BT Tuesdays: Glitter and Grief

My Christmas decorations are up. Which means that every inch of my apartment is covered in glitter and lights. I put them up the day after Thanksgiving. People have very strong opinions about when to put up Christmas decorations or listen Christmas music. I have zero opinions on the matter; I just had a day off from work, and I was feeling it.

Rules aren’t a big thing for me, so I’m not particular about the timeline for my holiday decor. For those who know me, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as I generally do things when I feel like it’s the right time. This works for me and against me, because it means that I’ll go after what I want, but that sometimes involves frosted sugar cookies from 7/11.

And then there’s my phone. I need a new one. My friends have called it “the brick” “Nokia’s cousin” and “Hahahahahaha, ohmigod what is that?” I’m continuously deleting things to make room for more storage. Last week I deleted the Facebook app. Which actually was really freeing. Turns out, I don’t need to check notifications on the regular from people I haven’t spoken to in 7 years.

On several occasions, I’ve been at a work event and had to stop taking pictures because my phone gives me the “NO MORE STORAGE, YOU IDIOT!” warning. I’m paraphrasing, but it certainly feels like that when you’re suddenly told that no, you cannot capture the image of a child who’s sewing an LED circuit to make a light up bracelet. (P.S. How effing cool is that?)

My phone is three and a half years old. In phone terms, that’s seventy gazillion years old. So, yeah, I’m due for an upgrade. That’s not the issue.

It’s not a procrastination thing, either. (Which is definitely in my wheelhouse.) I’ve already picked out which phone I want. I started filling out the paperwork. It’s a saved PDF on my desktop. A nice, daily reminder of what I’m not getting done.

It’s a letting go thing.

Unfortunately, this old, decrepit, piece-of-shit phone has irreplaceable value. Because on it are texts and a voicemail from my cousin, who I lost two years ago this December. But they aren’t just texts and a voicemail. They are memories. Tangible ones. Of us.  

There are apps to save these memories. Of course there are. We live in a world that has an app to tell you what nearby ghosts are thinking. So of course there’s an app to export texts and voicemails to keep safely on my hard drive.

But it’s not the same. Because right now, on my crappy, piece-of-shit phone, I carry his voice with me. I have his words on hand. Not that I listen or look that often. But they’re there. And then–somewhere–subconsciously–I feel like he’s there with me, too.

This is the first time in two years I’ve decorated for Christmas. I can’t explain why I wanted to this year. Maybe to literally give my winter some sparkle. Or maybe I really wanted to see my town back in action. Or maybe I began letting go pieces of pain from losing my cousin and was ready to return to this tradition that I do, in fact, love.

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How cute is my town??

So while it’s annoying that my phone dies at 57% percent and that my photos are pixellated like original Nintendo, I’ve accepted that I’m just not there yet. I’m not ready to let go of our last interactions being carried with me always.

Glittery trees, twinkly lights, and Christmas music, though? Bring it on. I’m ready.

BT Tuesdays: I Got Your Back, Preggos. And Your Belly.

I stopped by my neighbors’ apartment for Thanksgiving. They’re this adorable couple that have a dog and a cat and–at the time–were expecting their first child. On Thanksgiving Day, she was seven days past her due date.

Given this, I expected to find her resting on the couch, face in pain, hair in disarray from the anguish of get-this-baby-out-of-me syndrome that I imagined would plague all expectant mothers who’d gone this far past their due date.

I walked into find her cutting up a tray of meats and cheeses, coordinating potato dishes with her hubby, and in super good spirits.

Um, what? I couldn’t hide my surprise at how….good she looked. Granted, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman–in person–this far past her due date. And I know what I look like under far less stressful circumstances. So, yeah, I was shocked to see her buzzing about the kitchen, face bright, happy. Her mom was in town, and she was hosting a group of about eight people for dinner.

[Spoiler Alert: She had her baby the next day. Both mom and baby are healthy.]

But my neighbor’s performance on Thanksgiving just furthers my theory that pregnant women are superhuman creatures of the world and should be hailed by the rest of us mere mortals.

If I was pregnant, I don’t know how I’d be compassionate towards anyone else. It’s like, “Oh, you’re tired? Was work tough today? Was your boss riding your ass? I was making an ass. Yes, I made human butt cheeks today. Or maybe a thumb. Who knows?? But I’m sure as hell more tired than you.”

Think about it. No matter what, a pregnant woman’s accomplishments for the day outweigh a non-pregnant person’s. Because they are literally making small bodies with their bodies. It really makes that promotion/scarf you knit/presentation you nailed pale in comparison, eh?

I just think about how tired I get taking care of me. And I’m just one, grown ass person. I’m not producing another person. I see pregnant women working until the day they deliver, and I want to throw them a parade. Or make a couch magically appear so they can lay on it. And then have that couch, with them on it, delivered into their living room.

I asked my neighbor what it’s like to be a pregnant woman in Chicago. Ride the CTA, walk the busy streets, traverse through Mariano’s. She told me that many people were kind. But there were also many people who weren’t willing to make sacrifices such as holding doors or giving up seats on public transit. The worst offenders, she told me: white males. (I’ll just leave that there.)

And maybe people didn’t notice. I know I’ve been guilty of that. On more than one occasion, I’ve been in my own world, and not seen a pregnant woman standing on the subway until halfway through my ride. Nothing makes you feel like more of a millennial than not offering a pregnant woman your seat sooner because you were too busy trolling funny dog videos on Facebook. 

I ran into my neighbor yesterday. Outside. In the rain. Walking her dog. I told her she’s my hero. She laughed and said she wanted to get some fresh air. She just put a human in the world four days ago. Now she’s just walking around. In. The. Rain. 

Seriously, hats off to you, preggos of this world. And for the non-preggos, next time you see a pregnant woman, offer her your seat, open the door, produce the magic couch, because remember–no matter what–she’s done more than you today.

BT Tuesdays: My Love Letter to Chi

This past Saturday I was at the MCA for a concert. It made me feel old. Old and dorky. I literally said, “Kids these days,” as I watched the edgy fashion go by me in droves. I was amazed. Impressed. And, yeah, a little envious. Envious of the ability to say, “I’m gonna shave the side of my head and wear leather overalls.” It’s the foresight that makes me jealous. How do you know that’s going to look good?? I would totally rock some purple hair and plaid suspenders if I had any idea what was going on.

I was at the MCA to see Jamila Woods and Noname. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love (am obsessed with) Jamila Wood’s music. Her voice, her lyrics, her vibe–all come together to create something magical and that truly touches my soul.

With each artist’s performance, I was completely overcome. Something in me was bursting. I couldn’t quite name the feeling. As Noname was closing her set, smiling and bouncing with the beat, I realized what it was: pride.

Immediately I questioned the liberty of this emotion. Like, what right do I have to be proud? I mean, obviously all I’d done was watched their progression, not participated in it.

See, this was the second time I’d seen Jamila Woods and Noname perform in the same night. The last time was at Schubas in a long line-up of musicians and poets. I remember the room wasn’t full, but intimate. Nice. That was four years ago. Last Saturday, they played for a sold out, jam packed MCA.

I know I wasn’t the only person on Saturday who’d been there that night at Schubas. I recognized a lot of faces. Faces that have been around the youth poetry circuits, like YOUmedia and Young Chicago Authors. Faces that still keep it going at YOUmedia and Young Chicago Authors. And I know I wasn’t the only one who’s taken note of the progression each artist has made in her work. And there’s no way I was the only proud person in that audience on Saturday night.

These women made me proud to be a Chicagoan. 

Chicago has been getting a lot of recognition for the talent she’s been putting out right now. But it’s about more than talent.

Because not only do these artists rock their craft, but they’ve put in the time to their art, which breathes acceptance, love, and equality. It’s talent with a message.

Jamila, Noname, Chris Redd, Chance. These are people I’ve met and interacted with–and you know what they have in common? They are hardworking. They are talented. And they are kind. 

They are the essence of Chicago. 

Because that’s what we demand from our people. I’ve never been in another place where kindness is such a requirement. And like any rule, there’s exceptions. Like when I said good morning to the city worker picking up garbage outside my apartment and he shouted at me, “You’re a sinner!” Word.

But tell me another city where a whole bus insists the driver wait so a man could run to the bus to pick up his phone he had just left on it. An entire busload of people, on their way to work, to appointments, to therapy (hypothetically), waited patiently for this man to retrieve his phone. A passenger offered to run it to him if the bus driver waited. When he returned, everyone commended him. “What you did will come back to you in a blessing,” one woman said to him. (Cottage Grove bus, 9:34 A.M., a Monday) 

Tell me another city where you can see the beach volleyball courts almost full on a 50-degree, gray October day. Friends, gathered in old sweats and hoodies. Not for a workout, not for competition. Just to get out and enjoy what the city had to offer. Mind you, I was running by in full winter gear. Not a chance you’d catch me barefoot in that weather. (Montrose Beach, noon, a Saturday) 

Tell me about another city where a woman would help a vomiting stranger on their return flight home. Without question, without hesitation, one woman helped another in need when others turned away. The sick woman later shared her story. That she’s undergoing chemo and desperately needed a friend–and a hair tie–in that moment. (Southwest Airlines to MDW, 7:30 P.M., a Tuesday)

Chicagoans are full of stories like these–of compassion and friendship and care. Maybe it’s because we know, in so many other aspects, we’re a tough city. So we look out for each other when we can. Maybe it’s because we won’t tolerate anything other than kindness to strangers. Or maybe it’s because that’s just how our mother, Chicago, raised us.

I’m excited to see the artists that continue to rise in our city. I know they will continue to make me proud.

Because Chicago expects nothing less.

BT Tuesdays: My Silver Lining Playbook

It’s predicted that this winter is supposed to be bad, Chicago. Really cold. Lots of snow. The character building kind of winter that makes our people tough and inspires really good art. Or lots of Netflix binging. Of course, there’s no real way to really tell. It’s just predictions. But we’re preparing for the worst.

That’s what they said about last winter, though. And we had barely any snow and a few 60-degree days in February. Sure, there were sub-zero days, and I-can’t-feel-my-nose days, and I’m-sweating-on-the-CTA-with-all-these-damn-layers days. But, because we were prepared for the worst, it really didn’t seem so bad.

A lot of people have a lot of opinions, based on predictions, on how we should approach the new president. We should give him a chance; we shouldn’t trust him; we should wish him luck; we should root for his downfall; we should respond to him with love; we should pee in his soup.

I go back and forth between these mentalities. Hope is in my nature. It’s a part of who I am, a part of my soul, a part of how I function. I live, survive, and thrive on hope. But I’m also a realist. And I know that my next president is a misogynistic racist. So that makes it hard to be hopeful.

But plenty of people in plenty of countries do it–continue to carry hope. And their leaders have blatantly committed far worse atrocities than our next president has. Yet.

Two days after the election, a close friend called me. “Was the Hillary loss a big deal for you?” he asked. I told him that yes, it was. He continued: “I’m sorry if I was insensitive about it. Can we talk about it sometime? I’d like to know where you’re coming from. I want to know why you’re feeling this way. And, again, I’m sorry if I was insensitive.”

What an amazing phone call to receive. We will have that conversation. And I, in turn, will ask why he chose to vote the way he did, because I truly want to know. Hopefully we can have a healthy dialogue and cross some bridges. But just that phone call, and the past seven days, have gotten me thinking about what I’d try to articulate.

Hopefully I can communicate how that there are many, many, many, many women who’ve been sexually assaulted. They are your daughters, your sisters, your coworkers, your friends. You might be thinking, “Not my daughter. Not my sister.” And I truly, truly hate breaking this news to you. But it is your daughter; it is your sister. Just because you don’t know about it, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. So many women silently suffer, telling maybe–hopefully–a therapist or a close friend. And now our president-elect has said he can “grab them by the pussy” because “they let you do that.” Chalking it up to locker room talk. Hopefully I can explain how his talk, and that so many people overlook or support it, makes me feel devalued and less safe in my world.

Hopefully I can articulate that my entire professional life has been dedicated to bridging the gap of opportunity in Chicago, specifically among people of color. And now we have a president-elect that supports things like Stop and Frisk, you know a policy deemed unconstitutional (due to racism) and ineffective (due to…duh). Oh, and let’s not forget how the guy accused a group of people for–among other things–being killers and rapists. (I don’t think I have to point out the irony given the last paragraph.) Hopefully, I can explain how this personal affront to people of color, to the work I do, once again makes me feel less safe in my world.

And hopefully through our conversation, I’ll learn why my friend looked past all these horrendous qualities and placed a vote with this guy. I’ll learn what issues he hopes are addressed with this next president. And we can both walk away with a better understanding of each other’s worlds and the world in general.

I want to hope for our future with this president. I want to silver lining the shit outta of this situation. But here’s the thing about hope. It makes you vulnerable. That’s why it’s so hard to place it in someone who’s hurt you.

For me, it’s not about giving up hope. It’s about placing hope where it belongs–with the people who won’t stand for the America that this guy perpetuated. He hasn’t earned my hope, so until he does I’m placing zero with him. And I am placing all of mine with the good, the sturdy, and the progressive people of this country who organically work across the aisle to better understand one another.

So gear up, Chicago, because I believe this winter–and the next four–are going to be rough. Really cold. Lots of snow. But it’ll be the character building kind of years that makes our people tough and inspires really good art. Let’s get to making it.

BT Tuesdays: Permission to Wee, Sir

When I was a teacher, I was super good at telling time. Not like looking at the clock and knowing what time it was. I’ve always been bad at that. I mean like if I was going to be late for a date when I was teacher, I would know I was going to be exactly eight minutes late.

That’s because, when you’re a teacher, life is very structured. Classes were 46 minutes long. And passing periods. Oh, the cursed passing period. Four. Minutes. Long. There were a few years that I taught three classes back to back to back, first thing to start the day. As coffee and water are two of my chronic illness staples in the morning, this was especially problematic. I asked another teacher what would happen if I was late coming back from the 4-minute passing period to use the facilities. “Oh, that’s not an option,” she said. Not. An. Option. I’m sure my students felt very fortunate to see their teacher do the pee pee dance every day.

I seriously think that one of the biggest perks of working from home is the bathroom situation. I don’t mean to brag, you guys (I do), but I can go to the bathroom anytime I want. It’s amazing. But only if I’m working from home. Because this certainly doesn’t apply if I’m in a meeting.

During a large meeting of about twenty people one morning, there was a break scheduled at 10:30. At 10:35, there was no sign of stopping. At 10:40, I did the unthinkable: I got up and walked out to use the facilities and returned–my teacher timer guarantees–in under four minutes.

At 10:45, someone adjourned the group for the allotted break, adding, “Even though some people already took theirs,” and eyeing me in front of everyone. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just thought taking my break early was better than wetting myself in front of you all,” I said, totally in my head.

Since as long as I can remember, “bathroom stuff” has grossed me out. I’ve made no attempt to get over it and do not care to. Even as an 8-year-old, I was such a germaphobe that I refused to use the toilets at school. So I would hold it all day. Until I told my mom and she told me I’d probably get cancer and die if I continued that routine. Or something like that which scared me enough to start using the school facilities. But still only for number one. Or, as we had to call it in our house: tinkle.

It’s such a strange thing, though. Up until you’re 18, you have to ask permission from another person to relieve yourself. And most of the time, that other person thinks you’re just trying to leave their classroom to go make out or smoke or just wander the halls. So you have to, like, convince another human that you, in fact, need to urinate. (Or something else.) Then in college, it’s like, yeah, just leave when you need to go, and it feels like the biggest fucking freedom of your life. Then you enter the workforce and suddenly the “privilege” is revoked. Or certainly frowned upon.

In my three years working freelance, I can’t recall one time that I’ve seen someone (who’s not me) get up from a meeting to use the bathroom. Which begs the question: How do these people hold their urine???

Sometimes because of, you know, peer pressure, I’ll also hold it and I AM D-Y-I-N-G the entire time. I promise I am not listening to you talk about your goals for this campaign. I am wondering if it looks like I’m slightly pregnant because my bladder is bulging from my pants. I’m also Google mapping the interior of this building to figure out the fastest route to the ladies’ room.

I know I’m not the only one. Because, sure enough, after almost every meeting, there’s a very quiet, very quick march to the bathroom. And I’m like, Why do we do this?

I realize I just spent 676 words discussing holding urine. But this is a sign of a much larger problem. What do we think we’re going to miss in those few minutes if we leave to relieve ourselves? The problem will not get solved. The Earth will not shift with the flush of a toilet.

We live in a very self-aware culture. We don’t want draw attention to ourselves, inconvenience anyone, disrupt the flow (pun intended). How are we so self-conscious that we’re afraid to quietly excuse ourselves in a group to complete a vital human function? No one cares. Think about it. If a woman left to use the restroom, you wouldn’t judge her. You’d be jealous. Of her very, very empty bladder.

It’s like when it comes to our wee, we live in this adolescent state of mind. We think all eyes are always on us (and, of course judging) and that every decision is crucial. When, really, becoming an adult is realizing neither of those things are true.

So I dare you, good people. Miss the moments of the meeting/show/conversation. Give your brain and bladder a break. And pee freely.

BT Tuesdays: Bears Wear Red Collars

Last weekend, my sister and I went to Asheville. We chose it because the town met our two requirements for a visit: 1. neither of us had been there; and 2. no one we knew lived there.

We did exactly zero research about Asheville before the trip. We had heard from people that it was “cool,” which apparently was enough validation to warrant a weekend there.

We quickly got accustomed to the culture of Asheville, which is artsy, warm, and embedded in nature. And by nature I mean bears. The people of Asheville seem unfazed by these rather large, rather big-claws-and-teeth creatures. John, our Airbnb host, told us not to worry, the bears were totally safe—one had only clawed John’s dog’s face because he was hungry. When John saw our horrified looks, he reassured us: “Oh don’t worry, that’s just because they’re trying to eat everything in sight, on account of the upcoming winter.”

Just as precaution, I asked John what to do, should we encounter a bear. He shrugged and chuckled a little at my unease, saying they wouldn’t harm me. He then added not to run because they’d chase me down like a dog and probably claw me, too. “So I just stand still?” I asked. “Sure,” he said, shrugging again.

Apparently all the bears have red collars on them because the college students track them for some kind of bear research. So they put the collars these bears while they’re hibernating. When I asked John if that was dangerous, he said—in the native friendly tone of seemingly all Ashvillenines—“Aw, no, they’re sleeping, so it’s fine.” Phrases like, don’t poke the bear, don’t wake a sleeping bear, and don’t put collars on bears while they’re hibernating all ran through my head, but I stayed quiet.

When people—our family, friends, Airbnb host—asked us what we had planned, we told them the truth: We had no idea. So we got there and let Asheville lead the way.

My sister and I realize that not everyone is comfortable traveling this way. We tried to attribute it to sharing DNA, but just take a look at our older brother’s itineraries for “vacations” and we concluded it’s gotta be more of a personality type thing.

We travel really well together. Almost too well. We decided that we should have our own show, because our conversations totally warrant 22-minutes of televised airtime. Below are some titles for episodes, based off of or taken from actual dialogue:

We’re Not Allowed Back in That Coffee Shop

Right-Left Confusion Needs a Better Name

I need socks. I do too! (Part 1)

These socks are soft. Yes they are! (Part 2)

Where’s Our Fucking Cheesecake?

Comfortable Silence

I Love Soaking My Feet (Part 1)

Epsom Salt Smells So Good (Part 2)

What Are Bath Salts?

Sighing Means Your Not Breathing Enough

The Car Behind Us Is Such a Weasel (Part 1)

Now I’m Being a Weasel (Part 2)

I Meant to Download That Bieber Song….But Then I Forgot

Interesting: Now We’re in Central Time

It’s Terrifying That We Could Walk in That Place and Walk Out With Guns

Whenever I travel, I monitor how I connect with a new place. Just like people, some places make a fleeting impression, while others stick in your bones and make a home there. When I’m in LA, I can see myself living there, taking my coffee at the ocean, trying to stay calm in traffic. I awed my way through Barcelona, already yearning for a time to come back and continue exploring. Zurich’s pristine streets and quiet street cars freaked me out, and I left pretty certain I wouldn’t be back.

It’s strange to reach that point in life when I can acknowledge the things that probably won’t happen. I remember very vividly when my older brother broke the news that he would not, in fact, be playing in the NBA as we’d imagined our whole lives. I was devastated. Not so much because my brother wasn’t going to get me floor seats at the Bulls for life, but because I finally understood unrealistic possibilities. I believe this is called leaving childhood. 

Then there’s Asheville. A place has never had such an effect on me, an effect I’m still trying to detangle. Something was awakened in my soul. Dreams feel like possibilities.

Maybe it’s because there are so many artists in Asheville. And seeing their dreams on the canvas, on clay, in print, in hand stitched notebooks—maybe seeing those things reminded me that people do, in fact, live out their dreams. They do take pieces of their soul and make the world a better place with their art.