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. 

It’s On Wednesdays: On How I’ve Solved the Subway Problem

You guys. I’ve figured it out. 

So I love riding the el. It’s one of the few times a day I can listen to music, zone out, and fall in love. I am always falling in love on the subway. I don’t know where these cute guys are on the weekends, but during the work week, I can always find a few future boyfriends just standing across the car from me as I awkwardly/creepily stare on.

You cannot be expected to be taken seriously when your hat has balls at the end of it. Take that however you like.

Today on the red line, as I was listening to Trisha Yearwood, I noticed a beer bottle on the floor of the subway car. Drinking isn’t unusual on the el, but most people hide it in the ever-so-inconspicuous brown paper bag. Also odd was that the beer belonged to a kid who looked like he had just stepped off a ranch in North Dakota. He was wearing one of those hats that looks like it was made from a sweater–you know, with the ties hanging down the side. He also had a light yellow down jacket and corduroy pants the color of a Crayola burnt sienna crayon. His face said he was 19, but the beer said he was 62. (Heineken.)

Unfazed by the crowded car, he took his beer from the ground, and in one fluid motion tilted his head back and took another slug. I caught the eyes of a few other passengers and exchanged knowing looks. It was 11:27 A.M. And we were all extremely jealous.

The North Dakota kid got me thinking. That’s just what the el is missing. Booze. And not in some ashamed-brown-paper-bag way, but in a way to be celebrated. Like before noon on a Wednesday.

And then it hit me. We should create bar cars on el trains. It combines some of my favorite passions: riding the el, alcohol, and meeting new people. Just think of how much more jolly your commute home could be with a glass of wine. In a sippy cup, of course. We don’t want spillage, and I think we can all agree that class goes out the window when you’re drinking on the el.

You. Are. Welcome, Rahm. This one’s on me.


It’s On Wednesdays: On You Don’t See “Cool” and “Starbucks” in the Same Sentence That Often

It’s true. You really don’t. But something “cool” happened to me at “Starbucks” today.

So today I headed to meet my cousin at the bar which we’ve determined is our spot to sit shiva. We drink beers, tell stories, sometimes cry a bit–it’s the closest these lapsed Catholics will get to a religious observance.

But before I meet her there, I stopped at the Starbucks across the street because, well, I certainly didn’t want to sit shiva (drink) alone.

Grief is such a strange animal. One minute I’m laughing at Modern Family and the next I’m crying to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” I can’t explain it.

It’s a mystery to me how I paid my ComEd bill on time this month, given the amount of drinking and crying that’s gone into the past six weeks. [Note: Those usually aren’t concurrent activities. I’ve always believed that a good cry totally ruins a good buzz.]

And then there are days like the last three. My productivity is close to zero. Unless you consider signing up for a new online dating site productive. At 1:30 on a Tuesday.

And, for some inexplicable reason, grief reared its annoying head when I walked under the green awning with that odd-looking mermaid holding her own tail and into the freezing cafe. My eyes welled with tears.

The guy in front of me was taking a long time ordering, but I didn’t really care because I was doing a mental list of all the funny movie lines I could think of so that I didn’t burst into tears when the peppy barista would ask for my order.

Then when he was finishing up his transaction, he told the cashier to put the remainder of his gift card credit on my order. It was fifty-two cents.

It was like he had just won me a date with Tad Hamilton.

I thanked him; he saw the tears in my eyes, and–as men do when they see a woman get misty–he bolted to the farthest table with his coffee and coffee cake. [Note: I’ve never actually seen a person eat a Starbucks coffee cake until today. Always thought the employees slowly threw them away throughout the day to make us think people were eating them. You know, like a Big. Conspiracy.]

Because the universe wanted this man punished for doing something nice, the only available seat was one directly across from him. I waddled my way over there, said thank you again, to which the man looked up to see a woman holding a coffee of which fifty-two cents he paid for, awkwardly smiling and trying to hold back tears.

He. Was. Horrified.

And that’s my “cool” and “Starbucks” story. And how I ruined Pay-It-Forward for everyone else.

And also why I’ll be having extra beers at shiva tonight.