From “The Astronaut’s Dilemma” to “The Taming of the Fondue”

Last night I saw my last Improvised Shakespeare show in Chicago for what is likely to be quite a while. They’re probably one of my top three favorite things about this city, and while I am super sad to lose out on regular access to their shows (especially in their gorgeous new theater at iO’s new, incredible space on Kingsbury Street!), they visit New York often enough that I shouldn’t be bereft for too long.

Oh shoot, that was me burying the lede. Hi, world. The reason Magpie & Whale has been so incredibly quiet on the WordPress side is that I’m moving to New York in a week for a job. Very exciting! Very stressful. Very odd to say goodbye to the city I’ve lived in for the majority of my adult life.

I’m pretty up to my ears juggling work and packing and organizing, but I’ve had a little time to enjoy the last of a very pleasant October here (save for the three straight days it rained this week; now it’s sunny and mild and perfect, and hopefully it’ll stay that way).

A photo of Wicker Park I'm sure no one has ever taken before.
A photo of Wicker Park I’m sure no one has ever taken before.

Overall, I’m surprising myself with how calm I feel about it at heart. People keep asking me what I want to see before I leave, and most of what I can think about is how I still need to find poster mailers that fit the unframed prints I’m bringing. I have a few things to hit up still, though: a bike ride along the lakefront, an hour in the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a dinner at my favorite Ethiopian restaurant. Last weekend I went hiking and finally went to a Chicago hot dog stand, in addition to visiting all my favorite works at the Art Institute. Really, though, I think I’m ready for something new, even if I never envisioned that that new something would be Brooklyn.

For all that I just want this move to be over, for all that I just want to be there already, for all that I’m eager to set up my (amazing!) new apartment, Chicago is never really going to be done with me. How could it? I love this place too much, too wholly, even if I’m ready to go.

The Panopticon of Celebrity: Thoughts on Chicago Wizard World ’14

Last weekend I paid a lot of money to sightsee another human being up close. I had a great time, but I’ve been thinking about the fundamental weirdness of it ever since.

I’d never been to a big, multi-fandom convention before Wizard World Chicago, but it’s something I’ve seen my friends get a lot of joy from for many years. When I found out my favorite actor from my favorite movie this year would attend, I decided to take the plunge, and so I wound up with a Sebastian Stan VIP Pass (really, that’s what it says on the badge I wore around my neck all weekend). The VIP experience promised early access, faster lines and better seats, though I honestly only bought it because I couldn’t figure out where to buy the individual tickets online. It also entitled you to a couple of con exclusives, including a limited edition Guardians of the Galaxy comic and a huge lithograph of your nerd icon of choice.

The con ran from Thursday through Sunday, so on Thursday night I decided to head up to Rosemont, near O’Hare Airport, to pick up my things and scope the place out. After some tragedies as far as getting to the convention center on public transit (for all who follow, it turns out you can walk a few blocks to the building from the Blue Line), I made it there as the day was wrapping up. People were totally in costume, milling around and carting bags of merch. I was already delighted. Then I got my swag.

That’s when I knew everything about the weekend was going to be hilarious.  Continue reading “The Panopticon of Celebrity: Thoughts on Chicago Wizard World ’14”

My imminent, self-inflicted Sebastian Stan problem

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Me at the movie theater before the first Captain America movie, 2011. This is important later.

Yesterday I did a thing I haven’t since 2008: I bought a ticket to a fan convention. This one is a whole other level of different, though. In 2008, I a la carted my way through a Supernatural Creation Con, and while I met and hugged and asked questions of and got autographs from and pictures with many of my favorite secondary players on that show, I assiduously avoided the stars, save for the one question I asked Jensen Ackles during the panel appearance. (Video exists, but I’m not linking it. Short version: Yeah, Jensen probably would have been friends with Dean Winchester in high school.)

The ticket I bought yesterday to attend the Wizard World Chicago convention next month is a so-called VIP package, which gets me early floor access, some limited edition goodies, premium panel seating and at least two opportunities to up-close meet actor Sebastian Stan, who plays Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Deceptively handsome for what a doofus he’s proved to be. Which only makes me love him more, so job well done there, pal.

I’m so nervous I might hurl. Which I keep reminding myself is silly: This dude is not even two years older than me, and by all accounts presents himself as the sweetest, hammiest, most gracious nerd imaginable. It’s also not like the five minutes total of one-on-one interaction this will entail will be earth-shattering; my goal, really, is to have fun and be classy. But I also keep thinking about what I’d want to communicate in those few minutes, and it gets complicated, especially now that I’ve put my finger on what it is about his performance as the Winter Soldier that hits me so hard. Continue reading “My imminent, self-inflicted Sebastian Stan problem”

Fourth Decade Serenade

So, I’m turning 30 tomorrow. Never done that before.

Thirty is a big one. It feels bigger than 20 or 21, even if there’s some “I finally get to be an adult!” associated with both of them; it feels bigger than 25, my official quarter-life crisis, or 27, which felt scarily close to 30 at the time. At each of these birthdays, I think I expected to have more of my life figured out by then. I’m pretty sure that’s never going to change, and I’m equal parts frustrated and excited by that.

Three and a half years ago, I wrote up a list of things I’d like to accomplish by my 50th birthday. Some of them have happened: photography classes, swing dancing, trying more music; whale-watching, putting up less with bullies, the vague-but-aspirational “find a career.” Others are still to come: Dating is still an undiscovered country with me, and I absolutely need to get better at planning so I can take those extravagant, far-flung trips I want. But it’s still a good list. I’m pleased with that list, and with the person younger me wanted to become.

I’m also pleased with the person I am now. I don’t have it all figured out, of course, but I’m less anxious about certain things than I used to be, and I’m working on scrubbing myself of the unhealthier strains of perfectionism that hobble me. I can’t find the exact quote at the moment, but there are many variations on the theme that I want to take with me into the future: The conditions will never be perfect, so you might as well do it now.

This knowledge feels pretty hard-won. I often feel like I lost or gave up my twenties: At 23, my mom got her brain cancer diagnosis, and at 28, she died. I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to do a lot of the stupid and reckless shit you’re “supposed” to do with this decade, and I sometimes wonder if I’ve missed my window for exploring or experimenting with the world. This is not true, of course, but — I’m not going to miss my twenties. I grieve sometimes for what they could have been, but they weren’t, so there’s not much else to say.

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Me and Dad at my Medill graduation ceremony, an A+ day and weekend in general.

So, gosh, who am I on my last day of my twenties? I love my city; Chicago is so beautiful right now, milder than July usually is. Sometimes it staggers me that I’ve lived here since 2002 and still don’t feel like I’ve found everything I love about it. I really like my work, and the people I work with. I am stupid invested in Captain America in ways I absolutely never saw coming, and thanks to a man who got in trouble with convention staff for giving fans too many hugs, my primary qualifier for a boyfriend is that he must be a goober. I feel energized about art and storytelling and fiction; I want to keep trying more. I am someone who gets annoyed when she can’t go running or biking. I am addicted to Whole Foods’ pita chips and frozen palak paneer. I am throwing a birthday party this weekend primarily centered around using art supplies. I want to spend tomorrow pampering myself — maybe some dresses, maybe some shoes, maybe even a manicure! — before hanging out with my friends and bringing them to my favorite comedy in the world.

I’m doing okay, all told. Thirty isn’t looking like I expected, but heck, it’s looking super good.

July 4th on the beach at Union Pier, MI. A really good way to watch fireworks.
July 4th on the beach at Union Pier, MI. A really good way to watch fireworks.

Put a camera in my hands

To my shame, yesterday was the first time in exactly two months I’d used my beloved and much-longed-for DSLR. I really love taking pictures, a lot, and luckily I’ve got friends who are willing to help me out. Grad school bud Clancy (previously seen in this iconic photo) and I hung out yesterday, which happened to be beautiful in Chicago. Clancy is an awesome human being who also happens to have a wonderfully expressive face, which led to some awesome shots.

First the nice pictures.
First the nice pictures.
This is why we're friends.
This is why we’re friends.

Continue reading “Put a camera in my hands”

This Land Is Your Land (Some Restrictions Apply)

One thing that struck me about Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the film’s emphasis on recognition scenes. Steve Rogers, the protagonist, has been asleep for 70 years, and the America that he finds on waking is a much different one than the one he grew up knowing. For the past couple weeks I’ve found myself collecting links about the ways in which the United States has become unrecognizable, even in my lifetime, and it’s far past time I shared them. (I’d like to disclaim again that I’m in no way saying that the 1940s and that whole “Greatest Generation” thing are more authentic or superior somehow. See also: Feminism, civil rights and modern medicine, for starters.)

Gentrification

What got me started on this link-hoarding spree was finding a handful of essays about cost of living in San Francisco, London and New York, versus the affordability gap between metro areas and exurban cities in generalSalon called gentrification violence, a particular kind that thrives on erasure. You’re expected to participate in these processes, if you want certain things for your career. You may have no choice, if you’re lucky.

Higher education

I say “if you’re lucky” because education is very much a part of where opportunities happen, and education at all levels in the United States is in serious trouble. Teach for America, which sells itself as a chance for high-achieving college grads to do good in school districts that need the most help, is a destructive scam. Overworking students and teachers isn’t just an epidemic in the UK. The arms race for admission to the most elite colleges has tipped well into obscenity. The “superbrand” universities are coming out fine, assuming you discount the hidden costs of attending and the ongoing job market and salary catastrophe for adjuncts, grad students and non-tenured faculty. (Polls are finding that superbrand college experiences aren’t even necessary for happiness or success, but the allure of prestige is so hard at 17 or 18, especially when you’re terrified that if you “settle” now, you’ll have missed your chance forever.) Again, this is all assuming you get in the door.

Polarization

Meanwhile, government keeps failing us, and we’re too deadlocked to see our way out: knowing more about issues and situations actually entrenches our partisanship further. Redistricting has turned the organizational units of Congress into a place with virtually no idealogical overlap. Racism entrenches those divisions further still. See what happens when only certain people can afford to live where there are jobs?

This is a really cursory, totally surface-level collection of links; I keep following these stories whenever they crop up, and the deep-current trends are distressing and overwhelming. These are not necessarily the best links about these stories, just the most recent. If I dug more, I could put together something much more damning. The conversation is hard to start, particularly when the first piece of financial advice for young people always seems to be “Stop buying $5 lattes every day.” It shows how little that side understands the economic situation of most young people if it assumes we’ve got disposable income like that.

No wonder I’d much prefer to spend the rest of the day fantasizing about how amazing Hayley Atwell’s Agent Peggy Carter is going to be. If this badass can triumph over the sexism and every other -ism of the 1940s, we should have a fighting chance too, right?

Captain America: The Man Who Was More Himself

The problem with Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that there’s no room for a bathroom break. Other Marvel movies have spots that slow down or drag, but Winter Soldier manages to make every moment plot-relevant and engaging. It’s one reason why I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for two and a half weeks, and why I’ll be seeing it for a third time this afternoon.

I was never a big Cap fan: Thor was the one that grabbed me from the moment the lights came up, with its Shakespearean grandeur, self-effacing humor and immensely compelling brothers-at-war plot. I saw Captain America: The First Avenger opening weekend — a group of friends and I dressed up as ’40s ladies — and wanted to love it, since Band of Brothers was and is so important to me. I enjoyed it at the time, but thought it was over-long. The Avengers, released almost a year later, I found emotionally vacant, the cinematic equivalent of banging action figures together. The Thor sequel and the Iron Man films were fine, but they didn’t move me. I was really expecting similar from Winter Soldier.

Oh boy wow, was I wrong.

General praise first: Anthony and Joe Russo, primarily known before this for directing TV like Community and Arrested Development, did something we didn’t expect but should have seen coming — they made an entirely character-driven story. The fight scenes are spectacular (and all very distinct), but they’re also critiques of fight scenes and the military industrial complex that drives their demand. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is deeply uncomfortable with his role within SHIELD and its workings, as well he should be: the movie is really about drone strikes and the NSA. When Rogers needs help, between Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Sam “Falcon” Wilson (the standout Anthony Mackie), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), he’s literally the only white man at the table. There’s no romantic subplot, and that’s thrilling: all the women are competent, fully-fleshed and motivated by more than sharing screen time with Cap.

Oh yes, and the Winter Soldier himself blows me out of the water. Spoilers below, as well as more discussion of character, U.S. history you’ve probably never been taught and why I’m reevaluating the Captain America franchise. Continue reading “Captain America: The Man Who Was More Himself”