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.