I promised everyone I’d dance in the streets if Chicago made it to 50 whole degrees, and holy cats, on Monday we hit 56. So, off I went with my camera in just a sweatshirt and tennis shoes, although rain boots probably would have been a better plan, considering that all our snow and ice is now melting into gigantic pools of standing water, much of which is congregating on sidewalks and at street crossings.
Of course, it’s supposed to dump more snow on us again this week, which makes Chicago Magazine‘s musings about whether the City That Works is too cold to compete with the sunny South particularly apropos. But I assume you’re not here for me to endlessly talk about the weather. (In my hometown, you didn’t start conversations with remarks on the weather, you filled dead air with a comment on the height of the Hocking River.) I could ramble about treadmill desks or Amtrak’s actually sort of scummy terms and conditions for their writing residency, but let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
I never do those Facebook memes. I don’t even have to explain them — you know the ones. But I surprised myself when my A+ friend Megan, who has a lot of amazing feelings and opinions about music, posted the following:
In your status update, list 12 albums that have stayed with you over the years in some way. Don’t take too long on this list. – Just a few minutes. These don’t have to be great records, or critical darlings, just ones that mean something to you personally.
I moved to Chicago in 2002, but it was only yesterday that I tried paczki for the first time. For anyone not living a city completely obsessed, these are basically Polish doughnut-and-jam sandwiches that are a Fat Tuesday specialty in any self-respecting Chicagoland bakery. (You pronounce them “pooch-ki,” which I love.) If I’d ventured out a little earlier I could have enjoyed them in plum and rose flavors from my local paczki-providing establishment, but the raspberry one I scarfed yesterday afternoon was definitely up to par, and I’ve still got an apricot and a cherry-and-cheese to sample.
With the promise of spring marginally closer than it has been, I’m starting to get covetous. The photo above is from a recent trip to the Fluevog store in Wicker Park; along with Doc Martens, these are my favorite shoes, and dammit if there isn’t a sale and a gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket. (Naturally the most sublime, comfortable, unique pair is also the most expensive in that selection, but — I don’t know, I love a good splurge every few years. And those colors! I really need those colors in my life. We’ll see if I’ll have somewhere to wear them soon.)
Rumor has it February is going out on a snowstorm. I couldn’t be happier to see it go: at least March will tease you about spring. Chicago doesn’t do so well with the “out like a lamb” stuff, but the lion weather it’s got down.
Which means, for me, hoarding links. It’s been a pretty good week, and I’ve got some that were worth hanging onto.
We know by now how I feelabout selfies (I enjoy them and find them fascinating). Some data nerds out there find them fascinating too, enough to create Selfiecity, which investigates variations in selfie styles among five cities around the world.
I Am Los Angeles takes a documentary approach, presenting short video portraits of L.A. characters, “unique people who make Los Angeles what it is.” L.A. gets a bad rap most of the time, but it’s a city that’s intrigued me since my first visit in 2012. I would love to get back.
New Orleans Public Radio has put together an audio documentary of St. Claude Avenue, examining how and why the surrounding neighborhoods have changed. This is a city I have always wanted to see for myself.
Nieman Storyboard has assembled a panoply of links about “multimedia narrative and how to interview, structure, choose your medium, edit for sound, identify the story arc and more.” Really looking forward to trawling through these. (And who doesn’t love the chance to use the word “panoply”?)
Interactive storytelling offers so many possibilities for creative engagement and presentation, and it looks like there are already some websites out there to make those opportunities easier to access. Ren’py calls itself a digital novel engine: it “helps you use words, images, and sounds to tell stories with the computer.” Twine provides a framework for online stories that require code you might not know. Both sites feature links to stories that have already been created with their tools. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with these.
Ursula Vernon, one might think, can do it all. Her whimsical-hilarious-earthy-cartoony fantasy artwork (usually featuring unlikely and excellent animals) is a delight, she’s an award-winning cartoonist and author, and if you follow her LiveJournal, she seems to pour forth new fiction fully formed, like someone with an amazing curse. She’s got a problem, though, and it’s one that I confess to feeling myself: she’s bored of fantasy as it stands right now. I link this for two reasons: one, to convey how important it is to think outside the few boxes which are heavily marketed; and two, to scoop up some recommended reading, because despite Vernon saying she’s not interested in book recs right now, dozens of commenters have dropped in their two cents, and some of them might be good.
You wouldn’t think anything good could come from sensational lies about a sensational death, but it looks like David Katz, a good friend of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s, is funding a theater prize with the winnings from a libel suit.
Most of the rest of my tabs are job postings, crock pot recipes and neat thingsI can’t afford, but let’s end on a weird, hopeful note. The Mammoth Cometh is a long New York Times Magazine article about de-extinction, and one young optimist who really, really loves passenger pigeons. It’s probably the first time I’ve seen someone lay out what the process of de-extinction would actually look like, and what the implications of Jurassic Park-style science could really be on ecosystems and conservation policy. That sounds grim, and the article has some healthy skepticism about it, but I promise it might make you want to write fiction about it.
And with that, we made it! Happy Friday, all. If you’re loving any links, please feel free to share them in the comments! I love links and comments like the little girl up top loves — and I mean loves — conservatory koi.
Everyone’s talking about Amtrak’s publicity gold writer’s residency program (some more skeptically than others) this week. I was super for this idea at first — I really love trains, after all — but on further contemplation, namely during a weekend visit to Ohio I took by way of Megabus — I’m not so sure I’d be a good fit. It turns out that the worse the free wireless, the more determined I become to bend it to my will, so I spend a lot of time glaring at Tumblr or cursing at slow-loading news sites rather than writing.
The vacation part, though, the quick getaway — that worked out very well. We’re pretty bad about allowing ourselves actual breaks in the United States. Even with firsthand proof of how good it is to get out of your head by just getting out, sometimes it’s not easy to convince ourselves we need to skip town for a while. But Megabus came to my rescue with outlandishly cheap tickets ($35 round trip) to Columbus, and I hadn’t seen my dad and my dog since Thanksgiving. It was time.
Megabuses, if that’s the proper plural, are double-decker. I am pleased to say I snagged an upstairs front-of-the-bus seat both ways, which afforded me an awesome view of what turned out to be some really weird, gorgeous weather between Chicago and Indianapolis: miles and miles of fog over thick melting snow. It was like driving through a Swedish detective novel. Continue reading “We need vacations.”→
I live about a block from some El tracks, but I can’t see them right now: the snow, which today is thundering, is too thick for any kind of visibility, period. Someday I’m going to be able to open one of these posts without an update on the weather, but to quote Aragorn, son of Arathorn, it is not this day.
Beyond that, this week has had some bright spots. For one thing, my diploma finally arrived! I don’t entirely know why I decided not to use my full middle name — maybe it’s some inadvertent co-branding with J for Journo, my media and news literacy Tumblr, which you should feel free to follow! — but hey, either way, I guess I’m now officially a master. So that’s nice.
I’ll also be visiting both Dad and dog in Ohio this coming week, which should be a bit of a balm for the news I received from a very nice sports medicine doc at the Northwestern student health center, which is that I’ve got something called patellofemoral pain syndrome — basically, my left knee has been buckling for the past month and I now need to strengthen a whole group of muscles I strenuously avoid using. The downside is that I can’t get back into running just yet, but joke’s on you, equally nice physical therapist: would I really run outside in all this?
NPR has put together what looks like a super cool interactive story about wolves. There’s a post going around Tumblr asking you to stand up if you were the girl who was really into horses, really into dragons or really into wolves. Guess which one I was.
FastCompanyprofiles Hale County, Ala., a rural community that serves as a testing grounds for “social design” architecture, which is supposed to create innovative affordable housing. How much has this helped the people who live there?
Rebecca Solnit writes about the Google bus protestors in San Francisco, and the wider implications the protests have about poverty and wealth in the Bay Area. I did read this story with interest; I lived in San Francisco during the summer of 2006, just after graduating college, and the inequality I saw then troubled me enough that I didn’t want to stay. This essay does a good job of tying together a lot of important threads about the issue.
Beyond news stories, I’m having some trouble finding fiction I want to spend time with. On a friend’s advice, I recently tried picking up Connie Willis’s Blackout again. You have to understand, Connie Willis is one of my most beloved formative authors; my copies of Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog and her short story collection Impossible Things are in tatters. I want so badly to love or even like Blackout, but I can barely get through a paragraph or a frustratingly circular bit of dialogue without wanting to track down her editor and ask why she wasn’t doing her job.
So, what are you reading and what should I be reading, fiction and nonfiction alike? I just happened on a recommendation for Rachel Neumeier’s YA werewolf novel Black Dog, which sounds like it’s concerned with pack dynamics and character in really interesting ways. I also just finished AAN’s Best Alternative Longform ebook, which has kept me in love with the possibilities of the genre. What’s tickling your bookish fancy? What should I bring on the bus to Ohio, other than my pile of unfinished cover letters?
Special thanks to Wonder Woman #28 (1948) by William Moulton Marston & H.G. Peter for so clearly illustrating what seems to happen whenever I try to tell someone that they’d have a decisive win on their hands by hiring me.
Another day, another -6F on the mercury. Chicago remains cold and covered in snow. One upside, at least, is that it’s too cold for cloud cover, so the light is gorgeous and the sky a crystalline blue.
We’ve got something going for us now, though: birds are singing. I don’t know what kind they are, but there’s a nest wedged into the roof beams of my back steps, and I’m thrilled to hear some life out there each morning.
Inside the apartment, things are trucking along. I’ve done some applying, interviewing and networking, all of which I believe is going to bear fruit in some way or another. I’ve also rediscovered my fiction groove, and am reminding myself of my own words, that writing fiction is also something I want for myself, and it’s not just okay but necessary to give myself time to do that.
I’m giving myself other projects too. Radio was something I always wanted to try more of in grad school, but time constraints and course availability meant that I was mostly focused on written storytelling. Last week I put out a call for audio story prompts, which I am still taking — if you’d like to suggest something here in the comments or over in my Tumblr askbox or on Twitter, I would find that super exciting! Yesterday, on either side of a less-than-successful trip to the Apple Store, I spent my train trip collecting natsound — the rumble of the tracks, the squeaky door, the automated announcements, the click of the turnstiles. I remember one Medill professor calling radio “the poetry of journalism,” and in trying to get more practice with it, I’m starting to understand that a little more.
I’ve written before about the grief of losing a parent. It’s a thing I carry with me everywhere, in ways I never anticipated. But I lucked out with both my parents: my dad is a really, really good guy. He’s a good dad, and over the last several years I’ve learned a lot about him.
When JUF News sent out a call for articles about relationships, I knew I had to write about him, and to write about this. This personal essay, which is very meaningful to me, is now in the February print issue of JUF News and online. You can read it here: My dad, the mensch.
Hug the ones you love. Tell them you love them early and often. Not just in case of tragedy, but, I hope, because it’s true.
I can’t talk about Philip Seymour Hoffman. Some famous deaths hit you harder than others, and you can’t always tell why, and this one — not to mention the conversation going on around it — is hitting me hard. This morning I also read ‘In God We Trust—but We Have Put Our Faith in Our Guns,’ an interview with a Florida mother who, like Trayvon Martin’s parents, lost her son to a Stand Your Ground-defensible (supposedly) incident. From God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:
“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory comes from Kirby Ferguson, the guy behind the brilliant Everything Is a Remix. This new venture is going to be subscription-supported, but right now you can buy one for $12US, which will later go up to $15, but which is good for the whole length of the project. Apparently you can also pay in Bitcoin too, which I find fascinating.
Art of the Title is a whole blog that breaks down and analyzes title cards and opening sequences from films and TV shows, which is a thing I love like I love blogs about designing book covers.
The Biggest Misconception About Birds is, it turns out, about where they sleep. Let me just say, the thing about unihemispheric slow-wave sleep makes me wonder why we don’t have fantasy creatures or aliens that work like that.
Work out at home like a superhero! Like, an actual superhero of your choice: there are moves for that. You may have seen these charts floating around on Tumblr, but did you know you can do all kinds of fancy sorting on the artist’s website to find the one you need?
This Is Danny Pearl’s Final Story, by Asra Nomani, is a wrenching look at the facts about the kidnapping and murder of journalist Danny Pearl, who was abducted and beheaded while chasing a story in Pakistan. It’s also a story about a colleague of his and how his death shook her and followed her in the years after, and what she did about it.
The Borderlands Project follows a trip along the borders of India and South Asia “to better understand the human dimension of political borders.” When it’s finished, the reporter will have traveled 9,000 miles.
Why News Matters works to promote news literacy for kids, which, given, I don’t know, everything about the way news is going, they’re going to need more than ever going forward.
Polar vortex? Alberta Clipper? It’s been cold in Cook County this month. I’m delighted that we have a high of 32F for today, when earlier this week we were comfortably back in negative double digits and dangerous wind chills. The difference between this round of terrible temperatures and the last one is that I’m not hiding in my apartment as much. I’m pretty sure I have this XKCD comic to thank for that, along with a memory of an elementary school friend who’d grown up in Edmonton, Alberta, gleefully bragging about Halloween in weather like this.
I’m sure you’ll have noticed that this weekly check-in is not occurring on a Monday, and especially not this past Monday. I fell into a couple of traps on this front, mostly having to do with believing I had nothing to say. January is a really easy month to want to hide and hibernate through, especially when you feel like everyone else has their act together but you. But the thing about hibernation, to get all Advice Columnist-y on us, is that often you’re doing a lot of work that you don’t necessarily see, but that comes to mean a lot when you get going on something else. (As an aside, this week I learned that Andrew W.K. is actually an excellent advice columnist. Who knew?)
Part of that work, for me, has been reframing the way this job hunting thing works. A trio of “Surprise! You really need to hear this” encounters — one from Medill Career Services, one from a former professor over Facebook and one from a cousin at a funeral, of all things — has finally knocked it into my head that “Please, sir, may have I another?” is truly not going to get me far. Some people need to be able to back up their swagger with performance; I need to translate my skills and accomplishments into swagger. (Hi, potential employers who might be reading this! I hope by the time you see this, we’ve gotten to know each other well enough that you’re surprised that I’m in knots about this whole process.)
Another thing that smacked me over the head was a fortuitous trio of links about understanding what goes on in your head when you avoid doing something that you really want to do, like work and earn money.
Procrastination Is Not Laziness: “It’s a neurotic self-defense behavior that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth.” Everybody loves thinking of themselves as neurotic, but yeah, in general, this hits home.
Why We Procrastinate: “It turns out that we see our future selves as strangers.” The lede on this is ghastly, but the rest is pretty sound.
Luckily the UNC Writing Center has our backs with steps and solutions we can use for real. Another tactic, which I undertook yesterday, is to give yourself an actual break, not just one where you hate yourself for getting off track about your real job, and do something that fills you up, rather than just kills time. I spent the day meeting up with friends, wandering the Art Institute of Chicago and seeing a movie about a 14-year-old who sails around the world. Continue reading “The Frozen North is not done with us yet”→