chicago, workstyle

lose the cookies

I always enjoy the freelancer camaraderie of people nestled around laptops in cafes. Yesterday, grantwriting at the Au Bon “Free Wifi” Pain on Adams, across the street from the Symphony, a group of businessmen asked me to watch their laptop, several times, as they went to get food and prolong their meeting. On one of these trips, they came back with a bag of chocolate chip cookies for me, which they gave to me like this: “You gonna be here for awhile? You want some cookies?”

“One day,” one of the guys said to another, “you’re going to ask the wrong person to watch your computer – and then you’ll lose the computer and the cookies!”

chicago, writing

you should have heard the scream she let out, bro

Grantwriting at the Mercury Cafe on Chicago Avenue, distinguished by its large number of electrical outlets and its cavernous space, large enough to perform surgery on a truck.

I ask my tablemate for the wireless password. By answer, he turns to his IPhone, caresses his screen for far too long, and eventually comes up with a photograph of the scribbled piece of paper by the counter where the wireless password is written. It’s so digital it’s analog.

The writer’s group is talking:

A: She’s the kind of person who eats a bird shoved inside of a bird shoved inside of a bird.
B: I am from Michigan…
A: You’re crusty, bro.

There really is no reason to ever feel alone in this city. I have spared the readers of this blog the more graphic discussion to which the group proceeded, about genital piercing, but I had to listen to it. Count yourselves lucky.

chicago, F&F

this train only goes in one direction

On a train from Jackson to Damen, in search of tacos, with two of my friends, young women of indeterminate age, they discover that I am older than both of them. They are surprised.

“Yes,” I say, “the late twenties.”

“What’s it like?” says one of them, and I realize she’s serious.

Luckily, I had just thought of the answer to this question a few days ago, while pondering a recent screw-up and its aftermath.

“Well, the thing is, you will keep on making the same mistakes,” I say, “but you make them much faster. It takes six weeks, as opposed to several years, to recognize what you’re doing and stop.”

“Yeah?” says the other.

“But you can’t consume as much alcohol or stay up as late as you used to,” I say, “so get your drinking in now.”

(This is the first time I have written a dialogue excerpt in fiction as opposed to play format.)

chicago, theater

write me the money

I began a new grantwriting project today, the first one for a Chicago theater. I’m very happy to be doing more of this kind of work. Grantwriting can be so cookie-cutter, but I really love the challenge of it – placing the maximum amount of style and creativity into a very restrictive form, a kind of praise-song. Superlatives upon superlatives. An abundance of excellence.

In the course of hanging around the theater I’ve met some other young people who are engaged in some kind of volunteering or assisting of the staff, and talked about employment prospects in the field. There’s no doubt that it doesn’t look too good right now.

I’m lucky to have some work. I think part of the reason I’ve managed to remain employed is that the extra-artistic skill set I’ve cultivated – grantwriting and fundraising – is more essential now than ever. No matter how bad it gets in the arts, until we all throw in the towel entirely, we will all, all of us, always need folks to go find us some more funding.

chicago, F&F

football americain

I watched Super Bowl 43 with the same assortment of folks from the Indy Convergence with whom I watched Super Bowl 42. It’s hard to believe I’ve now known Robert and Caitlin for two years.

Last year, in Indianapolis, our crew was surrounded by an group of twenty rabid fans, who screamed every time the TV reception went out (often). I had driven in driving rain with a frustrated friend and actor in my front seat, and gotten lost several times in dark, streetlightless streets. I remember thinking that the Super Bowl was out there somewhere, but I was never, ever going to find it. We arrived late, and I had to turn round & take him home about 20 minutes later. We could barely focus on the football for the many theatrical crises growing around us. I was mid-production for the first reading of 13 WAYS and was so distracted I couldn’t sit down. Honestly, I don’t even know who won that game.

This was a much less dramatic and smaller party, with only six people. We ate Costco pizza and watched James Harrison run 100 yards. I was the only one in the room rooting for the Steelers, but we all respected each other’s loyalties. Lots of jokes about holding penalties and Madden’s unfortunate, repeated “double penetration” phrase. For the first time in my life, I watched every single minute of the football being played.

Rode the Western bus home from Lawrence to Division, and made myself obnoxious to the drunk people on the bus by asking if they were Steelers fans. They weren’t, but they were nice about it.

Robert and Caitlin depart today for the second annual Indy Convergence, and the Steelers have their sixth Super Bowl title. If you keep living, stuff keeps happening.

chicago, theater

you put your left foot in

Yesterday, I attended a play reading at a local theater, and was once again pleasantly surprised by the large Chicago audiences who turn out for new work. The play was good and the vocal audience discussion afterwards was even better.

I’m going to be taking a playwriting class and also doing some grantwriting this winter. Back in the game? Theater for Dara hasn’t always been the healthiest thing – or most conducive to sleep, rest, exercise, relationships, friends, three meals a day, a bank account bigger than a stick of gum, etc.

I am reminded, since it IS Super Bowl Sunday, of other people who take part in pasttimes (football? ice skating?) that can create long-term damage to the body or the soul. I read an article recently, which I can’t find this moment, that interviewed many former football players who were now dealing with lifelong injuries from their pursuit of the sport. Of course, they overwhelmingly said they had no regrets.

I do have some regrets about all the theater I’ve done, and the greatest one is financial. I wish that when I was younger and had enough energy to burn so many candles at so many ends that I looked like a human fireworks display that I had used some of that energy towards making money, to support myself in my late twenties, while I redistribute my energies more towards writing.

I have some sense of a few years mismanaged, of time not spent well, of decisions that could have been better made. I took care of the art but I didn’t take care of my self – and the result is some resentment, however slight, towards the art.

But being in that theater yesterday, hearing an audience experience a play in process-progress, I felt things I haven’t felt since I left. I felt my soul lifted like a tarp on an unused car. I felt the engines turn on.

If there is a way to keep doing this kind of work, but with less damage to body, soul, and checking account, then I’m going to try. Playwriting can’t kill you, right? Yet?

chicago, politics

Feels like summer!

My mother has a tradition of not watching or paying attention to the Cal football team, because she says that if she does, they lose. Sometimes she even tries not to hear the scores.

In this vein, during the ceremony and the speech, when everyone in the country was watching, I was wandering on foot on Madison from Michigan to Wacker, crossing the river, crossing the freeway, staring at the sky, which got bluer the longer I walked.

Through a humorous but very Dara sequence of events and a misplaced bus pass, I ended up walking home, all the way from downtown to Humboldt Park, which isn’t that far, really – less than five miles. I walked very slowly. I walked on Milwaukee and Division, all the way home. The city was subdued. I was subdued.

On the way home, because I was walking, I stopped into the office of an organization I’ve been thinking about stopping in on for six months, and had a good talk with them. It seemed like a day when anything could happen, and something did.

At night, I went to yoga class. The teacher said she expected to find us dancing when she came in, but we were sitting there, quiet as schoolchildren, ten mice on yoga mats. The real work begins now, doesn’t it? This is where we figure out who we, as a country, are – and if we can deal with the enormous problems that lie ahead of us.

I still didn’t believe it, not really, when I went to bed. It was too quiet.

Finally, this morning, I finally let myself go online and start to believe that it had really happened – that Barack Obama is our President. I let myself Google Michelle’s dress and Barack’s speech and a glorious photo montage of all his advisors and cabinet staff. I typed “” into my browser and saw that his Web aesthetic has overtaken even that stentorian site.

It’s real. Barack Obama is our President.

Yesterday and today, as if the sun came out to celebrate with us, it’s been two glorious beautiful days in Chicago, with positively liveable temperatures, and people on the streets are laughing and shouting “Feels like summer!” at each other.

So it does.

chicago, politics

talking to strangers

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth President of the United States of America.

Last night, at a Bucktown bar and a Bucktown taqueria that reminded me of the Mission, a friend and I got into a 1 am discussion with a pair of opinionated Chicago strangers. We disagreed with each other on every point in the playbook* – Steelers vs. Cardinals, voter registration, economic policy, the bailout, Obama’s merits. It was a reminder to me, from within my pro-Barack haze of euphoria, that there are many, many people in this country for whom the jury is still out.

What further argument can you pursue when one person thinks everything works through the “trickle-down” economic principle and the other thinks nothing does? Still, I like it when discussions happen between strangers, especially with opposing viewpoints. One of them at least conceded that Obama had a chance to be better than Bush, and that the Steelers were probably the favorites (but not, in both cases, by how much!)

One of the main reasons I like Obama’s chances as a President so much is his ability to engage in debate and discussion across the aisle, with respect. We need that so much, especially in times like these. Although our Republican taqueria stranger wasn’t willing to give us even that, I’ll give you a six-point spread – hell, six and a half – that he is going to keep on trying to work with the Republicans every single day of his term.

Here’s to an era of American politics where we all talk to a lot more strangers.

* except Iraq. This man was one of the most Republican Republicans I’ve ever spoken to, and he agreed that we had no good reason to be in that war.

chicago, music

good day, sunshine

I know it’s not as warm outside as the blue skies are pretending, but it’s pretty.

Today Janna and I are beginning guitar lessons with a friend in the north part of Chicago. After we met in August, we discovered we had very similar musical tastes (rock/bluegrass), and have formed a girl group called Six Months, after the window of time we have for this project – since I may be leaving Chicago in the summer. I’ve dreamed about having a guitar and a friend and a band like this since I saw a sky-blue Danelectro in the window of the Blue Ridge Pickin’ Parlor in Chatsworth, ten years ago.

chicago, politics

that our flag was still there

Tonight, 24 hours before the inaguration, the American flag flying at the corner of 47th and Drexel in Hyde Park, Chicago, was waving in the falling snow with proud, slow, deliberate ripples. Like it wanted to be at the front of a Presidential motorcade.

I stood at the corner, full of Eileen and Danny’s pasta, shuffling my boots in the snow, waiting for the 47 bus, and watching pointillist snowflakes sparkle in the night around the flagpole.

Watch me, said the flag. Watch me.
Watch me.

I hope I never forget what it feels like to be this proud of my country.