Friday, December 31, 2010


This is going to be the most difficult post I have ever written. In fact I have been dreading this moment for several days. Not a word, excepting random, plaintive Facebook status updates, has escaped from my pen in a week's time. I am normally pretty prolific, but output of late has slowed to a virtual standstill. All you need to do is take a gander at the highly descriptive and imaginative title to know I have lost my mojo.

Sleep, or lack thereof, has stolen its way through my front door like a thief in the night, robbing me of energy and will: to exercise, which I find fundamental to mental and physical health, to explore the world around me, and most unforgivably, to write.

I have had a rough couple of years. One could even label 2009-2010 an early midlife crisis of sorts. Beginning in April of last year, and in rapid succession, I buried a best friend, saw my marriage teeter on the verge of total collapse, quit a horrifically unsatisfying day job only to discover that I had selected an inopportune time to realize my true calling, checked my father into (and then stood by helplessly as he checked himself back out of) a mental health facility, put my cat to sleep, wrestled with my marriage some more, finally found, and then was subsequently laid off from a "perfect" job, and now here I am. I have been unemployed for almost three months, my father remains on the lam, running from himself and the help he needs in a metaphorical sense, fleeing the law in the more earthly connotation of the word. So yeah fine, I have some problems. So does everyone else right?

My sister and I endured a childhood and adolescence that I have a hard time believing actually happened, so great has been my ability to wall the pain away in the interest of functioning, of being "normal." If there's one thing I know, it's survival and self-reliance. I have certainly weathered greater storms, yet this is exactly the moment in history when my subconscious, the complex and durable mind I once secretly cherished as my greatest asset, has chosen to rebel.

It's a hell of a thing when you've lost control not only of the world around you (probably an illusion to believe I had any in the first place), but of yourself.

A futile battle to achieve rapid eye movement began nearly three weeks ago with my husband's non-trip to India, a last minute unavoidable cancellation that nonetheless produced a great deal of emotional fallout from his confused and disappointed family. Despite, or maybe because of a disinterest in the approval of my own parents, the opinion of Eddie's folks means a great deal. When my tearful mother-in-law accused her son of forgetfulness, disloyalty and the cardinal sin of becoming overly "selfish and Westernized," I felt like I had been shot. Though I had nothing to do with the situation that occurred, I held myself completely responsible. These people have been so good to me, and now their holidays were ruined. It was unendurable.

Add to it the aforementioned turn toward the illegal of my father's increasingly bizarre behavior, almost two years of career loose ends, and the normal stress of the holidays, and I've apparently found the recipe for a complete mental and physical seizure. At the moment, I remind myself of the Tin Man, stuck in the woods and desperately in need of an oil can to lubricate my rusty joints. The axe that would help chop down self-induced roadblocks is frozen mid-air, and my mouth won't open to allow me to yell for help.

I have dealt with insomnia before, a few nights here or there, but somehow I have always managed to hit the fatigue wall, settle and push forward with a restful pattern. In fact I am a big fan of routine in general, of outwardly ordering the chaos in order to provide a sense of agency, no matter how illusory. It's odd but I feel a sudden nostalgia for the depressive episodes of my teen years when I could easily sleep 14 hours away.

This round, one week turned into two, which quickly became three, and instead of emerging out the other side, I found myself achieving progressively less sleep each night. I finally cried uncle and let Eddie make a doctor's appointment after Monday's episode, where I spent 90 minutes in a semi-unconscious state from 11:30 PM to 1:00 AM, and four hours in a sort of heightened panic that I might never feel drowsy again.

Against every inclination I have, but realizing the idea well had officially run dry, I accepted a prescription for the popular sleep aid Ambien from my doctor yesterday afternoon. It seems terribly naive today but I was certain this was the miracle drug I sought. If my mind would not shut down, this wonder treatment would do it for me. Yeah, not so much, although I think I have a pretty good understanding (in microcosm, of course) of how those who suffer from neuromuscular diseases feel. Shortly after popping two pills, I could not stand straight, walk with any control, or utter a coherent thought. But my overactive mind? Working just fine. In fact I now had a new anxious, repetitive thought to snap me awake at 4:00 AM - namely, that I am such a screwup, I am immune to Ambien.

So what now? Frankly my dears, I don't have a damn clue. I have debated, meditated and self-medicated in every conceivable way - to no avail. But I forced myself to write about the experience. It beats staring at the ceiling.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"If You Were An Ingredient in a Salad, Which Would You Be?"

My friends, this is no attempt at satire. This is a straight-faced question posed to me yesterday afternoon during the course of what seems like the thousandth job interview since mid-October. The self-satisfied 27 year-old in an ill-fitting suit who formulated this query seemed very pleased with his "out of the box" interview style. I would have been more impressed with this HR Manager had he been able to tell me anything about the job's potential hours, pay rate or expectations.

But instead I had to listen to personal tales about his birth in Dubai, his brief military career and when the topic of commuting came up, I mentioned that I would prefer to ride my bike. The office of this life coaching center, which is looking to hire a part-time marketing and media writer, sits about seven miles from my humble abode. This is when my interlocutor decides to tell me that he has ridden a bicycle exactly once since moving to Chicago - to make a much needed run to the liquor store.

Throughout the course of this extremely trying half-hour, a question ran repetitively through my weary mind: "Why are you employed and not I?"

When we got around to the titular question, so mystified was I (because really, what could this answer possibly tell about my potential for success?) that I blurted out "the dressing!" before I had time to compose myself. This is when Mr. Smug Jr. Executive informs me with a sneer that "everyone says that."

As I sat sweating in the young man's office, not from nerves, but rather from the 90-degree setting of the thermostat, I asked if I would be able to meet the hiring manager before I left. I was informed that the man was very busy, but I was welcome to return tomorrow (now today) when I could also ask my tiresome questions about hours and pay. You could tell that this guy believed he was an angel who willingly took a tumble to Earth just to anoint me with the condescension of this conversation.

Bear in mind that none of these people, including the "hiring manager," also known as the life coach who doles out the therapy at the center, is a writer. I was told before I walked in the door yesterday to bring a stack of marketing samples from my professional life, which I almost had to remind Smug Jr. to take from me. He assured me they would "closely evaluated." By whom, may I ask? I didn't suppose they had Warren Buffet secretly lurking in the back.

By the time I left, after yes, having shamefully agreed to return tomorrow (today), I was on my way to truly hating myself. Eating dirt slung at me from a young punk still working on his bachelor's degree, for nothing more than part-time work? This is the new normal for the eminently qualified, eminently desperate unemployed.

Merry Christmas to all, and especially to those collecting the government cheese, I say, drink up!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Christmas Traditions

A few days ago, my Aunt Diane, a woman who has been like a mother to my sister and I, sought to clarify my positions on holiday celebrations. While she rejoices in the diversity of our extended family, she wanted to be sure that Jen and I were not feeling left out of any of the seasonal fun. She is well aware that I was born and raised as a Lutheran. For nine years, I did the whole parochial grade school pilgrimage: learning how to recite the books of the Old Testament in order (a skill I only display now as a cocktail party parlor trick), memorizing Bible verses, and making my formal confirmation at age 13, as an 8th grade student.

However, less than a year after my confirmation, the Christian God and I had a falling out. Or rather I should say, I had my own scientific/spiritual awakening. While I always understood intuitively that the Bible should not be taken literally, I was really hung up on the Jesus arc. I believed he existed, owned that he was a charismatic man, and that his crucifixion was a great tragedy. But son of God? Nah - I think I was with the Jews on that one. For that matter, over time, I began to question the existence of the Big Guy himself.

In 2007, I converted to Hinduism as part of the marriage rituals I underwent with my husband Eddie. I studied up as much as I could before we walked down the aisle (or pranced around the fire), and while there is much to like about the religion's basic tenets of hard work and refraining from harm to living creatures, I couldn't quite get behind the Hindu god/goddess hierarchy. Like Greek or Roman mythology, the characters made for a great study, but I was never able to accept them as real entities who had an effect on my day to day life. This is a source of real disappointment to my in-laws, but they appreciate my participation in various rites nonetheless.

For the last nine years, my sister Jen and I have formed our own loosely dogmatic Christian-Muslim-Hindu coalition. Jen is married to a wonderful man with a strong Islamic faith, and though she herself never converted, the religion is a big part of her daily family life. Thus I have had my own opportunities for exposure and learning.

All of this background cements my Aunt's need to figure out how exactly I celebrate Christmas. What does it mean for me personally, as a religious skeptic? Though I was born Lutheran, converted to Hinduism, and once considered myself an agnostic, the latter classification was really just a waffle on my part. The truth is that I am much closer as a an adult to atheism, but was afraid to say it out loud, on the off chance that my Lord actually did exist and would condemn me to the flames of Hell for non-belief. Also, I hate the word "atheist." It sounds so evil. If George Carlin were alive, I ask for his help in devoting a softer, more PC term for my group, something like "the godly challenged."

But for an increasing number of American families, Christmas is about much more than celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, and my clan is no different. In my living room right now sits a small, sparkling, real live Christmas tree. This tree is bedecked with lights and a big, red glittery star - selected and setup by my firmly Hindu better half as an afternoon surprise for me. On Saturday morning, we will attend a traditional holiday mass at a church near our home - again at Eddie's request. He has been watching all sorts of Jesus-themed shows on the History Channel the last two weeks and wants to view the Western rites up close. While this plan stems from intellectual curiosity more than devotion, we are still choosing to participate.

In fact, I'll let you in on a little secret. I am not one of the godless who feels superior to others, one of the smug who cosmically "gets it." In fact the opposite is true. I often feel wistfully left out, wishing with all my might that I could believe in something, anything. I spend a fair amount of my waking life tearing myself apart with questions, regret and sorrow (another family Christmas tradition). But then I look at my mother-in-law, a woman who sleeps well at night believing that her fate and everything associated with it "is in God's hands," and I feel jealous. I am not cynical about religion. Yes, it has been used for evil purposes throughout history, manipulated by the powerful to screw the meek, but aside from that, on an individual level, religious faith is a beautiful thing, from what I can see, a real source of comfort to those who genuinely accept.

I yearn to be part of that club, but somehow my dubious psyche can't take the leap. I want there to more than simple ashes to ashes and dust to dust. I want to believe that there is something beyond this complicated, painful life but everytime I think it out, I come up short.

My Aunt, like my mother-in-law, wishes this were not so. She asked abut my positions then because she empathizes with the emptiness she thinks I must necessarily experience at this time of year, as one who sits outside the circle. But as I explained to her, all metaphysical questioning aside, I do feel a part of the season. The end of a calendar year, and the celebrations that come along with it, are an opportunity to count your blessings and reflect, to clear away the exhaustion of another annum and prepare to start fresh. I am so down with that. Ditto the gift giving, family togetherness and the overeating that goes with it. I adore the cartoon Christmas specials (stop motion Rudolph! Linus' parable of the modest Christmas tree!), the first snowfall (though I wish it could also be the last) and the caroling. Not having a religion doesn't mean I am immune to joy.

It's a wonderful life. I just haven't located an explanation for it yet that works for me. Looking for one is my own Christmas ritual.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Lame Duck Shuffle

Whether I approve of the latest flurry of doings on Capitol Hill or not (usually not), the post-midterm election "lame duck session" has proved to be anything but.

From the will-they-or-won't-they suspense to ratifying the common sense START treaty, to the rise, fall and second rise of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell, repeal, and concluding with the Bush-Obama tax cut "compromise," the last six weeks have witnessed more gamesmanship in Congress than we have seen in the 10 months of inertia prior.

I have learned something about myself in this time. I am, apparently, a radical lefty. Who knew? Mind you, I always understood myself to be on the liberal end of mainstream cultural and political beliefs, even as I adopted fiscally conservative and other centrist positions. Time was, when I opposed the President's extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, I sat amongst 66% percent of my fellow citizens who felt the same way. However, by supporting the will of the masses, it is clear that an antiquated notion of government for the people, by the people, puts me out of touch with the current and future status of American bureaucracy as an elite corporate playground.

It has been tough to keep track of the crying (John Boehner), blackmail (Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown who, while pledging support for the repeal of DADT, vowed not to discuss it until he and his rich lawyer friends had their way with the tax structure) and ill-timed votes (Harry Reid), without a scorecard. Even my loyal friends and commentators at CNN seemed to be unable to locate a raison d'etre for Reid's failed introduction of a vote which would have given gay and lesbian soldiers the "right" to serve openly. Momentarily declared dead in the water, another instance of the gay community being used as a wedge issue in the ramp up to a presidential election, the repeal had new life breathed into it this week by a suddenly galvanized House Democratic Caucus.

And while we're at it, though their efforts to stymie President Obama's continuous kowtowing to the Right may ultimately prove a failure, I would like to give the House Democrats kudos for a good old college try. When the group broke ranks, chanting "Just Say No!" in a meeting to discuss the takeup of the Bush era tax cut extension, my heart literally swelled. Though I feel exhausted and beaten by the first two years of Obama's term, these folks give me some hope. Many commentators have long called for an angry, organized Left on the scale of the Right's Tea Party movement, if the Democrats are to even enter the messaging war they have been losing so handily. Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen may ultimately prove to be the voice of liberal populist dissension. In discussing the group's rebellion against the President's plan, Van Hollen told CNN's Dana Bash, "In the form that it was negotiated, it is not acceptable to the House Democratic caucus. It's as simple as that...We will continue to try and work with the White House and our Republican colleagues to try and make sure we do something right for the economy and right for jobs."

Ah yes, at least someone remembers the 10% of us unemployed Americans.

No matter how inept this Congress has been at taking serious steps to address the ballooning deficit, no matter how cynical both parties have been in their pledge to "put the safety of the troops first," when asked about the possibility of nullifying DADT, at least we have not been bored. And boredom, after all, is worst pop cultural transgression a politician can make. Has anyone seen or heard from John Kerry lately?

As we barrel toward 2011, the faces and players in both houses of Congress are about to change dramatically, particularly in the newly Red House. I anticipate a mealy mouthed attempt to repeal the Obama Health Care Bill that goes no farther than Stage 1, but what else can we look forward to? I doubt anyone plans to get serious about immigration policy or climate change. Many of the potential sponsors of these controversial bills have Presidential campaigns to think of after all. So in a an increasingly divided and unhappy electorate, what are the no-brainers? Because election cycles tend to bring out the very worst in "safety first" legislative development.
In other words, enjoy the jockeying while it lasts. We are entering our fourth year of the Great Recession, with a brand new $800 billion added to our national debt. I suspect the New Year will bring plenty of bipartisan finger pointing, but not a lot of movement toward fixing our broken democracy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

That's Not My Name

When my sister Jen suggested we collaborate on a blog in early 2009, I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge. An instantaneous and persistent fear of having nothing to say, of trying to sustain my creativity, but finding the well barren, almost kept me from trying.

On this point at least, it seems I worried for naught. Apparently, I have plenty to discuss. In May of this year, I took my musings to Open Salon at the suggestion of fellow blogger Mad Typist. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I post the exact same content in both forums - the joint venture I operate with Jen, as well my personal space there. In the spirit of streamlining, I also took my avatar, Becky Boop, with me.

Jen suggested we take pen names for security reasons. She is a mother of two young daughters, and she wanted to keep the personal information contained in her posts to a bare minimum. There's just a lot of creeps out there. We were never arrogant enough to believe we'd become the next Huffington Post, but why invite trouble? For my part, it seemed expeditious to hide behind a persona different from my own while I worked to locate my voice.

Becky Boop, like the cartoon Betty she evokes, was initially quite the boozy, citified, fun-loving girl. Most of my initial posts, which tend to embarrass me upon reflection, were silly. I think I imagined myself a 21st Century Carrie Bradshaw: traveling, happy hours, a free wheeling spirit - my best, most interesting self. And there is definitely the bar trivia, Meet the Press side to me. But that's not really the whole picture, you know?

As I have tried to maintain a strict thrice-weekly posting schedule the last two years, I have learned goo gobs about myself, first and foremost, that I am introspective and personal. I am not sure if my small audience always agrees, but I came to believe I am at my best artistically when I am confessional. As time has passed and I have grown more brave with my words, the list of taboo experiences that I will not publicly examine grows shorter. I have written about the mental illness that runs in my family, the infidelity that once haunted my marriage, my own social awkwardness, death, pain and unemployment (which often feels like a combination of the two former words). With the unyielding and patient support of my closest friends and family, I have been encouraged to expose myself. I now take great pride in this rawness, even as Bambi continues to find her footing.

I write what I mean to say most of the time, and even when the floodgates of criticism open, I can't backpedal. In that moment, as I typed those words, it's how I felt, or what I believed, or the facts I understood. As I try to grow more comfortable with me: the writer, the woman, the human, it has begun to gnaw at me that I am still hiding, in a very real sense, behind a character.

So it's time to let go, to really put myself out there. I am Becky Sarwate. A work in progress. A mess oftentimes certainly, but I am willing to spill the blood and work up the sweat. No more closets.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Curse of the Class of '96

I am a fairly tortured soul, as is obvious to anyone who either reads my work regularly, or is personally acquainted with me. My childhood struggles were complex, painful and more than any kid deserves, but I have been pretty fortunate as an adult. The bulk of my psychological work these days is to try to make sense of my past and come to terms with it; to find a way to live and move forward despite having the two least capable parents on the face of this Earth, who still pop up to torment my sister and I now and again. But as I mentioned, in adulthood, Jen and I have a pretty good thing going: solid marriages, thriving daughters and nieces and a wonderful relationship with each other. I often forget to count my blessings, which I believe the self-indulgence of writing often renders a tempting oversight.

In the last 18 months, I have come across the stories of three of my fellow female graduates, Lincoln Park High School class of 1996, that render me shamefaced with my own weakness. What these brave, formidable women have endured, I am certain I would never have had the stones to face. And the accounts of their survival and endurance must be shared, must be written by my pen, so that I can continually remind myself of the preciousness of life, that I haven't a moment to waste in depression and wallowing.

Right before the graduation rituals and festivities of my senior year, my close friend and confidante, Niki, was struck by a CTA bus on her way to school. One of the most brilliant, beautiful yet small built people I have known, the impact with the large vehicle sent my friend skidding across Halsted Avenue on her head. There was every reason to worry. However, after a fairly lengthy hospital stay, Niki made a miraculous recovery and appeared at our senior luncheon with nothing more than a slight limp. There was much rejoicing after a terrible scare.

Sadly years later, the fallout from the accident reared its uly head once more when Niki suffered a massive stoke that forced her to learn to walk and talk again. Obviously, this much adversity would be more than enough to put most of us in a bad mood, but the always well-dressed, still smarter-than-I-will-ever-be Niki has gone on to earn a law degree, marry her soulmate and become the co-founder of a successful fashion blog:

I have written about my friend Jesika more than once on this page. Jesika, the nonstop hysterically wry and funny presence in my life for 16 years. In late April of 2009, this gifted woman (also a trained lawyer) died after a tragically short 17-day battle with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. I will never forget this brief period of illness, not only because it was so difficult for everyone who loved her, but because she never, ever lost her spirit. At our final meeting, before I departed for what turned out to be an ill-timed 10-day trip to Israel (I was not there when Jesika breathed her last), she had her priorities in order: making fun of my "ghetto" black, puffy winter coat, mock pleading with me to get a new one. Despite the months of endless grief that followed, this final taking of the piss could not have been more apt - and comforting.

And only yesterday, I learned of yet another heartbreakingly awful blow dealt to a female member of my graduating class. My first memory of Bahar, a fellow student in Lincoln Park's International Baccalaureate program, was of her approach toward me, all torn stockings, black eyeliner (it was the grungy 90s after all) and open heart. Another student in the program had mentioned my name to her, favorably it seems. So she approached me on the playground, and after announcing the need for introduction, politely shook my hand - all earnest business.

I never grew as close to Bahar as I often wished I had. She ran with the "cool" crowd, but appeared to be one of the few who actually deserved the label. I never saw her mistreat anyone she encountered, so quick with a smile or compliment. I always admired that as well as her alternative, exotic good looks.

So when a mutual friend sent a link to this story from the Chicago Tribune yesterday, I was heartbroken beyond all reason for my classmate. But I was not at all surprised by the depth of her character that the story portrays:,0,1667137.story?page=3&track=rss

Bahar met her husband, Nick, two years ago, when he was already sick with an advanced form of the cancer, sarcoma. She fell in love with him anyway, married him despite the inevitable conclusion, and devoted her life to looking for a cure. Sadly Nick passed away December 1st, a mere two months after the couple finally made it legal.

I do not know where she finds the strength. Bahar is my hero. Though we have not spoken in many years beyond the casual bonds of Face Book, she needs to know, as she picks up the pieces of her life, what an inspiration she is to everyone who hears her story.

I don't know why so many miserable challenges have befallen such a crowd of fantastic young women. I know that life is full of terrible experiences that often defy explanation. I spent all day yesterday, forgive me, coming up with a silent mental list of lives I would trade in order to restore Bahar's husband to her. But I am not God and I have no say in these matters.

I wrote about this trio of people from my formative years not to point out coincidence, but to synthesize the collective strength of these women. I don't know if fortitude and moral fiber can be absorbed by osmosis, but in the name of Niki, Jesika and Behar, I am obligated to try.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Separate But Equal?

I have to thank my friend Sara for alerting me to this development.

Can a website be both progressive and patronizing?

A sports news repository for women and by women seems, on the surface, like a fairly innocuous and inclusive idea. However, at second glance, I must pause and ask why ladies can't just visit the traditional ESPN network and Internet site for their athletic updates?

If you peruse the content at the link above, both the layout and material appear to be a prettier, dumbed down version of the original. This irks me. And while I have zero doubts in the talents and skills of the female journalists who comprise ESPNW's writing team, I must ask why the glass ceiling at ESPN 1.0 hasn't been moved to make a place for them. So in one fell swoop, the traditionally He-Man, testosterone-fueled resource for competitive statistics manages to segregate both female sports fans and the women who devote their careers to writing about the contests.

The website states its mission as, "a destination for women who are passionate sports fans and athletes. We hope you find it surprising, informative and inspiring, because we created it just for you." Again, this carries the assumption that the father site was simply way too complex and cerebral to hold the attention of the female reader. If you really want to surprise me, don't succumb to the sexist assumption that I need a filter.

The "About Us" section concludes with the following invitation: "We welcome your thoughts." My thought is this: ESPN and its primary corporate partner in constructing the site, Nike, are cynically trying to create a vision of female empowerment that doubles as a venue for peddling products. While not exactly shocking or new, I will not bite, nor should my fellow feminine sports fans.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Another Job Interview

This afternoon I will suit up and take the train downtown for yet one more job interrogation. I know precious little about the opportunity except that it's some form of copywriting contract work that will not get underway until after the first of the year. At 2:00, I am to report to a downtown Chicago office building and ask for Deborah. It is reflective of our desperate times that I am even making the trip on such a bitterly cold day with bare information. For all I know I am walking into a mob hit (and I can think of one recent ex-friend who'd have the motive), but on the slight chance that this conversation could lead to employment when so many others have not, I'll take the risk.

This may sound arrogant and smug, but I assumed I'd have the last laugh over my former boss by now. Fired for having an opinion and a voice, I consoled myself with the absolute certainty that I'd land somewhere else before she hired my replacement. Yet I heard through the grapevine yesterday that her fresh victim has arrived, while I continue to file a bi-weekly unemployment insurance certification and waste time providing writing samples for part-time jobs I don't get offered. Yes, I know what the unemployment numbers say, but I figure someone has to be the exception right? Why not me, especially after such an episode of karmic injustice? I am relatively young but have a decade of experience and an advanced degree. Somehow this makes me too green for mid-career jobs, yet too institutionalized for entry level positions.

If this is my story, what are the prospects for a high school educated individual in a smaller market? I am ok. I am surviving. I don't have any children to provide for and my husband has a stable career. It would be nice to be able to start saving again. But I wake up at least once a night wondering about families with scanter resources.

This is a rhetorical question that obviously can't be answered with an easy sound bite, although politicians from both parties are sure doing their best to try: what is being done about this crisis? How can corporations post record profits, while the middle class worker posts record decline: home ownership, employability, personal savings? The math doesn't add up at all, and I for one am ready to declare that the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes. We can't turn on CNN and hear about "good days" on Wall Street without looking around and wondering where the hell that run is for the regular guy.

Last week, network anchors were positively gleeful about the "93,000 jobs" added to the economy in November. Except that we need to be adding upwards of 300,000 every 30 days to even begin to recover from the employment hole blown in the economy from 2007-2009. The unemployment rate is now estimated at 9.8%, although many of us are aware that the true figure is closer to 20%, when you take into account the underemployed and those who have simply given up trying.

With so many depressing figures on the horizon, it is tougher than ever for the average job seeker to keep morale up, yet those of us on the dole have to try. The alternative is to take to the bed and wait for the repo man. So I will wear a hairstyle that meshes well with a winter hat, dust off a smile and the scattered remnants of my personal charm and have another go.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Photo Anniversary Essay

Three years ago today, on a sweaty late afternoon in the central region of India, a town called Raipur, I walked around the fire seven times with the man I had chosen as my life partner and soul mate:

I became a newly welcomed member of a family I had largely never met:

And he joined mine:

After getting through four days of alcohol-free Hindu ritual, we took off and married each other all over again in Vegas:

So to my husband Eddie, on the day of our third wedding anniversay, be it known you are the only man that could make me crazy enough to run around the world for three weeks, marrying you every place I landed.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter Wanderlust

Yesterday Chicago experienced its first "measurable snow fall" of the season. The words in quotes are presumably the local meteorologist buzz terminology, since I heard them from no fewer than three weather people during an afternoon of channel surfing. Anyway, the old familiar routine is back: tying a scarf around my head, and over my winter hat and the hood of my ski jacket, just so I can survive a walk of three blocks or so. The high yesterday was a balmy 30, but factoring in the wind chill, the air temperature felt like 12 to citizens of the Windy City.

I have returned to a dilemma I have wrestled with since my high school years. How can I love Chicago in all its multi-cultural, stimulating fabulousness yet endure six months of weather that appears to be some frozen demon's diabolical plan?

As I am unemployed and typically have some extra time on my hands each day, I have taken to obsessively watching reruns of Notorious and City Confidential on the Bio channel, the sister station to A&E. Once I recovered from the awesomeness that is Bill Kurtis in a leather bomber jacket narrating the former show (put Bill K. and the deceased Robert Stack and his trench coat in a head to head walk off - I know who would win), I remembered how much I used to love the latter in my college days. Although the 2004 death of City Confidential's host Paul Winfield basically ensures that no new installments of the program will ever be produced, this does not at all hamper my enjoyment of the greatest hits.

City Confidential's format is a brilliant hybrid of geographic history and the true crime format. For the first 30 minutes, we get the location and backstory of an American city or town: its founding fathers, sustaining industries, local customs and quirks. Once that is out of the way, the attention turns to a heinous and sensational crime that, according to Winfield, "shook this sleepy, neighborly town to its core." If you are not ready for this gear shift, it is easy to believe you may have accidentally leaned on the remote and changed channels.

This week, among many episodes I have ingested, my interest was particularly peaked by the "Brownsville, Texas" installment. Although I didn't much care for the town's penchant for superstitious hexes and the murders that tend to follow, I found myself suddenly willing to overlook this flaw, as well as the state of Texas's love for the death penalty and concealed weapons, when Paul Winfield informed me that daytime highs in this Mexican border hamlet are typically in the mid to late 70s in December.

Now we're talking.

In my quest to find the right second home for my snow bird fantasies, I also learned of a potential mentor right here in my home town. My friend and personal trainer Rob was recently bequeathed a downtown apartment and all the furniture and fixtures inside of it by a childhood acquaintance, a bartender by trade who simply decided to board a plane to Hawaii and be done with it. This gentleman, Chris, landed a position at a Hyatt resort in Maui, looked at the potential expense of moving all his belongings to paradise and said "Fuck it, who needs that stuff anyway?" So he asked Rob to take over the remainder of the two-year lease to his tony, trendy convertible unit, at a steal of a sublet price, packed his clothes and toiletries, and literally flew off into the night.

While I adore the free spirited nature of such a move, I am not sure I have the balls. Unlike me, Chris is unmarried, does not have a car payment or local family, but in the end, those are really just collateral excuses to hide the panic I would feel if I were to undertake such a shift. I'd be like an anxiety ridden third grader who was forced to change schools. "What will I do when I get there? What if nobody likes me?"

So it appears that, lacking Chris's pioneering spirit, I am going to have to find a way to get through the next six months, until mid-May when Chicago starts to feel inhabitable once more. It would be cool if I could morph into a brown bear and hibernate the time away. It's not like I have a job to miss me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How DADT Makes America Less Safe

This morning as I booted up the computer, I took my typical perusal of the Yahoo headlines, and came across this feature from the Associated Press:

Pentagon Study: Gays Could Serve with No Harm

Ladies and gentlemen, we have just wasted 10 months and untold millions of taxpayer dollars "investigating" good common sense. While badly needed unemployment insurance extensions are in the process of being hijacked AGAIN by Republicans lobbying for the retention of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, we have no problem dithering and wasting scant resources "researching" an issue which almost every other democratic society has resolved by now. In short: if you are fighting two long, costly and unpopular wars, with brave soldiers who have been on three, four and five tours with little rest, you need all the enlisted men you can get and it shouldn't matter who they're shagging when the lights are off.

But will the release of this study finally be enough to silence the pandering savants in Washington, such as Senator John "Shill" McCain, who has appeared on every Sunday talk show and it's brother arguing that a lift of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell restrictions could be "dangerous?" The former Maverick has repeatedly called pressure to promote equality within the armed forces "politically motivated." Yet how is forcing well-trained and patriotic men and women underground on the basis of pleasing homophobic voters any less so?

As a matter of fact, the outdated debate surrounding this issue of basic human respect is what's becoming a danger to our national security.

Multiple sources, including The Wall Street Journal, are reporting that Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, who may have jeopardized a number of international relationships with his document dump to WikiLeaks, is a gay soldier "frustrated" over the treatment of homosexuals by the U.S. military. Now I don't mean to suggest that this was his sole reason for releasing the documents, but it doesn't seem that DADT and an open culture of harassing closeted gays helped make us safer in this situation. By all accounts, until his recent break with military code, Manning was a young and brilliant soldier, exactly the kind of man of which recruiters dream.

Or how about former Army infantry officer, Lt. Dan Choi, an openly gay solider who served two distinguished years in Iraq combat operations before being transferred to the New York National Guard? America can no longer avail itself of Choi's loyal services, because after coming out on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, the Lieutenant was summarily discharged. In response, Choi penned an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress where he queried not only the morality, but the wisdom of the policy, "a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers."

How are we safer by releasing sharp, intelligent and passionate people because of some archaic, uninformed and backward looking trepidation that gay sex will overtake our army bases and combat zones? It's ludicrous, and I have news for fear mongers like McCain and the Fox News crew: they're queer and they're already here. Manning and Choi are nowhere near the first or only Friends of Dorothy to don combat fatigues.

Although military recruitment numbers are climbing, owing in large degree to a terrifically anemic job market, we as a nation simply can't afford to let a policy that seemed ill-advised even in 1993 stop our armed forces from functioning at their highest capability. And to that, we don't need divisiveness or discrimination. We have enough problems on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's like cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a travesty. I was disappointed with Bill Clinton's cave to the right wing to pass it, even as a 15 year-old high school student. Now a 32 year-old woman, I am disappointed in President Obama's heavy footed failure to show it the door. Mr. President, listen to the Pentagon, listen to your conscience, listen to the pragmatic good sense you seem to cherish so much.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

And in Other News: Today is Saturday!

Is there anyone left in the modern world who didn't know that Willie Nelson likes to toke up now and then? And for God's sake, an old 77 year-old hippie who buys pot for his own recreational use is no threat to society. The last place this iconic legend belongs is in jail:

And Texas? Don't you have enough going on trying to stop the murderous border, serious drug cartel wars with Mexico?

Free Willie!

Willie Nelson has made no secret of his affinity for the drug, having appeared as himself in the 1990s cult film Half Baked, in a scene where the old man joked about the rising cost of a dime bag. Brilliant stuff.

Kidding aside, I am sick of the "War on Drugs." It is a failure and especially when it comes to the prosecution and incarceration of minor marijuana users: wasteful, counterproductive, and one could certainly argue, a violation of one's civil liberties.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

10 Unusual Things For Which I'm Thankful

1. Getting Fired

Yes, though I remain out of work and the unemployment experience is often panic-filled and emotionally draining, I am grateful to have been let go. That's because the job I worked, under the thumb of an arbitrary and capricious narcissist, was wrong for me and my long-term goals in just about every way. But because I will often continue to push a boulder up a hill even after my back gives out, I'm not sure anything short of termination would have allowed me to look beyond my immediate surroundings to strive for something better.

2. Bristol Palin Finishing 3rd on "Dancing with the Stars"

This bit of justice served demonstrated to me, on a microcosmic level, that the rational middle can band together to combat the hysterical and determined fringe, if only their organizational abilities are channeled in the right direction. All that remains is to inspire people to vote for their national leaders and the direction of their children's future with the same enthusiasm. Maybe one day we can vote for President via 888 number, text and email?

3. Tendonitis

When a recurring case of deep tissue tendonitis on the underside of my right foot ended a burgeoning running career, I felt despondent. Forced to sit on the sidelines for eight weeks until I could consider cardio again, I felt like the oldest 32 year-old in the world. But then my friend and trainer Rob repaired my old bicycle and a new world opened. I have covered the entire North and West sides of my beloved hometown of Chicago on a trusty Schwinn, and I have people watched until the eyes literally stung. And my problematic thighs and rear end have never looked better. Boo ya injury!

4. My Father's Final Break With Reality

Tragic and more painful than there are words to describe, but also oddly transformative and liberating at the same time. For the first time in 32 years, I am not living anyone else's life or paying for anyone else's mistakes but my own.

5. My Husband's Anxiety

My nickname for Eddie is "Aunty," because in many areas of his mostly together life, he carries himself with the needless worry of an old Indian woman. I tell him often that he loves to conjure crisis where there isn't any. But in one particular case, when he fretted for naught this year that he was about to be let go from his contract position at work (instead, they wanted to offer him an extension), his jumpiness paid dividends. He now has a permanent managerial job with a huge and stable company - with plenty of room to grow. In a year plagued with my own employment instability (see #1), there is something to be said for insurance.

6. The BP Gulf Oil Spill

Of COURSE I wish this catastrophe had never happened. So much coastline, so many animals, jobs and resources destroyed by the carelessness and greed of a government/corporate dynamic. Horrifying. But since the tragedy did occur, I learned a lesson, one I am afraid much of America has not yet received. We MUST liberate ourselves from clutches of oil consumption. It is bad for our environment. It is bad for our nation's security. It is bad for our economy. We need a plan, and we need lawmakers who aren't more interested in lining their pockets with Big Oil slush funds.

7. Mayor Daley's Resignation

Ding dong the witch is dead! Whatever the King's reasons, I could not be happier to rid this fantastic City of his corrupt ass. The sickening property taxes, the astronomical cost of housing, the horrendous parking meter lease, the Chicago Olympic never-should-have-happened bid. Waste, graft. Rarely have I seen a lawmaker so overstay his welcome, although John Boehner has been House Majority Leader for like 10 minutes and I'm already past my limit. Anyway, Daley's departure also opens up one of the most wacky and exciting populist contests to hit the Chicago machine since I don't know when. Rahm Emannuel, Roland Burris, and Carol Mosley Braun? Nuts!

8. The Finale of Lost

Thank you Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse for teaching a control freak such as I that it is possible to be utterly mystified, vexed and awed and still love every moment of what I am seeing.

9. Brett Michaels

The former hair metal hasbeen taught me this year that it is possible to cheat death twice (major stroke, hole in the heart) and still come back to win Celebrity Apprentice and bust up Billy Ray Cyrus' marriage. Inspirational middle finger to the Grim Reaper.

10. Nicoderm CQ

For saving Eddie's life.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ep. 2-From the Front Lines: the War Against Mental Illness

It may seem odd that it was hearing he now smokes cigarettes which hurt the most. In a twelvemonth which has brought repeated hospitalization, homelessness, hoarding and police activity, it would appear that a casual cigarette might not be worth my tears. But as crazy as it sounds (pardon the pun), this factoid truly reininforces how compromised and desperate my father's thinking has become.

Growing up, my sister Jen and I were raised by Dad to not only reject cigarettes and their habit forming, cancer causing evils but to loathe them. Our mother, who waffled between three and four packs a day throughout my childhood, appeared to be 50 at the age of 40, couldn't walk a flight of stairs without gasping and sweating and never found a lie she wouldn't tell in order to preserve her habit. My sister and I were able to observe and draw conclusions on our own, but in case we were not fully deterred, my father's braying voice would be seconds behind, loudly decrying nicotine's deteriorating effects on the body and mind.

At the age of 15, I was grounded for four months when my father found a pack of smokes in my backpack. But now he inhales, and apparently drinks like fish too - another habit he always avoided owing to a nightmarish upbringing at the hands of his own inveterately soused father.

How many times did I hear my father's vow to avoid becoming Norm, his alcoholic, WWII veteran, suicidal, chain smoking patriarch? Even as he struggled with manic depression, unable to hold down a job or retain our family home, even as he made litter of his personal life to match the OCD garbage dump of our residence, I could cling to the small consolation that my father's illness was not the results of drugs or alcohol. I never allowed myself to entertain the idea that substance abuse can be cured while my father never will be. I would have been too crushed by the weight of despairing futility to move forward with my own life.

And so it was that when my father showed up at a family wedding on Saturday night, a gathering which I avoided not without regret, my extended clan reported how much worse the situation has become. He was thin and haggard, which I was prepared for. He was angry and ranting, renewing his pledge to file a lawsuit against me for my publication of this post. Momentarily I indulged the wish that my father would invest as much energy into accepting the long-term care he needs as he does into revenge fantasies against his oldest daughter, but that lament never produces results.

Many have tried to impress upon Dad that libel contains the root word, "lie." If I haven't shared any untruths, I am not legally responsible for the wreckage of his existence. I write these posts for myself, not for him. Without the opportunity for family therapy, without a functioning parent to help share my burden, all I have left are my words and my little sister. Because he doesn't think anything is wrong with him. It's everyone else: bad breaks, bad luck, evildoers and poor timing.

But it was the smoking that got me this time. Paging Dr. Freud.

My grandfather, whom I never met, died virtually alone in a VA hospital shortly after my birth. His day passes long since revoked, because for him freedom meant finding the nearest bar, Norman smoked the rest of his days away, never willing or able to make amends with the four children he left shattered. My father is on the same path. The VA, the Salvation Army and a variety of other outreach programs offerred assistance: help that my father never believes he needs. So he wanders the streets: alone, unstable, unemployed, hungry, in harm's way and with the approaching winter, cold. Where does he get the money for cigarettes and the getaway car he drove drunkenly away from his nephew on Saturday? I probably don't want to know, yet I am drawn to these questions. I lie awake at night pondering them.

The part of me that will always be a daughter wants to swoop in as I have in the past, to try to save the man from himself. But he requires 24-hour care and I require a functional existence that doesn't necessitate a drain on my own finances, emotional well-being and family. Many years of therapy instilled in me to strength to draw a line. It's him or it's me. I have to pick me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dancing with the Stars Gets Palined

I am simultaneously awed and repulsed by former Alaskan Governor and 2008 GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's sway on the voting public. The former emotion is influenced by the undeniable statistics that underpin Palin's track record. Six of the 11 total Senate candidates that Palin backed in this month's mid-term elections won their seats. And of the five that didn't emerge victorious, two of them, former Nevada assemblywoman Sharron Angle and Alaskan attorney Joe Miller, were defeated by a hair despite being two of the most dangerous candidates on any ballot anywhere.

Those who dismiss the real power of Palin do so at their own peril, no matter how vile I find the woman. I was quite sure in late 2008, after Barack Obama handed John McCain a resounding defeat that crossed party lines, that Sarah Palin would retreat to the Alaskan wilderness she calls home, living out the rest of her life as a political afterthought, a wacky footnote in Presidential election history.

But while Palin may not be able to recall books or magazines that she reads, the woman is a publicity machine virtuoso. Somehow, by freeing herself of the shackles of her elected office, a move many of us never saw coming, she has grown only more politically powerful. She's like a Gremlin that someone fed after midnight. The woman is everywhere: Fox News, reality TV, candidate meet and greets. She also seems to genuinely hold together a close knit family, raising a special needs child and servicing her backwoods hottie of a husband, Todd. She somehow appears to get more attractive with every public appearance, like a rifle-toting Dorian Gray. It's challenging at times not to admire the lady. As something of a multi-tasking wunderkind myself, I must begrudgingly hand it to another.

However, that does not mean I like her personally. I absolutely abhor her politics and just about everything she stands for: pro-life, pro-guns, anti-regulation, and many times, anti-sense period. She is equal parts fascinating and nauseating. As a card carrying liberal who worships CNN and avoids Fox and other GOP media arms, it has up until recently, been fairly easy to limit face time with Sarah Palin.

But then ABC announced its cast for Dancing with the Stars Season 11 and I knew my luck was about to end. Bristol Palin, Sarah's 19 year-old daughter and a successful "teen activist (cough)" was chosen as one of the "celebrity dancers (double cough)." What were the odds that Sarah Palin, a nearly unparalleled media whore, would pass up the opportunity to support her offspring on TV's #1 show?

I must admit, at first I sort of clapped my hands together with glee. What a train wreck this would be! Bristol was going to suck! And initially, I was not disappointed. Witness the mid-October routine in which Bristol and her partner Mark Ballas donned gorilla suits to dance the jive accompanied by The Monkees theme song. Horrifying. Deservedly so, the teenager found herself at the bottom of the leader board and on her way to elimination.

Not so fast...

I realized to my horror, and all too belatedly, that Sarah Palin's continuous presence in the audience, and inside the packaged clips that precede each choreographed dance routine, might be something of a motivator for the show's audience, which skews older and Republican. As a contestant's final standings comprise an amalgam of judge's scores and democratic viewer votes (dammit!), week after week, the teenager has escaped certain death.

As the show lurches toward next week's finale, the bodies of far better dancers whom Bristol has knocked off lie in its wake: Audrina Patridge, the talented, if vacant former star of MTV's The Hills, Rick Fox, the sexy and suave retired L.A. Laker, and just this past Tuesday, the most shocking defeat of all. R&B singer and actress Brandy was eliminated despite receiving a perfect score of 30 for her engaging Argentine Tango.

What the hell gives?

Although violence is never the answer, I find myself sympatico with viewer Steven Cowan from Vermont, Wisconsin, a man so incensed with Bristol's triumph over Brandy that he shot his television. New York Times' columnist Gail Collins writes this morning:

"According to a police report posted on The Smoking Gun Web site, Cowan became so upset by the political implications of Bristol Palin’s continuing victories on “Dancing With the Stars” that he shot the family television, precipitating a 15-hour standoff with local police. The complaint notes that Cowan did not think that Bristol 'was a good dancer.'"

Although I did little more than launch my remote across the living room on Tuesday night, I sympathize with Cowan's rage. We have come to begrudgingly accept Palin's influence in the political arena, but please Tea Partiers, leave the integrity of Dancing with the Stars untouched.

Too late I guess. At this point, it seems inevitable that Bristol Palin will walk off with the coveted Mirrorball trophy next week. Our only hope of salvation is the mobilization of the Jennifer Grey/Dirty Dancing/ Ferris Bueller lobby. Get out the vote! The future of reality TV is at stake! Maybe the pending miscarriage of justice will spur Democrats more than minor issues like war, tax reform, health care and the economy were able to on November 2.

God bless America.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Opposites Attract: A Story of Friendship

In the Fall of 1996, after a five week whirlwind summer tour of South Africa with the Chicago Children's Choir, I found myself amidst the cornfields and animal dung that comprise the sights and smells of the University of Illinois campus at Urbana/Champaign. A concrete jungle girl through and through, and a self-described seasoned traveler, I was instantly dismayed by my new surroundings, so close to my hometown of Chicago (2.5 hours driving time) yet so far removed in the way of stimuli and heterogeneity.

The depression I felt upon unpacking my last box in the closet of a dorm room I had been assigned at the Florida Avenue Residence Hall (abbreviated, "FAR" which also ironically matched the domicile's lengthy distance from campus) had little to do with missing my family and high school friends. It's like I sensed that the public transportation taking, museum exploring, library wandering, sensory overloaded childhood I had enjoyed was about to come to a four-year screeching halt and I was helpless to do anything about it. A girl who refused to adhere to the U. of I. motto of "Go Greek or Go Home!" had little choice but to keep her head down, get a job and study hard. Graduating and moving back to Chicago swiftly became my raison d'etre.

Completely unable to tolerate living with my mother for longer than necessary, I arrived on campus a few days earlier than the bulk of my fellow incoming freshman. The benefit to this domestic twitchiness is that I had a head start on securing one of the better paying off campus jobs. My work experience comprised to that point of volunteerism and the occasional Sunday selling newspapers, I knew I would need the advantage of time to convince local managers to take a chance on me.

I walked my way along the Campustown thoroughfare of Green Street one determined morning, hitting up every fast food joint I passed. Food service seemed like a noble and poetic start to my career. Surely Jane Austen had worked in a kitchen at some point. She did after all, have seven brothers and sisters in an era without microwaves. After a lengthy and measured debate between McDonald's and Wendy's, I accepted a job at the latter for the King's Ransom of $4.75 an hour.

During my second week of employment, as I entered the back door and assumed my usual place at the fry station, I noticed a new girl working the grill. The way she handled a spatula told me this wasn't her first time flipping hammies. I was instantly impressed, but simultaneously intimated by her short but solid stature, black lipstick and natural white blonde hair. Unsure how to introduce myself, this dynamic person beat me to the punch. Within a few minutes I learned that Theresa was a fellow freshman and resident of the same dorm. She was from a town about 45 minutes south of Champaign called Mattoon and had the most beguiling hint of a southern twang. When Theresa went on to inform me that she was a Wiccan, I nodded my head in befuddled agreement, realizing that there was an awful lot this supposedly worldly urbanite had to learn.

Over the course of the next four years, a lot of things would be taught to me by the woman I grew to know as "T." She in turn affectionately labeled me "Becca Jo," a tongue in cheek nod to my transplant from the nation's third largest city to a town of 60,000. I would say that T and I became the yin to each other's yang, but she always seemed a few steps ahead of me. T taught me how to smoke pot in a dorm room without eliciting notice (her trick involved an elaborate setup of dryer sheets and empty Mountain Dew bottles). I went on my first drunken hayride with Theresa and her family (and right afterward, stole my first golf cart), flashed truckers on the Interstate, went skinny dipping, hosted an epic Halloween party that remains the stuff of Chambana legend, and learned the meaning of the local "country run" pastime. I never knew living in the middle of nowhere could be so much fun until Theresa showed me how to survive.

Shortly after graduation, Theresa married her college sweetheart, a wonderful man named Jake, and they settled in Shelbyville, slightly father south than Mattoon. I returned to Chicago to start my career in corporate communications, and the City proceeded to beat me up a little harder than my idyllic childhood memories would have predicated. Adult life turned out to be every bit as difficult a transition as the one from high school to college. In the Fall of 2000, we had the benefit of email, and as the years passed, FaceBook, but T and I have always stuck to our pattern on keeping tabs on each other with old fashioned U.S. Postal Service delivered letters, a la the Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey characters from Beaches. There is no comparable feeling in life to that of getting an unexpected missive, tearing open the envelope, unfolding the pages and greedily consuming the private thoughts of a loved one.

Though we are separated by more than four hours driving time, and T has an all-consuming life that includes two young sons, a demanding job and a large extended family, we still find opportunities, stolen moments to reunite and reminisce. This week was one such occasion.

Anyone who has read my recent work knows that this is a particularly trying time. I am unemployed, at a crossroads in several personal relationships, and ready to be honest with myself about the fact that I may never be ready for motherhood. While that sits ok with me, there are a lot of implications in my world: disappointed in-laws, well-meaning friends and family who believe I have made a hasty, childhood-scarred decision, and a husband who wants me to leave the door open to adoption when I am not sure that I can. I can never express what a welcome refreshment it is to be able to sit across the table from a woman who knows me better at times than I know myself. Someone who has seen me at me worst, has watched me fail over and over again, yet still assiduously leaves a sense of the pride and affection she carries with my name on it.

Well known, long-term friendships are the ultimate gift - the present of unconditional love.

See you soon T. It's about time for me to make my way through the corn again.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This Week's Pop Cultural Winners and Losers


This canned, precooked meat product introduced by Hormel in 1937 and sold in 41 countries around the world turned out to be a literal lifesaver for the 3,300 passengers stranded on the Carnival Splendor. The ship was finally towed back to San Diego this week after three days adrift without power. Just when we thought the era of heavily salted, processed foods had jumped the shark, mysterious gelatinous glaze stages a roaring comeback.

Chinese Architecture
The upside to denying over 1 billion citizens personal freedoms is that a government is able to mobilize and complete infrastructure projects with lightening speed. Witness the story this week of China's completion of a 15-story hotel in just six days. Using pre-fabricated materials, the structure was assembled in record time, without injury to any of the crew. Meanwhile back in the States, we're working on 25 years of trying to get the much needed Hudson River Tunnel started.

If he can be believed this time, the 41 year-old quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings will finally free the sports world from headlines about his drug use, false retirements and infidelity. The athlete announced on Friday that the end of this season would be his last, and there is reason to believe he might be sincere this time as his career is currently a smoldering ruin of scandal and injury. The NFL, which has much reason to appreciate Favre's past contributions to the game, would still do well to be rid of this prima donna cancer once and for all.


Carnival Cruises
Fire! A Spam buffet! Overflowing toilets! No power! Let the lawsuits begin, despite Carnival's vow to fully refund all passenger tickets, as well as issue vouchers for future travel.

Anand Vasudev
The ousted contestant on this season of NBC's The Apprentice became the first to be dropped for breaking the rules and lying about it directly to The Donald's face. The irony is that the infraction, which occurred on a task in which Vasudev's team buried their opponents, proved to be both unnecessary and unproductive. The contestant smuggled a secret cell phone and sent text messages asking a friend to bring him money. The shady play backfired and not only that, but the mistake afforded Trump a great, if entirely cynical, PR opportunity. As the Donald prepared to fire Anand, he took a moment to pontificate on the corporate underhandedness that has lead America to the dismal economic place that it currently occupies.

Viewers of Dancing with the Stars
Yes, the final four includes the talent of pop singer Brandy, the inspiration of cancer survivor and Dirty Dancing icon Jennifer Grey, as well as the youthful exuberance of Disney star Kyle Massey. However, for eight torturous weeks now, the viewers have also had to endue the whiny, ungifted listlessness of teen mother Bristol Palin. Nevermind that the only thing Bristol did to become a "star" was have premarital sex before becoming the ultimate abstinence advocacy hypocrite. She absolutely sucks as a dancer, and since that is what the show is all about, here's hoping the Red States take an early Thanksgiving break from their recent fondness for voting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Bipolar Job Seeker

Yesterday, after four straight weeks of sending out oodles of resumes, using networking contacts, and applying for low paying internships without so much as a blip of interest from any employer, I scored a potential hit. Realizing that four weeks in this DOA job market isn't a long wait, I immediately celebrated my good fortune. The position, a 6-12 month contracting role in internal corporate communications for a large firm in the Chicago suburbs, manages to marry several attractive elements at once.

In the first place, it's a paid writing gig and when I found myself laid off almost two months ago, I didn't set the bar for my next role any higher than that. But in addition the pay is good, the company is doing well, and I even like the transient nature of the position. One of the many reasons I have failed to succeed long term in the corporate world is the tendency to feel trapped and helpless at around the two year mark in a given situation. Once I have mastered my work, I want more, but the cubicle environment is famous for stifling ambition. However, were I fortunate enough to be offered this contract, the fear of claustrophobia is inherently removed.

At 5 PM yesterday, after I set up a time for a phone interview and logged off the computer, I decided to treat myself to a glass of wine. I knew better than to count my chickens. I hadn't been hired yet. But the opening up of the employment channels at all was a vindication of sorts: my decision to invest fully in a writing career, rather than clinging to operations or administration (the old safe standbys) would eventually pay off. I am good enough, smart enough and doggone it, at least Erin, the recruiter who found my resume on CareerBuilder, likes me.

Therefore, as close to buoyant in mood as I ever get, I waited for my husband Eddie to come home so I could share the good news: plan my interview outfit, strategize about what experiences I should highlight with my interlocutors and which I should save for second string. Though the looming threat of disappointment always hangs around the edges of an interview experience, it is important to enjoy that sweet spot, the precious moments before the interrogation when anything seems possible. You are your smartest, most capable, most positive self. There is so much that is debilitating about the unemployment cycle, so it is vital to enjoy these fleeting moments.

And so it was that when my husband's first piece of interview advice turned out to be "don't fuck it up," I crashed as quickly as I had ascended the emotional heights. Disbelieving my ears and wanting very badly for him to vindicate himself, I asked if he believed this was the right choice of words for instilling confidence. His reply: "well, it's a genuine concern."

I have written honestly, and at length about my battles with social awkwardness and volatile self-esteem. I am well aware that I do not always perform as I wish in front of a crowd. However, when it comes to interviews, and anything related to survival, like landing a job, evading police or patching up drunken injuries without a trip to the emergency room, my success ratio is darned close to impeccable. As we writers are sensitive types, is there anything more painful than hearing our deepest fears verbalized by a loved one? I had managed in the last month, to lull myself into the secure state of belief that if I could just secure a face to face interview, I'd be unstoppable. Yet here was my own spouse disclosing the uncertainty that I might screw myself out of opportunity by being a nervous loose canon.

Upon reflection after an evening spent wounded on my part, and groveling on my husband's, it is apparent that Eddie stepped in a pile of unintended verbal diarrhea. Somewhere in my heart I know that he was awkwardly trying to advise me not to let nerves get the better of me, to have the confidence in myself that he has, to understand that I am qualified for this role, and even if I don't get it, another like it will come my way. I just wish he would have stayed quiet until he knew better how to frame the discussion. Red wine doesn't go very well with tears.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Obama in India

Now that the media seems to have shot the appropriate holes in Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's outlandish claims that the President's visit to the subcontinent will cost taxpayers $200 million a day, we can focus on what's important about this journey. On a personal level, I will be paying close attention to the events of the next few days, because the diplomatic trip represents the collision of two vitally important worlds for me. On the one hand, I feel the need, like RIGHT NOW for Obama to pivot and change strategy, to regain the approval of the American public in order to avoid becoming a one-term President. As much as I may lament the public's bad opinion of our Commander-in-Cheif, facts are facts and on Tuesday, we learned that independents and moderates have turned from "the One" in droves.

Secondly, India, the birth nation of my husband and home to my in-laws, is one of the two fastest growing economies on the planet, along with China. Given that, it is almost hard to believe that the landing of Air Force One in Mumbai will be the first of the President's term. So much takes place in the region that is critical to America's interests: the war in Afghanistan and security concerns in the larger Af-Pak region, oil, energy and climate change issues, outsourcing, education and more.

Finally understanding after Tuesday's rebuke that Americans care about one thing and one thing only right now - jobs, jobs, jobs - Obama is using this instance of foreign outreach as an important opportunity to demonstrate his new focus on domestic problems. The Associated Press quotes the President as stating his mission thusly: "As we look to India today, the United States sees the opportunity to sell our exports in one of the fastest growing markets in the world. For America, this is a jobs strategy."

However, this diplomatic exchange is far from one-sided, and on the other hand, we have the interests of India, a nation far less enthralled with our current leader, and nostalgic for the outsourcing/H-1 visa boom of his predecessor George W. Bush. Beyond that discussion, India remains concerned about our ties to its enemy and neighbor Pakistan. It wants acknowledgement and respect for what it has accomplished, in terms of economic and military growth.

According to certain factions within India's political environment, the visit is off to a rough start. According to the Indian Express, "[political party] BJP on Saturday voiced disappointment over US President Barack Obama making no direct reference to terror emanating from Pakistan in his first speech on arrival in Mumbai, saying his words were not backed with action and intent."

On a somewhat more humorous, though still serious note, AllVoices is reporting that in anticipation of Obama's visit to the Gandhi museum, the coconuts from surrounding trees are being removed. This is to prevent angry, tempted locals from lobbing the fruit at the visiting President.

Clearly, it's going to be an interesting and politically charged few days. Tense as our leader's tour of India will be, I for one welcome the opportunity to shift the headlines away from Republican party gloating.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Unemployment Week Three: The Numbers

I have been out of full-time work for 21 days now, and as I can't sit here and ruminate over the mid-term elections anymore (no Sharon Angle!), I thought I'd compile and share my vital statistics to date.

Unemployment Insurance Dollars Received: 0

At first, due to my employer's failure to report third quarter payroll to the State in a timely fashion, my claim was outright denied, the government believing as it did that I hadn't worked part June 30. Once that little snafu was rectified, and I filed my first certification for benefits, I was again rejected. The reason? I had the nerve to have been laid off mid-week.

Per the Claimant Notice of Possible Ineligibility (sexy verbiage!): "You earned X dollars which is greater than your weekly benefit amount of X." Ok sure, for that one week don't send me any funds. But how about the second? This is a bi-weekly filing. I'll be damned if I am going to that dimly lit, sad IDES office again. I am due to certify again this coming Monday, which means I might finally get my meager slice of government cheddar on Friday, November 12 - a month after my last day of work. Needless to say, without the support of my still employed husband, I'd already be up shit's creek without well, unemployment wages aren't really worth the label of "paddle."

Resumes/Applications Submitted: 21
Interviews: 0

I have been a writer in some form or another (corporate, nonprofit, freelance, etc.) for over 10 years. In this particularly jobless recovery, I have discovered that at 32, I sit in that awesome sweet spot where employers feel I am too experienced to pay 25k a year without benefits, yet too young to have had the experience of the major media/ad agency heydey. Which basically means that I have an advanced degree and a solid work history that leaves me unemployable. The really sought after writing positions in Chicago have their pick of candidates with a list of bylines longer and more impressive than mine. The entry level positions in publishing, media and the like want hungry kids with no lives. I have no problem dismissing my vanity and letting HR people I fall into the latter category despite my age. I have no children to raise after all. If only I could get them to talk to me.

Bottles of Red Wine Consumed: 480 (give or take)

See above statistics and ample time on my hands to lament my own failure.

Wrestling Matches: 1

A great friend of mine, a trained military assassin and Jiu Jitsu black belt, offered to to school me in the ways of self-defense. This topic came up innocently enough over a delicious lunch of Subway sandwiches ($5 Footlongs y'all!) and degenerated into a sweaty afternoon of me sitting astride an attack dummy and practicing a variety of chokes. Truthfully, I never knew there were so many.

I am always game for novelty and a chance to better defend myself in these mean Chicago streets, but I became perversely afraid of my dark side when my friend ordered me to choke him to a level of unconsciousness in order to "become familiar with it" and I did. I was following orders. Yikes! Did I just say that?

I left for home that day with a mildly bruised trachea, and a newfound terror that I possessed the ability to disable grown men with one sleeper hold. Maybe I could find work as a body guard?

Exercise Related Injuries: 2

See above windpipe lacerations.

I am using as much of my free time as I can reasonably afford without feeling like a dilettante to get in better physical shape. Right now everything hurts, and I guess I kind of like it that way. Symbolic, tangible pain is easier to cope with than the inner tumult. I have been hitting the Russian kettlebells hardcore with my trainer Rob. In addition to a long running battle with right foot deep tissue tendonitis, and the throat crushing, I am now nursing a right bicep that needs to pop itself in a pretty loud yet satisfying way every couple of days. Does the WWE hire female wrestlers in their 30s?

Petitions Signed to Get Candidates on the Chicago Mayoral Ballot: 2

I know I said I'd leave politics alone, but the midterms are so earlier this week. The Windy City has already moved on. As a frequent rider of Chicago's public transit system, it is now perfectly usual to be accosted by volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 80, asking me if I am a registered voter of the City. For the first time in over two decades, urban citizens get to be a part of a major regime change as King Richard Daley of the Treasure Looting gracefully makes his overdue exit. The City is atwitter over who will fill those big, Bridgeport steel shitkickers.

In addition to the star power of potential candidates like former Illinois Senator Carol Mosley Braun, it seems like every regular Tom, Dick and Harry wants to throw his or her hat in the ring. And why not? Chicago has a pool of 10% unemployed individuals to select from, and none of them could make worse decisions than Daley. I have received several requests to sign the Rahm Emanuel petition. During the first of these, the outgoing Obama Chief of Staff was actually present. May I say, though I never noticed on television before, Mr. Emanuel is quite sexy? I direly wished I had brushed my hair before venturing to the gym that morning.

But I digress. I have also signed a petition for Mitch Newman, a local builder who wants to focus on Chicago's failing schools and gang plagued streets. I have seen several very low-budget television ads for a variety of other potential race runners. Beautiful! Democracy at it's finest. Suck it Tea Party!

Maybe I will run. I've got nothing else to do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Illinois Voter's Pulse on Election Day

I live in the State of Illinois, where today we'll be electing a Governor and a brand new Senator, among other offices. Though he has been gone from the Prairie State electoral canvass for over two years now, this voting day is still somewhat of a referendum on deposed former Governor, Rod Blagojevich and the dispiriting legacy he left in his wake.

In the Governor's race, citizens have a choice between Pat Quinn, the former Lieutenant Governor for the Blago administration, who has served half a term since Roddy Boy was given the boot. Although not a perfect lawmaker by any stretch, Quinn has suffered from two major flaws: a lack of scintillating personality and the bad luck to have been the person to inherit an economic meltdown, immediately after the Illinois State legislature voted to eject Blago. In the same way I feel that President Obama has been curiously blamed for prolonged economic pains that were not his doing, Quinn seems to have paralleled Barack in microcosm.

Illinois, now officially the most bankrupt State in the Union, was well on its way to being so before Pat Quinn took the reins. However his Republican opponent for the Governor's mansion, State Senator Bill Brady, will not have any of that - if one assesses the situation by looking at his ads. Senator Brady is fond of highlighting the statistic that Quinn has retained "75% of Blago appointees," a thinly veiled suggestion that Rod and Pat are chums and bedfellows who have celebrated the continuity of corruption in Illinois. The problem with that assertion is that for most of Blagojevich's term and a half, the two men were barely on speaking terms. I think "frenemies" is what the kids are calling it these days. The suggestion that Quinn's failure to clean house and fire everyone the moment he took office means he and Rod are ideological cousins is a stretch at best.

Furthermore, one of Bill Brady's most treasured sound bites is his claim to be an "optimist. We are facing tough times, but I've always believed in America and the people of Illinois. Together, we'll make a clean break from the past and grow jobs here." That sounds wonderful, but how exactly? What is your plan Senator Brady?

Don't look to the candidates website for clarification:

"The four cornerstones of the Brady Better Illinois: Jobs Plan begin with the fundamentals:

•Create a stable tax climate to help jumpstart the economy
•Engage in long-term strategic planning
•Create a fair playing field to once again make Illinois competitive
•Restore accountability and transparency to the state budget process"

I think I speak for many of us when I say that the only thing more unspecific than this plan is Charlie Sheen's diagram for getting his cocaine and booze soaked life together.

So clearly, we know I voted for the Governor's seat in Illinois. However, the race to replace outgoing Senator, and further Blagojevich collateral damage, Roland Burris, was not as simple as it might seem for a Lefty like myself.

Clearly, I would not be using the touch screen ballot to select Mark Kirk, the Republican candidate and five term Congressman, who been caught lying about everything this campaign season. Kirk had said he won the Navy's "Intelligence Officer of the Year" award, which he didn't. He said he was fired upon the last time he visited Iraq. Nope. Did he learn nothing from Hilary Clinton? He said he served in Operation Desert Storm when he was in actuality a reservist in Maryland. Even his civilian biography proved to be full of half truths. Kirk has frequently spoken about his time as a nursery school teacher, a huge former campaign talking point. Turns out he was just a work-study student from Cornell.

And the funny thing is, given the weakness of Kirk's competition, Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias, the Congressman had no need to embellish his record. Alexi, as my friend Tim so eloquently put it, "has failed at everything he tried." This hardly speaks to one's ability to make sober and reasoned decisions for the state. The 34 year-old current State Treasurer (we're bankrupt) and former BFF of Barack Obama (until the April failure of his family's Broadway Bank created tension) is hardly qualified to be a Boy Scout Troop Leader, let alone a man in charge of advocating for the American people.

So as I entered the ballot booth early this afternoon, absolutely despising both candidates in this contest, wishing not for the first time that the two party system would provide us more palatable options, I made a snap decision: LeAlan Jones, the Green party nominee.

The former NPR documentarian, just 13 years-old at the time of his honest portrayal of life on Chicago’s south side, Ghetto Life 101, managed to impress me more with this one accomplishment, than anything I have seen out of Kirk or Giannoulias. Republican voters have long ago written me off, and my fellow Democrats might tell me I wasted a vote. No I didn't. I am sending a one person message to both parties in this politically scarred state to get serious and send me some real candidates. In the meantime, I wish Jones, a linebackers coach at Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy, the upset of a lifetime.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Good Luck Jon and Stephen!

It's a big political day today, sort of like a Super Bowl for the Washington set.

In this corner, we have President Obama, returning to my hometown of Chicago for the first rally in the Windy City since the historic evening in November of 2008 when he became America's only President of color. My husband and I were fortunate enough to be at Grant Park that night, and no matter how the administration rates now, nothing can ever take away from the emotional significance of that evening. I am often critical of the Commander-in-Chief, but he is a gifted and moving speaker. The rally, "Moving America Forward" is part of a series being held as the President attempts to boost the flagging morale of the Left, encouraging them to get to the polls on November 2nd. "Just Say No to the GOP" and all that. The stakes are high.

If it is possible to upstage the party of a sitting President (and it apparently is), Comedy Central hosts and comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are holding their own "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the Washington Mall in the nation's Capitol this afternoon. The event, which will begin any minute now, is a deadly serious tongue-in-cheek answer to conservative commentator Glenn Beck's late August "Restore Honor" rally, which was attended by over 87,000. Many liberals, and quite a few centrists, objected to the timing of Beck's call-to-arms, which also happened to be the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Stewart's soiree, per the organizational website, has but one mission: "We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard."

Further: " Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) — not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point."

A rally for good old fashioned, hard working, common sense. How can I not get behind that? In some ways I am sorry it takes two men who get paid to crack jokes on a cable channel to organize a visible response to the caterwauling of the extreme Right, but whatever works. Break a leg guys!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How the Internet Saved Me From Myself

I am old enough to remember the days before the Internet and it's offspring - blogs, streaming video, chat, porn - beguiled us so. My grade school and high school reports were researched at home via Encyclopedia Britannica, or else I had to go to the library for more sources. But when I was 14 years old, I spent a lot of time at the much cooler home of my best friend Jesika, part of a family of "early adopters." They were among the first to sign up for Prodigy Internet service, and when I first "surfed" this archaic version of the Net, my mind was blown. You mean we could talk to boys from other states without attracting parental attention? Sign me up!

My Internet savvy and uses evolved somewhat as I entered college at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. In the Fall of 1996, I created my very first email account at this always technologically progressive institution. I registered for classes online. I still didn't have a computer of my own, instead making use of my roommate's old fashioned word processor when facing a deadline and there were too many bodies in the computer lab. There was no Google yet so attempts to search for information meant using one of the earlier search engine prototypes, which yielded an undifferentiated, cluttered looking bag of mixed results.

I thought the Internet could be a timesaver in some cases, a novelty in others, but I couldn't foresee then that the invention would mean anything more than that to me. I was, and remain, an analog book lover, a person who writes in a bound journal every other day and exchanges old fashioned letters written on stationary.

But then a little gnawing voice that I attempted to ignore for most of my life, but grew progressively louder as I entered my 30s, started yelling at me to stop denying that I had to write. I am nothing if not practical, and I knew that the profession of authorship, like music, dance and acting, bore a success rate of approximately 0.1% So I went about the business of trying to be a corporate success, continuing to fail miserably, wondering why I couldn't get myself to play the game, until, exhausted by all the efforts to normalize, I had to face the truth. I am a writer - come what may.

And this is when I realized that the World Wide Web is the best thing that ever happened to me. At best, the Internet is a source of endless information located at the punch of a few keystrokes. At worst, it is a way for the socially awkward to distract themselves, tune out from the real world and avoid human interaction. I say this is a terrible phenomenon because in the wrong hands, Internet addiction can deprive one of a meaningful life.

But for me this covert method of demonstrating perceived talent without actually having to look anyone in the eye has been a godsend. I am a bit of a conundrum. I am quite outgoing, gregarious and sometimes even charming in a room full of people with whom I already feel a safe connection. At other moments, in a space full of strangers, I give off the impression of having Asperger's Syndrome: stiff, silent, nervous, drinking too much to try to overcome my discomfort, certainly not the confident smart aleck I appear to be with my inner circle.

This tendency to become a hot mess in new social situations goes to another level if I am on the spot professionally: giving a presentation, accepting an award or even talking about a subject anywhere close to my heart. I look down, get teary eyed, and my hands start to shake. Can you just imagine me trying to pitch a book? It all of course comes down to insecurity. Without the Internet, and its cousin, email, I may never have had the balls to put myself out there at all.

Because what I can't bring myself to do in person, for fear of rejection, failure or just plain old looking stupid, I can do with rehearsed, unemotional confidence over the computer. The first time I reached out to the Editor-in-Chief of a local Chicago paper, the first publication to take a chance on me, my palms were sweaty. I felt faint and almost certain my offer to write a story would be shot down. But Suzanne didn't see any of this. What hit her inbox was the thoughtfully worded, calm and professional request to throw me a feature. I nearly fainted with shock and fear when I received an affirmative reply a few days later, but again, Suzanne was not privy to that response. My practiced, "Thank you, I look forward to meeting your deadline" allowed no hint of neuroticism.

With very few exceptions, all of my writing has been for the web, that first print feature notwithstanding. On the page of this blog, I put myself out there, dare to inscribe things I often can't say to myself. It has made me a better writer. The ability to hide behind my terminal has paradoxically done more for the real "me" than anything else. Some of the topics I have addressed in my work have opened up much needed, and often delayed conversations in my personal life. What can I say? I am better behind a keyboard than in a room - everytime.

I know I need to work on the interpersonal part of my game. I can't simply flee when asked to have an adult conversation with a stranger who may or may not have some decision making power over my career. But for today, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my insecurities with a larger potential audience than I might otherwise have allowed myself to experience. In person, I trip over my own self-deprecation before giving others the chance to point out my flaws. Online, clad in sweats from the comfort of my home office, I am a confident, more risk taking Becky.