Daylight: Saved, apparently

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?

By which I definitely mean Scottish Plumber, (888) MAC-CLOG, tagline: "The Pipes are Calling"
By which I definitely mean Scottish Plumber, (888) MAC-CLOG, tagline: “The Pipes are Calling”

Continue reading “Daylight: Saved, apparently”

Don’t tell anyone, but I have two paczki left.

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.)

I’m pretty flush with links, at least. Who wants ’em? Delicious budget recipes, Jurassic Park viruses, comics as a perfect vector for the art of translation, Lupita Nyong’o’s Academy Award, perfume, ladybeards and Prohibition but with spells instead of spirits: Continue reading “Don’t tell anyone, but I have two paczki left.”

We need vacations.

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.

Eerie and beautiful most of the way to Indy
Eerie and beautiful most of the way to Indy

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.”

Portrait of the blogger writing cover letters

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.

"Honorably fulfilled all the requirements prescribed," look at that!
“Honorably fulfilled all the requirements prescribed,” look at that!

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?

As for links, I have a handful of long pieces that I have not read yet but plan to, perhaps as a reward for finishing more cover letters and applications. They tend to get swallowed up in my One Tab page — which, by the way, if you are a tabaholic like I am, this Chrome extension will save your life in ways you can’t even believe. So, to wit, beyond stories about a lifetime of photographing bats, angsting about tattoos in middle age, desk tweaks to maximize creativity and the latest updates to TED’s Top 100 Websites, here’s my reading list:

  • Chris Jones, one of Esquire’s great treasures, has a new profile of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
  • BuzzFeed, as has been often noted, is moving into long form. Here’s a profile it’s just done about Donald Trump and his aspirations for public office.
  • 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.
  • FastCompany profiles 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?
  • WYNC has an archive of Kurt Vonnegut’s audio reports from the afterlife, which later became God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian.
  • The New Yorker asks whether Amazon is good not just for the book industry, but for books themselves.
  • 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.

This time, something’s different.

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.

The day is young, and I’ve got emails/cover letters/fiction/cover letters to write, so — on to the link party!  Continue reading “This time, something’s different.”

The Frozen North is not done with us yet

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.

Number of hours. NUMBER. But I like your message.
Number of hours. NUMBER. But I like your message.

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.

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”

Things I’d never done before

One thing about funemployment is that you find all kinds of amazing ways to entertain yourself and to avoid the grueling, soul-sucking work of looking for and applying for jobs. Chicago also continues to be gruesome weather-wise — my dad keeps informing me that we’re due for an Alberta Clipper this weekend, followed by another polar vortex. I’m thisclose to setting myself up with a light therapy lamp, because it’s just so easy to lose inspiration to do anything much more than hang out under the covers and loaf.

On the other hand, I’m trying and experiencing a lot of things for the first time, because hey, it’s better than facing the alsdjkfhalkjsfh number of tabs from Media Bistro in the other window, right? Continue reading “Things I’d never done before”

I don’t mind Mondays

Okay, okay, I promised I would check in and stay accountable on Mondays, so here I am, accountable-ing. The above video is “Hans,” a track by David Ummmo, which used to be on the OmmWriter software, and which I find ambient and soothing in a totally unironic way. You might like it! I know between this and Rainy Mood, I can use all the help focusing that I can get.

This week, I:

  • Applied for a few jobs, which is a small start, but hey, small starts are better than not starting at all. I still hate cover letters and LinkedIn, but I don’t think that’s anyone’s big, dark secret.
  • Took advantage of Chicago being 40 whole degrees Fahrenheit yesterday and picked up Zombies, Run! again, for the first time since basically early December. I spent most of the (very slow, occasionally wheezing) run very proud of myself for not slipping on the sheets of ice all over the sidewalk nor drowning in the gigantic puddles at the corners of streets, which of course meant that one block from my apartment, I took a balletic spill with audible sound effects. I’m fine, if sore, but hey, once again, a hilarious start is better than no start at all.
  • Began the Code Academy lessons. It is frustrating to put yourself through the “Basic HTML” bits when you learned some of this stuff in 1999, but then again, it’s also possible that 1) code has gotten a little better in the intervening 15 years (which it has!), and that 2) you can unlearn some bad habits that won’t help you down the line. I was quite pleased to see that Code Academy includes in-line CSS very early on, so — I’m encouraged for the stuff I don’t know, is what I’m saying.
    • I don’t know how social Code Academy really is or gets, but if you want to follow my progress or be coding friends or somesuch, I’m pyBlaster10597.
  • Watched a lot of Leverage, which is a perfect show about running cons and found families. I love everybody, but I might love Hardison the most. The first season is available for free on Hulu, for those for whom Hulu is an option, IP-wise.
  • Wrote some fiction. Doing it in 750-word chunks is really good for me, it turns out. That covers just about one scene, at least for a first draft, and if it needs to go beyond that, I’ve already got my momentum going.

We’ve been having a little weather in the Midwest this year so far, so I have not accomplished much on the photography front (though I have been rediscovering the glories of the slow cooker, as well as the possibility of chocolate stout and bacon brownies; cooking more has also been a goal!). Temperatures are looking a little less surface-of-Martian for the next week, so that should help.

One nice link-drop to end on: “STEM Needs a New Letter” and “Why Her Will Dominate UI Design Even More Than Minority Report are two articles about the same story, at heart. Good timing, journalism imps (or whoever it is that ensures synchronicity in the news world).

Good habits begin somewhere

That’s a good thing to remember when, on your first self-declared day of responsible funemployment, you wake up at 9:30 after staying up too late on Tumblr. It’s never too late to start over, though.

On the plane home from Thanksgiving in Ohio, I made myself a two-page list/motivational speech about how I’m going to use this time between graduation and finding a job. The list includes projects like learning more code, working on novels 750 words at a time, keeping up with running in cold weather and organizing get-togethers for people from my cohort who are still in Chicago.

Worrying is easy, of course: it feels like you’re doing something when you’re pretty much accomplishing the opposite. This Thursday I’m headed out to Seattle for a week, which is going to be phenomenal, but I’m already telling myself that this is a perfect opportunity to fall behind and fail before I get started.

Nope. It’s going to be okay, and I’m going to make this be okay, and I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it. I was wondering if anyone might have some recommendations for me in terms of websites where I can learn things.

  • I thought I’d try Code Academy for the coding part. I know is out there, but if I can avoid paying for something, I’d like to try that. (Unless someone wants to talk me into Lynda? We used it briefly during an Interactive Foundations-type class this spring, but, er, I did not use it as much as maybe I could have.) If anyone can speak to Khan Academy, I’d also be interested in hearing how they do, on any subject.
  • Going through all my photos in hopes of developing some sort of portfolio has really impressed on me that I need to take more and more interesting pictures. I’d like to find a reliable weekly photo challenge to follow: and the official WordPress feed seem all right, but I’m happy to take other recommendations on, say, Twitter or Tumblr or something else I can follow on an RSS feed. I’m also going to try carting my camera around with me everywhere I go, and maybe referring to the Digital Photography School (or your favorite alternative!) for further help.
  • I’m getting a bit frustrated trying to find the right template for my portal/portfolio. I don’t want much — a static, WordPress-based site where I can convince people that I have good clips, can do other good stuff that Medill taught me, and that I would make a great hire. Anyone know of a minimal, tweakable template that might do? I can build one myself, but I’d rather the site look a little better than that, in truth.

Recently I found a fabulous handout from The Writing Center at UNC–Chapel Hill about procrastination. It breaks down why we procrastinate and what we can do about it in a really straightforward, non-blaming way, and it’s advice we all can use, anytime. This is going in my bookmarks, and I plan on returning to it often.

It also helps me to check in with status reports on a regular basis, and I find that if I announce I’m going to do something, that keeps me generally accountable about keeping it up. (Not always, true, but I’m chalking these both up to delay and not giving up. Some of these are even on my projects list.) So expect to see me checking in here once a week — maybe on Mondays, but we’ll see what works. If I haven’t, please feel free to prod me over Twitter or in my Tumblr askbox, which are the two most likely places I’ll see the reminder.

Another goal: get good enough at ukulele to justify buying a really nice one
Another goal: get good enough at ukulele to justify buying a really nice one

Affirmation time! This could be a period of, as Gus demonstrates above, hiding under the table. But I don’t think it will be. Off to go do things, gang! And please, if you have recommendations (or un-recs) on any of the points above, take to the comments and let me know what you think.

Happy Monday, all! Yeah, I said it. ♥