Hello local

Today Eliina and I went to the FamilyFarmed Expo, a whole convention of nice people who grow good food. I got a little inspired while I was there, my inner hippie was just pleased as punch by all the non-corporate, super-delicious edible items. And I signed up for Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks, just to try it. They’ll deliver produce and other locally made things like bread and cheese directly to your house, giving me fewer reasons to have to venture into the cold this winter. I like it.

Ain’t it the truth

Perhaps one of the hardest things for a writer to retain is simple honesty, but that happens to be one of the greatest strengths of a 3rd grade author. It’s all about the story—be it a true story or straight out of their imagination. And kids write their stories the way they would tell them, the way they remember them or create them, and the way they experience them, be it in their mind of in real life. Simply and honestly.

Samantha from Barrel of Monkeys

Adventures in Babysitting

Do you remember this movie? A babysitter and her two charges, a little girl and her middle-school-aged brother, plus the boy’s annoying friend, drive downtown, end up on the South Side of Chicago by accident and have ONLY THEIR WITS to get them back to safety. There are mishaps. The little girl at one point slides down the glass front of a skyscraper, for instance. Their car blows a tire. Someone gets stabbed on the el. They sing the blues in a club. They walk into a U of C frat party where the babysitter meets the love of her life. Belated spoiler alert.

All by accident. All fate handing them these bizarre-o twists. My sisters and I loved this movie. Like, psychotically loved it. In retrospect it’s a little weird with the whole white-kids-in-urbania thing, but at the time I wasn’t into racial politics, I just loved that it all turned out ok and they had just enough time to get home and pretend to be asleep before the parents returned.

I would like to propose that the Universe adopt a similar model. Present me with a series of quirky, fun, seemingly risky but ultimately safe learning experiences and drop me back home on the couch at the end. This whole “figure it out as you go” thing would be so much more reassuring that way.


It’s cold again, and that means a slow, painful layering process before leaving the house, hot showers every chance I get, and a nagging germ-cloud that is following me around like the devil. For a week I’ve avoided meetings or shows because I’ll instantly be tagged: The Cougher.

I finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and wanted something new to fill the soul, so I headed to my local Big Box Bookstore during the First Real Snow and picked out Stranger Than Fiction, by Chuck Palahniuk. One: I can never remember how to spell his last name. Two: He writes for the ear, which is good for me right now, at a time when I’m hugging the spoken performance close to my chest but am also unwilling to give up on writing texty things, things that live in print.

On the way home, I walked up Broadway Ave. , through the little China/Vietnam/Thaitown and up outside a nail salon was a little Asian kid (maybe 6 or 7?), doing what looked like a mad version of Dance Dance Revolution in the middle of the sidewalk alone. But really he was catching snowflakes, grabbing them furiously out of the air, spinning and grabbing and licking his palm with a huge smile on his face like the sky was raining M&Ms or something.

10 things you should know before storming the castle, or: the randomness that surfaces at 12:24am after two glasses of wine

1)    Check your shoelaces. Are they untied? Avoid embarrassing stumbles, tie those dogs up.
2)    Yell loud. A “silent storm” isn’t likely to put much fear in the hearts of your enemies.
3)    Bring some friends. There’s been many a storming conducted solo because someone failed to heed this basic tenet. Overbook your storming. Last-minute no-shows are common.
4)    Prepare for a drawbridge. You may need to take an alternate route – or, conversely, brave the moat. NOTE: Moat-crossings have been successfully accomplished with scuba gear and/or bamboo reeds.
5)    Eat a healthy breakfast first. Don’t pass out waiting for “the signal”.
6)    Get a good night’s rest the evening before. See above.
7)    Off with their heads. Make sure you’re well-practiced (practised?) at the art of beheading. It’s faster than simply inflicting less-mortal wounds, and prevents the old “crawl and stab” after you’ve written them off.
8)    Know what ammo your enemies will be using. Bow and arrow? Slingshots? Flying cows? Who knows what Monty Python movies they’ve been watching? You must know, that’s who. Spy early, spy often.
9)    Follow the trusty example of the football coach and develop at least one or two hand signals. Keep it simple. No one wants to remember what “hop three times and scratch under your left armpit” means when you’ve got a sword to your throat.
10)    Have fun. Because in the end, after the heads have rolled and the blood has dried, all you’ll have left are your memories. Oh, yeah. And your brand-new castle.

The address of that apple

I just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Time to ‘fess up: I have avoided pretty much everything she’s every written before this because one of her novels was assigned in my high school — not even to my class, to some other English class — and I’m totally, unreasonably biased against any contemporary author assigned by my old high school. I know. It makes no sense. But I loved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s the author’s account of her family’s year of “eating local” — actually, really local. They grew all their own food for a year, including poultry, and except for things like spices and coffee were completely self-sufficient. Now, I live in a major city, in a neighborhood filled with overpriced trendy furniture shops, three coffee shops within six blocks, enough sushi to induce mercury poisoning… but I’m totally taken by the idea of locally grown, made from scratch.

Perhaps it’s Little House on the Prairie syndrome. As a kid, I checked out one book after another from the library and holed up in our cookie-cutter suburban house dreaming about things like making headcheese and going to the general store for bolts of pretty fabric to make a real dress. Regardless. The book made me remember that what we eat comes from somewhere, not just the grocery store, a fact that I often forget when I’m zombie-walking through the crowded aisles of the Jewel looking for something I could call “dinner”.

Last weekend I went to the grocery store looking for local fall produce, thinking that I could at least start now and find something grown within 100 miles. But I saw asparagus from Peru labeled “farm stand” and apples from New York mixed with apples from Michigan, so I figured maybe that wasn’t my best shot, and I need to hit up a real farmer’s market. Also, Eliina and I are going to this; lemme know if you want to join us.

For a happy nerd heart

The Wednesday after election night felt like the whole world had exhaled, a deep breath I hadn’t realized it was holding. On my way to an appointment downtown, people smiled at one another– big smiles, not just polite smiles — and made eye contact. It was completely surreal. Later that afternoon I was a guest reader at Columbia College, where I read part of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road aloud as part of an all-day marathon. Inside the glass-walled auditorium, students’ faces glowed and I learned that the words of Kerouac taste so good to say, it’s like speaking in Pop Rocks.

Other things that make my nerd heart happy:

A story about a penguin and its stuffed friend (that Kevin sent me, knowing I would swoon).

An episode of This American Life about the tight race in Pennsylvania. It aired right before election day and to listen now is to feel that great relief of a near-miss car wreck.

Last night, in Grant Park

Last night comes back in a rush of memory: standing in line for more than an hour to get into the rally, shuffling as one pack through security check after security check, this windless 60-degree autumn night is so perfect — did we order it on a platter? How did we get here? The strangers around us seem less like strangers; if someone says something funny, others in earshot turn and laugh… the metal detectors are so close now. We can see them. We’re not moving. Hey, there’s Kevin’s friend Evan, let’s squirrel our way forward. I check for my ticket and ID compulsively, every few minutes I finger the creased print-out of an email that would be my ticket. This crowd is everyone ever, every skin color, every age. A little black three-year-old on a white guy’s shoulders, elderly women linked arm-in-arm, a blind black man whispering in his wife’s ear, hipsters without cynical shine, whoever you are, you are here and your smiles are electric. Finally in the park now, and the crowd is a flood of sound and camera flashes. It is the energy of a football stadium times five, where we are all on the same team. We’re watching for results on the billboard-sized screen, cheering for each blue state, rub my back — we’ve been standing for hours. CNN gives us our shot of “projections” — do we believe them? Pennsylvania: YES. Ohio: YES. Countdown to the polls closing… hold my hand now… waiting… waiting for California. Then out of nowhere: Barack Obama, President, filling the huge screen, and the entire crowd is ONE SCREAM, high-fives to strangers, hugs here and there and there, stunned, tears, stunned. Overheard: “It happened, ma. It’s a new hope.” “This is our generation’s turn now. He’s what, twelve years older than me?” Waiting for the speech. Waiting for the speech. McCain concedes, music plays — surely he’ll walk out any second… other speeches, the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem… is this real? Are we allowed to be proud of these things tonight? The woman singing the anthem flubs a few words, at first we are annoyed but then realize, screw it, let’s all join in and so we do. Waiting for the speech. Then at last, Obama — and the speech that makes us tear up, that makes us chant “Yes we can” — the one that says we’ll be listened to, that things will be hard but that we will do this together. Really? Are we here now? After the speech shuffling through the crowds again out to the streets — losing Kevin, finding Kevin — and we can’t take trains so we decide to walk as far as we can. The walk down Michigan Ave is the biggest, happiest, most unified parade of people. Some were predicting riots, this is a riot of the heart, I have never seen anything like it. “Did we get Florida?” a white-haired woman behind me asks her friend… “I don’t know,” is the reply. I turn around: “We got Florida.” They are so happy. “And Virginia?” Yes, I say. A woman on the corner leans drunkenly against a lamppost repeating “OBAMA!” and high-fiving everyone she can. She wraps me in a hug as I pass. Walking, walking, we are all the parade and this is really happening.