Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Family Band

I grew up in one of those families that valued music and knowledge of music, but had very little auditory and rhythmic skills. We were the kind of family that put all the kids in piano lessons, only to watch each child successively find his/her way out. I’m not sure how my brothers did it. But my technique consisted of taking candy from the piano teacher despite not completing my 3 consecutive weeks of practice, of cursing the busts of famous pianists that I had on my piano when I got the lowest award possible at my first piano competition, and finally just storming out of my piano teacher’s house when I could not for the life of me get my two hands to do different things while playing the politically correct piece, “Little Indian Boys.” Still my parents did not relent. Perhaps they read a parenting book prior to our births that informed them to keep us in musical lessons for all of childhood regardless of the skill we presented.

Ben took up the clarinet. He actually was pretty good at it. The several Christmases of him playing, “Chestnuts roasting by an open fire…” while our dog whined along were priceless. He even got good enough to be first chair in the Wind Ensemble, only to have his clarinet lessons in college be his only B he received in all four years. We haven’t seen the clarinet since. Adam on the other hand took on trumpet… then harmonica… then a brief interlude with pots, pans and bottles…then a stint in a musical… then a rap group… I moved onto flute from piano as any little girl should. But, I never really loved it. I never excelled, and I always hated my flute teachers. I also had some time in my childhood where I thought I could sing. I even starred in my 5th grade musical (a Rock and Roll version of Little Red Riding Hood). Still, none of our talents were sustainable. It seems the Gingold Gerhardstein soil was not rich enough for the musical seeds my parents tried to sew.

We degenerated into a family of camp songs. The kind of family that never sang in tune, and when we couldn’t remember the words we’d simply rewrite them to suit us. In our bubble we’d pump up each other’s egos. I’d say, “Adam I really like how you held out the low note of SEEEEAAAA in the Titanic song” or Ben would compliment mom for reaching a note no other human has ever even approached. But on our own, we floundered.

I think this failed attempt by my parents to make us into musicians resulted in me looking for music in my potential mates. Thus, I have dated lots of musicians. My first love had a family band that played surf music at bookstores throughout the city. All I ever wanted was to be in the band… but the best I could seem to do was date the band. That is until this Christmas.

This Christmas we lazed around, skied, played games and ate the standard Swedish meal, but then the unexpected happened. My aunt Carla brought out poppers wrapped in musical-note paper. She announced that in these small poppers, an orchestra was contained. We all skeptically grabbed a popper and rolled our eyes as we pulled them apart. Much to our surprise, each of us was left holding a blow-chime (I’m not sure if there is a real name for the instruments we had) of various sizes. Not only did we have our own individualized instruments, but we also had musical note crowns. Adam was quick to grab the conductor’s baton and the eight of us got in order around the couches.

I was #2 also known as Re. My Uncle George exclaimed his excitement of being number 6 when he said, “I’ve never been first chair number 6 in my life!”

We each filled with pride as we perfected the one sound each of our instruments could make. My mom had trouble holding her instrument, often covering the hole with her finger. Adam informed her that she really didn’t need to use two hands to hold her 1-inch instrument.

After sufficient warm-up, we were ready to go. Adam held the sheet of paper with the musical scores, held up the baton and pointed at George, #6. “666 666 68456 7777766 66655658,” also known as Jingle Bells. When pointed to, we blew. We stopped blowing when the next person was pointed to. The synergy was amazing. Next came O Come All Ye Faithful. This one started on my cousin Andy, by far the least excited about being in the band, but still he blew. We all blew. We did several songs, each one getting better, each note getting stronger. Talk of going on the road was abuzz.

On the 26th we decided to reconvene the band in order to perfect our performance. More family was coming up on the 27th, and we wanted to give them a show. This practice was not going as well. The pep seemed to have been lost in our notes. Perhaps our first problem was we had branched out to the non-Christmas genre: London Bridge is Falling Down, Can-Can… we squeaked them out, but not without some serious roadblocks. Namely, number 3, my mom. Her blowing had become erratic, airy, and uncontrolled. There were murmurs of replacing her. But we were soon distracted by an obstinate number 4, cousin Andy. Every time Adam pointed at number 5, 6, 7, a peep was heard out of number 4. It was clear that our egos were taking over. It was no longer about the band. Carrie, number 1, reminded us that, “there is no I in BAND.”

As our spirits began to fall, it was up to the conductor to bring us back together. Adam held his baton high and said, “This one goes out to baby Jesus,” and he pointed at Carrie. “112143 112154…” The beauteous song we all know and love emerged from our flutes, “Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to Jesus, happy birthday to you.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Just one of those days...

12/22/08

6:30am. It was one of those mornings that seemed to come way too soon. I got up when my alarm went off, but was quickly drawn back to the warmth of my bed. 15 more minutes. No luck. My body seemed pretty determined to stay put. Sometimes my body insists it is sick just to allow my mind to stop fighting the responsibility of the day. Despite the thermometer’s lack of support in my conclusion of illness, I made a deal with myself. Stay in bed, sleep it off, and go into work for a half-day.

11am. I’m showered, have a lunch made, have snowman baggies full of spiced pecans I made for my coworkers. I’m ready. I go out to my snow and ice covered car to do the big dig. Normally I would take the bus, but I had a few Christmas errands to run and needed to get the car unburied for my journey to Minnesota. So, I dig, scrape, kick and chisel. The car appears to be free. I sit down and ignite the car. It starts. Good sign. Then I attempt to move. After three separate attempts, I begin to realize this is a fruitless venture. I then try to turn my car off and get the keys out only to realize I can’t get the car started again, and I can’t remove the keys from the ignition. So, I’m stuck in ice, my car won’t start, and I’m supposed to be at work. I go inside to call AAA. After explaining the situation, they inform me that they can be there by 3:15, hopefully sooner. So, I resign myself to one of those days of sitting around waiting. I get some loose ends done, but mostly I sulk.

4pm. No AAA. I call again. Wait on hold for about 30 minutes and they inform me that it will be 30-45 more minutes. In the mean time I realize that my parents are planning to drive through Chicago on their way to Minnesota that night. I begin to wonder why I am planning to venture on my own the next day… I check the weather and see that a wintry mix is coming in the next day. I start to wonder if I can really even make it to Minnesota the next day.

6pm. No AAA. I call again. Wait on hold for 30 minutes, and they inform me that it will be another 30-45 minutes. In the mean time I decide that I should probably leave that night with my parents to go to Minnesota. Though, my mom insists on needing her own car, so we decide to caravan. (My parents realize when they are en route to Chicago that they forgot all of Christmas in Cincinnati—it should arrive tomorrow via Greyhound). I then pull into damage control mode. Having taken the day unexpectedly off work, I was feeling like I needed to go in before leaving town…

7:30pm. 8 hours after the initial call, AAA arrives!! And here I am going to admit the really stupid thing that I have in fact admitted to no one until this moment of ultimate confession. It turns out that my car was not stalled. I had simply left it in reverse when I turned it off, and thus it wouldn’t turn on or let me take the keys out. I know. Let it sink in. Stupid. But, still, I was legitimately stuck in the ice. The lovely tow-truck man shoveled me out 3 times and directed exactly how I move the wheels until freedom was had.

8:00pm. Kinko’s. One of my tasks for the day was to pick up some last minute presents I had decided to make. Thank god for 24 hour stores… If only the post office were so convenient. I made two different calendars (very good gift idea for pretty cheap!). I get to Kinko’s and they accidentally made an extra of 1 of the calendars, and not made the other. They tell me it will only be 10 minutes. So, then I go to my car to wait only to realize the calendars they did complete were all for 2008. My heart sank; I certainly needed these calendars before leaving town. So, I rush back inside in panic mode. They promise to get them done within the hour.

9:00pm. A good old fashioned use-up-everything in the fridge omelet sufficed for dinner. Everything was packed and ready to go. I make my first trip out to the car with skis and suitcase. Oh shit. No I didn’t. Yes I did. I left my keys to my apartment inside. Locked inside. No roommates home, I start buzzing all my neighbors apartments. Buzzzzz. Buzzzz. Buzzzz. Nothing. This is when I had that, “this is it, it’s time to stop” moment. Finally I find someone to let me in, and luckily I had left my apartment door cracked. Coffee in hand I make the final sweep and head out.

9:15pm. Calendars are good and I drive to work. At work I am able to distribute my spiced pecans to co-workers’ mailboxes (very important), and I look up another 75 mammogram patients that have constantly been a constant pressure (no pun intended) on me over the past week. While I don’t complete the entirety of the task I am able to assess where I am and what I need to do upon return.

11:15pm. Parents show up, and the caravan to Minnesota begins.

1:30am. Asleep to the sweet sound of my mother's snoring in the Baymont Inn in Janesville, WI.

As I said, it was just one of those days.

(Disclaimer: I realize this story of my bad day may not be so entertaining, but it was one of those days I felt like I needed to write out. Now that I have written it out, I realize it wasn’t nearly as crazy as I had made it out to be in my mind, and I therefore will no longer hold onto it with such stress. So thank you for being my audience.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Yes We Will


Refusing to let that night die.


I have clearly taken a hiatus from the blog world. If in that time you have felt compelled to stop reading, I get it. There is a lot of media out there, a lot of interesting intrigues to choose from. “Interesting intrigues” is probably redundant, but I like it. That is maybe why I did not do so well on my GRE I took last weekend. I like redundancies. But, I am not going to use my blog to vent about that experience. I’ve got back up plans; all will be well.
What I really want to write about is Tuesday, November 4th. It’s crazy to think that day was only two weeks ago, yet so quickly we have resumed our regular lives. I admit that it feels a bit forced to be writing about that night now, it is old news, right? But I am sticking to my commitment to myself to write of that night for the very fact that it shouldn’t be old news yet. We need to be rejoicing in the spirit of November 4th for more than a few hours or days, it is on us to keep it alive.
I was lucky enough to be one of the million who gathered in Grant Park to see Obama accept his victory. That night epitomized why I love partying with liberals. Prior to attending the festivities there were several murmurs of fear. What if Obama loses? There will be massive rioting no matter what! That many people downtown will just be chaos…
But I assure you; it was the calmest crowd of a million to ever gather. We stood for hours in a huge park with limited visibility and watched the news on a big screen. Never once did I hear people grumble as their toes were stepped on and shoulders rubbed by complete strangers. When one person cheered, everyone cheered. It didn’t even matter what we were cheering for specifically, there was simply a wave of positivity that we were all riding. One stranger gave me a piece of pizza he couldn’t finish. Another offered me his extra water bottle when he overheard me discussing my thirst. And then there was the moment. The moment that Obama was declared our president-elect. I remember bending over in a loud relief filled yelp, grabbing for whoever was close and holding on tight. That moment will forever be locked in my mind, body, and soul with no words to ever do it justice. So he won, and still we were capable of continuing to stand peacefully together watching the news. We listened to a terrible rendition of the Star Spangled Banner without a single boo. We danced and sang along to classic oldies songs. And we sporadically broke out into gasps, shrieks, yelps, and yippees.

When Barack Obama took the stage a stillness overcame the crowd. There was only a handful that could actual see his face, but his presence permeated throughout the crowd. My friend’s boyfriend lifted me so I could see his figure on the stage. But I think what is remarkable about Obama, is that he is so much bigger than his body. He brought together 1 million people in a public space to be there with him in that moment. He gets it. We got it. It was beautiful.

After his eloquent speech, and lots of waving, people slowly ambled out of the park. There was no stampede. Simply a leisurely walk out onto Michigan Avenue. The street was closed, and the happy crowd filled it in celebration. Cops were everywhere, but their presence was not oppressive. People were taking pictures with them and petting their horses. My friend’s and I walked up Michigan Ave., breathing it in as deeply as possible. A short eccentric man walked up to me and hugged me, saying. “Hugs for Obama.” No other time would it be ok for a stranger to walk up to another stranger in downtown Chicago and hug her.
So, as times get rough. As the economy looks bleaker and bleaker. As George Bush does his final damage. We must remember to keep the night of November 4th alive. Prior to that night we were chanting, “Yes we can.” On that night we chanted “Yes we did.” We did get him elected, but our work is not done.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Becoming a Foodie

I used to think that food was a passion for everyone. The moment of clarification came in my final college class. We were discussing “self activities,” those activities that are vitalizing and allow an even greater fullness to life. My professor explained that studying philosophy was one such activity for him… so much so, that if he is out to a fancy meal eating the best food in the world, but also having the most stimulating philosophical conversation, it is the words he will remember, not the flavors. I was stunned to hear this, but figured he was just a quirky philosopher man, and that most people would for sure be more into the flavors tantalizing their palates. He then asked the class to raise our hands if they felt food (cooking, eating, and sharing) was a passion of ours. Mine sprung up, excited to see the reinforcement of my classmates. As it turned out only about a third of us had our hands up. This was the moment that I realized that I could legitimately identify as a foodie.

Now, I can’t claim elite foodie status, and I’m not sure I ever want to. But I am enjoying stumbling along the path of food passion. I grew up in a house that cherished social justice, olive oil, Italian sausage, mashed potatoes, cheese, French toast, aldente pasta, and popcorn. While my dad claims that he now feels his cooking is inferior to the pursuits my brother’s and I take on in the kitchen, his passion for the foods he cooked is what ignited our drive. But it is true; I am exploring things in the kitchen that I never ate in my childhood home.

In the past couple months I have traveled to Greece, Italy, India, France, Thailand, Mexico and beyond just by sitting down at my (or a friend’s) kitchen table. I have two favorite explorations thus far. First would be my trip to the Mediterranean when I made spinach pie and curried couscous.



This meal was based on recipes from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook. Both components were relatively simple, but extremely tasty. I would argue that simple and tasty is the best combination, especially when living the high- paced city life. It is nice to come home from a long day and still achieve fantastic flavor within an hour’s time. But, those times when more than an hour is put into cooking can be even more rewarding, especially when there is a partner in the journey.

This leads me to my second exploration. I have on two occasions attempted Southern Indian cuisine with a friend and neighbor. We have been working on perfecting the creation of sambar. Sambar was the staple of my household and every household in Bangalore. Both times we have undertaken this culinary adventure I have caught myself momentarily drifting back to the neighborhood of Rajajinigar (contact me if you would like to know how to pronounce this). There I am with an Indian family of six, sitting on the floor of our two bedroom house anxiously awaiting the cuisine of my host mom and sister, trying desperately to remember all the proper etiquette, watching some Bollywood music videos on the TV that sat in the corner underneath the Tweety bird stuffed animal hanging from a ceiling hook… Until I awake to remember I am stumbling around a thoroughly American kitchen with a fellow non-Indian most definitely ill equipped for such cooking, but we choose to brave it nonetheless. I think in both attempts we ended up using not exactly the right dhal or at least not the right amount, and most likely one or two of the desired spices were left out or improvised. But, in our second meal we definitely came much closer to that memory of my Indian family’s living room/bedroom/dining room.

Bowls of Sambar
(Photo Chris Brunn)

(Oh and we threw in a little non-indian farmer's market goodness as well. Brussel sprouts are my new favorite green vegetable!)


Brussel Sprouts, Spigariello, and Red Onion
(Photo Chris Brunn)

I think that I love food so much because of this expansive world it taps into. It isn’t just about the flavors hitting my taste buds. It’s about the intellectual, emotional, sensual experience as well. They say that our olfactory senses are the most connected to memory. When I cook, I feel myself transported to kitchens of times past. When I eat something amazing, I get excited about sharing that meal with others in future moments. I truly believe that food is perhaps the most universal element through which we can connect.

So here’s to being a foodie… and all the adventures it brings.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Obama Magic

On Saturday morning, I walked into the North side Obama headquarters in Cincinnati with three fellow Chicagoans. We were eager to be in a place that needed us. We arrived an hour early due to a communication glitch in the well-oiled Obama internet machine, so we sat around HQ reading material on Barack’s positions, digesting the debate (that we watched with a group of neighbors at my house the night before), and getting pumped to go talk to voters. It was finally time. Several Cincinnatians (including by coincidence my elementary school librarian that I had not seen for over a decade), a group from Louisville, KY, and the four of us gathered around the campaign workers to get the “training.” Training is a generous word for what actually occurs. Nonetheless, the sporadic and blunt 5-minute explanation suffices. After the speedy overview we were given our canvassing assignments. Tylar, the out-of-state volunteer coordinator handed us our packets, and said, “You’ll be going out to the West Side.”

For those of you who don’t know Cincinnati, the West Side is the republican stronghold. It is white, middle class God-lovin’ country. It of course has its diversity, but my experience has led me to believe it is few and far between. So with little hope of finding many on our side, we set off.
Johanna and I approached the first door with caution. A young blond woman answered.
“Hi, my name is Johanna, and this is Jessica, we’re here with the Obama campaign. We’re just walking around the neighborhood talking to voters to learn more about where you are at with the upcoming presidential election. Have you decided who you are voting for yet?”
The blond girl grinned and let out an enthusiastic, “Obama baby!” as she reached her hand in the air and gave us each a high five. I suddenly had a feeling I was in for quite a surprising day…

We walked on to the next house. Just as we picked up our fists to knock, a young middle class white male opened the door. He jumped back a little, startled to see two young women standing on his porch on a Saturday morning. This time I began our spiel. He seemed less excited to see us than our previous encounter, but still he reluctantly agreed to speak with us for “just a minute.” Ten minutes later we were still talking. He told us he was a big Hillary fan, but he’s just not sure about Obama’s experience. “If Obama would have chosen Hillary as a running mate, It’d be a lock.” “I’m just so mad he didn’t choose Hillary.” “I’m a teamster,” he said as he pointed to his worn out teamster t-shirt emblem, “my union supports Obama… but I’m just not sure.”
We tried hard to reassure him that Obama is smart and that Hillary will definitely play a prominent role in his administration. We told him that Obama and Hillary are very much on the same side with their policies. The facts didn’t really seem to matter. He just “wasn’t sure.” I don’t want to speculate on what he wasn’t sure about, but I could tell that while what we said may not have mattered so much, the fact that we stood on his porch for 10 minutes and listened to him spout meant something. Though he did let us know when he was done with a kind and suggestive “I was actually on my way outside to find the sports page…”

From an enthusiastic supporter, to a hesitant voter who will likely come our way, to our next house—a 35 year old woman who was not registered and had never voted in her life. We’ll call her Sara. Sara was on her way to take the garbage out when she found us ringing her doorbell. She wasn’t the listed owner on our list from Obama, but we decided to chat with her anyway. We asked her if she was registered to vote. Slightly embarrassed she admitted that she wasn’t as she sat the garbage down by her side. Johanna pressed on. She told Sara that we could register her if she wanted. Sara reflected for a moment and said, “I think it is too late. I promised myself that I would pay attention this year and vote for the first time. But I haven’t been following it, and it is just too late.”

We reassured her that there was still over a month to research and learn about the candidates… That she could at least register and research and decide later about voting. At this she sat down on her stoop. We followed. She clearly wanted to be a part of this election. She admitted that she had watch Obama’s acceptance speech and was deeply moved by it but just didn’t feel empowered to vote. It became apparent why she was disempowered when her mother came to the porch. Her mom cracked the door open. We asked if she was registered to vote. The mother responded in a gruff tone, “NO, I don’t want to vote!” and slammed the door. A far cry from the parents I grew up with.

Sara recentered her attention on the two of us. She told us she really cared about the poor. As she began filling out the registration form she raised her head and meekly asked, “Which party is it that cares about the poor?” This was a woman who had never been encouraged to engage with our political system, and here we were giving her the first steps toward participating. She gave me her personal e-mail address and I agreed to send her links to sites with information about the presidents and the issues she cared about when I got home. Perhaps most telling was when I sat down to do that task. I put the links to both Obama’s and McCain’s websites in my e-mail to her. Then, I put the link to the part on Obama’s website where he addresses poverty and how he will fight it. I looked for a similar link on McCain’s site and found nothing.

Finally we knocked on the door of a more traditional West Side family with the American flag flying on their porch. The mother of the household answered the door. We explained our mission, and she hesitatingly agreed to chat briefly. This too became a much lengthier conversation. While her and her husband were on the books as independents, they had mostly voted republican as that is where their values were aligned. She told us quite frankly that she wished the whole thing could just start over.

“I really just don’t like any of my options. I don’t even want to vote. But I know I have to vote because it is my right as a citizen. If I don’t vote, then I can’t complain. But I don’t know what to do,” she said with an extremely troubled look on her face.

Johanna and I shared her concern as empathically as we were capable of, and then we brought up how strongly we feel about Barack Obama. Our words were echoed by the woman’s 5-year-old daughter lurking in the background who muttered, “B-aaa-rock OO-B-a-m-a.” The woman listened to us. She shared that she was scared about McCain’s age, that she had gotten excited about Palin at first, but now she keeps hearing how “she’s saying lies and stupid stuff.” She expressed her concern with the economy and simultaneous fear of socialized medicine and awareness that something must change in the health care system. I tried my best to explain that Obama’s health care plan was not the oh-so-sensationalized “socialized medicine” republicans discussed. She listened. At the end of our conversation she got serious and told us, “I will vote, but I don’t know for whom. And really the bottom line for me is this: whoever wins, its God’s will.” To this I responded, “Well I hope it is God’s will that Obama wins.” While her vote may ultimately go to McCain, I couldn’t help but feel that a woman like that would not have given us the time of day 4 years ago. Now, now she is listening. Something has changed.

After introducing my Chicago friends to Skyline Chili we set back out for an afternoon of canvassing. This time I was paired with a fellow Princeton Fellow, Sanhita. We were having some success and hopeful moments going door to door, but our most special interface came unsolicited. Two people were driving down the street on which we were canvassing. Just as we were approaching our next house we heard someone yell, “are you registering people to vote?” While registering voters wasn’t the main mission of the day, we certainly were open to it. So we replied, “of course!” The couple in the car proceeded to pull over and register. The gentleman eagerly announced, “I watched a special last night and realized that I needed to vote.” He didn’t only want to be registered to vote, but he also signed up to volunteer for the campaign.

The final story to relay is an important one. It was our last door. The lack of sleep from the night before was catching up with me and I was secretly hoping there would be no answer. But alas, a man came to the door. He explained that he wasn’t registered to vote because he had a previous felony and wasn’t allowed to vote, but he took information for his girlfriend. He was clearly bummed by his disenfranchisement, and desperately wanted to vote. Sanhita and I did not think his perception was accurate, but neither of us had a clear idea of the laws in OH. We gave him a registration form and told him to look into it more. He seemed very excited that there might be a possibility that he could vote. As we walked away from his house we couldn’t shake the feeling that this man should be voting. So we started calling people who may have the answer. Without finding a firm answer, we ultimately decided to go back to the man’s house, get his filled out registration form, and go for it. We told him, that if he gets a registration card in the mail, he could vote. Later that night I asked my dad to clarify. It turns out the as long as the individual is not in prison, s/he has the right to vote. So, this man who thought he would never be able to vote again in his life will be getting that card in the mail letting him know he can cast his vote for Obama. It is scary to think how many other previously convicted felons may have misinformation about their voting eligibility. In fact, notifying ex-prisoners of this information is a project that my dad’s prisoner rights nonprofit organization (Ohio Justice and Policy Center) has taken on.

I got home that night feeling extremely energized and hopeful about this campaign. Something unique is happening in this country. I was one of thousands of people out in neighborhoods talking about Obama. My brother had equally uplifting stories about his day in Virginia. I have friends in New Mexico, New York, and Colorado out talking to people. This is a movement. While I have never lived by this rule, societal etiquette would indicate that it is best not to talk politics with people, especially with strangers. But, this time around people want to talk and engage. While of course I want people to be gung ho for Obama, the many undecided individuals who are engaged with this election equally uplift me. I believe that Obama’s campaign is affecting the social fabric of our society. His campaign and presidency has the potential to combat the “Bowling Alone” syndrome that Robert Putnam writes about. I encourage everyone to go be part of this magic.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Can't Life Just be one Long Glorious Weekend?

I’m experiencing somewhat of a weekend to weekday culture shock today. I had one of those weekends that just gelled. On Friday night a lovely cooking journey into Southern Indian cuisine with a friend led to a spontaneous bike ride to the new Woody Allen movie with a not so inspiring title (VickiChristinaBarcelona), but a very alluring plot and cast. Saturday morning I slowly emerged from the womb of my bed, made a gourmet egg sandwich, and then went to Wicker Park (the park two blocks from my house) for some morning time reading. By noon I was stretching out my body and push the limits of my will power in my favorite yoga class at Cheetah Gym (though there are still many more to try). While I realize that being a liberal young adult living in a hip part of Chicago is pretty much synonymous with saying “I do yoga.” But as cliché as it is, I am so happy for the first time in my life to be consistently practicing yoga, not just saying how much I wish I could get into it. I feel my body thanking me. My knee rarely hurts during or after yoga and my mind is forced to stop creating, organizing, and completing to-do lists. I just have to stop, breath, and hope that I can make it through the hour in one piece. Luckily, I always do, and come out feeling stronger and healthier. I’ve only been able to skate once since being in Chicago, but it was an amazing experience. I felt more in shape on the ice after not skating for months due to the yoga and biking I’ve been doing. I hope to integrate skating back into my life in some capacity, but I am thankful that I have found some more convenient pastimes for my body to engage in.

Saturday afternoon found me eating good veggie eats at the Handlebar “biker” (cyclist) bar near my house with a good friend from college and strolling through Humboldt Park. Saturday evening commenced with roommate bonding where we all pitched in to cook a delicious meal followed by a fabulous gathering of some random friends my roommate and I have acquired. After a rather late night, Sunday became the day of grocery shopping, errands, and also a little more reading in Wicker Park. Spending time in Wicker Park is similar to spending time on a college “quad,” though the mix of people is a bit more diverse. The park is definitely a social center of the neighborhood. On any nice weather day people are guaranteed to be sunbathing, playing random lawn games, tossing a Frisbee, playing pick-up soccer or softball or basketball, picking fights, grilling out, sitting in a circle of friends surrounded by a circle of all their bikes… It’s a lovely place. The weather here is changing oh so slightly, giving a little nod to fall. I got to wear sweats and a sweatshirt in the park Sunday evening, and found myself getting a little chilly. Oh, how I love seasons!

So my action packed weekend gave way to Monday. Monday has been fine, but I seriously have felt myself somewhat disoriented by the transition of weekend to work week. I put in my first long day at the office—10 hours! I’m working extra so I can leave early on Friday to go canvas for Obama in Cincy this weekend. It was rewarding to get a lot of work done and feel my creative juices flowing as I get more responsibility, but I am a little too high from my weekend to get descriptive about quality assessment of health care. I do promise to muse on my work life in the near future, but for now, I am pretty pleased to just relax into the fall breeze that seems to be bringing a heartier social life my way.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Getting the Whole Picture

Sometimes I wish I could telepathically transmit my thoughts into words on a page. There is so much I want to write and share. I want to paint stories for you. I want to draw adventures. But, I am so tired. I get energized in my mind, but my fingers are fatigued. I’ll do my best to give a flavor of this past (glorious) week, but I fear my eyelids are sagging a bit too low for brilliance to come forth.

The Skinny: This past week was really wonderful. Work began to fully coalesce. I am starting to grasp what my role and purpose is and envision more autonomy as I move forward. My social life was rich with meeting new people, bringing together old friends, eating tasty Indian food on Devon Street, cooking tasty Mexican and Mediterranean food to share with my roomie (Nora), and taking in art and architecture with my parents who visited for the weekend. I am feeling so energized by this city. Mind you, I am saying that after living through the rainiest day in Chicago history. So yes. I am happy.

The Fat: I want to focus in on a conference that I got to attend for my job this week. I went downtown on Wednesday afternoon for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) conference. The subject was school wellness. It was an amazing experience. I sat in a room that held people from every major stakeholder group that could care about childhood obesity. There were city officials, school officials, teachers, doctors, health care administrators, members from the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, policy people, community organizers, etc. It was so inspiring to see an issue being faced with such a holistic approach. I felt the community spirit in the room. So often problems are faced unilaterally, and ultimately little is solved. It really seems the only way to affect such a pervasive issue (a crisis) as childhood obesity is to tackle it holistically. If schools integrate comprehensive wellness programs (which is nearly impossible with funding and time restrictions in public schools), it will mean nothing without communities also involved. If kids don’t have consistent care from a primary care physician, it is hard to monitor health in the clinical setting. One study showed that kids most trust their doctors on health information. If they don’t have a consistent doctor they are missing one of their most trusted advisors. But, if doctors, schools, and communities are all on board, it will often mean little without the faith leaders of the community also preaching that message. I have created a Venn diagram in my head to show what I envision is necessary for sustainable social change. I can't figure out how to paste my diagram into this blog... SO, imagine it with me. There are three inner overlapping circles, and then one grand circle around them all. The three inner circles are education, health, and faith. The outer circle is community.

It is both so overwhelming and so exciting to look at issues in very comprehensive ways. There is a way toward change, but it requires an extreme amount of cooperation and will from everyone. We need a shift of consciousness. We need Obama. I have so much more to write and reflect on, but that will have to be for next time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

#4

Hopefully the final entry solely focused on this transition period (but no promises)!

Work. Adjusting, adjusting, adjusting. They say that time is all you need. I believe them. I am feeling that time is on my side. While, I’ve certainly had some terrible restless nights searching for my city-life, working-world orientation, this weekend settled me. I am learning SO much. In fact, I think I’ve been so preoccupied pining for the return of my academic life that I have ignored or refused to cherish the learning that is taking place every moment of my life. I realize that statement contradicts my last blog… but contradiction is only a sign of learning. It seems in politics people are always criticizing the changing of the mind. But, isn’t that what life is all about? Constantly changing the mind. So, yea, my mind is swaying, and I’m seeing the value of the glorious and the mundane. I’m understanding that while I may not be infused with passion for my new life yet, I am learning so much from how to analyze why people aren’t getting their flu shots to whether I want to be in a desk job long term to the Chicago transit system to the best dive bars in Wicker Park. All very important lessons in their own right.

I spoke with a friend recently who is very involved in the Obama campaign. Her life is on fire. She breathes, laughs, cries Obama. She is so happy and purpose driven. After speaking with her, I was very disarmed by my own state of mind. I wasn’t crying out with joy for how much I love what I am doing. She told me to quit my job, move to where she is and join the movement. After all, this is a critical moment. I was tempted. I cried about it. I asked myself, “Am I missing out on being part of something that I will forever regret?” “Is it cowardly to pursue this life when I know there is this other more exciting and relevant one out there?”

Grappling with this temptation forced me to really define why I am here, and what the hell my purpose is. I think that is the most important thing that has come out of this weekend. For a while, I have felt like this world was just happening to me. My goal was just to stay afloat. That is no way to live. Now, I am above water. I have accepted that this is a different world that is exhausting and sometimes lonely, but there is really nowhere else I’d rather be. I need to be in Chicago figuring out what direction I want to go with my career path. I am passionate about finding my passions. And, I am passionate about Obama, thus I will serve his campaign from the place I am in. But, I would have to argue the cowardly thing for me to do right now would be to run off from this life that I have hardly given a chance yet.

And there is a lot of good in this life. My latest routine includes weekly yoga, and…. Belly dancing! My roommate is a belly dancer, and our gym just started a class. On Saturday I did an hour of yoga followed by an hour of hip popping, snake arm swaying, and Egyptian walking. The instructor kept insisting that belly dancing is one of the most natural dances that exists. As I stood before the mirror trying to keep my butt tucked in, chest open, and shoulders back, I was not convinced. But after an hour of strutting across the floor, shakin’ my thang I understood how great it is to be a woman. It’s these little realizations that make all the difference in the world. So, yea, I’m adjusting. Adjusting my attitude toward my new life. Adjusting my technique of making friends (I exchanged numbers with two women this weekend… making friends in the real world is more stressful than dating!). Adjusting the physical capacities of my body with downward dog, biking, and now a little Middle Eastern dancing. While, I sometimes wish to be on some grand adventure around the world, I am slowly realizing that this adventure I am on right here in Chicago has the potential to challenge and teach me as much or more than have my many travels.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Finding my Footing

The Working World

Wow. I get it now. I am no longer a student. Sure, I’m a “student of the world” and there are “learning opportunities in every encounter.” I do truly believe in these mantras real worlders throw out there, but the truth is there is something distinctly different about operating without the structure of academia. This realization occurred to me at about 2pm on Monday.

My first week of work (last week) was overwhelming, but also really exciting. I was meeting new people at every turn, learning about the goals, vision, and work of the organization (www.accesscommunityhealth.net), and diving into the wonders of post-its and paperclips. No one really expected me to do any real work that first week… as was made evident when I was paid for a day of work on Friday that included meeting up with the quality team at our boss’s house in Forest Park and then going to the zoo! I work in one of those rare non-profit organizations that is so giant, it has to be run like a business, bureaucracy and all. Thus, things like “team-building fun days” are a must.

My first post-work week weekend rolled around last weekend, and I felt utterly exhausted. I still managed to have some fun at a few ultra hip non-profit benefits, do some yoga, and eat a meal with my mom as she drove through Chicago on the way to MN. I learned during this past weekend the wonders of having no homework. It turns out, when the work week is over, one can just forget about it until the next Monday. It is quite a handy mechanism for getting through life in the real world.

Nonetheless, this past Monday happened, and I imagine that I felt similar to how one would feel if a gentle earthquake was shaking the ground. That is, I had no grounding. I sat down to work on one project given to me by my supervisor, but soon after was called in by my boss and given three more projects, then I went to a meeting where I was given all the old interns’ projects, and then one of my co-workers kindly approached me with a two page document that she would just love for me to fax to all fifty health centers before the end of next week. WHOA! It’s not that any of these projects are too hard for me or even too time consuming; it was just that I had no idea how to organize myself around them. This was the moment I realized that my whole life I have been grounded in being a student, a pretty good one in fact. Now… now I am an employee of Access Community Health Network. I no longer just need to know how to use excel for the occasional chart making, but it is a daily application of my work. I don’t get to discuss and analyze all the intricacies of the projects I am given; I just have to do them. This is a different world.

After learning about the task function in Microsoft Outlook from my wise office-running father, I got to work on Tuesday and set out on rearranging my footing, on grounding myself into the work world. I feel that the earthquake has quelled, and I will ultimately manage this transition just fine. But, I’m not going to lie. There is a small part of me wanting to go get my PHD right about now.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Settling into New Realizations

Life In Chicago: Week 2

The apartment has begun to feel more and more homey with each passing day. My original painting from Zambia has taken a prominent position on our living room wall. The kitchen has just about any-sized pan one could need. My bedroom has a brand new queen size mattress and frame, a lovely Pier One chair, and 100 dollars worth of quality thrift store furniture. Many thanks to my go-getter father whom wastes no time when in set up mode. It kind of felt like Batman visited me this week. He jetted through in his Volvo station wagon, solved every annoyance I was having with the moving process, fed me good food, and still managed to not fall too far behind saving the world in Cincinnati. My friend Zach, who was also visiting proved to be one hell of a Robin. If anyone needs moving help I recommend enlisting these two fine gentlemen.

With the immediate pressure of moving out of the way I am able to more fully settle into my Chicago life. Realizations I’ve had in my first two weeks here have been many. But to list a couple…

1) Cars are lonely death boxes. Coming from places of less than adequate public transportation, too many hills, and impatient drivers has led to a mostly driving lifestyle. In just two weeks here I have fully embraced the biking/public transit lifestyle. The bike lanes make the car anxiety greatly dissipate. In fact, it seems during high traffic times, biking is not only the healthier, more environmentally friendly way to get around, but it is the fastest mode of transportation. I have gotten in a car accident, but am still bike accident free (I am knocking on wood as I write this). Oh, and perhaps the best part is the biker nod. When driving around the city, fellow drivers do not happily nod at each other acknowledging the beauty of the city by car. No… it is more of an everyone for themselves mentality. In fact, I am convinced that the assholeness often associated with big cities emerges from frustrated drivers. For it is impossible to be a kind driver in the city and get anywhere in a timely manner. Conversely, bikers have a camaraderie on the road. There is this friendly nod followed by a knowing smirk of slight pretension, but mostly of happiness to be outside, going places, and being safe. Bikers don’t angrily creep up on each other’s tails, but if they do get a little too close, they are able to actually say something face to face. There is humanity in travel outside of cars that may have more transformative potential than we realize. Writing this, I know I will still be using my car. Sometimes I’m lazy, sometimes it is still faster, sometimes I want to say “forget humanity” and crawl into my air conditioned box, and sometimes I want to go places far, far away. But, it is nice to feel this shift within me, to feel the peace of biking, to feel the friendship possible on a busy road.

2) “Gay bar” does not translate to an escape from patriarchy. In an adventurous excursion to Boystown with two male friends of mine, I was hoping to dance the night away void of groping hands and sexist comments. My friends and I began dancing to the techno grooves as best we could. Then, midway through a back bend move of mine I got a tap on my back. Next thing I knew, a man had grabbed my bag and ripped me away from my circle. He pulled me close to him and whispered, “I’m straight.” He then began gyrating against my body and said, “Let’s make them jealous.” At this I invented a creative spinny move out of his arms and politely said I would like to dance with my friends. I snuck back between them and managed to create the stereotypical gay bar dancing fantasy of most girls. But it was definitely tainted by knowing that not even at a gay bar was I immune from the ever-present chauvinism of men in dance clubs.

There are more realizations to tell, but I fear overloading my blog entries into indigestible rants. Therefore, I will stop here and allow for digestion. My job begins tomorrow. I can only hope I continue to think, learn, do, grow, and that I find the time and words to share these experiences.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Be Yourself

8/9/08 Life in Chicago: Week 1

The other day I was walking down Milwaukee Ave, a major thoroughfare of my new neighborhood Wicker Park. I was late for a Millenium Park concert because I didn’t have cash for the ‘L.’ Not to mention… about an hour earlier I had been fully discombobulated when I was rear-ended by an absent-minded driver. In this frazzled state I had no time for anything but my stress. I took some deep breaths to collect myself and constructed a way out of my frenzy. The plan was to go to the Seven-Eleven near the ‘L,’ purchase a bottle of wine for the concert and get change for the train. I was on a mission. And of course, just at the moment of clarity I walked by the neighborhood hippie. Standing with her guitar, dreads, and raggedly self-sewn clothing, she kindly looked me in the eye and asked, “Can I play a song for you?” Any other time I may have said yes. But, not now, not when I was running late and a little fed up with the city. So, I gave an appreciative nod and said, “Sorry, but I’m running late,” expecting to walk on in my same hurried, frantic state of mind. Before I could get out of earshot from my new friend, she apologetically smiled, and in an enlightened slightly drugged tone of voice, said, “Don’t be sorry, be yourself.”

And so, that’s just what I’m doing here. Here in the city where street performers double as prophets, and bicyclists have the right of way, I’m feelin’ pretty good. It seems I am living in the neighborhood that recently got too hip for school and thus people both resent it and love it. I went to a gallery in Pilsen with my friend last night. The gallery owner, who prefers living in the rough artsy part of town, smirked at me when I said I was living in Wicker Park. It is funny moving into a place full of stereotypes and “locals” knowing that someday I, too, might feel like “Wicker Park just isn’t what it used to be,” as a kind woman recently let me know at a dinner party. But for now it is good for my naïve soul. Sure, there is a bit of an overtly obvious Bobo (bourgeois bohemian) flare by day and an anything goes party vibe at night. But, the fact that the hipsters, the hippies, and the frat guys can all get down here has served to make me feel all the more secure in my own unlabeled personhood. I don’t feel like I have to convert to an only organic, local, vegan diet (though if I want to, it is here) and wear only Chuck Taylors. And those that I have met who do ascribe to that lifestyle have given me nothing but warmth.

In fact, on the whole, I would say Chicagoans are very nice people. Only once did I feel a bit of contempt. It happened today when I was biking down Division. A lovely girl leaned out of the passenger window as her car drove by me and yelled “BBBIIITTTCCCHHH!!!” I was a bit startled, and even got a little choked up, wanting to say sorry despite knowing I had done nothing wrong. But then I remembered my prophet guitarist and sighed a mantra of “don’t be sorry, be yourself.” I biked on, found the yard sale I was looking for and bought a movie for two dollars. They didn’t have the dresser that I actually needed, but I wasn’t going to go through verbal abuse to get to this yard sale and buy nothing. And so the settling in continues. This week has had its ups and downs, as every week has, but overall I think Chicago might fit.