reflections

Note: These won’t be in chronological order or anything, but I thought by putting “part 1” it would force me into writing the rest of them.

So there is this section of everyone’s life where you become this ugly offspring of yourself and your body seems to be forcing you into social awkwardness. No, not high school. I’m of course talking about middle school. Now since not everyone has middle school let me explain: it’s a space between elementry (k-5) and high school (9-12) . Forcing the most awkward years of your life into this cooked down grade six through eight. In our district we were bused across an entire town and pushed into a crumbling high school with a couple other elementary schools.

Now for me. I was as awkward as they come, nerdy, but not brainy , strange, but not funny – a real floating log in the toilet bowl of the hard and fast ‘clique’ society that is school. I wore stained tighty-whities under two year old pairs of corduroy with over-sized t-shirts that billowed when I walked. Yes, even back then corduroy was not at all cool, but I wore them out of choice. Kids my age wore Jancos and had chain wallets, nice jeans, baggy cool polos and the like. I had deep skin patterns on my hips where the pants I wore so tight from my spurting growth, but I didn’t buy bigger. As for my physical self, I had a bowl hair cut that looked like the head of a penis had landed squarely on top of me and not a strand of body hair to show off in the locker room before gym.

So I’ve set the scene.

I had a friend that was much older than me: Johnny Schaefer. A real cool dude who happened to be my neighborhood buddy. He told me to join chorus because thats how I’d meet girls. I thought this was great advice and took his word for it. I showed up to practice – because you don’t try out for seventh & eighth grade chorus –  and there were a couple of other dudes. A real bunch of knuckle heads that seemed to have been fiddling with each others balls, because they were giggling and in a real happy mood. I found out the next week that they were part of the show choir, an eighth grade only singing group, one of the only things in the school (besides jazz band) that you had to try out for. This meant that the chums that had tired to carry me along while we sang five year old ‘top 10’s weren’t there the following practice. I showed up to a room full of growing breasts and uneasy looks.

I sang quietly and on the far side of the room with my back to all the girls. They’d sing high and a couple off key. After the first song, the beautiful chorus teacher stopped for a second and asked all of the girls if there was a volunteer to sing in my key. I guess even at that age my voice was being pulled into the depths of Mordor. The room was silent. I turned and scanned the room; all of the girls were looking at each other or the ground. One of them nearby raised her hand reluctantly, it was one of the ‘better’ singers. She was pulled aside, which happened to be two feet from me. Our chorus teacher asked her little shining star, now draftee, to try to sing near me and in my octave.

It only made things worse. I sang quieter than ever before, the start of my downfall into becoming a social shadow rest in the hands of this single brown haired menace. The girl kept pushing me to sing, which shoved me farther away. She scooted up close, I could smell her shampoo, even after a whole day of school and mandatory gym. Her knees just inches from mine and the horror of being the only guy in a room full of potential penis touching ladies spread through my mind thick as afternoon peanut butter. At the speed I was going, I wouldn’t get a smooch from a single one of them in that room – I wasn’t getting anything I had joined up for.

I came back a few times for practice, never really finding my voice. I was in a show, but made sure the show choir guys were going to perform with us – there was no way in hell I was going to be the only baby faced lad in a sea of maturing vaginas. I eventually stopped going all together.

The end of the year come around and it was yearbook photo season. When you are in a club or sport you are sent a piece of paper with an invitation to leave class and be in the forever marring photo with the rest of the awkwards.  I got one of these notes in fifth period. I knew this would be the only time I’d be in the year book besides placed in the squares with the rest of them. I stood on the far side, just like in practice, the only guy in seventh and eighth grade chorus.

Caveat: this may only apply for Chicago, because I have only lived on both sides of the fence here

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So you live in the suburbs and you visit “the city” every couple months and the only exposure you have is massive buildings holding office equipment, people, dogs, cats, and even a few shoe strings. Although the buildings you see while down there are so big you can’t even wrap your mind around the sheer number of people that could fill all that space. Well, contrary to popular belief we are not packed in like sardines. Most people do not live in sprawling high-rises, strangely enough most high rises are for what I’d call the polar ends of income. Most us live in stacked three floor apartment buildings, or a house divided up – there seems to be a whole lot of ‘tall’ buildings, but most of what you see downtown are stacked up with desks and staplers.

A whole lot of us don’t work in those offices either, most of us work in tiny little small businesses hauling this or that, serving you coffee, or rubbing your back. The city isn’t ‘downtown.’ Most people who live in the city despise downtown. Because well, you are there – tourists, old people, gawkers, looky-loos and the like. That’s fine, you all can enjoy our high taxes while shopping for your family if you want to. Happy for you to pay into our pot, I’m not being facetious, just honest.

We don’t all live in slums. We don’t all hear gun fire. Not all of us have loads of money or even very much at all.

Things we do have: better food, better entertainment, better bars, better beer, better coffee and a greater variety of the those. We can walk or take mass transit to nearly anywhere we’d like to go. We can walk to the grocery store and if this doesn’t seem earth shattering, trust me when I say that it is. We have parks and green space.

We aren’t stuffed full of homeless people. We don’t all run on the lakefront. Not all of the white people live in neighborhoods with too-high rent bursting full of douche bags. We don’t all go to the gym. Not everyone goes to the museums everyday.

Just because you do it every single time you are here, doesn’t mean we do. Usually the only time we do any of the boring shit is when your here – it gives us great perspective on living here.

Rid yourself the preconceived notions about city living and give yourself a chance to live in one, at least once in your life. Yeah, it’s not for everyone, but everyone should try it.

Thanksgiving is a time when families come together and drink enough wine to take the edge off. The edge of what they normally wouldn’t talk about when getting together, but my family drinks every time we are together anyway so who knows what we normally talk about. I guess that accounts for the silence when any of them come, but that is for another post. This year was our first year with a car during the holidays so we weren’t so crunched for time. We left early, helped my mother (and grandmother) to finish up the meal. It was nice.

I went upstairs to get away from the shuttled conversations and piles of cooling food, built some legos with my nephew, and got feeling guilty so eventually went back downstairs. Apparently at the wrong time. I sat down and heard my sister say that my nearly non-existent father was going to surprise us on Christmas. Oh joy. This stirred the pot, and once again everyone complained and shared stories about him. I only listened and peppered in my snide comments. I’ve said my peace to those at the table about it all (another post). This put my ripe mood, grumpy, into a wonderful bouquet of worried and stressed. I’d had enough suprise gifts from my father on christmas, last year I was sent a massive clock from Target that had ‘LIVE LAUGH LOVE’ cut out of a ring around the edge of the clock in faux brass, a few years had gotten christmas themed bunker-style-buckets of stale popcorn in three terrible flavors – because nothings says “Merry Christmas, I don’t know anything about you” like a steel drum packed with popcorn. I guess a gift card to a place I don’t shop would have said that equally as well. Conversation at the tabled moved to my grandfather’s disdain for my father, then spread to mini-chats of other garbage. I got board and went back to Legos. I chatted with my ever smarter nephew again, got frustrated by not finding a five block to fit my house, and tried to join the crowed again. I help liz clean, drew pictures, and mulled about until it was time to go.

The two of us drove to her father’s in near silence because of my wonderful mood. While eating pie there we came across talk of last wishes. Liz’s father has planned to be in a twisted spiral of a acid induced muddle, then “an hour or so” later drowned out with a bottle of sleeping pills. I, for one, applaud this sort of gusto when it comes to one’s death. Liz wasn’t happy to hear about this of course, but I think her fear lies in it being in the not-to-distant future.

Author’s note: I wrote most of this the day after and was going to extend and edit this, but hey.

In the vast swaths of time that make up the tiny space between finishing up college, graduating with a degree, and getting a job you float. No doubt, you might be one of the lucky ones who had a carrier in mind and walk into a carrier doing this or that. Though, I’m sure if you are reading this, let alone this particular inspiration, you are adrift like I was.

I moved from Undeclared to Business to Math and finally English. I wasn’t so much as tasting as stumbling across the spectrum at Western. But there was something special about the literature classes that made me stick with it. I wasn’t sitting in long rows scrawling every single word or worse powerpoint slide in my notebook. I was engaging with classmates and professors. They weren’t standing at the head of the class lecturing, browsing for those who aren’t awake. No, they are mixed in with the rest of us. A peer, a guiding hand, a voice in darkness of confusion to light the way of understanding. We’d pull pages and find miniscule details that we floated over and try to conclude overarching arguments that would puzzle those who couldn’t keep up. It was exciting, almost every class. For once in my known life, I looked forward to class.

I was never headed to English for the glamor. I loved the hunt of tropes. I was a lad on horse back touting my horn to the recesses of my mind to pull connections and links that couldn’t be unseen. The book and sonnets and chapters were questions that needed answers and I had to fine them. This was also true with some of the most rewarding work I did as my minor in Creative Writing.

It pulled the teeth of the wolf howling at my door – filling something so necessary to me that I couldn’t stop. The two programs layered themselves so well I wondered most of my career if they were in cahoots. The writing would inform a part I felt was missing from my reading and the reading would push me somewhere I had never thought in my writing. The two spun a perfect web to a point where I knew I wanted to write for a living. I had to.

But sometimes life isn’t so forgiving. I worked for a year and half a tiny restaurant and grocery in the city of chicago – waiting tables and trying to figure out what to do next – when the owner dropped a golden ticket like no other into my lap. She wanted me to be, do, develop the marketing for it. I was elated because it involved writing, tech, everything I love and am passionate about balled into a perfect little job for me. I get to write, something I thought I’d never do for a living. I get to hangout on facebook, post and read twitter. I have two hour conversations with coffee roasters, candy makers, wine mongers, about the things they love to do and get free samples. I’ve flown to New York City to eat food, drink wine, and eat food – all the while getting payed and on someone else’s dime. My opinion not only matters but is always taken into consideration. So I get to eat things I’ve never heard of, go places I’ve never been, write – something I’ve never thought I’d be doing – and getting payed to do so.

If I didn’t have my English degree, there would be no way I’d be where I am today. It is the reason for my love of writing, literature, and my entire frame of mind was formed and shaped as a student of literature at Western. Like a squirrel who buried an acorn and stumbles upon it in it’s search for food, my life crossed the path of WIU’s English program. Feeding my mind, shaping my carrier and pushing me in directions I had never even fathomed. Change your mind and define yourself in new ways with an English degree at Western.

I haven’t gotten around to updating in a while. Maybe I’ll just do a quick run down of shit that’s been going on. From most recent back.

I had yogurt this morning, the ever delicious WholeSoy & Co brand. If you are living the annoying life of lactose free-ness like me – then you’ve tried all sorts of yogurt. This is by-far the best soy yogurt on the market. Liz made some crazy meat loaf stuffed flaky pop-over thingies for breakfast. They were amazing, as is most of her cookery.

A cold has befallen me. Flu? I don’t think so, but my body feels fine where as my head feels as if it may explode at any moment. I’m getting over it though, the worst of it was a couple days ago – and sleeping through most of it helped.

Working full time now in marketing at SPG. So far so good. Menu rolled out yesterday – a touch of worry came over me when I realized what changing the menu really means and how my work is not even close to being done now that the physical paper menu is out. Update the website, for me. But what about the take out menu? Is the paper menu worth it? We’ll soon find out. A couple people think the 50 or so menus I printed out wont last longer than the weekend, but I’m shooting for them being wrong.

Went to the Jonsi concert and loved every bit of it. It was moving in a few ways 1) I’ve loved his music for a long while and finally seeing him/them preform was special, 2) it was a heart-felt show, you could tell he puts himself into each concert, 3) I was on medicine for my illness. Junip is tomorrow and should lend itself to being completely awesome as well.

Saw a pretty interesting movie called ‘Collapse.’ Sort of harped and summarized my fears about where the world is headed.

Went to ‘Acre’, what was once ‘Charlie’s Ale House’ is now a pretty decent dinner place and pub.

I’m board already with this list. Hope you enjoyed.

I’m not going to read through this before it’s posted, I just thought I might put out a few ideas for this thing I said I’d write for my Alumnus (is it capitalized?).

I chose to be an english major because while in high school I was the guy who would sit in chemistry and have my face buried in Chuck Palahniuk’s prose. I wasn’t all that interested in the English courses in high school either, but at least I had things to contribute unlike most of my peers. I came to Western Illinois because my uncle did – simple as that. I didn’t even think of going until April before I graduated. I was convinced I couldn’t get in anywhere. I’ve got to go a bit cliche and say that college changed my life. Undeclared, supply chain management, math, English Ed, then finally just English – this was my first two years.

A lot of people joke that English is a “would you like fries” sort of BA. I had thought that before, during, and after getting it myself. Reflecting, now that I’ve been working for two years: no degree matter – just that you have one. You want to work in a cubical? Just apply to the corporate world – trust me the only thing they learn that you won’t is expense reports and the wonders of Excel. What do they miss out on? Discovery, a deeper love for the arts, and shouting at professors about phalic metaphors.

Right now I am the marketing department at a small, but well known restaurant in the city of Chicago. We’re fairly ahead of other businesses because of the work I do. For perspective, how many 40 seat restaurants with three grocery shelves do you know of that has a full time marketing person on staff? I consider myself immensely lucky, sure. Things fall into your lap and you are unsure, but you learn to absolutely love them. This is the same experience I had joining the English Department at Western.

Full disclosure – I had to take English 102, yes, the low level freshmen entry course and English 202, twice, because I failed the first time. Just because you suck at sentence structure, spelling, and usage doesn’t mean you don’t belong in English. It’s more than sitting around talking about MLA vs Chicago and if email should have a hyphen or not. It’s about literature, delving deep into authors that upset you, confuse the shit out of entire classes of 19 year olds, and professors that make you grin because they flip the right switches. For me, English was about the people too; the cool cute girls that were kinda nerdy and brainy that you’d try to empress with your lexicon and stretch to an over arching metaphor of the color red in a book, and the cool guys that would tell you about their weekend soirees or joke with them about a teacher’s boots but still be humbled by their intelligence, and the infinitly wise and ever exciting professors that pushed all of us to see things in writing that would be impossible to explain to people outside the class let alone the department.

There was just something that clicks with English students. You get passed the ‘weeding out course’ and come out through the other side like the band of brothers, only with your head buried in stinky used books instead of sand and a lot less bombs.

I guess my message to incoming English majors to Western would be to not give up when it’s tough and to not think about how you won’t get a ‘real job,’ because they are over rated anyway. Do what you love and eventually something will find you.

So this came out a bit more like a high school graduation speech, but it’s a good ground-work i-beam frame out of what I was thinking. They want more about how I use my degree in a day to day type thing – it’ll get there.

Yesterday evening I was riding down the lake front listening to NPR. They had said that in the early morning hours of what is now today a huge storm like no other is going to hit Chicago. Now, once you’ve lived in the midwest for the entirety of your life, and have watched as funnel clouds float above your house and rain come pouring down from the sky as if from an overturned bathtub, you kind of get used to awful storms. I even moved to the grand ol’ open farmland of middle Illinois, where weather and wind didn’t have buildings go bunch up against. So when the news had said the storm was, in a way, going to knock down my door tie me up, murder my family, and force me to watch while it rips apart my brick apartment building it make me second guess my sanity on riding to work the next morning. I even sent a text to my boss saying that I wasn’t going to come into the store to work because of the explosiveness of the storm, and my worry for my safety when riding. The morning comes and the sky is angry, churning. A low buzzing plane and the trees rocking back and forth made me worry even worse. I ran to get doughnuts and came back to hunker down. Then the rain came, it was sort of pathetic at first and wasn’t much of a storm. I huffed and took a soak. After about half an hour I stood out of the tub and heard the rush of water against our south facing window. I dried off and look a look. Yup, it was raining. Pretty hard sure, but 70 years rain? Definitely not.

Quite the dud. They had even said the wind was going to steal babies from their cribs and drown puppies by forcing all the tears out and back down their throats. Sure, it’s windy, but I’m not going to go and worry that a political sign might come unearthed and sent forthwith through my window, breaking all my collectable porcelain dolls. Maybe farther north it’s worse. But this storm, and more accurately ‘change in barometric pressure’ is a real let down, lack-luster at best.

Yesterday a box came in addressed to my boss was dropped off at my desk. It was full of dark brown crinkle cut paper and a whole host of items. From 80% Dark Chocolate bars to a glass bottle with three lowly vanilla beans inside. The company imports all their wares from Madagascar, the chunky island off the south eastern coast of Africa and well known for their renegade zoo animals. It was decent;  got a bottle of vanilla extract out of it. I think one of the best things they produced was the chocolate chip bar with nibs and sea salt. Now, I put that backwards from what they had on their bar – for a reason- because there was no where near enough sea salt for it to be on the even package. When putting sea salt in dark chocolate put those chunky, crunch-when-you-bite-into-the-bar pieces of sea salt. I want to feel the sea salt. Neat packaging, not overly done and fitting, but the price wasn’t really there and we have a boat load of chocolate on our shelves.

Today, more chocolate came in, these people were “local” producers from Indiana. Meh. I feasted on nearly everything and most of it was just mediocre. They had a couple pretty awesome looking chocolates which will sell like hot-cakes for Christmas. But the candy overall was just decent. Most of this packaging was aimed at my mom or grandmother – not exactly our style. Again, too much candy and not really our speed, but we’ll be picking up a couple things.

I’m also pretty stressed but eh – I’m going to get into now. I’ll just say I ate enough chocolate the past couple days to deal. Also, I’ve been tasked with designing the new menu. I’ll be sharing ideas here, looking for input.