in a cloud

When people say, “go to your happy place,” where do you go? I transport myself to Highlands, North Carolina, a small town just south of the Georgia border. So just south, the winding roads dips in and out of each state. I went to summer camp on top of a mountain for most of my adolescence. It shaped me and taught me how to be and think for myself. I’m not nostalgic for much–probably a flaw stemming from how I’m always looking for the next thing versus living in the moment–I don’t wistfully look back at the Saturday morning cartoons from the 80s, I don’t long for the golden days of high school…but summer camp? I miss it.

During one of my last years there, I was on top of The Tower after we’d come back from a hike. The Tower was what it sounds like: a tower. A tower on top of a mountain. The summer camp was also called The Mountain. I like my nostalgia easily categorized.

Southern summer storms would quickly sweep through the curves of the Smoky Mountains. A downpour announced itself with a clap of thunder and campers would head from the field to the craft barn for shelter. After ten minutes of huddling, we’d emerge and continue on with a now muddier game of Capture the Flag.

I found myself alone on the tower when one such storm crept in. It was quiet and you could see the span of three states from up there. Sure, it all just looked like mountains, but it was vast. And in the distance was the storm. The clouds grey, staining the otherwise blue sky. Behind me, an oblivious clear day.

The clouds moved. Swiftly. And they approached me. I sat on the wooden tower staring at the mist coming at me. The trees picked up speed in their swaying. The wind carried the storm closer.

Then I found myself surrounded by grey as if I dove into a murky ocean of milk. No longer could I see the mountains that I knew were all around me. No longer could I see anything more than the railing that prevented me from leaping out onto the cloud itself.

I sat in that cloud as it moved past me.

Now, when I close my eyes to seek calm, that cloud brings me peace. There was quiet and stillness, but its fluid embrace continued to move through the mountains and past the tower. It didn’t stop for me, but I got to be a part of its journey.

blizzard (part four)

My castmate Lindsay and I assessed the snow situation. There were cabs, but it was also such a short walk, and it didn’t seem worth spending money on the slippery ride. We witnessed cars skid through the intersection through the snowbank. Even the main roads still had close to a foot of snow on them. Fuck it all, we walked.

Wind to our back was our first victory. We passed slow moving snow-hoppers. Yes, it’s treacherous, but we’re not tourists, people. MOVE. IF YOU SLOW, THE SNOW WILL EAT YOU. We hopped along, ran at times, skipped and plowed through the new route home. I didn’t make the same mistake twice and we skipped the pseudo-shortcut through the park. We hiked down Ashland feeling like vikings.

As we continued west on Lawrence, I bid farewell to Lindsay, who had a date with her roommates and a full turkey dinner. I stopped at the grocery store–the new Mariano’s that gives gigs to jazz musicians during blizzards and houses people’s Super Bowl parties, as I discovered. After stockpiling my rations, I made my way out solo in the tundra again.

Weights on my arm, unshoveled sidewalks. I stepped into footprints and into undisturbed snowdrifts. I thought, “This is my last winter here.” And I thought, “When the hell have you ever hiked through a blizzard in the 16+ years you’ve lived here?”

I’ve been in Chicago over 16 years. I told my mom this when I last saw her and we did the math together.

“Wait, so we lived in Dayton for 17 years…” she calculated.

“And I was only there for ten, then I moved to Chicago. And I’ve been here longer than the town I grew up in.”

So as I hiked I tried to remember if I’d ever done anything like this in all the years I’ve lived here.

2002 March – While on my way to my internship at Kartemquin, I remember standing at California and Diversey waiting for a bus. I walked a bit because pre-smartphone era didn’t allow me to predict just how close I’d miss my ride. My skin hurt from the cold. Cheeks and nose burned in the wind.

Blizzard of 2011 – After a day of being pommeled with snow, some stir-crazy friends and I bussed down Western to warm up with beers at Quenchers. When I returned and walked back down my block, winter silencing movement of everything around me, the snow lined my path as if I was a giant walking through a white labyrinth.

But this. This was something I needed to take in and remember as something I would not experience again for a long long time.

blizzard (part three)

In the attempts to put blinders on and not focus on the reality of up-rooting my life, I agree to be a part of a show that goes through the winter. “Agree to be a part” is weak phrasing. Flattered and giddy and frankly confused as to why I was asked to be a part of a new Neo-Futurists’ show, I immediately accepted. It will be my last show in Chicago. Working with a highly-respected cast and company for the first time on a devised script. It’s not a style I’m used to–it’s personal, it’s meta, it’s smart. (Not that what I’ve worked on in the past isn’t smart. But I’ve hidden in characters. It’s what I do.)

This show opens in 15 days. Riiiisssk.

So, back to winter.

It snows. And there’s rehearsal. And we have a metric shit ton to do before this show opens. So we agreed we had to suck it up and make the trek to the theater last Sunday. I’d been walking or biking to rehearsals as of late. Only about a 25-minute walk from my house, and I’d cut through the school park to save time. Oh, but then it snows.

The morning of the Super Bowl blizzard, having stated for the umpteenth time, “I’m going to lose 10 pounds,” I realize that my exercise by biking will not be possible so I decide to be a selfish hero and help shovel the sidewalk. Not just for our building, but for three houses past ours. I shoveled close to an hour before I had to quit, my arm burning with foreign pains. As the selfish hero, I got irrationally angry at the snow blowers the neighbors hired people to use on their sidewalk–the very sidewalk I’d already tackled earlier in the day–who then stopped right when they got to our apartment’s property line. It was like when you donated to public radio and you still had to suffer through a pledge drive. “But I did this good thing! Why won’t others do this good thing too? Recognize my good!”

Thankfully the sun has been with us through this blizzard the most that it can, at least. For a time it was just a constant bluster. Tiny but constant flakes blocking out the sun. I’d look at the weather radar and Chicago seemed be under water. And it fell for hours. I challenged the idea of a blizzard initially, being spoiled by getting back on my bike after a long holiday hiatus. Time to get back in shape. This winter’s going to be mild, I told myself.

Now Hoth greeted us outside. But rehearsal was scheduled and I set out to walk it. I had this idea in my mind, since I had shoveled (for the first time) that everyone was going to band together and realize how great it is when you shovel a sidewalk before the winter pommels you. And it was true to an extent, as I walked north on Leavitt. But then I got to the school south of Foster. A big wide-open field and playground and…no shoveled sidewalks. People looked at what was looming on the Doppler and just said, “Yeah, no. Hot chocolate and couch. No shovel.”

“Okay,” I thought. “I can either take the long way on an un-shoveled sidewalk, or I can go diagonally through a snow-filled park.” I was/am in the midst of reading Wild, so hiking through the snow alone with some 70s Detroit punk rock music in my headphones sounded very romantic to me.

And goddammit if this wasn’t the hardest thing I’d done in a while. I fooled myself into thinking biking was enough of an aerobic activity for this tiny trek across a tiny tundra to be easy, but I found myself huffing, my eyes watering, my mascara bleeding onto my upper and lower lids enough so that it mimicked a second set of lashes. I stopped several times through, smacked in the face by antagonistic snowflakes, and sympathized with Skywalker on Hoth. “I understand giving up,” I thought. This notion of walking through mid-calf snow was indeed exercise, but I pictured my limp body being forced into a dead TaunTaun for warmth.

I arrived at rehearsal looking like Doc Brown who’d used a Neti pot incorrectly. Snorting and frazzled, I settled into warming up and hung my iceberg neck warmer on a chair to dry.

We all thawed and marveled at Trevor who had biked (and only fallen once) on his bike commute from Logan Square to Andersonville.

But there’s the commute home.

blizzard (part two)

Why move to LA in April? Had enough winter? Why didn’t you move before winter? Common questions from friends.  My agent asked me when I started planning this move. “12 years ago,” I told him.

But while we’re sitting on ~20 inch dump of snow right now, the husbo could work on the off season and holidays could be spent with family, and frankly IT IS SCARY to pull the band-aid off and make such a big life choice. Getting married wasn’t nearly as scary as the idea of picking up and moving cross country. There are a lot of moving parts and probably some planets that had to align for this to happen.

When you’re 18 and go to college you’re ready to start your life in another city and it’s not scary, it’s just the next step. When you’re on the same page as someone and decide to live together and get married, even that isn’t much of a readjustment.

But when you’re in your 30s and you’re not having kids and you’re financially stable, the idea of taking a risk and jeopardizing career, long-standing relationships, finances and the very marriage that has been so easy so far is daunting. I was raised to be responsible, so the safety of staying comfortable in the place I’ve lived for 16.5 years is an easier choice. But I was also raised and encouraged to be a creative. It’s all I know. So I’m trying to make “risk” a part of my vocabulary.

Riicccsxk. Risz. Wisk. Ritz. Riiiiiissssk.


But back to winter.



blizzard (part one)

As all things internet, a list came out noting that Sunday’s Super Bowl blizzard, with its 19.5 inches, made it one of the Top 5 in Chicago history. When I looked over the list, turns out I’ve been through 3 of the top 5: 1999, 2011, 2015.

1999: I still lived in Columbia College’s dorms and, while living in a major metropolitan area, still only moved in a 4 block radius at all times from the South Loop campus. The furthest I’d go would be the Belmont stop to get a chain wallet or leather bracelet. I looked out my dorm window at the snow and thought, “Wow, that’s a lot of snow.”

Feb 2nd, 2011: Had the luxury of being able to work from home for once at my office job after previously working retail for a few years. I saw the white mess fall as I stayed in my house. For too long. I got stir crazy. The neighborhood I lived in shoveled the sidewalks like champs and I made my way between the 3-feet high white snow walls lining the sidewalk on the crisp night. Friends and I took the Western bus south to Quenchers, slowly plodding along in the main street’s slush. We would not let this blizzard stop us! Craft beer conquers all winter doldrums.

2015: I’m sitting here on Groundhog Day, exactly four years since the last blizzard. It’s my last winter. We’re moving. We’re moving to a place with sunshine and traffic and hopefully opportunity. We could have pursued moving in November before the winter–because after 2014’s Polar Vortex it was tough to find a reason to live, let alone live in Chicago for another cold year–but the summer was mild and we pretended that 80 was warm, and Chicago is fucking hard to leave.

I’ve seen a lot of these winters.

Watch This Man’s Face When He Sees What He Would Look Like As A Tiny Little Man!

I’m in a ClickHole video.

test press

We’ve been doing a lot of recording as of late with The French Goodbye. Layin’ down some vocal tracks over last weekend with Greg Norman, but here’s a test pressing of our upcoming 7″ of our past live show at Lincoln Hall. People still listen to vinyl, we tell ourselves.

A reminder.

Three things I have to tell myself monthly not to do:

Get a Chicago flag tattoo.

Buy a fashion poncho.

Start a podcast.

Local Man’s Decision to Keep Old Jeans Validated After Friend Asks for Help Painting

After refusing to paint his own apartment for 7 years, Sean Ellis broke out the pair of jeans he’d been saving in order to help friend paint a restaurant.

Experts suggest Mr. Ellis had no intention of helping until he remembered the old pair of jeans, located underneath his hamper.

“Well, I guess I could help. I’ve got these jeans,” he said.

After putting on a pair of withered Chuck Taylors, Mr. Ellis returned to the bedroom saying, “Ooh, I think I have a old trucker’s hat too!”

Russian Recording and the cats that go with it

My band The French Goodbye recorded basic tracks this weekend. Did a whole little road trip to Bloomington, IN and hunkered down for two days at Russian Recording. Home of some damn fine cats:

Josie: The constant companion in the control room. Content with sleeping on the warm cabinets and demanding attention and food.

Coop: Pretend you had two furry footballs duct-taped together. That would be the size Cooper the cat. Good for hugs on the couch and moderate use of cat-pillow.

Vivian: What a Disney princess of a kitty. Gorgeous eyes that stole your heart, quick to hide, but also quick to return and admit she’d prefer a belly rub.

Then we also had celebrity cat, lil BUB. THE lil BUB. Smaller in person than you’d imagine, she was happy to be held by her dad, be constantly photographed by us, and chill out under the couch. Her adorable snores reminded us all she was present, and our pictures with her reminded us she is very, very popular on social media.

If you’re a band in need of a good engineer with a good space and gear, and need that creativity bump that comes with a band retreat, I give all the high fives to Russian Recording.

I recommend not being allergic to cats if you record here.