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.