Scene of the write: Colectivo Coffee

I envy how little kids can fall and get back up without blinking an eye.

An almost sickeningly cute child in glasses just took a nosedive off the bench outside the window, tucked, rolled, and resumed eating his perfectly in-tact, cartoonish pink-frosted donut like nothing had happened. Meanwhile, little sister in white tights and black vinyl Mary Janes looked on, absentmindedly patting the head of her minature beagle mut mix of whatever.

Last time I took a spill like that, I bled through the knee of my jeans during an entire Colts-Dolphins game at Lucas Oil Stadium. A blend of blood and leaking ego turned the denim black.

There are two women down the row from us. One just announced she couldn’t decide whether to buy something in a size two or four. Then she continued picking at her avocado toast.

What I thought might be a coffee first-date next to me turned out to be a few friends meeting up. That’s why I like coffee shops on Sunday afternoons: A lot of times you get first dates between people who met at the bar on Friday and knew they’d be too hungover the next day to be first-date worthy. But no, these are just a couple mix-matched grad students from DePaul trading stories of where they studied abroad: Peru, Sweden, Texas.

Of course, I don’t even know how many people have eavesdropped on my conversations in these places before. I’m sure it made someone’s nght when The Man With Time on His Arm and I discussed Taco Bell Cantina’s presumable house wine as a fermented version of their taco sauce. Or just now, with Frannie and I talking about starting a Tindr-like app for people who want to spend just an hour with a dog on their lap while watching Judge Judy.

Oh, the conversation snipets we leave behind, like skin cells and donut sprinkles smeared across the pavement outside this window. 

 

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Writespiration: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama

Trust me, when I cracked open Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, the last thing I expected to get out of it was writing inspiration. An increased respect for one of my heroes, inside look into the Obama administration, and painful nostalgia at how far we’ve fallen since her time in the White House, sure. But who on earth would turn to the memoir of a former First Lady and forever champion of children, equal rights, health and fitness for a pep talk on writing?

But there it was, page 43. 

“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result.”

Obama was writing about her elementary school in Chicago’s Southside. In seventh grade, the Chicago Defender ran an opinion piece that claimed Bryn Mawr was a “run-down slum” led with a “ghetto mentality.” Despite protests from the teachers, principal and community saying otherwise, that article contributed to a growing fear that her once diverse neighborhood was finally succumbing to the blight that struck communities affected by White Flight in the 1970s. 

The theme continues throughout the book, and she brings it up a couple other times when describing college and her husband’s 2008 campaign. But when I read that line, I immediately applied it to my writing.

Nobody’s Hero is a wreck right now. I’ve been her before with other projects, most of which are now collecting proverbial dust on a literal hard drive, not even close to being continued, let alone finished. They vary in style and genre, but they all have one thing in common: they were chucked aside as soon as I started feeling like I was failing them.

Reading Obama’s story — the major shifts in her career from lawyer to community advocate, the highs and lows of her husband’s presidency, the love she has for her country — you know she wouldn’t be in a place to tell us her story if she had surrendered to that feeling of failure instead of pushing through.  

All writers have those projects that they stuff away because they become too challenging, too messy. It’s not easy to declare something a failure and move on to the next project, but it can be a lot easier than continuing to work on a book or script or poem that’s complicated to untangle. I wonder how many pieces with great potential we’ve left languishing in forgotten drawers and cyber folders because we never got past the feeling that they were lost causes. 

Another surprise from the book: I have never before read a memoir that I couldn’t put down. I think I literally consumed the whole thing in four sittings (thanks, cross-country flights!) thanks to its candid and conversational writing style. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone contemplating writing a memoir — or writing in general, come to that.

Scene of the write: Beef, Bears and blogging at the airport Berghoff

One of my favorite places to write and eavesdrop is the airport, particularly O’Hare International Airport. Not only is it the airport I flight out of the most, but it’s also a hotbed for international flyers getting their last shot at being local Chicagoans. We’re talking about passports in colors you’ve never seen before, being whipped out in the security line, while the bars along the terminal are stuffed full of people watching the Bears vs. Eagles wildcard game, regardless if they’re interested in the outcome.

The Berghoff Cafe is at the end of this United Airlines terminal, and it’s where I was able to find not just a decent sandwich to send me off on a business trip to Phoenix, but it also has decent bar where I can pretend I’m watching the Golden Globes red carpet instead of an NFL game. The guy next to me is shopping on Bonobos while drinking a beer — no, wait, he’s now scrolling through HBO Now.  And now he’s checking hotel accomodations in Toronto. 

The corned beef sandwich was more than decent, I’ve decided. It was downright good. 

It’s mostly older people perched on leather-topped stools around the high-top wooden tables. Most are drinking beer, but one woman just dropped half a glass of white wine off at this end of the bar and walked away. If I wasn’t paranoid about cold sores or picking up (yet another) virus, I could easily finish it off for her without anyone noticing. Instead, I’ll stick to my merlot served in a white wine glass — she looked like the chardonnay type, anyway, and I’m not a fan. Gives me headaches.

I know this is the second post I’ll have published this year, and still no sign of my resolutions. Those are coming, though slowly. I’ve decided this is the year I step away from obsessively planning everything, as it usually leads to too much stress and not enough productivity. That’s the rub: Spending so much time planning you don’t get any time to actually accomplish what you set out to do. Isn’t that a whole John Lennon lyric? “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
Guy next to me just added some camel-brown chinos to his Bonobos cart. He could pull off that color.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 17: Ipsento

I’m writing this on top of a door that’s now a table wrapped around a pillar. 

There’s a metal plate with a spot for a doorknob and keyhole to my right, a couple nasty scratches to my left, and a latte with honey and cayenne pepper just behind my tablet. Someone with my name just ordered a slow-drip coffee, and I could hear the barista call out for them, even from back here. I started thinking how the first thing I’d do with telepathic powers would be to transmit a drink order from my spot here at the door-table so I don’t have to stand in the long line at the front.

A woman behind me just explained the show Friends to her friend, who kept insisting she knows the show but just didn’t ever like it (I can relate). There are two students studying for an exam on Marriage and Family Therapy — at least, that’s the textbook sandwiched between the coffee table and a blue mug while they scroll through each other’s Instagram accounts (I can also relate).

A woman in a stained ivory coat sits on the same bench as them, styrofoam cup on the table next to her and white plastic bag of belongings on the floor. Her New Balances are clean white, I notice, as she gets up to leave after having sat, either contemplating the room or getting lost in her thoughts of what could have been.

Vignette: City love

Her love for her city had always lied dormant and deep, buried in her core like the marrow in her bones. But then she found him in the city’s chaos, and that marrow had bloated and broken its bony shell to become a blush illuminating her cheeks like the rosy sunrise over the lake.

Chicago northside skyline at dusk

#NaNoWriMo2017 Day 15: “Self-Abduction”

I know from the smell of Narcoleptic Sam and the torturous scream of the tracks under my feet that this is the Blue Line and I’m headed northwest — probably between Division and Damen. I know this even though I’m blindfolded and guarded by two giant men who yank me around like two dogs “share” a chew toy.

But it’s not the smell of piss-soaked sweatpants or sound of earsplitting rails that gives our location away. I know where we are because this rather public abduction was entirely planned by yours truly.

I’m paying my captors $3,000 a piece to drag me, blindfolded, halfway across this city at 1 a.m. and throw me in a confessional during the tail end of midnight Mass so my father thinks I’ve confessed to the only boss in our family higher than him: God himself.

The last thing I need anyone thinking is that I’m suddenly remorseful for killing dear Saint Jimmy, who’s not even related to us but gets the right-hand seat at Sunday dinner while I, the head of the table’s own flesh and blood, am banished to the kitchen, draining discarded wine bottles and running my fingers along the edges of still-warm pots and pans in hopes of catching a taste of glory being served in the other room before it hardens to a crust that Loradonna will have to scrub twice as hard to clean away. That’s why I have two men hauling me around in the open so the midnight dwellers think “Ole Jack has really put the screws into his kid this time,” and Dad thinks someone else has it in for one of his own.

And it’s all going according to plan until we arrive at the church and a Goliath I haven’t paid lays waste to the two schmucks I have, then drags me by my hair up five flights of rickety stairs into the bell tower where I used to smoke during Mass when I was a kid and pushes me out the window.

As I fall, still blindfolded, time stops while I wait for the ground to meet me. I chuckle to myself, thinking that this will really put a surprised look on Dad’s face. I can’t wait to haunt next Sunday’s dinner to hear the stunned silence at the table, similar to the quiet just after Saint Jimmy’s body washed up on Foster Beach. None of Loradonna’s fretting over whether there’s enough butter out for the rolls; none of Katydid’s complaint at the calorie count in the food she so happily eats for free.

None of Dad’s mirthful laughter, which I could swear I hear above me, growing more distant as I fall.