BT Tuesdays: Gym Class, Ballerinas, and the Stripper That Changed My Life

Junior year of college I enrolled in a Beginner Ballet class. I went to one of those tiny, liberal arts colleges that knows a well-rounded education includes taking a full year of gym classes. Options included things like Running (walking quickly), Volleyball (insert Daria hand motion), and some other stuff I’m sure was totally worth our tuition.

It was, however, the perfect opportunity to fulfill my lifelong dream of being a ballerina. My big feet, lack of coordination, and perpetually running into tables always seemed to get in the way of this.

I’m trying to think why they named this class Beginner, other than they were all liars. The first day of class was an audition to see which level to place you for the semester. So there I am, trying to figure out what the hell they mean by first position, then make my body move that way, only to be 18 million steps behind once I figured it out. It was a super fun process in a room full of women who’d been dancing their whole lives.

The instructors mercifully divvied everyone up into levels rather quickly. I followed my instructor into the “Beginners” group and listened intently as he told us the proper attire for his class: leotard, skirt, tights, leg warmers, ballet shoes, hair in a bun.

OHMIGOD it’s happening. I even get to wear the outfit! My friend Sara and I went out and picked out this beautiful (hideous) maroon leotard and sheer floral skirt that showed off my big hips, wide waist, and mama thighs. That thing was so high cut, it looked straight outta Jane Fonda’s closet. I. Loved. It. Had to special order the ballet slippers because the store didn’t carry size 11 shoes for women.

I showed up the next week to class decked out in my ballet uniform; I even figured out how to put my hair in a bun. Walking into the studio, my stomach dropped. Every girl was in their same tank and shorts they had worn the first day of class. Not only was I the only one over 5’5″ and 120 pounds, I was now also the only one looking ready for my 5th grade recital. I sighed a Big Ballerina sigh and starting stretching.

I wore that leotard and skirt every damn class for a whole semester. Because screw you and your mean looks. Because I’m living my fantasy. Because I’m a fucking ballerina. A big, happy, terrible ballerina.

Many years later, I found myself in a different sort of dance class. Of the pole variety. It was a few months ago, on Surprise Saturday–a thing my friends started in which one person plans the day and the rest of us just go with it.

And what I thought was going to be a painful hour of flailing turned out to be a painful hour of existential crisis.

The class started with stretches, and I was like, Ok, I’ve done yoga. I can handle this. And then our instructor asked us to close our eyes (which is always my favorite part of yoga) and relax.

“It’s your body. You’ve had it all your life,” she said.

I have??

“It’s your body.”


“And you’ll have it forever.”

Oh dear god.

Simple statements, yes? But I’d never thought about my body like that. As a larger-than-average woman, I’d always viewed my body as a weapon of defiance:

  • My size 11 feet have only encouraged me to buy the most outrageous, glittery, and fun shoes I can find.
  • A smaller woman once asked, “How are you so fast? You’re not even skinny,” and I made sure to kick her ass in the half marathon we were running. By a lot.
  • I wear heels on dates, and if homeboy feels insecure by my height–byeeeeeeee.
  • Like a badge of honor, I played aforementioned Big Ballerina for that semester in college, daring someone to make a comment to my face.

Until that poledancing class, I had never looked at my body as something for me to cherish. I spend way more time defending my body–both physically and emotionally–than I do appreciating it. On the CTA or walking home or in a Lyft–my mind is racing how I can get my physical self out of a situation should it arise. Hypotheticals both save and haunt me.

I’ve spent so much time defending it and defying societal norms that I’d forgotten why I was so protective of my body in the first place:

Because it’s mine. Because I’ve always had it. And because I’ll have it forever.

And because I’m a ballerina dammit. 

On Shows: Trigger at The Revival

Go see this show. At the risk of sounding grandiose, this was the best comedy I’ve ever seen live. (I wasn’t at Richard Pryor’s Long Beach show, so….) And in the same way Pryor was able to address “the issues” while making you laugh hysterically, that’s what Trigger achieves. It is smart, and it is hilarious. It’s a show that walks that careful balance and–as a writer–makes me wish I could’ve sat in on the writing sessions just to see the process.

By seeing this show, you’ll also get your butt down to the amazing new theater, The Revival, in Hyde Park. The space is beautiful, and the atmosphere is unlike any comedy club in Chicago. The show runs for three more Saturdays. Enjoy!


Trigger, Saturdays through November 5th, 8:00 P.M., The Revival Theater

Showtimes and ticket info



BT Tuesdays: The Art of Not Doing (Anyone Have Ice Cream?)

Upon watching the blind auditions for The Voice, I realized two, very important things: 1. My karaoke voice is not as good as I thought; and 2. Alicia Keys should be emperor of the world.

If you also watched, then you know among the contestants were two moms who put their music dreams on hold until they raised their children.

I admire these women–not only because they pursued a dream in which they could have easily walked away. But they also made a clear choice. Right now, I’m going to raise child. Ok, check. Now I’m going to sing my glorious heart out.

This is something I struggle with–have always struggled with. The self-control of picking and choosing what to do, but more importantly, what not do to.

When you’re pursuing a passion, the pressure of Doing It All is immense. “Have you read that book?” “Taken this class?” “Watched that documentary?” “Seen that show?” We’re incredibly lucky to live in a city with so much information and opportunity at our fingertips. But as I’ve learned on many occasion, just because it’s an option, doesn’t mean I have to read it/enroll in it/Netflix it. It’s the same with ice cream in the freezer. Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean I have to eat the whole carton. (Unless it’s cookie dough. Then it’s like, Byyyyyyyeeeee.)

People are constantly talking about how “busy” and “tired” they are. It implies dedication. It implies hard work. It implies success. Just look at the greats who’ve gone before us! In books or interviews with Amy Poehler, Jordan Peele, Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Hannibal Burress, Judd Apatow, they all hone on one thing: putting in The Time. Many of them discuss the sleep they lost, the weight they put on or shed, the shitty apartments they lived in, the crazy roommates they had, the hot dogs they ate for breakfast–all in the name of pursuing their dreams.

I gotta tell ya, that sounds awesome. I also gotta tell ya, there’s no way I could do that.

As anyone with chronic illness knows, picking and choosing what not to do makes pursuing our dreams possible. Much like the mothers on The Voice. Because, let’s be honest, children are basically chronic illnesses, too. 

Last week at a meeting, I was lamenting over the work ahead, mentally carving out when I would be able to complete it. I joked that I wouldn’t be getting any sleep for the next three months. My teammates shrugged. “Well, that’s just what you have to do. Not sleep.”

Yeah. Not an option. Not for someone like me. Not for the millions of people that suffer from chronic illness. Pulling all nighters, eating like crap, random schedules. Those things are a luxury. Not a rite of passage. Not a part of paying your dues. I hope the other side enjoys that Pop Tart for dinner and 2 A.M. bedtime and thanks their lucky stars that the worst thing that might happen is fatigue or a flu.

So. Does this mean it can’t for us? Not necessarily. It just means it has to happen differently. People with chronic illness must be more creative with their time because we could be out of commission at any moment. Not unlike the CTA.

It’s for this reason that many people with chronic illness are incredibly efficient. I make decisions really quickly, because I know that none of them are really lifechanging. I know that very, very few decisions in a week–or month even–will change the entire trajectory of a major outcome. There’s always a chance to change course, reroute, reassess, and move.

And, of course, keep chasing.

It’s On Fridays: On Kicking the Sh*t Out of Ignorance and Making People Laugh

It started with being really, really pissed off.

That’s how I decided to create a comedy about Type 1 diabetes.

My sister was diagnosed when she was ten. Type 1 is often referred to as the “invisible disease” because people with it operate with such structure and routine that sometimes we, as non-diabetics, don’t even notice the prick of a finger or the punching in numbers on an insulin pump. But that’s a person…playing the role of a their own pancreas. Ummmmm…yeah. Every person with Type 1 is acting as the role of an organ. Every. Moment. Of. Every. Day. (Can they put that on their LinkedIn?)

There are times, though, that this disease is not invisible. And then, when people take notice, they act with about as much tact as a drunk Packers fan.

At a festival on a lovely summer day, I witnessed two such encounters with my sister:

Instance 1

Hallie and I were chatting with an acquaintance of mine. There was a pause in conversation and the woman caught sight of Hallie’s pump. “Nice pager,” she said.

Let me elaborate, since it’s hard to capture tone in text:

She did not say it with any of these tones:

  • “Nice pager, that’s so cool that you’ve taken the 90s retro trend to the next level!”
  • “Nice pager—oh my gosh, are you a doctor?”
  • “Nice pager! I’m sorry, that’s my awkward way of asking about what that device is that you have.”

She did say it with this tone:

  • “Nice pager, loser.”

Any older siblings can understand, every fucking Mufasa instinct rose up in me. Unfortunately, it manifested into a mind blowing muteness. I’d like to think that it’s because if I did open my mouth, I would’ve said something so scathing that she would have burst into tears and apologized profusely.

But I didn’t. I just drank my beer in a dark silence. My sister said, “Thanks.”

Instance 2

This was worse. And I have no idea how I didn’t punch someone.

Another woman—an acquaintance (obviously, none of these people would ever actually be my friends) stopped mid-conversation and literally pulled on Hallie’s pump cord, asking like Regina George, “What’s that?”

Again. Rendered speechless with anger. Which is really the most frustrating kind because all you want to do is dump beer on someone’s head.

“Um, my pump. It you know, keeps me alive,” Hallie said with a deadpan tone.

My sister doesn’t even remember that day with Instance 1 and 2. Because such things–and much worse atrocities–are commonplace for people with Type 1. And that’s because people have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 has been misconstrued over and over throughout mainstream media. Take a look at even progressive comedies, like 30 Rock. In season 3, episode 9 there’s a joke about Tracy Morgan not being able to eat candy and getting his leg amputated from diabetes. Um, cool. In the Lifetime movie with Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig (IMDb lists it as a drama, but let’s be real), they don’t know what to do when the girl they kidnapped doesn’t have her insulin, so their solution is to get candy to avoid diabetic ketoacidosis. No writer thought to do a 30-second Google search on that one? Or maybe they were just cool with perpetuating ignorance.

It’s certainly not Hollywood’s responsibility to educate people on anything. But can you imagine if we took another group of people and joked in such an uninformed manner about their disease?

It is time for people to have an understanding about what Type 1 is and what it isn’t. And what better way to fight ignorance than pulling out a giant giraffe out of a Louis Vuitton purse?

I created Type One as a way to uninvisiblize (totally a word) the disease by using the most effective weapon–laughter. It’s the same weapon my sister and many people with Type 1 use on the daily to cope with this disease…while, you know, simultaneously acting as their own pancreases.

After seeing our show, the most common reaction we’ve gotten from people with Type 1 is: “I’ve totally done that.” We portray reality–well, an exaggerated version of reality–to show the ins and outs of what it’s like to live with Type 1 diabetes.

We have just a few days left in our Kickstarter, and I’m asking for you to support our cause. Check out our pilot episode (the giraffe comment will make a lot more sense), throw us a few bucks, and share it out.

Let’s kick the shit out of some ignorance and make people laugh.

View the pilot episode and Kickstarter page here!


It’s on Wednesdays: You Can Sleep While I Drive

It’s hard to explain why I picked the song. I realize that it’s a love song and that dedicating it to my late cousin makes me look a little Deep South-ish. But there was something in the sadness that just resonated with my grief at the time. Maybe it’s the part about escape. And sleep.

Music has always been the place for me to release sad energy. I refuse to watch sad movies or read sad books. But put on anything by Ben Harper, and I’m ugly crying in .2 seconds.

So when the Brothers & Sisters project came together, a collection of songs dedicated to my cousin Jimmy Wiedner to raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation, I felt compelled to sing the song that was weighing on my heart. 

The song was recorded with my very dear friend, Eric Pedersen, in his very cold basement on a very brutal February night. I look back on that night and all I remember is not remembering anything at all. My heart was so broken. Now, from a September perspective, I try to reflect on what I’ve tried to learn from Jimmy. And his absence.

Grief is a strange beast and, as anyone knows who’s endured it, strikes us all in different ways. I came to understand that whatever you’re feeling in that moment is exactly how you’re supposed to feel. There’s no right or wrong. No playbook. No two journeys of grief look the same.

For some reason, people seem to have lots of opinions on grief and how we should process it. The most hurtful thing you can do to someone who is grieving is imply they should feel a different way than they do. Grief is complicated. It’s messy. And emotions range moment to moment–guilt being a big one. The last thing anyone needs while hurting is feeling they shouldn’t feel the way they do.

You’re probably reading this thinking, “WHO would do that?” But it’s really pretty common. People love to use the passage of time as a grief barometer: “It’s been six months. Hasn’t she gotten over it yet?” (Girl, may I remind you that it took you two years to get over your ex? And we still happily bash him every chance we get.) Or the ever-so-helpful: “These things are just a part of life.” Yes. That makes it all better. Why don’t I just put on The Lion King and have Rafiki explain it to me?

But people who are judgmental about grief have the same issues as anyone who passes judgement: they’re assholes. KIDDING. They’re just working through their own stuff, too.  Joe Schmoe’s opinion on how I’m handling my grief certainly has nothing to do with me, but rather reflects how he hasn’t addressed issues inside himself.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck when someone tells you to “move on” after your cousin dies.

Such a weird phrase, too–move on. I’m not even sure what to do with that. Here’s what I am sure of though: I still cry, dry heave, sleep/don’t sleep, and drink Budweiser as a part of my grief. I also laugh, run, call my family, take walks, order Thai (peanut free!), and write as a part of it, too.

It’s strange to hear my voice in this song, at the peak of heartbreak. It’s not that now, nine months later, my heart is less broken. But it’s broken differently. And I can’t explain it, but that’s a good thing.

There’s a sense of protectiveness in this song. Jimmy was a person that we–all of us, it seems–wanted to protect. And he had a free, wild spirit. Jimmy did not want our protection. He wanted to live. And now he’s free.


Good Stuff: Wabash Lights

Any Chicagoan who’s walked downtown from State to Michigan is familiar with the almost eerie street they must pass to get there–Wabash. The street is darkened by the el tracks above it that clack noisily above, holding the platforms that we stand on in the frigid cold, huddled next to strangers under heat lamps, so we can get to the green, red, orange, or pink line.

It’s this connectivity of Wabash that caught the attention of Jack Newell and Seth Unger, setting them on a mission to highlight the beauty of this iconic and central street. “Wabash is like the bridge that brings so many people of the city together,” Unger said. “It’s this hub of downtown Chicago that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but locals are very familiar with it because it’s where they get off to go to work or connect to another el line.”

And the idea for the Wabash Lights was born.

When they come to fruition, the Wabash Lights will colorfully light the underbelly of the Wabash el tracks, illuminating the street below. And this lighting is completely customizable. By, well, anyone. You just need the app.

“Some public art isn’t really for the public due to design, or access, or location.” Newell said. “We think that art should be an inclusive experience. It has the power to bring people together in a meaningful way, and we’re trying to do that through this interactivity of the Wabash Lights.”

If all goes as planned–meaning their Kickstarter gets funded by Sunday (yes, donate now)–the beta version of the Wabash Lights will be up by Fall of 2015.

“We want this to be like a connector,” Unger said. “A place that Chicagoans want to be and tourists want to go.”

There are three days left to make the Wabash Lights a reality. Here’s the link to the Kickstarter. Be a part of something. Donate.

Editor’s Note: I chose the $50 donation option. They had me at 14-point font. 


Good Stuff: Chris Leamy and #heplaysforme

Check out Chris Leamy’s Instagram and you won’t see vacation sunsets or pics at parties, but images of him playing his guitar on the streets of New York City with the people who know it best–the city’s homeless.

Leamy, 27, is a singer/songwriter who, after releasing his first solo album, was trying get comfortable with promoting his own name and own music. While riding the subway home with his guitar one night, a homeless woman pointed to it and said, “I wish I had one of those. This would be easier.”

That’s when it clicked for Leamy. And #heplaysforme was born.

Now Leamy plays alongside the homeless, and any money he brings in from his playing goes directly to the companion he’s sitting with.

“My goal with each person is to try and get around ten dollars in twenty minutes,” Leamy said. “Which I think of is not that much, but for the person sitting next to me, it’s massive.”

Massive indeed. Not only the money, but the idea of a stranger trying to help another stranger.

“I’ve approached about 35 or 40 people,” Leamy said. “But I’ve only sat with 10 or 15. Many people aren’t used to someone approaching them and talking to them, and they get nervous. I ask where’s a good place to set up and say I’m new to the New York subway scene. And then I ask their name and then explain that I get really nervous playing by myself and say, ‘Would you mind sitting with me? Any of the money we make you can keep. I’m just doing this to try and get better.'”

That use of “we” was continuously used as Leamy talked about #heplaysforme. He explains that he’s getting just as much out of the experience as his companion. “I have someone to play music with and sit there with me so I don’t feel so isolated while I play,” Leamy said. “And if we make some money, then we make some money.”

Leamy says he’s continuously blown away by the generosity of human spirit he sees while he’s out playing. Upon looking for a spot to set up in Union Square, Leamy met Eric, and asked if he could play next to him and Eric would keep the money they made. “And he looks around and says, ‘Oh no, we can find someone else who needs it more than me.'”

After some more conversation, Eric agreed to sit with Leamy while he played, and some teenage girls sat to listen. About halfway through the set, the money they’d made blew away from the guitar case. The girls chased it down, brought it back, and put it back in the case. When they were leaving, they put a dollar in.

“And then I explained what I’m doing and said, ‘This is for my friend, his name is Eric. I’m just getting used to playing by myself and Eric has been helping me out.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh if it’s for him, then take two.'”

This pay-it-forward mentality has occurred time and time again. Leamy met Tony, who had been sitting at the same corner for eight hours and made 60 cents. After playing for an hour, the two made a few extra dollars, and as Leamy was packing up, he learned that Tony was saving the money to buy boots for a new job he started in a few days.

“So I went and bought him a pair of boots. They were like $60, and I told the guy who I was buying them for, and he said, ‘Ok take them for $30.'”

It hasn’t all been rainbows and sunshine, though. “I had an 80-year-old woman with a Long Island accent tell me to fuck off the other day. I’m still trying to figure it out….it is New York,” Leamy said with a laugh.

But New York is also what makes Leamy’s experiences and conversations so rich. “I met a girl and I asked her if money wasn’t an issue, and you could do whatever you wanted, what would you do? And she said, ‘I love to dance and when I do I forget about all my problems. And taking pictures with my friends.’

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 9.52.42 AM“So I told her that I’m new to the whole social media thing and that I’ve never taken a selfie. And she goes, ‘Oh we’re taking one right now.’ So I have this hilarious picture–she’s not looking at the camera, and I’m making some stupid face. But it’s perfect….little things like that.”

When asked what he hopes to come from #heplaysforme, Leamy said, “I didn’t have an agenda. This is a way to tell people some cool stories, tell people a little bit about my music, and help people at the same time.”

Who knows? Maybe this will continue and we’ll start seeing #heplaysforme across our nation’s cities, giving voice and telling the stories of those who need it most. Which, it seems, is what it’s about for Leamy.

“I like the chats the most. Like when I’m tuning my guitar and sitting there before playing. That’s my favorite part. Everyone’s got a story to tell.”

Get some Chris Leamy:

Show May 1st: Webster Hall, NYC. Tix here.

Follow his Instagram now: @leamy_alone

Check out his new album: The Start (available on iTunes)

Creep on his website:



It’s On Wednesdays: On Being the Clydesdale

When I was a senior in high school, my cross country coach took me aside after a race. I had come in 27th, which was decent considering that there were 200-something girls also competing. Also decent, according to my coach, for another factor.

“It’s not really fair that you have to compete against girls like Annie,” he said. Annie* was our star runner, and, more importantly, an absolute hilarious dancer and knew the entire rap to “What’s Your Fantasy.” She was also about the size of the Geico gecko, which was really important while rapping Ludacris. He continued, “When my wife and I enter races, there’s a separate section for people over 150 pounds…you know, to make the competition more fair. It’s called the Clydesdale section.”

So he had noticed. I was hoping that the hips, boobs, and thighs that had emerged since sophomore year were flying under the radar. But I guess when you’re cross country times are increasing, your flaring puberty is not going to go unnoticed by your coach.

I appreciated his candor. He was someone I trusted, someone I’d built a strong coach-athlete relationship with over the years. This was a delicate conversation to have with a 17-year-old girl that could’ve gone south real fast. But he knew me well enough, and I knew he was coming from a solid place of support and encouragement.

You know who didn’t, though? The butcher. The butcher at the Dominick’s. Around that same time, I was grocery shopping for my mom and went to the butcher’s counter to place an order. He started some friendly conversation, asking if I was in high school.

“Play any sports?” he asked.

“Yeah, I run cross country,” I said, smiling proudly back.

He smiled even broader. “Good. I like seeing a runner with some meat on her bones.”

Um, thank you, stranger, for this very unsolicited and odd surmising of my body.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed this practice of people feeling very comfortable to comment on my height or body type–and they are usually people who don’t know me well. Or sometimes, taking note from the aforementioned man who cut meat, know me at all.

At 5’9ish”, I’m an above-average height lady, which apparently warrants commentary from anyone who notices. “You’re tall” is not a compliment, nor an insult. Just some odd observation, reminiscent of Brick from Anchorman. And yes, I love lamp, too.

For some reason, when a person has an attribute outside the norm, it becomes the norm to state it out loud. Right now. Before. I. Burst.

Ask a woman with large breasts or a person who’s short or–and God help us–pregnant women. Why do people say the weirdest, most god-awful things to pregnant women? They cannot go home and drink your comment away, you sociopath.**

[Quick Time Out: I surveyed my child-bearing friends about the horrific things strangers have said to them while pregnant. Here are five real things that people they didn’t know said at the grocery store, in church, or waiting in line at Forever Yogurt:

  • “You are so huge they will have to roll you into the hospital.”
  • “Is the baby really big? They might have to C-section you to get him out.”
  • “Are you sure there’s only one in there?”
  • “Wow, you are really huge for being six months pregnant.”
  • “Are you having the baby naturally?….I mean, are you having it through your vagina?”

I mean, can we at least agree on that? Ok, Time In.]

What’s just as odd is how people react to when you own up to your attributes. One night, I was doing the traditional and ever-so-annoying complaining to my friends about how I had nothing to wear to an upcoming wedding. One of my friends very generously offered an adorable blue dress of hers. I thanked her, but said that it wouldn’t work because I’ve got a few sizes up on her and it probably (definitely) wouldn’t fit.

All of sudden, everyone was on me: “Puuuhllllleeeez. You. Look. Great.” “Oh stop it, you’re beautiful.” “You totally look like a combination of Sofia Vergara and Jennifer Aniston.” (Or, you know, something completely true like that.)

Um. I know. But that’s not gonna get me into a size 6. (Or 8.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.30.48 PMBeing aware of what I am also means being very cognizant of what I’m not. I’m not petite. I’m not cute. I’m not quiet. I’m not ordering the medium pizza. I haven’t been single digits in pants or shoes since the 5th grade. And I’m not the adorable little golden lab in the Budweiser ads. I am a Clydesdale coming to its rescue. I weigh over that Clydesdale category 150-pound mark my coach told me about–waaaaaaay before he had that little chat with me.

This. Is. Not. A. Complaint.

Sure, finding a size 11 shoe is annoying. More so because when you actually get one, it looks more like something that Shrek’s girlfriend would wear than the Carrie Bradshaw strappy thing you had envisioned.

But I realize I was lucky enough to be raised in a house where we were taught that size does not determine beauty, and my parents were lucky enough to have two daughters that completely bought into that theory. (Just watch my sister and I house full calorie beers and sausages and you will understand.) And let’s be honest, if you can make it past high school without thinking weight is the ultimate barometer of self-worth, then you’re pretty much set for life. Or at least at until thirty.


*Annie’s name has been changed to protect her ultimate lip-sync rap status.

**That being said, I certainly do not judge a pregnant woman for having a glass of wine.