Scene of the write: The Music Box Theater

The street festival outside is closed, shrouded in thick white plastic sheets held down with duct tape so the midsummer breeze doesn’t pick them up and fly them like Halloween ghosts down the road. The emptied racks and tables underneath brace themselves for another 90-degree day.

Inside the century-old Music Box Theater lobby, it’s cool — the kind of dried and seasoned air that comes out of an aging air conditioner. Indie acoustic music plays over the speakers, and the Manhattans served in plastic cups taste worth the $13 even though they don’t look it. A dark luxardo cherry burrows under the ice, a secret treat to whoever finishes the booze part first.

From my seat in a chair that was once maroon but is now a dusty mauve, I watch the employee sliding the letters off a sign above Theater 2. The words change from “Paris is Burning” to “Paris is Bu” to “Paris i” to “Pa” to muted white light.

The projector could be illuminating the screen with anything, and I wouldn’t know it until I peeled my sticky legs from the grip of the vinyl seat and waddled across the floor, plucking the shorts from their bunch between my legs, and walked under the ladder and through the door. No longer would it be the story of Harlem’s drag queens. It could be a grim noir with revolvers, running boards, stocking dresses and hats with little netted veils. Or maybe it’s a new experimental film hand-drawn by someone coming down from an Adderall high courtesy of their college roommate’s drug dealer.

Overhead a white girl strums her guitar and sings Rihanna’s “Desperado” in a voice trained for honeysuckle country and straining for grit. And in a blink, the Theater 2 sign says “Escape from NY.”

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. 

 

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