Saturday, June 25, 2011

Not all News is Bad News

For every person who advocates for Americans becoming more aware of current events and more involved in the political process, there is an equal and opposite voice that, almost as loudly, tells Americans to turn the news off. To stop buying the newspaper. News and current events, they say, just bring us down. Our sources for this “important” information often only bring us death and scandal and rarely celebrate success or positivity. News depresses us, and it could be argued, maybe connects directly to this national crisis of obesity.

If you watch enough news, or follow Twitter regularly, or pick up the paper every couple days, once in a while you are going to be shocked with some good news. Yesterday was one of those days. In the midst of all the political gore smeared in front of our faces, the state of New York legalized equal marriage. Marriage for everyone. New York is the biggest of the states who have legalized equal marriage, and we can hope is a tipping point for other states (especially those that support large urban populations).

This news comes at a good time for me – the weekend of Chicago Pride – a weekend that has unfortunately become more and more agitating to me the older I get. On my way to work yesterday I picked up the Red Eye (the Chicago Tribune’s commuter short) to check out the reporting on Pride events. I almost didn’t open it after my eyes slid over the cover: a cartoon of a woman in a tight blue and pink outfit and a muscley man in a speedo with a caption about “Beads, Booze and Bods.”

To me, this is like the newspaper encouraging everyone to go out on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and listen to rap music, get corn rows in their hair and eat fried chicken.

Seriously. Equating Gay Pride with rainbow beads, getting blasted and taking your clothes off is totally insulting to what pride SHOULD be. Its degrading. I’m not saying that the Red Eye is uniquely misappropriating the meaning of this event – quite the contrary – the media is simply choosing an angle that will interest its viewership. I’m not pissed that people drink and party over pride weekend – that is certainly part of a celebration. But maybe be a little more considerate about WHY you are celebrating.

I’ve heard people say, “I don’t have white pride parade” or “I don’t have a straight pride parade.” Lets remember, the reason Americans celebrate things like gay pride or black history is because we have come a long way in regards to equal treatment and visibility in these communities. You don’t need to celebrate being a powerful majority since the beginning of time. Celebrate growth and change, and improvement. Celebrate the world being more opening and accepting then it was last year, or even yesterday – thanks to New York.

I did learn from the Red Eye that for the first time teachers from the Chicago Teachers Union would be marching. And that there are 48 entrants in the politician’s category. And that there will be 250 kids and their parents marching from my neighborhood elementary school.

I guess not all news is depressing.

Happy Pride.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Time To Drive

Don't worry, nervous friends. This post has nothing to do with me getting behind the wheel of a car and everything to do with driving. Where else does one drive that is not in a comfy leather pilot seat navigating 2 tons of steel and plastic? Why, on the range of course! Last night I had my first official non- lightsaber-related experience with a golf club at a far flung suburban driving range (the only one of its kind in Illinois, I hear).

Now, I want to start by taking back everything mean I’ve ever said about golf. OK, I’ve never said anything mean about golf, but I have flipped through TV stations on a weekend afternoon willing to watch reruns of the Andy Griffith Show before I'd watch even one hole of golf. And that’s pretty mean.

At the range you don't even have to master complexity of score keeping for 9 or 18 holes, or need the reasoning skills important in picking the right clubs. A rookie like me can just put down her beer, swagger on up to the little green patch of Astroturf, drop that little pocked ball onto its platform, and swing out into the abyss.

And miss.

Or almost kill the semi-pro donning official looking glove and Easter colored hat in the bay next to you.

Or let the velocity of the club take over, lose your balance, and almost fall into the safety net.

Or, if you are lucky, and you focus, maybe you hit it 50 yards. Or 80 yards. And you feel awesome. And then you see why people like golf. Because it’s hard. And it’s rewarding. That's a good combination in any activity (a combo of which I've only obtained part one in writing)

I’m not good at most sports. I have poor hand-eye coordination, I’m not fluid or smooth, and I have a short little span of attention. I usually give up after the 3rd frame in bowling (or 2nd gutter ball, which ever comes first) and plop my self down in the hard plastic seat encouraging anyone else to play my turns, but I liked the driving range enough to swing that club until my two buckets were empty.

To be clear, I made contact with the ball less often than the Loch Ness monster has skulked up on shore and auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent, but I had fun!

How Archaeologists Make Jokes

The Mayan conference is at the beach. Those silly archaeologists!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chicago weather.

Yesterday I rode my bike down to the beach and read the newspaper by the water. Rain had been threatening for 48 hours, but had not followed through on its promise. Today? Its a dismal as it comes. Dark, rainy, people commuting underneath umbrellas up and down the streets. The bottom four inches of everyone's slacks are wet, and messenger bags bulge with Ham and cheese sandwiches - today is the kind of day you eat lunch at your desk.

At the very least, its still pretty warm, and the closest Chicago ever feels to London.

Nothing really to complain about, I suppose.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yoga, Running and Gratitude

Like a desert wanderer, my vision was obscured by the blurry, hazy horizon of hopelessness, savage heat, and hunger. Seeking an end to my suffering that was more than a mirage, my legs shook as I pounded out each step. The sweat dripping from my brow stung my eyes and my aching lungs stressed against my ribcage ready to burst like the lungs of a deep sea diver.

I remember the pain like it was yesterday. Running the mile each spring in high school was torture.

How funny is it that ten years later I could run a mile in high heels after devouring a 72oz steak – if I had to.

I’m not the best runner. I’m not even a good runner – I’m not fast, I wimp out often and I rarely run more than 5 miles. Eliminating all that, though, I can run.

Any one can run.

Running is still hard for me. It is a challenge - but thats one of the reasons why I do it.

Only one in a million of us will become a Lukas Verzbicas, a runner from my hometown, coached by a family friend, who recently became the 5th American high school student in history to break the 4 minute mile with a time of 3:59.71 . A stat like that might actually put Lukas in a smaller group than 1 in a million.

His accomplishment is amazing, and a true testament to what the body can accomplish.

I’ve been running for about 5 years (a timeline assessed by the moment I moved exercise on the treadmill to outdoor running – and when I ran my first race.) I’ve been practicing yoga for about a year. The two activities come together harmoniously. One reason I first began yoga was to improve my running (and to protect myself from the flair up of a back injury) but it turns out the two activities have more of a symbiotic relationship.

Running lets me get outside, and lets me play with the push and pull of my physical ability. It allows my mind to traverse even more exotic routes than my sneakers. I think, I sweat and I observe and exist within my environment.

Yoga demands my concentration. It builds my skill, my patience, and requires that I keep my mind focused and present. Yoga makes me listen and follow rules.

My runner’s body feels leaner and stronger from the conditioning of near constant yoga, and I can withstand the 60 minutes of heat and demand on my muscles in a yoga class because I am a runner.

The most important thing that I have learned from my practice of yoga is gratitude.

There is something inherent in our bones, our blood, and our psyches that challenges our ability to feel good about our bodies. We stress about our weight, our shape, our ability. The colors of our eyes, hair and skin. The perfection of our smiles. We are always criticizing ourselves for not being perfect.

Yoga has given me an opportunity to be thankful for my body for enabling me to eat, to drink, to hug, to do downward dog – and to run. I am thankful that my body listens when I say “faster” or “one more mile.” I am thankful that my body will grow stronger and learn new things. I am grateful for yoga and how I’ve learned through my practice to be grateful for my body and all that it does for me.

Do you remember to be grateful for your body?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The War of the Window Unit

Because Washington, DC is built on a swamp (with the fill in remnants of drudging the Potomac River to increase its depth and create a more viable shipping industry for the region) the summer months are a hot, wet, buggy mess. It's one bad combination - the humidity of heaven's waiting room, Florida, and the blurry chemical and exhaust-filled thickness typical of an urban concrete jungle.

For residents, one moment of relief from living in the government’s very own inferno is that most rental properties come complete with air conditioning. This fact came as a delightful surprise when I moved from Chicago to the District in 2005. In Chicago, A/C is found less frequently, and the War of the Window Unit is familiar to Cubs and Sox fans alike. There is some dreaded weekend waiting quietly all spring for all of us when we have to dig those units out from storage and attempt to move, lift and secure the 40 lb beasts into a window space as ill fitting as the best pair of ladies khakis.

The inevitably poor fit results in the use of half of a roll of duct tape, and the MacGyvering of common household items to fill in gaps and to secure the beast for the summer. One of the challenges includes completing this task on a tight rope, or, rather, over a busy street some 2,3 or 4 stories up. Passersby are often blessed with falling lead-tainted paint chips from the windows of century old buildings, stagnant water dripping from the unit’s last use the previous summer, and probably an array of curse words falling from the lips of the installer. Another challenge is finding an appropriately sized item to wedge between the heavy-in-the-rear unit and the window ledge.

Last summer, I helped my girlfriend duct tape a perfectly sized piece of her best Tupperware, an item which was certainly being groomed for the most important role in its plasticine life. Weeks after witnessing her ingenuity, I tried to use the same method, only to find some of my Tupperware was too big, some was too small, a few pieces were too feeble - none was just right. I then had a moment of my own brilliance.

Searching the apartment for an item that could weather the summer weather, and most likely something that would not survive the feat, I remembered the entire drawer I kept of old CD cases and booklets (a collection that for certain is the beginning of a hoarder’s existence). I selected some cases that I could easily sacrifice, duct taped them together and crammed the creation under the weight of my dangerously wobbly air conditioning unit. Perfection. The success of this project is only heightened by the fact that from the street level, its extremely clear that Fiona Apple, All 4 One, and Green Day are working tirelessly day and night to keep pedestrians safe from being crushed by my window unit.

Today on my way to work, I saw from the L a unit held up by two soup cans. Pretty clever.

Have you ever had to fight the War of the Window Unit? Who won?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Think Yourself Thin (Or At Least Relaxed)

Some 15 years olds panic in the moments before the curtain rises.

Standing in the cafetoriums dark wings, some students quietly run their lines waiting for the one word or character decision that will ignite the 3 or 4 minutes of stage time for which they have been rehearsing for months.

Other 15 year olds stand in those same wings and recite the lyrics to The Beatles' Rocky Raccoon. As one of those Rocky loving teen actors, I have to admit that I don't know how RR became anxiety go-to. I just remember that the lyrics took enough of my focus that the nervous part of my chest started to relax AND that I could remember every word to the song. This dependence only grew in College, but also took on a different purpose.

My freshman year it was very popular to go to parties and dances 20 minutes or 30 minutes away at a rented banquet hall. The all-you-can-drink model was a large contributor to why we attended these banquet hall parties, but the bigest draw was really that you also got to drink on the bus on the way to the party- and everyone knows there's no fun like drinking-on-the-bus-fun.

The problem with this seemingly ideal set up, a problem that some how always slipped the minds of me and my 18 and 19 year old co-ed friends, was a simple equation.

Booze + booze + booze + bus = sick party animals.

The midnight ride back to campus, complete with rocking and rolling and pot holes, was often a very rough trip. When my best friend would inevitably start to feel sick, I'd press my head against the green plastic seatback next to her head, and softly slur Rocky Raccoon from beginning to end - distracting us both just enough from our nausea that we'd make it home without losing our (liquid) dinners on the well traveled floor of a yellow a school bus.

There's something about being able to distract yourself from anxiety and illness - feelings which seems unavoidable.

Why am I remembering the gifts that RR gave me in high school and college on this day? Because I spent my lunch hour almost completely horizontal with my dentist's responsible hands and buzzing tools all up in my grill. It's scary to be so vulnerable, and scary to not know if physical pain might win the battle of the Novacain. It's scary to think about your teeth falling out or how much it costs to put them back in. The dentist is scary no matter how nice or easy it is. Luckily I'm pretty good at calming myself down.

This time it wasn't Rocky who slowed my heart rate and lowered my blood pressure - it was Vinyasa. Closing my eyes and running a simple sequence of yoga poses, remembering the often well rehearsed lines that accompany each pose, imagining those poses perfect on my body in a way that I can't actually wear them yet. I can get a lost in my imaginary practice even with the tugging and the taste of blood in the back of my throat. It's cool to be able to separate your mind from your body, to distract yourself from what you are feeling.

What tricks help you manage your anxiety or control your fear? What else can you gain from having a mind over body connection?

PS: I originally blogged this post from my phone, and felt like there were too many errors to ignore, so this is a corrected version!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is anybody out there?

I'm always sort of freaked out when someone mentions to me something they read on my blog. Of course, of the reasons people like me start blogs is to be read, but I find I'm so embarrassed of my low budget blogging for the last 5 years that I almost wish the select handful of you who opted to be notified that I've posted would just quietly remove yourselves and no longer cause me the tension of having your audience.  In all likelihood, if I wanted to maintain a blog on which I might actually be encouraged to write on it would probably be dedicated to the following subjects: dinosaurs, cats, running, yoga, music, and public transportation/delights of urban living. While staying on these few subjects might be kind of fun for me, I don't really know how much fun you all would have. The other option is to do Readers Choice and take suggestions for posts. I'm happy to write on any subject. As my voice echoes out and back from the blogosphere I ask- what do you want to read about?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mediations on Writing

What causes the desire or capacity to write change for some so much from day to day? There are days, admittedly rare ones, in which I cover page after page, or post it after post it, or perhaps napkin after napkin- tangential thoughts, complex story lines, snapshots not fully formed. Sometimes these words and phrases flow the way we imagine Bob Dylan composing in bursts of perfection and timeless clauses that have the power to change a generation (it really does feel that way sometimes ). Other days I can try to force my hand to move. Try to feed my brain story leads. Try to reflect on old ideas which I captured briefly to later expound upon, and, yet - no writing appears. Nothing. Not one joke. Not one familial anecdote. Nothing that will.change anyone. These days, it's rather hard to feel like much more than a nonprofiteer. A cat owner. A yogi. Certainly not a writer. Certainly not.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I'll Take "Home" For $2000, Alex

The instant my foot crossed the threshold of my apartment after almost two full weeks out of town for both work and pleasure, those stereotypical words drifted unconsidered into my mind: “It feels so good to be home.”

Even with those words in my head, within minutes (or maybe minute) of dropping my suitcases, loneliness crept in.

I picked up my cell phone and found no texts. I perused my emails only to be met with advertisements and offers. I sunk into the tiny green loveseat near my street-facing windows and watched the summer heat beat down onto un-acclimated Chicagoans. My sunburned and dehydrated body had no interest in exercise. The cats were still at sleep-away camp until a ride could be arranged for their return. The fridge was bare, my girlfriend was 40 miles away and after 2 full weeks of constant social interaction I found I didn’t remember how to be by myself.

2 weeks of constant business with work, or constant easy chatter with my best friends, or continuous phone calls to folks at was too quiet.

Without my love, my friends OR my cats – how could this place be considered home?

After a few hours (reconnecting with my books, NPR, and cheese and crackers) I started to feel more like a local in my apartment, but the gap was harder to close than I had expected.

What makes your house a home?

Gay Marriage Vs. Cousin Marriage

This is Americer.