Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I Love Study Hall

The athletes of T College are required three hours of study hall a week. This means as a Writing Center employee I have to be vigilant about clocking basketball & volleyball players in and out. This is the busy season. Maybe there aren't spring sports. I'm actually not sure what all the activities are at this school. I am a typical adjunct; I show up to my class, grade in my office, delete emails not of immediate relevance to me, go home. I don't know what the dean's name is.

Anyway, I love study hall. I'm sure if I was forced to do it I would be annoyed. These students are adults and should be allowed to do homework wherever and whenever they want. But here's whats up:

Many times I have seen four teammates come in and waste time quietly. They need to be shushed once or twice and then they get bored. One of them opens the assignment. They look at it. They raise their hand. "Hey, I actually don't get this. Can you help me?" And I do. I've also observed the one teammate who knows from the jump he needs a ton of help. It makes me happy that his friends are at the same table even if they're goofing off so the situation isn't reversed (they're all out goofing off and the lil nerd ditches his tutoring appointment). Also, they get used to see the other players all the time. I see guys congratulating girls on their games. They say things like "I see you strivin'." I am currently sitting across from a dude who just waved across the center at another guy. He said, "Yo, bro. You doin' study hall? Very cool." Very cool!? Very cool.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

So Long Sweet Summer

It's Dashboard Confessional. I am not embarrassed. I wish it had never been laughable--the boys screaming their feelings. The popularity of emo could have been an antidote to toxic masculinity.

For every bright notebook aisle at Target, there's a new orange leaf. The darker sky. Six years ago I started grad school in Arizona. I spent most afternoons by the pool with my Theatre Histories textbook and a highlighter. Today I went to the gym's rooftop pool and read Chapter Three in my teacher's edition Theatre History textbook. It was windy, and I could only bear the chill an hour. I call the Senate Committee and my House Rep to say I support the DREAMers.

I've officially lived in Chicago longer than I was in grad school. This saddens me. It's not a surprise. I've been here, you know, watching the planner pages turn, establishing myself, signing leases. But still it happened so fast. I steadied myself on the last thing I had done. I had just moved from the desert. The other people I meet here--some spent one, two, five years in their cities, but it gets washed away in the machine of big shoulders. I join the slop.

From the moment I stepped off the plane in high school, it was my spot. It's my laptop backdrop. My blue and purple scooter plate hangs over my window. Yesterday Puhg and I went on a Labor Day run. We stopped halfway through just to sit and watch the lake. A baby regatta of boats, a seagull, a plastic bag splat into the water. He says the way I feel about our old place is how he feels about his new place.

Some days I feel it too. The neighborhood abuzz with teeny shops and how I can get from my couch to the A____ for a lime & seltzer with Flood in less than ten minutes. People feel overwhelmed by the city, but when I was in Maine I felt so weird not being able to, at any time, walk to a Walgreens. I do not think about trotting four blocks, taking the train, going down Michigan Avenue, spending thirty minutes in an interview, reversing the whole thing. It's so easy I barely pay attention. I jot lesson plans and ding my Ventra card. I'm at the library now and then I will go back across the street to my apartment, eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch, watch Friday Night Lights, and go do a show at i_.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

First Saturday Back

First of all, I got to return to Step class at my gym. It was hard, as it always is after an extended absence. At a water break I asked the instructor to re-demonstrate the switchkick turn, and three women around me all (at the same time) told me how to do it. Isn't it infuriating to be told how to do something even when you have asked? And, by the way, why do people like telling others what to do? I don't. Which is funny because I'm the teacher.

I showered. Pug and I sat on the couch and talked over morning yogurt, a ritual I missed. We keep up when we're apart, but the conversations are more like maps and less like landscape. I convince him to walk with me to a new coffee shop, where I set up camp for lesson planning. After an hour I head to the train. While I wait a man starts addressing people on the platform asking the question "Why?" a lot. It's hard to hear him. At first he is ignored since he's ranting. He's holding a Dunkin bag and a large iced coffee with cream. He lays down on the platform over the line folks are not supposed to cross. Another older man walks up and tries to talk to him. He is batted away. I get closer. I want to kneel down and say, "Don't do this here," but I don't know his mental state and am worried he might throw me into the tracks. The board says the next Red Line to 95th is in one minute. Someone presses the help button. Someone else is making a call. "They'll put me back in jail," the man says. The train is now arriving. Someone at the end of the platform waves his arms wildly to the conductor. I bark, "Sir, please get up." In the nick of time, someone the fella by the ankles, and pulls him to safety. The dude, still on the ground, yells, "You almost spilled my coffee!" to which his savior rolls his eyes. I get on a different car and practice Japanese on an app.

I attend a producers workshop for marketing one's comedy show. I learn a couple things. Several men, not running the workshop, offer a lot of unsolicited advice to everyone n attendance. Again, I wonder what the appeal is. I go across the street for a Whole Foods salad and purchase a scone to eat between shows at night.

While home I have a little time to work on my book before curling my hair, changing into a new blouse, and heading to SC. On my commute I think about how we use Twitter, how I use Twitter, microaggressions, and how important but also stupid recognizing said microagressions are. It's my first show in Chicago since mid-July. The audience gives us "IHOP: The Musical" as our title. The singing feels good. The singing brings renewal. I call an Uber.

At the next theatre's greenroom I am met by some unusual faces. People from New York and LA visiting, jumping in on the fun. We do two acts of improv. It is okay. I am happy to be there though. Puhg comes and during something particularly funny I look out at him to see if he laughed. He's munching a french fry. He is standing at the bar when it is over. We take a car home.

Friday, August 25, 2017

I Think You Are Very Successful Now

At least that's what I surmise from bits and pieces of social media. I don't know what major success looks like in your field. I don't know if you still have mountains to climb. I think often about that sommelier documentary. I cannot name a single sommelier or honestly a single fact about wine. In the film some men became certified top-tier experts and some didn't. The ones who fell short are surely more knowledgable than 99% of the world, but ten feet from the summit can feel much farther.

I wonder if you are happy. I feel like I really know you because I saw you back when you were trying to get into your skin. You made fun of yourself for not understanding football and now you tweet about it a lot. I don't think that's fake necessarily. I'm only curious.

We used to talk about how we didn't have any money, how a muffin was a feast. I'm proud of you even though I am a small tick in your timeline. But I don't know. Sometimes I feel like a mark. Are you a mark in mine? I think so. I questioned what you actually liked and what you fronted then. I do now, if I think of it.

My theatre history class is divided into six units--directing, playwriting, tech, etc. We will study modern work and move backwards toward the significant elements of the past. I DO NOT WANT TO TO HAVE ONLY COVERED OEDIPUS TARTUFFE AND HAMLET BY MIDTERM. I have too many ancient playwrights to choose from, the timeline of how directing transformed and the dramaturg was born. But actors from 1800, 1900, even 1950--none come to mind.

That okay Dispatch song. Would you come running if I called your name in a crowd?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


I am still trying to figure out why I thought the eclipse was so incredible. I didn't initially care. My mom lives 45 minutes away from totality, so she wanted to make a thing of it. There were cucumber sandwiches and brownie piles and eclipse pop in coolers. We went to a football field with 2,000 other people. I imagined sweating in a mob, but actually, 2,000 people on a huge field is not crowded at all. The dogs ran around, sometimes standing in front of an icy fan. I put on my glasses to see the crescent. Lenses up, lenses down.

It got cooler. Gradually I didn't need my sunglasses anymore. "It feels like evening." Globs showed up in my hand's shadow. At 1:13 I felt giddy. At 16 shadowy waves splashed on white ground. The crickets were a full orchestra. I held Puhg's hand. My mom said, "It's like that scene in Independence Day when they're all on the roof." She wasn't wrong. Everyone laughed at the idea that birds fly to their roosts and fall asleep, but I am certain something primal was itching at me too. Foreboding and magical. The moon covered the sun for less than two minutes. I screamed when I took my glasses off. The eye looked at me curiously. It sparkled. There was a pink sunset on every side of us. Jupiter was perched nearby. Tears welled in my eyes and over the loudspeaker the physicist began a count-down from 10. My mom gripped my hand and said, "I don't want it to go away." Me neither.

The day went on. I felt messed up. I fell asleep at 6 PM. My mom was on the couch accidentally watching Dirty Dancing twice.

When I got my tattoo I thought it hurt so awfully. I didn't know if I could stand having it finished, and I never thought I would get a second. But now I do not remember. I couldn't put words to it. I can't again now. I have seen every CGI tsunami and dragon under the sun but the real sun escapes me.

Friday, August 11, 2017

It Is the End of Days and I Have Chosen to Write

We could be nuke dust any day. I have no pretenses about avoiding desserts in this vacation wonderland. If I die, it will be with a cinnamon roll in my belly.

As things collapse and teeter I imagine myself dirty in a roving commune. My last job won't matter, but the skills I learned at it will.

Looking ahead I wonder what I will finish. What are the last words I want to speak on a stage or send to a reader? I thought about canning my book until I feel more than 50% certain I will see October, but once I have journaled, read a chapter of Ghost Story, drank my amaretto coffee, watched Big Brother, and even fallen down the Twitter void, my computer shines like a Zelda treasure chest. I sit at the desk and kick it open. A four note victory plays.

Monday, August 7, 2017

On Offense

We opened the show with "Option" last night. It's essentially a typical short form improv scene that morphs into genre switching at the audience's whim. I played a girl on a date and then at the suggestion of "horror" a cast member said he had slipped a serum into our blood. I did the first thing I could think of (pretend my face was melting off) and then the audience had us switch genres to rom-com. I kept my face distorted and said, "I look like this, but I know you love me for what's on the inside." (Laugh, laugh.)

As soon as I said it I had a little shiver up my spine. Some people really do have distorted voices. I wasn't aiming to make fun of them. I was just...acting like I was in a horror movie. As the game ended and I sat on the sidelines during the next piece, I really thought hard about how someone in the audience with a disfigured cousin might have taken that twenty seconds. Then I tried very hard to think of other options I had in the moment. I could have pretended to be a horror-trope ditz, which would have been satire (or problematic?). Or maybe I could have been the killer. I shook it off and sang a mini-musical about a purple alligator (lol comedy).

When we returned from intermission I started an intro for the next game and for the first time looked into the front row. Dead center. Staring up at me. A burn victim with missing fingers and a disfigured face. I flubbed a word. Ultimate universal irony. Then I made a point to finish my speech and give a winning smile to the dude. I creeped on him for the rest of the show. He was having an excellent time, clapping and hooting.

Earlier this summer I taught a "song parody" camp to middle schoolers. I played Weird Al's parody of "Complicated" "Constipated." The song ended and I asked the group why it was funny. A blonde 12 yo's practically screamed, "It's not! It's not FUNNY." CoMeDy Iz HaRd, u gUyz!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Girls Need More Secrets

After two weeks devising work with young women attending summer camp in Maine in 2017, I have some new thoughts on girlhood. The 4th and 5th graders fought to the death for single solo lines and the high schoolers refused to perform. I want to know what happens to girls in middle school. I want to know why one girl started most scenes with "I should have listened to my mother. I hate you." I want to know if she thought that was funny, or if it's all she could think of. I want to know if that's still a joke in her mediasphere or if her family is old school and watches black and white TV. Or if her mother really should have listened to her mother. I want to know why the 2nd graders wanted to do all their own original choreography and the 9th graders wanted to be set like china for dinner.
I want to know what it is about a secret, whispered between two teens, that makes even me want to know the juice. And I want to always remember what it feels like to be the third girl they beckon in and the fourth girl they don't.

Smidge and I were in a corner of the gym before Poms practice vowing to tell each other our crushes. We each spoke a boy's name (same boy) and screamlaughed, intoxicated in our good taste. We skipped around the three-point line singing The Sound of Music. It didn't matter we were in "competition." We weren't. We were in 8th grade. When "going out" didn't mean going anywhere. It was how we showed our loyalty and our love, these private passings.

It had been this way a long time. I didn't fully trust my best friend because she would never admit to loving her obvious affection-target. She was my favorite person, but I watched her carefully. In fourth grade someone said she didn't have any crushes. "But you have to," we pressed. "But I don't," she insisted. I can't remember if I really didn't believe her or if I just didn't want to, but we pushed until she practically yelled, "OKAY FINE IF I HAVE TO, I LIKE ____ HAMPSTER!" There was a boy in our class named _____ Hampson. In her total distress she had misspoke.

Later, once we had boyfriends, the new secrets were about us. Who said what about who to who and who retold. We ate our own tails in gossip and serious nods. I see a past of closed mouths and deep deep treasures of family darkness. I see wives of important men with tight lips. I see a future where a lack of bragging saves our butts. Where female generals refuse to disclose and never lose. But to prepare, first, girls need better secrets.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Why I Am Here

When I started grad school some dude asked me on a date, and I truthfully told him, "I didn't move here to date you. I moved here to write."

Those All-In educational years were necessary for me. I couldn't live another way. I moved to Chicago to do comedy. Bonus: I got to experiment with different avenues of teaching, loved deeper, interrogated the self, and experienced things from cool to moving to incredible.

But hobby must move to home and so few can make it happen. "Nobody owes you anything," I do know. Sometimes it makes me sad. Sometimes it feels right. There is power in alone.

I have to pat myself on the back sometimes though. Like yesterday I did six hours of improv. I mean, hey, that's what I moved here to do, wasn't it? An audition, a callback, a musical, and a two-act show. It's not enough to live. The most I've ever made in a year in my entire life is 26K. But I am, for now, doing what I came here to do.

Today I head east for some strange artistic work, and I hope to come back with something new.

Friday, July 14, 2017


If you had asked me a year ago, or ten years ago, or twenty if I believed in predetermination, I would tell you no. I vividly remember learning about Calvinism in history class and wondering who would ever adhere to such a philosophy.

But this year I have come to realize I used to unconsciously believe in destiny. I only know now because I no longer do. I have felt blessed for much of my adult life. Things seemed to work out for me. I came against life-changing forks in the road every other year, and it seemed that not only did I feel peace after I made a choice, I was almost comically reassured by the universe later. I turned down tempting jobs and the company folded. I backed out of a delicious program and heard from peers they dropped because it was horrible. I went on tricky adventures and soared. If something did feel off, inevitably, some new thing would bloom and I would say, "Good thing I was here at this moment." A less romantic version of that Rascal Flatts song. I didn't realize it, but when I was making decisions, I was imagining there were already two completely written lives for me, and I just had to pick one. Of course, there were ways I could have wandered off the paths if I did something truly out of character (committed a crime, bailed), but those things were so unlikely that my fate was essentially sealed.

I didn't mind hard or poor times because I had a Golden Thing in my future. I couldn't say what it was, but since I had taken all the "right" steps so far at any given time, each challenge was meant to be. Two years ago a comedy teacher of mine said, "You have to keep working if you're going to become the artist you're meant to be--well, no one is meant to be anything--but if you're going to become the artist you can be." I was jarred. Of course he was right, but that wasn't what my secret mind thought.

Things feel random now. I see how I arbitrarily make a meeting and get an opportunity or don't. How I have a million dollar idea but can't write it. How selfish people get ahead, how true people don't. I've felt murdered by doors opening while I'm in the middle of other commitments I have made. I don't remember that ever happening before. I always understood what FOMO was but never dealt with it. I feel like a ladybug on a fall leaf. I was stuck to a branch, but now winter is coming, and I'm floating haphazardly down.

My friend expressed this same confusion the other night. It was strange to hear someone else in the exact same mental boat. She guessed it was the election. I think I agree. I know there were horrible things in the world, but it seemed like good was winning and everything was happening in some grand calculated way. November 8th felt insane and purposeless. The fight since has felt like chucking powdered sugar at a tank.

I wish I could go back to my old train of thought. Even if I was wrong.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


I have always been very good at planning ahead. I have had a savings account (that I borrow from, but still, it is there) since I was 17. I have iced people out who have hurt me more than once because I want to protect my future self. I always have two deodorants so I don't run out on left pit and can't make it to CVS for right pit. I never don't read restaurant menus online. Puhg pokes fun at how I plan if we will take a Lyft or the train home from the social event several hours before we go.

The positive to my preparedness is that I have always paid my bills, I have been open to receive many unique opportunities, I keep up with friends extremely well, I don't have bad meals, and my life has been exceptionally full. There are downsides though. For example, if I have a plan and it is derailed, I assume I am a bit more anxious than most.

If a month without a gig appears in my planner, I fill that space. I take a trip or I hustle for some sickly little paycheck. This summer I cobbled together six jobs to make my world function. I saw it coming from months away, so I emailed acquaintances like it was my job (it kind of is), sweat over flight calculators, and made visual charts--just to stay barely afloat. By the beginning of April it had all snapped into place. And then a month later there was a new opportunity. And then another. And then possibly one more. But I have already signed away my life. I can't think too much about which options would have been better or worse. It's not so clear in this line of work.

Yesterday the camp I was teaching ended at noon and then I had a dinner date at 4. Both in Evanston. 45 minutes back home. It seemed silly not to stay. I ate my leftovers lunch, went to a pet store to touch some bunnies, took care of a return...and it was only 1 PM. I still had three hours to kill and my phone battery was very low. I had a book. A very good book I love reading. But I did the math on the pages and decided I would finish before dinner. And then what? I had my journal. I wrote a bit. I sat in the library and read, and then would stop and wait. I looked at the clock. It moved so slowly. As if being in the library with nothing to read would have been the worst fate of all time. I got to the restaurant early. I had not finished the book, not by a lot.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Scumbags, Sweethearts

I did comedy with a bunch of scumbags in Arizona. Some were scumbags in the best of ways: dirty but kind little ragamuffins. They'd attend a cupcake party I threw, but they'd get super stoned first. Some were scumbags in the worst of ways. They'd drunkenly brag about how great their stand-up was, show up hungover for tournament shows, classically steal ideas. I hate these aspects of a thing I loved so dearly, but there's something rich about remembering it. A lawyer once told me all JDs leap at the chance to talk about how difficult passing the bar is.

Point: lots of scum, but also, a couple sweeties. One of these sweeties felt like my little brother. He was so genuine and had an adorable appreciation for almost all humans. Once at a party we were having a 1 AM intimate conversation. Not spilling all, but just sort of swapping little bits. He said, "You know what's kind of an interesting thing about me? I am kind of into bigger girls." I was like, "Oh. Okay." And then he said, "Yeah, not like huge, but" And then he named a girl on the sketch comedy team who had this amazing black curly hair and was hourglass curve with a tummy. My guess--a size 16.

I felt the sudden lurch of "I'd like to go home" but I couldn't put my finger on why. Now I know it's because he considered appreciating a normal body a fun-fact. Or maybe because he categorized women into bins of not big and big. Or maybe because all men/ all people do that but I don't like to be reminded. Or maybe because he named an object in the bin to me, like I was an accomplice. It was too late and the music was too loud to for me to do anything other than blink. He waited for a response. "Well?!" He shoved my shoulder, "Aren't you proud of me?"

I am lucky enough to mostly spend time with feminists. I work in liberal spaces, I write in liberal spaces. But even so, little prickles of dissent poke in, and I want to smack the world upside the head and explain how hard it is to be a woman, when it is a good man's medal of honor to not be disgusted by our average selves.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Solstice 2017

When I was seventeen the director of the summer camp I grew up at led us on a summer solstice night hike. It was a campy (literally) rite of passage full of life advice, but several of these little lessons have stayed relevant to me over the years. My favorite takeaway was the idea of living "solstice days.' The concept is on the longest day of the year we should wake-up bright and early, full of excitement and stay vibrant with the sun, squeezing every drop of joy from the day. And, you know, if you want to live a full life, repeat x 365. On any given day when I am ear to pillow I know my day has been incredible. Even when I am depressed or anxious, on paper I have lived a remarkable 18 hours.

When I was down last week Pearl told me to remember probably less than 500 people in the world have somehow made improv & teaching their employment, and we are two of them. Those numbers could easily be skewed depending on how you define "improv" "teaching" and "employment," but whatever. I know I do this exercise all the time--listing what my day entailed--but it's always a rainbow from my 10th grade journal. 6 out of 7 of my days are so classified as solstice, that that one needed break usually makes me feel sluggish or guilty. I live in June 21st.

On this year's solstice morning I woke up at 4 AM. I couldn't sleep, so I worked on my book for about an hour and did some lesson planning. I did a circuit at my gorgeous athletic club and took the early train north to teach musical theatre to 5th graders. They learned a kickline to "Singin' in the Rain." Puhg and I watched the finale of Better Call Saul, I scrapbooked in the living room with the windows open. I answered adult bill mail. At 8 I led an improv rehearsal for an indie team. I laughed, we got critical, we goofed to the Red Line. Pearl texted me a photo of Burger King's Lucky Charms shake. I said, "We should go now," because I was already out. I was surprised to hear she was down. She and Flip had just left the Cubs game.

I pushed through the hoards in Wrigleyville and we walked to the BK. It was locked. Google had said 24-hours, but that was the drive-thru and we were on foot. But we rallied. We were already there. Maybe we would ask a passing car to get us the ice cream. I committed and called a Lyft. We waited for it to come and saw a familiar body shape on the sidewalk. It was Dal! We called out and he walked over. What are the odds! He was hungry too.  Suddenly the night was magic and we were all going to get crowns. My Lyft driver cancelled. He said my request was "unacceptable.' Was it? I didn't think so. Flip hailed a cab. No dice, but the next cab said yes! We all squeezed in cheerily, we ordered novelty treats and Cheeto sticks! We waited at the window.

We waited a long time. Our driver revealed he had to go to the bathroom very badly and started knocking on the window. The women working would not let him in (understandably). It was funny and then he was in a lot of anxious pain. He pointed at the dash and said, "There's my license. Good luck." And then he ran across two lanes of traffic to a gas station. He came back jumping, he wasn't allowed to use the restroom. We were stuck. We offered to leave, a line of cars sat behind us. After 25-minutes the food came. We grabbed it and jumped out. The driver behind us revved like he would smash us. He screamed at Dal. Dal engaged. Pearl said, "Walk away." I was got very tiny inside my head wishing, "Oh god let there not be a fight in this Burger King parking lot." We walked away, feeling the steam of tense encounters. The milkshakes were actually really good.

I asked a cop to take our picture, and Dal gave her a Cheeto stick. Eventually we all parted ways. I walked the last half mile alone up Halsted.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Lil Improv Magic

Yesterday morning I was lost on my run. I didn't know the area of our women's retreat in Indiana. I thought I had stayed near the Lake. I hadn't. I was hot and had to go to the bathroom. It took an extra half hour but I found my way. I listened to "We Belong Together" by Pat Benatar on repeat. The song stayed in my head all day. I sang it while floating in a pod of witches. I imagined the ballad power of it on a stage in the 80s.

At night I did a show at i_. I was a waitress setting up a romantic dinner. After candlesticks and chocolates I told my scene partners I would be serenading them. Guess what song I chose. I started belting, but this time people had paid money to see me do it. It was the button on Act One. Blackout.

At the end of the show the stage manager picks some reference from the set and queues it up for bows. Guess what song he picked. We bent in half and gestured to the booth. I felt like stardust. Our subconscious becomes our actions and becomes others' realities! Improv!

Friday, June 9, 2017

20 Songs of the Past Year

As tradition goes--the 20 important songs of my past year alive:

Love Yourself - Justin Bieber
Sang this a lot in empty elevators on the cruise ship
Really Don't Care - Post-Modern Jukebox & Demi Lovato
Ran to it every day in Maine
Beirut - LLW
The silliest German number from the musical I was in this fall
Fire Escape - Andrew McMahon
Fall walks to work
Love and Great Buildings - Andrew McMahon
Getting over winter in March, sitting outside waiting for the concert
Song 2 - Blur
The pre-show music for the long-running show I joined this year
Dreams - The Cranberries
Transition music from my solo show
Stuck in America - Sugarcult
Bows for my solo show
I Took a Pill in Ibiza - Mike Posner
Bittersweet end to my cruise contract
My House - Flo Rida
Getting ground in August Chicago
My Boyfriend's Back - The Angels
Getting stoked for 5Bs at i_
If My Friends Could See Me Now - Sweet Charity
Joyful writing packets
Somebody to You - The Vamps
Showersong 2K16
Crimson & Clover - Evil Stig
Thoughtful winter, 9 PM shows, bows for _____ Co
Goodbye Saigon - Billy Joel
Perspective in February
There's Your Trouble - Dixie Chicks
When spring arrived
Play It Again - Luke Bryan
Before the world exploded, things were semi-nice
Mine - Taylor Swift
Fallin' more in love with Puhg
Monster - Acoustic Eminem Cover
Writing, writing, writing at night
Better Man - Pearl Jam
Getting everything I ever wanted

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Peru: Tough Reflections

People say they like to hike because they get in touch with nature and themselves. I don't like to hike mostly because I already feel in touch with myself. Nature is cool, but it's everywhere. No need to make it arduous. I dunno. I often get bored.

But then, over some oven fried potato crisps, I found myself asking Puhg what he thought about when we were quietly making our way up the Inca Trail. He had thought about mountains and history and civilization. I asked myself, what had I thought about anyway?

I had thought, "I hate myself," which is baffling to admit. But I had. Especially in the last half hour of the most difficult leg when my body was disintegrating into fatigue and sweat. I wasn't happy and I had flown to another country and dropped stacks in attempt to be. But almost as soon as I had admitted, "I hate myself," I had countered, "I don't want to be a person who hates herself." I couldn't believe it was me thinking that thought. That's a thing other people say. I've been hard on myself or guilty, but I've always liked Alice.

My birthday was such a brilliant joyful day, but in the evening I was hit with anxiety. My things weren't going to fit in my bags. I wasn't feeling 100%. Bad sleep. I'm getting older. I forgot sunscreen and had gotten beet burn--not an ideal condition to start two days outdoors. I called myself an idiot. I looked at my hiking pants. I hadn't tried them on since I bought them and had probably gained five pounds since then. If they didn't fit, I had no other options. "I'm a fat idiot," I said outloud. What was happening? This has never been how I treat me.

My mom would say these weren't my own thoughts but some nasty cultural lies that stuck to me like briars. Since the negativity felt so foreign, I am inclined to agree. I bet this happens to a lot of women/people.

There have been other things--it's been harder and harder for me to make decisions this year. Any decision. I'm always timely with mine, but less certain. I wonder more. I worry more. "My life was run by fear," a thing I've heard said at the start of motivational speeches or in narrative essays. I have never related. I'm just not afraid of much. I am calm on a shaking plane. I welcome an emotional disruption. I have started over numerous times. But I was afraid to hike a thing that thousands of people do every day. Because maybe I wouldn't have the right backpack or order the right fish at dinner or just feel the right way.

I have no idea when this started. After a lot of consideration, I have a theory. My life is really perfect. I'm doing everything I have wished for my whole life. I perform improv (for money) several times a week, I write, I teach in the arts, I have a loving partner, good friends, supportive family. It's 4 PM and I am sitting in the sun with a brownie in my gut. Literally any day of the past year would be my past self's dream--tutoring and seeing plays at Steppenwolf, a big open gym, stages and coffee houses, Sophia Bush hugged me this year! I am living my best version of my best self, and I think it's too good to be true. Like maybe I don't deserve it? Or at the very least it's all incredibly fragile. I used to have nothing to lose. Now I feel like every choice could take me a teeny bit higher or plummet me to dust. This is dramatic and untrue. I have done incredible things this year! Memorable and challenging, unbelievable and rare. I am so proud.

I feel freer. This ivy grew secretly. I yank at the vines. The leaves rip rip rip rip. And also, I guess, the hiking worked.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Peru: Lima

The ocean was a surprise. I guess I didn't realize I would see it so clearly, the shore would be so majestic and craggy. Our airbnb looked out over a gigantic park, wavy and modern. I wanted to walk in it right away. Colored tiles and a huge statue of a couple kissing, green, sidewalk ellipticals. We walked to the restaurant our host suggested. I drank a purple corn pop and sat in the bar while a group of two-hundred American teenagers took up the entire dining room. We cringed watching them screech and flirt.
I had heard about a light show on a fountain. Another surprise. Parque de la Reserva was huge and magical. We paid our measly entrance fee right in time for the show and darted to the big fountain, me with pink cotton candy in hand. It was spectacular and lovely...and then we realized there was a huge crowd at a different fountain. Ah ha! That was the show! Projections of Incan nature on a wall of water, splashed of light timed to music. It felt like Disney World, but it was a Tuesday. We realized there were fountains everywhere--a magical circuit actually. I felt truly giddy seeing all the different designs. We walked through an archway of water, marveled at a pyramid, danced along an enormous rainbow. There was a big circle of jets that people were running in and out of. It is a treasure to see so many happy adults. I didn't want to leave, but after making a wish on the river fountain, we did.
In the morning we were surprised by a little breakfast our host's maid made! I had the fluffiest pita ever spread with fresh butter. Sunrise run to the shore lighthouse, a sunny walk to a bakery to get a traditional but rare Peruvian dessert (anise cake!), stopping at teeny newscarts for candy, watching city life. Puhg wanted good ceviche (what Lima is known for), so he Yelped a good spot. I didn't really care and wanted something light. It was the best lunch I have ever eaten in my life.

Complimentary fried corn kernels. Crunchy and salted. A jug of fresh limeade. I don't like ceviche, but I tried to because When in Rome and freaked out. It was so soft and tart and incredible. I slurped it up. Puhg didn't mind because neither of us could finish out food. It felt like like eight people were supposed to share our orders. I had ordered a bowl of stew because remember, I was trying to get something light, and it was phenomenal. Fish caught that morning maybe? Soaked for hours, covered in a warm egg, swimming in sweet potato. Something I will never forget is how every dish in Peru smelled remarkably delicious. I don't think we experience that in America. Maybe fresh cookies do, but I had never whiffed a soup and had my eyes roll back in delight like I did in Peru. Since this meal was my favorite of all time, I knew I had to see what kind of dessert we were dealing with. A waitress came with a platter. They all looked excellent, but I didn't know what one was. Maybe no English translation. It was a tan cup of gelatinous substance with soft circles on top. I had never eaten anything like it. After surveying the menu and googling I found out it was a pudding made from a berry that only exists in Peru (I had never tasted this taste before! Weird!) covered in a small merangue macaroons! HOLY COW. The bill came and I calculated how much I had spent with the conversion rate. $16.

The Lorca museum was an explosion of floral beauty. It was some version of heaven and again, theme of Lima, a total surprise. The museum rocked my brain. There were archeological artifacts from pre-Incan people's. I wondered, "Were the Incans just as bad as the Spanish? Did they kill a former culture too?" It's so hard to say. Cat goddess pottery, sacred silver, every group of humans tries their best. We are all certainly wrong. This museum had some thing ingenius: a storage room for also-rans. Rows and rows of the same exact pot shaped like a chicken, bowls, tools. In museums it's so easy to get the idea that, hey, at least one person used this ceramic xyz. But by walking down aisles of the same objects, I could sense this was a true community. Everyone made their own flat cat pan. After swelling in the radiance of fresh bright petals and willow hangings, we visited the erotic portion of the museum. Truly strange. People from thousands of years ago were firing taboo images into kilns. I mean, really graphic stuff. They didn't even have sex ed yet and look what everyone was getting up to! It boggles my mind that in 1950 Lucille Ball couldn't say she was pregnant on TV and meanwhile in 1500 it was normal to have a statue of a skeleton threesome in your house.

Getting into the cab, I actually felt sad. I'm always ready to go home at the end of vacations, but Peru was such magic. I would miss it. I wondered if I would ever see those pink and purple gardens again or even anything as beautiful. I wished I had more time to simply sit there and love. We had farewell dinner at an Amazonian restaurant and walked home, breathing in the salty sea air. In the morning we left. Our plane began to rumble and Puhg said, "My home is in Illinois, but I left my iPod in Peru."

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Peru: Cusco Part II

Since we had an extra day, we decided to pamper ourselves. Sleep-in? Check. Eating butter cookies at the hotel breakfast? Check. A morning in bed reading? Check. Frozen lemonade at lunch? Check. I sought out a salon that would add a pattern to my nails (a tiny black heart I decided, negra corizon). I found a sweet lil lady who then sold me on a $20 aromatherapy hot stone massage. Ah, thank goodness I wasn't barfing on a hike. Puhg went next door for a quinoa beer.

We trotted to the market for a sweet treat. I found a tiny tent where all the Peruvian children and their babysitters were. Authentic! They sort of laughed at me sitting on a stool for toddlers, hunched over an ice cream. More walking slowly, enjoying the city one last time. Puhg found a fancy fusion restaurant for dinner and I found all the street snacks. An alfajores (Peruvian cookie), a donut, and finally I stopped at the lil old lady who sold rice pudding out of a cart. We packed while I nibbled my treats and watched an episode of Master of None before bed.

In hindsight I wonder if we needed such a slow day, but at the time I know yes, yes we really really did. We talked a lot about experiences, and how some experiences trick us into seeming more important than the simple things in life--a lesson I have gladly taken home.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Peru: Machu Piccu

I was awake three hours before we had to leave with incredible insomnia. Our driver arrived ten minutes early (3:50 AM) barking we had to go, rushing us through dark cobblestone streets. 90 minutes in a van speeding, jerking, whipping around turns. When we arrived at the train, I had lost my hearing because the sudden altitude changes and was dry heaving from motion sickness. Our tickets were scrambled so I had to sit in a different car than Puhg. He walked me to my door. We hoped I wouldn't fall asleep and miss my exit. It felt like I was getting on a lifeboat off the Titanic. I drifted in and out of consciousness, once finding a raisin cookie in front of me, which I ate hastily. They were also serving coca tea, which I almost took, but as I reached for a cup my brain suddenly put together me drinking this tea every night (which is made from cocaine plants) and the terrible insomnia I had been having. No more coca tea for me. I got off the train hoping the Spanish I heard was right and was relieved to see Puhg and the couple we would be hiking with waving.

It was still dark. We met our guide, a little Peruvian man eating popcorn. The first two hours would be the hardest, he told us. The regular trail had been blocked by a rockslide. We stopped every fifteen-twenty minutes to catch our breath while moving straight uphill a jackknife porter trail. I was pouring sweat. At the first checkpoint we explored a little Incan village and were served lunch. expected sandwiches and apples, but suddenly a tent was erected and we were inside it chowing on pans of guacamole, pasta, corn chowder.
We hiked several more hours, this time in the rain, pausing to see a Peruvian raccoon and or orchids. It was scary. Only one person falls off the mountain each year, and they're usually being a hot dog, but I was walking so close to the edge on uneven wet rocks. I slipped and sort of ended up in the splits. But what if I had slipped and fallen sideways instead of down. Goodbye.

One large uphill climb our guide called The Gringo Killer. The other couple we were with took it like big stairs, while Puhg and I crawled up. The views were incredible and made everything worth it. I don't love hiking, but it felt so...I don't know, organic, to inch higher to the sacred place, seeing the river we started at become a stream and then a trickle.
We would have all day tomorrow for Machu, so we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and checked into our crummy motel. The walls were paper thin, but our "matrimonial room" was decorated in rose petals and chocolate. We met with the other couple and our guide for an equally crummy but educational dinner as our guide told us about life as a native, eating guinea pig, and how Peruvians feel about Incan culture hundreds of years later. I fell asleep at 9 PM. At 6 we had a light breakfast and were off for a day at the main event.

We slowly made our way around each site of Machu. It kept feeling bigger than it had five minutes ago, and sometimes I felt I could understand it but then I couldn't again. Time is so long. Beliefs are so ever-changing. Grass is so green. Human sacrifice was a thing. The mountains are too big to compute.

Toward the end of the circle, the couple went on another hike, and our guide left us. Puhg and I walked through old stone houses and observed more sacred places. We hoped we might touch a llama and were pleased to find two hopping around right in our path. I patted one's butt as it stood in front of me and it later went right up to Puhg and sniffed his chest.
We had around four hours to kill before our bus ride, so we had a long slap happy lunch. It rained, harder this time, so we sat in a French cafe. It was a happy, relaxing day. The kind of day I don't really enjoy in Chicago. On the train back we talked with a couple from Hong Kong, and I finished the S-Town podcast.

We were supposed to hike Rainbow Mountain the next day, something we had both been really looking forward to, but we were so exhausted, that climb started at 2 AM, my ears were re-popped, and we would have to spend 6 hours in a bus to get there. Vomit was basically guaranteed. We decided not to go. It was a hard decision, but I am proud we made it. Sometimes the hardest choices mean doing what is best for us.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Peru: Cusco

We took a shoddy little airline and got seated apart from each other in a cramped row. However, I overheard a German couple explaining they couldn't sit in the exit row since they didn't know Spanish or English. I jumped on it and told the flight attendant we would happily switch. Much roomier aisle seats! It didn't matter to me, but Puhg literally didn't fit in his previous chair. He did all the heavy lifting for this trip so when I contributed any minute thing, I felt very proud, puffed up my chest, and sometimes even bellowed, "That's what the money's for!"

Our hotel was so lovely! There was a waterfall outside our room, big wooden furniture, fire pits in the lobby, and coca tea available 24/7. We arrived and relaxed briefly (okay I checked my email and had to respond to a bunch of stuff) before hitting the town for dinner. I was in love with the city right away. Narrow itty bitty streets full of art and stone, woven goods, fountains, big beautiful churches. Puhg felt slightly light-headed after landing, but I only noticed walking up hill left me out of breath. We were exhausted and went to bed at like 10 PM. At 2:30 I woke up.

It was maybe the worst I have ever felt in my life. It rivaled food poisoning for sure. The room was spinning out of control, an elephant had sat on my head, and I was beyond nauseous. I threw up violently over and over. Puhg had a headache, so we were both awake, miserable. I was in so much pain I couldn't even look at my phone or listen to a podcast. Altitude sickness--apparently very real. Eventually at about 6 AM I got a couple more hours of sleep. The complimentary breakfast was served until 10, so Puhg guided me slowly out of our room where I, shivering and avoiding eye contact with the servers, ate two small wheat buns. Back in the room, Puhg fell asleep and I read. As suddenly as it came, it was lifted. I felt 95% recovered. Originally we had planned to go on a tour of some ruins, but I had pushed against booking anything our first day. We were both relieved all we had to do for the rest of the day was explore the city. (Another tally in my box for "What Alice helped with on this trip.")
We walked around the square looking for trinkets and enjoying all the stray dogs (so so many). We visited a chocolate museum and had spicy cocoa overlooking the main square, I got roped into a $6 hour massage (I mean, how do you pass that up?), and marveled at the huge market. The best part of Cusco was the snacks. I got a little poptart pastry at the market, some fresh juice, a marshmallow on a stick from a street vendor, pink sweet popcorn from another. All for around $2 American. I love snacks! We went to a big deal chef's restaurant for dinner and I ate the best veggie burger I've ever had in my life--it was sprouts and beets and incredible.
The next morning was my birthday! We were healthy enough to fully enjoy the hotel breakfast spread! It was, like most eating in Peru, above and beyond wonderful! Fresh yogurts and fruits and buns. Plus a breakfast burrito with Cusco avocados and more of that coca tea. At the end of the meal the staff came out with an incredible mousse and sang Happy Birthday! We hadn't even mentioned it! They just noticed the detail on my passport at check-in! It was so sweet and surprising.
We decided to spend the day in Pisac--an Incan ruin high off a cliff. We took a forty-minute cab up winding roads and ended in a teeny town. I held a baby alpaca and bought myself a llama sweater from a vendor. We also came across a guinea pig village in the back of a restaurant. Adorable even if they were only there to be cooked. PISAC BLEW MY MIND. I don't even want to try to describe it, but I kept accidentally saying, "Wow." The mountains, the detail of the steps, the intricate rock houses. I sat on a rock overlooking all of it and opened the birthday cards from my parents I had packed. We hiked down the mountain, chatting and contemplating life for these peoples. My favorite part was seeing the extremely uncanny catacombs in the cliffsides. So creepy! The hike took about an hour, and at the end I was very thirsty. Wouldn't you know a little old woman had a fresh orange juice stand at the end of the trail? For 1 sol she pumped two oranges into a plastic cup, and we gratefully gulped it down.
Before heading back to the city I wanted to try some of the big corn I saw as street food. I really just wanted the novelty of eating giant corn kernals, but it was honestly so delicious. A woman took a huge corn sitting in boiling water out and layered some soft cheese into the ear. I ate it the whole cab back, soaking in the scenery from a backseat in Peru. Our driver had lied about how much we had to pay--the literal only time someone wasn't exceedingly nice to us in Peru (what a people!)--so I left the cob in his car. Boop!

For dinner we tried a stereotypical fancy place, and it was one of our least favorite meals of the trip. The norm in Peru is so excellent--no need for it to front. I had a stressful night of packing for an early Machu Piccu go time (more on this later), but it was interrupted by housekeeping at the door at 9 PM. The hotel staff was all there with ANOTHER mouse cake and sang again! The hospitality! I was luckily in bed by 10, read Puhg's card to me, and passed out.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Peru: Amazon River

When I was ten my favorite computer game was Amazon Trail. I paddled down the river fishing for piranhas and snapped photos of capybaras, all the while learning about rubber barons and rosewood oil. In the mid-90s it was my dream to one day travel the Amazon River, but I never thought it would actually happen.

I credit Puhg with everything. While planning Peru, we thought, what the heck, let's go for it. He booked a river tour on a smokin' deal (2 for 1) and THEN we were upgraded to a better boat a day before we left! After bopping around Iquitos, we were connected with our cruise group (of about 35) and taken to our small, luxurious ship. Holy moly. We had a big, beautiful room with a balcony and were served an incredible fresh fish and yucca root lunch. I signed up for a $30 massage to kick off my vacation, and we were given unlimited free drinks! I drank a bunch of snowed fruit juices while Puhg slurped Pisco Sours every day. This was truly one of those once in a lifetime good luck was in our favor experiences.
We spent the next three days taking skiffs through riverbends (sometimes through such thick vegetation our naturalists would have to literally machete through it), into the mouth of where volcanic ash meets water, and to native people's communities. I saw so many new and incredible things--words and photos can't do it justice. (I have said that phrase a lot when recapping this vacation to others.) In between excursions we would return to the boat, take much needed showers, and be stuffed with plantains, fresh avocado, and flans.

My favorite part of the whole trip was the day we ate a small breakfast (wrapped in big palm leaves) on the skiffs and then swam with pink dolphins. The current was strong so only Puhg and I swam out far enough to be near the pinkies. One jumped about ten feet from us. The water was so refreshing and the sun was so warm. My life! Other highlights: a flock of macaws showed their bright bellies to us flying overhead, a bunch of sloths in trees, baby monkeys jumping, a tarantula, mushrooms, anaconda. Simple things amazed me--hundreds of leaf cutter ants across the trail on a hike, our guide teaching us how to heal a tree after cutting it, gigantic lily pads, a cicada as big as a my fist we found in our closet. A giant vibrant sunset our first night, going out into the middle of the jungle and sitting in the frog sounds and snake hisses.
Learning about the Amazon people was so eye-opening. I mean, duh, but I live in a Chicago bubble, and to actually SEE how these simple, happy, tough people live reminded me, for the first and not last time of this trip, how unimportant most of the stuff I worry about is. Our naturalist told us so many stories of how he has seen firsthand the power of nature. Our other guide told us, "There is no stress in the Amazon. No heart attacks. No cancer." I get it.
We went on a canopy walk through a defunct biology base, an empty pool full of bugs. It started to rain. We visited the local healer who blew smoke on us, and although I was a feat for mosquitoes (33 bites in fifteen minutes), I felt something sincere from her ritual.

On our last night's dinner the lights turned off and the kitchen crew started singing. A big chocolate cake made its way to me. I was so shocked, like a birthday girl on television. In the morning, I had my final bowl of quinoa pop and yogurt, we visited a manatee sanctuary, and we were off to Cuzco.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Beep Beep

Yesterday was the last day of Spring term. I am writing this from a cab on my way to the airport.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Failing, Flailing

There is a bad day that happens once a semester in English 101. I have to give students the results of their Exit Exams. A third of them fail. Maybe one or two bombed, but the rest have been failing pretty consistently all term. They didn't show up, they didn't do the revisions, they didn't pay attention during grammar review. They're in high school brain. It is a shock to many that just because I like them and they like me, they can still get Fs. I tell them about the grades on Blackboard, but they don't look.

It doesn't feel good to tell anyone they can't progress to 102--even when I know it will be a total disaster for them to go to 102. I worry that they'll give up and stop school altogether. I worry they will stop speaking English. I worry they will feel like dumb dumbs.

Last week I was rushing to work. At the el, I stood in a big line of people waiting to pass through the turnstyle. When I was next in line a woman shoved herself in front of me and tapped her pass. She was very professional looking and did not make eye contact. She wore ear buds so any fussy comments I might sigh would not be heard. HMPH. I tapped in right after her. Then she had the nerve to walk slowly up the middle of the stairs. I grumbled behind her watching my train disappear right as I reached the landing. I would have made it if I had had 30 more seconds. I stewed watching the stuffed cars fly by. And then, one minute later, another train showed up. It was almost empty because everyone was crowding into the previous one. I got a seat, which is a rarity on morning commutes. I could read in peace, and got to school but one minute later than expected.

Friday, May 5, 2017


I was never temped by the food in the freshman cafeteria. All the freshman at my high school ate in their own secluded mini-caf to...I don't know, bond as a class? Not be intimidated by the upper classmen? The food choices were chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders, some dumb snacks, pizza, fries. My first semester I packed my lunch. I think I ate a lot of pb & j and bags of potato chips. Off-brand Oreos. My second semester I had an early lunch right after swimming. I remember swallowing a lot of chlorinated water and always feeling winded from having to get ready in five minutes after laps. My look that spring: wet slimy hair, a bloated tummy, and hastily applied lip gloss. The only thing I could even imagine eating for some unknown reason were pretzels and Kit Kats. So that's what I ate. For five months. Very occasionally (like, three times) I bought a donut from the lunch line, and I would be given a free fruit cup. Everyone always got a free fruit cup. It had something to do with the school being able to get government funding for balanced meals. I spent around 100 hours total in that dumb room, and I remember very little.

A rando from the town everyone made fun of shared my lunch seat with me for two weeks. He asked me to write him notes but only drew pictures in response. A boy in my history class asked to see my homework "just to check his answers" and I let him have it. I watched it circle his entire table, everyone copying. I tried to drink Brisk Iced Tea like a club of two new friends did, but I thought it was very gross. My friend Smidge and I would quietly sing Les Mis to each other when we were bored. One girl gave up junk food for lent and ate it every day, making tally marks in a notebook. She said, "I'll make it up later."

My iced coffee got warm yesterday. I was at the Writing Center, so I asked around if there was a soda fountain somewhere in the building. There was one in the cafeteria, I learned, so I walked in for the first time and was immediately struck with a flood of nostalgia. It smelled EXACTLY like that freshman lunch room, and as far as I can tell, nothing in my life has ever smelled the same. I wanted to eat all the food even though I hadn't eaten it when I was fourteen. If I ingested that tray of fries, would I be fourteen again? As if being fourteen is so great in the first place.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Other Alice

Last night I met with a gloomball for dinner. I was late because of the rain, and I felt bad. I apologized a lot and then had to choose my order quickly.
"Okay, come on, Alice. Get it together and pick what you want."
I was between the s'more brownie and an order of guac.
"Hey, it's okay, Alice," my friend said. I looked up quizzically, "Oh, not you. I'm talking to the other Alice you're putting a lot of pressure on."
She had a point. I got the brownie.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Coke Cutting Jobs

It's always framed as a bummer when people get laid off. But Coke is cutting like 1,500 jobs because they're not selling as much pop, which is, ultimately, a good thing. I don't doubt there are many many sad realities ex-workers of Coke are currently facing. But big big picture? Aces.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Unlucky Stars

I've noticed I haven't been writing about comedy very much, which in interesting because that is my life more than teaching. I guess I have been doing the comedy and thinking about the teaching.

This Sunday was a very special day for me. I graduated the training program at Comedy High. I started the program as an intensive in 2012--before I even lived in Chicago! Wow! It took me almost five years to complete, but not a moment too long. The drawback of not working through the program step by step concurrently was not having a solid "group," but the flip side is, of course, I got to get in a little with like four different groups. I learned a ton--about myself as a performer and a person, and I was offered so many incredible opportunities because of those teachers. I thank my lucky stars. And my unlucky stars even.

In my final graduation shows, at times I felt self-conscious. I have worked as a professional comedian for a while. Many people in classes were just starting out. I got nervous I wasn't doing as well as I should be considering my experience. Or, I did okay but didn't have any fun. I think learning humility to always try my best, expect the best of others, and no matter what, leave it on stage (I'm sorry, barf) was invaluable.

Sunday was our last show, and I felt so fortunate to feel like a baby improviser again staying at the bar until one and giggling with friends old and new. A-Ro was talking to a cute guy. As we left I asked if he had her number. He texted her on our walk to the Red Line. We were three blocks from home when we ran into two other gals outside smoking. She told them she was texting a boy and we all crowded around the screen watching it happen. Now we're on a group text. I don't remember their names.

The other wonderful thing about Sunday was that I was invited to sit-in on one of my dream teams. I mean, seriously geek-out, my idols play on this team. And I got to play too! I ran from my student show upstairs taking two Oreo truffles from the greenroom in my pocket. I will remember every scene from that set forever and ever. I took a stupid selfie at the end of the night for Instagram and tried to write an appropriate caption multiple times. I ended up just stringing some emoji and posting so that when I scroll backwards in a couple years I remember why I moved here, why I love improv, that Chicago is the greatest city in the world.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Some Writing Center Fun

I love when students come in with papers about legalizing medical marijuana and try to avoid telling me (but like, I'm gonna read the paper?). I'm like "what's your topic?" "we could choose one" "okay so what did you choose?" "oh, something political" "okay what" "um, about medicine" "uh huh" "..." "..." "..." " some people with parkinson's use an herb I guess for their pain?" OHHHKAY I SEE. When I finally push it out of them they're like, "Yeah, I dunno, I read an article about this marijuana stuff and it seems interesting..." I'm like o rly? With your Jamaican flag patch backpack? And then once I'm like, "Yes, it's a very undervalued topic in our political system. Very interesting and important--especially when considering repercussions in our prison systems!" they relax and we can work.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Have Done the Thing That Made Me Feel Alive

Those motivational quotes and social media posts, "Do the thing that scares you," "Now is your chance," "This is your sign." I don't see them because I have done it. I have chased the things that make me feel alive. I also keep doing them. There are no more leaps to make. And what are the motivational posters for that?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Spring Break (Finale)

My visit fell right on the eve of Jimbo's final MBA project. He was high off the relief, chattering and springy, so we walked to St. Louis pizza. A new door opened. More proof that you don't have to be around The Institutions for magic to happen. In fact, that's likely a recipe for unhappiness -> disaster -> closed doors.

On Friday I met with undergrad students to talk about working in comedy/writing/whatever my dumb life is. P weird because I am trash 95% of the time, but in answering their questions I was like, "Oh I kind of know some things it turns out and also have been paid to do all the things that were once my dreams, so who knew!" I tried to write in the library, with a homemade poptart as my prize, but I thought about it so much I just ate it and then opened up a word doc and closed it. It's vacation.

At night my mom and I walked around campus. We noticed an observatory tour starting. I noted strargazing was something I did while visiting the college, but I never went as a student. (Ditto eating a giant waffle.) We looked at Jupiter from the singing lens. At the house she whipped up a huge bowl of cream. I put it in a bowl of strawberries. The air is flower-heavy. Mom holds onto a sprig of lavender. In the morning it is brown.

I get ready slowly, taking photos of the dogs, doing a flat abs workout (sunglasses emoji), packing, shoving deviled eggs into my face. We walk to the general store. I'm on the train now. I feel unproductive, but I'm outlining projects and reassessing my focus. That is work I could not bill but work that needs to be done nonetheless. Summer is shaking out and creeping up.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spring Break (So Far)

My cereal bowls are piling on the nightstand at my mom's house. Cinnamon Toast Crunch while I watch 13 Reasons Why in bed. Everything became green in a blink. I am optimistic. Then I worry if I am too optimistic (RESIST). But maybe being a libertarian society wouldn't be so bad. Mia says, "Oh yeah, kids will go to McDonalds High School. Whatever." She's wearing a t-shirt from work. She wears the same bun as she did ten years ago. My drama teacher is expanding to work with sports broadcasting students. I ask if it was hard to give up professional theatre. She tells me it's not even about the theatre--it's about being able to do everything at once.

I didn't open my computer for two days. I ran around my old college campus. I ran down the river road. I ran in an undetermined direction guessing it was two miles. If not, eh. Kath and I in the Guest House cutting up. I often can't believe I'm old enough to rent a hotel room.

I get to watch Survivor the night it is on. Ooh boy was it a good one. LC and I went to the pub I worked at for four years. They added sprinkles to the shake menu. I ate them. My mom reads at church. I walk there just far enough behind my old professor that it would seem foolish to catch up. Her shoulders are heavy. She is a new widow. She gives me great advice about academic journals and wears a very smart blazer. I'm jazzed about a collab with a friend. We plot in a 50 minute window. Once I say I will do a thing, I know I am going to do the thing.

The dogs have just gotten haircuts. They're fuzzy and I like to pet them, but lord do they bark.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Not Syria

I am reading The Things They Carried--a high school classic that was never on my syllabus. It's beautiful and sad. There are reasons the canon is the canon. I worry about the future like I'm looking through a cloud. I know I could walk through, but I can't see right now.

I figured out the tack to take with the troublesome third grader. He yells, "OBJECTION BORING" in the middle of activities. I used to remind him it is hurtful to talk during other people's scenes. Now I deadpan, "Overruled" and he clams up.

No matter what depths of hell a student pulls their grade from through late work and office hours, they always manage to grub for a B. "Focus on writing the paper, not doing the math," I say. This guy was in prison for years, and he still just wants to get a B for arbitrary reasons.

Three scenes in a row I wasn't in in last night's show. I put my forehead against the backstage and waited. This is not what I had imagined. I like groups of people, but I dislike large plates of food. I know we eat that much individually, but all at once it seems scary. Where will it go? Inside us? Like a reverse alien shooting out of someone's chest. Instead we swallow it down.

I'm reading about Syria and Puhg watches a Vice about plastic in the ocean. I can't move. I live here, I should be happy every day. Jury still out on how we can save the world.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

One Shake at a Time

It was a Friday night during my freshman year of college. A girl from my dorm and I were working on the "shake side" of our school pub and grill. There was some huge event that just let out right as we got to work and ticket after ticket kept wrrring from the teeny printer. We'd rip them off and shove them, crammed, onto the order line.

Making a milkshake involved a seven-step process. 1. Dip seven scoops of ice cream into the metal cup. 2. Walk to the grill side and add a little milk from the cow. 3. Add requested toppings. 4. Using a machine, forcefully blend everything in the cup. 5. Empty the ice cream into a paper cup. 6. Add a spoon. 7. Rinse the mug immediately. Start to finish each shake was about five minutes of work.

There were two of us and around fifty shake orders fifteen minutes into our shift. They kept coming. I kept racking up math. 25 shakes times five minutes per shake divided by two people plus five shakes times five minutes divided by two...I worried. And then I stopped worrying. There was literally nothing I could do to speed up the process. My coworker was audibly squeaking and hemming. She was rushing. But so what if you crumble a Reese's cup in 20 seconds instead of 40? You can hastily slosh the water in the mug, but then it's kind of slimy and you just have to go back and do it again when you need a new cup.

We would not finish the work cut out for us. People would wait an hour for a milkshake. But guess what? Oh well. I didn't slack, but I worked at a steady, relaxed pace. I was paid by the hour (I think $6.25). I did what I could do. I probably even sang quietly along to the Top 40 radio.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Five Teaching Standards I Stick By

1. Turn Papers Back the Class After They Are Due

Students forget so fast. They think about my class in the exact hours they are sitting in it and rarely dedicate outside time to reflecting on what they learned. Even asking, "What did we do last class?" elicits widespread chin-scratching. With every minute that passes from when students put their pencils down, they forget more and more what they wrote about and how they felt while writing it. Immediate feedback is key. Two-week old feedback can be like reading comments on a stranger's essay.

Also, how can students move forward taking what they learned from the last assignment if they don't have feedback on said assignment? I think it's practically cruel and unusual to ask students to write more without the knowledge of their current progress. I would be livid if my boss asked me to do a project, I finished it, he said he would get back to me on how to improve the project, but in the meantime he told me to do a very similar project that should be better than the first (based on his and not my own standards). That's lunacy. When I work with students at the Writing Center I usually start with "What kinds of feedback do you usually get on papers?" and when they answer, "I haven't gotten my other papers back yet," I want to pop someone in the kneecap.

2. Give Students Time in Class to Review Paper Feedback

Many teachers give students papers back at the end of a class. I understand the desire to do this. Grades can be emotional--for both teacher and student. Students can feel sad or defeated after a bad grade. Teachers can feel nervous about a student not liking us after a harsh grade. But! Put the emotions aside to best serve students. I find the tension that can come with a bad grade is better dissolved by letting a student ask questions immediately rather than letting them stew.

No one wants students distracted reading comments during class activities. That's why reading comments should BE the activity. In really only takes fifteen minutes to let students read every comment while I circulate clarifying comments or answering handwriting questions. I've also found I literally must go to every student and say "Can you read what I wrote?" I used to always let everyone know I was walking around to answer questions, but a surprising amount of students say "Yes" when I ask "Did you get it?" but then if I ask, "Could you read everything I wrote?" they say, "Oh, no." They're worried I'll be offended. In reality, I know I grade on the train and my pen slips sometimes. If they don't have time to read the comments, they won't. They'll see a good grade and be happy and never think about it again. They'll see a bad grade and be miffed and never think about it again.

3. Have Each Student Speak within the First Fifteen Minutes of Class

If students don't directly engage with me within the first few minutes, there's too much likelihood they're in their own brains for the entire period. They need to feel like part of the class right away to later join in the day's lessons actively.

4. Do Not Be Disappointed

Very cliche, but on the first day I say, "I am not your mom, and I am not your girlfriend. I am your teacher. I'm never going to be offended or disappointed by how you do in class." When I had teachers who told me they were "disappointed" by me that just made me never want to look at them again. That's weird. Why would a teacher have the emotional investment in me to be disappointed? Being supportive but emotionally disconnected means a) a totally appropriate classroom relationships and b) If I'm not going to be personal about a student's education, they don't have to feel guilty to me if they miss class or don't succeed. That's on them. They can be honest with me about their real struggles not coming to school, for example, instead of having to make up a huge story about their sick grandma.

5. Learn about the Class

At the start of the term learn who these people are. A simple writing assignment will do. Basic questions: why are you here, what are your goals, etc. Halfway through the class one-on-one meetings are necessary. Students need to know I am paying attention. I need to know what they need.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


1. Let it be. Are you humble enough to float, to move with the stream? Submit your will to the sea.
2. Be a salmon.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


7:30 AM - rise, read the news, check email
8 AM - research train tickets for Spring Break, journal, read spirituality essays
9 AM - run four miles at the gym while reviewing a new screenplay
10 AM - shower and shove my life together
10:25 - run to the 22 bus, eat yogurt on the bus spilling on leggings
10:50 - jump off the bus and go to Dunkin for a vanilla cupcake coffee for me and a large regular for my mentor
11 AM - arrive at mentor's house, he greets me with pastry cake, continue outlining our new pilot
12:45 - walk to work at T Community College
1 PM - meet with a student to tutor her in paragraph sturcture
2 PM - catch the train to Lakeview, read The Things They Carried
2:20 - get a pink manicure
3 PM - sit in a table read of a new screenplay
5 PM - give feedback to famous writer (!)
5:45 - go home to Puhg, buy train tickets, organize papers/plans for tomorrow's classes, eat kale bowl
6:30 PM - improv class at The A________
7:50 PM - Lyft to i_, answer student emails in the car
8:15 warm-up with Dollar in the green room, other castmate brings cookies in a Ziploc
8:35 do two-person set with Dollar about high school detective duo
9 PM watch rest of show
10 PM sit at the bar with Pookie & Had, chatting
11 PM ride train home, walk the wet sidewalk
11:30 double-check lesson plans, snacks for full-day ahead
11:55 sleep

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Seven women. A witchy number, a holy number. It started as a Galentine's party but as the plans deepened and the email chain wore on, it became Coven Weekend 2017. It was routine to receive  messages like "The black flame candle has been lit."

The first five to arrive in Sprite's woodsy family cabin unpacked quickly. There were kimonos for everyone and foam crowns to bedazzle. We all showed off our snacks. I told the group I felt like I was in 4th grade again, bringing a literal suitcase of doll clothes to a friend's house just to sort of marvel at it all and not really to put it on my Bitty Baby, or even, for that matter, hold my Bitty Baby. I ate a bunch of fancy cheese. I ate like I had never eaten before. Hoof said, "Me too. I am so snacky! I wonder if its because I am in a safe space." It's a joke and it's not a joke.

When the final two arrived we played a game that involved drawing cartoons with dry-erase markers. In between we chattered about our lives and Roxanne Gay and singlehood and pain tolerance, and wow are women amazing. A medical head of Cook County Hospital. Four JDs. 6 out of 7 of us have been into prisons?! An all-star roller derby champ. We flipped the sand timer and also discussed the Chicago police chief. I said I have been thinking about becoming a cop, and no one laughed at me. "You would be a good cop," they said.

After the glitter tatts it was time for the fire. We wrote out what we want to rid ourselves of and went around the circle burning the scrap papers one at a time. Strained relationships, Catholicism, the fear of moving, the error of being a failure. Into the pit. A marshmallow got stuck in my fur hood. I don't want to wash it. Every time I put on my coat I smell firewood. One house far away on a hill, we blared femme pop music and danced. We channeled the Crucible. I always felt someone was missing. Hunny, drunk, slurred about her passed grandma who she believes haunts her. There were no wrong answers. When my teammates were too wine competitive for charades I sat on the carpet and had my tarrot cards read. The message was clear. It soothed me. "I guess you shouldn't become a cop," Nasty said. I guess not.

We all skittered to the basement. A large room with bunk beds. I chose a top. In the middle of the night, time unclear, I had to throw up. It was pitch black. My period had started. Summoned? I felt empty in the good way.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dream, March 16 2017

I was on the cruise ship again. We were at port. I was on a beach with MB. She was, characteristically, being very social and bouncing about people partying. Someone I know treated me strangely and I asked for advice from a woman walking by. It helped. I went inside a sunken ship. I could not remember who our third female castmate was. I asked MB. She couldn't remember either. We tried everything (rereading emails, asking dancers), but everyone had forgotten.

MB and I went to the bathroom, and when we came out of the stalls we saw a man's face peeking in the door. I froze in fear. MB's instinct was to run after him. In a large, dark room of junk we saw a cabinet door creaking. She walked to it. I wanted to leave. Right as she was about to swing it open the man, middle age and Chinese, walked out. He didn't speak English and pretended he was looking for cleaning supplies.

We discussed him. Maybe he was just waiting to clean the bathroom. Or maybe he was a creep. We would never know. I remembered something in real life that connected to the fake world and woke up suddenly at 5:40. It came to me--there was no third woman on my cast.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Front Door

My front door doesn't look like my front door anymore.
Why? Is it the snow? I don't know. I don't know.
There's been a color change, like someone painted it in the night.
Has it always been dark wood? I thought so, but now I'm unsure.
It's the simplest thing, the entering point for everything else.
It should be easy--this is where I go. But
instead I look back. Then again. Did I pass my building?
Is this, in fact, where I belong? Walking in
to this door that doesn't look like my front door anymore.

Saturday, March 4, 2017


"Is that true? You served in Kuwait and Iraq?"
"Unfortunately," he replied. I had spent the majority of the past hour looking at his army leather jacket while he toiled over scarps of notes. He gave his life to the country and now here he is in community college writing a paper on koi ponds. I was assigned to work with him because he uses disability software, but he had no trouble with the software. He mainly needed help double spacing and saving to his flash-drive. Finding the parentheses was difficult. I asked him why he indented every line. He did not know what a paragraph was. We had fifteen minutes left and he needed help citing his sources. He had a pile of articles carefully printed and underlined but forgot a lot of the titles he had used. We're supposed to encourage the student to take the lead in all their learning, but he was getting nervous. I had another appointment soon, and besides that, the library was about to close. I sat with the APA stylebook on my lap and told him what info belonged where. I did not make him look it up. Even with me guiding the ship, he would forget punctuation or leave things blank. He dropped a paper and told me he has mental trauma. And I swear the whole scene went black and white. It's no surprise that academia can seem ridiculous sometimes, but oh my god this human does not need to learn in-text citations. He taps a million spaces to correctly right-align the professor's name. I ask if he knows how to do that any other ways. He says, "Ma'am, I don't know nothin'."

Friday, March 3, 2017


This week I spent a few days at my dad's. Major events include visiting the new healthy protein shop. I had a Captain Crunch 180 calorie, 4 grams of sugar shake, and I can't stop dreaming about it. Walks through main street, past the new blinking movie sign and into the teensers coffee house. I feel at ease out of the city. I get the high score at the pizza parlor Ms. Pac-Man. I watch King of Queens while grading papers and journal in the room above the stairs, train horn blowing by.

Puhg came, and we ended up at dinner on a very gloomy night. We ordered a big pretzel and salads while the sky went black. Soon everyone in the restaurant's phone started going off. Warnings, warnings. I, usually calm about these things, felt nervous to be next to the window. It was headed for our town. The trees whipped around. The manager led us all to the basement, where some guy brought his beer and an angry woman complained. There was no cell service and soon the power went out. The street held tubs of water. I said I felt safe, and someone near me said maybe the ceiling would collapse. I doubted it. But I imagined my computer--probably not backed up since my last play revision--being lifted from the living room of my dad's house. I am first a writer.

In a half hour the lights weren't on, but we were welcome to go back upstairs. Our food had finished. I ate the warmed, icky salad. Everything was on the house. Puhg got two craft beers while my dad looked furiously for info online, prepping for the onslaught of work at the paper. Small towns ain't bad. It had been the plan to see Get Out, but the theatre had no projectors running, so we watched Arrival in the living room. Things change but they're still good. The tornado destroyed a nursing home. Only one person and a lot of property dead. The governor came out the next morning. I had the most peaceful night's sleep I can remember. The window was open, and everything smelled like rain.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Open Sesame

Most of us have had the thought, "That person is pathetic." I'm not proud of when I've felt that way, but it's cautionary. If we're using Inside Out as a framework for emotions, judging another person is Disgust protecting us from being so aloof, broken, disillusioned. I never pity others because I don't like them. I do it because I want to tell myself to avoid their fate. But what's so weird is the more I pity others, the more I feel pitiful. Base logic tells me if I am putting myself a step ahead of someone I don't want to switch places with I should feel confident. But that tactic is just so blatantly corrupt. Instead when we set ourselves on ledges, we succumb to the concept that there are ledges. And if we're in that mental playground, we then must recognize everyone on ledges higher than us. Life is not a ladder. Life is not a track. Life is not even a hamster wheel.

To feel less judged, stop judging. To feel less alone, be loving. To follow your dreams, believe fiercely in others'. At first it doesn't seem to make sense. If I want apples, why would I give people apples? My apples. Well, I guess because then more apples would be out there, seeds dropping into soil, accidentally planted. The love for and thus demand for apples would be higher. Hand pies and slices by the wheelbarrow.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Here and Now

Most famous psychics in New Orleans.
I just want to know. This has always been my fatal flaw. I just want to know what will be so I can know if it's all worth it. I write the Voltaire quote, "Life is a shipwreck, but don't forget to sing in the life boats" up on the board. The students freewrite to it. I sit. There's that stupid exercise, "What question do you ask the most?" Then you figure out how to make your (probably) negative question positive. I know many people ask, "What's next?" They should rather ask "What's happening now?" I used to ask "Will this fit?" At some point I tried to shift it to "How will this fit?" But I'm tired. And less naive. Maybe things don't fit. Maybe use is an abstract. Maybe it's nothing more than a slop pile.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

G v G, Age 9

I'm not sure how you felt about your girlfriends growing up, but there was an intensity between mine. I did not form supportive bonds until I was probably in college. I loved my girlfriends, but we also hated each other. In hindsight, I don't know why I didn't question this more or even ask for help. Maybe because my tribe was still a tribe--despite having inward slashes? At the end of the day, we would still always be against other girl tribes (a whole different issue).

When I sniffled because I thought another girl was better at cheerleading than me, my mom said, "Well, she's a dog." Meaning, maybe she can do a backflip, but in ten years I would be beautiful and she would still be woof. I googled her two years ago to see if it was true. I don't blame my mom. It was her job to make me feel better, and in desperation that's what she landed on.

In middle school it was always someone's turn to be hated. I didn't mind this cycle because I had about six friends, so five weeks would be good and then one would be bad. That was okay odds. I had respite in my summer camp group, but there were weekly awards we all secretly hoped for, so? Once a girl in my bunk said she struggled with math. I told her I liked math and she said if I went to her school I'd probably have worse grades than her. When I was 17 one of my camp friends exploded at me yelling I always when were 12 I always purposely ate dessert slower than everyone else to make them feel bad. Ridiculous if it weren't true.

My gang was academically-driven, so we competed with grades and whispered when someone turned in homework late. We wanted to be the best. I'm trying to determine if the media influenced me in this way. I guess. It was always Christina vs. Britney never Christina & Britney. Betty v. Veronica. Most TV I watched didn't have girlfriends. Patti Mayonnaise. Rugrat Angelica. Spinelli. Lisa Simpson. They were loners. I read Betty Tasty and Tib or whatever those dumb books about growing up in the 1930s were. Samantha the American Girl had a friend, but she was mainly a metaphor for poverty. The Disney Princesses were loners.

Anyway, the world is different now? Frozen? Is Frozen saving us yet? Well. In improv class the students' favorite game is Four Corners. I stand in the middle of the room with my eyes closed, count to ten, and then call out a corner. Anyone in the corner is "out." I recover my eyes and repeat until one student remains: the new caller. So this Girl wins the round and excitedly stands in the middle of the room. After she counts to ten she spins around surveying the room with her eyes "closed" and then calls a corner. I ask her to put her hands over her eyes. She puts them up, gaping cracks between each finger. I let it happen. I watch her pick off the people she doesn't like corner by corner. Until its her best friend, someone she doesn't care about, and a boy I suspect she sort of likes. Her friend wiggles in excitement of potentially winning the game and then, boop, Girl chooses her corner. Best Friend Out. Girl poorly acts surprised and then tried very hard to hide a devilish little smile. I don't judge her. I remember feeling so horribly happy when I was hanging out with a group of girls I didn't know that well and they started making fun of one of my tribe. It was completely base--I'm better than her, but still so shameful. The Girl then proceeds to make the boy she likes win. He jumps around and screams, very proud of himself, announcing he is the best at this game.