Friday, December 16, 2011

Dating Discoveries

Clearly when I wrote this post on October 18th, I was a little premature in declaring myself “back” to the blogosphere. Trying to manage a full-time job, part-time position and a seat on a woman’s journalism board has wreaked a little havoc on the intervals and desire for pursuing personal writing projects. This is not a complaint. A year ago, I was an unemployed author wondering if I would ever be able to provide for myself. I have been blessed this year with a number of opportunities to do just that.

At the same time, finalizing a divorce and attempting to figure out my new, unanchored place in the world has borrowed a significant amount of emotional bandwidth. As all of us creative types can attest, writing is a physically and spiritually exhausting activity. If you come to the table drained already, your finished product will reflect it. With that disclaimer in mind, consider yourself warned. I am one rusty blogger.

Anyway, that accounts for my intermittent presence, but I am here today to talk about the life of the singleton. As strange as it sounds, at the age of 33, I am experiencing the world of casual dating for the first time. Historically, I have been what they call a serial monogamist. Since the age of 16, with only sporadic periods of solitude, I have been in one committed relationship after another. Until April of this year, I never lived alone.

The impact of facing the world without a reliable mate and someone to come home to has been jarring and uncomfortable in some ways, refreshing and enlightening in others. The bottom line is that by keeping myself aligned with another for most of my life, I failed in my due diligence to get to know Becky. For better or worse, I’m forcing the issue now. I’m going through a delayed adolescence at warp speed.

Since the middle of this past summer, I have been on some dates and experienced a couple of short term relationships. Some of these situations ended with unpleasant resolutions, but not one of them has been a wasted experience. Here are a few takeways thus far:

  1. I am more traditional in my approach than I believed.

I am a capable, independent woman who enjoys her freedom but that doesn’t mean I don’t get all warm inside if a man inflates the tires of my bike, fixes my loose shower head (no, that is not a euphemism – get your minds out of the gutter) or opens doors for me. Initially, I took my attraction to these behaviors as an appalling sign of weakness. I have since come to recognize that after a lifetime spent putting my own needs last, there’s nothing wrong with indulging a little TLC.

  1. If a man over 40 only communicates with you via text message and makes no effort to invite you over, or introduce you to his friends and family, something is probably rotten in Denmark.

At this point, a number of you are probably snorting at my naivete, but I have always been a late bloomer and in keeping with my personal history, I had to learn this one the hard way.

  1. If a date embarrasses you in front of your friends or makes demeaning jokes without any attempt to apologize, run like hell.

Once again, I figured this one out through trial and error. People are traditionally at their best at the outset of a relationship and if you encounter this level of disrespect before you’ve opened the closet to have a look at the rest of the skeletons, there’s probably no need to do so.

  1. A disappointing number of single men like you to be attractive OR smart, but certainly not both. And don’t dare have a past.

Ok, I confess: I am engaging in gross generalization here, but it’s my personal experience of recent months. I have been out with men who professed to be floored by my intelligence and wit, but balked at the idea of dating a woman who attracts physical attention from other quarters. It made them paranoid and insecure. At the same time, I have had dates who thought I was pretty but wished I would talk far less.

Without fail, the dudes with whom I have stepped out have had some objection or another to one or more of the following: a rough childhood that was certainly not my choice, my conversion of religion away from Christianity, a divorce, a career and life’s work that asks me to expose myself, an aversion to moving to the suburbs and having babies, the number of exes with whom I remain friends. Here’s a newsflash: I am 33. I am not a virgin, nor have I lived in a bubble. You thought it was cool that I was a writer until you realized that was a semi-public profession? Your problem buddy, not mine.

After a very recent breakup and with the approach of the New Year, I am taking a breather from dating. It is, in a word, exhausting. It certainly creates a lot of material for farce and melodrama, but I don’t have the wherewithal for the time being. I suppose for the moment, it’s gratifying enough to realize the opportunities will be there when I want them again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

While I’ve Been Away

I haven’t written or posted a word on this blog in nearly two months. Gratifyingly (however recently), there has been a mini-groundswell amongst my friends and small readership for a return. I find myself with a few spare moments today so I thought I would share, not what I’ve been up to, but why I have been silent so long.

Anyone familiar with the story of my 2011, whether personally or casually, knows it has been an uneven year. I greeted January as an unemployed insomniac, separated from my cherished husband Eddie in March (because you can still love and cherish somebody with your full soul while knowing at the same time that you’re on the wrong path – one of 2011’s cruelest lessons), moved out on my own for the first time in April, underwent surgery for cervical cancer in June, and that’s basically when I left the scene.

A lot has changed since that time, not all of it for the worse. I have my health again. I am scheduled for a six-month checkup in early December, but all signs point to a near-term ability to put that ordeal behind me.

My career, diametrically opposed to my personal life, is thriving. In July I was recruited away from my position as a web writer and project manager at a boutique publishing firm in the North Chicago suburbs – better title, more money and benefits I haven’t enjoyed since leaving the non-profit world in 2009. Yet for all that, happy to be where I was, I initially said “no thank you.” To my great surprise (and eventual gratitude), neither the company nor the hiring manager took my rejection for a finality. So here I am, six weeks on the job as the Senior Manager, Social Media Marketing/Head Writer for a successful home products company. Better yet, my former employer asked me to stay on part-time, so for an additional income, I get to continue doing the real estate and personal finance writing and blogging that I grew to love.

I am expanding my involvement and leadership in the professional organization for which I sit on the board. I have connected with numerous new friends and mentors and am grateful for all I have learned, especially from the positive female presences I have allowed in. In a variety of ways I am forcing myself to branch out and conquer the fear of public speaking that threatens to hold me back.

All of this is good. I am blessed. It wasn’t long ago that I was one of the panicked unemployed, the cuckolded trophy wife who saw her best years slipping away helplessly.

And yet right as my professional fortunes began to turn, as I reclaimed my physical health and learned to live independently of the whims and needs of others, my personal creativity all but dried up. Simply put, I hadn’t the energy or the will to follow politics anymore, chart my personal growth or explore the pop cultural evolution of society. I was busy – certainly a great excuse to punt.

I enjoyed summer, did some traveling, dabbled in dating and actually met someone who taught me a great deal about how I want and deserve to be treated. The relationship didn’t last, as rebounds are typically wont to do, but I am forever grateful to this man. I sort of entered this period where I no longer wanted to think about my actions. I just wanted to act, to live in the moments I had over-planned for too long.

But now it’s mid-fall. I have settled into my new routine and as the end of the year approaches, a pensive mood steals over me again. I am mere weeks from watching the ink dry on my divorce papers, and wonder where I go from there.

Have I made the right decisions?

All along I have followed my socio-political touchstones (the New York Times’ Columnist page, CNN, the work of my fellow writers) and see that the world is continuing to go mad (or perhaps is simply in a cycle of self-correction). What do the holidays bode? What does 2012 portend for our nation, the Western Hemisphere and the world at large?

I can no longer afford to indulge an intellectual sabbatical. So I’m back.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vacation Becky: The Return of the Honey Badger

Vacation Becky is a hell of a lot more fun than Real Life Becky. Ask anyone. Real Life Becky is a bundle of nerves and self-consciousness, confined by typically artificial bonds of to-do lists, worries, overzealous exercising, dietary constraints and fears of aging. Vacation Becky is the absolute antithesis of all that. She is a honey badger (see NFSW video clip above) who does what she wants, worries about no consequence and is the type of bon vivant that typically adds to the entertainment of any group gathering.

I was reminded of how much I enjoy my vacation self, so unlike the real me, this past weekend on a friendly group camping trip to scenic Shelbyville, Illinois – population 5,000. What can a group of citified gal pals and gay men get up to in the still, unmolested country? Quite a lot as it turns out. And as the normally-reticent-come-yes-girl ringleader, I left a certain CoCo Chanel/Anna Nicole Smith imprint of white trash glamour that South Central Illinois will not soon forget.

It all began with breadsticks drowning in a lake of butter and covered in rock salt, not unlike the kind you might find on a Midwestern highway in the depths of January. This was the conclusion of a late Friday afternoon dinner with my traveling companion Laura. As she marveled at the delicious grotesqueness of my wish for more carbs to soak up the excess butter pond, she remarked that this sort of culinary abandon seemed outside of character. This is the moment when I acquainted her with Vacation Becky, and warned her that there was a lot more to follow.

We arrived late Friday evening at our cabin in the woods (for neither Vacation nor Real Life Becky do roughing it very well), to a raucous chorus of already inebriated whoops from the homosexual peanut gallery. We came ready to party with a trunk full of booze and chips (Ah Chili Cheese Fritos! How I love thee!). Picture bonfires, cocktails and inappropriate loud laughing well past the campground’s “quiet hour.”

Over the course of the weekend, Vacation Becky, as also known as CoCo/Anna, put boring Monday-Friday Becky in a headlock and engaged in the following:

  1. Wildly shameful flirting with brawny local teen boys.

  2. The purchase of a thrift store string bikini (Original tags on of course. Even Vacation Becky is a borderline germaphobe).

  3. The eating of newly procured pork rinds right there at the counter of Shelbyville’s local Family Dollar store.

  4. Jumping off a pontoon into lake water for the express purposes of peeing.

  5. Drinking a bottle and a half of wine on aforementioned pontoon, then passing out for a solid 30 minutes before reviving to finish the rest.

  6. Eating thinly vetted fried shrimp and coconut cake at a Sunday breakfast buffet.

  7. Looking eminently confident and sexy while engaging in all of the above.

Just who is this wild, adventurous minx who cares nothing for public opinion and how do I incorporate her into my weekday life? Or perhaps it’s better than she is only released from her cage for long weekends and holidays? Maybe Vacation Becky is most safely enjoyed in small doses.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sucking Air

American Airlines is the nation’s largest carrier, having gobbled up competitors such as TWA in the Aughts, and despite flirting unsuccessfully with the acquisition of US Airways in late 2009. According to Wikipedia, American “is the world's third-largest airline in passenger miles transported, passenger fleet size, and operating revenue.”

As a child growing up in the 1980s, I could sing the airline’s commercial jingle in my sleep, “We’re American Airlines, something special in the air!” A ticket to board an American Airlines flight must have been something magical! When I was a grown-up, I would find out by God!

The company now uses the tagline, “We know why you fly.” However, if my experience of this past weekend is any indication, the carrier must think the purpose of my travels is to experience a frustrating lack of communication and a desire to sleep on the floor of Boston Logan Airport on the eve of my 33rd birthday.

In other words, to put it academically, American Airlines sucks.

Sunday morning I awoke in my high school chum Euridice’s apartment in Medford, Massachusetts to the soothing sounds of light rain. Though the showers intensified somewhat as we enjoyed a leisurely brunch downtown, followed by some mall walking (insert old fart joke here), I was only minimally concerned about flight delay. There was no accompanying lightening or thunder and though, like Pavlov’s dog, I have been trained to have my time wasted by airport security and airline personnel at the slightest provocation, I expected I would be on my way back home at some hour close to the 6:50 PM scheduled departure.

I arrived at Logan’s Terminal B in plenty of time to check my bag and wade through security procedures, only to discover as I started the self-check-in process that my flight had been cancelled. Five hours earlier. And in a surprise twist, the cancellation was due to equipment failure, rather than Mother Nature.

Let’s get over the fact that I am an American AAdvantage member and the bureaucratic apparatus of the carrier sent me neither email nor phone call nor text to make me aware of this schedule change. Let’s try and sidestep the disheartening news that American had no other flights from Boston to Chicago that evening and that they swore the best they could do was put me on a 2 PM plane the following day.

What really irked me was the mass confusion, poor customer service and utter lack of willingness to issue refunds or assist with accommodations for the night. At 6 PM I was staring down the barrel of having to ring in a birthday, which I already bore a humbug attitude toward, drunk (because really, what else could I do?) and alone on the cold, industrial floor of an East Coast air travel hub. Can you imagine anything more pathetic? No, then how about the scene of weeping mothers and fathers, forced to call their scattered homes to inform children, spouses and parents that they were unable to return, in some cases, before two days following? I haven’t witnessed so much misery first person since my sister Jen finally realized at the age of 10 that there was no Easter Bunny.

As a former corporate travel agent, I was aware that there is but one carrier that does not share its booking system with any of the other major airlines. That is of course Southwest, the only operation that has yet to institute charges for checked bags, the sole provider of air travel who issues comfy leather seats to all passengers without some other bullshit upcharge, and the only company who appears to conduct customer service training for its call center and onsite personnel. It is not by accident that the carrier is one of few that regularly turns a profit. In May 2011, Southwest Airlines was ranked as one of the top ten companies in MSN Money's 2011 Customer Service Hall of Fame, and its flight completion record is currently 98.8 percent as of first quarter 2011.

Why do I highlight all of these distinctions? Because unlike at the American counter, where I and my fellow strandees were treated like gum on the bottom of a shoe and provided zero resources in our time of hardship, after running three terminals over to the Southwest vestibule, I encountered something like human compassion. I had the forethought to book another flight by phone (where I was pointedly wished a “happy birthday” by the friendly rep who assisted me), but was advised to go to the counter afterward to try and get standby on a yet earlier flight. The customer service representative was unable to grab me a seat herself as it was too close to flight time.

Did I mention that this last minute one-way ticket cost me a mere $330? That’s not chump change to a struggling writer, but more than worth it in the long run to get home to my cat Jordan, my work and my life before an additional 24-hours elapsed. Compare this to a figure of $618 for a comparable ticket on American.

Southwest’s flights were delayed that evening, but they did take off. Icing on the cake: the fees for alcoholic beverages were waived once my plane finally taxied off the runway. The flight crew knew we had all suffered enough, were feeling quite cranky and a little liquid calm was bound to make everyone’s experience just a bit less stressful.

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, I am forced to bemoan the perceptible and lengthy decline of airline service. It’s not just the endless delays, lack of food and nickel and dime surcharges for EVERYTHING. It’s not the increasing invasiveness and dehumanizing effects of airport security, for which the carriers issue yet another fee. It’s that we pay so much, and are hassled so incessantly, for the privilege of being treated like shit and shoehorned into a seat we would deem capital punishment in any other environment.

If I must fly, and at this point, I would prefer Amtrak, or even dare I say it, Greyhound, it won’t be as an American Airlines passenger. Think I am alone in my aversion to the carrier? Check out these links:


2. My personal favorite:



Southwest, thank you for making a pretty terrible night just a tiny bit easier to swallow – with a red wine chaser.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Another Year

I am weary, bone weary and sad from thinking and writing about politics. I need a break so it’s time to move onto my second favorite subject, which is of course….me.

I am having a birthday in less than six days.

No, save your good wishes. I do not feel like celebrating this year. This sounds implausible to the ears of anyone who knows me. After all, this is the same woman who wore a tiara all day every day, between the ages of 22 and 28: to the office, on public transportation. The venue and its appropriateness hardly mattered because the goal was to get attention, and this shameless pandering certainly did. I initiated a “birthday countdown” that began no less than a full month before the big day. If asked, I could produce a gift registry with lightning speed.

Adorable? An egomaniac? You be the judge. In my defense, I was never one for family holidays given that my immediate clan had a dependable way of serving dread, misery and tears with each Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham or Independence Day barbecue. Up until this summer, had I been queried about my favorite holiday, I would have answered “Halloween and my birthday” with utmost conviction. Halloween remains at the top of my list for its promise of allowing you to inhabit the look and persona of another without being arrested for identity theft. And my birthday was a source of pleasure because it was a day devoted to celebrating my entrance into this crazy world, no matter how imperfect my mark upon it.

Key word there: “was.” Let’s leave aside my almost pathological fear of aging and the encroaching sense that my best years and my fullest potential are already behind me. That’s still there of course, but the aversion to mon anniversaire in 2011 stems from taking stock of where I am: personally, professionally and as a human being, and not liking much of what I see.

I am estranged from a man that I still love very much. I don’t know that I’ll ever be over him and yet this changes nothing about our circumstances. I am thriving in my day job at a small publishing firm, but my freelance career is wobbly. Even worse, I seem to have no will or energy seek out new platforms. I am confronting a level of inertia and apathy that is completely unfamiliar.

Most bothersome of all, I am troubled by recent evidence that my moral compass needs new batteries. My separation and illness earlier this year seems to have left a bitter sense of entitlement in its wake. I have done and said things in recent months that would have caused blushing a mere nine months ago.

I need a plan. Hedonistic, self-involved indulgence is an ill-fitting costume I no longer care to wear.

So my birthday gift to myself this year is a healthy dose of measured silence and reflection.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Maverick Returns

Had I been a Republican during the 2000 Presidential primaries, there is no doubt I would have voted McCain instead of Bush. At the time, the man came off as relatively uncompromised. As a decorated Vietnam veteran and a legislator who had a record (at the time) for rejecting pandering in order to reach across the aisle and get things done, he had my respect. Had he made it to the general election, I might have even considered casting a ballot in his favor instead of Al Gore.

By the time the 2008 campaign rolled around and McCain had morphed into a man who suddenly wanted nothing to do with immigration reform, labeled Barack Obama “that guy,” and selected Sarah Palin as a running mate, effectively putting an idiot one heartbeat away from the Oval Office, I was glad I was never faced with a real opportunity to punch a hanging chad in his favor. Turned out McCain was just like all the rest. He would say or do anything to get elected.

But all it once it appears that the removal of the Holy Grail chase, the end of his POTUS dreams, have freed John McCain to take a real stand where certain issues are concerned. Or it could be that at nearly 75 years of age, he just doesn’t give a shit anymore what anyone thinks.

And so yesterday, I read this report from Yahoo News’ The Ticket: “John McCain Unloads on the Tea Party,” and my stunned heart sang. Not so much because I care about McCain’s rediscovery of his backbone, but I was enthralled because finally SOMEBODY is pointing out the Tea Party Emperors are not wearing any clothes.

I could care less about his pity for John Boehner’s attempts to cobble together a last minute deficit reduction/debt ceiling compromise, but seriously, what’s not to love about quotes like this:

"The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . . Barack Obama," McCain said, quoting [a Wall Street] Journal article. "The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor."

"This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell into GOP Senate nominees," McCain added, still reading from the article.

Squee!!!! I know he’s basically regurgitating the work of another writer, but the fact that he does so on the Senate floor, with C-Span cameras rolling, provides a tacit blessing to the Journal’s indictment. Like it or not, McCain remains a standard bearer of the GOP and though it is unlikely, this should give pause to intolerant right extremists.

Allow me to quote another Open Salon blogger I greatly admire, a gentleman by the name of Cranky Cuss. I published a post this past Tuesday entitled, “The Party is Over,” where I detailed my general disgust with the current “work” and comprehensive ineptitude of both political factions. That said, Crank offered a fairly prescient indictment of the Republican caucus in particular:

“The Republicans would rather have the nation default, with all the devastation it would cause our already teetering economy not to mention the world economy, than allow Obama to be re-elected. I consider that treason.”

Thank you Mr. Cuss for calling a spade a spade, and grazi Senator McCain, however belatedly, for trying to lead your party by example.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Show is Over

I have been a politico, a policy wonk, a fervent follower of Washington gamesmanship for as long as I can remember. I believe my love for the inner workings of our nation’s Capitol began with a first grade classroom straw poll in which I participated in 1984. My parents, young moderate Republicans, were huge fans of Reagan, whereas I already began to sense my liberal stirrings and wanted to like Walter Mondale more, but just couldn’t. In truth, I would have been happiest to vote for Geraldine Ferraro, but that wasn't an option and in the end bit my lip and cast my childhood lot with the Gipper. Though my vote counted for nothing, I have yet to forgive my lack of foresight.

I have always been a fan of the Sunday morning talk shows, the arm chair quarterbacking about bills, social initiatives and policy speeches. As long as America’s basic common sense and global leadership was intact, I took it mostly in good fun. Of course there are real world implications for any nation’s decisions, but I felt safe in my admiration of the endless game of chess that keeps networks like CNN and Fox News in business.

I have been blogging for about two years and until recent months, a good percentage of my posts have been politically motivated. In my freelance journalism life, I kept up a column for a magazine based in Denver for the better part of a year.

But suddenly, beginning in December 2010 when Obama capitulated to the extreme right wing on the extension of the fiscally irresponsible Bush tax cuts, or if I’m being honest, slightly before that, the wind was sucked right out of my political sails. As the middle class and lower classes sank under the crushing weight of high unemployment, a credit crunch and the disappearance of home equity that are the hallmarks of this Great Recession; as lawmakers from both sides fell out of touch with the real world needs of real people as they became entrenched in partisan squabbles that had little or nothing to do what it takes to get the nation back on track; to quote President Obama, when “compromise became a four-letter word” as the rest of the world looks on in horror while we careen toward the inevitable toppling of our dynasty, there’s nothing to appreciate. It is, in a bipartisan word, revolting.

As it is, a lack of engagement with current affairs has been a casualty of the increasing digitization of our culture. The truly engaged and informed are a diminishing minority, and anyone else who flips on the TV to witness the latest round of partisan posturing from the President or the Speaker of the House is bound to reach for their Kindle or Nintendo DS in short order. Politics is serious business, but let’s face it, also entertainment. And of the many sins of which our lawmakers are in the business of committing, a failure to captivate may be one of the lesser, but it’s clearly a factor in Congress’ 77 percent negative approval rating.

To state the totally obvious: we have major problems in this country, problems that even a vote to raise the debt ceiling, or a last minute Hail Mary that manages to cut spending AND raise revenue, may not solve. The United States is the laughing stock of the First World (and even Third World nations like India are having a chuckle at our paralysis). But no one living here outside of the upper two percent of wealth holders, has a thing to smile about.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jumping the Shark

Living in Chicago, some form of sexual harassment, however mild, tends to be a typical facet of the average woman’s day. I was inaugurated into this confusing and often humiliating world of gender politics at the age of 13, when I began to receive car horn honks and wolf whistles from older teenage boys and grown men as I navigated the streets solo, or with a girlfriend. For many reasons, I could not begin to comprehend the behavior of these gentlemen. I was cognizant of the fact that I was still a child, and not a very attractive one at that (then as now, I was a frustrating mix of social awareness and shallow insecurity).

As with any minor annoyance, it began to recede into the background over the years, one of those tradeoffs you have to accept as a devotee to urban life. Boys will be boys and all that.

As I entered my 30s, and paradoxically gained more confidence in my overall appearance (Botox injections, adult braces and a brilliant hair stylist and personal trainer were undeniable assets), I noticed, with a surprising degree of disappointment, that the incidence of wolf whistling began to decrease markedly. Where I should have been grateful for the opportunity to traverse the streets in peace, I was instead petulantly annoyed that the Neanderthals of the Windy City had ignored my realization of true pulchritude capabilities in favor of younger, fresher targets.

My temporary salvation from increasing awareness that I am growing older, and thus less attractive to immature fellows seeking temporary diversion, arrived at a rather unlikely hour. Last night I left the gym after a strenuous group Russian kettlebell class, and took to the streets sweaty and unkempt. I was wearing a damp t-shirt, yoga pants and an exhausted look as I waited for the Northbound Red Line train that would take me back to my studio in Rogers Park.

I was engrossed in a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s marvelous Freedom, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a rakish, extremely drunken young man approaching me. He could not have been 25 years old, yet with his confident smirk and Max Headroom sunglasses, he instantly reminded me of Tom Cruises’ character Brian Flanagan from Cocktail. The boy was a staggering, inebriated wild card and I was mostly concerned that I was about to witness someone die via third rail electrocution.

However, Mr. Flanagan had other plans in mind for a sweaty and irritated yours truly. “Whatcha reading beautiful?” he slurred over my shoulder.

Since I have already exposed myself as a shameless, compliment-seeking source of vapidity, does it surprise you to know this brought a smile to my face? I quickly displayed the cover of my book and figured that would be the end of the over served fella’s attentions. Not so.

“You’re pretty,” came next. Clearly, in the condition which I have described, I was as far from gorgeous as my new friend was from sobriety, but he really was adorable. In another decade, this story may have had a different ending.

I thanked my suitor politely and turned my attention back to the book as the train approached. Mr. Flanagan went quiet as well as he weaved perilously close to the tracks. However, he was apparently just saving his strength for his next attempt to engage me. This was executed via a comical attempt to pretend as though he was opening the train car doors with superhuman strength, just for me, as he loudly shouted “Move aside people, pretty girl coming through!”

The train was packed, as was the platform of would-be passengers, and by now, for a multitude of reasons, people were staring at us. They leered at Mr. Flanagan, curious as to how a young kid commuting alone could be so dead drunk at the early hour of 8pm. They were staring at me too, wondering what this disheveled aunty had done to arouse such attention.

And where I ought to have been embarrassed and revolted, I was instead pleased by this display. Clearly, this says nothing attractive about me whatsoever, but there it is.

The battle to achieve and maintain some sort of consistent self-esteem has been one of the prominent features of my time on this planet. My ego is a fragile as gossamer and subject to others’ approbation to a completely unhealthy degree. This state of affairs extends not only to my personal appearance, but my work, my social standing and family relations as well. I am introverted and standoffish by nature until I am teased out with some sort of approval. It is one of the parts of my character that I view with the most disdain, but I am actively working to resolve it.

Clearly however, my personal growth arrives in peaks and valleys. I had gleaned the wrong kind of attention from the wrong person for all the wrong reasons, yet I slept soundly knowing that I hadn’t yet jumped the catcall shark.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Forgetting to Remember Her

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two and a half years since Jesika died, and yet in some ways it feels like so much longer. Almost nothing in my life is the same as it was then. When I lost my closest female friend in April of 2009 to the briefest, cruelest battle with ovarian cancer, I was a part of corporate America, happily married (at least as far as the rest of the world was concerned), and just coming out of the fog that had previously prevented me from chasing a writer’s dream.

The world stopped for a long while after I returned from an ill-timed trip to Israel to discover that I had missed Jesika’s final days. She looked me in the eyes before I left and assured me that she’d be there when I returned, but that oxygen tank she was lugging around as she carefully spoke should have convinced me otherwise. The ensuing weeks were full of grief, funerals, eulogies and painful regret. I left my job not long afterward and pursued writing headlong. Jesika always supported me and trusted that I would find my voice. I owed it to her, who would never have the chance to fulfill her earthly dreams, to get serious sooner rather than later.

There’s not a lot of sense to be made when a 30 year-old bright, beautiful and hilarious woman is struck down so swiftly and in such a destructive way. Jesika’s life partner Kevin has since told me that one of the most demoralizing parts of watching her go downhill was the way the cancer started to affect her brain, causing her to speak periodic gibberish. I can only imagine how hard that was for him to watch, because it killed me just to hear it.

One of the few positive outcomes to a tragic wrongdoing has been my growing friendship with Kevin. I will not go into much detail because it is his story to tell, but he was prevented from attending Jesika’s funeral due to a family’s misguided need to find someone to blame for the incomprehensible. I am by no means a religious person but I felt strongly that Jesika was communicating with me, telling me to look after Kevin as best I could, since he was being denied so much, and she wasn’t here to make it right.

We were each other’s lifelines to the woman we missed terribly. I had known Jesika since the age of 14 so I could share the crazy stories of our adolescent misadventures with him. He in turn knew the Jesika of college and law school that I had missed. Between the two of us, we could form a nearly complete narrative of her life, her love and her humor. We visited her gravesite, cried together and through our shared grief and experiences, eventually formed an independent friendship of our own.

On Thursday night, we had dinner at Leona’s Italian restaurant, part of a local Chicago chain and one of Jesika’s favorites. Kevin and I hadn’t seen each other in four months, right after I decided to leave my husband and before I had my own, minor-by-comparison cervical cancer procedure. On Wednesday night, I had something close to a panic attack. I realized that I was beginning to separate our friendship from the original context from whence it sprung, and I felt a one-two punch of guilt and fear that stopped me cold. I was ashamed to recognize that I hadn’t thought about Jesika, at all, in about that same four months which had lapsed since I last met Kevin.

I am aware that human survival depends on healing. The heart cannot remain an open wound forever after tragedy, and yet that same ability to rebound can be painful in its own right. I know that I have not forgotten Jesika. She is an integral part of who I am. But since her passing, I have had so many new experiences and made so many memories that by virtue of her absence, she can never share. The memory, with its bias toward primacy and recency, tends to expend its energy on the here and now. And so it was that in a state of saddened remorse, I was suddenly assaulted with a highlight reel of my relationship with Jesika that left me crying on my bathroom floor.

Was I forgetting to remember her? As one of few people who knew her intimately, one of two souls who knew the whole truth about her death and the circumstances around it, and the only one with the bully pulpit and freedom to counteract the alternate version of the story that exists, I am invested with a huge responsibility. And yet preoccupation with my own complicated life and the damned human need to compartmentalize had led me away from the promise I made to Jesika, myself and even if he didn’t know it, Kevin in 2009. What did that mean? What did that say about my capabilities as a friend? Had I let Jesika down?

Kevin and I spent two hours over our meal at one of our girl’s favorite venues and in that time, she came back to life. I realized that the true Jesika, the full and complete bougie, sarcastic, and reality TV-loving woman, the girl who terrorized fast food restaurant owners and snuck into R-rated movies with me, is only actualized when Kevin and I conjure her together. When we meet, she is sitting with us, and probably wearing a huge smile over the fact that her two favorite people in the world have bonded.

That’s when it hit me that my close friendship with Kevin IS remembering her. It is honoring her and her life. In fact it might be arrogant of Kevin and I to assume we had any control in forming this link, initially connected by grief but continued through genuine regard and appreciation for one another. When Jesika first returned to Chicago and moved in with the love of her life, she wanted us to be friends. It may not have happened the way any of us planned, but we have fulfilled one of her greatest wishes. That’s a more effective and positive way of respecting her legacy than self-indulgent guilt.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Missing the Point of the Anemic Housing Market

Until four months ago, I had very little interest in real estate and personal finance news. I do not own a property, nor do I wish to, exist mostly off the credit economy grid and don’t have much of a head for financial statistics. That all changed in February when I was hired as a senior writer for a respected housing market and stock analyst. By day, I research, write and report on the numbers, which I don’t have to tell you folks, have been seriously depressing in recent years.

Typically, I try to keep my two writing worlds separate. In the evening and on weekends, I am preoccupied with theater, politics, urban agriculture and of course, myself.

Recently, because of immersion in the topics, I have come to understand that my disinterest in banking and housing limits my understanding of the full political scope. What could be more important, from a public policy perspective, than sustained, long-term unemployment and a pullback in available credit absolutely decimating middle class American families and their home values? Yet tragically, both political parties have chosen to ignore these truly pressing concerns in favor of epically immature posturing regarding gay marriage (Rick Santorum), Executive branch limousine rides (Michelle Bachmann) and pushing disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner out of office (Nancy Pelosi). While our elected officials play chicken with a vote on the debt ceiling, Middle America has been placed on the sidelines.

It has been nearly three years since the world learned that irresponsible, and in most cases criminal activity on the part of large Wall Street financial firms had brought the economy to its knees. To date the banks and their financial partners have had to pay the piper very little. But periodically, a wrist slap is handed out so that lawmakers and legal eagles can tout the appearance of justice to the voting public.

This morning, on the front page of the New York Times and other media outlets, we learned that Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank in terms of asset holdings, plans to set aside $14 billion to repay a group of critical investors as a resort of its malfeasance in bundling and selling high-risk mortgages.

Who are these critical investors, you may ask? According to reports, the claimants are “a group of heavyweight holders of the securities, including Pimco, BlackRock and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, that have been pressing for a settlement since last fall.”

Does anyone suppose that this group has been the real victim of Wall Street’s shell game? While it’s wonderful to hear that the bank is going to have to make some restitution, it is with the wrong folks. None of this $14 billion will ever reach the hundreds of thousands of American families who have lost everything because of the risks taken by a small group of arrogant charlatans.

Meanwhile, hopes for a housing market recovery, or even confirmation that we have finally reached the bottom, continue to be dashed. This week, CBS MoneyWatch reported that home prices in six cities fell to new all-time lows, and nationwide, home values are averaging 2000 levels. For those keeping score, that is 11 years of lost equity.

Who will finally decide that it is beneficial to the nation, and politically advantageous enough, to throw American homeowners a lifeline? Voluntary loan modification programs have proven to be a sick joke marked by millions of reams in lost paperwork. No one on Capitol Hill seems to want to touch the development of a plan to create jobs (which is the real key to getting the housing market back on its feet), and around we go.

It’s utterly disgraceful to have to endure the chronic bellyaching of Big Business, whining about the hostile corporate attitude of the Obama administration, while stories like this one go unheard.

Bank of America can spare the $14 billion. The nation’s middle class can no longer afford the loss of dignity, combined with collective callousness, bought on by the risks of elite cads who fail to connect with the real repercussions of their actions. And our public servants need to stop enabling this disconnect.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Chicago Pride

For members of the LGBT community, their friends, partners and loved ones (so basically, everyone in America), this is a great weekend. Not only did the nation’s most populous state, New York, pass 11th hour legislation on Friday night that certified equal marriage rights for all of its citizens, but throughout the country, there was some serious partying already planned in the form of various Pride parades and festivals.

This morning Chicagoans awoke to the second day of a two-day reprieve from cool temperatures and consistent storms, and took to the streets for the City’s annual gay Pride parade. Even without a high of nearly 80 degrees, half-naked, beautiful, intoxicated bodies would have filled the roads and alleyways of Boys’ Town, but tolerable conditions promised to take the revelry up a notch. Locals and out of town visitors felt the enhanced giddiness in the air. Pride festivities in the town with the second highest concentration of gays by density, coming in third place in overall population, are never a dour affair. But New York’s bipartisan acknowledgement of the community’s civil rights, coupled with the waffling President’s “evolvement” make clear that momentum is finally on the right side.

As I booted up my laptop this morning and accessed the New York Times online, I was reduced to a puddle by a columnist with whom I was hitherto unfamiliar, a writer by the name of Frank Bruni. He wrote this touching piece, which cogently expresses the collective intuition that New York’s law might be on its way to becoming the national paradigm sooner than we might anticipate. Hell, even a right-wing ideologue like Rick Santorum has had to go easy on the gay bashing. It’s increasingly socially unacceptable for one thing, and for another, proponents of discrimination are becoming aware that they have a hard time publicly articulating a rational viewpoint. Homophobia is falling out of favor in the mainstream in supremely rapid fashion, and even those who sit on the fence share a discomfort with speaking about it while the cameras roll.

In 2011, the marketing acronym WIFM (What’s in It For Me?) fails the litmus test when politicians adopt an intolerant social stance. People want jobs, they want an end to staggering, endless defense spending overseas while things fall apart at home, they want to pay less at the pump. They don’t want to see their sister (like hockey player Sean Avery), daughter (I am looking at YOU Dick Cheney) or best friend (me) hamstrung from enjoying everything citizenship has to offer because of who they love. Where is the need to protect the “sanctity” of marriage while Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani walk down the aisle three times?

Yep, change is in the air. When you have professional athletes, a stereotypically homophobic bunch, publicly defending the right of gays and lesbians to marry, pay joint taxes and raise healthy families, I have to tell you Intolerance, your days are numbered.

Earlier this month, the state of Illinois took its own imperfect step forward by passing legislation that permits civil unions for same-sex couples. There’s more work to be done, locally and elsewhere. But we can do it after running wild through the streets today. We’ve earned it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Feminine Revolution

As much as I hated the small town where I completed my undergrad degree, I stopped going home to Chicago after the first summer break. The reasons were many and diverse but chief among them was the inability of my mother and I to stand each other for more than a day or two. It took many years and a lot of therapy to be able to verbalize the internal strife and emptiness in our relationship, that I would later come to understand as my mother’s consistent distrust and competitive spirit where I was concerned.

It was always that way. At the same time that she pushed me to live out her own frustrated academic and musical dreams, I couldn’t do so too successfully or she would weep and insist that I believed I was better than her. If I was finally popular in high school, enjoyed a string of boyfriends and my father preferred to talk sports with me, the son he never had, my mother could be seen glowering not far behind.

For most of my life Gloria was this impenetrable figure, often actively undermining her eldest child’s attempts to grow and locate happiness. During one of the last phone calls we shared before I graduated college and moved back to the Chicago to begin my first job, she came right out and admitted that she found me impossible to love. A year later, she had committed identity fraud against me to the tune of $17,000, and when confronted, took off for parts unknown with little more than a carton of cigarettes and the clothes on her back. I haven’t seen her for 10 years.

There’s much more to say on this topic and a lot of other heartbreaking details to share, but the point of this essay is that the complicated relationship I acted out with my mom affected the way I related to women in general for many, many years. I always had my sister and a couple of very solid female buddies, but by and large, I just didn’t trust members of my own sex. These were the same people who bullied me in junior high because I came from a “weird” family – enough so that I had to change schools. It was a group of women in my freshman dormitory who pranked me with unsolicited subscriptions to Ebony and Jett magazines and wrote “Wigger” on my dry erase board – for the crime of dating a Jamaican man.

Most of my friends, from kindergarten up until 2010 were men – for better or worse. My estranged husband has often accused me of “acting like a man,” which is his mind typically means ambitious, opinionated, invested with a sense of freedom and agency that has kept me from “settling down” well into my 30s. We can certainly debate the merits of questioning my womanhood based on a hard won assertion of individuality, but it is nonetheless true that female friendships and I have often been at odds.

A lot of tough things have happened this year. But one thing that has altered, undeniably for the better, has been the way I relate to my feminine peers. I suppose the transformation began a couple of years ago, when I fled the safety of the corporate world to strike out as a writer. The first mentor I found, the first person to give me a real writing job and connect me with an all-female journalism group, was a talented, gracious middle-aged woman. My current boss at the small publishing firm where I am employed is a woman of fairly high repute, yet you wouldn’t have any idea based on her down-to-earth respect for my talent and genuine concern for my well-being.

I am presently surrounded by all-female co-workers, an idea which would have horrified me not five years ago. But these women, of a diverse age range and experience level, have been behind me 100 percent as I endured the trials of marital dissolution with concurrent health problems.

No matter where I look these days, I am adding some fabulous new lady to my tribe: former classmates from my graduate program, a fellow redhead and fun-loving girl from the gym, an unlikely friendship with the gal who did my makeup before a charity fashion event last year.

Positive female relationships are suddenly everywhere I turn, and I am well aware that this is every bit as much about my readiness to embrace them as it is the quality of sisters I am encountering.