been a kayaking buddy and a really fun friend.  My friend who owns the camera shop let us stage it in front of her store and her business partner took pics of the silly trio after.  We laughed til we nearly died.

My boss offered advice on how to duct tape toast together to make toast boxers.
One of my new friends at work tried to help me set up with a semi truck. 

I helped hug the world, including hugging an awesome awesome bicycling friend from New Mexico who I was SO happy to hug.

I got my whole department hugging each other, and the photo team watching in amusement.

One of the big goods I still can't mention, but letters were sent to soldiers and superhero capes were made for people in wheelchairs. Our team changed lives, and so did every team.

Annnd I made a safari animal out of...well...out of..feminine hygiene products.  

Life is fun, and weird, and crazy, you guys.  It's about doing good and connecting with people and making things.   "Stop pretending art is hard."
(let's not pretend that that's...art...but it's something!)

Stop pretending doing good is hard. You don't have to cure cancer, y'know?
Maybe just reach out to someone you know is hurting.  
Or hell, reach out to someone in general.
Tell someone why you like 'em.
Learn to like someone new.

Here's the best part. The epilogue here will blow you away.
Because shortly after GISHWHES ended...
I read some twitter.
And that tweet said that a Fine Arts/Gallery writer was needed for this publication I read every.single.day.

And before I'd have passed it up. I don't have a Bachelor's in Journalism or Creative Writing or...anything, you guys. I just love to write. I'd have convinced myself that doing the blog was good enough.
But I thought...what can it hurt to send an email?
I was just talking to the INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION!

And I did.

And here's the results:

Check the byline. 

That's me. 
It's mine. Even one of the pictures is mine.
That's...a dream come true.
Because I went after it.
Because I talked to space. What's hard after that?
Because GISHWHES really, really did change my life.

This weekend I went to the city alone to go see the Jazz Festival.  Because I'm on byline 3 and 4 already, guys.  Pinch me. 

And thank you, GISHWHES.

Stop pretending art is hard.