IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BOY

For nearly a year-and-a-half, I have been a slacker.

Not in life, might I add. Just here on the Internet. (Well, technically, just on my blog, as there are other sites where you would find articles by me … Just nothing personal about my life and my beloved Uptown.) I have decided that I will no longer be lax, and look to return to blogging with full force … Yeah, we’ll see about that one, huh?

I need a creative outlet right now, and besides painting, this is what I do best. I never meant to take this long of a break, believe me. But to be honest with you, my life hasn’t been all that exciting for the past 16 months … Unless you’re me, that is. To me, it’s been amazing, awesome, mind-blowing, stupefying and magnificent. (It’s also been wracked with more heartache than I ever thought possible, but that’s neither here nor there.) Thankfully, it’s been more good than bad, though, and no matter what, I now know I can survive anything …

At least I can with him by my side.

“SWF SEEKS SWM BETWEEN THE AGES OF 25-35. MUST BE EMPLOYED. MUST LOVE FAMILY, DOGS, SMALL BABIES, SERIOUS CURVES AND MUSIC. MUST BE FUNNY. MUST BE ABLE TO PUT UP WITH MY ALMOST SMOTHERING BOUTS OF KINDNESS. MUST KNOW THIS COULD ALL JUST BE A PHASE. MUST KNOW I NEVER MAKE PLANS, AND I COULD FEEL DIFFERENTLY TOMORROW. MUST BE DARK ENOUGH TO SEE MY LIGHT. BEARD OPTIONAL, BUT PREFERRED.”

That is from a blog post I wrote Jan. 27, 2010. A blog post that would eventually lead to my life being forever changed.

I was inspired to write “Training Myself to Look Around” after a Red Line ride downtown one morning with an older, yet attractive neighbor. After writing said piece, I got really embarrassed, wondering if someone would point out the posting to him before I ever got a chance to explain why I wrote it. (I wasn’t interested in him, and just needed to make sure he knew that before he got the wrong idea! Ha.) I tried to track him down through our Sheridan Gardens page on Facebook, but to no avail. Instead, I ended up sending a message to one of my other neighbors I saw on there, simply because he had great taste in music.

We had met a few times before, him and I. We had said hellos in passing, but nothing more than that. But after the initial online exchange, we decided that we would meet in person. So, plans were made for the following weekend for me to cross the courtyard to hang out with him and his roommate. No big deal, I thought at the time … Just a couple of soon-to-be friends, Elton John’s “Honky Chateau” on vinyl, and a few laughs. What more could a girl ask for?

Obviously, everything.

I liked him immediately, but not in a romantic sense. I found him to be funny, self-deprecating, smart … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find him to be attractive. But it was more in a “you’re-cute-let’s-find-you-someone-your-own-age-to-date” kind of way. We were friends for a while. For months, there would be late-night conversations about everything from music to family life … Religion to our dating pasts. For hundreds of hours during the beginning of 2010, we never ran out of things to say.

It was during the summer that I knew that I loved him. It wasn’t like having a crush on a friend. (Believe me, been there, done that, bought a few T-shirts.) No, this was way different. I couldn’t imagine ever having to spend a day without seeing him … And I couldn’t imagine that he’d ever look at me in the way I saw him. But, boy, was I wrong.

He too had been feeling the same way for a while, he would later tell me. He said his stomach would turn when he’d see me coming up the back sidewalk to their apartment, and that’s when he knew. But both of us, unsure because of past hurts, doubt or whatever, never put ourselves out there, scared of being let down, afraid of disappointment. So, for months, we just looked at each other longingly, both of us wondering what the other was thinking. (And both secretly knowing how much we cared for one another.)

A rare bottle (or two) of wine at the beginning of September helped change all of that in a night … One kiss, and all at once, we were no longer just friends. We were best friends … And we were in love.

I’d like to say it’s been a whirlwind of romanticism, the kind of courtship you would read about in a Jane Austen novel … But, truth be told, as far as him and I, it’s always just been an easy ride. There have been some flowers, chocolates, and the like. Sweet dates, many a foot or back rub, and a wonderful trip home to meet each others’ families. We simply love to be around one another, each spending our time away from the other just waiting to be back together. Yes, we have become that couple that even we would have hated this time last year. I have been told that our love is infectious … That when you are around us, it’s hard not to see everything we feel for one another.

He makes me laugh on a daily basis, even if all I feel like doing at the moment is crying. He values my opinion, and thinks I am one of the smartest women to ever walk this earth. He sees my beauty, both inside and out, and finds me to be both sexy and funny. (Even if I do make up my own words and phrases sometimes, it’s one of the things he loves most about me.) Most importantly, he “gets” me … I never have to worry about being anything other than who I honestly am. (And the same for him, as well.)

All he has to do is put his arms around me, and the rest of the world, and all of my worries, seem to fade away.

We’ve been going through tough times lately, and it has only proven to me how much I love him … How strong we are. Together we have survived something that most will thankfully never face in their lifetime. But through that, we have grown to love each other on a whole other level that neither of us thought possible. For that I am forever grateful … And for that I am forever changed.

I never expected that in him I would find the one person I had been waiting my whole life for. The one person who would love and understand me better than anyone who had come before him. This week marks two years since I climbed the stairs to the third floor of 4720 N. Racine Ave. in Chicago for the first time … Now I take the same flights daily to get to my home. Our home.

It’s funny how quickly life can change. It’s times like these where I try to hold on to that. I still can not believe I put out into the universe what I was looking for, and I got everything I wanted and then some. (Plus, he looks good with or without a beard, so bonus points there.)

With all that being said, I just wanted to say thank you Hunter. For everything.

And ask you, my readers, to forgive me for being away so long. It wouldn’t have been that interesting anyway, as it’s hard to write about living when all you want is to be holed up inside with the man you love.

(But, I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

YOUTH IN REVOLT

OH, IF THINGS WERE AS SIMPLE NOW AS THEY WERE BACK THEN, AND SPENDING TIME IN THE BACKYARD WITH MY MOM AND HER CAMERA WAS THE MOST PRESSING THING ON MY SCHEDULE, RIGHT? BUT DECADES LATER, I AM HAPPY WITH HOW FAR I’VE COME, HOW MUCH I’VE LEARNED, AND ALL THE THINGS I HAVE YET TO EXPERIENCE.

“Though my body is far from old, I’m bowing to useless youth. And I can’t fake a fist to throw through the crust of the earth. If you find me, don’t wake me … I can’t be shaken awake. If you don’t stare at the dark and if you never feel bleak, life starts to lose its taste.” FRIGHTENED RABBIT

Oh age. I’ve been thinking about that lately.

Maybe it’s because I finally feel older than ever, even though I am still mistaken for being anywhere from five years to a full decade younger than my real number. (Hey, give a girl a chance to be pleased with herself for a moment. I just admitted I see the days, weeks, months, years, creeping by.)

It feels like yesterday I was eating glue with my then-best-friend Jill Jordan, four years old at our church daycare. It was either that or gluing our hands together, only to eventually pull it all off, spiderwebs of dried Elmer’s peeling from our tiny hands. And yes, this favorite pastime was done during what was supposed to be naptime. Ah quiet rebels, the both of us, even then.

Now she is a mother, a wife, an aunt.

I was home for Thanksgiving this past November. On the highway to my next destination, I was hit with the sudden realization that I hadn’t gone to see my Dad during the brief moment I was in town. I quickly detoured to purchase a poinsettia for his grave at the garden center at Lowe’s in Columbus. It was there I ran into Jill’s mother, Janice, and her older sister, Kelly.

Although the visit was brief, it was good to still feel such a connection so many years later. Once I returned to Chicago, Janice and I hooked up on Facebook, where I was able to “meet” the rest of her now family, which included grandchildren Dean Hartleroad, 19, Max Hartleroad, 16, and Miles Jordan, 15.

Better known to those who love them or have heard their music as The Motions.

When she asked if she could send me their CD, I must admit I was sceptical. I am not a good bad critic of music. I still haven’t written a review of a recent show I went to because I can not stand to be negative … remember, it’s all subjective anyway. One man’s Radiohead is another’s Britney Spears. (Shudder.) But I shouldn’t have worried in the slightest.

From the packaging to the recording, it’s good. I listened to it the first time on the Red Line coming home from work one day. (Raising yet another study in how far my life has taken me from childhood.) The raw, natural talent of all three is evident on each and every track. The best thing about the 10 songs off their self-titled CD? They were all written by them, and inspiration was obviously gained from my hometown. (Not an easy feat to accomplish, I assure you. Even Tennessee Williams had to live other places for a long time to eventually create “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”)

On tracks like “Drink Away your Pain,” a slower turn for the boys, the tones of the song show more maturity than that of normal teenagers. “This addiction’s got you down. Fear you haven’t yet touched ground. You’re looking out for just yourself. Please won’t you save you from yourself.” Dean, the frontman for The Motions, wrote many of the songs before the age of 17, when the CD was recorded in 2008.

There is obvious inspiration from other acts throughout the tracks, although they come across more as subtle nuances than rip-offs. “Intertwined Mind” has tones of The White Stripes in the music, driving guitar riffs mixed with slight drum taps. But it is really with “Fallen” that The Motions show the most promise in my eyes. (Or ears.)  It was the one that immediately jumped out to me on first listen. It is a 2-minute, 21-second, hard-hitting, well-deserved scolding on capitalism of sorts. (Yep … these are kids people.)

But to be honest with you, it’s not the album I am as impressed with as it is their future. To exhibit such drive and aptitude already can only bode well for The Motions in the years to come. They have now added a fourth member, Kyle Bennett, to the mix. Although unsigned, the band will be playing a few shows at SXSW in a couple of weeks. And yes, Janice will be taking her spring break in Austin to see her grandsons on stage. (Just a tinge of jealousy here, as SXSW is on my list of 10 things to do in the next few years, a list I’m slowly whittling away at.)

But I was reminded earlier this week by a random story I saw on the Internet, it’s never too late to become whatever you want. In France, there is a woman who travels around the country as a DJ at the age of 69. Ruth Flowers picked up the hobby after attending her grandson’s 21st birthday. As long as you are open to everything around you, I think there is no set time-line to what you will accomplish, or who you are supposed to be.

Just ask Dean, Max, Miles and Kyle as they move ahead; Janice as she continues to support them (both emotionally and financially … what a wonderful grandmother to believe in their music); Granny DJ spinning her tunes in rhinestone-covered headphones; or even me, as thankfully I can still vividly remember being that glue-eating four-year-old … so I can’t be all that far removed from her.

Age really is just a number.

http://www.myspace.com/themotionsonline

THE MOTIONS, FROM COLUMBUS, MISS., WILL BE PLAYING SEVERAL SHOWS AT SXSW LATER THIS MONTH. WITH AN AVERAGE AGE OF 17, THE BOYS ARE PROVING THAT MATURITY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE DEFINED BY HOW MANY DAYS YOU’VE BEEN ON THIS EARTH. (photo by wes frazer)

* And an addendum to my earlier post on The Motions … Dean prefers to be called Toby now. (Grandma failed to mention that.) Obviously Kyle goes by Harrison as well. Ha. And Hackberry Records in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is the band’s current label. http://www.hackberryrecords.com/ My bad, the CD I got has them unsigned. Should have done more research. But still cool, talented kids. At least I got that right.

FEELS GOOD TO BE FRIGHTENED

I just told a new friend last night that I don’t like to read reviews for albums.

I don’t even like to write reviews of shows, music, etc. Previews, sure, as it allows me to find out more about the artists, something I usually refrain from doing, as I see music as art and I don’t want to know a lot about what went into making it. I like to keep it subjective. Opinions are like … well you know … and everyone’s got one. But for some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that I need to share mine on this one.

Frightened Rabbit. New album. Holy crap. As I sit here, listening to it once again, thanks to NPR which has it streaming for the next week, I am beginning the process of absorption. And it is hitting every nerve in my body. And I can’t wait to hear it on vinyl … next Tuesday won’t come soon enough. “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is the third album from the Scottish band, who rose to U.S. recognition with 2008’s “The Midnight Organ Fight.”

In a time where animal monikers seem to be gaining popularity on the indie scene (think Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Panda Bear, Minus the Bear, White Rabbit, Band of Horses, Pedro the Lion, Deerhoof, Deerhunter … you get the picture) Frightened Rabbit now stands up there with the best.

“The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is a hauntingly beautiful, emotional 45-minute layered wall of sound. (And the best part, it’s the first album I am getting to hear through my new-to-me vintage Pioneer SE-50 headphones, so a fine popping of the cherry, if you will. And forever the best $5 spent at a yard-sale.)

With tracks like “The Loneliness and the Scream,” lead singer Scott Hutchinson wraps his voice around such inspired lyrics as “I’ve fallen in the forest, did you hear me? In the loneliness, oh the loneliness, and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist … I’m here, of course I am, yes. All I need is your hand to drag me out again …” The way the words entangle themselves through the layers, slight guitar chords leading to such an uplifting crescendo it makes the idea of loneliness seem like an amazing new adventure.

The swooping guitars and drum beats on “Foot Shooter” match the melodic yet sultry tone of Hutchinson’s voice note for note, while “Nothing Like You” sees a more driving, almost early-80s punk side of Frightened Rabbit. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” is a surprisingly upbeat track disguised as a study of past demons and a tinge of boredom (“Let’s call me a Baptist … call this a drowning of the past”) that continues the record’s use of swooping background vocals. I could go on and on, as each track offers something different. (“Things” … “Skip the Youth” … man …)

Top to bottom, “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” gets high marks from me. The feeling is not one of over-produced indie pop. It is a free-flowing trek through full-bodied experimentation and instrumentation. But hey … what do I know? This is just my opinion, and I’m just thankful to have gotten so much out of it already.

Hopefully you will too.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124085431

RIGHT BRAIN WINS EVERY TIME

THE BEST OF THE REST, I GUESS. I PHOTOGRAPH A LOT OF THINGS THAT DON’T END UP IN MY BLOG (INCLUDING PICKLED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AT JOEL AND JEREMY’S CHRISTMAS PARTY.) VIOLENTLY ILL AT HOME TODAY, (NOT A GOOD MENTAL IMAGE WITH SPROUTS ABOVE, I AM SURE) I BEGAN ANOTHER WAY TO SHARE WHAT I SEE WITH ALL OF YOU WHO LOVE ME.

So what’s a girl to do when she’s too sick to leave her couch … but bored out of her mind? In my case, start a new blog.

I was in the mood to create today. (Truthfully, I was actually looking forward to going to work, as the need to make something was palpable. Unfortunately, my body had other ideas.)

Midday, I began to clean photos off my laptop, only to realize there were a lot from the last year that had not made my blog or the newspaper for some reason. My mother continues to ask me every time she reads something, “Did you take that picture?” I have to assure her again and again that I did, so this is mainly for her. (Again.) Now she can see the other images that were important enough for me to document with my thankfully work-provided, but all-together crappy, digital camera.

It’s also in part for my friend Joe, who has said I write too long for him sometimes. (There is more to that statement, but since I love him … I’ll refrain.) Ah critics … So now he can just flip through and look at pictures when he just needs to occupy his mind for a minute. Hats off to him.

After going a few years without taking many photographs at all, I will admit to being a little obsessive from time to time. But as those of you who know and love me surely realize, it’s all in my search to find more beautiful balance and continued growth in this world of mine. So I guess look at this as a companion piece to “SEEN IN CHICAGO.” Where my words describe what I see here, the lens will do it for me at the other. I write what I see. I shoot what I see. Sometimes I get it right/rite. Sometimes I don’t. All part of the learning process.

Ladies and gentlemen, untrained eye chicago.

I’m thankful for those of you who like seeing things my way.

http://untrainedeyedchicago.wordpress.com/

SINGING/LAUGHING AWAY THE BLUES

I’LL GIVE IT TO ANNIE CLARK, SHE GOT IT RIGHT THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE METRO … IF ONLY I HAD BEEN SO LUCKY EARLIER IN THE DAY. BUT BEING WRAPPED IN A MULTI-INSTRUMENTAL COCOON BROUGHT ME OUT OF MY INNER FUNK … NOT TO MENTION CHASED AWAY THE FRUSTRATED, YET PETTY, BLUES.

There are days … and then there are days.

Bad. Busted. Beaten. Broken. Bewildered.

Thankfully they are far and few in between. But man, when they hit … it can be so overwhelming you fight to focus on the things that matter. Struggling to ward off the petty, lest you get swept up in the sad nature of it all.

I am a designer. I am not a writer. My Mississippi English education doesn’t get me very far, sometimes I fear. But I write because I love it … because I need to … Misusing the word rite yesterday highlighted to me I still have a lot to learn. (I can accept that as I begin to focus on this new medium in my life.) And a much-thicker skin to grow. But I also don’t think a several-minute berating by a stranger via voicemail was warranted for my small mistake. I am neither young nor stupid. And you refer to me as Kathryn, sir … only friends can call me Kacy. Oh, and there are actual problems in the world, so maybe that energy you have should be used for some good.

And that was just the beginning … it all went downhill from there. (Believe me, too many things to list.) But why only focus on the nonsense when I was able to see so many things to pull me out of it? As always with the good comes the bad / the happy with the sad.

  • Bumping into my 2-year-old Valentine Emmanuel on the street / Getting no love from him because he would rather look at Huxley.
  • Realizing I lost one of my favorite gloves while getting dressed last night / Finding my glove bundled in the corner of my massive bag this morning on the train.
  • Thinking a guy on the train heading down to Addison had Tourette’s and found such striking beauty in it / Realizing the reason for his constant shakes and dancing around me was an awful lot of booze. (So then I just felt sad, but gained the ability to laugh at him for going the wrong way on the train.)
  • Two last-minute (but totally warranted) cancellations for my extra pass to St. Vincent / Feeling revived by the music that in a way, was only for me. (And being thanked by the guy at the Metro for not bringing anyone, as it was a totally sold-out show.)
  • Listening to a man talk incessantly about the lack of time he has to hard-boil his eggs / Getting to laugh at said freak for his soft-boiled talk while in line for a freaking show!
  • Cringing when I saw the packed Red Line at midnight leaving Addison and was wedged in between two guys in their 30s who had been playing beer pong since before 6 p.m. / Truly giggling the whole way home and wishing I could share the whole story. But Mom reads this, and it’s hard to describe why a stranger grabbed and hugged you because you gave him back a few “cool points” after scolding his friend for a crude comment.

Again, I appreciate the universe for the little joys in life. It’s one more step toward that balance I seek, I guess. Thankful for the lessons I was forced to learn yesterday. But even more grateful it became more about the music … and more about the laughter.

Because in the end, most of it doesn’t really matter. Right?

ST. VINCENT DID MAKE A FAN OUT OF ME, AS I FELT HER MUSIC TRANSLATED BETTER WITH A BACKING BAND AND NOT A COMPUTER PROGRAM. AS THEY WALKED OUT TO ICE-CUBE’S “IT WAS A GOOD DAY,” I FINALLY REALIZED THAT IT COMPLETELY WAS. (LOOK FOR MY FULL REVIEW OF THE SHOW MONDAY AT NWI.COM. I’LL TRY TO GET IT RIGHT.)

THE FACT THAT CUBS TICKETS WENT ON SALE TODAY CAN ONLY MEAN ONE THING: SPRING IS FINALLY AROUND THE CORNER. (YEAH, YEAH … SO IT’S MONTHS AWAY, BUT WE’RE CLOSER THAN WE WERE … AND A GIRL CAN PREMATURELY DREAM OF MORNINGS AT THE BEACH WITH HUXLEY AND READING A BOOK UNDER A TREE AT THE PARK.)

TUGGING AT MY HEARTSTRINGS

EMMANUEL, 2, MADE MY DAY ON THE RED LINE TODAY. QUITE A LITTLE FLIRT, WE KEPT EACH OTHER ENTERTAINED THE WHOLE TRIP HOME. YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE MANY FORMS LOVE CAN TAKE.

Ah Valentines … why must we only celebrate them on February 14? Late evening, a day later, and I find Cupid has brought me even more to love. One is sweet. One is petty. One is amazing. (Well, two actually on the last … but for continuity’s sake, since they are a couple, we’ll call them a one.)

I met him on the train coming home. The tears were fresh on his face, but once he saw me, I could tell immediately he was in the mood to flirt.

I was more than willing to oblige.

It started innocently enough, him peeking at me through his knit cap, pulling it up and down over his eyes. When I smiled back, and he did the same … well, I knew it was on. The headphones came out of one ear, in case the communication went past teasing looks and silly faces.

He was adorable. The way he mimicked my every move. Each time I touched my nose, he did the same. Each time I held out my gloved hand, his mitten-covered one reached out to me. We were all giggles as the train car began to fill with commuters. I would peek around people’s shoulders at him … the others adding another level to our cat-and-mouse game. His laughs were music to my ears …

(Well, one of them anyway, as I still had “Odd Blood” filling the other. Where, I might add it has pretty much stayed since Wednesday, as I have been completely transfixed by its beats and simple, emotional lyrics. I always let music find me when it does, and rarely do I buy something the week it’s released. Honestly, I didn’t know when I picked it up it had only been on vinyl 24 hours … I just knew I would be covering them when they played here in April, and at $10.99, it was a small work expense. Well, it obviously found me when it needed to … fortunately. See, maybe even a fourth Valentine in Yeasayer.)

… and Emmanuel, 2, knew just how to make a girl like me fall in love. And I was glad to keep him occupied for 25 minutes across the aisle, while his tired mother got a moment of peace and quiet. When they went to leave at Wilson, one stop before me, he reached out his hand to grab mine while walking by. I told him it had been a pleasure to meet him. And it had. (Now, if only the ones 13(ish) times his age could be as sweetly forward.)

Off the train, I ran into Starbucks. (See, told you the second was petty.) I’ve started stopping in a few times a week to grab a cup of coffee. Yes, I’m just a block from my house … where a French press and fresh (but cheap, thanks Trader Joe’s) beans await … but the time it takes to boil the water when all you want to do is warm up is worth paying $1.66. Plus, they know what I want before I even tell them. (Tall, steamed soy … so $2 really, as they get my change for remembering.) I like their bold coffee, hate me some Pike Place, but since that’s all you can get after noon, I’ve learned to deal.

But today was extra special. I paid my $1.66, (with my debit card, so sadly no tip) and I walked out with a grande with an added shot of espresso. (Done to make it taste like the bold, knowing I like it better. And that conversation was had months ago … yet the guy behind the counter found it important enough to commit to memory. And treat me unasked.) See good people in my neighborhood.

Which brings me to my amazing Valentine.

The first time I walked into my current apartment, I knew I was home. I had scoured craigslist for weeks, and nothing in my price range had even sparked my interest enough to tempt me to even view it. Until I saw the ad for a small, colorful place one block off the Red Line, half a block from The Green Mill. It was the only one I looked at. I paid my security deposit immediately, and wrote out checks for the next few months. It was mine.

Adding to its luster was its current tenant, Tiffani. We bonded immediately over Wilco, (I was carrying one of their bags that day) and our true, undying love for the heart-throbbing Glenn Kotche. (Smart girl, that Tiffani.) She and her husband, Deke, left for their larger place downtown almost three weeks before my lease began. I moved in immediately, no charge for rent or electricity for those 18 days. And their kindness has continued for the past 650 or so.

They have seen me through furloughs and unexpected trips home when my Father had his stroke and later passed away. If I had to pay my rent late and sent an extra fee, it was always sent back. (I finally learned not to even add it.) I am sure they know how much I love living here, and can only hope that has taken a load off their minds, as they have taken many off of mine.

When Tiffani texted me today to see if I could use her train card up in the next few weeks, I assured her I could. (And at $4.50 a day spent on the CTA, yet another load …) She and Deke will be leaving soon for Texas, as other opportunities await. But I know they leave loving this place, this building, this block, this neighborhood as much as I do. (Yes, tears here.) And I thank them for truly caring about me. (And I thank Facebook, as I can still laugh at her jokes from hundreds of miles away.)

Ah, that Cupid. He does give you things when most needed.

SOUNDING OFF, TUNING OUT

DESPITE YET ANOTHER SINUS INFECTION, (DAMN THESE CHICAGO WINTERS) BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW’S “DANDELION GUM” (THANKS AGAIN, CHIP!) HAD ME DANCING AROUND THE LIVING ROOM FRIDAY NIGHT … AND WILL HELP ME KEEP THE BEAT AT SOME POINT TODAY I’M SURE AS I OVERHAUL MY APARTMENT. OH, THE DRIVING FORCE THAT IS MUSIC.

“Today was another day full of dread. But I never said I was afraid. Because dread and fear should not be confused. By dread I am inspired, by fear I’m amused …” BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY

“If I could do just one near-perfect thing I’d be happy. They’d write it on my grave, or when they scattered my ashes. On second thoughts, I’d rather hang around and be there with my best friend, if (he) wants me.” BELLE AND SEBASTIAN

“I have loved in haste. I’ve been an alley cat and a bumblebee to your panther and your wasp. Well, I have loved … while thinking only of the cost.” SMOG

I’ve taken to writing song lyrics as my Facebook status from time to time.

Usually it’s something that jumps out at me on the train heading into work. More often than not, I’ll skip back a couple of paces on my iPod and listen to the words again … making sure they sink in. Steal another artist’s poetry so it becomes my mantra for the day.

And believe me, it helps. Boy, does it.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy has been singing in my head for almost 72 hours now. “Today was another day full of dread …” It started on Thursday, my actual day of dread at work, the most challenging of the week. Although, as the lyrics so clearly state, the eight hours when I am most inspired. The most fulfilled. Despite being stressed.

Three minutes of “Another Day Full of Dread” and I am no longer.

That is one of the most amazing things about music to me, sometimes it can tell you how you feel … before you know what your emotions are going to be. Music has the ability to tell someone else how you are feeling … even if you are too stubborn … scared … scarred … afraid … to do so yourself. The sound can bring people together, common interests playing a big part in a connection in its infancy. The guitar chords, drum beats and even moments of silence can overcompensate for the voices in your head when needed, whether it be drowning out the sorrow or keeping in time with the adrenaline pulsing through your happy veins.

“Creature Fear” becomes my shield on the train … “Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free” sets my feet a tapping … “Sweet Carolina” makes me cry every time I hear it, as does “Do You Realize” … “Muzzle of Bees” takes me back to my move to Chicago (I still see the Interstate in the long, driving guitar parts) … “Into the Mystic” reminds me my Dad is still with me (same with any Michael McDonald, Steely Dan or Doobie Brothers) … “Sleepyhouse” shouts out to me of first loves … “Listening to Otis Redding During Christmas” somehow brings me hope … “Distance” makes me proud to be a woman (you would have to search for the hidden meaning for me in this Smog song … and you still wouldn’t understand) … “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” tells me to celebrate life …

And for all of that I worship the sound. And I thank the universe for the songs it’s yet to bring me.

As far as Belle and Sebastian goes, it wasn’t so much about hanging around with my best friend as it was “If I could do just one near-perfect thing I’d be happy.” Feeling overwhelmed still by some aspects of life … seemingly grasping at straws … I was simply craving smooth-sailing.

Near-perfect.

And for a moment, it can be.

For a moment, it is.

THE PLACES I GO … THE STARES I FACE

YES YOU … THERE ON THE LEFT, FACING ME … I KNEW YOU WERE STARING AT ME THE WHOLE COMMUTE. NOW STOP IT. IT’S GETTING WAY TOO CREEPY HERE ON THE RED LINE FOR ME.

DISCLAIMER: This post may be a little more information than you want to know about me. I am warning you … not for the faint of heart. (OK, OK being a bit dramatic … but maybe this editor’s note is more for me, and the fact that I am even writing this. Or have to.)

It’s no secret … I’m a big girl. Big belly, big thighs, big ass.

It is what it is. And what it’s always been.

And it’s something I am most of the time OK with. (Come on now … everyone’s got some things they want to change about themselves. But I’m much, much smaller than I was years ago, I’m a true vegetarian, I’m constantly moving, I’m healthy … and yes, hopefully one day I’ll find a gym that I actually like going to … and can afford … in my neighborhood. Ha.)

But to me, it’s not what defines me. (Want to pigeon-hole me? It’s the creativity … the kind and pure heart … the want to learn … the need to grow … that I’d rather be known for.) Again, it is what it is.

At least for me. The same can’t be said for others … both sort of good and really bad.

Let’s start with the bad, and get that out of the way. Coming home on the train last night, immersed in Bon Iver’s Daytrotter session, I was excited about the prospects of what awaited me in Uptown. It was the end of a rather long – but pretty decent – work day. Despite being in the midst of an hour-and-a-half commute, I was pretty upbeat. Until they got on the train.

Well her anyway.

Youngish couple, both short and thin. As soon as the doors closed, she looked at me like I was going to devour her, and well, quite frankly it scared me a little. Not to mention pissed me off. So, for a solid 10 minutes, I endured her points and comments to her boyfriend, the direct stares at me.

(And believe me … I wasn’t just being paranoid here. I am fortunate to have had very few people ever make fun of me because of my size. I know most see me instantly for my beauty … my sense of style … my openness. My Mom was the first to really point it out to me last time she was here. We were walking down Belmont, doing some shoe shopping – her for me, of course, my wonderful Mom – when she commented that everyone walking by just stared at me. Men, women … everyone … and in a good way. And it’s true. Usually.)

When the man got up from the seat across from me, and they sat down three feet from where I was standing, I knew in my gut I wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. I stood there, for a few stops, begging the stripped-down-then-upbeat, bluesy version of “Creature Fear” to drown out the thoughts in my head. Because here was the thing, she was ugly. Horribly broken down, beat-up ugly. (And no amount of money could hide it … no matter how much the boots she had on cost, it didn’t change her face, nor her aura.) And I never would have noticed it had she not been so obviously disgusted by me. Judge not, lest you be judged is truly the way to live for me, and I am thankful that each and every one of us is a different creature. And it saddened me to see all her bad.

Three stops before mine, I moved to the door and as far away from her as I could possibly get. But not from her stares. Seriously? Really?

And then the doors finally opened, and I was free. And I wished her along on her miserable “I’ve got it all” existence. Bye-bye.

But I have to give her boyfriend a little credit – which he needs if he’s with her – he never fed into her cruelty, at least as far as I could tell. In fact, I never even noticed him look my way past the first time. And believe me, whether I’m looking at you or not, I know when someone’s staring.

Which brings us to the good. (Well … kind of anyway.)

Ah, the stares. On a train, packed or not, lately I have a few instances of full-commute leering. (And I mean every time I looked up … the eyes were still there, locked on me. A few stops, OK … maybe. Five minutes … why don’t you just try to get my attention. 10 minutes … we’re getting a tad bit creepy here fellow. Craning your neck to stare at me out the window as I exit the train 30 minutes later … what gives, serial killer?)

Now, I’m OK with the frequent looks, the eye contact, the suggestive glances. We’re all human. And during rush-hour, we’re all about the same age … heading to an office where we almost won’t see the light of day until we walk out the door the next morning to board the train all over again. I’m sure many a lasting love-connection has been made during a commute. (Plus the help of craigslist.com.)

So cool. Check me out. I’m open to possibilities. (Actually, for the first time in a long, long time. Weird to some of you, I’m sure.)

But if you find me attractive enough to stare through your entire commute and you can’t even say hello, well, that’s just insane. You’re either a pervert or you care WAY too much about what other people think. (And unfortunately, yes, it’s what my best friend has decided is the problem when it comes to men and me.)

So stop undressing me with your eyes and just move on.

Or simply grow some balls. (Sorry Mom.)

It is what it is.

And this is my commute.

2009: MY YEAR IN REVIEW

ONE OF THE TOP MOMENTS OF THE YEAR FOR ME CAME AT PITCHFORK IN JUNE. I WAS MORE THAN EXCITED TO BE THIS CLOSE TO THE FLAMING LIPS FRONTMAN WAYNE COYNE. (EVEN IF I WAS IN AN AREA WHERE I WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE.)

JUST SOME OF THE BEAUTY DOWNTOWN CHICAGO HAS TO OFFER … ON ONE OF THE FEW SUNNY DAYS WE HAD THIS PAST SUMMER.

THE SHOW PUT ON BY DAN DEACON AT LOLLAPALOOZA THIS YEAR MADE ME PROUD TO BE A TRUE FAN OF MUSIC … AND EVEN HAPPIER THAT I GET TO WRITE ABOUT IT.

DURING A LABOR (NOT LABOUR) DAY BARBECUE WITH FRIENDS, HUXLEY AWAITS HIS SECOND PIECE OF STEAK EVER … HAVING JUST HAD HIS FIRST SECONDS BEFORE. NOW THAT MY FRIENDS, IS PURE JOY.

LIVING DOWN THE STREET FROM THE BUSIEST FIRE STATION IN CHICAGO TRULY HAS ITS DISADVANTAGES … BUT THE FIREMEN THERE ARE SO FRIENDLY, AND HUXLEY ALWAYS KNOWS HE CAN GET A TREAT. (IF IT’S WARM ENOUGH FOR THE GARAGE DOORS TO BE OPEN, THAT IS.)

THIS WAS ONE OF THE MOST PATIENT DOGS I HAVE HAD THE FORTUNE TO OBSERVE. LEADING HIS OWNER AROUND A CROWDED RED LINE HAS GOT TO BE A THANKLESS TASK, BUT I’M GRATEFUL I GOT TO SEE IT.

ALWAYS A HIGHLIGHT OF ANY DAY FOR ME IN UPTOWN IS ENJOYING A CUP OF COFFEE WITH JOEL BY THE WINDOW AT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT.

DESPITE HAVING TO RUSH MOST DAYS AS NOT TO MISS A TRAIN, I HAVE FULLY EMBRACED THE LIFE OF A COMMUTER THIS PAST YEAR … EVEN IF IT HAS BEEN DUE TO AN UNFORTUNATE SITUATION, THE LACK OF A WORKING CAR. (AND A SERIOUS LACK OF FUNDS TO REMEDY IT.)

THOUGH IT WAS SAD THAT MY BEST FRIEND ROBIN’S SON, GARY MICHAEL, BROKE HIS ARM OVER THANKSGIVING, IT WAS AN ENLIGHTENING EXPERIENCE BEING THERE TO SEE HIS CAST PUT ON. DESPITE BEING ONLY FIVE, HE HANDLED IT LIKE A TROOPER.

THIS FAMILY JUST CAPTURED ME ONE DAY ON THE LAWRENCE BUS. I DON’T KNOW IF IT WAS THEIR BLUE PUFFER JACKETS OR JUST HOW ANIMATED THEY ALL WERE, BUT I ENJOYED WATCHING THEM FOR BLOCKS.

AGAIN … WAITING FOR YET ANOTHER TRAIN, BUT I LOVE THIS VIEW FROM THE PLATFORM. THE ARAGON IS SUCH A MAGNIFICENT VENUE.

Oh 2009, won’t you just go away already?

Counting down what’s left of this year …

(Don’t be confused by the time stamp of this post, I can’t be bothered to change it from U.K. time. Even though I am punished for it by having certain words show up as misspelled … It’s theater, not theatre … it’s humor, not humour … But since most of you know London is one of my favorite (not favourite) places on earth, it’s kind of fitting.)

… and I am waiting with frenzied anticipation for this one to beat it.

Go away … Scram … We don’t want you around here no more.

Oh so close, is how I can best describe the past 365 days … or 397 if you stretch it back to when my Dad died. (It’s all quite a blur really, each has smudged into the next.)

It’s been a year of heartache, of adjusting to changed dynamics all across the board … family, friends, lovers … life in general.

Are you really still here 2009? It feels as if the few minutes it’s taken me to write this has been an eternity.

It’s been a year of stress, I type through clenched teeth. I have accomplished things professionally, and thankfully creatively, that I never thought possible. (Moments of which I wouldn’t have wished on anyone else, hence the anxiety. The ones that caused me to lose my sense of humor (not humour) a bit … painful …

But all of it mixed with such discoveries that I almost want to think it worth it.

Ah, those discoveries …

The writing … the photography … the moments I have been able to capture this year … that’s where I count myself so very fortunate. New experiences that I would have been jealous had I not lived them myself. Special moments in my life …

… Two feet from Wayne Coyne at Pitchfork … and sharing that wonderful weekend with fantastic friends; Ruining brand new shoes traipsing through pouring rain the first day of Lollapalooza while introducing my visiting Mother to the music of Bon Iver and Ben Folds … and sweating my ass off during the hottest day of the summer 24 hours later, grasping hold of the greatest 45 minutes of my festival-going life during the Dan Deacon Experience; Grizzly Bear entrancing ever fiber (not fibre) of my being at The Metro … and sitting by Pat Sansone (sigh) while numbed by the sound …

… My first full Christmas with my best friend of 17 years, spent with her in-laws in St. Louis … the joy on her kid’s faces when discovering Santa’s bounty and later while sledding is captured in my mind forever. (Along with the unfortunate moment when I sliced my hand through a glass candle holder playing Wii tennis. The sound of that is an mp3 somewhere in my brain.)

… Being able to fish with my nephew over Thanksgiving … Knowing I am fortunate enough to have amazing family that loves and misses me, as I do them. (But are accepting enough to know that Chicago is my home now … no matter how long I choose to try to survive it’s terrible winters. Allowing me to embrace everything Uptown has to throw at me … good and bad.)

… Finding a new friend, with an amazing number of things in common … someone I told more to than anyone else over the last seven months (And vice versa, as I thankfully got to hear wonderful tales of family life.) … only to have lost him yesterday to a new job in the city. Our daily commute will be mourned, along with the ladies who came to love me at the Starbucks where we met each morning, and the seat warmers in the Subaru.

… Again, so close. The always perpetual Catch-22.

(And notice I didn’t bring back up the boys? That’s because there’s only about seven hours of greatness I can take away from 2009 … A night that forced me to confront some walls … finally woke me up … changed me.  The rest … well, quite frankly, delete.)

But here’s to the next 52 weeks. Despite the hiccups of this past year, I am truly filled with hope. Opening a Christmas card today from a friend in California who unexpectedly welcomed a daughter this year, I was fully hit with the notion that life can change in a split-second.

So here’s to 2010 … may it be filled with wonderful things for everyone that I know and love, including me.

Now, if I can just make it through the next 3 minutes.

GOING OFF THE RAILS ON A CRAZY TRAIN

REDLINE2

THIS PICTURE ON THE CTA’S RED LINE WAS OBVIOUSLY TAKEN OVER THE SUMMER, AS THERE IS NO SEA OF THE NORTH FACE APPAREL. IT SEEMS AS THOUGH THE MORE CROWDED THE CARS GET DURING RUSH HOUR, THE MORE RIDERS DO STUPID THINGS ON THEIR COMMUTE HOME.

Hey there, Mr. Wrigleyville … there is such a thing as personal space. (Even if the train car is so packed that none of us can move.)

Did you really just pick your nose and lick your finger?

Wait … Don’t grab the pole now – other people have to touch it.

Again? You have to do it again? (And again, and again, and again …)

Yes, this was the entertainment I got for free on the CTA’s Red Line this morning – five inches from my face. Shudder.

For those of you who know me, you know what a champion I am for public transportation. I’ll admit it, I’m a little geeky about it. I actually look forward to getting on the train each morning at 7:30 a.m. – and love it even more at 6:00 p.m. I’m a stander, and I always choose the same spot against the wall, out of the way, perfect for people watching. (And plenty of space to tap my feet to Panda Bear’s “Comfy In Nautica,” anything off of “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs if I want to drown out the masses … Or, I can put on Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago” or Band of Horses and actually have some pretty zen moments between all the stops.)

No matter how many people are crammed into the car, it takes a lot for me to feel uncomfortable or overcrowded on the train. It’s just part of city life, I tell myself, and at $2.25 a trip, it’s worth it for my 15-stop ride.

But lately, I have seen a few things that have elevated my normal commute into a case study of humanity. Deep, huh?

(And no, I won’t stoop to try to analyze why crazy nose-picker did what he did this morning.)

• Last week, there was an issue with the Purple Line, so the trains were running the same route as the Red Line. (Confusing for some of you that don’t live in Chicago, I’m sure … but honestly not worth explaining in detail.) No big changes, I can assure you. Lucky if you had to take the Purple Line – you got an express trip home. Need the Red Line? Change at Belmont or Fullerton … crisis adverted. Needless to say, you would have thought a bomb had gone off in the subway, as so many were in hysterics about how the system was working. I finally realized what the problem was: people’s routines had been thrown off. I think so many are used to the planned-out moments of every day. You know, wake up, shower, feed the kids, walk the dog, get the train, go to work, get the train, go home, make dinner, clean the house, watch television, go to bed, and over and over again … But throw just a tiny little kink in that plan, and suddenly you’ve got mass chaos. Don’t worry folks, you’ll make it home for “Dancing With the Stars.” (Again shudder.)

• The North Face never needs to advertise on the Red Line. The dozens or so sporting their jackets, backpacks or hats that get on my car each morning are doing a mighty fine job for them. Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering what I have against The North Face, and for the record, nothing. As my photographer friend Christopher – who is sporting the company’s comfortable black jacket today – said, “they’re practical.” Yes, I’ll agree that for him, who has to get out in the elements to do his job sometimes, it may be necessary. So, he gets a pass. The issue I find hard to swallow is how homogenized everything and everyone becomes as the weather drops. When half the guys and girls are all in the same black jacket, there is a level of depression that comes along with it for me. Just because it is not as bright outside anymore doesn’t mean we’re all dead like the trees, right?

• When the recorded voice comes over the loudspeaker with “doors closing,” it means just that. The. Doors. Are. Closing. Twice here recently, I have watched two people ignore that fact and do really stupid things just to catch the train. (For the record, they come about every 3-5 minutes during rush hour, so no long wait in between.) The first, a young guy, threw his arm into the doorway as the doors were, ahem, closing. All I could see was his limb sticking through the doorway and the shocked look on his face outside as the train began to move. Another passenger and myself began frantically trying to pry the door open as the train inched along. Failing that, I dove for the handicap emergency button, causing the conductor to stop the train and the door to open. The other passenger trying to help and I collapsed with relief. The moron who was in such a hurry he almost lost his life, simply sauntered in smirking and sat down. (And no, there was not a “thank-you.”) Last week during all of the Purple/Red Line confusion, a lady crammed her way into an already-overpacked car just as the doors slammed shut. Only problem? Her bag did not make it with her. So, as the train moved along, she just kept talking about needing to get her bag out of the door. As we stopped for a minute on the above-ground tracks, I watched in amazement as she went to grab the handle that opens the doors in an emergency. Thankfully, about five of us commuters screamed “NO!” at the same time, which stopped her from sending several people splattering to the ground. Thirty-seconds later, we were at the Fullerton stop, the doors opened, her precious bag was free – and everyone was still alive.

It may be easy to say that in a perfect world, my daily travels would consist of idiot-free, The North Face-free, snot-free rides. But come on, this is reality.

Thank God I can turn on Belle & Sebastian, close my eyes, and make it all go away.

(Or at least remember why truly I love the CTA.)

REDLINE

HOME, SWEET, LAWRENCE STOP. IF I CAN SURVIVE THE SILLINESS PEOPLE BRING TO THE EVERY DAY COMMUTE, THIS IS THE SIGN I LOOK MOST FORWARD TO SEEING. JUST ONE BLOCK AWAY, AND I KNOW I WILL BE IN THE SAFE CONFINES OF MY APARTMENT – AND AWAY FROM THE CRAZINESS ON THE TRAIN.