On the Road Again (May 25, 2014)

On election day 2012, I ran a yellow light in the rain at a six corner Chicago intersection where three busy streets converge. I got the business end of a giant SUV for the recklessness, not to mention the complete inability to enjoy Karl Rove’s Fox News meltdown. I had bounced off the pavement and broken my tailbone and sacrum. The tailbone was in a particularly bad way.

I spent the next three solid months on Tramadol, a strong painkiller, just to get through the necessities of life. During business hours I whimpered through and tried to stand as often as possible. I did a lot of wall leaning in meetings. It made me look authoritative. The drugs were blissfully effective – too much so for the office.

For nine months I sat on this soft black doughnut cushion that doubled as an excellent commuter train pillow. When I accidentally left her in Salt Lake City, I decided it was time to try sitting naturally again. However, it was only the beginning of this calendar year that I could resume Pilates or sit on a CTA train without leaning to the side. And I wasn’t the only injured party.

Poor L’il Red. Not only had she suffered a popped tire, bent wheel, busted brake hinge and misaligned handle bars, but she’d also been the victim of my neglect. I daresay scorn. As I have told several friends, my attitude toward Red after the smash up was similar to that of Daniel LaRusso after Johnny and the other Cobra Kai douchebags ran him off the road with their motorcycles. In the immediate aftermath of scraping myself off the pavement, I was ready to toss my girl into the dumpster. For 18 months, she sat behind the couch collecting dust.

But as you may have heard, Chicago is emerging from a painful and cruel winter even measured against its own diabolical standards. And my keister is feeling better. I also have eczema tamed well enough (thank you raw, organic beet juice!) to contemplate holding the handlebars again. So it was time to take Baby out of the corner, put the blame for the incident where it really belongs (on me) and get her the required medical attention.

Two weeks and $110 later, I walked a little over a mile in anticipation of a reunion with a clean, rehabbed Red. I had not ridden a bike for awhile. Last Fall I took a spin class with my little sister during a weekend in Wisconsin and I mostly did the whole thing standing. And I admit to being a little afraid to get back on the road again. I had already resolved that henceforth I’d confine cycling as much as possible to the safer lakefront area, rather than the city streets. I’ve had one incident too many, the last only being the most extreme in a fairly regular series. But to get L’il Red back home from the shop, the roads were the only option.

I started by strolling her to the corner of the nearest intersection and waiting for the pedestrian walk signal. I like to think I am capable of learning. As I took those first tentative few pedal strokes, a rhythm was sought. Cycling leverages different muscle groups than running, my habitual form of cardio. I know I have to ease in slowly. I stuck to side streets and began to relax. It was a beautiful day, the sort of spring perfection we’ve been denied until recently. I think we can finally put our winter coats away?

I also eased back into something else I’d forgotten I’d missed – traveling by life happening at medium speed. In the span of a short 10-block ride I saw: a woman briskly pushing a cat in a baby carriage, a middle aged man absolutely blasting the Scorpions “Winds of Change” out of the windows of his worn Toyota Corolla, beautifully dressed people streaming from a community church. Sunday in the city. I missed viewing the world from the bike seat.

The second act of my relationship with L’il Red reflects a revised 2014 approach to life in general. A little more cautious, a little more in the moment, but also a little less frenzied. What’s the hurry?

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30 Days of Gratitude: 2013 Edition (November 26, 2013)

Yes, I have seen this meme work its way across Facebook over the course of November. I thought about participating, but my brain is usually too stream-of-consciousness for that level of daily content commitment, and I refuse to violate my personal rule of one status update per day (any more than that and I run the risk of the dreaded newsfeed “block” by bored connections). So with that in mind, here’s a month’s worth of people, events and phenomena for which I am grateful over the course of 2013, all in one shot.

1.Occupying the top spot with good reason, I am grateful for April’s reconciliation with my sibling and her family. Life is a lot less funny and loving without my baby sis.

2.Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, recently described by funny man Stephen Colbert as a “possessed Cabbage Patch doll,” I thank you for two things: reminding North America that the USA does not have the monopoly on mentally challenged local politicians, and for instilling waves of nostalgia for the comedic stylings of Chris Farley.

3.Early summer period of unemployment: I salute you. Were it not for the unexpected job loss, I would not be happily ensconced as a Marketing Manager with a wonderful company in downtown Chicago.

4.I am grateful that pompholyx eczema, while challenging and painful, has thus far limited itself to my hands. In many cases, the feet are also affected, ushering in a whole new wave of debilitating restrictions.

5.Early Fall welcomed Act III with the love of my life. We’re making it work this time, applying the lessons of the past with strategic guidelines for a balanced future. That might sound more business jargon than romantic sweetness, but I’ve finally learned that hard work and commitment are every bit as important as passion. And we’re lucky enough to have that too.

6.I’m grateful that the Illinois Woman’s Press Association chose me as their 2013-2015 leader. Together we’ve grown membership by 20 percent in six months, introduced dynamic new programming and collaborations with other communications organizations. The era of siloing and membership bleed is over. This makes me proud.

7.Thank you to the rollerblading ukulele player and singer who often greets me as I alight from the Red Line stop near my apartment. The sight of you gliding in circles with perfect tune and pitch never fails to put a smile on my face.

8.I cannot stress enough how much I love my de facto stepdaughter Amber and four year-old grandbaby Chloe. I leapt right over motherhood into a full and diverse family life as unexpected as it is treasured. Our growing bond is a source of continual joy.

9.Dr. T: You with your string of pearls, pale blonde hair and Stepford Wife looks. You may not have been the ideal of how my perfect therapist should appear, but when you echo my angry “f” bombs, I never feel more understood.

10.Salt Lake City: As an atheist from an all-business metropolis, I never expected to find your exceedingly friendly locals, natural cultivation and Mormon-culture appealing, but your $4 beer and shot specials, clean streets and sincerely helpful citizens won me over.

11.Breaking Bad: Thank you for five seasons of jaw-dropping storytelling and acting. I held my breath, I cried and I was angry. You shall never be duplicated. Thank you as well for leaving the party long before you got stale.

12.Mr. Roger Ebert: Your April death provoked a sense of public loss I had not experienced since the 2008 premature passing of NBC’s Tim Russert. My sincere gratitude for your thoughtful, diverse body of work and the opportunities to bond with a father who was and remains, mostly incomprehensible.

13.Thank you soft, black doughnut cushion (February 2013 – August 2013) for making hours of sitting bearable as my poor, busted tailbone slowly healed. Thank you also for doubling as a comfy Metra train sleeping pillow. I apologize for carelessly leaving you behind in the Salt Lake City airport. I like to think you are enjoying a second life comforting the buns of another injured soul.

14.Epsom salts: I just wrote about you last week, but it bears repeating. For your affordable, diverse ability to treat and soothe so many conditions, this Bud’s for you.

15.My growing adoration for the NFL, despite its imperfections and the perennial so-so-ness of the Bears, is the reason I do not entirely succumb to Seasonal Affective Disorder each Fall.

16.The Republicans behind the late-Fall government shutdown: grazie for providing a much-needed, if temporary distraction from the abominable rollout of Obamacare.

17.President Obama: Thank you for breaking with eight years of W’s “Cowboy Diplomacy” to show the world that we are capable of talking and negotiating our way to a more peaceful world. Thank you also for being tough enough to stand up to warmongers who love to try to settle scores with bombs, yet failed to learn from the Iraq and Afghanistan examples that getting in is a lot easier than getting out.

18.I regret the coming conclusion to PBS’s Downton Abbey, but am grateful for the modern-day Austen void this society drama has filled.

19.Red wine: You’ll be on this list every year, you angel/devil, you.

20.The Boston Marathon bombing was tragic, frightening and a terrible blow to the assumed security of community events, but it taught the nation a couple of critical lessons: don’t assume Islamic terrorists are brown-skinned folks from distant lands and most of all, DON’T mess with the Boston PD.

21.Pope Francis: Like I said I am an atheist, but I am a huge fan of the compassion, good sense and humility you’ve unleashed on the Vatican thus far. There may be hope for a modern, relevant Catholic Church yet. I still can’t believe you made it through the Conclave given your radical ideas about poverty and tolerance, but I’m glad you did.

22.Not a fan of Edward Snowden, but I’m grateful for the public conversations about privacy and surveillance his shenanigans invited. It can easily be argued that we would not be having them otherwise.

23.Paul Krugman: For keeping Keynesian economics alive and mainstream and for standing up to destructive austerians and “deficit scolds” on the regular. Your brilliance, approachability and determination demonstrate why they don’t hand out Nobel Prizes to just anybody.

24.I thank the National Federation of Press Women for seeing fit to bestow my second first place national writing award in four years. The fact that my 2013 prize was for last year’s work on this very blog makes the victory that much sweeter. This page is me.

25.I am grateful for my diverse, eclectic neighborhood of Rogers Park, and the multi-faceted benefits of lakefront living.

26.Zipcar: Thanks to your affordable membership prices and pickup location plentifulness, I don’t miss vehicle ownership one whit and shall never purchase an automobile again.

27.I don’t know whose decision at CNN it was to allow Newt Gingrinch to assault the airwaves on a weekday basis, but thank you. I now have a place to channel my sweaty hate whilst running on the treadmill.

28.Much love to PK and his painful, awful craniofacial massage techniques that have helped the Great Migraine Crisis of 2012 seem like a distant memory.

29.Wendy Davis: Your June, 11-hour filibuster badassery in the Texas Senate may not have killed the State’s assault on abortion rights, but your honey badger determination announced a new leader for women’s issues – and spiked sales of pink sneakers.

30.Last but not least, I am grateful that I have been given another year on this planet upon which to reflect.

The Beehive State of Affairs (August 29, 2013)

I didn’t enter the world allergic to bee stings. Time was, the pierce of an angry wasp’s lance didn’t accomplish much more than giving some pain and briefly slowing my tomboyish romps. However, through repeated encounters in a variety of strange venues (a sting on the inner thigh in fourth grade whilst sitting on the school toilet, stepping on a bumble bee during an enthusiastic tetherball game at a neighborhood block party, drinking yet another surly insect out of an abandoned can of Coke), the allergy developed over time. For this reason, I carry two EpiPens with me wherever I travel. Because you never know.

This past weekend I journeyed to Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the annual conference of the National Federation of Press Women. I was a first timer, representing the Illinois affiliate as chapter President, and slated to receive two awards at the conference’s concluding banquet for my 2012 work: an honorable mention for theater criticism, and amazingly, recognition as the best personal blogger of last year. The latter of these trophies is especially humbling due to the high volume of competition as well as the tremendously personal nature of my writing in this forum. To be championed simply for articulating the most authentic version of myself is an honor of the highest magnitude.

I had no idea as my Southwest Airlines flight touched the Salt Lake City airport tarmac, that Utah was known as “The Beehive State.” Blame ignorance on a parochial school education that prioritized memorizing the books of the Old Testament above national geography. I assumed the nickname was a simple tribute to the can-do pioneer spirit of the state’s first Mormon settlers, until I encountered countless gardens and urban farms planted past and present in service of LDS naturalistic ideals. Wherever copious plants and flowers go, the pollinating swarms follow, and I spent many of my sightseeing minutes fleeing potential assailants while running uphill in insensible shoes.

In periods of quiet wonder and reflection, many of which I enjoyed as I wandered about the clean, well-planned downtown area of the city, I thought about the team efforts, the worker bee collaboration that led to my presence in that place, moment and time. Because there’s just no pretending I arrived there on my own. In fact in some cases, certain advocates (I am looking at you little sister), dragged me kicking and screaming into following my dreams. The professors, mentors and supervisors who took chances on me when I had no pedigree to warrant them, the loved ones who cheered me through successes and picked me up after embarrassing falls, the partners who suffered through erratic work schedules and meager pay, the strangers who commented and emailed their appreciation. Hell even the hecklers made me a better writer: more focused, determined and articulate in defending a rhetorical point. It truly takes a village to build a successful communicator.

I am not religious. I immersed myself in all things LDS on my trip and while I admire much about the Church’s civic pride and genuine commitment to helping others, there’s also much about the ideology I find objectionable. That said, the trope of the beehive led me to think of collaboration in a new way, no longer an idea from which to literally run, comprised of threatening organisms bent on killing me. Instead I am able to view it as a pleasant image, to hear the telltale buzz with welcoming ears, an ideal of cooperation easily accessible to one self-aware enough to recognize the shoulders they’ve stood upon to access places of pride and accomplishment. I don’t need an EpiPen to protect myself from the love and fortification of my support network, or even the jeering of detractors. Whether flowers or stings, I build strength and immunity to press forward.