Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2 years out and counting...

alanna, in preparation for moving out to seattle, (WOOT!!!) asked me to write a piece about what i miss most about chicago.

this is it. ready?

i miss coming home to the ice factory.
what i mean by that is not, perhaps, what you'd think. i dont mean that because i live far away i miss when i could come home to visit chicago and know that the Ice Factory was always open for me to walk in and share a beer and a song and a laugh with the crew that lived in and revolved around that space. i mean, i do. i do miss that.
but thats not what im talking about. im talking about that period of time when, in the fall of '04, i lived at the ice factory and worked at logos bookstore (r.i.p.) in oak park.
when id hop the green line shortly after 8pm at the oak park stop and watch the entire west side slip by--austin, the park, the projects being torn town to make room for the townhomes and mixed income housing, the barbeque and checks cashed places with active parking lots at all hours, the brachs candy factory, the warehouses...and the ashland stop. the one with the swimming pool and the community center. with the walk-over bridge from one platform to the other that was the best view of the downtown skyline id ever found.
i would stand up against that railing, soaking in the image of the last of the light reflecting off the skyscrapers for the length of a song before i ran down the stairs, headphones bouncing off my ears, and hit the pavement rushing. not rushing in a im-in-a-hurry-gotta-run sort of way, and certainly not in a im-a-woman-walking-thru-
a-sketchy-neighborhood-at-night sort of way. i never learned that one. no, i was always rushing in a im-a-part-of-the-huge-city-rhythm-and-i-got-somewhere-to-be sort of way. and usually its cold, so there is that urgency, plus im prolly listening to radiohead and you know how insistently energetic they can feel...
so im walking thru what no one could rightly call a neighborhood, its just a bunch of warehouses and industrial business buildings. so much dirty concrete and brick you'd think it would drive a person to do something drastic like move to the emerald city to get away from the grey of it. and maybe thats what i did, but right now, i miss that walk. i can close my eyes at this moment and walk every step of that distance from the el at lake street to the ice factory front door just north of grand. its a lonely stretch of street. south of lake and north of grand are interesting and populated with buildings and businesses that people visit. but my walk was always desolate in the most gritty-city-abandoned-boarded-up-neglected-almost-grotesque-
beauty sort of way. the smashed glass and shredded plastic bags, the exhaust and noise of the trucks and buses, the dickies and vsop ads, the cuervo one in spanish, they all brought a bit of this-is-my-fucking-shitty-ass-'hood feel to my day. an emotion i enjoyed pressing on like a bruise cuz the ugliness felt beautiful (or vice versa) just like the bruise pain is pleasurable. or maybe its the other way around. cuz there were moments of true urban beauty that i cant forget. i miss the crazy tall clump of sunflowers that bloomed practically under the metra line overpass. i miss the warehouse window that was broken by a bird fooled into thinking its expanse of sky could be flown thru. i even miss the rat carcass near the hubbard st. bus stop. it was there decaying for months, and yes, i watched its progress with interest, if not awe.
i would start hurrying more at the intersection of ashland and grand cuz i was almost home and finally there was civilization. the western union and betty's blue star lounge, the apartment buildings and the glass blocks of derek and keiths place. i always unlocked the green door marked 526 and stepped up into the funny entryway having to remind myself that this is me coming home. home to a place where my room is painted dark blue and has no windows, where you open the fridge out of habit knowing theres nothing in it, where you dont look in the kitchen cabinets for clean glasses but head to the bar for a solo cup and the semi-flat coke and maybe a drop or two of whiskey from the bottom of the handle on the shelf. where you walk thru the venue space with the remnants of the last party/show strewn everywhere, up to the lab where maybe things could feel livable if someone wasnt fucking around with mics and cables and protools for once. and yet, thats where you find it. home. in the stares on the faces of the boys pointed at the tv, computer, and mixing board, respectively. a fucked up family of 20-somethings trying to run a home for artists of all kinds--a space to foster comfortable creativity--while feeling desperate to carve out that tiny spot for the creature comforts of a normal house. an 8" sink's worth. that uphill struggle for balance drove me to find an actual house for myself to live in, but meant i was always super protective of that space. the ice-factory-as-home space. home for everybody a lot of the time. and home for 4 bodies all of the time. cuz i have to admit, as draining as it was to be picking up cups and cans and bottles, and sweeping and mopping every other day, those hours of cleaning with seth and aaron, the music cranked thru the PA so high you couldnt even hear the breaking glass, those are some of my fondest memories of chitown living. i miss coming home to that shit. i keep looking for something like that here, but it doesnt exist. its not the same.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

these are my ashes

okay, so today is ash wednesday. that means its the first day of lent. which means there are 40 days before easter. and supposedly this is a time of penance and preparation for the biggest celebration on the christian calendar. (i actually think only catholics, and maybe episcopalians care about lent. must be the guilt fetish...)

earlier today i emailed saunia (my friend who is getting her masters in theology, no less) that i hoped she had a good lent. she says, "are you supposed to have a good lent?
my response is, why the hell not? last year i ate chocolate everyday of lent, partially because we dumpstered a 55lb boulder of it the night of ash wednesday and we had a shit-ton to go thru, but also, it was a conscious decision to do something good for myself during lent instead of give something up (which is the traditional move). in fact, my freshman year of college i went vegan for lent and afterwards kept vegetarian for the next 5 years, with 6 week stints of veganism every lent. and thats how that dietary discipline started in me...
when i was a kid i gave up candy, or watching tv, or something else that was a major bit of discipline for an 7, 8, 9, 14 year old. but at some point i started actively doing something instead of not doing something. like, going to a soup kitchen, or helping out around the house...but still some sort of discipline was involved. and inevitably, when you failed, there was plenty of guilt involved...
this was the old-school way. i mean, i was taught that the point of lent was to be penitent and sorrowful to prepare for christs death and rebirth. he spent 40 days fasting in the desert, the least we can do is not eat meat on fridays... i dunno. in some ways it makes sense.
but sometime after college i decided that since lent is a time to remember, to prepare for the big event that caused a bunch of jews to start a whole new religion based on the teachings of this one slightly crazy, rabble-rousing revolutionary that was so out there his main battle plan was simply to love people, then why not have the whole preparatory time leading up to easter be a slow process of celebrating instead of mourning?
hence the chocolate to combat the greige sinking in. [greige(n): the moniker for the weather in the pacific northwest winter that slowly creeps into your bones and makes you want to kill yourself] i mean, lets be real here, its seattle in february. its dreary and gross. this weather demands that you have a purpose or you are defeated.
so this year, im searching for purpose. i think that has to be my lenten activity. i cant handle fasting and self-flagellating when its already close to impossible to get out of bed.
good old coffee and whiskey...that was my mayan new years resolution (at the start of fall/winter) to fight the greige with coffee in the morning and whiskey in the evening. it has done me well so far, but now i need something that will stick to my ribs. now i need a plan of action.
lent is a good time for this. this hunting for purpose.
it hit me like a cast iron pan across the kisser last week that i cant for the life of me decide on a larger purpose for myself. that i refuse to choose something and go at it with all my strength, mostly cuz im so freaking scared, in equal measure, of both failure and success. but im running out of time. this is my last year in my 20s, there isnt time to screw around anymore. my lifes work cant wait much longer for me to finally pick it up, heft its weight, and start figuring out how to carry it forward. or maybe i just cant handle walking along with my hands in my pockets anymore.
i like the idea of doing this work during lent. i like the idea of this being a time to prepare for something so miraculous as to change peoples whole worlds... i dunno. i want it to mean something that ive survived this far. and that am finally (hopefully) headed somewhere.

ive got embryos of ideas of where that might be, but its now a time of gestation. a time of growing in a challenging-me-to-figure-out-what-i-believe-in-and-am-willing-
to-put-my-energy-towards-in-a-real-life-encompassing-way way. i will show you these ideas when they are less fetal. prolly by easter.

Friday, February 1, 2008

reel-to-real pt. 1

just outside the door to the control room at hollow earth radio, there is this 5' tall, bookshelf full of 5"x5" reel-to-reel boxes (1800ft of tape sized). this bookshelf has maybe six shelves and is about 3' across. looking at this shelf, its a bit daunting to calculate how many hours of listening are sitting there. especially when you realize those shelves are 10" deep. yep, its actually twice as much tape as you can see at once. my (happily chosen) job at the station is to organize, catalog, and digitally archive this tape. or whatever part of it seems of interest. home recordings, live concerts, radio programs, stuff thats not recorded in some other format. those reels that have four of herb alpert's, or nancy sinatra's or bob dylan's albums recorded on them are not that valuable to those of us who are intrigued by original local sound recordings. those boxes marked 'standard school broadcast, 1968' or 'christmas concert 1970,' or 'ron and leslie's wedding' or 'nature lectures on the olympic national forest,' or 'JFK speech--cuban missile crisis' or (im not kidding) 'lt. col. glenn, astronaut, between 4am and 5am on january 27th 1962,' those are the ones that make me want to strap on a good pair of headphones and attach myself, and the reels, to one of the 4 dinosaur reel-to-reel machines strewn about the studio and stay curled up with eyes closed for hours. time traveling. feeling the intervening years impose their crackle and hiss on these transmissions from a time before i was born. a time when everyone's handwriting on the labels was the palmer method--that old-school script with the flowy capital letters--always impeccable, like grandma's. when this kind of magnetic tape was made by companies like scotch, irish, and shamrock. when track listings might have been mimeographed or typewritten and the clear tape that affixed them to the box hadn't yet yellowed and flaked. im excited to bring you along for the ride. this process of discovery fills me with awe, and i hope soon to bring you some jaw-dropping aural experiences, but before that, i want you to taste the pleasure of rummaging thru these forgotten recordings, seeing for yourself what its like to get your hands dusty from these crazy bits of history, these dead ends of technology, these throw-backs to a time before digital media. come with me, this stuff is too good not to share.